We reach the Holy Land: Tel Aviv

Trip Start Mar 31, 2010
Trip End Apr 10, 2010

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Where I stayed
Hotel TAL, 287 Hayarkon Street

Flag of Israel  ,
Thursday, April 1, 2010

We have waited so long for this moment.  We are actually here, standing on Holy Land. We are feeling at once tired and ecstatic. 

Ben Gurion airport makes a beautiful first impression of Israel; the facilities look new and spacious, it even resembles a museum as we walk down the ramps passing high walls adorned with antique mosaics and bright-colored posters. Subtly but certainly, the security now becomes evident:  As we are ooing and aahing and playing tourist with our little video camera, we get to the Passport Control area, where the lady I am filming in the passport booth very politely but firmly informs me that no pictures are permitted and that I am to delete my video.  Anxious that I will be asked to delete ALL my video up to now, I apologetically show her the clip where she appears and how I erase it, hoping that's the end of it and that she will proceed to stamp our passports and let us crazy tourists into her country!  Meanwhile, the look of shock and embarrassment at their mother on our 3 teenagers' faces was worth filming (but, I thought, better not take a chance).

At the baggage claim we meet our guide, Damian Pessah, who takes us to the bus to meet our driver, Chaim. We all board except for one whose luggage seems to have stayed in Rome... once the paperwork is (quickly) taken care of, we drive about 10 miles to our hotel in the Tel Aviv-Yafo metropolitan area.

Our impression of Tel Aviv-Jaffa is that it has a bit of everything: new, old, and VERY old.  Tel Aviv was founded by 60 families in 1909 as a Jewish neighborhood near Jaffa, an important port since Egyptian times (14th C. BC).  The cedar wood for the Temple of Solomon was brought in by sea from Lebanon through Jaffa. 

Most Jews were expelled from Jaffa and Tel Aviv by the Turks during World War I, but returned after the war when Britain received the mandate for Palestine. Because Jerusalem was occupied by Jordan after Israel became an independent state in 1948, the temporary capital and home of the government offices was in Tel Aviv. Several government offices remain there and Tel Aviv is still home to foreign diplomats from countries (including the U.S.) that don't recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

As we drive through downtown Tel-Aviv, it looks like the heart of downtown Miami with narrower streets and a Mediterranean twist. We arrive at our hotel on a busy but nice street with homes, parks, emabassies, shops, and beachfront hotels. We are greeted with much welcome glasses of lemonade and grapefruit juice. After sorting out our luggage and checking into our rooms for a brief nap (it's past midnight Miami time!), we go walk a block towards the beach to catch the sunset. 

It is Holy Thursday for Christians and Passover for Jews.  Along the seaside boardwalk by Independence Park, we run into families going for a stroll, a romantic couple enjoying the view, modestly dressed Jewish young women saying their sundown prayers.  While the kids play in the park, I take in this moment. 

Father Willie celebrates our first Eucharist in the Holy Land on this Holy Thursday.  The homily poses the question, "What do you expect to receive on this pilgrimage?" It also speaks to us about how we are all called to serve, to serve everyone, even those we dislike. I take these words to heart and pray that I can follow them faithfully and lovingly.
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