Browsing Tag


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.

Destinations, Middle East

The Dead Sea oohh laaa laahhh

March 5, 2009 • By

EVERYONE MUST VISIT THE DEAD SEA NOW.  It’s an incredible body of water that straddles itself between Jordan and Israel much below sea level at the lowest point on Earth.  If you can overcome the fierce smell of sulphur with the desire to have cotton-soft skin, then I promise the Dead Sea is the place to go.  There is something surreal about floating in the Dead Sea and feeling your wounds burn as you stare up at a beautiful sunrise or sunset.  It’s easy to allow this remarkable body of water to engulf your limbs.  The desert sand mountains that reach far into the sky make for a splendid backdrop. Arriving in Ein Gedi at noon, Jill and I decided to stay at the Ein Gedi Kibbutz.  I mentioned before that the Kibbutz is a place of community living.  In our particular Kibbutz, we looked out on a spectacular mountain range on one side and the Dead Sea the other.  It’s estimated that the Dead Sea will completely evaporate in the next 50 years.  It is only about 50 some km and the lack of water in Jordan and Israel is depleting the Sea’s natural resources.  I’m sure industry and humankind is not helping maters.  Plus, the pure make up of the Dead Sea, (the lowest point on Earth) creates an entirely different dynamic making it nearly impossible to restore the water levels.

After floating in the Dead Sea, Jill and I received some amazing spa treatments.  It wasn’t fancy but really if I am on the shores of the Dead Sea do I need the Four Seasons?  I think not.  I decided to get a bit crazy and go for the Dead Sea salt wrap and Swedish massage.  The wrap may have been the best experience of my life. At first, I thought the technician was scrubbing so hard she would be removing an entire layer of my skin then figured this was the process….scrub so hard the victim won’t have any skin left and a fresh new layer will emerge…in three years.  Thankfully, I came out of the process glowing and wishing my skin always looked this good.  My skin wrap/peel left me feeling so refreshed I didn’t even want to chance a massage but after 3 1/2 weeks of carrying a backpack I realized a massage was necessary.  I ducked into a parlor completely exposed to find Nadia the Russian goddess who ripped up my shoulders and said to me she had never seen a back as tight as mine in three years.  f she only had met my shoulders in NYC,these newly traveled shoulder were in fine shape compared to the stress of city living.

After returning from the spa, we dined on a Kibbutz dinner which consisted of freshly grown fruits and vegetables where of course I devoured their sampling of desserts.  I kept telling myself it was preparation for my climb to Massada but I am not really sure how I can justify the pralines and fudge sauce I devoured at breakfast.  I set the alarm early to watch the sunrise over the Dead Sea.  From Ein Gedi, we traveled few miles to Masada and the mountain top fortress Herod constructed.  It’s literally a city on top of a steep mountain. Atop Mt. Massada, Herod created a world ahead of his time but his greed and insecurity led to the suicide of many Jews who refused to let the Romans conquer them as slaves.  The views alone of the desert and the Dead Sea are powerful but when I climbed the Snake Path to the top of Mt. Massada and looked beyond the stones androck, I realized the magnitude of this ancient accomplishment.  The commanding views are nothing when I considered the struggles of the Jewish people who were just trying to establish a secure homeland for their people even in the time of Herod.

After a rest from climbing, Jill and I headed to Jerusalem about two hours from the Dead Sea.  Jerusalem on first sight is breathtaking.  It’s an ancient city that combines a blend of new and old and a unique mix of history and politics.  I’m not sure foreigners can even understand the power of this city.  Jill and I entered the Old City at the Jaffa(Yaffa) Gate, which looks like a market from afar.  Further down the cobble-stoned street, a city within a city emerges.  There is a massive wide open space that gives way to the Western Wall or Wailing Wall as it is often referred.  Hundreds of people journey to this one particular spot that Jews consider the most holy of places in the world.  To watch people pray at the wailing wall is one thing; but to maintain composure as people place notes of hope and love in between the stone layers is quite another.  I find the experience humbling even if you are not religious especially as I watched men dancing for joy and all Jews backing up to exit the wall as one would never turn their back on God.  It was truly one of those surreal moments where leaving the scene speechless speaks volumes.