I accidentally went into a men-only pool: Israel, Day 7

Turns out the hotel pool has separate hours for men and women.

I did not know this when I went in.

Finding this out when I tried to go again the next day explained a lot about my first visit. Embarrassing myself apparently comes naturally, no matter what country I’m in.

We spent all of yesterday exploring Jerusalem and visiting the holy sites of the city.

We started at the Mount of Olives, before making our way into the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Pools of Bethesda

My favorite part of the day was when we stopped at the Church of St. Ann. There is a tradition of singing inside the church, and the acoustics were gorgeous.

After getting lunch in the city, we had the opportunity to do some shopping downtown Jerusalem. My partner and I instead headed to the tattoo shop to interview for our stories.

Being in the field with a camera again felt really good. After working with mostly print over the last semester, it was nice to stretch the audiovisual muscles.

I had to raise my microphone to get some ambient sound

A few of our friends also got tattoos, although I won’t rat out which ones.

Days like yesterday are so busy it’s difficult to process everything we saw, much less pull meaning from it yet.

One thing that did strike me was when we were in the garden. It was full of olive trees, and our guide told us that olive trees have a unique quality where new trees can grow from old root systems. Even though trees themselves might be only a few hundred years old, their root systems might be much older.

This is representative of the church. Even though Christians are only here for a lifetime, their roots go much deeper. The church is our root system; we are merely the branches.

We are nearing the close of our trip, but I will be blogging the rest of it as well. Be sure to check back for a post about today, or follow me on twitter at @jordynpair.


Four ways to know if a mortar is coming: Israel, Day 6

There are four ways to know if a mortar is coming.

1. You hear the explosion of it being launched. If you hear that sound, run.

2. You hear the whistling of it coming in. If you hear that sound, run.

3. You hear it explode. Mortars always comes in groups. If you hear that sound, run.

4. You receive an SMS message from the IDF. They have spotted someone launching a mortar. If you hear the text, you can walk.

Today our group went to the border of the Gaza Strip. We heard from a speaker who told us what it was like to live among consistent sirens and dropping mortars. She described what it was like to have 15 seconds to find your child and the nearest shelter.

I saw a playground with a bomb shelter today. I was in a school protected from falling rockets.

Nothing else puts your own problems in perspective.

Many of the places we have visited on this trip have been of historical or spiritual significance. They have been ruins and tourist destinations. But there were no shops here, no street vendors. Just a quiet town, a few dogs, and the wind clawing at our coats.

We were supposed to visit the border earlier. We had to reschedule because they had three warnings in one day.

I like to think of journalists as the second responders. We are there behind the soldiers, the fighters, the doers. When the rockets fall, we are the ones with cameras pointed. When people run for shelter, we run after them with a notebook.

That is why visiting places like the border of the Gaza Strip is important. It tells you what kind of journalist you are. It tells you what kind of stories you can stomach.

The story of this town is not an easy one to swallow. No child should have to seek a bomb shelter every day. Not everyone can write this story.

But I’d like to try. I’d like to be that second responder.

There are four ways to know a mortar is coming. There are 15 seconds to find shelter from it.

There are a thousand ways to tell this story.


Falling in love with Jerusalem and journalism: Israel, Day 5

I didn’t write a post yesterday because I was too busy exploring Jerusalem. But I have a few minutes on the bus, so I’ll recap yesterday.

We started our day at the City of David, where we saw ruins of David’s palace. Seeing the ruins overlooking the city brought stories like David and Bathsheba to life.

We also had the opportunity to go through a (ancient) sewer system and see a temple built by Herod.

After the City of David and the temple, we went to the Western Wall, which was probably the most interesting part of our formal tour.

Where I really had the most fun, however, was after our tour ended for the day. The group was given some time to work on our stories, and a group of us headed into the city.

The story I am working on is actually a video and radio package accompanying another story, so I went out into old Jerusalem to profile a tattoo shop. This shop has been run by the same family for 700 years and specializes in pilgrimage tattoos.

My partner and I talked to the father of the man currently running the shop. Because he was unable to come into the shop, we met him outside in his car. And as I crouched outside the car with a camera and a microphone, listening to this man talk about the tradition of his family, I fell in love with journalism all over again.

Because this is what journalism does for you. It whisks you away to a country and gives you the opportunity to talk to people you normally would have never met. It lets you roam the streets with a camera and have a reason to shoot. It lets you tell stories no one else has heard.

Jerusalem may be an ancient city with ancient stories, but it is also young and vibrant and full of life. It is full of stories in a way that it seems cities in the USA are not. Walking the streets, it is easy to feel the richness of the culture.

I was already in love with journalism. Now I am also in love with Jerusalem.

For a lot of students on the Passages tour, Israel is primarily a part of their spiritual journey. They are drawn to the stories of the Bible. Although those stories make up a large part of my experience too, I am here for a different kind of story.

I am here for the man in the tattoo parlor. I am here for the woman selling scarves on the street. I am here for my own story.

But most importantly, I am here for the stories around me.

Time to write.

I still can’t spell Jerusalem: Israel, Day 4

It might take me three tries to spell it every time, but that’s where we are for the next few days.

We started our day with a quick debriefing session at the hotel about the articles we will be writing. Right now, we are working on narrowing our topics down and starting to think about who we need to get in touch with. I am working with the amazing Bre Payton, who works at The Federalist. I also interned at The Federalist this past summer and worked with her then, so having her input on my story is such a blessing.

After we left the hotel, we drove to Mt. Precipice, overlooking Nazareth. We had a short devotional and heard from our guide about the history of the location. Like a lot of places we’ve visited, Mt. Precipice is one where they are almost certain Jesus himself walked.

Next, we headed into Nazareth. We toured a recreation of what part of the town would have looked like, including renactments of traditional industries, such as carpentry and spinning. One thing that stood out to me during the tour, however, was the Muslim call to prayer echoing in the background. Many parts of Israel have Muslim populations, and their calls to prayer can often be heard, even while touring a Christian holy site. This juxtaposition of religions is just one reason this country is so interesting.

While at Nazareth, we also had the opportunity to have an authentic ancient meal. All the dishes were exactly as residents of the town would have eaten at the time, and I can honestly say it is the most flavorful meal I have ever had.

After lunch, we toured a church erected in honor of the Virgin Mary, and then headed to Jerusalem. Instead of having any speakers or events, we were given the rest of the day to explore the city on our own. A group of us went into full tourist mode and hunted down the market place and a few hookah bars (sorry, Mom).

Even on a Wednesday night in the middle of January, the streets bustled with people. In my hometown, the streets are fairly empty after around 9 p.m., and even in D.C. everything was fairly quiet once the sun had set. In Jerusalem, however, everything was still vibrant and busy. Advertisers would stand outside restaurants to try to offer seating, and vendors would hold out samples, even as it pushed toward 10 p.m. I’m so excited to stay here for a few more days. Our group already has plans to return downtown.

Since these posts seem to be getting a good reaction, I have to ask: is there anything you would like to hear about? Let me know in the comments or reach out to me on Twitter at @JordynPair. And be sure to follow there for updates throughout the day!

Bunkers and Bibles: Israel, Day 2

The dumbest thing I have done so far in 2018 is wear sandals in 45 degree weather.

In my defense, I didn’t expect it to rain.

Today was the first full day in Israel. We left the hotel around 8:00 this morning and headed toward the West Bank to hear from a Jewish woman who had immigrated to Israel from America. On the bus ride there, our guide gave us a brief lesson on the history of the area and its conflict.

Because the lectures we hear are considered to be “background only,” I cannot specifically quote anything here.

Although both lectures were interesting, my favorite part of the day by far was the old Israeli Defense Force bunker we visited. Near the Syria-Israel border and roughly a three-hour drive from the West Bank, it was a steady climb up a mountain and into Golan Heights. Even though it’s normally possible to see for miles from the top, the whole place was covered in such a thick mist it was difficult to see even five steps ahead.


The fog made everything slightly faded and lent a spooky atmosphere to the entire place that even the gift shop at the top of the walkway couldn’t quite shake. And it definitely made the cut outs of “armed guards” on top of the entrance to the bunker seem much more real until we got close.

The bunker itself was a series of tunnels built into the hill. Although it was empty and even lightly flooded at the time, our guide told us it could be active and utilized by the IDF within 48 hours.

At the end of one tunnel was a small room that would have been used as an outlook had the bunker been active. All we could see through the slit was fog. Even if someone had been coming, there was no way of knowing until we were face-to-face.​​

After the bunker and another hour bus ride, we visited a church and heard from a Christian living in Israel. He led us through the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic and gave a brief lecture. He also showed us a Bible over 400 years old.

sacred text

We ended the night with dinner at the hotel and then a debriefing session for the journalism students. Because we will be filing a story while here, we have begun to go over exactly how that will happen.

The leaders of the trip warned that tomorrow will be even busier (and colder). We will be exploring the north part of Galilee. If you’re interested in seeing more frequent updates, follow me on Twitter at @JordynPair.

Israel, Day 1

I haven’t seen the sun in 28 hours. 

I have spent the last day and a half traveling from Detroit to Israel. I have spent at least half of that time waiting in some sort of line. 

It’s less than 10 minutes to midnight on December 31 in Israel as I write this. It’s strange to think I’ll be technically starting a new year in a completely different place. 

My trip through Israel begins in earnest tomorrow. Right now, I’m sitting in a hotel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. I can hear the waves crashing down on the beach. The city sprawls out next to it. I normally hate hotels, but it’s hard to hate one with a view as gorgeous as this. 

One minute until midnight. 

Normally at this time, I am at a family friend’s house, surrounded by people I know and love. Right now, I sit alone in a hotel suite, writing.

It feels right. 

I am here in Israel for a journalism seminar. We will tour, interview, and write.  At the end, we will publish. Hundreds of students are on this trip, but only a handful are here for the journalism track. We are the first group to try it. We are all excited and terrified. 

At least, I am. 

I can’t promise how much I’ll post. I can’t promise anyone will even hear from me. But here’s to 10 days in Israel and the opportunity of a lifetime.

Happy new year.