Thursday morning brought clearer skies and (slightly) warmer temperatures, thankfully! It also brought a truly bittersweet feeling. I was exhausted and exhilarated at the same time – ready to get some sleep in my own bed, ready to see family, and get in a routine again, but reluctant to leave this place I have grown to love, and sad to know that we would all be saying good-bye to dear friends who now felt like family. Reluctant also, because who is going to prepare a full-room-sized breakfast buffet for me every morning? 😉 In all seriousness, a trip like this forms a unique bond with fellow travelers, because we all share a common love for the Savior and the land, and we also share memories and experiences, laughs and even tears.
We all packed up our things and everyone brought their suitcases to our room. We had late checkout on our room (because we had a suite with two bathrooms – who knew that the “group leader” is given really sweet suite?? – I’m sure it’s because they want us to continue bringing groups!) Keeping late checkout on our room gave everyone a place to change and a shower (if they wanted one) for those who wanted to freshen up before the long, overnight trip home.
As we hopped on the bus, DaVEED told us he had reached level 1139 on Candy Crush. Some games cross generations AND borders 😉
We stopped first at the Citadel – I’ll mention more about that in a minute. To reach the Citadel, David dropped us off near the Jaffa gate on the western side of the old city. The Jaffa gate is the only gate positioned at a right angle to the city wall. History buffs may remember that in 1917, British general Allenby entered Jerusalem on foot through the Jaffa gate, instead of on horseback, as a show of respect for the city of Jerusalem. Someone has quoted Allenby as saying that he came not as a conqueror, but as a pilgrim.
Last year, I got stuck in the bathroom here at the Citadel, so I steered clear of it this time!
After we left the Citadel, we climbed back on the bus and headed to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. The name – translated Hebrew forms of the words for “place” and “name,” comes from Isaiah 56:5: “Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.” This is to memorialize all of those lost in the Holocaust whose names went unrecorded and whose bodies went without proper burial. I’ve been to several Holocaust museums here in the US, but none so well done, so moving, so carefully planned as the one in Israel.
Our guide, Hazy Freund, was directly impacted by the Holocaust. I’ve never listened to such an articulate, intelligent, and compassionate woman. At the beginning of our tour, she said “the holocaust did not take place during the night. It happened in broad daylight, while the world was watching.”
Photographs aren’t allowed inside the museum, only outside (but you can see photographs if you follow the link to their website above.) So, I tried to jot down a few things that Hazy said and people she quoted. It’s impossible to explain the emotions I felt as we walked through, especially viewing photographs of mothers and their children being separated, medical experiments (tortures) being done by one human being to another, and the humiliation forced upon these people. It was more than heartrending.
Speaking of “Kristallnacht” – the “night of broken glass”, Hazy said “the irony at this stage (of the war) is that you could get out (of Austria, or Germany) – but where to?”
Hazy asked us directly…”What would you take, if you had twenty minutes to decide, if they told you that you could only take 26 pounds for your entire family? And you had no idea where you were going? Or what the temperature would be like?”
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. The opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” Elie Wiesel
Hazy: “I have roots, but I can’t trace them.”
Incidentally, the Israeli police force were there en masse – at least 200-250 of them, on a tour of their own. I confess that I did wonder…”if they’re all in here, then who is out there watching things???” I also wondered to myself if there is some sort of ‘Attractiveness Clause’ in the recruiting and hiring of the police force, since it seemed that they were all ridiculously good-looking men and women!
We had lunch in the cafeteria there, and also, John gave us about 45 minutes to do a little shopping in their gift shop / bookstore. He was so tight on time that no one ever had any real time to do any shopping! So – if you received a gift from someone who came home from this trip, it’s a good bet that it came from Yad Vashem.
Our final stop for the day, and ending the tour, was the Garden Tomb. More about this also, in a moment. Tsvi warned us that this was a known site for “peeckpocket”, so we were all a little more guarded.
We left the Garden Tomb and headed back to freshen up at the hotel. We managed to get all of our luggage loaded and be on the bus by 5:00 – ready to head out of Jerusalem right at rush hour – and on Thursday evening, which is their “Friday” (since their work and school week begins on Sunday and ends Thursday.) I was sad to say goodbye to Jerusalem!
We met Lindy (our travel agent) for a farewell dinner at a Middle Eastern restaurant called Naura in a little town called Abu Ghosh. It is an Arabic community with very friendly ties to the Jewish people – in fact, they fought on the side of the Jews in the 1947-48 conflict, helping to keep the road open between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. They served us fresh pita bread with delicious hummus and falafel along with assorted salads, cucumbers and tomatoes, and then they brought out huge bowls with lamb and chicken kebab skewers. We had fresh lemonade (thumbs up) and baklava (thumbs up) and Turkish coffee (thumbs way down, sorry!) We all enjoyed the meal!
Back on the bus for the rest of the drive to the airport. We said “see you next year!” to Tsvi, unloaded baggage and headed into the airport, where the Israelis have security down to an art. We were allowed to go through as a group, which helped expedite matters some. As group leader, John was pulled aside by a young, beautiful Jewish woman who looked exactly like Anne Hathaway (if I hadn’t been so intimidated by her and the whole process, I’d have taken her picture,) and she began the interrogation process. She asked what we were doing there, and if John personally knew all of the people in the group. She noticed via his passport that he’d been in Singapore, and she wanted to know who he knew there. She asked where all we had stayed, the names of the hotels, and then tried to test him by saying “You said you’d been to Indonesia?” He said no – it was Singapore. She asked how many nights we’d been there, and if he had any family members in the group. She asked if anyone had given us any souvenirs while there. She smiled the whole time, but we know they aren’t joking! She let John get back in line with us but then she pulled Josiah out and questioned him as well!
Then we showed our passports in 15 more checkpoints and answered more questions and went through more security. It took us close to two hours to pass all of the security stations and checkpoints, but we made it to our gate in time to board for the 11:15 takeoff – and 11 hour flight. We flew eleven hours in the dark. I can’t sleep sitting up. TRAVELING is fun. But GETTING THERE and GETTING HOME is not so much fun. But it was worth it!
We landed at 4:15 in the morning in Newark, New Jersey and had to wait for Customs to open. Let’s just say it was a long day before we left Newark around 2:30 and landed in Austin around 6. We were glad to be home! And we’re already thinking and planning and dreaming about next year!
Now, back to the Citadel, or the Tower of David. Despite its name, it was not a residence for King David, but an old fortification from Herod’s day. This location is believed to be where Jesus was brought before Pilate, unjustly accused and tried. It is a little difficult to picture it today, because there are very modern sculptures and walkways and staircases, as well as seating and a platform for laser light shows. But if you follow a walkway around to one side, behind a wall you’ll find an area not so modern. Wide, deep stone steps lead down into an area that was once an enormous swimming pool from Herod’s time. We sat on these steps and listened to Jon describe the horrific day that Jesus endured more than 2000 years ago.
After His arrest in the garden, Jesus was taken to the high priest Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas. Annas then sent him to Caiaphas. (Caiaphas’ house was likely situated where the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu is now located.) He was held here overnight. “Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him,” (Luke 22:63-65).
In the morning, He was questioned by the Sanhedrin, who hated Him because He was a threat to their religious authority and popularity. They asked if He was the Christ. He knew that no answer would satisfy them, and sure enough, they twisted His answers in such a way as to be able to accuse Him of blasphemy. But they had to have Roman authority before they could put Him to death. So, He was taken to the governor’s headquarters, or the praetorium, to be questioned by Pilate. This praetorium is believed to be the Citadel.
Even though the Sanhedrin had found Him guilty of blasphemy, this meant nothing to the Romans, so they had to trump up charges against Him, saying He was “misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king,” (Luke 23:2). Still, Pilate said that he found no fault in Jesus, but the crowd pressed Pilate to give them authority to kill Jesus.
Pilate then sent Jesus to Herod. Herod was curious about Him, and hoped to see some miracle performed by Him. But Jesus would not answer Herod’s questions, even though the chief priests and scribes continued their accusations against Him. “And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate,” (Luke 23:11).
Pilate called the chief priests and rulers together and explained that neither he nor Herod had found any fault in Jesus that was deserving of death. He wanted to punish Jesus and then release Him, but the crowd vehemently insisted that Pilate release Barabbas (an insurrectionist and murderer) instead.
Jon talked about how Jesus was scourged: beaten with a rod that had 3 ropes or leather strips attached, each up to three feet long, with metal hooks and bits of bone attached, so that with each lash, Jesus was given three stripes, laying His flesh open, tearing the skin, tissue, and muscle. Their custom was to give forty lashes save one. It is horrifying to imagine more than 100 stripes across His innocent back.
The soldiers then fashioned a crown of thorns that would pierce the skin of His head, and clothed Him in a purple robe to mock Him. Again, how unimaginable to think of His bleeding back covered by some sort of fabric, and then beaten again by the soldiers hands. My heart aches to think of the brutality He endured.
Pilate continued seeking to release Him, but the Jews manipulated him and continued to insist upon Jesus’ death. “So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them,” (John 19:16-18).
Jon reminded us of how many prophecies Jesus fulfilled: Isaiah 53 – He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…he has borne our grief and carried our sorrows…he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities…with his wounds we are healed…he was oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth…by oppression and judgment he was taken away…they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
“Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth; when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed,” 1 Peter 2:21-24.
Our final destination for the tour was the Garden Tomb. (Some contend that this was where Jesus’ tomb was located, but more and more, scholars are agreeing that it is more likely to be closer to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.) This quiet spot enclosed by high walls in the middle of the busy city is peaceful and serene. Walkways are lined by beautiful greenery and flowers, with scriptures painted on blue and white tiles situated here and there. The empty tomb is at the bottom of a courtyard lined with limestone. The door to the tomb is left open, but the words painted on it are this: “HE IS NOT HERE, FOR HE IS RISEN”.
We found a quiet spot and John talked to us about the empty tomb. He encouraged us to let this place be a launching pad for the rest of our journey here on earth. He said that what happened 2000 years ago should not and cannot be reduced to just facts, but it is a message of hope and forgiveness that speaks to the nature of who God is.
When it was time to care for His torn, broken, and bruised body, I have to wonder how they felt. Surely they reverently and tenderly washed away the blood, not only with spices and ointments, but with their tears. Surely they wept as they saw how His precious body had been treated. They must have ached when they saw the holes in His hands and His feet. Did they wash His hair, comb it, and ease His head back down onto its stone pillow? As they closed His eyelids, did they long to see the light in His eyes again? As they cleaned His broken feet, did they remember just days earlier how He had washed His disciples’ feet? “…He loved them to the end,” (John 13:1).
We need to take care of His body today, the church, bought with His precious blood. How will we protect the body? What will we do to defend it, honor it, and uphold it?
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early on the first day of the week. When she saw that the stone had been rolled away, she went to Peter and John in despair. They ran to the tomb and found it empty, and not understanding, they returned home. But Mary remained there, weeping. Angels appeared to her, and then Jesus, though she did not recognize Him at first. Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She must have fallen at His feet, clinging to Him. But she then went and told the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” (John 20:18).
John asked, have we arrived at the same conclusion? Have we seen the Lord? We have seen overwhelming evidence of Him. And now we return home to tell others what we have seen.
I flipped open my notebook this morning and turned to the very last page I had written on last week. The last thing I wrote was this: “1 Cor. 15:55 – o death, where is your victory?”
And that is how we ended our trip – with the faith and assurance that death did not win. Every step we took and every site we saw points us to the fact that the Bible is right and true. He is alive!