Cancer is nothing when you have hope!! This site is all about living … and living well … with late-stage cancer. I hope you will journey along with me through the ups and downs of living with lung cancer.
I think just about every tour to Israel makes a trip to St. Peter’s Restaurant. Our tour did … and every tour I have looked at does. My mother went on an Israel tour back in 1978 or so … and her tour group went to St. Peter’s, too. So, if you go on a tour to Israel, chances are good that you too are going to have the opportunity to visit St. Peter’s Restaurant.
This restaurant caters to tour groups so there is a very large parking lot that accommodates several buses at any given time. Reservations are taken so there is no wait – or, we didn’t have one. In fact, the day we went to the restaurant, it wasn’t very full at all, at least not when we first arrived. There was a bigger crowd by the time we left.
There are a couple of comments I have to make about the menu. When I saw “baked potato,” I expected what we get here in the United States: a big foil-wrapped potato onto which is slathered butter, sour cream, cheese, and maybe chives and bacon bits. Not so. You’ll see a picture of the baked potatoes below. You’ll see why I spent some time wondering when they were going to be bringing out the baked potatoes.
The same could be said about the coffee the menu says we will get. What we got was a tiny, tiny taste of coffee. A couple of small sips. For a coffee drinker like me who can easily drink a pot of coffee or more, that was just a tease!
Located in the Kibbutz Ginosar is a museum featuring an ancient boat that was discovered on the beaches of the western shore of the Sea of Galilee in 1986. Dubbed the Jesus Boat because it dates back to the time of Jesus, this remarkably well-preserved boat is the ninth oldest boat yet to be discovered in the world.
The Jesus Boat was discovered on the Sea of Galilee between Ginnosar and Magdala by two brothers. Moshe and Yuval Lufan, fishermen from the Kibbutz Ginosar, made the discovery in 1986 during a drought that caused the lake to be very low.
The boat measures almost 30 feet in length, 8 feet in width, and 4 foot in height. While it was built primarily of cedar and oak, 12 different kinds of wood were used to build and/or maintain the boat: Christ thorn, carob, pine, hawthorn, cedar, oak, sycamore, laurel, willow, judas tree, plane tree, and Atlantic terebinth.
The Story of The Jesus Boat
Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ll just let the museum tell you about how the boat was discovered and preserved. You can start and stop the little slide show if you want to read the explanations.
Besides the boat, other artifacts were discovered. Radiocarbon testing showed that the boat dates as far back as 40 BC and the pottery and nails found with it from 50 BC to AD 50.
Cooking pot and nails discovered with the Jesus Boat. These items aided in the radiocarbon dating of the boat.Of course, no one knows whether Jesus or any of His disciples ever rode on this boat, but its discovery gives insight into the type of vessels that were used when He walked on this earth. Furthermore, boats like it played a very important role in Jesus’ ministry and are mentioned repeatedly in the Gospels.
Interestingly, Ginosar is the Hebrew pronunciation of the town of Gennesaret, a town mentioned in the New Testament as a place where Jesus taught and performed miracles.
34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret.35 And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him36 and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed. Matthew 14:34-36
Life in a Kibbutz
As mentioned, the Galilee boat was found by kibbutz members and the museum housing the boat is on Kibbutz Ginosar property. Many people do not know what a kibbutz (translation, “gathering”) is so this seems as good a place as any to discuss exactly what one is.
I find the concept interesting, though I don’t know if I would like living in one. In a kibbutz, you live in a true democracy. Every decision is made by the vote of the people. But, in some ways, it seems like you are also living in a socialistic place because no one has more than his neighbor.
Everything is shared. The general manager or Secretary of the kibbutz earns exactly the same amount as the person who does the laundry or cooks the meals. No one has more than anyone else in the kibbutz.
Every person in the kibbutz works, but they do not earn a personal salary. All monies earned by kibbutz members go into the kibbutz treasury. For example, if you are a teacher that teaches in a school outside of kibbutz, your paycheck is deposited into the kibbutz account, not into your own personal bank.
Many years ago, all kibbutz communities were dedicated to farming. Today, though, they are involved in all kinds of businesses. For example, in Kibbutz Ginosar, where the Jesus boat is, part of their income is earned by running a hotel.
In Israel, there are over 270 kibbutzim. The average size of a kibbutz is about 700 people, though some are as small as 500 or as large as 2,000.
You may apply to join a kibbutz, if you like. You must be no older than 35 and must have skills that are needed by the kibbutz to be considered. For the first year, you are considered a candidate. After the year is up, the community will vote on whether to accept you as a member. If accepted, you have a lifetime membership, no matter what. You may leave, but they cannot kick you out.
The influence of the kibbutz in Israel is great. During the 1960s, only 4% of Israeli citizens lived in a kibbutz, but about 15% of the members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, were kibbutzniks.
Some people may be familiar with the name David Ben Gurion. He was Israel’s first Prime Minister. When he retired, he moved to Kibbutz Sde Boker, a community founded in 1952, and helped develop the Negev Desert in Southern Israel. Ben Gurion, despite his status, lived in a hut that looked exactly like that of every other member of his kibbutz.
Interestingly, not everyone who lived on Kibbutz Sde Boker wanted Ben Gurion to join. He was an old man when he applied for membership and most are not considered unless they are 35 or younger. He was accepted into the kibbutz by a one-vote margin!
We saw many different kibbutzim while we were in Israel. We visited several, but only to eat (or, as we did at Kibbutz Ginosar, to see their museum). I find their way of life fascinating, even if it is a bit incomprehensible to my Western mind.
We spent our second and third nights in Israel in Tiberias, which is on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Our hotel, the Ron Beach Hotel, was remarkable and there was just something about being at the Sea of Galilee that filled my troubled soul with peace. Even today, just revisiting my photos and reliving the time I spent there is calming.
Of all of the sites in the Holy Land that we visited, the Sea of Galilee is probably the least changed from when Jesus walked on earth. It is a beautiful, heart-shaped lake found in the hills of northern Israel. I didn’t realize that it sits almost 700 feet below sea level, making it one of the lowest-lying bodies of water on earth.
Though it is called a sea, the Sea of Galilee is actually a very large freshwater lake. At its widest point, it is about 130 miles long and only 8 miles wide with a depth of 141 feet. By contrast, Lake Michigan is 307 miles long by 118 miles wide, with a depth of 279 feet.
The Sea of Galilee, which is both fed and drained by the Jordan River, is Israel’s chief water reservoir. It is also a major source of income as it draws tourists from around the world.
The lake also played an important economic role in the time of Jesus. Then, it was filled with fishermen whose catches were sold all across the Roman empire.
Palm Trees in Israel
I probably should not have been, but I was surprised and fascinated by all of the palm trees in Israel. These trees do not produce coconuts, they produce dates. Unfortunately, I recently read an article that laments the disappearance of Israel’s date palms. Apparently, an epidemic of red palm weevils is wreaking havoc across the nation. I hope they get the pest under control. I hate to think of Israel without its regal palms.
As I was doing my Bible studies recently, I was surprised to find the hoopoe listed in Leviticus among the animals that God’s chosen people were not to eat. It was in good company. Other birds that God told Israel not to eat because they were considered unclean included eagles, hawks, and owls.
Crown of Thorns
Before Jesus was crucified, his captors made mocked Him. After flogging Him, soldiers crammed a woven crown of thorns onto His head. See John 19. They didn’t know how right they were when they deridingly called Him “the King of the Jews.”
Sailing on the Sea of Galilee
These two boats, the Matthew and the Mark, take thousands of tourists for a short ride on the Sea of Galilee.Notice the American flag flying on the Matthew boat. It was raised while they played the Star Spangled Banner as we left the dock. For me, that was a very moving, meaningful and much-appreciated gesture.
Here is a video I took while riding on the Matthew. I’m certainly not a professional videographer, but hopefully, you can begin to feel the experience. Notice the song playing in the background, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Yes, He does and that never feels truer than when you’re cruising on the Sea of Galilee, remembering all He has done for you personally and the world in general.
Always the animal lover, I thoroughly enjoyed the seagulls that follow the boats as they “go out to sea.” Apparently, my enthusiasm for the birds was noticed by our tour guide. He brought me (and several other tourists) some old bread to throw. I was suddenly in heaven … and the birds couldn’t have been happier.
Mount Carmel is a coastal mountain range in northern Israel that stretches from the Mediterranean Sea towards the southeast. A number of towns are located there. Perhaps most notably, Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, is located on its northern slope.
In ancient times, Mount Carmel served as a barrier to traffic along the coastal plain. According to BiblePlaces.com, “the 1500-foot high limestone mountain impeded armies and merchants traveling to the Jezreel Valley.”
Elijah Challenges the Prophets of Baal
Mount Carmel is the site where the Prophet Elijah challenges Baal, considered the mightiest of the idol gods worshipped in Israel, to a contest to determine who was really God: the Lord, Yahweh, or Baal. For the challenge, Elijah asked King Ahab to send 450 prophets of Baal to meet him at Mount Carmel.
Elijah, at God’s behest, challenged the prophets of Baal to place a slaughtered ox on top of a wood pile and call for their Baal to light the fire to cook the meat. With much fanfare, the prophets pled with their god to send down fire to light the wood. No matter what the prophets did or how loudly they called upon their god, the wood remained unlit.
When it was Elijah’s turn to prepare his ox for a fire, he had water poured on the wood and on the meat, just to make his God’s work a bit more challenging. When he called on the Lord God to send fire, the wood, meat, and all standing water were consumed in flames.
This display of the Lord’s power convinced those who were worshipping Baal to turn their allegiance back to Yahweh, the God of Israel. Subsequently, the crowd helped Elijah capture the 450 prophets before they could escape and Elijah killed them all. (For the actual Biblical account of the contest, see 1 Kings 18)
Visiting Mount Carmel
Mount Carmel, which means God’s vineyard or God’s garden, is a lovely place to visit. It is easy to see why it is a symbol of fertility throughout the Old Testament.
The very first place our Gate1 tour of Israel took us was to Caesarea Maritima. It was very cold, very windy, and very wet, but the weather did not dampen my enthusiasm for the beauty of this spot.
This ancient city was excavated during the 1950s and 1960s. The site became part of the new Caesarea National Park in 2011.
Caesarea Maritima was built in the Sharon plain on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea by Herod the Great in honor of Caesar. Built prior to the birth of Jesus, the seaport included a forum, theater, temples, public baths, and paved streets. Perhaps most impressive, at least to me, was the elaborate aqueduct system that brought fresh water to the city’s 50,000 inhabitants from Mt. Carmel.
Magnificient Aqueduct System
I was so taken by the area’s beauty today, that I failed to fully appreciate all of its rich history while I was actually touring Israel. If I ever get to return, I will go with a much better understanding of the places that we visit and their historical and Biblical significance. For now, I’m going to do it backward by trying to match the pictures I took to the history I am researching now.
Come along with me!
I think one of the most amazing things to me about visiting Caesarea Maritime, aka “By the Sea,” was the condition of the ruins. The city was built during c. 22–10 BC and yet it is easy enough to stand there and imagine the citizens cheering in the amphitheater as they watched chariot races, gladiatorial combats, and theatrical events. The structure, obviously, with many enhancements, is still used today!
My video skills are not the best, to say the least, but I couldn’t capture the magnitude of the ruins at Caesarea Maritime with stills. So I tried to make a little video. If you watch the video, you’ll hear how windy it was the day we visited!
First-century Roman Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, said that the harbor built in Caesarea by Herod the Great was as large as the major harbor in Athens, Piraeus. The city grew quickly and was soon the largest city in Judaea.
Biblical Significance of Caesarea
Herod the Great, whose name was bestowed, not because he was a great leader, but because he was a great builder, including Caesarea, was appointed King of Judea by the Romans in 37 BC. A few years later, when he heard that the “King of the Jews” (Jesus) had been born in Bethlehem, he was consumed with jealousy and was determined to kill the baby.
God warned Joseph and the wise men of Herod’s intentions. They fled Bethlehem before Jesus could be killed. When Herod realized that the baby was no longer in Bethlehem, he ordered that “all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under,” be put to death. (Matthew 2:13-16)
Apostle Paul’s Ministry
Paul, who was called the apostle to the Gentiles, and likely some of the other apostles, preached along the Mediterranean coast, from Joppa (Tel Aviv) to the Roman city of Caesarea. Paul spent two years imprisoned in Caesarea. During that time, he had opportunities to witness about his faith in Christ to Felix, the Governor of Judea, and his wife, Drusilla. (See Acts 24)
Pilate lived in Caesarea, as did others who ruled the land. (Interestingly, until 1961, there was no archeological evidence that Pontius Pilate ever existed. Needless to say, some people used that fact to say that the Bible was untrue since Pilate played such a pivotal point in the crucifixion of Jesus (see Matthew 27:11-26). However, in the summer of 1961, a team of archeologists uncovered a limestone that read, “To the Divine Augusti Tiberium … Pontius Pilate … perfect of Judea … has dedicated …”)
The Roman soldier Cornelius was stationed in Caesarea. He was a centurion, which means he had command over one hundred Roman soldiers. The Bible says he was also a generous and God-fearing man whom God chose to be the first Gentile Christian convert. (See Acts 10 – 11)
Home of Philip
Philip the evangelist lived in Caesarea. Paul and his companions stayed at his home “for many days” after finishing a voyage from Tyre. (Acts 21:7-16) It was while Paul was here that the prophet Agabus warns him that he will be imprisoned when his ministry took him to Jerusalem. (Acts 21:26-36)
We visited Nazareth, the place where Jesus was raised, on the first day of our Gate1 tour. That day dawned and stayed cold and wet! What an interesting start to my very first ever international tour!
Nazareth lies in the center of Galilee in Northern Israel. It is a picturesque, hilly setting. The current city was built on top of the old village. Only a few archaeological remains from the time of Jesus have been discovered.
As of 2017, the population of Nazareth, known as the “Arab capital of Israel,” was over 75,000 people. Nearly 70% of those living in lower Nazareth today are Muslim; about 30% are Christian. The Jewish population lives in Upper Nazareth, known as Natzeret-Illitl.
In Jesus’ day, Nazareth was much smaller. The strongly Jewish population was estimated by American archaeologist James F. Strange as less than 500.
Nazareth is home to a number of Arab-owned high-tech companies, mostly in the field of software development. It is sometimes called the “Silicon Valley of the Arab community.” Another large employer is Israel Military Industries. About 300 people work there manufacturing munitions.
In Biblical Days
Mary, the young virgin betrothed to marry Joseph, of the House of David, lived in Nazareth when the angel Gabriel appeared to her, bringing her the news that God had chosen her to give birth to His Son. Can you imagine her shock?
Luke 1: 26-33
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
King Herod was very jealous when he heard that the King of the Jews had been born in Bethlehem. He sought to kill Jesus, but God had directed Joseph to take Mary and the baby to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous plan.
The little family resided in Egypt until it was safe to return home to Nazareth. While not a lot was written about Jesus’ childhood, we know that He spent most of His childhood in the town of Nazareth.
19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee,23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
Basilica of the Annunciation
While we were in Nazareth, we visited the Basilica of the Annunciation, aka Church of the Annunciation. It was quite remarkable.
I apparently didn’t get a picture of the main doors through which you enter the church. They are worth a look. I did get some close-ups of some of the door.
The Church of the Annunciation has an interesting history. It was first built by Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, in the mid 4th century. It might interest you to know that Helena also built the first Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
The original church was destroyed during an Arab invasion in 638 AD. In 1109, Crusaders arrive in Nazareth. They built the second church to honor the hometown of Jesus. Sometime between 1229 and 1263 AD, the church was destroyed again, this time by Mamluks (Azzahir Baibars).
In 1620 AD, the Franciscans purchased the ruins of the Basilica of the Annunciation and built the third church. In 1730, the church was rebuilt for the fourth time. In 1877, the church was enlarged.
Finally, the church that stands today was built during 1955-1969. Designed by Giovanni Muzio, it is a beautiful structure that features two levels, the Upper Church, which is decorated with mosaics and artwork gifted to the church by nations across the world, and the Lower Church.
The Lower Church enshrines a sunken grotto that contains what is believed to be the home of the Virgin Mary. It is said that it was here that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, announcing that she would be the mother of the Messiah.
Located adjacent to the Church of the Nativity is Bethlehem’s Catholic parish, Church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. You may have seen it before when Christmas Eve services are televised from Bethlehem around the world.
This beautiful church shares a wall with the Church of the Nativity. The current structure was built in 1882 on top of the ruins of a Crusader church and monastery that belonged to the Augustinians.
While we did not see it, the church also stands atop a two-room cave where St Jerome, a Dalmatian-born priest (c.347-420), translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin. His translation was called the Vulgate, the authoritative version of the Bible for Catholics until the 20th century.
Who Was Saint Catherine?
I had not ever heard of Saint Catherine before my visit to Bethlehem. With the beautiful church that honors her built right beside the Church of the Nativity, I wanted to know more about her.
Apparently, Saint Catherine was a 4th-century Christian martyr hailing from Egypt. She was said to have been well-educated and a princess who became a Christian at around the age of 14. From that time until she was martyred at the age of 18, she is believed to have won many people over to Christianity.
Legend has it that she challenged the emperor Maxentius for persecuting Christians and for worshipping false gods. Enraged, the emperor threw her into prison where she was beaten until blood ran from her in streams.
Catherine steadfastly refused to show that she was in pain. Instead, she is said to have stood her ground with her eyes raised to Heaven, celebrating her Lord. In prison, legend says that angels rubbed her wounds with salve while a dove from Heaven fed her. It is believed the Christ visited her in her cell, encouraging her to keep up the brave fight.
While she was in prison, hundreds visited her and were converted to Christianity, including the wife of emperor Maxentius. They were all put to death for their newfound faith.
Oddly, after Maxentius was unable to break Catherine’s will by torture or starvation, he proposed marriage to her. She refused, telling him that her spouse was Jesus Christ to whom she had consecrated her virginity.
Furious, Maxentius ordered her to be tortured using an execution wheel. Usually reserved for murderers or robbers, execution by the wheel was slow and excruciatingly painful. The convict was first tied down to the floor, then a wheel that had spikes in it, designed to mutilate the body, was dropped on them.
However, when Catherine touched the wheel, it broke. Spared of dying the long and painful death by the wheel, she was instead beheaded. Rather than blood, it is said that a milk-like substance flowed out of her neck. Legend says that her body was subsequently carried by angels to Mount Sinai.
Both Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics honor Saint Catherine as a saint. She is considered a Great Martyr by the Eastern Orthodox Church and one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers by Roman Catholics.
(I relied on information found here to tell the story of Saint Catherine.)
A highlight of the tour through Israel (and Bethlehem, which is in the West Bank and under Palestinian rule) was a visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The church, thought to be the oldest operating church in the world, was originally built by Helena, the mother of the first Christian emperor, Constantine the Great. The first church was dedicated in AD 339.
The original church was destroyed. It was rebuilt in the 6th century by Emporer Justinian (who reigned 527–565) and is largely the same today. The church that covers the cave where Jesus was born is magnificent in size and decor.
The Church of the Nativity is interesting in that it is home to three different religions: Greek Orthodox, Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox. A Muslim holds the black wrought iron key to the church. Originally, Muslims were commissioned to hold the key to keep the peace among the three Christian religions using the church.
As you can see, the Church today features no pews; its interior is mostly dark and cold and huge. You feel quite small when you stand there waiting your turn to go through the 1.2 meters high door that takes you into the cave where Jesus was born. Except for the front of the church, which is quite ornate, the only decorations are Crusader-era paintings on the massive columns, wall mosaics near the ceiling of the massive structure, and the chandeliers that hang along the columns.
The picture above, hopefully, gives you an idea of just how massive the church really is. You can see how tall the pillars are compared to an average human’s size.
Fortunately, beginning in 2013, $15 million (US) has been invested into fixing the church’s roof to keep it from falling in and to make other needed repairs to the walls and mosaics. Among the repairs is the restoration of the intricate mosaics in the church. The 12th-century mosaics, made of gold and silver leaf with mother of pearl, had been covered with soot and grime accumulated over the centuries. An Italian team was commissioned to painstakingly restore their grandeur a few years ago.
I found it quite sad that some visitors to the Church of the Nativity feel it is appropriate to desecrate it. There is graffiti on many of the stately columns lining the church. I honestly don’t know what is wrong with people.
Entering the Grotto of the Nativity
To get to the Grotto of the Nativity, you must descend steep and narrow stairs after bending to enter the doorway that is slightly less than 4 foot high. The only doorway to the Grotto is cut into a massive wall and is purposefully low. It was lowered around the year 1500 to keep looters from driving their carts into the holy spot.
Unfortunately, I did not get many pictures while in the cave. It is only about 39 feet x 10 feet and was very crowded. We were rushed to look and get out. If I ever take another Holy Land tour, I will spend more time celebrating the birth of my Savior while in the Grotto of the Nativity, regardless of how crowded or rushed we are.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
We descended a few more steep steps to see where it is believed Jesus was laid in his manger bed. This tiny spot was even more crowded. The pictures below were hastily taken of where the manger where the baby Jesus slept is believed to have been.
I looked so quickly that I don’t even remember much about the manger except that I had to climb down several steep stairs that had no railing and it was very, very crowded.
I found it interesting that a statue of the crucifixion was featured in the manger.
I have read that the rock in the Grotto of the Manger is the original rock from when Jesus was born. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of it and don’t even remember seeing it.
The manger in the Grotto is built to match the dimensions of feeding troughs that were cut into the rock by Bedouins back in Jesus’ day. If you want to see a picture, there is one here.
Last Words about the Grotto fo the Nativity
I have to qualify some of my statements. I believe Jesus may have been born in this cave that we saw beneath the Church of the Nativity. I believe he slept in a manger bed, just as the Bible says He did. I do not personally believe that any of us know exactly where Mary gave birth to Him or exactly where the manger stood. I have a little difficulty honoring exact spots that humans have decided are THE spots where historical events occurred over 2000 years ago.
With that said, it does not matter to me if the spots I saw in Bethlehem are the exact spots where my Savior was born. I’ve even seen some reports that say the Palestinian Bethlehem isn’t even the Bethlehem where Jesus was born. I don’t care. What matters to me is that He was born, He lived, He died on the cross for me and you, and He was resurrected three days later.
When I decided to make the pilgrimage to Israel, I had never visited any country outside of the United States besides Mexico. And my forays into Mexico were just to border towns like Juarez, back many years ago when you could visit there without worrying about being murdered.
I had always imagined that airlines catered to passengers who were flying long distances, across oceans, to lands far-away.
Oh! How wrong I was.
I met my friend and travel mate (and fellow 6-year lung cancer survivor) in New York City. She was coming from the DC area and I am from the Dallas metroplex. My trip on Delta to JFK International in NYC was an easy one. It was roomier than I remembered Delta being, even though the jet was relatively small.
Packed in like sardines
Unfortunately, the same was not true for the Poland Airlines LOT flight to Warsaw from JFK. If you can afford to fly first class, you have plenty of room, but those of us who are on a more limited budget get packed in like sardines.
I have never been so surprised in my life! I had always assumed that international flights were quite roomy and luxurious. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I sat in the window seat on the 8+ hour flight to Warsaw. Once the person in front of me leaned their seat all the way back, I felt completely claustrophobic and panicked. I could not move, I could not even bring my purse up off of the floor to get chapstick. It was a horrible feeling.
I dreaded the flight back to America the whole time we were in Israel. I didn’t dwell on it, but the occasional thought of coming home filled me with dread. Fortunately, on the way home, I was lucky enough to sit in an aisle seat.
Get an aisle seat!
Suddenly, I felt that I had much more room because I could lean into the aisle and use that extra space when I needed to get my purse or stretch my legs just a bit. If I ever fly internationally again, I will always try to get in an aisle seat.
We flew the red-eye flight to Warsaw. I think that really helped prevent jet lag. We slept – not much, but a little – on the plane. By the time we finally arrived in Tel Aviv and got to our hotel, it was after 10 PM, their time. So, we went to bed and got up on Tel Aviv time. I never felt jet lag while in Israel.
The same was true for the excursion home. We arrived at JFK at around 9 PM. By the time we got to our hotel, it was 10. We ate dinner and went to bed and got up on USA time. Now, I did sleep more than usual the following day. Whether that was jet lag or just exhaustion from being away from home for 12 days, I am not certain.
On the way to Israel, I packed a lot of things in my backpack. I had several changes of clothes, important soaps and lotions and inhalers, blankets and travel pillows, pills, pajamas, shoes, underwear … I also had my purse and a big travel bag into which my purse fit.
My backpack was heavy. My purse was heavy. And because I felt like I needed to take everything I owned to Israel with me (I am being fictitious, but only slightly), my checked bag was heavy. I took too much. I won’t do that again!
On the way back home, I stuffed my checked bag full and lightened the load in my backpack. It was quite the relief not to be carrying 30 or more pounds on my back!
So, here are the takeaways. Don’t expect to have much room on your international flights. It won’t happen unless you can afford to fly first class, or at least, business class. If you have the money to choose one of these options, do it! I will have to make do with passenger class (is that what it is called?) but I will always try to get an aisle seat. It makes all of the difference in the world as to how cramped you feel.
Secondly, try to pack light!!! It is unnecessary to take everything and the bathroom sink! You will thank yourself for being frugal with regard to baggage weight as you move from plane to plane and hotel to hotel.
Our Gate1 tour of Israel took us to Shepherds’ Field, one of three spots believed to be where shepherds learned about the birth of Jesus. Interestingly, Christians have chosen one spot – Shepherds’ Field, while Greek Orthodox believe the shepherds learned of the Savior’s birth in the eastern part of Beit Sahour and Catholics think the Christ child was announced about 400 meters north of the Greek Orthodox site, on the north ridge of Beit Sahour.
My opinion is that it doesn’t really matter which of the three spots is the one where the shepherds got the word that Jesus had been born. What is important is that He was born!
6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Luke 2:6-15
Shepherds’ Field is east of the Greek Orthodox and Catholic sites. It is also in Beit Sahour, a community southeast of Bethlehem, originally known as the Village of the Shepherds.
The Field of Boaz is visible to the east of Shepherds’ Field. This is where Ruth, grandmother of King David, met and married Boaz.
It was a cold, wet day in January when we visited Shepherd’s Field. It was amazing how warm and cozy it was when we entered the cave where Christians believe shepherds were tending their sheep the night they learned that the Christ child had been born.
The cave was fairly large, bigger than I would have guessed it would be. The ceiling was black from the fires that kept the shepherds and their flocks warm.
In the Bible study, the ROCK, the ROAD, and the RABBI, with Kathie Lee Gifford and Rabbi Jason Sobel, we learn that it is probable that the shepherds weren’t just your run of the mill sheep tenders. Instead, they were likely Levitical shepherds whose job it was to raise the blemish-free lambs to be sacrificed at the Temple in nearby Jerusalem.
The caves where the shepherds took their ewes before they gave birth to new lambs were necessarily kept in a state of purity since Jewish law required the lambs to be pure. So, the cave where Jesus, the Lamb of God, was born was almost certainly one used by the Levitical shepherds, one that had been purified.
Archaeological Ruins of Five Churches Found at Shepherds’ Field
The beautiful Shepherds’ Field church is new. In 1972, the Archimadrite Seraphim, the leader of the Monastery of Saint Savva, decided to build the full-sized church over the cave at Shepherds’ Field. It was while excavating the foundation for the new church that they found the remains of three additional ancient churches.
There are now the remains of five early-century churches found near Shepherds’ Field:
The Natural Cave Church dates to the second half of the 4th century
The Cave Church, dating to the 5th century
The Roof Chapel, dating to the 5th century
The Basilica, from the 6th century
The Monastery Church, which dates to the 7th century