My parents first introduced me to the Christian faith when I was 5 years old, and then twenty years later, they brought me to The Promised Land. Oh, I am a lucky girl.
I got back from my 11-day trip to Israel three months ago and have been thinking of how to begin telling my story for over a month now. It is a challenge trying to put my thoughts about my recent trip to Israel into words. The majority of my friends journey to Israel to get in touch with their religious roots, but is this the only reason to visit? I’m a Christian, but with the attitude of a fence-sitter. In fact, when asked by our private guide how we wanted our trip to be, my answer was “educational but fun, and not too holy”.
The Israel-Gaza conflict, violence, and terror attacks are just some of the realities that Israel—and the entire world—is facing today. Of course we had a number of apprehensions about traveling to Israel. I cannot count the number of times that my dad told me to ensure that we do not stay or pass areas where stabbings are common. I’m going to speak my mind—travelling the Middle East kind of scares me. And I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone in this. It’s no secret that a lot of us have developed a negative image of the Mideast. We perceive it to be unsafe, yet we cannot seem to really explain why. But guess what? I came back in one piece! And I am more than happy and ready to share with you snippets and snapshots of our holiday. And so without further ado, let me take you back in time as I journey through the Holy Land.
Named after Augustus Caesar and built by King Herod, the ancient city of Caesarea is surrounded by open skies and the picturesque Mediterranean Sea. Before I proceed, allow me to let you in on a not-so-secret secret: I suck at history, and I lost the chance to receive an academic award way back in high school because of this subject. I’ve been to quite a number of ruins; and I honestly thought that this place was going to be “just another ruin”, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Walking along the remains of the first Roman City in Israel allowed me to visualise the glorious days of King Herod, bloody chariot races, and fancy theatrical performances.
I’ve heard that this place has one of the most fantastic acoustics ever.
An olympic-size swimming pool next to the Mediterranean Sea—this was probably King Herod’s version of a modern, private spa.
Think gladiator. Think blood. I bet you’re now thinking of Russell Crowe or Jack Huston. Don’t worry, you’re imagining the right thing.
It must have been easy and normal for the people back then, but seriously though… Thank God for technology! I didn’t ask how people wiped their bums, and I didn’t want to hear where all the shit went. I guess “beaching” wasn’t that popular before.
Seeing the Valley of Armageddon—which is more of a plain— from the city of Megiddo was intriguing, surreal, and a bit eerie. I couldn’t help but imagine all sorts of ancient battles and scenes from rapture movies such as Left Behind and The Remaining.
Walking down into the famous underground water system was the perfect way to conclude our Megiddo visit. It was a long walk, but the cool water tunnel was a refreshing change from all the hot weather hiking. If you’re weak or claustrophobic, then I suggest you skip this part.
Symmetrical. Stunning. Spectacular. It’s a no brainer as to why they’re one of the most visited tourist attractions in Israel.
Just a little geography trivia: The Sea of Galilee isn’t really a sea; it’s more accurately a lake, and it’s the largest freshwater lake in Israel.
The sea, to be honest, looks quite ordinary. What made the experience memorable was the boat ride to Ginosar. It was calm, serene, and very relaxing; it’s hard to believe that this body of water could have ever been stormy. The operators played some upbeat hymns in the middle of the trip, which got the crowd singing, dancing, snapping, and clapping.
We stopped by a Druze Village for some authentic Israeli lunch. The Israeli Druze are a group of Arab-speaking citizens of Israel who practice Druzism, a religion which originated from Egypt a thousand years ago. I do not know anything about Druzism, but I learned from our guide that the Israeli Druze have their own flag, and that they also serve in the IDF.
Mt. Bental, a dormant volcano, and one of the highest peaks in the Golan Heights, is the site of one of the largest tank battles in the Yom Kippur War (also known as the Arab-Israeli War) of 1973. As I have said, I’m no history buff, but I sincerely enjoyed listening to our guide and walking encyclopaedia Ofir as he talked about the relevance of this place. I learned A LOT. And I was able to see both Syria and Lebanon from a single spot. As cheesy as it may sound, I actually felt an unexplainable sense of admiration for the people—both Arabs and Israelis—who were part of this event that shaped our modern world.
It was a privilege to be at the site where John the Baptist baptised Jesus, but I suggest you manage your expectations when visiting this place. If you’re after the spiritual experience, then coming here might be perfect for you.
Getting baptised in the Jordan River wasn’t really in our plans, but my mom, who got all giddy and excited upon arrival, quickly changed her mind, and before we knew it, she was dressed in a special white robe. Naturally, my dad had no choice but to follow. You know, it’s a “We ride together; we die together” kind of thing with my folks. I, on the other hand, was tasked to take photos and videos.
The whole scene was pretty hilarious because everything was so random and spontaneous. Fortunately, there was a large group of Latin Americans from The River Church in California who openly welcomed my parents to join them. Unfortunately though, the ceremony was held in Spanish. It was entertaining to watch my very Asian parents “go with the flow” and be all cool in the pool despite the fact that they were totally clueless the entire time. I wonder what them other people were thinking. Haha I feel so mean right now! Kidding aside, I saw, at that moment, the beauty of religion. It’s magical how a set of shared beliefs can bind people of different language and culture.
This church is so simple, yet so beautiful. It’s not as grand or dramatic as other churches I have been to, but that’s exactly what I love about it. I love the simplicity, the quiet elegance, and the humble atmosphere. I remember thinking, “I do not want a church wedding, but if I will have no choice, I want it to be something like this place”.
As you can see, the floor is two-toned. The floor has been restored using both original (dark coloured) and new replacement tiles (light coloured).
So should you go to Israel even if you’re not—quote-unquote—religious? I’m not here to prove any point, but I hope that this post has shown you, my dear friends, that Israel is a fascinating place to visit no matter what your faith is. If you want a little more convincing, then stay tuned as I write about the rest of our [amazing] trip.