We are here. After weather and mechanical delays getting from DFW to Newark, and about two additional hours of sitting on the tarmac there waiting to take off, we finally got in the air a little after midnight Friday. At Newark, we picked up the majority of the rest of our group of 36--people from Houston, California, New Hampshire, and other places. Two folks from Chicago had their flight cancelled and had to reschedule. We met one traveler from South America here in Tel Aviv. The flight time is about ten hours, so we got into Tel Aviv about 5:00pm local time (Israel is eight hours later than Texas).
We were met at the airport (named for Israel's original prime minister David Ben Gurion) by our guide, Anton Farah. Anton is a Christian from Nazareth, and he is a walking encyclopedia of the Middle East. Gary McCaleb introduced Anton to us, and he was off and running with the commentary and stories! We travel on a large bus, and as we pulled out of the airport, Anton began with these simple words: "Welcome home..." Then, he began filling us in on the following...
The airport is located in the Sharon region (as in, "rose of Sharon"). In Old Testament times, the Mediterranean coast belonged to the sea-faring Phoenicians (north) and the Philistines and their city-states: Gath, Ashdod, Ashkelon, etc. (south). The area around modern Tel Aviv was where many stories about the judges took place (Samson particularly). These coastal plains were known in ancient times for being swampy and malaria-ridden. Dan was given this area as a tribe, but despised what they were allotted--bad neighbors, disease, marshes and more made it less than desirable. This was really the case all the way into the 19th century, when European Jews came back to settle and mastered the industry of agriculture and turned once useless land into oasis, complete with fruit trees (oranges, grapefruits, etc.). Anton explained how, in a sense, the "rose" of this region finally bloomed.
As we moved into Tel Aviv proper, Anton pointed out that to the south was the "mother"--old Joppa. Just north is her "child"--Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv was not actually begun as a city until the early 1900s, but she was born out of the ancient port of Joppa. Joppa--the port where the cedars of Lebanon were brought into Israel for building the temple of Solomon. Joppa--as in the place where Jonah set sail for Tarshish to avoid preaching to Gentiles. Joppa--the place where Peter got a rooftop vision about not calling things unclean that God called clean, then was sent to Cornelius. (Joppa seems to attract reluctant preachers, it would seem).
After checking in at the beautiful Dan Panorama Hotel, our group freshened up, unpacked, and went to dinner together at 8:00. This is Sabbath, so we were eating a hotel buffet with local observant Jewish families, dressed up, saying their Shabbat prayers and eating kosher delicacies. I told someone it seemed like the equivalent of Sunday post-church lunch at the local cafeteria. Following dinner, a group of us walked down to the Mediterranean (our hotel is right on the water) and strolled the beach, walking out into the water under a half moon. It's humid (think Houston), but the night air was very nice, and the night view was gorgeous. Along the waterway, local families and young people (many Arabs) played in the parks and cooked out, not unlike American families do this time of year.
Tomorrow we begin in earnest. We get up at 6:00 to pack up and have our bags outside the door for pick-up at 7:00. Breakfast is 7:00-8:00, then we head to Caesarea, Megiddo, and into the northern region, including Haifa and Mt. Carmel. Then on to Tiberias located on the Sea of Galilee, where we will be spending three nights at the Caesar Hotel. This is a great group of people, and we are all enjoying getting to spend time with each other and learning to love new people as we explore this amazing place.
Jordan and Sarah, mom and I love and miss you girls!!! What are you doing? Hope you are having a lot of fun with Gram and Pappaw. We will be telling you a lot more about what we see in days to come.
Feel free to send questions, requests, comments, etc. We welcome your participation with us in this little Holy Land sojourn.
Shabbat Shalom Y'all,
Brent and Melinda