i’m definitely not the most hardcore religious person. i celebrate a few major jewish holiday, and i’ll go to synagogue a couple times a year. but still i definitely feel that being jewish is part of my identity and because of that, almost as much as wanting to go to russia, i ‘ve also always wanted to go to jerusalem. despite always wanting to come here to jerusalem, i actually used to know very little about it. for me it was always the center of the jewish religion, and that’s pretty much it. i kind of knew in the back of my mind that it had important significance for muslims as well, but never really thought about it much. over the last couple of days being here though, i’ve really learned about just how important of a city it is to so many people. jerusalem is one of the most holy cities in christianity, islam, and judaism. for jews, it’s the place where the remains of the most sacred temple are located. for christians it’s where christ was crucified and later ascended to heaven. for muslims, this is where mohammed went up to heaven as well. due to this mix, people from all over the world come here to se the cities history and sites and it holds a special place in so many people’s hearts. when neil armstrong came here, he said that walking around jerusalem was more powerful an event to him than walking on the moon.
the western wall with the dome of the rock behind it
to me, it’s not only amazing that so many important holy sites are here, but it’s crazy just how close they are to each other. the old city is small… tiny even. it’s only about 700 yards from one side to the other. although, it’s roughly divided into 4 sections (armenian, mulim, jewish, and christian), all the main sites are literally *right* next to each other. jews praying at the wailing wall are literally just 50 yards from muslims praying at the dome of the rock. walking along the cobblestone streets, you see menorahs sold next to fezes, you see long bearded jewish orthodox pass by their also long bearded muslim counterparts, you see arab spice shops next to stores selling yarmulkas, and at the skyline, you are just as likely to see a mosque minaret as a christian cross. signs around the city come in arabic, english and hebrew. everything here is mixed together, and i think that is what really makes this city so special and amazing. it’s not just a sacred spot for one group of people… instead it’s a place valued by so many, and each group can’t just retreat to its own section of town, cause everything is all in the same spot.
for me personally, since i’m jewish, it was very important to go see the western wall. this is the last remaining section of the second jewish temple that was destroyed centuries ago by the romans. there are very strict checkpoints w/ metal detectors etc to get to the wall, and once you descend to the square in front of it, men and women have to go up to the wall separately. yesterday when we went over there i just lloked at the wall from the square, but today i went up close. it was quite a scene up there. over a hundred jews, most of them dressed in orthodox attire all gathered around, praying… some out loud and some in silence, rocking back and forth, etc. some of them would go right up to the wall and pray with their hands and face pressed into it. it was quite a powerful scene, and even though i’m jewish, i still felt out of place being there… like i was just a tourist gawking. nevertheless, when i saw an openiung, i walked up closer to touch the wall itself. the gnarled stones of the wall were actually fairly smooth, probably from so many people running their hands over and over them. it ‘s funny in way, that something like a wall can have such an important significance to so many people… this wall is one of the most non-photogenic things i’ve seen on my trip… no ornate carvings, no gliterring gold and no fancy stained glass, if not for the hundreds of people miling around, a photo of it would show nothing but a wall like any other wall… but being there, surrounded by so many praying people, you could really really feel the power of the place. in some ways, it’s people’s devotion to things that can make them so intense and powerful.
let’s see… what else is there for me to report… we havent’ expored nearly enough of the city yet, and so tomorrow we’re probably gonna take a walking tour. that should be really ineteresting. yesterday i went to a lecture about hannukah that was given in russian. heh, although my russian is pretty damn good, there were parts of the lecture that weren’t too easy to follow. the lecture turned out to be kind of more like a history lesson since the lecturer kept straying from the topic at hand, and i woiuld have rather learned a bit more about hannukajh itself, but it was ineteresting nevertheless. anothe thing, israel is expensive!! back in syria, we were living lke kings, and ate in restaurants constantly w/ no regard for money. here, we had to go buy spaghetti to make for dinner and cereal to eat for breakfast. it’s really straining our budget!!
mezuzot at the entrance to the western wall
our menorah on the first day of hannukah