Tuesday, November 26, 2013

To Circumcise or Not. . .

Now here's a costly legal problem with a difference:

The Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem rejected an appeal Monday by a Netanya woman fined NIS 500 ($140) per day for refusing to circumcise her son, as is required by Jewish law (halacha).

Click here for the link to the article

Sunday, November 17, 2013

One Final Takeaway

As I sit in the plane getting ready to take off from Frankfurt to Chicago, I can't help one final reflection.

My friend Dave has an affinity with camels which I've tried to emulate on this trip.

Like him, Saint Francis of Assisi was close friends with the birds and animals, which loved him dearly.

Doctor Doolittle of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh was renowned for talking with the animals, which he preferred over humans. 

Mister David Sheard, of Stoughton, follows in their footsteps as the original 'camel whisperer' who is so beloved of camels that they even start to look like him.

So who am I to pretend I might have a hope of joining the ranks of the famous "animal trinity," as TIME magazine recently called these three men.

The best I can do is submit one final photo. One final, failed attempt to befriend a camel named Abdul.

So to you, Abdul, I say: I offered you the kiss of friendship, and you tried to bite my nose. May your fleas multiply and be as numerous as the sand on the sea shore.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Our delicious last supper was followed by a time of reflection on what we'd experienced in Israel and western Jordan--both places the Holy Land.

How does one summarize ten days in locations where God did so much to alter the course of history? 

How do you put into words the emotions which accompany being right where our Savior walked and stubbed his toe and told jokes and wept over a city and poured out his life's blood?

It's not really possible. Around a table or in a blog post. It's like trying to describe the taste of a pomegranate to someone who's never had one. Or explain love to someone who's never experienced it.
But for each of us, in different ways, this was one of those deeply significant experiences that come along a few times in life, if we're lucky.

Then again, a spiritual pilgrimage isn't just luck. It's intentionally deciding to see and experience God, His Son, the Spirit and His Word with fresh eyes and an open heart in the land He chose.

I'm so grateful that the same God who met with ordinary people in this place was also willing to meet with us. To me, that's extraordinary.

Jordan 4: Petra's Demise

Jeremiah 49:15-18 (NIV):

“Now I will make you small among the nations, despised by mankind.  The terror you inspire and the pride of your heart have deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks, who occupy the heights of the hill. Though you build your nest as high as the eagle’s, from there I will bring you down,” declares the Lord . 

“Edom will become an object of horror; all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff because of all its wounds.  As Sodom and Gomorrah were overthrown, along with their neighboring towns,” says the Lord , “so no one will live there; no people will dwell in it."

Jordan 3: Petra's High Place

The guide said there were 900 steps to the high place where pagan sacrifices took place, and were there any takers?

Dave and I were keen. For the first 90 steps, that is. The total seemed like about 9000. Whatever the tally, my Samsung phone exercise app gave me another gold coin and we could tell from our wheezing and the sweat in our eyes and the stoccato in our chests that we had accomplished something great.

The problem with greatness is that it doesn't last long. I'd drunk so much in the heat that nature was calling, and calling awfully loud. Let's just say that high place of pagan sacrifice is not as holy as once thought.

What an incredible vista way up there.

Jordan: Petra 2

My good camera went kaput in the Garden of Gethsemane so I'm taking all my pics with my phone now. Also compressing picture resolution for the blog. Technology. We've had internet problems the last couple of days, too.

Anyway, the 'Treasury,' as the main carved cliff face is called, is just superb. Tim took this shot of me; all the shots of him are on his phone, otherwise you'd be seeing him.

I'd give you more info on this amazing structure but the brochure I grabbed is in Italian. No word in there I recognize. Guess Petra isn't known for pizza and evidently doesn't have a mafia problem. I wish I knew the Italian word for 'camel.'

Jordan: Petra 1

It's a beautiful day and we get an early start. Petra, the Nabataean rock fortress is about three hours' drive away.

The hills of Petra behind the modern city

All ten of us clamber into our rickety mini bus, along with our driver, Mohommed, a Moslem and Anton, our guide--an Arab Christian. The mosaic of beliefs and traditions can be seen best in the wide diversity of dress worn by women here. 

We're also accompanied on all our trips by a young guy in uniform and with a gun who's a member of the tourist police. Anyone asks us to pay to high a price for a souvenir, he shoots them. Not really. But he's there to help if needed.

We arrive to a great view of the modern city of Petra, population of around 14,000.

The rock formations in the deep canyons are superb. So is my new friend, the camel.

Jordan: Madaba & Mount Nebo

I'm writing this as we drive through Amman, heading to Mt Nebo. We stop first at Madaba, to see some superb Byzantine mosaics.

Next at Mt Nebo where Moses viewed the Promised Land, though his view was pre-smog.

To be right where the great Moses stood is an amazing feeling. We read from the last chapter of Deuteronomy and the first chapter of Joshua:

Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land--from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the city of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, "This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, 'I will give it to your descendants.'" (Deuteronomy 34:1-4).

This was where the conquest of the land began, where the history of the Jews became intertwined with this tiny piece of real estate in such complicated ways that the world has taken notice ever since. Of course, they conquered the land and were evicted for disobedience by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. and the Babylonians in 586 B.C. After the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. they were scattered to the four corners of the earth.

How amazing that after a 2000-year absence, the Jews are now back in the land that was promised!
Looking towards Jericho from Mount Nebo

Friday, November 15, 2013

To Jordan: Jerash

Hadrian's Gate
We crossed the border from Israel to Jordan just north of the Dead Sea on the Allenby bridge, also known as the King Hussein bridge. A smooth crossing aside from a small incident with Edi's passport. My special entry visa as a New Zealander went without a hitch despite my last name being spelled Blakikie.

We met our new guide, Anton, and driver, Mohammed, and headed off to Jerash. No, I'd never heard of it either. But it was  magnificent. Massive.

Artemis and her consort, he who shall be named 'Dave'
Hadrian's gate greeted us, along with a small hippodrome and some Roman soldiers and a chariot that went through its paces.

The Temple of Artemis was amazing. Our guide put a fork under a pillar and we saw it moving just from the pressure of a light breeze on the pillar.

The Temple of Artemis (Diana)
From right to left: Artemis' consort and his buddy, Tim

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Jerusalem 9: Model of the City, Final Shopping

Holy of holies in the Temple
Viewing an amazing model of the city of Jerusalem and seeing the Aleppo Codex and a facsimile of the Dead Sea Isaiah scroll (what a miraculous find), was the last official event of the Israel tour.

Wayne was about to leave us, as were most of our group of 31. Ten of us would be heading to Jordan. Tim and I were about to become room mates.

A bit of last minute shopping meant trying on a few items for size.

Jerusalem 8: Mount of Olives

The Mount of Olives provided a great view of the whole old city, including the Temple Mount. It was an occasion for a family picture for Deanna, the saintly lady the Lakeview crew was so privileged to be able to carry over the rough streets in her wheel chair. She's there with her husband and mom. Inspirational.

This is the city Jesus wept over. This is the place where he walked down the hill to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray (we got to pray there to too). This is the place where the Lamb of God lay down his life for the sins of the world.

Jerusalem 7: Garden Tomb

What a great day our last one in Jerusalem was. We started in the Garden Tomb with a very moving communion service celebrating the resurrection of our Savior. The beauty and tranquility of this garden is in such contrast to the gaudiness of many other sites.
The inside door of the Garden Tomb

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Jerusalem 6: David's City & Hezekiah's Tunnel

The possibility that we were looking at the remains of King David's palace was intriguing. 

But the single best experience for me on this trip so far was going through Hezekiah's tunnel.

The tunnel is 533 meters long (1/2 a kilometer) and carries water from the Gibbon spring to the pool of Siloam. 

Hezekiah built it to bring water into the city so as to be able to withstand the inevitable seige of the advancing Assyrian army.

It took us about half an hour to walk through the tunnel without a guide in the pitch black (if it weren't for our head lamps). At its deepest the water was up to my thigh; at it's shallowest, my ankle.

A few in our group confessed to feeling rather claustrophobic on occasion. At times we had to stoop. Most of the the time we couldn't turn around.
The Siloam Inscription found in the Tunnel

The Siloam Inscription (the earliest, long ancient Hebrew inscription found in Jersualem): 
the piercing. . . . And this is the history of the digging. When . . .the pickaxes one against the other. And when there were only three cubits more to cut through, the men were heard calling from one side to the other; [for] there was zedah in the rock, on the right and on the left. And on the day of piercing the workmen struck each to meet the other, pickax against pickax. And there flowed the waters from the spring to the pool for a space of 200 cubits. And [100] cubits was the height over the head of the workmen.

Camel Take 2

Camel Take 1

Wayne says, 'See the likeness? Oops, wrong end.'

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Jerusalem 5: Western Wall Tunnels & Ramparts Walk

From the Temple Mount we went straight to the restroom wall tunnels. Ha Ha. I'm dictating this on my phone by voice and that last sentence should say western wall tunnels but I'm leaving it in as a record of the challenges of blogging by phone.

I'm also taking pictures on my rather limited phone camera for immediate publishing on the blog and with my much better camera which means I'll probably update many of the pics when I'm back in the States.

Anyway, going all the way along the Western (wailing) Wall for almost its entire length is a series of tunnels. They're continually excavating so it's quite a bit different than when I was here last. This is the retaining wall Held built for the temple plaza which includes a massive stone the size of a bus. An amazing feat.

Then a walk around the ramparts of Sulemein's wall, about 600 years old for an amazing view of the holy city. I never tire of this place.

Jerusalem 4: The Temple Mount

My Samsung app said the fab five walked 10.7 miles today. Kind of ironic since it was called our day of leisure.

Started off leisurely enough with over an hour-long wait to get through security and on to the temple mount. A very long, slow-moving line. A sign from the Jerusalem Rabbinate warns that it is against Torah for Jews to be on the temple mount (presumably they will be desecrated by the presence of muslim shrines).

At 10 am on the dot they will close the door, regardless, says one of the guards. Everyone is getting nervous, wondering if they have waited for nothing.

I am the last one they let on. Whew. We walk into the temple mount plaza. It is massive. The Dome of the Rock shrine is there and the Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. It is from here where Mohammed is said to have ascended to heaven on Buraq, his trusty steed.  

Sitting all around the plaza are groups of Muslim worshippers in lots of about 30. They are praying and studying and listening to expositions of the Koran.

Suddenly, we see some Jews, coming around a building right next to us. They walk confidently, accompanied by a couple of temple police who are holding their semi-automatic weapons fairly tightly. 

Some of the Moslems see them, and the signal is given. 'Allahu akhbar': 'God is great.'  It is the cry of the peaceful worshipper, of the devotee, of the jihadist, of the suicide bomber.

The Jews, not at all deterred, smirk a little as all over the plaza group after group joins in the chant. It's almost a scream now as looks of hatred are exchanged. The chant seems to say: 'this is our holy place, you are not welcome here.' It's getting very tense. Men with walkie talkies tell us it's time to leave. We manage a few photos first.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Dead Sea

Not the dead sea but a hot mineral pool by the dead sea. We got one of the ladies to float for the first time in her life.

Qumran of the Dead Sea Scrolls

We stopped by Qumran, that amazing desert hideout that was occupied by the ultra-strict Essene sect (John the Baptist quite possibly had some association with the Essenes).

I sure love the panorama setting. See the little cave in the bottom middle?
These folks copied the Scriptures rather scrupulously. In the cave pictured above and below (next to Dave and Edi), was found the famous Isaiah scroll. The Dead Sea Scrolls took back our Old Testament manuscripts a whole 1000 years closer to the original. Overnight we were able to assess another thousand years of biblical manuscript transmission only to find it essentially unchanged.

The Light Show

A great end to the day within the old city wall and story of Jerusalem projected on the city walls to music.

Camel Retribution

More camel photos to follow when the time is right.

Mt Carmel

From Nazareth we drove to Mt Carmel where Elijah took on the prophets of Baal. He's the guy between Edi and me with the knife.
It's a great view from there down to the Jezreel Valley and Har Megiddo (Armageddon).


Masada, Herod the Great's desert fortress was a great hit. A tale of heroism and tragedy, both, for the almost 1000 people who held out against the Roman seige for 3 years.

The Lakeview gang did the snake path, accompanied by a 14 year old boy on the tour.
Then we saw Qumran, the home of the ultra-strict Essene sect and place of the amazing preservation in caves of the Dead Sea scrolls.

Jerusalem 3

We followed the Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross, through the alleyways of the old city. So many amazing buildings and churches. As I'm blogging on my phone while we're driving to the Dead Sea I won't recite the specifics here.
We left the old city as dusk fell. The holy city is beautiful at any time of day.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Jerusalem 2

At the western wall the men and women prayed separately, a very powerful experience. Reformed Jews are working hard to get women shared access.

While waiting, a Jewish woman 'witnessed' to some in our group about the importance of keeping the ten commandments.

One of the ladies in our tour is a delightful woman who is severely crippled and wheelchair bound. It's been a God thing that we are here because most others in the group would not been able to help her get around Jerusalem. So our group, especially Wayne and Tim, have done the lion's share of carrying her through the rough cobbled streets and many narrow stairs. Harry (in the photo with Tim), our tour leader, and I, alternated between carrying her and walking in front through the narrow, crowded alleys, like Moses parting the Red Sea.

Jerusalem 1

Lots of excitement and anticipation as we head to the old city. First stop the Upper Room, most likely the real place. A brief but moving service including reading from Acts 2, singing and prayer. Amazing to think this is where the events happened.

David's tomb is next, almost certainly not the real place, but venerated by the faithful even so. When we went there a young man was reading and an old man praying  vigorously next to the sarcophagus draped in black.
Then to the Western\Wailing Wall. So much history of this retaining wall of Herod's temple from its glory days to it's destruction by the Roman General Titus to its 'capture' in 1967 which one again allowed Jews access to it.

Pictured: we look at the join of the western and southern walls and the pile of rubble from Titus' destruction in A.D. 70.

Pictured: men pray at the western wall, one in tefellin wrapped around his arms, phylacteries on his head, prayer shawl, shorts and sneakers.