Jerusalem and Bethlehem
Trip Start Jan 05, 2011
56Trip End Apr 26, 2011
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We were not expected to be here. In retrospect it may have been a better place for me to visit. Instead of seeing the Pyramids, we experienced the Holy Land. Jerusalem seems the end of a pilgrimage that began when we entered the Middle East. It is similar to the emotion I felt as we wove our way through the battlefields of the Pacific.
Jerusalem contains the sacred sites of two great religions, Jews and Christians; and the third most holy site of Islam – after Mecca and Medina
The largest port in Israel is Ashdod. We docked where hundreds of cars had recently been off-loaded. They were parked in a huge parking lot. Next to us was a carrier ship that was being unloaded, with another waiting for its place. Behind us was a large freighter unloading grain. The wind blew grain over our ship like a sandstorm. Everywhere it was busy. The activity continued through the night. Security by the best security experts in the world was efficient and custom officials friendly but thorough.
After entering the tour bus we were joined by our Jewish guide. After a short ride we drove into a small town called Ein Karem. It is a delightful town on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Nestled among the hills, it is the kind of place where artists and writers might locate, with coffee shops, and a large research hospital and chic bed and breakfasts. It might be a comfortable location to stay when visiting Jerusalem. We stopped in front of a little church called the Church of the Visitation.
Our guide said, "John the Baptist was born here. Mary was here when she spoke to her much older cousin, Elisabeth, of the birth of Christ. This is known as the Magnificat. Here Zachariah, Elisabeth's husband, was informed by the angel Gabriel that she was pregnant with a son. The son would be known as John the Baptist. The Church of Saint John the Baptist is where he is thought to have been born. It is just a stone’s throw away."
Until then, I hadn’t thought much about where we were. It was like being hit in the head. The reality of being in the actual place of such biblical significance was numbing. It was disconnecting, as though I’d stepped outside myself.
We took pictures then hopped back on the bus. An Israeli girl smiled at me through the window as she waited in a bus stop. I saw others walking down the street as if there was nothing special. It was bewildering.
We drove into Jerusalem. It looks like the pictures I’ve seen of stone houses and buildings on hillsides close together
We stopped at the Palestinian border to pick-up a Palestinian guide, and to leave our Israeli guide until we returned to Israel. If it weren’t for a wall we would not have known we were in Palestine. After entering Bethlehem we stopped for some shopping, which seemed a bit strange, like changing pace in the middle of a race. Then we were back on the bus and delivered to Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity.
We entered the church through a small cave-like doorway and followed the crowd to another stairway which went below the High Alter into an enclosed room. There is a cave in the wall, and in it is a silver star on the floor. That is the birthplace of Christ. It wasn’t fancy – just some stone walls, a stone floor, a little plain nativity scene, and that Silver Star. I don’t care who descends into that room, whether atheist or believer, it was powerful and humbling.
We left Bethlehem, crossed back into Israel, and picked up our original guide. At the top of a hill we stopped. Jerusalem and Bethlehem spread out beneath us
“Muslim and Jew live side by side in Jerusalem,” our guide said. The border was lost somewhere below us. He believes that Jerusalem will be the capital city of both Israel and a new state of Palestine. To me the border between the Palestine Authority and Israel is a nightmare. It seems to be asking for conflict.
On the crest of a hill we stopped and viewed the Old City surrounded by the famous wall. The Temple Mount was visible. It is also known as the Dome of the Rock where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son, and where Mohammed stood before God. Not far is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, marking the location of Calvary. Outside the wall ascending to the Mount of Olives are thousands of graves. Nearby, we lingered in the Garden of Gethsemane and visited the Church of the Agony.
Much was left unseen. For instance, we didn’t see the Wailing Wall, and we didn’t get to tour the Old City. It was an unscheduled stop put together hastily, and we had little time. But it, nevertheless, made a lasting impression.