Published Sunday, September 02, 2012

Holy, holy, holy. Sort of.

I love to travel. The only thing that’s kept me from visiting every country in the world is a shortage of funds. But I always heard that where there’s a will, there’s a way, and right now my wife and I are pinching pennies to fund a trip to Israel.

As usual, we have mixed motivations. It could be a male/female thing. We both long to visit Italy, too, but our imaginary itineraries are slightly different. Angela wants to immerse herself in magnificent museums and splendid churches, see some fountains and snag a piece of authentic Venetian-blown glass.

I’d want to fish in the canals of Venice and spend some quality time at the Colosseum in Rome pretending to be a gladiator. That’s just me.

Israel’s the same way. We both want to see the sites mentioned in the Bible, for sure. I mean what Christian wouldn’t want to see the place where Jesus spent his life and changed the world.

But my visit to Israel wouldn’t be a success if I didn’t see some things not included on standard tour itineraries. When I learned last winter that there was a McDonald’s at Armageddon, that sealed the deal. I was ready to go. And soon. I figured that if Mickey D’s (complete with Kosher menu) was already at Armageddon, “The End” was just around the corner.

I could see myself, pen in hand, sipping thick turkish coffee and munching a (pork-free) McMuffin as I sketched the outline for my new book, “Breakfast at Armageddon.”

The more I investigated Israeli tourism, the more excited I got. For all the wrong reasons. For instance, I knew the trip had to include a visit to Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem. But I really got stoked when I read tourist brochures that warned Bethlehem visitors to ditch the rental car and see the sights on a bus equipped with ... bulletproof windows.

I could picture myself there at Christmas as the choir sang “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem” while sporting festive holiday body armor.

Way cool. Like a visit to the south side of Chicago, but safer.

Things got better when I read that Israeli officials were patting themselves on the back after reopening one of the traditional Jordan River sites where Jesus was believed to have been baptized. But the really big news was why the site had been closed to begin with.

It was shut down so Israeli bomb squads could remove some recently discovered land mines. And you thought your neighborhood was tough.

Stories like that drove me to renew my passport, but the most recent bit of Israeli tourism news kicked my travel urge into overdrive.

The New Testament tells us that Jesus rode a donkey when he entered Jerusalem for his last few days on earth. Now tourists can enjoy that same experience (sort of) with a high-tech twist.

The Kfar Kedem historical park in northern Israeli now offers visitors a chance to slip into Biblical-era robes and headdresses and ride donkeys through exhibits showing how people lived in ancient Israel.

But that’s not the park’s biggest lure. This is: the tourist-toting donkeys have wi-fi-equipped collars around their necks. This allows tourists to whip out an iPad or iPod and share the holy happening instantly over the Internet.

Within a week of opening, the park was a smash hit. Easy to see why.

“You take some pictures, you want to change your picture on Facebook — you can do it,” said park manager Menachem Goldberg.

I say, “Saddle up, pilgrim.” And call the Guinness Book of World Records.

If things work out, I could be the first jackass to Facebook a friend from the back of a donkey.


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