Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Remembrances of the Holy Land (Tel Aviv)

statuePHOTO: Dave Kim

We took a right as we exited the Old City through the Dung Gate. To our right were the high ramparts of the Old City, while on the left were houses and apartments in the surrounding Arabic neighborhood, interspersed with views across the Kidron Valley.

I stop at calling it a slum, as it was nowhere near as bad as anything I'd seen pictures of from Cape Town or Rio. However, the neighborhood might've already seen its better days. Draped on the iron railing of one two-story house was a sign, in English, which exclaimed, "Another excavation means another neighborhood gone" referring to the recent excavations going on there within the previous few years.

Despite it being 2008, excavations were still in their infancy at the City of David location. A few months prior to our visit, archeologists uncovered many promising ruins in the area believed to be from King David's time. There were several walkways and stairwells which afforded us a close look as crews were still working the location.

Doron asked that nobody take photos at this time because the lead archeologist had not yet published their findings.

Adjacent to the City of David, is the Beit Hatzofeh lookout, which allowed us a great view of the Kidron Valley.

Group members needed to choose one of two tunnel options to tour. The adventurous people chose to explore Hezekiah's Tunnel, a 1750 foot long water route built in 701BC by King Hezekiah to provide a water supply in the face of impending attack. This tunnel was hewn from solid rock, and is quite narrow in points, short in others, and you're guaranteed of getting your feet wet because there's always water running through it, sometimes quite high.

The less adventurous could choose the Canaanite Tunnel, which is much shorter, and more importantly for some, completely dry.

As I'd heard about Hezekiah's Tunnel a year before the trip, there was little question which one I'd choose. About 10 of us went for Hezekiah's Tunnel, with the rest choosing to stay dry. Doing neither was not an option, to the dismay of anyone who may have been claustrophobic.

We all walked as one group down a set of steel stairwells before splitting into the two parties. When we got to where it was time to get our feet wet I was towards the back of the pack. I could hear the people up front screeching as they set food in the water, exclaiming how cold it was.

I was about ready to step in when TG came out of the tunnel. He was a couple inches taller than my  6'3". Apparently, he got 10 feet into the tunnel before whacking his head pretty good. Not wanting to tempt fate he decided to switch and take the dry route, with its more ample headroom.

The water came up to just above my ankles. I was wearing Teva sandals, so my skin was fully exposed to the water. It was actually very exhilarating.

There's no lighting in the tunnel so they gave you a little disposable light when buying your ticket. They claimed they were enough light to experience the tunnel. However, they gave off only a small amount of light. Some people brought flashlights.

You basically had to keep going as there no places to stop, nor wide enough to allow anyone to pass by. Because of this we completed the walk in about two-thirds of the normal time estimate. It didn't help there was a group of young Israeli teenagers immediately behind our group, pushing the pace.

Height and width of the tunnel varied. Upon first entering, the ceiling height is short, though the width is reasonable. Towards the last part the height is quite high, but there were a few points where my girth caused me to turn sideways to continue moving forward. At no point did I feel I'd get stuck, but it certainly became interesting at times.

All along, there was a constant din of water being sloshed around by thrashing feet. This, coupled with heightened voices, made it quite loud at points.

We finally exited the tunnel to the lower Pool of Siloam, where Jesus cured the blind man.

At the top of the adjacent stone stairs was a well-placed souvenir stand. They had was a bright t-shirt that said, "I survived Hezekiah's Tunnel." Despite not having a size that fit well, I had to get one!

So was it wet? Yes. However, I was disappointed because it never got more than halfway up my calf and I'd seen pictures where it got waist deep on occasion.

We next came to an awning covering what looked like one side of a stone pool. For quite some time many people considered this the actual Pol of Siloam.

TS gave a sermon about Jesus and the Blind Man, while Doron covered the historical and archeological aspects. Additionally, there was someone who was selling antique coins which looked more like little flecks of pitted carbon steel than actual money.

Doron took us into an adjacent area where they had excavated a set of sewers. He told us about how Jews had escaped the Romans by crawling through the sewers. He added that they found animal bones which helped to confirm the dating.

Naively, I asked whether they'd found any human remains during their digs to which he quickly said, "That is a question we don't ask." Per Orthodox Jewish customs, it's against the rules to disturb human remains and so if any were discovered the excavation would be immediately stopped while a rabbinical staff came in to investigate.

From the low point of the Kidron Valley and the Pool of Siloam, we returned to our bus to head over to the Mount of Olives Overlook which provides the quintessential view of the Temple Mount and Old City.

We were greeted by a camel sitting at the lookout, which really looked out of place. Apparently the handler hangs out all the time in case people want to be photographed sitting on the camel in front of Jerusalem. MG and CG were photographed together, and then DK took his turn.

The last time ReGeneration Church went on pilgrimage to Israel, the group had nearly 40 people. We had 28 this time, and filled up the lookout quite well. The larger group must've been overwhelming.

We stopped in the German Colony for lunch, a Jerusalem neighborhood which had lots of shops and touristy looking things. After walking around several blocks several of us sought out the nearest shawarma shop to where the bus was parked.

The place was not nearly as fancy as some shops we'd seen, but was very busy and we were able to get tables together in the back.

Interestingly, he used a clean utility knife to cut open the edge of the pita before stuffing it with the sandwich content. Not the tool of choice here in the USA. But it worked!

Before leaving Jerusalem, we'd have the opportunity to see the Coast.

Where Jerusalem is the spiritual center of Israel, Tel Aviv is the cultural and economic center. Many international corporations have offices in Tel Aviv.

Adi parked the bus down along the waterfront. We were told we'd have a couple of hours to go swimming or sight see. Most people immediately headed down to the beach.

I had been resolved to not being able to take anymore photographs on the trip since my camera started malfunctioning in Jerusalem. It was actually a relief not having to carry around all that bulky gear. However, I'd also started getting disappointed that I wouldn't be able to capture anything over at Petra.

With that thought in mind I asked Doron if he knew of any good camera shops in Tel Aviv. He called his daughter, who happened to be a photographer. She recommended one several blocks away. I headed down the street in the direction he said to go.

About half way there I found a different shop. I spotted a used Canon 10D available. The advantage of this would be that I could use all my lenses I'd brought with me. (Ironically, I had a Canon 10D at home. However, at the last second I decided to save some weight and unpacked the body, which would have been a spare.)

Though it was way more than I wanted to spend, I seriously considered it. However, the owner hadn't provided the power supply to charge the batteries. The shop owner called the seller up to see if they were available. However, had to leave a voice mail. Since there was no guarantee the owner would call back, or even had the missing stuff, I reluctantly passed.

I finally reached the original destination. I suppose this place is a wonderful place for someone who either works in Tel Aviv, or is visiting for several days. Unfortunately for me they pretty much have to order everything. I'd be in Jordan by the time anything arrived so it was a worthless venture. So it was now back to the original place.

The used seller hadn't called back yet. On a spur of the moment I decided to go ahead and buy a Point-and-Click consumer camera, figuring any camera is better than none. After looking at several models I ended up buying a Fujifilm Finepix A805.

Feeling a bit of pity, the owner gave me a deal on the Fuji, and even threw in a camera case, batteries and a small SD card. It was funny to see that it had an option for Hebrew in the display settings. Not something you normally see in the USA.

Despite all the running around, I still had time to take a dip in Mediterranean Sea. I was lucky enough to see DK's mother, who was not swimming, and she agreed to watch my new camera.

The Israeli's have built a long line of break walls about 100 yards out from the beach. This allowed for some pretty calm places to wade. The water was actually quite warm compared to what we're used to here in Northern California.

I wandered around the shallow until I ran into some people coming in from the break walls. Not sure if they were supposed to go out there, but a whole bunch had, and apparently you could walk nearly all the way out without leaving your feet.

About three-quarters of the way there I changed my mind because I didn't know if anyone was still out there, and I was getting worried about getting back to the bus in time.

As it turned out, I got back in plenty of time. I actually got on the bus before anyone so took the liberty of drawing the back curtains and changing from my wet suit back into my street clothes.

Little by little, the remainder of the group straggled in. This allowed CB and I to grab a cup of coffee in a shop adjacent to where the bus was parked. This backfired as the line was a lot slower than we though, and now everyone was waiting on us.

Next we drove to the southern Tel Aviv suburb of Jaffa, where Jonah set sail as he tried to escape God's commands.

Jaffa was badly damaged in 1973's Yom Kippur War and so many of its buildings have been rebuilt in the last 30 years. (If you have Netflix you can rent Kazablan, an Israeli musical based on Romeo and Juliet. It was filmed in Jaffa only a year after the war so much of the devastation was still visible).

Doron and TS chose Old Jaffa's Abrasha Park for the site of our next sermon. At the top of the hill one had a commanding view of the Tel Aviv skyline. We congregated at a paved area next to the Statue of Faith, a monument carved with three Old Testament stories (the sacrifice of Isaac, Jacob's dream and conquest of Jericho.)

This was another one of those special moments when TS was giving his sermon. Some people almost looked as if they were embraced with a spiritual glow.

On the way back to the bus we noticed a young Israeli couple having their wedding photos taken. Doron explained that this area of Old Jaffa is a popular place to do that.

We ended our evening on the Mediterranean by eating at a sea food restaurant, who's name I've now forgotten.

They sat us along a long table by the window, an equal number of people on each side. Unfortunately, those of us along the window weren't able to move around much, so couldn't converse with everyone in the group. Doron's wife joined us for dinner tonight.

I can't remember all the courses, but there were several, and the food was really good and I think everyone went away happy.

Once dinner was finished we headed straight back to Jerusalem. I'm sure others probably went out on the town. I decided to try and catch the latest Sharks' game. While I did connect fine, I once again missed most of the game. The exercise of trying to keep up with the Sharks was pretty much a waste, and I'd have been better off seeing if anyone was going out.


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