Mount Precipice, Tulip Winery, Cana

Today we started our tour in Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus. We took a short hike to Mt. Precipice. It is believed by many to be the site of the Rejection of Jesus described in Luke 4:29-30 – 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. The beautiful views provided for some great shots of the group…

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After that we were ready for lunch and a wine tasting at Tulip Winery. We were blessed by our host Lital who you could tell was very passionate about the cause behind Tulip, which employs 35 special needs adults who live in the village where the winery is located, a former kibbutz. The village’s name means “Village of Hope.” We were also able to meet the winery’s founder, Roy Itzchaki.

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From Tulip Winery we made our way to Cana, where, according to John’s Gospel, Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine for a wedding celebration. Married couples from our group took the opportunity to renew their wedding vows in a very moving ceremony in one of the gardens of the Franciscan Wedding Church.

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Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Via Dolorosa, Garden Tomb, Garden of Gethsemane, Holocaust Museum, Ein-Kerem, Razzouk Tattoos

On our final day of the tour, we started our morning early with a predawn visit to the old city to walk the Stations of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa. Pastor Chris Seay and Pastor Greg Holder led us through the scriptures that match the traditional Stations of the Cross, on “The Way of Sorrows” which ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In Jerusalem, the Via Dolorosa is traditionally believed to be the actual path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion, and the stations there, the actual places the events occurred.

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Next on our schedule was a tour of the Garden Tomb, a rock-cut tomb in Jerusalem which was unearthed in 1867 and has subsequently been considered by many Christians to be the more historically accurate site of the burial and resurrection of Jesus. The site has some of the most beautiful gardens in Jerusalem, in my opinion. That’s why you’ll see me sharing several photos highlighting the garden in addition to the empty tomb itself. Pastor Chris led us in a very contemplative communion at the completion of the tour.

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After the tour of the Garden Tomb we took the bus up to a scenic overlook of the old city from the vantage point of the Mount of Olives. From there we made it to the base of the mount for a visit to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed with his disciples the night before his crucifixion. The olive trees in this garden are well over 2,000 years old.

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Next we arrived at the Holocaust History Museum which is always a profoundly moving experience, acknowledging one of history’s deepest wounds.

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Next we took a break in Ein-Kerem, “Jerusalem’s Ancient Village” … I managed to get a few context shots of the neighborhood where we had lunch.

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Last but not least, 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: Magdala, Sea of Galilee, Mount of Beatitudes

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. Pastor Chris told us is almost 100% certain that Jesus would have visited this Synagogue. A chapel is also located at the site with a beautiful view of the lake.

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We then embarked upon a boating excursion on the Sea of Galilee where our guide showed us how fishing was done in the time of Jesus. 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. The sunny but hazy conditions created for some interesting light for photography.

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We then made our way to lunch at the Villa Hart 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 beautiful scenery and were surprised to see schools of fish coming right up to the water’s edge.

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We then took a break back at our beautiful hotel, the Scots Hotel.

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Later we enjoyed an extravagant meal at the Auberge Shulamit.

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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.

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Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Mt. Precipice, Mary’s Well, Tulip Winery

Today we started our tour in Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus. We took a short hike to Mt. Precipice. It is believed by many to be the site of the Rejection of Jesus described in Luke 4:29-30 – 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.

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Next we visited Mary’s Well, which is believed to be located at the site where Christians hold that the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she would bear the Son of God, an event known as the Annunciation.

Found just below the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in modern-day Nazareth, the well was positioned over an underground spring that served for centuries as a local watering hole for the Arab villagers. The actual well-spring is difficult to see down a dark passage, but I did manage to get some shots of the beautiful interior of the Greek Orthodox church; Greek iconography is one of my favorite art forms.

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For lunch we spent the afternoon hearing the beautiful story of Tulip Winery. The Israeli winery employs special needs adults who make their home in the village of Kfar Tikvah where the winery is located, in the Haifa District. We met some of these wonderful people whose lives have been transformed through the healing of having a job they love, where they are appreciated and valued. We were treated to a delicious lunch and an unforgettable wine tasting. We were blessed by our host Lital who you could tell was very passionate about the cause behind Tulip, which employs 35 special needs adults who live in the village where the winery is located, a former kibbutz. The village’s name appropriately means “Village of Hope.”

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Lastly, we came back to our hotel where we enjoyed a dinner with wine pairings, hosted by the Scots Hotel’s resident winemaker, Denis. They have a beautiful wine cellar…

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Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Nablus

Our first official day on the tour itinerary was a very full one. After leaving Tel Aviv-Yafo, we drove to Nablus in the Palestinian Territories. We started out the day with a visit to the Greek Orthodox Church that houses the biblical site of Jacob’s Well. Since we’re traveling with the CEO of Living Water International and several of the organization’s board members, it was an especially meaningful visit to such an historic well.

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We then made our way through the old city of Nablus, toured the spice markets and were treated to various samples of delicious street foods and sweets. At every turn in Nablus there was an initial confusion triggered by our presence, yet once they realized we were tourists (very rare for Nablus), we were greeted with smiles and enthusiastic welcomes by very warm people.

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Then we met up with a Sufi imam who invited us to tour his mosque. You’ll remember that part of Breaking Bread Journeys’ purpose is to build bridges of peace through dialog with real people on both sides of the issue of the Palestinian/Israeli tensions. From what I understood today, the local Sufis are moderates who are against the use of violence and want to see two states living peaceably side by side.

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Next we made our way to an Islamic women’s empowerment cooperative known as the “House of Dignity” which aims to show the community how women can make a positive impact in the local society. Women in the program learn to make traditional meals from scratch using only locally sourced ingredients. This style of cooking is known as “slow food.” They are also working to improve conditions for the children of the community— we were saddened to learn that there are no playgrounds in the old city of Nablus. The organization is currently working on converting an old garage space into a garden and playground for neighborhood children. The Sufi imam from our mosque tour also joined us and we discussed several viewpoints involving the challenges of his community at large. We were immensely blessed to be the recipients of their hospitality— we were served a delicious home-cooked meal of traditional Palestinian cuisine, prepared lovingly by the women of the organization.

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Next we visited The Samaritan Museum where were heard about this distinct religion from a Samaritan priest. We learned that the Samaritans have lived in the holy land for over 3,000 years consecutively. At their peak, there were more 3 million Samaritans, yet today there are only 875, mostly living on Mount Gerizim. To underscore the diversity of this region, a Muslim woman introduced us to the museum, teaching a Christian tour group about the Samaritan religion.

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After this we visited a nearby Israeli settlement which is home to the award-winning Har Bracha Winery. The owner of the winery allowed us to sample many of his best wines and shared with us some of his vision behind his business as we snacked on fresh olives and apples. The settlements are at the crux of the deepest tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. Yet the Israelis of these settlements firmly believe they have a right to be there, and their beliefs are fueled by deep-seated religious convictions of which he briefly shared a few of his. Again, remember that the tour is designed to help build bridges through dialog and sharing of meals with real people from both sides of the issue. Pastor Chris shared with us on the bus, “We love Palestinians, we love Israelis, we love Samaritans and we love peace.”

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Bonus section: for those who share my obsession with doors, here are some of the fascinating doors of Nablus.

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Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Arrival Day / Tel Aviv

I’m here with a group from Ecclesia Houston led by Pastor Chris Seay and Breaking Bread Journeys on a not-your-average tour of the holy land. Breaking Bread Journeys is the first joint Palestinian-Israeli tour company; they aim to build bridges by “breaking bread.” As you follow along, I’ll take you with us to many places the average tourists do not visit, such as Nablus in the West Bank. But not to worry, we’ll be visiting some of the usual spots as well. However, thanks to Breaking Bread’s desire to take their groups on a “local’s view” of the holy land, even the most usual spots will be revealed in unique fashion. And of course, as their name implies, much our of touring is woven around the dining table as we taste various cuisines and hear from the locals who prepare the meals.

Today the group arrived a bit tattered from the transatlantic journey, but they were back in full force in no time. Before we officially gathered for our first event, I had the chance to walk down to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and grab a few shots before the weather turned quite stormy.

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We started the evening with a cocktail reception at which we heard from the founders of Breaking Bread Journeys, Elisa and Christina.

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We then made our way to Cafe Jessica for dinner, the food was delicious and the service was fantastic. Chris shared with the group a little about what to expect in the days ahead.

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After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and Chris presented us with special gifts he encouraged us to wear as a mark of our pilgrimage to the holy land. He explained that it’s a tradition which has been practiced for centuries by pilgrims making their way to this special land.

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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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