Friday, November 20, 2015

Visiting Israel: Jerusalem (Part 1)

Continuing from my Israel arrival and Tel Aviv recap.

The bus ride between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is only about 45 minutes. Jerusalem is almost 2,500 feet higher in altitude than Tel Aviv, so the route included lots of ascents with sweeping views of the Israeli countryside.

Once we arrived in Jerusalem, I was immediately struck by the difference in the two cities. I had been told that Jerusalem had high security, and this was very apparent. Plenty of Israeli military were walking around (I later learned that military service is compulsory for all Israeli citizens over age 18). Many heavily-armed guards were present.

Armed guard talking on his cell phone.

Probably three-quarters of the men were wearing kippahs or other traditional hats. We saw many Hasidic Jewish people.

Adam and I headed to our hotel, the City Suites on King George Street. Similar to our experience in Tel Aviv, the hotel was small but very nice, with extremely helpful staff. We again were fortunate that the hotel was in a very convenient location.

We had lunch next door to our hotel at this falafel/shawarma joint. Locals were flooding in and out, which is always a good sign.

I stuffed myself with a delicious pita bursting with falafel and a ridiculous amount of toppings.

Adam and I then headed to Jerusalem's Old City. Our plan was to visit the Western Wall, then tour the Kotel Tunnels. 

Here were some of the views enroute to the Old City:



Our first destination, the Western Wall, is a portion of the structure which originally composed the western retaining wall of the Second Jewish Temple atop the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is one of the holiest sites in Judaism, and also has strong significance in Christianity and Islam.

Once entering the Old City, we walked through a maze of local shuks (marketplaces):

We went through a security checkpoint to access the Western Wall. After seeing the Wall on TV and in pictures, I was stunned to enter and see it in person.


Men and women have to access the wall from different sections, so Adam and I went to our respective entrances. The women's section was filled with women praying silently or aloud. Many were putting prayer notes into the wall.



I was struck by how pious the site was. There is something very humanizing about seeing people in their moments of deepest prayer.

Next, we went on a fantastic walking tour of the Kotel Tunnels. The tunnels are adjacent to the Western Wall and were built to connect the ancient city with the Temple Mount. Our guide was exceptionally helpful in explaining the religious history and politics behind the Western Wall site. For example, the Western Wall runs alongside the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which are sacred Muslim sites (more about those later). Therefore, there are ongoing clashes between the Jewish and Muslim people over control of the wall.

Here are a few pictures of the Kotel Tunnels:



The sophistication of the tunnels built so many thousands of years ago is truly astonishing. The tunnels are truly an engineering and archaeological marvel.

We exited the tunnels along the Via Dolorosa. In Christianity, the Via Dolorosa is believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion.


Interestingly, the Via Dolorosa is in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. A local showed us a great view of the Rock of the Dome that I mentioned above:

While wandering around, we followed some signs towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:


We entered the church, then watched crowds of people paying enormous homage. After consulting our guide book, I learned that this church is the place where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected.
The Stone of Unction, where Christ's body was laid after being removed from the crucifix and prepared for burial
Wow. Just wow.

There are more sites of Christian significance in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre than I can even begin to describe here. We walked all around the church and I tried to take in the magnitude of all we were seeing. Our timing worked out to see a mass, which was an amazing experience. Everything felt completely surreal.

To close out the night, we went to dinner at a cafe called Kadosh. I accomplished my mission of eating local shakshuka:


My summary reflections from the day:
I was thunderstruck to experience how the holiest sites in three major religions are within such extremely close proximity to each other. The land is bitterly contested to this day. It was harsh reality to learn of the continuing discord across the three religions. I realized how much I take for granted in my peaceful American life, much beyond my own comprehension.

More about Jerusalem to come.

--
Linking up with LaurenVanIsabel and Marcella for Wanderful Wednesday; with Chris and HeatherLaurenAshleyAmanda and Brian, and Carolann and Macrae for Weekend Wanderlust; and with LynArnie and JoSally-AnnAnda, and Anisa and Katherine for The Weekly Postcard.  

32 comments:

  1. Looks like an amazing trip! The food looked so delicious. I can't imagine seeing the wall and the other historical/biblical places and the magnitude of it all.

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    1. Thanks Xaar - the food was incredible! I have a higher affinity for Roti now, since it's the closest easy offering to what's available there. The magnitude of the sights are hitting me more now than when I was there in person!

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  2. What a truly amazing experience - I can't wait to read more!

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    1. Thanks Bobbi! I could easily write about 10 posts about this trip but I'm trying not to go overboard with too much detail!

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  3. Your pictures are gorgeous! I don't know if I could've toured the tunnels, after having a bout of claustrophobia on a submarine museum.

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    1. Thanks Lesley! OMG - I've never had much of an issue with claustrophobia in my life, but those tunnels definitely did induce some discomfort. Thankfully the weather was mild outside, otherwise I can only imagine how stuffy and humid it would have been inside. That would have been brutal!

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    1. Absolutely. There's a reason why it's so much more worth it to visit a place in person than it is to just read about it in history books!

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  5. Okay, now I really need to put Isreal on my bucket list. I'd go for the food, the architecture, the history, and the food! I would love to see the Dome of the Rock in person. Besides always seeing a giant poster of it in my favorite middle eastern restaurant on Kedzie, it was first brought to my attention by Vampire Weekend in this line https://youtu.be/mhmujtqEcs4?t=2m36s so it has a hipster caché! Anyway, looking forward to your second installment! :)

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    1. Thanks Pete! Definitely put Israel on the bucket list! After getting home and having some time to reflect, the visit means more to me now than when I was actually there. Yes on the food, the architecture, the history, and the food!!! (I think you and I share very similar travel perspectives. =) ) What is your favorite Middle Eastern restaurant on Kedzie? Please share as I'm excited now to find good local restaurants that can recreate what they had out there! Maybe we can plan a WRCE outing there someday???

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    2. Here is the link to my favorite ME restaurant: http://www.salamchicago.com/index.html. I can only vouch for their takeout - big portions and very tasty. As for the restaurant part it looks more like a diner, but that might suit the WRCE style better than a fancy schmancy place! :)

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    3. Awesome!!! Thanks for sharing the recommendation!!! And absolutely - the WRCE is more about keeping things simple, which is one of the things I love most about it. =)

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  6. Things look exactly as they did when we were there some 15 years ago! Isn't it so amazing? Was it very hot there now?

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    1. That's cool to hear things haven't changed out there! I guess it's not surprising, given that so many of the sights are historic artifacts that they are trying to preserve. So it's actually a really good thing! We were very fortunate that the weather was quite temperate - in Tel Aviv, it was in the 70s, and in Jerusalem it was in the 60s. We purposely chose to travel there at a time when we knew heat wouldn't be a factor!

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  7. What an amazing trip! I had no idea that those three religious sites were so close. I guess I didn't know that there were Muslim sites in Jerusalem. Kind of interesting that I care for so many Muslim patients in my clinic. It has been a huge learning curve for me. We are lucky that there is such a peaceful coexistence of the big 3 in the US.

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    1. It was a huge learning experience for me, too, to realize how close the sites are and that the Muslim sites are so significant! Interesting also to learn that you care for a lot of Muslim patients. I am curious what the medical practices are like for them in their native lands versus our U.S. practices. We are SO lucky to have the comparative peace that we do have here in the States!

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  8. Great pictures! I never thought of putting Isreal on my list to visit. But maybe I should. Looks like a great country with much history. Your dish looks very tasty too.

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    1. Thank you so much! Please do put Israel on your list to visit! The history, artifacts, scenery, and people are all amazing. I could have spent a month in Jerusalem alone and not seen anything. We didn't even scratch the surface when we were there!

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  9. Hi Emily,

    Thank you for this post about my city - Jerusalem. I just wanted to mention that the heightened security level nowadays in Jerusalem is a temporary (hopefully) thing. If you visited a few months ago you had seen a much open, lively town, before the "stabbing intifadah" started. The city today is much emptier and full of police and soldiers because there is a small intifadah (uprising in Arabic) going on by the Arabs in Jerusalen against the Jews.

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    1. Thank you for sharing this information! I did not realize the security is heightened at the moment, so this is good to know. I thought the town was PLENTY lively as it was, so I can only imagine what it would have been like before the intifidah started. My hopes and prayers that the need for increased security is temporary, as well!

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  10. The pictures are beautiful, it gives me chills to see them! I think of all the stories history has preserved of Jerusalem and Israel and I could almost picture some of them while looking at your pictures. Awed.
    The market place looks so different from what we are used to!

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    1. Thank you, Karen! Chills is exactly the right word to describe the feeling I get from the trip, too. It was so surreal. Isn't the marketplace crazy? It's quite the whirlwind for all the senses!

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  11. Wow, I would have no idea about all the religious significance (like, the specifics) of the sites. Did you have a guide or read books, etc? That would be so neat to see!!!!

    And I didn't realize Jerusalem is at a much higher elevation!

    Did you get anything in the market?

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    1. Going in, I had very little idea, too! I borrowed a guidebook from the library and brought it along for very frequent reference during the trip. Plus, we did get a tour guide on the second day we were in Jerusalem - she bowled us over with all the historical facts and data. =D

      At the market, my biggest find was the spice market! The prices were amazing. I got a coriander, turmeric, and cardamom and made out like a bandit!

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  12. I really enjoyed this post, I think this is the first I have read from this area, somewhere I really have no visual on what it would be like. I had never thought of Israel as a place on my travel list but now may consider it. Thank you for linking with #TheWeeklyPostcard #travel

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    1. Thank you so much! That was one of the reasons I was drawn to visiting Israel, because I wanted to go somewhere a little bit off the usual tourist path. It was totally worth the effort - and don't let all the news stories scare you! The Israelis couldn't have been more friendly or welcoming. I am already thinking about when I can go back someday!!! Thank you for co-hosting the linkup!!!

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  13. Wow, yes hard to fathom the magnitude of the places you saw! It does make me want to visit but I just worry about security. I know you said you saw lots but I'm still not sure. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

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    1. Hi Anisa - don't let all the news stories scare you! The Israelis couldn't have been more friendly or welcoming. The news makes things sound much scarier than they are when you are actually there. Thank you so much for co-hosting the link-up!

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  14. Learned a lot while reading your post. I wasn't aware Jerusalem was so high when compared to Tel Aviv. I didn't know the wall was divided by genders. In terms of the security, I may feel fine. Many countries in Central America are like that (soldiers with long guns).

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    1. Hi Ruth - definitely don't let any of the news stories scare you! The Israelis couldn't have been more friendly or welcoming. From what I understand, the Western Wall adheres to traditional Orthodox Jewish traditions, which is why the genders are separated. If you're used to seeing a lot of armed security, then you probably won't even bat an eyelash at the security in Israel. =)

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