Friday, February 22, 2013

Jerusalem and Bethlehem

It's around 9:00 here in Jerusalem. I would have posted sooner, but amazingly, our hotel doesn't have free Wifi.....anywhere. I needed to facetime with the girls, so I'm paying for a day of access. I'm ready for bed, but I want to get caught up with the trip.

Day 3 of the trip began with a stop in Tiberias, a key city in the Israeli diamond industry. It was cool to learn a little about the diamond industry, but the whole point of the stop was to get us to buy jewelry. I'm sure the tour company gets a kickback from the diamond company, but I could have done without this stop.

can't beat the view, but no Wifi.....seriously?
Our next stop was Beit She'an, another Roman ruin. It was a beautiful day, and I thoroughly enjoyed walking around the ruins. From there it was a couple hour drive to Jerusalem. Our hotel is very centrally located, and we walked around for a while, soaking the city in.

Day four was the Big Daddy. We started at the Mount of Olives to get a full view of the Old City. Then it was on to the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus was betrayed and arrested. From there we went inside the Old City. Our first stop in the Old City was the Western Wall.

entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
After the Western Wall, we made our way to the Via Dolorosa, the route Jesus carried the cross. We made our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the sight of the crucifiction and burial. Interesting note about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: security for one of the most sacred sites in Christianity is handled by Muslims. The politics of this area are thick and complicated indeed. Walking the Old City was an amazing and emotional experience. I slept well last night.

That brings me to today. We started with a trip to the Church of Visitation, the place where a pregnant Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, and the birthplace of John the Baptist.

From there we went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial. Talk about a moving experience. Our last stop in Jerusalem was the Israel Museum, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed.

hard to imagine peace with this kind of wall
Then things got really interesting. Our Israeli guide drove us to Bethlehem. The city of Bethlehem is under Palestinian control, and security is intense. Israel does not allow Jewish citizens to enter Bethlehem, so after going through the border, we were met by an Arab Christian who guided us to the Church of the Holy Nativity. This was the first time on the trip that I felt a little uneasy. Certainly one of the more memorable stops of the journey.

Tomorrow we go the Dead Sea, where I have every intention of doing some floating. I probably won't have a chance to write again until I get home. I'll do a final post then.

Time to crash.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Galilee and the Golan Heights

We've had two great days here in Israel. I'm writing this post from the Kibbutz Lavi Hotel in Galilee, where the rooms all have free Wifi.

a view from Haifa
We left Tel Aviv early Monday morning. Our first stop was Caesarea, where I saw my first Roman ruins. From there we went to Haifa, Israel's third largest city. The views of the Mediterranean in Haifa are stunning.

Our next stop was Meggido, the place where the final battle between good and evil, or Armaggedon, is supposed to take place. We ate lunch in a town called Akko. Our guide took us to a great restaurant and we ate a ridiculous amount of amazing food. Out last stop of the day was Nazareth. This was definitely my favorite part of the day. We went to a church built on the site of Mary's home, the place where she learned she was pregnant with Jesus, the Annunciation. I have to admit, I was quite moved. I can only imagine how some of the other places on our tour will make me feel. Adding to the atmosphere, as we left the church the Muslim call to prayer began. Our last stop was another church, this one built on the site of Joseph's home. By the time we made it to the kibbutz, we were exhausted.

from the boat on the Sea of Galilee
Today began with a very nice breakfast at the kibbutz, and then we drove to the Sea of Galilee. It's really a lake, but they called any large bodies of water Seas back in the day. We took a short boat ride, and the views from the water of the surrounding area were beautiful.

Back on land, we went to Tabgha, where there is a church built on the site where Jesus multiplied 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread to feed thousands. Not far from there is Mt. of Beatitudes. This is where Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount. There is a church at the site now (common for these historical sites), and I watched as a Romanian priest led his group in prayer. This was another moment where I was surprisingly moved. The next part of the trip took us through the Golan Heights.We stopped in Banias, where the River Jordan originates. Coming down from the Golan Heights, we ate a late lunch on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. After lunch we went to Capernaum, the village where Jesus lived with Peter. Our last stop today was the River Jordan again, this time the place where John baptized Jesus. It's common for people to be baptized in this spot, or rebaptized, and it was interesting to watch a couple women being baptized..  

We had a late dinner with the tour group here at the kibbutz, and I'm quickly winding down. We leave for Jerusalem tomorrow, so it'll be another busy day. Isarael seems to have Wifi everywhere, so I'll check in again tomorrow or the next day.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Greetings From Tel Aviv

I am writing this post from the lobby of the Dan Panarama Hotel in Tel Aviv. That's right ya'll, I'm in Israel. We traveled damn near a full day to get here, but we watched the sun set into the Mediterranean Sea tonight-not too shabby.

My mom has always wanted to see the Holy Land. She was raised Catholic, and in turn, raised her kids Catholic. Even though I'm what you would consider a lapsed Catholic these days, I offered to accompany my mom to Israel. She took me up on the offer, and here we are. We're like the Irish Catholic version of Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand in that mother/son road trip movie that no one saw. But you get the point.

We'll be hitting all the sights any good Christian would ever need to see. I wish I could tell you what those are, but like I said, I'm a lapsed Catholic. I'm sure it'll all come back to me though. I'll post as much as I can this week to document the trip. We're going to be staying at a kibbutz most of the week. I don't know what the Wifi status will be, but I'll do my best.

Shalom for now.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Class Act

I was sad to see one of my all-time favorite Packers, Donald Driver, retire last week. Driver's story is the stuff of fiction. He grew up in poverty in Houston, living out of a U-Haul for a time during high school. Driver was drafted in 1999, a 7th round draft pick from Alcorn State, an afterthought really. He wasn't even supposed to make the team, let alone become the all-time leading receiver for one of the NFL's most historic franchises. 

Driver was loved for his toughness on the gridiron and his charity work in the community. He won over fans, including my daughters, on Dancing with the Stars. The guy even writes children's books. Driver was a helluva player, and an even better person. Just ask this lady. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A-Z is Just Around the Corner

April will be here before you know it, so it's never too early to sign up for the A-Z Blogging Challenge. When I signed up last week, there were already over 400 blogs (I'm officially #418) on the list. I think there were about 2000 blogs last year, and it looks like there will be a lot more this year.

Some of the best writing in the blogosphere happens during A-Z, and I can't wait to see what my favorite writers come up with this year. There's still time to get in on the fun, just click the link, scroll on down and get yourself signed up. I've been cruising the list, and I've already found a bunch of new blogs to follow.

I went random my first two Challenges, but this year I'm going with a movie theme. My idea is to write about the movies, characters, actors, and directors that have contributed to the images and dialogue floating around in my movie-filled mind.

Are you doing A-Z this year? Do you have a theme?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

This is Teaching

My students had a test yesterday on elements of literature vocabulary, things like protagonist/antagonist, conflict, 1st and 3rd person POV, that kind of stuff. I told the kids that they needed to study. I told them that if they studied, I had no doubt they would ace the test. I also told them that if they didn't study, well, in my experience, they wouldn't do so well.

Before school started, a number of kids came in to tell me that they had studied, and it was fun to see their excitement. They were prepared and they knew it. That's one of my favorite things about teaching, seeing kids who know they're ready. As with any test, I was optimistic. I felt like I had prepared the kids for success. I felt like just a little bit of studying should be enough for all of the kids to do well.

I was grading some of my 1st period papers while my 2nd period was taking the test, and my optimism was rewarded. Sure, there were kids who didn't do well on the test. A lot of them were nailing it though, including many of my strugglers. I was particularly impressed with one student who got a perfect score. And then I focused on what she'd written across the top of her paper:

I studded very hard.

That's right, she studded very hard.

I had to laugh. A teacher's work is never done my friends.