As exchange programmes go, the customary travel scene has to take form one way or another, in order to steer clear of guilt, regret and missed opportunity to find oneself while standing a top a mountain someplace. Our first trip outside Tel Aviv and a mid-week break from college, our skin tingled with the urge to feel heat and sun in full force and revive our dull skin. Having our bums growing into the mattress and fingers into the keyboard was a situation that had reached its unwanted peak. It was time.
Our group of exchange folk and close friends from college headed to the capital, and one of the must see places in israel, Jerusalem. It is the largest city in terms of both geographical area and population size in the country. A holy city for three of the world’s major religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—Jerusalem has a long and tumultuous history, during which it has been home to people of many nationalities and faiths.
Knowing fully that we were to wake up at 6am to catch the 7.30am bus, we made do with hasty packing and got to bed by 4am. Planning ahead was most definitely not our strong point, and “indians are always late” na. But we made it! Even German Felix, who showed up on the dot (as usual) was shocked. Dot or not, India won this time.
A bus, train and just an hour later, we were almost there. The en route scenery on either side was more than picturesque. Families all geared up and headed in our deirection, along with lush green fields and magical amusement parks in the distance, it was a great way to start the day.
On arriving, we immediately felt a part of the large tourist vibe that plagued our surroundings. We met at Jaffa gate, from where you could immediately tell the new parts of the town from the old. In short time arrived the rest of our gang along with our lovely guide for the day, Dichla (spelt like this I hope). She was the most wonderful, free spirited and insightful person, having spend years in the deserts of the middle east and guiding tours in all parts of israel for over 14 years. We were in great hands.
Today, the status of Jerusalem remains one of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We were immediately aware that Jerusalem was divided into four distinct quarters – Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian. We wandered about, and were allowed to pass through some areas, while not allowed through some parts, the residents of which did not wish to be ogled at by the inflow of tourists. Quite understandable, given that we were being guided through intimate residential lanes and watching residents do everyday activities while being told about them. It was all quite strange but everyone seemed used to this. The lanes between the quarters were beautiful, peaceful and adorned with flowers and things of almost artificial vibrance.
We caught snippets and bits of all four quarters, that were all interestingly similar to each other architecturally , but differed in its people, attire and its markets. I must say the Muslim market was something of a treat. We were all almost lost in the crowd and bustle of the market, but found each other in good time, each with something new on their neck or wrist.
Finally, we reached what most travel all the way to Jerusalem to see. Temple Mount. It is one of the most important religious sites in the Old city of Jeruslam and has been used as a religious site for thousands of years. At least four religions are known to have used the Temple Mount – Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Roman religion.
The golden dome in center of Temple mount is a shrine called the Dome of the rock. The site’s significance stems from religious traditions regarding the rock, known as the Foundation stone, at its heart, which bears great significance for Jews, Christians and Muslims. The long wall just in front of it is known as the Western or “wailing” wall, a site for Jewish prayer and pilgrimage for centuries. The wall is separated by a barricade to separate women and men’s praying areas.
We took ten minutes to wander about. Around us were mothers, children and young adults all directing their prayer at the wall. Some crying, some chanting silently, the name ‘wailing’ wall didn’t need time to figure out. Even as an observer, you could feel something, perhaps an uneasy sense of reality or a flicker of ones own deep desires. Being amongst a bunch of believers and non-believers, it was easy to tell that this environment had an impact on each one of us regardless. To think that people travel miles to this one place, it took us a fair amount of discussion to realize that this surpassed our individual beliefs in god, a higher being, science or logic. It was simply knowing that a single place was at the receiving end of millions of peoples hopes and prayer, every single day.
Wedged between the crevasses of the stone that scaled the entire 187 feet of exposed wall, were folded bits of paper containing years and years of hope.
We headed inside the temple of Holy Sepulchre, a place that is said to hold the remains of the tomb of christ and crucifiction site. We made our way to the area above where the sacred rock is said to be encased. It is of special significance as it is said to be the place where Abraham was about to sacrifice his son and from where the Muslim prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven. A small hole in the ground allowed people to touch the rock, and the queue went on for a while.
It was all too beautiful, from the intricacy and detail of the craftsmanship to the sheen and lustre made more magical by the glow of candle light all around. It was a moment to pause, and soak in the majesty if it all.
Inside the church, is also a slab which is said to be where Christ’s body was laid and wrapped for burial. People were praying at by the stone and kissing it, laying out photographs and idols. As I nestled myself in a corner for sometime and watched people come and go, I noticed at least six women cry while others caressed and kissed the slab lovingly.
The Golden Lampstand, made of pure gold, is said to have been destroyed in the old temple, and now restored to its original form.
This cool man.
We finally headed out, and made our way to a very famous terrace cafe in Jerusalem, that one could never hope to find on ones own. A quick decision to head to the rooftop with Shay and Johanna proved to be the best decision taken all day. The view stretched as far as the eye could see, and what the eye could see was beautiful domes, mosques and weathered homes for miles. It was a timely arrival as the Azaan sounded from all around us, and the wind blew graciously in our direction. The sun set with its orange hue cascading all over the city and we spent what felt like a long time just listening.
As we made our way back to Tel Aviv, one slept like a log after a few out of the window shots and what was a long, long day. So much information, so much internal turmoil and so many questions. We all left with a sense of having learnt something, whether it was of a new religion, or just learning to be accepting, Jerusalem proved to be everything we heard of and more.
Lilah Tov 🙂