A Day in Jerusalem

Thanks to Vince for summing up my travel tales with a timely quote:
Again it might have been the American tendency in travel. One goes, not to much to see but to tell afterward.”

(John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley).

Jerusalem from Mount of Olives


Jerusalem.
This city is overflowing with people – 800,000 according to the tour guide. We drove into the city and it spread out beneath the hill in this awesome tumble of white buildings of different shapes and sizes. The city is modernizing with a light rail train, with an unveiling promised next year (locals laugh because this has been an ongoing unrealized promise). Driving through the City of David up to the Mount of Olives, we stopped for some photos. We entered the Old City through Herod’s Gate and walked around for most of the morning. I was overwhelmed by the car traffic – I was thinking that most of the people in Jerusalem would be on foot — not so! Once inside the Old City there were very few cars, but still plenty of people.

Our group meandered through the Old City and headed for Via Dolorosa, which is held to be the road on which Christ traveled en route to his crucifixion.  The Stations of the Cross are marked along the way, and the city does indeed feel very old here. The buildings are ancient, the stories even more so.

Western Wall

Making our way to the Western (wailing) Wall – I was anticipating a very old, very holy, very peaceful place. I’m sure sometimes it can be exactly that – but not on Thursdays when it’s Bar Mitzvah day! Hordes of 13 year old boys and their families are swarming the Western Wall Plaza — singing, dancing, celebrating literally dozens of bar mitzvahs. When you approach the Wall, it is split by gender – and on that day there were women and girls lining the partition, standing on chairs, to cheer on their brothers / sons / grandsons as they were bar mitzvah’d on the other side. It was a festive and crazy place, but many of the faithful were crouched near the Wall – scribbling prayers on small pieces of paper, reading the Torah, and backing away slowly (it is a Jewish superstition not to turn your back on the Wall). After writing my own words on a piece of my itinerary, I pressed it into an ancient crack in the Wall, and wondered what they do with all of those thoughts at the end of the day.

Altar of the Crucifixion

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the holiest of holies for many religions. It is here that Christ was crucified and buried, according to tradition. The Church itself is a chaotic blend of four churches: Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, and Eastern Orthodox. In my eyes, it looks like everyone is trying to outdo everyone else! Despite the gaudy effects of too many decorations, it is still an interesting place. Many items / areas are pinpointed as historic relics: the hole where the cross stood, the burial chamber, the burial slab. Tour groups are rampant in the holy space and there is a bit of religious fervor in the air, as everyone scrambles to touch what Christ may have once touched. Unfortunately we did not go to see the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount – the oldest Islamic building in the world. Maybe next time …

Memorial Hall, Yad Vashem

We ended our day at Yad Vashem – the Holocaust Memorial outside of Jerusalem. This is a truly horrifying and incredible place – horrible in deed, incredible in the vast amount of knowledge about the time period that has been collected here. The Memorial Hall is dark and silent as a tomb – an eternal flame is lit here, alongside a single tomb and the names of many concentration camps etched on the floor. It feels similar to Valle de los Caidos in Spain, where Franco and thousands of soldiers are buried. We walk across the grounds – into the Children’s Memorial, and past many smaller memorials and statues. Once entering the museum, it goes on for what seems like miles. The memorial itself is situated on 45 acres, and the historical museum includes an incredible amount of photos, memorabilia, articles, videos, music and more. I am struck by the way tourists move in and out, around the exhibits, and through history in such a way that they cannot wait to shed the feeling of this place. Conversely, I don’t think I will shed my feelings of this place for a long time.

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