top of page

A Pilgrimage with a Twist

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

When each of my children reach the summer prior to their sophomore year in high school, we do a father/son, or in this case a father/daughter trip. The intent is that they each challenge themselves in a way that might be a bit out of the ordinary. With intended outcomes of learning more about world cultures and most importantly learning more about themselves.

Faith chose to go on a pilgrimage to learn more about Christianity through immersing herself in an archeological dig on Ophel Hill, which many artifacts are expected to be during the time of Christ. Ophel hill sits within the walls of the "Old City" of Jerusalem and is considered the holy land for Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

The adventure is intended to be all about Faith and her interests, so as we set off on July 20 for a hotel near Logan airport, Faith naturally wanted to stop at one of our favorite eateries - Walters Basin in Holderness. The atmosphere was good and we always enjoy the food.

The next morning we set off for the airport and boarded the flight, we were fortunate that the flight to Tel Aviv was not full - no one was in the middle seat, allowing us to spread out a bit. It was nice for me as I can sleep on flight, but Faith is like her mother, was up all 11 hours.

Day 1 started at 10am local time in Tel Aviv. Instead of taking a taxi directly to Jerusalem, we decided to head the opposite direction to Downton Tel Aviv, which sits directly on the Mediterranean. It seemed like a good idea as would were not allowed to check into our Hostel until 2pm, so we just wanted to kill a couple hours. Once we arrived in Tel Aviv, we noticed all the shops were closed. It was of course Saturday, the sabbath for Jewish people. Rather than staying too long, we walked to the boardwalk along the water and headed back to Jerusalem.

Our taxi driver to Jerusalem could not have been more a character - I think he looked at his two phones more than he did the road. I offered to drive on a few occasions so that he could take care of his other important business. It was all in good fun. Along the way, a good song would come on the radio and he would start singing - he was definitely enjoying himself.

Later in the drive he told us about a major protest that we would be driving into on the way. He was very proud of the protesters and couldn't wait to see them. It was estimated that over 100,000 would be along road ways. Of course, I am thinking about our US protests - many of which are filled with violence and started thinking about our safety. Turns out that the Israeli people protest peacefully and protest to show the government that they are in solidarity with each other.

It turns out that we arrived one hour early and our room was not ready, so we took a walk to the Old City. We were told most shops there would be open, so that sounded fun.

We finally got back to the room. Both of us tired, but this time Faith was able to sleep and I was not....

Day 2 started with that always annoying alarm - of course, I didnt need it, but it went off anyway at 5:15am as we needed to be at the dig site by 6::30. We started out on the 40 min walk to the dig site - temps were already close to 80 degrees. It was a little challenging finding the location, as everything is written in Hebrew, however we only arrived five minutes late. The day started with a security briefing and immediately off to get started with work. Our first assignment was washing pottery, or pottery chips that previous volunteers already excavated. All in all, there are about 30 volunteers and 10 staff onsite.

At 9:30 we get a breakfast break, this is wildly popular, though as you can imagine, I did not each much - okay, I didnt eat at all - not sanitary enough for my taste - though to Faith's credit she dived in and enjoyed some of the local food.

Breakfast break is no more than 15-20 min and we are all back to work. The temps now were in the high 80's. Thankfully they set up tarps overhead to shield some of the sun. We were now digging. Digging seems to be fun as this is where we have the chance to find artifacts.

On day 1 Faith made an immediate impact on the crew. They had her immersed into roles the rest of the volunteers did not play. They even asked her to do some paperwork at the supervisors desk on site.

When an unusual artifact is found such as a coin or other metal, the crew marks the exact location. Faith was also asked to be involved with helping surveyor mark the locations.

Lunch break finally arrived at noon - lunch here is actually called a fruit break - cold watermelon and other fruits. We enjoyed several pieces of watermelon as we were starving for something cold and refreshing.

After lunch, it was right back to work. Now the temps were 92, no clouds, no breeze - this is challenging work and the weather only makes it more challenging. Any water that I had left in my water bottle was so warm, it was not satisfying to drink. We were exhausted and I was working on no sleep.

The day ended, and rather than walking the 40 minute journey back to the hostel, we found the very first cab to take us back. I couldn't wait to take a refreshing shower and get all the sand off - we just rested for a couple hours before heading out to a few open markets near the hostel.

The cab driver from Tel Aviv made sure to tell us that if we want to eat the very best chicken pita in all of Israel, we needed to go to this place which he pointed out. It was fairly close to the hostel. After walking through some of the open markets, we stopped and each got a chicken pita. Here is where it gets interesting. I got the chicken breast pita, and Faith got the chicken extravaganza. Sounds really good right? It has all the really good spices, like turmeric and cumin, but this particular pita, included all chicken parts, such as the spleen and the heart. I reluctantly took a bite and it was tasty but I could not eat more. Faith on the other hand loved it and ate most of her pita - these were very big.

We ended the night back at the hostel where on the rooftop deck they had a jazz band playing. It was pretty good - but when you consider that we are in Jerusalem, it was very good.

At this point, I am running on fumes and praying that I would get a good nights sleep, so we headed back to the room...

Day 3 started off so much better for me as I had a good nights sleep. We left the hostel at 5:45 and headed to the dig site. About 3/4 of the way there another volunteer caught up with us and walked with us the rest of the way. He actually led us, as he has been here several times before and took us on a more scenic route. During the walk, he shared some cool history of the Old City. History that Faith and I would like to know much more about.

At the 6:30 arrival it was already 80 degrees and per usual we hit the ground running with work. This time we were asked to be sifters. Sifting is a process that sifts out all the sand from the buckets that was captured during the excavation. It just leaves items bigger than sand and makes it easier to determine if the initial excavation missed any findings. This is a dusty and hot process, as the dirt is completely dry and we are not under a tarp.

After this process, the supervisor asked if I would help the cook prep the morning breakfast, which I was happy to do. Breakfast went off without a hitch. The best part was getting to know the cook, who is current Israeli military and a straight shooter. Refreshing to hear his position on different topics. After breakfast I headed down to the dig site and started working only to find out that I was also suppose to help with clean up.

Faith volunteered to help, which allowed me to keep digging.

This day turned out to be fairly intense with getting deeper and deeper in our area. Digging and bucket chains might be the most physically taxing tasks. Several coins were found, some bones and glass, and a multitude of broken pottery.

We ended the day slightly early due to the heat, but waited for Noah, our supervisor who was going to show up how to use the bus and light rail systems - given that taxis are so expensive. After a series of errors we finally made it back to the hostel where we showered and rested before dinner..

We headed to the open markets to look for some good food, I think we were both craving something familiar. We ended up passing on a smokehouse as they to not eat pork in Israel and I was hoping for pulled pork. We then looked for a burger place and found a place called Smashburger. It looked really good so we stayed. Faith had chili cheese fries with a chocolate milkshake and I had a double burger with fries and a sparking water.

The whole dinner was good - not great, but the most surprising part is that whole meal cost $80. Absolutely crazy. In the US, maybe $25-$30.

We stopped along the way back to the hostel to pick up some supplies for the next day, including some Advil for me. I wasn't sure I was coming down with something but didn't want to take the chance...

74 views3 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Jennifer van Weert
Jennifer van Weert
Jul 27, 2023

I am quite impressed with the fact that you have managed to fly yourselves from Vermont all the way to Israel! It took SO MUCH much courage and will to make this journey!

The photo of the olives was enticing and I loved the photo of array of middle Eastern spices available at the market! All of your photos are beautiful!

I am hoping that with all of digging in this ancient sand you will experience deep spiritual healings!

Keep Shooting!

Best & Blessings,


Miami, Fl.

Faith Lawton
Faith Lawton
Aug 01, 2023
Replying to

Yes it was quite the long flight but totally worth it for the experience this city has shared with us. We love the markets too :)

- Faith :))


Quite an adventure! Looking forward to seeing the days ahead unfold for you both.

bottom of page