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Back to Newspaper articles archive: 2001

Ascent To HEAVENLY GROUND.(Israel and Jerusalem)

Issue: March 29, 2001

Although religious travel is an unusual business niche for travel agents, it is a logical one for a destination as unique as the Holy Land.

In Hebrew, making the journey to both Israel and Jerusalem is called "going up," because Jerusalem has a higher elevation and also because traveling there seems like going part of the way to heaven.

According to biblical account, monotheism began 4,000 years ago with Abraham, whose family became the first Jews when they journeyed to Mount Moriah and were promised the land by God.

Christian history began 2,000 years ago, when Jesus was born in a manger. And the visit of Mohammed to that mound 1,500 years ago included Jerusalem in Islamic lore.

Because Judaism is the mother of these religions and because it was born in Israel, sites that are important to its early biblical history are significant to all three faiths. And seeing places important to them all makes a tour much more interesting.


Visitors of different faiths will want itineraries that complement their traditions. Although there are many religious groups in Israel (Eastern and Russian Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Muslims, Druze and Bahai are a few), pilgrims from the U.S. can be broadly categorized for a quick look at itineraries. What follows is a general tour for a first-time visitor, and examples of how it might be adapted for various religions.


Day 1. Arrival in Tel Aviv. A bus tour of sites there and in the ancient port city of Jaffa. Overnight in Tel Aviv.

Day 2. Drive north along the Mediterranean coast. Visit the Roman ruins at Caesarea and the Crusader fortress at Acre, see a Druze village en route and view the Bahai gardens in Haifa. Overnight in Haifa.

Day 3. Drive east across the Galilee. Visit Nazareth, Capernaum, Tabgha, Mount of the Beatitudes, the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee. Overnight in the Tiberias area.

Day 4. Drive south to Jerusalem. Visit the Old City, including Mount Zion, the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Old City bazaars, the excavated Roman Cardo, the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall area. Overnight in Jerusalem.

Day 5. Tour the modern capital. Visit the Knesset (parliament) and Supreme Court buildings; the Bible Lands Museum; the Israel Museum and Shrine of the Book, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. Overnight in Jerusalem

Day 6. Drive east to Jericho, then south to the see the Dead Sea, Masada and Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Overnight in Jerusalem.

Day 7. Drive south from Jerusalem, passing Rachel's Tomb, to visit Bethlehem. Return to Jerusalem to see the model of the Temple at the Holyland Hotel. Continue west to Tel Aviv for departure.


Add a Sabbath experience that includes dinner Friday night and visiting synagogues on Saturday. Also add the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv, Sepphoris (1st century capital of the Galilee), Safed (home of the mystical Kabbalah), tombs of Jewish sages in Tiberias, ruins of the synagogue at Capernaum, a kibbutz, the Chagall Windows at the Hadassah Medical Center, planting trees, the Mount Herzl military cemetery, ruins of the ancient temple unearthed in the Jewish Quarter, the Hasmonian tunnels, the Citadel Museum and the tomb of King David on Mount Zion.


Add stops at churches for Mass. Also add Paul's prison in Caesarea, the Carmelite Church of Stella Maris in Haifa, the Basilica of Annunciation and Mary's Well in Nazareth, the Church of the Primacy and Mensa Christi near the Sea of Galilee, candle-lighting at Kursi near Tiberias, the Church of the Visitation and the birthplace of John the Baptist in Ein Kerem, a Jerusalem suburb. In Jerusalem, add the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which many consider the site of Jesus' burial and resurrection.


Add time for prayer services. Also add Peter's house in Jaffa, Megiddo (Armageddon), a ride in a wooden boat on the Sea of Galilee, the Yardenit baptismal site on the Jordan River and the Mount of Temptation in the Judean Desert. In Jerusalem, add the Garden Tomb, which this faith holds is the site of Jesus' burial and resurrection.


Add visits to the mosques around the country. Also add time in Jericho, in the Palestinian Authority and visits to the 8th-century Omiyyad Palace of Hisham and Khan Nebi Moussa in the Dead Sea area, El Jazzar Mosque in Acre and shopping in Nazareth's oriental bazaar. In Jerusalem, add the Islamic Museum and the L.A. Mayer Museum of Islamic Art and a visit to Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock in the Old City.


Tempt clients by asking them to envision themselves in the Holy Land doing these things:

* Approaching Jerusalem on foot, the way Abraham did.

* Eating dinner at the Jaffa port from which Jonah set sail before he was swallowed by a "great fish."

* Standing in the valley where David fought Goliath.

* Walking where King Solomon's Temple once stood.

* Meditating in the Galilee where Jesus preached.

* Being baptized in the Jordan River.

* Standing in the room of the Last Supper.

* Entering the gold-covered Dome of the Rock barefooted.

* Descending Mount Carmel through the Bahai gardens.


* The Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem uses modern media to depict life in the city through the centuries.

* A fishing boat dating to the time of Jesus' ministry is on display at the Yigal Allon Museum -- on the grounds of Kibbutz Ginossar, north of Tiberias.

* On the Sea of Galilee, replicas of boats used in Jesus' time take pilgrims from Tiberias out on the water to where fishermen of the Bible plied the waters. To ride an ancient-style vessel or to party on a disco boat, call Lido at (011) 972-4 721-538 or 792-353; fax (011) 972-4 790-470.

Sales Tips

* Religious travel can be complicated. Allow at least six to nine months to plan and promote the tour, and make sure the sites and activities match clients' personal preferences.

* When choosing a tour operator, get written proposals and compare prices, services, the number of days at leisure or touring and the number of meals included.

* Plan the itinerary, but build in time for Bible teaching and worship services. Unless it is important to be there for religious holidays in the spring or fall, better deals can be obtained off season, and the weather is just as good.

* Develop a prospect list from religious groups, families celebrating a life event and travelers who have already been elsewhere but always wanted to see the Holy Land.

* Organize a group of parishioners, ministry supporters and other friends and set a departure date. Having a target date focuses intentions and efforts.

* Request a Pilgrim certificate from the tour operator in the U.S. or from the land operator in Israel. The certificate gives clients a warm remembrance of their trip.

* Take advantage of fam trips offered by tour operators to better understand the destination.

©Copyright 2001, Travel Weekly

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