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Country #9: Israel

April 17, 2011

After our night in the desert, a very long border crossing, and having some difficulty finding our accomadations, we finally arrived to Jerusalem.  My mom found the apartment we were staying in for the week online and it was great for us during our stay.  It had a washer and dryer which always makes Steven and I very happy!

Our place was in a Hassidic Jewish neighborhood and we were staying right by the Mahane Yehuda Market (aka The Shuk), which is a large market in Jerusalem.  We made several trips to the shuk throughout our stay including on the first day when we stocked up on food to last most of the week.  Also, since Saturday is the Shabbat (Sabbath) many restaurants are closed, so we wanted to make sure we had plenty of food!

Procession down Via Delorosa

Our first day in Jerusalem we decided we should see the Via Dolorosa which is the path that Jesus carried the cross.  Every Friday afternoon, Christians gather in a large procession, led by the Franciscans, to follow the Via Dolorosa and we thought that might be a neat experience.  We arrived a little early so decided to walk the path ourselves before joining the large group and made sure we got to see everything up close.  Then, at the appointed time, we went to the meeting place and joined the large group.  It was pretty amazing to see all of the different people there from all over the world.   The path we took eventually ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which is where Jesus died on the cross and rose from the tomb a short distance away.

Olive Trees, the Silent Witnesses

The next day, we had a driver take us up to the Mount of Olives which overlooked the Old City of Jerusalem.  It was a beautiful view and a great day for it.  He then took us down to the Garden of Gethsemane where a church had been built.  However, my favorite part was the garden outside of the church that had olive trees that were around when Jesus came there to pray the night before he was denied and arrested.

The driver then took us on to Bethlehem in the West Bank, where a guide showed us around the Church of the Nativity – which, as you probably guessed, is where Jesus was born.  At one point, we went down below the church into a cave where we were able to touch the spot where Jesus was born and where the manger stood.  It was wonderful to see but everyone was shoving and hurrying you along, which was not so great.  The area was also covered in material and decorations, so it made it difficult to see the actual rock.  Still, it was a great experience, although I am not sure how they figured it was the actual spot where the event took place.

The Dome of the Rock

From there, we went out to a nearby field that could have been where the shepherds were greeted by the angel telling them, “I bring you good news of great joy.”  There was a church built there and it was not nearly as chaotic as the birthplace church.  It was serene and peaceful and I enjoyed seeing it and imagining what it must have been like thousands of years ago.

Another day, we visited the Dome of the Rock but I don’t have a ton to say about it.  The visiting hours are very restricted and we waited in a huge security line to get in.  Then I was almost not allowed to go because of a cross in my purse that we bought earlier in the day.  Luckily the security guard was nice and let me in as long as I promised not to take the cross out of my purse or tell anyone.  Once inside the walls, you are not actually allowed to go inside the dome, just stand around the outside and take pictures.  Then, Steven and I got in trouble because we were taking a picture with our arms around each other…oops.  Apparently boys and girls are not allowed to touch at all.   

The Western Wall

The Western Wall (also known at the Wailing Wall) was very interesting to see.  It is considered the most sacred site in the Jewish faith and probably one of the places we spent the most time.  The wall lies on the western side of the Temple Mount and is a hot button issue for Jews and Muslims.  It was divided in half by a barrier for women to go one way and men the other.  As well, it was required to wear a head covering and dress modestly once entering the area.  There were many people praying and placing small pieces of paper with prayers in-between the cracks.  We tried to get a tour of the area below and behind the wall, but unfortunately we waited too late and it was all booked.

Inside Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem is the holocaust museum in Jerusalem and where we spent the afternoon of our last day.  It is set on the outskirts of the city in a forest that is a very pretty setting.  We spent several hours there but could have spent much longer…we got kicked out at closing time.  I learned a lot from the museum and thought it was really well done.  They have numerous videos of survivors and hearing their stories is very moving.  After it closed, we walked around the grounds to several other memorials – one for children, one for non-Jews that died, one that showed a railcar that was used to transport people to concentration camps, and more.  The Holocaust Museum in DC was always one of our favorites and Yad Vashem may not be on the typical church group route but I am very glad we went. 

One thing I have not mentioned yet is that I got to buy a manger scene on the Via Dolorosa.  I think it is gorgeous and just what I had been looking for to display every Christmas.  It is made entirely out of olive wood with intricate carvings.  Plus it has a built in music box for kids to wind and play.  Also, we found out too late that we could have visited the Knesset, which is the Israeli Legislature, and witnessed a session.  This really disappointed Steven who has been all about seeing the various government buildings in each country we visit.

At the Western Wall on our respective sides

While it was great to see all of these sites and visit where Jesus walked, it was hard to imagine things in His time.  Everything seems so overly commercialized and everyone is trying to sell you something, particularly in the Muslim quarter.  Then, different denominations fight over who has the rights to certain areas and everything has multiple churches built over it.  I am still glad we got to see it all and would recommend for anyone to go.  It will certainly make the Bible come alive when I read but it was still much different than I expected.  We would absolutely love to go back but I think next time it will at least be with a church group along with a pastor.

Jen

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