We began Day 5 (Friday, June 14, three weeks ago today) boarding our bus with all our luggage for a day of sightseeing and a move to Jerusalem.
Our first stop, a very short one, was at Yardenit, a baptismal site on the Jordan River. No one from our group had requested to be baptized so, after a few photos, we carried on.
Our first major stop of the day was Nazareth. Here we went first to the land form just outside the city. The story of Jesus rejected by the religious leaders of the Nazareth synagogue, then taken outside the city where they threatened to push him off the cliff to His death came to life for me (Luke 4:16-30). This is where that would have happened.
Then we drove into town where we toured the Nazareth Village, a sprawled-out village with buildings, animals, and people in costume, similar to what Jesus would have experienced.
Next we drove to Beit Shean. It is the city where the body of King Saul and his sons were nailed to the wall by the Philistines (1 Samuel 31:10).
Our itinerary informed us that curently Beit Shean is “…the largest ongoing archeological dig in the land of Israel.” The dig has unearthed a Roman theatre, colonnaded Roman streets, mosaics, Roman bathhouses, and even a public latrine.
Finally, we made our ascent to Jerusalem through the Judean wilderness.
A Bedouin encampment and settlements along the West Bank. (Photo © 2019 by V. Nesdoly)
We visited the Western Wall late Friday afternoon, just hours before the start of Shabbat (during which we would not have been allowed to take photos). I was especially fascinated by the many Orthodox Jews, men dressed in black suits wearing black hats, yarmulkes, even black fur hats, little boys with yarmulkes and side curls, little girls in their pretty dresses, women all dressed up with turban-type hats pushing babies in strollers, as families made their Friday night visits of the wall together, along with us informally dressed tourists.
Prayer at the wall is segregated. In the women’s section I witnessed women in fervent petition, many reading from prayer books in Hebrew (and the odd one in English). These were sitting for anyone to use on podium-type tables and on a bookshelf at the back of the prayer area.
It was a moving, and slightly unsettling experience as I thought about the prayer fervency I was witnessing and asked myself—what did this fascination with praying at the Western Wall really signify?