33 Strangers in a Holy Land

I’ve been lucky enough to travel and learn about people who walk a different path than I do. Usually we travel independently and have not gone with a guided tour. We don’t like being part of a group and constrained  as we explore. But the Groupon came via email with an offer we could not refuse for a bus tour of Israel, a place I’ve never been, at a price that was not to be believed or ignored. Tourism in Israel has dwindled with news reports (possibly exaggerated) of violence and terror so the Ministry of Tourism reached out to American travel companies to offer enticing opportunities. They had us at “hello, look at this price.”

We had low expectations, figuring the tour guide and our fellow travelers were unlikely to be compelling. Wrong! Thirty three strangers came together in that bus and within two days, we were a family of sorts. It was a diverse group in many ways, ethnically, religiously, racially, politically, generationally, background, etc. Our tour guide was a phenomenal teacher with a great deal of information to impart. He made history come alive as we stood in the center of so many ancient civilizations. Our differences fell away as we were surrounded by history in the present day of conflict and listened to an impassioned speaker share his life and his knowledge about the past, the present, and the future. We agreed we felt safer than we thought we would and hoped others who have the chance would visit Israel to see and feel what we did.

We came together to consider the price of peace and the toll war and conflict takes on the body and the soul. We watched the lands fly by the bus window, transformed from arid desert into fertile farm land by people who would not give up and who took ingenuity to new heights in order to survive and thrive in that punishing climate and terrain. The brilliance and hard work of those people resulted in their finding ways to make water flow freely in the desert. Miraculous? Definitely, almost to the extent of holiness.

The land felt holy, not just because of the history that happened there, but because we could sense the power of the potential for peace in the world that could flow like that water from that holy land if only minds and hearts and souls were truly open to it. Thirty three strangers, now bonded forever, saw the possibility for peace but felt its elusiveness as ingenuity meets intransigence in that region. I was awed by the land, awed by the determination of the people, awed by the fact that there is peace between Israel and Jordan and Israel and Egypt so it’s not impossible for these countries to come to agreement. I was awed by the beauty in the crossroads of so many rich cP1040101ultures. I left Israel saddened. Maybe the others felt it too. We entered a holy land as strangers, we left bonded in a hope for the future with a deep longing for better times. Our tour guide said he didn’t think there would ever be peace. With respect, thirty three strangers hope he’s wrong. If you have a chance, go. Join us in a hope for peace.

14 Responses to “33 Strangers in a Holy Land

  • I join you in this hope – and glad you could dispel some of our misconceptions with this post.

  • Barry Ruttenberg
    4 years ago

    I lived in Israel for about 10 months back in the late 70’s … a very eye opening and educational adventure indeed…I lived on a Kibbutz and traveled extensively thru Israel , the West Bank and Sinai…I was impressed by the courage and resilience of everyone I spoke to…Arab and Israeli alike…What most amazed me was the juxtaposition of the ancient and modern all in the same place… people at that time weren’t as divided politically as they are now and found it possible to speak with Israelis and Arabs fairly easily…we spoke openly about a wide array of topics … we happily agreed on some things and agreed to disagree on others…from what I was told , I was crazy to venture into the West Bank so I was a little scared , but I didn’t feel as if my life was in danger at any time…I found everyone friendly and willing to speak their mind ….at that time, there seemed to be possibilities for peace and many people had faith that it could happen sometime in the future…I left Israel with a different outlook from what I was told …how the Arabs were this and that and how divided everything was…bunk…I found that regardless of what we are told and all the rhetoric we are subjected to in the states , there was a possibility for people to work out their differences…from then on I do not believe our media , members of AIPAC or any # of “experts” on the subject…peace is possible and never is not part of my vocabulary…

    • I too was surprised to discover a vast difference between what I’ve been told by the media, “experts,” etc. and what I witnessed. I understand the pessimism of our tour guide, he’s lived through quite a lot but, as I said, I hope he’s wrong. I’m with you, never is too long a time to embrace. By the way, there have been extensive archeological digs since the 70s. You would be blown away by what you could see now vs. what you saw then. If you can ever return, do.

  • Hey Deb,
    I was in Israel during the 73 war. We didn’t go anywhere without armed soldiers with our group. The only time we weren’t with people carrying weapons is when we traveled alone. We spent one night at a Dutch Christian kibbutz in the Golan Heights and before we went to sleep, someone opened our door and put a rifle inside for us to use.
    I’m glad your experience was a little less intense in that sense.
    If this “great offer” is still available, would you please send me the info.?
    I’d love to go back.

    • I can promise you it’s different! Plus there have been significant archeological discoveries since then so you would see some very different sites than you saw then. The company is Gate 1 travel. There were several offerings when we got the Groupon. Don’t know the pricing now but it’s worth looking at their website. I thought they were known for budget travel but I have to say we didn’t feel slighted in the least by their offerings. The accommodations weren’t posh but they were quite nice and, as I said, the guide was excellent and made our trip unforgettable.

  • This was beautiful Deb. It reminded me of when I went on a group bus tour in the late 70s. We were 18 – 25, kids from Toronto and New York. We too felt like family after the first few days. There is turmoil in the whole world, we could always find reason not to go somewhere, even the U.S. but I’m here. 🙂

    • Thanks so much for this reaction. You’re right about turmoil being a reason not to go but, hey, we have bags, we must travel, right? (Love the title of your fun book!)And, yes, visiting the U.S. during an election year? That takes guts! Hope your sojourn is just lovely.

  • Gebremeskel
    4 years ago

    Very amazing I think you did read my mind what you wrote is absolutely true very unforgettable remarkable trip

  • My well-traveled sister finally visited Israel a couple years ago. It was her fourth try at a visit ~ the earlier attempts were cancelled due to traveler advisories. Her trip was wonderful, beautiful and peaceful. Thanks for this lovely post, Debby.

  • Brilliant post Deborah and really felt the land and its history come alive.. thanks

    • It was an unforgettable experience of a lifetime. If you are considering traveling there, I can highly recommend it. I had been reluctant to go but am so glad I did.

    • Thank you Sally and for the share as well!

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