Pilgrimage tours to Israel are nothing new for many Christians. In fact, for some it is becoming old hat. And most Christian tour groups only get the opportunity to see Jerusalem and the rest of the Holy Land as a piece of antiquity, an impersonal history lesson. The team at Jerusalem Scavenger Hunts is determined to change that.
"It is easy to see Jerusalem as one big museum, but it's so much more - it is a real place where people live, love and die," Jerusalem Scavenger Hunts host Jeremy said as our team prepared to set off in search of historical gems in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City.
Yes, Jerusalem Scavenger Hunts is still about learning and viewing the history of Jerusalem, but it is also about putting that history in a very personal kind of context. It is about feeling, even if for only a moment, the overriding dedication and passion that fueled the people who built, defended, and, at times, lost this city. Like Esther Cailingold, to whom is dedicated a small, off-the-beaten-track war memorial commemorating those Jews who gladly gave everything in defense of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City during the 1948 War of Independence. As we read a copy of Esther's final letter to her parents in search of answers to the clues that would lead us to our next stop, it was impossible not to be transported to that tumultuous time in this city's history and to feel a brief surge of the kind of passion that compelled those like the young Ms. Cailingold to make the ultimate sacrifice.
In a short two hours the three teams we had divided into had absorbed a fair bit of history, and had the opportunity to take in some of the Jewish Quarter's more memorable landmarks, such as the beautifully restored Hurva Synagogue, which is just dripping with centuries of Jewish history. Despite the fact that most of us have lived in Jerusalem for years, everyone walked away having learned something new. But, more importantly, we had gain new insight into what drove the people in those historical stories. We had seen the city through their eyes.
Oh, and we had a great time doing it! Good natured competition and teamwork can add a new dynamic to any situation, and exploring the Holy Land is no exception.
But at the end of the day, it is about learning and growing in not only knowledge, but also in understanding. The Holy Land, and especially Jerusalem, contains so many hidden niches of history that it can be easy to never recognize them. Only by engaging in true exploration and relying on the help of the locals is it even possible to find most of these treasures of historical knowledge. And only by seeking out and hearing these personal stories are we able to put the larger lessons learned at the traditional pilgrimage stops in proper context - the context of life, of a people living out the prophecies and stories of the Bible.
The current program being run by Jerusalem Scavenger Hunts is indeed geared toward a Jewish audience, as it primarily focuses on the Jewish story in Jerusalem's Old City over the past few centuries. Nevertheless, it is entirely relevant to Israel-aware Christians who view the modern restoration of Israel as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
That said, Tali Tarlow, founder of Jerusalem Scavenger Hunts, told Travelujah that she is working on developing a program more suited to Evangelical Christians. But she doesn't want to fall victim to the typical, increasingly stale pilgrimage routine. "What's important is the story," said Tarlow. "We want to provide a window to the living Jewish world for Christians."
The idea behind Jerusalem Scavenger Hunts has tremendous potential, and it provides a look at the story and the people who have made Jerusalem what it is today, something that would be difficult to find anywhere else. In this writer's opinion, it will become an increasingly important tool in providing real context to the historical and biblical narrative as it is presented to visiting Christians.
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Ryan Jones writes for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours, the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.