Adventist Review news editor Mark A. Kellner is part of a select group of Christian reporters, editors and broadcasters invited to visit Israel as guests of that nation's Ministry of Tourism and El Al Airlines. During the course of the visit, the group will see many of the major historical sites related to Christian and Jewish history in the land. In this blog, Mark shares his impressions of an ancient land and its ultramodern environment of today.
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IBERIAS, Israel – Shalom haverim!
That’s transliterated Hebrew for “Hello, friends!” Following a 10-hour plane ride from New York, a group of Christian journalists arrived in Israel for a week touring historic and holy sites that would probably be of interest to other believers who want to make the trip.
We are the guests of the Israel Ministry of Tourism and, by extension, El Al Airlines, which brought us here. The flight was exceptionally pleasant, which is saying a lot for almost half a day seated in economy! But it was delightful, nonetheless.
After a short jaunt to Joppa, on the north edge of Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city, we rested overnight and were off to catch much of interest. Our first stop was the coastal city of Caesarea, where King Herod built a port and surrounding city to please his Roman masters. Much has been lost in the intervening years, but the open-air theatre and the hippodrome, or chariot racetrack, remain, along with plenty of interesting ruins. And of course there are the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, which are a deep, deep blue indeed.
This Casearea is not to be confused with Caesarea Philippi, to which we might go on another day. It is an interesting stop and a good orientation to the centuries of change, which have swept over what is today the State of Israel. From the Phonecians to the Romans to the Mamluks, Muslims, Crusaders, Byzantines, Ottoman Turks and today’s Jewish majority -- just about every group has made its mark, however visible or faint, on Casearea. The early Christian believers had an impact, too – this is where Cornelius (Acts 10) had his vision of a message from God, to send for Simon Peter. The disciple, of course, was in the aforementioned Joppa at that time, and a house believed to be that of Simon, the tanner, is also there.
From there, we were off to Mt. Carmel, where Elijah had his showdown with the prophets of Baal. No halting between two opinions here: the vistas are magnificent, even on a slightly cloudy day, and the significance is notable.
The Mt. Carmel site we visited is in a Druze neighborhood, and we visited a local Druze restaurant for lunch, and it was a vegetarian plate: Falafel, which is fried mashed chick peas, in pita bread with salad and tahini sauce, which is made from sesame seeds. Delightful!
Once fed, we were off to Nazareth for a look at the “first century village” recreation there. It’s an amazing place, where one can truly get a feel for what life was like in the time of Jesus. Among the more interesting recreations or demonstrations was that of weaving, as practiced by Hannah, a woman who weaves items sold in the village’s gift shop. Also sold in the gift shop, “The Ultimate Passover,” a video featuring Adventist pastors Steve Wohlberg and Jeff Zaremsky. That’s impressive – at least to this observer!
Towards sunset, we crossed the hills into Tiberias and caught our first view of the Sea of Galilee. It’s truly something to see a site so ingrained in the Gospel accounts become visible before you. Tomorrow, Lord willing, we’ll go out on the water – but in a boat, not walking!