The alarm went off at 5:45 a.m.
The excitement of being in Jerusalem was still very much in my soul, but at that hour, my body was balking. Four days of furious touring had left all of our group a bit on the draggy side.
Still, the day lay ahead so after another hearty Israeli breakfast (I promise you are gonna love the blog post on this that is to come), we were off before 8 with a full schedule ahead of us in the Old City of Jerusalem.
What is the Old City? As you probably know, Jerusalem has been a major city in this region even before the tribes of Israel left slavery in Egypt. It has been captured 39 times and destroyed and rebuilt 17 times. Not much is left of what Jesus knew of Jerusalem, since the city was leveled by the Romans in A.D. 70, but what is left is in the Old City.
The Old City is divided into four quarters – Christian, Armenian, Jewish and Muslim. Kind of in the middle is the Temple Mount area or Mt. Moriah. This is the site of the first two Jewish Temples, the current site of the Muslim golden Dome of the Rock, and where we started our day.
A little more background would be in order. Though Jerusalem is totally within Israeli borders, by agreement with the Palestinian Authority, the Temple Mount, which is mainly comprised of Muslims shrines now, is controlled by Muslims. That meant entering through Dung Gate and passing through a security checkpoint before heading to the Temple Mount area. From there we saw the Al-Aksa Mosque and the golden dome, which you see below.
After a quick tour there, we left the Temple Mount area and after passing through yet another security checkpoint, went to the Western Wall, or as it is more commonly known, the Wailing Wall. For centuries, it was the only remnant left of the Temple left standing, and Jews would come from all over the world to pray, hold Bar Mitzvahs, etc. The shot below is of the men’s area (yes, it’s segregated).
From there, we traveled down the western wall to where it met the southern wall and the site of a major archeological dig that uncovered the Southern Steps and the Hulda Gate. It’s these steps and this gate (which has been sealed) that Jesus would have used to enter the Temple area.
By now it’s time for lunch and a short shopping opportunity, which came in the Jewish Quarter. Several of us were interested in trying something new to eat, so on the advice of our guide Kenny, we sought out a little streetside restaurant and took in a shawarma. Basically, it is a giant falafel filled with not just the fried chick peas and vegetables, but a mixture of grilled chicken, lamb and turkey. It’s similar to a Greek gyro, but better. Here’s the stack of the meat cooking on a huge spindle in the restaurant.
After lunch it was time for a site that not many tour groups get to see. Several years ago, archeologists discovered an area underneath the current ground level around the Western Wall that could be (relatively) easily dug out. After plenty of negotiations with the Muslims, it was decided that that the digging could be done, but was put under the control of Israel’s Department of Religion. The Rabbinical Tunnels, as they are known, go almost the length of the Western Wall and provide a fascinating look at the history of the area. The stones below date back to the time of Herod the Great.
Our last touring stop of the day is one of my favorites. Not far from the Old City area are the Shepherd’s Fields, which are on one side of the hill that crosses into Bethlehem. It’s almost certainly in these fields that the angels appeared to shepherds on the night Jesus was born to declare “Glory to God in the Highest!” Luke’s version of the Christmas Story was read, and one of our group, Josh Anders, led us in a couple of Christmas carols.
A quick stop for a little shopping, and we were back to the hotel. Tomorrow should be a little lighter on the feet, but heavier on the heart, at least in the beginning. Our first stop will be Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust museum. Then it will be Israel Museum and Valley of Elah, where David fought Goliath. Should be another amazing day.
More, as always, to come.