We made it home safely!

I’m really not ready to be home, but I’m excited to tell everyone about the trip and give all my friends and family the gifts I bought for them.

Our last day in Jerusalem was the perfect last day in Israel. We all got up early and went back to the Old City to return to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in hopes that fewer people would be there early in the morning. The crowd was much smaller and those wanting to touch the stone where the cross was placed were able to do that. We also got to view the empty tomb of Jesus.

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Today was our last day touring Israel with our tour guide. Raed took us all over Jerusalem to see all the holy sites.
Before I tell you about the holy sites I want to write about the Sabbath since it is today. The Sabbath is the Jews day of worship, similar to the Christian’s Sunday. Although there are rules that go along with the Sabbath. We got to experience some of those at our hotel. There is a Shabat elevator. Jewish people aren’t supposed to do any work on the Sabbath so the special elevator stops at every floor to eliminate having to push any buttons. There was no computer access in the lobby of our hotel (I’m using the wireless connection on my laptop) and the hotel gift shop is closed. All Jewish run businesses are closed. The meals served today are also kosher. For breakfast there was no hot food served so the traditional Israeli salads were served along with yogurt, cold cereal and breads.OK, on to the holy sites.

Today was a hard day, I have to admit. Bethlehem was not what I expected at all and I’m left feeling a bit sad after being there.

We began our day at Augusta Victoria Hospital, which is a hospital that cares for Palestinian refugees in Jerusalem. The church itself was gorgeous. It was built in 1898 by the emperor of Germany for his wife Victoria.

The hospital has on oncology unit for adults and children, a surgical center and a long-term care/skilled nursing unit. I think there are more units, but those are the units our tour guide from the hospital spoke about the most. William was the hospital administrator who was our tour guide. He said many patients come from the Gaza Strip to receive cancer treatments or other treatments. He also said they suffer from psycho social problems because of the conflict here.

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We had such an intense day today. I hope you find this as fascinating as I did.

We began our day at the Knesset, which is the Israeli Parliament. We had to leave everything behind because of security so I couldn’t take in my camera or notebook. After we left I quickly wrote down everything I could remember from the tour and then asked Raed about the things I couldn’t remember or didn’t understand.

We first visited the hall where the legislative sessions take place. There are 120 members of the Knesset. Knesset members are elected every four years and each party chooses its Knesset candidate. The election process is similar to ours in the U.S. The president, however, doesn’t serve in the same capacity as ours. Their president is more of a figure head. He doesn’t actually make any decisions. He’s like the Queen of England, Raed told me.

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Our trip wouldn’t be complete without our tour guide Raed. I haven’t mentioned him  much in my blog, but a lot of the information I’ve written about has been from him. He’s incredibly knowledgeable about the country, its history and its ties to the Bible.

He also has some great sayings that make us all smile when he says them. When we’re traveling in the bus and he wants to point something out to us he always says, “Sharpen your eyes to the left.”

He’s also a great storyteller. When he begins a story he pauses for a long time. We all begin to look at each other and wonder if he forgot what he was going to say. Then he will tell an incredibly detailed intriguing story.

He ends nearly every story with, “and that is the glory of this place.” He seems so passionate about what he does and the stories he tells. It’s really wonderful.

I feel like I have so much to write about. We’ve done so much in the past day and a half.

After leaving the Dead Sea we traveled to the Masada, ancient ruins located in the Judean Desert. An ancient palace was once located on the plateau that overlooks the Dead Sea. A siege by the Romans led to the mass suicide of the Sicarli rebels during the first Jewish-Roman War. The rebels preferred death to surrendering. The movie, “Masada,” was released in 1981 about this place. Maybe I’m getting redundant and being too obvious by writing this, but it’s really hot in the desert. We were not just glistening with sweat while we were walking through the Masada. We were dripping large puddles of sweat from every pore of our bodies. It was hot!

After cooling off with popsicles and cold water, we drove to the Bedouin village. They greeted us with a tray of delicious watermelon then instructed us to mount our camels. I didn’t even have time to prepare myself! The Bedouins brought the camels over in a line, all tied together, which was actually neat. Then the camels started making these scary mooing sounds as they sat on the ground. Everyone quickly climbed on their camels backs and my heart started to race. A lot of the students kept saying, “Oh, they’re so cute,” but I couldn’t see it.

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It’s about noon here and we’ve had such a relaxing day. Some people in the group had massages, mud wraps or mud facials at the hotel spa, some went to the pool and others went to the Dead Sea.

I went to the Dead Sea and realized it is the perfect body of water for me. There are no creatures! I loved it. I could swim, well float, without being freaked out the whole time I was in the water. It was also incredibly relaxing. It feels sort of weird floating there. It’s really hard to put your legs down to stand. The water also makes your skin feel amazing and silky. I exfoliated with the salty sand and now my skin feels great.

This afternoon we are going to Massada, a fortress built by Herod on the eastern edge of the Judean desert. We will take a cable car and have a great view. We’re also having dinner with in a Bedouin village. The Bedouins are a group of nomadic people. To be honest, I’m a little nervous about this dinner. This is the first time I’ve been freaked out about food here. I just have no idea what to expect. What do nomads eat?

We’ll end our day with a nice, relaxing camel ride. By nice and relaxing I mean anxiety provoking and scary.

Before I update you on all the wonderful things we’ve been doing, I just want everyone to know that we are safe. If you’ve seen the news there was a raid on some ships in Israel. Our tour company said they are keeping an eye on the situation and will change our plans if they think it us unsafe, but so far everything is still scheduled as planned.

It’s so interesting that the attack happened when it did because everyone in our group seems to feel safer and more comfortable here. Today when we stopped for lunch in the Negev Desert a group of young men and women who are in military training stopped for lunch also stopped for lunch. Here all military people carry weapons with them at all times. It’s pretty intimidating because they carry large machine guns. Some of the students and I interviewed some of the military people and it made us feel more at ease. I wrote a story on our experience that should appear in the print edition of the Hub.

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