Hurva Synagogue. This place was fascinating. It was a very new (actually renovated from head to toe in a way that made it seem completely new) building, and had amazing views over the rest of the city. From inside, we were able to catch a glimpse of the Yeshiva students who were studying. Seeing the students debate, study and argue amongst themselves about scripture was one of the most fascinating aspects of my time in the city. Some of the exchanges were quite rowdy, so when our audio tour explained that the neighboring mosque had been built by a yeshiva student who had converted following a religious argument, we completely understood.
Taking it all in: After taking in some of the sights and stuffing our faces, we drove off into the sunset processing everything we'd seen. My day in Jerusalem left me feeling super uncomfortable--both the conservatism and segregation within the place were palpable. In fact, whether Jewish or Muslim, most adult women had their hair/heads covered. Some Orthodox Jewish women wore wigs, but a large number wore turbans. This is not the place to hit in your mini shorts, flip flops and ripped tanks. Luckily, my mother raised me right, as we say, and I even had a scarf to cover up when it felt like too many people were looking at me.
Finally, as the product of Catholic religious instruction, I was taught that the Holy City was a place of magnificence, where Jews and Christians had built incredible temples and Churches – no mention was ever made of Muslims. The American side of me equated these Catholic tales of splendor with an accompanying sense of geographic vastness. I guess I am trying to say I had no idea how small it all was. All of the religious sites are literally sitting on top of one another; and Jews and Palestinians don’t have much space to move around either.
I walked away feeling that there was a forced proximity between Israeli Jews and Palestinians, and it was unnerving to see very young Orthodox women gentrifying traditionally Muslim neighborhoods with 5 or 6 children in tow. It was also sad to see young Palestinian kids wonder what we were doing in their neighborhood (they were nice, but didn’t get why we’d want to venture over into their area). And, as a black American, it was disturbing to see Israeli police randomly scoop up young Muslim men in the local version of stop and frisk.
I am still playing catch up on the posts I was supposed to write, and never got around to writing about Jerusalem.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of Jerusalem, but as someone who endured years of Sunday School as a kid, and who has watched the 10 Commandments every Easter and The Bible mini-series (in all of its gory splendor) on the History Channel, I am glad I made it. And yes, all the places you hear in the Scriptures in church readings exist! I knew that before I got there, but it felt like a mini revelation to see Gethsemane or the Mount of Olives on a map.
The Western Wall. This was a fascinating place. It is clearly a place of intense devotion and even though I am not Jewish, I felt at peace in what was an extremely sacred space. I also found it very funny to see a gaggle of American teens in their micro flirt with the young soldiers who only spoke broken English. Things got interesting when the older women who are supposed to ensure that everyone respect the dress code approached and tried screaming at the teen girls, none of whom spoke any Hebrew. This soon turned into a heated discussion between the soldiers and the older women, who gave up and walked away shaking their heads.
The Stations of the Cross. We followed a huge group and eavesdropped on their tour, which allowed us to catch a glimpse of the Stations of the Cross –we never would have found them on our own. And to get a better understanding of the Church of the Sepulcher. The Church of the Sepulcher was beautiful and awe-inspiring, but at the same time, a bit of a disappointment. The number of the people made it difficult to get a good view of the stone of the Anointing. Calling it the Church of the Sepulcher is a bit of a misnomer because the site houses 7 religious denominations (Eastern Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic Churches, Greek Orthodox Church, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox), each with its own space. Hearing about the history, in which bits of the church were horse traded for better access, money, etc, all felt a bit reminiscent of Jesus in the Temple.
The Dome of the Rock and Al Quds Mosque. We didn’t make it here in time. I blame very poor signage, which I kind of think is willful oversight. Not even going to lie about how resentful I felt that we saw millions of signs for the main Christian and Jewish sights and saw one measly sign for the mosque. The lack of signage meant that by the time we got to the entrance, the mosque was only open to Muslims. We could have lied – my head was already covered because I was feeling a bit naked – but it didn’t feel right.