A Day in Jerusalem (full itinerary)

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Flag of Israel  ,
Tuesday, September 3, 2013

One of my greatest wishes is that time travel was possible. Not to change anything, but to observe, to see first-hand how we got to where we are now. If I could in fact travel in time, I would go to two places, Ancient India and Jerusalem, to start at a specific point in time, stay invisible and observe my way forward to present day. 

But since time travel is not, and should not be possible, we rely on archaeology and history to help us understand. The only issue is interpretation. Like this visit, there can be four people looking at the exact same thing with completely different perspectives because of where we each come from, what we have been taught in school or by our parents, or in this case especially, our different religious beliefs. So we embark, a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew and a Hindu on a road trip from Tel Aviv, passed the West Bank and Ramallah (Palestinian territories) on to one of the most fascinating historical, cultural and spiritual places in the world, Jerusalem

Walking through the small alleys and stone clad streets, through the marks men of various empires have left on this earth, I felt as though I really had gone back in time. The Old City is tiny at under one square kilometer, but its walls contain some of the most important (and fought over) religious sites of three world religions including: the Temple Mount and Western (or Wailing) Wall for Jews, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians and the Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock for Muslims, and is uniquely separated into four quarters: Armenian, Jewish, Christian and Muslim. 

We started at the Mount of Olives facing the Old City. From here you have a wonderful view of the Old City where you can see the gold dome of the Dome of the Rock on top of the Temple Mount. From there, we drove (in interest of time, but you can walk it as many religious pilgrims so often do) to the Western Wall (also know as the Wailing Wall) where we began our walk through the city and its quarters. 

The Western Wall is an exposed portion of the wall on the west side of the Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism, and also considered sacred only second to the Temple Mount. I cannot tell you in words the beauty and pain and emotion of devout followers I saw there. No matter your belief, if you are able to appreciate that of others, you will come to realize we are all the same, we feel happiness and we feel sadness, when things are good, we are grateful, and we seek forgiveness and direction when times are tough. It is tradition to write a prayer or note on a slip of paper and stick it in the crevices of the wall. The girl next to me was writing in Spanish, the woman across from me in Hebrew and I in English. 

From there we took the bridge (entrance for non-Muslims) up to the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place in Islam, after Mecca and Medina, and on to the Temple Mount. We went straight there to beat the clock. After 11 AM it is closed to non-Muslims for prayer until 1:30 pm when it is open for one hour and then closes at 2:30 pm to non-Muslims for the remainder of the day. Unless you are Muslim you will not be able to enter either the Al Aqsa Mosque or the Dome of the Rock, but can go up to the areas surrounding it where you will likely find men and women (separately) sitting and chatting in the courtyard or reading the Quran. The Dome of the Rock is a strikingly beautiful display of Islamic architecture with a gold dome and a colorful tile facade. 

At 11 am we were asked to exit so we headed out the opposite gate, past the rows of olive trees and out into the Muslim Quarter and began our stops on Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus is said to have walked with the cross on his way to his crucifixion. We walked through the Muslim Quarter and took a short detour out the Damascus Gate, the actual main entrance to the Old City. We went back through, picking up the Via Dolorosa, wandering past the colorful souks, into the Christian Quarter and ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where the remaining sites, including the location where Jesus is said to have been crucified and buried. Thousands of devout Christians annually make the pilgrimage to pay homage, we saw a number of groups singing hymns and carrying a large cross along the same steps. 

We finished at the Church and head off for lunch. We decided on traditional food, but did not want to go somewhere too touristy, so our guide led us to Abu Kamel food stand for some, ok, lots of hummus, falafel and freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. So delicious! There is no shortage of fabulous cuisine in this city. 

After lunch we wandered through the Christian Quarter and into the Jewish Quarter where we found the perfect representation of Jerusalem, a Synagogue next to a minaret (from a Mosque) and an olive tree (the symbol of peace) in between them in front. Currently the geopolitical climate is relatively calm, but if this image shows anything it is that there is hope for a world where peaceful coexistence, respect and tolerance not only exists, but thrives
 
What a day. While I do not practice any of the three faiths, as you can guess, I am the Hindu mentioned previously, it was a not soon to be forgotten day of history, culture and unparalleled beauty with great company and incredible dialogue. While depicted in the media as a place of constant conflict, be cautious of timing, but do not avoid visiting simply because of this. Although I had long dreamed of visiting Jerusalem, I had basically sworn off on visiting Israel, not because of fear of safety, but due to the headache I encounter at the airport upon departure. I have never been so grateful that I believe in second chances.  

Note: Please remember you are visiting holy sites so be sure to wear appropriate clothes or you will be denied access. Girls, long pants and something to cover shoulders fully.

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Comments

Popat on

What a beautifully written post. Adding Jerusalem to the list.

loveaffairwitheverywhere on

Thanks for reading and for your comment, Popat!

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