Friday, July 07, 2006

Holy Land Pilgrimage - Days 1 and 2

Susan and I led 28 adults on pilgirmage to the Holy Land from June 24 - July 3. Although I did not keep journal entries as we went, I spent most of the flight home journaling each day's events and though I would share that. Below is the entry for Day 1 and Day 2.

Days 1 and 2 - June 24/25 - Flight to Tel Aviv and Arrival
We arrived in Tel Aviv after leaving Miami and having a three hour layover in an ugly part of the Frankfurt airport. This was pretty awful. There were no decent food offerings, inadequate seating, and cigarette smoke from a nearby smoking area made the air acrid. We were glad to get out of there.
The Tel Aviv airport is beautiful. There is a stunning water fountain in one of the main passenger areas. A large round shower of water drops from the ceiling into the fountain below at intervals. It really is quite striking. As we were standing in the passport control/immigration area of the airport in Tel Aviv, it was noticeable that foreigners of of Arab descent were required to leave the line and were escorted to a different area, I presume for stricter investigation and interrogation. I saw three separate individuals/families to whom this occurred.
After we had passed through customs and immigration, we were met by a representative of Amiel Travel which is the company that works with Friendship Tours in Israel. We were also introduced to Ikey, who was to be our guide throughout the week. Ikey is in his forties, perhaps early fifties. We would soon learn that he is an Israeli Jew and very proud of both his country and his faith and enthusiastic about sharing his knowledge and love of each. We would also find out during the week, that he is still serves in the Israeli Army. Durin g the week, Ikey would state on several occasions, "Israeli is proof of a miracle of God." He would quote Isaiah 51:3, "For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord..." As examples of this he would point tp the many, many areas where the Tree Planting project had indeed made the desert a garden.
After we had all gathered our bags, Ikey led us out to the bus where we met Dallal, an older man, probably in his late sixties who would turn out to be quiet, gentle and very caring of us, not to mention, a terrific driver.
Our only stop for today was Joffa (ancient Joppa). Here there is an area which Ikey had told us was a ghetto where no one wanted to live. The streets were ancient and narrow. The government decided to turn it into an artists’ colony. Now it is a thriving and very expenisve area where there are art galleries. Although many artists still live there from the days of the original project, it has become very chic. The winding narrow streets and alleys let you know the antiquity of the place.
Tel Aviv is a bustling city, the largest in Israel, very modern with a lot of action. Of course, Israel is not a large country. It is about the size of New Hampshire or Vermont. Ikey said to get a sense of its size, imagine a square 84 miles x 84 miles. That’s pretty small.
Our hotel, the Sharon, was situated in Herzeliah right on the Mediterranean Sea. Several of our group took advantage of that and went for a swim before dinner. I had to spend some time with Ikey reviewing the itinerary, so I didn’t get to swim until the next morning.
We had dinner, a buffet with many choices - chicken, fish, lots of salads and cold offerings and sweets. Humus would be a fvorite for everyone at virtually every meal. After dinner, I asked for a room and the group got to know each other. As it was Sunday, I celebrated the Holy Eucharist and preached a brief homily. Bed felt good. It had been a long journey from Miami on Saturday at 10:30 AM.

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