Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Jerusalem, Holocaust Museum, Gush Etzion Winery, Garden Tomb

Wow what a week! We wrapped up our last day with another full itinerary that took us through a wide range of emotions.

We started with a morning visit to St. Anne’s Church and the ruins of the Pools of Bethesda, entering into the Old City through the Lion’s Gate…

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The gardens at St. Anne’s Church were quite spectacular…

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Our group sang to enjoy the famous acoustics of the church, which many choirs make pilgrimage to from all over the world just to perform there.

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The sun rising over the top of the church produced a lens flare the likes of which I’ve never quite seen before…

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We then walked over to the Garden of Gethsemane and The Church of All Nations. Along the way we met this kind man…

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Entering in to the garden where Jesus prayed the night before his crucifixion…

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The garden is home to olive trees believed to be 2,000 years old…

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Pastor Chris shared with us from Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 26 which is the account of Jesus’ time in the garden where we stood…

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Inside the neighboring Church of All Nations, which contains beautiful depictions of Jesus praying in the garden…

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Next we visited the Holocaust Museum… my second visit, a very sobering reminder of one of history’s deepest wounds…

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After that we definitely needed something lighter to lift our hearts… So we visited Gush Etzion Winery just south of Jerusalem, and were treated to an enlightening tour of the winery, wine tastings and a very delicious meal…

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Pastor Chris was invited to sign a cork and drop it into their collection. Here he is with the founder and owner of the winery…

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As if that were not a full enough day, we then made our way to the Garden Tomb, which has the most archaeological and historical evidence for being the actual place of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection…

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The society that preserves the site does a wonderful job of maintaining a serene space with beautiful gardens…

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The tomb…

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We were honored to meet a Muslim man who was visiting the tomb because he said that his faith honors Jesus as a prophet and he wants to know more about him…

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After that we attended a traditional Shabbat meal in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. We ate on a rooftop overlooking the Old City and Mount of Olives. Our hosts were most gracious and welcoming. We were not allowed to take photos but the images will be forever etched in my mind as one of the most breathtaking experiences of my lifetime.

Some of our group left very early the next morning, but these were the last of the group I said goodbye to, along with our amazing tour guide Shafik and bus driver Mahmoud…

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And that was the end of the tour of a lifetime… Hope you enjoyed following along! Next up… Nepal and India.

Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Chefs for Peace, Tunnel Tour, Razzouk Tattoos

Part 2 of Day 6…

As I explained in my last post, Day 6 was packed full of experiences and tours within tours. 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 at the Damascus Gate along with the founder of Chefs for Peace, the Armenian, Jerusalem-born chef Kevork Alemian. They then took us on a tour of the old city to buy the ingredients they would be using to prepare our lunch! And the real treat was that they would be inviting us to learn how to cook with them!

Here’s the group as we first met…

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After shopping for some fresh Tahini in the Muslim Quarter, the chefs took us for an appetizer at a restaurant known for their falafel and hummus. They explained to us the different styles of making hummus and how to eat the various appetizers served…

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We then took a slight detour to meet the owner of a famous photography print dealer, Eli Kahvedjian, The pictures he sells are part of a collection of about 3,000 photographs taken by his 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 28 years ago 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 this article.

Several of us bought his book, Jerusalem Through My Father’s Eyes, which is a rare collector’s item. He was kind enough to inscribe the books for us. I felt honored to take his portrait.

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We then continued our culinary tour of the Old City. This time we were treated to some crepe-like sweets of which I am embarrassed to admit I do not remember the name. I was so busy just keeping up with the many stops of their very diverse tour!

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The chefs then took us to a spice vendor and to the vegetable and fruit market where they selected more ingredients for our lunch…

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We then arrived at Bulghourji, an Armenian restaurant in the Old City where we would prepare our lunch alongside the chefs and enjoy an unforgettable meal.

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Founder of Chefs for Peace, Kevork Alemian was kind enough to offer me a beer…

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And here’s what we came up with! Easily among the top 10 meals I’ve ever enjoyed… I’m not a culinary photographer, but I tried my best…

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Next, our tour with Breaking Bread Journeys took us through the 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 the 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 weighs an estimated 570 tons.

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My next photo reveals the 570 ton stone… the heaviest stone in the region. There is only one stone heavier in all of Egypt (think of the Pyramids, etc.) …

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Jewish women praying at the point deemed to be closest the the ancient ‘holy of holies’ part of the temple …

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The approximately 1700 foot (518 meter) tunnel starts at the Western Wall Plaza in the south of the Old City and ends near the Lion’s Gate in the north of the Old City.

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We 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 read more about the fascinating history of the Razzouk family business, you can read an article here.

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Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Sunrise on the Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem

Because day 6 of our tour was so jam packed, I’m breaking it into two, maybe three blog posts. I will keep this one simple and let the photos do most of the talking. Suffice it to say that that we made it to the Damascus Gate before sunrise to begin our journey on the Via Dolorosa, ending at The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Jerusalem’s old city is sublimely empty and serene at that hour of the day.

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Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Jordan River, Qumran, Dead Sea, Jerusalem

August 5, 2015. Today seemed like 3 days packed into one. We started before sunrise and we covered so much ground. We began our journey from Tiberias to a new baptismal site on the Jordan River, right at the Jordanian border. Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee greeted us with the serenity fitting for such a meaningful day.

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We arrived at the new baptismal site situated right on the border of Jordan and Israel. The river was surprisingly maybe only 20-25 wide. It was a very isolated location, extremely quiet with a warm breeze from the desert. We’ll never forget the experience of white doves suddenly coming from the Jordanian side of the river, flying right over our heads as Pastor Chris was baptizing.

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After everyone commemorated their baptisms, we made a quick snack break where some of us enjoyed a camel ride…

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Next we made a quick stop to learn about the Dead Sea Scrolls which were found at Qumran.

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Next on the itinerary was a visit to the Dead Sea…

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Next we finally arrived in Jerusalem at our beautiful hotel, The American Colony, and walked into the Old City for a visit to the Holy Sepulcher and the Wailing Wall.

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Closing time… and that was a day!

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Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Sea of Galilee, Magdala, Mount of Beatitudes

Today presented us with several unforgettable memories around the shores of The Sea of Galilee. We started out with a sunrise boating excursion where our guide showed us how fishing was done in the time of Jesus. Pastor Chris Seay shared with us from the account of John’s Gospel describing the miraculous catch of fish by Jesus’ disciples.

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Pastor Chris showed us how to walk on water…

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After breakfast we headed to an active archaeological site called 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.

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We then made our way to lunch at the Villa Harte restaurant with its gorgeous overlook of The Sea of Galilee. The restaurant is situated above a small beach that has spring-fed pools at its shore. We enjoyed the very cool spring water in what continues to be record-breaking heat here.

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We then enjoyed an extravagant meal at the Auberge Shulamit where we celebrated Pastor Chris’ late grandfather’s birthday. Chris’ grandfather was also a pastor and led 30 groups to the Holy Land during his life. The owner of the restaurant personally greeted us and even helped in serving the meals; the staff were all genuinely friendly people.

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Chris holding up a photo of his late grandfather when he was around Chris’ age, in the Holy Land…

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The owner of the restaurant heard about Chris’ grandfather and had a small cake brought out in his honor.

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Because of the heat, we delayed our visit to the Mount of Beatitudes until after sunset. The official site’s gates were closed. Of course we didn’t let that stop us. After walking a trail with flashlights, we found some stones that seemed arranged just for us, and sat there near the site that is believed to be where Jesus delivered the most famous sermon of all time, the Sermon on the Mount. Pastor Chris read the entire sermon to us as the breeze of the Galilee came as a gift after a very hot day. The lights of the towns on the other side of the lake flickered beyond, creating a beautiful backdrop for an indelible memory.

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