Top Fitness owners Jeff and Karen Bennett visited Israel in September and October. Two days before their trip ended, war broke out. This is a photo of the sky over Jerusalem after missiles had been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.

The check point at Jordan was a crush of people trying to get out of Israel. Lines were long and it took five hours to get through the Jordanian check point.

By Charlotte Underwood 

LAFOLLETTE, TN (WLAF) – Local business owners of Top Fitness Jeff and Karen Bennett visited Israel recently on the trip of a lifetime; what they didn’t know was war would break out two days before they were scheduled to head home. 

They “were mostly safe, but things definitely got a little tense” with several trips to a bomb shelter and an unplanned, all day excursion on a tour bus to get to Amman, the capital of Jordan, before finally getting flights home. 

While land crossings between Israel and Jordan remained open, lines were long due to the multitude of people trying to get out. It was an “all day experience” getting to Jordan. 

“The greatest fear was not being able to come home since all the flights were grounded. As it was we had to go into Amman Jordan to get a flight out,” Karen Bennett said. 

A sign directing people to the bomb shelter at the hotel.

The Bennetts departed the United States on Sept. 26 and were supposed to return on October 9th, however, after all flights in and out of Israel were grounded, they didn’t return till October 11th.

According to Karen Bennett, the trip to Israel and Jerusalem was a “pilgrimage” for her and her husband Jeff and a trip they had always dreamed of taking.

The couple took tours and visited sites they had “read about and dreamed of seeing” such as the Dead Sea, Galilee, the River Jordan, Bethlehem and many other Biblical locations.  

“It was a pilgrimage trip for us. We went over for one of the Old Testament Holy Days, the Feast of Tabernacles; it was an excellent trip, then two days before we were supposed to return home, the missiles started,” Karen Bennett said. 

Two days before they were scheduled to fly out, Hamas attacked Israel in the southern part of the region. The day of the attacks, the Bennetts were attending a church service in Jerusalem when they heard what “sounded like momentary thunder.” 

“They told us it was the Iron Dome defense system intercepting missiles,” Karen Bennett said. 

According to various news sources, the attack left over 1300 dead, with others wounded or missing in the southern part of Israel in and around the Gaza Strip. 

Jerusalem is in the central part of Israel leaving the Bennetts and others unaware of what was happening until the Iron Dome missile defense system began intercepting missiles. 

Israel’s Iron Dome is designed to protect the country against incoming short range missiles by using radar to track them and fire intercepting missiles. 

Top Fitness owners Jeff and Karen Bennett visited Israel in September and October. Two days before their trip ended, war broke out.  They are pictured here earlier in their trip at the City of David. 

Tourists and pilgrims who had been visiting for the Feast of Tabernacles began fleeing Jerusalem, trying to find ways out. All flights were grounded.

“We couldn’t get our flight home; all flights out of Tel Aviv had been canceled. They had rescheduled it, but that was canceled too,” Karen Bennett said.

The Bennetts had been staying at an apartment they had rented, but for safety reasons decided to move to a nearby hotel with a bomb shelter.

Multiple times the Bennetts had to go into the bomb shelter due to the danger of “fallout from the missiles.” Each time, after 10 to 15 minutes, they would get the all clear and be able to leave the bomb shelter. 

The attack left Jerusalem’s old city like a “ghost town” according to Bennett, who said most of the shops were closed and the streets were empty after the initial attack. 

During the extra two days they spent in Jerusalem, they walked around. Most of the stores were closed, but public transit was back up and running. 

According to Karen Bennett, “Jerusalem was well taken care of.”

The river Jordan. People being baptized in the River Jordan.

Fortunately they knew of a tour company that was “getting out of there” and got a ride with them.  The bus was full of others trying to leave Israel. Though the majority were American, there were “people from everywhere” on the bus trying to get to Jordan and a flight home. 

“The tour company was very gracious. A friend of a friend connected us with a tour group and we were able to get seats on their bus and get transported over to Aman Jordan and there we got flights home,” Bennett said.

Getting out of Israel to Jordan took all day for the bus to get through the various check points. 

“We had to go through the Israel checkpoint, then a shuttle through a neutral zone, then the Jordanian checkpoint. It took five hours just to get through the Jordan checkpoint; hundreds and hundreds of people were trying to get through,” Bennett said.

The lines moved slow under the hot Jordan sun. There was only one canopy and the line was so long, it took hours to get up to its shade. 

Throughout the experience, neither of them panicked. 

“We did look at each other a time or two and say is this real. The scariest part is we hadn’t been into Palestinian territory before, but those folks were really good to us; they treated us well and we got our flight home. It was the trip of a lifetime,” Karen Bennett said.  (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 12/01/2023-6AM-PHOTOS COURTESY OF KAREN BENNETT)