We are in Jerusalem, visiting Mark and Naomi before we leave next Sunday for TL. This is not one of those organized tours that I confess to occasionally envying because everything is arranged for you. In the past we’ve even considered using one to visit Israel. Given the political realities and the fact that many biblical sites are on the West Bank, it makes some sense to have someone else organize a tightly-scheduled, well-crafted pilgrimage, complete with priest and knowledgeable tour guide. And contending with Hebrew raises a non-guided visit to an even loftier level of challenge. We’ve recently added it to our ever-growing list of languages that it would be useful to know.
As I said, what we are presently engaged upon is definitely not one of those. As I write these words, we are bogged down in traffic going through Tel Aviv, behind schedule and trimming our expectations of what can yet be accomplished today. Even so, it doesn’t matter. This is better. We will struggle and eventually arrive, both key elements of successful pilgrimages, at least as they are traditionally understood. And as a bonus, our personal version has included some offbeat parts, too, things that would never happen on your garden-variety tour.
The first morning was spent wandering the Old City and the Via Dolorosa, learning again how to deal with aggressive shopkeepers. That afternoon and the next day we helped Mark and Naomi clean and paint their future home, with its 14 foot walls and ceilings, and then attended (and enjoyed!) our first Shabbat services ever. There were even kippot (the little skull caps that guys need to wear) provided for those of us who needed them. Mark rented a car and we next did an overnight to the Galilee where we trekked the back way up and wandered the Mount of Beatitude, swam in the Sea of Galilee (well, Mark and Naomi did), visited Capernaum, and listened to stories of the early days of Israel from the vantage point of a family living for thirty years on the border with Syria near the Golan Heights.
As for organized tours, so far we’ve frankly felt sorry for those groups of folks we see in the tour buses (the feeling is probably reciprocated.) Even though in some ways our path has been occasionally more difficult and problematic, we feel like it is more rewarding in most ways. And besides, we get all this unscripted downtime with Naomi, Mark, and the babies. [posted by David]