The Voyager has sailed out of Haifa into calm seas. We arrive at the Suez Canal, today, anchoring at 6:00 pm. We will join a convoy of ships at 3:00 am and travel together through this narrow body of water. The next two days will be spent at sea. We need to time to relax and restore our energy.
Israel was a very intense port visit. For two and a half days, we soaked in as much of the country as possible. We might have made better excursion choices, but we have no regrets. Our goals were met. As I reflect on our time in this incredible country, I am almost at a loss for how to best share this experience in words. So much of it was emotional and feelings are harder to convey.
First, I want to say that at no time did we ever feel that we were in any danger. Every place we went was secure and comfortable, even the sites that get a lot of press in the US papers. Daily, before leaving home, we read about knife attacks at the Western Wall. We felt some anxiety, but really trusted Regent Seven Seas cruises to make decisions that were in our best interest. They did. Security was excellent and I am happy to tell you that, based our experience, Israel is a place of peace, not discord. Go...see this country. We want to return, and will.
Jerusalem! Oh, Jerusalem!
To have the opportunity to stand at the Wailing Wall, to touch it, pray before it and leave my prayers with the names of people I love tucked in a tight crevice was extraordinarily moving. You were with me in spirit and I left a small part of us there.
There were many Bar Mitzvahs in front of the Wailing Wall. Men entered from a massive door carrying Torahs, singing, dancing, and huddling around the boy who would become a man minutes later. The women, excluded from this ceremony, were forced to stand on chairs behind a solid fence so they could peer over to see the service. They made shrill sounds of joy while the boys read from the Torah.
The area was filled with people. It was difficult to find an open space at the Wall. Clearly, many flock to this important site which is open 24/7 to anyone who wishes access.
I touched many stones that day as we followed the Stations of the Cross, Jesus's final walk to his crucifixion. The place where he rested his hand to steady himself, I placed mine. We entered the Church of the Holy Sepulcure built upon the site of his crucifixion and the cave of Jesus' tomb. Many prayed inside this church. Some placed items on the slab of stone upon which Jesus' body was placed after his death; I touched this stone. We stopped at the Church that was built around the rock that Jesus prayed at after he learned of his betrayal by Judas at his final Passover dinner. He contemplated his fate on the same rock that I touched.
And, I was so touched! To feel so connected to history and to be in such a holy place is indescribable. We had an overview of Tel Avia, Jaffa and Haifa, but, being in Jerusalem was the best day of our visit to Israel. As it is said, “Next year in Jerusalem.”
Israel is the land of milk and honey. Their dairy cows happily produce unlimited amounts of milk. Dates are turned into honey. This once barren desert land has been made green by thousands of children planting trees, annually, and forest have been created by millions of Jews world-wide who send contributions to plant trees in the rocky, dry soil. In sharp contrast, there was not one tree growing in the Gaza Strip as we drove through it from check point to check point. Groves of banana trees are sheltered under netting, fruit trees yield every imaginable delight and olives abundantly grow on gnarled trees, even those as old as a 1,000 years. Israelis have ingeniously figured out how to maximize their water, magnifying each drop to eight times its normal output.
Beginning tonight, our on board security is at a very heightened level. The fire hoses are out on the deck and the eardrum breaking device, that wards off would-be intruders, is set up and ready for use. All outside lights will be turned off on the ship; we are required to keep all drapes closed at night; we will be sailing, blacked out, in complete darkness.
Unlike our other voyages in this area, when strict security protocols were in place only in the Gulf of Aden, on this voyage, we will be following all of these rules until we reach the United Arab Emirates. Times have certainly changed and we have greater concerns than Somali pirates.