The Western Wall, Jerusalem

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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

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The Temple Mount, Jerusalem

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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

 

Things That I Have Learned In Jerusalem

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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