Day 3: Nazareth, Mary’s Well, Mount Precipice, Tulip Winery

Today we made our way to Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus. We made a visit to one of my favorite churches in the world, the Church of Mary’s Well, a Greek Orthodox Church. We happened to discover that today was Christmas Day on the Orthodox Calendar! So our tour of the church was very limited due to the fact they were holding a Christmas Day mass. It is believed that this humble church sits atop a natural spring which would have most likely been the spot from which the ancient community well of Nazareth was sourced. So it is probable that Mary drew water from this well for the holy family. The murals and iconography in the church are beautifully done and very inspiring.

We then took a short hike to Mt. Precipice for some beautiful panoramic views. 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.

After that, we were ready for lunch and a wine tasting at Tulip Winery (יקב טוליפ). I love 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.”

There they say “Labels are for wine bottles, not for people.” They were founded with a purpose of 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 500,000 bottles of wine annually and have won various awards locally and internationally. I have really grown to love this place.

Day 3: Jacob’s Well, Nablus Old City, Samaritan Village, Har Bracha Winery

Today, after much-needed travel recovery in Netanya, our group from Ecclesia Houston kicked off the official tour with Breaking Bread Journeys.

It was an amazing day with new friends touring the holy land, meeting people of all imaginable backgrounds: Arab Christians, Arab Muslims, Sufis, Samaritan Jews, traditional Jews, settlers, winemakers, all kinds, all God’s people! Praying for peace and imagining a world without a need for borders. It seems impossible, but when you meet with them, break bread with all of them, see all their children smiling the same smiles, you start to realize it shouldn’t be so impossible— we are all the same.

Forgive the massive upload of so many photos in one post but in the interest of my limited time on the blog, I have erred on the side of inclusion when choosing photos to share. Not to mention this was a jam-packed day full of such a variety of activities and we have 43 pilgrims in this group—that’s a lot of photography subjects! Tap/click on any image for its standalone file if you wish to share.

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. I was pretty thrilled that they were actually allowing photos of the well today!

Pastor Chris read the passage from John’s Gospel, chapter 4, where Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at this very well we visited. Jesus said to her, “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.” My prayer on this pilgrimage is that we all will find even deeper currents of this life-giving wellspring and that we would share the resulting light we experience with all we encounter on this journey. 

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.

Holy Land Day 2: Nazareth, Tulip Winery, Cana

Continuing our tour with Ecclesia Houston, guided by Breaking Bread Journeys, today 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.

Be sure to follow my fellow documentarian Giovanni Arias for his perspective on the journey, including some great videos, like this one at Cana today.

Click/Tap any photo to start a slideshow. 

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 who we could tell was very enthusiastic about the cause behind Tulip, which employs 39 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.” This was my 5th visit to Tulip, but today was the first time I had noticed their horse stables and rabbit hutches. Today we learned that they keep various animals for the purpose of therapy for the special needs adults. In my opinion, horses are majestic and beautiful animals and I love the rare chance I have to photograph them.

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.

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.

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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