Greetings, friends! I'm hoping to be able to include a picture or two in blogs going forward, but the Wi-Fi at this particular hotel isn't cooperating; tomorrow we move to our second hotel, which will hopefully have a bit better speed for uploading. Anyway...
I flew to Newark, NJ a day ahead of flying to Israel with my group for a few reasons. One, I didn't like the idea of flying both legs in one day. Two, I wanted it to not be a big deal if my flight was canceled. Three, it gave me an excuse to catch up with a treasured friend at a hotel. It was the perfect kick-off to my trip! I arrived at the airport around 5pm, made it through security without a hitch, and connected with members of my group as we trickled in; once we are together, the excitement took over the anxiety of the 10.5 hour flight.
We flew United in a 787 Dreamliner--it was huge! First class had those fancy sleeping pods, then there was the Premium Plus cabin, then Economy Plus, then, finally economy, which was where I, and most of the group, had seats (no one had the pods or premium!) I was in row 55 out of 60, and each row in economy has 9 seats; thankfully, I had an aisle seat! When I took my seat, the nerves returned, though, as usual, all for naught. Thank you to all who prayed for me to have a good flight! I got some decent sleep, watched a movie, and during two other movies I nodded off several times. We were also fed twice during the flight, and the food was also much better than expected.
Since most of us had been up for 24 hours by the time we landed in Israel, our only task upon arriving at the hotel was grabbing dinner and then going to bed. We kicked off this morning at 6:30 for breakfast!
Fun fact 1: It is Israeli law that no one move from their seat for the last 30 minutes of the flight. Passengers were warned in advance of this in both English and Hebrew, and all I'll say is that it was the busiest I'd seen the bathroom all night!
Today we went to three different sites, each of which were beautiful in their own way. We saw a fortress dating back to possibly to King Solomon and then walked down the marked path to an old, walled-in Canaanite city. The history led to some great food for thought re: God vs. gods, how Israel worshipped, and the former presence of the Divine Feminine (based on inscriptions that were found at the Holy of Holies, among others). From there we hopped back on our (power equipped, WIFI included, a/c) coach bus and drove to Ein Avdat/Wilderness of Zin.
Fun Fact 2: Beware of Camels Near the Road are caution signs here. I didn't see a camel, but now I really want to! I equate it to the moose signs in the UP.
The second stop is thought to be at least a portion of the area in which the Israelites wandered for 40 years, as well as the burial sites of David Ben-Guiron and his wife. He is considered the founder of Israel and was its first Prime Minister. There are a lot natural formations in this park as well, similar to (on a smaller scale) the Grand Canyon; beautiful! What was most powerful to me, though, was thorn tree that grows what are believed to be the thorns which comprised the crown put on Jesus' head. There is something about seeing and touching it that is hard to wrap my head around. I'll keep trying.
This national park is also where several of us climbed/hiked. It was intense and I'm so glad I pushed through and did it! The views from up top were incredible!
Fun fact 2: we had to eat at a McDonald's for our first lunch! The place we'd planned to eat had closed early. The food was different, but good!
Our final stop for the day took us to Maktesh Ramon where we looked over the crater formed of water and air over thousands of years, and had a discussion on biblical authority and faith development. As we drove back to the hotel, the sun went down and many of us took a much needed nap as we continue trying to adjust our bodies to this time zone.
So, in the end, a great first day! Not much in the way of thoughts to process, but it was a great day in building relationships and thinking through difficult topics.
Now it is (blissfully) time again for bed. We have another 6am wakeup call coming soon! More when I next have WIFI!