The Philadelphia Daily News, April 18, 2000
Israel: The Birthplace of Easterby Joseph Mulligan
For the Daily News
Christianity and Easter were born in Israel's Jerusalem, and pilgrims of many faiths will descend here in Jubilee Year 2000 as Pope John Paul II did recently.
Every year, millions come to discover this exciting country full of fascinating contradictions. Israel is biblically historic but high-tech and modern; uncomplicated but cultured; holy but cosmopolitan.
Even though we went to Israel as pilgrims to celebrate the holy places of the Old and New Testament, we also took advantage of an exciting Mediterranean vacation.
Our first stop was in sophisticated Tel Aviv, where our first-class hotel overlooked beautiful beaches and a colorful boat marina. Israel's climate is usually warm (or hot), so the blue Mediterranean surf was the perfect antidote to our 5,800-mile jet lag.
Although we toured from northern Galilee and Haifa to the southern Dead Sea, most of our visits were to Christian holy places. Nevertheless, everywhere we traveled, we enjoyed the other "faces" of Israel: its people, its history, its ceaseless political atmosphere and the important sites of many religions.
Our trip was planned by Peter's Way International (Jericho, N.Y.), but other reliable agencies, such as Ohio's Regina Tours and George's International in San Diego, specialize in Holy Land travel.
Typical cost per traveler is $1,800 to $3,000 per person, including round-trip airfare, first-class motorcoach transportation and guides and fine food and lodging in guest houses or hotels in Jerusalem, Nazareth or Tiberias and Bethlehem.
Throughout our 10 days, guides explained scriptural and historical relationships surrounding each holy place or site. Their friendliness to the Palestinian West Bank residents helped ensure our constant safety, which was never compromised. George's International (operating since 1925) has "never had one of their travelers harmed in any way."
7,000 years of history
Time seems to stand still in this land, protecting Israel's historical and biblical authenticity. For example, at Qumran's mountain caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, little civilization or industry intrudes upon the harsh beauty of the countryside.
While wading in the soft surf of the Dead Sea, we even surprised a herd of ibex (horned wild goats). I wasn't certain whether we or the ibex were more frightened.
On the Jericho Road in the arid Moab Desert, tents of Bedouin goat-herders dot the countryside as in biblical times. At a solitary rest stop named the Good Samaritan Inn, we remembered a traveler's compassion in the biblical story and then rode on grumpy camels for fun and photos near 7,000-year-old archaeological digs.
Outside Bethlehem, we stooped to enter ancient natural caves that may have sheltered shepherds on that starry Christmas night 20 centuries ago.
So much to discover
Israel is only 100 miles wide, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, and 500 miles long to southernmost Eilat. Everywhere in this small nation are abundant religious, cultural and historical sites.
Although we mostly visited New and Old Testament sites, we also toured Muslim and Jewish shrines, and remains of Crusader sites more than nine centuries old. In Jerusalem, we visited the holiest site of Judaism, including the Western (Wailing) Wall, the only remnant of the ancient Temple that escaped destruction by the soldiers of Titus around 70 AD.
Following custom, my wife deposited small prayer slips from loved ones in the cracks of the age-old structure, which is partitioned into men's and women's sections.
Above the wall, on the Muslim quarter's Temple Mount, we admired the magnificently tiled exterior and golden Dome of the Rock, one of the most recognizable features of this exalted city.
Just across from the Dome, we walked barefoot into the sacred El Aqsa Mosque where faithful Muslims knelt in prayer upon hundreds of colorful carpets.
From Capharnaum in Galilee, we drove west to Mount Carmel, the birthplace of Elijah and the home of the Carmelite Order, overlooking the modern port city of Haifa on the Mediterranean and the beautiful golden dome of the Baha'i religion's Shrine.
The trip south to the world's oldest city, Jericho, near where the fabled Sodom and Gomorrah are thought to have stood, is a trip of only 150 miles. In that short distance we traveled through more than 7,000 years of the Bible.
Nowhere else on earth can one be surrounded by thousands of years of history.
Every time I think of my pilgrimage, I think of another place that "was the most wonderful place of all!" But at this writing, I remember the shores of the awe-inspiring Sea of Galilee. At the water's edge, I rinsed my hands and fingered its pebbles as I wondered, "Did Jesus touch these same pebbles and wash His hands and feet here?"
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