Another article in our OBT series. Our roving retirement tour of the middle east finally took us to Jerusalem at the very end of our three-week tour.
Finally, we made it to Jerusalem and our hotel was again in the Arab district of east Jerusalem. There were lots of restaurants in the area, just no beer.
Dome of the Rock
First stop, Dome of the Rock. The one entrance for non-Muslims is a walkway that goes right over the Western Wall, this seemed a little strange to me but the partitions in this country are strange. Israeli Jews aren’t allowed to enter the Temple Mount where the Mosque is located. Moreover, non-Muslims can’t enter the mosque, but our guide could, so we have pictures.
The rock inside the mosque is said to be the place where Abraham was going to sacrifice his son Isaac. This is why the Jews built the First Temple there. Then later, the Profit Mohammed is said to have ascended to Heaven from the rock, so the Muslims built a mosque there.
Stations of the Cross
The next activity was walking the stations of the cross. There are plaques on the walls of buildings to commemorate the path Jesus took on his way to crucifixion. Most sights have a church built on them, but it was interesting just the same. The last station is inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is where Jesus was buried. One of the holiest places to Catholics and Christians.
After five days in Israel, we finally made it to the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall. I had seen pictures, but it really looks different in person. It took at least 5 minutes for me to physically get close enough to touch the wall, say my prayer and place my wish in a crack. It was a very moving experience.
We didn’t have time to see the entire Israel Museum, but what we did see was incredible. Clothing and other artifacts from synagogues around the world and they even have four complete synagogues rescued from Europe. Unfortunately, we only had time for two of them because we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the highlight, the Dead Sea Scrolls.
It is an incredible story of finding the scrolls inside of clay jars in a cave by the Dead Sea. The most complete scroll is the book of Isaiah. It is thought that a group of Jews from a specific sect left Jerusalem and went to live by the Dead Sea. One of the scrolls gives the rules for life in the village. So far, they have found 11 caves that contained scrolls, so who knows what they will find. The scrolls are the prized possession of the museum and have their own specially designed building.
Yehuda Market Food Tour
That evening, we met a colleague of Mike’s at the Yehuda market. The vibe was very lively with lots of microbreweries, produce stands, restaurants, and other shops. We didn’t know it in advance, he gave us a food tour. What a wonderful way to eat dinner.
The next day, we went back to the Occupied Territories to visit Bethlehem. Here there is a wall separating Jerusalem and Bethlehem. We made a stop at the wall, which has a lot of graffiti on it related to the partition. But the reason we came to Bethlehem was to visit the Church of the Nativity. Here, you wait in a long line to crowd down 5 steps into a cave where Jesus was born. “The Manger” is also down in a small cave. The church is interesting because it is divided into section one for each of the Orthodox and Catholic denominations.
Duhaishe Palestinian Refugee Camp
I’ll warn you, this section is filled with my own biased views. So, feel free to skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to hear it. If it weren’t for the sign across a street, you wouldn’t have known that this street was any different than the ones around it. During our walk around the neighborhood, we were told that the refugees receive their funding from the United Nations.
They get free rent, they can build whatever they want, they get free medical and they get an allowance. So, who wouldn’t want to stay? But the point where I drew the line and actually walked out of the room was when the director told us that they were moved to the camp 70 years ago and they tell their children about the wonderful village they came from and they will stay there in the camp until they get their homes back. This conflict will never end as long as they act like victims and don’t move on with their lives.
Tunnels under the Western Wall
Like everywhere in Israel, there is history underground. The same is true under the Western Wall and extending north to the end of the Temple Mount. We took a tunnel tour that shows so much more of the wall than what is exposed above ground. We even saw the closed up priestly entrance to the original temple. Women are allowed down in the tunnel to pray any time they want in the area thought to be closest to the Holy of Holies.
Yad Vashem (Holocaust Museum)
We left the Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, for our last day. I thought the history and exhibits were very good and they show a lot of survivor video testimonies. In fact, I found it less disturbing than the Holocaust museum in New York City. But the best part for me was going into the research room in the Hall of Memories to look up my relatives. I was also able to view the original testimonies of my dad’s cousin, who lived in Israel. He provided many names back in 1956, but I think I have information to add. Amazingly, the museum has collected the names of 4.5 million of the 6 million killed.
As an American Jew, I’ve always thought in the back of my mind that if things got tough, I could go to Israel and be welcomed. Mike even joked about my knowing the super-secret handshake. But, the country still felt foreign and I’m sure it would take me a long time to adjust. Also, I wish I had picked a tour that was a little more Jewish focused, but we certainly did learn about the Palestinian issues first hand.
Where in Israel would you like to go?