Jerusalem, Israel

For over a week I visited meaningful places in Israel and connected with my Jewish heritage. A long time dream I’ve had is getting to pray at the Western Wall, which is as close to the Old Jerusalem temple as Jews can get since it was destroyed 2,000 years ago. I also wanted to visit the Garden Tomb, Mount of Olives, and Gethsemane. All these desires and more were satisfied.

My heritage is Jewish. Both my parents are Jewish. They joined to the Mormon church shortly before I was born and taught us to believe in Jesus Christ as our savior. I have always felt a deep connection to my Jewish roots, and am so grateful to have visited Israel and deepened that connection.

Everything in the Mormon religion builds on the Jewish religion. This trip made me realize how much congruence there is. After learning more about the ancient temple in Jerusalem, and how the Jews adhere to their religion, I can see why going to a modern temple was a comfortable experience for my parents.

There is so much common symbolism, so much in common with the rituals and covenant making, that my belief and understanding of modern Mormon temples truly being the House of the Lord has been fully validated.

About a month after Tiffany passed away last January, I found in one of her journals a bucket list of things she wanted to do in her life. One of them was visiting Israel, something we hadn’t done together when she was alive.

So I invited her to come along with me. There were many times that I felt her with me, but particularly at the Mount of Olives and Bethlehem. What a sweet peaceful feeling I felt in those places.

Having been to many places where events took place in the Old Testament and New Testament, I can now better relate to them. I think that now as I read these scriptures I will appreciate them more- they will be more relatable.

My oldest brother Roark accompanied me on this trip. It was nice to spend the time with him. We toured with Steven Rona who is an Israeli. His dad is also a Jewish convert to the Mormon church, just as my parents are. His tour company is Israel Revealed. It was great to get his Israeli and Mormon perspectives, I highly recommend touring with him.

Here are pictures and commentary from this wonderful experience.

Flying business class where the seats lay down flat, from New York to Tel Aviv. We were flying over Greece when my brother Roark, who traveled with me, snapped this.

Israel 0 Bed on flight to Tel Aviv

First breakfast in Israel, happened to be Rosh Hashanah. Strong flavors for so early in the morning!

Israel 1 First Breakfast in Isreal

Valley behind us is where Samson burned the Philistine corn by tying burning stuff to the tails of 300 foxes. Ironically we actually had a fox run by while we were there. Too fast to snap a photo though.

Israel 2 Behind is valley where Samson burned Philistine crops

Apricot orchard in the valley where David fought Goliath. That’s a sling with a rock in it.

Israel 3 Apricot orchard in valley where David fought Goliath

Zion’s Gate into Old Jerusalem. Lots of bullet holes in the wall from the Israeli 1948 assault in their war of independence.

Israel 4 Zions Gate to Old Jerusalem holes in wall are bullet holes

At the River Jordan. These Christians from eastern Europe came to get baptized.

Israel 5 Jordan River where people like to get baptized

At the River Jordan.

Israel 6 Jordan River

Synagogue in Capernaum (next to Sea of Galilee) which is built on top of the synagogue where Jesus taught.

Israel 7 Synagogue in Capernaum by Sea of Galiliee on location of old Jewish Synagogue where Jesus taught

St. Peters Restaurant next to Sea of Galilee, had lunch here.

Israel 8 St. Peters Restaurant by Sea of Galilee

Fried fish from the Sea of Galilee.

Israel 9 Fish from Sea of Galilee lunch

General location where Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount with the Sea of Galilee in the background.

Israel 10 Around area where Jesus taught Sermon on the Mount by Sea of Galilee

Interesting colors on this wasp, taken at a nature reserve where the tribe of Dan located.

Israel 11 interesting bug

Tel Dan where the tribe of Dan located.

Israel 12 Tel Dan

The Sea of Galilee.

Israel 13 Sea of Galilee

Another picture of the Sea of Galilee.

Israel 14 Sea of Galilee with Damon

An Israeli Falafel pita sandwich for lunch.

Israel 15 Falafel at diamond cutter for lunch

The valley in the distance is Armageddon. This photo taken from the top of Mt. Tabor where the transfiguration happened.

Israel 16 Armageddon Valley Panarama

At the top of Mt. Tabor. There are two interesting components of this picture. One is the priest snapping a picture of the girl in the corner in the peach top. The other is the lady in black picking her bum.

Israel 17 Armenians looking at Armageddon Valley

A partial view of Mt. Tabor where the transfiguration took place.

Israel 18 Mount Tabor

Taken at the top of Mt. Tabor and includes Roark’s finger tip.

Israel 19 top of Mt. Tabor where Transfiguration happened

This sign marks the spot of sea level. As we continued on the road it drops to about 800 ft below sea level down to the Sea of Galilee.

Israel 20 at see level just about to descend below it

Roark and I out on the Sea of Galilee.

Israel 21 on the Sea of Galilee

The city of Nazareth where Jesus grew up is in the background.

Israel 22 Nazareth in the background

The modern city of Haifa in the background.

Israel 23 Haifa in the background

The beach in Caesarea. The water is beautifully perfect. I could have stayed there all day but we only had 15 minutes. I love the mediterranean beaches!

Israel 24 beach at Ceasarea

Israeli Turkey Shawarma — delish!

Israel 25 Israeli Turkey Shawarma Yum for lunch

The place at the mall where we bought the Shawarmas. The name Gargerim means “Grains”. I can’t figure out why they have that name.

Israel 26 at the mall where we bought shawarma lunch

In Jaffa, the green area is the remains of the court where Paul testified in front of Agrippa and Festus.

Israel 27 green area with plants is the remains of the court where Paul testified before Agrippa and Festus

Remains of the public toilets at the hippodrome in Jaffa. The Romans did chariot races here. Fellow tour group members are demonstrating how the toilets were used and seem to be quite enjoying it! I connected with the couple on the left, Joan and Mark, because they are both widowed. They understand what I’m going through and I also learned a lot from their experiences.

Israel 28 remains of the public toilet at the hippodrone in Jaffa

Picture of Masada as we drove in.

Israel 29 Masada

Panaramic of the Dead Sea taken from the top of Masada. In the bottom left you can see a small part of King Herod’s private residence that is built into the side of the mountain.

Israel 30 Dead Sea panarama from top of Masada

The synagogue at Masada used by the Jews who took their last stand there during the first uprising against the Romans around 73-74 CE.

Israel 31 Synagogue at Masada

Lunch at the Masada restaurant. The pita and hummus in Israel is excellent.

Israel 32 Lunch as Masada

The caves behind me (both to the left and right of my head) where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. It’s near the Dead Sea.

Israel 33 Caves to left of my head where Dead Sea Scrolls were found

Here I am floating in the very salty Dead Sea. It makes you very bouyant, that’s why I can lift my hands and head out of the water and stay afloat. It also tastes nasty so don’t get the water in your mouth or eyes!

Israel 34 Floating in the Dead Sea

Here I am walking like a movie star out of the Dead Sea haha. Can you tell I never take my shirt off in the sun? Wow.

Israel 35 Walking like a Movie Star out of the Dead Sea

Rinsing off in clean water after swimming in the Dead Sea. I had more hair on my chest than anyone else there. What’s up with that? You can see Roark’s shadow taking the picture.

Israel 36 Fresh water wash after swimming in Dead Sea

A fresh squeezed Pomegranate juice, refreshing in the 96 humid degrees at the Dead Sea that day.

Israel 37 Fresh squeezed pomogranate juice at Dead Sea

New profile picture selfie I took at the BYU Jerusalem Center after church while waiting for our bus to come pick us up.


Old Jerusalem in the background. You can barely see the Dome of the Rock. This was taken at the BYU Jerusalem Center which has a spectacular view of the temple mount. No I did not iron my shirt 🙂

Israel 38 Outside BYU Jerusalem Center with Old Jerulsalem in background

Went to church on Saturday (Sabbath) at the BYU Jerusalem Center. The windows behind me overlook the city of Jerusalem, it’s a stunning view. It was inside that room where we had church services with a view of the Old Jerusalem.

Israel 39 BYU Jerusalem Center for Church on Saturday

The bedrock under this dome is the probable location of where the Holy of Holies was in Solomon’s temple. You can see the Dome of the Rock to the right which is traditionally where people think Solomon’s temple was. However there is evidence that it was where this small dome is.

Israel 40 likely site of holy of holies in solomons temple

The doorway behind me was a merchant store a few yards away from the Western Wall of Solomon’s temple.

Israel 41 street vendor stall next to western wall of temple

This is the Western Wall of Solomon’s temple (after Herod expanded it). This wall was here when Jesus was here. The pile of blocks behind me are remnants of the archway bridge that used to cross over this wall.

Israel 42 western wall of solomons temple

This is the southern wall of the temple and the location where Jesus drove the money changers out. They were doing business on and around these steps, so Jesus walked on these steps.

Israel 43 southern wall of solomons temple where jesus cast out the money changers on these steps

Lunch here was a Chicken Pita Schnitzel with pickles. Very Israeli.

Israel 44 chicken scknitzel pita

The city of Bethlehem covers the hill across this small valley. I was missing Tiffany deeply this day and had a good cry off by myself next to this olive tree. This is also the location where Ruth got married to Boaz, where David was raised, and of course where Jesus was born.

Israel 45 view of Bethlehem

Panoramic of Bethlehem.

Israel 46 panoramic of Bethlehem

Life long dream fulfilled, I got to pray at the Western Wall (also known as the Wailing Wall). I felt very connected to my heritage.

Israel 47 praying at the western wall

Steven Rona, our tour guide, explaining Jewish prayer shawls. His dad is a Jewish convert to the Mormon church, just as my parents are. You see the men praying at the Western Wall in the background. To the right, outside the picture, is a section where the women pray.

Israel 48 Steven Rona tour guide at Western Wall

Mount of Olives, just across from Old Jerulsalem. I’m between two olive trees. Jesus went through his Gethsemane experience on this small mount.

Israel 49 Mount of Olives by two olive trees

Another picture on the Mount of Olives. In the left of the picture are 4 arches on the temple mount and behind that is where the Holy of Holies of Solomon’s temple was. Those line up to point exactly south and that’s where the ancient High Priests sacrificed the Red Heifer which has only happened 5 times that are recorded.

Israel 50 Mount of Olives in line of site from 4 arches where Red Heffer sacrificed

The Garden Tomb where Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John found it empty and learned that Jesus was resurrected.

Israel 51 Garden Tomb

9 thoughts on “Jerusalem, Israel

  1. This was so interesting. I have always been fascinated with the Jewish culture. I have a Jewish prayer shawl you can have if you would like it. Les wore it when he played Zacarius in Savior of the World.

  2. I am glad that Tiffany’s bucket list gave you the impetus to go to Israel. I have also wanted to go to Israel for quite some time now…and your pictures gave me an insight into what we might want to see. Thank you for that. Maybe we will get to go there in person one day. Just out of curiosity, how long was the tour?
    Even though you and your brother have a more recent connection to a Jewish way of life due to your upbringing, when you think about it, we ALL should have an interest in the same, because it is our heritage too.

  3. THANKS Damon! That tour of Israel and your narration was wonderful for all of us! Sweet to see things we have heard about, especially the likely temple sites away from the Dome of the Rock. How sweet to fulfill the dreams that Tiffany had! What a wonderful connection for you!

  4. Love this trip!!! What an adventure! Thanks for taking sooo many pictures, I would love to go and do what you did. And good luck with starting back on your temple journey!

  5. Damon, thank you for the wonderful pictures and commentary on your trip to Israel. It was surly a once in a lifetime experience that will always be a treasured memory for you. Seeing you praying at the Western Wall was especially poignant. Connecting with your Jewish heritage was very important for you and I know how much Tiffany always loved being a part of your heritage as well. Now, I feel like I have almost been to Israel myself!

  6. Hi Damen!

    Sister Devereaux was telling me about you and so I looked up your blog. Wow! I would love for you to come and speak to the Singles about your experiences visiting the Temples. I am The Woodlands Stake and the Glen Loch Ward Singles Rep. And I’m also on the Devereuax’s Temple shift on Friday nights. If you would be willing to speak at one of our Firesides please give me a call or email and let me know when you might be available.

    Laura Watson

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