Israel: Pilgrimage and Experience

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There was a sigh of relief when we landed Tel Aviv that Sunday November morning.Compared to the bustling airport of Istanbul, the quiet runways from exiting Turkish Airlines surrounding the center of Ben Gurion Airport gave us room to breathe after the 14-hour flight from Manila. Lydia Tours and our tour guide Yoram Attias received us at the airport with a welcoming embrace. Late autumn winds blew when we passed through the doors going out while the sun shown high in the sky, nearing lunchtime.

We were finally in Israel.

Tour Organizers was no stranger in making Holy Land tours for groups specially that it is part of a culture that puts faith on a pedestal, however this particular trip was conceived with the notion of giving back to spiritual leaders. Pastors and wives, as well as others who held the same belief as ours, joined the trip as we started to retrace the steps of Jesus through the holiest cities of the country.

The Land

The cities were separated with miles of supposed barren land made fertile, a demonstration of the flourishing agriculture of Israel. A stretch of mountains and brown plains passed by our view, with the exception of tents built to house different vegetation that needed protection from insects.

The cities we visited, from Tel Aviv to Tiberias to Jerusalem, differ in architecture and culture due to the inhabitants that live there and the history each city holds. Tel Aviv, often mistaken as the capital city of Israel, is very much modernized with its tall buildings on solid ground and the hodgepodge of beliefs present in the city. Meanwhile Tiberias and Jerusalem, two of the most holy Judaic cities and mostly inhabited by Jews, were built on top of high places with uneven ground that makes the buildings look as if they were cascading down the mountain.

The difference was mostly felt when we got to the capital, the biggest city of the country. As we entered Jerusalem, music dedicated to the city played on the radio of the bus as if to welcome us. It was nearing nighttime, and the city was filled with lights that reflected the buildings. The government apparently decided that all the buildings in the city are to be made of limestone in order to preserve its beautiful aesthetics. We were amazed at the individuality of the cities we visited and the efforts done to preserve it.

The Journey

In the morning, we rode our bus to the sites where Jesus stood and lived. We picked up stones by the Sea of Galilee where Jesus ate with his disciples and watched as the waves move in between the rocky shores. We sat on the benches of synagogues and its ruins in the city where Jesus lived. Midday, we cruised across the Sea of Galilee, where all of Israel gets their fresh water supply. “If anybody here wants to walk on water, they may do so,” our guide instructed. No one did, but instead we danced with worship songs in our wooden boat and our laughter filled the sea. In the afternoon, we took a small van up the summit of Mount Tabor where the transfiguration of Jesus took place. The sheer height and distance that Jesus had to walk to get to the area was enough to marvel at, let alone be thankful for modern transportation. This was only one of the 5 days in our itinerary for the trip, and many of the sites included treks uphill and downhill. Though the schedule was tight, we were able to enjoy many of the sights.

While the main attraction for this tour were the sites and temples, the experience shared with people of the same belief made the trip more meaningful. On Tuesday, the couplesrenewed their marriage vows on Cana where Jesus did his first miracle of turning water into wine. We braved the freezing waters of the Jordan River as our pastors baptized us once more. We sang praises under the roof where the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, the beautiful acoustics still ringing in our memories. We floated along the Dead Sea and spread mud on our bodies to come out with our skin looking 10 years younger much to the delight of our senior pastors. We placed our prayers on the crevices of the Wailing Wall meditated while touching the stones.

“The previous times I’ve been here with a group, no one was interested in doing these things,” our tour leader David Ordonez shared. “It makes all the difference when sharing the experience with people of the same faith.” These days, people make it a habit to judge others and their actions towards their belief, which is why during previous tours, most would opt to not participate in the activities. However, being with the same people allowed us to be moved by the history of our faith.

Some of the women cried while the men shook hands and embraced the tour leaders present, thankful for creating a Holy Land tour. “There’s so much to be thankful for this. For us normal people to be able to experience this, we are truly grateful to you,” they said as they smiled at the whole family with their days in Israel seared into their hearts.