EAST COUNTY — The Rev. Phil Derstine, of Christian Retreat, has traveled 18 times to the Middle East.
But this trip, for which he left Nov. 2, is different. Derstine boarded a plane to Israel for the first time without his father.
His father, Gerald, has traveled to Israel 55 times. Of those times, 17 were with his son.
After turning 85 recently, however, the elder Derstine decided it is time to retire from the layovers and long flights.
Phil Derstine will still have family by his side, however, because his wife, Janette, sister, Joanne Curphey, and her husband, Bill, made the 10-hour journey last weekend with him.
The foursome met the rest of their group — most of whom are first-time travelers to Israel — in New York. In the past, the group has consisted of repeat visitors who had traveled to Israel before.
The 10-day excursion, ending Nov. 12, takes the visitors from “coast to coast,” as they visit mountains in the north one day and witness the dryness of the desert later in the week.
Among the stops on the tour is the Wailing, or Western, Wall.
Derstine received prayers on pieces of paper from parishioners for the group to slide in between the crevices of the centuries-old monument.
Aside from the prayer wall, there’s another piece of history that intrigues Derstine and Curphey, who first began visiting Israel in 1970 — olive trees.
The green thick-trunked tree also dates back centuries, and, Derstine believes, was the tree that Biblical figures saw during ancient times.
Derstine hopes to take his new group to see the olive trees and the Dead Sea.
“People ask if we’re scared to go, but I feel more safe and secure there than anywhere else in the world,” Curphey said. “We don’t sense danger when we’re there.”
Mandatory military enrollment and service of both Israeli men and women after graduating high school, gas-mask training for children and other safety precautions locals undertake comfort the siblings.
However, even though the brother and sister feel comfortable with their surroundings, the group steers clear of certain high-risk areas and sticks to the same agenda each time; they even use the same bus driver most years.
Typically, Derstine and Curphey prefer to visit Israel during the spring. This time, however, they thought traveling in the fall would be a nice change.
As the pastor prepared to embark on his next journey to a country he and his family have visited many times, he looked forward to sharing experiences with new friends, while keeping his father in mind.
The sightseeing isn’t what the religious leader hopes the rookies in the group will remember most, however.
“Putting a picture to the Bible stories makes it come alive so much more,” Derstine said. “It gives it so much more meaning to actually see those places.”
Day 1 — Depart the United States.
Day 2 — Arrive in Israel and dine at the hotel.
Day 3 — Visit Joppa, Caesarea, Megiddo and Nazareth.
Day 4 — Visit Galilee; participate in a worship service onboard a boat.
Day 5 — Tour the Golan Heights and visit local residents.
Day 6 — Tour Masada, Qumran and Jericho, and swim in the Dead Sea.
Day 7 — Visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
Day 8 — Visit Jerusalem and the Old City, with a trip to the Western Wall.
Day 9 — Tour Jerusalem again, with a stop at Israel’s Holocaust Memorial.
Day 10 — Return to the United States
Contact Amanda Sebastiano at firstname.lastname@example.org.