FOR MANY YEARS we’ve dreamed of taking a trip to the Holy Land with Tim’s sister, Colette, and her husband, Gary, who know the country well. They are also THE MOST FUN. Then just about the time we got the dates locked down and the tours scheduled and the details worked out BAM wouldn’t you know it, rising COVID numbers caused for us a heartbreaking postponement.
We counted down the months and finally our rescheduled trip date arrived. Tim and I reached the Charlotte airport Delta counter GIDDY in spite of last minute panic due to a missing international travel form. No one could seem to help. Then came the surprise absence of TSA PreCheck even though we’d gone through the interviews and paid the fees and confirmed our Known Traveler Numbers time and again in the weeks prior. We stood in line FOREVER and finally cleared security then ran for the plane, desperate to reach the gate and make the flight to New York.
We made it! Then along with our travel companions, the Rodbells, we boarded the next plane and settled in for an overnight international flight that would take us 5800 miles and in eleven hours, deliver us to Israel. My husband and I discussed (and I obsessed) over how to spend the air time as we traversed the globe—Tim wide awake and watching movies; me with an hour of reading then (hopefully) lights out NIGHT NIGHT. It all worked just as we’d planned, and we landed in Tel Aviv, both of us raring to go.
How we loved that city! How fabulous it was to kick things off with a delicious and celebratory Shabbat dinner at the apartment of our niece, Julia. Then for two days we explored Tel Aviv, what with museums and city strolls and a magical dip in the magical Mediterranean. I ate my first-ever falafel, and I delighted in more scoops of ice cream atop yummy sugar cones than I reckon I’d allowed myself in the past three years. Sunday night we enjoyed an extra special treat—a gathering of friends and family on the edge of the Mediterranean for a delicious, gourmet, gorgeous dinner just as the sun sunk into the sea. (I kicked off the evening with my very first Negroni; it was divine.) We walked home later, laughing and talking, when of all things Tim began to feel… ill. Shortly thereafter I followed. We spent a long, sleepless night, and I am sad to report the following morning, the Rodbells also dropped, one-by-one.
Four bad cases of food poisoning? What were the odds? Still that’s what we deduced, and it was most unfortunate as to this day, we still do not know the origin.
LET ME BE CLEAR, though, and this matters. Such a thing is NOT to be expected when traveling in Israel. It was a fluke, our bad luck, and so I’ll jump to the chase and say it took an incredible six to nine days (depending on the person) to recover well enough to achieve even a minimal level of normalcy. Tim was hit the worst and over the next seven days, missed 90% percent of our touring. It was a blessing he was able to get on a plane to come home, to tell you the truth, and when we got to Columbia we discovered he’d lost a 16 pounds. I’d lost 8. Yet in spite of how awful the being-sick part was, I want to take a moment to give you a glimpse of a beautiful, complicated country that surprised me, wowed me, and holds my heart, still.
First of all, I would never now describe the desert as “barren.” It is ethereal and beautiful.
Masada was a wonder. I could actually imagine what it was like to live at the ancient cliff-top fortress—a marvel, in so many ways.
Colette and me and The Dead Sea. Not what I expected (a theme for me, clearly!) as the water is HOT and there are salt-bergs and the sea is disappearing. Still it was an incredible experience to float and soak and enjoy the goodness of an ancient ritual.
Oh look! There’s Tim! Come to get himself some Dead Sea healing.
It was an honor to go with Gary to visit the Kibbutz where he lived in his 20s, and to learn about his time working in the banana fields. He also served in the Israeli army where, and among other things, he spent many months on lookout at the mountaintop bunker, Mount Bental, in Golan.
I am humbled to have stood in the Garden of Gethsemane where I was invited to read aloud scripture that tells of Jesus’ time in the garden, the night before he was crucified, praying while his disciples slept. I do not exaggerate when I say a powerful wave of emotion flowed over and through me. I will never not feel that.
The ancient olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane, believed to be the same trees from the time of Jesus. They are a wonder.
Jerusalem was a surprise to me, with its ancient yet bustling old walled city and Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Armenian Quarters—there was something holy to see or touch or absorb at every turn.
Our guide, Yohay, was the real heart of our trip. He both accommodated the challenges of his four gastrologically unstable clients and enthusiastically shared his love country and religion with a joy and reverence that was infectious. For instance, he took us to an archeological site in the City of David where we climbed this section of the Herodian street that ascends from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple. “Jesus most definitely walked these very steps,” he said. “You are touching where his feet touched.”
And beyond? To Jerusalem’s streets, where one need only look up.
The Sea of Galilee. Oh, the beautiful Sea of Galilee.
I loved Bethlehem. I love this photo. Notice the star? Well, okay, it is not the star but we can consider it the Sun of Bethlehem, nevertheless marking the area where the shepherds watched their flocks by night, then were heralded and made their way up (on the right in this picture) to the place baby Jesus lay. (It was a shorter distance than in my imagination.)
The Church of the Nativity. The spot where Jesus was born is just under the alter behind us. We were thrilled to get to go into the grotto, where we touched the 14-point star that marks the spot of his birth, and to touch the stone within it.
My favorite photo of all. Jeff, Beatrice, Colette, Julia, Gary, me, Tim, all at the Wailing Wall. I was overjoyed Tim made it out with us. (This involved walking and took incredible effort.) Being able to offer my prayer via a tiny slip of prayer tucked into the wall was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Needless to say, it was a prayer of gratitude.
I cannot NOT, can I? Add the postscript? That two days after we got home, I tested positive for COVID. That two days later, so did Tim. It took a minute to get over the dang thing, our hearts still full of joy but our bodies worn and weary. We’re doing fine now, recovered and already planning our next big getaway. But wherever we go, and whatever we do, I can’t imagine how anything will—or ever can—top magnificent Israel. I still keep thinking:
There’s a reason this is the holy land.