The Last Three Days

I had intended to update pretty much every day of the last three…but I’ve been so tired at the end of each day that I fell asleep with the computer in my lap!

So–I did make it to Jerusalem–and spent about two days there. I will probably go back one more day to see the things that I missed the first two times there. Jerusalem has soooo many sites that one could really spend about four days there alone. On the first day, I was with an organized tour group. We went to the “old city” which was (like Jaffa) within a walled gate. Most of the religious sites are in the old city–only a very very very few are outside the gates. The old city is divided into quarters–there is the Christian Quarter, Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter. Each quarter is connected by a series of narrow, stone, winding streets. It really is a cute area–and one that you could easily get lost in!

Let me begin by saying how overwhelmingly emotional it can be to visit Jerusalem. The old city contains sites that hold special religious meaning to three of the worlds largest religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). Even though the city has been built, destroyed, and re-built MANY times, you really can’t help but feel the spiritual power that lies within the area. For a place so small (relatively), the emotions are HUGE.

Our first stop within the old city was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (CHS). By way of background, Queen Helena, mother to Emperor Constantine, visited Jerusalem and asked those there to show her the holy sites sometime around 300 A.D. After located, many of Churches were erected to help protect those sites. (CHS was destroyed and rebuilt a few times since first erected) It is rather plain looking on the outside, but inside is nothing short of miraculous if you believe what is inside. Upon entering the church, we went up a winding staircase where it is believed is the site of Calvary. Supposedly three crosses were discovered in the area as well as the body of Joseph of Arimathea (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_of_Arimathea), which led Helen to believe (as well as millions of Christians around the world) that that is the site where Christ died on the cross. Walking thru was very solemn. Interestingly enough, the CHS is divided amongst about three Church denominations because Christians can’t seem to get along, LOL. As you enter the upstairs, the first side of the church is controlled by Catholics. The main area upstairs is controlled by the Greek Orthodox. (The CHS is also partially controlled by a third sect of Christians, Armenian Christians (I think). The politics is supposedly so severe that keys to the church are left with a Muslim family in town to open and close the facility every day because the groups disagree on everything! But I digress…)

So from the top of Calvary, we go back downstairs to the general area where it is said that Mary and others cleaned Christ’s body and prepared him for burial inside the tomb. The church is a HUGE facility with many many many small chapels. I found myself blinking back tears while wandering thru…I felt so fortunate and blessed to be able to visit during my lifetime.

After leaving the CHS, we walk along some of the path of the Via Dolorosa (the Stations of the Cross¬†http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Via_Dolorosa). Then we went to one of the most sacred places in the Jewish faith, the Western Wall (also known as the Wailing Wall where I ran into the Cooper Family from the day before). Many people go up to the wall to pray, leaves notes of prayer, etc. Men and women must pray in separate areas and the women’s section was packed (which is supposedly the opposite of what usually occurs). I went up briefly, said a short prayer, and from there, our group walked briefly thru the Armenian quarter, then back to the van. From there, we did a quick lunch and headed to Bethlehem.

Now, I originally said that I had no intention to go to the West Bank. And I didn’t have the intention, until I realized that Bethlehem was in the West Bank (controlled by Palestine). How could I not visit the birth place of Christ? But apparently a taxi/tour is a must, which is why I did the Jerusalem tour to begin with.

Now what I did not realize is that Israeli citizens may not enter into the West Bank. Since our tour guide was Israeli, he took us to the “checkpoint” and handed us over to a taxi driver, who took us thru the controlled security area to get to the other side and to the other taxi driver taking our small group of seven to the Church of the Nativity. The whole handing over process was a bit dodgy–mostly because we didn’t really know what was going on, LOL. And we took two separate taxi’s over–maybe to conceal the fact that we were tourists? Maybe because taxi’s were cheaper than a van? Who knows?! Let me say that I did not feel unsafe while there…but all of the hype surrounding the West Bank and the strong (and vocal) feelings by Israeli’s towards the West Bank certainly gave me a slight feeling of anxiety.

Bethlehem (West Bank) was completely different from Jerusalem. The area was definitely very economically depressed. Everything was in Arabic and everything looked very run down. I guess my best analogy would be to liken Jerusalem to Dook and the West Bank to the rest of Durham (or insert any university and surrounding urban area).

Our tour guide was a Christian and gave us a tour of the Church of the Nativity. This is where it is believed that Mary gave birth to Christ. They took us to the area where it is believed the manger was. Again, very very powerful.

That was the end of the tour. After the tour, I went to a friend of Shara’s, Susi, who was having a Succot celebration. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Succot). Susi is a super cool girl–originally a Christian from the midwest who converted to Judaism and moved to Israel. Also a Peace Corp girl. We had a great great conversation and had lots of wine while waiting for Shara to get into town!

I stayed at Susi’s that nite so that I could spend more time in Jerusalem. The second day, I went to the Israel Museum to see the Dead Sea Scrolls! I don’t know why I was so excited about seeing some old paper, but it was fascinating. The scrolls are the oldest written manuscript of the bible–and the book of Isaiah is the best preserved (and the only one found fully intact).

Next was the Yad Vashem (Holocaust Museum). After I tried to go back to the Tower of David within the old city, but missed it because it closes early in October. I also planned to go back to the CHS to wander around more, but it got dark and I got lost LOL, so I headed back to Tel Aviv.

So…that takes me to Tuesday. On Tuesday, I wandered around Tel Aviv. One of Shara’s friends had a motorscooter and offered to ride me around Tel Aviv. Now I can honestly say that that was probably the scariest thing I did during my trip! And now that I think of it, probably not the smartest (you’d understand why if you saw Tel Aviv drivers) but my feet were definitely happy! (On a side note, my feet look like I’ve been kicking flour all day every day. They feel like I’ve been working in the damn field all day! First thing to do when I get back is to get a pedicure!!)

Anyway, we walked around a super cute neighborhood in Tel Aviv called Neve Tzedek. Very quiet, very artsy, and no cars! We ate lunch at a place called Suzanna’s, which is supposedly very popular. Outside of the bird poop that ended up on my arm, it was a nice lunch.

Tuesday nite, I went out with some of Shara’s Brazilian friends (she was feeling sick) to a cute bar/club called Havana where they were playing live Latin music. I had two (very strong) cosmos to drink and we chatted it up with the bartender (from the Bronx) and the only other Black American I’ve seen during my trip (who was also from NY and was apparently playing basketball for Israel). We went to one more spot but only stayed briefly before calling it a nite.

That takes me to this morning. My intention was to go back to Jerusalem, but I overslept (thanks to those cosmos LOL). So today I went to the Tel Aviv museum (great great great place. The art collection includes a Monet, some Renoir, a couple of Van Gogh pieces and a ton of Picasso). Finally I went to the Observatory to watch the sun set (on the 49th floor where I could see the entire city). Shara and I grabbed a quick dinner (Falfel because believe it or not, I had not eaten ANY while here, LOL) and I’ve been on the sofa, half asleep and half awake since then.

We are heading to the Dead Sea tomorrow (yay! Eczema eczema go away!) and then down into the desert to Eilat for some camping. I’m running on fumes, but loving every minute!