The Western Wall, Jerusalem

Image

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.


As is the custom, I have quite a few prayers to put in the wall. Papers are stuffed and folded in every reachable crack.

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.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Advertisements

The Temple Mount, Jerusalem

Image

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.

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

Maktesh Ramon, Israel

Image

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.

fullsizeoutput_67ae

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.

fullsizeoutput_67aa.jpeg

fullsizeoutput_67a6

Fly safe,
JAZ

 

Christian Jerusalem

Image

Christian Jerusalem

“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.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Things That I Have Learned In Jerusalem

Image

Things I Have Learned In Jerusalem

“I am more excited stepping on these stones than I was stepping on the moon.” Neil Armstrong in Jerusalem

Jerusalem has been conquered many times. Some of the conquerors were Persians, Romans,  Ottoman Turks and the British Empire. No Arab power in history has ever claimed Jerusalem as its capital. Other than the Crusaders, the rulers made their capitals in Caesarea, Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo and Constantinople.

The Old City has over two thousand important archaeological sites. Jerusalem was founded as the City of David in 1010 BCE, but there’s evidence of settlements there going back all the way to 4500 BCE.

The Old City is divided into four quarters, Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian.

The length of the walls of the Old City is 4,018 meters (two and half miles).  Their average height is 12 meters (39.37 feet) and the average thickness is 2.5 meters (eight feet). The walls contain thirty-four watchtowers and seven main gates open for traffic, with two minor gates reopened by archaeologists.

The Jaffa Gate is the westernmost gate of the Old City. It was so named as the starting point of the road to Jaffa port.  Herod’s Gate is the entrance to the Muslim quarter. The Damascus Gate in the North  is the largest and most  beautiful of the gates. The large center entrance was for important people. The two side gates were for the commoners.

The New Gate was added in 1889 and is the entrance to the Christian quarter. The Zion Gate closest to the Jewish quarter was used by the IDF to capture Jerusalem in the 67 war. The Dung Gate is closest to the Temple Mount got that name because it was used to cart out the refuse. The Lion’s Gate is located in the Eastern Wall. The entrance leads to the Via Dolorosa. Near the gate’s crest are four figures of lions.  Legend has it that Sultan Suleiman placed the figures there because he believed that if he did not build a wall around Jerusalem he would be killed by lions. Israeli paratroopers famously stormed through this gate during the Six-Day War to conquer the Temple Mount, after which they unfurled the Israeli flag above the Old City.

The Mount of Olives is the preferred burial site for a majority of Jews. The mountain boasts 150,000 graves that date as far back as 15th century.

Some of the olive trees in Jerusalem are more than 800 years old.

There are more than fifty Christian churches, thirty-three Muslim mosques and three hundred Jewish synagogues in the city.

Municipal law requires all structures to be covered in Jerusalem stone, preserving the historical look of the city.

Guests at the King David Hotel have included Elizabeth Taylor, Winston Churchill, Prince Charles, Hillary Clinton, Madonna and Us.

Most of the”local’ souvenirs in the souq in the Arab Quarter of the Old City are now made in China.

The food is amazing.

Jerusalem is Israel’s largest city.

Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud were members of Hebrew University’s first Board of Governors.

The Knesset, Israel’s legislative body, is in Jerusalem and is named for the Knesset Hagedolah (Great Assembly) which convened there in 5th century BCE.

The fabulous and frenetic Mahane Yehuda Market packs in locals and tourists with its array of food, color, and noise.

The most impressive ruins in the Jewish quarter are those of the Cardo. The Cardo was the main avenue of Aeolia Capitolina, the Roman city built on top of the rubble of Jerusalem in 70 CE. After the 67 war, Israeli archaeologists uncovered dozens of Corinthian columns, many in good shape, that had once lined the broad street, and raised them up again according to their original layout.

The Cardo was the main commerce street in ancient Rome and today is lined, much as it was in ancient times, with shops.

There are emergency response teams on bikes as well as cars which are particularly helpful in the Old City’s narrow streets.

Jerusalem is important to the Jewish people because it is the Holy City, the site of Solomon’s Temple, the City of David and the capital of the Israelites. Solomon’s Temple was believed to have the Arc of the Covenant which housed the Ten Commandments.

Jerusalem is important to the Christians because it is where Jesus first impresses the sages, where he spent his last days and where the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection took place.

Jerusalem is important to the Muslims because it is where the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Jerusalem has been ravaged by thirty centuries of warfare and strife. The struggle continues.

 

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

 

Jerusalem, Old City

Image

Jerusalem Old City

“If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel’” Benjamin Netanyahu

My first trip to Jerusalem was in the seventies. My parents always paid for an Israel extension to my self financed Europe trips. I think they were hoping for an Israeli son-in-law. Our days started at the Jaffa Gate near our hostel. We would meander through the Old City in the heat of summer and end up at the Damascus Gate or the New Gate. You could wander back and forth through a stairway in the Western Wall. We walked in and out of the mosques, often just to cool off and enjoy the peaceful feeling inside.

When we got to the meat part which was deep in the market, I was always ready to turn back. It was the first time that I saw raw, dead animals hanging outside like that.There were a lot of flies. It was hot and smelled bad. We were allowed everywhere. One day, a young  Arab boy decided  to be our tour guide for free. He took us walking on the walls above the city. I remember that he said that they were the only red-headed Arab family in the market.

The Arab souq was our favorite huge shopping labyrinth to get lost in. They sold beautiful handmade backgammon sets, religious artifacts and boxes made from olive wood, interesting jewelry, worry beads, scarves, clothes and evil eyes. The bargaining was half the fun (even though we just got it down to the real price in the stores) “We dont hate the Jews,”said the people in the market. “It’s the Zionists we don’t like.”

On my first trip, I did not blame them. The Israeli boys we met were aggressive and the girls were mean to us. Cheap college day tours took us all over Israel from Jerusalem. We met a lot of Americans doing the same thing. The second summer I met nice Israelis. We truly believed that there would be a lasting peace.

I resisted coming back to Jerusalem for many years because I did not want to see what was happening. The Arabs and Israelis did not learn how to coexist. Now Israel the hero of my childhood, is seen by many as the oppressor. For some reason, they have more UN human rights violations than the most corrupt, brutal, sadistic, child army, third world nations. Israel wasn’t the attacker in the 48, 67 and 73 wars. They defended themselves and won. Isn’t that what happens in a war? Governments get land and young people die or get injured. The Palestinians like the American Indians had unfortunately lost the claim to their land from the British before Israel became a state. Israel built their country from nothing just like America did. It seems to be a hopeless situation now.

They call it apartheid by choice. There are Arab speaking schools and Hebrew speaking schools. The Arab schools are divided into Muslim and Christian schools.

The Hebrew Schools are divided into Orthodox and Secular Schools. There are divisions between the divisions. There are a few mixed schools.

I think those who call it South African apartheid have forgotten or never knew what South African apartheid really was. Yes there is prejudice on both sides  and many problems but it is not that.

The holiest city on earth is even more divided on my return many years later. It is still living as one but with a lot of new rules, security and boundaries.

This time, I am staying at the beautiful King David Hotel. As we enter the city from the nearby New Gate, Dvir, our tour guide, tells me that there is still only one red-headed Arab family in the market.

Fly safe,

JAZ