My name is Michael Jackaman. I am a licensed English-language tour guide for pilgrims and tourists. I was born and raised in Bethlehem, and have lived here for my entire life. I’ve been working in tourism for over a decade now, and I can’t imagine myself doing anything else…because I love what I do!
I am a Palestinian Christian, which means that I speak Arabic as my first language. My family, Jackaman, is one of the many historic families of Bethlehem. If you say the last name Jackaman to any Palestinian Christian anywhere in the world, they will most likely know that you are speaking about a Tahlahmeh – the Palestinian Arabic name for a Bethlehemite. We can trace our family history in Bethlehem back centuries, and have relatives all over North and South America, Europe and Australia. My family is also considered Roum – which is an ancient term for Palestinian Christians who belong to the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem. The term comes from Roman, meaning the ancient Byzantines who ruled Palestine until the 7th century.
In my own way, I see my guiding as a service to Bethlehem and my community. Guiding is more than just an income for me. It’s a way of connecting Bethlehem to peoples and communities from all over the world, and to share the story – our story – of our traditions, customs and heritage. And it’s not just Bethlehem that I am speaking about; it’s the history of the Holy Land. Bringing people to the holy churches and sites is an important part of what I do, but I do more than just share dates and facts. What makes it come alive is when I can explain to people why these places matter to our Christian faith, to history, and to the present day. Often in the Holy Land, we say that the Christians are the “living stones” that make all the places people the world overcome to see not just one big museum.
And for such a small country, the Holy Land would be a big museum! There’s Jerusalem, with the Holy Sepulchre, the Via Dolorosa, the Western Wall, Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa, Ecce Homo, Gethsemane and Mount of Olives….Nazareth, Cana, Mount of the Beatitudes and Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee. Ein Karem, the birthplace of John the Baptist….the Jordan River, Jacob’s Well….and the list goes on and on. I also like to bring my groups to lesser-known places, such as local monasteries like Mar Saba, out in the Judean Desert, or the Church of the 10 Lepers in the village of Burqin in the Samarian foothills. All of these places have a story to be told, and I am happy to share them with my groups.
In the coming months, I am going to be sharing some of these stories with you through my blog. I’m a better speaker than a writer, but I will do the best I can to give you an idea of what you might experience with me when you take one of my Holy Land tours. Not only am I a fully licensed guide, but I am also able to organize tour groups through my local trusted partners who work in tourism, offering transportation, accommodation and any other needs that you have.
The long, hot summer is coming to an end in the Holy Land, with the days a little cooler but still with sunny skies and warm weather, and the olive trees about ready to be harvested. It’s the best time of the year to take a tour of the Holy Land…and while you may have to wait a little to book a tour with me, I’d still like to take you through to the end of the year in this first set of my blogs until we reach Christmastime in Bethlehem. So please come and join me as we begin this journey together…send me questions if you want to know more about a specific place…or would like to hear about one that I haven’t covered…..and Ahlan wa sahlan! – Welcome!