Israel Immersion Trip: Journal 4
Aaron Bonar ‘10 - After our usual group breakfast, we traveled to the outskirts of the Old City of Jerusalem. We quickly learned that the “old city” isn’t really the old city at all; the original City of David is on a lower hill to the south of the current Old City. The outer walls we see today were actually built 450 years ago by the Turks, and they don’t encompass the original City of David or Mount Zion (the builders lost their lives for this error). We walked through the Jaffa Gate, where we were able to see a major church built by the Germans. We also saw the Tower of David but learned, as with many sites in the Old City, that the tower has nothing to do with David; it’s actually a minaret built by the Turks with no relationship to the line of David. It was later named in his honor.
We saw the Dome of the Rock, a holy site for Muslims and Jews alike (Mohammed ascended here, and Abraham bound Isaac in the same spot), but non-Muslims are not allowed to enter. From atop a fortress built by King Herod, one could also see a Russian Orthodox church built upon the spot where Jesus ascended into Heaven. As I looked at all of these sites from the tower, I felt chills up and down my spine. After reading the Bible and hearing about all of these miraculous events, I was finally seeing them myself (or, at the very least, seeing where they might have taken place). The thought of viewing the same land that early Christians, Jews, and Muslims viewed was and still is awe inspiring. After spending some time at a museum that detailed the different ancient periods of Jerusalem, the group moved on to Mount Zion. Mount Zion is the (assumed) home of the Tomb of King David and of the room of the Last Supper, two extremely holy sites. Even though the tomb may not really contain David’s remains, our guide Mike explained that the site is revered because, if nothing else, it gives Jews and Christians alike a place to pay their respects to the warrior king. The room of the Last Supper is also questionable; it was actually built by the Crusaders on top of what was assumed to be the original room. Regardless, the sites themselves were still incredible.
After walking down a partially reconstructed Byzantine era street, the group stopped for a quick lunch. We proceeded to the remains of the Temple of Jerusalem and, of course, to the Western (or Wailing) Wall. Even at this incredibly holy site, the story is still incorrect; the wall itself is not the western wall of the temple, but rather the western portion of a wall that surrounded it and also a part of the artificial mountain built to support the temple. Still, the wall itself had a mystical feel; just standing in front of it humbled me. For the believers, one could not help but feel a little of the power of the Almighty. It may sound cheesy, but I swear that it is true. After standing for a few moments in silent respect, I tore out a piece of paper from my journal, wrote a small prayer, and stuck it into the wall as many people do. It was an experience to say the least.
The group continued into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site (for most non-Protestant Christian groups) where Jesus was crucified and buried. We learned that six prominent Christian sects (Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, and Egyptian Orthodox) continue to fight over the land on which the church rests. The large Greek chapel there is built on the site where St. Helena supposedly found the True Cross, and it was one of the most beautiful old chapels I have ever seen.
The group continued on to the last tour of our day: the tour through the Western Wall Tunnel. As we toured the original ground level of the city (as with most old cities, buildings were built on top of other buildings as time progressed), we got a real sense of how high the original walls around the temple were. We also understood the scale of the process; most of the stones in the wall weighs thousands of pounds and are about 45 feet long. Getting them up the mountain to build the wall had to be an impressive feat. We also learned that, although all four walls are still standing, the western wall is the most important because it is the closest wall to the Holiest of Holies, the back part of the temple that contained the holiest relics of the Jewish faith. This fact creates a strong emotional connection for the Jewish people; they cannot touch the actual remains of the temple, but they can pray at the closest wall. After the tour concluded, we were escorted through the Arab Quarter and, after an unintentional detour that gave us a wonderful night time view of Jerusalem, returned to the hotel for dinner.
After spending an entire day in a holy place, one cannot help but sit and reflect upon the experience. I still cannot believe that I walked in the same places that Abraham and Jesus walked (maybe not the exact places due to centuries of construction, but close enough); it boggles my mind. The millennia that the city has lived through and all of the hardships it has faced are hard to comprehend by themselves, and the soul quivers when one thinks about all of the holy events that happened here. It has been quite a journey.
I’d like to close with a comment from Mike, our guide, about Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a “Five to One” city:
5 – 5,000 years of history
4 – Four quarters of the Old City (Christian, Jewish, Armenian, and Muslim)
3 – Three major religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam)
2 – Two national entities (Jewish and Palestinian)
1 – One city under one monotheistic God
Photos: Top- Walking the streets of Jerusalem, Bottom- Overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem on top of King David's tower