Monday, August 31, 2009

Jerusalem, day 2 (Aug. 28)

Our first item of business for Thursday was to buy the boys some kippas/yarmulkes so that they could officially visit the Western Wall. Non-Jews can visit the wall as long as they are appropriately dressed, which for men includes a hat.

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They actually give out disposable paper kippas to people who don’t have them, but we didn’t know that until after we had already purchased real ones. Real ones are cooler, anyway, and much more authentic. Patrick got accosted by a Rabbi on his way to the wall.

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The Rabbi stepped in front of him and said,

“What’s you’re name?”

“Patrick,” Patrick answered truthfully. You don’t lie to a Rabbi.

“What’s your wife’s name?”

“I don’t have one.”

“We will find you one, we will!” the Rabbi assured him, placing his hands on Patrick’s head.

It was all a little awkward, especially when the Rabbi asked for money. Maybe he wasn’t a real Rabbi, even though he claimed to be, because asking for money at the Western Wall is against the rules. Patrick pushed his way past the “Rabbi” and made it to the wall with Andrew and Joseph and the rest of the men on the men’s side who were there to pray.

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From up close you can see just how many prayers have been stuffed into the cracks in the wall. Many people come with prewritten notes or armed with paper and pen so that they can put their supplication directly into the wall…except for on Shabbat, when Jews abstain from writing (perhaps not all Jews, but definitely the more traditional ones; there are signs asking you not to write notes on Shabbat). According to Wikipedia more than a million notes are placed in the wall every year. The notes are collected twice a year and buried at the Mount of Olives.

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The men’s side of the wall is a little more interesting than the women’s side of the wall because Jewish men use more ceremonial clothing than Jewish women. A lot of the men put on the tefillin on their arm and head when they approach the wall.


I don’t think I saw any of the women doing much of note. They were much more serious about backing away from the wall than the men seemed to be, though. They believe the wall is so holy that you shouldn’t turn your back on it; they all walk away from it backwards. While I was approaching it, a little girl was whining to her mother,

“Do I still have to walk backwards? When can I stop?”

Truthfully, I see her point. Rachel and I were careful to also walk backwards away from the wall and it was kind of tricky. I spent most of my time trying to sneak peeks behind me to make sure I wasn’t going to bump into anybody else or trip on an unexpectedly huge crack instead of continuing to reverence the wall. It seemed like most of the women turned around once they reached the gutter thing in the sidewalk, so we turned around there, too.

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After visiting the Western Wall again, we wound our way over to the Garden of Gethsemane. We explained to Rachel that the atonement happened there, or around there, and she decided that she’d call it Jesus’ Garden (alternatively Jesus’ Park). For the past few days she’s been asking to go back to Jesus’ Garden. Only today did she learn how to say Gethsemane and it’s really understandable only if you know that she’s trying to say that word.

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The garden was a lot smaller than I expected it to be, but the trees were definitely very old. The garden is very close to the Old City; I always pictured the place being farther away and maybe higher up on the hill…but like I said, this garden was incredibly small so it’s possible that in Biblical times it was larger and took up more space up the hill, farther away from the city.

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Poor Rachel spent quite a lot of time in the backpack. We let her out to run around when we could, but Jerusalem is so hilly that having her walk everywhere wasn’t really an option. She got quite sick of it sometimes and would start whining and thrashing around, throwing Andrew off balance.

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From the Garden of Gethsemane we headed up the Mount of Olives. We wanted to visit the Orson Hyde Memorial Gardens and various churches on our way to the top. Unfortunately we didn’t find the garden and all the churches were closed so we ended up just walking straight up. It was a tough climb (especially for me, I think, with how I’ve taken to waddling recently) but we all made it to the top somewhat alive. The views we got of the city along the way were amazing. The whole perspective of the city changed dramatically, even after climbing just a few steps higher. The view from the top was especially amazing.

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I can’t tell you how depressing it was to reach the top only to find nothing open. Luckily we were able to find a store to buy some cold water. We had water with us, but by this time in the day it was warm and old tasting, which will do in a pinch, but cold water is ever so much more refreshing. We sat on a bench in the shade in a park and rested for a few minutes. We were definitely overheated.

After fruitlessly haggling with various taxi drivers we decided our only option was to hike back down to the bottom of the Mount of Olives. When we passed the Chapel of the Ascension (which is actually a mosque; I don’t know why all the signs say chapel) on our way back down a car chugged up right in front of it and stopped.

A man ran out and flipped open the hood. The engine was hissing and steaming. It was definitely overheated from its climb, as well. The Mount of Olives is perhaps more accurately described as a Wall of Olives than a Mount. It’s quite steep and since it’s paved and the pavement is well-worn, it’s a slippery climb. I don’t know how cars make it up in the winter. Anyway…the man hit the radiator cap and it flew off like a champagne cork, releasing a geyser of steam that Old Faithful could rival. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

What that car needed was a rest in the park in the shade with some nice cold water.

The hike down was easier than the hike up, but we’re definitely feeling the burn even days later. We were so tired when we reached the bottom that we opted to find a cab to take us to Mount Zion. We didn’t feel like climbing another hill, but we ended up having to since it took us forever to find a taxi, but we found a nice view of the Chapel of All Nations and the Russian Orthodox church.

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On Fridays, which is the Islamic day of worship, security at the Old City, which is already rather hefty, gets quite unbreachable. Al-Aqsa is ranked the third most important mosque, after Mecca and Medina. It’s a smaller mosque across from the more famous Dome of the Rock and Muslims flock to pray there. The pedestrian traffic in the streets of the Old City seem to swell with Muslims shortly after adhan. It’s even more congested on Fridays since that is officially the day of worship.

The worshippers get treated with the same dignity as rioters. Police carry plastic shields around and all the roads are blocked off so no cars can get through. At least, not any cars with Palestinian drivers or passengers.

We grabbed a cab with a Palestinian driver and were forced to drive the most indirect route to Mount Zion while other cars were permitted to take the regular roads. It seems as if the police are purposely making it difficult for Palestinians to get close to the Old City and was quite frustrating for us. Our cab fare ended up being much more than we had expected to pay due to all the detours we were forced to take.

At least we didn’t have to walk there, though, or our legs might have fallen off.

We visited the Church of Dormition, where Mary supposedly is eternally sleeping (she lived out the rest of her days on Mount Zion after Christ’s death, according to tradition). Rachel was upset about visiting a tomb again and was a lot happier when we left to find the Hall of the Last Supper.

Mount Zion is also famous for housing King David’s Tomb. We didn’t visit that tomb (because Rachel doesn’t really like tombs), but we did stop by a statue of King David playing his lyre before heading up to the Coenaculum.

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Since we didn’t know that the Coenaculum was the Hall of the Last Supper it took us a while to find it, even though we were wandering around underneath it while we were looking for it. While we were consulting our guidebook to figure out where it was, we met a man we’ve nicknamed “Surly Jew.” He was surly.

“People with cameras!” he started jovially, “I wonder what people with cameras could be doing here.”

“Taking pictures,” Andrew answered with a smile.

“Pictures of what?” Surly Jew asked, his innocent joviality turning into a sour sneering.

“Well, there are some famous churches and things in this guidebook that we thought we’d take a look at.”

“Oh, let me see that guidebook. Guidebooks should be a guide, right?”

He yanked the book out of Andrew’s hand and looked at the page we had been looking at.

“The Last Supper? I wonder how that got in there…” he wondered too enthusiastically.

“Well, it is in the Bible…” Andrew answered.

“Oh? It’s not in the Bible I read,” he remarked casually before changing the subject. “Have you ever read any of Aesop’s Fables?”

“Yes…” we answered.

“Where are those places? Are those places in your guidebook, too? Are you going to visit them next?”

“Ummm…” we stalled.

“If that story is in your Bible but not in my Bible then somebody’s lying! You’re better off with Aesop…he teaches morals, too, but no one actually believes them. They know they are stories. Lies!”

Surly Jew continued lecturing us for a while before bidding us a good day. It was the most hostile conversation about religion I have ever experienced. Really it was more of a monologue than a dialogue since we didn’t add very much to the conversation. Instead we just listened to him rant about Aesop and the Bible.

Let me tell you, it didn’t feel good to have my faith slighted right in front of my face. He belittled us, insulted our beliefs, and was downright rude. It made me feel very sad.

At the Western Wall there is a sign asking visitors to not offend the worshipers or degrade the holiness of the site. Dress modestly, follow instructions from ushers, don’t make fun, turn off cell phones, and so forth. I think that is a good thing.

Sure, the Western Wall is part of King Herod’s temple. It’s not exactly sacred to me with my religious beliefs, but it is important and since people do find it sacred, the area and those worshipping in it should be treated with respect. I have no problem doing this, but I think, after our run in with Surly Jew and seeing how Friday was made to be such a difficult day for Muslims going to worship at Al-Aqsa, that Christians and Muslims deserve the same respectful treatment from visitors to their sacred sites, not of their faith.

The Catholic churches we visit are not sacred to us, but we still tell Rachel to use a hushed voice so that she doesn’t disturb the people there who are worshipping and expect her to behave the same way she does when we attend our own meetings. The same thing goes for mosques and synagogues and Hindu temples and anywhere else we happen to visit.

I cannot imagine what would have happened if we had ridiculed Jewish scripture or tradition at the Western Wall, not that we would. It was a little upsetting that this man felt he could belittle us for being Christian at a Christian site. The same rules should apply for him there that apply for us at the Western Wall. But maybe that’s just my opinion. Anyway…

20090831 - 026The Coenaculum, which is the name for the kind of room in which the Last Supper took place (and is the name on all the signs), is just one room left over from an old Gothic church, but tradition holds that this is where the Last Supper took place. Sometime in the 15th century, a mihrab was added by Muslim Turks, along with some stained glass windows with Arabic designs. It was interesting to see such a juxtaposition of architecture in such a small room.

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Rachel and I had a nice discussion about the Last Supper while Andrew took pictures of this and that. She wanted to know what they ate at the Last Supper, but I couldn’t tell her exactly…so instead we talked about what they might have eaten as a segue into how Jesus introduced the sacrament to his disciples.

It was one of those precious, quiet conversations where I find myself amazed with what deep, thoughtful answers she comes up with, and where she is bearing her testimony to me as much as I’m bearing mine to her.

We left the Coenaculum after tour groups started pouring in and disturbing the peace and found that we were a surprisingly short walk away from Jaffa Gate, which is the entrance into the Old City closest to where we are staying. Getting home took a lot less time than we had imagined.

Still, it was far too long for Rachel. She zonked out about fifteen minutes before we got home and was bopping around in the backpack so I tied her head to the back of her seat with a scarf. It kind of looks ridiculous, like she’s wearing a blindfold or something, but at least it kept her from getting whiplash!

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There wasn’t much left for us to do since it was the start of Shabbat, so we made dinner and hung out in our apartment for the rest of the evening, getting ready for another long day the next day.


  1. Oh - I'm so sorry about Surly Jew! I had my first similar experience at the Western Wall last week (though not to this extent) and it kind of sours you doesn't it? I just have to not think about moments like that or I start generalizing with all of the people I meet here. I'm glad you got home safe!

  2. Surly Jew? I am sorry you had to put up with that. I know that Jews are very stubborn about their religion and are not openminded at all when it comes to others views and ideas.

    It is so cool that you guys to get experience such history! I am loving reading your experiences. I am also glad that hike did not put you in labor. I was thinking "YOU CRAZY GIRL!"

  3. Oops...those last two comments go on Sept. 3...

  4. Well going to Al-Aqsa is the easiest of the common tasks made impossible for Palestinians in the occupied territories. Basically, after they were driven out of their homes through murder and terror in the Palestinian Exodus of 1948, the idea is to make life as impossible as possible in order to make them leave their home country for good. It's some sort of ethnic cleansing with highs (the massacres and raids) and steady lows (the letting people slowly die by limiting medicine, water and food). In 2010, there's a Palestinian home being demolished at any given moment. The IDF and armed settlers move into a Palestinian town, force a curfew on the Palestinian homeowners till they become fed up and move to the water-scarce desert lands, where they have to deal with sewage being dumped on to them from "israel"i settlements which were previously, their homes. And yes, thanks to the Zionist lobby, this is all happening with US blessings and in violation of at least three UN resolutions.