Day 3, Part 2: Tulip Winery

Continuing our tour with Ecclesia Houston led by Breaking Bread Journeys, here’s part 2 of Day 3.

After our visit to Mt. Precipice, we were ready for a light lunch and a wine tasting at Tulip Winery (יקב טוליפ). I love the cause behind Tulip, which our lovely host Lital told us employs 40 special needs adults who live in the village where the winery is located, a former kibbutz. The village’s name, Kfar Tikva, means “Village of Hope.”

At Tulip, they say “Labels are for wine bottles, not for people.” They were founded with the purpose of making great wine while 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 300,000 bottles of wine annually and have won various awards locally and internationally.

Founded by the Itzhaki family, they fulfilled their long-time dream of establishing a winery which combines the production of quality wine with social responsibility.

Their wonderful vision produced an exciting model of wine entrepreneurialism that employs members of Kfar Tikva and provides them with a business platform from which they can integrate into the labor market like any other person.

Tulip has become an industry leader and the largest boutique winery in Israel.

Our group presented two of the employees we have come to know well over our several visits, Nathan and Maria, with some special gifts. Nathan has a rare genetic disorder and is known to be the oldest person in the world with the condition. He was Tulip’s first paid employee. They attribute his remarkable health to the joy and fulfillment he gets from his job.

In turn, the owner of the winery, Roy Itzhaki, surprised Pastor Chris with a special magnum bottle of his favorite Tulip wine signed by several of the employees.

We ended the day with a stop for a photo as we arrived at the Sea of Galilee.

Day 4: Cana, Mount Precipice, Tulip Winery

On Day 4 of the Ecclesia Houston tour with Breaking Bread Journeys, 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. A couple in the group announced that they would have Pastor Chris marry them, so we had the incredible delight of witnessing a real marriage at Cana! I was so honored to be able to document their day. A member of our group, Sarah Fusilier, blessed us with her vocal talents to provide an enchanting backdrop for the beautiful yet simple ceremony. Our tour guide had found a local shop that served cake and wine just for such occasions, perfect for our impromptu reception.

As I pondered my devotional thought for the day, my focus turned to a theme of celebrating faith and miracles. This world needs more faith. This world needs more miracles. This world needs more faith that miracles are possible. And we need more joy, more celebration of the blessings we do have. Life is very challenging, very overwhelming. As we focus more on celebrating the good we do have in our lives, our faith will increase, and we will believe that more miracles are possible— more miracles that will lead to real change and healing in our broken world. It is fascinating to me that Jesus performed his first miracle at a celebration, turning water into wine, and that the host of the party remarked that the best wine had been saved for the end of the celebration, contrary to tradition. What I take away from this passage is that in our quest to repair a broken world, we will have to think outside the box of tradition and cultural rules while having faith that miracles are possible.

We had the chance today to celebrate life, marriage, and community with the gifts of new friendships, wine, and the miracle of good prevailing in a dark world.



We then made our way to Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus. We 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. 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.”

While there, I got to see my friend Nathan who works at Tulip Winery (יקב טוליפ). You’ll see a couple of my portraits of him in this next group of photos. A former tour group member had sent us with a Houston Astros championship hat as a gift for him since we know he loves hats! It was my sixth time to meet him and it seems he is happier every time I see him. He’s challenged with a rare genetic disorder— at the age of 70 he has by far outlived the doctors’ expectations and is the oldest man in the world to carry the disease. I believe it’s because he has been honored and given a purpose at Tulip. There they say “Labels are for wine bottles, not for people.” They were founded with the purpose of providing adults like him 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 close to 500,000 bottles of wine annually and have won various awards locally and internationally. I have really grown to love this place.

Last but not least, we arrived at our next hotel, The Scots Hotel, where we were greeted by this kind fellow offering us whiskey with hot apple cider. The hotel is a former hospital started by the Scottish Church.

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.

Netanya: Arrival day!

Hi, I’m here in the holy land to document another group from Ecclesia Houston embarking on a Breaking Bread Journeys tour. It’s really late and I’m still recovering from the 8-hour jet lag. But I wanted to try to get something up before I sleep to commemorate the arrival day for an amazing group of new friends who have all come together to discover the beauty, depth, history, and diversity of this magical land. Here are some images from this first day together in Netanya, Israel, a simple beachside town with many beautiful, serene scenes to welcome even the most travel-weary sojourner.

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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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: 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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