Galilee, Israel

We had breakfast at 7:30 then went poolside and chatted with passengers. There was a briefing on Israel at 11 AM in the lounge, then our lunch was served half an hour early at 11:30 in the dining room. While we were eating, we approached the port of Haifa, Israel, and the gunboats came out to the ship to collect passports and give clearance to dock. I just had to take another forbidden snapshot through the port hall in our cabin. Of course, not brave enough to take one of the police boat with armed men.

We boarded our bus at 1 PM, first passing through a barren rocky area, typical of Israel before they took control of their own government in the late 1940s. Israel is mostly rock with very little soil. The Arabs do not improve on their housing, plant gardens etc. like the Jews. Unlike Egypt, Israel’s poor areas are clean. The country is planting trees in a very economical way. They declare school holidays and the children are each given a small tree to plant. So far they have planted 160 million trees in this way. Like California, their summers are dry, so they are trying to control the rain in winter so they can grow crops. Oranges and avocados are their main export. The country has no oil. We passed the Sea of Galilee Reservoir which gets 95% of its water supply from the Sea of Galilee. The reservoir is 130 feet above sea level and the sea is 630 feet below sea level. The Jews have “kaputs,” condominium type communities where people work and receive no wage, but their food and housing is provided.

The Sea of Galilee today is very much a resort where people spend their weekends swimming and camping out. In Jesus’ day the Galilee area was his playground and where he grew up, and the Sea of Galilee is where he lived and taught from age 30 to 33.

Our guide, Rachel, whom we had the following day as well, told us that although there are male and female palm trees, only the females produce fruit. So the saying is “What are the palm trees doing --- they’re making dates!”

As we started our decline to below sea level, we passed through the Jordan Valley. Our first stop was at the River Jordan where Christ was baptized by John the Baptist. We had refreshments and waded in the river that runs into the Dead Sea, which is the lowest point on earth.

Our second stop was Capernaum, at the Sea of Galilee. Here, Jesus lived for three years in Andrew's house with him and Peter. These fishermen were his first two disciples. Only the original stones of the floor remain of Andrew’s house. The ruins of the synagogue are very close, but it is not the original structure because Jesus destroyed it when the people became greedy and behaved badly. Some stones with carvings that were part of that first structure remain on the site. The present ruins were part of the synagogue built over the original, as is the tradition for all churches, temples, etc. The synagogue was not a place of worship, but like a community center, where people gathered socially to talk about the fishing of the day or whatever. The only time a synagogue was used for prayers was when there was no temple. The people in Capernaum, and Jesus, went to Jerusalem to the temple there.

After touring Capernaum by foot, we reboarded our bus enroute to Tabgha, the site where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes. Along the way, we passed the hill believed to be where Jesus conducted the sermon on the mount. We were expecting mountains in this part of the country, because the Mt. of Olives etc. suggested that. However, all these places in actuality are only hills.

We stopped and walked inside the new synagogue at Tabgha, seeing the beautiful mosaic floor of the original church depicting the loaves and fishes. There is also a small portion of the original stones and ground (glass covered) where Jesus performed his deed. Synagogues and temples were built over most of all the Holy Land sites.

Back on the bus, we passed through Tiberius, founded in 21 AD. A Jewish cemetery was uncovered and Jews refused to live there for fear of ritual contamination through contact with the dead. It remained pagan for many years.

Our Friday the 13th incident finally occurred when a bull crossed the highway and our bus driver had to slam on the brakes. We passed through Cana and our guide pointed out two churches on a hill believed to have been the location of Jesus his first miracle. Many asked him how to turn water into wine at a wedding reception when they ran out.

Next stop was Nazareth and the Church of the Annunciation, situated in the city's oldest and most active market quarter. The present church was completed in this century, replacing older Crusader and Byzantine structures, and now serves as a Catholic parish. This church marks the spot where the angel Gabriel appeared before Mary to announce the birth of Jesus. The church was closed so we didn’t go inside, but walked around the area. Nearby is an ornamental fountain representing Mary’s well, which has the only known spring water in Nazareth’s history. An aqueduct brings the water to the fountain where locals still come with donkeys and clay jars to fetch water just as in Jesus’s day.

Arriving back at the ship at 6:30 (we passed up tour at diamond outlet and stayed on the bus returning immediately) we went to the pool deck for cocktails. It was a beautiful view of Mount Carmel, all in lights, and I wish that we could have just had our dinner out there. The dining room was open seating and we stopped by the lounge briefly afterwards to watch a young group of Israeli dancers. Before Jim went to the night owl lounge and I went to bed, we stopped to look at the posted pictures by the ship's photographer. Two couples were laughing at their pictures on the camels. One woman turned to the other and said “Martha, it’s great of the camel!” Our air conditioner was fixed today but too cold now and can’t be adjusted.