On The Road to The Old City
December 31, 2011
What a way to ring in 2012! On the last day of 2011 we had our first walking tour of The Old City, aka, Old Jerusalem. A short walk from our hotel, we passed by some amazing architecture. The YMCA Hotel, was designed in Art Deco by Arthur Loomis Harmon, the same architect who designed the Empire State Building! Across the street is the prestigious King David Hotel.
We took a short cut through the very modern Momilla Mall, and entered The Old City through the Jaffa gate on our way to the Christian Quarter - one of 4 uneven quarters that make up this city within a city.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
This is the site where the crucifixion of Jesus is said to have occurred. We see visitors from all over the world wait in long lines to worship at the Alter of The Crucifixion.
Below us, and just inside the entrance is the Stone of Anointing, which tradition states was the place where the body of Jesus was purified for burial. We are also shown the tomb where it is said Jesus was buried.
17 different demoninations share this massive space - some with a room, some with an entire floor.
Muslim guard lock the towering wooden doors every night at midnight and reopen them the next morning at 2:00 am. The keys have been in the hands of the same family for 900 years!
Make that successful shopping!
On the walk back to the hotel, a small group of us couldn't resist a peek inside the King David Hotel, even if the closest we got to "rubbing elbows with royalty" was taking pictures of their signatures!!
Our New Year's Eve dinner was with a small group at the trendy Ben Yahuda Street. Goodbye 2011!
January 1, 2012
A clear, blue sky greeted us on this sunny New Years Day. I had been anticipating this visit to the Western Wall for quite some time, absolutely thrilled to be starting 2012 at such a historic site. I had prepared prayers in my mind, ready to insert my slip of paper into the ancient rocks. I was ready to take notes, ready to take pictures - I was totally unprepared for the emotional reaction I would have, visiting this holy place.
Our bus stops at an overlook to Mount of Olives, a mountain ridge in The Old City of Jerusalem that is home to the Dome of The Rock. This Golden Dome was built in 691 CE and is said to sit on the site where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac. It is known as the site of the Holy of Holies during the Temple Period. The oldest Jewish cemetery in the world is on Mount of Olives, dating back some 3-thousand years.
The 2nd Temple was built in in 516 BCE to replace Solomon's Temple after its destruction, and became a massive complex to accommodate the increasing Jewish population wanting to be near the Holy of Holies. The Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 CE. The lower levels of the Western Wall are part of the few remains from the huge complex.
We start our tour by getting our bearings. Our amazing tour guide Arie gives us a visual of the "before" and "now" of the southeast corner of the complex. The Western Huldah Gate was once a main entrance.
Before we go the to Western Wall, we get an amazing view of the tunnels under the wall! We learn that the wall did not start as a religious structure, but actually as a retaining wall for the nearby Muslim neighborhood that was built in ancient times.
As we make our way through the narrow tunnels, we also learn that the length of the 1,860 ft. wall is made up of HUGE 36-foot stones - the cornerstones weighing up to 50-tons! We then come upon something I wasn't expecting - a prayer wall on the other side of the site of the Holy of Holies.
I quickly fumble for my reporter's notebook and tear out a piece of paper. Not wanting to be disrespectful to the other women praying at the wall, I quickly try to find the words for a prayer. i am overcome with emotion, yet find a way to put my thoughts on paper and insert them between the stones on the wall.
It takes me a moment to recover from this surreal experience. We get to the end of the tunnel, make our way back through the neighborhood above, and prepare for an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.
My daughter and I shared a moment to reflect on what our individual prayers would say. We sat, thoughtfully wrote them down, and made our way to the women's side of the wall. As Sara approached the wall she put one hand, then both hand against the stone. She took her time; I can only imagine what was going through her mind as she carefully placed the piece of paper between the rocks.
As she turned back to approach me, I could see she had been crying. That set my tears in motion as I made my way to the wall. I bowed my head and put my hands against the structure. My mind was racing trying to recite in my head the prayers I had put into words. Tears were streaming down my face. I placed the paper inbetween the stones and turned around with a sense of calm. It was the most powerful moment in my life. What a way to start the year!
Tomorrow we leave Jerusalem and head to the Dead Sea Region and Masada. The journey continues!