Two Weeks in Jerusalem
Those of you who know me well, you are already aware that Jerusalem has been my home base for the last two weeks. In fact, I lodged at a hospice within the old city walls for the first week I was in Jerusalem. I have delayed in posting about this place because I have struggled with how to explain everything I have absorbed during this time; And the fact is that there is simply too much to tell.
I saw countless holy sites for the three major religions. I walked through archeological excavations and museums. In fact, I went back to a few main attractions more than once.
I guess I thought by being in the land of all those historical accounts and biblical stories that I would also feel some spiritual transformation; an extension of my spiritual journey from the Himalayan Mountains. I can’t honestly say that was my experience here.
The first week, I greeted every morning with a lesson plan I had outlined for the day. After the first couple of days, I knew the “lay of the land”. I could get to each section of the old city maze without too much trouble and I had learned when I need to go to each destination to avoid the crowds in order to have a more peaceful experience.
Let’s be real…This place is intense. So much to take in and several times people, locals and tourists alike, are not that friendly and, at times, downright curt. The locals are direct in their language and don’t mince words which can come across as abrupt. This is especially evident to those staying in the city for a bit longer and who are not insulated by a large tour group environment.
It seems that good people often leave their manners at the door. Some even recognize their bad behavior as they act in a way they never would act normally. For example, at one of the holiest sites in Christianity more than one person turned back as they cut with several others in front of me and said bluntly, “I am sorry. I have to stay with my guide.”
Now that is true. I could not imagine being on a tour with only two or three days to “cram in” all of the highlights and, on top of that, lose my group in the mass of people that walk these cobblestone roads everyday; but, that is the old city. It is masses of people, in a small space, living their lives and trying to worship as they “work around” all the tourists which have come in masses; And most of those tourists are rushed around, on a time limit, to see the highlights of the city.
The local residents all own a “piece” of this bit of earth; Whether individually or collectively, they own it and all seem to know where the invisible boundary line is located marking the end of “their” land. Many do not cross even semi-common areas in order to “keep the peace.” I am not talking only about the three major religions here….I am also talking about the sects within each religion.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is a perfect example; Here the oldest Christian sects divide the church and it is clearly understood who controls which part. What is most interesting is it is a Muslim family that opens and closes the church each day to assist in keeping the peace. Yes, that may be over simplifying the issue but one has to admit there is some chaos in the overall organization here. I visited this site four times to see all the “holy” places within this one church.
The first two times my own Pacific Northwest culture, of expected personal space, could not handle the crowds pushing and cutting in line; so I left. I just could not see this place Jesus had spent his last hours of human life while being irritated at my neighbor. The third time I had a moving early morning experience at a mass at the crucifixion site of Jesus; however, I had to return a forth time to see the tomb since the sect in charge of that area decided to close for cleaning that morning.
Yes, I saw the sights….ones I knew were here and others I discovered. It was meaningful to learn the history and see the archeological discoveries throughout the area within and just outside of the old walls.
I spent an entire day at the Israeli Museum. I especially loved seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls and new Herod the Great exhibit located at the Israeli Museum. I love walking around the Mount of Olives and seeing New Testament locations. I thoroughly enjoyed the Night by Light show at David’s Tower and walking on top of the southern ramparts of the old city walls. Looking back, another highlight was walking the Via Del La Rosa after the tour groups left and some of the businesses and churches closed.
The Ministry of Tourism had provided a several excellent self guided audio tours of the old city which I downloaded on my iPad. I loved walking through the city at my own pace and when I wanted to stop I could just hit pause on my iPad screen.
After a few days, I found locals who recognized me and were happy to greet me. It made me feel like I belonged. I found that I would make a point to return or pass by their businesses, even if the walk was a little out of my way. The second week, I moved outside the city walls to a hostel that seemed to insulate pilgrims from the outside world. The soccer game was always on the big screen and the foreigners would all find their way to the social area and common kitchen on the first floor to visit about their day. This was a great benefit as I planned the rest of my trip beyond the old city.
In the end, I realize that for me this area holds a lot of historical significance; but as a Christian I know that Jesus is no longer here. He is not at the Mount of Olives, He is not on the cross, He is not at the tomb. He is gone and maybe for me that is the lesson here.