On February 28, 2008, I got the first stamp in my passport, which showed that I had entered Israel. I could never remove the mark that Israel put in passport, nor could I remove the mark that the Holy land left in my heart.
From the tiny window of the plane, I gazed upon the rippling waves of the fabled Mediterranean Sea of which folk tales of Paul and Odysseus had passed from generation to generation. As the plane descended toward the earth, I caught my first glimpse of the six-foot tall mustard seed growing adjacent to the ruins of the old Roman city Caesarea by the Sea.
We stayed in at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv. The next morning, I surveyed the breakfast choices in the dining room of the hotel. There were several platters of grilled fish—at breakfast! Equally strange was the long line of cheeses. There was every type of cheese imaginable, and some unimaginable, yet there was nothing to eat the cheese on. My tour group and I stared at the cheese. What was it for? Finally, I asked one of the workers how to eat it. “You’re Israeli, right?” I asked. He nodded. “What is the cheese for?” I pointed to the long row of cheeses. “To eat,” he replied, and looked at me as if I were from some other planet (I guess he was somewhat right!). Finally, I opted for a waffle. Upon tasting it, I discovered that it had a odd, yet familiar taste. It was pancake batter molded into the semblance of a waffle!
The first stop of our trip was to Meggido. I had been feeling sick on the bus ride but had decided that the foreign food did not set well with my stomach. Almost the moment I stepped off the bus, I began vomitting. I became more and more ill and finally, upon realizing that it was something more than just foreign food, went to the doctor. The tour company drove my mother and I to a little clinic in Tiberias, a town on the Sea of Galilee. It looked like a clinic from the second world war, and I was worried that I might leave with a worse disease than I had come with. My first few days in Israel had proved it to be a fairly hostile place!
The next day, however, I was feeling perfectly fine. We drove through the Golan Heights, which couldn’t have been any greener or rockier. Around every corner was a valley with a little creek running through it or the ruins of an ancient city. From there, we went on to Jerusalem. We read the Psalms of Ascent as we drove up the mountain. At the top of the mountain, we entered a seemingly infinite tunnel, and when the sun gleamed down on us once again, I got my first glimpse of Jerusalem. It was everything I had always imagined it would be.
During the next few days of our trip, we left prayer requests on slips of paper in the western wall, we explored the tunnels built next to the wall of the temple, we ventured down the winding streets of the Old City, we took communion in the Garden of Gethsemane, and we floated in the Dead Sea. In the Old City, we experienced a variety of cultures. The Arabs were very different than the Jews. My mother was offered 10,000 camels for me!
I will never forget my trip to Israel. I got to experience a different culture, meet a variety of new people, and see the Holy Land with my own eyes.
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