Jerusalem

Mount of Olives and Gethsemane

Mount of Olives and Gethsemane

All week long, we’ve looked over at the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem. We’ve seen the hillside of graves from the ramparts, from the rooftops, from the Lutheran Tower. On Saturday, it was time to go–getting there early enough to watch the sunrise on Jerusalem and to visit the onion-domed Russian Church which is only open for visitors a few hours on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

We got out before sunrise and headed through a quiet Muslims Quarter and out Stephen’s Gate. There must have been an early morning Muslim prayer service at the Dome of the Rock, because there were lots of people pouring out and getting in cars parked along the streets just outside the gate. We walked down the hill, crossed the road, and began the walk up the narrow street to the Mount of Olives in the dark light of early morning.

As the light slowly came, we could notice tall cyprus trees behind the stone walls enclosing a narrow road up. The gates to the Valley of Jehosophat were open–thousands and thousands of white stoned, above-ground graves reflecting the pink-blue light of dawn. I’d read this was where Jewish people liked to be buried since it is believed the Messiah will enter Jerusalem through the Golden Gate…and this is a prime location by the gate.

Graveyard cat
Graveyard cat

We took some hospitality from the Seven Arches Hotel at the top of the hill and came back out to enjoy the sun as it peeked over the top and began warming Jerusalem. The Dome turned a brilliant gold and we could see the details in the honey colored walls of Jerusalem. We stayed up there for a long while…looking at the graves, the city, our hotel, and the Golden Gate which is sealed shut.

The sealed Golden Gate viewed from the Mount of Olives
The sealed Golden Gate viewed from the Mount of Olives
Bryan videos Jerusalem
Bryan videos Jerusalem
Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives
Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives
Jerusalem from mount of olives
Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives – Lutheran Tower and Church of the Nativity

On the way back down, we stopped at the garden around Dominus Flevit (which means “the Lord wept”) was a quiet place overlooking the Jewish graveyard, the onion domes of the Russian Church and smelling of cedar. We sat there for a while enjoying the peacefulness.

I was very much looking forward to going into the Russian Church–the beautiful Mary Magdalene with 7 golden onion domes. It’s a convent and is only open 2 hours on a couple days each week–and today from 10-12 would be our last opportunity to see it. The tall green metal gates were closed tight. So we went looking for coffee while we waited.

2,000+ year old olive tree in Gethsemane
2,000+ year old olive tree in Gethsemane

The Garden of Gethsemane was open now–next to the Church of All Nations. The actual garden was much smaller than I’d imagined. I guess the churches have taken some of the old garden. Less than an acre is all that’s left. But the olive trees…my goodness. The trunks are massive–as befits any 2,000+ year old tree–gnarly old things. BUT the newer branches are STILL BEARING OLIVES! Hard to imagine who may have walked among these trees–and only the trees know. Only 16 trees in there, and a few patches of flowers. Vines of jasmine, fuschia around the walls.

Finally around 10 a.m., we went into the Russian Church grounds behind a group of Eastern Europeans. I covered my hair with a scarf like all the other ladies did and entered. A nun closed the big green gates behind us. She spoke with the tour group and we walked slowly on, up the path dappled in shade, through tall cyprus and olive trees, finally rounding a bend and there before us with the church–the domes shining in the sun.

Russian Church of Mary Magdalene: What a pretty church!
Russian Church of Mary Magdalene: What a pretty church!
The Russian Church on Mt of Olives
The Russian Church on Mt of Olives
Making the icon circuit at the Russian Church
Making the icon circuit at the Russian Church

The inside of the church was crowded–obviously other tour groups had been there for a while. Smoke from incense hung in the air. I stood at the door for a few minutes looking at the golden art/icons hanging all around. And I noticed a counter clockwise motion–there was a circuit to pay respects to the icons. People entering the church began to the right, stopping at an icon, bowing, making the sign of the cross, kissing the icon, touching their forehead to it, standing up, another signing of the cross and then moving to the left to the next icon. I watched the circuit and a priest swinging an incense burner praying over candles and an icon with two other people.

Russian Church in Jerusalem
Russian Church in Jerusalem

Outside, in a small alcove off the front, a nun had opened a small shop–selling rosaries, religious medals, sacred oils and small carved boxes. It was a crowded affair in that little room. She pieced together answers to questions for many people–not sure what languages everyone spoke. She had only a few words in English–as I asked about the medals. I looked at one that had onion domes and some soil enclosed in plastic on the back. I asked “is it this church?” I pointed to a postcard of the church and then the medals. She smiled and said “aahh, no!” and handed me a square medal featuring Mary Magdalene. She then pointed to some small vials of oils and offered me a sniff–she was telling me what Mary Magdalene held in her hands. There were rose and myrrh oils. I bought the Mary Magdalene medal for $14 U.S. She was looking for $1 change and I made the gesture for “no, it’s ok” and she smiled, stuffing a postcard and a bookmark into my little bag.

I walked up behind the church in the quiet graveyard with eastern crosses and cyrillic writing. Very peaceful up there. A nun was working in the gardens…pulling weeds from the graves, watering, putting down fresh dirt. I envied her. Maybe she’d taken a vow of silence and simply spent the days working in the sunny garden in quiet contemplation overlooking the domes of Jerusalem.

After a while, we walked back down to the road passing in front of the Golden Gate, and around to come in to Jerusalem through Dung Gate.

Stones to honor the dead
Stones to honor the dead
Garden of Gethsemane
Garden of Gethsemane
Carol & Bryan overlooking Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives
Carol & Bryan overlooking Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives
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Bethlehem, Palestine

The little town of Bethlehem is on the West Bank in Palestine

We wanted to see Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, where Jesus is believed to have been born in a manger.

Going to Bethlehem means going to Palestine. The little town of Bethlehem is in the West Bank–only a few miles outside of Jerusalem–but on the other side of a high wall. Israel is building a wall–separating Palestinian areas for safety, or to secure land. Depending on which side of the debate you are on.

After a quick breakfast, we took a bus outside Damascus Gate for 4 NIS each towards Bethlehem. After about 15 minutes, we were at the checkpoint–thick, high walls of concrete topped by razor wire. We entered a building and went through a passport check. An Israeli soldier advised us not to take pictures in “the terminal”. We passed through and out to the other side. There was a line of about 100 people waiting to get into Jerusalem in the terminal and spilling outside in a fenced-in walkway.

The caged walk into the terminal to Jerusalem
The caged walk into the terminal to Jerusalem

Bryan brilliantly negotiated a 20 NIS taxi ride to/from the terminal to Bethlehem (another 2-3 miles away). We got a great driver–who shared his hometown knowledge, and his opinion of the wall. He was disturbed that he could no longer travel the old roads, passing freely and quickly to see family on the other side of Jerusalem.

Church of the Nativity Courtyard
Church of the Nativity Courtyard
Church of the Nativity
Church of the Nativity
Inside the Church of the Nativity
Inside the Church of the Nativity
Oil lamps and sunbeams in the Church of the Nativity
Oil lamps and sunbeams in the Church of the Nativity

I didn’t recognize the church from the outside. The entry is in a big courtyard, with a short door–the Door of Humility. We were some of the first tourists of the day and had the place to ourselves for a few golden moments. After stooping to enter, you come into a wide open space–no pews–but columns of red leading your eye to the altar up front. Hundreds of golden oil lamps, old glass chandeliers, sparkled in the sun streaming from the windows behind the altar. Smoke from candles and incense filled the air. It’s a simple place really.

Above the star where Jesus was born
Above the star where Jesus was born
The 14-point star marking the spot of Jesus' birth
The 14-point star marking the spot of Jesus’ birth

Below the altar, is a small room with the magic spot where Jesus was believed to be born. Curving steps on either side of the altar lead down into a close room–we could see several priests down there, swinging incense burners and and could hear their chanting. We lit candles and looked at the iconic pictures covering nearly every inch of the walls around the altar and the steps to the grotto. When the priests left, we entered slowly and saw the 14 point star in the floor that marks the spot. A huge group of German tourists entered behind us–and we watched as many of them kneeled, kissed the star, and got their photos made. They sang a hymn.

I tried to take in the significance of the place. It’s hard to imagine. It’s hot down there, and a tight spot with over 50 people squeezed in. The walls are covered by leather like draperies and pictures hang on the drapes. It’s overwhelming to see, to comprehend the importance of this place to millions of people around the world. As the Germans left and another group began to come in, I stepped forward and stooped to touch the star. I put my hand into the center of the star, near the 7 o’clock position, cupping the lip of the hole with my palm briefly and brought the cold of the stone/metal to my heart in a fist. I backed away and exited the grotto. Up into a stream of sunlight from the high windows.

We spent some time watching a dozen priests in various uniforms pray at the altar above the grotto. The streams of sunlight looked solid–like you could hold them in your hands. We sat quietly, trying to absorb it all. I imagined the pictures in National Geographic from a few years ago–when the church was held hostage in a month long siege. To protect the church, the Christian priests would not leave. The Palestinian soldiers honored the significance of the church, and the place was spared by the Israelis. It’s amazing what a place can signify. We began to talk about all the icons, the tangible pieces of religions…the books, beads, stars, stones, walls. And wondered why religions have to have something holy to touch, a ritual, to be part of worship.

Next door was a more modern church, where midnight mass is broadcast across the world on Christmas Eve. We walked around the grounds a bit and stopped for a coffee at the Casa Nova Palace hotel. We spent some time in a gift shop–picking up some olive wood Christmas ornaments in a 14-point star shape.

On the way back, our driver–who had waited for us–stopped to show us some of the graffiti along the wall and the nicer hotels in Bethlehem. He wished us well as he dropped us back at the checkpoint.

Bethlehem graffiti
Bethlehem graffiti – stubborn mules

This time, the line on the outside was gone. But there were about 40 folks waiting on the inside. We got in line and waited for almost an hour to pass through the airport-like security. The turnstile into the screening area let in only about 4 people before it locked. This, and the significant waiting time caused a great deal of restlessness and comments from those of us waiting. I imagined they were saying things like “what’s the hold up?” or “Hurry!” Once you passed the turnstile, you put everything through a conveyor x-ray, passed through a metal detector, and then entered another line to have passports/papers checked. We passed through with a simple check. Palestinians had to put their hands on an electronic reader before passing through. Only one checkpoint was open and this took time.

Bethlehem graffiti - dove of contradictions
Bethlehem graffiti – dove of contradictions

Truly like another country. I think we deserved another stamp in the passport for this border crossing.

Palestine Flag
Palestine Flag
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Jerusalem – The Muslim Quarter

Jerusalem – The Muslim Quarter

I should start by saying that the Muslim Quarter was perhaps the most fascinating quarter of all. It is alive–loud, busy, seething with people until the wee hours of the morning. Intense. It’s dark in the day, lit by the lights of the shopping stalls and the sliver of daylight sneaking into the narrow streets between the awnings.

Entrance to the Muslim Quarter from the Cardo
Entrance to the Muslim Quarter from the Cardo
Entrance to Hashimi Hotel
Entrance to Hashimi Hotel

Shops spill into the tiny ancient streets, a sampling of everything out in view. There are the shops selling clothes–jeans on racks in the center, undergarments, and socks on tables around the fringes and shirts, blouses, blazers hanging like wallpaper up the walls. There are shops selling food–small grocery stores, fruit/veggie stalls, butchers, candy shops with tubs of shiny wrapped bites, sweets shops where giant trays of pistachio and honey drizzled baklava sit uncovered in the street. Women wrapped in scarves browse the shops with kids and packages in tow, their modern clothes peeping out at their ankles.

Little boy wandering in the early morning
Little boy wandering in the early morning

There are the tourist shops selling scarves, crosses, menorahs, prayer beads and rosaries, belly-dancing outfits, luggage, leather bags and postcards. There was the shoe repair man–“the hardest working man in Jerusalem,” we called him…he was always there at the lip of his 5 foot wide by 10 foot deep stall, at his machine, repairing shoes while 1-5 people sat at his side, in the street, waiting.

On the day we entered Jerusalem, we walked past the bird shop–hundreds of parakeets, chipping and singing in a breezy high street. Those birds went on to live in cages hung in shops through-out Jerusalem. Singing so much that it almost didn’t sound real.

Another day, near Stephen’s Gate, we saw a family of 5 stop, the man putting the veil on his little girl before going any further into the old city.

Bread
Bread
Delivery cart
Delivery cart

There are thousands of feet walking these old stone streets. Every day. All day. For 2,000 years. Muslims, Christians, Jews–shoulder-to-shoulder. Packages knock into knees. Kids run between legs. Men come through with trays of tea. Carts rattle through bringing in supplies. Men carry in packages on their heads. Women shepherd tiny children past the candies and toys. Traffic jams of people when anyone stops to talk, to shop, to take a photo, to pray at a station.

Inside Damascus Gate
Inside Damascus Gate
Damascus Gate
Damascus Gate

Damascus Gate was a circus–a hoard of stuff, of people–cotton candy machines, popcorn stands, bread carts, money changers, kids running amongst it all shooting plastic pellets from toy machine guns, soldiers with real machine guns watching, priests, monks, rabbis, holy folks in all manner of costume, people coming, people going, people waiting.

Outside Damascus Gate
Outside Damascus Gate

The Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows, Stations of the Cross) runs right through the Muslim Quarter. Our hotel was near the 7th station (where it is believed Jesus fell for the 2nd time, and at what used to be a gate exiting the Old City). We were surprised that many of the stations of the cross were amongst the market stalls. I guess that’s what happens in a crowded little town where history never stops. It surprised me too that there always seemed to be a crowd around the stations–from early in the morning until night when the tourists buses pulled away from the Old City. I saw tour groups praying, singing, crying, on their knees, talking, reading aloud from their bibles.

The streets at night were another proof of life. Trash along the streets. Cats picking through the garbage, marking it. Street cleaners were out at nights. Bryan decided that Jerusalem could stand a good power-washing to shed some of the hundreds of years of grime.

There were security cameras everywhere–in all of the quarters, at all the corners, every nook and cranny of the old city, back-to-back in places. Who watches all the goings-on? Where is the command center? Israeli soldiers with machine guns stood in groups at strategic points throughout the Old City…watching.

We stayed in the Muslim Quarter at the Hashimi Hotel. It was not expensive, small rooms and adequate breakfast. Fine for us. The best thing about it was the rooftop. The people running the place are Muslims and have strict rules about no alcohol and males/females must be married to stay together in one room. Because we have separate surnames…I took the marriage certificate, just in case. They never asked. Breakfast was served starting around 7 a.m.–even during Ramadan for those non-Muslims eating after daylight. I delighted in the breakfast hummus, hard-boiled eggs, pita bread, olives (green, pitted and the sweetest, most delicious olives I’ve ever eaten), cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers and Sanka coffee….all while overlooking the Dome of the Rock, the Mount of Olives and the rooftops of Jerusalem.

Breakfast in Jerusalem...love those olives
Breakfast in Jerusalem…love those olives
Kids playing with toy guns
Kids playing with toy guns

At night, the sounds of life in the Muslim Quarter went on until the wee hours of the morning. Our room (#305) faced the street and we had trouble sleeping. In the afternoons, it sounded like a quiet murmur below. But somehow, at night, it was much louder–cat fights, kids playing and yelling, their moms quietly pleading with them to come in–or men/dads yelling, cell phones ringing, loud voices talking about god knows what, arguing. Was that a rooster?! Clangs of rolling carts and closing metal gates. Fireworks, music, heels running on the stones. The noise made us restless. We’d turn on the tv in the middle of the night–watching Al Jazeera, CNN or BBC–getting disturbing snippets of the sinking Dow, the Somalia pirates, the U.S. presidential campaign, a bomb in Bogota. We’d hear other guests–their babies crying, their TVs turned loud in their rooms to movies in foreign languages (dramas, war movies). We had strange dreams in Jerusalem. It seemed that the hours just before dawn were when the city finally slept…before the first tourists arrived to make their way by the stations of the cross in the pre-dawn mornings.

More bad news
More bad news
Dome of the Rock old sign
Dome of the Rock old sign

We liked to get up and walk the city in the early morning–great light peeping into the narrow city streets. I enjoyed seeing the city wake up. Moms opening the doors to see the kids out to school, men stretching and sipping tea as they pull open their shop gates. Early one morning, as I listened to the muezzins calling…I noticed this time it was two muezzins working together in a duet that was simply beautiful echoing through the streets.

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Jerusalem – The Jewish Quarter

Jerusalem – The Jewish Quarter

The Jewish Quarter is a very small area of the Old City, and is much more modern. Over the years, this area has been occupied, emptied, re-established, evacuated, destroyed,–and over the past 40 years reconstructed.

On our first night in Jerusalem, we made our way down to the Western Wall. The Western Wall is “open” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every week. Signs lead you through the narrow, twisting streets and eventually into a tunnel where you go through a metal detector and bags are searched.

Follow the signs to the Western Wall
Follow the signs to the Western Wall

Then you step out into the open Western Wall plaza–and there it is–just like you always see it in pictures! Smaller then I imagined–but clearly “The Wall” with the plants growing in the cracks and hanging down over the massive stones. Floodlights lit the area and the Wall. It was Rosh Hashanah and no photos were allowed (all of these photos were made later in the week). Perhaps because of the time or the day, the Wall had relatively few visitors compared to the next few days/nights we saw it.

Twilight at the Western Wall
Twilight at the Western Wall
The Western Wall
The Western Wall

I walked slowly down the way into the ladies section of the Wall, noting that a female security guard wore combat boots and a regular military button-down shirt with badges–along with a long skirt and a head scarf. There were shelves of books along the way…I supposed to borrow for prayers. Women sat in plastic chairs–knees against the Wall, reading to themselves. I walked up to an empty spot at the Wall and looked up at the old old stones. In between the stones and in every knick, crack, or pock-mark, there were thousands of pieces of paper stuffed in…prayers, wishes, hopes and dreams. I stood there looking closely at the stones–in awe at their size and age, wondering what all they’ve seen (from Solomon’s Holiest of Holies…where IS the Ark of the Covenant?!?), and marveling that people could get paper to stick in such small knicks. Did the wishes and prayers come true? Were the walls now sustained by paper mortar? After a few respectful moments of observing and listening to the women around me softly reciting prayers (in a cadence much like a song or a poem) in a language I could not understand, I reached out and put the full of my hand against the cold old stone Wall. I stood like that for a minute–made my wishes and then said good-bye.

The Holiest corner of the Wall
The Holiest corner of the Wall
The Western Wall
The Western Wall

When I came back out into the Plaza, Bryan pointed out that I had not backed away, but had turned and walked away. I looked back at the area and saw for the first time how the ladies walked backwards away from the Wall for the first 30 feet or so. It was the first time we’d noticed this phenomenon of not turning one’s back on Holy places. We’d see this later at the Holy Sepulchre and in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. I felt really bad because I’d meant nothing but respect for this site. We ended the evening having the first of our religious beliefs conversations–about the respect for others’ religious icons and the historical/political/religious significance of relics, icons, sites and “turning one’s back” (as I understand it, early on, Muhammad told Muslims to turn and pray toward Mecca’s Kaaba, not Jerusalem–essentially turning their backs on the establishment of Jerusalem).

Bryan and Carol at the Western Wall
Bryan and Carol at the Western Wall

We ended up walking over to the Western Wall Plaza a number of times during the trip–but we did not go down to the Wall again. We were finally able to take pictures there once the holiday was over. Some men worshipping in the holiest corner of the Wall area by dancing and singing. Others sat quietly on the white plastic lawn chairs with a book on their knees. We heard the Ram’s Horn (shofar) blown several times too.

One day I sat in Hurva Square for some time–just watching the world go by. School kids in uniforms–moving here and there in packs, some trying to pick up the internet on laptops, others just trying to get a seat in the shade. I began to wonder if maybe everybody knew each other in the quarters–did they have any “West Side Story” romances that crossed religious boundaries?

I noticed Jewish men dressed in white/blue shawls with scarves over their heads, other men wore black suits, white shirts, and 4 white strings hanging from their waists along with a black hat over their caps. Some men wore really big round hats. Many boys had crew cuts, but with long curls hanging by their ears. Women also wore a lot of black and white…long skirts and crisp white blouses, hair wrapped in white or black scarves. The black and white combo seemed to be the “Sunday’s Best” outfit for prayer. I noted that the women wore long skirts…down to their ankles, with capris or another skirt peaking out. Very cool.

Walking to the Western Wall
Walking to the Western Wall
Kids playing in the Cardo
Kids playing in the Cardo
The ramp up to the Dome of the Rock - closed!
The ramp up to the Dome of the Rock – closed!

Another day, we took a taxi from Jaffa Gate to the museum (outside old Jerusalem) to see the Dead Sea Scrolls and the huge model of ancient Jerusalem. The scroll exhibit was beautifully done. Disappointed to know that only one display case held an actual scroll, the others were stand-ins. Amazing to see–whether real or facsimiles. What a find those clay jars were! The model was much bigger than we’d imagined. It replicates ancient Jerusalem–when Solomon’s Temple stood where the Dome of the Rock is today. It helped us to see the small portion of the Western Wall that remains, and to see the grandeur of Solomon’s Holy Temple.

Model of Solomon's Temple and Golden Gate at Museum's large scale rendering of Ancient Jerusalem
Model of Solomon’s Temple and Golden Gate at Museum’s large scale rendering of Ancient Jerusalem

It was odd to see posters being sold in Jerusalem that were pictures of today’s city…but with Solomon’s Temple rebuilt and in place of the Dome of the Rock. I can’t imagine how the Jewish community must have felt to see the Dome of the Rock being constructed on the ruins of Solomon’s and Herod’s Temple back in the the 600s. And yet, to knock down the Dome of the Rock and rebuild the Temple…well that would cause another round of angst and fighting. History is a series of layers. All layers are real and have meaning–even the newer, top layers.

The Jewish Quarter was a great place to get pizza, a nice cappuccino, ice cream, spaghetti, wine/beer–we ended up eating a few meals here…and in the Armenian Tavern. Surprisingly, the Jewish Quarter didn’t feel as foreign as the other old, quarters of the city. One day, we tried the Quarter Cafe, up on the hill overlooking the Western Wall. Lots of options–like an old-timey cafe where you walk through the line with your tray and point out what you want to the lunch lady–who spoons it out onto your plate, you pick up a drink from the cooler and pay. Another day, we had an after-dinner dessert (a delicious warm chocolate croissant) at the Menorah Cafe (the sign described it as a “dairy” restaurant). As we sat there sharing dessert–a kid was singing from a window above, his voice echoing in the narrow streets.

Boys pose at the remains of a synagogue
Boys pose at the remains of a synagogue
Bryan, Ice Cream, and Cappuccino near Hurva Square
Bryan, Ice Cream, and Cappuccino near Hurva Square
Sign in the Jewish Quarter, with Arabic graffitied over
Sign in the Jewish Quarter, with Arabic graffitied over
Jewish Quarter Street
Jewish Quarter Street
Jewish Quarter Signs
Jewish Quarter Signs
Davidson Centre near Dung Gate
Davidson Centre near Dung Gate
Israel Flag
Israel Flag
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Jerusalem – The Christian and Armenian Quarters

Jerusalem – The Christian and Armenian Quarters 

On our very first night in Jerusalem, we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall. Both were quiet with only a few visitors. In the next few days, we would return to both.

On that first night, we walked slow and quiet through the old, dark Church of the Holy Sepulchre, not fully comprehending what we were seeing. Inside this building is the rock of Golgotha (or what was once the hill known as Calvary) and the hillside of Christ’s tomb. This church is the last 5 stations of the cross–built over the place where it is believed Jesus died and rose again. In the darkness, people light candles, kneel and bow, cross themselves and kiss the stones signifying where the cross stood and the marble slab where he was laid to rest. There are tears from many, others take photos in front of the sites, many light huge bunches of candles and then snuff them out to take home as souvenirs. There are some groups softly singing.

Holy Sepulchre - 1st night
Holy Sepulchre – 1st night
Christ's Tomb
Christ’s Tomb

A variety of priests watch the proceedings–and make sure that proper respect is rendered–both feet stay on the ground, hands stay out of pockets, and that general order is kept.

The first night, we watched. Soaking it in. Laying our hands on the cold stone walls and floors.

Good Morning Holy Sepulchre
Good Morning Holy Sepulchre
Inside the Holy Sepulchre
Inside the Holy Sepulchre

The next day, we returned. This time we bought a few rosaries as gifts…so we could take them into these places with us–sanctifying them I suppose. It was phenomenally crowded. Lines wrapped around the tomb. But now you could see the ceilings and the walls. We stayed in there for over an hour–watching the tour groups from all over the world, trying to identify the variety of priests we saw–Greek Orthodox, Armenians, Ethiopians, Copts, Latin monks, and many who looked like Rasputin from Eastern European regions.

I began then to wish that I had brought a world map to ask people to point to where they are from. Jerusalem must have had more varieties of humans than I’ve ever seen anywhere in one place…Indian, Korean, Chinese, Eastern European, African, Americans, Mexicans, Europeans, and Arabs. A human stew.

A priest watches over Calvary
A priest watches over Calvary
Kneeling at Calvary (in the Holy Sepulchre)
Kneeling at Calvary (in the Holy Sepulchre)

We would return several times to the old church, mostly at night. Bryan bought a bundle of candles one night–and lit them in one big pyre–quickly snuffing them to bring home as souvenirs. One night we entered the tomb. Kneeling at the slab, touching the coolness of it. I lit a candle and wished that everyone could live in a satisfied peace…and we backed out of the chapel like everyone of faith did.

Christ's Tomb, inside the Holy Sepulchre
Christ’s Tomb, inside the Holy Sepulchre
Carol & Bryan at Christ's tomb
Carol & Bryan at Christ’s tomb

We stayed in the courtyard one night as the guards tried to empty the church and lock it up for the night. Once the big ancient doors are closed, a wooden ladder is used to climb up, turn the key, then push the latch and pop the ladder inside via a dog-door. Someone (priests?) spends the night in there.

Ready to lock up the Holy Sepulchre for the night
Ready to lock up the Holy Sepulchre for the night
The ancient door to the Holy Sepulchre & Courtyard
The ancient door to the Holy Sepulchre & Courtyard
Good night Holy Sepulchre
Good night Holy Sepulchre

One day we climbed the steps to the tower of the Lutheran Church–steps in a series of 48-60-70. Up to a beautiful breeze and all around view of the old city. Another day, we took the rampart walk–from Jaffa Gate to Dung Gate. Nice walk and good views both in and outside the old city walls.

Jaffa Gate sign
Jaffa Gate sign
Christian Quarter alley, where we got the fresh-squeezed juices
Christian Quarter alley, where we got the fresh-squeezed juices
Jaffa Gate bread
Jaffa Gate bread
Pretty Pomegranates & Limes
Pretty Pomegranates & Limes

On Friday afternoon–after having been to Bethlehem in the morning, we followed the monks on a procession down the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem…the way of sorrows, the stations of the cross. It started near Stephen’s Gate, by the way to the Dome of the Rock (closed to non-Muslims) and the Ecce Homo arch. All sorts of monks, nuns, priests and tourists gathered. Suddenly there was a mega-phone and the priests recited the passages of the stations in a couple of languages before we moved as a flock to the next station. The long line of followers stopped at each station–whether it was in the middle of a bustling Muslim Quarter street corner, or the quiet alcoves near the Holy Sepulchre. I was disturbed that some of the shopkeepers talked louder than the mega-phone and threw things back and forth over the nuns and monks. Jews and Muslims hustled and bustled through the narrow ways lined with Christians–going about their business. Calls came from the minarets drowning out the mega-phone. It was a reminder that here, Christianity is the minority. What a day…following Jesus from birth to the grave, and beyond :)!

Waiting for the procession to begin
Waiting for the procession to begin
Monk and graffiti
Monk and graffiti
Monk and the megaphone
Monk and the megaphone
Bryan and a monk on the procession
Bryan and a monk on the procession

On this trip, we talked more about our religious views than ever before. We are mutts of religion…a bit of this, a bit of that. Skeptical of the politics of religion–not sure which man’s story to believe–and yet we are believers of God, of the beauty of nature, the goodness of dogs and animals. It became an on-going, pick-it-up-where-we-left-off conversation for the week in Jerusalem.

The last few steps to the Armenian Quarter bar
The last few steps to the Armenian Quarter tavern
Inside our "local"...the only bar we found in old Jerusalem
Inside our “local”…the only tavern we found in old Jerusalem
Armenian Quarter sign
Armenian Quarter sign

One night while having drinks and dinner in the Armenian Quarter, we discussed, debated, and laughed a lot about spiritual moments, and our views. We e:mailed Mark “I’ll preface this by saying we’re having wine and beers, but after all we’ve seen today, we’ve decided we must be Quakers.” To which Mark replied “The Holy Land has that effect on people…People in that part of the world have a tendency to produce more history than they are able to consume locally.”

So this entry is supposed to be about the Christian and Armenian Quarters. What else can I say besides showing the pictures?

Tour group in the early morning, walking the stations of the cross
Tour group in the early morning, walking the stations of the cross
Priests on Christian Quarter Road
Priests on Christian Quarter Road
Bryan at the Procession
Bryan at the Procession
Between the 9th and 10th stations of the cross
Between the 9th and 10th stations of the cross
Ethiopian Priests
Ethiopian Priests
Caged bird in Jerusalem
Caged bird in Jerusalem
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Jerusalem from Above

Jerusalem from Above

Old Jerusalem can be parsed and counted in many ways: 7 gates in (Stephens, Herods, Damascus, New, Jaffa, Zion, Dung), 4 quarters, 3 religions, but to me–there are 2 ways that make more sense…Rooftop Jerusalem and Street Level Jerusalem.

I’d read in one of the tour guide books that Jerusalem became overburdened with spiritual significance: Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son, Solomon’s temple, Christ’s life and death, Muhammad’s night journeys. And I’d read that it was small and humble. I imagined it would be steeped in history, religious, and/or political significance on every square inch.

What I came to realize is that Rooftop Jerusalem IS the spiritual–the calm, the retrospective. It’s vastly different from the chaotic humanity in narrow streets below.

Jerusalem in the early morning
Jerusalem in the early morning

On rooftops you have a view of the whole of it–the golden Dome of the Rock, the Lutheran tower, the Holy Sephulcre’s domes, the green lights of minarets, the Israeli flags and menorahs, and the thousands of satellite dishes worshipping to the southwest.

Up here, you can see people working, hanging laundry, praying, admiring the view. You can better hear the church bells ring and the mosques’ call to prayers. You can hear the faint mumble of people talking, laughing, and the clattering of dishes. You can see over to Damascus gate and the colorful strung lights. You can see the sun and feel a breeze.

Bryan and the British Columbia guy
Bryan and the British Columbia guy
Satellite dishes
Satellite dishes

And you can see beyond the old walls of Jerusalem–the golden onion domes of Mary Magdalene’s church on the Mount of Olives beside the slope filled with thousands of Jewish graves, you can see other parts of Israel and Palestine in the distance.

Old City at Twilight
Old City at Twilight
Laundry
Laundry

It was the most relaxing thing in Jerusalem–to sit up on our hotel rooftop and take it all in. We began having breakfast up there–and spending time there again in the afternoons and evenings…just quietly looking and/or plotting our days. “what will we do today? what’s open today?” In such a city as Jerusalem, this is a little tricky because of the 3 sabbath days…Muslim = Friday, Jewish = Saturday, Christian = Sunday.

I can’t tell you how much we loved that rooftop at Hashimi Hotel in the Muslim Quarter! We wished that the hotel had served some refreshments up there–juices, coffees, something! We might have stayed up there forever feeding the stray cats, reading, enjoying the sun and wind–or just staring at the view of Jerusalem before us.

Dome of the Rock
Dome of the Rock, Russian church of the Mary Magdalene behind
Kids playing on the Haram esh-Sharif
Kids playing on the Haram esh-Sharif
View to the hillside graves
View to the hillside graves
Rooftop Play
Rooftop Play
Was this a synagogue?
Was this a synagogue?
Minaret at twilight
Minaret at twilight
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Hotel Hashimi rooftop from Lutheran tower
Hotel Hashimi rooftop from Lutheran tower
Eastern View from Lutheran Church Tower
Eastern View from Lutheran Church Tower
Looking SW from the Lutheran Church Tower
Looking SW from the Lutheran Church Tower
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Border Crossing: Entering Israel from Jordan

Entering Israel  – Monday, September 29, 2008

Travel days always bring some level of angst. This one was a big one. We were crossing from Jordan to Israel via the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge. Mark Hamilton had warned us that this was one of the few border crossings in the world that still made a big deal of crossing from one country to another. I’d read travelers’ tales of long waits, intense questioning, lost bags, and unexpected closures.

Our taxi sped out of Amman on this bright morning and hurtled through the streets rimmed with eastward leaning trees, out into the empty land and down, down, down into the valley of the Dead Sea. Our ears popped. We marveled at the white and caramel colored land of Jordan (was this the Biblical “milk and honey” reference?).

Suddenly, our taxi pulled off the road. Two other taxis sat there–both with King Hussein Taxi stamped on the sides.

Our driver got out to talk with them. And then we were asked to switch taxis. As our original driver explained while we moved the packs from one trunk to the next, the first driver paid the second driver to take us the final bit to the border. We hopped into the 2nd cab and we were off again….this time with a car full of persistent flies. The last few miles seemed to be in a different age–we passed a herd of sheep complete with a shepherd in the red and white-checked head scarf and a herding dog. There was a smell of peat, and green trees lined the street. A black goat with bells walked with a dog along the side of the road. The road went down, more ear popping.

The entire journey from hotel to the border took only about 45 minutes. The border compound was a little cluster of buildings, with a bustle of people and transportation options. We entered a small room, put our bags through an x-ray machine and followed the people into another room and a line for passport control. The line was long and slow–and most people had little regard for it. Tour guides with bags full of passports tried to break line. We were in line behind a couple from California also traveling independently and struck up a conversation while vigilantly holding our places. When it was your turn, you paid JD 5 each to leave Jordan and got all the stamps. Then you were told to go sit and wait for the bus.

no man's land at King Hussein/Allenby Bridge
No man’s land at King Hussein/Allenby Bridge, between the Jordan and Israel check points

It was already close to 10 a.m. and the border was reportedly closing at 11 (not 1 p.m.) for Rosh Hashanah. We sat fanning off the flies and watching the show, talking to the Californians and a woman from Jordan with an 8-year-old daughter holding a U.S. passport. One of the border crossing security men smiled and assured us “You will be in Israel today.”

the border crossing bus
The border crossing bus, taking us from the Jordanian building to the Israeli building at the border.

Finally, the correct bus pulled up…after there had been a few false alarms. We boarded and waited for another long while in the purple curtained bus. A young man got on and collected a fee to cross…per person and per bag. And then we were off.

The bus pulled out of the border compound and turned left past the soldiers and out into an empty street. We passed solitary platforms with soldiers watching carefully–machine guns at the ready. The bus had to make a few zig-zag turns to pass the barricades. After about 3 miles, we passed a checkpoint where we had to get out and show our passports while an Israeli soldier boarded the empty bus and checked it out. We reboarded, drove a bit again to another checkpoint with Israeli flags, and finally reached a large building for Passport Control. Our driver shook our hands as we left and picked up our luggage.

In this building, we went through airport-like security–bags on the belt and through a metal detector. We noticed that the Jordanian woman and her daughter were pulled aside in a separate place and were being questioned by a female soldier. Our passports were taken from us and collected by a young woman soldier dressed in a t-shirt.

She passed a small cotton wipe over them and took it to be analyzed. We were then ok’d to move into the next line. Here we would wait for almost an hour.

We were behind the Californian couple, in front of an Asian couple who were together for missionary work, and the Jordanian woman with the girl were behind them. We thought we would be the last crossing of the day, but another bus pulled in and about 50 Asian folks filled the room behind us. As we neared the passport control stations, we could see that only 3 were open. They were staffed by young Israeli female soldiers. Shy young lady soldiers were asking questions of those of us in line–“do you mind passport stamp?”, “are you together?” We were tired and getting hungry. Our line began joking about “you can stamp ME…just let me in!”

When we got to the window, we were asked several questions–“Where are you from? Where are you traveling from today? How are you related? Why are you here? Where will you go? Where will you stay? How long will you stay? Can you show me your flight return information?” and “will you be traveling in the West Bank?” Uh….Bethlehem is in the West Bank. So, I said–“Can we go to Bethlehem?” She said, “Yes–of course, this is fine…but anywhere else?” I answered an emphatic “No, thank you.”

She smiled at us, stamped the red Israel mark into our passports and nodded us through to the next line.

Welcome to Israel
Welcome to Israel

The next line was a haphazard glance at our passports and a wave into the waiting area–a cafe, empty cash exchange booths, and a waiting area filled with tourist groups gathering again. We were in Israel…with no sheikels and no ATMs around. A helpful soldier let me know that I could get cash just around the corner outside. We saddled up the packs and stepped outside, making our way around the building in the incredible mid-day heat.

“Just around the corner” was like another country. This was where hundreds of other people cleared passport control. These people dressed in traditional Arab clothing and carried huge piles of stuff–sometimes on their heads or in carts, sometimes stacked high on luggage racks–massive bags that looked like 100 lbs of meat wrapped in burlap, or 50 lbs of rice in pillow cases, or cases of water in milk jugs. People were busy on this side–hustling here and there with their baggage, yelling, sweating, and getting rides arranged. It was 2 days before the end of Ramadan, so I figured that many were coming/going to be with family for the Eid holiday.

We exchanged money and soon realized that our best ride to Jerusalem was to be a shared taxi for the price of 37 NIS (Israel New Shekel) each. Bryan paid and we piled into a van as passengers numbers 5 and 6. We needed 10 to leave.

Passenger #1 was an Israeli business man who spoke some English–he looked like anyone you’d see going to work on the el in Chicago, complete with laptop bag and newspaper.

Passenger #2 was also in business–let’s just say import/export, or theft. Every few minutes he would whistle, or yell out something and other men would approach the van handing in bags of cigarette boxes or a handful of cell phones. He crammed the packages into the back and the area around his seat.

Passengers #3 and 4 were older Palestinian ladies dressed in the long dresses, robes and head scarves. While they piously did not drink water during this Ramadan day–they did SPLASH it! A few times they would flamboyantly throw water on themselves (and coincidentally on me as I sat behind them), patting their faces and lips dry. We waited and waited. It was hot in there. I sweated in my long sleeve shirt–worn to be considerate of the culture–and eventually pushed the sleeves up over my elbows so that I could enjoy more of the little breeze we caught here and there. Bryan climbed out and walked impatiently around the van–keeping an eye on our packs that were now beneath a stash of cigarettes and what looked like a sheep carcass wrapped in burlap and paper. Whatever that was in that bundle, the flies loved it…and flocked to it.

Suddenly, but after about 45 minutes of waiting, we collected passengers #7-8-9-10 AND #11 and #12: a married woman traveling solo (who was arranged so that she had a single seat and did not have to sit next to a man), two young men and an older Arab man with the traditional keffilah head scarf, and two young girls without scarves who shared a seat vacated by the busy businessman (he sat on the steps next to the driver). I was fascinated by them all–and by the simple understanding and rearranging so that the single women were not profaned by sitting next to men they didn’t know.

We were finally off. I’ve never appreciated the breeze from an open car window more in my life! We had a checkpoint before pulling out of the compound. Half of the passengers got out at the road to Ramallah. Then after about 30 minutes, as we approached the outskirts of Jerusalem, we pulled over for a soldier to get in and see us and our passports. Traffic got thicker and suddenly as we sped around a bend in the road–I saw Jerusalem!

It was just a glimpse, but unmistakable–in the distance, the Dome of the Rock–golden in the sun, the walls. A smile, a chill and a wave of wonder passed over me as the view of the ancient city was lost behind a hill. This was the city so many people through the ages had fought for, the city that is Holy to Christians, Jews, and Muslims, the city we all hear about–but few get a chance to visit. Here it was in front of me. We were here!

We were dropped at Herod’s gate (not Damascus as we first thought). We loaded up the packs, crossed the insanely busy road that circles the old city and entered through the towering old walls. Inside, the road became a walking street–caramel colored stonework on the ground and in the buildings, narrow alleys and quiet. We walked and walked–looking for the hotel and taking in our first views of Old Jerusalem. We asked–and got directions in English, or gestures pointing this way and that. We passed a bird store in the open at the top of a flight of narrow stairs. Chilly in the shade with the breeze up there–and all these brightly colored song birds chirping and singing. We entered a more narrow and closed-in area of shops–a stunning variety of goods for sale. This was the Muslim Quarter. Finally we found the Hotel Hashimi. We were buzzed in, welcomed by a very nice English speaking man dressed in bright white robes and invited to go wait on the rooftop while our room (#305) was made ready.

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