Our last nights in Israel were spent at a hotel in Tel Aviv very close to the beach—just our style. The hotel staff were very polite and helpful and directed us to a nice little restaurant with an outside deck where we could people watch and enjoy the cool evening.
We tuned into the news that evening and learned that there had been some shooting in the streets of east Jerusalem that day. We had originally planned on being in Jerusalem at the end of our trip, so we were fortunate our schedule was changed and we were out of the area at that time. This event was a repercussion from a terrible tragedy that occurred earlier during our stay in Israel. These two events would be the match that sparked a recurrence of violence between Hamas and the Israeli government and armed forces. Having met so many citizens of various religions and backgrounds, I have been saddened by the news that so many innocent people are being hurt, both physically and economically. Tourism pays the bills for a lot of people there and I’m sure they aren’t hosting many visitors.
Tel Be’er Sheva
For our last bit of sight-seeing, we drove a couple of hours to the Tel Be’er Sheva which is believed to be the biblical town of Beersheba. That bit of information didn’t tell me anything, but when we discovered this was the place where Abraham lived for a while and the well outside the gates is called Abraham’s well, I became more interested. When we arrived, we checked out a replica of a horned altar, which in biblical times was a square structure with four “horns” on the top of each corner that acted as a sanctuary for anyone running from the law or vengeful parties. If you grasped one of the horns, you were “safe.” You couldn’t be taken or killed or tried as long as you held a horn. In other times, the Jewish Kings set up a system similar to this but they designated entire towns where people could run to and be free from persecution–whether they were guilty or not. An interesting system–sorta, kinda of reminds me of that old movie “Escape from New York.”
We also stopped by the well just outside the gates. An interesting factoid: in ancient times, the wells were located outside the city walls because their traditions hold that anyone who journeys through that land will be given access to water. In that environment, water is life and if the gates were closed at night and travelers came by, they could get water from the well. Not a great system for a defense of a city when under siege, but very hospitable.
We walked among the ruins that have been excavated on this hill overlooking grassy fields. The Tell had multiple layers of civilizations—some were from the Chalcolithic period, which was about 4,000-5,000 years B.C. Some of the walls were from the Roman period. We walked down uneven steep stone steps that ran along a square area (for lack of a better description) holding tight to the railing that led down to the huge cisterns. Again, a sophisticated system of water storage kept these people alive through the hot sun and long droughts.
It made sense that a community sprung up here as it was located at the intersection of two rivers. Through my camera lens I could see camels wandering around some of the fields—like the cows do at home. There are even camel crossing signs along the road.
All in all, a nice last stop to ponder the history of this ancient land.
Shopping and the Soothing Sea
At this point we were done hiking around archeological sites and were in the mood for a relaxing final afternoon. So, our guide dropped us off at the beginning of the Carmel market and we enjoyed a final Shawarma before hitting the market for our last chance to pick up gifts for some of my favorite little people back home. There were all sorts of products and food sold up and down this street. Just like in Jerusalem, the shops were small little cubby like holes with tables out front. I saw so many products—cell phone covers, backpacks, t-shirts, spices, sweets, jewelry, shoes, tourist gifts, and more. I had to get some shirts for my buddies Cayden and Carter. Wasn’t sure what their sizes were so I just told the man their ages and he did a pretty good job of picking the right shirts.
Back at the Embassy Hotel (which coincidentally was right next to the American Embassy), my parents took a nap and I headed across the street to a lovely beach. I paid some guy in an official looking t-shirt a few shekels to sit on a lounge chair and just enjoyed the sun and cool breezes. I went into the Mediterranean a few times—the water was so nice—not too cold and the waves were mild enough not to be scary. The crowds were sparse as it was a work day but one woman did come by and wanted me to get some kind of massage. After saying no thanks and her continuing to touch my legs, I had to get a little more firm in my tone, but she left and I thoroughly enjoyed a relaxing and wonderful day on the Tel Aviv beach before heading back to the hotel.
For our final dinner, my parents and I found a pizza place on the beach and had wonderful service from very friendly American transplants. We didn’t go looking for an American restaurant, it was coincidence and a nice one at that. On the way back to the hotel, I was surprised to learn how the smut industry in Tel Aviv conducts their marketing. They scatter business cards over the street where people will see them as they walk home. So basically the filth creates even more filth that someone else has to clean up.
The next morning was an early one—which is never fun for me. As our guide was driving us to the airport at five in the morning she gave one more plea to us to tell our friends how safe it is in Israel and how there are no issues between the religious groups. The drive was a bit silent, not just due to the hour but we were all wondering if she had her head in the sand the last two days and didn’t notice TV reports of gunfire happening in the streets of Jerusalem and the tragic deaths of several boys on both sides.
I found it interesting that as fast and easy as it was to enter the country, it was a long, multi-layered process to leave the country. You would think it would be the other way around. Israel is known for its expertise in security (go figure). First was the very long line to get through the first part of the airport. This was just to check passports and have a quick (in our case) or long (for the single men and a few young couples) conversation with some guards. Next a quick stop at the airline counter, then on to what we would consider security in the U.S. They manage to do all this without making us take off our shoes. Hmmmm.
It was wonderful to see ancient biblical sights and rediscover the stories of the bible in the context of where they happened. There were beautiful places with grass and flowers and hills, and other places in the sandy wilderness where the ancient people learned how to survive without electricity and cell phones.
Going with a private tour guide had its pros and cons. We could map out our own itinerary (except we weren’t able to go to a couple of places because our Jewish guide was not allowed in the Palestinian towns). We were able to go at our own pace and change our mind as we went according to our moods and didn’t have to wait on others. But, if you’re going this route, make sure to have multiple conversations with multiple guides to make sure you are a good fit for each other as you will be spending a lot of time with this person. Our guide had some good points and some not so good points and at times we were annoyed with her, but all in all we tend to be grateful for our blessings, and when we travel we want to keep it positive and look to make it a great experience.
We learned quite a bit about history, archeology, the culture, and even some modern day politics from a number of guides, movies, books, and more. If you’re a Christian and want to have a spiritual experience along with a vacation, I would recommend going with a church group led by someone you’ll have a lot of fun with who knows what they are talking about.
We had a great time and as usual are grateful for the opportunity to travel and experience the wonders of our world.
Genesis 26: 3-4
Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.