Israel Day 1: Arriving in Tel Aviv

Since I’m wide awake in the middle of the night here in lovely Tel Aviv and have given up hope of sleeping during the few quiet hours remaining before our day gets started, I thought I would share a few of the photos I took along the way here to Israel and some preliminary thoughts on this amazing journey.

First, let me say again how absolutely amazing it is that I had the good fortune to be selected for this journey to Israel. Our group, members of the Catholic Press Association from around the United States, are traveling courtesy of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. As such, it is already clear to me that my trip will be unlike many of my friends’ pilgrimages in the past that were organized by Catholic faith organizations. While we will have the chance to visit many of the most wonderful faith related sites in the Holy Land, we will also be given a look at other tourism options. Along the way, we are staying in three amazing hotels and — if tonight’s welcome dinner was any indication — will be fed lavishly and frequently.

Let me start off with a few words about the trip here to Tel Aviv. I departed home before 4 am, flew to San Francisco on United, connected on Delta to JFK in New York, and landed t around 5 pm for my 11:40 pm flight.

My “office” for the next several hours was El Al Airline’s beautiful King David Lounge.

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As I enjoyed the lounge’s amazing food and free wifi, my fellow writers began to arrive. Soon it was time to begin the check in process, which involved ample security measures appropriate for travel to this region of the world. Once cleared, we headed back to the lounge and began sharing our stories and getting to know one another. It’s clear to me that this is an amazing group of individuals, talented, driven, and passionate about sharing the faith and this experience with their readers.

The ten hour flight to Tel Aviv was surprisingly easy. I was lucky enough to be seated in a window seat next to an amazing couple — formerly from the US and now living in Israel — who took good care of me and gave me my first impression of how kind the Israelis are. I slept for several hours (which is likely why I can’t sleep now), had a mini Hebrew lesson, watched enough of The Last King of Scotland to know I want to see the whole thing, and marveled when I had my first view of the Mediterranean and shores of Israel.

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We cleared customs quickly and easily in the beautiful airport in Tel Aviv and were soon introduced to our guide for the trip, Nathan. As we bussed our way to dinner, Nathan gave us a quick orientation to the trip and a tour of Tel Aviv. His knowledge is vast and he has a passion for Israel which is infectious. While driving through the streets of Tel Aviv, we learned that the 100 year old city is home to 600,000 who live in the city, and another million in nearby communities who commute here daily to work. The architecture is beautiful and quite modern. The streets are teeming with folks walking, dining and shopping. One thing that impressed me were the recycling bins on nearly every corner and the general bustle of the streets.

Near our destination, we passed a small demonstration and jokingly asked Nathan if this was Israel’s version of “Occupy” and he informed us that we had come across a one day operation related to Israel’s compulsory military service.

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Our dinner at “Meatos” restaurant was an amazing display of culinary treat. Our host for the meal was Benjamin from the Ministry of Tourism. He welcomed us warmly and lavishly, with more food than a group twice our size could eat — but we did our best! We enjoyed Israeli wine, “tapas” style appetizers, a wonderful main course and a sampling of delectable deserts. Over dinner, it was fun to learn more about the city of Tel Aviv and my fellow writers. Our group is diverse and made up of all types of journalists.

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Our home for tonight is the fantastic Dan Hotel of Tel Aviv, perched on the shores of the Mediterranean and quite luxurious and modern in its amenities. The warm welcome we received from the hotel staff was a blessing after such a long day of travel.

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So close the sea, a few of us couldn’t resist taking a quick walk down to the water and dipping our toes into the waves to remind ourselves that we’ve come such a long way and experienced so much already!

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Standing and looking out on the sea, immediate prayers of gratitude sprung within me. I can only imagine what delights the next several days will hold. In a life so radically filled with blessings, adding this trip feels like the definition of my “cup running over”. I hope to be able to find a bit of time each day to share some impressions and experiences with you. Israel — this Holy Land — has already won my heart, and we’re just getting started!

Copyright 2012 Lisa M. Hendey

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