Day 108 of 400 (part 1): Old City of Jerusalem – Israel

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Our morning started with a short walk down a cobblestone path to the teeny tiny area of Jerusalem called Ein Kerem.  The stone walls were lined with bright hanging flowers of all types.  We sat at a table outside of a coffee shop with our cappuccino’s and fresh squeezed orange juice as we people watched and listened to the Israeli music.  Little did we know a monogamous relationship with this coffee shop was being formed as it became our daily ritual to start our mornings here.

After our coffee we drove towards the old city of Jerusalem.  There have been so many wars and so much passion when it comes to this city…we were excited to see what all the fuss was about.  On our way, Ayal drove us through the most religious Jewish Orthodox neighborhood in all of Jerusalem.  Talk about feeling like an outsider looking in…we were definitely not part of the circle of trust here.

Upon entering was a large billboard type sign with big lettering addressed to “Women and girls”.  It stated not to wear immodest clothes in this neighborhood.  Every single person was dressed in their orthodox uniform which consisted of black pants, white collared shirt with hanging tassels and long black suit jackets.  The men had long beards and many had long twisted side burns with black top hats.  The women were also in mostly black (long skirts) and we were told the married women had to cover their hair as to not attract other men.  Many shave their head and wear a wig their whole life or cover their head with some other type of head-piece.

Although all these people were extremely conservative and religious, Ayal explained that some were more religious than others and each person can tell by looking at each other who is more extreme than the next person.  We were also told that most ultra-Orthodox jews in this community do not have jobs but instead study the Torah.  The Torah is the Hebrew Bible (the old testament).  We asked how they live without making money to survive…the answer is that the government pays them a stipend.  The more children they have, the more money they receive.  As Giff and I were learning about this group of people…we couldn’t help but wonder, what if no one worked?  What if we all decided not to have a traditional job to earn a living and all relied on the government?  Who would sell the food?  Who would pay taxes?  So are the people who do have traditional jobs and paying taxes to the government actually paying for those who don’t have jobs?  It doesn’t exactly seem fair in our opinion.

Shortly after driving out of the orthodox neighborhood we found a parking spot near the old city of Jerusalem.  As we walked towards the fortress wall, we stopped at a bakery and ordered a bagel (much thinner and much longer than the US bagels) which was served with za’atar.  Za’atar was a green dry spice which you sprinkle on each bite of bagel.  I don’t really know how to describe it…it is of a dark green herb-like taste but nothing we have had in the states.  We finished sharing the bagel just as we approached the gate to the city.

There are four quarters in which one can enter the old city, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Armenian.  There are 11 gates but only 7 are open and each entrance is actually at an angle.  The angle was specifically built that way so that if the city was being attacked…horses nor a battering ram could easily access the gate by running full speed in a straight line.  Pretty strategic huh?

We entered the gate through the Muslim quarter which had all kinds of market type foods for sale and many people crowding the narrow streets inside the gate.  We walked straight over to an Austrian hotel where they had a terrace on the top of their building which overlooked all of the old city.  It was very powerful to be looking from above at this city of such controversy and such history.  After gazing at the buildings and taking pictures we went back down into the streets.  We noticed the street sign that read Via Dolorosa (way of suffering) which is the way of the cross…this is the route Christians believe…Jesus carried the cross from his trial to the place of his crucifiction and burial.  There are 14 stations weaving through the Muslim quarter and ending in the church of Holy Sepulcher.

After much stimulation, we stopped for lunch at one of the best hummus restaurants in Jerusalem.  They served a basket full of pita bread, an Israeli salad (chopped tomatoes, cucumber and onion in a lemon/olive oil dressing) and three bowls of various hummus served with tahini and hard-boiled egg.  It was delicious…much creamier than what we had eaten in the US and they eat this as a meal…not an appetizer or dip.

After lunch we continued meandering through the various streets and side streets looking at the little shops but moving by quickly as the vendors tried to get you into their store for a tourist nic-nac.  We saw the transition into the Christian quarter as all the vendors were now selling crosses and other religious symbols along with post cards and scarves.

Our next stop was the Church of Holy Sepulcher…the church Christians believe to be the site of Jesus’s death, burial and resurrection.  There have been many structures built and destroyed over this site throughout the centuries.  As soon as you walk into the huge courtyard of the church and through the massive wooden door, one can see there is so much history inside.  Each room has a different feel and it is almost ike everything was just built right on top of each other…it isn’t one set style throughout the building.  As soon as you walk in, there is a large piece of marble stone (dating back to 1808) with lanterns hanging right above it.  We saw so many people crowding around this piece of stone, they were down on their knees crying and kissing it.  We were told that it was the place in which the church prepared  Jesus’s body for burial.

It was incredible to witness such emotion from strangers.  We walked room to room looking at the amazing architecture and detail in this church from the mosaic floors to the painted ceilings.  At one point Giff who was wearing a sleeveless shirt was asked to cover himself.  Luckily Candice had an extra scarf in her bag.  Giff was not a happy camper walking around with a bright blue scarf around his shoulders.  In the next room Giff was asked to remove his baseball cap which was interesting because the Jewish religion requires that men wear some type of hat on their heads when in a religious place.

The next room in this church had people on their knees in line moving one by one under a table to pray.  There were candles everywhere and tons of people whom had come from all over the world to see where Jesus lived, walked and died.

We were all getting a bit tired at that point…the stimulous from the day was a bit overwhelming.  There is a heaviness that falls on Jerusalem with all the religion, passion and beliefs here.  As we walked out of the church we heard a loud voice singing/praying in a different language over the loud speakers throughout the old city.  It was the call of Muezzin which is the Muslim prayer and can be heard five times daily.

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