Jerusalem is the capitol city of Israel. Traveling here from Tel Aviv took 45 minutes. Instead of a $75.00 taxi ride we rode the public minibus direct to Jerusalem for $6.00 each. This was fun because the driver was crazy. He weaved in and out of traffic at high speeds and got us there at least 15 minutes earlier than scheduled.
While walking our luggage through the market to get to our apartment, we encountered our first Jerusalem street performer. This was the first time I have ever seen a Hasidic Jewish man doing something like this. He even sold his own cds. I never saw another street performer like him the rest of my time in Jerusalem.
We stayed in a residential apartment across from the iconic Machane Yehuda Market. Despite the looks of the buildings and tight alleyways, this is a very nice area. The inside was nicely decorated and very comfortable.
The Machane Yehuda market has been around since the late 1800s. During the day the market sells fruit, vegetables, spices, fish, meat, clothing, personal items, bread, sweets and wine. There are restaurants and pubs in the market that open until late except on Friday nights. Friday evening and all day Saturday is Shabbat [the Jewish Sabbath], most stores and retuaurants are closed during this time.
We arrived in Jerusalem during the Sukkot holiday. The word “Sukkot” (pronounced sue – coat) means “booths”. A sukkah (pronounced sue-kah) is a hut built to provide shade. Living in a sukkah instead of the comfort of home during the seven day holiday demonstrates a true faith in God and His compassion. If the weather is rainy then it’s okay not to sleep in the sukkah. It’s customary to have decorations hanging from the ceiling. The celing must be covered with something that grew from the ground and was cut off (tree branches, corn stalks, bamboo reeds, sticks, palm leaves, etc.).
“The lesson is that the physical objects with which we surround ourselves are not what make us happy. A person can live in a gorgeous home and be absolutely miserable. Or, he can live in a shabby hut and be ecstatically happy. The key to joy is success in our relationships. This includes our relationship with other people, with ourselves, and with God.” – Rabbi Shraga Simmons
It was such a privilege to see the different sukkot (plural for sukkah) around Jerusalem in honor of the holiday. I observed blessings being performed, people eating together, talking and spending time visiting each other’s sukkah.
As we were walking through the neighborhood streets a lady standing outside of her home asked us “did you shake?”. After we said we had not, she invited us into her sukkah.
Despite not being Jewish she invited me to come in for a blessing. Her husband was kind enough to explain to us in detail the true meaning of the Sukkot holiday and the prayer recited inside the sukkah. The prayer is named the Blessing over the Arba Minim (Four Species). This was an experience I will never forget.
An Israeli lemon (citron), date palm leaf, myrtle branch and willow branch represent the “four species”. When put together for Sukkot holiday, they are called a lulav.
She explained that the three branches are held together in the one hand and the citrus in the other. Both hands are held together close to the heart before being shaken during the prayer.
I repeated a prayer in Hebrew and waved the lulav in six directions: right, left, forward, up, down and backward bringing them back close to my heart in between shakes. The prayer meaning in English acknowledges God and thanks Him for all of the blessings He has given us. It was beautiful. I will always remember the couple that invited us in as angels with a message.
I’ve noticed more Orthodox Jewish people here than in Tel Aviv. One thing that really stands out is their clothing. Under Jewish law, men and women should keep their heads covered almost all the time in public. When Orthodox Jewish women get married some wear wigs instead of scarfs (in public) to cover their real hair.
Haredi Jewish men, Rabbis and Orthodox men wear black formal Homburg hats (black felt hats with a larger brim). Younger Orthodox men wear them during holidays and special occasions.
A shtreimel is a fur hat Hasidic (ultra orthodox) Jewish men wear after they are married. These hats are custom made and covered in real fur. The shtreimel is also worn on special holidays. Because the hat is made of real fur, the cost of these hats can range from $1,000.00 to $5,000.00 (USD). The bride’s father is responsible for purchasing a shtreimel for the groom. These hats can also represent their country of origin (Eastern Europe).
Most of the men wear kippots (skull caps). In America they are known as yamakas. It was amazing to see the different varieties these come in. I never knew they could be stylish until I visited Israel. I didn’t see anyone wearing a sports logo on their heads.
Some men have white strings hanging off the sides of their waist. This is called a tzitzit (pronounced sit-sit). The tzitzit is worn as a reminder of the commandments in the Torah. Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish men wear white shirts, black pants and coats. The black clothing has several symbolic meanings, I have been told. Wearing black helps keep priorities straight without the worry of what to wear. I was also told it’s very formal to wear black and therefore it is worn during special holidays and occasions.
The long curls on the sides of guy’s heads really got my attention. These sidecurls are called Payot. The Torah states, “Do not round off [the hair] at the edges of your heads.” Orthodox Jewish men and boys wear their hair this way. Depending on the Jewish group a man is from, the length and style varies. I’ve been told that some of the men get their curls done in a salon for special occasions!
Going to the Yad Vashem museum was another experience I will never forget. The name “Yad Vashem” is taken from a verse in the Book of Isaiah. The name of the museum pays tribute to the names of Jewish victims who have no one to carry their name after death.
“Even unto them will I give in my house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off” Isaiah 56:5
Yad Vashem is a world Holocaust remembrance center. The museum sits on Mount Herzl and is surrounded by the serenity of trees and open landscape. Around the museum, a tree has been planted for each person who ultimately risked their lives to help Jewish people hide from the Nazis during the Holocaust. A plaque is placed under each tree with the individual’s name engraved on it.
Every year more and more is added to the museum. Personal items and heirlooms that belonged to victims during the horrifc genocide are still being found throughout Europe. Inside the museum are personal items, news articles, clothing, diaries and personal accounts from survivors and deceased victims. I can’t put into words the horrors these human beings endured. Seeing the evidence and listening to stories from survivors left me hurt and disappointed in mankind. There were times I had to sit down and try to process what I had just read, heard or seen before going any further. No photos were allowed so I don’t have anything to show from the inside. I spent hours in the museum and still didn’t get to see and read everything in the detail I wanted to.
Thanks to American business magnate Sheldon Adelson, a new beautiful wing has been added on with even more information, artifacts and documents. This newest addition was designed by famous Israeli architect, Moshe Safdie. Its such a beautiful building. The triangle shape structure is built into the mountain and supports the pressure of the earth above a triangular base.
Another beautiful thing about Israel is the “Law of Return” established in 1950. Israel welcomes all Jewish people to return to Israel and live under citizenship with open arms (some restrictions apply: ie criminal records, etc). If a person is Jewish (having a Jewish mother or maternal grandmother or a Jewish father or grandfather) and converts to Judaism they are eligible for this privilege. The love is amazing that Israel has for Jewish people internationally. I truely believe that Jewish is not only a religion but an ethicity. Having this law of return gives a homeland to this human race.
Unlike the graffiti in Tel Aviv, the spray painted artwork here is beautiful. Most of the vendors in the market have a portrait of a person painted on their door. This is exposed when the business is closed.
Jerusalem is very special because of the diversity this city holds. Yes there are lots of Orthodox Jewish men and women walking around and yes it is a very modest city but what makes it miraculous lies within the unity.
The Old City of Jerusalem deserves it’s own post. This is the site of the most Holy and religious historical places on earth. People live within this city and from what I hear the cost of living is the highest here. There are four sections in the Old City with three different religions living harmoniously within these walls.
Inside the Old City are people of different denominations coming together to praise God as they understand Him to be. Jewish, Muslim and Christians each have a place to go here that hold high historical significance to their faith. It was beautiful to see Muslims and Jewish people using the same pathway to enter different Holy places to worship God.
I have fallen in love the with the spirituality of Jerusalem and the Old City. I find myself reading more and more about the history of Judaism and the teachings in the Torah. Like all spiritural things I’m interested in, I take what is useful and makes sense to me and try to apply it in my daily of life.
I have never seen a group of happy smiling religious Chinese tourist until I came here. They were crowding the gift shops buying shofars and anointment oils by the case. Later in the evening they were singing and praising God and Israel while dancing in the streets.
During our visit to the Old City on the night of Shabbat [the Jewish Sabbath] we saw many different religious figures walking through the gates.
The Old City has so many sacred places you can actually feel the spirituality in the air as soon as you enter the gates. People of all faiths live within the Old City and children are raised here. There isn’t much greenery and its 95% stone so its hard to imagine how much fun kids would have playing outside. The only thing that I found inappropriate was a tattoo parlor in the Christian quarter. I mean really – why is it there and is that necessary? Our tour group walked past and we could hear the tattoo gun buzzing. Businesses and restuarants are throughout the Old City.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is very sacred to Christians. This is the place where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, and where he is said to have been buried and resurrected.
The Stone of Anointing, is believed to be the spot where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial. People were kneeling by the stone laying crosses and religious personal things on top of the stone for a blessing.
I believe God speaks to me through coincidences, timing and other people. All of those things have happened many times since I have been in Jerusalem. This city has a mysticism that is evident. There is also an energy in the air that is electric.
We went to the wailing wall on the eve of Shabbat [the Jewish Sabbath] during Sukkot holiday. It was packed with people. I made my way through to touch the sacred wall, place my written prayer inside the wall and say a prayer. This was the most powerful place I have ever been in my life. I absolutely felt a divine vibration in the air that night.
After the ceremony was over at the wailing wall we took a different route out of the Old City. This tunnel to the Damascus Gate of the Old City is on the edge of the Arab market. During the daytime the Arab market was colorful and lively. Things changed in the evening. Most of the shops were closed and there was a very heavy police presence.
The police were all armed with machine guns, gloves with plastic knuckles, belts loaded with bullets, a handgun and other accessories. They were in groups of 5 and 6 at each entrance alley way and in the dark corners. It was a big change from the Jaffa Gate we had entered in earlier. When we finally got to the exit, two large horses with armed police riders were there.
We asked a taxi driver to take us back to the gate we arrived but he couldn’t turn on the meter due to it being Shabbat [the Jewish Sabbath]. So we ended up walking around the wall of the Old City to the gate we entered from, then walked the streets from there home. It was a long walk.
We went back another day to pray at the wailing wall and see Temple Mount. I spent extra time at the wailing wall just pressed up against it with my head resting on my hands meditating and praying for everyone I knew and could think of. I even prayed for people I didn’t like. Again it was a powerful experience.
Temple Mount is (known as Mount Zion in the Old Testament) has been idolized as a Holy site for thousands of years by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The gold dome is made of real solid gold. It is also one of the most contested religious sites in the world.
We waited in a long line to get in Temple Mount before they started letting anyone in. After going through security, showing our passports, and having our bags searched, we got in. This time we were stopped at the entrance because Doug had on shorts and he had to have his legs covered. For $5.00 (USD) Doug rented a long skirt to wear and turn back in on the way out. It was either pay the money for the skirt or leave the area.
The Israeli government limits entires into Temple Mount to twice a day for one hour. Strangely, this area is under the management of the Jordanian government.
The Israeli government also enforces a ban on prayer by non-Muslims. This was confusing to understand but there were signs about this prayer ban posted outside the gates before we entered. Muslims are free to pray on Temple Mount, however, Christians and Jewish people are forbidden from singing, praying, or making any kind of “religious displays”. Despite the rules, I touched the temple and said a prayer in my head for both our families, extended families and friends.
During times of political tension, Fridays and some Jewish or Muslim Holy Days only Muslim men over a certain ages are allowed inside the area. However, Muslim women can enter regardless of their age anytime. After seeing the Temple Mount and walking over to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the hour was over for visitors.
Armed police walked around and made sure everyone was heading to the exit. A Jewish tour group was surrounded by police escorts during their tour. We asked several police why they had so many police around them and answer was “they are Jewish”.
Just seeing this Divine area in person, I still can’t believe (even now) I was actually there in person.
Food in Jerusalem is incredible. There are many international options to choose from. Israeli, Turkish, Iranian, Italian and Ethiopian restaurants were all over the place. Kebabs were my favorite. The spices mixed with lamb and beef grilled on an open flame was great at every restuarant I had them. Believe it or not Israelis know how to make great fries. All of the fries we ordered were made fresh to order. We spent the money ($$$$) one night and treated ourselves to the famous restaurant Machneyuda. They have gourmet meats and dishes that are rated 5 stars in every travel book and food site. This was worth every penny. The grilled tongue was a specialty I loved the most.
Just like Tel Aviv, I didn’t want to leave. I can’t imagine a better place. But this kind of thinking is what kept me from being so scared of changes. The funny thing is most (if not all) of the changes I’ve experienced have been better than what I could ever imagine in my wildest dreams.