The Dead Sea and the Wailing Wall were only two of the Holy Land places seen by Wendy Kleintop and her family. But the one making the strongest impression was the Garden of Gethsemene.
The Women United for Christ of St. Paul Indianland United Church of Christ, Lehigh Township, had invited Kleintop, a township resident, to speak at its April 5 meeting.
She termed the little country, the size of Florida, as the most powerful country in the world because it is the one, not the United States, that is in the Bible. It is Israel and is the home of God's chosen people. Consequently, she said it will never fail.
Wendy and Wayne Kleintop had a 25th anniversary coming up in 2010 and "you want to go someplace special for that."
Besides, she had a bout with cancer and they needed something good in their lives.
Wendy was teaching fourth grade Pennsylvania History at Lighthouse Baptist Church, Lehighton. While commuting, she would listen to Christian radio. One morning she heard Dr. Woodrow Kroll's program, Back to the Bible. He was leading a tour of the Holy Land. If they joined the tour she wouldn't have to make any of the arrangements.
Wayne is a nurseryman and springtime was near, making him busy - the Easter season and son Austen's birthday were both coming up.
Austen couldn't decide if he wanted to go, but chose in favor of the trip.
Wendy said the Dead Sea was a stinky, muddy place. The mud is used for medicinal purposes. She said they changed into swimsuits and sank into the mud.
"It was therapeutic. People could float on their backs but not on their stomach because it would flip them over. "People get healed there," said Wendy. The calluses on her feet were still soft weeks after their return.
She brought a little bottle of Dead Sea water and toothpicks so people could taste it.
Two boats went out on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus performed his miracles The one Kleintops were on was named Faith. "Amazing Grace" and the anthems of both Israel and the United States were played.
The Biblical fishermen saw Jesus walking toward them across the water. Peter, the only one with no faith, said he would believe if he could walk toward him, and he did. Storms in the Sea of Galilee came up quickly, and Wendy wished one would come while they were there but the weather was fine.
While they were breakfasting, two men on camels came racing past the restaurant.
"I found a place where you could ride a camel. When they get up you get thrown forward," said Wendy. She was disappointed that the camels were only for picture taking. As they were leaving, someone came up behind them and made it clear he wanted her back on the camel. The pictures he took were to be used for publicity.
Next stop, Jericho. That is where the walls came tumbling down. God said they were never to be rebuilt. A man and son tried and both died. The Masada Cable Car runs up the mountain where priests live in caves.
It is the site where Saul tried to kill David because of jealousy. "We toured the caves," said Wendy.
Woodcraft was all done with olive wood. A hand-carved nativity had to be ordered and was mailed a month after they returned home. It has intricate details.
Peter's mother-in-law was sick and Jesus raised her up. She went to the kitchen and cooked a meal. "We got to see the house foundations. This was history that was real," Wendy said.
"I had warm, fuzzy feelings all the time. When I read the Bible I think, 'Oh my gosh, I was there.'"
The Wailing Wall was one of her favorite places. Men and women had separate entrances. The men had to wear yamulkes (small, round head coverings). People write a little prayer request and roll it like a scroll. They are placed between the stones of the wall. Older women sit and rock back and forth as they pray.
Not only was it the Christian Easter but the Jewish Passover. The plaza at the wall was crowded. "I meandered my way through. You don't turn and walk back. You back to the exit and then turn," she said.
"People weren't really wailing but speaking loudly in both Hebrew and Yiddish," said Wendy.
Salad, honey and a sweet cheese were often on the menu. They grow the dark greens that are more nutritious instead of the iceberg lettuce used here.
No pork is served, but there is beef, lamb and St. Peter's fish.
There were bottles of cool water on the tables - never ice water. "It's no good for you," they were told.
A woman asked Wendy where they were from, and when she said Pennsylvania, the woman said she went to Penn State and met her husband in New York. She could not write her address for Wendy because writing was considered work and was not permitted during Passover.
Near the Mediterranean Sea, the Kleintops were thrilled to see a real chariot race, another Passover event.
Farmland is between the mountains where there will be herds of camels and then a little town. Sheep are all over.
When they went to Jordan there were checkpoints. Jews were not allowed either there or in Bethlehem. No pictures were allowed. The same type of checkpoint was gone through on their return to Israel.
Youths put in two or three years in the Army. Wendy said they were like little kids walking around with semi-automatics, but they protect tourists.
Catholics and Protestants have separate places that they believe to be the birthplace of Jesus. Kleintops visited both, but said neither looked like a cave.
The best part of the trip was a visit to the Garden of Gethsemane. They saw Jesus' tomb and celebrated communion using olive wood cups that they were allowed to take with them.
"We found a bench and prayed. Austen was glad he came and thanked God for protecting his mother from the cancer," Wendy said.
They went to a pavilion where a man from England talked about the garden. The skull of Golgotha, which gave its name to the mount where Jesus was crucified, was clearly seen in a rock.
"It was creepy. I could be sitting where the cross was," said Wendy. "It was a hit-home moment."
There are no funerals held during Passover, but they did see where Oskar Schindler is buried - the Schindler of "Schindler's List," who saved many Jews during World War II.
They also saw Mount Armageddon where the final battle is to be held. Kleintop summed up the entire experience in one sentence.
"Christians ought to go where it all began."