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Blog: Keith Garvin's 7-day tour of holy sites in Israel

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Day 1 of Keith Garvin's Israel trip:

We have arrived in the Holy Land! My wife Lisa and I have come for a 7-day tour of the holy sites in Israel. We are touring with about 300 of our fellow church members from the 6 campuses of Second Baptist Church in the Houston area. 

I visited Israel once before 14 years ago at the end of a work assignment and this is my wife's first trip. But they say the country has changed quite a bit so this will be an amazing experience for both of us.

There were two legs to our trip: an 11.5 flight from Intercontinental Airport to Istanbul, Turkey and after a 3-hour layover there we had a two-hour flight from Istanbul to Tel Aviv. The airport in Istanbul is something to behold. It's basically a high-end mall you happen to travel to and from by plane lol.

After our long day of air travel, we had a two-hour bus ride from Tel Aviv to our hotel on the Sea of Galilee in the town of Tiberias. Added up that is about 19 hours of travel and we have a wakeup call for breakfast at 6 a.m. so I'm heading fast to sleep & will check in soon. Laila tov!

Day 2 of Keith Garvin's Israel trip:

Our first full day in Israel was not a disappointment!  After a 6 a.m. wakeup call, we boarded our bus led by our tour guide Daniel. Daniel is an Israeli who practices Judaism. But he has read the Bible from beginning to end so he knows quite a bit about Christianity and the days of Jesus. He's a fabulous tour guide.

We spent our day around and on what many know as the Sea of Galilee. But in Israel, it is best known as Kinneret and is not an ocean or sea. It's actually a freshwater lake that is 14 miles long, 8 miles wide, about 150 feet deep, & 686 feet below sea level.

Right now the landscape here is very green & lush as the temperature is moderate (about 60°) with some rain. They say it normally doesn't rain in Israel from March to November so this is the best time of the year to grow crops.

Our first stop today was the ruins in the town of Capernaum. It was the site of a pristine synagogue until an earthquake leveled it and much of the town around 3-4 AD. We also visited several other locations with historic biblical significance including the Mount of Beatitudes where it is believed Jesus preached His famous Sermon on the Mount. 

After a boat tour on the Sea of Galilee, we wound up at Decks Restaurant in the town of Tiberias where we enjoyed a hearty lunch.
In the day and a half we've been here we've had a healthy portion of fish, rice, & one my favorites...lamb.  The people here are nice & walk with a purpose ... i.e. Everyone seems to be on his or her way to somewhere important. 

Tomorrow we head to several locations including Nazareth and at the end of the day, we will drive to Jerusalem where we will remain for the duration of our trip. I'm looking forward to what the day brings. Layla tov!

Day 3 of Keith Garvin's Israel trip:

The Third full day in Israel and the second full day in Jerusalem has been more phenomenal than the one before!

Today's weather was fantastic with mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 60s. It was the best weather we've had so far.

We put in a lot of miles on this day which we spent mostly in or just outside the Old City. The Old City is marked by a stone wall that has been in place since the middle of the 16th century.  And perhaps the most prominent feature on the city's skyline is the golden-colored dome known as the Dome of the Rock, also known as the Temple Mount or Al Aqsa Mosque.

We entered the Old City through the Damascus Gate (so named because it faces the Syrian city). The Old City s divided into 4 quarters: the Muslim Quarter which is the largest, along with the Jewish, Christian, & Armenian Quarters. We spent much of our time in the Muslim Quarter which has very narrow alleys & a busy market atmosphere.

One activity I can scratch off my bucket list is a camel ride! At the first stop for our group today at the Mount of Olives, after a history lesson at the location & a few pictures, my wife & I decided to take a picture sitting on top of a camel that was sitting on all fours. We were quite surprised when the camel's owner ordered the animal to stand and then led it (and us) on a short journey.  I'm certainly glad we have cars these days as it was not the smoothest of rides but it was a ride I'll never forget.

Looking forward to tomorrow which includes scheduled visits to the Western Wall & the town of Bethlehem.

Day 4 of Keith Garvin's Israel trip:

We started the day in the Armenian and Jewish Quarters of the Old City just before most of the markets began to open, but we saw Israeli children, some as young as 7, walking to school by themselves. While we were there, the markets slowly began to open and we were able to buy freshly baked bread and several spices. The bread was delicious, by the way, especially dipped in hyssop.

We would next visit the Western Wall, which for decades was also often referred to as the Wailing Wall, but Israelis say it is now a place for celebration and they have no more tears to cry.  And there was quite a bit of celebration today as Thursday is one of the days for bar mitzvahs, which is a religious right of passage when 13-year-old boys get to read the Torah for the first time. We witnessed two types of bar mitzvahs: several conducted by Orthodox Jews and several conducted by Reform Jews.   

For the Orthodox Jews, the males are separated from the females and the males perform the ceremony together where the women watch nearby on the other side of a wall. The women celebrate by throwing candy and "cheering" from afar. The celebrators are usually accompanied by musicians with drums, saxophones and other instruments. The performers are allowed to march only outside the main section of the wall, while the close family members make their way inside to continue the ceremony. For the Reform Jews, the ceremonies consisted of smaller groups and females were allowed to join the males. Both were amazing to witness and after never attending a bar mitzvah in my life, I got to take part in about six or seven in one day!

We also got to visit the Israel Museum and then as a large group had the privilege of visiting the Garden Tomb in East Jerusalem, unearthed in 1867 and considered by many Christians to be the death and burial site of Jesus Christ.

This was our longest day but more than worth it.  I can tell you I've had absolutely no problems hitting my 10,000 steps on my Fitbit. Tomorrow, we visit the Dead Sea!

Last full day in Israel & we are not ready to leave! 

We started the day at the location where The Last Supper took place & where Jesus was tried and held in jail ... seeing a road that He Himself actually walked on +2000 years ago. We also got to spend time in the Valley of Elah where David defeated Goliath & enjoy a great meal in the Arab-Israeli town of Abu Ghosh. The night was capped by some shopping in the Old City.

I can't even begin to put this trip into words ... it may take a few weeks or months to fully decipher/comprehend. But to see the Holy Land again in person & to match historical and archeological evidence with the Word of God can be somewhat poorly likened to "putting a face to a name" or as one of our bus mates put it ..."the difference between listening to the radio & watching HDTV." 

The Middle East is a complicated place, to say the least, but I've always loved the people in every country I've visited & always felt at ease. Spiritually it feels like home. I have been blessed to make it back. I look forward to the opportunity to return!


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