Shalom from Jerusalem

Trip Start Oct 12, 2005
Trip End Mar 31, 2006

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Where I stayed
Hebron Youth Hostel

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Tuesday, March 7, 2006

So where we we last time? Oh yes, stuck in Eilat with no transportation up to Jerusalem. Let us continue. After a rousing session of negotiation in which Rebecca's ruthless bargaining skills almost made a minibus driver cry, we set out on a three hour drive from Eliat to Jerusalem for about $80 US -- a shocking price for four people who are used to paying third-world transportation prices but about a third lower than the driver's initial price. Upon arriving in Jerusalem we were dropped off outside the Damascus Gate and told we would have to enter by foot into the old city where our hostel (Hebron Youth Hostel) was located. The walk through the dark, deserted, narrow, ancient old city was a bit unsettling and the arrival in the youth hostel did nothing to ease our jitters. Although the rooms were clean and the staff incredibly friendly the walls between rooms were the thinnest we've ever experienced. All would have been well since our two rooms shared one wall but alas a very giggly, German couple kept us up until close to 2:00 am when Rebecca finally yelled "Shut the XXXX Up!" through the paper-thin walls. Thankfully, with the exeption of one other giggly German couple, we've had quiet nights since then. Thin walls can actually be an advantage as we can communicate with Rebecca and Michael without leaving bed.

Our mornings in Jerusalem always begin early with the peal of church bells from several of the city's Christian churches and Muslim calls to prayer from the area mosques. Jerusalem is the focal point of Christianity and Judaism and considered a holy city by Islam, so it's really no wonder the traditional sites and sounds of religion surround us. Old Jerusalem, where we are staying, is a maze of stone pedestrian passageways that snake by the world's most famous regligious sites -- Judaism's Western (or Wailing) Wall; the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Stations of the Cross; Islam's Dome of the Rock. Although neither of us would consider ourselves overly religious, it is impossible not to feel the presence of something greater than yourself when visiting what is said to be the holiest places on earth. Kristy was particularly moved when visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which was built on top of Calvary -- the rock where Jesus was said to be crucified. The church also houses the tomb of Jesus and is a huge draw for all Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem. All christian religions have a "stake" in the Church and it's fascinating to think that Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, Baptists, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and all other Christian's around the world draw their heritage from a single church. They also seem to squabble amongst themselves about floor space to do their various services. We saw one group of Armenian priests bawling out a Catholic group because they wouldn't move it.

The stark ruin of the Western Wall, which is the foundation of the second Jewish temple destroyed by the Romans, sits in sharp contrast to the gold topped Dome of the Rock right above it and the heavily gilded churches that lie just a few hundred meters away. The simplicity of the wall is incredibly powerful and we were captivated by the Israelis and Jewish visitors from around the world who prayed at the wall and inserted small bits of paper with prayers into its cracks. (It is said that paper prayers have a better than average chance of being answered).

Unfortunately, the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict has resulted in the Dome of the Rock being completely closed to non-Muslims. The elaborate dome which is also a mosque houses the rock from which the prophet Mohammed was said to ascend to heaven. Although we were allowed to walk around the Dome, we were deeply disappointed that we could not go inside especially since the Christian and Jewish religious sites are open to everyone who will submit themselves to security screening. This incident really sparked some discussion among the four of us on the Israeli / Palestinian conflict. Although we have never felt in danger here in Jerusalem it is impossible to ignore the tension between the Jewish and Arab populations living in Jerusalem and other parts of Israel. To be honest, visiting Israel and meeting both the Arabs and Jews that live here it is incredibly frustrating to think that peace may be a long way off. It seems to us that the vast majority of people on both sides want peace but the hardline views on each side keep getting in the way.

We've been in Jerusalem for almost a week now and our explorations have led us out of the old city gates a few times. On one trip to New Jerusalem we visited Yad Vasem -- Israel's Holocaust museum and memorial and the Israeli Museum. Both museums were very informative and well-planned, especially in comparison to some of the pathetic museums we've seen in other parts of the world. Yad Vashem was probably the best museum we've ever toured. It had a very successful technique of displaying its information in multiple ways (written or video) that kept the mass of information comprehensible. The Israeli museum has a massive collection that really deserves a full day. Unfortunately we had only a half day so we focused on the highlights including an exhibit containing the Dead Sea Scrolls; an exhibit featuring the interior of a synagogue removed from Cochin, India; and a unique contemporary Japanese special exhibit. Today, we left the old city again to climb the Mount of Olives for a panoramic view of the city. On the way up we visited Mary's tomb and the grotto where Jesus was said to have been betrayed by Judas and subsequently arrested, tried and crucified.

Now for some earthly news, Matt's stowaway kidney stone seems to have left us (knock on wood). Our camera is now in the hospital being repaired after it inhaled a little too much sand in Wadi Rum. With our camera on the fritz we've been stealing pics from Rebecca and Michael who have an awesome camera. We're hopeful that our camera will be fixed by Wednesday morning when we return to Jordan. Our fabulous travel companions, Michael and Rebecca, will be leaving us in Amman. They're heading to Morocco for their final weeks and we'll head to Istanbul for our last week. We've had a blast traveling with them and we can't wait to meet up with them again back in the states. You can check out their travelogue at:
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Thank you so much for bringing Israel to life. You have done it a justice that the cable news networks never do. I hope your camera recovers soon. Can't wait to see you guys again.

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