|About Us||Holy Land Sites||Holy Land Tours||Christian||Photos||Community||Travel Tips|
Tags - galilee
Last weekend we traveled northward scouting sites for a bat mitzvah location. We opted for a return visit to Beit Lechem Haglilit, an idyllic village situated in the hills of the Galilee. Beautiful calanit flowers were in abundance throughout the countryside with cars after cars parked in the endless fields allowing visitors to access the many trails throughout the hilltops where they could admirethe new spring blossoms. The village of Beit Lechem Haglilit is easy to explore by foot or bike and the local historian, Kobi Fleishmann (04-953-2901), will gladly take around tour groups for a two hour stroll through the village by pre-arrangement. Kobi and his family live in a beautiful historic old Templar home and have converted a portion of it to a bed and breakfast as well as a local museum, chronicling the Templar roots of the village as well as the rise of the local Hitler Youth movement, which rose to prominence in this town during the 1930's. Photographs on display in the local museum chronicle this dark period of local history and provide visual evidence of the Nazi Youth parade that occurred in the village to mark Hitler's birthday. The museum showcases much of Kobi's collections of historic Nazi memorablia including flags, pictures and other artifacts, that were from the area. During the war the British rounded up the local "enemy" German-sympathizing residents and put them into local interment camps where they remained until they were deported. Some 222 of the local prisoners were swapped with 222 Dutch prisoners of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. During our tour, Kobi showed us the actual list of the prisoners released from Bergen-Belsen and we, coincidentally, found the names of our relatives on the list.
With spring in full bloom in Israel, a leisurely stroll through Tzippori, nicknamed by Josephus as "the ornament of the Galilee" is a must see visit for all travelers this time of year. Located in the heart of the Galilee, Tzippori is situated on a hill in the western part of the region, situated between the Tzippori stream to the south (Nahal Tzippori - also happens to be a wonderful place for a hike) and the Beit Netofa Valley to the north. The site is one of Israel's National Parks and is extremely well maintained. A modern visitor center sits at the entrance of the park and English speaking tour guides who work for the park service are available for hire in advance for approximately $150 for an hour and a half tour.
Tzippori received its name because of its location on the top of a mountain "like a bird" as written in the Talmud. Visiting today, one can view the remains of a magnificent city with streets, buildings, bathhouse, complete with very well preserved mosaic floors as well as an ancient synagague. A large theatre was also uncovered as well as an ancient water reservoir. For over two thousand years, Tzippori has enjoyed a very colorful history.
During the Crusader period, Tzippori was known as La Saphorie, and it also seems to have been populated during both the first and second temple periods. The city rose to prominence during the period of 47BCE, when Herod the Great was the governor of the Galilee. He captured the city from the governor of Syria by force and after Herod's death in 4 BCE, the Jews revolted against the Romans and captured Tzippori only to lose it to the Roman army which successfully countered the rebellion. Later in 66 CE, the revolt against the Jews began and the local population made an agreement with the Romans, successfully portecting their city from being destroyed. Later during the 3rd centurty, the city was very prominent and Rabbi Judah Hanasi moved to the city bringing with him the highest institution of Jewish law, known as the Sanhedrin. It was in Tzippori that Hanasi began working on the Mishnah.
A church was built in Tzippori during the Byzantine period and the Christian community grew, though the Jewish population remained a majority. The Arab period that followed the decline of the Byzantine period brought with it an Arab population which remained through 1948, when the local cvillage, known as Saffuriyyeh, that had been established in the 18th century, The current Moshav Tzippori was established just after the War of Independence, adjacent to the village of Saffuriyyeh.
An ancient synagogue dating from the Second Temple period (50 BCE-100 CE) housing the first ever menorah decoration ever found from that period was exposed in archaeological excavations at Migdal, known as Migdala, on the Sea of Galilee just north of Tiberias. The Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting excavations at the site, which is slated for development of a Christian-oriented resort hotel and multi-media center dedicated to dialogue and understanding.
Within the discovered the synagague there is a stone that is engraved with a seven-branched menorah (candelabrum), in the middle. It is the first time this type of discovery has ever been made. Up until now there had never been a seven branch menorah engraving discovered within a Jewish context. Archaeologists Dina Avshalom-Gorni and Arfan Najar of the Israel Antiquities Authority are conducting the excavations. The main hall of synagogue is c. 120 square meters in area and its stone benches, which served as seats for the worshippers, were built up against the walls of the hall. Its floor was made of mosaic and its walls were treated with colored plaster (frescos). A square stone, the top and four sides of which are adorned with reliefs, was discovered in the hall. The stone is engraved with a seven-branched menorah set atop a pedestal with a triangular base, which is flanked on either side by an amphora (jars). The engraving that appears on the stone that was uncovered joins only six other synagagues in the word that are known to date to the Second Temple period", said Dina Avshalom-Gorni, the director of the Isrsael Antiquities Authority.
The site is owned by Ark New Gate, which intends to build a unique hotel property and multi-media center that is envisioned as a center of dialogue and respect between cultures and religions. Migdal has long been a very important site to Christians and the nearby historical site is managed by the Franscicans. Christian history recognizes Migdal as mentioned as the birthplace of Mary Magdalene. the city was strategically important during the Greate Revolt as well and the base of operation of Yosef Ben Matityahu (Josephus Flavius). AFter the revolt, Migdal became the administrative center of the Galilee lasting until 19CE, when nearby Tiberias was founded and became an important city.
A monumental synagogue building dating to the Late Roman period (ca. 4th-5thcenturies C.E.) has been discovered in archaeological excavations at Huqoq in Israel's Galilee.
The excavations are being conducted by Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and David Amit and Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority , under the sponsorship of UNC, Brigham Young University in Utah, Trinity University in Texas, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Toronto in Canada. Students and staff from UNC and the consortium schools are participating in the dig.
Huqoq is an ancient Jewish village located approximately two to three miles west of Capernaum and Migdal (Magdala). This second season of excavations has revealed portions of a stunning mosaic floor decorating the interior of the synagogue building. The mosaic, which is made of tiny colored stone cubes of the highest quality, includes a scene depicting Samson placing torches between the tails of foxes (as related in the book of Judges 15).
Mosaic of Samson excavated at Huqoq in the Galilee Photo credit: Jim Haberman
In another part of the mosaic, two human (apparently female) faces flank a circular medallion with a Hebrew inscription that refers to rewards for
those who perform good deeds.
"This discovery is significant because only a small number of ancient (Late Roman) synagogue buildings are decorated with mosaics showing biblical
scenes, and only two others have scenes with Samson (one is at another sitejust a couple of miles from Huqoq)," said Magness, the Kenan Distinguished Professor in the Department of Religious Studies in UNC's College of Arts and Sciences. "Our mosaics are also important because of their high artistic quality and the tiny size of the mosaic cubes. This, together with the monumental size of the stones used to construct the synagogue's walls, suggest a high level of prosperity in this village, as the building clearly was very costly."
Excavations are scheduled to continue in summer 2013.
* * * *
Travelujah is the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.
You've decided to head up to the Galilee for a few days of off the beaten path exploration that might include biking, or hiking the Gospel Trail or perhaps other attractions in the area. Where to stay?
Here's an answer: Barbakfar
A few kilometers east of the Gospel Trail within Moshav Sharona, lies Barbakfar, a small bed and breakfast that offers very comfortable lodgings, excellent food and tremendous service (including transportation to and from the trail). The quaint property is the brainchild of owner Nili Bar, an 11th generation Israeli. Her husband's family also dates back many generations and they were founders of Kibbutz Ein Gev and she grew up in Rosh Pina and then moved to Ginosar where she went to school. For a number of years she worked as a tour guide all the while dreaming of opening her own guesthouse with her husband Dov. In preparation for the anticipated tourism boom for the year 2000, they began planning their own guest house and eventually opened their own guesthouse with six units. Over the years they've added their private home to the mix, enabling Barbakfar to accommodate up to 40 people.
The guesthouse is set on 24 dunams and the setting is reminiscent of Tuscany. The landscaping is lush and abundant and visitors can lounge in the pool overlooking the vineyards while enjoying the view of Mt. Tabor lying prominently in the distance. Grapes grown on site are blended into a fine Shiraz wine that is produced under their own private label, aged and produced on site. Approximately 3,000 bottles of year are produced at their winery on site.
The Bar family is intimately involved with the day to day operation of the guesthouse. Yuval Bar handles the front of the house operation, graciously chatting with all the guests individually at breakfast as he walks from table to table. If asked, he'll happily advise on how he produces his wine and proudly takes those interested into his wine manufacturing area. In the meantime, his brother, Uri, oversees the kitchen where his mother's breakfast recipes are duplicated by their cooks, who come from nearly Kfar Cama.
For travelers along the Gospel Trail, Barbakfar is a wonderfully convenient and relaxed location. Transportation to and from the Gospel Trail can be arranged through the guesthouse at a nominal extra charge. Simply let Yuval or Nili know that you will need to be picked up at the end of your hiking day and they'll be there. And in the morning they'll take you back.
Barbakfar, which happens to be rated quite high on TripAdvisor, offers romantic units for couples, larger units for families that sleep four and one huge cottage unit that sleeps four couples plus children. Each unit contains a private enclosed terrace with a large jacuzzi, a television, and an equipped kitchen area. A complimentary half bottle of wine, chocolate and full, cooked to order breakfast is provided. Prices begin at approximately $160 per night per couple.
Anyone seeking to explore the area of Mt. Tabor and nearby Tiberias will be quite content staying at Barbakfar.
Barbakfar, Moshav Sharon, 052-2262754 www.barbakfar.co.il
Nazareth will always be the Galilean city famously known as the residence of the world's most celebrated figure, Jesus Christ, but over the last five years the city has developed an eviable reputation as a culinary hotspot.
Local residents have been instrumental in redeveloping this Galilean capital, home to Christians and Moslems and Israel's Ministry of Tourism has also allocated some funding in this hilltop city.
The result - a wonderful culinary scene for all appetites. The city boasts wonderful spice shops, sweet stores, cafes and a medley of restaurants offering interesting Arabic fusion foods along with other delicacies.
A recent Travelujah article entitled "Nazareth is Worth a Day or Two for All Tourists" - focused on many of the interesting on and off the beaten path sites in Nazareth and the surrounding area. Now, the New York Times, has offered up a culinary expedition for those interested in the city's burgeoning food scene.
Tishreen Restaurant; Photo Courtesy - Travelujah
With everything from wonderful restaurants, bars, cafes and bakeries and on the spot culinary courses (in Arabic and English too!) being offered to residents and non-residents - the city is poised to add Holy Land's culinary capital to its status as Jesus's hometown.
Read the New York Times piece on Nazareth:
Escaping the heat of the last weeks of summer and looking to travel north? Sound familiar? Just like Americans and others who must cope with the summer heat, Israelis too head to the hills during the summer in order to enjoy the nature, the breezes, the serenity, family and of course, the WATER. Abundant, flowing water - something you don't see much of in Israel, is a beautiful site to behold in the north and the country's residents, Arabs and Jews alike, appreciate it. You want to see how people mix? Head to the campgrounds, and to the sites where there is water, several of which we visited during our brief weekend stay, including Horshat Tal, Banias (Caesarea Philipi and Tel Dan).
Camping is complicated, especially with kids. We chose the campground of Horshat Tal, a beautiful park, located in the Northern Galilee and one of Israel's most popular nature reserves. Horshat Tal, Hebrew for "Forest of Dew", is situated along the Dan River, one of three major tributaries that join together, forming the Jordan river to the south. The name is taken from Psalms 133 "the dew of Hermon" because of its proximity to Mount Hermon, which stands majestically and quite picturesque in the background. The mountain is similar to a sponge and absorbs rain and snow that falls on it and the water percolates through the limestone and emerges as springs at the foot of the 1615 meter high mountain. These springs create the Dan, Banias and Hastzbani Streams - all of which combine to form the Jordan River to the south. The 500 dunam (120 acre) nature park is primarily known for its ancient and enormous oak tress which provide wonderful shade during the summer months. The refreshingly freezing cold Dan river winds its way throughout the park, which also includes a large man made pool, waterslides, refreshment stand, picnic grounds, showers, and washroom facilities.
After several trips back and forth to the car, we unloaded our gear, including our enormous American sized tent that came complete with a porch in the front offering shade from the blistering sun. Jewish and Arab residents from around the country, strolled by and asked us where we'd purchased our unique shelter. "Costco", we replied, clearly a disappointing response to our inquirers who thought they might be able to pick it up at the local Metayel store. My husband and I had a brief though heated argument over where to pitch the tent; I had identified what I thought was a cool and shady spot directly on the river banks with the water rushing in the background. "This was perfect", I said "if we had noisy neighbors, the sound of the water rushing would surely drown any noise." My husband, though, insisted that it was too "tzafuf" or crowded, and selected another spot nearby. Needless to say the next morning, when we awoke at 6 am because of the sun and noise from our neighbors, the spot I had targeted was shady and cool. So we moved.
That aside, what really struck me about camping in Israel on the weekend, were the number of religious people who camped out. Camping is not easy, but camping and keeping the Sabbath at the same time presents even more challenges. Interestingly, where there is a will there is a way. Friday afternoon, before sunset, I noted the number of crock pots and "platot" or heating trays that suddenly appeared by the main kitchen / gathering area - the place where you could rent a fridge, wash your dishes, fill up water, etc. All the crock pots were lined up and inside each were vegetables and meat chunks that were slowly being cooked so that families could indulge in a proper Sabbath lunch of cholent the next day, Saturday. As we walked around the campground that night, we saw families enjoying their Friday night dinners, many of which had been prepared in advance for that evening.
The preceding two days were spent quietly relaxing at the campsite, early morning swims at the freezing pools and then onto explore the area. The first day we went to Banias, also known as Caesarea Philippi, a second of the three head waters of the Jordan. Banias has been extensively excavated and offers a variety of walking trails, ranging from one half hour up to 1.5 hours, or even longer. Many people will walk one of two 45 minutes circular trails, or the longer 1.5 hour trail. Among other sites, the trails lead by the ancient Crusader Palace of Agrippa II and to the Crusader gatehouse along the bank of the Sa'ar Stream. The 1.5 hour trail passes under an ancient Roman bridge, flour mill, and further down along the the Sa'ar Stream until climbing down into the valley where the magnificent Banias Waterfall is hidden. There is a moat and a Crusader wall and other remnants along with extensive foliage and animal life.
As noted by the archaeological findings, the areas location by the spring and rich vegetation prompted its early development by the Greeks and later, the Romans. Josephus Falvius, the historian during that period wrote that Herod built a temple close to the springs and dedicated it to the roman emperor Augustus. When Herod later died, the region was awarded to his son Philip who made it his capital and called it Caesarea Philipi. The original Greek name, Paneas continued to be used, and the "p" was pronounced a "b" by the native population and thus the name Banias persisted.
According to Christian tradition, this is the site where, after Peter stated that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus answered him: "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matt 16:17-18).
Our second day outing was spent at the Dan River Nature Reserve, the site of the largest and most important spring feeding the Jordan. Until the 1967 war, this river was the only source of water for the Jordan that was controlled by Israel. The reserve covers only about 120 acres yet the abundance of water and location supports a unique ecosystem containing rare plants and animals. Archaeological findings here indicated that Dan was a city that first developed around 2700 BCE and the findings on site include an ancient Canaanite gate from the eighteenth century BCE that is completely intact with an arched entry. An Israelite gate, from the First Temple period, was also discovered.
A walk through Tel Dan can be as a quick as an hour to a full days activity. Trails range from 1 to 2.5 hours and are easy and family friendly, though not completely wheelchair accessible. The park offers a lot of shade as well as a fresh water fed wading pool that is perfect for kids and adults alike.
It's pretty amazing how easy it is to teach your children about the rise of ancient civilization on a summer day spent wading through water or walking by riverbeds. When they see the ancient palaces, gates, walls of civilizations dating back thousands of years ago, and they look around and see the water and beautiful foliage, they get why these locations emerged as so important. They know how valuable water is ( especially now when they read daily about how the government is imposing $500 fines if we use too much water at home). Water is a valuable resource. And here, in the north, where its green and comfortable, it's easy to understand the evolution and strategic important of these ancient communities. Its all about the water. Still is.
08:00 - 17:00 (pools closed at 17:00 for those who are camping at the site as well)
Camping Costs: 55 shekel ($15 per adult and 45 shekel ($12) per child and includes entrance fees to the water park, electricity, showers. Refridgerator rental ($5) extra.
Directions: By Car, Traveling east on route 99 from Kiryat Shmona to Mount hermon and after 5.5 KM make a right turn (south) to Hurshat Tal Phone: 04-6942360 Fax: 04-6959360
Hermon Stream Nature Reserve:
Opening Hours - 8:00 to 17:00 (no entrance after 16:00).
Winter Hours- 8:00 - 16:00 (last entrance at 15:00)
Directions: By Car, Traveling east on route 99 from Kiryat Shmona to Mount Hermon and after 8.5 KM make a left turn into the main entrance of Banias. Tel: 04-695-0272
Tel Dan Nature Reserve
January to December: 8:00 to 16:00 (entrance until 16:00). On Fridays and holiday evenings the reserve closes an hour earlier.
Directions: By Car, Traveling east on route 9 from Kiryat Shmona towards Mount Hermon and after 7.5 KM make a left turn (north) to Tel Dan. Tel: 04-695-1579
Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you."
Eduward has been in Israel for three months, living in Jerusalem and volunteering for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, before he made his first trip to the Galilee.
Like many tourists, the Galilee was not at the top of Eduward's list of things to do. However, after an invitation to walk the newly redeveloped Gospel Trail prompted him to visit, Eduward quickly realized that the Galilee offers much more than he had ever anticipated.
Walking where Jesus walked was an emotional trip and the high point of Eduward's visit to Israel.
"I'm recommending the Gospel Trail to everyone - Christian and even Jewish people as well, so they can experience where Jesus walked, see the scenery and hike the trail," Eduward told Travelujah.
Photo Courtesy: Travelujah - The Gospel Trail
Jesus spent the majority of his life growing up in Nazareth, working in the community, walking the countryside, bringing his ministry of teaching and healing throughout the region and performing numerous miracles along the way from Cana to Tabgha. Even still, Nazareth and the Galilee as a whole have not yet evolved as an international destination and tourism to the region pales in comparison to Jerusalem. While more than 87 percent of Christian tourists visit Jerusalem, only 60 percent of Israel's Christian tourists visit the Galilee, up from less than 50 percent in 2009.
Why does the Galilee attract fewer Christians despite the fact that Jesus spent most of his life there?
Part of the answer lies in the fact that the Galilee region, despite offering an abundance of important sites, is relatively "off the beaten path' and not as easy to navigate on foot as Jerusalem, which hosts a concentration of sites proximate to each other.
In an effort to address this, the Israel Ministry of Tourism, along with its partners at the Jewish National Fund, began planning the Gospel Trail, a 60-kilometer hiking trail, 10 years ago. However, once the second intifada took root prompting a sharp drop in tourism plans for the Gospel Trail were put on hold.
Fast forward several years to 2010. Israel had experienced a dramatic rise in Christian tourism culminating in a record-breaking 2.3 million Christian tourists, representing two thirds of the 3.45 million tourists who visited the country in 2010. The Christian sector was demonstrating the strongest growth of all sectors too. While Jewish tourism had grown from 800,000 to 1 million in the last five years, Christian tourism was up over fourfold, from just under 500,000 tourists in 2005 to 2.3 million tourists in 2010. Tourism officials made the Gospel Trail a priority and, at a cost of $600,000, the well marked trail was unveiled a couple months ago.
Photo credit: Travelujah.com Bishop Marcuzzo, Noaz Bar Nir and Rafi Ben Hur unveiling the new Gospel Trail marker
The Gospel Trail begins at the Mount of Precipice in Nazareth where, according to Luke 4:14-28, Jesus was rejected by his townsmen who threatened to throw him over the mountainside. The trail travels down the ancient "Pilgrims Path" 500 meters to the Jezreel Valley below, and continues along the Nazareth Range providing views of the Mount Tabor, Kafr Kanna and travels, via the golani Junction to the Horns of Hattin site of the clash between the Crusader forces and the Muslim armies under Saladin. It continues past the antiquities of Magdala to Tabgha, the Mount of Beatitudes, eventually ending at Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee.
The Gospel Trail experience offers the Christian faithful a unique opportunity to take a similar path to the one that Jesus would have trodden.
Additional branches of the trail will allow visitors to access other important sites. A new dock alongside Capernaum allows visitors to include a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, where according to Mark 4:35, Jesus calmed the sea. With a ride to Ein Gev or Tiberias, groups can have the possibility of including prayer time or singing on the boat. Scripture readings, safety barriers, shaded rest areas and safety features are to be included and are expected to be in place along the trail shortly.
Photo Credit Travelujah.com Bishop Marcuzzo leading mass on the Sea of Galilee
The Gospel Trail is part of the Israel Ministry of Tourism's effort to broaden Israel's tourism product and reach new market segments like hikers and Christian youth groups. Pilgrimage is viewed as a natural means to self discovery and attracts young people seeking to connect to their spiritual roots.
Father Atuire, director of Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, the Vatican pilgrimage organizer responsible for organizing programs for 750,000 pilgrims annually, has been actively seeking to reach out to more Christians including youths, by offering alternative journeys of faith such as walking pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela as well as social justice tours of Nepal and packages to World Youth Day.
The Gospel Trail is envisioned to serve a similar purpose: to connect youths to pilgrimage by walking in Jesus' footsteps. Pilgrimage is viewed as a natural means to self discovery and attracts young people seeking to connect to their spiritual roots.
Latin Patriarchal Vicar Bishop Boutros Marcuzzo accompanied us along a leg of the Gospel Trail and echoed his desire for young people to have a direct and spontaneous interaction with nature along the way.
Travelujah CEO Elisa Moed and Bishop Marcuzzo on the Gospel Trail
"We want young people to come," he told Travelujah. "And this trail is very encouraging for young people."
The Gospel Trail was developed in consultation with Evangelical, Protestant and Orthodox church leaders and provides pilgrims and others an opportunity to experience the Holy Land on foot while connecting in a spiritual and physical way to the Biblical landscapes that feature in Jesus' life.
The Gospel Trail comes on the heels of another popular northern Israel hike also catering to Christian tourists, the Jesus Trail. The Jesus Trail follows a similar route as the new Gospel Trail and to a large extent serves the same function. However, the Jesus Trail encourages a bit more diversity as it passes through some outlying Arab villages in the Galilee while the Gospel Trail, focuses more on exploring the indigenous nature of the region.
By highlighting their connection to important holy sites, both bring a much-needed awareness to the Galilee, a region that is still often overlooked by visitors to Israel, though, perhaps, not for much longer.
"Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him."
* * * * * * *
Elisa L. Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah -Holy Land Tours (http://www.travelujah.com). A 24 year tourism consulting veteran, Elisa has worked for many international chains, banks, developers and hotel management companies in her role as a specized hospitality ndustry consutlant..
Travelujah is the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy |Land.
On August 18 and 19 the Greek Orthodox Church will celebrate the annual Feast of the Transfiguration, which celebrates the transfiguration of Jesus that is traditionally thought to have occurred at Mount Tabor in the Galilee. The Catholic Church celebrated the holiday earlier this month on August 6 with a festive mass at the Church of the Transfiguration at Mt. Tabor.
After revealing to his disciples that he would be condemned to death in Jerusalem, Jesus climbed up Mount Tabor in the Galilee along with Peter, James and John and there he was transfigured.
"And his face did shine as the sun; and his garments became white as snow". Matthew 16:21
The transfiguration is one of the most significant events in Christian thought. There Jesus was seen with a radiancy and he spoke with Moses and Elijah, both of whom appeared at his side, and he was proclaimed God's son.
"This is my beloved son - hear him". (Matthew 17:5). (These same words were proclaimed at his baptism in the Jordan. (Matthew 3:17))
During this feast a night vigil occurs in the Greek Orthodox Church, which is the most unique experience associated with the holiday. Arab Christians camp in the woods surrounding the church and spend the night there, during which time the Divine Liturgy is celebrated outside the church. The Divine Liturgy is celebrated inside the Church on the 19th.
To commemorate Jesus's climb up the mountain, some pilgrims will ascend Mount Tabor by foot.
"And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain . . and he was transfiured before them...(Mark 9:2)
* * * *
Nearly 1,000 Christians gathered at the base of the Sea of Galilee to declare "Israel is forever" in a concert that kicked off a massive eight-day tour of the Holy Land with the Christian satellite channel, God TV.
"I welcome you to the homeland of your faith," Tourism Minister Uzi Landau told the crowd.
Kim Clement, a prophet and musician based in California, orchestrated the concert which dramatically recounted the restoration of Israel as a state through vivid images of the Holocaust and Middle Eastern music and dance.
Clement was joined - in a touching moment and perhaps the highlight of the evening - by members of a musical band from Shalva, an organization for children with special needs. The two teenage singers and musician from the Shalva band sang a version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah and a song written especially by Clement for the Shalva children.
Shalva kids performing with Kim Clement at the concert in Galilee; photo courtesy Nicole Jansezian for Travelujah
"Breathe your life into me; put your song inside me; cover me with your love," Dina, who is blind, sung in Hebrew. "Everything within me longs to feel your heartbeat. I'm forever yours."
Based in Jerusalem, Shalva provides services free of charge currently to more than 500 children with special needs from infants to young adults seven days a week. Clement has visited Shalva several times in the last year and has championed its cause, becoming a significant supporter of the Israeli nonprofit.
Kim Clement performing in the Galilee; photo courtesy Nicole Jansezian for Travelujah
The Shalva center "houses special needs children - the most amazing thing that I've ever seen," Clement said. "It changed my heart. We adopted four special needs children. It's the heart of God."
Founded by Rory and Wendy Alec who are also leading the tour, God TV is broadcast from Jerusalem and is available worldwide on a multi-satellite platform in 200 nations and 240 million homes. Other notable ministers on the tour include Lou Engle, Faytene Grasseschi, Patricia King, Angus Buchan, Matt Sorger and the band Planet Shakers from Australia.
* * * *
Nicole Jansezian lives in Jerusalem and works for the organization, Shalva, based in Jerusalem. She is a regular contributor to Travelujah-Holy Land Tours.
On January 24, 1986, two fishermen in the Sea of Galilee made a fascinating discovery. Today, their discovery-the Jesus Boat Revealed-is an inspirational experience, a historic artifact, a meticulous reproduction, a national museum of antiquities, a book, and a fascinating DVD. Most importantly, it's a phenomenon with the power to unite a nation.
When Yuval Lufan and his brother, Moishale, uncovered a boat, which-against all odds-had survived for nearly two millennia submerged in mud, they triggered an avalanche of miraculous events. The subsequent excavation, recovery, and scientific analysis of the vessel confirmed it had been constructed during the time of Christ, and possibly, even, belonged to the Messiah Himself.
"The boat changed everything in my life," says Yuval Lufan, a lifelong fishermen from the Galilee seaside village of Kibbutz Ginosar. "The boat gave my life new meaning and purpose. It helped me to find my faith, to find God. This discovery is the greatest thing I could have dreamed of."
In-depth analysis carbon-dated the boat to the time of Christ. But more exciting clues about the Jesus Boat's origins were also revealed; the vessel had been constructed from twelve different types of wood.
"Normally, a boat of this style from this time period would have been built from two or three types of wood at the most," says Alon Kossonogi, CEO of the Jesus Boat Museum Foundation. "Twelve types of wood was unheard of until the Lufan brothers' discovery."
Considering the biblical significance of the number twelve, and the numerous miraculous events connected to The Jesus Boat's discovery and excavation, is it possible all these happenings were merely coincidental?
"Good things happen to people who spend time with the boat; it may take time, but it happens," says Lufan. "We have to have faith in doing the impossible. Science is a great thing, but there are things science cannot explain, and only people of faith can understand that faith is a greater power than science."
During the Jesus Boat's discovery and excavation, people from the Kibbutz Ginosar village witnessed many miracles: one in a million odds of finding a boat in the Galilee were beaten; a rare, brilliant double rainbow crowned their skies; a four-year drought suddenly ended; a rival village volunteered to help; a moonbeam revealed itself; the ninety-five percent odds against a successful excavation were overcome; and a life-long atheist welcomed Christ into his life.
"When people see the boat, they say it makes them think that ‘someone' is behind its discovery," says Kossonogi. "And they truly believe that the ‘someone' is Jesus, showing us he is here and watching...that he brought us this boat as a sign from above."
According to Kossonogi, this is the first time ordinary people have ever found anything historically significant in the Galilee area. Experts in marine archeology had spent decades searching, but gave up, claiming it would be next to impossible to find anything ancient there. But the Jesus Boat is not only ancient, it carbon-dates back over 2000 years to the specific thirty-year time period that Jesus spent in Galilee.
So why is it that the world is just beginning to hear about this twenty-something-year-old historically significant find? Being submerged in water for 2000 years made the Jesus Boat extremely fragile, so it had to be immersed in a special liquid for fourteen years to properly restore and preserve it. And - more recently - with the world becoming a global community, the Jesus Boat Museum Foundation board members began to realize that the boat is an international treasure to be shared with people around the world.
"It's only been during the last few years - with the making of The Jesus Boat Revealed DVD - that the people of Israel have begun to realize how special the Jesus Boat really is," says Kossonogi.
A one-hour documentary movie, The Jesus Boat Revealed chronicles the numerous stories surrounding the boat's discovery and excavation through interviews with the people who were there. The movie illustrates how the vessel is a one-of-a-kind, physical touch-point to the exact time and place of Jesus Christ, and relays the exciting miracles experienced by the people involved.
Weaving two vital, parallel stories, The Jesus Boat Revealed also profiles key people including commanders from the independent war and those instrumental in the establishment of the State of Israel such as Zvi Zamer, former director of Israel's national intelligence agency, the Mossad.
There are also many appearances by noteworthy people such asEhud Barak, Israel's defense minister and labor party leader, and former prime minister of Israel; Skip Heitzig, documentary host and founder and senior pastor of Calvary of Albuquerque; Chuck Smith, Cavalry Chapel founder; Pat Robertson, founder of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), and the Christian Coalition; Jay Seklow, American attorney and radio talk show host; Franklin Graham, Christian evangelist and missionary; Tim Lahey, American evangelical Christian minister, author, and speaker; and Joel Rosenberg, American communications strategist, author of The Last Jihadseries, and founder of The Joshua Fund.
"It's more than just a boat," says Dr. Kurt Raveh, the marine archeologist who organized The Jesus Boat's excavation. "It's really a story of God's promises ... a boat that wouldn't stay buried in a nation that wouldn't stay buried."
In Sakhnin - a village in the Lower Galilee you've probably never heard of - grand steps are being taken to tackle one of the environmental movement's most perplexing problems: wastewater treatment.
Sakhnin is located approximately 45 minutes from Tiberias. It rests on the site of the ancient town of Sikhnin, a Jewish village which prospered during Roman rule. Today, the Arab community of Sakhnin is mostly Muslim, though there is a sizable Christian community as well. In fact, visitors can join the locals and worship at the Greek Orthodox church of St. George.
Sakhnin is also known for its premier soccer club, Bnei Sakhnin, one of the first Arab teams to play in the top tier of Israeli soccer. The Bnei Sakhnin holds the honor of being the first Arab team to win the state cup.
Aside from producing star soccer players, Sakhnin is working to produce usable wastewater. The LIFE project was implemented by the Sakhnin Regional Environmental Education and R&D Center of the Town Association for Environmental Quality (TAEQ), of Agan Beit Natufa. The project is also run in cooperation with Istanbul Technical University (ITU), and the main agenda of the program is to deal with wastewater treatment.
Wastewater has tantalized environmentalists for decades - if only there were a way to reuse the water, it could be a boon to the crop growth of arid areas. But of course wastewater is tainted, impure. The mere mention of it causes people to wrinkle their noses. Untreated, the wastewater, or effluent, can cause health problems. Furthermore, it can even damage existing soil and water resources. But - and here's what excites the environmental scientists - if it is properly treated, the effluent may be reused for agricultural purposes, as a substitute for fresh water. Reusing is the number-one priority of the green movement - why throw out what can be repurposed and repackaged? In addition, if the wastewater is treated properly, it can actually reducegreenhouse gases. To an arid region, being able to reuse effluent is like finding stacks of twenties hidden in your sock drawer.
The Sakhnin project entails upgrading the existing wastewater treatment facilities, in order to improve the quality of effluent. The water can then be used for agricultural irrigation (though it is not suitable for drinking water.) In addition to creating treasure from trash, the project is also a model of international cooperation, as the educational and research activities related to the upgrade are carried out by high school and university students from Israel and Turkey. Israel and Turkish scientists have agreed to exchange R&D programs and scientific information.
In 2002, a new ecological building was planned for the Sakhnin Educational Center. Using the age-old adage of practicing what you preach, the design for the building was to include as many energy-saving elements as possible. For example, an internal yard was built to introduce cooler air to the hallways throughout the night. Plants in the yard cast cooling shadows around the main area, so as the outside temperatures rise with the sun, the inside remains cool and inviting. In the mid-afternoon, doors of the rooms facing the main area are opened, to transfer the cooler air from the rooms to the main area. Architects designed the building to work in concert with the natural topography of the area, and the building was constructed using natural building materials, such as local stones, soil, straw, and stabilized lime.
In Sakhnin, one witnesses firsthand what happens when necessity meets inventiveness. Less waste, more water, better crops. Waste not, want not, indeed.
Israel - the homeland of Jesus of Nazareth. Most of His life - birth, ministry, crucifixion - happened right here. Wherever you turn, you find remnants of eras past, bearing silent witness to the beginnings of Christianity. Though of the three Abrahamic religions, the Christian population in Israel is the smallest, Israel is indeed home to thriving pockets of Christians. Scattered throughout Israel, especially in the northern section, the Galilee, are small enclaves of Christians, some even living in their own Christian villages. To lead a Christian life in the land of its birth is truly a unique experience. And, in fact, Israel is the only Middle Eastern country in which the Christian population is actually growing.
The kibbutz of Nes Ammim is one such Christian village. Located in the Western Galilee, near the city of Nahariya, Nes Ammim was created in the wake of the Holocaust. Christians in Europe, horrified by the atrocities of the war, decided to do more than offer sympathy. They wanted to lend a hand in building a homeland for the Jewish people. In the early 1960s, the movement settled in Israel. Like inhabitants of all of the early kibbutzim, the first few years were filled with hard physical labor, as they built the land, literally. They planted avocado orchards, and started a thriving flower industry. Nes Ammim became a popular spot for Christian pilgrims to volunteer, whether for a few weeks, a few months, or even longer. A youth hostel and guesthouse sprung up. But the Intifadas hit the Christian tourism industry hard, and the numbers of guests to Nes Ammim dwindled. The flower industry, too, was hit by rising production costs and withered.
However, the Christian community of Nes Ammim did not simply close up shop. Today, Nes Ammim is synonymous with reflection and peace, offering a neutral arena for dialogue between Jews and Arabs. The volunteers at Nes Ammim facilitate constructive talks between the two sides, and many of them then return to their own homelands as ambassadors for peace. Nes Ammim also runs a guesthouse, which offers modern amenities, as well as guided tours, access to local sites, and a Museum of Jewish-Christian Relations. Come as a guest or stay to volunteer - it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the Christian traveler.
Shfar'am, also known by its Arabic name, Shefa-Amr, is another, predominately Arab, village in the Galilee which is home to a large Christian community. Located northeast of Haifa, Shfar'am is mentioned in the Talmud and was once the seat of Sanhedrin (the Jewish high court). Today, the population consists of Druze, Christian, and Muslim residents. There are many fascinating Christian sites in Shfar'am, including an ancient Crusader fort. Byzantine tombs indicate a strong Christian presence here in the 5th and 6th centuries, and on the entrance to the graves are inscriptions which mention Jesus. Another highlight of Shfar'am is an ancient synagogue, recently renovated. St. Jacob's Church was an active church in the 4th century; now, it is it the site of the Sisters of Nazareth Convent. And the Greek-Catholic community of Shfar'am still prays at St. Peter and St. Paul's Church.
In addition to the Christian holy sites, Shfar'am is famous for its mastic-flavored ice cream. (Mastic is a member of the pistachio family). It is also home to the Bet al-Musica Conservatory. The conservatory offers courses in various instruments, and holds concerts and performances throughout the year. There is also the yearly "Fort Festival," an event which draws people from all over as Arab children compete in a singing contest. The Nakhleh Coffee Company, the leading coffee producer in the Arab world, is based in Shfar'am. More cafes are opening up, drawing tourists and locals alike.
Of course, no mention of Christian communities in the Galilee would be complete without talking about Nazareth. After spending some time in the city proper and visiting the churches, spend a day in "Nazareth Village," - as its website says, "The Nazareth that Jesus Knew." The village is a full-scale, authentic reproduction of life in a 1st century Holy Land village. Visit 1st century homes, synagogues, olive presses, and more, all based on archaeological evidence.
Many of the north's large cities, like Nazareth, Haifa, and Tiberias, have sizable Christian presences. Visit the Scot's Hotel in Tiberias, run by the Church of Scotland. Haifa is home to a Maronite church, a Carmelite church, and St. Mary's Greek Orthodox Parish Church, in addition to the Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery.
While touring the Holy Land, make sure to visit the villages and enclaves of fellow Christians, to see first-hand that Christianity, a strong presence in the land hundreds of years ago, is still a vibrant - and growing - presence today.
He said to them, 'Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.'" Mark 1:38
With a heart full of emotion, Valeries Ramirez, 24, looked out over the Sea of Galilee and the Genasseret Valley on the path Jesus likely took from his hometown in Nazareth to meet the residents living in the seaside villages along the Sea of Galilee.
"To walk where your savior walked - it's a very beautiful experience and something that will change your life," Ramirez said about her visit along a portion of the Gospel Trail, the newly completed 65-kilometer path inaugurated last week by Israel's Ministry of Tourism.
The Gospel Trail is part of the Tourism Ministry's effort to attract more Christians to Israel in general, but more specifically to the Galilee, which does not attract the high number of tourists that Jerusalem does, despite the fact that Jesus spent most of his life in this region and walked the very countryside that Ramirez was walking.
Ramirez was visiting Israel as part of a 70-person tour organized by Pastor Alberto Mottesi, a radio and TV personality and Evangelical minister from Santa Ana, California, who led a group of 70 believers from Latin America and the United States on a 10 day journey to Israel on what he estimates is his 15th visit to the Holy Land.
Alberto Mottesi and Travelujah Founder Elisa Moed, Photo Credit Travelujah
Mottesi's radio program ‘Un Momento Con Alberto Mottesi' (A Moment with Alberto Mottesi) is transmitted approximately 2000 times daily throughout Latin America, USA, and Spain. His new television program Café Libre can be seen on 5580 channels in 57 countries.
"The first time I came to Israel I wanted to experience the Bible exactly as it is," said Pastor Mottesi.
And to do that one must feel the land. Even Jesus and his disciples couldn't rely on cars to take them around the Galilee 2,000 years ago, which is why Mottesi felt it was important to include the new Gospel Trail as part of his group's itinerary.
"When we walk here, Israel opens up in front of our eyes," explained Mottesi.
The Gospel Trail provides an unparalleled opportunity to replicate Jesus' probable footsteps from Nazareth to the villages in which he ministered along the Sea of Galilee.
The 65-kilometer trail begins at the Mount of Precipice in Nazareth where, according to Luke 4:14-28, Jesus was rejected by his townsmen who threatened to throw him over the mountainside. It crosses part of the Galilean landscape providing views of many important holy sites and places where Jesus performed miracles and taught. The trail dips into part of the Jezreel Valley and continues along the Nazareth Range providing views of Mount Tabor where Jesus was transfigured and the village of Cana where he performed his first miracle, turning water into wine.
It passes nearby to the Horns of Hattins, the site of the clash between the Crusader forces and the Muslim armies under Saladin, and past the antiquities of Magdala to Tabgha, and below the Mount of Beatitudes, eventually ending at Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee.
Those who prefer to add a bit more adventure to their Gospel Trail experience can do so by taking on the trail by bicycle or even horseback. Bikes can be rented in Nazareth and Tiberias. Horseback riding can be arranged through Vered HaGalil, about 5 minutes from the Mt. of Beatitudes. Gospel Trail maps can be viewed online and are available through Ministry of Tourism offices.
Israel Minister of Tourism Staz Misechnikov trotting the Gospel Trail Photo courtesy: Elisa Moed, Travelujah
Father Juan Solana, director of the Legionaries of Christ, said the Gospel Trail is "a great initiative."
"You can't follow the footsteps by car - only by walking or biking or horseback riding," he explained.
The Gospel Trail will pass by Father Solana's new Magdala project, Notre Dame du Lac, which is under construction just north of Ginnosar on the Sea of Galilee.
Sunset on the Sea of Galilee; Photo Courtesy: Elisa Moed, Travelujah
The Ministry of Tourism spent 3 million shekels ($750,000) upgrading the trail, much of which is also part of Israel's National Trail. Separate signs, rest areas and other enhancements were added to the Gospel Trail in order to cater to the Christian tourists anticipated to hike the trail.
Archaeological excavations at Tel Kinrot, on the Gospel Trail; Photo Courtesy: Elisa Moed, Travelujah
The trail was planned more than 10 years ago but was shelved due to the second intifada. It was revived a couple of years ago when, coincidentally, another hiking trail - the Jesus Trail - created by two young entrepreneurs, began generating much buzz and interest in the area. The Jesus Trail follows a similar route as the Gospel Trail and serves the same function and market, though the Jesus Trail encourages a bit more diversity and interaction with the local population as its path passes through some outlying Arab villages in the Galilee and passes many more churches.
The Ministry of Tourism route, which was planned and completed with the help of KKL, Israel's forestry organization, focuses more on exploring the indigenous nature of the region and includes many forests. Be forewarned though: The trail itself offers no infrastructure such as bathrooms, hotels or restaurants so travelers must bring supplies with them and carefully plan their journeys themselves or hire a specialist to coordinate the logistics of the trek.
While no one really knows the exact paths Jesus took, according to Yisca Harani, a Christianity expert, consultant to the Ministry of Tourism and instructor at the Avshalom Institute, it is quite likely that he traveled on or near either of these paths.
Jesus spent most of his life and performed many of his miracles in this very region yet the Galilee attracts far fewer tourists than Jerusalem. Although if it was up to Pastor Mottesi, all Christian tourists would some spend time in the Galilee.
"People must come here to walk the same trail Jesus (walked)," he explained. "That's all I have to say to convince them (to come to Israel)."
* * * *
Elisa L. Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah, the leading Christian travel network focused on connecting Christians to Israel. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.