Listening to the Holy Land — WAIT LISTED

Led by Bruce Benson, Retired College Pastor, and Carol Benson, Retired Music Teacher
March 11–23, 2015

Israel/Palestine in the 21st century … a thoughtful visit here is fulfilling, perplexing, inspiring, distressing, and worth every minute. Our visit will bring us to many important biblical sites: Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, Capernaum, and Nazareth, among others.

But our visit will also, with the help of local people, engage us in serious current issues, and introduce us to a variety of religious expressions all staking their claims to this small place on earth. We’ll worship with a local church, visit a settlement and refugee camp, and meet with Mark Brown ’78, a long-time resident of Israel and alumni award winner for his work with the Lutheran World Federation.

We will walk the hillsides of Galilee, the suqs of the Old City of Jerusalem, and the paths of the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth. We will stand on the Mount of Olives, meditate in the Garden of Gethsemane, and float in the Dead Sea. We will explore ancient archaeological sites and the human longing for peace.

We will be awakened by the “call to prayer” singing out from numerous minarets, and hear it again during the day as we are perhaps contemplating an event in the life of Jesus, or watching Orthodox Jews pray at the Western Wall. Here in the Holy Land, the major religions swirl around one another, in a way few other places can replicate.

No one can guarantee you will come home changed, but the odds favor it.

Optional Petra Extension
“Inhabited since prehistoric times, this Nabataean caravan-city, situated between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, was an important crossroads between Arabia, Egypt and Syria-Phoenicia. Petra is half-built, half-carved into the rock, and is surrounded by mountains riddled with passages and gorges. It is one of the worlds’ most famous archaeological sites, where ancient Eastern traditions blend with Hellenistic architecture.” (from

The weather should be mild, though heat waves do happen. It will be best to wear short sleeves and long, light-weight pants, and bring a lightweight jacket. Plan to wear very good, already broken-in walking or hiking shoes. The terrain isn’t rough, but there is some walking, and a horseback ride is included in the tour.

Monday, March 23, 2015 — Transfer from Jerusalem to Petra via the Allenby Bridge, stopping at Madaba and Mount Nebo on the way. Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Petra (likely Petra Moon Hotel).

Tuesday, March 24, 2015 — Transfer to Petra for a guided visit, including an optional horse ride through the Siq. Transfer to Amman for a group dinner. Transfer to the Amman airport for flights out this evening (probably leaving in the early morning hours of 25 March).

Program Leader
Before retiring from St. Olaf after 30 years as College Pastor, Bruce Benson traveled many times to Israel and Palestine, most often leading International Study programs for students during January, teaching a course called Historical Geography and the Bible. His interest in the relationship between history, culture, geography and Biblical interpretation led him to develop and lead a similar course in Greece and Turkey as well.

During the years he was leading these programs, his wife, Carol, was busy teaching music at Greenvale Elementary School in Northfield, and directing two children’s choirs at her church in town. She was, therefore, unable to go along.  But that changed in a big way when they led St. Olaf’s Global Semester in 2004-05, and Term in Asia in 2009-10. Now both of them are seasoned group leaders in international travel and study.

Their children have all spent extended time outside of the country; one in Russia and Austria, another in Turkmenistan and the Republic of Georgia, the third is an alum of St. Olaf’s Global Semester.

What to Expect
Israel will offer many juxtapositions, sometimes noisy, boisterous and bustling (Jerusalem’s Old City), other times hauntingly quiet (such as at the Dead Sea). The area offers a mixture of past and present at every turn. And, of course, there is the constant reminder of competing ideologies.

Much of the country is not handicapped accessible to the degree that the United States is. Jerusalem alone is full of hills, stairways without elevators or ramps, uneven surfaces, etc. To fully partake in this program, you should be capable of walking up to five miles per day over possibly uneven terrain, of climbing stairs that may not have handrails, of keeping pace with an active group of travelers on long days of traveling, of dealing with the emotional highs and lows that can occur when experiencing different cultures, and of traveling with a group for several hours each day.

Hotels will be tourist class with private baths, air conditioning, and English-speaking staff.

The weather in March will be mild. In Jerusalem the average high is 60º Fahrenheit, and the average low is 47. In Tiberias the average high is 70, and the average low is 50. Rainfall averages 3–4 inches, so a collapsible umbrella will come in handy.

You should plan on seeing your family physician or a travel doctor at least four to six weeks prior to departure, preferably earlier, to talk about routine vaccinations. For more information on travel health, visit or

Program Fee
The program fee is $3,150 through November 15, 2014. Based on double occupancy, it includes discussions led by Bruce Benson, accommodations, breakfast daily and group meals as listed on the itinerary, admissions for group activities, ground transportation during the program and gratuities to group guides, drivers and meal servers. After November 15, 2014, the program fee is $3,300 per person. For single occupancy, add $391 to either program fee.

Pricing for the optional extension:
$310 per person, double occupancy, for 15 to 19 travelers
$280 per person, double occupancy, for 20 to 24 travelers
$48 single supplement

Airfare to and from Israel is not included. Participants are solely responsible for all expenses not specifically included in the program fee. Examples of excluded expenses are: International Airfare • Airport transfers in Israel if you arrive or depart outside of the recommended time frame • Any passport and visa fees • Any recommended immunizations or vaccinations • Accident / baggage / trip cancellation insurance • Beverages, including at group meals • Laundry • Dry cleaning • Phone charges • Room service or other items of a personal nature • Expenses incurred during free time or non-group activities • Lunch and dinner, unless specifically included on program itinerary.

Making Your Flight Arrangements
Please plan to depart the U.S. on Wednesday, March 11, 2015 in order to arrive in Jerusalem on March 12, preferably by mid-afternoon. Plan to depart from Jerusalem any time on Monday, March 23, 2015.

A group transfer from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on March 12 and from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv on March 23 is included if you arrive within an hour of the recommended time. If you book flights beyond an hour of the recommended flights, we can help facilitate transfers to and from Jerusalem, at your own expense.

For assistance with flight arrangements, may we recommend Noreen Deiss of Travel Leaders/Suntime Travel. She can be reached at 651-429-0039 or