It’s easy to jump to conclusions when it comes to the Middle East. When the news is saturated with stories of war and political tension it’s hard to focus on anything else. Sometimes it’s hard to know what it’s like for the people living in the Middle East simply because we are not connected to them.

That’s how I felt going into this trip to Israel. I had the travel guide books ready in hand. I tried to study about Israel by reading articles online. I packed my writing journal along with my sunscreen. I was ready, right? Beliefnet editor Corine Gatti and I were about to find out.

We arrived to the Ben Gurion airport (which happened to be named after the first Israeli Prime Minister) and were greeted by our friendly and well-spoken tour guide Mr. Yehuda Ben Baruch. What a pleasure it was to be with a tour guide for the week that answered our questions and helped explain all kinds of small details about Israeli culture.

Going through Israel in a matter of a week was a whirlwind tour. The country is only about the size of New Jersey so it didn’t take long to go from city to city. We started in Tel Aviv and soon traveled to Tsefat (pronounced Svat). It is a small beautiful city where we explored the markets and visited sites such as the Harý Haschenzi synagogue (where I was sure to cover up my arms when I walked in). The people were very friendly and it was a delight to go from shop to shop throughout the small winding streets.

Soon we were whisked away to the Sea of Galilee region. Discovering the untouched beauty of the Sea of Galilee was breathtaking. Sitting outside and just looking at the water is like you can imagine Jesus in the boat or walking on the water. The Sea of Galilee was smaller than I expected. When you are on one side you can easily see the other side. The place is welcoming with a light cool breeze and green blue water. With one look it’s almost as if you step back two thousand years and expect to see a smaller fisherman’s boat filled with several men.

As we traveled along the Sea of Galilee we stopped by the Jordan River and were able to witness several baptisms. This was quite a spiritual experience not only for the people who were being baptized but for others who saw it from far away. It was a happy moment as there was such a feeling a joy in the air. Baptism is important to Christians – and reminded me of the sense of renewal and new life. These photos show the joy that was in the air.

We traveled to many other areas such as The Dead Sea, Nazareth, and Jerusalem. Two places that were incredibly special to me were both in Jerusalem.

We were lucky enough to be invited by a family for the Shabbat (the Sabbath which begins with dinner on Friday at sundown). Not only was this special in itself, but this family lived in the Jewish corner of the Old City of Jerusalem – and their house was over 1,000 years old! It was wonderful to be there while being surrounded with so much history.

As Shabbat began at sundown we prayed in Hebrew and English. The family is Messianic Jews (which means that they keep many Jewish traditions while believing that Jesus is the Messiah). We ate challah bread (that you sprinkle salt over before you serve it) and drank wine. We stayed with the family for about four hours. You could hear prayerful songs in the community from other Shabbat meals. I was so appreciative of the conversations we had that night as well as the spiritual experience. It reminded me so much of what it truly means to relax and not work – to take a day off and enjoy the Shabbat.

The other place we visited was The Garden Tomb, which is also located in Jerusalem. We were able to take a short tour with the director Mr. Richard Meryon and he answered all of our questions regarding the Christian holy place. It is the location that Protestants believe might be where Jesus was crucified, died, placed in the tomb, and resurrected. He made a point that really stuck with me: The Garden Tomb is not just about the physical location of the death and resurrection of Jesus, but it’s the faith that comes from believing in Jesus. We, as Christians, are not saved because we touch this holy ground but because we are saved by faith and belief.

I was in The Garden Tomb and just felt such a sense of peace. It was an incredible feeling of relief and serenity that I find difficult to feel many times in my own life. I left the Garden Tomb knowing that peace only comes from God.

Overall it was a wonderful experience in Israel. I felt like I came back home with even more questions than I had before. It was difficult to ignore the political scene in Israel. The political scene is tense in the Middle East and in Israel. It is home to millions of people that have their own stories to share and lives to live. I feel that it is so important to listen to anyone that has an opinion. Talk to Israelis. Talk to Palestinians. Get a closer look at where you get your news. Think for yourself. Read about politics in the Middle East as much as you can.

I want to thank the Ministry of Tourism in Israel for this incredible experience. They have been very kind and helpful in allowing me to discover Israel. With hope, many others will go to Israel and uncover the wonder of the Holy Land.

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