A Travellerspoint blog

Israel Day 9

Last Day!!

Today was our last full day in Israel, and the nostalgia is already setting in. Something really special happened here over these last several days, and I'm not sure anything else in my life will ever be quite like it. I've definitely learned more than I expected, and I will never be the same. I don't want to be the same.

The plan for this morning was to head straight to Jaffa, a beautiful historic port city, but on our way to Jaffa we stopped by a tourist shop in East Jerusalem. Shai is incredibly well connected, and he always seems to know everyone in the area. People in our group had been asking about the best places to go shopping, so Shai called up some of his contacts in East Jerusalem and and one business agreed to open up their shop for us especially. Apparently, today several Palestinian Christians celebrate the ascension and didn’t go to work, so it meant a lot that these people accommodated us this way (although I’m sure they made quite a bit of money off of us).

I wasn’t planning on buying anything, but earlier Shai told us about some Israel tourist treasures that he thinks are actually worth buying, which says a lot considering that he has lived here his whole life. One of these products is an ancient coin from the Byzantine era. Apparently, so many of these coins were discovered,that many of them were put onto the public market. Most vendors sell forgeries, but Shai found us a certified, licensed store to sell us good products, so I splurged and got one. It’s arranged in a beautiful silver necklace. It’s so cool to own a piece of history in Jerusalem!

After shopping we continued into Jaffa, the southern and oldest part of Tel Aviv. Apparently, the city is famous for its association with the biblical stories of Jonah, Solomon and Saint Peter as well as the mythological story of Andromeda and Perseus. We visited St. Peter's cathedral and moved onto other historic parts around the area. One of the things I found most interesting was a public art piece featuring an orange tree suspended by cables in midair. According to Shai, this artwork is supposed to reflect the Oslo Accords, an agreement between Palestine and Israel to maintain relationships. No substantial agreement or progress was really made there, other than to keep talking, so hence the tree is suspended above the ground. I really liked the symbolism there.

My favorite site we visited today was the Independence Hall in Israel. The building was actually closed for renovations, but Shai worked his special tour guide magic and got someone to open it up for us and show us around. The building itself is nothing special. Inside there is a large picture of an iconic Jewish man from the late 1800s (who's name I can't seem to remember), and several chairs are assembled around a podium in the front. Apparently, this is where Israel formally declared itself independent and established an official Jewish state. The man who worked there seemed to swell with pride when he told us about the proceedings that occured in the room. In 1948 they managed to squeeze 100 plus people into a room designed for about 40, and the declaration of independence was read aloud and signed. Our site guide played a tape of the event aloud for us, and we all stood up when the national anthem was played. As Shai reminded us, it's important to remember the complicated nuances of this historic event. While thousands of holocaust survivors and severely abused Jews had a state to return to and defend, thousands of Palestinians also lost their homes. There are multiple sides to every story, but nevertheless it is amazing to see how the modern state of Israel came about.

We ended our trip with a Passages dinner, similar to the one we started our trip with. It was amazing to see how much our group has changed and grown closer over these past 9 days or so. Passages leaders talked about some post-trip work we need to complete, and then we thanked all of the people who were a part of our group. Our student leader collected some money from all of us to get nice gifts for Shai, Omar our bus driver, and Amit our security guard. For Shai we got a giant pack of mentos (which he occasionally offered us when we went a while without eating) and two necklaces for his daughters that signify life. We got Amit, who is one of the sweetest guys I have ever met we got a gift card for Choco shoes because he always talked about wanting some. My favorite gift was the OMG shirt we got for Omar, because “oh my gosh” was one of the few phrases he could say in English. It became a running joke between us to say, “Omar gosh!” and It was really sweet to see how much he loved his gift.

Finally, we headed back to the hotel and prepared to fly out the following morning. I can’t say enough how grateful I am to have had this experience. I am especially indebted to my parents and grandparents (Hi everyone! Love you!) for helping make this dream come true. I am going to keep traveling, exploring, and learning new things in the future. This coming semester I will be studying and traveling in Spain, so if you’re interested stay tuned for more blogs! I won’t able to post as often, but I’m going to share my experiences as often as I can. Thanks again to everyone who has followed my adventures this time.

And, as they say in Israel,

לילה טוב تصبح على خير good night!!

Posted by emschroen 15:27 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Israel Day 8

39 °F

This morning we woke up a little earlier than planned to do another thing that wasn’t originally on our agenda: visiting the Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock. Our tour guide is really excellent, and advocated to Passages on our behalf to be able to go. I’m a strong believer that it’s important to see all different traditions, because, as Shai says, a lack of cultural communication and exchange can lead to fear and hatred. Only Muslims are allowed inside the temple itself, but we were able to walk on the grounds and take pictures of the area. Fully armed Israeli soldiers patrolled the area and followed observant Jews around to maintain the status quo and prevent religious desecration of the place. It’s odd how normal AK-47s feel now. Heavily armed military presence is just a part of life here.

The next thing we visited was the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem. This is the nation’s holocaust memorial. I don’t think that words are enough to describe this place. Nothing I can say or write will ever be enough. Walking through names, faces, shoes, and scale models was like stepping into one of the most vile periods of human history. I felt a foreign mixture of horror, sadness, fear, and a quiet shame for the humanity running through my blood. I wonder how the Jews in Jerusalem, many of whom honor God very sincerely, reconcile their devotion with this trail of blood.

Immediately after the guided tour of the museum Shai took us to a community memorial behind the site that listed the names of every community subjugated under and eliminated by the Nazis. The memorial is massive, and the giant building blocks are designed to make you feel small. Shai stood in front of us and very candidly told us about his experience of the Holocaust. His grandmother survived the tragedy, and she was marked with a tattoo of her assigned number in a death camp. Shai tattooed her number on his arm to keep her memory, as well as the memory of the holocaust in general, alive.

We had a few minutes of time on the bus to process this mind altering, traumatic experience before needing to push it aside for our trip to the Israeli Supreme Court. As someone studying international relations, it was really fascinating to learn more about how the judicial system works in Israel. We learned that Israel doesn’t have a constitution or trial system, but rather a panel of rotating judges and a series of established laws. Coming from the states, it’s difficult for me to imagine what this looks like. I hope to return here someday to study and observe a trial in action.

We ended our day with two speaking events and a worship night to commemorate our time in Israel. I hate saying that time “flies by” because it’s said much too often and makes the time feel less meaningful, but our first day feels like years ago and minutes ago all at the same time. It was kind of surreal to hear the speakers and know that they were some of the last we would hear from.

The first speaker group was a pañal of Israeli soldiers from the IDF (Israeli defense force). On the panel was a 26 year old fighter pilot, an infantry soldier, and a bad-ass lady doing a specific kind of special force in the combat sector. Apparently she is the first female to serve in her particular unit, which is really cool and inspiring. Because most Israelis are conscripted into the military at age 18, most soldiers are our age. It’s odd to think about what my life would be like if I had grown up here and been called to serve in the army. Honestly, I think I would have risen to the occasion.

Tomorrow is our last full day of adventuring in Israel. I’m going to really miss this place. I want to make a commitment to keep traveling with purpose and exploring new things, and I think this was an amazing way to get started. I’m so honored to have been chosen for this group.

More sappiness tomorrow I’m sure!


Posted by emschroen 11:38 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Israel Day 7

overcast 40 °F

Today we visited some of the most prominent Christian sites in the Old City. After a short drive, we started our journey on top of the Mount of Olives. From where we were standing we could see a picturesque image of Jerusalem featuring the dome of the rock in the center. Part of the religious conflict we learned is centered around this place. The Jews believe the temple must stand during the end of days, and the muslims believe the dome of the rock is crucial to bring about the end of days. It's an unfortunate coincidence that these two sites exist on the same spot of land. I can't imagine the real estate value of that area.

From the top we walked down the Palm Sunday road from Bethpage to the Garden of Gethsemane. The garden is really lovely. The Catholic Church is in charge of the site, and they maintain it really well and create a beautiful aura of reflection. We had a few minutes to walk around the grounds and imagine Jesus' final days there.

We continued on foot to the Lion's Gate (or St. Stephens Gate), and to the Monastery of St. Anne seated by the Pools of Bethesda. Ruins of the ancient pools where Jesus told the paralyzed man to pick up his mat and walk. Now, the area is coated in patches of moss, and cats wander across the stones, but it’s still possible to imagine where the I’ll and lame laid waiting to be healed. Right by the ancient baths is a beautiful church that reportedly has some of the best accoustics in the world. The people who maintain this area encourage groups to come sing, so we all lined up in front of the alter and sang a few iconic Wheaton songs. It was beautiful.

After this we finally got to hunt for lunch in the Muslim quarter. I think this has been my favorite meal of the whole trip. Shai advised up that the best hummus in Israel, if not the world, is located here. A small group of friends and I fought through narrow, crowded streets asking about the name of the shop along the way. When we finally found it, we discovered that it is literally a hole-in-the-wall establishment. The entire restaurant only had a total of 5 tables crowded into a tiny room that also included the kitchen. However, the food was SO GOOD. Coincidently, someone who opened a hummus restaurant in the UK was at the location as well, and helped us communicate with the owners and find a table. I really didn’t know that hummus could be so good.

We then travelled to the church of the holy seplacre, what many consider to be the location of the death and burial of Jesus. It’s owned and operated by six different Christian denominations, which is impressive considering the dramatic differences between them. Each denominations controls different parts of the church at different times, and religious processions are timed down to the minute. The building itself is stunning. It’s filled with mosaic depictions of Jesus and his life, and the two main attractions are the empty tomb and the rock that split down the middle when Jesus died. Men and women from all different Christian groups stood in 3 hour lines to glimpse these sights and touch places where Jesus may have been.

Something that especially shocked me was the slab of rock in the middle of the main entrance, covered by a slap of marble, that is where Jesus is thought to have been laid after being taken off of the cross. A group of old Franciscan women were gathered around it pouring oils and rubbing them into the rock. Some of them pulled out long white linens and soaked up the oil and tucked the cloths back into their bags. According to Shai, some of these women are preparing linens for their own burials.

Our last stop was at a Protestant site centered around another burial tomb that could have also housed Jesus after his death. We spent time there learning, praying, and later took communion as a group.

Although we were exhausted from a full day of information and exploration, we had two speakers in the evening that offered a unique Palestinian perspective. The journalist Khaled Abu Toameh and Mr. Rami Nazzal described indoctrination in Palestine, discrimination, terrorism, and the danger of cultural isolationism.

This was an especially busy day. Things have been coming together so quickly and the days have been so packed with events it has been difficult to wrap my head around everything. Tomorrow will be another busy day!

Until tomorrow,


Posted by emschroen 07:02 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Israel Day 6


sunny 60 °F

Today was our first full day in Jerusalem! As expected, this city is very different from Tel Aviv, known as the secular hub of Israel. After breakfast we went to the city of David, king David’s palace and city and the place of Jerusalem’s historic nucleus. Some of these locations were excavated only 10 years ago and have recently been opened to the public. We started our day outside of Hezekiah’s palace to see the ancient ruins and learn about the old city. Perhaps it’s childish of me, but the thing I enjoyed most was the ancient toilet. I love the humanizing element it brings to these people, also it’s kind of funny to imagine ancient soldiers pooping. The ancient excrement they found helped determine the diet of the ancient Jews and other cultural cues.

After walking all around this area we got to the entrance of Hezekiah’s tunnel, an ancient water system used to provide fresh water to the city even under times of siege. We had the opportunity to walk through it, but I respectfully passed. As delightful as walking through waist high water in a shoulder width tunnel underground sounds, I decided to walk the dry tunnel nearby. I was a little claustrophobic, but I’m proud that I made it through.

The temple is massive and impossible looking. The stones, the smallest of which is 2 tons, are fitted together so closely that the spaces between them are minuscule even after all these years. Behind us were small cave like areas In the wall where merchants sold sacrificial animals to pilgrims. The stones where the ancient Jews, and almost certainly Jesus, stood are over twenty feet under where the modern city sits today. We had a few moments to sit on the southern steps of the temple and imagine the ancient psalms in action.

Just before lunch we went to one of the most iconic spots in Israel: the western wall. The entrance was marked by a beautiful stone sign and a guarded section with metal detectors. According to an informational sign, Jewish leaders have officially declared that metal detectors don’t violate Shabbat (the Jewish day of rest that begins Friday evening and doesn’t allow the use of electricity). Once we were inside we got to see the wall itself. The crevices between the rocks are stuffed with little written prayers, and Jews of all denominations could be seen praying. Some wore simple skull caps, others wore long black coats and tall fur hats. Although it’s not my tradition, I have a lot of respect for the Jewish tradition and their commitment to God.

Lunch in the Jewish quarter was next. I elbowed through a bunch of people to get something I don’t remember the name of. There was fried chicken, French fries, and a bunch of other stuff wrapped up and in pita bread. It was soooo good. Immediately afterward we walked up to Zion’s gate, a beautiful gate at the edge of the Jewish quarter that is riddled with bullet holes. It’s sobering to see the remnants of conflict all around the city.

We had a brief time to rest back at the hotel before the last scheduled part of our day: Shabbat dinner with an observant Jewish family in the West Bank. Although learning about ancient Jewish history is interesting, I'm personally fascinated with the current political climate and social life. The family that hosted us consisted of two grandparents, a mother and a father, and four children. The oldest child is in college and met us at the end of the road where the bus dropped us off. They welcomed us into their home, which is small but has a beautiful view of different parts of the city. Due to shabbat rules, the family had to cook the entire meal earlier in the day and keep it warm under towels and a hot plate. There is a distinct progression of rituals in shabbat that include songs, tearing bread and dipping it into salt, ritual hand washing, and blessing each of the children. The food was really good as well. Although I was still full from lunch, I tried to taste each dish. I'll try to include a picture of the shabbat rules we witnessed there. It was an experience I'll never forget.

Shabbat shalom!


Posted by emschroen 07:18 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Israel Day 5

Spending the day on the Gaza strip and traveling to Jerusalem

sunny 45 °F

I wish there was a word for everything I felt and experienced today. It was definitely the heaviest day of the trip, and there were several stretches of walking around and sitting on the bus when all of us were completely silent and pensive. Somehow the silence never felt awkward. I'm sure it was partially due to the exhaustion that comes from five days of nonstop travel, but I also think we were all trying to come to terms with a new reality. Something frightening.

We started our day by traveling South to Asaf Siboni, an outlook on the border of Gaza. Our guide warned us about the violent nature of where we were going, but also told us about the safety measures and most up to date information on the conflict that made the border relatively safer. Looking tinto Gaza was surreal. Just beyond the stretch of “no man's land” littered with walls, fences and sniper tours was Hamas, a governing terrorist organization that is responsible for launching bombs and other assaults across the border. The civilians over there suffer under terrible indoctrination and a constant threat of persecution and retaliation from Israel. It was shocking and humbling to stand between these two places.

After this we drove a few minutes to an Israeli Moshav right on the border. A Moshav is a closed agricultural community, and this one is within eyesight of Hamas. Over the years two massive concrete walls have been constructed along the border, and along with the iron dome (an anti ballistic system that shoots incoming rockets out of the air,) the people are considerably safer than they used to be. However, as our tour guide attests, this safety is really only an illusion. When a bomb or mortar is spotted the people in this town have about 15 seconds or less to find shelter. Sometimes only five seconds. Children and adults alike have died in these streets, and now bus stops are made of fortified concrete and every house has a mandatory shelter. Hamas also sends balloons with explosives attached to them across the border, and when children find them they die in the explosion. According to the woman who lived there and guided us around, the people live in a constant state of trauma and recovery.

Miraculously, despite all the odds, this community is flourishing. They have a private and government sponsored program called resilience that provides the community with a vast array of mental health services. And, although Moshavs aren’t economically socialist, they have a tight knit community and they all take responsibility for raising and caring for their children. There is a waiting list to buy land and become a part of the town.

Before going to our new hotel in Jerusalem we stopped somewhere that wasn't originally on the itinerary. We parked on the side of a hill called Tel Azeka and walked up to the top. The valley below is the area where David and Goliath are thought to have battled thousands of years ago. I'm a natural skeptic, so hearing someone claim something like this with near certainty was questionable at first, but I definitely left with a clear image of the battle. Shai pointed out archeological sites and ancient roads that mark where the ancient Philistines lived. This, along with several other things he mentioned, marked the site as the most probable location of the battle between David and Goliath. Although it's difficult to know so many years later, i'm inclined to believe it.

After debriefing and having dinner in the hotel I was getting a bit grumpy and wasn't in the mood for the speaker we had scheduled at 8:00pm. So, I took my sweet time getting ready and strolled in a minute or two late. However, this speaker ended up being my favorite so far, and was such an incredible person intellectually and socially. Someone came up to the mic to introduce our lecturer, Dr. Reis, and based on his qualifications I was expecting a lot someone at retirement age. According to the passage leader, Dr. Reis has a PhD, works at harvard, and has counseled the leaders of the US, China, Israel, and more about predictive epidemiological measures. I wasn't expecting Dr. Reis to be a younger-looking man in a black sweatshirt and jeans. He exuded respect for all the students, and asked everyone who asked a question his or her name. The lecture itself was on Israel's reputation as a Start-Up Nation and its economic and intellectual growth. I was so fascinated that I made sure to shake his hand and introduce myself afterward. I hope to see him someday in the future.

Despite being thoroughly exhausted, with the encouragement of some friends I decided to go out into the city to experience some of the night life in Jerusalem. We walked into a local market area that was unlike anything I'd ever seen. Shops, bars, and restaurants were all squished together in a small ally, and people were dancing, smoking and drinking within a 15 foot wide ally. I loved the energy and the people there! We got something to eat and walked all around. Needless to say, I was even more exhausted and ready for bed by the time we got back.

These posts have been getting so long haha. What can I say, there's a lot going on! I'm constantly reminded of how lucky I am to be a part of this program and to have the chance to be here.

Boker Tov (good day!)


Posted by emschroen 06:17 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

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