Israel, a land steeped in history, is the backdrop for countless events chronicled in the Bible’s sixty-six books. Every corner of this country carries echoes of the past, etched into the very ground that witnessed the Israelites’ entry into the Promised Land and Yeshua’s miraculous ministry.
Though I have lived in Israel for over eleven years, I continue to be captivated by its popular tourist sites, especially when I have the chance to introduce these remarkable places to my friends. Recently, my friend Silja and I embarked on a road trip to the northern side of the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) to retrace Yeshua’s footsteps and immerse ourselves in the stories that define the region. Our first stop was Magdala, the birthplace of Mary (Miriam) Magdalene.
“And after sending away the crowds, Yeshua got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.” ~ Matthew 15:39 TLV
In 2009, construction on a new hotel in Magdala was halted when ancient ruins were discovered beneath the surface. I remember visiting the excavation site and marveling as the archeologists unearthed the ancient city. Today, Magdala has been beautifully restored, allowing visitors to step through time and experience life as it was thousands of years ago.
While the archeological excavations alone make Magdala a worthwhile visit, I was particularly fascinated by the Duc In Altum Church, which pays homage to the women of the New Testament who followed and supported Yeshua during His time on Earth.
“Soon afterward, Yeshua began traveling throughout towns and villages, preaching and proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God. The twelve were also with Him. And certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities—Miriam, the one called Magdalene, out of whom seven demons had gone; Joanna, the wife of Kuza, Herod’s finance minister; Susanna; and many others—were supporting them out of their own resources.” ~ Luke 8:1-3 TLV
As we walked into its expansive entrance, our eyes were immediately drawn to the dome ceiling adorned with artwork and gold Latin lettering. Engraved in the walls, the words translated to read, “The Church gives thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the mystery of woman, and for every woman, for her eternal dignity and for the wonders God has worked in and through her in the history of humanity.”
Exploring the church at our own pace (and savoring the cool air), Silja and I took in the nine pillars supporting the dome ceiling. Eight were dedicated to the women mentioned in the Gospels, while the ninth remained nameless, symbolizing the countless women who have carried Yeshua’s message to the four corners of the Earth. Standing before this empty pillar, I paused in wonder, realizing that I, too, was among the women supporting the body of Messiah!
The church housed five chapels, with the main one featuring a large boat-shaped pulpit and floor-length windows overlooking the breathtaking Sea of Galilee and Golan Heights — how cool would it be to have a service there?! The four smaller chapels were adorned with mosaics depicting Biblical events: Yeshua casting demons out of Mary Magdalene, walking on water, healing Jairus’ daughter, and calling His disciples to follow Him. As we entered each room, Silja and I read the corresponding Scriptures and laughed amongst ourselves at the fact that we were standing where some of these extraordinary events unfolded!
Before leaving Magdala, we couldn’t resist buying a refreshing passion fruit slushy and greedily slurped them as we drove to our second destination: Capernaum.
“Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’ From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” ~ Matthew 4:13-17 NIV
The ancient city of Capernaum attracts busloads of tourists daily, filling the paths and seating areas as their tour guides speak over one another to recount the history of Yeshua healing the sick, choosing His disciples, and sailing off on a boat before stilling the raging storm.
While the scorching and dusty day limited our time in Capernaum, we managed to see the ancient synagogue and read about its history before taking refuge from the heat in our air-conditioned car. Seeking an indoor attraction, we drove to Qatsrin, the unofficial capital of the Golan Heights, to visit Olea Essence, my favorite olive oil factory in Israel.
Stepping through the glass front doors of Olea Essence feels like entering the Garden of Eden, with olive trees and luscious green plants forming a canopy in the front area. The factory was surprisingly quiet for a Friday afternoon, granting us a private viewing of a short film that told Olea Essence’s origin story. Afterward, we were invited to wash our hands with the mud residue from the olives, leaving them smooth and sanitized.
Olea Essence is a remarkable establishment that maximizes the use of every part of the olive during its oil production. Their extensive range of products, from cosmetics to household cleaning supplies, reduces waste, protects the environment, and offers natural options for our bodies and homes. Inside the store, the clerk guided us to different sample areas to taste their various oils and try their skincare products, enticing us to buy everything our budget allowed, haha!
Dreading our return to the oppressive heat, which was intensifying throughout the day, Silja and I were grateful when the kiosk’s owner allowed us to enjoy our picnic indoors. It felt so wonderful to fill our bellies and relax in the factory’s green oasis before braving the elements for the final leg of the day’s tour.
While the Catholic Church claims dominion over many Biblical sites, the truth is, no matter where you go in the Galilee, you are following in Yeshua’s footsteps. The Bible records that He taught in synagogues, ministered to the lost, and performed miracles throughout the region! So, rather than paying to enter each “official” site, I chose to take Silja off the beaten path, offering her a glimpse of a rugged Israel that more accurately resembled Yeshua’s time.
At one point, I parked the car on the side of the road and pushed aside a curtain of bushes to reveal the Jordan River flowing in its murky splendor, with kayakers leisurely floating downstream towards the Kinneret. We didn’t wade into the river this time, but maybe on a future visit, we’ll rent our own kayak and paddle through the famous waters.
“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” ~ Mark 1:9-11 NIV
With the temperature surpassing 105 degrees Fahrenheit, our bodies desperately needed cooling down as the afternoon wore on. Parking across from the Church of Tabgha, where Yeshua is believed to have fed the 5,000, we followed the path to discover the hidden gem of the Ein Eyov Waterfall, which provided a refreshing respite after a long day in the blistering sun. Boats and jet skis also dotted the beach, with families and friends kicking off the weekend with music, drinks, and laughter. Unfortunately, our beach companions lacked consideration for the environment and tossed their cans and trash into the water before speeding away. Next time, I’ll bring a bag to collect the rubbish before it becomes a hazard to wildlife.
“When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, ‘It is I; don’t be afraid.’ Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.” ~ John 6:16-21 NIV
Living in a historical country is easily taken for granted. My adventure with Silja reminded me of the importance of exploring the land around us. History is everywhere, yet we often overlook it amidst the busyness of our daily lives. So, I want to encourage you to take time this week to uncover the stories of the cities you live in and share them with your friends. It’ll be a great adventure and create more memories for the scrapbook.