Rent-a-Guide in Jerusalem Review - Ossi’s Panoramic View and the Golden Dome

On the morning of his second day touring with Rent-a-Guide tours, Lawrence Davis, Splash Magazines Worldwide Editor-in-Chief/Publisher, was greeted by tour guide Ossi in a new Mercedes van. Davis and his group were prepared to spend the day learning all about Jerusalem, and Ossi was full of educational information for both those who don’t know much about Israel and those who may already think they know quite a bit.

Ossi and his Mercedes van

Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, the biggest city in Israel with almost 700,000 inhabitants.  500,000 in the new city, 200,000 in what we call the east part of the city,” Ossi said. He talked about the Six Day War and the local Palestinians that became full right citizens after the war ended. Palestinians may be elected to the local government, they get welfare and unemployment benefits, and they study in Israeli universities. Ossi also explained that similar to Mount Olive in Jerusalem, limestone is the stone typical to Jerusalem mountains. During the Turkish time from 1517 until 1917, also known as the Ottoman period, the rulers tried to limit the number of Jewish inhabitants in Jerusalem. In an attempt to do so, they passed a law stating that if one wanted to live in Jerusalem they must cover their house with limestone. The rule was created because the leaders were sure that the Jews couldn’t cut the limestone, but they figured out how to and covered their houses in it.  This law was followed by the British and Israelis as well and “this is how Jerusalem became so unique, you know, covered almost 99% of the houses with the white limestone,” clarified Ossi.

Jerusalem's white limestone

Though the law started in the 17th century as a way to filter the Jews out, the Jewish people learned how to cut the limestone and now it’s a law just to keep the custom going. According to Ossi, the limestone he showed Davis’ group was quite soft limestone, but there are different kinds of limestone and it is able to survive for a very long time.

Beautiful city of Jerusalem

Driving through the Palestinian area, the group sees Palestinians coming to rent welfare apartments from the Israeli government. The Palestinians are completely covered, and Ossi explained that this custom started when the Intifada began. Before, he says that Palestinians looked like they were Israelis; you couldn’t distinguish between the two and now you can.

Ossi then showed the group the Hyatt Hotel, a 5 star hotel covered mostly in limestone. This is where Israeli Tourism Minister Rechavam Ze'evi was assassinated 4 and a half years earlier. He was shot as he was coming back from breakfast, right by his room by a Palestinian who worked for the hotel for 12 years.

To hear Ossi tell this story, click here: (Coming soon!)

The Hyatt Hotel

Next stop on the tour is a beautiful cemetery, where soldiers from outside Israel that fought in World War I are buried. This cemetery holds soldiers from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Britain. Ossi pointed out some memorial stones with the Star of David on them meaning that the soldiers were Jewish. It is written ‘so far but so close,’ which Ossi explained as meaning so far from his family in New Zealand but so close to his homeland, Israel.

To hear Ossi describe this cemetery, click here: (Coming soon!)

The cemetery

With Ossi, the group then sees the Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus, which is connected to Hebrew U’s medicine faculty. He explains that the university and hospital were surrounded by the Jordanians for 19 years, from the Liberation War in 1948 until the Six Day War in 1967. Ossi expressed that the cafeteria is well guarded by security men, and tells the tragic story of why it is so necessary. Palestinians have the right to study there as well, and 4 years ago a female suicide bomber came in. She killed 22 students, 10 of whom were Palestinian. When they found the one who sent her, they asked how they could help her kill their brothers, and their response was that they weren’t helping her kill, they were helping them become Shahids, which means martyrs. Palestinians believe that committing suicide gets them to paradise and 72 virgin ladies, and understandably Ossi has trouble understanding this.

To hear Ossi tell this story, click here: (Coming soon!)

Jerusalem, Israel's capital

Ossi informed the group where the Russian church was where Jesus is believed to have ascended to heaven. He was crucified on Friday, and on Sunday when St. Mary came she was told he had disappeared. The New Testament says that Jesus spent 40 days on Mount Olive and then ascended to heaven from that church. There is a rock with a mark of his footprints from where he was sent up, but Ossi points out that in Christianity, there is a different version to the story than there is in Judaism. “Take it or leave it, you shouldn’t argue if it’s the right place or not,” Ossi believes, because there is another place which is said to be the spot where Jesus ascended according to the Greek Orthodox and the Catholic.

View of Jerusalem

Ossi pointed out that Davis’ group could see the Jordanian Desert and the Dead Sea down on the right. The Jordanian mountains were also visible and the Jordan River was at the foot, coming from the Sea of Galilee along the Jordan valley and going to the Dead Sea. Ossi showed them how the black roads were divided into two parts with a security wall. He said that on the way to Tel Aviv, they would pass the West Bank so they will be able to see the security wall surrounding the Palestinian cities and villages.

On the Arab side, there is no vegetation and on the Israeli side, it is all green, Ossi marvels. He shares that he lives on a Kibbutz, a common village, and there is a great advantage to life in a Kibbutz because the leaders had to study a very sophisticated Israeli agriculture system. The car is now passing the Middle East Dessert and Ossi goes on to describe the watering system in Israel. He says that they take water from the Sea of Galilee, which is fresh water irrigated by a very sophisticated and computerized dripping system. He laughs at the fact that even though the Sea of Galilee is just a lake, Israel is so small that there is no space to write it out on the map, so it is written on the sea.

Leaving Mount Scopus, Ossi takes the group to Mount Olive, where they can see the Augusta-Victoria monastery which is a hospital as well. It was built by Wilhelm II, the German Kaiser at the end of the 19th century. This Lutheran monastery served mainly the Palestinians and it is named after the Kaiser’s wife Augusta Victoria. “99% percent of the population there on Mount Olive they’re actually Palestinian,” Ossi reveals.

Augusta-Victoria monastery/hospital

And then the group was taken somewhere they would probably not have ever known existed had they been with any other tour guide – Ossi’s panoramic view. Instead of only going where all the other tour guides take tourists, Davis was lucky enough to have Ossi take him to a unique location overlooking Israel. It really was the best panoramic view, he recalls. It was breathtaking. Davis could see the Wall, the Old City, the Four Quarters, and everything looked so populated. The view made him say ‘wow’ out loud.

Davis' group at Ossi's panoramic view

Ossi's panoramic view

Looking into the beautiful distance, Ossi showed the group that up on the hill in the New City they can see the biggest cemetery in the world with more than 200,000 graves. This cemetery is so special because Christians believe that the Messiah will come from Galilee to the Chevron caves to Mount Olive to walk through Mercy Gate, which is blocked now. This is why most Jewish people want to be reborn again and thus buried here. Jews come from the United States to be buried in this cemetery.

Close up of the cemetery

Ossi points out that down in front are the archaeological digs. He highlights the city of King David, who conquered the city from the Canaanites. It was made it 3,000 years ago, and King David wanted to thank g-d so he built the Golden Dome, which is right in front of Davis and his group. This dome is the same place where Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah, and when he wanted to build the Temple g-d told him he could not build it because his hands were filled with blood. Ossi continues the story by saying that g-d did tell David that his son, Solomon would build the Temple when he was king. King Solomon enlarged the city from the Dome up to the Temple Mount and built the Temple and surrounded the Old City with walls. This was the 2950 years ago, said Ossi. It was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, in 586 and the Jewish people were exiled to Babylon. They spent almost 50 years in Babylon and until the King of Persia, Cyrus, allowed them to return and build the second Temple which was finished in 520 BC. Harold the Great enlarged the city and Temple as well, but it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD and Jewish people were forbidden to come to Jerusalem, Ossi explained.

The Golden Dome

Ossi then told the group that in front of them, they could see the Christian Quarter. The black dome on the right is called ‘our Lord is weeping’, because beneath this dome is where Jesus was born, lived, and crucified as a Jew, Ossi said. Jews used to come three times a year to celebrate holidays by the Temple, and this is why Jesus was coming with the 12 Apostles to Jerusalem; they were celebrating Passover. He came the whole way along the Jordan River, came up here and then he watched the sea, Ossi described. Jesus was crucified when he was 33 years old, which means 37 years before the city was destroyed by the Romans. Ossi detailed how Jesus came here and watched one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Jesus then started weeping because he could see in his vision what was going to happen; the city was going to be completely destroyed and not one stone would be left.  This is why it is in the shape of a tear, concludes Ossi, and it was built by Antonio Bellucci, a very famous Italian architect.

To the left Ossi shows the group the Russian church built by Alexander II, King of Russia in 1888, named after his mother Alexandrova. Ossi said that they call it the St. Mary Magdalen Church, and this is where he will later take the group to see the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was betrayed by Judas to the Roman hands.

Front of coin

Ossi then pulled out a Jewish coin to show the group that it can’t have any images on it, only geometric designs. He told a story about the coin, called the widow. There was a woman who brought this coin, which is a low value, to donate to the Temple, and usually people donated a half shekel and this is much less so when she donated it, everybody laughed at her. However, the priest came and said you shouldn’t laugh, this is old money that the woman has so it’s actually much more than what everyone else donated to the Temple.

Back of coin

After Davis’ group looked at the coin, Ossi had them look over to where a fortress used to be. This fortress was where Jesus was judged the second time, and from there he was sent to be crucified. They call it the ‘ suffering way’, Ossi said, with two domes at the end of the path. As Davis and his group stood in front of the domes, Ossi told them that one was where Jesus was crucified and one was where he was buried. The Christians believe that Jesus was crucified on top of Adam’s tomb, but the Muslims seem to have a different take on the events.

The Muslims didn’t come to Jerusalem first as they didn’t consider it a holy place for themselves. Ossi describes that instead, they settled about 10 miles from Jerusalem and in the 8th century, they developed a legend mentioned in the Koran saying that before Muhammad passed away, he arrived on a mule, a half horse, half donkey from Mecca. They say if this is the beginning, where Abraham was asked to sacrifice his child, so it should be the end as well. Thus, they called Jerusalemthe holy place’ and they built the black dome, Ossi said as he pointed it out in front of the group. In the Koran it says that Muhammad then walked to the Golden Dome and there he was lifted up to heaven by Noah, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus Christ.  They all welcomed him to heaven and showed his footprint on the rock there. This is why today the Muslims call the Golden Dome the Dome of the Rock because the rock is where his footprint was built by a Turk in the 16th century. This same Turk built the walls surrounding the Old City.

The Golden Dome

With the group thinking about the different religions’ interpretations, Ossi prepared for the next part of his tour. The next stops include the Church of All Nations, Jesus’ path through Via Dolorosa, the oldest olive trees in the world, and the Zion Gates.

To read what happens next in Davis’ trip to Israel, click here.

To read about Rent-a-Guide Tours, click here.

To read about Davis’ trip to Tel Aviv, click here.

To read about Davis’ trip in Jaffa and Tel Aviv, click here.

To read about Davis’ ride from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, click here.

To read about Davis' interview with the Sheraton Jerusalem Plaza Hotel's Executive Chef, click here.

To read about Davis’ trip  to Jerusalem, click here.

For more information go to Rent-a-Guide Tours

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