Today, we explored the old city of Jerusalem, which is one of the holiest sites in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and celebrated the Sabbath with a local family.
In Jerusalem, the city is divided up between East and West because they both hate each other. On the East side, there are the Palestinians and Muslims, and on the West there are the Israelis and they are mostly Jewish with some Christians. The live separately and go to different schools. The only thing that unites both the East and West is shopping, so in the middle of Jerusalem there is a big shopping center that was built to try to bring the people together. This shopping center is one of the only places in Jerusalem where you see both Eastern and Western people together. We walked through it until we came to the entrance of the Old City at Jaffa Gate.
In the Old City, there are four quarters, although they aren’t even in size at all. The quarters are: Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Armenian. We walked through the Jaffa Gate, which is one of the original gates of the city (there are seven gates in total). In ancient times, for defense reasons, the gates to the city would open at sunrise and close at sunset. So, if you were home late from work, you would need to have your buddies throw a rope over the wall so you could climb back in to safety. Although, the walls didn’t work too well because the city of Jerusalem was captured and destroyed 32 times. We walked through the gate and passed by three soldiers carrying M16s. In Portola Valley, this is a very unusual sight, so it was strange and a bit scary to see guys walking around with M16s and UZIs. We passed by many more groups of soldiers who were casually strolling around with machine guns slung over their shoulders.
The Old City is completely walled off, and is about one square mile. It’s much smaller than I had pictured in my mind and is a maze of very tiny streets, vendors, shops, churches, synagogues and mosques with lots of action everywhere (and machine gun soldiers everywhere, like it’s a military zone or something). There are around 1,500 Muslims, 3,000 Jews, 1,000 Christians and 1,000 Armenians that actually live within the walls of the Old City. On our way into the heart of the Old City, we passed by King Herod’s palace which dated back around 2,000 years ago. As a trademark of King Herod, there are many huge stones at the bottom that are also around 2,000 years old, Herod’s stones have a little margin on the outside of them like we saw at Masada. The further up on the palace, the smaller the stones were.
While we were walking through some of the shops, some Franciscans dressed in white with big red crosses on their clothes were carrying a cross following Jesus’ footsteps as he carried the cross over 2,000 years ago. We walked through many tight and narrow streets until we came to the Lions Gate. This gate is called the Lions Gate because on the outside there are statues of lions guarding the gate. We tried to do a lacrosse video there at the gate, but we got yelled at by the Israeli soldiers with guns who were not very nice (most of them in the city are not very welcoming to us) and we didn’t want to get them mad so we took some photos and turned back around to see a few churches and walk the Via Dolorosa (which means street of sorrow).
On our way back, we passed a building where Virgin Mary was said to have been born. The first church, The Church of Condemnation, that we went to was on a route of 14 different stations that Jesus made on his walk after he was condemned. In the spot where this church stood, Jesus was condemned and had to carry the cross through the streets as an example of what happens when you call yourself The King of The Jews. Along the way, there are many stops and some shops that actually sell crowns made of thorns from the acacia tree.
We walked to another small chapel where Pontius Pilate said two very important words: (he was the Roman leader of the city when Jesus was alive, and the Jews and Jewish priests wanted rid of Jesus and the Jewish Temple guards were the ones who actually arrested Jesus and brought him to Pontius Pilate) “Ecce Homo” or “Here is the man,” in front of all the Jews to Jesus. After passing that chapel, we went to a big, beautiful church called the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus was crucified and died on the cross, was buried in a tomb and then was resurrected. Any Christian group involved with Jesus got to own and care for a small portion of the Church (and they all disagree on facts and who has power, so sometimes there are actual fights between the groups). In one area of the church, there was a rock we could touch where the cross had been placed while Jesus died upon it. It was a little sad, but exciting to see a place I have heard so much about. There was a room deep in the bellows of the church where the Greeks claim to have a piece of the cross. There was also a room that was said to have Jesus’ tomb inside. We kneeled and got to touch a large marble stone where his body was laid after he came down dead from the cross and his body was prepared for burial. It was covered in a sweet smelling incense oil that made our hands smell nice all day long.
We walked out of the Church and headed to the Western Wall of King Herod’s Temple (the Second Temple) where they say if you write a prayer on a piece of paper and put the prayer in the wall, your prayer will come true, although, nobody knows when your prayer will be answered. Before we got to the wall, we walked by a bunch of people that looked like kids in Converse shoes and casual clothes, but they were carrying M16s and UZIs with them. We learned that they are in the military, but were on break, and since it isn’t safe to leave their weapons at home, the soldiers carry their guns with them wherever they go. Crazy, right!
While we wrote our prayers, the rain began to pour like crazy. We finished writing our prayers, folded up into tiny squares our pieces of paper, and sprinted to spots where we stuck the prayers in the wall. On the Western Wall, the men and women pray separately, so Mom and Brooke went to one side and Dad and I went to the other. We stuck our prayers into the wall as high up as we could reach (dad lifted me up high) and ran back to find some shelter from the rain. In the old city, most of the streets aren’t flat, so the rainwater will rush down one way. On our way out, we happened to be walking into the flood of water. At some points, we had to wade through water that was up to our ankles! When we finally escaped, we were completely soaked and rain drenched, and the flooded ground soaked our feet, but it was such a special experience, that you hardly noticed the rain coming down.
We sat down in a Palestinian coffee shop and waited to see the weekly “big” procession of Franciscan monks that carry to cross on a procession that happens every Friday at 3pm… only it was rained out! We were really surprised that Christ was condemned, carried the cross and crucified but the procession stops because of rain that might make them wet! It seemed weird to us, but the Palestinian shop owner was really, really nice and we had a fun chat with him. He let Brooke make her own Pomegranate juice drink behind the counter. He was one of the nicest people we met in Jerusalem. When we found out the event was cancelled, we got inside the warm, dry (now wet) car and drove back to our hotel for the night. We were exhausted.
After relaxing for a brief hour or so, we drove to dinner that was being hosted for us with a Jewish family on Sabbath. There were many other American families coming to the dinner tonight as well. The evening began by participating in a prayer before the meal, then we had bread (two loaves of challah) representing the body and wine (grape juice) as the blood for a blessing. We sang songs and prayed and mom and dad blessed us in the Jewish traditions (there are no pictures, because it was the Sabbath).
We ate traditional Jewish foods like the challah bread, hummus, matzo balls soup and later the adults drank red wine. After eating, Brooke and I played some card games with the kids that were hosting us (there were five kids from 12 to two years old). It was really fun to be with other children, as we don’t really get that much time to play with other kids our age. All the kids spoke English, so it was easy to communicate and really fun to learn the games they play in Israel. We learned about their school, which has 37 students to each teacher and goes from 7am to 7pm and half the day is filled with Jewish studies. They don’t have any Palestinian kids at their school, and don’t play sports or do ANYTHING at all with Palestinians and they didn’t seem to want to know them. The oldest girl who was 12 said that she was excited to join the military, since every Israeli Jewish kid serves (I think two to three years) and she referred to Palestinians as “stone throwers” and “rocket launchers” which was kind of hard to hear since that seemed not nice and she was a nice girl. The spirit between Palestinians and Jewish seems bad and that is sad. We really enjoyed our new friends and a great dinner and learning all about the Sabbath.
We had an amazing day touring through Old Jerusalem and learning so much about the history of this ancient city, eating awesome hummus and falafel, and a great dinner with a local Jewish family learning about their lives in Israel.