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Israel Study Trip

Fall 2022 Israel Tour

Sunset over the Sea of Galilee

Our fall tour is planned for October 27 to November 8. Watch this page for updates when we’re in the Land!

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Israel Study Trip

Joppa Seaport

We ended our tour last fall with an evening visit to the Joppa Seaport. Modern day Jaffa is named after the Joppa of Bible times. We weren’t able to find a ship bound for Tarshish. But we don’t want to repeat Jonah’s mistakes, anyway.

If you’d like to participate in a tour of the Holy Land, consider our fall 2022 trip. The dates are October 27 to November 8. We plan to fly from Newark. We keep the group size small for a better experience. The price is $4,190 per person double occupancy.

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Israel Study Trip

Reflections on Israel: God, Stones, People, Singing, and Home Again

From James K. Nolt

God: “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness” (Psalm 48:1). Visiting sites in Israel is a good opportunity to worship God, who chose this place to perform unique acts. It is also a time to mourn how His people rejected Him. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, . . . how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37).

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Inside the Eastern Gate of Jerusalem, November 11

Stones: Big stones, little stones, square stones, round stones. We saw stones “from Dan even to Beersheba.” Stones to build walls, to build pavements, and to build idols and temples. Empire builders destroyed the stones that others had arranged, and then they built other structures, which in turn others destroyed. After they had crossed the Jordan River, God told Joshua to build a stone memorial, so their children would ask, “What mean these stones?” (Joshua 4:21). As we viewed many ruins, we likewise pondered this question.

O where are kings and empires now, Of old that went and came?

But Lord, Thy Church is praying yet, A thousand years the same.”

The ruins of Capernaum remind us of Jesus’ lament, “And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day” (Matthew 11:23). Abraham, in contrast, “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10).

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Ruins in Capernaum, November 9

People: Stones help us understand the past and how it shaped our lives, but contacts with living people are more memorable. People memories begin with the fine group of thirteen fellow travelers. How many times we counted, “1, 2, 3, . . . 13.” This reminded me of the dozens of times I counted students on school trips to be sure everyone was there.

There were some negative experiences, such as aggressive salesmen shoving their wares into our hands and demanding that we give an offer, but the majority were positive. And some were superlative, such as a supper in Bethlehem with Palestinian Christians (and singing “How Great Thou Art” in four languages; see Nov. 11 report), and evening Sabbath worship and supper with a Jewish family two evenings later. The modest dress of conservative Jewish women was commendable.

Not only were we watching people, but people were watching us. “Are you Amish?” “Are you Mennonite?” We heard these questions various times or overheard people discussing us. We hope we gave a good Christian witness.

Friendly family at the Damascus Gate, Jerusalem, November 14

Singing: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). We can worship God anywhere, but it was a blessing to sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and other songs about Christ’s Birth in Bethlehem; to sing “Tis Midnight” and “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed,” etc. about His suffering and death in the Garden of Gethsemane; and to sing “Lift Your Glad Voices,” “Up from the Grave,” and “Alive Forevermore,” etc. as we visited a possible site of the Resurrection. What shall we sing in Nazareth? Is there any song that uniquely fits there? Yes. “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene.” As we looked across the Kidron Valley at the Eastern Gate, we sang, “I will meet you in the morning, just inside the Eastern Gate . . .”

The Jewish family demonstrated that singing is an important part of their Sabbath routine by their songs at the beginning and end of their meal. Later after we visitors had sung the first two stanzas of “How Great Thou Art,” extolling our Creator God, they welcomed us to sing a distinctly Christian stanza. On the last day, Sunday, our guide sang “Our Father” (the Lord’s Prayer) for us in Arabic.

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Jewish song book, used on the evening of the Sabbath

Home Again, November 15

With mixed feelings we boarded the B-787 late Sunday evening for our approximately 11 ½ hour flight from Tel-Aviv. We landed in Newark, New Jersey, shortly after 4:00 AM, grateful for a safe and enjoyable trip.

Later that morning, Sarah and I attended the funeral of her uncle. And so, the routines of life and death continue, at home and abroad. A mountaintop experience should renew us for the challenges before us, encourage us to be good Christian stewards of life’s opportunities, and help prepare us for death. Thank you, God, for the blessing of this trip; may You be honored in all things!

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Weary travelers on the Newark shuttle bus

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Israel Study Trip

Bethlehem Shepherds Hill & Cave, Church of Nativity & Joppa

We ate breakfast & left the Grand Court Hotel & Jerusalem around 10am.

At our last breakfast one table was talking history & Amos exclaimed: “Isn’t it amazing that we are sitting in Jerusalem talking about Anabaptist history?”

We visited an area in Bethlehem with a view of the the hillsides that shepherds have watch their flocks for millenia. We took an hour to read from Luke 2, give time reflect on experiences in the last week, sing & pray.

Hills of Bethlehem.

Afterwards Elias gave a tour of a nearby Shepherd’s cave house. He noted that the NT “inn” is a mistranslation of “upper guest room” and what NT is saying is that Joseph’s relatives all already had their guest rooms full.

Elias telling about the shepherd’s cave dwelling.

We ate lunch of falafel (which included a server getting dramatically cut by glass) and then headed to the Church of the Nativity.

Underground falafel shop.

Perhaps more accurately, the churches of the Nativity as it houses Greek Orthodox, Armenian & Catholic areas. It has some nice mosaics on the floor & of course the grotto (cave) where Jesus was born & the “stable” nearby.

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Entering the “humble” front door of the Church of the Nativity.

As we left we noted the wall between the Palestinian & Israeli sections of Bethlehem that was built after the last intifada. It had interesting graffiti by the famous Banksy celebrating a future time when unity & peace can be the norm.

From Bethlehem we traveled north west, through the Coastal Plains (where God made the sun to stand still for Joshua while he fought the Caananites) to Joppa. The temperature was noticeably warmer here—just perfect for an evening stroll. Our guide Sufian noted that Joppa, or Jaffa, was named after Noah’s son Japheth. Joppa is the “port of Jerusalem” since it wasn’t a port city. This is one reason there is a Joppa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Modern Tel Aviv from Joppa.

Joppa is where Jonah tried to escape God’s call to the pagan Assyrians. Joppa is also the sight where Peter called pagans “unclean” when God was calling them to be part of His Kingdom. (Acts 10) Peter’s vision at Simon the Tanner’s house changed the course of history. Thankfully Peter responded a bit more enthusiastically than Jonah & Peter’s story doesn’t end with him pouting.

Traditional sight of Simon the Tanner’s house in Old City Joppa.

We had turkey & veal shawarma for dinner courtesy of Isa. Shawarma is meat cut off a spit and put in a pita like a sandwich.

Some of the ladies with their shawarma.
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Israel Study Trip

Jerusalem on Shabbat: From Bethany to Gethsemane, Israel Museum Dead Sea Scrolls, Upper Room & Ben Yehuda Street

First thing in the morning of Shabbat (Saturday) we noticed some changes in our routine at the Grand Court Hotel. Guests could use “Shabbat mode” elevators to avoid pressing a button and “breaking a circuit.” We also noticed no scrambled eggs, the toaster was missing and the coffee machines were covered with a cloth.

The little red LED indicates this elevator is set to “Shabbat mode” & will automatically stop at every floor.

Our first activity was walking from Bethany (aka Bet’Haini) to Jerusalem, roughly the path that Jesus took on his triumphal entry. It was steep but not overly hard to walk.

Following the path from Bethany to Jerusalem.

The olive tree garden where traditional site of Gethsemane is located is part way down the Mount of Olives. Gethsemene means “the place of an olive press”. At the present there are no longer that many olive trees around but we were glad for these gardens preserved for relaxing & mediating on Jesus’ struggle to follow the Father’s will.

Andrew leading in some meditation & sharing at a olive garden near Gethsemane.

Our next stop was the Israel Museum. We needed a Covid Green Pass to enter. We focused on the 2nd Temple era model of Jerusalem and the Dead Sea scrolls display. The model of Jerusalem helped me settle in my mind where the City of David was in relation to the Old City.

It was interesting to see the display of actual Dead Sea scrolls.  Some of them looked like they could have been written yesterday.

No photos were allowed in the Israeli Museum, but what Dead Sea scrolls looked like.

We had falafel at a small shop for lunch.

Eating falafel for lunch.

We visited the traditional sight of the Upper Room & David’s Tomb. David’s Tomb is a Jewish sight which required Jewish protocol which included “No Sleeping”.

Traditional site of the upper room.

We strolled through the market at Damascus Gate. Some bought some souvenirs they weren’t sure they wanted.

The Damascus Gate of Old City.

After supper we did some strolling on Ben Yehuda Street area. Some of us satisfied our fast food craving.

Ben Yehuda Street.
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Israel Study Trip

The Fall of Masada

By Lester K. Burkholder

(Due to technical difficulties, we weren’t able to post this article earlier when we were at Masada)

A highlight today was ascending the 375 foot high earthen ramp to the top of Masada built by 15,000 Jewish  slaves in 73 AD. Masada is an ancient fortress  built on a 1300 foot high butte  on the eastern edge of the Judean desert and overlooking the Dead Sea.

Jerusalem had fallen to the Romans and Masada was the last Jewish stronghold. On top was the Sicarii remnant of the Jewish nation under siege by the Roman army. They realized that their enslaved Jewish brothers were being forced to build the ramp which, when built, would be their downfall. 

According to Josephus,on April 15, 73AD the Roman troops entered the fortress in full armor.  They found an eerie silence. The 960 residents of Masada had committed mass suicide. Only two women and five children, who had hidden themselve in the cisterns, were found alive.

What happens in Israel is important to Christianity. The Temple era was over, and from its roots the new shoot of Christianity would flourish.

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Israel Study Trip

Jerusalem

Friday was a long day, and packed full of interest and inspiration. The first thing this morning we had our PCR Covid tests done in preparation for flying home on Sunday night. We were relieved when within a few hours they all came back negative. Praise the Lord!

Then we went to the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem. The golden Dome of the Rock was right in front of us across the Kidron valley.

Jerusalem is a city of stone. Above left is a picture of the city wall showing layers of stone as the wall was rebuilt multiple times over the centuries. Next is a picture of the sealed-up Golden Gate on the east wall of the Temple Mount. The picture on the right is a close-up of Herodian stone. Notice the frame chiseled around the edge of the stone. This is typical of Herod’s stonework.

We sat awhile at the Southern Steps. The lower steps are original from the Second Temple era, so we sat and walked where Jesus went up into the temple. We read about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which some theologians believe may have happened somewhere here in the vicinity of the temple. The remains of at least 50 ritual baths in front of us showed that there would have been plenty of room and plenty of water to baptize “about 3000 souls.”

Stonework in the City of David, the oldest part of the city which David captured from the Jebusites. Clay seals were found in this area bearing the names of people mentioned in the Bible as being part of the court of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah.

We visited the garden tomb. Whether this tomb or the Holy Sepulchre site are the actual place where Jesus was laid, one thing is the same about them–they’re both empty! It was a beautiful day to sit in the garden and sing about the Resurrection.

A great highlight of the day was walking through Hezekiah’s tunnel. Our guide strongly advised putting our phones safely away, since if we dropped them they would be gone! Since I already dropped my phone at least twice on this trip, I decided to follow this advice, therefore I have no pictures. The water was clear and somewhat cold, and fun to walk through. Some of us found the tunnel uncomfortably narrow and low at spots, but we all made it through. It was amazing to look at the chisel marks in those ancient stone walls and think of the people who formed them long ago.

The evening was the best part of all. We spent the evening with an Orthodox Jewish family, attending prayers with them, eating supper with them, and discussing many things. Our minds and hearts are full, and you might hear more about these things tomorrow…

A young man who came to Israel from Cleveland, Ohio, to study at the yeshiva and serve in the Israeli military. His wife is beside him, and the yeshiva behind him. We were allowed to go in and look at the large room where about 400 students gather to study. Each student has a section of the table, and you can see their vast collection of books, all about the Tanakh, our Old Testament.

The parents and oldest daughter of the family who hosted us. The mother is lighting the candles to bring in the Sabbath.
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Israel Study Trip

Jerusalem: Western Wall, Temple Mount, Old City & West Bank: Beit Sahour & Bethlehem

On the way to the Old City of Jerusalem we saw the Mount of Olives.

Mount of Olives

The Western Wall is part of the massive retaining wall for Herod’s Temple, closest to the Temple, specifically the Holy of Holy’s, that non-Muslim prayers can be made. Some unique characteristics of Jewish prayer at the wall: Covering the head, placing written prayers in the wall and a swaying motion of those praying.

Some from our group chatting at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount.

While pondering at the wall Jesus’ words in John 4:21ff came to me: “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father…But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth…”

While we now can worship anywhere and no longer need “a temple of cedars built with hands”, place also holds importance and it seemed a bit of a contradiction that pious Jewish would find it sacred to touch the stones laid by King Herod who himself was always eyed with suspicion by Jews of his day.

The Dome of the Rock covers the area traditionally held to be location of Isaac’s binding, Temple Holiest of Holy & where Muslim’s believe Mohammed rose to heaven. This makes an extremely important location for the 3 monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity & Islam.

The Dome of the Rock. Also notice the quite modern looking sundial at the top of the photo.

For a morning snack had some coffee, Jerusalem roll, olive oil and Za’taar, also known as hyssop.

Bread, olive oil & hyssop is a good snack.

We strolled through the Old City for a bit. Also the market shops at Mahane Yehuda Street.

Walking through the ally ways of Old City.

We had an interesting discussion with Moise & Dov Shorashim at their shop near the golden Menorah. Moise had a short talk on his interest that Jews & Christians “have a discussion”. Afterward we discussed Isaiah 53, Psalm 110, how he would recognize the Messiah & other items.

Next we headed to an area A in the West Bank. An ominous signed warned Isareli citizens of dire danger to enter the Palestinian Authority zone.

Area A: “Entrance for Israeli citizens is forbidden.”

Our destination was to a Palestinian Christian owned olive wood working shop in Beit Sahour.

Palestinian Christian giving us a tour of his wood carving shop.

Our last destination was Bethlehem to a gift shop and afterward we had supper with a Palestinian Christian family. The two brothers, Isa & Elias where very friendly and hospitable. They served some incredible lamb. Amos discovered Elias could speak German was in his glory. Perhaps the best part was after James lead our group in a song Elias noted they would sing us a song too. He and another family member had good voices & sang “How Great Thou Art” in Arabic! After they finished we all sang it again in the various languages around the table: Arabic, German, English & Romanian.

Joining in a multidenominational, multilingual version of “How Great Thou Art” near Bethlehem.
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Israel Study Trip

Nazareth, Mount Carmel, Haifa & Caesarea Maritime

Our first stop was Nazareth, which is about 1 hour from Tiberias. Nat’zereth means “offshoot” which came from the fact that it was established by religious Jews as an offshoot of Bethlehem to start a village without Gentiles. We are reminded Jesus was noted to be “the offshoot” or branch as well.

The Branch out of the root of Jesse

Isaiah 11:1, Revelation 5:5

We visited the “Nazareth  Village” which was a reconstruction of various aspects of Nazareth life in the time of Jesus: the shepherd’s fold, a vineyard, olive press, carpenter, spinning & weaving & synagogue (Beit Knesset: House of Meeting).

The guide noted that in Jesus’ day did not eat olives as they are too bitter and it took a long time to find the recipe to make them taste good. Amos was overheard exclaiming “My goodness I’m glad they discovered that!”

Demonstrating the 4 steps of pressing olive oil. Stone pressing, God’s oil, human use & lamp oil.

I was especially fascinated by the winepress as it was authentic and dated by archeologists to near the time of Jesus based on pottery found there. Notice the trampling area, the notch to drain and the holding trough in front of it.

In a winepress dated to roughly Jesus’ day.

We passed through the fertile Jezreel Valley and passed Har’Meggido (aka Armageddon) on the way to Mount Carmel. This was an important passage for travelers and armies. Because of this it was the site of the significant battles of the ages like Deborah & Sisera and others.

The Revelation of Jesus Christ evokes the showdowns of Har’Meggido to indicate the victory ahead for Jesus & His Kingdom.

On Mount Carmel overlooking the Brook Kishon and surrounding valley.

Next we arrived at Carmel. We learned that in Hebrew Carm’el means “the vineyard of God”. If you see “el” in a Hebrew word it usually designates “God”. For example: Isra’el. Mount Carmel is of course the sight of the great showdown & victory of Elijah. (Notice the El’Ijah: God is My God!) 1 Kings 18:22. Baal was supposed to be in charge of the rain, but Elijah demonstrated that Yahweh was *actually* in charge of the rain.

A very typical salad bar at Mitzpe Carmel Restaraunt.

From here we grabbed lunch and headed to the modern city of Haifa. Our guide, Sufian, noted that Haifa is the place where Muslims, Jews & others lives together in harmony unlike many other places in Israel.

An view overlooking Ba’hai Gardens, Haifa, bay & port.

Caesarea Maritime is the city built by Herod on the Mediterranean Sea. No expense was spared in its building. It sported seaside palaces with seaside pools, a hippodrome (race track), theater and harbor that was envisioned to compete with Alexandria.

The theater built by Herod in Caesarea. James & Sarah demonstrated the excellent acoustics by singing.

It is here at Caesarea that Peter made the monumental transition to accepting a Gentile and all people as God does. Paul said “I appeal to Caesar” in this city.

The floor of a palace in Caesarea where the apostle Paul appealed to Caesar.

A stone with the Latin inscription: “Pontias Pilate, the prefect of Judea [erected a building] to [the emperor] Tiberias”.

Stone inscription noting Pontias Pilate erected a building to Tiberias in Caesarea.

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Israel Study Trip

Around the Sea of Galilee

The back of our hotel in Tiberias, beside the Sea of Galilee,
whose modern name is Lake Kinneret

The highest peak in the photo above is Mt. Arbel. The other side of the mountain is full of caves, with a bloody history. These caves were used by Jews as hideouts during a rebellion in 37 BC. Herod the Great (before he was great) crushed the rebellion by lowering soldiers over the cliff in cages to drag the rebels and their families out of the caves and drop them down the cliffs.

A view from the top of Mt. Arbel
The excavated ruins of Kfar Nahum (village of Nahum) now known as Capernaum.
This is the village where Jesus lived during most of His ministry

This is a grindstone of black basalt, a rock which is very common in this area. Jesus said, “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” Quite possibly a millstone and the sea were in sight of the people when He said it.

The Sea of Galilee from Capernaum

The picture above is a recently excavated synagogue at Magdala from the time of Jesus. Notice the pillars, the seating around the inner square, and more seating around the outer edge, with a beautiful mosaic floor in the aisle between. The Bible tells us Jesus taught in all the synagogues in Galilee, so He very likely walked these very stones. In the center is a beautifully carved stone that was likely part of the lectern where the scriptures were read.

A closer look at the mosaic floor
Above is a modern chapel which we also toured. We had a time of singing in the rotunda under the dome, and a prayer service in a chapel in which there is a famous picture of the woman touching Jesus’ hem.