Sunday, November 13, 2011

Touring the Old City of Jerusalem at Night

And we have arrived in Israel! Kathy had arranged for a guided tour for three days, two in Jerusalem where we would stay overnight in the city, and one day in Haifa. Our guide, Avi, met us at the port in Ashdod. We immediately wondered what we had gotten ourselves into when Kathy tried to introduce the seven of us who would be with him for three days and he said “Never mind. I won’t remember your names anyway.”

Here is the port in Ashdod. Look at the rows and rows of new vehicles in the background, but few of them are for export. Israel's neighbours refuse to trade with them. The port of Ashdod had been closed on the previous cruise because of security concerns.

Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv signs. Hard to believe we are here!

The surroundings were all brown with white buildings, while the highways were all new and well maintained.

Our first stop was Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. Four people in our group of seven were Jewish, and this stop was particularly important. Much of the museum has been built through donations from survivors and victims' families.

The first part of the tour was the Children’s Museum, a memorial to the one and a half million Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust. It was built through the generosity of Abraham and Edita Spiegel of Beverly Hills in memory of their son, Uziel, who was killed in Auschwitz in 1944.

This monument represents the children…

We entered through this sunny arch and began the spookiest experience. You go through the Children’s Museum in total darkness. Avi took our hand and put it on a railing and then we fumbled through as you listened to a monotone voice saying the names, ages and nationalities of the children who died. Very sobering and heartwrenching…

Janusz Korczak, a Polish writer and pediatrician, looked after Jewish children in an orphanage. When the Germans came for the children, he was offered a way out, but he refused. Instead he walked holding the hands of the children, going with them onto a train headed for an extermination camp. He was never heard from again.

This bridge leads into the main part of the museum.

Photo taking was not permitted in the museum. The exhibits are extremely well done with interviews from survivors and with many photographs. It is impossible not to be affected by it. And to think it all took place only 70 years ago. The tour ended with you coming out into the light, the hope for the future.

We grabbed a bite to eat at the museum where Jim and I showed our ignorance of the Jewish faith by eating our cheese sandwiches in the area designated for eating meat. Avi was quick to point out our mistake! Then we were back in the van on our way to the Old City. We passed by the Hebrew University.

And stopped at this lookout where Avi pointed out the parts of the city. Jim and Kim in Jerusalem!

Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel, and is about 45 miles from the port of Ashdod. The city is known for its beauty and for being the focal point of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths. The city has a population of close to 800,000, 20% of which are Israelis of Arab descent. There are three sections to Jerusalem: the historic Old City, East Jerusalem and the New City. The walled Old City has drawn religious pilgrims and tourists from around the world for many centuries.

Jerusalem has been conquered, pillaged, plundered, restored and conquered again and again. This is the city where a Roman ruler, Herod, washed his hands and sent Jesus, the son a carpenter, to be crucified. In 1948, a Jewish nation, which had not existed for nearly 2000 years, was suddenly reborn, though the city of Jerusalem remained divided. In 1967, victorious over insurmountable odds in just six days, Israeli army paratroopers captured Jerusalem and stood before the Western Wall, the foundation of the Temple of their Lord. After 2000 years, the blast of the ceremonial ram’s horn, the “shofar,” echoed once again through the streets of ancient Jerusalem.

Here we could see the Old City with the Dome of the Rock in the background.

This desert-like setting was originally part of Jordon and has been claimed by Israel. To avoid disputes between Arabs and Jews, a military base has been built in the centre to guard against the establishment of settlements. 

Our van…the seven of us took turns changing places. 

The Old City with the Dome of the Rock. It sits atop Israel’s Temple Mount and dominates the skyline of Jerusalem. According to Jewish religion, it is from the Temple Mount that the world expanded into its present form. The location is the holiest site in Judaism, where both the First and Second Jewish Temples were built and is the place where Jews turn towards in prayer.

For Christians, it is where God chose His Divine Presence to rest.

The Mosque is sacred to Muslims who believe the Dome covers the rock where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac.

The Mount of Olives, where there has been a Jewish cemetery for over 3000 years...

The walls of the Old this time the sun was setting and we were wondering why we were spending so much time up here instead of in the Old City exploring. Avi quickly put us in our place by telling us to trust him, we had lots of time.

Megan, who was travelling with her mom and dad, had had about enough by now!

Our next stop was the Garden of Gethsemane. It was here that Jesus wept and prayed to his heavenly father prior to his betrayal, arrest and subsequent trial. 

The garden contains some of the world’s oldest olive trees, three of which have been scientifically dated as being over 2000 years old.

This one is propped up by a rock.

The Church of All Nations, also known as the Church or Basilica of Agony, is located next to the Garden of Gethsemane.

The iron work on the doors symbolizing the olive trees…

A service was being conducted within…

The trees were amazing…

A mural showing the Western Wall and its importance to the different faiths.

Entering the Old City through the Dung Gate. Not a great name, but that was the gate through which they disposed of the sewage.

The walls around the Dome of the Rock were built by the Muslims, when they built the mosque on the site of the First and Second Jewish Temples.

The Western Wall…

In the distance on the right, you can see people up against the wall...

The Hasidic Jews with the black coats and hats. Avi had definite opinions about them! 

At the Wall…men had to have their head covered to approach the wall. Jim borrowed a yarmulke, which unfortunately, I didn't get to see.

A nearby signed explained the significance of the Western (or Wailing) Wall:

“The Western Wall is one of four massive walls surrounding the Temple Mount, which is Mount Moriah, where according to tradition, the world was created; the binding of Isaac took place and this is where both the First and Second temples stood.

After the destruction of the 2nd temple by the Romans, the Jews were expelled from Jerusalem. Access to the sacred Temple Mount was forbidden. Pilgrims therefore chose the Western Wall as the place for prayer and lamenting, both because of its proximity to the Holy of Holies on the Temple Mount, and because of the ancient tradition that “The Divine Presence Never Moves From the Western Wall.”

Zionism brought back the Jewish people from around the globe to the ancient Western Wall where mourners lamented the sorrow of exile, and celebrated the return of the Lord. The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former.”

The wall is divided by a fence with men on one side and women on the other.

You could write a prayer on a piece of paper and put it in the cracks and crevices of the wall, which Kathy and I did. And then you back away from the wall, as it shows respect, rather than turning your back to it.

There was just so much to take in, but our tour continued as we walked to the Armenian quarter of the Old City, the smallest of the quarters.


We entered the Christian quarter and the Via Dolorosa (The Way of Sorrows). According to Roman Catholic tradition, this is the path that Jesus took through Jerusalem on his way to his crucifixion on Calvary Hill. 2000 years ago, this was an empty plot of land outside the walls of the city.

There were 14 Stations of the Cross, with the final five in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This was the fifth stop where Simon of Cyrene took the cross from Jesus and carried it for him.

Supposedly where Jesus laid his hand upon the wall. You could tell we were tired by now when someone said "I guess the cement was wet at the time!"

Bill was looking at a shofar (ram’s horn)…

The 6th station where Veronica, a holy woman, stepped from the crowd and wiped Jesus' face with a cloth. An image of his face remained on the cloth.

Continuing along the Via Dolorosa...

At the 8th station, Jesus met the women of Jerusalem who were very sad to see him suffering. He offered them encouragement in spite of his own pain.

The boy was playing pool amongst the bagels. We might have been hungry, but they kind of lost their appeal.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built in the 12th century. The church is shared by several Christian denominations. According to their tradition the church was built upon the site of Christ’s crucifixion, entombment and resurrection.

The 13th station, where Jesus was taken down from the cross and his body given to his mother, Mary. Many people were praying at the site.

The beautiful mosaic on the wall was donated in 1964 to mark the visit of Pope Paul VI. It showed Jesus  being removed from the cross and the body given to Mary…

Being prepared for entombment...

And being placed in the tomb...

Where Jesus was crucified…

This is supposedly where his blood ran down the wall…

The Holy Sepulchre…the tomb where Jesus was laid. The line to see inside was 45 minutes long so we opted to just view from the outside.

We left the Christian quarter and starting walking back to the van. By now we were exhausted mentally and physically. We had seen so much. Avi wasn’t kidding when he said to trust him, he would show us the Old City.

Back in the Jewish quarter, we came across these excavations. 

This showed how as many as eight layers of buildings were established on a particular site. They kept building on top of ruins.

This was funny….this store's shirts caught our eye. Look at the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens t-shirts!

This mural was so interesting. Not only for all that it showed of early life, but because of the youngster with the backpack in the lower right hand corner. Old World meets New World…

Avi in front of a mosaic showing the Old City. Jeff added to my fatigue by giving Avi a cigar. Now when we followed him, we followed his trail of smoke as well. Blech!

Leaving the Jewish quarter, we passed by the Hurva Synagogue...

The Golden Menorah is over 6 feet high and plated with 92 lbs of gold. It is similar to one used in ancient times.

Goodbye to the Old City…it was so amazing.

At last we arrived at our hotel for the night…we were all exhausted and hungry.

The hotel was basic, but the location was great and the price was right. A nice aquarium in the lobby...

We wandered around until we found Ben Yehuda Street, the pedestrian street, with all the shops and restaurants. The food was great but very expensive. Jerusalem is very expensive! From the left: Bill, Megan, and LeNae from Alabama; Kathy and Jeff; Kim and Jim.

A very nice area for shopping and eating and people watching…

Chocolate by the Bald Man? I didn't know this until later, but there are several of these shops around the world. You know I must have been tired, when I was too tired to look at chocolate!

Jim and Kim in Jerusalem…a fantastic day!

Tomorrow, we'll be up bright and early to go to Masada and the Dead Sea...

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