Israel Tour, Day 4: Jeresh, Welcome to Israel!

May 6

We started early today because we wanted to visit Jeresh before crossing the border into Israel.  Jeresh is an enormous site and we were really unable to see much of it because of our rush.  I think that I could spend a day there and not see everything.

We entered through Hadrian’s gates and took a quick look at the hippodrome.  From there we walked to the round plaza and saw the Cardo.  The round plaza has been restored well, with a central monument and properly laid out paving stones.

The theater is also well restored, and had some excellent acoustic features.  Ryan sang Amazing Grace from the central spot and his voice could be heard throughout the theater.  Everyone took a turn saying something, it is quite a remarkable experience.

We hiked from there to the temple of Artemis.  According to Sufyan, our guide, it does not appear that the temple was ever completed since no debris has been found from a ceiling.  Nevertheless, the structure is massive and give a feel for an important Roman temple.  What really struck me was the view from the street, looking up the seven sets of seven steps.  The place was designed to strike awe into the heart of the worshiper.  Sacred space was so important that a massive temple complex was designed to highlight the central goddess, even though the worshiper would not actually enter the inner sanctuary and see the image of Artemis.

After leaving Jeresh we traveled to the border crossing and the Allenby bridge.  This was a long drive, but interesting since we descended into the Jordan rift, all the time watching the geography change from forested hills and mountains to the moon-like terrain of the rift.  The crossing went very well, everything was handled by our Jordanian friends and we made it over to Israel by one in the afternoon.  Sadly, it was a little too smooth, and the bus arrived promptly at two.  We had a bit of a wait, but everyone was very patient.

After a lunch stop (my first falafel) we were too late to make it to Bet Shean, but since I am I charge now, I decided we would start there in the morning.  This worked out fine, since we are staying at Ma’agan Holiday Resort.  This is one of the most beautiful spots to stay in Israel, a converted kibbutz with excellent hotel services, great pool and wonderful landscaped grounds.  The group enjoyed the two hours before dinner in the pool or wading into the Sea of Galilee.  It a bit cool and windy, but a gorgeous sunset and great dinner made this a memorable day.

As I finish this, the students are playing progressive charades, which is entertaining themselves and not a few Israelis.  We head to the upper Galilee sites tomorrow.

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