Just in Jerusalem: Visiting the Holy City

Expat-terns is in another new region and country for us: the Middle East and Israel! After flying through Addis Ababa into Tel Aviv, the group was bussed to the Holy City where we got a very long, hot walking tour our first day.

We arrived on Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), so the Israelis were celebrating.
BBQs are common.
Also, there were a lot of flags. Almost too many flags. Who needs that many flags?
Where do you store them later?
(Photo credits by PintsizedPioneer)

We began in the Christian quarter of the city at the Tomb of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus is supposedly buried. The church is Christian and it houses many competing denominations like Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian. It is a hodgepodge of groups that has developed over this site, which was first constructed during the Roman Empire.

The Tomb is multi-storied, and each story and section is maintained by different Christian groups.
You can actually kiss the slab of rock where Jesus was cleaned after his
cruxification with oil if you are into that. Personally, I abstained.
(Photo credits by PintsizedPioneer)

We then walked to the Jewish Quarter through the ancient road ways that made the city so important in trade. As it is my first time in Israel and I do personally identify myself as Jewish, the walk was incredible and interesting. Israel was always one of things that I was aware about and heard about when I was younger, and now I was there in the Old City of Jerusalem!

We were able to see the ruins of the first temple too. However, I was a little distracted in general by the amount of stray cats just roaming the streets. Apparently, there was a rat problem, so when the British occupied the area, they introduced cats. Well, now there are cats. Everywhere.

This is actually a synagogue. The dome design jokingly/ actually is a result of the other domed structures in
the city. The Christians have domes, the Muslims have domes, and then the Jews wanted a dome too.
It can sometimes be a 'pissing contest' with the groups. They do like to make their building or
minarets higher than each others' edifices. (Photo credits by PintsizedPioneer)

Later, we finally ventured to the Western Wall. By the way as I forgot to mention this before, we had a tour guide (one of the program coordinators childhood friends) who is very intelligent who has been leading us through the city who will be with us for the remainder of the trip I believe. Most people who come to Israel get tour guides. It is super useful and nice to have some coordination in the giant crowds and markets that is Israel. Sometimes, you need a local.

Anyway, we finally made it to the Western or Wailing Wall: the supposed last wall of the 2nd temple's outer limits surrounding the Temple Mount. It is considered the holiest site for Jews, well, some. For some, it is just a wall and/or the mount itself is actually the holiest site. You get what you put into it I guess. Either way as the Dome of the Rock currently rests on the Mount and Jews are not permitted to enter and pray or bring any religious paraphernalia including anything with Hebrew letters, the Western Wall is the closest that many can come to a holy site.

The wall is separated into a side for women to pray (it is smaller) and a side for men to pray.
There is also an arch not pictured where both men and women can pray together. A friend had her bat
mitzvah here. This gender split is controversial and a discussion of its own. Pictures aren't really
supposed to be taken either at the wall ... (Photo credits by PintsizedPioneer)

Although I am not very religious, I went to pray here. I left a small note for my Zaide (grandfather in Yiddish) in the wall, which is custom. Going here was surreal. My Bubbe has a painting of this place in her apartment, and I have seen it ever since I can remember. To be actually here was a great shock. I actually forgot to put on my Zaide's yarmulke until the very end I was so awestruck. I know; that was a real blunder on my side ...

Some here in Israel plan to one day make a 3rd temple and already have the golden menorah (built to precise instructions from the Torah) ready. The Dome of the Rock is where apparently Muhammed ascended to heaven - it is pretty important. It is open to non-Muslim visitors; however, they cannot pray and can only enter during certain time windows. Additionally, Palestinians from the West Bank cannot even enter. You have to know the rules in this city when it comes to where one is and also just what to wear. Modesty is key, which is difficult if it is super hot. And, it is super hot.

After the Wall, we went below the Temple Mount and visited the Mount of the Olives. Mountains here are just big hills by the way.

East Jerusalem from the Mount of the Olives (Photo credits by PintsizedPioneer)

On the Mount of the Olives, one can view the other side of Jerusalem, which is mostly Arab as well as an ancient Jewish cemetery that houses some very famous individuals, mostly Jewish. This section also has value for Christians regarding the Virgin Mary.

Gan Sacher (Photo credits by PintsizedPioneer)

After the Old City, we went to join the festivities at a park I believe is called, Gan Sacher. There we witnessed modern Israel during its Independence Day celebration, which mostly consisted of barbecues. There was also a fly over of 4 planes in the Israeli airforce. We could only stay for a bit, but it was interesting and lovely to see everyone so hyped. Israelis do love their kids.

Fly over (Photo credits by PintsizedPioneer)

Although many call Jerusalem a united city, some question this statement as a result of the disparity of development and wealth of West Jerusalem in contrast to East Jerusalem. As the group here can tell you (after a little kerfuffle last night), this is a heated discussion, and there is arguing and biases on both sides. Anti-semitism, colonialism, and histories both modern and ancient ... it all becomes a mess together, but that is part of the Israeli experience: a little loud discourse, but hugs afterwards.

At a distance (Photo credits by PintsizedPioneer)

The next day, we went to Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Memorial), which was one of the most emotional and moving experiences I have even had the opportunity to have. The design of the building makes it so one cannot avoid the information. One must travel through the history, art, and artefacts, and weapons until they reach the hall of names being recovered and database access point where one can look up family histories and victims names. One cannot escape, for those who perished could not either.

 I cried, a lot. Towards the end, I could not handle it. One thing I struggle with, as do many people, is my Jewishness. Before I did not know what I was allowed to feel as an adopted person, what is appropriate, can these emotions be fabricated, and if so does that make me a wretched being? But Yad Vashem, the rabbi, friends, and maybe the heat itself of the moment and environment here have given me more clarity. If anything, I am stronger as an individual for coming to the memorial and to Israel. At least.

Do not limit yourself here. Be smart and safe, but go out in night. Get lost. It is Jerusalem. Explore. Everything.
(Photo credits by PintsizedPioneer)

Anyway on a similar tangent personally, I find the biggest characteristic of Israel that impacts me is its culture. Obviously, any new culture is a change, but I specifically mean the difference between Israeli culture and the continental Jewish one of which I am familiar. Israeli culture is undoubtably Middle Eastern, and the Ashkenazi one that I am used to does not accurately encompass this place or people. For example, Sephardim (Iberian/ North African/ some Near Eastern Jews) make up the largest population of Jewish people here. For me specifically regarding identity, this is perhaps the most interesting and eye opening concept with which to grapple here. What is what? What is more legitimate?

Another such concept is orthodoxy. Of course in Jerusalem, it is religious, and one will see many men wearing religious articles. Duh. But, as my multiple identities and life choices violate quite honestly a good portion or at least some well known Jewish laws, being here is conflicting for me. Looking up at the Wailing Wall one night and starting the descent of the eye downward, I felt warm and proud and beautiful that I was there. I was at the Western Wall! However as my gaze settled toward my general surroundings, I realized I was not surrounded by my peers. I was surrounded by men who if they knew who I was, they may not want me there at the minimum. I also was not with my other friends who were across a divide because they are women. For this reason, I am excited to meet Anat Hoffman, the founder of the Women of the Wall, later today!  

But first, it is time for some more spirited discussion, but maybe a nap before ... Welcome to Israel.

I have seen some more sites, been lost in a few markets, and visited the same sites again, but I just wanted to give a good summary or at least recap of the last few busy days and a bit of reflection. Tomorrow, we head to the north and even more north and will meet with a socialist Zionist organization (many competing/loaded words in that description I know) and visit Haifa. Then, we will stay on the kibbutz, Yemin Orde, which I have mentioned before. There is also a heat wave today, and the temperature may even reach/ may have already reached 36 degrees Celsius. Oy vey. I'll see if I can get any beach time in Tel Aviv ... Stay tuned.

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