Jerusalem, Israel: An Amazing Place
Tourism and Spirituality in Jerusalem
On a roof-top cafe, Old Jerusalem is gloriously sread out before me. To the north is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally believed to be the site of Christ's cruxificion, burial, and resurrection. To theeast, the Temple Mount, where the first and second Jewish Temples were erected, where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac, and most significantly, where sat the Sacred Altar, or "Holy of Holies." At its center sits the unmistakable Dome of the Rock, the location which for Muslims, indicates where the prophet Muhammad dreamt he ascended into heaven.
Jerusalem is an exceptionally well-kept city with an unexpected European feel. The tourism industry must bring in a staggering amount of money, as even now, in late February, tourists are everywhere. Which is inevitably what takes away from the mystique of a place. Via Dolorosa, for instance, (the path traditionally believed to have been taken by Christ during his last hours) could be a poignant spiritual experience if not for the souq merchants hassling you every five minutes. In the Holy Sepulchre Church throngs of predominantly Christian tourists press against each other to view Christendom's most holy place, but to be perfecly honest, I felt little more than irritation. Firstly, it is not 100% certain that these are the exact spots of Christ's death, burial and resurrection, yet at the supposed site where they took Jesus off the cross, now marked by a highly polished slab of rock, pilgrims kneel before it, digging in plastic bags or purses for various trinkets, rubbing them (whether they be plastic crosses, books or coin purses) upon the slab in hopes of imbuing them with some sort of divine power. (At the time, This brought to my mind those whom flock to view tortillas with burn marks resembling the face of a woman (it must be Mary!) or, as happened in Portland not too long ago, the faithful few who crowded under an overpass to view "Christ's face," manifested, they say, in a combination of accumulated exhaust fumes and sludge-like runoff from the highway above). Secondly,An overpowering sense of ritual pervaded every aspect of this experience: Lighting candles, burning incense, uttering 100 (not 99!) hail Marys. I realize that symbolism can be an effective means of professing one's faith and indicating where one stands, but I can't deny the whole thing felt somehow...contrived, extravagant and generic. Christ, executed and humbly buried, is now remembered here by ornate shrines of silver and gold and intricately fashioned works of art. But of course, this begs the question: Does He deserve anything less? In spite of my, perhaps overly critical observations, Christ himself walked and talked in this very city, and that is certainly reason to pause, and reflect.
The Western Wall
My time spent at the Wailing, or Western Wall (The last remnant of the 2nd Temple built under King Herod) was in some ways a profound experience. Little cardboard yarmulkes are distributed, and though the slightest breeze blows them off, you are required to wear them. Within minutes of my arrival I was approached by a somewhat unconventionally dressed Jewish man who immediately began educating me in Othodox Judaism.
Reluctantly, I followed him into an area seeming much too solemn for conversation, where Jewish men prayed and read, and where intricately designed scrolls containing the Torah were housed. I did notice, from the glances of others, that this was an unpopular man, and after receiving his blessing upon me I found out why. The ever-disappointing plea for money manifested itself for, what else?, an operation for his ailing mother. *sigh* Perhaps three seconds after beginning his pitch, an older gentleman, probably a rabbi, let him have it. Unsurprisingly, it is seriously frowned upon to panhandle in such a sacred area, and the rabbi made it clear:"Do not give him money." He didn't have to tell me twice, or even once for that matter. I finally rid myself of my new "friend" and touched the Wailing Wall. It is inevitable for myself to feel a swelling of emotion in the immediate face of such history, tradition and sanctity. The mind reels, contemplating the religious significance of this small remnant of the 2nd Temple. Notes of prayer fill every nook and cranny of this ancient wall, a wall which has inspired the faith of both Jews and Christians for two-thousand years.
City of God
Jerusalem has left a great impression upon me, and it's unfortunate that it's so costly, as I could only afford to stay there a few days. There was such a sense of ease there, no feelings of tension, or danger, just a beautiful city steeped in the history of significance. What also was impressed upon me was the strong feeling of community among not only those of the Jewish faith, but Muslims and Christians as well. The sounds of schools are ever-prevalent, as are the children, singing, playing, and walking through the narrow streets of Old Jerusalem unaccompanied, as if there was nothing to fear. And I must admit, it felt as if there was not.
And speaking of singing, it was hardly exclusive to children, My first day in the city had an infectiously celebratory mood to it. People were singing and playing drums inside the Gate of the Moors, singing and dancing in the shadow of the Western Wall, singing in perfect unison, hand in hand, as they hiked down the Mount of Olives. These were not the cacophonous (to my western ear) bellows heard five times a day from every minaret, but traditional Jewish folk songs. Songs that never failed in making me smile, and that stirred something deep inside of me. These are what I will always remember, and If I felt I had the right, or the knowledge, I might have joined in.