Whatever flavour of spirituality you subscribe to, the atmosphere and mystique of the Holy Land will resonate with you. We have put together an escorted tour that meets your cultural and intellectual expectations, while at the same time provides you with a truly unique opportunity to engage with some of the local communities who have made this spiritual place their home for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
Spiritual Journey: Discovering the Holy Land through its People
I am very excited to be offering an escorted tour to the Holy Land that not only takes guest to see the stunning highlights of this fascinating region, but also introduces visitors to some of the lesser known ancient communities in the area. The Holy Land: Past and Present blends the traditional sightseeing attractions with the extraordinary opportunity to encounter the locals.
Meet the Druze
On the tour we visit the Golan Heights on the Lebanon border. You’ll have a chance to meet with the Druze, a community defined by their tenth-century evolution from mainstream Islam in Egypt. They have their own distinct interpretation of the monotheistic religions and they regard Moses, Jesus and Mohammed as equal prophets.
They believe strongly in reincarnation and they do not eat pork, smoke or drink alcohol. The Druze in the Golan see themselves as Syrian and reside in separate villages with their own educational, religious and judicial systems.
We’ll spend some time here with the community and sample some of their traditional foods: strong mint tea, fragrant cinnamon coffee, candied squash, kat’aif (hot dumplings), sesame cake and Druze pita. Isolationism has not only preserved their cultural identity in a form almost unchanged since the tenth century, it has also kept alive a culinary tradition that is, quite frankly, divine.
“When two or three women make bread together, it sounds like music.”
Meet the Samaritans
There is another fascinating minority group, even more ancient than the Druze, whose small community we will visit during our tour. After touring the city of Nablus, founded by Vespasian in 72 BC and visiting the archaeological site at Balata, we’ll meet up with the only remaining Samaritan group from the area.
The Samaritans believe themselves to be descended from the sons of Joseph: Menashe and Ephraim, and they trace a claim to the land that goes back as far as the eighth century AD. While their numbers are tiny, their commitment to preserving their identity and traditions is immense.
When we meet with them we will learn about the deeply instilled religious practices that equip their children to maintain their Samaritan heritage. While they follow the Torah, they do not consider themselves Jewish. Their religious practices combined with their Palestinian roots mean that this distinct group occupies a precarious position in the volatile area.
We’ll see Mount Gerizim, the Samaritans’ most holy site, where they believe that Abraham took his son Isaac to be sacrificed. Today the archaeological ruins of a Samaritan town that existed in the Hellenistic period draw tourists, but the summit’s fame lies in its modern role in the Passover ceremonies held by the local community. The paschal sacrificial ceremony that they hold every year is a spectacular event drawing crowds from all over the world.
Meet the Bedouin
Another distinct community in the Holy Land is the Bedouin who, numbering nearly 3% of the Israeli population, cannot be described as a minority group in the same sense as the Druze and Samaritans. However their cultural identity is equally colourful and distinctive. While we are in Jerusalem we’ll spend an evening with the Bedouin over dinner and coffee learning about their life and place in the Holy Land.
Originating from the Negev Desert, the Bedouin are a tribe with a nomadic tradition stretching back centuries. They migrated to the area between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries from the north Arabian peninsula, and sustained their desert lifestyle by travelling from pasture to pasture to allow their livestock to graze. During their rule the Ottomans and British never accepted any claim to land by the Bedouin and largely ignored the communities. Today things are a little different.
During our meeting with the Bedouin we’ll learn about the Israeli initiatives to bring education, social welfare and medical care to this tribal community. Our hosts will explain the advantages and disadvantages of the modern efforts to integrate this nomadic spirit within the confines of urban living.
“When you sleep in a house your thoughts are as high as the ceiling, when you sleep outside they are as high as the stars.”