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Sunday, October 26, 2014

More Time in Special Places

As promised in my last post about the walking tour, here are some more photos from places we went back to in the Old City.

We knew we were getting close to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, below,because all the nearby shops sold candles and religious items.

One of the most remarkable things about the gorgeous church is that it is shared, albeit unequally and uncomfortably, by six Christian denominations. Unfortunately even though there are Status Quo treaties dating from 1852 for the administration of the church, there are huge disagreements among the groups that have literally resulted in priests coming to blows with each other - how very sad. Since 1187, the same 2 Muslim families have had the honor of opening and closing the church as no one else could agree when it should be done. In 1935, wooden reinforcements had to be used to keep the church standing because no agreement could be reached regarding reconstruction.
The large stone by the entrance on the floor is called the Stone of Unction; it was where the Holy Family and His followers brought Jesus’ body down from the cross, anointed it with oil and wrapped His body in a shroud. We saw pilgrims wiping the stone with handkerchiefs and other materials to take some holiness with them.

Fair warning: you just might see a lot more photos of lamps/lights like these as I found them fascinating.
The Greeks have the prime real estate in the church: to the right of their chapel is the XIIth Station where Jesus was crucified.

 There was a huge line of people waiting in front of the XIVth Station or the Holy Sepulchre itself; it was the marble structure in the main room where Jesus was buried and from which he was resurrected. I am certainly not as religious as I was but I am so glad we spent a fair amount of time to visit such an important church for Christians. It was profoundly moving seeing so many other people, including a lot of priests, be so touched and affected by what they were experiencing.
After leaving the church, we followed many of the Stations of the Cross on Via Dolorosa or Way of the Cross, which ironically enough, runs through the Old City’s Muslim Qtr.  

All the alleys in the Old City are just like this.
Security cameras are everywhere.

Next, we returned to the Western Wall; the Wall precinct functions under the aegis of the rabbinic authorities with all the trappings of an Orthodox synagogue. Modest dress is required (men must cover their heads in the prayer area), there is segregation of men and women in prayer and smoking and photography on the Sabbath and religious holidays are prohibited. We also had to go through a security check before entering the area. 
 As you might expect, security is very tight in the whole Wall area with young gun toting soldiers visible throughout. It becomes ‘normal’ very quickly even for a new visitor to the country to accept the status quo and not become bothered by the constant police presence wherever you are in the city. I have no concept of what it must be like to live, as opposed to visit a country, where the threat of violence is fairly constant and what that must do to a person’s psyche. While we’ve been here for almost a week, we’ve received emails from the US State Dept. warning of threats in certain areas of Jerusalem for example and indeed there has been at least one child killed in a ‘terrorist’ attack in the city. The key is exercising ‘situational awareness.’ Now that’s a term I look forward to forgetting once we leave this neck of the woods.
This is where we had been standing hours earlier with our walking tour and had taken pictures of the Wall.

More than time to dye that gray hair!

Notes in the Wall: I’m sure you’ve all heard or read that the cracks between the Wall’s massive stones are stuffed with slips of paper bearing prayers and petitions. It has been said with a mixture of serious faith and light cynicism that they reach their destination more quickly than the Israeli postal service! The cracks are cleaned several times a year but the slips are never simply dumped. Since they often contain God’s name and are written from the heart, the slips are collected in a sack and are buried with reverence in a Jewish cemetery.

In the women's section. After praying at the Wall, women (and men?) walk backwards about 20 or so feet as a sign of reverence.

In the Old City.

We'd been out for long enoug so we headed back toward the hostel but stopped first at the always vibrant and exciting Machaneh Yehuda Market very close by. One block long alley is covered but there’s also a parallel wider pedestrian street, both of which sell a huge selection of fruit, vegetables, cheeses, every imaginable type of candy, plus scads of breads and pastries, etc. I’ve not yet seen one bagel though anywhere in Israel much to my surprise. I never thought they were an American invention! We’ve been back there several times since and neither of us ever grow tired of the market’s sounds, sights and smells.

Natalie: Thought of you, hon, seeing this bowl of beautifully colored 'saffron.'
While working on the blog late on the 22nd in the hostel’s lounge area, I began chatting with Emi, a 21year old from Montreal who graduated in law from the University of Ottawa, my alma mater. This young woman should be appointed as Canada’s Goodwill ambassador: she’s quadrilingual, has been traveling for a month alone in Egypt often staying with locals along the way, is more informed about world events and geography than most people twice or three times, studied abroad in Germany when she was only 15. Emi has seen much of the world already by herself and has a list of what places she wants to travel to next. It was quite amusing over the course of a few days seeing men in their late 20’s from several different countries almost swoon over the captivating Emi!