Pilgrimage to the holy land, day one

Pilgrimage to the holy land, day one March 28, 2015

Photo by Christy Thomas

Please note: I do not have a computer with me so these articles are dictated. As a result there are typos and misspellings. Please ignore them and read for the meaning! 

“Sir, sit down. Now!” I heard near panic in the flight attendant’s voice. We had entered Israeli  airspace and had been given plenty of warning that no one was to leave their seat at that point.

One passenger either didn’t listen to that warning or didn’t think it applied to him. But it did. To all of us. The flight had bee uneventful although completely full. But they are clearly rules and regulations as we get closer to the state that it is somewhat fragile in terms of terrorist attacks.

 It was mid-afternoon when we arrived after an overnight flight to the relatively empty airport, probably because we arrived on Saturday, the day of the Sabbath. We were intrigued upon walking through the Ben-Gurion international airport to see no visible policeman or military presence. We were  assured later that they were there and simply invisible to us.

Going through immigration turned out to be a breeze. Short lines, no problems. Luggage quickly arrived and our tour guide, an Israeli Christian named Louis, was there waiting for us

He led us through the warm humid air in Tel Aviv to the well-equipped bus, where we met Magic Mike, the second best bus driver in Israel. We asked who the first best best driver in Israel was, and Louis replied, “well, he was driving 50 people last week and overturned the bus and killed them all.” We laughed appreciatively as Magic Mike distributed welcomed bottles of water to us and we settled in our seats for the 40 minute drive to Jerusalem.

Louis expertly narrated much about the history and geography of Israel as we drove to the holy city. He answered the many questions with ease and competence. As we actually drove into Jerusalem, he played over the PA system the hymn “Jerusalem.” Many sang along with it as we admired the city built entirely of white limestone sitting on rolling hills cut of ancient rock.

As we pulled into the small Dan Boutique  Hotel, Louis gave us careful instructions about getting room assignments and tagging our luggage so that it would be taken to our rooms. He also explained the meals to us, saying that they would be kosher. The evening meal would be the meat meal and breakfast the following morning would be the milk and dairy meal.

After the overnight flight most of us we’re pretty tired, but some started gathering in the bar late afternoon and conversation ensued. Although there are groups of people that know each other we are primarily strangers to one another. It didn’t take long for barriers to break down and discover our connections and mutual interests.

The one point where we all connect to some degree is with Don Smith, our American tour leader, former pastor and good friend of mine. Don invited me on this trip to join him as worship leader and to celebrate the Sacraments which we will do on multiple occasions during the week. Although I’m getting to know many of the group already, he will introduce me formally this morning, Palm Sunday, as we gather in the garden of Gethsemane a couple of hours from now.

Last night after dinner, many of us joined Don as he took us on a hilly walk up to the old city. I took the photograph above as we came close to it. Within moments after capturing that photo, we entered into the walls of the old city in the Arab section. We saw tables of fresh bread piled high, with little containers of hyssop and Don purchased some for the group to try.

In the meantime, Gene, the partially Jewish man I am dating who, when he learned about this trip eagerly decided he wanted to go, had wandered way off into one of the little shops. I heard him calling for me and as I grew closer I saw that the shop owner himself had joined him saying, “hello Christy. Come on in.”

Let us just say that he was an excellent salesman, and we ended up with some lovely gifts for friends and a very expensive pair of earrings for me. I do believe we got a bit snookered but it was tons of fun.

The group got a bit separated us we wandered into one of the narrow alleys of this old part of town. It started to rain, and Gene and I decided that we would walk back to the hotel as we had no rain gear with us. When the rain started coming down harder however Gene thought that we should take a taxi. I was pretty hesitant, but he prevailed.

We walked up to the bank of taxis and Gene explained that we were staying at the Dan hotel and wondered if they could take us back there. The driver easily agreed and waved us into the back of the cab. He did say, “which Dan hotel?” Gene showed him the room key and the driver said “Oh yes the one by the King David Hotel.” I said “no it’s the other one.”

Both men ignored me. As we left the old city, we saw three of our other traveling companions also making their way in the rain and stopped to pick them up. What followed was an almost funny taxi ride as a taxi driver turned in the direction away from our hotel, I kept saying that he was going to the wrong hotel, he kept insisting he was going to the right hotel and Gene said, “just trust him. He knows where he’s going.”

When the driver finally pulled up to the wrong hotel I was at least vindicated. When Gene admitted that I had been right all along, the three other women we had picked up all started laughing. As we drove back to our hotel, we observed some very interesting Israeli driving practices but made it back in one piece. Gene generously tipped the driver who responded with “why you give me so much money?” Personally, I think he deserved it.

And thus the first day of this pilgrimage. We’re all jetlagged, and probably none slept all that well last night, but we are eager to begin our tour this morning. Breakfast is at 7 AM and the bus will leave promptly at eight.

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