A trip to Israel had been on my bucket list for over a decade. There were many issues that had prevented my travel to this country in the Middle East that ranged from conflicting work schedules to safety in the region. I am always up for an adventure but this region has been a source of conflict for decades and it made me a little uneasy honestly.
In late 2017 a window of opportunity opened up for me to travel there with friends during Thanksgiving and leading up to the Christmas holiday so I jumped at the chance. I also thought it would be amazing to be in a place so rich with religious history close to Christmas.
As a little bit of a backstory, I grew up in Tennessee in a very religious home during my teenage years. I went to a Southern Baptist Church three times a week and honestly enjoyed my time there. I was an active participant in the youth group and still remain friends with many of the people that I spent time with there. We did mission trips across the US and fun trips as well during the school holidays. I feel like it installed good values in my life and gave me a group of friends that were a wonderful support system during some difficult years.
I am by no means a Bible expert but I spent a lot of time in Bible study and became fascinated by the stories, so from those early years I had always dreamed of taking the trip to see where these famous stories took place. In my adult years, I have not spent as much time in actual church buildings and I have been fortunate to gain friends with a variety of religious backgrounds as I have traveled throughout the world. I have joked that for several years I spent much more time in Buddhist temples than churches during my time working in Asia. I still love the spiritual aspect of religion but I am open and respectful to everyone’s beliefs.
As we embarked on the trip to Israel I was happy to be sharing the experience with friends who had different experience with different religions. On my trip we had people who were Christian, Catholic, Jewish, Druze and even a few that were not spiritual. Israel is a place that is sacred for most of the world’s major religions.
Christians, Jews and Muslims all have sacred sites in the country. Some of the same sites are even considered to be special to each of these religions for different stories and reasons. This has created great conflict in the country for ownership of these locations. Even after visiting the sacred cities, it still baffles me why each religion can’t share the sites and worship whatever God or believe whatever story happened there in their respective belief systems. I am sure I am over simplifying the situation but I saw people from all religions who were friends and got along perfectly. It seems like a small group of people do not want peace and will continue to drive conflict throughout the region.
I will highlight in the next series of blog posts some of the highlights of my Israel trip to these amazing places and discuss a little bit about my experiences and the history of each stop along the way. I had a lot fun recalling the Bible stories from my childhood and seeing the places in person.
I will say that there were many parts of my travels in Israel that I did not enjoy. The service was terrible at hotels and I saw some of the worst tourist behavior I have ever seen in all of my travels. There was bus load after bus load of tourists coming into the cities. This is a unique place in the world where there is such a historical significance that people will visit no matter what type of hospitality they encounter. I think this fact drives some of the poor customer service at times. I also believe that the terrible behavior on the behalf of the visitors can drive some of the poor service as well. People are so desperate to see the ancient sites that they act crazy at times.
On December 6, 2017, the day after we returned home from the trip President Trump announced that he wanted to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem which incited protests in the region. It was crazy and sad to see places that we had visited a few days prior burning.
Unfortunately Israel is back in the news with protests against plans to annex parts of the West Bank. This week Jewish-Arab protests took place in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.
Even with the issues that we encountered I am very happy I made the trip and would recommend a visit for anyone who has an interest in religious history.