Day 7: The Mount of Olives

We woke up and ate a simple breakfast of Ka’kat (Sesame bread in the shape of a large ring) dipped in olive oil and za’atar seasoning and this fig-filling stuffed bread. When Evan and I went on our honeymoon in Punta Cana, we ate bread dipped in a variety of oils a lot and it was there that I realized that I could be very happy eating bread dipped in oil pretty much every day. Normally, I put in pepper and balsamic vinegar, but here in Jerusalem, we got to experience the za’atar seasoning, giving our breakfast a distinctly Middle Eastern flare. I didn’t have much of the fig-filled bread ring because I’m not a huge fan of fig, but I did try a little bit. And with that we were off to another jam-packed day!
If You Don\’t Like It, Put a Roof on It: The Chapel of the Ascension
The Chapel of the Ascension

We traveled to the Mount of Olives and our first stop was the Chapel of the Ascension. Despite the gloriousness of the event itself, the chapel (or is it more like a shrine) is anything but glorious. First, it\’s on the property of a mosque and is thus \”owned\” by the Muslims. I\’m guessing that they don\’t care about the structure itself, but figured out they could get some money out of the ordeal by charging admission to all the pilgrims who want to go there. We obediently paid our shekels and were only hassled once afterwards when one of the Muslim ticket workers thought we had somehow snuck in without paying (another one vouched for us, thankfully).

It\’s a pretty small, plain and not at all decorative domed building with not a whole lot to see. The original church was actually more like an open-aired / roofless gazebo, with circular arches all the way around. This was due to the fact that many Christians believed that Jesus would come back exactly (and literally) the way he left and they had to have an open roof to let him in, obviously. I imagine in its original formation it was more like a courtyard, with the breeze flowing through it effortlessly, probably a very pleasant way to connect to the Divine.
Jesus\’ footprint (supposedly?)

Of course, when the Muslims gained control of the property, their first order of business was to put a domed roof on top so that Jesus couldn\’t come back and wall up the sections in between the archways. The end result, a small and dark room you have to pay to see.

On the inside of the chapel, there is a rock that supposedly has the indentation (the last indentation) of Jesus\’ foot that people venerate. I couldn\’t really see it myself, but hey, why not? Jessa also took this opportunity to explain that it was important for early Christians to be able to walk around the holy site and pray while walking, which explains why at least this chapel is circular. We followed in the steps of our spiritual ancestors and did the same, slowly walking around the place where Jesus ascended into heaven.
Like all the divisions we saw in the Holy Land, it may not surprise you that there are 2 other Ascension churches on Mount Olives (one for the Russian Orthodox Christians and another for the Lutherans), so I suppose depending on your denomination, you could choose another, perhaps more beautiful place to commemorate this event.
Glorious Mystery 2: The Ascension of Jesus into Heaven

You Sound Fluent: Church of Pater Noster
Next stop was basically a cave on Mount Olives where it is reasonably expected that Jesus and his friends probably hung out due to the respite from the heat. Ok, I can buy that. I\’d hang out in a cave too rather than walk around with the oppressive dun beating down unrelentlessly on me.
The cave at the Church of Pater Noster

Anywho, Jesus is believed to have taught in this cave and the crusaders built a church here and named it Pater Noster (Latin for Our Father). This implies that at least the crusaders probably thought the Our Father was taught here. Everything in the Bible has a physical location that remembers it basically, why would the Our Father be any different.

The Lord\’s Prayer in Every Language

This was another pay to enter locations and, interestingly, it is actually owned by the French. It has the same status as an embassy so we were standing in France, \”Bienvenue!” We entered the cave, looked around for a bit (it\’s really just a cave with a couple of benches for prayer or escaping the heat, how much can I really say about that?). As you leave the cave, however, you are face to face with the first of many inscriptions of the Lord\’s Prayer in 140 different languages. The first being French, as we were in France after all. We decided to pick out languages that were important to us to say out loud. I read the first one in French, as my father\’s side of the family is French and it was my language of study in high school. After I was done, Evan turned to me and looked impressed. \”You sounded pretty fluent\”. I laughed. I can sort of have at least a semblance of a Canadian accent when I speak French, but I am far from even being conversational. \”Thanks\”, I mumbled, not entirely believing him.

They even had the Lord\’s Prayer in Braille (multiple braille languages)

Jessa and Evan both said the Our Father in Spanish as Jessa is fluent in Spanish and Evan knows quite a bit of that himself. Evan took the responsibility of reading the German one out loud in reverence of his family heritage as well. We all read the English version and then the Latin version as those languages are culturally shared among us all. It was incredible to see all the languages. Like the Church of the Annunciation with all the depictions of Mary, it really brings to light how universal our church is and how many cultures and languages are represented here. They even had renditions in braille. There were so many languages I couldn\’t even hope to read and so many more that I had never even heard of.

That\’s a Massive Cemetery: Overlook to Jerusalem
The Cemetary on Mount of Olives. Nothing but Stone

The view of Jerusalem from Mount of Olives

We continued walking to our next destination when Jessa asked if we wanted a picture overlooking Jerusalem as we were starting to go down the hill and were unlikely to have that view again. Sure! We posed on the side of the road and took a couple of shots and just stood there for a while trying to take it all in. We were standing right next to the massive cemetery that I had mistaken for a desert while we were in Jerusalem and I was just now starting to appreciate the magnitude of it. I mean, it\’s really expansive and the stones just seemingly go on forever.

It\’s actually a little sad because a lot of the cemetery is dilapidated due to the turmoil over the years. Fighting has happened here and you can see its effects on the broken, cracked and worn stones. A lot of the cemetery is just neglected and contributes to the long list of ruins in the world. I think I have a general respect for cemetery and the dead. Most of the funeral or burial rites and traditions humans have are to help the living cope with their loss and so I find it extra sad that the cemetery is all but forgotten. The souls there are all but forgotten. We also saw what Jessa was talking about with Jews putting rocks on the burial stone instead of flowers, which only adds to the rock motif that engulfs the place.
It\’s a Straight Shot: Dominus Flevit (Jesus Wept)
Dominus Flevit Church Source

I\’m going to be honest with you, I had to jog my memory about this. When I looked at my notes, I couldn\’t for the life of me remember this place and now I remember why. While we went to the church grounds, we never actually went inside because they were having mass at the time that we were there. We saw the outside and walked around it, but never actually got to go in which is why I couldn\’t remember much about this place.

The inside of Dominus Flevit Source

We did see the view though, which is probably the most spectacular part about the church (looking at pictures of the inside there is a great window with the view, so maybe we didn\’t miss out that much at all).

This is the place where Jesus wept. Even the shortest verse in the bible gets its own church.
Anyways, what is really incredible about this church is the view. From this vantage point you can see: The Garden of Gethsemane, The Gate Jesus walked through on Palm Sunday, the Via Dolorosa and, ultimately, the Holy Sepulcher (where he died and was crucified). It is said that he wept over the destruction of Jerusalem and for his foresight of what was to happen to him personally. In his time, he would have seen the temple, in its gleaming white stone glory looking invincible. Here we are 2,000 years later and the temple is all but vanished and simply a part of the ruins the modern city is built on.
In this area there was also a grave of sorts with all these boxes. At first, because they look so small, they look like they are exclusively the remains of children who passed long ago, babies even. However, these are ossuaries and only hold the bones of an individual, so it didn\’t need to be as big as a whole person, just as big as the femur bone (the biggest bone in your body). This is similar, though not exactly like

the sarcophaguses that are found on the side of the road in the Galilee. Apparently in the Galilee, they were buried in the side of the hills, but through time and erosion they are essentially falling out which makes for an interesting, yet morbid scenery on your drive.

Sarcophagus on the side of the road in the Galilee
Tombs big enough for femurs

One Does Not Simply Kill an Olive Tree: The Garden of Gethsemane

The garden of Gethsemane

Our next stop was the Garden of Gethsemane. I wasn\’t sure what I expected. I think maybe a park with grass and a few trees here and there, but mainly an expansive park, like Central Park or Zilker. I guess when I pictured Garden in the Bible, it made me think of the Garden of Eden. This was, in fact, much smaller than I anticipated and much more man-created and maintained. It was, in truth, a garden. The plots in the center were perfectly square, each with an olive tree. Each square was part of the overall rectangle that was lined and bisected with gravel pathways. There were a significant amount of people there, so it wasn\’t the most peaceful place, but there is something calming about being among plants and trees.

Olive Tree

The olive trees are spectacular. It\’s apparently very hard to kill an olive tree. Even if you chop the whole thing down, as long as the roots are there, it will continue to grow. The bigger the tree, the more outgrowth, the older it is. When the tree grows too much, it will even stop producing olives (it will be suffocated by its new growth actually), so pruning is an absolute must. Jessa explained that the trees had been razed during the tumultuous history of Israel, so while the tree growth might never have been in the presence of Jesus, the roots most certainly were. It\’s a nice symbol of groundedness. You can cut off so much of our growth, but as long as the roots are firmly planted, we shall not die.

The most interesting of the trees was one whose seed had fallen and had actually begun growing a tree within the original tree from which it came. Olive tree-ception.
Sorrowful Mystery 1: The Agony of Jesus in the Garden

Who Turned Out the Lights?: The Church of All Nations
The seals of the nations who funded the church (USA seal in bottom left and top right corners)
Alabaster windows
The entrance door is shaped like
an olive tree

The church next to the Garden of Gethsemane is called the Church of all nations because a lot of countries contributed to its funding (including America). It is built over the rock where Jesus was believed to have prayed.

Because the church is dedicated to the Agony in the Garden, which happened at night, the entire church was designed to be dark, somber and sorrowful. This is helped along by the alabaster windows that are dark and let in little light.
Jessa told us it would be dark, so I didn\’t think anything of the fact that the main altar was dark as well, but apparently we went during \”lunch break\” and while it was open, the light was turned off. It really did set the mood, though.

The inside of the Church of all Nations

The mosaic on the outside of the church is remarkably stunning, probably one of the most striking pieces of artwork in the Holy Land. The gold on the huge mosaic shines radiantly in the sun and you cannot deny its beauty.
The exterior of the Church of all Nations

It\’s Not Technically the Coronation, But I\’m Counting It Anyways: The Tomb of Mary
Our last stop on the Mount of Olives was the Tomb of Mary. Truthfully, I\’m a little confused about all the traditions surrounding Mary and her tomb/dormition/assumption and which denominations have which traditions. The fact of the matter is, that we went to two places where Mary \”fell asleep\” / \”was buried\”, so I\’m going to count this as the Coronation of Mary (because I can\’t visit heaven yet….so a physical location for this rosary mystery would be impossible.
Truth be told, I don\’t really remember this small and dimly lit church. We have pictures, so I know we went there, but it didn\’t stick with me the way so many other places did. The church is owned by several denominations, which explains the lanterns and the orthodox artwork that is seen in many of the churches we\’ve seen.
Church at the Tomb of Mary

The tomb itself is, well a tomb. A rock. A rock that people put prayers and money on. I\’m still not sure what the money is for. Are there traditions that we can bribe the saints with monetary gifts or is this a way of tithing in support of the Franciscans that care for the spot? I still don\’t know.
The Tomb of Mary

Glorious Mystery 1: Mary is Crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth

Jesus Must Have Been Ripped: The Arrested Road and Giant Tombs
The Mitzvahs next to the Old Temple we passed on our trek

As we left the Tomb of Mary, I suddenly noticed we were at the bottom of the Mount of Olives. I suppose it was time to go back to Jerusalem and continue on our journey. We took the general path that Jesus would have gone up (been dragged up?) after he got arrested towards the high priest\’s house. So we started walking. And walking. And once we hit stairs leading up to the Old City, we started walking up.

Large Ancient Tombs

We did a lot of walking in our time in Israel and I remember that walking up the stairs to the old city was particularly tiresome because the stairs were so wide. Like almost like they aren\’t stairs at all, but platforms on top of each other. We had a joke that the pictures of Jesus being ripped were probably not far off from how he actually looked. He walked up Mount Tabor, for goodness sake! He had to have been pretty physically fit. This trek would have been nothing to Jesus. Buns of Steel: Jerusalem Style.

However, all was not tiresome, because along the way, we saw these huge 1st century tombs. I wish we had some perspective here. They were pretty big and impressive. Legend has it that they held David\’s sons, but that seems to not be the general scientific consensus. The tombs have been emptied (looted) from robbers over the years, so they don\’t really know whose they are, but they must have been important.
Circles vs. Squares: Bagels in the Jewish Quarter
We finally reached the Jewish quarter and we were just in time for lunch. How about something different. Let\’s go get bagels (with cream cheese and such), one of the most iconic Jewish foods of all time. To be completely honest, this was probably my least favorite meal. It\’s not that the bagel was bad or anything. It was fine. It\’s a bagel. There\’s only so much improvement one can make on the dense breakfast bread. Compared to the rest of the food, though, it was downright bland. It lacked the complex flavors of the falafel and hummus I was getting accustomed to.
We got our bagels and went to look for a table outside the small shop. Jessa looked around disappointedly, \”I guess, we\’ll have to go to the main courtyard area to eat\” she said. \”Why there are plenty of tables here?\” I said. \”Those tables are square, we can\’t eat on those.\”
Ok, so it\’s not circles and squares but Red vs. Green. Same general idea (Google Maps)

Everything here is Kosher. You can eat dairy (the bagel place). You can eat meat (McDonald\’s or whatever the place next door was). You CANNOT eat both at the same time. You cannot mix them, eat them together or even share a table. There are designated tables for which establishment you got your food at. Imagine being at a food court. You get some Marble Slab because you just want dessert and your friend goes to get some Panda express. You meet in the middle of the food court, eat and would never think twice. In Jerusalem, that same situation would require you to eat at separate tables if you were eating separate food types. You must decide. Meat or dairy and then sit accordingly.

This shows me how utterly difficult (if not impossible) it would be to be an orthodox Jew in American culture. Not only are most places not even remotely kosher (look at our obsession with bacon), but there would never be any separation from meat and dairy in almost any situation (cheeseburger, please). I sincerely wonder how Jewish Americans reconcile these types of things.
Ugh….Dates: Dessert with Hamatashan Cookies
I feel at this point it is almost obligatory to have dessert after every meal because it\’s delicious. Also, because Purim had just ended, the Hamatashan cookies that are so popular are now hard to find, at least the good ones. I picked up a chocolate cookie and was dismayed tha
t it was in fact dates rather than the smooth chocolatey goodness I very much desired. I suppose Purim really is over now.
Be Thou My Vision Only Dogs Can Here: St. Anne\’s Church
With all the lovely things to see, we often forget that we have other senses. St. Anne\’s church reminded us that what we hear can be as beautiful as any painting or mosaic.
St. Anne\’s Exterior

This is very well an example of not remembering. When the Crusaders came, there was a church here and they didn\’t know why. They didn\’t know what was important about that spot, so they deduced that it may have been where Mary was born (where her mother Anne lived near the Temple). So they built a church, called it St. Anne\’s and thought nothing of it.

It\’s visually a very plain church, simply made of stone and the best-preserved Crusader church in Jerusalem. It\’s pretty unremarkable with very little artwork and other things to look at. However, there is something remarkable about it. The acoustics are amazing. We\’re talking there is a 9-second echo in this place that can amplify a few voices to sound like a whole choir. It was this quality that saved it. When the Muslims came to destroy all the churches, they kept this one around as a concert hall for their boys\’ choir and the structure remains today (although now it\’s in the possession of the French).
St. Anne\’s Interior
To honor this beauty, Jessa led us in singing a few songs in the otherwise quiet church. It was a bit odd, actually. When you walk around all these churches, you try to remain quiet, as to not disturb anyone\’s prayer, so when we decided to openly and loudly sing in the middle of the church, with tourists and pilgrims all around, it was a very odd experience. Everyone was looking at us. Jessa started out with Be Thou My Vision, but she started it a bit too high for us (afterwards we joked that it was so high pitched that only dogs could here parts of it). I, sadly, only knew the first verse. We sang a couple more songs, Amazing Grace probably being one of them, but I\’m not sure of the other. When we were done and starting to leave the church, an older man started clapping and telling us encore and thanked us for our beautiful little concert we had just given him. I\’m very happy he appreciated it. I would have hated to get in another fight with a tourist.
As we left the area, by St. Anne\’s church, I noticed a beautiful garden, in fact, one more striking that then Garden of Gethsemane. The bright colors of the flowers were uplifting and offered a refreshing moment to the stark, stone church next door.

Garden at St. Anne\’s

The Five Porticos: The Pools of Bethesda

The excavation of the Pools of Bathesda

Right next to St. Anne\’s Church is an excavation site of the Pools of Bethesda. It\’s a relatively recent discovery, to find the pools that Jesus used to heal some of the sick in the Bible. They are beautiful and covered in moss. Apparently, in the Bible, when they describe the swimming pool (bath), they talk about it having 5 porticos (porches in English), however, all the baths they had ever seen only had 4. Some people used this to prove that John\’s gospel was not written by John and that it was probably written by someone later who didn\’t have knowledge of Jerusalem.

Byzantine Church ruins (the basement of the following iteration)

So, you can imagine everyone\’s surprise when in the 19th century an excavation was conducted and found a four-sided pool that had actually been bisected down the middle, giving it 5 porticos. Well that\’s awkward. I suppose now we have to reevaluate what we thought we knew about John\’s relationship to Jesus and maybe he wasn\’t being metaphorical after all.
The excavation also uncovered ruins of a byzantine church that you can actually see where they built on top of a more ancient church and used the last churches roof for their floor. It was nice to see how nature came over it and covered it in bright green. There\’s not a whole pool anymore, but at least it\’s not barren.
The pools of Bathesda
Not Made in China: The Ceramic Shop
Having friends with us has the distinct advantage of not getting ripped off by the shopkeepers, to put it bluntly. Shopkeepers in this city (well, every city, really) have a reputation for preying on unsuspecting tourists (of which there are always plenty) by marking up their prices, selling low-quality items, false advertising, etc. Jessa and Rodolfo know, at least, where to go to get a good deal where they won\’t cheat you or gouge you or lie to you.
In the middle of walking through the streets of the old city, Jessa opened an unassuming door on the wall to our right. (There\’s a door there? Who knew?) We walked into this small painted ceramic tile shop. This is the last remaining painted-ceramic tile shop in Jerusalem that is actually still made in Israel (there are others, but they have been imported from China). We looked around a bit and decided on getting a couple of the smaller rectangular tiles: one with the loaves and the fish (a very popular image in Israel) and one with a revised \”skyline\” of Jerusalem showing buildings in all the different faiths and representing the different quarters.
I Was Told To Give You This Note: Tony\’s Shop
Our last stop we had to make with Jessa was to Tony\’s shop, which was more of an everything kind of shop with a myriad of religious and cultural artifacts that tourists love so much. We were told at the beginning of the day that because Jessa had an English lesson with a priest in the evening, she would \”drop us off\” at Tony\’s shop and Rodolfo (after getting off work himself) would take over as being our tour guide in the meantime until Jessa was free to return. She led us to the shop, gave me a note to give to Rodolfo which outlined what we were supposed to do/see. She introduced us to the owner and fled off into the busy streets towards her English lesson she was responsible for.
We milled around the shop for a bit and decided that we really wanted an Icon of the Holy Family. Evan and I have been really drawn to the Holy Family as of late and thought that it would be the perfect icon to have in our home and it represents marriage, family and has Jesus, Mary and Joseph all in one image (can you really get better than that?). Originally we tried to look for a rather inexpensive small version, but we couldn\’t find a Holy Family one that we liked. We saw some Nativity scene icons and some that were Orthodox style in silver plating everywhere but their faces, but that didn\’t really appeal to us. We finally decided, after much hemming and hawing, that we would get a much bigger, and much more expensive Holy Family icon that was outlined in a silver frame. Best. Decision. Ever. I love it. It\’s beautiful. It\’s perfect. It\’s special because of what it represents and where we got it. I am so happy we didn’t settle on anything else. It was so very much worth whatever it cost (which I have no idea anymore anyways, so no skin off my back). I\’m happy we splurged. How often will we ever get to splurge on an icon from Jerusalem?
We bought some other things as well. I got a postcard for my boss (his only request) and we got some jewelry for Evan\’s mom, a Jerusalem cross for my mom and a few more things here and there. Rodolfo had met up with us and spent his time while we were shopping affirming us in our decisions. \”Oh, that\’s beautiful!\” \”They will love that.\” Let me tell you, it is very nice to have someone validate all your shopping decisions with such enthusiasm. What we as humanity could do with that kind of positive energy!
We also spent some time talking to the shopkeeper\’s teenage niece who was sitting in the shop with her uncle, like she had just come home from school and was waiting for something. We talked about Israel\’s military and how mandatory conscription would affect her.
\”Oh, I don’t have to enlist when I\’m 18.\” she said \”I\’m an Arab-Christian and only Jewish Israeli citizens have to enlist, which is good for me because I don\’t like war. I just want peace.\”
I have to say, I agree with her.
Like a child, I obediently gave Rodolfo the note that Jessa had written. It was his turn to babysit.
The Coptic Surprise: The Cistern in the Coptic Church
The most mysterious of places we went was what Jessa referred to as \”The Coptic Surprise\”. With a name like that, how can you not be totally intrigued? We followed Rodolfo into the Coptic Church to the right of the Holy Sepulcher. It\’s an interesting place. We passed through this church/monastery a couple of times on our way to and from the Holy Sepulcher. It seems to be contested between the Ethiopians and the Coptics. We passed by the small chapel where a monk sat outside the fence, near the door part separating the pass-through and the chapel seats.
Like so much of the artwork here, this chapel too had mosaics on the wall, but upon further investigation, the tiles were made of different dark brown and light brown wood chips that were artfully put together to form a pattern.
The Coptic (or Ethiopian) church in Jerusalem. Source
Rodolfo walked by the chapel and then led us upstairs, I think, I\’m not sure where in the building we went. We arrived at another chapel area, there were a couple more monks around and Rodolfo gave one of them some money. I couldn\’t help but feel like this felt secretive and almost bribe-like. The monk nodded silently in approval and we walked into a hallway that turned into a cave like area with metal stairs and water appearing on the stone below us. Before I could process where we might be, we stopped at an opening, the hallway became a massive cavern with a pond of water. This is a cistern, similar to the one that St. Helena found the cross. This one, however, still has water in it. It was dark and humid and very echo-y. We sang a praise and worship song to hear our voices reverberate off the sides of the cavern.

The Coptic Surprise! Source
Door to the courtyard (Karen for scale)

Like Alice in Wonderland: St. John the Baptist Church CLOSED
The next thing I knew we were back out on the busy streets of the old city, and similarly to Jessa with the tile shop, Rodolfo led us into a small, unassuming door wedged between two shops that I would never have noticed had we not been led there. Seriously, even trying to find the entrance on google maps seems an impossible task. Like Alice and Wonderland, it felt like we were journeying into a whole new world.
Anyways, after ducking into this small door (this can\’t be the main entrance) we were in a courtyard. It\’s actually surprising how much space there is beyond the streets. The streets wall-to-wall shops and people and it seems almost like they are just storefronts, walls of a maze. Well, all of a sudden we were in a courtyard of St. John the Baptist Church. Unfortunately, as dusk was setting upon us, the church itself was closed.
Inside the courtyard in front of St. John the Baptist Church
People live behind the walls of the city!
The top of the Lutheran Church

You Were Supposed to Do Them in Order: The Lutheran Church CLOSED

Not having luck at St. John the Baptist Church, Rodolfo brought us to the outside of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer only to find that it too was closed for the day. Apparently, when Jessa wrote her list of instructions, she wrote it in the order with which we were supposed to do them (being aware of closing times and such). However, Rodolfo didn\’t do them in order, more of a whatever\’s the closest thing, I guess. Jessa\’s perfectly planned out schedule was lost to the reality of the time.
Now what? Rodolfo thought for a moment \”What can I bring these two to?\” and then, like a lightbulb going off, he led us to one of, in my opinion, the most interesting places.
Getting a Camel through the Eye of the Needle: Russian Orthodox Church of St. Alexander Nevsky
Rodolfo brought us to a Russian building and, after talking with the front desk, so to speak and paying a small entrance fee we were free to explore the building. The front of the building looked like one of those houses-turned museums, with a grand sitting room set up exactly the way it must have looked when Russian aristocrats were milling about in the 1800\’s. As we moved closer to where the actual church was, Rodolfo stopped me and showed me a basket of skirts and scarves. They would both be required to wear within the church area, as that is Russian Orthodox custom.

The front room in the Russian Orthodox Complex
I put on the skirt over my jeans and loosely wrapped the scarf to cover my hair. I looked odd and not particularly flattering, however, due to my bright pink jacket and jeans with sneakers. Interestingly, this was the only time I had to wear a head covering. Jessa had given me a scarf to wear at the beginning of my stay in case we went somewhere that had this requirement, but due to the insane volume of tourists, it\’s not always such a strict policy.
I felt very traditional in my Russian Orthodox garb.

However, some clothing requirements are strictly upheld. It never occurred to Evan that wearing shorts might be prohibited (as we are walking around everywhere and comfort was the number one thing on his mind) until Jessa and Rodolfo kindly informed him that would not be ok. As a woman, I am somewhat more aware of my appearance, especially when what I wear could be deemed \”inappropriate\” in another country such as this. Being less than \”covered\” for women is sometimes ridiculed by certain male populations (particularly in cultures where women have to be completely covered nearly all the time) and walking around in a tank top in Nazareth becomes an outright scandal worthy of lewd comments from the opinionated men.

I\’m not saying that this doesn\’t happen in America. I mean, there are times when a woman walking along the sidewalk is subjected to catcalling and crude jokes. However, I don\’t notice it as much. Perhaps, I just don\’t get hit on nearly as much as other women, which could be the case because I\’m not necessarily \”hot\” or wearing particularly \”cute clothing\” most of the time. Nevertheless, I generally think of it as a general annoyance, but something that can be brushed off easily.
Here, that is not the case. It\’s not just that they are ogling at your body so much, but that your body is inherently sinful if it is at all exposed. That you are sinful and evil and \”deserve the ridicule\”. Skimpy clothing in America is so widespread it loses its power. So what if I wear shorts. I\’m in Texas. Everyone is wearing shorts. In Israel though, no one is wearing shorts, and when you show up in a conservative part of the city with bare legs, you can imagine the outcry.
Anyways, I will not go into a house of worship blatantly disrespecting the outlined dress code, regardless of how it looks on me. That\’s the real point of this digression.
The first thing we saw was an excavation of part of the Old City Wall. The walls of Jerusalem have moved a couple of times throughout history and parts can still be found. I think the significance of the wall being in this particular spot is to prove / show that Jesus was crucified and was buried (in the nearby Holy Sepulcher) outside the ancient city walls.
Huge Russian Icons lining the walls of the Church

We then walked into the main church area which was beautifully adorned with huge, lovely icons. It is customary to kiss the icon on the podium (maybe it\’s of the patron saint? I don\’t remember the person whose face I kissed) when entering and exiting the church area. The church was largely empty with an altar (an ancient one) in the center of the floor and a partition to where the priest would be behind to conduct mass. I\’m thinking that in the Russian tradition, the priest might only come out to give communion to the parishioners and spends most of the service behind the wall.

The Partition between the Priest and People ( I think this is the priest\’s side)
However, the most interesting part of the church was a section of ancient wall that held the city gate. Next to the large opening of the gate is a hole in the wall, carved out that a normal sized person would have to bend down to get through. This is \”The Eye of the Needle\”.
Ok, not the best picture, but the hole in the bottom left is the \”Eye of the Needle\”

There is a famous Bible verse that states, roughly, \”It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to go to Heaven.\” When I was taught about this teaching, I was told by my teacher that Jesus meant a literal camel and a literal needle. This seemed to me to be an odd metaphor, but what do I know. What was most disturbing about the teaching however is that if you follow that out to its logical conclusion, my teacher said it is impossible for the rich to get into heaven, which sounds very much to me like condemning a whole population of people in one fell swoop. That bothered me and felt off. Why would Jesus say something so incredibly metaphorical and weird? Is there really no hope for salvation if you have money?

What this place showed, however, was that the eye of the needle is actually a reference to a small gate into the city. During the day, the large gate would be open wide and camels and men alike could walk through without any issues. The \”Eye of the Needle\” was created for those times when you would arrive at night, after the gates were closed. A person could tie up their camel outside the gate, crawl through the \”Eye of the Needle\”, find a place to sleep for the night and come back to retrieve the camel in the morning. The metaphor makes a lot more sense when you think about it like that. It would be hard, very hard actually to get a camel through the \”Eye of the Needle\”, but surely more possible than a literal sewing needle.
The American Jesus: Holy Sepulcher (Part 2)
The day began winding down and we had to meet Jessa, who was going to meet us near the Holy Sepulcher, so we decided to spend our last moments with Rodolfo there. It was a lot less crowded this time and we spent a little more time going throughout the large church and looking at things we missed before. We saw the spot where the women stood while watching Jesus die. It is now commemorated by an eternal flame in a hanging lamp. Rodolfo also brought us to the very small Coptic chapel (right behind Jesus\’ tomb) to say a prayer and light a candle.
Among the tourists milling about, I noticed one man who was different than the rest. I also recognized him from other Holy sites we had gone to. I feel like he was in Bethlehem with us as well, praying in the back of Jesus\’s birthplace. Could that really be the same man?

The American Jesus Source
I noticed him because he was wearing a brown full-length robe and no shoes. His hair was long and generally unkempt. He was Caucasian. He looked like a monk, but I saw no one else in his particular garb, so I couldn\’t place the order. He didn\’t wear shoes. Was that against his order? What order is that? The more I saw him, the more it intrigued me until I finally broke down and asked Jessa if she knew what kind of monk he was.
\”Oh, he\’s not a monk\” she responded \”He\’s an American guy that dresses like Jesus, doesn’t wear shoes, and spends all of his time going to different Holy sites in Jerusalem. He talks to people about Jesus when people ask him what he\’s doing.\”
I wasn\’t expecting that. What an interesting calling to have.
 I Don\’t Mean to Rush Prayer, But…: Via Dolorosa – Rosary Style
You can see the old (non-square) and new
sections of the road as you walk along the streets
and pray (among the other shops and people).

We had a little bit of time, but not much, when Evan stated something that he wanted to do. (For those of you who know my husband, you know that this is and of itself is a huge accomplishment). He wanted to walk the Via Dolorosa while praying the Rosary (specifically the Sorrowful mysteries). We would also do the Stations of the Cross along the way. Jessa was supportive, but apprehensive about time. \”I don\’t mean to rush prayer, but we are meeting people for dinner at a certain time, so it has to be relatively quick.\” she said. Challenge accepted. We would start at the beginning of the Via Dolorosa and pray our way to the tomb of Jesus.

We started. \”Hail Mary full of Grace\” We maneuvered through the people in the road. \”The Lord is with thee.\” We moved over to the side when large motorized carts came whizzing past us. \”Blessed are thou amongst women,\” We noticed the sky getting darker, the sun wanting to go to sleep. \”And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.\” We walked by the bright colors of the secular shops which were beginning to wind down business and looked upon us indifferently as we devoutly made our way forward. \”Holy Mary\” We moved quickly and purposefully towards our destination, with determination in our eyes. \”Mother of God\” My eyes watched the ground as we traversed the old, worn stones. \”Pray for us sinners\” My legs burned as we walked quickly up the steps. \”Now and at the hour of our death.\” The words from my lips were making it difficult to keep up my pace as I needed more and more oxygen to fill my needy lungs. \”Amen\”. We arrived at the tomb in the perfect amount of time to finish the last verse of our prayer. We were tired because we walked quickly, but the spirit of our souls were elevated and serene.
You\’re Assigning Seats Just like Your Father! No…Yes: Jerusalem Hotel Restaurant
After the speedy prayer, we went in a more \”up-class\” restaurant at the Jerusalem Hotel. Upon looking online, I believe we ate at the Garden Restaurant portion. There we met up with some of Jessa and Rodolfo\’s friends from America (I don\’t quite recall exactly where, maybe the DC area? That sounds right.) The man was in the same department as Rodolfo at Hebrew University. We exchanged pleasantries and went to our table.

The Garden Restaurant at the Jerusalem Hotel Source
\”Jessa, you sit here and Karen, you can sit next to her and [other female friend, Nicole maybe?] can sit across form Karen. That way all the women can sit together, because that\’s important.\” Rodolfo started dictating.
\”You\’re assigning seats, just like your father.\” Jessa replied amused
\”No!\” Rodolfo protested dramatically, \”Well, yes\” he admitted sheepishly.
We laughed. Rodolfo always does whatever he can to accommodate others, even going so far as to assigning dinner arrangements. Rodolfo could make a killing in the wedding-industry, creating the perfect tables seating arrangements, even with the most difficult of family and friends.
By now, on our trip, I knew what to expect as far as food. There was hummus and pita and falafel and dishes I couldn\’t pronounce even if I did hear the name. Per usual, everything was delicious. I honestly don\’t think I could ever get really tired of those Middle Eastern meals. Additionally, we ordered a lemon and mint hookah to accompany our dinner, which was shared among us, really completing the sense of unity I felt.
We got to know Jessa and Rodolfo\’s friends, a couple. The girl was trying to learn Spanish, but was mentioning how difficult it was to learn in Israel where English is difficult enough to get by in, let alone providing a Spanish environment.
Jessa piped in, \”The dig at Magdala is virtually all Spaniards! You should come and help with the archaeological dig! It would be close to an immersion experience.\”
\”I\’m not so sure….\” Jessa\’s friend hesitated, I think she made a weak attempt at an excuse not to do it.
That\’s when I piped in. \”You should definitely do it. I mean, when are you going to get that chance ever again, to work on an archaeological dig in Israel? That\’s like the mother of all archaeological pursuits! I\’m only going to be here for a week, you are lucky enough to live here and take advantage of these once in a lifetime opportunities!\” Enthusiasm was dripping from my voice, as it so often does when I get excited, even if it\’s for someone else.
We talked of many things, fools and kings, and Doctor Who and where I could find a flowy, colorful skirt.
\”I know just the place\” Jessa replied.
Desserts and Skirts: Jaffa Center
It was now evening, the sun had gone down. We finished eating and then the obvious next step was dessert. Jessa was sure that the skirt shop in Jaffa Center would be open still and, what do you know, there was a darling bakery near there that would provide a delectable dessert. Our other dining companions agreed to accompany us on the trek as well, I mean who could resist one of the Jewish bakeries?

Jaffa Center at Night Source
We stepped on the train and were soon in front of a shop that had skirts of all types. You can actually find these in the States as well, two pieces of silky fabric that are randomly sewn together in a wraparound skirt. No two are alike! I found a pretty one with light blue on bottom fabric and white and navy blue on the top piece of fabric. It\’s my Israel skirt, very reminiscent of the Israeli flag.
Of course I enjoyed a chocolate filled fried pastry. While it may be getting old hearing about my favorite Jewish dessert, I just couldn\’t help myself. When life hands you perfection, it\’s hard to turn around and try something else!
No caption required.

We said goodbye to our new friends and headed home. Tonight was going to be an early night, because believe it or not, the following day would be one of the busiest days in Israel yet.

Next Up: All over Creation (Ein Karim, Hezekiah\’s Tunnel and the Dead Sea)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *