(Photos by Steve Martin, except when in them! The top one is Mount Hermon on May 5, 2019).
Fast becoming one of my favorite locations in all of Israel is the Golan, where majestic mountains rise up with snow covering them even into mid-May; the wide-open fields with their grazing beef cattle; the seven IDF bases protecting the northern and eastern borders; the ancient Roman and Crusader forts; the beautiful nature preserves and national parks; and of course the wineries, where international winning entries are crafted. All located in the north – the Golan.
Laurie and I made our first trip in a rental car in May 2019, just driving out on the road with no specific destination in mind, for we had not been here, in this way, before. We were then joined by our good friend Ahava, who had just made aliyah (immigration) from the USA, receiving her Israeli citizenship most recently, and staying at the Aliyah Return Center near Tiberias.
Sure, I had been on several great tours with Christian Friends of Israel (CFI-USA) as a board member for 14 years in the USA, with Director Hannele Pardain, and then had the privileged times of travel with Barry Segal on the Vision For Israel tours, during my five years as the USA Director. I had set up the USA office and warehouse in the Charlotte, North Carolina area, after relocating it from Savannah, Georgia in 2005. Barry and Batya lead the ministry from their base just 5 miles west of Jerusalem. At that time The Joseph Storehouse was located near Abu Ghosh, until in 2017 they moved to their new, $12.5 million dollar Millennium Center in Modi’in-Maccabim-Re’ut, 19 miles west of Jerusalem.
But those trips were on the typical, 20 or 40 passenger bus tours. Great for the first-time traveler to Israel, which I highly recommend at least doing once. Dr. Peter Wyns, with Christians For Messiah Ministries (CFM) leads a very good one each February/March.
But after going that way, I love our way! The way we do on the Love For His People ministry’s Ahava Adventures!
Getting out by yourself, with no schedule, no time constraints, no urgency to get back on the bus and get going, is quite different. You see what others normally don’t or can’t see. You meet the locals, which is another big thing we love to do. And also spending hours with the people we regularly support through the ministry, who have now made this their home, given to them by God.
So, on Friday, September 27, the four of us got back into the SUV, after completing the short hours along the north shore of the Galilee and headed up along the east side of the Golan, near the Syrian border. Again, if not for the annoying, constant beep of the safety gadgets placed in the vehicle for some drivers needing to have their way guarded, the ride was smooth, quiet, and yet exhilarating.
Our first stop was the Bethsaida National Park, where some of Jesus’ disciples, the apostles Peter, Andrew, and Philip lived prior to joining His team. Built centuries ago and occupied by the Romans for its strategic location, I had never seen or heard of the place. But the signs pointed that way, so that way we went.
The ancient town and now ruins sit above the northeast corner of the Kinneret, with an overlook also of the sea below. Greg, David, Nathan and I even got off the main path to explore some of the surrounding fields. Remains of Jordanian lookout posts still occupied one or two spots from 1967.
From there we continued our venture north, as I really wanted to show the men this restaurant that was on one of the main highways, which Laurie and I had “discovered” in May. After getting by the roaming cats outside we walked inside to browse around. FOX News was being shown on the outdoor TV. But what fascinated me the most, after getting our attention, were the hats.
Hanging from the rafter beams of the once owned house of the Syrian prince prior to 1967, one of the three buildings he had, this one for his wives and daughters, were multitudes of IDF army hats. Given to the current owners as a sign of appreciation for the free meals they were given while serving in this area over the years, they are an awesome sight. Hanging there reminded me of the small flags on tombstones in cemeteries, or the paddle locks attached to fences as a display of love and gratitude. The soldiers had even signed them, in Hebrew and some in English. All colors. All kinds of insignias from their specific base. All lined neatly up, from every beam, inside and out.
And the hamburgers specifically made to order were very good!
But I hadn’t written down the highway number before, so I couldn’t find it again. We ended up on a highway further north. To be found another day, another time.
The beef cattle ranches reminded me of those in Colorado, or Nebraska, and even a few in my home state in Iowa, where they are corn-fed. Here, they graze openly under the blue sky, laying down as if having no care in the world. Until they give of themselves totally. I like how they use the bombed-out Syrian outposts for shade. Again, the hamburgers at that restaurant are a must! Fresh I would think!
Banias Springs and Mount Hermon were our other destinations that day, so I kept the van on the road and pressed on, foot on the pedal. I had told the others that we may not make it back for the Shabbat meal at the Aliyah Return Center, but we would get something to eat while up here. Shawarma, a sandwich in Middle Eastern cuisine consisting of meat cut into thin slices, stacked in a cone-like shape, and roasted on a slowly turning vertical rotisserie or spit, is available in many locations. A favorite! Originally made of lamb or mutton, today’s shawarma may also be chicken, turkey, beef, or veal. And then you can have added French fries, pickles, lettuce. You get the picture.
I will share regarding the rest of the day in the next chapter, as I could write of every hour, but then the book would be too big. And this was just the second day. We hadn’t even gone south to the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi, Qumran, and then up to Jerusalem! But we will!