I first got notice of the running conference in Israel, when I was looking on Dr. Metzl’s site for events in New York City. I sometimes try to get to his events, & if they fit my schedule, I sign up. I was looking into 2019, & he had planned a conference with Ron Golan, MD, and several other doctors in Israel.
I’m a flight attendant, and more than once I’ve joked, “I’m not flying solely for my health”. I checked loads to see if there were standby seats available. It was a miracle, there were. Tel Aviv goes out full, most of the time, and even to work the trip at my seniority of 27 years, it’s not a “cake walk” to get the trip.
For work into the New Year, I wanted to bring all kinds of good luck. So, I picked up a work trip to Dublin, Ireland that would be flying back on New Year’s eve. I planned to change after I landed & go straight to Israel from there, landing in Tel Aviv on the 1st.
The flight departed on time, and late in the evening. It leaves nearly at midnight & was a long flight over 9 hours. I didn’t know it until I got there, but two of my friends were working as purser and B-coordinator. That’s flight attendant jargon for lead positions over both coach and business cabins. Both men work extremely hard. Ruslan and Markus, and it’s always a pleasure to see them both. I brought candy too, from Ireland, for the crew. I opted out of food on the flight and just slept the whole way over. I did wake up once, and had a cup of tea, and then back to the seat for the rest of the flight.
Pulling into Tel Aviv was a trip. I’d never been. I am not Jewish and don’t know a lick of Hebrew. I was a touch nervous, at first, that I’d have a language barrier issue. When I got to the customs agent, he spoke perfect English. He wasn’t messing around. He wanted to know details about where I was going in Israel, and who I’d be seeing. I even had to pull out race information on Tiberias and the conference information on Jordan’s website for him to see. I also had to explain that I’d be going to Jerusalem after the conference. Fortunately, he didn’t ask too many details about my time in Jerusalem, as I was “winging” most of my time there. I had planned to set up tours when I got to Tiberias. I’m not generally a person for tours, as most of the world I’ve seen on my own, but for Israel, I knew I needed help. There was going to be no way to cram in everything “Holy” in two days without a tour, and I needed help getting into Palestine. With a tour, it’s just easier if you ask me.
I found places to stay in Tiberias and in Jerusalem off of Airbnb. The rental car I found off of rentalcars.com. I got the insurance in Israel for the car. I do the same thing when I go to Ireland.
Landing there, it was 5:30 pm and we landed early. I got to the line for the rental car after customs clearance and just loved chatting with them. They did say point blank, not to take a car with Israeli car tags into Palestine, and don’t get lost, either. Thank God for Waze. I don’t know what I’d have done without the Waze app. Before leaving the US, Ron Golan, one of the doctors at the conference, said via email to be sure to have Waze, backups for it and etc.. With all of the bad press on TV and the issues with the Gaza strip, I figured the guys on the border wouldn’t have a sense of humor and a woman wouldn’t be welcomed at all in many of the places there. (I already knew you lost your rights as a woman if you step foot into Iran, and was not sure on the other parts of the middle east). I had to take things a bit more seriously than my usual “fly by the seat of the pants” even though in some fashion, I still was.
I withdrew 100.00 dollars worth of Shekels from the airport ATM to have local currency in shekels. It was plenty. I’d use my debit or credit card for other purchases. The drive from the Tel Aviv airport to Tiberias was 2 hours. It was dark, and I had to make one stop at a convenience store after getting off of Yitzhak Rabin highway. The guys there didn’t speak much English, and looked at me like I was from outer space, so I decided I was definitely “from outer space” and hurried with my drink purchase.
The condo I was going to for three nights was off of the Sea of Galilee and about a 15 minute drive from the hospital in Tiberias where the conference was located. The whole time I was driving, I was thinking, “this is a trip”.
I got into Tiberias and had issues with getting into the condo. I found it, but had to eventually call the owners as it was impossible to communicate further through email. I needed help retrieving the key. They fortunately spoke enough English on the phone, and a nice lady greeted me with a hug and a key to the condo. She gave me the tour of the condo (in broken English) of where the hot water heater button was, how to turn on the heat and how to get the electonic blinds open. I had a radical view of the Sea of Galilee. Two mornings I had coffee in my room with the blinds open to see the water. It was too cold to sit outside, least for me this trip. One night a storm blew in and it was a relaxing view to watch.
The first day of Jordan’s conference was my favorite. Greeters were happy to help me. I sat far off to the right of the auditorium, & was greeted by a few local runners and store owners that knew English as a second language. Seeing Jordan is always a pleasure. He and his travel companion showed about 20 minutes after me and then Ron, Jordan’s friend, was there a few minutes later. It was fun to hear Jordan pick on Ron. “There ‘s a picture of the very young Ronnie”. Had I been “Ronnie”, I would’ve played along, with a poke or two on something.
The first half of the conference was in both Hebrew and English and they had headsets for translation. I appreciated this. A few students had shared their thesis information in their speeches proving the benefits of running. Other information I tuned out as I had realized I needed to get tours booked. Before cutting out at 2 pm, I passed along to Jordan to share, about 8 Chocolate Whiskey candy bars from Ireland. It’s good luck and good fortune to have anything from Ireland. I’d just blown in from Dublin 2 days prior, so it was easy for me to do. I wanted to do this for good luck in the New Year.
The second half of the first day, I had to leave. I’d received an email from the owner of the condo in Jerusalem where I’d be staying a couple of days later and realized I needed to plan my tours in advance. He had great advice I was glad I took. He also said that when I left Tiberias on Friday, I’d need to be there before sundown and sabbath start, as he’d be entirely out of contact with me or anyone else. I knew it was probably serious, being sabbath in Israel. I got the tours booked after a couple of hours. I did it all from my phone. I made sure I got to town before sabbath start.
The second conference day was fun, too. It was only half a day and I chatted a bit more with peeps. I caught up with Jordan and Ron before leaving, and met a couple from a nearby town. I decided too, I’d check out the local gym, @Olympus_tiberias. on Thursday night. I had a photo shoot in Canada scheduled two weeks after the conference and needed a weight room. It was great to meet the gym peeps. The owner charged the US equiv to 13.00 per day for use of his gym. He invited me to the fitness class they had upstairs. So sweet, but I had to opt out, as I just needed an hour of weights.
I left Tiberias the next morning at 11 and jammed to local radio all the way to Jerusalem. On the drive over, I still saw race peeps though I didn’t do the race. I stopped at a gas station between Tiberias and Jerusalem and there was a race participant in the gas station getting water. Given I walked in the convenience store and had questions about the gas pump, and being as I wasn’t dressed in what I assume was normal (skinny jeans and ankle high boots with a sweater and a scarf), my welcome wasn’t very warm. I didn’t chat up the racer, or anyone else in the store. I paid and got out quickly. There was also a line to the gas pumps and I didn’t want to miff anyone off making them wait.
I read signs in English, fortunately, and it was a sunny day. When I got to Jerusalem, it was easier getting into the condo there. I followed all of the codes and texted the owner that the blow dryer was missing. I had the keys to the condo and realized I needed to get to the grocery store, as stores were already closing down at 3:30 and I’d have no food. I quickly googled grocery stores and the only one still opened until 4:30 was 15 minutes away. When I got to the store, I had to do a power shop in 15 minutes. They were already packing up early. Oatmeal, omelet makings, peanut butter, salad materials and packaged turkey. I was set.
My first day on the tour, I’d planned Masada and the Dead Sea. It was a sunny day and one of the only ones with a warmer forecast that week. I had planned to get in the water in the Dead Sea. The tour was well worth it. I was picked up at the Crowne Plaza lobby by the tour van that had my name. I parked the rental car along the street and walked over. The day was great. I met people from the US, Germany and Russia. There were some hysterical students from Rutgers on another van, too. They were at the Dead Sea doing film retakes of themselves. Just a riot. I was the most entertained by this as they were laughing saying, “no, no, we have to film like this”.
The surface of the Dead Sea was concrete hard, and jagged. It hurt to walk along it in bare feet. I had walked to the receeding water line from the spa and got in the water. The van driver said only one bacteria could grow in the water, but nothing else survived the high salt content. The views of Masada, a camp which was a retreat and safe haven to about 1,000 Jews was high up and they had a nice set up. The views were incredible. I was with a tour group and we had to go by cable car, but had I’d been solo, I’d have done the hike up Masada by foot. You could see the Dead Sea in view from Masada and everywhere else was desert. My phone said “welcome to Jordan” when I pulled into the lot with the tour group. So many machine gun guarded checkpoints, it made my van tour plan even more worth the money.
The next day was tour of the holy lands. I parked the rental car at the exact same place. Because it was Sunday, and there a normal workday, I got back with a parking ticket to worry over later. There were no signs, nothing to indicate I wasn’t allowed to park there. From what I gathered, I had parked in front of a condo that had rights to the spots. I could’ve as easily shown up to no car, and a towing bill and God knows what else, so I got over the parking ticket in about 10 minutes. The drive from the Crowne plaza was around a traffic circle that went back to the expressway and each time I passed a bridge that so resembled a Santiago Calatrava bridge I’d seen in Ireland called the Samuel Beckett Bridge (or locally known there as the Harp bridge). When I got back to the condo in Jerusalem, I googled the bridges in Israel. Sure enough, the design was what I had recognized, a Calatrava creation and called “the Chords” Bridge. I instantly thought I was cool. I had recognized two bridges by the same guy in two different countries.
On the tour of the holy lands, the first stop was to see the view of the Mount of Olives. We drove around the city a bit and went straight to a lot where we’d change vans to enter Bethlehem. The drivers explained that it might’ve seemed crazy, but it would save hassles, as with an Israeli tag, we’d likely get stopped, everyone would be questioned and possibly even have to prove where we were from with our passports. I was glad to change vans. In my youth, I was a bit more fearless, but even at that age, I wouldn’t have fooled with crossing territories in a foreign country. If you foul up in a foreign country, you’re at their mercy.
It was a very windy and sunny day. We walked from a cobblestoned road into town to the small door where we’d enter to see where Jesus was born. Once we got there, we waited a short time to descend down steep stairs. All ages were there, including men and women much older than 80 and determined to get down the stairs with no rails. I was glad the millennials showed respect. It was a dark sort of tunnel, and a cave like existence. On the right was the actual birthplace that had a star on it that you could touch and see for a few seconds and then you had to cut out for the next person. Once you turned around, a few feet away and behind. was the area where the manger was located. We got upstairs and I got a pic in the area named the Greek Orthodox church, which sat right above Jesus’ actual birthplace. I’m not vastly religious, but did appreciate seeing everything.
The next stop was one of the only Christian owned stores in town. In Bethlehem, the percentage of Christians was less than 13%. I chatted in the store with some US locals from WA state. They were a married couple and knew a lot about religion.
From there, we stopped off to have lunch and would spend an hour there. I love chicken, and fortunately, they had a version of chicken there. The seating was hard pressed though as many vans stopped in. I quickly ate and found a place to charge my phone. I got harassed by a man selling trinkets on the way out. He made any trip to Canal street in NYC look like a walk in the park. I didn’t buy anything, and asked him to knock it off. I probably would’ve bought something had he just quit insulting me.
The next stop would be the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This would be my least favorite as it was where Jesus was crucified. We saw the areas where He was placed on the cross, where the cross was located, and where He was prepared for burial after the crucifixion. The mood there wasn’t as somber as I expected, but grim enough.
We went to the Wailing Wall next, which would be my favorite for the day. I had read on the wall before taking off from the US and knew I was going to write down some prayer requests. The tour guides gave us a 20 minutes to write stuff down. What I thought was a bit archaic was that the men and women were divided in two and the area for the women was smaller. I had to wait a bit to find an empty section of the wall to stuff the prayer in. Requests included stuff for me, health for my family and specific requests for a few friends who were dealing with health and wellness struggles. If you can’t make it to the actual wall yourself, you can go online and ask that your prayer or wish request be placed there. I crammed the slip of paper into empty grout and was careful not to move anyone else’s request.
David’s Tomb was one of the last things I saw. Two rooms separated the tomb for prayer. Men & women were in separate rooms. Click onto the link if you’re interested in hearing live prayer at the Tomb. The men were to the right on the other side of the wall.
I got back to the condo that night and decided to chill. It was great. I did get online though with my credit union and noticed my credit card had been jacked to the tune of 200.00 so I had to call the US to shut it down. It pisses me off when this happens. I have to redo all of my bill setups when I get a new card and it’s quite inconvenient. It also provided additional worry about my other card. I decided to get to the airport and turn the car in and count my lucky stars I had no other issues. I waited in the airport about 6 hours. I just felt that with the trip going so smoothly and ending with a credit card jack, that I needed to get out of dodge before anything else could happen.
It was a smooth flight back to the US, and a friendly crew. I slept the whole way. I travel in business attire and was grateful for business class both ways on standby, sheer luck.