June 9, 2014
I rolled out of bed gracelessly after an uncomfortable night’s sleep. Today was our first day at the dig site, even if we weren’t digging, so everyone from from group wore their Bethsaida shirts. We had breakfast in the cafeteria and were bussed to the dig site, which was about 20 minutes away from where we were actually staying. The site is part of the Jordan River Park, in larger connection with the Israeli national park system, and the dig is directed by Dr. Rami Arav from University of Nebraska-Omaha.
We were dropped off in a gravel parking lot with a big group of other people. There were a few guys from UNO who had come with Dr. Arav, a big group of theology students from Australia, and a few other people from places like New York, New Jersey, and Singapore. It was quite and eclectic group of people, and we all introduced ourselves to start off the orientation. Dr. Arav then led us on a tour of the site, pointing out what important things had been found where and telling us what the significance of the site was.
Bethsaida is mentioned in the New Testament a few times as a place where Jesus visited and performed a miracle. It was also where some of the disciples were from. It was a little fishing village that at one time was right on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, but over time the shoreline changed and the village was slowly abandoned. It has roots going back as far as the 1st century BCE, and there have been some pretty amazing finds. The most notable find is in the Israeli Museum, a stelle with an image of the bull-god carved on it. Dr. Arav’s explanation was really interesting, but as the morning wore on the sun began beating down mercilessly. I was sweating and miserable in the heat. I couldn’t imagine digging in these temperatures, but I began to realize why we had to wake up so early to dig. The closer to the afternoon we got, the more miserable it became.
After the tour, we went back to the kibbutz for lunch and a short afternoon break. Soon the bus came back and took us down to a pretty resort on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, Kibbutz Ginosaur. It was very beautiful and had a small museum off to the side. I was trying to contain my envy and failing miserably. Usually, the volunteers stay at this kibbutz, but because of a problem with scheduling they hadn’t had room for all of us this year. So we had been forced to go with the next best option. Don’t get me wrong, I was super thankful to not be sleeping in a tent like they had to do when they excavations first started. But my bed was hard as a rock.
Inside the museum was a huge ancient boat. I had read about it in one of our textbooks. The boat had been found during a summer of drought in the Sea of Galilee not far from Ginosaur and archeologists had managed to salvage it from the mud. It was extremely well preserved for 1st century wood. Of course nothing in the holy land isn’t sacred, meaning it did not escape the conspiracy theories about it being Jesus’ main mode of transportation. In spite of the fact there’s no evidence connecting it to Jesus, it is still called the Jesus boat and even has it’s own website, Jesusboat.com. We went to the gift shop which held all the necessary souvenirs for visiting the Jesus boat and that was when I realized that I didn’t have any shekels yet.
I was told there was an ATM in the hotel portion of Ginosaur. We left the museum and wandered around back. To my dismay, we passed a beautiful, sparkling pool with lots of deck chairs for tanning and a nice green lawn for relaxing. Then we passed Ginosaur’s own private beach on the Sea of Galilee, with large umbrellas for shade sticking out of the sand. We passed the long boardwalk and pier over the lake. I was starting to get choked up. Was there anywhere to swim at Hakuk in the hot afternoons after we finished digging?
“Do you think… they would let us come down here and go swimming in the afternoons?” I asked.
“I don’t think so. It’s probably only for people staying here,” someone answered.
“Yeah, but they’re the ones who messed up our reservation in the first place,” another person replied.
We entered the hotel lobby and I almost fell on the floor. It was nicer than the hotels we had stayed in while we were in Jordan, with a cute little breakfast bar and several plush lounges with TVs a dining area with 5 star food. I could have cried. “This is where we would have stayed,” I whimpered, barely able to choke out the words.
“Oh my god, don’t tell me that,” one of the other girls retorted. I felt like throwing myself onto one of the beautiful leather couches and never leaving. They couldn’t make me leave. I would just sleep on that couch at night, it had to be softer than my bed anyway.
“At least Hakuk is cheaper than this place, so we’re saving a little bit of money,” someone offered as we looked around despairingly.
“Actually…” one of the girls bit her lip. “Staying at Hakuk is actually a little more expensive because we have to pay for our own lunches. If we had stayed at Ginosaur, the lunches would be included.”
“Oh my god,” I breathed, barely able to get the words out. This time I really did I sink into the plush leather couch in front of the ATM out of anguish. “Oh my god, please don’t tell me that.” It was just as soft and comfy as my bed was not.
We retrieved some shekels from the ATM and then left. Oh well, I thought, trying not to dwell on it. We couldn’t have done anything about it anyway. We would just have to make the best of our quaint little retreat.
Back in the museum portion of the kibbutz, Dr. Arav was getting ready to show us the previous finds from Bethsaida. We headed downstairs to the basement where the storage was. Inside a tiny little room were all of the best finds from the site. Dr. Arav showed us the different types of pottery and how to identify them. He taught us the difference between jars and jugs, how to distinguish the important pieces of pottery from the junk, and how to roughly date them. The room was small, hot, and claustrophobic, but I loved learning about the ancient pottery and artifacts.
After the lecture we pushed out of the narrow corridor and into a bright, sunny room with large glass windows overlooking the lake. The Sea of Galilee was sparkling in the mid-afternoon sun, sailboats floating lazily across a backdrop of mountains. It was beautiful and serene, like something from a postcard. I tried not to think about the view from the hotel windows.
We went back to our little kibbutz and had the next few hours free before dinnertime. I had been craving a bit of downtime, just to relax, do some laundry, and write my journal. The past week had been so stressful, it was a welcome break from the never-ending rush of things to do.
Dinnertime came around, and I slowly began to realize that the food options were not going to change between days or even meals. Every meal there was some kind of meat in some kind of sauce, with a not very creative variation of potatoes. Often there was something like rice or noodles, and of course a salad bar with things that were not actually salad. There was hummus, but no actual pita bread. Instead they just set out loaves of sliced white bread. I thought sadly of the five star restaurant in Ginosaur as I took a bite of my undercooked potatoes.
The greatest tragedy for me was the lack of dairy. I’m a dairy kind of person. I drink milk with every meal, butter all of my bread, and eat yogurt for almost every breakfast. There was not a drop of milk or a square of butter anywhere in sight. One of the Jewish kids working with us at the dig explained that it was part of kosher law not to have dairy and meat in the same meal. “It’s something about not eating the calf with the milk of its mother,” he explained.
I sighed and pushed a potato back and forth on my plate. No milk also meant no desserts.
The kibbutz did have a convenience store, and we had been told that they had ice cream and beer. Of course everything was ridiculously overpriced, but it sounded like exactly what I needed at the time. It closed at sunset so a few of us hurried downstairs and bought Magnum bars and Goldstar just as they were closing. The drinking age in Israel (and most of the rest of the world) is 18, but the clerk didn’t even question me when I set the bottle down on the counter. Outside was a rickety wooden picnic table, and we sat around and talked and ate ice cream. It was the first time I had ever had a Magnum bar, and boy, had I been missing out. Thus began a Magnum bar addiction that would last the entire time I was in Israel.
We knew the next day would be an early wake up call to catch the bus to the dig site at 5:30 am, so after a while we headed back to our rooms to sleep. As I climbed into my rock-like bed, I thought briefly about the cushy couch in Ginosaur before falling asleep.