Two years ago, I attended a Rotary Club meeting where the guest speaker recounted his trip to the Holy Land.

Two years ago, I attended a Rotary Club meeting where the guest speaker recounted his trip to the Holy Land.

Little did I know, I would be visiting the same area two years later.


For 12 days, my mother, brother and I visited some of Christendom's holiest sites. Exploring Israel — namely Tabgha, Tiberius, Cana, Capernaum and Jerusalem — and Bethlehem offered reflection, relaxation and exercise. (You can only reach many places by foot.)  

Staying at a hotel overlooking the Sea of Galilee and splashing around in the same water where Jesus spent most his ministry; visiting the city where he performed his first public miracle, according to scriptures; walking the Via Dolorosa; and visiting traditionally accepted sites of his birth and crucifixion were surreal experiences.

And we met friendly, brilliant people at these places. In Tiberius, my mother chatted up a Jewish man who was well traveled, having visited Alabama, Florida, Tennessee and Berlin, Germany, among other places.

Mom just said, "United States," when he asked where she's from. With no other hint, he said, "Alabama?"

We were amazed.

Honestly, I can't keep up with how many friendly strangers we encountered.

But like with anything, there were downsides, too, and they inspired me to share this lesson: Regardless of what you think about Crestview (whether it's the traffic or the need for more businesses — I hear the same comments every day on our social media channels), it could be a lot worse.


Here's the takeaway from visiting the Holy Land (and why, at around the 10-day mark, I told my family, "I can't wait to get back to Crestview").

•Over all, it's safe. The Tabgha hotel my family stayed at the first week, the one with the stunning view of the Sea of Galilee, was some 20 miles from Syria.

Just on the other side of those mountains lay human rights abuses at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. The group is known for its public executions and crucifixions, and forcing women into sex slavery.

This was my big wake-up call. I thought back to watching TV at the Philadelphia International Airport, just before boarding our flight to Tel Aviv, when there was a 15-minute CNN report on "fangate." (You know, former Gov. Charlie Crist (D)'s use of an electric fan, and Gov. Rick Scott (R)'s refusal to debate him because of it.)

"THIS is news?" I'm thinking, while considering the territory I'm about to enter, and how I won't even say what I do for a living in that area. 

•We're not prisoners. Imagine having to park your car on a very littered dirt lawn and then walk a block to border patrol, where you pass through inspection points with armed guards to get to Baker.

That's the case for Jerusalem residents who want to shop or visit their next-door neighbor, Bethlehem. The Israeli West Bank Barrier separates Israel from Palestine, and the division is more than physical. A Bethlehem man I spoke with said he felt trapped like an animal.

Israel built the wall to prevent Palestinian terrorism, and crossing the wall is possible, but how often would you visit Baker if there were so much red tape?

•Soliciting isn't an issue. Our week in Galilee was peaceful, but our week in Jerusalem was filled with the most aggressive sales tactics I've seen — borderline harassment.

In Bethlehem, a man followed us for hours trying to get us to shop at his sister's souvenir store or to accept a ride in his personal car. (I politely brushed him off at every turn, so he targeted Mom, even calling her "Mom" to build rapport — oh, I know all the manipulative approaches, and they were very annoying.)

In the evening, the same man arranged for a legitimate taxi cab to take us back to the border, but not without getting in the car along with his driver friend, ensuring he and his friend got a tip for all his troubles. (He won that round.)

Another man followed us for hours hoping we would accept his tour services. (We didn't.) A man at Mount Zion told us about how he visited New York and was happy to help us find our way. (After we declined, his kind eyes grew cold and he shouted, "Get away from my face!") Shopkeepers would stand outside their stores and all but force us inside, wrapping gifts we hadn't committed to purchasing and attempting to push the sales.

It was exhausting.

•The traffic is not that bad. We understood what traffic in Jerusalem might be like within seconds of arriving there. My brother was behind the wheel, waiting for a red light to turn green for what seemed like 10 minutes.

When the signal changed to green, it lasted about 10 seconds.

Amazingly, when traffic lights turned green in Jerusalem, that's when everyone honked their horns — they knew you had to go while the going's good!  

We don't hear horns almost non-stop here in Crestview. (I would actually count the number of seconds that passed when we didn't hear horns honking in Jerusalem. Because those times were so few and far between.)

So you see? It could be worse.

Of course, none of this means we shouldn't expect improvements in Northwest Florida.

It just means we should recognize that we really don't have it that bad.

What's your view? Write a letter to the editor or tweet News Bulletin Editor Thomas Boni.