This Week in Jerusalem: Week One

The euphoria of walking the streets of Jerusalem is impossible to truly convey. It’s taken many years, but at last I’ve walked to the Temple mount and heard the echoes of history etched in stone. My dad and I decided several months ago to just make this trip happen, and every step has seemingly been guided by providence.

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Before we arrived in the Israel, we took a detour and gave conquering Rome in a day our best shot. From the Colosseum to the Pantheon to Titus’ Arch, it was a whirlwind. My grandma (trooper that she is) trekked countless miles with us, long into the night. After crashing in our hotel—and a bit of drama in catching our connection—we arrived in Tel Aviv.

 

Dad, grandma, and I spent Friday getting lost in Jewish and Armenian quarters of Jerusalem. Pictures just don’t do it justice, but here are a few:

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Saturday, dad and I braved the Muslim quarter and hiked out to the Damascus Gate, in order to reach the garden tomb. The shalom permeating the garden and its tomb caught my breath. IMG_6667It was a vastly different experience from the Church of the Holy Seplecure, its grandeur and soaring ceilings. We also picked our way down the underground tunnels below the St. Helena’s Chapel to see the huge underground reservoir of water. Legend has it that Queen Helena used this water to build many of the monuments on Christian sacred sites. Perhaps my favorite moment of the day was being invited into a Palestinian Christian antiquity dealer’s shop for Turkish coffee. “Art is peace,” he said as he gestured to the works hanging on the stonewalls, “Violence is not the way.”

Of course we made the requisite visit to Yad Vashem, and, although I had seen several other Holocaust measures, this experience was unique unto itself. You simply cannot walk through Yad Vashem’s halls and walk away unmoved. In the evening, we caught an unforgettable sunset over Mount Olives. I could easily imagine Jesus delivering the Olivet discourse (Matthew 24:1-25:46) with the Temple gleaming in the background.IMG_6714

One of my favorite sites, however, was Herod’s Port city of Caesarea. The ingenuity of the Roman aqueducts, stretching out across the sands was amazing, almost as spectacular as the Mediterranean itself. After a meal and a glass of wine on the ocean, Dad and I hiked the ruins and explored the ancient public bathhouses, a hippodrome (think Ben Hur and the chariot races), a spectacular theater, and Herod’s palace and private bathing pools. Our group drove to Haifa, where we crashed in a hostel after grabbing a bite to eat.IMG_6821 IMG_6824 IMG_6739

 

 

 

 

 

Early in the morning we rushed to the top of Mount Caramel to see the sunrise, and dad and I broke off to find Elijah’s caves, the most sacred caves in Israel. IMG_6842I was trying to decipher the posters on the cave wall, when a local tapped me on the shoulder, waving one of the caves’ prayer books at me. “You read Hebrew?” “A little bit,” I said (unsure which Hebrew we were talking here). “Little bit is good.” She asserts, as she shoves the prayer book in my hand. It was a surreal experience to pray in the same space Elijah prayed before challenging the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18).

On Tuesday, we continued driving up the coast until we reached Akko, one the oldest continuously inhabited sites in Israel, stretching from the ancient Phoenicians to the Crusaders to the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates. The Crusader castle and underground city in particular were incredible. Rounding out the day, we stopped near Tel Aviv, watched the sunset over the Mediterranean, and grabbed some Schawarma before returning to Jerusalem.IMG_6864

Jerusalem has been a place of wonder and disorientation, yet the beauty of its ancient walls overshadows walkways saturated with blood and tears. On Wednesday, my family and several of our friends glimpsed firsthand this juxtaposition of violence within the city of peace. Headed to the Jaffa gate to tour the Old City, my grandmother and several friends had been dropped off at the gate, and they arrived just in time to watch a horror unfold. Two Palestinians ambushed two Jewish men, who were going to the Wall to pray, and began stabbing them. Two of our group—Jake Rosenthal and Josh Winkelman—ran across the street to help, along with another Israeli. A stray bullet caught this man in the chest, and, despite Josh’s attempts to stem the blood, he died in the hospital the following day. Only one of the stabbing victims survived. The heavy shock that settled over our group was palpable. It’s one thing to hear about these sorts of events, but another entirely to be in the midst of it.

Thursday was a hiking extravaganza. First, our group hit Qumran, and I was beyond excited to see the Qumran settlement and glimpse the caves that preserved our oldest copies of Torah, as well as a multitude of sectarian and non-sectarian texts from the Second Temple era.IMG_6929 Next, we stopped at Ein Gedi and hiked up to the waterfalls, before attempting to climb up to David’s caves. After a mile or so of clinging to a goat trail (and avoiding looking down), we tossed in the hat and returned to our cars. The view was well worth it though.IMG_6959

Masada was our next stop along the Dead Sea, and the pictures don’t to it justice. After doing the touristy thing for an hour or so, we started exploring a few “off-the-beaten-path” (read not for tourists) places. My favorite was a giant underground cavern/cistern.

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The remains of an ancient synagogue were particularly exciting, since the defenders of Masada hid several sacred texts there, even preserving a fragment of Shirot ‘Olat Ha-Shabbat. Finally, after floating/swimming in a very cold Dead Sea, the group headed back to Jerusalem.

On Friday, Boaz Michael gave some of our group a Messianic-Jewish flavored tour of Mount Zion. Interestingly enough, the traditional site of the last supper is just above the site of David’s tomb. In fact, the structure that houses both sites was the closest devout Jews could get to the Temple Mount until after the Six Day War, since it lay just beyond the Zion gate and the edge of the Jordanian-Israel border. No civilians were allowed in this warzone. IMG_7006However, Pauline Rose, a Messianic Jew, fought for years for permission to live on the mount, and in 1959 she became the first Jew to return to Mount Zion. Even during the war with bullets flying, her home became a Shabbat gathering place for those who had braved the bullets to pray on top of David’s tomb. One of Pauline’s many purposes—besides establishing a messianic Jewish presence on the mount—was to plant a garden and begin beautifying the mount in anticipation of Messiah’s return. Her garden and home stand to this day.

It’s only been a week but this place has already challenged and challenged me. I feel rather like Pauline Rose, who says in her book:

I felt that all the journeying and searching of my life had come to an end, Jerusalem held out its golden welcoming arms to me.”[1]

Because that is the essence of Jerusalem: despite the bullets and knives, this city burns with its hope for a future of peace. May he return soon and quickly in our day.

 

[1] Pauline Rose, Windows on Mount Zion, 7.

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