Shalom! Cassandra and I have been in a few dodgy places over the years. Years of watching the Israeli/Palestinian conflict on TV had made us curious to go see what all the fuss was about. We decided to hire a tour guide to drive us through Palestine and take us safely into the Israeli capital of Jerusalem. Driving through Palestine puts bad neighborhoods in perspective. Palestinian housing projects make the “The Block” in Baltimore look like the French Riviera. Fortunately, this was Israeli controlled territory and we had an uneventful crossing. Did I mention that Jerusalem is also the capital of Palestine? That’s been a sensitive issue over the years that both states lay claim to the same Capital. In 1967 Israel routed the Arab world in the Six Day War. After the war they annexed East Jerusalem. The city has religious significance for Muslim, Jewish and Christian culture. The Muslims believe that this is where the prophet Mohammed ascended to the Seventh Heaven. Jew’s link the city to Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah. Christians associate it with the Crucifiction and Resurrection of Jesus. Control of Jerusalem has changed many times over the centuries. In 1099 the first European Crusaders waged war on the city and maintained power until 1187. That year Muslim Caliphate Saladin cast out the infidel Templar Knights that had taken up residence. After that the Ottoman Empire stormed the gates and dominated for nearly 500 years. After World War I, the allies began to look for a new home for displaced Jews around the world. Jerusalem remained under British protection through the end of World War II. An attempt to create a Jewish state on Palestinian soil led to the Arab-Israelli War. With help from the west, the Jews were victorious and the state of Israel was created. In 1967 the Arab nations unified to ambush Israel. The plot backfired and Israel expanded its territory into Egypt, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The Jerusalem we saw was a vibrant city with a flourishing marketplace and booming tourism. We began with a trip to the top of the Mount of Olives for a beautiful panoramic view of the town. What the city lacks in cleanliness it definitely makes up for in antiquity and character! We went to the Western Wall- also known as the Wailing Wall. The Wall is all that remains of King Solomon’s Temple. The Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD but the Western Wall was spared. It is referred to as the Wailing Wall because this is where the Orthodox Jews gather to mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple. Visitors to the Wall are separated by gender. Males are required to wear a Yarmulke (traditional Jewish skullcap) when they approach the Wall. We walked the “Via Del Rosa”. This is the historic route of Christ on his walk to his Crucifiction. There is an ornate temple at each of the five stations. Cass and I lit candles at Station V: Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry His Cross. There was every kind of souvenir available along the walk and we picked up a nice Via Del Rosa Tapestry for my Granny Rohe.
We also took a tour of the Dome of the Rock. The Dome is a massive Mosque with a golden roof. It is the oldest Islamic monument left in the world. In the middle ages, the Dome was the headquarter of the Templar Knights. The great golden dome that crowns the Dome of the Rock was originally made of gold, but was replaced with copper and then aluminum. The aluminum is now covered with gold leaf, a donation from the late King Hussein of Jordan.
Our final stop in the city was Yad Vashem. Yad Vashem is the Holocaust Museum dedicated to the millions of executed and displaced Jews of the two world wars. Fil clips, pictures and artifacts such as tattered shoes and execution ovens offer a grim and sobering look at what actually went on during the Third Reich. It would take days to cover the entire museum properly. After the museum, we caught a brilliant sunset over the Holy City and fought the gridlock of rush hour traffic in the middle east on our way back to the hotel.
Our journey to Jerusalem invoved a nine-hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany and a three-hour flight to Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, on the Sinai Peninsula. From there we headed north up the Red Sea coast for about seven hours to Tel Aviv. If there’s not much traffic, you can hit J-town from Tel Aviv in less than hour. There is very little violent crime or theft in Jerusalem- just a few bombings here and there. The strong military presence keeps the city safe. All unmarried Israelli citizens are required to join the military for three years when they turn 18 – even the ladies. Self defense is a way of life for the Israelis. Jerusalem has a hot dry climate most of the year. It snows about once a decade. It was consistently sunny and 50 during our February jaunt. The currency is the Shekel and Hebrew and English are the languages of choice. L’hitraot., Sean Rox