Shalom! Our first week in Israel was a hot one! Tuesday, October 2nd, we departed for our three day camping trip in Galilee.
Maryse, one of the Beatitudes' lay members, dropped us off at the train station in Modi'in. Father Anthony got all of us train and bus cards, which will be extremely helpful to access public transportation while in Israel, although it took a few tries to learn how to use them correctly! The two-hour train ride to the foot of Mt. Carmel ran through the skyscrapers of Tel Aviv, and then northward along the beach. This called for nap and study time!
From the train we walked along the Mediterranean shore to Elijah's Cave. This is according to tradition and its proximity to Mt. Carmel, where Elijah stayed before challenging the priests of Baal in chapter 18 of 1st Kings. After seeing the cave, we took time to swim in the Mediterranean to cool off and then eat lunch.
Next, we made our way to the seldom-visited holy site of Tel Hadar where we camped the first night. Arriving just as the sun set, before our dinner and group sharing, we prayed vespers facing the Sea of Galilee and read about the event that happened here 1987 years ago (Matthew 15: 32-38): "Where are we to get bread enough in the desert to feed so great a crowd?" And Jesus said to them, "How many loaves have you?" They said "Seven, and a few small fish." And commanding the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied; ... Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children."
In the morning, we prayed at the mosaic commemorating the miracle, and after breakfast we packed up and started our hike along the shore to our next stop, Kursi (in the New Testament, the similar word is "Gerasenes"). This is where Jesus freed a man from demons, and sent them into a herd of pigs who ran down the hill and drowned in the Sea (Luke 8:26-33). At the site now there are ruins of an important Christian village and monastery. We explored the site and picnicked before continuing on to our next campsite in Ein Gev.
Ein Gev is one of Israel's oldest kibbutzim, a covenant community with a socialist structure. From the kibbutz it was a short walk through some brush and behind a wake-boarding shop to our campsite.
We hung hammocks, cooked up dinner, and swam in the sea to refresh and relax after a long day of travel. Mass gazing at the sun setting over the sea was breathtaking as the lights of Tiberias flickered on the far shore.
The next morning, Father Anthony brought Margaret, Mattie, and I for a hike up to Tel Susita. Tel Susita, pictured above my hat in the photo to the right below, is another site of ruins, including six churches atop a small mountain, where the city of Hippos was during the Hellenistic/Byzantine period. An earthquake severely damaged the city around 750 A.D., and it was buried until recent excavations.
Until the 1967 war, Susita was an Israeli outpost in disputed land, surrounded on 3 sides by Syrian outposts and cut off from the rest of Israel by a militarized buffer zone. The park supervisor, Nissim, graciously offered us a jeep ride down the hairpin switchbacks of the little dirt road. On the way down, we ran into a man who was stationed here in '67. He recounted how he had been wounded and his friend killed on the site. Nissim told us that he had to seize the occasion to do a 'Mitzvah' (good deed). Nissim pulled an Israeli flag out of the back seat, and set it up on a pole where the man's friend had died. The group with the veteran prayed over the spot with him, and then we drove back down the mountain.
We bused to Tiberias, where we visited the shrine of many tombs of Jewish sages such as Maimonides, the medieval scholar who brought Aristotle into Jewish thought. At last, we headed to the train back to Emmaus.
What a blessing it was to experience the same places where the Man from Galilee not only walked, but performed many miracles!
Thank you for the continuous prayers. Please continue to pray for our pilgrimage and for peace in the Holy Land.