Saturday, October 22, 2016

Monday, October 10

After a good night's rest at the National Hotel in Jerusalem,
we began the week with some exploration of the city,
with the help of our tour guide, Issa.

We obviously wanted to see as much of that part of the world as we could while we were there, in the limited amount of time we had for cultural exposure, so it was a huge day, packed full.

We started the day at the Dome of the Rock.

This is a significant place because at the very heart of this shrine is a foundational stone (or "rock") that Jews and Muslims believe is where Abraham attempted to sacrifice his son Isaac.

There is obviously a lot of history there.
The Dome of the Rock is currently under Muslim authority,
and it's only in the last 10 years or so that non-Muslims have been permitted to enter Temple Mount in order to even look at the Dome.  Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter it, pray near it, or wear any form of religious artifact when visiting.  This is enforced by Israeli police.

It's an absolutely beautiful building, and it was fascinating to learn all the history surrounding this particular geographical place.  I wish I could remember every word of every thing I learned.

You can see the Muslim woman on the left hand side of the screen was there to worship.
It was quiet while we were there, but for a few Muslim worshippers,
and a group of Jewish students, under heavy guard.

To even get to the Dome, we had to enter the Temple Mount.
Again, because of the extensive history of this place,
many Jews do not even visit the Mount.
Here is a sign at the visitor's entrance:
While some orthodox Jewish rabbis encourage Jews to visit the Temple Mount,
most forbid entry to the compound lest there be a violation of Jewish Law.
There's SO MUCH history tied up in that, I can't even begin to scratch the surface here. 

It was olive season when we visited, and so neat to see the fruit on the vine - 
it brought back so many times in Scripture that Jesus spoke about olives,
and there were times I could just imagine what He saw when He lived.
He would have seen and touched olives on the trees, just like this.

We then visited the Western Wall, specifically a portion of that called "The Wailing Wall."  It is considered holy because of its connection to the Temple Mount, and Jews consider it the most holy place to pray, as the holiest site of the Jewish faith lies on the other side: the Holy of Holies.  This is as close as they can come to the place they believe God dwelled.
You can see the proximity of the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock here:

You'll notice that we are very modestly dressed;
this is required, and guards will turn you away at the gate if you aren't covered appropriately.

As we approached the Wall itself,
it was divided into 2 sections: one for men and one for women.

I sat in one of those white chairs for while,
just soaking in the fact that I was quite near where the Temple I've read about all through the Old Testament once stood.
After a while, I began observing the Jewish women and girls as they worshipped and prayed at the Wall.  Their love for the Torah was breathtaking.  They stood as they read it, pressed it to their faces and hearts as they recited it from memory, wept into it.  It was absolutely beautiful.

After a while, I was able to begin approaching the wall myself,
joining the group of women standing, sitting, and kneeling there.
Everyone was praying aloud, and I didn't understand a word.
I loved that part.  They were all so beautiful.

The people who visit the Wall write their prayers on tiny pieces of paper and smash them into the cracks of the rock, trying to get them just a little bit closer to the Holy of Holies.

While I am utterly thankful for a God who dwells within me, and hears my prayers as I pray them, it was special to join with the tradition of these women and press my own handwritten prayer into the cracks.

I snuck a picture over the partition of the mens side.
You can see the man strapping the phylactories on as they prepare to pray.
It was quite remarkable to see how seriously these people take prayer.

Leaving the Temple Mount, headed to walk through Old Jerusalem

We passed this celebration on the way:

This boy was pressing fresh juices in the Old City - I absolutely LOVED the pomegranate juice and could have kept drinking until I made myself sick!  Delicious!!

We also visited the Garden Tomb,
which was one of my favorite places of all.  The Garden Tomb is a rock-cut tomb in Jerusalem which was unearthed in 1867 and is considered by some Christians to be the site of the burial and resurrection of Jesus.

I enjoyed learning about this Garden and the Tomb from this retired British pastor:

It was such a beautiful, peaceful place.
While I'm not a historian and cannot swear that this is exactly where our Lord laid, I can tell you that there was a sweet Spirit of worship there.  Things like this were happening in several places:

Stepping inside the tomb was a really precious experience.
I thought I would be sad and weep for the tragic death my Jesus had to die for me,
but my tears were of joy!  I almost giggled out loud in there....
because he's not there anymore!  
So much joy and promise and hope are found inside that empty Tomb.

The next stop was the Via Dolorosa,
and it couldn't have been a more different experience for me.
I will phrase carefully, out of respect for my friends who believe this was actually the place where Jesus carried his cross, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre the place where he was buried and resurrected.

I didn't take many pictures of the Via Dolorosa.  
It was very ornate and decorated.
This is a picture of the actual Via Dolorosa.
It was crammed wall to wall with vendors and sellers.
I didn't care for it at all.

I was very happy when it was time for lunch!
Shawarma, at last!

Listen, this little minty lemonade that they brought for us to drink was one of the most delicious things I've ever had!  Oh, my mouth waters just remembering it.
What a delightful lunch on the street!

This area was under light guard.
Every moment in this part of the world, I felt comfortable and safe.
Everyone, including the guards, were very relaxed and at ease.

Riding a camel was on my bucket list for this trip!

No big deal, this is just me, riding a camel in Jerusalem.  No big deal at all.

We made a stop by the site of Garden of Gethsemane, as well.
The old olive trees were so beautiful.
They say that there are trees in this garden that would have been there at the time of Jesus.  I'm not sure how accurate that is; however, it was a holy and beautiful thing for me to walk in a garden that would have looked much the same when Jesus walked there.
I loved walking in that garden and seeing people with the same color skin He had and speaking the same language He would have spoken.

After a very long day of touring,
and a delicious dinner,
we made our way to the Angel Hotel in Bethlehem.
Our luggage still had not arrived from Paris,
so precious Denise took Mallori and I (the two girls without luggage) to a local shop to find something to wear. 

I'll tell you what: shopping in a foreign country gave me a whole new level of compassion for those new to our country.  It was so difficult and frustrating to try to find something that night.  To start with, there was nothing in a style I preferred.  I didn't understand the sizing, converting the currency made my head was an exercise in futility.  I finally ended up buying a man's pair of shorts and tshirt and that was it.  I couldn't even deal with all of the choices and variables.  It just made me so much more aware of what it's like for people coming to the United States.

At some point, we realized we weren't going to find real clothes, 
we were deliriously tired and all we could do was laugh:

We stopped by a pharmacy for some toiletries,
and the shopkeeper brought coffee.  It was so dark and rich and was sure to keep me up half the night, but his hospitality was so dear to me that night.

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