We have just returned from being tour guides for our temple president in the land of Israel. Pres. and Sr. Graham allowed us to plan the itinerary, the accommodations, and the food. Since we only had 11 days we tried to distill the best from Ben’s three week tour. Visiting Israel once is a life-changing experience; visiting again instills even more. We were able to see new sites and noticed some improvements since 2014.
We were allowed this time to go onto the temple mount and were struck by the artistic beauty of the Dome of the Rock. The pictures do not do it justice. It isn’t a mosque but a monument which covers the Foundation Stone (see here, under Religious Significance: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dome_of_the_Rock), which is sacred to all three monotheistic religions. There is a mosque (Al Aqsa) on the mount for worship. We were not permitted to enter either building and were reminded by security, after the fact, not to touch each other while having our picture taken. We also saw a woman being escorted off the mount for overtly praying from a prayer book, which is also forbidden.
Door to Al Aqsa
Pres. Graham wanted to go to Bethlehem. We had no appropriate transportation [an Israeli rental car is not insured in the Palestinian Territories] so had decided to hire a taxi driver and were discussing the process of how to find one who was honest and dependable. As we were walking down to the Jaffa Gate, a man on the street approached us and asked where we were from and if we were looking for a tour. I told him we were from Florida and he immediately responded Jacksonville or Miami? I thought it was a sign. Most people do not think of Jacksonville when referring to Florida. I told him we were looking for a driver to take us to the Church of the Nativity and the Shepherds Fields. He said he could do that. So we met him 3 hours later, and off we went feeling very comfortable. We learned that Antonio was retired, is immigrating to Canada, speaks 7 languages , had 4 children who were all very well educated and that the whole family was trying to leave. He treated us well and we were grateful.
We were disappointed with the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem because the site of the birth and the stable are all “shrined up” and difficult to imagine. However, the Franciscan church next door, with access to the other parts of the “house” (inn) and cave, really helped us visualize the dwelling and the back area where Mary would have gone for privacy. This is the same place where Jerome first translated the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate).
Qasr El Yahud, the traditional site of Christ's baptism
We attended Sunday Evening Classics at the Jerusalem Center. We heard the K2K Duo with Gilad Karni, viola, Anna Kasserman, piano, and their guest Felix Andreas Genner, clarinet. They played Schumann, Bruch, and Mozart. The concert reminded me of one we attended in Minneapolis many years ago where a Chinese prodigy, Lang Lang, was playing the piano. Absolutely spell binding. How we miss quality classical music!
Galilee was beautiful and green, although a bit chilly. We love Capernaum and the way it stimulates your imagination to visualize Christ teaching in the synagogue, calling his apostles, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, and the story of the paralytic let down through the roof of Peter’s house to be healed. Our apartment was high on the side of the hill in Tiberias and we had a fabulous view of sunrise over the Sea of Galilee.
On our way to visit Tel Dan, we stopped at Naot shoe factory for a tour. Our guide was a semi-retired employee originally from Canada. It was very encouraging to hear her speak of the employees varied religious and cultural backgrounds: Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and from Syria, Lebanon, and Israel and many other foreign countries. They all get along well and attend each other’s family weddings, etc. They produce 3500 pairs of leather shoes each day and export all over the world.
Imagining all those red leather shoes...
The mud brick gate (sealed) at Tel Dan, circa 1800 BCE.
Abraham most likely came through here.
We were thrilled with our 11 days in the country of Israel. By the end, we all were ready to return to Africa to the temple and the people that we love. We agree with Pres. Monson who stated that it is more significant to walk as Jesus walked than where Jesus walked.