Traveling with the Rockets: Day six

August 14, 2011 | Features, UToday
By Brian DeBenedictis

Assistant Sports Information Director Brian DeBenedictis is writing about the women’s basketball team’s trip to Israel.

The Internet connection in our hotel in Jerusalem was a little better last evening (but not too much) and as a result, I finished my work a little earlier than normal at around 12:45 a.m. — which meant I slept almost six hours and I feel like a million dollars today!

The Star of David where Jesus was born in the Church of the Nativity

The Star of David where Jesus was born in the Church of the Nativity

The alarm went off at 6:30 a.m. this morning, and Assistant Athletic Director for Finance Tony Zaworski, Assistant Coach Todd Mitmesser and I ventured out for about 45 minutes through the downtown streets of Jerusalem. There was hardly any traffic on the road at that time because of the observance of the Shabbat. About halfway through our jog, we ran (not literally though) into former Rocket Melissa Goodall, who is trying to stay in shape to hopefully play professionally overseas in the future. We decided to run with her for the final 15 minutes or so, and she really pushed the pace, helping us work up a pretty good sweat!

After returning from the early morning run, we ate yet still another big buffet breakfast, but not gigantic like before. With today being the Shabbat, there were no scrambled eggs, fish, potatoes, etc. I decided to go with Coco Puffs, fresh fruit and a cup of coffee for the second straight morning — not a lot of food, but just enough.

With the bus rolling out for the Old City at 9 a.m., I had to hustle up a bit to get ready for another busy day. We got everybody on board and made our way to the Via Dolorosa (or Way of Sorrow) for the next two and a half hours. I recalled most of the premises behind each of the 14 Stations of the Cross from my Catholic upbringing at St. Paul’s Church in North Canton (Go Vikes!), but I felt pretty bad knowing it had been almost 20 years (since the early 1990s when I was in high school) since I had last gone through them — not good!

Walking through the Holy Place (a place where the church venerates the mystery of Christ’s life) was truly an unbelievable experience. I’m definitely not ashamed to say that it took my breath away to see where Jesus fell under the cross for the first, second and third times, as well as where he was stripped of his garments, nailed to the cross and where he died on the cross. This was without a doubt an experience that I will cherish forever.

We also had the opportunity to touch the area where Jesus was taken down from the cross (Thirteenth Station) and see the tomb where he is supposedly buried. I don’t know about you, but it gave me the chills!

Following the tour, it was time to eat yet again and do a little more shopping. A lot of you are probably thinking that all we have done on this trip is eat — and to a certain extent, I agree with you. I’m definitely not going to want to step onto a scale when we return to Toledo Thursday afternoon — ha-ha-ha! Our group sat down at a nice outdoor café in the Old City and had the option of Shawarma (chicken or beef) or a falafel. I went with the falafel for the first time and it was delicious! It reminded me a lot of a hush puppy from good old Long John Silver’s — really dating myself here!

Most people devoured their lunch very quickly to get more time in the shops, and all of us noticed that the retailers were very pushy while trying to sell their stuff. During this time, I learned that Todd Mitmesser is a tremendous barterer when dealing with these kinds of people; he saved me $2 on my gifts and I told him that is now my favorite male assistant coach on the women’s staff. These sellers just would not take “No” for an answer. It was kind of funny at first, but after a while it became a huge annoyance!

Our group reconvened at the bus and made its way across town to tour the Israel Museum in the afternoon. Did you know that the museum is the largest cultural institution in the state of Israel and is ranked among the leading art and archaeology museums in the world? Pretty interesting stuff!

When our group first entered the museum, we saw a huge replicate of Jerusalem from the Second Temple Period; it was stunning! We had a small presentation almost immediately after seeing the piece and before we made our way to the Shrine of the Book. I know I have used the adjective “amazing” quite a bit in these recent blogs, but seeing some of the documents, biblical archaeology and portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the museum was truly amazing!

Following the museum tour, we crossed over the border and entered Bethlehem. At the border, we saw a military officer with a lot of ammunition and ready to enforce the law in a moment’s notice — pretty scary stuff! We parked the bus and took a breathtaking tour the Church of the Nativity — so memorable! We touched the Star of David and saw where Jesus was born and the spot where he was put into the manger; “fascinating” probably doesn’t describe it quite good enough!

We then wrapped up the days’ events with the opportunity to shop on the border of Bethlehem a little more, and I can say with a straight face that almost everybody bought something between the two stores before we headed back to the hotel.

I tried mightily to create today’s photo album late this afternoon with our almost two hours of free time before dinner, but the wireless signal was back to being poor at best at the hotel and made it nearly impossible to get any work done.

I decided to take a break for dinner, and Zaworski, Mitmesse and Griggs and I went to a nice place in downtown Jerusalem around 8:45 p.m. With the Shabbat over at 8:17 p.m., the outdoor area was extremely crowded. I went with shrimp, calamari and some white rice for supper — tasty!

We then did a little more shopping for Todd’s children before returning to the hotel. The Internet was still not cooperating with me and made this post and the photo album almost impossible to get up on the web, but I persevered and was able to get the job done.

I’m going to wrap up tonight’s blog by saying that our group is repacking their bags for an early morning departure and heading to the Dead Sea and to ride a camel before ending the day back in Tel Aviv.

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