Bahai News - Israel: The Birthplace of Easter
The Philadelphia Daily News, April 18, 2000
Israel: The Birthplace of Easter
by Joseph Mulligan
For the Daily News
Easter is a wonderful season, with spring in the air, egg hunts, holiday
finery, baseball and baskets of candy and jellybeans. It's also the
holiest of seasons for Christians, because it celebrates the end of
Lent, Holy Week and the resurrection of the Son of God.
Christianity and Easter were born in Israel's Jerusalem, and pilgrims of
many faiths will descend here in Jubilee Year 2000 as Pope John Paul II
Every year, millions come to discover this exciting country full of
fascinating contradictions. Israel is biblically historic but high-tech
and modern; uncomplicated but cultured; holy but cosmopolitan.
Even though we went to Israel as pilgrims to celebrate the holy places
of the Old and New Testament, we also took advantage of an exciting
Our first stop was in sophisticated Tel Aviv, where our first-class
hotel overlooked beautiful beaches and a colorful boat marina. Israel's
climate is usually warm (or hot), so the blue Mediterranean surf was the
perfect antidote to our 5,800-mile jet lag.
Although we toured from northern Galilee and Haifa to the southern Dead
Sea, most of our visits were to Christian holy places. Nevertheless,
everywhere we traveled, we enjoyed the other "faces" of
Israel: its people, its history, its ceaseless political atmosphere and
the important sites of many religions.
Our trip was planned by Peter's Way International (Jericho, N.Y.), but
other reliable agencies, such as Ohio's Regina Tours and George's
International in San Diego, specialize in Holy Land travel.
Typical cost per traveler is $1,800 to $3,000 per person, including
round-trip airfare, first-class motorcoach transportation and guides and
fine food and lodging in guest houses or hotels in Jerusalem, Nazareth
or Tiberias and Bethlehem.
Throughout our 10 days, guides explained scriptural and historical
relationships surrounding each holy place or site. Their friendliness to
the Palestinian West Bank residents helped ensure our constant safety,
which was never compromised. George's International (operating since
1925) has "never had one of their travelers harmed in any
7,000 years of history
Time seems to stand still in this land, protecting Israel's
historical and biblical authenticity. For example, at Qumran's mountain
caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, little civilization or
industry intrudes upon the harsh beauty of the countryside.
While wading in the soft surf of the Dead Sea, we even surprised a herd
of ibex (horned wild goats). I wasn't certain whether we or the ibex
were more frightened.
On the Jericho Road in the arid Moab Desert, tents of Bedouin
goat-herders dot the countryside as in biblical times. At a solitary
rest stop named the Good Samaritan Inn, we remembered a traveler's
compassion in the biblical story and then rode on grumpy camels for fun
and photos near 7,000-year-old archaeological digs.
Outside Bethlehem, we stooped to enter ancient natural caves that may
have sheltered shepherds on that starry Christmas night 20 centuries
So much to discover
Israel is only 100 miles wide, from the Jordan River to the
Mediterranean, and 500 miles long to southernmost Eilat. Everywhere in
this small nation are abundant religious, cultural and historical
Although we mostly visited New and Old Testament sites, we also toured
Muslim and Jewish shrines, and remains of Crusader sites more than nine
centuries old. In Jerusalem, we visited the holiest site of Judaism,
including the Western (Wailing) Wall, the only remnant of the ancient
Temple that escaped destruction by the soldiers of Titus around 70
Following custom, my wife deposited small prayer slips from loved ones
in the cracks of the age-old structure, which is partitioned into men's
and women's sections.
Above the wall, on the Muslim quarter's Temple Mount, we admired the
magnificently tiled exterior and golden Dome of the Rock, one of the
most recognizable features of this exalted city.
Just across from the Dome, we walked barefoot into the sacred El Aqsa
Mosque where faithful Muslims knelt in prayer upon hundreds of colorful
From Capharnaum in Galilee, we drove west to Mount Carmel, the
birthplace of Elijah and the home of the Carmelite Order, overlooking
the modern port city of Haifa on the Mediterranean and the beautiful
golden dome of the Baha'i religion's Shrine.
The trip south to the world's oldest city, Jericho, near where the
fabled Sodom and Gomorrah are thought to have stood, is a trip of only
150 miles. In that short distance we traveled through more than 7,000
years of the Bible.
Nowhere else on earth can one be surrounded by thousands of years of
Every time I think of my pilgrimage, I think of another place that
"was the most wonderful place of all!" But at this writing, I
remember the shores of the awe-inspiring Sea of Galilee. At the water's
edge, I rinsed my hands and fingered its pebbles as I wondered,
"Did Jesus touch these same pebbles and wash His hands and feet
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