Know the Language of Your Destination... If you don't, you may end up on a Male-Only Beach.

 Written in November 2011
we promise we're trying to catch up on our traveling posts!!

Our Israel adventure is finally coming to an end. Today is Thursday. We head out tomorrow night for New York, Atlanta then finally HOME!! The trip has been pretty taxing on me since I haven't had enough guts to leave the hotel to venture around by myself. But today, I am determined to walk around Tel Aviv solo. We've passed by this awesome frozen yogurt place that has wooden swings hanging from the ceilings. I will simply have to jeopardize my safety in order to satisfy my curiosity. 

FOUND IT!! Isn't this place just too cute?! Only one swing was left by the time I arrived and ordered. After claiming it with authority, I gently asked the guy behind the counter to snap a photo while I smiled. ;) The yogurt was pretty delicious... peanut butter frozen yogurt with hard chocolate topping.

After browsing through the stores, I decided to take the scenic beach route back to the hotel. The stencils made for some pretty cool accents. And how about this studly vintage surfboard? 

There is something about bicycles and the people of Tel Aviv. We figure people just get tired of the absolutely horrendous drivers downtown. The smart ones ride bikes. :) The green bikes reminded us of the Regions bank commercials.

How cool is this hotel? Retro. Vibrant. Distracting in a good way. 

Hundreds of sailboats docked in the port against the stunning sunset.

 This is our sweet Hilton. We were merely a downhill slope from the Mediterranean Sea. 

Speaking of... Friday was our last day. JD had the day off since it was one of Israel's Holy Days. Our one goal for the day was to go swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. We walked down from the hotel straight to the beach, only to find a sign that said, "No swimming today. Surf watersports only." 


We walked a little further, only to find either the same signs or a jagged rock terrain engulfed by the sea. Denied. Denied. And denied. 

"JD! Look! Over there... there's a bunch of people swimming in that area!" 

So we walk about 1/4 mile and walk into the open doorway (don't all public beaches have doorways...?) only to be greeted by Jewish men in Speedos yelling at us abruptly in Hebrew.

I did what any smart woman would do... I kept walking to the water. Fortunately, JD has a little brighter wits than myself. He turned around and tried to speak with the men softly, explaining we only speak English.

"NO! NO! NO WOMEN HERE!!! NO WOMEN!!" men surrounded him and yelled.

I was out of my mind humiliated and frustrated by this point. But we turned around and left the beach anyways. Apparently, men and women alternate the days they can swim at that beach. They must not swim at the same time though. 

Once again, completely different cultures.

After a few steps, JD and I burst in laughter. What else can you do in a situation like that? Instead of swimming, we settled for simply dipping our toes in the Mediterranean Sea. And you know what... It was freezing! I guess it was okay that it didn't work out like we had planned. Few things ever do and life seems to end up better that way. :) 

Shalom, Tel Aviv!

The Tel Aviv Art Market

This was definitely a highlight of our trip to Israel!! Artists lined the sidewalks in their booths as people could barely move through the streets. It was JAM PACKED. 

First stop: This was one of our favorite artists. The guy made fantastic leather bracelets that you can snap together and intertwine. He cuts, stains and designs them right at his booth in the market. Of course, we bought three for me. :) 

Perfect. Teal, brown and white are my staple colors. Haha

This artist was another favorite of ours! We bought a nameplate and she wrote "Todd Family" in Hebrew on it for us. We also snagged a few nameplates for our friends and customized them. :) 

She incorporated the bird and gazelle in her artwork, as they are her personal symbols of the human spirt of joy and freedom. 

JD: "Whit. Come on!"
Whit: "But... but... aren't these just so mesmerizing?!?"

For all of those sewing machine lovers, how great is this classic Singer? 

You may recognize this clock from my office in our apartment...

Oh yeah. We bought one of those and brought it home! The clock is made out of pebbles and sand from the Red Sea.

As if I didn't want to crochet bad enough, this lady, Sasha Neska, blew us away with her elaborate jewelry! Absolutely remarkable. 

And we say farewell to the streets of the Art Market. 

So we ask you, readers, from these photos... which piece of art would you take home from Israel??

Camel Crossing & Floating in the Dead Sea

Yield to the camels, people. ;) 

THIS kind of landscape is what we were expecting when we traveled to the Middle East: desert. The sand looks like marble. We couldn't get over how truly AWEsome this view was. In fact, it was here that we decided to use the word "awesome" more sparingly because few things in life actually put us in a state of awe like knowing that God structured all that surrounded us on that trip.

The top photo is a long distance snapshot of what's left of the Dead Sea. From Tel Aviv to En Gedi (location of Dead Sea), it was about a five hour drive but we think we took the long route.

We were actually warned not to drive this route because Palestinians have been known to hide beside the road with bombs (sand dunes and hills make it hard to see ahead) but we accidentally went this way. Praise Jesus that He had His hand over us and no bombs went off during our drive. 

On our drive through the desert, we hit the -100 meter mark. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth in any land mass (417 meters below sea level, to be exact). The quantity of water that evaporates from it is greater than that which flows into it. On our lovely tractor ride down to the Dead Sea from the "spa", signs marked the drastic changes of the shoreline every year. Thus, the signs saying 2000 and 2004. In other words, the Sea is shriveling. Visit it before it disappears. :)

We saw this lonesome clay pot propped up by rocks in the hard mud. Immediately, the verse Jeremiah 2:13 came to mind. This pot is not a cistern, as they are much more complex and actually more like a pit, but this is a great visual of how our lives are broken just like this pot. We attempt to control our own lives by molding them into broken clay pots, when God is there as a natural spring of everflowing Living Water longing to share His abundance with us.

JD heading over to the Dead Sea via boardwalk. The Dead Sea derived its name from the high salinity water which prevents any existence of life forms in the lake. Though the Dead Sea prevents all life forms from living in the water, it does provide healing benefits for people. Healing properties of the water helps arthritis and circulation, strengthens nails and bones, balances skin moisture, slows skin aging and calms the nervous system.

We thought mud would be the base of the Dead Sea because we saw pictures of people floating in the lake with mud covering their bodies. We were mistaken. These jagged, healing salt minerals line the lake. Be sure to wear tennis shoes or thick-soled sandals!

It is impossible to drown in the Dead Sea. We could basically bend our knees as if sitting in a liquid lounge chair. The depth had to be more than five feet here but we wouldn't know because we couldn't even stand up straight. We were human buoys. Absolutely amazing!!

The awesome cabana with salt minerals growing up the posts.

See you again, Dead Sea... I doubt it. :/ The lake dries up at least one yard every year. 

The Rock Where Jesus Wept: Church of All Nations

Maybe you were a little baffled at the fact we didn't post photos of the place Jesus actually prayed upon while Peter, James and John were snoozin' against the olive trees. After a few steps through the garden, it was hard to miss the quick transition back to reality. Would it surprise you if we told you they built an actual church around the rock where Jesus fell on his face and cried out to his Father, "Not as I will, but as you will!"

The church was pretty epic. Elaborate murals consume the walls and ceiling while flags represent each nation. The Basilica of the Agony is the original name of the church. It was built from 1919-1924 with funding from twelve different countries, thus giving it the nickname, The Church of All Nations.

In the center, the high altar overlooks a large slab of rock, which is said to be the rock on which Jesus prayed in agony the night of his betrayal. 

We were just about to leave when we heard a group of people singing hymns beside the rock. They had just begun a church service. Hearing the angelic voices echoing through the church built around the rock and upon the Rock sent chills down our spine. 

When you're standing at the Garden of Gethsemane, this is the glimpse you get of the Old City in Jerusalem (where the Via Dolorosa is, etc.). The particular part of the Old City Walls is the Golden Gate, a closed gate located above ground level and below the Temple Mount. It is only visible from outside the city. 

According to Jewish tradition, when the Messiah comes, he will enter Jerusalem through this gate. To prevent him from coming, the Muslims sealed the gate during the rule of Suleiman.

As Christians, all we can say is, "Praise God that the Messiah has already come and defeated the grave! Now we wait eagerly for his glorious return." 

Slumber in the Garden of Gethsemane

Throughout our tour of Jerusalem, we realized that the atmosphere and landscape of the sites were not even close to what we had imagined... until we arrived in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

It was as if we had traveled back in time. We could actually visualize Jesus telling Peter, James and John to "sit here, while I go over there and pray" (Matthew 26:37). In this peaceful setting, Jesus falls to his face and prays to his Father. "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will" (39). 

Peter and the brothers fall asleep while they are supposed to be keeping watch... not one, not two, but three times. You know Jesus' frustration with the guys had to be pretty heated by that point. However, in all fairness to the disciples, look at these trees!! Who wouldn't want to curl up in the little nooks of the olive tree's massive trunk? 

We seem to bash Peter a lot for his mistakes of sleeping, not having enough faith, etc., but he was a fleshly human being just like the rest of us. How often is it that we beg for a few more minutes of sleep in the mornings, sacrificing the time we could be spending with our Savior? We miss so much life and freedom that Christ desires to offer us because we succumb to temptation, to our flesh. 

One of our new favorite songs is "Slumber" by Needtobreathe (video at bottom of post). The first stanza goes like this:

Days, they force you back under those covers,
lazy mornings; they multiply.
Glory's waiting outside your windows.
Wake on up from your slumber, baby open up your eyes.

Don't miss out on the blessings and adventures God has waiting for you because you sleep through life. JD and I are consistently guilty of doing this but we praise Jesus in the fact that He draws us back to Him, back to His mercy and His transforming grace.

The Last Supper

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.

Luke 22:14-35

Obviously this all took place before Jesus walked the Via Dolorosa but we're posting about places in the order we walked through the sites. :) This is the room where The Last Supper took place. It was hard to get a grasp on what it truly would have looked like during Jesus' time. Cats were running rampant and there was an unbearable stench that was present. Still, Jesus made his name known.

Isn't it baffling that through the stench and degrading habits we have in our own lives, Jesus still makes his name known to us with authority? Even when we betray him and deny his name (which, let's be honest, happens every day), he still chooses to bless us and shower grace upon us? There is no god that could even come close to comparing to the wonder of our God, our Savior and our Healer!

At our wedding, JD and I asked our guests to join with us in partaking communion. Some people thought it was odd since that happens at most Catholic weddings and well, we aren't Catholics. But we realize the gravity of communion, as it is a time where the Body of Christ joins as one to celebrate the death and resurrection of our Savior. It was a risk though. With that gravity, the responsibility of our confessing and submitting to Christ bears a lot of weight! In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul says that a person should examine himself before partaking, "for anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself" (vs. 28-29).

Until JD showed me more in-depth detail about communion (i.e. wait until everyone is ready to take it as one and don't partake on an empty stomach), I didn't take communion that seriously... especially when I was a child. I knew I was absolutely restricted from touching the tiny little crackers and juice cups (even though they looked so tempting!) until I walked down the aisle and became a Christian. For years, I would eat the crackers and drink the juice whenever the preacher spoke the words, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. And this, this cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this in remembrance of me."  Oh! How different that light of perspective is for me now! It's amazing how much the Lord can transform our views and our hearts when we just dive deeper into Scripture, His words.

"For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26).

The "Way of Suffering" or Via Dolorosa: The Last Steps of Jesus' Life

I'll be completely transparent with you on this... I've had a bittersweet dread towards writing about our trip through Via Dolorosa. First off, an entire blog could be dedicated to the Via Dolorosa, Jesus' suffering and His death. To merely dedicate one post on a blog to this journey deprives the multitude of truth there is to these steps. If you don't have time to read it all, just skip to the bottom and at least watch the video at the end. :) Secondly, I am in no way a theologist or biblical scholar. However, I will attempt at describing each section of the pathway with as much truth from Scripture as I can. 

Via Dolorosa means Way of Suffering or Way of the Cross. The sign below marks the beginning point of the route Christians believe Jesus started carrying his cross from his trial to the place of his crucifixion and burial.

The guide told us that this is believed to be an imprint of Jesus' hand. It is located at this point, as a dedication to Simon, who helped Jesus carry the cross. "And as they led him away, they seized on Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus." Luke 23:26

We just had to get a snapshot of JD touching the same spot where Jesus touched. :)

This landmark is dedicated to the woman who wiped Jesus' face. "And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him." Luke 23:27

This is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, also known as the location of Christ's death, burial and resurrection. The entrance, specifically, is the place where Jesus was stripped of his clothes... "And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take." Mark 15:24 The church was actually destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries. The building standing today was built in the 12th century. 

Inside of the church, this marks the site of where Jesus died on the cross. A silver disk with a central hole, underneath the altar marks the spot where the cross stood.

Christians lighting candles at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. 

This was the best shot we could get...

"So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews" (John 19:40). The body of Jesus was laid on this stone after being removed from the cross. Most people present were stretching out with all of their power to simply touch it, kiss it and pray to it.

And this is the actual burial site of Jesus. "Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there" (John 19:41-42). 

Because of the masses trying to enter into the tomb, we were unable to go inside of Jesus' tomb. We went into another one. It was about what you would expect when entering a tomb: dark, cold, eerie and small.

THEN... the best part (which we obviously do not have a photo of)... "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" says Jesus to Mary Magdalene. Eventually, Mary becomes overwhelmed with excitement, tears, joy, and awe... "Rabboni! I have seen the Lord!"

PRAISE JESUS that He continuously claims victory over all things, including death!... 

Death couldn't handle Him and the grave couldn't hold Him!
That's my King!
Do you know Him? 

The Wailing Wall

For lack of a better word, the Wailing Wall devastated us a bit. 

Weeping sobs belted from many men and women with their faces to the ground, while others quietly placed their small pieces of paper filled with wishes and prayers into the crevices of the gigantic wall. 

According to Jewish record, when Rome destroyed the Second Temple in 70 C.E., only one outer wall remained standing. The Romans probably would have destroyed that wall also, but it must have seemed too insignificant to them; it was not even part of the Temple itself, just an outer wall surrounding the Temple Mount. For the Jews, however, this remnant of what was the most sacred building in the Jewish world quickly became the holiest spot in Jewish life. Throughout the centuries, Jews from throughout the world traveled to Palestine, and immediately headed for the Kotel ha-Ma'aravi (the Western Wall) to thank God. The prayers offered at the Kotel were so heartfelt that non-Jews began calling the site the "Wailing Wall." 

Men and women are separated here too. Less than a quarter of the wall is for the women to pray at (on the right side) and the left side is for the men. Women are squished against each other in several lines, shoulder-to-shoulder, merely to get a chance to touch the wall. The men have enough room to spread out across the wall. Do you see how small the entrance is for the women (single-file line) in comparison to the men's entrance where ten men (at least) could fit through at a time. You haven't seen oppression of women until you dwell in the Middle Eastern culture for a few days. 

All men must cover their heads. The site offers free yarmulkes for men that don't have one. When you leave the wall, you must not turn around with your back to the wall as that is a sign of disrespect. You must walk backwards until you reach the entrance, always facing the wall.

Below is the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. Muslims remove their shoes and express their devotion to Allah inside the Dome of the Rock, which was built around the rock on which Abraham bound his son Isaac to be sacrificed before God intervened. 

Non-Muslims were not allowed near the Dome of the Rock, thus we were not allowed any closer than where this photo was taken.

The Biblical Restaurant and a Giant Ball of Yarn

The city's name may mean "peace" but it has had more wars fought over her than any city in history. Jerusalem is filled with way more history than we could even begin to write about, so we'll keep our posts in line with only the places and sights we experienced throughout our day's journey there.

The first thing we saw before walking into the Old City was The Biblical Restaurant. Gosh. We hated that we couldn't eat there. ;)

Being the photographers that we are (we take pictures of pretty much everything and anything), JD requested that we take a photo of this lovely large ball of steel yarn. The tour group was walking fast so we only got this off-kilter snapshot of the art piece...

And we reach our first point of true significance: King David's Tomb. We actually didn't reach this point until the very end of the tour but saw the sign at the beginning. As it was Shabbat, we were not allowed to take photos of any holy landmarks so you won't be seeing any photos of the tomb on this blog. 

The best description we could give of the tomb is: massive and royal. 

Because of the strict cultural divide between men and women in Israel, we were not allowed to enter the tomb together. The tomb was separated in half by a cloth curtain. On the women's side, females were crying while reading from books aloud and swaying as they recited words in Hebrew. King David's Tomb is the second most holy site to the Jewish people, second only to the Wailing Wall (we'll discuss this in a few days).

We've read that he is not buried here since scripture indicates he was buried in the city of David (1 Kings 2:10). However, this site marks his burial and has done so since about 1173 A.D. 

Quick Overview.... The Old City is divided into four quarters: Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim. People reside in the quarters just like they would a regular small town. Many years ago, the government would actually pay people to live there just so they could fill the space. Now the cost of living there is pretty expensive. 

November 5: Jerusalem on Shabbat

Yes, this post is written five days after the last one. You didn't miss much. JD worked every day, and I laid out at the pool (until the guy at the entrance asked me, "Why are you always alone by yourself?"... then I just sat in the hotel room or the executive lounge - wouldn't that creep you out a little too??).

We traveled over to Jerusalem. This was the first and only "guided tour" we went on.

Our tour guide was Jewish and stated bluntly and frequently that "these are the Christian beliefs but [he] just doesn't understand how people can think that way."

To put it in a more direct light for you... we would be standing at the Via Dolorosa and he would say, "This plaque on the wall is where Jesus put His hand when carrying the cross to His crucifixion, but I personally don't believe He was the Messiah."

To be transparent with you, it was tough hearing the guide use a disclaimer like that for everything JD and I believe in. It was interesting and challenging to hear his beliefs, but still tough to follow a guide who was telling us about Jesus but didn't know Jesus himself.

Praise Jesus that through His crucifixion and resurrection, He has removed the veil from the high place; that where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom; and that we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image of Christ from degree of glory to another (2 Cor 3:16-18).

In our next post, we will take you on a tour through the Old City (it may last longer than one post).

Below is Palestine, right behind us. You may not know the level of callousness between the Palestinians and Israelites, so let us put it into perspective for you... Israelis have yellow on their car tags and the Palestinians have blue on their car tags. If an Israeli car is seen crossing over the Palestinian line, well, they'll be bombed. From what we gathered, it seems like the Israelites have a less harmful form of punishment for the Palestinians but they won't be allowed over the line regardless.

Can you believe how close the two territories are? We are standing in Israeli territory but the Palestine territory is directly below us.

My sweet husband...

Can you see the Temple Mount? It's the gray building with the golden dome. That marks the location of the Old City, specifically the Muslim Quarter.

We are now on the other side of the road from our previous photo. Can you believe the contrast between the Israeli and Palestine territories? The Palestinian territory looks desolate and dry but Israel looks like it's thriving. Besides this trip, we didn't venture near Palestine. :)