“What kind of people are you?” Jessa asked as we were pouring ourselves a bowl of cereal.
“Ummm…people?” I responded quizzically, not sure where she was going with this.
“Like, are you museum people, church-people, all-over-creation people?” she followed up, trying to get a feel for how we should best spend our remaining days that would make us the happiest.
“I don’t know, we’ll do whatever.” Evan piped in with his characteristic nonchalance. We let Jessa take complete control.
We should have said all over creation people, because by the end of it, it was very clear that was what we are.
This feels like an Amusement Park: Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter
After breakfast, Jessa issued us our train passes. I quickly realized that this was actually Amelia’s train pass that we were just going to reload later with her picture and name. I suppose if anyone asked to see it, they might notice that we didn\’t look the same, but thankfully nobody ever did.
A lot of people come to the Holy Land with a large church group and often have a big tour bus with them taking them everywhere they need to go. We were with locals (who don’t have a car) so we relied purely on public transportation to get us around which gave us a little more taste of the people who live here. There are secular Jews, orthodox Jews, Muslims, Christians, tourists, locals, the young and the old all residing in the same train car, experiencing the same feelings of frustration with the crowds and the everyday boredom that often accompanies when in transit.
|Damascus Gate: The Entrance to the Old City|
I was actually very impressed with the train system in Jerusalem. There are a lot of things that other countries do better (WAY better) than America and public transportation is at the top of that list. Where I live in Austin, I am about 95% dependent on a car. I take the bus to work and once I’m downtown, I can get around, but if I want to go somewhere else in the city, forget it. The train sufficed for everywhere we wanted to go, and I don’t remember ever having to wait very long.
Our destination this morning was the Old City, which is the original Jerusalem surrounded by walls. We got off the train and started towards Damascus Gate, which is a huge gate and our main entrance into the Old City.
What I’m about to say is very American. When I looked at the gate to the city, it looked exactly like an amusement park. I was almost surprised that there were no ticket booths outside for admission. In America, we don’t have castles. We don’t really have anything old at all, let alone whole cities that have
been around for centuries. The only time I ever even see depictions of this type of structure are at amusement parks, where the architecture is part of the theme and gimmick. However, instead of associating the gimmick with the original, I see the original and automatically think about the gimmick. It’s growing up in a world of plastic and then not being able to really appreciate the value of the stone.
The feeling of being in an amusement park didn\’t really subside even when we walked through the Muslim quarter, because there were shops on either side of us selling everything you could hope to buy, particularly clothing in lots of bright colors. It was very much a sensory overload. There’s not a whole lot of room on the “street” to walk (mainly pedestrians, but in this part of the old city there are occasionally carts or mopeds). There are also a significant amount of people who are all trying to get somewhere. Jessa knows her way around expertly, and we followed our guide obediently through the streets.
The Old City is comprised of 4 “quarters” the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Armenian Quarter and the Jewish Quarter. Each quarter is uniquely its own with very little overlap in the types of people who live there (yes, people live in the city walls above the shops). It’s all very separate.
It’s Not Much, But It’s Got a Great View: The Austrian Hospice
|Total proof we were there!|
Eventually, we ended up at a building where Jessa buzzed us in. I saw the sign said Austrian Hospice, which thoroughly confused me. Hospice means something very different in the States. It’s a hospital where people go to die. Apparently, in Israel, it’s more like a hostel I think? I’m still kind of unclear. We walked through the building and up to the rooftop.
|The Third Station of the Cross. Source|
I understand now. She’s starting our journey with an overview. A place high enough where we can see the city as a whole outside of the maze of streets below. It must be a relatively popular place to see the city from, because there were several other groups who were taking in the view and advantage of some great photo ops.
Jessa brought a laser pointer: The Via Dolorosa (Stations of the Cross)
Apparently the Austrian Hospice is at the foot of the Via Dolorosa, which is the road that Jesus walked down carrying the cross, so this was the perfect opportunity for us to actually go through the 12 Stations of the Cross, which are marked along the way towards the Holy Sepulcher. Some areas are marked with just a placard (like Station 5: Simon Helps Carries the Cross) and others are marked with shrines or chapels commemorating the station.
|Stained Glass Window @ Veronica\’s Chapel|
The first station is in the courtyard of a college, which was pretty crowded when we got there. At first, it was a little disorienting to even figure out where it actually started (I’m still not 100% sure). Jessa brought us over to the corner of the courtyard to a small 3-D replica of the area. Unfortunately, there were other tourist who were bending over it, so we couldn\’t get that close to it. When it became apparent that they were not about to leave anytime soon, our trusty guide pulled out a laser pointer (kind of like Mary Poppins!) and started using it to point out the road we were going to be going down and showing us where we would end up. It was here that we prayed the first and second station of the cross (the second station was very crowded at this point, so we opted not to go over there).
***Side Note: We didn\’t actually get to go in Veronica\’s Chaepl until a couple days later because on this day it was either closed or really crowded, but for sake of keeping the Via Dolorosa all in the same place, I have included those pictures here.***
|A tour group doing the Stations of the Cross (They are carrying a wooden cross with them)|
Now we were off, maneuvering our way in and out of the busy people of Jerusalem and the countless shops on either side of us. The noise and colors of the city were overflowing with energy and as much as I tried to get in the spirit of the Stations of the Cross, it is an incredibly distracting place. I’m sure that this is how it might have looked when Jesus was walking along this road as well, considering this part of the city is insanely old. Occasionally, Jessa would stop in front of a plaque and inform us that we were at another station. We prayed in the middle of the street.
The Sorrowful Mysteries 3 and 4: Jesus is Crowned with Thorns and Jesus Carried the Cross
The One Place We Can’t Take Pictures: The 4th Station of the Cross – When Mary Meets Jesus
Not long into our journey, we ducked into an Armenian Catholic Church that rested on top of the 4th Station of the cross. It was nice to take a break from the noise and energy of the city into the quiet and almost empty church building. I don’t remember at all what the church itself looked like because we were there for a total of 3 seconds before Jessa led us to the crypt downstairs.
There, lying before us was an adoration chapel with the most beautiful Monstrance I\’ve ever seen and a sign on the door that says: “Chapel for prayer only. No Pictures”. The one place we can’t take pictures of is probably one of the most beautiful sights we saw the entire time we were in the Holy Land. So beautiful in fact, that when I got home, I looked online to see if someone else took a picture of the adoration chapel and posted it online. Of course someone did, so you can see what it looks like. It’s really huge. It took up the entire wall. And the entire thing was a blinding gold. The doors that were open on the side were fashioned to be trees with the leaves made out of a thousand types of crosses etched and colored in the glass.
I didn\’t notice this at all when we were there, but the center (the brown spot in the middle of the gold) is actually Mary’s face and the silver area is an outline of her dress. She is holding Jesus, literally in the monstrance. How cool is that!
It was very quiet here. I don’t even know if anyone else was there with us at the time. You would never had believed that outside this place of peace was a whole city that was bursting with activity. Time stood still while we prayed in adoration, our eyes entranced by the beauty of the Eucharist and the structure created to honor it.
|She must have had small feet. Source|
To the side of the chapel is a statue and a 5th-century mosaic that has a mosaic of sandals embedded into the flooring which is said to represent the spot where Mary was standing.
The Sell Hamburgers Here: Lunch of Armenian Pizza and Kibbeh
After we left the 4th station of the cross we decided to stop and eat lunch, presumably because the restaurant right next to the 4th station church “serves the best Armenian pizza”. Armenian pizza is not like American pizza in that it doesn’t have cheese on it, just tomato and minced lamb and chopped up vegetables. To me, it didn’t sound particularly appetizing, so I looked over the menu for something more to my liking.
They had hamburgers on their menu, which screams westernization and how cultures affect one another over time. Jessa told us a story about how she was sitting here with friends was day enjoying the Armenian pizza and an American asked for a hamburger to go. What the American probably didn’t know, but presumably found out when he got home, that while it says hamburger, it should really say deconstructed hamburger. Like all the other small plates (mezze I believe) we have encountered and would continue to encounter through our time here, the hamburger consisted of a hamburger patty next to some pita bread with tomato, lettuce, onion on the side. More of a platter than what an American considers a hamburger.
I settled on the Kibbeh, which is essentially fried dough balls filled with ground beef. They were absolutely amazing. Probably one of the best savory things I ate the entire time I was there. It was so moist on the inside with the fried crunchiness on the outside. It was phenomenal. One bite of trying Evan’s Armenian pizza told me I made the right choice.
|Kibbeh: I cannot even begin to describe how delicious these were. Source|
Don’t Stand Near Me When You Say That: The Holy Sepulcher
***Side note: Our pictures of the Holy Sepulcher are either a) non-existent or b) not very good. We were very overwhelmed the first time we were there and the other times we were there were spent going to mass (not great for pictures) and actually praying (again, not great for pictures). The pictures we DO have from the Holy Seplechur are pretty blurry due to poor lighting inside the church and the fact that we are not photographers. This is why a lot of these pictures will have links to other places. Sorry.***
We were off again, on the Via Dolorosa, praying at each of the stations in the middle of the busy pedestrian market on our way up to the Christian quarter whose jewel is the Holy Sepulcher. In many ways, this is really the entire point of our visit and is arguably (or maybe not arguably at all, because who could argue) the most holy of holy sites for Christians in the Holy Land. This is it. This is where Jesus’ death and resurrection happened that started it all.
The first time we went there (we went a couple of times on our trip) it was extremely crowded with tourists. Extremely. Jessa even mentioned how she had never seen it this crowded before and she’s been there countless times. This had a significant impact on who we were able to connect with and move in the space. It also didn’t help that the very first thing I heard when we walked in the door was an English speaking tourist who said in passing to his companion “This just proves that religion is utterly irrational.” I was taken aback. He is literally standing in one of the most highly regarded religious sites in the world with literally thousands of pilgrims around you and that’s what you choose to say? Don’t stand next to me when you say that because if a bolt of lightning doesn’t shoot straight out of Jesus’ tomb to finish you, the crowd of thousands of fundamentalist Christians probably will. I say that satirically and to my knowledge, thankfully, no harm came to the tourist who said that, but like the lady whose purse was on the altar, you probably shouldn’t say that while you are in the church, if only for your own safety.
|The Place where Jesus\’ body was prepared|
I’ll give you a main setup so you can generally get a layout for the place. The church is huge (although apparently not as large as the church is Nazareth, which I find hard to believe). When you walk in, your are immediately in front of the spot where they prepared Jesus’ body after he died. There are always a ton of (mostly Orthodox) Christians who are kneeling and praying over it. Jessa said that was a mainly Orthodox tradition, so you don’t see many “Latins” (that’s what Roman Catholics are called here) doing it. How do you know? Because all the Orthodox (women at least) are wearing head coverings at all times, while the Latins not so much. ***Side note: This picture was taken at 6am on a different day, which is why there are no people, but I assure you, that is not normally not how it is.***
To the right are some stairs which lead to Calvary (which is where Jesus was crucified) and to the left is a small building (within the large church building) that is Jesus’ tomb. Outside Jesus’ tomb is a line a very long and crowded line that is portioned off by (no joke) police barriers and there are people there to manage the crowd and make sure people go in and out as fast as possible. It’s a madhouse. The thing that struck me the most, though, was how close everything was together. I always assumed that the crucifixion happened in a very remote location, not right outside the city gates at the time (now it’s inside the city). I also assumed that the tomb was in a totally different location. Apparently not. It’s all close enough to be in the same exact building. That was mind-boggling.
|Here\’s an outline for guidance. Source|
We were still finishing up the Stations of the Cross, so we went up the steep and winding stairs on our right up to where the crucifixion happened. It was very crowded, so we only stayed up there to say the prayer instead of waiting in the line to actually touch the rock of the hill.
As soon as we were up the stairs, we were down them, on to the remaining station, Jesus’ tomb. There was no way we were going to be going in the tomb at this point so we stood near it and quietly said out last prayers.
This is No Place for the Living: The Other Tomb in the Holy Sepulcher
When we were finished, we were able to start exploring the rest of the church. While the main attractions were crazy, we were able to maneuver our way around some of the less popular parts of the church. Behind one of the chapels is another, more typical, tomb from the time of Jesus. (On the very left part of the church). It’s basically a cave, with 4 rectangular slots carved in them. This would have been a tomb for a family….for generations. Apparently, they would put the body in the slot wrapped in a shroud and let it decompose for about a year. In a year’s time, they would come back and retrieve what was left (your bones) and place your bones in a small box (big enough for a femur bone). It saves on space and makes the tombs reusable for generations to come.
|Supposedly the Tomb of Arimathea because, you know, Jesus took his. Source|
We were kneeling down in the tomb when Jessa was telling us about all this and I felt very uncomfortable. It’s dark, cramp and clearly not a place the living spends their time in. I felt like it was creepy and just exuded death, something which I would rather not think about most of the time. We were probably in there for 5 minutes when a Russian tour guide yelled at us to get out “because look at my tour group, there are so many people”. I frankly didn’t mind. Being in there gave me the heeby-jeebies.
It Makes a Cross: The Chapel of Adam in the Holy Sepulcher
In the Bible, when Jesus dies, there is an earthquake. Directly under Calvary is the Chapel of Adam. According to a Byzantine tradition it is said that the first Adam was buried below Calvary or “The place of the skull”, presumably Adam’s skull. What is most interesting here, however, is that 1) you can see the actual rock that Calvary is encased in museum quality glass and 2) there is a view of a rock that shows the natural fault line and then the earthquake fault line that is perpendicular (i.e. not on the natural fault line) that occurred when Jesus was crucified. Evan pointed out that it kind of makes a cross, which is cool both in the scientific wonder of it as well as the metaphorical meaning of it.
|The Chapel of Adam: The Window looking at the rock is supposed to prove there was an earthquake. I don\’t see it, personally. Source|
Cistern Turned Land-Fill: St. Helena’s Chapel in the Holy Sepulcher
Next stop on our agenda was St. Helena’s chapel, which is downstairs in the crypt area of the church. St. Helena was the mother of Emperor Constantine (who basically brought Christianity into the mainstream and changed the landscape of religion throughout the world). She is very important because she went all over the Holy Land to find the sites of Jesus and a lot of what we know in terms of where certain events took place is based on finding the location and then ordering a church to be built there. When she got to the crucifixion part of her journey, she asked the locals where the cross was. Now, Jesus was pretty obscure in his lifetime and those who crucified him probably didn\’t think that his cross might be a relic. So they told her that it was probably in a defunct cistern that was being used as a trash dump. She (or I suspect people who worked for her?) dug through rotted wood until she came across a cross that spoke to her (not literally, but metaphorically). She could feel that this was the “True Cross” and when it was retrieved it was credited with many miracles suggesting that this was, in fact, the cross that Jesus was crucified on. That cross doesn\’t really exist in its true form now. It is splintered up and has been distributed all over the world.
Our Candle is Bigger than You Candle: The Roman Catholic Chapel in the Holy Sepulcher
|Mary Magdalene\’s Chapel|
The Roman Catholic Section of the Church
While I don’t think the tourist who said religion was irrational was entirely correct, you can see his point, when you realize that 6 denominations (Eastern Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Roman Catholic being the three primary custodians) “own” this church and none of them really trust one another. Each church has its own chapels and time of day where the church belongs to them. The competition between the denominations has gotten pretty intense and the common areas (which are owned by everyone collectively) cannot in anyway be altered unless they all agree on it. There is a wooden “immovable ladder” that has been on the outside of the church for about 200 years that they pretty much will never take down because they can’t agree. The rivalry between the factions have been so intense that a local Muslim family actually has the keys to the church.
There is definitely a sense of my candle is bigger than your candle and the separation between the chapels are evident. While we were not physically relegated to the Roman Catholic section (to my knowledge), that was one of the places we spent more time in because it is our church, specifically and because other denominations have their own traditions and ways of worship that I frankly know nothing about. Yes, it’s easier to stay in your denomination than risk accidentally offending someone.
|The Franciscan Church in the Holy Sepulcher. |
The pillar is on the right. Source
This is just a small microcosm of how all of Israel is. There are so many different types of people, different races and religions, but they are all very much separated while being in close proximity. They say that America is a melting pot and that we are very diverse, but there is something very different about our melting pot and this one. In America, there are some cultural differences between people and occasionally you will see the different outfits or headpieces based on race or religion, but the vast majority of people or any color or religion have all adopted a very westernized dress and generally go about their lives in pretty western ways. I know there are Christians and Jews and Muslims and atheists here, but you can’t pick them out based on their language (which is generally English) or clothing (which is generally jeans and a t-shirt). It seems as though we have melted into an overall American culture that supersedes the subtleties of cultural difference.
That is not how it is in Israel. I think you would be hard-pressed to find an Israeli culture. There is the Jewish culture. There is the Muslim culture. There is a Christian culture. While they are all physically located in the same square kilometer, they are all distinctly separated.
The Catholic section of the church is St. Mary Magdalene\’s chapel which is where Mary Magdalene met Jesus after he was resurrected. The Franciscan Church right next to it also has part of the pillar that Jesus was scourged on, which contributes to my ongoing Rosary Bingo game.
Sorrowful Mystery 2: The Scourging at the Pillar
How Many Buildings Can You See: The Arches of the Virgin at Holy Sepulcher
|The Arches of the Virgin Source|
The history of the Holy Sepulcher is pretty interesting. As this is the most holy of all Holy Places in the Holy Land for the Christians, naturally, it has been burned down to the ground several times and rebuilt in a variety of time periods. There is one part of the church where you can actually see the different iterations of the church building based on the types of columns there are. While all these columns were built at different times they are all stuck in time together to create a cacophony of architecture that shows the different styles of the time. Its beauty is in its overall timelessness that visually expresses the timelessness of God himself.
This is Our Legacy: The Crosses of the Pilgrims
In the stairwell leading down into the Chapel of St. Helena, there are thousands of crosses etched in the stone walls. I didn\’t even notice them at first, so when Jessa took us aside on the stairs, I was a little confused. She told us that each of these crosses were etched by a pilgrim that had come here, like a very Holy and symbolic form of graffiti. Each cross is a person and there are thousands of them that are still visible and likely thousands more that have been worn off throughout time. Some of them even tell us a little about their story. Three crosses that all share the cross beam might indicate that these pilgrims were brothers or a large cross surrounded by small crosses could mean that a group of pilgrims came with a priest.
It’s easy to take for granted the ease in which we can travel. I’m assuming many people risked their lives to come here and create these crosses. I’m also assuming that thousands didn’t make the journey. I’m lucky. I come from a time where travel is safe and fast. I come from a stable country that affords me the freedom to travel. I come from a family that did well for themselves and provided me with the education and skills to gain employment and thus money so that I could financially come on such a pilgrim. How many millions of people cannot make it here? It’s insanely humbling to think about and I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity. My pilgrimage would never have been possible without these who came first.
|The Crosses of the Pilgrims Source|
It’s incredible to think about all these individual lives (just like Evan’s and my lives) with their own unique journey and story that has come here to worship and to pay homage to their God. Jessa reminded us that this is our history and this is our legacy and we too have left our (metaphorical, not physical) cross on the wall. The cross on the wall is really just a symbol of the cross of the person who proclaimed Jesus as Lord, who testified for him and who kept the Church alive for us. Thank you to all the crosses on the wall! Without your pilgrimage, my own might never have happened. May my wall cross also inspire others to be their own crosses so we too can be a beacon of light for the whole world to be inspired by.
Sisterhood Unite!: The Jewish Quarter
We were about done with this journey to the Holy Sepulcher, which is interesting because we didn’t actually really see the main two attractions in the church due to crowds and our knowing that we would have other opportunities. At this point we decided to walk through the Jewish Quarter of the Old City on to our next adventure.
Jessa brought us into a bakery (a bakery that we would go to several times throughout our stay here in Jerusalem) for a quick dessert, aka Rugalach the chocolate croissant. Jessa and I also desperately needed to use the bathroom, so we figured there would be a place around where the food was. Well, we found one. A Men’s bathroom with no Women’s bathroom in site, or maybe there was one and it was locked or something. Either way, a women’s bathroom was just not happening for us and another (American?) older woman came up around this time with the same needs.
|Zion Gate w/ Mortar Fire Damage|
We decided to just go for it. With 3 women, we were safe enough in numbers to justify our being there and there were no men in the bathroom when we entered anyways. Sisterhood Unite! We will band together against the atrocity of not having a women’s bathroom available and proverbially sit in the front of the bus together. The bathroom was actually one of the nicer public restrooms (much better than Mount Tabor) we would use throughout our journey, played in no small part by the reeking scent of cleaning supplies that emanated throughout the stalls. As we were leaving some disgruntled Jewish men started yelling at us (in kind of a get-off-my-lawn sort of way), but hey when you gotta go you gotta go.
We met back up with Evan (who was still enjoying his bakery goodness) and went through the Zion Gate. It’s actually very sad. There is a ton of mortar fire damage on the gate from the wars and violence it has been in. Israel is one of the few places I’ve been to that you can go from laughing about going into the men’s bathroom to being reminded of the sobering effects of war.
We walked out of the gate, out of the Old City and came face to face with a huge parking lot. Unlike the Muslim Quarter, the Jewish Quarter is pedestrian only, so there is actually a parking lot outside the Old City that houses all of the cars for the Jews that are in the Jewish Quarter. I know people live here and that it’s an insanely important city, but, like Damascus Gate, this really gives the impression of an amusement park to me.
She Sleeps: Dormition Abbey
Before I could really process that we had left the walled part of the Old City, we were in the Dormition Abbey, a church right outside honoring the place that Mary was believed to have fallen asleep. Now, I’m not an expert in Marian traditions and which denominations recognize which events. Some Christians believe that Mary fell asleep and was assumed into Heaven at that point (to my understanding) and other believe that she died a natural death, was placed in a tomb and assumed on the third day (I think this is an Eastern tradition. Still other Christians, don’t believe that Mary was assumed at all and that she was just as sinful and human as the rest of us. I’m interested in knowing whether Protestants have a place where they believed Mary was buried (and if so where it is) or if they don’t have one because they don’t really care where she’s buried because after the Nativity, she is no longer important to the story.
The crypt area of the Church has a statue of a sleeping Mary, which was very much like Sleeping Beauty. It wasn’t nearly as crowded as some of the other “more popular churches” in Jerusalem, so we got to spend a little bit of time there in prayer. This day was also the day where the Schoenstatt movement back in home was going to be making their groundbreaking on the first Marian shrine in Austin, Texas. Ordinarily, I would have gone to the ceremony and celebrated with everyone there, but I was kinda sorta in Jerusalem at the time. I thought it was appropriate to say a special prayer for the Schoenstatt movement and their shrine efforts on this special day, and what better place to do that than in the Marian shrine I was standing in?
In Rosary Bingo, I’m counting this as the Assumption of Mary into Heaven.
Jessa is Sneaky: The Upper Room
|The Upper Room|
When we were finished in Dormition Abbey, Jessa brought us into a building and up the stairs to a basically empty room. It wasn’t a church, that was for sure, and while there were some interesting architectural elements that may have suggested it had once been a church, it was clearly not being used. It was empty (except for tourists) and, honestly, boring. There were no beautiful mosaics, no altar, not much of anything. Why was Jessa bringing us here? She’s being awfully quiet.
|The Pelican Column in the Upper Room|
All of a sudden, Jessa turned to look at us. “This,” she began “is the Upper Room.” You know, where the Last Supper happened. How sneaky and secretive of her, not giving any indication up until that point that this place was anything more than an old building. She went on to say that it isn’t ACTUALLY the room, because this particular room was built in the 1200s and basically everything from Jesus’ time is underground, definitely not on the second floor of a modern day building. So, really this is just a commemorative location. Perhaps, the last supper happened somewhere in the vicinity and that’s why they built the church in the first place. However, it clearly isn’t a church now. Just a room.
|The Olive Branch Sculpture in the Upper Room|
Apparently, the Muslims took it over (surprise, surprise) and turned it into a mosque, but even that is now defunct. The most interesting thing to look at in the room is one column with a carving of pelicans. Pelicans are an old symbol of Christianity because, according to legend, in a time of famine, a mother pelican would draw blood from her own body to feed her hungry young. It is the only “Christian” symbol in this room that survived through the Muslims. Muslims have strict rules about depictions, particularly of people, so all columns with any depiction of a person was defaced. However, when they came and saw this column, it was of animals, so they deemed it good enough for keeping in the mosque. There is one more thing that is interesting in the room. There is a sculpture of an olive branch that was given to this place by the pope (JPII perhaps?) as a symbol of bringing peace to the region.
Other than that, it’s just a big empty room that is owned by the State of Israel itself and, apart from the constant stream of pilgrims, would be pretty unremarkable. Although, whoever said that the Upper Room was remarkable anyways. I suppose it is fitting that the upper room is as inconspicuous as the Disciples were hoping they would be when they were hiding.
This place marks the 3rd Glorious Mystery: The Descent of the Holy Spirit and the 5th Luminous Mystery: The Institution of the Eucharist because they both happened in this place.
|Luminous Mysteries = Completed!|
There’s the Desert! No Wait, It’s a Cemetery: Panoramic View of the Mount of Olives
After we left the upper room, Jessa brought us to the outdoor terrace where you can see the Mount of Olives. The entire time I have been in Israel thus far, I’ve been looking for the desert that I was convinced existed. It definitely was not in the Galilee and it’s hard to tell anything in Jerusalem because it’s so urban. So, when we looked out over the city of Jerusalem onto the Mount of Olives on the other side, I said “Finally, there’s a desert!” pointing to the sandy looking beige hill that stood before us.
“That’s not a desert,” Jessa said “That’s a cemetery.”
I did a double take. How could that possibly be a cemetery? I couldn’t see any markers, grass, or anything. It was all just a uniform sandy beige color. That’s a cemetery? It literally covers the entire hill. Tens of thousands of Jews are buried on this hill and the “sand” that I thought I saw were stone tombs that are stone slabs about the length of a person. It’s kind of like if you see a cemetery in Louisiana where they put cement on top of the grave because the sea level is so low there, they don’t want bodies being….resurfaced… in storms. It’s like that only it is so incredibly expansive. Just back to back tombs sprawling along the mountain, so uniform that it all blends in together.
There is a pervading belief in Judaism that the Messiah will come to the Temple Mount and begin his resurrection of the dead. It stands to reason that if you are buried next to Temple Mount (i.e. the cemetery on the Mount of Olives), you will be first in line to be resurrected. It makes sense. Every Jew wants to be buried there. It’s the very cool, hip “in” place to be buried and has been for the past 3,000 years. Apparently, you still can be buried there….if you have enough money. I can’t imagine how expensive it must be now.
We Have to Split Up?: The Tomb of David
|The Men\’s Side of King David\’s Tomb|
Next on the agenda was the Tomb of David. Jessa prefaced us by saying that this was probably not actually King David’s tomb and it was probably the tomb of some bishop or something. However, it is a holy place for the Jews.
In Judaism, men and women do not worship together, so before we took our excursion into the small tomb room, Jessa briefed us with a bit of cultural norms. Jessa and I were going to go in on the right side and Evan was to go in on the left side.
“Wait, what?” Evan said surprised. “We have to split up?”
“Yes.” Jessa said “You have to put on a temporary yamaca and follow the line of people into the tomb.”
|The Woman\’s Side of King David\’s Tomb|
Needless to say, Evan was a bit nervous to go by himself to be a part of the Jewish custom. Luckily, I had Jessa in there with me to show where to go. The room was small with a tomb covered by a black and gold cloth. Jewish women were standing and praying while a constant stream of tourists (mostly Jews) filed in to pay their respects.
The Women Will Meet Up Later: The Armenian Funeral
As we left the Tomb of David, we met up with Rodolfo, who had recently gotten off work, and walked toward (in?) the Armenian Quarter. The Armenian Quarter is by far the smallest of the four quarters in the Old City and the most secretive and private. While the Jewish, Muslim and Christian Quarters have a lot going on and sites, the Armenian Quarter is basically a group of residences that is very closed off to the typical tourist.
|An example of an Armenian Funeral Procession Source|
As we were walking away to our next destination, we saw an Armenian funeral procession, which was as beautiful as it was captivating. All the Armenian men in black hoods and robes behind the coffin, making their way to the church. It was an interesting sight to see and gave a little insight in the everyday spiritual life and rituals that happen in this area. Another interesting thing to note is that there were no women in this assembly. Apparently, the women actually meet up with the men after the procession.
I Could Eat Here FOREVER: Chocolate Hamantaschen at the Jewish Bakery
|It\’s like Heaven. We have arrived.|
Have I mentioned the Jewish bakeries yet? We basically went there every day we were in Jerusalem. I cannot stress enough how delicious the food was in Israel. I was utterly shocked. I honestly thought that the food was going to be bland. All I could think of was Matzah ball soup and unleavened bread. The bakeries are absolutely divine. We were very lucky that we were there during the holiday of Purim because in addition to the normal pastries that we could partake in, we were also exposed to the deliciousness of Hamantaschen cookies. They are cookies with a filling in the middle of them, the best filling being chocolate (although there are other less appetizing fillings like dates). The chocolate cookies are pretty awesome. Between that and the Rugulach and Hamataschen and Chocolate Bourekas (my favorite, fried dough filled with chocolatey goodness), I could stay here forever and eat my way into a sugar coma.
Rodolfo, Go Be Our Model: The Cardo
|The Shops on the Cardo|
Near the bakery, there is an area that has been excavated that was the Cardo, the main Roman road going through town. This is where the main street was in ancient Roman times and now it is being used as both an archaeological site of interest and a new place to have a market place. There are stores on either side like the current streets of Israel only these stores seem a little higher scale than the main shops above. It’s basically an old tunnel system where you can see the original road and some of the old pillars like the Roman era.
There was a section that had a plaque with a little model for scale to show where you were compared to the architecture. We made Rodolfo be our model so we could get a better idea of where everything was. Doesn’t he look great?
|The Sketch of the Cardo(See the person?)|
|The Cardo in Real Life (See Rodolfo?)|
You Can See the Tension: Western Wall Overlook
We walked over to an area where you can overlook the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock. On one hand it is a beautiful sight. There is so much richness and cultural significance to the area that it is really striking.
In case you don’t know, the Western Wall (or the Wailing Wall) is the most holy place in Judaism because it is literally the closest the Jews can physically get to where the Temple used to be. The temple is the center of all Jewish life and most of their laws revolve around the Temple, which was destroyed by the Muslims and replaced with the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim shrine that no tourists can actually enter. The Ark of the Covenant (where God is physically present) is probably buried somewhere on that hill. The interesting thing is that even if the Muslims gave back the hill to the Jews, the Jews wouldn’t be able to walk on it anyways for fear of accidently walking over God and essentially damning themselves to hell. So you have the most Holy Place for the Jews, the Wailing Wall, juxtaposed with the Muslim Dome of the Rock towering over it.
Jessa read Psalm 137 that expresses the sadness of the Jews being in captivity.
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.2
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,3
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
|The Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock.|
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.
7 Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”
8 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.
9 Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.
Listening to this psalm while looking upon the Jews praying next to the wall with the Muslim shrine towering over them gave me a huge sense of tension between the two groups. While I would like to believe that peace is always possible, in this situation the differences are so great and each side so unyielding, it seems impossible. Looking at the Jews worship next to their precious wall and knowing on an intellectual level the horrors that have befallen them for thousands of years, you cannot help but feel their plight. Your hearts hurt for these people who cling to the old wall of a Temple long gone and you feel compassion towards the believers who have endured centuries of mass destruction, yet have always persisted. Looking at this view and letting the conflict sink in and the reality of the religious oppression the Jewish people feel by feeling like foreigners in what they perceive is their land. It is sobering and humbling to see from afar. When the sun began setting and turning everything an orange hue, it became clear that the road to peace in this area would be a hard and difficult road, if there is even a road at all.
The Only Hebrew Mass in the World: Sunday Mass
With everything going on, it was hard to remember that it was in fact Sunday. Sunday is not part of the weekend here. The weekend is Friday and Saturday because those are the holy days for the Muslims and Jews, so Sunday is just the beginning of their workweek. It must be strange for Rodolfo, to have to go to work on the day he also has to go to mass, but such is life.
We actually were given two options on mass. We could either go to the only English speaking mass in Jerusalem (the church that Jessa and Rodolfo attend) or we could go to the only Hebrew speaking mass they have in the entire world (because where else would anyone have a Hebrew speaking mass). Even though we knew we weren’t going to understand a word they were saying (or even to follow along with the Hebrew writing, we chose the Hebrew mass because when will we get that opportunity again? On the way there, we read the readings in English so we would at least have something to reflect on during mass. The reading was the transfiguration and for the first time, I was able to visualize the location of where this event happened. I will never be able to hear that story the same way, if only for the remembering the treacherous bathrooms and the slew of jokes that were made afterward.
The church was small and very plain. Nothing like the rest of the churches we’ve seen in Israel. This church was more of a room that could maybe hold 50 people maximum. There weren’t really decorations or anything fancy. This church did not stand on top of some Holy site nor did it mark any place where Jesus had been.
|The Hebrew Catholic Church Source|
We didn’t understand a word. We couldn’t even read it. Eventually someone gave me a Romanized (our alphabet) version of the mass, so I could at least try and sound out the sounds, but I don’t think I was very successful at it. An old woman in front of us was our guide. Every time she stood and sat, we followed suit. It must be interesting being a Christian raised in a Jewish country where one of the main languages is Hebrew. It’s actually amazing that Hebrew even survives in its vernacular today, because it was pretty much forced upon Israel by the Zionist Jews. So, here I was sitting in a Catholic mass said in the language of the Jews. I have once before sat in a synagogue celebrating Easter mass back in Houston (there was a synagogue across the street from my church and they made deals with each other on holidays to use each other’s buildings for overflow). It felt like that. Aspects of two religions converging together to form a beautiful ceremony. Thank goodness that the mass is the exact same everywhere in the world. While I couldn’t understand anything that was going on, I understood exactly what was going on.
He Remembered: Malawach aka a Yemeni Burrito
“Do you like burritos?” Rodolfo asked.
“Sure” Evan and I responded.
“For dinner, we’re going to go to a place that kind of has burritos” Rodolfo responded, “but they’re completely different. They are delicious. You’re going to love it.”
We walked into this little fast food place (think Freebirds or Chipotle) that only had a couple of tables inside. At the counter were all the toppings that one could put on his or her “burrito”. The burrito is actually called a Malawach and it is originally from Yemen. Rodolfo had found this place the first time he came to Israel on business (for a conference or something) and he was so impressed by it that he remembered (years later I’m assuming) where it was so that he could frequent there often.
|An example of the Malawach Burrito from Jessa\’s own blog. How she got a picture of it before gobbling it up, I will never know. Source|
I can understand why. First of all, you have to understand that this place (like almost all places in Israel, or at least the Jewish section) is Kosher and they have cream/milk products. Therefore there is no meat (not much like a traditional burrito). The tortilla is not a regular tortilla. It’s fried. It’s flaky and falls apart in the delicious way that flaky fried dough possibly could. It is more like phyllo dough in the shape of a tortilla than a tortilla that we are used to in Tex-Mex cuisine. The fillings you chose to fill this burrito consisted of hummus, some kind of cream something I think, pureed tomatoes, eggs, cilantro, I don’t even know what else. It is delicious. Seriously. Someone should come make some in Austin. They would make a killing.
You Want Another Spoon?!: Waffles
After the Malawach burritos, we went to a place that serves waffles for dessert (another million dollar idea). Imagine going to an ice cream shop. You pick your ice cream and then you tell the person all the different toppings you want on it. It’s exactly like that only with waffles. Experiences like this are the reason that despite walking a whole lot, I didn’t lose an ounce of weight while I was in Israel. This coffee-shop-esque dessert shop definitely had a “hipster” atmosphere. I really got the sense that you come here to eat waffles and bask in your own coolness. The lights are low. There are mismatched tables and chairs and couches. It’s really small and cramped, so you feel extra cool that you are in this exclusive location.
I ordered a waffle topped with Oreos and melted butterscotch. I know that Jessa and Rodolfo split their waffle with a mound of whipped cream on it, for which they received a singular spoon. Now, Jessa and Rodolfo had tried to explain to us the lack of “customer service” you receive in Israel. In America, “the customer is always right” and we cater to them a lot. I hate to say this, but we come across as being entitled. We deserve good service because we are the customer and it’s our right AND if you don’t give me good service, not only will I stop giving you my business, I will also go on Yelp and twitter and tell all my friends how horrible you are.
|Picture this with any topping you want. Source|
That’s not how customer service works in Israel. As Jessa so delicately put it.
“Customer service here is ‘Come in to my shop my friend…….what are you doing in my shop! Get out!’” I didn’t really feel like we experienced that sentiment (mainly because the shops we were taken to were owned by personal friends of our hosts) except at the waffle shop.
Like good American customers do, we bussed our table after we were finished. We threw away our paper plates and napkins, but there was this one metal spoon that we sensed shouldn’t be thrown away. So, Evan took the spoon up to the counter and tried to give it back to the woman (who was dressed like a cat or something because of Purim). She got angry.
“You want another spoon?!” She yelled in English at Evan, who was only trying to give it back. I’m sure there was a language barrier involved here, but this woman was not taking any of this “multiple spoons crap”. Evan desperately tried to convey that he was in fact trying to give back the offending spoon and did not want to cause trouble. Eventually the woman grabbed the spoon out of his hand and flung it halfway across the kitchen into the sink with such anger and disdain that we were really taken aback. I see what Jessa was trying to say now. She may as well looked at Evan and said, “You already ate your waffle get out of my shop.”
Getting So Drunk You Forget Your Right Hand from Your Left: Purim Celebration
|It\’s like being at South by Southwest|
As we left the waffle shop in a bit of a shock we realized we were in the middle of the nighttime festivities of Purim. Everyone was dressed up in costumes. Everyone was drinking. Everyone was walking in the middle of the street. It was one big party. Musicians were playing. A huge festival was going on right before us. We watched as people danced in the middle of a dance circle accompanied by a folky bluegrass type band. We walked down the street seeing people in morph suits and pirate costumes. It was a little scary, because amidst all the people, kids were setting off fireworks and those load black cat type explosives. That freaked me out because you always here about violence in this part of the world. What if those sounds are not from fireworks, but from terrorists? It’s hard for Americans not to think about that stuff when that’s what we are inundated with every time you hear about this area of the world. It’s violent and scary. People blow each other up. There are terrorists everywhere. Stay away. But when you are actually there, at the festival, they are celebrating with pyrotechnics of their own. Like any festival you would go to, there is only joy. No one is running and ducking for cover. They feel safe enough to party in the streets.
|Music and Dancing in the Streets|
Apparently, the tradition of Purim is that “one should get so drunk on Purim that they forget which hand is their left and which hand is their right”. And that is exactly what everyone was doing. I’m glad that we got to see the celebration. It’s fun to see the cultural traditions of other faiths, especially when those holidays aren’t celebrated here. We didn’t really participate in the festivities, but it was so fun to people watch and see the joy the holiday encompassed. It’s such a fun holiday. Dressing up and partying all night long? I’ll drink to that.
Next Up: Bethlehem