Happy Easter! Vacay.ca occasionally publishes articles on destinations outside of Canada. In this article, Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles takes a look at Israel.
Story by Rod Charles
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor
Easter and Christmas are two wonderful times to connect to Jesus Christ and whether you’re of the faith or just curious, a visit to Israel is a magnificent way to accomplish that goal.
Christians believe God sent his son Jesus Christ to earth on what is celebrated as Christmas Day – Jesus’ birthday – to teach people the truth about God’s Kingdom. Easter is one of the most important days on the Christian calendar, as it recognizes Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. While on earth, Christians believe Jesus provided the hope of everlasting life and performed miracles (for a more detailed explanation click here and here).
The bulk of Jesus’ story takes place in Israel, which is why so many Christians travel there. Having grown up in the church myself, the idea of visiting some of the most important holy sites in the world and ‘walking in Jesus’ shoes’ was a big reason why I wanted to visit the State of Israel. There isn’t enough time to mention all the religious landmarks in Israel, but here are five places that you should have on your list.
1. The Old City Of Jerusalem
Begin your journey in Jerusalem’s Old City, which is divided into four quarters: Jewish, Muslim, Armenian and Christian.
The Old City is accessed at different points in the wall by several ‘gates’ or openings including The Zion Gate, The Dung Gate, Gate of Mercy (which has been blocked for centuries and is also referred to as the Golden Gate or the Eastern Gate. Believers say this gate will open when the Messiah comes and the dead are resurrected), Lion’s Gate, Herod’s Gate, Damascus Gate, The New Gate and The Jaffa Gate, which leads directly into the Christian quarter.
The most famous landmark is The Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif) located in the south east corner of Jerusalem’s Old City. For Christians it’s significant because Jesus prayed and preached with his disciples at this location, but it’s also meaningful for Jews and Muslims.
The Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall draws millions of people every year. It’s free to enter but there is a security checkpoint with X-ray scanners. The Western Wall is open 24 hours a day seven days a week (as my guide said, God doesn’t rest). One thing that struck me were all the prayer notes that were crammed between the stones. If you can, get a guided tour of the underground tunnels, which will allow you to see the excavations.
Visiting the Church Of The Holy Sepulchre is a must. This is where it is believed Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. The Aedicule (Tomb of Jesus) is here, as well as The Stone of Anointing (where his body was prepared for burial) and Calvary (where Jesus was crucified). This area, as you can imagine, is crowded. You’re probably not going to like this piece of advice very much, but the best time to go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to avoid crowds is right when it opens at 5:30 in the morning.
For more information on holy sites in Jerusalem, including Mount Zion (The Tomb of King David, the Room of the Last Supper) and Via Dolorosa (the road Jesus walked from the place of Pontius Pilate’s sentencing to Golgotha (the location of the crucifixion), click here.
Read Vacay Canada Story: Easter never ends in Jerusalem
2. The Mount of Beatitudes
The Mount of Beatitudes is where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount and spoke some of his most famous words, including “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
Mount of Beatitutes, located four kilometres from Tabgha and 73 kilometres from Haifa is where it’s believed Jesus performed the Miracle of Multiplication by feeding 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish.
The Mount of Beatitutes is a lush, manicured area overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Excerpts from his sermon are written along the pathway. Don’t speak too loud or you can expect to be hushed by a nun with a megaphone.
It all began in Capernaum, which was Jesus’ home in the early years of his ministry and was also the home of disciples Peter, Andrew, James and John. It was near Capernaum that Jesus said to Peter and Andrew “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Capernaum is peaceful, with many places to sit and reflect under the trees. There are two buildings of interest: The Synagogue, where according to bibleplaces.com Jesus gave a sermon on the bread of life (John 6:35-59) and performed miracles (Luke 7:3). The second building of interest is the Peter’s house, where Jesus healed his mother-in-law (Matt. 8:14; Mark 1:29-31) according to Goisrael.com.
Today there is a Catholic church sitting above the excavation, with a glass-enclosed foundation window in the centre so that people can see Peter’s House below.
4. River Jordan at Yardenit
Yardenit commemorates Christ’s baptism. Entry to the site is free and visitors may rent or purchase white baptism robes on site. The site can accommodate up to 1,000 people and has baptismal pools and the Jordan River. There is also a restaurant on site.
5. Sea of Galilee (Lake Kineret)
Visible from Capernaum and the Mount of Beatitudes, the Sea of Galilee is in my opinion one of the most beautiful natural wonders in Israel. It’s hard to go to Israel and step into the shoes of Jesus without visiting the body of water Christians believe he actually walked on.
According to Go Israel, there are many Christian holy sites around the Kineret, including the Mount of Beatitudes, the Church of the Loaves and the Fishes, Kfar Nakhum, Kursi, “Yardenit” Baptismal Site, and the wooden boat discovered in the lake and now on display at Kibbutz Ginosar.
6. Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem
Bethlehem is in the West Bank outside the borders of Israel, but I’m going to mention the Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route in Bethlehem because you can’t truly step in Jesus’ shoes without coming here.
Because Bethlehem is where it’s believed Jesus was born and the Church of the Nativity is the exact spot where this historic event happened, it’s one of the best ways to step into Jesus shoes.
Hop on bus 231 at Jaffa Gate and you will be dropped off at Derech Beit Jala and Hebron Road. It’s a 45 minute bus ride. When you get off the bus stay south on Children Street all the way to Manger Square.
Getting into the church itself is free, but if you want to see the birthplace of Jesus expect to wait in a line for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. One way around that is to grease the palm of a security official who will then gladly move you to the front of the line. The spot where Jesus came into the world is marked on the ground by a silver star. The manger is directly in front of it.
Understand that you are crossing a border from Israel into an area that is under the control of the Palestinian National Authority – you will need your passport to get back into Israel. On re-entry back into Israel expect long lines, security walls, cameras and armed guards. It really is awful but it’s worth the trip to see Manger Square.
MORE ABOUT ISRAEL
Go Israel Website: http://www.goisrael.com/
Before you depart
Due to the unstable political situation surrounding Israel, security is intense. Your suitcase will be searched, and you should expect to be asked odd and at times intrusive questions at the airport before going through security. I was asked at one point if I had any Jewish friends in Toronto, what their names were and where they lived. I’m not sure if this was because I told them I had planned to go to Bethlehem or not but it seemed like everyone in line was getting the same treatment I was. Was the same coming home, with security wanting proof of every hotel I had stayed during my trip.
As my guide explained, just go along with it and answer their questions to the best of your ability. While the security measures are a bit over the top, I felt very comfortable in Israel.