Friday morning we began the day by leaving our hotel in Tiberias by the Sea of Galilee and driving south. We made a lot of stops on our way to Jerusalem, where I hoped we would arrive at our hotel before the onset of Shabbat, but we were prevented by something I will explain later.
First stop was Ein Harod, a spring near the hill of Moreh. It is known as Gideon’s spring because of the well-known story of how God reduced Gideon’s army from 10,000 to 300 based on how they drank water. A few of us knelt at the spring for photo opps. There are different interpretations about what the 300 did that made them fit to be in the elite army. I think they used one hand to bring the water to their mouths and kept their other on their sword while remaining vigilant.
Next we toured some of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world at the town of Beth Shean. In the days of the judges of Israel, Beth Shean was an Egyptian stronghold in the land of Canaan, so there is also an Egyptian site to explore as well as some old Canaanite ruins.
From there we went to Qumran, not only to learn about the Dead Sea Scrolls, but also to shop for Ahava skin care products made from Dead Sea minerals.
Finally, we went into Bethlehem. It is a Palestinian Authority area, so we had to pass through a checkpoint and our Israeli guide could not come in. We hired a guide in Bethlehem to give us a quick tour of the Church of the Nativity. I find nothing authentic about the church and nothing makes me think of the humble birth of our Messiah at this site. But it was meaningful for some in our group.
It was the checkpoint on the way out that made us late for Shabbat in Jerusalem. So, while I wanted our tour to be kosher, we broke Shabbat by arriving about 1/2 too late! The line to get out of Bethlehem took an hour. It has never been that long before.
On Shabbat we had a late morning and then a social time at our guide’s beautiful home on the slopes of Ein Kerem, the traditional place of the family of John the Baptizer.
Then, after sundown, we went to a Jerusalem shop to have Havdallah (the ceremony to end the Sabbath) and then we shopped. And boy did we shop. I bought my daughter an expensive ring, as I do for all my daughters at Bat Mitzvah age. I got her emeralds forming a Star of David with a diamond in the center. It is an elegantly made ring and I am glad my little Hannah will be wearing it the rest of her life.
I was going to leave the Jerusalem shop without making any more purchases, but I am an antiquities collector. I have a nice collection of artifacts from Israel. And I had my eye on some daggers from the Middle Bronze period. I could associate such a dagger with the story of Abraham offering Isaac on Mt. Moriah (the Akeidah, as it is known in Judaism).
The price was way out of my range. But the owner wanted to thank me for bringing him such good business, so he made me an offer I could not refuse. This will be the most valuable piece in my little museum collection. I am kvelling (google it for a definition). I love knives anyway, and now I have one from about 1800 B.C.E.
Finally, at night I met a friend from Holland who has a blog and with whom I have had online conversation. He was in Jerusalem at the same time and the chance to meet was too good to pass up.
I must say he is a remarkable young man. At 22 he has read so much and can so intelligently discuss theology, I am jealous. When he is 41 like me, I will be in his shadow. I sensed in him also a beautiful spirit, a person who is full of ahavat HaShem (the love of the Lord). Our conversation centered around the problems of confusion in people’s lifestyle and beliefs and the way our beliefs can separate us from other people and make us isolated.
It is a conversation I will never forget.
O Jerusalem, city of our God, you bring us blessings in ways we do not even expect.