Day 2: Jacob’s Well, Nablus Old City, Samaritan Village

Continuing on Day 2 of Ecclesia Houston‘s Holy Land pilgrimage with Breaking Bread Journeys, we started our tour by making our way from Netanya to Nablus in the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories. Our first stop was to the Greek Orthodox Church that sits atop the two-millennia-old Jacob’s Well. Next, we made our way into Nablus city 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. 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. Next up, we visited a Samaritan museum on Mt. Gerizim and enjoyed a scenic overlook with stunning views of Nablus below. This Samaritan Priest explained to us much about the Samaritan faith and its ancient history in the region. Such an amazing day. I am always touched by how welcoming the people of Nablus are. There’s a certain sense of tranquility over the city.

Day 2: Jacob’s Well, Nablus Old City, Samaritan Village

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. Next, we made our way into Nablus city 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. 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. 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. Such an amazing day. I am always touched by how welcoming the people of Nablus are. There’s a certain sense of tranquility over the city. 

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: Nablus, Mount Gerizim

August 2, 2015. On our first official tour stop we made our way past the security checkpoint into the West Bank to visit Nablus. It is very rare for tourists to come to this area. We were certainly a spectacle, but were received with warm welcomes by all we encountered.

Our first visit was to Jacob’s Well at The Greek Orthodox St. Photini Church. How fitting that our first site is recognized as a significant location for Jewish, Samaritan, Christian, and Muslim traditions.

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We were able to draw from the actual well that Jacob dug by hand to a depth of 41 meters (135 ft). Pastor Chris Seay shared with us from the passage of John’s Gospel, Chapter 4 about the conversation of the Samaritan woman with Jesus.

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Next we visited a soap factory in Nablus run by Palestinians. The soap is made purely from olive oil and is cut by hand from large sheets poured onto the floor of the factory.

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Our tour of Nablus then took us through the market where were able to visit many shop owners who were kind enough to let us sample their fresh sweets, breads and snacks. Everyone was so friendly and embracing.

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Next we visited a Palestinian women’s volunteer center where women are trained in cooking and catering, and enjoyed a very generous, authentic Palestinian meal that was a true feast. We were able to hear from two local leaders their perspective on the region’s tensions.

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Some of my new friends from the group, a family traveling together…

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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. This is Chris with his daughter who is traveling with us, greeting the Samaritan priest…

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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…

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And finally I was able to photograph a horse! One of my favorite animals…

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Then we drove on to Galilee where we’re basing out of for three nights… managed to a get a few shots along the way. The scenery is breathtaking.

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Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Jericho, Mount of Temptation, Qumran, Jerusalem

I’m shooting for Ecclesia Houston on our tour with Breaking Bread Journeys. Today’s expedition took us to the ruins of the world’s oldest city, Jericho, where we saw excavations of its ancient walls and towers. We then rode the cable cars up to Qarantal to wander the narrow passages of the Greek Orthodox monastery nestled in the mountain’s cliffs. Pastor Chris Seay read to the group Luke’s account of Jesus’ temptation on the mountain where we stood. Next we learned more about the Dead Sea Scrolls at the location of their discovery in Qumran and walked through the archaeological site where evidence of the Jewish Essene community is presented. The afternoon brought us to Jerusalem where we took a walk into the Old City through the New Gate just after sunset. While in the Old City we had a chance to wander in the labyrinthine Church of the Holy Sepulcher. To conclude the evening’s itinerary we made our way southeast across the winding alleyways of the Old City to the Jewish Quarter. There we came upon the Western Wall, the only surviving part of Solomon’s Temple. High winds that stirred up dust and sand made for interesting atmospheric conditions throughout the day.

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Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Jenin, Kfar Tikva, Nazareth

Today’s tour with Breaking Bread Journeys started off in Jenin, West Bank, with a visit to the Church of St. George (where Jesus healed the 10 Lepers) and a tour of the Canaan Olive Oil factory where we tasted olive oils and fresh almonds and learned about their successful fair trade cooperative. We then traveled north to the village of Kfar Tikva to enjoy a wine tasting and lunch hosted by the award-winning Tulip Winery, a business that helps provide jobs to those with special needs. Our day concluded in Nazareth with visits to the Church of the Annunciation, the Church of St. Joseph and a Greek Orthodox Church located on the site of Mary’s Well.

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Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Samaria, Nablus, Jenin

Today’s tour guided by Breaking Bread Journeys with Ecclesia Houston included a stop at the Samaritan Museum, breathtaking views from Mt. Gerazim, wine tasting at the Har Bracha Winery, a walk through ancient Nablus, a visit to the famous Nablus olive oil soap factory, a lunch hosted by a Palestinian women’s center, a survey of an archaeological site at Sebastya, and sunset and dinner at Jenin. We were joined by a crew from PBS NewsHour who documented our experience. 

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