Destinations, Middle East

Sights and Sounds of Jerusalem

March 9, 2009 • By

Jerusalem is much more than a city.  It’s an enormous part of what is called the Holy Land and represents cultures from all over the world.  I’m going to try my best to give you a glimpse of the sights and sounds of the city.  I started my journey of Jerusalem walking near the Old City on Ben Yehuda Street, which consists of a random mix of young and old, reformed orthodox, college students, tourists and just about everyone else.  It made for great people watching as the religious people passed out leaflets and tried to entice the non-religious to become more active, while the younglings enjoyed falaffel and flirted with other students studying abroad.  I overheard many a lively conversation –especially on shabbat– as the chattered switched back and forth from where people would be feasting to what needed to be finished before sundown.  Jill and I spent most of the day time wandering the markets and neighborhoods and checking out the people.  We took a walking tour that led us on the fringes of an ultra-orthodox area where time has stood still.  The people of Mea She’Arim refuse modern conveniences and do not have electricity.  They live simply and religiously minutes away from the Old City.  We chose not to walk through the neighborhood as signs indicated many a tourist had invaded their privacy.  The area seemed a bit eerie to me as the men were completely covered in long dresses and their paseas(spelling) and beards grew quite long.  Even the children looked different and I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable staring but I couldn’t help myself.

In Jerusalem, the city grinds to a halt on shabbat.  A ghost town might enjoy more action as most of the Jewish people even if they are not religious celebrate a day of rest with family and friends.  With that being said, the Western Wall in the Old City is hopping as Jews assemble here in large numbers for prayer.  Jill and I decided to go to the Wall a little late so much of the revelers already departed for dinner.  For me, it was a very special experience.  I stood before the wall thinking of my family and friends and those who have passed on before me and I began to weep.  I do not consider myself a religious person but I know I felt God’s presence.  As I watched the people around me praying before this wall with such believe and devotion to God,  I realized life is not about seeing it’s about something even more simple.  It’s about faith.

After my divine moment, Jill and I decided to make our way to dinner.  We checked out the American Colony Hotel in the Muslim Quarter of the city.  The hotel is a swanky mix of trendy and classic and caters to journalists, dignitaries and tourists.  We enjoyed a great meal and called it a night but I do want to add all the wait staff and cab drivers for the night were Arab Israeli’s as Islam does not prevent Muslim’s from working on Friday.

As Jews were still honoring the Sabbath, I took a Christian tour of the Old City and New City.  Starting my tour high above the city walls, Mt. Scopus and Mt. Olives give sweeping views of the city’s historic sights.  The Old City consists of five areas:  The Armenian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Muslim Quarter and the Temple Mount.   No one can argue that Jerusalem represents the history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  At each turn, there is a mosque, synagogue and church with a history dating thousands of years.  To name a few:

  • Dome of the Rock – located in the Muslim Quarter and only open a few hours a day.  It’s the place where Abraham offered up his only son to God.  The original rock still exists and a mosque now surrounds the religious foundation.
  • Mt. Zion – King David’s Tomb and the place believed to be where Jesus had the Last Supper
  • Via Dolorosa – a route outlining the Stations of the Cross and the death of Jesus Christ
  • Church of the Holy Sepluchre – The ground believed to be where Jesus was crucified and buried in the Christian Quarter
  • Outside the City Wall, the Church of Gethsemane – the last place Jesus prayed before being sentenced to death.
  • David’s Tower – the Citadel

Walking the cobble stoned streets and seeing the faces of the people is part of the Old City experience.  Face after face tells a different story.  Each gate/entrance to the Old City shares a history of a city at peace but constantly in turmoil.  As I examined the sights, I couldn’t help but struggle with picking a side.  Should I support the Palestinians or the Israelis?  I decided not to go that route and just consume myself with information.  As a Christian, visiting Israel and Jerusalem specifically is my history.  I’ve studied the stories of the Bible since I can remember.  Yes, I questioned them but for the most part I learned to use them to make sense between right and wrong.  Having traveled through Egypt and Ethiopia, places where history revealed itself in ancient writings,  I find it interesting that the stories of the Bible were in fact not written down until much later.  As Jews, Christians and Muslims, we take these stories and make them a part of our life rather innocently.  Many people argue none of the stories of the Bible occurred but what about the evidence of a great flood, a man who people considered a healer, the plagues etc.  I guess we will never know but for me I choose to believe.

Similar to the Old City, there are many different neighborhoods in Jerusalem.  Everyone sort of sticks to his or her own.  There are ultra-orthodox areas, reformed, Greeks, Armenians, Catholics, Israeli Arabs, non-practicing Jews, Ethiopians, Asians.  Of course this is my opinion but I do not get the sense that outsiders are welcome in certain communities.  I cannot even get into the whole Palestinian Territories as that will have to wait another day.  If nothing else, Jerusalem is a city of nations and should be preserved accordingly.  The beautiful sights and the sounds of the people should not be abandoned.  This is a city we should all be fighting to preserve whether it’s green or purple, Israeli’s or Palestinians.