My Tour at Batim MiBifnim This Week

Collage Mt. Zion

The Many Faces of Christian Mount Zion

I’ve written here in the past about the always popular and equally awesome Batim MiBifnim event in Jerusalem. Though the name literally means “Houses from Within” or “Open Houses,” the annual event features so much more than just a peak into private homes. Numerous private institutions and historical buildings also open their doors to the public, and a number of theme-focused walking tours are also included.

At this year’s event, scheduled for later this week on Thursday to Saturday, I am proud to be giving a tour (twice) on Mount Zion, outside the Old City walls. For the second year in a row, the JCJCR – Jerusalem Council for Jewish-Christian Relations is co-hosting “A Window to Mt. Zion” — a series of tours and lectures focusing on the various religious communities who call the area home. My tour will be the only one in English, along with a few of the lectures as well.

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Jerusalem: A Walk Through Christian History

St. Mark's Church

The apse of St. Mark’s Syriac Church, a small and very old church in Jerusalem’s Old City

Recently, I have been preparing my next Jerusalem: Meet Jerusalem walking tour, which will focus on Christian Jerusalem for Non-Christians. In the process I have come to explore and discover many of Jerusalem’s churches. Obviously, Jerusalem is a very holy city to Christianity, and there are innumerable churches here, many of them within the approximately one square kilometer surrounded by the Old City walls.

But as I began to explore more, and uncovered some of the lesser known churches here, I became endlessly fascinated by the variety of Christian sects. There are tens of different denominations, split into a number of larger branches of Christianity, many of which are fairly unknown to most people — Christians and non-Christians alike! And of those many sects, tons of them have churches in Jerusalem, including a number of those less known denominations.

I began to organize them all for myself, grouping them into related branches and placing them in the sequence of their various splits from each other. By looking at them this way, I could see the very development of Christianity itself, reflected in the distinctive churches in my city. I soon realized that walking through Jerusalem’s Old City is like a walk through a living museum of Christian history.

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Jerusalem From The Inside

Under construction tunnel for Jerusalem Train

The currently under-construction tunnel for the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv high-speed train. (Photo from Batim MiBifnim site.)

Of all the annual cultural events, festivals and public spectacles in Jerusalem, Batim MiBifnim/Houses From Within stands alone. To those lovers of Jerusalem who have been before, it is one of the most anticipated events of the year, while to many others it remains one of the most overlooked treasures in the city’s cultural calendar.

Every year, over the course of a weekend, scores of Jerusalem public buildings, institutions and private homes open their doors to visitors. Many even offer guided tours. And best of all, the entire event is free of charge!

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Israel: Land of Diversity

Hedge arch in Akko Baha'i Gardens. Israel.

Take a seat and enjoy the view in the Baha’i Gardens in Akko, surrounding the Shrine of the Baha’ullah

I just finished guiding an American family for the past two weeks, and we traveled all over Israel. We left out the Negev (south) because it is too hot in the middle of August, but beyond that, we pretty much hit the rest of the country and got at least a taste of all of its diverse regions. I designed the itinerary, and when planning an itinerary of this nature, the main guiding principle is going to be geography, i.e. we visit things that are close together on a single day, and move from region to region in logical sequence. In this case, we basically made a circular route, heading from the airport to Tel Aviv, then up the coast, across the Galilee to the Golan Heights and Kineret region, down the Jordan Valley to the Dead Sea, and then to Jerusalem and the Shefelah/Lowlands.

Of course, in designing such a tour, I also aim to present things that show various aspects of what this country has to offer. No one wants to spend two weeks seeing the same things over and over. But it wasn’t until I was on the tour with this family, a few days in, that it hit me just how diverse were the sites we were visiting. I know I’ve discussed Israel’s diversity before, but I was still impressed that we literally visited almost no sites that were redundant with each other.

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Israel Mystery Photo #9

Mystery Photo Israel tourism tour guide tourguide Fun Joel

Let's hear your guesses on this mystery photo!

Been a busy week for me, so I apologize for the delay on this Mystery Photo, but I hope that won’t ruin the momentum I’ve been building with these: more comments/guesses each week. Keep ’em coming gang! I love seeing your guesses on these!

I liked the responses to last week’s photo. A nice mix of correct answers, and almost correct answers. The picture was in fact from the baptistry of the Northern Church (more on that later) from the ancient Nabatean city of Avdat. Ilana was the first with the correct answer, and Aaron and Steven both got it right as well, with Steven giving the most complete and detailed answer. (By the way, for those who read Steven’s comment, stay tuned for a review post soon on the excellent materials from Biblical Backgrounds, his company.)

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A Tour of Crusader Caesarea

Moat of Crusader City of Caesarea

The moat and walls of Caesarea's Crusader-era city.

When most people visit Caesarea, the beautiful Israeli coastal city between Netanya and Haifa, they focus on its history and archaeology in the Herodian (early Roman) and Byzantine periods. While most visitors walk right through the heart of the Crusader era city, they barely pay any attention to it. But the truth is that Caesarea has some of the best remains in Israel through which to gain an understanding of the architecture of the late Crusades, and of the impact that this slice of history had on the land of Israel.

I remember the first time I visited Caesarea (a few years ago), I started as most people do at the southern end of the National Park, near the Roman-era Theater. We toured through most of the Roman and Byzantine areas, and then approached a large, walled-in area. As we passed through the wall, I saw a large open space with lots of green grass. Inside of these walls I also found a number of stores and restaurants, which probably contributes to the area being overlooked within the archaeology at Caesarea. True, the walls are virtually impossible to miss. But when the inside has a lot of modern stores and eateries, it is easy to overlook the history, despite the benefits of this mix.

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Jerusalem’s Archaeological Surprises

archaeology, Malha, Malcha, Jerusalem, Israel, Middle Bronze, village, foundations

Malha Mall archaeological site -- a village from about 1800 BCE

Construction in Israel is always a difficult endeavor. In a country with as long a history as ours is, every time a spade or backhoe touches earth, there is the chance (or even the likelihood) that you will come across finds of archaeological significance. And when you do, construction grinds to a halt until the archaeologists can come in and examine the finds, determining whether they are significant, and whether construction can even continue there at all.

In recent years, building expansions have uncovered an ancient church at the site of a modern prison and an ancient cemetery near a hospital. In both cases, the building plans were halted until solutions could be found. Sometimes the archaeological site will be preserved at the location so people can see the finds in situ — where they were found, and construction will be abandoned. Other times, they will be covered and preserved underground, with the construction proceeding above the site. And sometimes the material will simply be removed and catalogued for later research.

I’ve recently visited a few of these types of sites, all within the boundaries of modern Jerusalem. It is yet another reason why I love living here. I am constantly surprised by the history and archaeology that you practically trip over every time you walk around this magnificent city.

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