Caesar Resort Hotel, Tiberius, Israel
On the shores of the Sea of Galilee
Perhaps this day is best summed up by a moment that passed quickly, almost unnoticed, but somehow it sticks in the mind. It was the middle of the afternoon, and we were hot and tired and our brains were exploding from all the information Abed, our omnicompetent guide, had been pouring into our heads. Starting at the hotel in Tel Aviv early in the morning, he had discoursed on everything--everything! If there is a tree or a plant or a bird or a rock or an old building he doesn't know, if there is anything about Israel he doesn't know, I can’t imagine what it is. Abed is 60 something and has been leading tours for over forty years. He speaks Arabic, Hebrew, English, Dutch and German. Georg Rupprecht, who was born in Germany, says he speaks the language flawlessly. To put it in perspective, when Abed decided to become a guide many years ago, he felt he must have a good understanding of the Christian faith so he memorized the entire New Testament. And he quotes it liberally, along with references to the tamarisk tree, the carob tree, the name of those birds that flew overhead at the outdoor theater in Caesarea, the Gothic arches the Crusaders brought to the Holy Land, and the striations (is that the right word?) on ancient pieces of pottery so he can bend down, pick up what looks like a random piece of stone, and say, "This is from Herod's day" or "This is Canaanite" or "This was the handle of pitcher 3000 years ago," and to tell us where to buy cheap bottled water and why this kibbutz serves the best hamburgers in Israel or how the Muslims and the Crusaders met in an epic battle on the other side of that mountain and how Golda Meir was like gold for Israel and the real location of Mary's well in Nazareth and how he's sorry that the tunnel at Megiddo wasn't open today but the rest of us weren't sorry and when he perched on the rail at the Carmelite Monastery on top of Mt. Carmel and recited from memory long sections of 1 Kings 17 and made the story of Elijah and prophets of Baal, not "Bail" the way we Americans say it, but "Bah-al" the proper pronunciation and how he learned to love ice cream on one of his many trips to the U.S. and it's good when the Arabs and Jews and Christians can live together in peace, and Look! See those almond trees, and now we’re traveling through Cana where Jesus worked his first miracle of turning water into wine and it would be a miracle if someone improved the traffic in Israel but don’t worry about the water being too cold for the baptism in the Jordan River because it's cool but not cold and anyway, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and yesterday his newest granddaughter was born so he bought baklava, absolutely the best I've ver had, and gave it to the whole group, all the time saying to the driver, Hurry, hurry, but then Stop! Let' get out and look at those tombs, and over there are loquat trees and yes, this is the exact site where Paul stood trial before King Agrippa in Acts 26 and then he showed us the whole Jezreel Valley and said this is where the Battle of Armageddon will one day be fought. And somewhere in there I finally stopped writing things down because that long, run-on sentence is what it' like to tour in Israel.
And I was trying to get to the quintessential moment, which was not particularly emotional, just one of those facts that come along during the tired part of the afternoon, before we stopped for lunch at a kibbutz, and by the way did you know that at one kibbutz in Israel, they raise pigs. Yes, they do, and I know what the Old Testament says, but they do. They raise pigs, slaughter them, dress them, and they make the best bacon (Abed put his fingers to his lips to show us how good it is) and they provide it for the U.S. Navy Sixth Fleet. Cool story.
So we'e finished Caesarea by the Sea, and Mt. Carmel, and Megiddo, and we were on our way to the kibbutz for lunch, when Abed started talking about three mountains on the other side of the Jezreel Valley. "That's Mount Gilboa where Saul and his sons died in battle with the Philistines. Over there is the mountain where Gideon defeated the Midianites. Next to it is Mount Tabor, which many people believe is the site of the Transfiguration of Jesus." Trying to be helpful, I said, "Three mountains and three Bible stories--Saul, Gideon and Jesus." Abed said, “Oh, but there's much more. Mount Tabor was the site of Deborah and Barak's famous victory over Sisera and his 900 iron chariots (Judges 4)." And the thought crystallizes slowly that you have stepped back in time and entered not just the land of the Bible but the story of the Bible itself. Every mountain, every hill, every river, and every ancient building has a story to tell.
Tonight we are sleeping a few feet from the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Tomorrow we'll take a boat ride in a replica of a first-century fishing boat, and we'll remember the story of Jesus walking on this water and calming the troubled seas. Then it's on to Capernuam and farther north and east to Caesarea Philippi.
Meanwhile, all is well with our band of pilgrims. We are a very agreeable bunch, I must say. Taking pictures is a big part of any tour. Because most people have digital cameras, I'm downloading all their pictures (over 1000 just from yesterday and today) onto my computer. We will give each person a DVD after the tour with all the pictures on it--a virtual encyclopedic reminder of everything we've seen. Tonight we had a treat because this is Friday night--the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, meaning that Tiberius is virtually deserted instead of being a bustling town with the streets filled with people. But when we went to the hotel dining room, we found it jammed with Jewish families celebrating--yes, that is the operative word--celebrating the gift of the Sabbath. At one table young men were singing and beating their hands on their table, at another a family stood for the Sabbath blessing, each wearing a head covering. It was noisy and crowded and exciting to see so many families with young children enjoying the gift of the Sabbath, a reminder that God's gifts are given for our blessing. Nick and Mark and Eryn and Dana and Joy Keuer went out on the town, which tonight meant going across the street to an Internet cafe. After I downloaded the pictures onto my computer, Pam Stewart, Kathryn McBride and Ken and Mary Heffley stayed to look at them. At the moment, it's after midnight and the hotel lobby (the only place I can get on the Internet) is almost deserted. It’s been a great day in the Holy Land, and I've haven’t even told you most of what happened.
PS I figured out how to put pictures in the text, but I cant figure out how to add captions. So until someone tells me how to do it, here are the captions:
Picture 1: Nick with Georg and Patricia Rupprecht
Picture 2: Paul Boesche and I talk it over
Picture 3: The view from the back of the bus
Picture 4: Abed at the outdoor theater at Caesarea
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