Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Jerusalem

A month after arriving, we finally made a trip to lovely Jerusalem, which is a breathtakingly beautiful place:
It's only an hour away by car, but we spend most of our time in Tel Aviv, which is a little closer to us, and a very secular town (we being kind of a secular couple, obviously). That's the mosque you see above, which was built on top of the old Jewish temple, leaving only the Western Wall accessible. Jerusalem is a holy site for 3 of the world's major religions, and as you wander around the city, you feel each of these cultures as separately and distinctly as if you were crossing into 3 different nations. I've always been one of those pacifist love children, of the "Why can't we all just get along??" variety, and pretty laughably oblivious to lines of religion and race (oft repeated conversation: Vitalay: "He's Jewish, you know." Me: "No way, really?" Vitalay: "With the name Ira Silverstein? Seriously?!?")
But even I can feel the differences between people here, the sharp change in atmosphere as we pass from the Muslim Quarter into the Jewish Quarter--a division marked, literally, by nothing but a sign, and yet as definitive a divide as a vast sea. The loud, demonstrative Christians, wandering around carrying large crosses and praying in groups, versus the quiet prayers of the soberly dressed Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall, versus the beautiful singing of the Muslim prayers being broadcast from the mosque to every ear in the city, including mine as I stood in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, about to enter the most holy site for the entire Christian faith.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built around the spot that was, supposedly, Jesus's tomb. There is even a slab of stone that, we are told, is the one on which his body was laid after he was taken down from the cross:
There was all manner of activity happening here. People crying, stretching their bodies across the stone, rubbing scarves and other objects all over it, just generally making a serious spectacle. I grew up semi-Catholic, so I'm sort of used to this kind of thing, but it does kind of turn me off. I don't know why I feel totally OK sitting down to chant to Shiva with a roomful of Hindus, but feel the need to avert my eyes from women sobbing across Jesus's grave. It's weird, but there you have it.
The church is owned in pieces by several different sects of the Christian Church, so there are also all different kinds of priests and monks wandering around in much more severe and exotic dress than I had ever seen before. Some looked positively intimidating in their long black robes and bizarrely-shaped hats! Also groups of people praying in unison, or singing, in all different languages. It's not a traditionally laid-out church, either, with a place for services and all that, but more like a weird, twisty, turny, underground tomb, with stairs leading up and down into different chambers, all smelling strongly of incense. It was creepy, for sure, but creepy-cool, and very interesting.
Crosses etched in the wall by 2 millennia of pilgrims:
Mosaic of Jesus, taken down from the cross:
Very pretty dome:
And next, we visited the Western Wall, of course:
This was probably the nicest part of Jerusalem, for me. Most of the people there were actually praying, but not in spectacular fashion. No one appeared to be crying, no one was throwing themselves on the wall, you know what I mean. I had to cover myself up for this one--knees and elbows--or I would have stood out like a sore thumb. There's no shorts in sight here, not even a female pair pf pants. In fact, next time we go to Jerusalem, I'm donning the ankle-length skirt and elbow-length sleeves that religious women here wear, just to save myself the trouble of fussing with my shawl or worrying about my wrap skirt flipping up. Which it did, in a lovely breeze, as I was walking away from the wall, trying to both hold down my skirt and keep the shawl covering my shoulders. Leave your hot pants and tube tops at home, ladies!
We exited the Old City by Zion Gate:
Vitalay pointed out that all of those little pockmarks are bulletholes, from the war that resulted in Jerusalem being part of Israel. Sigh. These things make me really appreciate the relative absence of bulletholes where I live.
Outside the walls:
That slit in the wall was for shooting your bow and arrow out of. Bows and arrows?! Cool!
Walking along the outside of the Old City walls, we saw a pony:
Which I obviously thought was pretty funny. :)