by Candi Runyon

It’s been 18 years since Ron and I first visited Israel. Five trips, so far. Each one has been full of exciting discoveries and new adventures.

On our first visit in February 2002, we were part of the first tour group to return to Israel after the tragedy of 9/11. We arrived without any idea of what to expect, thinking the entire country was comprised of just rocks, desert, and palm trees.

And, guess what we found? Rocks, desert and palm trees!

But also fig trees and date palms by the orchards-full. Olive groves and vineyards stretched across the hillsides. Bougainvillea grew sky-high. Vast woodland forests lining fields of wildflowers. Fragrant rosemary, lavender, and oregano. Colorful pomegranates, pomelos, and dragon fruit. And ancient buildings clad with glowing golden stone.

We fell in love with Israel. But, not at first, for it took a while for the charms of this ancient land to capture our hearts. It’s so different from America, or from anything we had ever experienced. Now it feels like home.

Let me mention just a few special adventures…

We’ve been to a few places many tourists never go on their vacations to Israel, like Machpelah at Hebron, and a tour of the Druze Military Academy at Dalyat al Karmel. We dug our hands into the clay soil as we planted baby olive trees on a farm in the Negev, and attended the Prime Minister’s Conference at the Knesset.

From the top of Elon Moreh, we compared the dry landscape of Mt. Ebal with the lush Mt. Gerizim, where we later sipped chilled red wine at Har Bracha Winery as we peered east through the hazy heat toward Jordan.

Israel is a place to discover ancient cultures. Archeological sites are everywhere. Ancient mosaics at Masada and Caesarea; Hezekiah’s underground tunnel; pottery shards scattered in the billions at Shiloh. In the City of David new discoveries are continually being made.

Locally grown vegetables scented with locally grown herbs and spiced up with flavors as ancient as the Land itself work in tandem to create some of the best food we’ve ever tasted. Falafels, freshly made at Moshiko’s on Ben Yehuda St. The trendy Cafe Rimon at the Mamilla overlooking the city lights. From a good ole’ hamburger at Burgers Bar, to the tomato-y poached eggs of shakshuka savored at an atmospheric little place tucked away in an alley off Ben Yehuda St.

No trip is complete without experiencing the unique shopping adventure – and surviving the crush of people – at Mahane Yehuda. Alley after alley overflows with unique fresh fruits, vegetables, spices, nuts, breads, pastries, housewares, and more. Having stayed in guest houses, hostels, and fancy hotels, our favorite is to rent an apartment so we can shop for and cook some of our own meals – and pretend we live in Israel.

We’ve trekked around Jerusalem on foot, by bus, taxi, and sherut. The Jerusalem City Light Rail is terrific, but if you want a true adventure, rent a car. Though it allows for more freedom of movement, it’s an exercise in defensive driving. One must be decisive and willing to break the rules, like everyone else. We quickly learned that dents are merely Badges of Bravery, courageously earned for arriving safely at our destination.

Culturally, Israel is host to abundant art, music, dance, literature, and theatre events, not to mention the excellent museums filled with amazing history and, yes, incredible heartbreak.

Israel is a tiny, but vast, country with indescribable contrasts, both in the natural and in the spiritual. For us here at BYNA, we believe the Land of Israel is essential to God’s plans to regather and reconcile the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel in North America.

So, come along with us as we share our own personal adventures. Let us inspire you to Connect to the Land!

Candi Runyon

BYNA Prayer Director

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