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Ten Days in Israel

A Pilgrimage

By Geoffrey Philp Published 9 months ago Updated 6 months ago 3 min read
Geoffrey Philp in Jerusalem

I'm starting to believe in Bashert.

The cheapest flight I could get from Miami to Israel had a stopover in Lisbon. According to my cousin, Darrah Virgo, whom I only met seven years ago after taking a DNA test, my maternal grandmother's family, the Virgos, fled Portugal when the Portuguese Inquisition began. After escaping to England, the Virgos eventually settled in Jamaica, where I was born.

I have always claimed African and Scottish ancestry, so discovering my Jewish roots added another dimension to my biological lineage and how I think about religion and spirituality. You see, my great-grandfather, Andrew Lumley, was a founding member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Jamaica, and my mother was a Jehovah's Witness until she died in 1991.

I couldn't have planned a more perfect place to begin my pilgrimage.

Lisbon Airport

Under Lisbon skies

where not too far, ancestors

fled to Jamaica.

Lisbon to Israel

A full flight allowed us to stow our overhead luggage with the checked baggage without additional cost. We accepted the offer, but I couldn't help but wonder why our flight was so crowded. But the thought kept running through my mind: What was the connection between Lisbon and Israel?

Landing gear in place

The plane glides on the tarmac

Applause from the back.

Stars over Jerusalem

In Jerusalem

Stars map my journey to bring

each ancestor home.


Up after midnight

Moonlight over my shoulder

Reading Spinoza.

Jaffa Gate

Outside Jaffa Gate

Where pilgrims arrived by sea

Tourists by trinkets.

Wailing Wall

At my first Seder with Jenni Person and Chaim LieberPerson, I remember hearing the phrase, "Next year in Jerusalem!" And here I was, in the very place that so many of my ancestors had prayed to see one day. For Jerusalem remains the closest that Jews can come to the sacred site of the Temple Mount.

For centuries it has been a center for Jewish prayer and pilgrimage. Jews write their prayers and wishes on tiny scraps of paper and tuck them into the cracks of the Western Wall, hoping for God's blessing. Who am I to argue with centuries of faith and tradition?

At the Wailing Wall

I say the same prayer, “Watch

Over my children.”

After The Wailing Wall

On a crowded bus

After the Wailing Wall, cries

Of “Abba, Abba!”

Cotton Merchant's Gate

In the midst of crowds

Having a nervous breakdown

And nobody knows.

Dead Sea

Floating on the Dead

Sea, while below the surface

archaea thrive.

Climbing Mount Zion

Climbing Mount Zion

On the streets where prophets roared—

Each stone is scripture.

Roman Ruins

Under fig saplings

Near the Roman columns, cats

Lounge in the ruins.

Olive Tree

Near an olive tree

Where a prophet once preached fire

A sparrow breathes songs.

Nearing Hebron

Nearing a checkpoint

A woodpecker on a pole

Surveys the wreckage.


In Hebron City

Closed shops on King David’s Street

Parrots squawk from palms.


Sitting in the shade

In Hebron, waiting for buses--

A bullet, perhaps?

Ibrahimi Mosque

Somewhere in Hebron

blackcaps in a field, stateless

as Palestinians.

Ibrahimi Mosque

Ibrahimi Mosque

where Abraham is buried

a thin screen divides


Beside Jacob’s Tomb

While a rabbi chants the Torah

A scribe in training.


After their prayers

Ethiopian pilgrims

At Abraham’s Tomb.


Just how far, pilgrim,

Will you wander before you

Come home to yourself?

Up a rocky path

Past the boulders and ibex

Water from a rock!

—at Ein Gede

Ein Gedi

Inside the caverns

Velvet moss and the slow drip

Of eternity.


Not even the stones

Recall soldier’s names—yet words

Of prophets remain.


In the midday sun

The riddle of Portugal—

Jerusalem’s fall.


Herod’s fantasies

The pride of princes swallowed

By the desert sands.

Atop Masada

Atop Masada

Where patriots took their lives--

Sparrows find refuge.


Jericho City

Where the walls came tumbling down

A Tree of Life blooms.


Outside Jericho

dates across the horizon--

A troop of soldiers.


All day on the tour

Bright, cheery tunes, but I missed

The thump of the bass.

Four Sephardi Synagogues

Under the pillars

of the Yeshurun Temple

I forget to breathe.

Samuel's Tomb

Near Samuel’s Tomb

Cities built upon cities

Crows circle the moat.

Hezekiah's Tunnel

Chiseling through limestone

On a rocky spur, voices

From the other side.

—Hezekiah’s Tunnel

Yad Vashem

Outside Yad Vashem

Memorial to the Shoah--

Scent of lavender.

Gan Yavne

In Gan Yavne

After Jerusalem’s noise

A green countryside.

At Rosh HaNikra

The romance of sea and stone

Deep in the grottoes

~Near the Lebanese border

Mixed neigborhood

In mixed neighborhoods

Flags mark houses like blood from

The Passover Lamb

Lost in Torah

On Shabbat morning

A Hassid walks to the temple

Lost in Torah.

Gan Yavne 2

Sitting on a porch

Even here in Gan Yavne

Mourning doves haunt me.


While the household sleeps

Before Shabbat meal, I work—

Unclean as I am.


After the blessing

Of the bread, wine, and Hamin

We enter our rest.


About the Creator

Geoffrey Philp

I am a Jamaican writer. I write poems (haiku & haibun), stories & essays about climate change, Marcus Garvey, music icons such as Bob Marley, and the craft of writing through personal reflection & societal engagement.

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Comments (3)

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  • Scott Christenson9 months ago

    Great introduction to your family history and trip to Israel, I'd like to read more about your thoughts and experiences over there after reading this.

  • Whoaaa, it's so fascinating the things we discover through DNA tests! I loved all your Haikus and photos!

  • Dana Stewart9 months ago

    Absolutely love the structure of the poem with the photos. A trip to remember! Israel is on my list! Thank you for sharing.

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