Photos - Day 1 - Jerusalem (Ron alone)

Photos - Day 2 - Tour Jerusalem, Genesis (with group)

Photos - Day 3 - Northern Israel, Galilee, Jordan River

Photos - Day 4 - Masada, Dead Sea, Qumran

Photos - Day 4 (set 2) Dead Sea, Mud Bath, Qumran, Temple Mount

Journey to the Middle East

A trip to celebrate the life work and 75th birthday of John Roger

September 20-October 6 2009

143 friends and family converged on Jerusalem to explore, share, and join in honoring and sharing with John-Roger (JR) on this joyous adventure. We came from around the world on a pilgrimage of the highest sort to a part of the world where healing and uplifting are a daily need. We have come to do our part and to share in the creation of new memories and connect with old and new friends. For me the journey started almost 5 months ago when, in a dream, I had a rather clear image of traveling with JR in the physical world. As I opened up to the possibility, the universe and I came into alignment and, well, here I am.

Day 1 - San Diego to Los Angeles to NYC to Munich to Tel Aviv - Walking Tour of Jerusalem

It was a long and mostly uneventful set of flights to get here. Whether it was the excitement, the anticipation, or the spirit, upon arrival, I was very energized. After checking into the David Citadel Hotel, which is very centrally located and is a beautiful property, and taking a quick shower, I donned my backpack of camera gear and headed 2 blocks from the hotel to the Jaffa Gate of the old city of Jerusalem. Having been here once before in 1989 on another trip with John Roger, I opted to do something I hadn't done before: walk the ramparts of the old city. The views from the ramparts are exceptional and along the way were thoughtful placards explaining some of the history and significance of the landmarks.

After walking around the entire south end of the city, the wall ended at the approach to the Temple Mount. As today was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, the streets were very busy with people on their way to temple for services, then out to the streets to celebrate. I opted to go to the Western Wall which was packed with people preying and celebrating. At one point along the path the sound of a shofar (rams horn) sounded in the background and lifted my heart. Normally I enjoy going to Rosh Hashanah services but this year I feared I would miss them. But since Rosh Hashanah lasts for two days I was blessed with the opportunity to not only hear the sounding of the shofar many times that evening, but also partaking in some of the traditional prayers I knew from childhood at the Western Wall. I was deeply moved at the thought of remembering a saying that that is spoken at the end of a traditional Passover Seder, "Next Year in Jerusalem". Well, for me, this year in Jerusalem, not for Passover, but for Rosh Hashanah.

After spending a considerable time at the Wall in various areas, I then wondered and got sufficiently lost in the old city. I found a spice market and bought a few things that tasted exceptional to me. Then found some shops to look in, and finally back through the Jaffa Gate and on to the hotel where we had a meeting of the entire group at 8pm.

I was excited to see who would be joining the trip so I arrived a bit early to get my daily dose of love and laughter, hugs and smiles. Up until this point we had very little knowledge of what to expect on this trip. We were told where to be on which day, and little else. We didn't know where we were going or what we would be doing as the organizers wanted to surprise us and to act on trust. We did. And we love it. JR was there with Jsu the trip leader and coordinator along with the staff and our guides lead by Benji, Shraga, and Birte of Regina Tours, all of whom I remembered from my first visit to Israel in 1989 as they were our guides 20 years ago as well. From the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s this group went to Israel 8 or so times and we hold the distinction of being the tour companies absolute favorite group to come visit. Seeing them all again brought tears to some, laughter to others, and loving all the way around.

After the meeting a few of us went out for a late dinner to a brand new shopping plaza just across from the hotel. To my surprise the place was packed at 10pm. I felt like we were in southern Europe, eating a late dinner. And with such a full day, and not feeling much jet lag, it was now time for a peaceful night sleep.

Day 2 (first day of the group tour)- Jerusalem Tour and Genesis Dinner

Breakfast started at 6:45 but that wasn't a problem for most because the the jet lag we were up anyway. A delicious traditional Israeli spread of meats, cheeses, fruits, and grains was laid before us. All were fresh and prepared with excellence. The air was filled with excitement and anticipation as we ventured off into the The Holy Land with the only expectation of sharing the experience together. As this is a birthday party there was definitely an air of celebration about.

We departed at 7:57 (a favorite time of Benji - none of this 8:00 stuff - 7 is a very important number in Judaism) On bus #3 today with Birte as our guide and host and Vincent was our staff coordinator. Promptly at this time we headed off for a splendid day of touring around the city.The weather was a bit cool as it had rained a earlier the prior day. But the sun came out and warmed us by mid morning. Our tour started with the tradition of going to the Mount of Olives and having a welcome message from Benji while overlooking the old city of of Jerusalem with the distinctive Gold Dome of the Temple Mount. Today's tour included many sites inside the walled city: Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, a walk through the Zion Gate to the Western Wall, lunch in a cafe, then on to the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre, and more wondering along the streets. We followed Jesus's path along the stations of the cross to the Upper Room where the last supper was thought to be held. We then loaded back on the bus and headed to the Garden Tomb where Jesus was thought to have been entombed for 3 days, We had a special service here and learned of the archeological history and significance.

Back on the bus to our final stop of the day, a place called Genesis (after the book of the old testament) where is was thought that David and Lot lived and where Abraham denounced the idols of the day and set in motion the belief in the one true God. Abraham was directed by God to follow him to the land of and gather those that believe in the one true God. From the welcome center some had the pleasure of experiencing a camel ride down a road to where we greeted by Abraham himself. We all traveled back in time 3600 years to the tent of Abraham where we heard stories and history of the time and brought true meaning to the place we were in. The hill top overlooks the Jordan Valley and provided spectacular views of Judea, the place where Abraham came to in order to spread the word of the one true God. Abraham was a gracious host and filled our hearts, our minds, and our bellies with a feast fit for king. We ate, laughed, shared stories, ate some more, and so on. It was a memorable night at this desert oasis and we had the sense of what it was like to be treated as kings and queens. A most splendid affair!

After our meal we headed back to the hotel for an early night sleep as tomorrow we start at 6am!

Day 3 - Northern Israel, Galilee, Jordan River

Today was a full day starting very early as we had a 2 hour drive to our first stop. Breakfast at 6 and we were on the bus at 7:07 Benji time. I was on Bus #1 with JR, Jsu, and Benji. It was an honor and a blessing to have him with us. I'm always amazed at the way he puts his body on the line and partakes as much as possible. So there was a full bus and we were all happy to be holding the light and being respectful of JR's needs. With Michael Hayes at JR's side, two nurses, JR's brother and sister, John Morton, Leigh-Taylor Young, along, Phil and Brooke Danza running video and audio recording and transmitter duty we piled on the bus and headed out of the city towards the northern part of Israel.

It's worthwhile to note that we all had FM radios that were tuned to a low power transmitter so we could hear the commentary by the guides while wondering around, which is a very beneficial use of technology. However, we do get some strange looks from other tourists when a group of 143 people suddenly break into laughter at the same time! Use you're imagination! Are they all mashugana (crazy?). What a mishagas (craziness)!

Our drive took us to the town of Nazareth where Jesus was from. We heard stories and interpretations from our guides about the significance of some of the landmarks along the way. Our first stop was at a viewing spot to see Nazareth, the valley, and to learn more about the history and importance of the land.

Mt. Tabor was next and we stopped to have a look over the valley where Benji is building his winery. John Morton did an impromptu blessing for Benji's property and then we headed on down the road.

The next stop was Mt Beatitudes and a visit to St. Peter's Church at the site commemorating where Jesus spent much time in the early days of his education and his ministry. Shraga took charge and shared a wealth of information about this area. There were some well preserved ruins that gave us a small taste of what life was like in those times.

Next we were off to Galilee, which means "region" and we had a beautiful drive along the countryside. We stopped at a church overlooking the Sea of Galilee where Jesus spoke to the masses. We heard more about the location from Benji as he shared a wealth of information about the history and related some practical information about the lay of the land which Jesus could have used to effectively help in his sermons to the throngs. From up on the hill, looking towards the see, the land made an effective amphitheater and it is somewhat reasonable to have thousands of people hear without amplification. If everyone had an FM radio, like we did, I'm sure the scene from the Monty Python movie, The Life of Brian, where the peasants are saying "What did he say?" "He said, "Blessed is the Cheese Maker", would not have been quite so funny. You had to have seen the movie to get it.

Our lunch today was held at a beautiful location right on the sea where we had panoramic views of the Golan Heights.

After lunch we took a boat ride from one side of the sea to the other. Along the way we stopped and listened to a seminar by John Morton. The scene was magical. The views were majestic, the light was a warm golden hue in the late afternoon. The boats looked like they could have been here for a thousand years.

Following that we headed off to the Jordan River and a spot where, as a group we had the opportunity to baptize in the water at the same spot where John the Baptist did his baptisms and heralded the way for the coming of Jesus.

A long 2 hour ride home concluded a fantastic day for us all. Dinner tonight was a special event for 6 of us as JR's brother Delyle and sister in-law, Elda joined a few of us for a night of stories and sharings. We had Zumibugers that were excellent, but the conversation and insights were magical. It was a special evening that went until the wee hours of the morning. We all felt the blessings as we trotted on back to the hotel for a good night's sleep.

Tomorrow we head south for more adventures and experiences.

Day 4 - Masada - Dead Sea - Qumran

On bus #2 today with Shraga, and Paul Kaye. Our adventure today started with bus ride headed east from Jerusalem towards the Dead Sea. We passed the town of Jericho and heard stories from Shraga about the ancient city's importance in biblical times through to the present. Our first stop was at Masada and we learned about this fortress city and why King Herod created the fortress as a place he could retreat to in the case of invasion. It is a significant landmark in the history of the Jews in that close to 1000 Jews survived at for years in defiance of the Roman army. We had the opportunity to climb the mountain on a very hot day. Those that chose to climb supported each other along the way with cries of encouragement, frequent stops and lots of water. Once we all made it to the top our guides shared the story of this significant stronghold.For more info on Masada go here. We walked around and saw a good deal of the city remains that have survived the millennia.

Onwards to the Dead Sea and a stop at a resort where we covered each other in mud from the sea and then floated in the healing waters. We spent several hours relaxing in the sun and having fun floating around. It was a time to share with others and hear stories about our lives and experiences. Some hilarious photos were taken with us coved from head to toe in black mud. We laughed and joked and let the spirit flow through us. The healing waters left my skin smooth and my hair soft. Good stuff!

The stop was at Qumran, the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The site was an ancient town where traditional Jewish rituals were performed. Our guides one again shared stories an the history of the site. Personally I felt a calm, peaceful feeling here. There was a district sacred energy that I enjoyed.

Before heading back to Jerusalem we had about 1 hour of power shopping at the store at Qumran which offered many local products. There were many products featuring the salts and minerals from the dead sea from a nearby kibbutz called Ahava. The power shoppers came alive and much excitement emerged. I found myself spending more than I thought I would, but realized that I always need a few gifts on hand, so, why not?

On our bus ride back to Jerusalem Shraga relayed more stories and history and even a few songs. It was a long, tiring day and we turned in early. Tomorrow will have new experiences for us.

Photos - Day 4 (set 2) Dead Sea, Mud Bath, Qumran, Temple Mount

Thanks to Wendy Kunkel for these photos from the Dead Sea, Qumran and the Temple Mount.

I'm still looking for some shots of me on a camel with Young Min Koh. If anyone seeing this has them, please send them to me.

Day 5 and 6

The next two days we spent time celebrating JR's birthday and sharing stories about JR, sharing about our lives and experiences, and enjoying our time together in a unique and light-filled way. Words cannot describe it, so I won't even try. Suffice it to say that if you were there, you know what I mean. If you were not, find a place inside of you where the word "profound" has a deep and personal meaning for you and you'll get the idea.

Day 7

Up early for breakfast and a long round of good-byes as people headed in many directions. A good sized group headed off to Jordan to tour the city of Petra. Others were headed home. For me it was a taxi ride to Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion airport and a flight to Amman Jordan, then off to Kuwait. I'm sitting here in the VIP lounge of Royal Jordanian Airlines looking out over the barren landscape Jordan surrounding the airport. The land here reminds me of the arid areas of Southern California out east except that it is relatively flat and very dusty. The sand is blowing and occasionally I see a dust devil spinning in the distance. I'm off to Kuwait for meetings with KISR the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, then off to Dubai for meetings with the Masdar City project. From there I'll spend a few days in Cairo visiting Jane, my step daughter. Not sure I'll get a chance to post much more so let me wish you all Shalom and Peace Be With You.

Ron Bernstein