As quarantines and travel restrictions stretch on, it’s hard for those of us with the travel bug not to reminisce on past adventures or look forward to new ones. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s nearly impossible to avoid romanticizing the places one has only dreamt of visiting. After many long hours of reflection on my travels in Israel with Passages, and in other places, I’ve realized romanticizing places isn’t always a bad thing. Anticipation and even unmet expectations provide insight as to how something that feels like ancient history can so significantly impact the lives of thousands of people 2,000 years later.
To further discuss Israel’s ever-blurry line between the past and the present, I am joined by recent college grad, current software development engineer, and good friend, Kaylee Hafferkamp. Kaylee and I remained close throughout all four years of college and visited Israel together through Passages in the summer of 2018.
OLIVIA BERGLUND: What expectations did you have for some of the historical sites you visited in Israel, and how were they different to reality?
KAYLEE HAFFERKAMP: I tried to go in without any expectations. Partially because I had no idea what to expect from that old of historical sites, and partially because I knew there was essentially a modern country built around and on top of these sites. I actually expected most of them to be completely ruins, where you see merely a few crumbled rocks and are told that they’re what was left of a wall or some historic site. In reality, most of the places we went, despite being 2000+ years old were in amazing condition! And that truly surprised me.
OB: Which site surprised you the most?
KH: Masada, for sure. I saw a few pictures and felt kind of neutral about visiting—I was way more excited for the Dead Sea—but I ended up loving Masada way more than expected. There is still some paint on the walls, that’s how well-preserved parts of this place are. And I love being high up, so being on the plateau, overlooking the desert, and seeing such well-preserved buildings was incredible. It became probably my favorite site on the trip.
OB: How did visiting the sites change your view of both historic and modern Israel?
KH: I think I now have more respect for modern Israel because they took the time to essentially build around many of these sites. They could have built over them in order to have better infrastructure, but they took the time and effort to preserve many sites around the country. As for historical Israel, I think many stories I’ve heard came to life. I didn’t imagine having such an immersion into Biblical stories like I did. You could just imagine the events that happened there.
OB: How would you describe these places to someone who has never been to Israel before?
KH: They’re almost overwhelming. Toni Morrison, in her novel Beloved, describes how places have memory. Sometimes you can just feel the history, the memories of people, the past. And I would say that that’s true for many sites in Israel. You can feel the powerful history of the land, just by stepping on it. You can almost feel the vibrancy of past footsteps on the ground. For me, this was especially true in the City of David. We got to go into Hezekiah’s tunnel and walk in darkness, just feeling the walls where they chipped away at it. It felt almost alive, like we were standing with those that dug it out, not standing there thousands of years later.
OB: What was the most important piece of perspective you gained from this experience?
KH: Honestly, this is hard to answer. Going to Israel was life-changing in so many ways. I think, though, that the most important perspective I gained was being able to see Israel as both modern and ancient. I was able to see Israel as a modern, technologically advanced country, as well as a place that holds so much history.