Day 7: Chefs for Peace Jerusalem Old City Food Tour, Cooking Classes; Holy Sepulchre, Tunnel Tour

A definite highlight of the Ecclesia Houston tour with Breaking Bread Journeys was meeting up with Chefs for Peace today. They’re 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.

After a morning of free time recovering from our epic road trip the day before, we met the chefs at the Damascus Gate on Thursday 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 some of the ingredients they would be using to prepare our lunch!

But first 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 over 30 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 and beautiful collector’s item.

After shopping for some fresh Tahini in the Muslim Quarter along with a demonstration of how it is made, the chefs took us for a 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.

After a visit to the spice market, we then made our way to the hidden gem of Zalatimo’s Sweets. In a small room with just an oven, a refrigerator, and a few tables, Mr. Zalatimo and his relatives serve up the greatest pastry that the Old City has to offer, an Arab treat known as a mutabak (from the Arabic for “folded”). The flaky phyllo dough type creation is the only food served at Zalatimo’s, and ordering is simple: “with nuts” or “with cheese.” The shop also includes another treasure: one of the original entrances to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is now sealed off and no longer used.

After we literally ate our way through the Old City, the chefs invited us to learn how to cook with them at the Bulghourji Restaurant in the Armenian Quarter, and then we ate some more. I then led some of the members of the group on a photo tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as we had some free time before our next stop on the tour.

Next, after a walk through the Jewish Quarter, 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 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.

My devotional focus for Day 6 brought me to themes surrounding celebration, contemplation, and light. Our day started with the surreal juxtaposition of enjoying food along the route of Jesus’ path to the Cross known as the Via Dolorosa. It’s not an easy theme to consider, but in the Christian faith, Jesus’ execution is ultimately the celebration of his resurrection and victory over sin and death. So it is appropriate that, while we also consider his suffering and the penalty he paid on our behalf, we should find also a path of celebration and feasting along the same route. However, I appreciated the way that God led us to the Holy Sepulchre after this celebration where it is hard not to enter in a contemplative spirit.

As you will see in the images further down in the set, there is very inspiring art leading us to a contemplation of the sorrows that Jesus, his family, friends, and disciples endured on the path to the Cross and in his death. However, one of the things I love most about this church is how many beautiful lamps, candles, and lanterns you will find throughout the labyrinthine hallways, chapels, and crypts of the centuries-old structure. These lamps stand as a symbolic testament that, while there is a certain sorrow in considering Christ’s suffering he endured on our behalf, there is the beautiful light of resurrection coming, a light of rebirth and hope offered by God to all who will receive it. John recorded in his Gospel account that Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Holy Land Day 1: Tel Aviv, Jacob’s Well, Nablus Old City, Samaritan Village, Har Bracha Winery

Again I have the unexpected honor of traveling with Ecclesia Houston on a very special tour of the holy land with Breaking Bread Journeys, led by Pastor Chris Seay. We’re hearing from all sides of the complex issues that face this land and its diverse population, while we also visit sacred sites and enjoy local foods and wines prepared by those we’re hearing from. This is my fifth Ecclesia group to shoot for; it’s an absolute thrill to be with them again.

Our journey began in Tel Aviv yesterday where we caught a breathtaking sunset. A local friend told me it’s only this clear about 2 days of the year. We caught the sky at a good time after recent rains.

Click/Tap any photo to start a slideshow. 

We started our tour by making our way from Tel Aviv to Nablus in the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories. Our first stop was to the Greek Orthodox Church that sits atop the two-millenia-old Jacob’s Well. I was pretty thrilled that they were actually allowing photos of the well today!

Next, we made our way into Nablus city to tour 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 began walking through the old city of Nablus to sample various snacks, spices and sweets of the merchants. We were also invited to tour a famous Sufi mosque where were able to hear from the local Imam, a moderate Muslim who campaigns for peace. Our pastor is making plans for him to visit our church in Houston in the interest in inter-faith dialog and peace.

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. After the meal, I wandered around the dining hall to capture some more local street scenes. If you haven’t noticed, I have a slight obsession with doors.

Next up, we visited a Samaritan museum on Mt. Gerizim. This Samaritan Priest explained to us much about the Samaritan faith and its deep history in the region. After that, we were treated to a breathtaking view of Nablus and environs from the top of the mountain. Next, we were able to hear a Jewish perspective, from a winery owner on Mt. Gerizim who allowed us to sample his award-winning wines at Har Bracha Winery.

Chefs for Peace Tour, Cooking Classes, Jewish Quarter, Tunnel Tour, 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 at the Jaffa 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!

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Part of their tour included meeting 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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Then it was back to the culinary tour…

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Next, after a walk through the Jewish Quarter during blue hour, our tour with Breaking Bread Journeys took us through the tunnels revealing archeological 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 weighs an estimated 570 tons.

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

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Jordan River, Mount of Temptation, Qumran, Dead Sea, Jerusalem Old City

The day started with sunrise over the Sea of Galilee as we made our way along the Jordan River to the Baptismal Site of Jesus Christ. From there we stopped in Jericho for some camel riding before we took the cable cars up to the Mount of Temptation where we toured the Greek Orthodox Monastery built into the cliffs of the mountain. Afterward we were treated to views of the Qumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. The group then enjoyed a dip in the Dead Sea to experience the extreme buoyancy and rejuvenating properties of the Dead Sea minerals. From there we were not far from Jerusalem so we drove on in to the city to get settled at our hotel. After a much needed break we walked into the old city at Jaffa Gate and enjoyed pizza and wine at Jacob’s Pizza before heading to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. After that we walked through the dark walkways across the city to the Western Wall. Quite a day!

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Jacob’s Well, Nablus Old City, Samaritan Village, Mount Gerizim, Har Bracha Winery

Again I have the unexpected honor of traveling with Ecclesia Houston on a tour of the holy land with Breaking Bread Journeys, led by Pastor Chris Seay. This is my fourth Ecclesia group to shoot for; it’s an absolute privilege to be with them.

We started our tour by making our way from Tel Aviv to Nablus in the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories. Our first stop was to Jacob’s Well. Although the warden of the Greek Orthodox Church that sits on top of Jacob’s Well was not allowing photos of the well today, I was able to document some scenes of the beautiful church and its gardens. I’m sneaking in a photo of the well itself from my last group, because the warden changes his mind from day to day whether or not photos are allowed. I personally don’t think it should be anyone’s right to decide that a millenia-old well which has importance for two of the world’s major faiths should not be photographed. But that’s for another blog post. On to the photos…

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Next we made our way into Nablus city to tour a 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.

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We then began walking throuhgh the old city of Nablus to sample various snacks, spices and sweets of the merchants.

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This is a space on which the local women’s center (“The House of Dignity”) would like to build a playground for the children of the community, a luxury that does not yet exist in the old city.

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We then wound our way through the narrow streets of the old city to visit Slow Food Nablus, a culninary school operated by The House of Dignity women’s center. Of course there were several doors that caught my eye; I love to shoot doors as as consisntent theme to follow all over the world.

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Next we arrived at Slow Food Nablus, the culinary school for The House of Dignity. Chris was interviewed by a student reporter about his visit. The food they served us was prepared using only local ingredients and was absolutely delicious. The women of this community are incredibly joyful and were so happy to serve us.

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After hearing from Fatima, the director of House of Dignity, we made our way back through the old city to our bus…

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Next up, we visited the Samaritan museum on Mt. Gerizim. A Samaritan priest explained to us much about the Samaritan faith and its deep history in this area.

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A group shot from the top of Mt. Gerizim overlooking the city of Nablus below…

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Next we dropped by the nearby Har Bracha winery for a wine tasting…

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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: 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.