Sweet sleep.

OK, I’m being relative here. A trip to Israel with TLC Holyland Tours is not meant to be a vacation but a pilgrimage, so truly sleeping in and enjoying a leisurely morning is not really an option. But when the alarm has been going off before the sun comes up, getting to rest until 7 a.m. this morning was a real treat.

This was by design. As you have seen from my blogs of the last few days, we have been touring fast and furious, and a “down” day would seem to be in order. But even on a “down” day, you’re going to have a full schedule.

And in the case of our first stop, an emotional one. Yad Vashem is the Israeli National Holocaust Museum, where the 6 million Jews who were slaughtered by the Nazis during World War II are remembered. Yad Vashem literally means “a place and a name” in Hebrew and it’s a reference to Isaiah 56:5. One of the insidious policies of the Nazis when carrying out their horrors was to strip those they persecuted of all human references, including their home and their name. Yad Vashem tries, in its way, to right that horrible wrong.

It’s a powerful and moving place, especially the memorial dedicated to the 1.5 million children who were killed. It’s a circular room, filled with mirrors, very dark and full of small lights. With the mirrors, there are enough points of light to account for every child. As you walk through, voices call out the name, age and home of each soul. A gut-wrenching experience.

There is a museum filled with artifacts from the era, and as a history buff, I could literally spend hours here browsing the exhibits. But my favorite spot is the Hall of Remembrance, which houses an eternal flame, remains of some of those killed and the names of each of the concentration camps in the floor.

From there it was on to another museum, this one much less emotionally draining. The Israel Museum is the home of two very special exhibits – the Shrine of the Book which contains the Dead Sea scrolls, and the famous model of Jerusalem at the time of Christ. Tourists are not allowed to take photos inside the Shrine of the Book, but at the model, which is a 1/50 scale representation of the Old City, we could take all we wanted. The first shot below is how the second Jewish Temple would have looked, and the second is of a rampart guard tower at the northwest corner of the city wall, looking back toward the Temple area.

By now it was time for lunch, and while most days we are on our own for lunch, today was different. The trip I am on is not a regular tour, but a Pastor’s Fam or Familiarization trip and was put together especially for pastors who looking to bring a group from their church to Israel. As a result, there are a few things built into this trip that a normal group might not get to do. One of those was our fabulous lunch at the Dan Panorama Hotel. After eating, we got a short tour of the hotel, including a look at the rooms. If you were to book a tour with TLC Holyland Tours (if I might give a shameless plug), you could be in this room and eating at these tables. Regardless, your hotel will look very much like this.

Our only stop of the afternoon was one that you might miss if you blink. The story of David and Goliath is one of the most beloved in the Bible, but in terms of tourism in Israel it is quite literally just a wide spot on the road. About an hour’s drive from Jerusalem, the Valley of Ellah, where in I Samuel 17 David defeated the Philistine champion, is an agricultural center filled with fields of squash. To get to the dry river bed where David picked up his 5 smooth stones, you pull your bus to the shoulder to avoid traffic, walk down a gravel path and look really hard. There’s no plaque, no monument, nothing. But that didn’t stop Dr. Crisp from teaching from that spot, or the members of the group from gathering stones of their own.

Tomorrow we are back to rising early. The full day begins with the Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, Ein Gedi, David’s hideout from Saul, and Masada, site of the Jewish massacre at the hands of the Romans following the destruction of Jerusalem. In the afternoon, we will be going to a resort on the Dead Sea for an afternoon of rest and relaxation.

More, as always, to come.