Ancient Jerusalem

20:52 Alyson Tart 1 Comments

It took me a long time to get around to writing about Tel Aviv because I just couldn't quite pinpoint my feelings on the city.

It has taken me even longer to do so with Jerusalem, as my flash forward to Sweden may have led you on.

Our time in Jerusalem was short - about 24 hours - and right before Shabbat. I don't think I knew what to expect other than a history to rival my beloved Turkey.

What did I find when I went in with no expectations?

First of all, an understanding of the turmoil around this packed city. Within the city walls, you've got some of the most important religious sites for Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Some sites are even the same! You've got the Dome of the Rock built on top of the Western Walls. Because of this, the tensions run high all the time, but even more so on Fridays, the holy days for Judaism and Islam. As we walked the streets, there were barriers and police out to keep the peace. I thought it may have had something to do with Merkel's visit to the city which corresponded with our own visit, but haven been told that it's not unusual there. On our first night there, we wandered the city in the evening as it was lit up, providing a much more tranquil look at the city, even affording us the opportunity to walk right up to the Western Wall (as long as you didn't interrupt others prayers).


Secondly, it's truly a place of pilgrimage for people. I went because of the history, but so many people go for religion and to follow in the steps of the key religious figures. Many Christians follow Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering) that is supposed to be the steps Jesus took with the cross, with the final ending point in the Church of the Holy Sepulchure where you can wait in line to kiss the area his body was washed or enter the building around his tomb. The holes in the walls are stuffed with tiny little notes and prayers, the floors worn soft from millions of people's treads to walk where Jesus walked, touch the ground he walked or even died on, and often times these relics are streaked with the tears of those making the pilgrimage.


Every corner you turn there is something important, from a marker of the Dolorosa to a church where the last supper was held. And for some, it's probably awe-inspiring and emotional and reaffirming. For others, overwhelming and a bit distancing.


I wandered away from the religious sites to other places in the city walls - the markets with vendors pedaling nativity scenes or t-shirts, street stalls selling fresh fish, men enjoying a chat on the steps of a shop. These were familiar - these felt like home to me, taking me back to my days of Istanbul. I wandered the winding streets, losing myself, even in the calm of a quiet Friday morning , only to stumble out upon some important monument yet again. While Friday isn't the best day to visit because of the tensions and because the shops close, it also gives the city an eerie abandoned quality that you'll miss during the hustle and bustle of other days.


So as the calls to prayer beckoned and people rushed towards the mosques and synagogues, I slunk back out of Jerusalem to finish my time in Tel Aviv. Months later and I still can't quite figure out what I feel about it. People ask and my answer is vague - I guess the only thing to say is, you'll have to discover the city and your feelings on it for yourself.


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