Potomac, Maryland – The yesteryears that exist in various parts of Israel, West Bank and Jordan came alive as we recently embarked on a semi-annual ritual. The trip was kicked off in Jerusalem with a visit to Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Museum. The museum structure, designed by world-famous architect Moshe Safdie, a simple triangular shaped concrete structure spanning the Mount of Remembrance, with a serpentine visitor flow through the various artifacts depicting the terrible history of the Jewish Holocaust in Europe. The museum also has a moving display, ‘Women of Valor,’ depicting stories of women who rescued numerous Jews during this horrible time of history. Another memorable feature was the Children’s Museum, hollowed out from an underground cavern, serving as a tribute to the approximately 1.5 million Jewish children who perished during the Holocaust.
Next stop was “The Western Wall,” or the Wailing Wall, the holiest of all Jewish places of worship. “Request the welfare of Jerusalem; may those who love you enjoy tranquility … May there be peace in your wall tranquility’n your palaces,” says an inscription on The Western wall site. While all prayed at the wall, some of us decided to communicate directly by placing messages to the God in the narrow crevices of the old structure. Nearby, “Colel Chabad,” a free kitchen for the needy, reminded us of the Sikhism service concept behind the Langar in the Gurudwaras all over the world.
The visit included Via Dolorosa, where Jesus was laid to rest; and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus was crucified, resurrected and ascended in the Christian Quarter of the city. Being of Indian origin, the group was especially impressed by the dynamic multiculturalism that we saw – the interplay of three major religions in a compact geography. It reminded us of Chandni Chowk of Delhi, where the Jama Masjid (Islam), St Paul’s Cathedral (Christian), Jain Mandir (Jain) and a Gurudwara (Sikh) coexist.
A stroll through the narrow winding streets of Old Jerusalem, a multi-religious and cultural metropolis, ended back at the hotel which has an inscription “If I forget you … O Jerusalem …”
Next day, we toured Masada, the heroic fort from the times of King Herod. This fort located atop a mesa overlooks the Dead Sea, and is a symbol of Jewish heroism against the Roman Empire. This fort was converted into a palace with sophisticated baths, plumbing and security systems. The Masada is accessible by a cable car system from the foothills of the mountain in the Judaean Desert.
The trip to the Dead Sea could not be complete without a visit to the beaches with a horde of minerals that can’t be found anywhere else on earth. The seawater is so salty, that even non-swimmers can float effortlessly. We were also able to stop by the “Lowest Place on earth,” at the Dead Sea.
The Group spent the next three days in Jordan. We flew on a domestic flight from Sde Dov airport in Tel Aviv to the southern port city of Eilat; and crossed into Aqaba, Jordan, via a land border crossing. (This crossing is not recommended since it involves hauling of all your baggage across rough road for several hundred yards on foot. We recommend using International flights only.)
Aqaba is the only Port in Jordan and has a tropical look to it. We transferred to jeeps for a trip to Wadi Rum (Valley of the Moon), a scenic mountainous place in the desert. The shooting of “Lawrence of Arabia,” in 1962, brought tourism and fame to the valley. The local Bedouin were very hospitable offering us tea and dressing us in the Bedouin style turbans. Many of us did not expect to walk on the same desert dunes where Peter O Toole walked.
Petra, a UNESCO world heritage site, and recently announced as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, was one of the highlights of our tour. A horse buggy ride through the capital of the Nabateans, was not only amazingly historic, but also gave us a view through the narrow gorge created by a natural splitting of the mountain. Started in the first century BC, Petra was initially a trading town, later annexed by the Romans. Although destroyed by earthquakes, Petra was rediscovered in the 19th century and has an amazing theatre, numerous royal tombs, a treasury building and great temples.
On a good weather day, Mt. Nebo and Jerash are also worth visiting, but we encountered rain, winds and cold conditions. We crossed back into Israel at the Sheikh Hussain Border and drove to Tel Aviv for the next few days of our vacation.
Although March 1st was planned to be a free day in Tel Aviv, we were able to take a day-trip to Bethlehem in the Palestinian Territories. Bethlehem was busy with thousands of Christian pilgrims visiting the Church of the Nativity, the birthplace of Jesus Christ. This church is also the oldest church in the world which is still in use. Our guide was able to circumvent the extra-long lines to view and touch the exact place of Jesus’s birth.
We spent the next two days visiting the Sea of Galilee and Nazareth at the Jordan River. It was memorable to view several pilgrims engaging in baptism ceremonies at the Galilee on the Jordan River. We ended our tour in Jaffo and Caesarea that was built by Herod the Great in Caesar’s honor.
Our group comprising of Ron and Chitra Gupta, Potomac, MD; CP and Vijji Subramanian, Potomac, MD; Padma Gupta, Miami, FL; KK and Malini Saxena, Davie, FL; and Vijay and Jolly Varki, Coconut Grove, FL., felt thoroughly grateful to the opportunity to have visited so many of world’s great sites in such a short time.