Archive for the ‘Israel entries’ Category

What I did not expect

I’ve come to the end of my entries about Israel. It feels bittersweet. I’m glad that I’ve recorded our experiences and yet it feels that I have yet to completely process our journey.

To go to a place that has been the destination for pilgrims for centuries, a country that has been the source of tremendous conflict in the Middle East, and a place that is so unlike anything I have ever experienced is an overwhelming experience.

I did not expect to be moved emotionally and spiritually and yet I was touched beyond words visiting Jerusalem and Capernaum.

I did not expect to see such beauty. The Weizmann Institute campus was a wonderful paradise of trees, plants, flowers, etc. The northern parts of Israel had such lushness that was completely unexpected. But yet, the desert, with its barrenness had a strange type of stark power and beauty that I did not expect to like.

I did not expect to feel completely safe. And yet, I did. Security was everywhere.

The Israel I saw and experienced is not the Israel that you see everynight on your television on the evening news. I hope that you will feel that. Everywhere I went, people often asked me what I thought of their country. They always said “it’s different than what you hear on the news in the U.S.” There is a hunger and a desire to show the world that their lives are ordinary in a way that is never portrayed by the media.

I hope the things I have felt and experienced will have become a permanent part of me.

I did not expect Israel to be so amazing. But it was–and I am still in awe.


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Our final exploration of Israel revealed the desert of Israel that we had always imagined to constitute the whole of Israel. It’s funny that most of our journeys in Israel would take us to such green and fruitful places. The phrase “a land flowing with milk and honey” seems very appropriate to describe Israel. But finally, we experienced the desert in a small way. And it was a bit surprising. I expected intense heat. But it was rather cold. When we visited Tel Beer-sheva and Massada, it felt as if we would be blown away by the wind pushing relentlessly across the mountains.   

Our last Sunday in Israel was a bit of a whirlwind day. We woke up fairly early, ate breakfast at the hostel (not as good as the breakfast at the other hostel), and then left for Tel Beer-sheva.


Tel Beer-sheva is a National park that was a real treat to see. Archealogists had uncovered a 3000-year old planned city built around the time of King David. It is one of the oldest planned cities ever discovered. The reason they can tell that it is planned is that the city was built into cocentric circles. We walked around the circles, looking at the ruins in such an up-close and personal way. Usually, when you see ruins, you are peering over a fence or squinting in the distance, trying to imagine what it really looked like. The ruins have been partially rebuilt so you get a sense of what things looked like.  The best part of city was going into the water cistern. It was amazing to carefully walk down all the steps, stand in the cistern and then ascend again. We all had to wear hard hats. I know I’m not really describing this well, but it was a cool experience.

The Desert

We had to drive through a portion of the Negrev Desert or Wilderness to come to Massada. The scenery was amazing. Part of it was covered with grass. We saw Bedouin herding their sheep and camels roaming around. That was an fun! And then, we left the grassy areas which reminded me the drive between Thermopolis and Cody. We began to see the stark land–barren of trees, flowers, bushes, grasses, etc. The descent was a bit steep as we were driving up the east coast of the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth–some 1200 feet below sea level. Mountains border the Dead Sea. The mountains really are dramatic–they appear to support very little animal or plant life–and they rise above the sea. Everything seems to shout out how inhospitable and uninhabitable the area is.


Massada is a mountain that was often a refuge for zealots. Herod the Great had another grand building scheme and ordered a dramatic palace to be built on the side of the mountain with places for soldiers. He never really used it though. The place is famous because of a group of Jews that escaped to Massada during the Jewish revolt (shaky on the dates here–around 70 a.d.) and nearly survived a seige by Roman soldiers. When it became apparent that the Romans would succeed in the seige, the captain of the group persuaded the rest of the soldiers to commit suicide rather than succumb to the Romans. This they did, leaving only a few survivors to tell the tale. Massada is an important place for modern Israel. Often, groups of newly trained Israeli soldiers will have their “swearing-in” ceremony here, promising that Massada will not fall again.

We purchased tickets to the cable car–thereby missing the hour-long hike up the trail. The tickets were outrageously expensive, but given my fear of narrow stairs and narrow mountain paths, plus four small children, the expense was worthwhile.

I’m not going to go into detail about the ruins because it was rather windy and we kept getting sand in our eyes. We were also on a tight time schedule, so I wasn’t able to see everything. The bathhouse was fascinating. And Brent was able to see the seige ramp and Herod’s palace. If you want to read about Massada, you can easily do a google search and find all the interesting details.

The Dead Sea

I’ve heard a lot about the Dead Sea, but after spending time in Israel, I learned a lot more about its healthful properties. The Dead Sea has anywhere from 27-32 % salinity. The Mediterranean Sea has about 3 % salinity. Only a few types of bacteria are actually able to survive in the sea, otherwise no fish or plant life exist in the sea.

Both Israel and Jordan (Israel’s neighbor on the West) mine the sea heavily for minerals and salt. Both countries have exploited it and so the sea is becoming smaller. Israel has built several health resorts and people will all types of reumatic conditions, skin diseases, and arthritis come to spend time at the Dead Sea. Because the Dead Sea has such a low elevation, it is very difficult to burn. This is great for people who have serious skin conditions but are sensitive to the sun. (For, example, I am now very sensitive to the sun because of my lupus. But I had no problems at the Dead Sea. It felt wonderful.)

We all wanted to float in the sea, but it started to rain just as we were leaving Massada so I wondered if we would manage it. But suddenly, the skies cleared and we were able to go to Ein Gedi Beach (Ein Gedi is a famous oasis. David hid out here when Saul was trying to kill him.)

We changed into our clothes and walked down to the beach. I got into the water first and discovered that it really is true–you do float in the Dead Sea without any effort. The water felt wonderful. I can easily see how theraputic it would be to go to the sea, put some mud on your face, and then float in the sea. When I got out, my skin felt oily from the thick salt. The boys didn’t really swim because the water stings if you have any cuts on your skin. Also, the bottom is so rocky that it really hurts your feet. I cut my feet up pretty badly. The boys looked for pieces of salt that were on the rocks and collected some rocks to take home. Brent had his turn in the water and enjoyed it just as much as I did.

If I ever had a chance to go back to Israel, I would take more time in the desert as there was so much that we missed. It was an intense place of a type of desolate wildness and loneliness that reminded me a bit of Wyoming.

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Our final trip in Israel began with a short drive to Beersheva. Our plan for the weekend was: go to church on Shabbat (i.e. Saturday), drive to Beersheva after church, stay the night in the hostel there, drive to Massada and the Dead Sea the next day.

Beersheva is the fourth largest city in Israel. Much of its size is due to the large number of Russian immigrants that have settled there. (Hmm. . . I think my grammar is deterioriating.) However, Beersheva still remains an important city for the Bedouin. They still have a weekly animal market on Thursday that is supposed to have a lot of cultural interest. But we missed the market.

 Frankly, I didn’t find Beersheva particularly charming. The city center looked run-down and neglected. And the never-ending rise of apartment buildings isn’t interesting.

 But, we did discover a few interesting things.

1. The COOLEST playground I have ever seen:

This playground consisted of 20 tube slides with tubes and tunnels on several different levels. It was very safe and very fun. Our children went wild when they saw the playground while we searched for our elusive hostel.  We finally stopped and let the kids out to run, slide and explore to their hearts’ content. And to our delight discovered the elusive hostel hiding very close to the playground.

2. In between the hostel and playground is a World War I cemetary with Australian and British graves. I knew very little about this war until I read several books (yes, all fiction!) that were set in the period–particularly in Middle East.

Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series has 4 or 5 books set during WWI in Egypt.

Anne Perry has a series that is fantastic set in WWI in England and in Brussels. The second book in the series is called Shoulder the Sky.

Dorothy Sayers’ sleuth, Lord Peter Whimsey, served in WWI and alludes to his experiences in some of his mysteries.

Anyhow, I walked through the cemetary at twilight. I was touched by the fresh wreath laid in memory of the fallen men. Some of the graves were for young men–some barely 18. Even though nearly a century has past, the thought of what those young men could have done in their futures is heartbreaking. I thought about the poetry I have read by brilliant young men who died in trenches in WWI. And suddenly, this war that I have only read about in fiction became real as I walked along the quiet rows of graves.

The cemetary was an unexpected find, but I’m grateful I was able to visit it.

3. Beer-sheva is the site where Abraham dug a well and then made a covenant with Abimelech about its use. The citation can be found in Genesis, but I’m too lazy to look it up. But more about my experience with the past in the next post.

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This has been such a funny week weather-wise in Sweden. On Monday, the weather was completely gorgeous–like Spring. But it has gone steadily downhill since then and we have returned to grey skies and chilly weather. Which makes me long for the beautiful day we had at Caesarea.

 Caesarea lies on the west coast of Israel on the Mediterranean Sea north of Tel Aviv and south of Haifa. It was conceived and built by Herod the Great (see my previous post on this strange and dynamic ruler) as a tribute to Ceasar and also as a place for Roman business. If you recall, Israel or Judea as it was called then, was a Roman Province. Herod ruled at the mercy of the Rome. Caesarea made a lot of sense as it didn’t offend the sensibilities of the religious Jews, but also strengthened and established postive ties with Rome.

Herod meant Caesarea to be a grand place where any Roman could feel comfortable. To that end, he built an ampitheatre with seating for 5000 people, a hippodrome, a magnificent seaside palace, a Roman temple, an amazing aquaduct,  and perhaps the most spectacular feat of all, a breakwater harbor that was one of the largest in the area.

Josephus described Caesarea in lavish terms. Scholars used to think that his claims were over-exaggerated. But when archealogical work commenced on the area, it was discovered that his descriptions were accurate.

Caesarea is mentioned in the New Testament as the place where Peter taught the Roman centurion after receiving the remarkable vision to take the gospel to the gentiles. Paul defended himself to Herod Agrippa here and almost convinced Herod Agrippa of the truth of the gospel.

I’ll have to be honest, I wasn’t drawn to Caesarea because of its bibilical ties, but rather because of its Roman roots. As a child, I was fascinated with Greek and Roman mythology. I’ve studied plays, read the literature of the period, and even studied Greek. So to come face to face with ruins from one of my historical interests, was a treat.

You can read a more official website about it here:


First, we visited the ampitheatre–which has been restored and now seats 4000. Concerts are held here. I was impressed with the marvelous acoustics. I could easily imagine a play being shown and the sound reaching all the attendees. It was here that I recalled my first book of Greek plays that I borrowed from my grandfather. I could easily see how the plays would have been performed.

We walked around the “ruin garden” outside of the ampitheatre which showed how the ruins had been used by generations after in various ways. We then walked to the ruins of Herod’s palace.

From the palace you can look over the ruined hippodrome and see the spectator stands. This lies right on the seashore. Our boys discovered that the beach was nearly completely covered in seashells. We had a marvellous time collected specimens.

Then we ran to a theatre where they showed us a video of the history of the city. We enjoyed a fantastic lunch, despite our terrible server.

It was such a lovely day and ended on a high note with our visit to see the remains of the aquaduct on the seashore. The evening was so incredibly lovely and the water was so tantalizing that we ended up wading in it. The kids finally stripped down to their underwear and played in the waves. Who knows when we’ll have a chance like that again? Some people were walking by and asked us if we didn’t think it was too cold to wade. But we replied that is was as warm as a typical Swedish summer. To this they laughed and enjoyed the antics of the boys.

A mediterranean sunset is one of the loveliest sights I have seen.

I wish I could figure out an efficient method of posting pictures. Anyhow, I’ll keep trying.

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Just a short post about the hospitality we experienced at the Tel Aviv Branch. We were welcomed with open arms and kindness. Brooke was immediately adored. The boys felt right at home in primary. I was able to teach Relief Society one Sunday. And the last Sunday we attended church, we spoke in Sacrament Meeting. Walter gave his first talk, which he wrote by himself. It included two songs which he sang with Trent.

The branch deals with many languages. They sing the hymns in Russian, Spanish and English. While the words are different, the melody and meaning are the same–so we still felt united. During sacrament meeting, you hear the quiet buzz of translators translating so that all will hear and understand.

Every third Shabbat they have a luncheon together. This was a great time to meet and visit with the members of the branch. I was so impressed with the strong spirit there and the kindness of the members.

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After living in Israel and visiting tourist sites, I realized that I needed to learn more about Herod the King. He was the ruler of Judea at the time when Christ was born. Some of the major archealogical sites in Israel were built by this powerful ruler: Ceasarea, Massada, and the Temple.

I got my information from the Bible Dictionary which is found in the LDS standard works. I also looked up Herod on Wikipedia.

The Herodian family were Idumeans by birth, but had converted to the Jewish faith. Herod’s object was to found, under Rome’s protection, a “semi-independent kingdom”.

Herod the Great married Mariamme–a Macabean princess and allied himself with their family. The macabees were leaders of the patriotic party of the Jews for several centureies.

His reign was marred by several acts of cruelty:

1. gave the order for the massacre of the infants at Bethlehem

2. in a fit of jealousy, ordered his beloved wife murdered

3. had Mariamne’s sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, murdered

5. put Antipater, a son, to death

Herod suffered from a very painful and lingering illness before his death.  According to Wikipedia, he had as many as 10 wives and 14 children.

I think he had a flair for the dramatic-especially in his building schemes. His palace in Massada is literally cut into the mountain face and commands an impressive view. His palace in Ceasarea was dramatically placed right on the seashore and had a large swimming pool. (Where he would sometimes drown inconvenient guests or visitors of state.) He built an impressive harbor in Ceasarea, making it one of the largest ports on the mediterrean sea. And the temple in Jerusalem was incredibly large and elaborate.

Herod’s kingdom was divided into three parts among three of his sons. None of his sons proved to be quite the ruler he was. 

1. Archelaus ruled Judea, Idumaea and Samaria. He was deposed after 9 years of rule by Agustus.

2. Antipas ruled Galilee and Peraea. It was he who built his capital at Tiberias. He is frequently mentioned in the New Testament. Sometimes he is called Herod the Tetarch.

3. Philip ruled the northeast districts of Palestine. He made Ceasarea Philippi his capital. He died about 33 A.D.

Coming into contact with the ruins of Herod the Great’s dreams, you can sense what a massive ego he had–and what a sense of vision he had. He really did want to create greatness. But the world will always remember the insanity beside his grand schemes.

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I met the nicest woman at the playground one day. She was tending her grandson and speaking to him in English. We began visiting and found out that her daughter is the secretary that arranged a lot of the living aspects for us to come to Israel. Anyhow, I learned that this woman, Judith, was born in Romania after World War II. Her family immigrated to Israel in 1948. Apparently, many of her relatives had been killed in the holocaust.

I asked her what her parents thought of Israel. And she said that it was just a desert when they came. They worked so hard and were so poor. She said they were given vouchers to get one egg per child, per week. As we stood in the lush environment of the institute, I was so amazed at all that has been accomplished in Israel. They have amazing agriculture and have worked so hard to build a country while fighting wars, struggling with the world community, and dealing with massive influxes of immigrants. They’ve made mistakes as all countries do, but when you look at what they have built, I can’t help but admire them.

I admire the pioneering spirit of the Israelis. I understand their fierce sense of nationlist pride.

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