Friday December 23, 2016
Our adventure in Israel began on Friday, December 23, 2016 when we landed in Tel Aviv and taxied to the home of Jan and Simon Strauss. Jan was an AFS student from South Africa at the Ed and Barb Schott residence in 1969. Here we are with Jan and Simon in the backyard of their lovely home.
They gave us a driving tour of Tel Aviv during the day and we enjoyed an amazing lunch in Jaffa, to a artist section of the original city where many artists live and have shops. Clearly, if our first taste of the food in Israel looks like THIS, it’s going to be a great trip!
That evening we were joined by their two kids, their spouses, and the four grand children for a Shabbat dinner that was joyous and lovely. After the kids toted in the challah, the candles were lit, and the prayers were lifted. The food was amazing: butternut soup, lasagne and fish, a variety of salads and side dishes, topped off with chocolates from Jan’s BonneBouche (www.BonneBouche.co.il cupcake factory!
Saturday December 24, 2016
We headed north though Alonei Abba, a Templar village, to a place with origins in the middle ages called Bethlehem of Galilee (not the Bethlehem of Christ’s birth). There we stopped for lunch in a Yemeni restaurant called the Jachnun Restaurant and B&B. We feasted on nachum (a doughy bread which you peal layer by layer with your hands), Malawah, a layered crispy grilled Yemeni bread, and Skhug, a sauce with mashed tomato and a brown boiled egg. (The instructions in the menu say that when dipping bread in the skhug, knives and forks are for “emergency only.”)
We drove through Migdal, the first century town overlooking the Galilee where we’ll be staying next week, drove past a Druise village, and stopped in Magdala at a spot beside the Sea of Galilee thought to be the home of Mary of Magdalene. Archeologists are excavating an old first century synagogue there where Jesus is thought to have preached. (The lovely Catholic sisters who guided us through the property explained that a Catholic priest was developing the property and he hit the jackpot during excavations by finding the oldest synagogue in Israel). The church at the water has an area dedicated to women and a boat sculpture memorializing stories of Jesus on the sea with his disciples. A stone slab is thought to represent the shape of the old synagogue. The mosaic floor is amazing.
Next, we moved down the shoreline a bit and saw the Church of the Beatitudes, a second century Christian Church which stands on the older temple mount where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. The Church was closed but we walked in far enough to see the water of the Sea of Galilee.
We stayed at Galilion Hotel (www.galilion.co.il in the Upper Galilee between Kiryat Shmona and Rosh Pina, Hula Me. Dinner was at Tanureen, another fabulous spread of delicious Yemeni treats.
Sunday Dec. 25 Christmas Day
This was the best hotel breakfast ever!
Went north the to town of Metula and the overlook at Dado’s Panorama into Lebonan. The views were clouded, but we could make out the rolling tops of the Golan Heights to the east.
Lunch was at a place called Auberge Schlamit in Rosh Pina. This area was an 1890 settlement and the restaurant was the site of the 1949 signing of cease-fire agreement between Syria and Israel. The peace discussions took place here – and the place is lovely!
Then to Nazareth on Christmas Day!
Driving into Nazareth is a bit of a shock. It’s a big bustling Arab city, messy with trash in the streets and garbage piling up beside buildings. Occasional touches of Christmas flashed from the shop windows. But once we started walking from our parking spot down the narrow roads to the Basilica, walking the roads where Jesus walked as a boy, the contrast between our images from Sunday School pictures and the 21st Century Nazareth seemed unimportant.
We visited the Basilica of the Annunciation, which encloses the grotto believed to be the home of the Virgin Mary.
It’s a quick trip back 2,000 years.The grotto, the home of the Virgin Mary (and the place where she is called by God) became a 1st and a 2nd century worship place. In 427 the first Byzantine church was built on the site, and in the 12th Century a Crusade Church was built over the Byzantine ruins. The current basilica was built over ruins of the four earlier churches, consecrated in 1969.
Had cookies and wine in the cutest little grotto type place where we could hear the Christmas bells from the Basilica. Thank you Jan and Simon for a wonderful introduction to Israel!