Humans of Israel
“The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.” Elliot Erwitt
On my way back to Israel. I hope i run into them again.
The Western Wall
“Everywhere I look, I see something holy.” Terry Pratchett
We visited the Wall on our first day in Jerusalem. It is the Western Wall of the Second Temple that survived the destruction by the Romans, making it the most sacred construction for the Jewish people.The Wall is the closest place to where Jews believe the presence of God resides on earth.
Our guide Dvir, takes us to the viewing point on the roof of the Aish HaTorah building. I had seen the view before.
You can see the entire Western Wall, as well as the Temple Mount with the golden Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.
I looked down awestruck at the presence of history.
Dvir takes us to a private chapel in Aish Hatorah where we are left with our thoughts to write our prayers for the wall. That was incredible. I spent a long time composing each person’s prayer.
We walk through security and metal detectors and go our own ways to the wall.
Dress modestly.There is a separate side for men and women.
I find a place against the crowded wall and put my hand on it. I can feel the humans who have been there before me. Women are praying, rocking, bobbing, reading and chanting close to the wall.
The woman next to me is praying and sobbing uncontrollably. I try not to pay attention. She says something to me in Hebrew that I don’t understand. She asks me for a tissue in English. I had left my purse with Dvir and I never have tissues. I reach in my pocket and there is one thing – a tissue. I give it to her and now she is holding on to me and praying. I am forced into the present. Old and new come together.
The flecks of blue, yellow, and peach post-it notes, white paper with red, blue and black pen, scraps of graph paper and lined paper are all rolled into balls, wadded, curled, folded, and stuffed together in-between the rocks pressed in place by thousands of hands. I find a perfect place for each of them.
It’s hard to focus on prayer or a spiritual moment. There are so many women praying. Kids are running around.
A troop of Israeli soldiers are dancing and singing loudly.
Tourists are photographing, talking loudly and taking selfies. It is hard to feel the past.
But then I realize that women have prayed here with children running around for thousands of years just like this without the cell phone photos. I understand at that moment that I am as much a part of the history of the wall as the stones are. I feel incredible amazement at this connection.
Special thanks to Dvir Hollander, for his knowledge, insight, humor, non judgmental world view and kindness. If you are going to Jerusalem, I highly recommend hiring him – not just for the food, but for how much you will learn and experience. He has the unique ability to figure out just what you want to do and then he casually adds in what he feels you are missing. The trip was perfect. Contact him at Hollander2000@gmail.com.
Faces Of israel
“His dress told her nothing, but his face told her things which she was glad to know.” A.A. Mllne
The Temple Mount, Jerusalem
“I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.” John Lennon
Jerusalem is a symbol of three great religions but is also a city filled with hatred. The conflicts are mostly between the Muslims and the Jews but also with the Ultra Orthodox.
The Temple Mount is in the South East corner of Jerusalem’s Old City surrounded by date palms and cypress trees. It is the most holy place in the city, with major significance to all three religions.
It is thought to be Mount Moriah, where Abraham offered to sacrifice his son Isaac to God.
For Jews, the Temple Mount was the location of the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BC to house the Ark of the Covenant (which held the Ten Commandments) It’s the most sacred site in Judaism.
For Christians, the Temple Mount is significant because the Jewish temple located here was where Jesus prayed daily and later preached with his disciples.
For Muslims, it is the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina. The rock under the dome is where the Prophet Muhammad left Earth to visit heaven on a winged horse in the 7th Century.
The Temple Mount is a controversial and culturally significant place.
Israel took control of the Old City in 1967, but Muslims continue to manage the site.
However armed Israeli soldiers patrol inside. It’s a regular flash point for protests and violence between Jews and Arabs.
The entrance for non-Muslims is at the Mughrabi Bridge (an enclosed wooden ramp) near the Western Wall. Tourists can usually visit the Temple Mount, but there are restrictions.
It’s a religious site, so modest dress is required. (blue cover ups if you are not dressed correctly)
You must pass a security checkpoint with metal detectors, and certain religious artifacts are not allowed in (Bibles, crosses, Star of David, etc.)
There are only certain times that non-Muslims are allowed to visit.
It is quite different from the staircase in the wall that we used to go back and forth many years ago.
Tourists can walk around the plaza taking photos, but are currently not allowed inside the Dome of the Rock or the Al-Aqsa Mosque after a fire was set inside the mosque by a Christian extremist many years ago. You are able to peek inside Al-Aqsa from a window on the side of the building.
Jews can visit the Temple Mount, but they can’t pray openly. Only Arabs are allowed to pray on the Temple Mount.
Some Orthodox Jews feel the site is too holy to even walk on while others believe they should be allowed to pray there. The chief rabbis have posted a sign forbidding Jews to pray there.
There is definitely tension in the air, but it didn’t feel dangerous.
The world is a big place and three religions are fighting over a plaza of stone. We are supposed to respect each other’s rights and freedoms. None of this feels God like to me.
Mea Shearim, The Ultra Orthodox Of Jerusalem
“Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.” Jon Stewart
Walking into Mea Shearim is like walking into a shtetl (village) in pre World War Two Eastern Europe. When you walk through this community they expect you to be respectful of their way of life and dress appropriately. There are signs in English for that.
Tzedakah boxes are posted all over to give money to the poor.
For religious Jews, giving is not an option. It’s a law.
Information is controlled by the chief rabbis of the different communities. The important information passes to the public, after being filtered, and hang as Pashkvil – street posters.
There are a couple of newspapers though not everybody purchases them. There is supposedly no internet and there are signs about that also.
There was something nice about seeing the large families all together, the fresh bakery smells and hearing the language of my childhood. It was a simpler time.
Life revolves around strict adherence to Jewish law, prayer, and the study of Jewish religious texts.
For men, traditions in dress code include black frock coats and black hats. Long, black beards cover their faces, and many grow side curls.
Women and girls are urged to wear modest dress – knee-length or longer skirts, no sleeveless blouses or bare shoulders. Married women wear a variety of hair coverings, from wigs to head scarves.
The residents speak Yiddish in their daily lives, as opposed to the Hebrew language spoken by the majority of Israel’s population. The only use of Hebrew for residents is in prayer and religious study, as they believe that Hebrew is a sacred language to be used only for religious purposes.
Most of the men spend their days studying Torah, living off a meager stipend, government aid and sometimes their wives salaries. Some go to work. They are exempt from paying taxes and the mandatory army service that all Israelis have to do to.
As with all closed societies, the extremists set the tone. The gulf between secular Israelis and the ultra Orthodox is getting wider. There are more similarities between the extremist Islāmic and ultra Orthodox communities. Most stay in their community only leaving to go to the Arab Market and pray at the Wall.
The Orthodox have their own unregulated school system which does not prepare their children for the modern world. Religious schools don’t teach mathematics, science, or English; only the Bible. All day, every day. The men are expected to continue that Bible study for the rest of their lives. It’s all funded by the taxpayers. And the taxpayers are… secular Israelis.
It appears that secular Israelis are moving forward to global life into the modern world and the orthodox are moving backward to a more observant God driven one.
It looks like no one understands both sides and the situation seems to be getting worse.
Maktesh Ramon, Israel
“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…” Antoine de Saint Exupery, The Little Prince
The drive from Tel Aviv to Mitzpe Ramon was fairly smooth thanks to Waze which was invented in Israel. The majority of it was through the barren Negev Desert.
We checked into our rooms at the beautiful Beresheet Hotel which is located right on the Maktesh (Crater). I had done the research. I walked out on the terrace and stood in awe.(sunrise)
Even knowing about it, the beauty just snuck up on me. The rich, vibrant colors, shapes, layers and textures were beautiful and peaceful. We looked out over the vast expanse and soaked up the natural splendor of the Maktesh.
There are only seven formations in the world like this, with all of them being located in Israel and Egypt. The Makhtesh Ramon is the largest and best known of all.
A maktesh is a geological landform with steep walls of resistant rock surrounding a deep closed valley which is typically drained by a (river).
We wandered around the hotel grounds. Rooms and cottages, all fashioned out of stone, are scattered around the main building that houses the restaurant and spa.
There were two swimming pools, one indoors, and a Turkish hammam at the spa.
Carefully designed to fit in with the desert environment, Beresheet Hotel was built using local materials and designed with a desert theme that includes bright colors and wood crafted furniture.
My two and a half-year old god-daughter is happily exploring with me. “Good life?” I ask ( a question that is usually reserved for when we are eating dessert) “Good life. she replies.
The next day we take a half-day jeep tour and descend into the crater.
Our guide builds a mountain with sand, showing us that the outer layers were composed of hard limestone, while the peak and the bottom layers were soft sandstone. Then he flattens the mountaintop and scoops out a bowl instead. Wind and water have scoured away at the soft sandstone for millions of years.
It is not a crater caused by a meteorite. It is technically a maktesh which is an erosion crater.
I loved the solitude.
There was nothing but us. The Negev Desert just seemed to sprawl endlessly out away from civilization.
Maybe it is the extreme quiet, the vast emptiness and loneliness that comes with being in a wide open space.
I don’t know. But I do know I love the sensation.
Maktesh Ramon is surprisingly colorful inside and we have a plan.
The next day we drive on the two lane road through the crater to gather different colors of sand to make our own sand art.
And by we I mean the women.
There is one place in the maktesh where they allow you to do that. We were on a mission to get every color.
We head to the alpaca farm. It’s about five minutes from the town but we are driving on a small side road through empty desert. It definitely felt longer.
It was not a busy day, the alpacas and llamas were hungry. Even in the middle of the Negev desert, it felt like every animal farm, I had gone to with my kids.
We stop at Jinkys in the center of Mitzpe Ramon for some delicious falafel and hummus.
I am looking for a small industrial park built decades ago to provide work to North Africans and later Russian immigrants. It now houses art galleries and boutiques. The Faran organic cosmetic factory and store is located there and I buy camel soap- a perfect gift from Israel.
We drive back tired and relaxed. Whatever little problems we had before we came, the desert stillness had driven away.
“There’s a golden phone with a direct connection to God at the Vatican. To make a call, it costs $1,000. And there’s a similar golden phone offering the same service here in Jerusalem, where the same call costs only 25 cents.” When I asked why, he said, “It’s a local call.”Unknown
Jerusalem is complicated even for tourists. Before planning our days the tour guide asked me my religion. We were Jewish and Christian.
The Via Dolorosa is the mile long route that runs through the old city and leads to the place of the crucifixion.
At each of the fourteen stations of the cross, there is a marker or chapel. Pilgrims of all Christian denominations will take this walk which ends at the Church Of The Holy Sepulchre.
The Christian Quarter has about forty Christian sites and was built around the Church Of The Holy Sepulchre. As with other holy sites, dress modestly.
Local guides know that, among Christians interested in seeing Jesus’ tomb, most Protestants prefer the burial chamber outside the walls in the Garden Tomb, while Catholics prefer the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built upon the summit of Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. Because it’s holy for all kinds of Christians, who see things differently and don’t communicate very well, it’s a cluttered religious hodgepodge of various zones, each controlled by a different sect. There are chapels for Greek Orthodox, Franciscans, Coptic Christians, Armenians,etc. There are many arguments.
As you enter, the first sight is the Stone Of Unction which is the place that commemorates where Jesus was anointed before his burial. The stone is always surrounded by pilgrims from all over the world,
On the second floor is the chapel of Calvary. The chapel is divided into two sections: the first one is where it is believed that Jesus was stripped of his clothes and nailed to the cross. In the second section, you can find the Rock of Cavalry, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. The queues can be long to touch the stone but I have to admit that even though I’m not a Christian, watching people experience this was impressive.
The Greek Orthodox priest who is monitoring lines says “ One hundred are photographing and zero are praying”.
Located under the dome is the Tomb of the Holy Sepulchre which is believed to be the burial-place of Jesus. The queues are even longer here and can be a few hours.
The next day we take a taxi to the top of the Mount Of Olives. It is easier to take a taxi to the top and walk down. There is so much history here and such a beautiful view of the city.
The Mount of Olives has been used as a Jewish cemetery for more than 3,000 years.
Approximately 150,000 Jewish people are buried there including some of the greatest Jewish leaders, prophets, and rabbis of all time.
According to the Gospels, the Garden Of Gethsemane is situated on a slope on the Mount Of Olives.
Gethsemane means olive oil press in Hebrew
. It is here where Jesus and his disciples often went to pray and was betrayed and arrested on the night before his crucifixion.
Some of the world’s oldest olive trees dating back 2000 years are in this spot. When I was younger you could sit under them, now it is fenced in.
A number of Christian churches on the hill mark key events described in the New Testament.
It is peaceful on the Mount of Olives. A large Christian group from Indonesia is walking down near us, stopping everywhere for photos. All these conflicting religions are fighting over a place that is all about beauty and truth.