Saturday, April 11, 2015


Airport art: David Ben Gurion,
Israel's 1st President and
the airport's namesake
The Israeli port city of Tel Aviv is the entry place for most Westerners visiting Israel. A "tel" is a hill made by layers of human civilization, an archaeological goldmine. "Aviv" means "spring," implying renewal or rebirth. Together, "Tel Aviv" signifies the rebirth of an ancient civilization. Tel Aviv is a very modern city born out of the ancient city of Jaffa, which today is the Old Town section of Tel Aviv.

Although Jerusalem has almost twice as many people as Tel Aviv, there is only a small international airport there, and it has been closed to civilian traffic since 2001. While Jerusalem may be the religious and cultural center of Israel, Tel Aviv, the business and technology hub, is a thriving metropolis and has the second-largest economy in the Middle East, behind only Dubai. It makes sense to put the main airport there.

Tel Aviv was our first destination.
Paranoid about Los Angeles traffic, we left our home about five hours before our flight time. It usually takes us from one-and-a-half to two hours to get to LAX, but if there is traffic, we may spend three or more hours in gridlock. Happily, we arrived with lots of time to spare, enjoyed a meal in the Lemonade Restaurant (amazingly good organic salads and our favorite place to eat at LAX),
Picture from here
. . . departed LAX almost an hour late, then flew from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv with a too-short, sweat-producing 30-minute connection in New York City, a total travel time, if we count our drive time from home, of almost 23 hours. The long flight had its bonuses, especially the last segment. We enjoyed sharing the plane with quite a few restless Hasidic Jews, who walked up and down the aisles wearing their black hats and heavy black coats during the entire flight. (Somehow their women managed to rest peacefully in their seats while more or less controlling the children.) Also, I met people from three different churches who were on a Holy Land pilgrimage with their pastors and others from their congregations. Not your usual passenger list.
Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv
Classy and clean Ben Gurion Airport
After going through immigration at the Tel Aviv Airport with no problems, we were met by a representative of the private guide we had booked for the day, and within minutes of meeting him, another couple from our group also arrived on schedule, and the four of us left the airport with the young man sent to collect us.

Just a word about airport meet-ups.  It is a bit presumptuous to think that you can fly half-way around the world on different planes, even different airlines and different routes, and arrive on time and meet up as arranged. However, that's exactly what happened on this trip.  Four couples, four schedules, four safe and timely arrivals (the second two couples did make the last leg of the journey together). One BIG miracle.

We didn't spend any time in Tel Aviv proper. Our interest lay in the southern, oldest part of the city, the ancient Biblical city of Jaffa (aka Joppa or Japho), the site from which Jonah fled the Lord's command to go to Ninevah, the city conquered by David and Solomon, and the place where Peter raised Tabitha from the dead and had his vision of the unclean animals caught in a net. The city has existed in some form since 1500 BC and is considered one of the oldest cities in the world.

Wow. By way of comparison, I live in a city that incorporated in 1888.

Our driver took us to meet our guide, Yosef Spiezer, at the Jaffa Clock Tower, built in 1903 to commemorate the silver jubilee of  the Ottoman Sultan Abd al-Hamid II. Now 1903 is a year I can fathom.

There is nothing like a foreign land to help weary travelers shake off the weight of jet lag. Yosef took us on a walk a few blocks up a hill to a view point and showed us this: aquamarine Mediterranean waters whipped by a light wind into frothy white tongues licking the shoreline:
Tel Aviv, Israel / Souvenir Chronicles
I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't this gem. Sensational. We looked like we'd been tumbling around in a dryer basket, but suddenly we were wide awake!

We continued our walk, enjoying other beautiful sights:
We encountered our first of thousands of Holy Land Cats. What is it about cats and ancient cities? Rome and Athens are also full of cats, perhaps even more than we saw on this trip, but Middle Eastern felines seem to be better fed and groomed than their Italian and Greek counterparts. Most of the cats we saw in Israel and Egypt were friendly rather than feral.
Maybe their good looks have something to do with the prevalence of these pretty brown pigeons:
While we waited for the other two couples to arrive, we spent some time in the Church of St. Peter, which was scheduled to close before the others joined us. It is built on a site that has been a Christian center for over 1,000 years. A church and inn for pilgrims was built here in the 16th century on top of the ruins of an earlier church.  The church that stands on the spot today was completed in 1894. Information at the site notes, "As opposed to most churches, which face east, the Church of St. Peter faces west, toward the sea, over which Peter's famous vision appeared, and toward Rome, where he is regarded as the first pope."
View from the front
Church of St. Peter, Jaffa, Israel
View from the side
The Franciscan Order is the official representative of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land and official guardian of Israel's holy sites. 

I was surprised to see that mass is held in Polish, but after coming home, I learned that outside of Poland, more Poles live in Israel than any other country. In fact, those with Polish ancestry make up 75% of the Israeli non-Arab population.  I would expect that most of those are part of the Jewish diaspora following World War II, but what drew the Polish Catholics?
The Franciscan shield hangs above the entrance, marked by the distinctive Jerusalem cross that originated with the Crusades--one large cross with a small cross in each of the quadrants. Above the cross are two arms forming an X over another cross. The bare arm beneath belongs to Christ and clothed one on top to St. Francis, founder of the order.

The interior has a long, brightly colored vaulted ceiling, pretty but not spectacular:
The sun was hitting the window above the altar just right, highlighting the dove representing the Holy Spirit:
Behind the altar is a painting of Peter's dream of a net full of unclean animals being lowered to him from heaven and an angel commanding him to eat. Acts 10 says that he protested that he could not eat unclean animals, but the angel insisted. When Peter awoke, he realized God was telling him that the Gospel should be taken to all men, both Jew and Gentile, that none were unworthy.  
Yosef mentioned that this is a point where Christianity made a major split from Judaism--no more "chosen people," a principle very important to the Jews.

The church also has an altar that commemorates Peter raising Tabitha from the dead as recorded in Acts 9. The event occurred somewhere in Joppa (Jaffa) and led to Peter's fame in that region, contributing greatly to his missionary successes:

Yosef got word from our driver that he had picked up the other two couples at the airport, they were on their way, and we needed to go back to the clock tower to pick them up. As we started down the hill, our guide stopped a man whom he recognized as a Franciscan priest connected with St. Peter's and asked him what time the church closed.

Then the next big miracle occurred.  The priest looked us over and then asked, "Are you with the Mormons?"
Wow. How did he know? We affirmed that we were Mormons, and he started to rattle off all the connections he has had with Mormons. Amazing! Father Angelo Ison, as we learned he was called, told our guide to come on back up to the church and he would unlock it for us and let the other members of our group see it.

We ran to find them, and after our initial exuberance at finding ourselves together, in the Holy Land!, we dragged them back up the hill with us, trying to explain as we walked.

The church was just being locked as we arrived, and Father Angelo had the caretaker let us in. He turned on the lights for us and put on on a recording of Gregorian chants. (Later he told us he taught the BYU Jerusalem students Gregorian chants, and that they sang so beautifully.) Then he left to put on his brown Franciscan robes. Upon his return he invited us into monastery attached to the church, a place most tourists don't get to see. In fact, Yosef the Tour Guide had not had that opportunity, and he was quite excited, snapping pictures along with us.

Crucifix  hanging on the wall at
the far end of the room above.
Father Angelo said he had lived in Hawaii and worked at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie, a place owned and operated by the LDS Church on the island of Oahu, and that he loves Mormons. He told us the Mormon apostle Orson Hyde had stayed in a monastery in 1841 in Jerusalem and had scratched his name in a wood door frame. Cecil Samuelson, President of BYU, has also stayed at the monastery, and Father Angelo considers him a good friend. Of course, other lesser dignitaries have also stayed at the crusader castle that used to be on this site, men like Richard the Lion-Hearted and King Louis IX, aka St. Louis.
View of the sea from an office window
We went into a circular room built in the 13th century as part of the crusader castle. This and another room like it are the only remnants of the castle still standing. Now it is where monks now gather early in the morning to pray. Napoleon Bonaparte stayed in this room during the Seige of Jaffa in 1799:

Note the beautiful stained glass window
Father Angelo said that this church houses the original papal bull, issued by Pope Clement VI in 1342, that made the Franciscans "Guardians of the Holy Land." 
On our way out we enjoyed the serenity of the inner courtyard, noting how much the layout and architectural style of the monastery can be found in our own California missions.
King Louis IX, a devout Catholic, keeps watch over the courtyard.
Kedumim Square, right next to St. Peter's Church, has a delightful new fountain that depicts what I at first thought might be all the unclean animals Peter saw suspended in a net, but what are actually the twelve signs of the zodiac:
Zodiac Fountain, Jaffa, Israel / Souvenir Chronicles
Capricorn, the Sea-goat; Sagittarius, the Archer; and Leo, the Lion
Pisces, the Fish
Aquarius, the Water-bearer
Aries, the Ram
Scorpius, the Scorpion
Gemini, the Twins; Virgo, the Maiden; and Taurus, the Bull
I missed good shots of Libra and Cancer, but they were there too.

Our guide, who was wearing a kippa under his baseball cap, went off to pray, and so we followed the bidding of one of Napoleon's soldier's holding a sign that read "Historical Site." His arm was printed with the words "The Entrance" and was gesturing towards a sunken section of Kedumim Square. Okay, if you insist.
That's where we were introduced to freshly-squeezed pomegranate-orange juice, a drink we had several times on our city walks during the next two weeks.

Then Chris found a Gelateria.  I know, that's not a big surprise, especially if you know that the last time the Cannons and Joneses traveled together it was our goal to eat gelato every day, and we exceeded our goal. We thought we might do the same on this trip, but alas, this may have been the best gelato of the whole journey. Oh well, at least it was a good kick-off. There were many more treats of all varieties to come.


  1. Nice post. I was disappointed to learn that the fountain was about the zodiac and not Peter's dream. It would have been so fun if it had had that connection. The meeting of Father Angelo was one of the very nice surprises of our whole trip.

  2. Wow, I totally missed the significance of the zodiac fountain. I took a picture of it when someone in our group pointed to it and said it was a depiction of Peter's vision. I love your picture of the water before we got there. Beautiful!

  3. Same here, Chris. I even wrote "Peter's dream fountain" in my notes. I looked it up when I was writing this and learned the truth!

  4. Amazing story about the monk showing you arround the monestary

  5. I think you should submit this idea to the Meet the Mormons people, see if they'll add you to the next movie. I also can't believe you guys are sightseeing so quickly--and happy you found your gelato.

  6. tour guide-yosef spiezer