December 31, 2011

OAT Israel: Bethlehem

Since the Palestinian National Authority governs Bethlehem, we were told to bring out passports - but we were never asked to show them.  
Our first stop was to visit the Church of Nativity considered to be the oldest continuously operating church in the world. It was commissioned by Constantine and his mother Helena in 327 CE.  Helena identified this site as the birthplace of Jesus. 
This silver star marks where Jesus was born. 
 The 4th century mosaic floor was rediscovered in 1934.
We then travelled a short distance to Beit Sahour to visit the two Churches of Shepherd's Field where an angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds:
One is Catholic

The other is a modern Greek Orthodox Church built in 1972 over a restored 4th century lower church and near excavations of a Byzantine church destroyed in 614.    

OAT Israel: Israel Museum

The Israel Museum was founded in 1965 and contains many fine artifacts and exhibits, but only two interested me:
  The first was the outdoors Second Temple Period Model of Jerusalem before the Romans destroyed the city in 66 CE.
The second was the Shrine of the Book which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls and other artifacts discovered in Qumran.  

OAT Israel: Jerusalem Mount of Olives

We started our morning on top of the Mount of Olives where we had fabulous views of the Dome of the Rock and Old Jerusalem, especially the City Walls. 
Mount of Olives is where many Jews and Muslims believe the gates of Heaven will open up on Judgement Day. Hence, the number of graves of those who want to be right there when that happens!
A stone is placed on top of a grave when visited.
Fortunately, we were walking down or the donkey option might have been inviting.
We took a moment out for our group photo.
The Russian Orthodox Church of St Mary Magdalene was built in 1886 by Tsar Alexander III to honor his mother Empress Maria Alexandrovna.  The seven gilded onion domes are distinctive.
Antonio Barluzzi designed the Dominus Flevit Chapel in 1955 to resemble a teardrop.  The church is built over a 7th century chapel that memorialized where Jesus wept over the fate of Israel.
The Garden of Gethsemane is at the foot of Mount of Olives where Jesus prayed on the Rock of Agony the night before he was arrested.
Antonio Barluzzi designed the Basilica of the Agony (aka Church of All Nations) which was built in 1924 with financial support from 12 nations. 

December 30, 2011

OAT Israel: Yad Vashem, Holocaust Survivor, Armenian Journalist

Yad Vashem is a memorial to the more than six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
The "Hall of Names" strives to ensure that no victim is forgotten.
A Holocaust survivor described his horrific experience. For many years, he did not want to talk about it - not even to his family.  But, when he began to learn that many people today don't believe the Holocaust happened, he knew he had to tell his story. 
Later in our hotel, an Armenian journalist told us what it is like to have been born in Israel but require a visa / travel document to travel into Israel from areas under Palestinian control (such as Bethlehem) because she is Palestinian.  

December 29, 2011

OAT Israel: Jerusalem Wailing Wall and Tunnels

The Wailing Wall is segregated - men to the left and women to the right. There were so many prayers on papers stuck in crevices, it was almost impossible to find a space for my prayers.
The Western Wall aka Wailing Wall is part of the retaining wall of the Temple Mount built by King Herod and where Jews came during the Ottoman period to lament the destruction of the Second Temple.  We took a tour of the underground Western Wall Tunnel.
 We eventually emerged on the Via Dolorosa where Jesus carried his cross from Antonia Fortress to the Holy Sepulchre Church. The currently accepted route, with 14 Stations of the Cross (5 within the Church itself), was established in the 18th Century. 
The Rock of Calvary (12th Station of the Cross) under which there is a hole where the Crucifix was raised, is the most visited shrine within the Church.
The interior of the Holy Sepulchre was filled with holy niches.

December 28, 2011

OAT Israel: Capernaum, Tabgha, Sea of Galilee, River Jordan

Capernaum is an old fishing village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (now called Lake Kinneret).   A new church was built over the ruins of the home of one of Jesus' disciples, Simon Peter. 
 Remains of a 4th AD synagogue, one of the oldest in the world. 
 In nearby Tabgha is the Church of Heptapegon (The Seven Springs) aka the Church of Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes - protecting the rock where Jesus laid five loaves of bread and two fish before feeding 5,000.

The Church of Beatitudes is situated on the hill where Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount.

 An ancient fishing boat was discovered when the Sea of Galilee was at unusually low levels.
Fisherman used to repair their boats with whatever wood they could find. This boat was made of many types of wood, the oldest from 1st century AD.
Of course, we had to take a boat trip on the Sea of Galilee.
 Baptisms on the River Jordan in the company of Nutria.