Trips through Insrael
- Vinodkumar Boniface
Of late I have been doing quite a bit of traveling and I felt like writing about it.
On March 11, I had been to QESARIYYA (CAESAREA) with my professor, her husband and a friend of theirs. This city was the capital of the Roman
province of Judea. There are lots of Roman ruins - streets, houses, warehouses, mosaic floors (with beautiful pictures as well as script) etc.
The most spectacular part is the Roman amphitheatre. It has a semi-circular
gallery with the performing area in the middle and dressing rooms under the ground. It has been almost fully reconstructed and is now used for staging
music programs and plays. There is also a fort built by Crusaders. This fort was subsequently used by Muslims. Nearby there are remains of an old
church and synagogue. This city was an important port but most of the old
harbor is now submerged under the sea.
We then went to ISFIYA, a Druze town, for lunch. The food was excellent. The Druze are native people who
have their own religion, and are friendly towards Jews. They wear a distinctive traditional dress with headgear. We then went to
DALIYAT-EL-KARMIEL, another Druze town. There were lots of souvenir stalls and we spent some time strolling around before returning back. This trip
took us through the CARMEL mountains and along a route called LITTLE SWITZERLAND, because of the scenic beauty and hairpin bends.
On March 16, I went to Jerusalem with my friends here (2 Indian and 1
German). In Jerusalem we took a circular trip by bus which allows people to get off and on at 26 tourist spots for a fixed fare.
This includes a running commentary in English by the driver who is also a tour guide. We
didn't have time to get off at more than 2 places. We saw the other spots on the move. Our first stop was at Holyland Hotel where we saw a wonderful
model of Jerusalem at the time of the Second Temple, i.e., around the time of Jesus. The Temple looks very impressive compared to all other buildings.
In the adjacent compound (Myland Exhibition), there are similar models of
contemporary buildings. We then went to the Old City where I was the guide for my friends, as I had been there earlier with my professor. During this
trip, I was able to write a prayer request and place it in the Western Wall. My earlier trip with my professor was on Shabbat and I was not allowed to
write a note.
On March 31, I had been to AKKO (ACRE) with my friends - the same 4 of us.
This city is reputed to be the most ancient port which lost its importance after YAFO (JAFFA) was developed. The city has a wonderful wall running all
along the sea for protection. We went on a boat cruise which took us along the wall. The main attraction is the Subterranean Crusader Fort. This fort
was filled with mud and built on by the later Muslim rulers, and so is under the ground. It has now been excavated and we can see the Knights' Chambers,
an old Church etc. There is a short (about 5-1/2 feet tall), narrow (allowing only one person) passage linking 2 portions of the fort and
running for about 150-200 feet. In Akko there is a prison used by British to jail Jewish freedom fighters. Akko is famous for Napolean's defeat at
the hands of the ruling Pasha, and there are many places related to this war. During this trip we
traveled by train (first time in Israel) from Tel Aviv to Akko, and back. Trains are neat, clean and air-conditioned, but are
not as punctual as Japanese ones.
My next trip was to KINNERET (Sea of Galilee) on April 8 with my professor, her husband and one Indian friend. We first went to a Greek Orthodox Church
built on the short to commemorate Christ's healing of the paralytic who was let down through the roof by his friends. It is nice pretty church was a
pinkish-red exterior, and lots of beautiful paintings on the inner walls and ceiling. Nearby is KFAR NAHUM (CAPERNAUM) where there is a broken down 4th
century synagogue. This was built on the earlier one which belonged to the time of Christ. The older one had black stones which can still be seen
below the white stones of the newer synagogue, which is also broke down. Another important site here is what is believed to be the house of St.
Peter. It is octagonal in shape and only the walls remain. We then went to TABGHA where there are two churches - one (Church of the Primacy of Peter)
built over a rock where the resurrected Christ is believed to have cooked fish over coals and commissioned Peter to "Feed my lambs", and the other
(Church of Multiplication) is built over a rock where Christ is supposed to have multiplied 5 loaves and 2 fishes to feed 5000 people. The second
church has a beautiful ancient mosaic on the floor including 2 fishes and a basket of loaves. We had lunch at TIBERIAS and then went to GINNOSAR which
is a kibbutz (a Jewish communal village) having a 2000 year old boat. This boat was discovered in 1986 when the level of the Sea of Galilee went down
due to drought. The boat is about 26 feet long and is on display after extensive chemical treatment to protect the wood and prevent it from rotting
away. Next went to YARDENIT, the place where the river Jordan starts from the Sea of Galilee and where Christ is supposed to have been baptized by
John the Baptist. There are lots of facilities built on the bank for baptisms. We then went to BEIT GABRIEL, a community centre with theatres,
restaurant and art galleries. We had tea there and were fortunate to be able to see the room where Yitzhak Rabin (the ex-Prime Minister of Israel)
and King Hussein (of Jordan) signed an agreement. Visitors are not allowed into this room, but my professor's husband managed to get it open for us.
Later, we headed home.
On April 14, we (my friends and I) went on a hiking trip to EIN AVDAT. It took about 3 hours to trk from one end to the other. We followed a small
stream in the desert up its course with a small waterfall. It is rocky desert all around except for the greenery around the stream. Up in the
cliffs there are some caves which were used by Byzantine monks. In one of the ledges, we saw a Catholic group celebrating Mass.
I made a trip to Jerusalem on Easter (April 23) with Dr. Joseph Gnanaraj, a post doctoral fellow at Bar Ilan University in Israel. I had met him
earlier on Republic Day at the Ambassador's house. Next I saw him in our church on Good Friday. Since Gnanaraj was also interested in going to the
GARDEN TOMB in Jerusalem for Easter, we both went to Jerusalem the night
before and stayed at a youth hostel. We made it in time for the sunrise service in English at 0630 hours. The Garden Tomb is believed by some to be
the actual tomb of Jesus and not the one in the Holy Sepulchre Church. One thing good about the Garden Tomb is that it is maintained as it was and no
superstructure has been built around it - it looks authentic. The tomb has an almost circular front with a rectangular door. There is a groove near
the base on which a stone could be rolled to seal the tomb. I couldn't see the inside of the tomb on Easter as there were lots of people (We spent
about half an hour in the queue to get in and barely managed to find seats).
There were continuous services in many languages. The Easter service was wonderful and the message very meaningful. The music was very good too. We
then went to the Holy Sepulchre Church and saw the Roman Catholics and Ethiopians conducting their services. Next we went to the ISRAEL MUSEUM
which has the SHRINE OF THE BOOK. This shrine has the DEAD SEA SCROLLS (scrolls of scripture found at QUMRAN near the Dead Sea, which
are the most
ancient, intact ones available) and also archaeological findings of the community
(ESSENES) which used these scrolls. The museum also has lots of archaeological exhibits. In the Judaism Section, there are 3 synagogues on
display - whole synagogues were dismantled in the original country, transported to Israel and reconstructed. One of the three is the Cochin
Synagogue. There was also a flower exhibition in the museum. On April 28 and 29, I went to the Dead Sea with friends in my university.
We first went to MASADA, a hilltop fortress palace of King Herod (of Jesus' time). It was later the last stand of the Jews rebelling against the Roman
invaders. The hill has very steep slopes and so the fortress was very secure. (We went up by a cable car though it is possible to climb on foot
along the SNAKE PATH, so called as it is very circuitous). The Romans had to build a huge earthen ramp (seen even today) to breach the
defence. The Jews inside committed mass suicide, preferring death to surrender. Masada
is a very emotional place for Jews, and many army units swear "Masada shall not fall again". The fortress had huge storerooms, water cisterns and
luxurious living quarters with swimming pools and heated bathhouses. There was a bakery, tannery etc. and also look-out towers. It was quite a huge
settlement on top where some 1000 people were living at the time of its defeat. Next we went to EIN GEDI on the shores of the Dead Sea. We had a
dip in the sea and though it is not possible to sink, I didn't try to move too much away from the shore. The water is very salty and one has to be
very careful about broken skin and eyes. We also had a mud bath with the famous black mud available at some places on the shore. The salt content is
so high that all the rocks and stones on the shore are covered with a very thick layer of salt. On the second day, we trekked to the nearby SHULAMIT
waterfalls. We also saw the EIN GEDI water spring. We spotted some deer and ibexes around.