Life Affirming and Emotional

It's Monday morning and this blog entry will recapture Thursday, the day we went into the Old City of Jerusalem and visited the sacred places of the Abrahamic religions. But before that, a bit of context. We are staying in East Jerusalem (near the West Bank)  in a Palestinian hotel.  Also, for those who do not know, I affiliate with the North American Reform Jewish Movement-- the largest group in North America and the most flexible in our religious practices. I am not particularly observant and I do not read Hebrew (though I  sing the alto part when trans-literated). Further, I am an emotional person, but generally I "hold it together" in public.

On Thursday, we left the hotel and drove to the Old City. This area has a history dating back 3,000 years and is divided into four quarters--Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Armenian. Here it gets a little complicated because some Christian sites (the Via Dolorosa-- the "way of sorrows" where Jesus walked on Good Friday, for instance), are in the Muslim Quarter and more and more Orthodox Jews are taking apartments there.  See this link for more background.

There are four gates (entrances) to the City. We entered through the Dung Gate where we immediately were subjected to a pretty significant security search.

Then, without warning, we were passing through a walkway overlooking the Wall (referred to by many as the Wailing Wall). It was extraordinarily serendipitous and fortunate beyond words that Thursday was Simchat Torah.

There were 100s of men marking the holiday and at least 100 women (separated by a fence) sitting quietly and reading their prayer books-- a very powerful and poignant sight. Unexpectedly, I was overcome with emotion and started weeping.  Seeing this iconic symbol of Judaism appear before me was truly one of the most moving experiences of my life. I had a hard time breaking away from the overlook and was lucky to get a number of great photos (particularly given the vantage point).   

An important note, photographs cannot be taken at the Wall on Shabbat or Festivals so we lucked out with the overhead walkway photo ops.  We did return to the Wall after the Dome of the Rock -- where my emotions stirred once more-- particularly when I secured two notes / written prayers there.  Suffice it to say, if those prayers are answered, the world will be a much better place.

We moved to the iconic Dome of the Rock (more a shrine than a mosque per se), which is adjacent to the El-Aqsa Mosque. Sacred to both Islamic and Judaic and Christian traditions, the Dome of the Rock presumably protects the rock where Abraham brought his son (Ishmael or Isaac respectively) as an offering to G-d. In the day, travelers could actually enter both sites. But, because like so many other places here in the Holy Land, "who has sole right" is disputed, skirmishes between observant Jews and Muslims are now quite common, so non-Muslims cannot go inside and it is even difficult to get permission from the border police (assigned in droves to the Old City) for a decent vantage point. As usual, our guide Husam, prevailed and we had some wonderful photo ops.

After our return to the Wall, we moved to the Muslim Quarter and Market to walk the Via Dolorosa (the "Way of Sorrow") where shrines have been erected to mark the 14 Stations of  the Cross, finishing at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which marks the places of Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection. The streets were so narrow-- not exactly as Hollywood has memorialized them. This experience was very moving for all of us and it was particularly poignant to see our senior statesman, Jerry-- an 86 year old retired pastor--recount his experience seeing Jesus's tomb.

No historical or religious site here is immune from disputes. At the Church, there is an ongoing debate (certainly not dialogue) across the Greek Orthodox, the Roman Catholics,  the Copts, the Ethiopians, and the Armenians. Indeed, a ladder from an ill-fated painting job of 150 years ago remains in place because there is discussion about whose responsibility it is to move it. Crazy.

Leaving the Old City, we could readily view King David's Citadel...

...and the old City wall.
We left the Old City and ventured to the West Bank to see the Church of  the Nativity and enjoy a Palestinian Lunch and an experience with the hookah.

Once again, we had quite a repast. The salads are amazing! And the view was great.

The Church of the Nativity was originally built in 326 AD and rebuilt in 530. Yikes. We saw the place where Jesus was born and the manger. This is one of the spots in the West  Bank that still gets many travelers.

A long, stirring day with great spiritual meaning for all of us . Watch this space for a recap of Friday and Saturday.

Peace, Shalom, salaam and love,

wendy and emily

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