Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Today’s focus was about Jesus and the key places he spent his short time in Jerusalem.
We departed on the bus at 8 am to go to the Dung Gate in Old Jerusalem. When we first entered the Temple Mount archeological site, it took my breath away. I’ve seen the Roman ruins, but this was different because this is where Jesus spent his last week! Once again today, I pinched myself to make sure it was real.
Rodney started us off in the Jerusalem Archaeological Park museum where we watched a film depicting activities faithful Jews did when on the Temple Mount…ritual cleansing, purchasing sacrifices, offering them to the priests, etc. The semi-animated film showed the magnitude of the Temple, occupying nearly a fifth of the total square area of Jerusalem at the time, and was truly the heartbeat of the city. After the film, Rodney had us gather around a model of the Temple Mount while he talked about the archeological history before and after Christ’s time.
From there we walked around to see the western side of the temple with its ruins. Then we went around to the south end to see the public-access steps that Jesus most likely used to go up and into the Temple. We finished our stop there by 10 am, and it was already very hot and dry.
A short walk from there was the Western/Wailing Wall. This is a place of historical and spiritual importance for Jewish people from around the world. This is the wall where Jews came for many centuries to pray near their ancient Temple; it was not the wall of the Temple, but rather a part of the Temple’s retaining wall. Visitors of any faith can sense its symbolic power. It has a men’s side and a women’s side. As we were walking up the ramp, a group of about 30 Jewish children were heading in the same direction, led by young adults. Rodney no sooner finished giving us an orientation about the wall, when children started singing, perhaps the same ones I’d seen. I walked to the women’s side with the other ladies. We observed for a while, then felt comfortable moving to the wall to get a coveted spot. First, you write your prayer on paper and fold it up into the smallest possible size. Once you are at the wall, you put the prayer into a crack in the limestone. Then you put your hands on the wall and pray. Some women bend one arm and cradle their faces in it; others stand there covening (the ritual of rocking back a forth as they pray); some women pulled plastic chairs up to the wall while they read the Torah. One woman was visibly shaking, her entire body, as she prayed. I finally moved forward, waited a while for a slot to open, then did as the Jewish women did to squeeze in next to wall huggers who’d been there a long time. I touched the wall … it was stone cold on this hot day! The whole time we were there, the children were singing. I can still hear them.
We left the Wall and proceeded to the Church of Saint Anne and the Pools of Bethesda. Here we entered St. Anne’s Church, a commemoration to Mary’s mother, Anne. The grounds include the Pools of Bethesda site; the scriptures tied to this site talk about the cripples and paralytics, hence the pool is dedicated to the god of healing during the Roman era.
(In the video above our group is singing Amazing Grace…groups are encouraged by the monks who operate the church to pray or sing in their native tongue.)
We had a long uphill walk back to the college mainly through tunnels and walkways in the Old City where trash was strewn along the sides (it was trash-pickup day).
This is one of my least favorite areas because there are street vendors everywhere (except intersections), some with their wares on tables, others on the street or sidewalk. Rev. Lauren and I giggled as we eyed the ladies’ underpants laid out for sale. We were happy to get back to the college for a cold refreshing lunch of assorted salads and fruit by Chef Joseph.
After lunch the bus took us to the town of Bethany where Jesus spent his nights during his time in Jerusalem, as he had many friends there. We talked about the biblical story of Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus who had died, but was resuscitated by Jesus. We went to the Church up a hill the Tomb of Lazarus. To see the tomb, you had to descend very steep downward-sloping steps which curved until you reached a landing; from there, you see a small opening through which is his tomb. I watched Fr. Rob crouch down and literally crawl on his butt to get into the tomb. No, thanks, I said. I’ll take your word for it. Back to the college on the bus.
By now most of us are becoming accustomed to the layout of the city and can identify various landmarks. (But, don’t ask me to drive in Israel/Palestine!) We had an extra two hours; some took naps, some went for a walk, and the rest of us went shopping at St. George’s souvenir shop which is owned by Abraham. He is an honest man who has a retail space that can’t be more than 10×10’. There were 8 or 9 of us plus Abraham in his shop for 10-15 minutes when he finally turned on the AC! He has oriental rugs covering the glass cases that contain tray after tray of assorted jewelry that you have to rummage through to find the goodies you’ll take home. We all left with packages in our hands, and Abraham had a big smile on his face. We had a cocktail-hour lecture (minus the cocktails) to discuss the sites we’ll visit in our last two days which focus on the Holy Week activities. Then dinner at 7.
Now I am finished my work for the day, and my eyes are getting weary. I’m loving this trip; hope you’re lovin’ it with us!! Bye for now!