Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Israel Tour 2008 - Part 6

Dad on the Sea of Galilee shore
This is Part 6 of my account of our tour to Israel with The National Christian Choir.  This entry begins with our visit to various sites around the Sea of Galilee, including the Mount of Beatitudes, Tabgha (feeding of the 5,000), Capernaum, and the Jordan River.  To start at the beginning, click here.  All my Israel pictures and videos are in the photo gallery under Vacations and Trips, then 2008 Israel.

Day 4 - Sea of Galilee

We started the day bright and early, as usual.  After breakfast at the hotel in Nazareth, we piled into our six coach buses and headed for the Sea of Galilee.  The trips really were not that long wherever we traveled in the country - it's just not that big.  Probably the longest we sat on the bus was an hour, and that's when we traveled from the northern part of the country to the southern part, by the Dead Sea.  But they obviously didn't have the luxury of vehicles 2,000 years ago, and I have a new understanding of how difficult the various journeys described in the Bible must have been.  The scenery was very pretty - tall hills, deep valleys, covered with green grass and lots of rocks.  Pretty to drive by, but I bet a pain to walk over to get from here to there.

Approaching the Sea of Galilee

Approaching the Sea of Galilee (city of Tiberias is visible on the hillside)

Approaching the Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes

The Sea of Galilee is nestled in a valley with hills and cliffs all around it.  Very scenic.  And very, very calm and still (at least on the day we were there).  The city on the hillside in the middle picture is Tiberias, which was built in 20 A.D. by the son of Herod the Great.  During the Great Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire, the Sanhedrin (Jewish court) eventually settled here.

Church at the Mount of Beatitudes

A view from the Mount of Beatitudes

Mount of Beatitudes

Harry speaks to the group at the Mount of Beatitudes

We went to the northern shore of the Sea, with our first stop being the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-11). There is a beautiful campus on the Mount.  It consists of a church, well-kept gardens and landscaping, and another building that I assume is where the caretakers live.  A number of priests and nuns currently reside there and maintain the grounds.  We gathered in a peaceful, outdoor mini-theater with the Sea as the backdrop, where Harry talked to us about the Sermon on the Mount.

I can only guess that the priests and nuns must get exasperated at all the stupid tourists that come through their site. As we were walking around snapping our cameras and looking like tourists, we apparently stumbled into a restricted area.  We only figured that out when a nun came walking briskly towards us on the path we were on, waving her arms, telling us to get out in whatever language she was speaking.  Apparently the area was roped off and said "Do Not Enter" but someone in front of us had just taken that rope down, and the whole group followed him in like lemmings.  I still have no idea what was so special about that one corner of the walkway.

Day 4 - Site of the miraculous catch of fish and reinstatement of Peter

From the Mount of Beatitudes, we went to the traditional site where Jesus reappeared to the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee after his resurrection, where He told them to cast their nets on the other side of their boat when they were having no luck catching fish.  When they did, they caught so many, they had trouble bringing all the fish to shore, and Jesus had a fire going with fish and bread. The story is in John 21:1-14.  The church on this site encloses a rock where tradition says that this fire was burning.  Of course, since this is a traditional site (as opposed to authentic, meaning verified), they don't know that this was the exact rock - only that it occurred in the near vicinity, so that's where they chose to commemorate the event.

On the shore at the site of the Primacy of Peter

Church at the site of the Primacy of Peter

The traditional rock inside the church where the fire was burning after Jesus told the disciples to cast their net on the other side of the boat

Harry speaks to the group at the site of the Primacy of Peter

Dave on the shore at the site of the Primacy of Peter

It was easy (and neat) to stand on the shore, much like Jesus would have done, looking out at the fishing boat on the water, the water lapping gently onto the rocky shore.  There were actually wooden boats out on the water that were modeled after the boats of that time, so it almost felt like you were there. The main picture of this entry with dad has one of these boats in the background and was taken at this site as well.

This also was the place where Jesus reinstated Peter after they finished eating their breakfast of fish and bread, when Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him (John 21:15-19).

Day 4 - Capernaum

Entering Capernaum

Pretty vegetation at Capernaum

Pretty vegetation at Capernaum

Pretty vegetation at Capernaum

We then traveled to Capernaum, Jesus' "home away from home" during His ministry.  A nice building with pretty trees and flowers welcomes visitors.  Beyond the gate, though, were the ruins of Capernaum.  Many of the foundations of the houses were still there, so we got a visual idea of just what the town would have looked like.  It seemed the houses would have been pretty small, pretty modest, and pretty close together.

Capernaum synagogue ruins

Capernaum synagogue ruins - interior

Capernaum synagogue ruins

Ruins of an olive press in Capernaum

Ruins of a column in Capernaum - such handywork!

We also saw the ruins of the synagogue in Capernaum.  It's a little hard to tell from the pictures, but if you look closely, you can see that the synagogue was placed relatively high up, and in front of it and much lower to the ground, you can see a lot of the ruins of the homes.  The synagogue would have been an impressive building, standing tall over the city, with very tall doorways and a spacious interior, columns all around inside.  There were also many ruins of columns around the area.

I guess I didn't get a picture of it, but we saw the house where Jesus healed the paralytic man, after the man's friends had made an opening in the roof to lower the man down to Jesus (Mark 2:1-12).  Jesus did many other great things in Capernaum, including driving out evil spirits and healing many (Luke 4:31-39), and raising a little girl from the dead (Mark 5:35-43).  It is also where He gave His sermon on the Bread of Life (John 6:28-59) - in the very synagogue we stood in.  Ultimately, though, Jesus left Capernaum, cursing it for being unrepentant even after all His work and miracles (Matthew 11:20-24).

Day 4 - Tabgha

We now come to the first "memory casualty" of the trip, meaning I'm not 100% sure where these pictures were taken.  We went to a church near Capernaum, which was centered around another rock.  I admit I've forgotten what this church was, but I suspect it was the traditional site of the feeding of the 5,000, with only five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14:13-21).  The only reason I'm not 100% sure is because I swear I had a picture of the tile mosaic showing two fish and five loaves of bread, but it's nowhere to be found.  However, I know we were there, and it was on this day, so this must be that site.

Traditional site of the feeding of the 5,000

Traditional site of the feeding of the 5,000 - the rock where it is said the blessing was prayed over the loaves and fish

Traditional site of the feeding of the 5,000

Impressive tile work on the floor at the church in Tabgha

Traditional site of the feeding of the 5,000

Traditional site of the feeding of the 5,000

Day 4 - Boat ride on the Sea of Galilee

We then ate lunch at an art museum which had a dock from which we would ride one of those old-style wooden boats on the Sea of Galilee.  On the way in, there was a group of schoolchildren, I'd say maybe 3rd grade or so.  As we were passing them on the way in, they were saying, "Shalom! Shalom!" to us, so, as our guide taught us, I just said "Shalom!" back, and was then accosted by almost the whole group of children.  They were asking me where I was from, did I speak Hebrew, did I speak Spanish, and on an on.  I guess they were excited to talk to an American.  Their teacher finally came to my rescue.

The lunch was pizza, and my bus was the first to get there, fortunately.  I had my lunch almost all eaten when the other five buses from our group pulled in, and probably another two buses from some other group pulled in for lunch.  The place was pretty small, not well-equipped to handle probably 500 people altogether - it got pretty chaotic.  People from the other groups were even taking our pizza (it was only for the NCC group), eating it while waiting in line to pay, only to find out at the register that the pizza was not for them - and the guy was taking away their half-eaten pizza, as if someone in our group would actually want it back!

Boarding the boats on the Sea of Galiliee

On the Sea of Galilee

Israeli and American flags side by side

On the Sea of Galilee - so calm, so peaceful

After lunch, we headed for the boats.  I'm guessing each boat held roughly 100 people, because it took three boats to hold our entire group.  The boat captain told us that even though the boat is modeled after the fishing boats in Biblical times, the boats then were much, much smaller, perhaps maybe a third of the size of the boat we were on.  The first picture there is the best one to show you the color of the water - it was a bright green, even far out beyond the shore.

See how calm the water was, too - so still.  Harry said that the weather on the sea can change in an instant, when a storm blows in from the Mediterranean and swoops over the mountains that surround the Sea of Galilee.  He was on a boat once when it happened, and he said he was actually quite afraid, with the whipping waves, the strong winds… he said it really made him feel what the disciples must have felt when they were on the water and a severe storm suddenly appeared, and after they woke up Jesus, He told the winds to "Be still!" (Matthew 8:23-27).

Boat on the sea

Towering cliff on the seashore

Golan Heights, on the opposite shore from where we were

The pictures really don't do justice in showing you how high these cliffs were or how pretty it was with all the hills surrounding the water.  The middle picture above is of the hills on the opposite shore from where we were - they're actually part of the Golan Heights, the portion of Syria seized by Israel in the six-day war, which has been in the news recently because of fighting.

Boat approaching to attach to ours

Boat approaching to attach to ours
Boats attached to each other
Boats attached to each other - Israeli/American flags fly side by side

Harry speaking to all three boats

When we were on the water, the boat crew put up the American flag to fly it next to the Israeli flag, playing the Star Spangled Banner while they raised the American flag.  They then rendezvoused with the other two boats, attaching all three boats from our group together on the water, so Harry could talk to all of us again.  It was a beautiful day, and it turned out to be a very nice boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.

Day 4 - Baptisms in the Jordan River

The Jordan River passes through the Sea of Galilee.  After the boat ride, we went to the southern side of the Sea where the Jordan exits.  Several members of our group, about 60, wanted to be baptized in the Jordan.  In addition to being the founder and music/executive director of the NCC, and arranging/composing songs and orchestrations, Harry is also an ordained minister.  In fact, at many of our rehearsals, we not only get a vocal lesson, but we also get a little Bible study that he's prepared for us as well.

Jordan River

Jordan River

Jordan River

Gathering at the Jordan

Gathering at the Jordan

Harry speaks to the group before the baptisms

Dad watches the baptisms at the Jordan

The Jordan River has portions that roll along mightily, and calmer portions.  The place where we gathered was very calm.  The water was green.  I was not one of the 60, but I hear the water was pretty cold.  I could see many catfish (what they looked like to me) pretty clearly from aways away. The group of 300 sang hymns while Harry baptized each person in the Jordan - a very special occasion for them.

Another special thing was that all throughout the whole facility, the walls were made up of many, many sections of tiles put together. On each section was written, in a different language from around the world, Mark 1:9-11:
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."

Day 4 - Back to Nazareth

We then headed back to the hotel in Nazareth in a hurry.  The National Christian Choir was giving a concert that evening (this one without the additional singers from around the country that joined us on this trip).  We were SO exhausted from the day - as you might have gathered, we packed a ton into this day.  And when we arrived at the hotel, we had to stand up for a short dress rehearsal and sound check, before dinner.  The rehearsal was really quite bad - imagine us trying to stand up and sound like we were full of energy when we were dead tired, hungry, with aching knees and legs from the day's tour.  But, nevertheless, after dinner and a bit of rest, we were ready to go for the concert, which went quite well.

I met a local pastor from Nazareth and his son before the concert and got to chat with him for a bit.  Very, very nice people!  I caught them afterwards and they had really enjoyed the concert.  The non-NCC members of our group really enjoyed it as well - for some this was the first and maybe only time they would have gotten to hear a live concert rather than just on CD or on the radio program, so you could tell they really appreciated it.  And apparently there was another bus or two from a completely different tour group that checked in just prior to the concert, and many of them attended as well.

It was a good night, a nice ending to a very long day, that was almost insanely busy.  But we got to see so many special things that day.  I think I went to bed early that night, because once again it was going to be an early start the next morning.  And I think that was the night that we found out that you can never get enough springing-foward for daylight savings time!  Not only did we spring forward an hour once at home before the trip, which I think is always bad enough, but we sprung forward 6 hours between the US and Israel, and after this crazy busy day and concert, NOW we got to spring ahead AGAIN to celebrate Israel's daylight savings time!  Hey, why not spring forward every night??  We didn't really need to sleep, did we? At least dad and I were fortunate enough not to have gotten a room where you were woken up at 5AM by the Muslim prayer calls outside!

In my next entry, I'll cover the next day of the tour, starting at the Church of the Annunciation (the traditional site where the angel told Mary she would be bearing Jesus), through Beit Shean and Jericho, arriving in Jerusalem, and Bethlehem. Yes, all in one day - there really was not much down time at all on this trip. So much to pack into just 10 days!  Until next time…

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