Day 6: Predawn Via Dolorosa, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Garden Tomb, Garden of Gethsemane, Yad Vashem, Farewell Lunch 

Continuing my journey with Ecclesia Houston and Pastor Chris Seay via the always-innovative tour company Breaking Bread Journeys, day 6 of our itinerary was perhaps the most profound. There are many inspiring moments along the way but there’s something about waking up before dawn and taking a vow of silence only to hear the scriptures related to the path that Jesus took to his crucifixion at each of the 14 stations. We departed from our hotel at 5am to take the walk to Herod’s Gate and then made the descent to Station One of the Via Dolorosa, or “The Way of Sorrows.”

There in the predawn blue glow of a sleepy Jerusalem sky, we listened with broken hearts as Pastor Chris read us the scriptures that chronicled or prophesied of Jesus’s walk to his death. It struck me that many of the stations depict those who loved him reaching out to help him, to do something for their beloved teacher and friend.

They did not understand anything he had said about his coming resurrection, so to them, this was just the most awful, dark, miserable thing they could imagine happening. Here was the man who had healed, preached forgiveness of sin, fed the poor, taught a Gospel of a higher love, yet here he was the scorn of man, bruised, beaten, flogged nearly to death, then sentenced to carry his own tool of execution while wearing a crown of thorns.

I cannot imagine anything more profoundly distressing, depressing, confusing, or anguishing than these scenes laid before the very eyes of those who had followed him and loved him. In that dark hour, before the sun had risen, I and members of our group were gripped by the reality of those accounts as we trod over stones sometimes dated to the first century. There were few dry eyes as we meditated on those seemingly slow-motion brutal moments of the Via Crucis, or the Way of the Cross.

At the same time, as Pastor Chris read these scriptures, it became apparent that another emotion felt in those steps is a realization of the profound love that God has for us, that while we were yet imperfect people lost in our own ways, Christ died for us because he loved us.

Upon completion of walking the Via Dolorosa, we had time to contemplate our experience by wandering the various chapels within the labyrinth that is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

After this intense experience, we visited a much brighter place called the Garden Tomb, a location just to the north of the Damascus Gate believed to contain the empty tomb of Jesus, a site many historians believe to be the place of Jesus’ resurrection. The overseers of the location have done an amazing job of keeping the gardens bright and colorful, as a representation of the glory of Christ’s resurrection, symbols of rebirth blossoming all around us. We took communion in that holy space and we all felt a very present touch of the Holy Spirit, a touch of the very palpable hope of the resurrection in that supremely serene garden.

Later in Day 6, we made our way to the Garden of Gethsemane, another important scene in the story of Jesus’ path to his crucifixion. It is very revealing to me that Jesus prayed in the garden the night before his crucifixion, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” This reveals his humanity, that he knew the fight for the salvation of the world was before him, and in that humanness, perhaps he did not feel he could bear it, and thus he prayed for God to take it. Yet in his humility and submission to God the Father, he relents, “yet not my will, but yours be done.”

The olive trees we saw there were at least descendants of the trees that would have arched their embracing arms in sadness over Jesus on his last night before his death (some say they are saplings of those trees that provided rebirth for the trees to carry on, as is the manner of olive trees to regenerate in their same location for thousands of years– either way, a beautiful symbol there, too). So many touch-points for us to feel, see, and experience these places where he walked, where he prayed, and where he loved us with an ultimate love unfathomable among mankind.

As if we had not felt enough for the day, the tour ended at the Holocaust Musem, “Yad Vashem.” There we experienced yet another kind of darkness, one of history’s deepest wounds, the Jewish Holocaust. There are no words to appropriately express the horrors of the Nazi’s deliberate cruelty, a merciless and systematic murder of millions of innocents, in the most unthinkable ways possible.

In this contrast to the beauty of God’s love as demonstrated on the Via Dolorosa, we remembered the total depravity of mankind, that we could fall to such a grave brokenness, to an antithesis of love, and the ambivalence of so many who turned their hearts and eyes away from the reality of what was happening all around them in those days.

Yet even in those horrible chapters of history, the museum beautifully and thoughtfully documented “The Righteous Among the Nations” — accounts of those who stood up to the ultimate brutality and evil, to rescue and hide Jews who would have otherwise perished.

The group then took a much needed time of reflection and prayer on the bus to help us process all that we had taken in on this inexpressible day. Then Christina Samara and Lisa Moed of Breaking Bread Journeys met us at a farewell lunch and presented all of the group with a small but beautiful gift of cookbooks containing their favorite holy land recipes. We were all so grateful for them and our faithful tour guide, Bassam.

That afternoon some of us made an excursion to the rooftop of the Austrian Hospice with its beautiful panoramic views of the old city.

We concluded our last night with a special Shabbat dinner hosted at a local Jewish home by the group called Shabbat of a Lifetime. Photos are not allowed so you will have to imagine the scenes of an authentic Jewish Shabbat (Sabbath) meal.

If you’ve read this far, thank you for following along. I hope these images might be inspiring as a visual expression of what I felt this day. God bless you.

We entered the Old City Jerusalem at Herod’s Gate around 5am to begin our walk on the Via Dolorosa:

Day 5: Jerusalem Churches, Pools of Bethesda, Western Wall, Tunnel Tours, Roman Cardo, Razzouk Tattoos, Eucalyptus Restaurant

Day 5 with Ecclesia Houston on our Breaking Bread Journeys tour of the Holy Land was a deep dive into Old City Jerusalem.

Our first stop brought us to lunch at Abu Shukri, a cafe famous for its hummus and falafel, located beside Stations of the Cross V on the Via Dolorosa.

Our faithful tour guide Basam then took us to the Church of the Flagellation and the Church of the Condemnation and Imposition of the Cross which is located in a Franciscan compound at Stations 1 and 2 of the Via Dolorosa. This is the location which Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land typically commemorate as the site where Jesus took up his cross after being sentenced to crucifixion (John 19:16). This belief was based on the discovery of a large Roman pavement stones, which are described in the Bible as part of Pilate’s judgment seat for the condemnation of Jesus.

The churches are located at the beginning of the Via Dolorosa in Old City Jerusalem. The Church of the Condemnation and Imposition of the Cross is known as the Judgment Hall of Pontius Pilate (John 18:28). The original church was built during the Byzantine era. It was converted into a mosque before being restored to a Catholic church from 1903 -1904.

After that, we walked east to the beautiful Church of St. Anne, built between 1131 and 1138 on top of the site believed to be the childhood home and perhaps the birthplace of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The church possesses mesmerizing acoustics, and this makes the church a pilgrimage site for soloists and choirs, of which we got to hear a few from around the world singing praises in various languages. We contributed our own song as well!

The church is located right beside the archaeological excavation of the Pool of Bethesda and its collonades mentioned in the 5th Chapter of John’s Gospel. Pastor Chris Seay read to us this Gospel account of the crippled man who had been waiting 38 years to be healed in the pool which was known at the time to have healing powers (“a heavenly messenger would come to stir the water in the pool. Whoever reached the water first and got in after it was agitated would be healed of his or her disease”). Chris mentioned how we have trouble waiting 38 days, much less 38 years.

And I thought about how this crippled man had kept his faith all those years, believing that he could be healed if only he could get in the pool at the right time. And the passage indicates that Jesus knew of this man’s longsuffering spirit in waiting for so many years. I think perhaps that’s why he chose to heal him, to underscore how great this humble man’s faith was. Look at the results of his faith: a visit from the son of God himself, and he was instantly healed. May we all have even half the faith and patience of this man.

After our visit to St. Anne’s, the Pools of Bethesda, and the beautiful gardens therein, we then made our way into the Jewish Quarter to say prayers both spoken and written at the Western Wall.

Next the tour took us through tunnels revealing archaeological finds deep underneath the Old City. The Tunnel Tour is in such high demand that you must book it two months in advance. We learned that much of the city was raised from a small valley centuries ago by arched supports, and it is under these arches that many of the tunnels were excavated. We saw the ancient gates to Solomon’s Temple and learned that one stone of the temple’s western retaining wall (which our group was able to see and touch) weighs an estimated 570 tons. To put this weight into context, the heaviest stone in the Great Pyramid of Giza, found in the “King’s” chamber, weighed 80 tons.

We then had some time to wander the city and Basam led us to some more scenes to document in the old city such as the Roman Cardo. We then visited Palestinian Christian Wassim Razzouk of Razzouk Tattoos. Their family has been in the tattoo business in the Old City for over 700 years. It has been a longstanding practice for Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem to get the Jerusalem Cross tattooed as a commemoration of their pilgrimage. Several of the members in our group did just that along with other tattoos they found meaningful. To learn more about the fascinating history of the Razzouk family business, you can read an article here.

After our free time, we made our way to Chef Moshe Basson’s “The Eucalyptus” restaurant just outside the old city near the Jaffa Gate. Basson is famous worldwide for his revival of the biblical menu. He shared with us several stories of herbs and spices used in biblical times. We enjoyed an unforgettable meal at his beautiful restaurant.

Day 4: Jacob’s Well, Nablus Old City, Samaritan Village, Taybeh Brewery

Continuing on Day 4 of Ecclesia Houston‘s Holy Land pilgrimage with Breaking Bread Journeys, we started our tour by making our way from Tiberias to Nablus in the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories. Our first stop was to the Greek Orthodox Church that sits atop the three-millennia-old Jacob’s Well. Christianity has a longstanding connection with the site of the well, with various churches being constructed on the site since 384 AD. We tried to guess the depth of the well today, which prompted me to research the question. I found that based on a measurement made in 1935, the total depth of the well is 41 meters (135 ft).

Pastor Chris read to us from John’s Gospel 4:1-26, which describes the account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman who drew water for Jesus from this very well. In the passage, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman of the living water that quenches our spiritual thirst forever. Jesus breaks accepted social barriers of the time by associating as a Jew with a Samaritan, and by associating publicly with a woman.

Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “Drink this water, and your thirst is quenched only for a moment. You must return to this well again and again. I offer water that will become a wellspring within you that gives life throughout eternity. You will never be thirsty again.”

We experienced the rare blessing to drink water from the same well mentioned in this Gospel passage – to quench our physical thirst – while on the very same site were reminded of that eternal spiritual wellspring deposited within us!

Next, we made our way into the old city of Nablus to visit an olive oil soap factory that’s been making hand-cut soap for 180 years. It has made Nablus famous throughout the middle east for its soap. We then toured more of the old city, visiting several street food vendors and a candy factory.

It never ceases to amaze me how extremely friendly the people of Nablus are to us foreigners. So often we heard, “Where are you from?” with us replying, “America” and them then saying, “Welcome, welcome.” We learned to say “salaam alaikum” which means “peace be with you” and “shukran” which means “thank you.” These two phrases carried us far with these kind people, as you could tell they were grateful for us visiting their city, and we were likewise humbled by their hospitality.

Next, we arrived at an event prepared by Slow Food Nablus, the culinary school for The House of Dignity which is an empowerment and education program for Palestinian women. The women of this community are incredibly joyful and were so happy to serve us. Our meal was an unbelievable feast we will not soon forget. We got to hear from the founder of The House of Dignity, Fatima, about her vision to help empower and unify the women of Nablus.

Next, we visited the Samaritan Museum on Mt. Gerizim and enjoyed a scenic overlook with stunning views of Nablus below. The Samaritan Priest explained to us much about the tiny minority Samaritan faith (essentially, an obscure sect of Judaism, although they would not describe it that way) and its ancient history in the region. We were reminded again of the account of the Samaritan woman, and of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus, when asked by the scholar who Jesus means by “your neighbor”, tells a story of a man attacked by robbers and left for dead. An apparently pious priest and a Levite pass by the wounded man, but a Samaritan stops to help the man recover. Jesus then asks, “Which of these three proved himself a neighbor to the man who had been mugged by the robbers?” The scholar answers, “The one who showed mercy to him.” And Jesus said simply, “Go and do likewise.”

I felt this day that Jesus was calling us to “go and do likewise” to show mercy in the simplest of ways, by showing up, accepting hospitality, and blessing strangers with the gift of listening.

We then had just enough time to make it to Taybeh Brewery, founded in 1994 in the West Bank village of Taybeh, 35 kilometres (22 mi) north of Jerusalem in Ramallah and al-Bireh Governorate. It is considered to be the first Palestinian brewery and the first, pioneering microbrewery in the Middle East, having predated the first Israeli microbrewery, The Dancing Camel, by about ten years.

Taybeh Brewery was co-founded shortly after the signing of the first Oslo Accords in 1993 by Nadim Khoury and his brother David, whose family originated from Taybeh, but who grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, where their family ran a liquor store. As a college student in the 1980s at Hellenic College in Brookline, Nadim began making his own beer in the basement of the dorm where he lived. He subsequently took up formal studies in brewing at UC Davis in California, eventually graduating with a master’s degree.

We learned that in 2012 Taybeh opened a winery, which produces Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon red wines. The winery, which was established with the help of an Italian winemaker, has been run by Nadim Khoury’s son Canaan since he graduated from Harvard in 2013 with an engineering degree.

After a wonderful tour of the brewery, we made our way into Jerusalem where we will stay the next three nights. We ventured into the old city through the Damascus Gate and enjoyed a brief visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and finished the evening with a great meal near the New Gate.

I hope you’ll enjoy my photos from the day, and hope they offer a representation of some facets of what we saw and experienced today. Thanks for following along!

Day 3: Magdala, Sea of Galilee, Mt. of Beatitudes

I’m here documenting a unique Christian pilgrimage to the holy land with Ecclesia Houston guided by Breaking Bread Journeys. I hope you’re enjoying my photo-journal of our experiences. We started our day at the archaeological site of Magdala, the site of at least two places in ancient Israel mentioned in the Jewish Talmud and possibly a location mentioned in the Christian New Testament. They have discovered an ancient Jewish Synagogue which would have been active during Jesus’ time. Pastor Chris told us it is almost 100% certain that Jesus would have visited this Synagogue. A church is also located at the site with a beautiful view of the Sea of Galilee and very impressive and inspiring murals and artwork throughout. The discovery at Magdala is said to be on par with the Dead Sea Scrolls in historical importance.

After our tour of the Magdala Center led by Father Kelly, we embarked upon a boating excursion where our guide David took us out on the waters. Pastor Chris Seay shared with us from the account of Matthew’s Gospel describing Jesus walking on the water and Peter’s struggle with his faith to follow Jesus onto the water.

After a much-needed afternoon break at our beautiful hotel property (we are staying at the new Magdala Hotel), we enjoyed a fabulous meal at the nearby Magdalena Restaurant.

After dinner Pastor Chris led the group in an after-hours visit to the Mount of Beatitudes where he read us the entire Sermon on the Mount at the location it is traditionally believed to have been preached by Jesus. It was an unforgettable evening standing there listening to our pastor read what is regarded as the most famous sermon of all time, near what would have been the spot that Jesus shared it almost 2000 years ago. I’ll share some of the beginning verses of this beautiful and timeless message here:

Blessed are the spiritually poor—the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Blessed are those who mourn—they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek and gentle—they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness—they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful—they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are those who are pure in heart—they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers—they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness—the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

Day 2: Mary’s Well, Mt. Precipice, Tulip Winery

Continuing our tour with Ecclesia Houston led by Breaking Bread Journeys, we started our day in Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus where we visited St. Mary’s Church, built atop a spring that fed the well believed to have served Jesus’ family.

Next we took a short hike to Mt. Precipice for some beautiful panoramic views over the Jezreel Valley. It is believed by many to be the site of the Rejection of Jesus described in Luke 4:14-30. In this passage, Jesus proclaims himself as the one described in Isaiah, saying,

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The people of Nazareth, not accepting Jesus as Messiah tried to push him from the mountain, but “he passed through the midst of them and went away.” The mount is situated on the southern edge of the city and provides beautiful views of the valley below and Mt. Tabor (Mount of Transfiguration) seen as an isolated peak to the east.

After that, we were ready for lunch and a wine tasting at Tulip Winery (יקב טוליפ). I love the cause behind Tulip, which our lovely host Lital told us employs 45 special needs adults who live in the village where the winery is located, a former kibbutz. The village’s name, Kfar Tikva, means “Village of Hope.”

At Tulip, they say “Labels are for wine bottles, not for people.” They were founded with the purpose of making great wine while providing special needs adults with employment and the support of community on the former kibbutz where they’re located. Started as a tiny boutique winery in 2003, now they are shipping over 350,000 bottles of wine annually and have won various awards locally and internationally.

Founded by the Itzhaki family, they fulfilled their long-time dream of establishing a winery that combines the production of quality wine with social responsibility. The owner, Roy Itzhaki, came to visit us and presented a special gift to Pastor Chris.

Their wonderful vision produced an exciting model of wine entrepreneurialism that employs members of Kfar Tikva and provides them with a business platform from which they can integrate into the labor market like any other person.

Tulip has become an industry leader and the largest boutique winery in Israel.

Finally we ended our day at the Magdala Center on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

Day 1: Jericho, Mount of Temptation, Jordan River Baptisms, Qumran Caves, Dead Sea, Tel Aviv

Our first day of the Ecclesia Houston holy land tour with Breaking Bread Journeys started departing Tel Aviv shortly as we made our way to Jericho.

Our tour guide Bassam pointed out that according to Luke’s Gospel 19:1-10, Jesus came through Jericho and met Zacchaeus the tax collector who had climbed a Sycamore tree to get a better look at Jesus.

Some very interesting facts about Jericho. Jericho is the oldest continuously-inhabited city in the world. It sits at the edge of the Dead Sea valley, 846 feet below sea-level, which also makes it the lowest inhabited city on earth. It is, literally, an oasis in the desert — a large spring there has fed that part of the valley for thousands of years and is the only way people have survived there.

We then made our way up to the Mount of Temptation and the Monastery of the Temptation, a Greek Orthodox monastery. The earliest monastery located on the site was constructed by the Byzantines in the 6th century above the cave traditionally said to be that where Jesus spent forty days and forty nights fasting and meditating during the temptation of Satan. The monastery receives its name from the mountain which the early Christians referred to as the “Mount of the Temptation.” The Mount of Temptation was identified by Augusta Helena of Constantinople as one of the “holy sites” in her pilgrimage in 326 AD.

When the Crusaders conquered the area in 1099, they built two churches on the site: one in a cave halfway up the cliff and a second on the summit. They referred to the site as “Mons Quarantana” (from Quaranta meaning forty in Italian, the number of days in the Gospel account of Jesus’s fast). Thus the Arabic name of the mountain is Mount Qarantal.

Afterward, we made our way to the Jordan River, the river in which Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Many pilgrims among our group commemorated their baptisms in the Jordan.

Later in the post, you will see that our journey took us to the archaeological site of the Qumran Caves where the famous Dead Sea Scrolls discoveries were made by a shepherd boy, then to the Dead Sea where the group took a float in the extremely buoyant waters.

Finally we made our way back to Tel Aviv in time for a stroll through the beautiful streets of the city to a view of sunset on the Mediterranean.

Day 7: Predawn Via Dolorosa, Garden Tomb, Garden of Gethsemane, Yad Vashem, Farewell Lunch

Continuing my journey with Ecclesia Houston and Pastor Chris Seay via the always-innovative tour company Breaking Bread Journeys, day 7 of our itinerary was perhaps the most profound. There are many inspiring moments along the way but there’s something about waking up before dawn and taking a vow of silence only to hear the scriptures related to the path that Jesus took to his crucifixion at each of the 14 stations. We departed from our hotel at 5am to take the walk to Herod’s Gate and then made the descent to Station One of the Via Dolorosa, or “The Way of Sorrows.”

There in the predawn blue glow of a sleepy Jerusalem sky, we listened with broken hearts as Pastor Chris read us the scriptures that chronicled or prophesied of Jesus’s walk to his death. It struck me that many of the stations depict those who loved him reaching out to help him, to do something for their beloved teacher and friend.

They did not understand anything he had said about his coming resurrection, so to them, this was just the most awful, dark, miserable thing they could imagine happening. Here was the man who had healed, preached forgiveness of sin, fed the poor, taught a Gospel of a higher love, yet here he was the scorn of man, bruised, beaten, flogged nearly to death, then sentenced to carry his own tool of execution while wearing a crown of thorns.

I cannot imagine anything more profoundly distressing, depressing, confusing, or anguishing than these scenes laid before the very eyes of those who had followed him and loved him. In that dark hour, before the sun had risen, I and members of our group were gripped by the reality of those accounts as we trod over stones sometimes dated to the first century. There were few dry eyes as we meditated on those seemingly slow-motion brutal moments of the Via Crucis, or the Way of the Cross.

At the same time, as Pastor Chris read these scriptures, it became apparent that another emotion felt in those steps is a realization of the profound love that God has for us, that while we were yet imperfect people lost in our own ways, Christ died for us because he loved us.

After this intense experience, we visited a much brighter place called the Garden Tomb, a location just to the north of the Damascus Gate believed to contain the empty tomb of Jesus, a site many historians believe to be the place of Jesus’ resurrection. The overseers of the location have done an amazing job of keeping the gardens bright and colorful, as a representation of the glory of Christ’s resurrection, symbols of rebirth blossoming all around us. We took communion in that holy space and we all felt a very present touch of the Holy Spirit, a touch of the very palpable hope of the resurrection in that supremely serene garden.

Later in Day 7, we made our way to the Garden of Gethsemane, another important scene in the story of Jesus’ path to his crucifixion. It is very revealing to me that Jesus prayed in the garden the night before his crucifixion, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” This reveals his humanity, that he knew the fight for the salvation of the world was before him, and in that humanness, perhaps he did not feel he could bear it, and thus he prayed for God to take it. Yet in his humility and submission to God the Father, he relents, “yet not my will, but yours be done.”

The olive trees we saw there were at least descendants of the trees that would have arched their embracing arms in sadness over Jesus on his last night before his death (some say they are saplings of those trees that provided rebirth for the trees to carry on, as is the manner of olive trees to regenerate in their same location for thousands of years– either way, a beautiful symbol there, too). So many touch-points for us to feel, see, and experience these places where he walked, where he prayed, and where he loved us with an ultimate love unfathomable among mankind.

As if we had not felt enough for the day, the tour ended at the Holocaust Musem, “Yad Vashem.” There we experienced yet another kind of darkness, one of history’s deepest wounds, the Jewish Holocaust. There are no words to appropriately express the horrors of the Nazi’s deliberate cruelty, a merciless and systematic murder of millions of innocents, in the most unthinkable ways possible.

In this contrast to the beauty of God’s love as demonstrated on the Via Dolorosa, we remembered the total depravity of mankind, that we could fall to such a grave brokenness, to an antithesis of love, and the ambivalence of so many who turned their hearts and eyes away from the reality of what was happening all around them in those days.

Yet even in those horrible chapters of history, the museum beautifully and thoughtfully documented “The Righteous Among the Nations” — accounts of those who stood up to the ultimate brutality and evil, to rescue and hide Jews who would have otherwise perished.

The group then took a much needed time of reflection and prayer on the bus with a special liturgy to help us process all that we had taken in on this inexpressible day. Then Christina Samara and Lisa Moed of Breaking Bread Journeys met us at a farewell lunch and presented all of the group with a small but beautiful gift of cookbooks containing their favorite holy land recipes. We were all so grateful for them and our faithful tour guide, Bassam.

We concluded our last night with a special Shabbat dinner hosted at a local Jewish home by the group called Shabbat of a Lifetime. Photos are not allowed so you will have to imagine the scenes of an authentic Jewish Shabbat (Sabbath) meal.

If you’ve read this far, thank you for following along. I hope these images might be inspiring as a visual expression of what I felt this day. God bless you.

We entered the Old City Jerusalem at Herod’s Gate around 5am to begin our walk on the Via Dolorosa:

Day 6: Jerusalem Old City, Chefs for Peace, Western Wall, Razzouk Tattoos

A definite highlight of our week was meeting up with Chefs for Peace, a non-profit, non-political organization founded in Jerusalem in 2001 by a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim chefs committed to exploring cultural identity, diversity, and peaceful coexistence through food. Chefs for Peace realizes food— its preparation, sharing, and enjoyment— is a powerful means of creating a bond with others and revealing that which is valued by all three faiths: food, family, and friends.

We met the chefs who took us for lunch at a restaurant known for their falafel and hummus, Abu Shukri, which is located by Stations of the Cross 5. They explained to us the different styles of making hummus and how to eat the various appetizers served. They then took us shopping for some fresh Tahini in the Muslim Quarter along with a demonstration of how it is made.

Afterward we visited a famous photography print shop, known as Elia’s Photo Service, the pictures this Armenian family sell are part of a collection of about 3,000 photographs taken by their late father Elia Kahvedjian, a refugee of the Armenian genocide and one of the greatest photographers in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 20th century. The pictures, which had been hidden away since 1947, were rediscovered by the family 40 years later and serve to help researchers and aficionados of Jerusalem probe its past. For a fascinating article on the importance of the photographs, you can read here. Several of us bought his book, Jerusalem Through My Father’s Eyes, which is a rare and beautiful collector’s item.

After we literally ate our way through the Old City, the chefs invited us to learn how to cook with them at a rooftop Restaurant in the Armenian Quarter, and then we ate some more.

We then made our way through the Jewish Quarter and to the Western Wall to pray.

Some of the group ended the night with a visit from Palestinian Christian Wassim Razzouk, whose family has been in the tattoo business in the Old City for over 700 years. It has been a longstanding practice for Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem to get the Jerusalem Cross tattooed as a commemoration of their pilgrimage. Several of the members in our group did just that. To learn more about the fascinating history of the Razzouk family business, you can read an article here.