Holy Land Pilgrimage with Gila




Gila's Tips for Tours

Top Ten Holy Land Icons

During your holy land pilgrimage, you will be seeing these symbols in churches and synagogues, on doorways and signposts, in souvenir shops and outdoor bazaars.  Here's the story behind each icon:

7-branched menorah captured by Roman soldiers

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

The 7-branched menorah being taken as booty from the Jerusalem Temple

The menorah was the seven-branched candelabrum first designed for the Tabernacle according to the Lord’s instructions.

“Make a lampstand of pure gold and hammer it out, base and shaft; its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms shall be of one piece with it.”
Exodus 25:31

Three branches extended out from each side with cups shaped like almond blossoms and buds.  The candelabrum was lit every evening with the purest of olive oil. Some believe that the Menorah symbolized the burning bush seen by Moses on Mount Sinai.

The 7-branched menorah stood in both Solomon’s Temple and in the Second Temple of Jesus’ day.  Josephus the Jewish/Roman historian wrote that the seven branches represented the universe with its seven planets (known in the Roman world).

When the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 70 AD, they captured the menorah and brought it back to Rome.  It was prominently paraded around the capital city and was featured on Roman emperor Titus’ victory column in the Roman Forum.

Once the Temple was destroyed, the menorah became a symbol of Jewish aspirations to rebuild the Temple.  When you are in Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter, don’t miss viewing a replica of the 7-branched golden menorah constructed by the Temple Institute.

Fish and loaves mosaic copied onto a souvenir plate

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Souvenir plate showing the loaves and fish mosaic from Tabgha

The feeding of the five thousand by the shores of the Sea of Galilee is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels. (Matthew 14:21, Mark 6:44, Luke 9:14, John 6:10)

“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.  “Bring them here to me,” he said.
Matthew 14:17-18

When the hour was getting late, the disciples asked Jesus whether they should go into town to get food for the multitudes who were enthralled by Jesus’ teaching.  With only five loaves and two fish, Jesus looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples who distributed them to the crowd of five thousand men plus women and children.

On the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, a fourth century floor mosaic of the fish and loaves has been preserved and can be viewed at Tabgha, the site of a modern Benedictine chapel commemorating the feeding of the five thousand.

Today, replicas of the loaves and fish mosaic are extremely popular souvenir items. The “loaves and fish mosaic” is reproduced on ceramic serving dishes, Armenian glazed coffee mugs, chalices and wall tiles, to name a few.

Jerusalem Cross found on the Via Dolorosa

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Jerusalem Cross found on the Via Dolorosa

The Jerusalem Cross, with four small crosses surrounding a large cross (with all the bars equidistant from the center), was first used as a coat of arms for the Latin Kingdom in Jerusalem, established when the Crusaders conquered the Holy City and the Holy Sepulcher in 1099.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Matthew 16:24

Some say that the large cross represents Jerusalem and the four smaller crosses represent the four corners of the earth to which the four Gospels spread.  Another explanation is that the five crosses represent the five Crusader armies (Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain) who came to liberate Jerusalem.  Yet another explanation has it that the five crosses represent the stigmata, the five wounds of Jesus.

You will see the Jerusalem Cross decorating gates and chapels belonging to the Franciscan Order of the Roman Catholic Church.  The Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth has an exquisite rendition of the Jerusalem Cross in stained glass.  It is also a very popular shape for a gold pendant, sometimes decorated with ancient Roman glass.

Coming to Jerusalem this year?  Are you coming from very far away and want every minute to matter?  Would you like to experience both the authentic and the traditional sites, yet you are most interested in finding the venues where you can quietly be transported back in your imagination to the time of Jesus?  David?  Abraham?

Make every minute matter while you "Explore Jerusalem's Soul" with Gila's Jerusalem Guide.  The up-to-date PDF (Adobe Acrobat) 46-page guide gives you the Top Ten places to meditate on the Bible, the Top Ten lesser-known churches worth visiting, the Top Ten most rewarding roof-top views and the top Ten places for Middle Eastern food.  More...


Shofar or ram's horn

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Shofar or ram's horn

A shofar comes from the horn of a ram (a male sheep) or goat or antelope (kudu). Yemenite Jews did not have sheep or goats, so they used the horn of an antelope. Most animal horns can be used, except for the cow, which is reminiscent of the golden calf.

“When they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, as soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city [Jericho] will fall down flat, and all the people shall charge straight ahead.”
Joshua 6:5

Scripture tells us that a ram was caught in the thicket at Mount Moriah and sacrificed instead of Isaac. (Genesis 22:13)  The first blowing of the shofar was when God called the people to worship at Mount Sinai.  The first shofars would have been ram’s horns, which were available only after the death of the animal.

The shofar is blown in synagogues today during the high holy days of Rosh HaShana celebrating the Jewish New Year.  Ten days later, the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) worship service ends with a mighty blast of the shofar.

A shofar and a menorah carved into the capital of a column found near an impressive white limestone structure at Capernaum helped identify that building as a synagogue.

Tour the Temple Mount in the company of Abraham and Isaac, David and Solomon, Jesus and the disciples, the angel Gabriel and Mohammed -- and Gila.  Meet many other luminaries, both real and legendary.

Gila's Temple Mount tour is now available as a written 24-page PDF with a Temple Mount plan, guidelines for passing the security check and ten recommended reads on the Temple Mount from Gila's bookshelves.


Pomegranate tree

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Pomegranates are one of the seven species once brought as gifts to the Temple

The pomegranate is named as one of the “seven species” of fruits and grains found throughout the Promised Land, the land of milk and honey.

“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters bursting out of valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey.”
Deuteronomy 8:7-8

The pomegranate is a symbol of fertility because it’s filled with seeds.  It reminds us of the first commandment which is to be fruitful and multiply. (Genesis 1:28)  The rabbis said that the 613 seeds in the pomegranate represent the 613 commandments in the Torah (five books of Moses).

In Exodus 28:33-34 there is a description of the robe of the high priest with the added instruction, “On its hem make pomegranates of blue, purple and crimson yarns, all around the hem, with bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all around the robe.

The Archeology Wing of the Israel Museum exhibits an ivory pomegranate with an 8th century BC inscription.  Some scholars believe that this pomegranate graced the head of a scepter and may have been carried by a priest into Solomon’s Temple.

In the Second Temple, during the time of Jesus, it’s said that when the high priest entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, (Yom Kippur), there was a rope around his ankle, so that if he would happen to faint, or have a heart attack, the pomegranates and bells would ring an “alarm” and the high priest could be pulled out by the rope, without anyone desecrating the divine space.

St. Peter's fish caught in the Sea of Galilee

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

St. Peter's fish caught in the Sea of Galilee

St. Peter’s fish is said to be found naturally in only two places: the Sea of Galilee and Lake Victoria at the headwaters of the Nile.  It’s called St. Peter’s fish because of the following passage:

“When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the half-shekel tax went up to Peter and said, ‘Does you teacher pay the tax?’ ….Go to the sea and cast a hook, and take the first fish that bites. Open its mouth and there you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”
Matthew 17: 24-27

This type of fish which you may know as Tilapia is called a mother mouth-breeder. Because it breeds its babies in its mouth, the fish is often caught by fishermen with a little pebble, a bottletop, or even a small coin like a shekel in its mouth.  Jesus and the disciples probably ate St. Peter’s fish when they were living at Peter’s mother-in-law’s house at Capernuam.  It may have two St. Peter’s fish along with five loaves that fed the 5,000 men plus women and children on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
You will have an opportunity to taste St. Peter’s fish on your tour.  Don’t miss it – you may even find a shekel in its mouth!

Date palms at En Gedi

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

En Gedi was called the city of date palms in the time of Jesus

The Land of Canaan which was promised to the children of Israel was called the "Land of Milk and Honey." 

"I declare that I will bring you up out of the misery of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey."
Exodus 3: 17

Many scholars think that the milk was goat milk and the honey, date honey, one of the most popular sweets in the ancient times.  Judea abounded with both goats and date palms.  When the Romans wanted to boast that Judea had been captured, they issued a coin showing a woman sitting with a bowed head, under a date palm.

On your holy land pilgrimage, you will have lots of opportunities to taste the varieties of holy land dates.


Remains of 2,000-year-old boat found by the Sea of Galilee

Photo:  courtesy of the Jesus Boat Shop

Remains of boat which sailed the Sea of Galilee 2,000 years ago

In 1986 two fishermen found the remains of a two thousand year old boat by Magdala, Mary Magdalene’s hometown, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

“He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.”
Matthew 14:29

Made of 12 kinds of wood, the boat is almost 30 feet long, over 7 feet wide and 4 feet deep.  Its measurements suit that type of boat used by fishermen with a dragnet. (Matthew 13:47-48)  Apparently the craft had been in use for many years, as could be seen from numerous spots in which repairs had been made.  A number of beams and strakes seemed to have been use previously on other boats, which explains the variety of wood types.
Because of an oil lamp and a couple of coins found in the boat, it is dated to the first century A.D.  It’s the only fishing vessel ever found along the shores of the Sea of Galilee from the days of Jesus.  Today every Bible encyclopedia illustrates fishing on the Sea of Galilee with a photo or drawing from this very boat, dubbed the “Jesus boat.”

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Mezuzah literally means “doorpost.”  It is a decorated rectangular silver, brass, ceramic, olive wood, or stone box that Jews attach to the doorpost of their house and gates. 

"And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house, and upon your gates."
Deuteronomy 6: 9

The box contains parchment inscribed with biblical verses from the Shm’a (“Hear O Israel, the Lord Our God, the Lord is One”) prayer in Deuteronomy 6. On the outside of the box is inscribed the first letter, shin, or all the Hebrew letters of Shaddai, the name which the Lord revealed to Abraham when he offered His covenant.

Mezuzah on Gila's front door
Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Look for a mezuzah on the door to your hotel room.  You will find a wide selection of mezuzahs in nearly every Jewish gift shop.

Hamseh also known as the hand of Fatima

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Hamseh hanging in Gila's Jerusalem home

The hamseh (literally "five" in Arabic) is a hand with the palm facing outward in order to ward off the "evil eye" (i.e. bad luck).  It's a symbol of blessing and protection, often worn as an amulat, to protect the wearer from evil.
The hamseh is also known as the hand of Fatima.  Fatima was the daughter of Mohammed, founder of Islam.  Jews and Christians from Muslim countries adopted this folk symbol which brings good fortune.  If you visit the Joseph Caro Synagogue in Safed in the Upper Galilee, you will see hanging light fixtures decorated with a hamseh.

You will find the hamseh portrayed on wall hangings and tapestries, on decorative ceramic wall plaques and on gold and silver pendants.

Copyright 2006, 2011 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

Don't miss these biblical sites:

Let's visit Gezer, Solomon's wedding gift

Let's lament King Saul at Beth Shean

Let's look for the clay tablet treasure at Hazor

Solomon & Gezer   

King Saul & Beth Shean

Joshua at Hazor


Let's follow Abraham all the way to DAN

Let's find Herod's tomb at Herodion

Let's scan the battlefield of David vs Goliath from Azekah

Abraham at Dan   

Herod's tomb found!

David versus Goliath

How to lead a tour that's a rave success!
Mark Twain's Holy Land Tips
Mount of Olives:  FUN things to DO
10 Tips for a Terrific Temple Mount Tour




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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin