Curious what backpackers do in Israel? Discover travel destinations all over the world of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.
Show 288 photos of travelers

Travelers in Israel

New to FindPenguins?

Sign up


Your travels in a book

Learn more

Get the app!

Post offline and never miss updates of friends with our free app.

FindPenguins for iOS FindPenguins for Android

  • Today we left Jerusalem for the first time and headed out into the wilderness east of the city. This is known as the Judean wilderness. This is the same wilderness in which Jesus chose to set his parable about the good Samaritan. It is the wilderness in which Jesus was to be tempted by Satan. It is stark and barren and wild and honestly, human beings have no good reason to be there.

    Except, I think, to learn to rely on God. Wilderness is a great classroom and the lessons learned here can be learned nowhere else. Jesus faced the same question in the wilderness as the Israelites did before entering the Promised Land. The question God asks in the wild is, "Will you trust me, even if the fundamentals for your survival are stripped from you?"

    One psalmist prayed, "Let me know how fleeting is my life." Standing on the edge of a cliff above a rugged canyon, watching dark gray shapes soaring in the sky below you reminds you: the wilderness is a death-ready place.

    And then we watched as a Bedouin shepherd grazed his flocks on the steep ravine sides far below us. And the twenty-third Psalm jumped off the landscape. Yes. The Lord is my shepherd. And I will not take one God-forsaken step without Him. I need nothing but Him.

    We read a poem called The Peace of Wild Things

    When despair grows in me
    and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
    in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
    I go and lie down where the wood drake
    rests in his beauty on the water,
    and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things
    who do not tax their lives with forethought
    of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
    And I feel above me the day-blind stars
    waiting with their light. For a time
    I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


    We stopped in Jericho to explore excavations of ancient ruins. Jericho was actually way smaller than I had always thought. Maybe only about 10 acres. The same size as David's Jerusalem. Tiny really, but so important to the people of Israel as they moved into the Promised Land. We then traveled the Jericho-Gezer Road across the plain of Benjamin, watching so many stories of God unfold as we crossed the landscape. We stopped at the traditional tomb of Samuel and ended the day studying more archaeology in Gezer. 12 long hours, packed with information and scenery.

    Tomorrow, we head to Mt. of Olives and then back into the West Bank area then south to visit Bethlehem.
    Read more

  • Today we had a day off class, and we were free to do as we pleased. A few of us decided to wake up early, drive the sleep from our eyes and attend a pre-dawn Latin mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The empty streets (see photo) were such a different experience than the chaos of the days before. When we got to the church, we could hear the music before we walked in. Gregorian chanting, done in the great room of that cathedral was certainly something to behold (photo). It is (if you’ll remember) the likely place of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. There isn’t much to compare to a high mass in that kind of setting. It was something that I will not soon forget.

    After the mass, we made our way down to see if we could get up onto the Temple Mount. This is the structure that used to be the foundation for God’s Holy Temple, but now is the site of a mosque called the Dome of the Rock (gold-domed structure in photos). The Dome of the Rock is a magnificent piece of architecture that was completed in the 1300’s. The mosaics (see photos) are absolutely stunning.

    For Muslims, this place on the Temple Mount is considered the third most holy place on the planet (after Medina and Mecca). Of course, the Jews consider the Temple Mount their most holy place and as Christians, we make our own claim on the place, alongside the Jews.

    The temple mount is not always open to foreigners, but right now, there is enough peace between the Palestinians and Jews that we were granted access. As we made our way up the steep ramp from the site of the Western Wailing Wall to the top of the Temple Mount, a Jewish man below shouted “Remember, it is not the Muslims who are discriminated against, it is the Jews!” For the time being, I could make nothing of that comment, but that would change soon.

    As we walked through the archway onto the Temple Mount, we were greeted with very contrasting impressions. We were surrounded by lush gardens, beautiful fountains and breathtaking architecture. But the tranquility was broken by large groups of old men in traditional Muslim garb chanting to Allah, heavily armed soldiers shouting various things at various people, and Muslim women chanting loud prayers in high-pitched voices.

    We weren’t quite sure what to think. Or how to feel.

    We made our way around the mount, ourselves being shouted at a few times for stepping where we were not supposed to step or trying to go where we were not supposed to go. It was very tense, and this feeling was exacerbated when a group of Jews came onto the Temple Mount and all eyes turned to them. Most Jews are forbidden on the Temple Mount (and I suspect many would not be caught dead there), but some choose to go anyway to get that much closer to the Holy of Holies.

    As they entered the courtyards, the chanting Muslim women started yelling at the Jews in screams of anger, running over and shaking fists. This caught everyone’s attention and suddenly, a group of men reading from the Koran abandoned their studies and started to close in as well. Shouts of “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is greater) filled the air from both men and women. The Jews were immediately surrounded by security police who escorted them to a corner of the Temple Mount where they could worship, unmolested by the Muslims. The fray died down and we scurried down to the safety of less tense places.

    As I watched this unfold the man’s words echoed in my ears, “It is not the Muslims who are discriminated against, it is the Jews!” and I had new insight. This hatred has existed for a long time and there is nothing easy about the answer. Both faith traditions lay some valid claim to this area. But, as we walked away, it was so obvious that all was not right with the world. Shalom was not here.

    There was once another ancient conflict between the Jews and a group of people called the Samaritans. Jesus addressed it in John 4 “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

    And the heaviness of the day was lifted as our team broke bread together over dinner. Although it isn’t always obvious, things are going according to plan.

    I won't be posting for the next few days. We take a field trip to the south and the Negev, a stark desert regions. Temperatures of 110+ to be expected. I'll keep good notes though and post when I return to Jerusalem.

    In the mean time, Shalom!
    Read more

  • We had some extra time to sleep in this morning, so I set my alarm for 6:30, thinking I'd get caught up on some sleep. It's 5:45 and I'm wide awake. I hate it when that happens.

    Yesterday we spent some time exploring lower Galilee. This doesn't mean the southern side of the Lake of Galilee, but rather a place that's lower in elevation from upper Galilee, a mountain range to our north. It's mainly around the north side of the lake even though it's called "Lower." That might be hard to visualize, but there it is. We started the day with a boat ride across the Sea (Lake) of Galilee (I guess this is a must do for tourists). There was actually a pretty cool moment when the boat guy stopped in the middle of the lake and played super old, super cheesy worship songs and our whole group lifted voices and eyes to heaven in praise. It was another one of those moments, you know? Being a part of the "the church" on the Sea of Galilee, singing praise to the Creator in the middle of the lake. Even though our voices echoed off of nothing, we were heard.

    We disembarked on the north side of the lake and made our way up to Capernaum. This is the town that, on a few occasions in the gospels, is called "Jesus own town" and his "home." It is likely the home of Peter and his family. It was here that Jesus healed the man lowered by his faithful friends through a broken ceiling. The conversation of the day was a converasation about authority. "By whose authority" angry men ask. Jesus taught by an authority that certainly wasn't given to him by the Jewish leaders of the day, so they want to know. We know who gave Jesus the authority to speak, but that's because we witnessed the transfiguration along wih Peter and John. They hadn't, so it was a legtimate question. Jesus answered the question by doing what only God could do: forgive and heal a lame man and send him walking back through the thick crowds.

    Mt. Arbel is a high and very rocky mountain that juts up into the skyline on the west shore of the lake, near the town of Tiberias. I'll post pictures when I have my computer back. You can see it from the north and east shores. It doesn't necessarily dominate the skyline, but it stands out in sharp relief because of its craggy and imposing appearance. When our professor said, "We're going up there!" I got pretty excited. Mt. Arbel is an important site to modern Israelis because it was the site of another Jewish revolt where Roman soldiers had to work long and hard to oust a group of rebels holde up in mountain caves and on sides of cliffs.

    For Christians, the site doesn't hold specific Biblical reference, but our professor made a strong case that two important, geographically undetermined events happened here. He believes that both the sermon on the mount and the Great Commission happened on this spot. As we sat on top of the 1200 foot cliff, it was not hard to picture Jesus looking across the lake to Hippus, a Roman city that appealed in its worldliness, set high on a hill and saying, "No, YOU, oh, Israel, are the city on the hill." It's not hard to picture him looking down at the village of Magda (home of Mary Magdalene on the west shore of the lake) and telling people, "You are the salt of the earth." (Magda was a town that specialized in the preservation of fish). It's not hard to picture him looking down at the International highway from these heights and using it to tell his disciples that they were to take the gospel to all corners of the earth. I have loved watching as Jesus took the things that surrounded Him and taught theology to his friends.

    That's what I have loved so much about this experience. There isn't much out here in Lower Galilee that is "high church," with airs and pretentions. Jesus became more of a man to me out here. Like a real flesh and muscle man. I think back home, I have a better grip on the God-side of Jesus. I can picture him floating above the water and healing people. But Jesus didn't float everywhere. He walked on caloused and dirty feet. It's no easy hike to the top of Mt. Arbel. You don't get to the top without sweating and panting.

    You don't walk these hills and swim these seas without getting the scent of human all over you.
    Read more

  • We are learning to organize Scripture as a “walker” would (nothing to do with Walking Dead here). Our typical ways of organizing Scripture are either by theology or by or by topic or by the layout we have in our Bibles. In Biblical times though, literacy and access to the text of Scripture was virtually non-existent. People didn’t pass books to one another, they passed on places. They built altars in places to remember the movements of God. Deuteronomy reminds us to pass on the stories of God to our children as we “walk along the roads.” Travelers would move from place to place and as they did, they would move from story to story.

    Stories fill these places.

    Rarely do we organize Scripture geographically. But now, as I walk among the stories of the Old and New Testaments, I find that “place” creates connections of Biblical texts as I have never seen. One place carries so many stories. Each one is an important reminder of the ways in which God has broken into this story of humanity.
    Read more

  • After morning class today, we spent six hours walking an overview of the Old City of Jerusalem. We’ll do this two more times before we leave Jerusalem. We entered the Zion Gate, about ¼ mile from where we’re staying. Walked down to and out of the Dung Gate, wandered past the City of David, down into the Kidron Valley, up through the Lion gate, out the Damascus gate, then back through the Christian, Muslim and Jewish Quarters, finding ourselves exhausted and happily back at the Zion Gate. Most of you won’t care about that, but for those that do, you now know.

    My favorite spot of the day was to sit in the small valley of Kidron while our professor read Psalm 130. We all squinted in the scalding sun as we took in the history of this place. 1 Kings 15:13 tells the story of Asa around 913 B.C. in the Kidron valley, burning "an abominable image for an Asherab" which his mother, Maacah, had created. He lit the fire in the Kidron Valley, not far from where we stood. As Hezekiah again sought reform for the nation about 200 years later, "all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of Yahweh" was carried to the brook Kidron (2 Chronicles 29:16); "All the altars for incense took they away, and cast them into the brook Kidron" (2 Chronicles 30:14). Josiah’s reforms of Israel in the 7th century B.C included bringing “the Asherah from the house of Yahweh, without Jerusalem, unto the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and beat it to dust." (2 Kings 23:6).

    “The Kidron Valley is a place of cleansing. It is the place where God puts things right,” he said. Which then makes it no surprise that Jesus’ return will be right above this spot, on the Mt. of Olives. “On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east.” (Zechariah 14:4)

    As we sat in the Kidron Valley and listened to Psalm 130, it was a blatant reminder that we too need to come to the valley every once in a while and purge our lives of the burdens and sins that weigh us down. Our idols, our high-handed sin… bring them on down and beat ‘em to dust. Then make slow, steady climb back up out of the valley to the Holy City.
    Read more

  • We woke up early this morning and headed back out into the Old City. This time we went to visit the excavations in the area of the southern side of the western wall (Temple Mount Excavations). We sat on the steps that used to lead up to the temple, the probable location where Jesus taught and learned as a 12 year old. This was also the likely location of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2. We read Peter’s sermon from the steps and listened in as Peter pointed behind himself to David’s tomb. We could see the tomb from where we sat and it was not hard to imagine that we were there.

    From there we headed into the heart of the Old City and spent the rest of the morning absorbing the massively complex Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Here, pilgrims from almost every Christian faith tradition find themselves in awe. For those who don’t know, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built on what was likely the site of Jesus’ death and burial. Golgatha. Good archaeological and historical evidence points to this being the very place where Christ died for you and for me. You can imagine the sense of awe you might feel as you walk amid devout believers, venerating this holy site. The church houses the highest point of the rock quarry that once made up the hill of Golgatha, as well as the traditional tomb of Jesus.

    We’ve learned that there are connotations associated with all places. In other words, every place evokes thoughts and feelings when someone speaks its name. When people of the Bible say, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” it shows that there is a connotation that is associated with that place. Similar to the connotations we have when we think of place names we know such as “Hawaii,” “Compton,” “Detroit.” As modern readers of ancient Biblical texts, this is largely lost on us. At best, a place name is simply another dot on the map (for those who even bother to look at a map).

    But each name carries so much more.

    I left the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and wandered alone back through the shops and vendors of Habad Street. Haggling and turmoil all around me, but I was lost in the sense of inspiration. I am coming to understand some of the connotations of the name “Jerusalem.” But I am only scratching, scratching at the surface.
    Read more

  • I am the first one awake this morning here in Arad, Israel. Well, the birds and I. Lots and lots of tweeting, whistling, cawwing, screaming birds are awake too. Which is why I'm the first one awake here in Arad, Israel. I can't post photos of it, but yesterday, we did some hiking in the Judah Hill Country south of Jersualem. Our prof said it was a place where the natural habitat was similar to the way it would have been in ancient times. The thing that caught my attention, both literally and figuratively were the thorns. I would not have wanted to wander these hillsides without a trail. We stopped at a couple of archaelogical sites including the traditional area where David and Goliath battled. We moved on to the city of Ashkelon (an ancient Philistine and Cannanite city). Ashkelon is right on the Mediterranean and hosts the oldest gate in the world: the Cannanite city gate. We were standing beside a structure that dated from 1850 BC. During the time of Jacob, the city of Ashkelon boasted 150,000 ocupants. During the time of Jacob! We finished the day with a much needed dip into the Mediterranean Sea. The day was consistely over 100 degrees, so the cool water was welcome reprieve.

    A I sit outside this morning, I look over the panorama of Arad in the photo below. Yesterday, as we went from site to site, the oppressive heat (105ish) made everything a struggle. We drove about an hour south of Ashkelon for our stay tonight and our professsor said we can expect 10-15 degrees hotter today. Even the coldest water from these taps flows warm. I would not have liked to wander in these climes. But today as we head out, I am reminded of a Fransiscan prayer I had read:

    May God bless you with discomfort
    At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
    So that you may live deep within your heart

    May God bless you with anger
    At injustice, oppression and exploitation of people
    So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

    May God bless you with tears
    The shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war,
    So that you may reach out your hand and comfort them and
    To turn their pain into joy.

    And may God bless you with enough foolishness
    To believe that you can make a difference in the world
    So that you can do what others claim cannot be done
    To bring justice and kindess to all our children and the poor.

    Amen and amen.
    Read more

  • Today we spent the morning at Masada. For those who don't know the story, it really is something to behold. Masada is a place that the people of Israel hold close to their hearts. The cry of the modern nation of Israel is "Masada will never happen again." The year was 67 AD, a few decades after the death of Christ and just as the early church was getting their feet underneath them. The story of Masada shows the lengths that Rome was willing to go to in order to control the Jewish population.

    Masada was a fortress that was originally built up by Herod the Great. Herod was a psychotic, brilliant and prolific personality in ancient times. His imagination for building was second to none. Masada was one of several great fortresses that he built. However, over time, this fortress fell into hands of others, including a group of Jewish rebels.

    These rebels secured themselves at the fortress of Masada. The Romans moved heaven and earth to penetrate the fortress and finally, around the year 73 AD, they gained entrance to the stronghold only to find that all of the inhabitants had committed suicide or killed each other. This ancient site is evidence of the lengths that Rome was willing to go and the extreme opposition that Jews were willing to offer to resist Roman rule.
    Read more

  • This morning begins our last week here in Israel. Of course it will be a bittersweet week. All good things, they say, must come to an end. (I would probably say, “Many good things…”) No one here wants to see it end, but we are all ready to get back to family and loved ones. Do I ever miss my girls, Carol and Samantha.

    But the trip isn’t over yet and we’ve been told the best is yet to come. After what we’ve experienced, that’s hard for most of us to believe. We leave for our final field trip for four days up to the region of Galilee. Mt. Carmel, Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, etc. The area that Jesus lived his life. He came to the end of his Earth-stay here in Jerusalem, but he stayed on Earth in the region we’ll be in for the next week. I’ll try to post, but cannot promise anything due to wi-fi supply. 

    Yesterday, we went to two wonderful places. We started the day with an early train trip across town to Yad Vashem, the Jewish Holocaust Museum. I am not sure how to convey the power and emotion of being in a place like that. I taught Holocaust literature for almost 8 years to Jr. High and High School students, but walking through that place put clothes on all of the abstractness of what I taught. I’m not sure if that metaphor makes sense, but I can’t think of a good way to say it. As I watched survivor testimonies on T.V. screens throughout the museum, I was forced several times to choke back tears and take deep breaths so as to not be overwhelmed with emotion. A few times I huffed audibly so as to betray the deep affect that it was having on me. Tourists in all shapes and sizes and colors were overcome as I was though, so I had no reason for hiding. We wandered out the back of the museum in silence, no one sure what to say.

    The end of the day had a very different feel to it. I may have mentioned my climber friend who is here in Israel on the trip. Well, he wasn’t a friend before the trip, but climbing is always a quick and easy bond. With a group of people, we made our way across town on public transportation to a climbing gym across the street from the Jerusalem Mall. We all laughed at how unconcerned about safety they were at the gym. “Do you know how to belay?” “Yes” “OK, don’t get hurt.” No waivers, nothing. And we had a great time climbing all over the place, only occasionally coming near to messing something up irreversibly. I was glad that we only had a few hours in the place because my strength faded quickly and we got home at a reasonable hour.

    Oswald Chambers wrote in today’s devotional that sometimes “we mistake panic for inspiration.” In other words, sometimes the people we look at who are busy for the Lord are often in more of a state of panic than inspiration. Panicked that they are not doing enough. Panicked they their life has not been full enough, or good enough. That is why, he goes on, most of us work more FOR God than WITH God.

    Several times on this trip I have been struck by the sense that much of my life is busy for God. But walking where Jesus walked on the streets of Jerusalem, seeing what He saw from the Mount of Olives, reminds me that this life is so much better when done next to Him.

    This may be weird, but more than a few times now I have pictured Jesus walking right in the middle of our little group of student-tourists, laughing at something stupid someone said.
    Read more

  • Almost no time this morning except a quick run-down of where we went yesterday. Reflections will have to come later. Hazor, Dan, Caesarea Philippi, Golan Ridge (OT Bashan) and then on to Azeka (I think... or is it Aphek? The names start to blend a little bit..) where I write from. By far, this is the most luxurious site we've been to. We're right on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, complete with a beautiful man-made, white sand beach (reminiscent of Herod?). We were all swimming and having fun last evening, then went back down for a night swim around 10:30. Swimming at night on the Sea of Galilee? It's more like a Hawaiian vacation!

    Which is why I'm glad we get another night here. :)

    More later. I've got a boat to catch.
    Read more