Traveling in Israel - Adventures in Jerusalem

I could take days exploring Jerusalem and still not have enough of it. 


Israel - Garden Tomb - Israel Tourism Photo

One of the holiest cities on earth, Jerusalem has been a fighting point for all three major religions since ancient times.  It’s been a battleground as well as a place of wonder and worship.  A sense of the Lord permeates the whole area – even for those who are not religious. 

The golden Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem's landmark, highlights the city. The glittering leaf was a present from King Hussein of Jordan.   A mosque, it is forbidden for anyone but the faithful Muslims to enter and is an island surrounded by the Temple Mount.  This is where the Night Journey of Mohammed reportedly occurred.


Israel - History before your eyes - the Western Wall tunnels

Behind here sits one of the few Mormon temples in the area.  

An unlikely place for a major city - it had no port and really did not cross any trade boundaries; it was, nevertheless, where King David, in 1,000 BCE, chose to make the capital of Judea.  

Until 1867, it was believed that the ancient Biblical city was synonymous with the Old City of Jerusalem.  However, archeologist Charles Warren, found out that David's city rested outside the city walls, just south of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.  Neither for that part is Mount Zion or the Mount of Olives, which are all places anyone at all religious will want to visit.  

The City of David, which now attracts over a half million visitors annually, is now one of Israel's Heritage Sites.  Many revered places of Biblical archeology dating back to 4,000 BCE can be found here.  Not only did David, Solomon, and Hezekiah rule here but prophets as Isaiah and Jeremiah walked, sharing G-d's vision for a moral and just world, but remains of Canaanite, Hasmonean, Herodian, Roman, Byzantine, early Muslim and, of course, Israeli, with the Babylonian destruction of 586 BCE, are also found.   Recently found were two clay tablets bearing the names of King Tzedekiah, a descendant of David's, and the last king to rule in the First Temple period.   The excavation at Tel Dan Stele, in Israel' s north, mentions the House of David and gives proof to David's existence. 


Israel - King David's Tomb

I was especially moved when I visited the tomb of King David.  Taking a few moments for prayer, I made sure that I was sneezes (modest) with my sleeves were properly below my elbows and skirt below my knees.  There, in the Orthodox tradition, men and women sit separately and have separate entrances.  I am told the reason for the separation is that men (fragile as you guys are) are too easily distracted from their prayers and need the concentration. 

It was David who planned the First Temple. Because of his bloodshed, however, it was his son, Solomon, who completed it.  That stood until the Babylonians attacked and sent the Jews into exile.   King Herod, known by some for his cruelty and excesses, as well as his Roman favoritism, was the creator of the Temple Mount platform and the expansive Second Temple.  Since much of Israel gathered here for the High Holidays ( Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) as well as Sukkot (our harvest holiday), Passover (celebrating the exodus) and Shavous (the giving of the Torah), there was no need for other places of worship.  Not until its destruction did the Jews, especially those expelled from the land, needed to create synagogues. 


Israel - Jaffa Gate at Night - israel tourism Photo

The Temple Mount, under which lies Mount Moriah, sacred to all three, is reportedly where Abram took Isaac (Islam claims Ishamel was the son) to be sacrificed, where Jesus preached, and where Mohammed ascended the golden ladder to heaven.  The mosque Haram Al- Sharif is the Arabic name for the Temple Mount and it is here that the mosque Al- Aqsa resides.  Below here is the Well of Souls, for the religious Muslims only, and may be, according to one documentary, the hiding place of the holy Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail, hidden when the Romans invaded Jerusalem


Israel - Crusader Columns

The 12th century Knights Templar, who protected the pilgrims in the holy land, excavated here.  If they found anything it was well re-hidden and tales of this abound in many legendary forms. 

Burned and sacked by the Romans in 70 AD, the Temple's only remaining structure - The Western Wall or Kotel - became a holy spot for Jews.  (Who, under Roman rule, were not permitted in the city nor were they welcome when the Crusaders had control.) 

It’s said “A prayer from Jerusalem, at the wall, is a local call to G-d. From anywhere else, it is long distance.”  At the wall, Jewish feelings surface in a way that surprises many. Tradition has it that if you write a prayer on a small paper and wedge into one of the wall's cracks - either here or within the tunnels - your words are “carried” straight to G-d. 


Israel - Cat in Jerusalem

The wall and plaza is a popular place for Bar Mitzvahs and weddings.  Women are separated from men here and are asked to be modest in their dress. 

It is possible to walk the old city walls and get a great view of the city below, as well as the city beyond.  

A self-walking tour of the Old City will take several hours, if not more.


Israel - Jerusalem - Via Dolorosa

Pre-1967 war much of Jerusalem was held under Jordanian rule and the closest the Israelis could get was a hill top view where the then President of Israel had his home.

We entered into the famed old city by the Jaffa Gate through the Herodian streets toward Armenian quarter and the Tower of David.  Jerusalem's old city is divided into four distinct areas - the Armenian is the smallest, the Muslim where the Dome of the Rock is, the Jewish quarter that houses the Western Wall, and the Christian with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Zion gate is the one closest to Mount Zion and is nearest the Jewish quarter. 


Israel - Gestheme - Israel Tourism Photo

If you go on a Friday morning at 6:30 am, you will see pilgrims - over 2 million - dragging a cross and walking Jesus' “Path of Sorrows” - his last route - from the Muslim quarter through the Christian quarter on  the Via Dolorosa, stopping where he was flagellated by the Romans at station #2, fell at station #3,  helped by Roman soldier at #4, and at #32 Via Dolorosa given a cloth to wipe his sweat, which became station #6.  The fabric reportedly remains housed now at the Vatican.

The city had been a forgotten sleepy Roman enclave when Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, The Great - who made Christianity the national religion - traveled to Jerusalem in 312 AD looking for fragments of the cross that Jesus died on.  Reportedly, she found it on what she thought was Golgatha -or the Calvary - outside what was then the city walls, where Jesus was crucified.  From there, she built the Church of the Holy Sepulcher


Israel - Church of the Sepulcher

It was not really until the time of Constantine in the 4th century that Christianity really divided from Judaism - it had been regarded as just a sect of the religion before then - and came into its own as a major force since the Emperor brought in many pagans who knew nothing of the  Jewish history and heritage that Jesus had brought along. 

As the church serves not only the Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Protestants - tension runs high in the courtyard.  No one is allowed to cross into another's territory. 

Israel - Jerusalem - Church of the Sepulcher - Israel Tourism Photo


We listened as the priests fervently prayed Mass and stepped in part of an ancient Armenian cave saved from the Crusader days. 

At the church, you'll find the last of Jesus' steps. These include not only the place where he was crucified - steep steps up to the top of the church; the cave below the church, where he rose from, and the Rock of Ascension, where his body was laid out for burial.  This marble slab becomes a source of tears and emotion for many pilgrims. A hole under the altar allows pilgrims to touch the cave where it is believed Jesus rose from. 


Israel - Rock of the Ascession - Jerusalem

While the church has had several modifications since the 4th century inception, much of the original building still remains.


Isreal - At the gate to the old city

While you're in the area, you can't miss the room where Jesus had his last supper, which was actually a Passover meal.  (Many of my Christian friends still do not realize that Jesus was an Orthodox Jew fighting against the system.) The room, which during Muslim times became a mosque for Saladin, is open daily except for Yom Kippur and overlooks beautiful gardens. 

At 1 p.m., the old city becomes alive again with Muslims headed toward their afternoon prayer. You can hear the call to worship echoing through the loud speakers in the city. 

The markets - Muslim, Jewish and Christian - are fascinating to walk through (though I would hesitate going through the Muslim quarter myself, especially at night fall). 


Israel - Jerusalem Street

Be sure that you negotiate anything you buy.  (We, Americans, are used to being told a price and paying it.  That's not how it's done here.  Whatever the buyer asks for, tell him you pay him a fraction of that and work your way up to a reasonable cost.  My friend bought a beautiful hand-woven blanket for far less than it would have cost her in the States, but only because she had the guts to bargain.)  

One of the tee-shirt sayings I especially liked was "America don't worry; Israel has your back." 


Israel - History before your eyes - the Western Wall tunnels

Pausing to listen to several Orthodox young men singing psalms, we trekked down the Cardio, which was the main road (or heart) of the ancient city and where many shops are still located. This leads to the Jewish quarter.   

Of course, Friday afternoon is also holy for the Jews as they hurry about preparing for the Shabbat - the 7th day of rest - which starts just before sundown on Friday and goes until after sundown on Saturday night.


Israel - Jerusalem At the Western Wall

We wandered quickly through the Austrian House.  An austere, inexpensive, hotel within the old city, it's, nevertheless, popular with tourists. The lovely gardens are a nice place to have a tea break.

As a lover of history, one of my favorite undiscovered places are the Western Wall Tunnels.  Funded by private donations, it is constantly making new strides into understanding the history of Israel


Israel - Praying Inside the Wall Tunnel - Israel Tourism Photo

Started by Charles Warren under Queen Victoria's reign, this little known tourist treat books up way in advance.  You might be lucky and get a tour on the day you wish, but it's best to call ahead.   Admission for the guided tour, which can take several hours, ranges from 15-30 NS.   Through these tunnels, you will see history before your eyes as you pass under the Dome of the Rock, Mount Moriah, and see the burned walls from the second temple.   It's said by some to be more holy than the actual Western Wall, itself, since you are so much closer to the foundation. 

As with the other ancient cites, the streets are narrow, steep and good walking shoes are required.  There are many small cafes to stop and have coffee, pita, humus, techina (ground chick peas), halavah (a sesame Middle Eastern sweet), as well as hamburgers, etc. 


Israel - The "Bite Card"

A fascinating market place is Machane Yehudah.  One of Jerusalem’s central market’s, they offer a “taste card” for $25 USD (pre-paid.)  The offerings vary each month.  Our first stop was at Uzi Eli’s “The Esrog Man.”  (The esrog – a lemon shaped fruit used during the holiday of Sukkot – is has many uses.) Uzi makes herbal remedies from old traditional sources.  A 3rd generation healer and a descendant from Rambaum (a medieval Jewish doctor also named Maimomides) he says he has treatments for various aliments from migraine, sinus, diabetes, chronic fatigue, etc.   


Israel - The Esrog Shop

While in the market we watched techina – ground chickpeas - and halavah – a sesame sweet- being made in over 100 different flavors. This Middle Eastern treat is an acquired taste, but wonderful when you get accustomed to it. 

One can also rent a bike and discover Jerusalem the two wheeled way. 

We passed through government hill where the Knesset (Parliament of Israel) stood, along with the national banks, and courts.   Those interested in education might want to arrange a tour of the Hebrew University, which is ranked among the top international schools in the world.


Israel - Yad V'Shem memorial

Those interested in the marvelous Israeli medical procedures might want to arrange a tour at Hadassah Hospital, a few miles outside the city.

Our hotel was the glamorous Inbal Jerusalem, not far from the old city.  A popular resort hotel and populated by many Americans the ambience is warm, welcoming and restful.  My suite overlooked the old city and I was able to see the glowing lights of Jaffa Gate.  Depending on the room type and season, prices start around $390 USD.    

We dined that night at Joy's, a sumptuous steak house, located in the upscale Maxilla shopping mall.  Nearby, also in the mall, is an Israeli restaurant chain - Café Café - which you will see all over Israel

One cannot leave Jerusalem, or Israel for that matter, without a visit to Yad Vashem.  "A country is not just what it says, it is what it tolerates."  Many is Israel are or know of or related to survivors. 


Israel - Yad V'shem memorial - Box car that the "undesirables" were transported in - Israel Tourism Photo

 An audio guide is available there.  Allow several hours, if not more, for your visit here.

A memorial to the Holocaust, it also serves as an International Study for Holocaust Studies and are a source of testimonials, diaries and stories of those who survived.  Funded only by private donations, it works hard to educate many, especially future generations, some of still do not believe the horrific things happened.   One of the broken box cars that carried not only Jews, but many others – gay, gypsy, blacks, disabled -- and all who disagreed on were thought not worthy to be within the Third Reich, to their death sits on the mountain top above.  Stories and histories of many of the SS show that in some respects they were “normal family men” enjoying every day pursuits that they denied others.  So why and how did they turn into such alternative monsters?  Was it just the craving for power?


Israel - Yad V'Shem - Garden of Righteous

In the Garden of Righteous plaques recall the few, like Oskar Schindler and the missing Raul Wallenberg, who upheld their moral beliefs to protect those around them. 

While there are many other wonderful places to visit in the Jerusalem area, including the Israel Museum – where the Dead Sea scrolls are displayed; Land of the Bible Museum is also a great place for historical interest. 

We spent a delicious late afternoon eating home-made goat cheese and Israeli wine from the Golan Heights at the Seltzer Goat Farm. About 30 minutes outside the city, on very rough country  mountain roads,  the farm is run by Shai – a character, himself – and his son, Omar.   Open Fridays and Saturdays for tasting, this working cheese factory has a variety of tastes that vary with the season. What the goats eat depends on the cheeses produced.  One particular fascinating one can be only be made a few weeks a year and it reportedly lowers blood sugar in diabetics.  Families come from all over the world for these famous tastes.  Call ahead for directions.


Israel - Shai - Patriach Cheese Maker of Seltzer Farms

A friend of mine who recently made alliyah ( which means to "go up" and is the word often used for people who return from other countries to settle in Israel) said to be that despite the bureaucracy she has to deal with - and there is plenty in Israel - and the somewhat higher costs of living, she feels as if she is home. 

There is so much more to see in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, but, alas, time was a factor.  All I can say is “Next Year in Jerusalem.”



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