9:40 pm

Oh wow, it’s a late one tonight.  And I still need to get rid of all this Israeli grime before I go to bed.  But hey, we get an extra fifteen minutes in the morning.  This Andre is so very generous with our time.  And I am wondering if I will be able to speak in the morning.  This thing I’ve got is moving into my upper chest and voice.  Oh well, a quiet Jim might be a nice change of pace on this trip.

We had a great day today (as they all have been, actually).  But tonight we sleep in Jerusalem.  Inside the walls of the Old City.  In a hotel that is just a classic work of art in and of itself.  But we have had quite the day to get us to this point.  Are you ready?

We were up as usual with our bags out at 7 and on the bus by 8.  We are so into the routine.  Breakfast was good.  Not nearly the selection to which we have become accustomed, but we are just spoiled right now.  It was fine.

Shepherd's Cave - Bethlehem
Shepherd's Cave - Bethlehem
We were the first group to Shepherd’s Field.  And I think the only group there for the whole hour we were making our visit.  The caves we had visited just two years ago are barricaded off (guess they weren’t all that safe back then – yikes).  We visited first the large cave with some decorations.  It is ok, just not all that “real.”  We read the account in Luke and sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem” – what else?

Then we did walk over to a lookout over Bethlehem.  That’s when I noticed the rough caves we had visited before – even on my last visit – were closed.  But from there you get a lovely view of the terraces built for farming by the people. 


There were even some sheep across the ravine (which you could barely see).  So authentic.

We also visited the Shepherd’s Church (built by the Canadians in the 1940’s).  It’s a lovely little chapel, with beautiful frescos depicting the story of the shepherds – and the angels, of course.

Back to the bus.  It was time to…..shop!  We were back at the Kondo family shop.  The operator’s grandfather was the one who purchased the Dead Sea Scrolls from the shepherd boy who found them.  Apparently, the kid came to him to have one of the leather scrolls made into sandals, but he spoke Aramaic and recognized the text. The story goes on from there, but they can deal in antiquities.  We were there a while and help support the local Palestinian Christian population, devastated by the intifada and wall built by the Israelis.

Jesus was born!
Jesus was born!
After that ordeal – we were on to the Church of the Nativity itself.  I must say it was a more pleasant visit than usual.  No crowds.  It is undergoing massive renovations – so not nearly all the incense and gaudy paraphernalia were about.  And there was no line for a trip down into the grotto.  I haven’t been down for at least two trips – the lines were hours long. And why wait for two hours to breath air that must be 120 degrees and not much oxygen left in it anyway.  It was bad enough down there today.

But we made it down and got some pictures.  And live to tell the story.

Then it was to the Roman Catholic portion of the church (think midnight mass from Bethlehem).  And Jerome’s study – in the same cave actually as where the  Savior was born – but a little bit away.  I didn’t go down this time.  Too tight a space for me. 

Back to the bus – and off to lunch.  Just a quick lunch today since our program was quite filled with new and amazing discoveries (or so we hope).  We ate at Ruth’s – shawarma or falafel.  I think everyone had the chicken shawarma – with tons of tahini sauce.  Oh.  My.  Word.  It was great.  And quick.  Oh and I’m probably not supposed to say this – but Judy Law paid for everyone’s lunch.  Wow.  What a sweetheart!

The bus was now off to Jerusalem.  We wound around a bit, and crossed out of the West Bank without having to answer any questions or really even stop.  That was amazing, since we have seen more police/military presence in Jerusalem than ever before.  Yom Kippur does begin as sunset tomorrow.

We stopped at the Haas Promenade for a first glimpse at the Old City of Jerusalem.  It was a beautiful day and the overlook was a nice introduction to this beautiful city.

Back onto the bus for the ride across town to Yad Vashem.  That is always a very moving couple of hours.  Tears.  Sorrow.  Shock.  To understand the depth of man’s depravity is always shocking.  It was again.

Toured the museum.  The memorial.  The Children’s Memorial (the one with 12 candles being reflected into millions points of light by mirrors as they read the names of all of the children killed in the holocaust – 1.5 million of them!).  Then back to bus for the jaunt on over to the Israel Museum.

Model of Jerusalem
Model of Jerusalem
By now it must be 3:00 at least.  I am getting nervous because there are things I’d love everyone to see in the museum, things from the sites we’ve just visited.  But we do a tour of the model of Jerusalem from the first century.  It is probably better to do at the end of our time, but with the holiday we have to shuffle things around a bit.

Then to the exhibit for the Dead Sea Scrolls.  I did shorten the “free” time to look at the exhibits to free up more time for the big museum.

We were finally ready to go visit the archeological wing of the Israel Museum.  Yay.  There were a few things at the beginning to distract.  But we did get to the Israelite period.  We got to see lions from Hazor, the actually Holy of Holies from Tel Arad (but it was backwards from the replica out at the tel itself…how can that happen?), and lot of Canaanite artifacts too.  When we got to the Roman period, there were about ten minutes left before the whole museum shut down.  The docents were hovering.

Found at Herodium -- Herod's Tomb
Found at Herodium -- Herod's Tomb
But we did get rewarded with some amazing things to see.  We saw the original “Pontus Pilate stone” from Caesarea Maritima.  That was on our first day of touring – and now we got to see the real deal.  And we got to see proof that they did crucifixions in the first century (a nail through the bone of a heal).  And we saw a bust of Alexander the Great.  And the ossuary of Caiphus.  And….the sarcophagus of Herod’s the Great’s tomb.  They had some large pieces of structure they had found at Herodium as well.  We had just been there yesterday, so it was great to see some of the things they had uncovered in that mess of stones we took pictures of yesterday.

It was now closing time.  And, the docents ushered us out.  Glad to have us gone, I’m sure.  But it was an action-packed ten minutes.  Great things to see.  Very meaningful and significant.

Back to the bus for the short trip across town to our hotel.  We can’t come right up to our hotel since it is in the Old City – so we have to walk a bit.  But with the luggage they have to stop extra far and we walk extra far.  Lots of steps.  After a long day.  I was not any kind of hero on that journey.

But we made it to our hotel – and our luggage was waiting upstairs in the hallway.  Word to the wise – take the elevator to the first floor rooms (our floor).  There are 87 stops from 0 to 1st floor.  That’s a huge leap.  I think there is private housing in between those two floors, now that I think about it.  Or some sort of storage level at least.

But as I said, it’s a lovely property.  The roof yields wonderful panoramic views of Jerusalem – between the trees.

Dinner was at 7.  Modest, but actually quite tasty.  They even served some pizza along with the chicken and beef.  The salads were the best part of the meal.  Did I say that???

The Night Crew to the Western Wall
The Night Crew to the Western Wall
After dinner I mustered enough strength to lead 10 of us down the streets of the old city to find the Western Wall – the Kotel.  It is a bit of a tradition in my groups that we head to the Wall on our first night in Jerusalem.  We made it easily – and it was a lovely time down there.  There were more police officers lining the route than I have ever seen in Jerusalem – cumulatively!  There were a lot.  I think it is because tomorrow at sunset begins Yom Kippur.  We will head down there again tomorrow after dinner.  There is no driving on the holiday, so only those who live within walking distance will be there.  It should be very interesting.

Tomorrow is an interesting day.  We start at the Garden of Gethsemane.  Then to the City of David.  Lunch.  Oh yes, Hezekiah’s Tunnel.  And we end at the Garden Tomb at 4 pm.  We’ll have to hurry because the bus won’t be able to driver after sunset.  And….I love that book shop so very much.  Well, we may have to make a return visit later in the week.

It’ll be a full day (as they all are).  But we have made it to Jerusalem.  Finally.  The rest of the trip is amazing, but there is really nothing like Jerusalem.  I can’t wait to do some exploration.  Oh, and get to bed tonight.

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