The Garden Tomb was by far my favorite place in Jerusalem; there is a sacred, peaceful feeling in the garden. Even though it was full of tourists when we visited it in the morning, everyone was quiet and respectful, and it was just beautiful. Unfortunately we didn’t spend very much time there because it was so crowded, but it was still nice.
It is very near the bus stop that we used to get to Bethlehem. In fact, the bus stop is located right under Skull Hill, so it was easy to find after we’d walked to the lookout point in the garden and saw it.
Bus number 124 drops you off at the checkpoint, so although my friend Brooke recommended taking bus 21 (which would take you around the checkpoint), Andrew insisted we take # 124, just so that we could have the experience.
The bus ride was quick and luckily we didn’t have a hard time at the checkpoint, either. The minute we’re identified as Americans we’re waved through pretty much anything.
The wall though, is awful. It’s a concrete scar zigzagging across the landscape. It seems to promote fear and hatred more than safety and peace.
The Israeli side is quite pristine; the Palestinian side, however, is covered in graffiti and smeared with human defecation.
The religions listed on this hand are Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, in case you can’t make it out. And sorry about the swear word…the people are angry; I can hardly blame them. I wouldn’t want to be cut off from my homeland and livelihood and be forced to live on a little strip of land behind a huge wall with snipers looking down on me all the time like I’m some kind of criminal just for being alive.
We hired a cab from the wall and he drove us to all the touristy sites before depositing us back at the wall. He didn’t want to drive us to just one place and we couldn’t convince him to just drop us downtown, but it ended up being fine. We made friends with him and he ended up shooing all the other taxi drivers trying to get us to go other places away, telling them all about us, what we were doing, that we’re Mormons and don’t drink tea or coffee or alcohol, that we don’t smoke, and that Andrew’s been studying Arabic for years.
It was nice to have someone else waving away the cab drivers for us!
Our cab driver took us to the Shepherd’s Hill, which is supposedly where the angel came to the shepherds to tell them of the baby Jesus. There’s a chapel marking the spot, but I’m not sure how exact the location is.
It was fun to look out over the hills, though, and imagine what it would have been like to be a shepherd there on that holy night. We even saw a shepherd herding his sheep and goats on the hillside.
We also visited the Milk Grotto, where supposedly a drop of Mary’s milk fell while she was nursing baby Jesus. There are a lot of traditions surrounding this event—one that Jesus caught the drop of milk and that is what gave him his power, and another that the milk turned the stone white and that mixing it with your drinking water will make your breast milk stronger. There are probably other tales.
Next we went to Manger Square and visited the Church of the Manger. It is built over the spot where tradition holds the baby Jesus was born; the church is one of the oldest churches in the world and has written records dating back to around 100 AD marking it as “the place,” so it likely is.
Although I doubt the star on the floor marking the exact place the Savior was born is really the exact spot. I tried to imagine marking the exact “spot” Rachel was born and couldn’t figure out anyway to really do that.
We also visited an olive wood shop that sold overpriced carvings. We didn’t buy anything there, but Rachel and I did go up onto the roof to use a doorless bathroom guarded by a dog.
Our taxi driver wanted to take us to visit some monasteries as well, but we had other things on our itinerary so he dropped us back off at the wall. We kind of got stuck going through the checkpoint because we couldn’t figure out how to get past the turnstiles. None of them would turn.
Finally a Palestinian man who was at the checkpoint with us yelled for us to come to a different turnstile than the one we had been standing at. We had been periodically checking them all. There are red and green lights above them and you can only go through if the light is green. They were all red…until now.
“This one is working!” he yelled, “Come quickly!”
So we ran over there and made it back to the Israeli side after being “stuck” in Palestine for about 20 minutes.
We caught bus 124 back into Jerusalem and got dropped off at Damascus Gate around 1:30, whereupon Rachel announced she had to go to the bathroom and was very, very hungry. And thirsty.
I asked her if she could hold her business for a half hour until the Garden Tomb opened again so that we could use a clean restroom. She said she could, so we found another falafel place, bought some lunch, and went to eat outside the gates to the Garden Tomb.
When it opened we were just finishing up our lunch. Two or three other people arrived and went inside before we did. It was perfect; I highly recommend showing up right when the gates open. If the garden was peaceful before, now it was absolutely tranquil. We were able to take some better pictures by the tomb and spend some time pondering and feeling the spirit.
Opening the door to the tomb and finding it empty inside was very powerful, much more powerful than being herded in and out of the tomb in a line of tourists. I’m so grateful for the atonement of the Savior, for the gift of resurrection, and for the hope of eternal life.
In light of my friend Ryan’s death, I almost want to end this post here because knowing that my family has been sealed together, and that Kate and Ryan were sealed together as a family, gives me such comfort. The Savior made it possible for us all to conquer death; Ryan is not here, but he will be reunited with his little family again for all of eternity. And that’s a wonderful, beautiful thing.
We did do more in Jerusalem on this day, so I suppose I will carry on. Andrew wanted to visit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. Andrew has relatives who died at Auschwitz (and Nazi relatives who worked at Auschwitz…) and he did a Holocaust remembrance ceremony for his Eagle Scout project. He’s wanted to visit Yad Vashem for years, so we couldn’t not go.
Unfortunately, children under the age of 10 aren’t allowed in the museum and we didn’t find out that little detail until we got there; guidebooks need to start mentioning those kinds of things. We split up and Andrew watched Rachel while I went through with Patrick and Joseph; then Patrick and I watched Rachel while Andrew went through and Joseph continued on.
Patrick and I made it back to Andrew with three minutes to spare before they locked the doors and didn’t let any visitors in. He had to book it to get inside, but he made it.
It’s a beautiful museum with some very poignant displays. At one point there was a pit full of scorched shoes; glass covered the shoes and you could walk over them to get to the next part of the exhibit. It was amazing to see how many shoes there were.
I also liked all the interviews they did with concentration camp survivors and all the personal stories they had up on the wall.
I’ll admit to being a bit of a World War II fan, myself, and for years my favorite book as a child was Number the Stars. Fan is not really the word I’m going for since I think the Holocaust was a terrible thing and that war, in general, is horrible…I suppose it’s hatred that draws me to the subject. I don’t understand how one group of people can collectively hate another group of people so intensely. Hate is a difficult emotion for me to understand at all. I understand fear and anger and frustration, and I suppose all those things fuel hatred, but I still don’t get it.
Walking through the museum was confusing for me, as well. Words like “emancipation” and “freedom” and “rights” were being thrown around, telling of the Jews struggle to gain such things.
I realize that the Holocaust was much worse than what is happening to Palestinians in Israel. However, as the museum itself pointed out, the Holocaust started by defining people as “others,” by putting those “others” behind walls, and then slowly taking their rights and livelihood away until they are no longer thought of as citizens, or even as people. I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Who is building walls now? Who is promoting fear and hatred of ‘the other’ now?”
At the same time I admire the strength and bravery of the Jewish people for enduring such harsh treatment for so long; I think they deserve a place to worship freely and to rebuild their traditions and culture. I just don’t think they should trample on the rights of other people to do so.