Israel: spiritual, safe and small

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A visit to Israel. Is that an item on your travel to-do list? In today’s guest post, Gary Pierce is back (remember when he told us about seeing the Caribbean in your own sailboat?). This time, Gary’s sharing his experiences from a 10-day luxury bus tour of Israel. What did he discover? Read on:

View of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

Does your  boomer bucket list, include a visit to Israel? If so, I encourage you to go. In March of 2011, my wife and I traveled on a 10-day tour of Israel sponsored by our church, Calvary Chapel in Surprise, Arizona. Starting in Tel Aviv, our forty-two person luxury bus tour spent three nights on the Sea of Galilee, finishing up with four nights in Jerusalem with Sar-El Tours. It’s a journey that we will talk about forever.

A visit to Israel is safe.

U.S. travelers seem to have misconceptions about the safety of such a trip and imagine security checkpoints with long waiting lines and young soldiers with Uzis on every corner. Not true. Throughout our visit, we never felt unsafe at any time. The security was there but very unobtrusive. In addition, when we departed from the Tel Aviv airport, which has to have the tightest security in the world, we noted that we were not asked to remove our shoes. Go figure

A visit to Israel introduces you to a small country.

The first tour day, driving from Tel Aviv to Caesarea, our guide pointed to a row of mountains to the east commenting that the distance was only 9 miles. Prior to the Six-Day war in 1967, the lands beyond the mountains were what we now know as the West Bank. From a military standpoint, a 9-mile distance from border to sea is indefensible. More statistics:

  • 134 air miles separate Jerusalem from Damascus, Syria—an open enemy of Israel.
  • It is 263 miles from the northernmost point of Israel to Elat, Israel’s port on the Gulf of Aqaba, which leads to the Red Sea. You can easily drive from the top to the bottom of Israel in one day on an excellent road system.
  • The Sea of Galilee, also known as the sea of Tiberius, is 6 miles wide by 15 miles long—what we call a good-sized lake in the United States.

A visit to Israel is spiritual.

In Tel Aviv, one cannot help but notice the vast number of construction cranes that are operating. It appears that the worldwide recession has not affected Israel’s economy, which had an unemployment rate of 5.6% in 2011. Source: the CIA.

But, Israel also happens to be sacred to the world’s three greatest religions:  Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

By the end of our first tour day, which ended at Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee, we had visited the Roman ruins of Caesarea; the plains of Megiddo, the site according to Bible prophecy where the battle of Armageddon will take place; Nazareth, where Christ grew up; and Cana, where Christ turned water into wine.

Gary Pierce experiencing a mud facial from the Dead Sea

It is only 15 miles from Nazareth to Tiberius; however, there is an amazing drop in elevation. Nazareth is 1200 feet above sea level; the Sea of Galilee is 700 feet below sea level.

According to Scripture, and biblical scholars, Jesus spent most, 60 to 70%, of his three-year ministry in and around the town of Capernaum on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee, where he walked on water and calmed the waves.

From Capernaum, you can easily see the purported sites of the Sermon on the Mount, the feeding of the 5000 with two fish and five barley loaves, and the place where the herd of pigs rushed down a steep bank and drowned in the Sea of Galilee.

Among the many sights and activities we enjoyed on the tour was: being baptized in the Jordan River; exploring Masada, the desert palace/fortress of Herod the Great where a Roman siege lasting many months ended with the mass suicide of the inhabitants of Masada; floating in the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth at 1388 feet below sea level; and visiting Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum.

In Jerusalem, we explored the Mount of Olives and walked down to the Garden of Gethsemane, only 200 yards from the wall of the old city. Again, we realized the compact size of the historic sites in Jerusalem.

The Wailing Wall

At the Wailing Wall or Western Wall, the last remnants of the Temple built by Herod the Great, we watched devout Jews pray and place their prayers in the fissures of the huge rocks, some weighing up to an astounding 500 tons. No, you do not have to be an Orthodox Jew to go to the Wailing Wall and place your own prayer among the stones. My wife and I both did so. There are separate walls for men and women. This was one area where we did see young, armed soldiers.

Of course, with modern technology, you can use Twitter to post your prayers—I am not making this up.

So baby boomers, whatever your motivation might be, I would encourage you  to visit Israel. Discover a country that is spiritual, safe and small.


Gary Pierce is the webmaster of  Frugal Retirement Living, a site dedicated to helping baby boomers learn how to spend less and still enjoy retirement. All photos courtesy Gary Pierce.

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