“This is where Jesus Christ was buried and some say resurrected after.” I told Ava.
“THE Jesus?” She asked.
“The one and only. All the churches we’ve seen in Europe have been a testament to his teachings. The Roman empire installed a governor named Pontius Pilates to enforce their rule and beliefs onto the population, but Jesus and his disciples had their own beliefs, and one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, betrayed him and he was later crucified which was a common form of punishment at that time.”
The first thing you see when entering the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the anointing stone where Christ’s body was cleaned before burial. To the left is the chamber where he was entombed and the writings of Paul decades later reveal post mortem appearances giving the appearance of his resurrection and cementing him as the messiah for all his believers. A few hundred years later, the Roman empire would adopt Christianity as its official religion and six hundred years later, attempt to take back the holy land from Muslims in a series of conquests known as the crusades. The history of Jerusalem goes back much farther though, but its future was also just getting started.
Jerusalem: A City Divided
For all the peace, tolerance and unity that organized religion promises, the capital of the region is a very tense place. Coming from Amman into Jerusalem was a 4 hour process of tedious checkpoints rivaling the thoroughness of airport security with flak jacket clad agents and soldiers armed to the teeth inspecting bags and visitors. It’s reported that unclaimed items are simply taken away and blown up.
The city walls of Jerusalem have been razed and rebuilt over the years, but the city as a whole is divided into Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian quarters all having a legitimate claim to their homeland through some era in history. Walking to the Haram esh-Sharif, the words ‘Temple Mount’ were scratched off the navigation signs in the Muslim quarter attesting to its place as a ‘Muslim’ place of worship. The Dome of the Rock, where Abraham was told by God to sacrifice a son to show his faith was also the place where the prophet Mohammad had his night journey to heaven. You’ll seen T-shirts with “I love Palestine” in some quarters, but “I stand with Israel” in others.
Most people have a dim view of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. The World Zionist Organization under Ottoman and British rule funded land purchase in Palestine giving Jews safe haven from growing antisemitism in Europe and Russian going back as far as two centuries, but the official establishment of the Jewish state was post world war 2 in 1948. Slow encroachment of Israeli settlements have given rise to Palestinians protesting the land grab, sometimes violently, and petty attacks going back and forth have grown militarily in scale. Palestinians firing homemade rockets into Jewish neighborhoods are met with disproportionate air raids by Israeli gunships in the Gaza strip. Just last month, an Israeli airstrike killed suspected Hamas fighters along with dozens of Palestinians including 5 children. “Sorry about that, we’ll look into it” is always the official statement with the unofficial one being ‘collateral damage‘ and payback for Munich and 2002-2003 when 383 lives were lost by suicide bombers. The stories don’t even register on Western news outlets anymore as motherless and fatherless children on both sides grow up without love in their hearts; so evil fills the void and the circle of violence continues.
“Someone once said that being ‘educated’ is being able to listen to a point of view contrary to your own and not lose your temper.“
Since we arrived here, I have been thinking a lot about the word ‘hatred‘. Back home, as the seemingly ‘United States’ are becoming increasingly divided during the impeachment proceedings, it’s becoming hard for political groups to even tolerate one another in this current political climate as they are fed deep fakes, selective reporting, and alternative facts that cause them to see only one ‘story‘. It’s easy to fool someone, but impossible to convince someone they’ve been fooled.
The New City
We met our host ‘Lior‘ in the so called ‘New City’ just west of the old town where yamakas and peyots were proudly worn by boys and men of all ages. College students and young hipsters lounged among the pastisseries and art galleries and with the wide variety of restaurants and modern development, you wouldn’t think we were still in the middle east. We had a tiny apartment above the Sira Pub on Ben Sira street and enjoyed deli sandwiches, cheap beer and a great Mexican taco place with cooks from Oaxaca that knew how to make corn tortillas like jack ballin motherf&#@ers.
We used our apartment as a base to explore the old town and area west of us which took us through ‘Zion Square’ to the happening downtown triangle and ‘Ezrat Yisrael’ for evenings and the nearby shops for Christmas gifts. Ava and I finished ‘Number the Stars’ by Lois Lowry and she is near preparing for her final course challenge for mathematics which she’ll take in a couple days.
Highlights in and Around Jersualem
- Getting lost in the old town
- Rising early to visit the ‘Dome of the Rock’ and ‘Al Asqua Mosque’
- Visit the ‘Church of the Holy Sepulcher’ to see the tomb of Jesus Christ
- Trying ‘Shakshuka’ or poached eggs in a rich tomato sauce on a cold morning
- Day trips to Bethlehem and Jericho
- Giving pause at the Western Wall
- Taking in the mosaic of history at the Museum at the Tower of David
- Visiting King David’s tomb and Oskar Shindler’s grave south of the city
As we head to Tel Aviv and the coastal areas tomorrow with Christmas only a week away, we’re increasingly counting our blessings and reasons to be thankful and grateful for the many good things in our lives. What Jerusalem taught us was a heightened level of ‘empathy’ and the importance of trying to understand the views and beliefs of others whose values run so counter to our own.
After all, if you are ignorant of a man’s understanding, you will remain ignorant in your understanding of the man.