Holy Land 2012 – Day 5

August 27, 2012

An early start this morning as we needed to get to Masada before the sun made the heat unbearable at Herod’s winter palace and the scene of the Jewish rebel’s last stand in AD72.

It was interesting to see that, even though we had set off from Jericho at 07:30 we were passing coaches coming the other way carrying groups who had already been. Being sensible, we paid for the cable car to take us to the top but, even though the Snake Path was officially closed because of the extreme heat, we could see folk beginning the ascent – a climb of 400 metres, but a much longer distance to walk as the snake pass is aptly named.

We took in the Commandant’s quarters, the frescoes in the large bath house and the model which demonstrated how the cisterns, dug into the bedrock, were filled via aqueducts with 1,500,000,000 cubic feet of water from the winter flash floods.

Even the cheesy introductory film didn’t put us off: “Slavery or death. Which would YOU choose?” (turn and stare questioningly into the camera lens, darling)

Descending by cable car again Loay met us at the bottom of Masada and took us Ein Gedi spa for a Dead Sea experience. Sacrificing my own enjoyment for the sake of the group once again I forwent the pleasure of splathering myself in mud, washing it off with sulphurated water and floating in the Dead Sea in order to mind wallets, passports and take photos. Although Kath and I both went for a paddle…

Qumran, home of the Essene community in the 1st century, and the place where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered in the mid-20th century was our next stop. Another, much better, audio-visual presentation introduced us to the site before we walked through to see for ourselves. A fascinating site – but really too hot to enjoy at leisure.

On the way back to the hotel, we had planned to visit Qaser al Yahud – the site near Jericho where it is possible that Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist. I say ‘planned’ because we managed to carefully time our visit to coincide with 15 minutes after the site closed. Something for tomorrow morning, then!

Loay, our driver, let us into his secret – he’s also a speciality chef and carves melons!









Holy Land 2012 – Day 4

August 26, 2012

Almost a lie in this morning as we didn’t have to leave until 9:30 although the air conditioning breaking in our bedroom had meant that I hadn’t had the most restful of nights….

Loay (pronounced ‘Lou-eye’) was able to drop us quite close to the Christmas Lutheran Church where we attended the morning, Arabic, service. Being early, we took the opportunity to visit a money changer and a bit of haggling by Lizzie got a rate with which those who needed to change money were happy.

The Lutheran church in Bethlehem is the oldest Protestant church in the Holy Land and it was good to meet Tony (Deputy Head teacher of the school we visited on Day 2) again – he is an Elder of the church. The service had been printed in English, with phonetic spelling of the Arabic responses and hymns so we could join in if we wanted to. Lizzie and I were delighted that one of the hymns was one which we knew from Youth4Hope camps. Brian had, quite rightly, decided to ‘collar-up’ for the service so none of us felt a great deal of sympathy when he was, in turn, collared to assist in the leading of the service. The boy done good.

After coffee following the service we wandered down to Manger Square for some lunch at the Square Restaurant and to say ‘Goodbye and Thank You’ to Jack Giacaman who had so kindly been our guide, host and taxi driver over the last 2 days.

Leaving Bethlehem, we took the Fire Road to Bethany, the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Visiting the Church of Lazarus (another Barluzzi design) a few of us walked up the hill to visit the tomb of Lazarus. Only Ian was prepared to take the risk in climbing all the way into the tomb – I volunteered to stay out to take photos (I’m a martyr to my blog!)

Leaving the church, we took the bus the short distance to the separation wall – we had been on the other side of the wall at Abu Dis but knew that, although we were only 50 yards from where we had stood 2 days ago, that 50 yards had now stretched to a 15 kilometre journey. We next stopped at the Bethany Community of the Resurrection of Christ – a Russian Ecclesiastical Mission (and a project of the Convent of Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem) There we met with Sr. Martha – the Head Teacher of the school offered by the community to local children, some of whom, from families with particular problems, are boarders.

Sr. Martha was a wonderful speaker full of humility, humanity and, most of all, humour. She was candid about the issues she faces as Principal of the school – and how she hated the name ‘Martha’! Sadly for her, it is a name which comes with the Head Teacher’s post and she has had to get used to it…

I think we could have listened to her all day but she, and we, had places to go. We left her, all smiling at the memory of meeting such a remarkable young woman but were brought back to earth as we took a short detour to visit Ma’ale Adummin (an Israeli settlement on the West Bank) and were able to see for ourselves the inequalities and iniquities caused by the settlements as the poor roads, little water and run down housing of Bethany gave way to lush avenues, green spaces and plush housing units of the settlement just over the road.

Heading down to Jericho, the group experienced the incredible heat as we stopped to view St George’s Monastery in Wadi Qelt before moving on to Tel Jericho – the oldest city in the world, so the claim goes. A look at the excavations, followed by an ice cream was the prelude to our arrival at the air conditioned comfort of the Jericho Resort Hotel, complete with swimming pool… A feature that might well be visited after dinner!










Holy Land 2012 – Day 3

August 25, 2012

Day 3 – Bethlehem

After breakfast we were picked up by Jack’s wife, Tamara, and taken to Dar al- Kalima school. The school Principal, Naila, and Tony (Deputy Head) explained the ethos of this Lutheran school and how they try to engender peaceful co-existence between Christian and Muslim pupils by teaching about both faiths and having shared worship once a month.

Leaving the school we went to Manger Square where we met with Jack and his brother Nabil. We did our shopping for souvenirs at Jacks shop in Milk Grotto street before walking the 100 yards to the Milk Grotto church and Convent of the Order of Perpetual Adoration (including the Church of the Mother of God).

Walking back to the Old City Jack took us around the Museum Al Bad – a traditional compound of housing with an olive press factory. This was my first visit here and it was great to see how the house and factory were combined.

A short walk through Bethlehem Market brought us to our lunch venue just off Manger Square – a falafel restaurant (Restaurant Afteem) which was established in 1948 when the family fled Jaffa and came to Bethlehem. After lunch we visited the Bethlehem Museum where the curator, Helen, from the Arab Women’s Union, showed us around the rooms and exhibits explaining what life was like for a family in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The afternoon was a driving tour with Jack and Mohamed to see the fence/wall, how it impacted on the lives of his family and friends and a short visit to Aida Refugee Camp (one of 3 in Bethlehem).

With just a short break for an Ice Cream at the Casa Nova Palace, we then visited the Church of the Nativity, St Katherine’s Church and St Jerome’s cave.

Tonight, after dinner, Jack and Tamara have invited us around to their home for drinks and dessert 🙂

We have done a great deal of walking and, were I not writing this blog on my phone, I could say much more of some of the stories we have heard and the places we have visited. If you see me, you can always ask!


















Holy Land 2012 – Days 1&2

August 24, 2012

Day 1

A small, but eminently select group left a damp and cool Manchester airport on Thursday 23rd August for a visit to the Holy Land. I am co-leading the trip with Brian Jolly (Altrincham United Reformed Church).

For some it was a return visit but, for most, it was their first experience of the land in which our faith was made flesh and lived amongst us.

With no delays to the flight we arrived in Ben Gurion airport to be met by our old friend Khalil Abdinnour and our driver, Loay.

Arriving at our hotel in Bethlehem an hour later (the creatively entitled Bethlehem Hotel) our rooms were allocated and we had a late dinner before heading out for a walk up to Manger Square to meet with Jack Giacaman, an olive wood carver who has been a friend of Brian’s and mine for many years. We shared a drink in the Square Cafe before Jack shuttled us back to the hotel.

Day 2

An early start meant that we could get to Heridion before the sun got too hot for the steep climb to the top of Herod’s summer palace between Bethlehem and Hebron.

One small problem was that the lift got stuck on the way down to breakfast. I’m not at my best in enclosed spaces and, as Brian, Kath and I got on at the top floor, it wasn’t US that overloaded the lift. I reckon it was the 2 French women who got on at the 6th floor (I don’t actually know if they were French, but I’ll blame the French anyway!) Thankfully, Brian presses the alarm button and the lift started moving before I succumbed to total panic!

I hadn’t been to Herodion for 10 years and was pleasantly surprised at how much the excavations had developed including, 2 years ago, the site of Herod’s tomb…

Leaving Herodion we first visited the Greek Orthodox site which commemorates the angels appearing to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus. We then moved onto the Franciscan site which commemorates the same event and includes the Chapel of the Angel – the first of many Antonio Barluzzi churches we will visit over the ensuing 11 days.

Lunch was at the Tent, a restaurant stylised like a Bedouin tent, before heading up towards the main checkpoint gate to visit the Caritas Baby Hospital. This hospital, established in 1952 by a Swiss pastor, provides the only specialist paediatric care in the whole of the West Bank. Costing $10,000,000 a year to operate, 93% of its funding comes from donations. We took the opportunity to see, up close the section of the ‘separation wall’ which encloses Rachel’s tomb.

We then passed through the gate to get views of Jerusalem Old City from the Haas Promenade, Mt Scopus and the Mount of Olives.

Heading away from Jerusalem, down the other side of the Mount of Olives we stopped off at Bethphage – from where Jesus began his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday.

Carrying on, as if we were going to Bethlehem before the barrier was built, we came to Abu Dis; a town completely bisected between Jerusalem and the West Bank. We could see the way the wall cut straight across what once was the main route from Jerusalem to Jericho The journey now is much, much longer.

Getting back to the hotel we decided, after dinner, that we had done quite enough walking for the day so a meeting in the hotel bar and a sociable drink afterwards ended the day on a very pleasant note. I am a big fan of Taybeh beer 🙂












A Visit To The Holy Land

November 17, 2011

“I’ve always wanted to visit the places I hear of in the Gospels  ….”

“I’d like to experience what it means to live in Israel/Palestine today …”

“I want an opportunity to deepen my faith and understanding ….”

A visit to the Holy Land provides opportunities and experiences that, as well as lasting a lifetime, can develop your understanding of faith.

Revd. Brian Jolly (Altrincham United Reformed Church) and Leo Roberts (CYDO) are leading a small group (20 members) on a 12-day visit to the Holy Land from 23rd August 2012 to 3rd September 2012. Places are strictly limited and will be allocated on a ‘first come; first served’ basis.

We will not only be visiting the Gospel sites (starting in Bethlehem, visiting Nazareth, then Galilee before spending time in jerusalem) but will also have the opportunity to meet with members of local faith communities – Christian, Muslim and Jewish. Hearing their stories and learning a little of their lives will inform us about the Holy Land and help us to begin to understand what it means to live in the Holy Land today.

The cost of the trip, including flights, accommodation (twin rooms, en-suite) on a half-board basis) and all internal transport is £1375.

For further information, or to get an application pack, please get in touch

Thursday, 23rd August

Meet at Manchester Airport 0700, departing on flight LS907 at 10.00.

Arrive Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv

at 17.15. Transfer to Bethlehem.

Dinner and overnight in Bethlehem, at The Bethlehem Hotel

Friday 24th August  Jerusalem/Bethlehem orientation

Today we travel around Bethlehem and Jerusalem to get our bearings. In the morning we travel east from Bethlehem into the desert to Herodion, the summer palace and burial place of King Herod. Later we travel a short distance to the north to circle the Old City of Jerusalem, stopping for lunch and spectacular views from Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives (to the east), and the Haas Promenade (to the south).

Dinner and overnight in Bethlehem, at The Bethlehem Hotel

Saturday 25th August 

In and around Bethlehem

This morning we visit Dheisheh Refugee Camp, to hear from residents about the history of the camp and life today. Later we view the Separation Barrier and hear from other residents of Bethlehem about living under occupation. After lunch we visit the Shepherd’s Fields in the village of Beit Sahour, to the east of Jerusalem Bethlehem, before walking through Bethlehem Old City to the Church of the Nativity.

Today includes a meeting with  Jack Giacaman and his family, and a visit to their olive wood factory & shop.

Dinner and overnight in Bethlehem, at The Bethlehem Hotel

 Sunday 26th August 

Bethlehem & Jericho

We join the Lutheran congregation at Bethlehem Christmas Church for morning worship, and afterwards visit the Lutheran International Centre of Bethlehem.

In the afternoon we transfer from Bethlehem to the desert oasis of Jericho, situated at the lowest point on the earth’s surface. We visit Tel Jericho and view the hills of Jordan to the east, before arriving at Jericho Resort Hotel.

Dinner and overnight at Jericho Resort Hotel

Monday 27th August 

Beside the Dead Sea

An early morning start to drive south along the western shore of the Dead Sea to Masada, King Herod’s Winter Palace. After an audio-visual presentation explaining the history of Masada, we ascend the mountain by cable car to tour the archaeological excavations and enjoy spectacular views of the Dead Sea.

Late morning and early afternoon provide opportunity to experience the facilities of the Dead Sea Spa at Ein Gedi (including Dead Sea mud, the Dead Sea, mineral & fresh water pools). Later in the afternoon we return to Jericho, stopping en route to visit the archaeological excavations at Qumran, the 1st century desert centre for the Essene Community, where the Dead Sea scrolls were written.

Dinner and overnight at Jericho Resort Hotel

Tuesday 28th August 

The Jordan Valley and Nazareth

Today we travel north along the Jordan Valley to Nazareth to visit Mary’s Well, the Basilica of the Annunciation and Nazareth village before making our way to Kibbutz Ma Agan, situated on the south eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Dinner and overnight at

Kibbutz Ma Agan, Sea of Galilee

Wednesday 29th August 

The Sea of Galilee

Today is spent beside the Sea of Galilee, and includes visits to Kursi, Bethsaida,  Capernaum, Mensa Christi, Tabgha and the Mount of Beatitudes, and a boat ride.

Dinner and overnight at

Kibbutz Ma Agan, Sea of Galilee

Thursday 30th August

The Mediterranean Coast

This morning we head west to the Mediterranean coast, for a morning visit to Caeserea Maritima. In the afternoon we make our way up to the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Dinner and overnight at the

Notre Dame Centre, Jerusalem

Friday 31st August

The Old City of Jerusalem

Today begins with visits to the Church of the Pater Noster and Dominus Flevit on the Mount of Olives, and the Garden of Gethsemane. Later we cross the Kidron Valley to enter the Old City of Jerusalem and walk the Via Dolorosa (the Way of Sorrows) to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Other visits inside the Old City include The Church of St Anne, the pools of Bethesda, St James’ Armenian Cathedral and the Western Wall.

Dinner and overnight at

Notre Dame Centre, Jerusalem

 Saturday 1st September  –  The Temple Mount, Bethany and West Jerusalem

This morning begins with a visit to Harem-esh-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) to view the Al Aqsa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock. Later we visit Bethany, the home village of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

Ain the afternoon we visit the memorial to the Holocaust (Yad Vashem) and an extensive model of 1st century Jerusalem at the Israel Museum.

Dinner and overnight at Notre Dame Centre, Jerusalem

Sunday 2nd September  – Jerusalem/Hebron

This morning we worship with the Palestinian congregation at St George’s Anglican Cathedral in East Jerusalem

In the afternoon, we will visit Hebron with a member of the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions to visit the Tombs of the Patriarchs and meet with the Christian Peacemaker Team.

Dinner and overnight at Notre Dame Centre, Jerusalem

Monday 3rd September

Emmaus …. and home

This morning we will visit one of the 4 traditional sites of Emmaus where we will celebrate Communion to end our visit, before transferring to Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv.

Depart Tel Aviv on flight LS908, arriving in Manchester at 22.00

The Milk Of Human Kindness..

June 8, 2011

I lurk in/frequent an acoustic musician forum  for folk that play or enjoy or build (and sometimes all three!) acoustic instruments like guitars, mandolins, Bozoukis and the like (even the occasional banjo – but mostly it’s musical instruments 😉 ). It is my first port of call for advice on matters musical and, I hope, I contribute to the forum as well as just receiving advice and information from it. Every now and again we have a ‘forum project’. This can be anything from a songwriting session, to a get-together or, more likely, a project that invites us to do our own interpretation of a song or a musician and pst so that others can hear and learn. They’re tremendous fun – we;’ve ‘done’ the Eagles, Beatles, Christmas.. loads of stuff. It’s a great place to virtually hang around with some nice friendly people.

I have learned, at some cost, that unless you have a really good case then guitars and airlines don’t mix. I am extremely wary about taking my ‘good’ guitars on planes – well, I just don’t do it any more!

S0 I was faced with something of a quandary with regards to this summer’s Kids and Youth camps in Israel/Palestine. Music can be an important part of these camps, singing songs and hymns – learning them as well as teaching them – music provides a bond and a focus. It can calm down and it can energise and excite and I really wanted to take a guitar with me this year.

But what would be best? A travel guitar can sometimes fit in the overhead locker which means it can be taken as hand luggage on some airlines which would mean I could look after it, or maybe I should get a cheap guitar with a good flight case?

Naturally I turned to the Forum for advice and started a new thread explaining my quandary.

As expected, I received lots of useful advice and tips and then one member, out of the blue, suggested a new type of forum project – a “let’s pledge money so that Leo can get a guitar which he can leave over in Jerusalem with Jerusalem Arc for future camps and leaders to make use of” project.

I was really touched. I thought I might get enough to get a cheapo guitar and a good case, or maybe buy one over there (which would mean I could get a better guitar as it wouldn’t need a flight case.)

You need to know that most of these people have never met me. I know some of them through passing on the Traveller or Taran guitars on their roadtrips and, of course Dave White is building me my 50th birthday present guitar but most don’t know me from Adam. And have no links with religion, church or faith – but do have a belief that music can help kids and young people express themselves, and a strong desire to share their love of music.

So, 24 hours after the ‘project’ was suggested, I have pledges totalling more than £450! A bit of research into guitar shops in Israel suggest that, far from leaving Jerusalem Arc with one guitar – I’ll be able to leave them with at least 2 (and strings, capos, straps …)

What do these folk want in return? Nothing, absolutely nothing. “A few pictures would be nice – maybe a recording”


The milk of human kindness does not run dry. Occasionally, in places where you don’t really expect it to, it overflows.

Many, many thanks, folks. you’ve asked to remain anonymous, but you know who you are.


UPDATE: I have now got a total of £600, plus some strings and a humidifier 🙂

History: ancient, modern and future

September 8, 2010

The Day started, after breakfast of course, with a visit to the Church of the Nativity which is at LEAST 25 yards from our hotel.

Ducking down to get through the very small door it is worth reflecting that in this, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, only a child can enter without having to bow their heads.

I can never be quite sure how groups will ‘take’ the churches in the Holy Land, so many are significantly different from those to which we are accustomed, the smells, the iconography, the lack of furniture in the Eastern Orthodox tradition .. And this church has all of that and more yet the young people seemed to find it a spiritual place – at least until someone’s phone rang with the ringtone of Hotel California – not all pilgrims are as well behaved as we are!

Leaving the Church of the Nativity, we visited St Catherine’s church next door and went down the steep stairs to the caves where St Jerome translated the Bible into Latin.

I can never come to Bethlehem without visiting my good friend Jack Giacaman in his olive wood shop in Milk Grotto street and, after visiting Milk Grotto Church, that’s where we headed next. A local Christian who employs local people to produce wonderful olive wood carvings, I was pleased to see the group buying many of their souvenirs here. It was also great to see Jack’s beautiful wife, Tamara, along with their youngest daughter. Nabil (Jack’s brother) was also their along with his mother – it was quite a reunion 🙂

Lunch was a falafel sandwich and we then headed up to the Bethlehem International Center (sic) where we were able to pass on the books we had brought as part of the suitcase ministry. The librarian explained to us that many of the books they needed were not allowed across the border from Israel so they rely on pilgrims from other countries to bring them in as we won’t be stopped and questioned. We were glad to take part in such a worthwhile scheme.

Walking back down to Manger Square we stopped off at the Bethlehem Museum where we were given a fascinating tour of what Bethlehem was like in the late 18th to early 20th century. The visit, including a personal guided tour from the curator, cost less than £1 each which was really value for money!

This evening we will be joined by some of my Palestinian friends who will share what life is like ‘behind the wall’.

There is so much more to see in this wonderful land – but there is just not the time. I hope that the young people will want to come and visit these places, and meet my friends, again.