Monday, April 29, 2019

Day 18- 19 Caesarea, Rosh Hankira, Acre, Haifa

The ruins of Caesarea and Herod's Summer Palace

In the underground sea grottos of Rosh Hankira

The views from B'hai Gardens, top of Haifa

It's been an amazing time in Jerusalem and Israel.  I will be leaving shortly, but my last few days were very interesting.


First, I explored Caesarea and the ruins from the Roman period/time of Christ.  Herod's summer palace at the shore with his incredible views of the Mediterranean, so aqua and sublime.  Roman and ancient ruins have always been my passion so this was a delight for me.

The amphitheater at Caesarea is still used by musical groups today, and I found that both magical and poignant at the same time: people sitting there thousands of years ago, watching their theater acts, had no idea that over 2000 years in the future, people would still be sitting there watching entertainment.  It's pretty mindblowing.

We also explored the different ruins that are preserved there, including the Templar/Crusader ruins, where they held off the Muslims, badly outnumbered until they could finally escape and flee to another port.  Very interesting history all around.

Rosh Hankira

From Caesarea, we went on to the upper point of Israel, to the sea grottoes of Rosh Hankira, right on the Lebanese/Israeli border.  These grottoes were a beautiful natural occurrence, and we used a cable car to descend to sea level to reach them, as the coastline here reminds me of Greece -- cliffs to the very edge of the sea.  

From there, we ascended back up to the top of the cliffs, and walked the border a little bit, discussing the politics and history of the region.


From Rosh Hankira, we went on to Acre/Akko, where there is still a strong Templar history, with a large Templar hospice that has been restored and is now a museum.  

First, we ate a traditional Muslim lunch of salads, hummus, fresh warm pitas, and shawarma meats (beef, turkey, and chicken), washed down with lemon water.  We had a leisurely lunch, continuing our talks of history and politics, and other places we've traveled to or would like to see.  

After lunch, we walked through the Templar hospice museum and grounds and the catacombs (pretty scary and claustrophobic) and after enjoying that bit of history, we went out into the markets of Akko, now Muslim controlled, and just did a bit of shopping and exploring.  There were foods and wares of all sorts, and the Arabs love to haggle.  I was offered 10 new children and 2000 camels to marry the sweets vendor.  When I politely declined, he changed his offer.  "How about just one new child and 5000 camels?"  Sorry buddy, the answer is still No.  


After Acre, we went on to do some exploring in the ancient port city of Haifa, which is now a thriving metropolis.  Daniel, our guide, showed us around with extreme pride, as this was the city he was born in.  He brought us up to the very top of the city, to the B'hai Gardens, and we spent some time up there, enjoying the views and having some coffee and "baguettes".  

We headed back to Jerusalem then, as it was a two-hour drive back, and to be honest, by the time I got back to my apartment, I was pretty exhausted.   I had only slept a few hours the night before, and it really seemed to catch up with me -- especially after so many hours in the blinding sun.  Thankfully, I didn't get burned (I slathered myself with sunscreen early on) but some of the others in our little group did.  This guy Vincenzo from Rome turned beet red on his arms, neck, and face by lunchtime.  OUCH.

Now, off to Tel Aviv today for a day at the beach, and then early tomorrow morning, the long flight(s) back to the USA and home! 

Friday, April 26, 2019

Day 17

"Impending storm- Sea of Galilee" acrylic on canvas panel, 8" x 11"

"Flowers and sun on the Jordan River" acrylic on canvas panel, 8" x 11"

I spent today relaxing, doing laundry, and catching up on work and research.  I photoed these two studies I did over the last week during my travels.  I have to say, acrylic paint (for how convenient it is for traveling) leaves a learning curve for me haha.  But, it's all good.

The first painting was done in Migdal, before a storm rolled in over Galilee.  It was so peaceful that afternoon, like in a dream. 

The second painting was done at the Jordan River in the North, up by the Golan heights.  t was super sunny that day -- so bright and warm.

I have been enjoying working here in Israel -- it is a contemplative place, despite all the hubbub of Jerusalem.  It continues to be a wonderful journey!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Days 15 - 16 Jerusalem

Inside Christ's Garden Tomb

View from the Southern Rampart, Jerusalem Wall

View back to Jaffa Gate on the rampart corridor

Day 14 

I was sick.  No one wants to hear about bad shwarmas and food poisoning.  Nope.

Day 15 

I felt like I got somewhat better yesterday, so out I went, and although the stomach had calmed down, I still didn't feel like myself.  I meandered through the city, but it was so crowded, I thought I might go insane if I didn't find a quiet place to just be alone.

I decided to walk the ramparts of the city -- and it was a very beautiful and pleasant -- and SOLITARY -- walk.  I started from the Jaffa gate, and took it to the North, visiting the Arab quarters and the Damascus gate.  I got down off the wall there, and walked over to the Garden tomb again, and had an hour or so of quiet meditation in the Garden and in the tomb.  After, I left and wandered about in the Arab section for a little, buying some forbidden bread! It's still Passover week, so no bread in the Jewish areas -- but, the Arabs have zero inclination to stop selling it -- so I got myself a loaf for breakfast.

I headed back to the apartment, taking a pass through the shuk on the way, picking up some more rice and chicken to cook up for dinner, plus some fresh veggies, and just had a quiet night, because I still was not myself.

This morning, after a fitful night of a lingering belly ache and a relentless mosquito buzzing in my ear, I got up tired and crabby, but determined to do what I had planned to do today -- walk the ramparts to the South, plus explore down by the Kotel/Wailing wall, and go for a cup of coffee in Christchurch.

I headed out and the city was quieter today, with the pending close of the Passover holiday, and a full Shabbat coming a day early.  Everyone was busy at the shops buying for the weekend, so I was able to walk the ramparts to the South in peace.  This walk was a bit more precipitous than to the North, and with my fear of heights -- I had to push myself some of the way.  I was able to get some pretty views and a peaceful couple of hours up there before I descended back by the Jaffa gate, and went for a quiet cup of coffee in Christchurch. 

When I was leaving the bookstore by Christchurch, the cobblestones were slippery and I fell.  It was so sudden I didn't have time to be embarrassed -- my hand hit the cobbles with my phone face down.  I cringed, thinking, "that's that.  My phone is toast." But, to my surprise, no bones and no phone was broken.  Several people came to my aid, and kindly helped me, and I appreciated their concern.  There are still good people in this world, of every color and creed.

I took the slow path home and stopped to buy more milk, some fruit, and some fresh meat and veggies for the weekend.  Plus a few cookies-- the cookies in the shuk are amazing.  And, with everything closed, I felt a panic to make sure I had something sweet.  I'm not that disciplined even in the Holy Land! :-) 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Day 13 - Nazareth, Cana, Capernaum, Sea of Galilee

Mt. Tabor

Nazareth, campus of the Church of the Anunciation

Views from St. Peter's Primacy Church, Sea of Galilee

Today was a busy day.  We left at 5 am for the North -- to visit the Sea of Galilee and Golan Heights, and the biblical cities of Nazareth, Cana, Capernaum, Migdal (Magdala) and to see the river Jordan in the North.

We began our travels with a scenic route that brought us by the Valley of Megiddo (Armageddon) and Mt. Tabor, where Jesus was in conference with Elijah and Moses.  The Mountain was awash in rain and thunder, and I could feel, with a shiver up my spine, how it seemed the place such an occurrence would happen.  It was both beautiful, fascinating, and humbling, even from a distance.  It was also surreal to look at the Valley of Megiddo, now so picturesque and fertile after all the recent rains, and think upon it awash in blood for the final battle. Pretty mindblowing.

We continued to the city of Nazareth, now broken into two districts: Nazareth (lower) and Nazareth Ilit (upper).  The lower city is Muslim controlled, the city on the heights is Israeli.  We would need to visit the lower city to see the birthplace of Mary, and the home she lived in when she was visited by the angel Gabriel, about her task of bearing Jesus.  There were several beautiful churches marking these events: The Church of the Annunciation, the Basilica for Mary, and a Basilica for St. Joseph, which included the workshop of Joseph -- presumably where Jesus apprenticed and worked as a carpenter/craftsman, before beginning his Ministry.

From there, we drove through the scenic upper Nazareth, and on to Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding.  This is now also a Muslim controlled town, with many mosques.  There was a Greek Orthodox church to mark the spot of the wedding, but we didn't stop to investigate it.

We drove on through the picturesque countryside, stopping here and then to get tidbits of local history and to just rest and absorb the beautiful rolling hills and mountains.  As we approached the Sea of Galilee we stopped for a coffee and snack break.  The Arabs were running the coffee shop, so pastries were available (no pastries in Jewish shops for obeyance of Passover) and we had a little time to just chat about the current history of Israel and the ongoing conflicts with the Muslims.

We continued on to the Sea of Galilee, and to the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, at the base of the mountain where Jesus gave the Beatitudes (there was a chapel there built during the Byzantine era that the Crusaders took apart, and rebuilt at the top of the mountain -- better real estate!).  The little chapel at the edge of the "sea" was so charming-- and the Sea, well, it was absolutely breathtaking.  The water was in a constant color change from the fast-moving clouds -- one minute, steel grey, the next, bright aqua blue, moving into a navy blue when the sun crept behind the cover.  The flowers, the breeze, the clean, sparkling vista -- it was just sublime.

We stayed there for a while so I could record some impressions, notes, and color studies. Personally, I could just pitch a tent there and stay, but we had to move on to other places and the day was starting to wear into late afternoon.

We decided to explore the ruins Capernaum, which is now a beautiful site of Roman and Hebrew relics, with a Church and a Synagogue on site.  The ruins are very impressive, with maps of the whole area clearly delineated, and are extensive enough to get a good idea of what the city looked like in the time of Christ.

A little while later, we lunched at a restaurant right on the Sea, and no, I did not eat the St. Peter's fish, haha.  I decided on some lamb kebobs and different salads, and for dessert, dates and Turkish coffee.

After, I took a leisurely stroll around the area, and many families were happily eating and picnicking together, looking very contented.  It was a happy sight, for Easter Monday -- although these were all Jewish folk, they were enjoying their Passover time together as well.

We moved along the coast to a Kibbutz called Ein Gev and stopped in there momentarily to look around, and take some photos of their piers and boats, etc. as well as chat with the residents.

We toured through the Golan Heights, visiting the spot that Jesus cast out Legion, and the herd of swine ran down the slopeside into the waters and stopped there for a little bit for a leg stretch.

Our last official stop was to visit the Jordan River in the North, another popular spot for Christian baptism, although that was not our purpose for the visit.  This place was pretty but a bit touristy, with hundreds of people flocking to pay the $40 to buy a kitschy white robe with a screenprint of the Crusader cross or some other such thing on it, and get a dunk in the deep green of the river by either a Pastor of their choice, or the Pastor at the resort, who was there, in mechanical order, dunking one person after another.  The lady in charge was extra angry, thinking we were trying to jump the line or get baptized without paying, but we assured her we were just there to watch.  Daniel thought this was hilarious, and he asked me, "Would God mind?" I said, "With her around, everyone pays $40 to get baptized in anger!" We all had a good laugh over it.

We sat outside a while, and we discussed the other baptism site I had visited the other day, in the desert, and he was amazed the guide was venturous to bring us.  "You know, that is considered the authentic site, but there are still active land mines there." I nodded, recalling the stern warnings of "lest you go ka-boom", but I was glad he brought us anyway.

We ended our touring late, about 9 pm, was when we finally returned to Jerusalem.  I was pretty exhausted by that point, ate a hasty meal, and just fell into bed.  But, it was a lot of ground to cover, and I'm glad we, as we say in the States, "got r done!"

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter Weekend - Easter Sunday - Jerusalem

"The Garden Tomb at Easter" by Hilary J. England
Acrylic on canvas panel, 12" x 16"
Easter Sunday 2019, in Jerusalem, dawned cold and tempestuous.  Early morning thunderstorms with heavy wind and hail pelted the windows, discouraging any kind of thoughts of a serene morning service at the Garden.  I decided that the Lord will forgive me for waiting until tonight's evening services rather than the morning Easter vigils.

I painted the Garden Tomb, and I'm glad I chose a quiet spot the other day, rather than wait.  The people who run the administration of the Tomb allowed me a little extra time on my own to work on my painting undisturbed, and that was very kind of them.  The sun would come in and go out just as quickly, as the weather in Jerusalem seems to be as volatile as the politics. 

I began a second painting but did not have time to finish it.  I got to the 3/4  stage and decided it would be best to just finish it up back at the apartment, as the sunlight was beginning to fade, and I did not want to be rude and stay even longer when the staff had been gracious and kind to accommodate me. I will post up that painting tonight or tomorrow -- soon :-)

So, this evening is Resurrection Sunday services at King of Kings, and I will head over there for that, and tomorrow, off to Nazareth, Capernaum, and the Sea of Galilee.  I decided to get out of Jerusalem for Holy Monday, as I need some additional quiet time out of the holiday "frenzy." For me, a nondenominational Christian, the official holiday is over -- I don't celebrate with the Orthodox, and I am "celebrated" out at this time.  I prefer to keep Easter and the resurrection in my heart every day, rather than save it all up for one day a year!

Now, my heaters are on in my room, reading my Bible, and relaxing for the next few hours before the evening services begin.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Easter Weekend - Jerusalem

"Birds in the Garden" by Hilary J. England, Acrylic on canvas panel, 12" x 16"
Good Friday was yesterday, and I spent the day wandering and relaxing.  I tried to avoid the crush of tourists and pilgrims in the Old City, as I have had my fill of crowds, and I do think the Lord would understand that.  I can have a contemplative Easter weekend in the Holy City without getting squished by a mob.

Today is Holy Saturday, and the city has been bathed in calm since the Shabbat siren sounded last night.  With my windows open, the breeze gently wafted in, and I could hear the reverent and joyous singing of the Jews in the temple across the street.  It was relaxing and made me feel cozy and comfortable, curled in my bed under my blankets -- I have been nursing an infection in my slightly impacted wisdom tooth for the last few days, and it really started to hurt yesterday -- into my jaw, all the way into my ear.  I got slightly disgruntled and alarmed but decided to just keep at the homeopathic remedies -- continued saltwater washes, extra vitamin c, extra rest in the next few days, and prayer and meditation.

I decided a painting in the Garden of Gethsemane was in order.  It was extra quiet and the sun kept flitting in and out of the clouds.  One minute bright, the next, gray and windy.  I looked at the ancient olive trees, curled and gnarled, and wondered at all they had seen in the thousand years or more of their existence.  Did they see Jesus weeping in the garden? He had much to weep for.  He wept for his life, for what was coming, for those he was leaving behind, and the state of chaos the world was and still is in.  The trees stayed stoically quiet.  Their twisted trunks and branches curled into the gray as if they would embrace the sky.  Jesus had sought shelter in their embrace -- he longed to be comforted, for answers, for release.  All the others slept, and he was alone with God, and the trees. 

I looked at the little birds quietly pecking away at the ground.  Jesus had said we were more important than the little sparrows -- but he didn't mean they weren't important too.  I looked at them, in their own little world, so beautiful in their simplicity.  They brought me great joy to see them.  I relate to sparrows.  I've not been much in this life in terms of the world, but that's okay.  I feel I've completed to this point, the tasks I was ordained to, in this life.  And, I will continue to do what is in the purpose of my life -- painting to uplift others, to help others heal, to have a moment of peace and beauty in their day-to-day lives.  I thank God for all the little moments, the precious moments of beauty, like here today in the Garden.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Day 7 & 8: Jerusalem, Jordan, Jericho, and the Dead Sea

Days 7 & 8:

Day 7 was spent visiting the King of Kings Ministry, around the corner from my apartment, and meeting the wonderful people there, and all the work they do for the Lord! It was a nice afternoon, and they showed me around their facilities, and then I had the pleasure of having lunch with Marj, a friend by proxy from the States.

Day 8, I packed up early and headed out on an exploration of the regions of Jericho, Jordan, and the Dead Sea.  I met up with a tour group -- because I knew access to Jericho would be nonexistent, since it is in Sector A of the West Bank, and that is just completely out of my depth.  It's a hostile region held by Palestine, and I knew that attempting such a thing alone would not only foolhardy -- it bordered on insane.

So I engaged with a small group with a guide, Yoav, an Israeli who held a special permit to enter Palestinian areas.  Normally, Israelis are forbidden in these zones.  There is a big red sign at the checkpoint that states in Hebrew, Arabic, and English -- that Israeli citizens are forbidden beyond this point and can be lawfully killed for trespass.  Pretty brutal.  Talk about harsh penalties for illegal "immigration".

Our first stop was to take a peek into the desert, where the Bedouin still live.  We got off the highway and went a few miles into the desert, winding up and through the bleak landscape.  Camels free-roamed, grazing the hills, as did goats.  Bedouin shanties dotted the landscape here and there.  Finally, we came to a beautiful scenic point where a monastery clung to a cliff -- in a manner reminiscent of the photos I've seen of Petra.  A big cross marked the area as one that had once been occupied by Catholic monks.  It was beautiful, but I felt a sort of sadness mingled with the empty beauty of the area.  And a slight chill of danger -- I could understand this would be an extremely harsh existence these monks had signed up for.

Our group departed and continued onward into the different Sectors or zones of the East and notorious West Bank.  Zone A is Palestinian controlled, Zone B is joint, and Zone C is Israeli.  There were signs of hostilities all over the place.  "The burn marks on the pavement are from recent Palestinian uprisings -- burning tires and attacking whatever vehicles were driving by," Yoav said with a chuckle as he shook his head in bewilderment.  That was not a comforting thought.  I glanced around, but the landscape was quiet and empty.  We entered into Sector A and went to our designated point -- Jericho.  We toured about the "modern" city a little (in the van) and then we stopped at a restaurant in a casino area and formulated/confirmed our gameplan for the day.  As we sat in our little enclave, vendors came to sell us things, but Yoav sent them away.  "They'll hassle us all day long otherwise."

Our first point of interest was to ascend the Mountain of Temptation, where Jesus stayed for 40 days fasting and was tempted by the Devil, who showed him the kingdoms of the world.  We would need to take a cable car up to the nearly 4k mountain top.  I hate heights, but I knew that in order to see this site, there was no alternative, so putting my discomfort aside, we climbed the steps to the cable car station and boarded.  We began our descent across the land, climbing higher and higher.  In the car, we all looked nervously at each other, giggling, nervously chatting,  and anxiously trying to maintain our composure.  At the halfway point, perhaps, the car just suddenly came to a halt, both sides of the cables.  We sat there gaping at each other, and at the other people in the other cars.  The cars just swung in the wind as the minutes ticked by.  I began to get extremely scared, bordering on creeping terror.  The interior temperature in the car was about 100 degrees, with only a small 6" x 6" ventilation window to let air in.  "Oh God," I prayed.  "Please let this thing move soon."  The older Norwegian woman looked at me with naked fear in her eyes.  "What do you think has happened?" I looked helplessly back at her.  My mind raced.  If this thing broke down -- how would they get us out?! I suddenly felt really angry at myself for even getting on the damn thing.  I shrugged.  "I don't know.  I don't know." We all sat in terrified silence.  Just when my mind had reached its most dire conclusion, the car lurched. The girl from the Congo let out a small scream, as we all grabbed onto each other, and then the car began slowly moving upward on its track.  "Oh thank you Jesus!" the Korean man laughed.  We all began laughing in relief and talking, so happy to be moving upward again.

We finally reached the level of the second cable station, and we literally jumped off.  I said to the Norwegian woman --"Yes, I think I might take the long road down rather than get on that thing again" and she began to laugh in agreement.

The second cable station level still did not bring us to the top of the mountain, or to the level of the monastery we were seeking.  We still needed to climb an additional 3,300 steps.  Crap.  Flashbacks of Santorini danced through my head and I sighed.  This time, there were no donkeys to haul us up there.  We began climbing.  I would climb each long row, and then stop to take a "picture" breather.  This system worked for me without causing me to have a heart attack! Others climbed a little more slowly, trying to manage the steep steps as well.  I reached the monastery and felt a surge of happiness.  I was extremely curious to see it, as photos of it had looked amazing.

It didn't disappoint.  The monastery was incredibly beautiful and ethereal, like catching a glimpse of what I pictured the Halls of Heaven would look like.  Carved into the rock of the mountain, the entire areas were ancient and ablaze with cream colored light, giving it an almost supernatural atmosphere.  We explored this incredible structure, with the monks "cells" actually hanging thousands of feet in the air off the cliffs, each with its own little gleaming, burnished door.  I was so tempted to pull the handles and see what was inside.  Maybe nothing.  Maybe a facade and you fall thousands of feet off the mountain, hahaha.

Inside the actual chapel resided the rock that Jesus had sat on, which was now protected from visitors behind glass.  In the past, people tried to chip pieces of it off, etc., so the protection was necessary.  The girl from the Congo, and her husband, immediately fell prostrate before the rock and singing songs in African to worship the spot.  It was both fascinating and enchanting.

After we left there, we made our way back to the cable cars.  We were all nervous, but Yoav chatted with the operator who assured him all was well.  We descended without incident.

When we reached the ground, we decided to go to the archaeological site of ancient Jericho and have a late lunch after.  We explored the site for an hour or so, discussing the science versus biblical references and implications, and then went a viewed a small media production about Kathleen Kenyon, the archeologist who is credited with much of the excavation of Jericho.

We ate a huge lunch in an "oasis" restaurant -- all Arabic cuisine.  The restaurant owners just kept bringing more food -- we started with local dates and fruits, and then there were all sorts of pickled vegetables, grains, pitas, and hummus.  Then roasted chicken, kebobs of lamb and mutton, followed by homemade "pita pizzas" with tomato and goat cheese.  "Eat eat!" the old man serving said.  "It's very good!" We washed it all down with big glasses of lemon water with sage leaves.  I was very grateful for their kind hospitality to us.

We left the restaurant and went to the tree that Zaccheus climbed while Jesus was passing by -- now controlled by a compound of Russian orthodox.  "Nothing will ever happen to this tree with the Orthodox protecting it" laughed Yoav.

We continued on to the Jordan River, to the spot where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.  It was in Sector B, in an Israeli militarized zone.  "Please mind the signs!" Yoav warned us sternly.  "There are still many active landmines in the area.  We don't want you to go ka-boom!" We all laughed.

The Jordan was very low, and muddy.  Some of the people in the group were a little disappointed, hoping to be baptized there.  Other acolytes stood around the banks looking dismayed to go into the brown, still water.  "Looks like there might be crocodiles in there," I said snidely, and Yoav thought this was very entertaining.   I decided to be brave and waded in.  I said a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for such a beautiful river, and for all the blessings he has given me and my family, and then sat quietly on the steps for the duration, just meditating and enjoying the sun.

We left there and headed to the Dead Sea, for the last part of our day.  We had 3 hours to float around and enjoy the waters, and we all headed in eagerly to the Kalia Beach resort.  After securing my gear in a locker, I headed down to the water.  I was given different warnings about entering the water because it is so salty, it feels like "goop" or "oil," and if you get the water in your eyes, you are going to be very unhappy.  Just as bad if you get it in your mouth or swallow it.  Ugh.

I walked down to the water's edge, where there were about 20 or so "floaters."  They seemed peaceful enough.  At the shoreline, young people slathered the black mud all over each other, and then took photos of each other.  It strangely reminded me of something I would see in Coachella.   I gingerly took a step in and sank about up to my calves in goop.  I immediately recoiled and went to my knees, and began floating with everyone else.  They were right -- it did feel "oily".  My somewhat clumsy entrance had splashed water onto my face.  I made the mistake of rubbing it off.  It contaminated my lips with the salty sludge, making me literally gag.  I continued floating and spitting it out until I couldn't take it any longer, and was forced to crawl out of the water and rinse my mouth in the shower.  Yuck.  I had enough!

I showered off and headed up to the terrace, where there were several open-air lounges.  I got an iced coffee, and just people watched.  There were people of all ages and nationalities leisurely strolling by.  Flags from every nation fluttered in the wind.  The USA had the biggest flags there.  I smiled.  I continued to sip my drink, and chat with some of the other beachgoers.  A couple from Texas.  Another solo female traveler from Miami - who was actually leaving the beach, hitting her hotel really quick for another shower, and then flying out of Tel Aviv at 9 that night.  We chatted about our travels, our families, some of the sites and experiences we had there in Israel, decent restaurants, etc.

Finally, it was time to go, and I was ready.  Despite all my precautions, I had gotten a little crispy and was ready for a real shower.  The day was very successful and we covered all of our trek plans, and I got back to my apartment in time for a nice dinner with Schterny and Sensei -- and to call home and chat with Dad and Dale.  It was an excellent day!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Days 5 & 6 in Jerusalem

I spent my fifth day in Jerusalem catching up with work and correspondence and just decompressing.  It was cold, windy, and rainy, and not a very nice day to be out and about.  I knew that the next morning I would have a full schedule in the Old City, so I decided a day of relaxation and working on other projects for the week would be the best option.

So, on my sixth day in Jerusalem, I retraced the holy spots we passed by, while in the massive crowd of the Palm Sunday procession.  I decided to start on the Mount of Olives, in the Church of the Ascension, where we were able to touch the spot of stone that is supposed to be the actual spot of ground Jesus ascended into Heaven from.  After, we walked on to the Pater Noster, the chapel compound area where Jesus gave the Our Father prayer to his disciples and followers.  The prayer is embedded in the walls, in mosaic form, in every language known to mankind.  It was a beautiful and restful place, maintained by an order of nuns.

From there, we walked down the mountain, to the Dominus Flavit, the "teardrop" shaped church where our Lord wept for Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  It was an interesting site, with gorgeous views of the city as well.  At the bottom of the mount, we entered the Garden of Gethsemane, where our Lord prayed, and sweat blood, on the eve of his arrest, and where he was actually arrested by the Romans.  A strange marker accentuates the spot, that is surrounded by some of the world's oldest olive trees.  The garden is gated off and peaceful, with beautiful flowers all around.  Adjacent to the Garden is the Church of Nations, an impressive structure with beautiful inlaid ceilings and a magnificent glass mural in its headliner.

 We continued down to the entrance of the city, but we veered off right before the entrance and visited two absolutely fascinating sites: The Church of the Tomb of the Virgin, and the Cave of Betrayal.  The Cave of Betrayal is supposed to be the area that Judas Iscariot met in secret with the Sanhedrin, and sold Jesus to the Pharisees for 30 pieces of silver.  It is small and dark and sad, a little chapel marks the spot.  Our guide said that this chapel always gave him "the creeps" because he can feel the sad and negative energy in there.  I have to admit, I kind of agree.

The Tomb of Mary was an absolute wonderment to me. As you descend below the ground, you are greeted with a surreal spectacle of lamps and incense burners, all in the Orthodox tradition.  The variety and amount of them are overwhelming, a literal riot of color -- I was absolutely delighted! I don't know what so stirred me with fascination in this place, but I literally could have spent my entire day in there, just sitting in that strange cavern.  I found a quiet, dark corner, deep in the back by a tiny alter, and just sat and watched the spectacle of people kissing the feet of the statue of the Virgin.  I felt like a ghost.  It was a delicious feeling in a way -- to be invisible and peaceful and to just feel a state of relaxation in the quiet of the tomb.  There were also Crusader Kings from various countries buried in different vaults, and the thought of being in the presence of these mighty men was also very awe inspiring. 

We left there and continued on to the entrance of the Old City, where went in again, through the Lion gate.  We began to walk the Stations of the Cross, or the Via Dolorosa.  We began at Pilate's compound, where Jesus was put for judgment in front of the crowds, after being scourged.  The Chapel of Agony marked that spot as well.  We continued on through the day, stopping at each particular Station, to discuss the events that happened there, including the different chapels that marked the way.  We doubled back to the beautiful Church of St. Anne's and visited the remains and ruins of the pools of Bethesda, where Jesus healed a crippled man.  It was now a deep labyrinth of exposed ancient caves and wells, with beautiful wildflowers springing up everywhere.  Gorgeous!

We ended our day in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Jesus was supposedly buried.  This is open to debate because the Protestants also have a claim that the Garden Tomb is his burial place (I agree with this theory).  But, the church is magnificent and chaotic, with hundreds of people milling around, praying, touching the stone where Jesus was laid to be cleaned and prepared for burial, and having a view where the stone of the mountain split at the moment of Jesus' death.  All very fascinating.

All in all, it was a very successful day, with many of the Holy Sites in the Old City explored, and some new and interesting acquaintances struck up for the day!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Day 4: Jerusalem

Despite being on my fourth day in Jerusalem, this was the first day I had officially planned any activities.  For the first three were travel, getting settled, and then Shabbat.  Today, I had plans to go to the Palm Sunday procession from the Church at Bethphage, the Mount of Olives, to the Church at St. Anne's, within the walls entering through the Lion's Gate.  I knew this was a four to five-hour procession, with thousands of people, and it was really something I was interested to do, despite not really being a big fan of crowds.  But, hey, you only live once!

I began plotting out this event because it would require me to take several buses to reach the Mount of Olives.  It was in the Arab/Muslim controlled part of Jerusalem, and that was also a bit thorny.  I decided to just go for it.  I tried to read up and research the "ritual" for the bus-- where to get tickets, etc.  Apparently, there is a lot in flux still in Jerusalem, and buying what's called a Rav Kav ticket is not quite as easy as I thought.  I decided not to overthink it and that I would just figure it out as I went along -- you know -- wing it!

So, I walked to my designated bus stop, boarded the bus, and the bus driver was very cool, he gave me further directions, and sold me a Rav Kav "anonymous" ticket (meaning, it's for monthly passes, etc., but you don't need ID) right on the spot.  I followed his directions, changing buses at the first designated spot, and then I reached the Damascus gate, where I was supposed to board the bus numbered 255 for the 17 stops out to the Mount of Olives.  When I got off at the gate, there was a crush of cars, buses, etc., but no bus stop.  Some older men pointed me towards the Muslim minaret, and said, "there is the bus depot to the Arab quarter."

I walked over and needed to purchase a different ticket because the Jerusalem bus system is different than the Arab bus system.  I boarded the bus and realized I was literally the only non-Muslim on the bus.  I brushed it off.

As the 50-minute bus ride wore on, I felt increasingly uncomfortable, looking at the landscape.  It was SO Muslim.  Yes, so Muslim.  I began to worry.  What if I get off at the wrong stop? I shuddered.  Thoughts of mayhem began to creep into my mind.  I felt a few butterflies of fear in my belly.  I stared straight ahead, as the Muslim man behind me stared hard at me, his expression was inscrutable.  I tried to think of nothing.  A moment later, an older, very well-dressed woman, NOT in Muslim hijab or garb of any sort, also sat staring at me.  She was also a Muslim, but different.  What did she want? She stood up and wobbled over to me, and asked, "Are you going to the procession?" I nodded.  She said, "Good me too." She looked at the Muslim man who was staring and said something sharp sounding to him in Arabic.  He looked away.  She turned to me and said, "We Christians have to stick together. We are the minority here."

A few minutes later she said, "This is our stop." I could see the church and the crowd, and I felt a tremendous sense of relief.  We unboarded and parted company, as she was going to the convent to visit her sister.

I walked into the complex, and it was awash with color and happy singing, and faces of all colors and ethnicities.  I felt a wave of happiness wash over me -- just look at all these different Christians, different sects, but here they were, happy and joyful for the day!  I walked around and saw a little restaurant area.  I ducked in to grab a cup of coffee because the restaurant was surprisingly empty.  As I did, I saw two Arabic women sitting in the corner, chatting.  When I approached, I heard them speaking English, very well.  I don't know what possessed me, but I walked straight up to them and said, "Hello! Where are you from?" The stopped and looked at me and smiled, and said, "Canada before, but now we live here, in Bethlehem. And you?" I said, "I'm from America--the Northeast, in Pennsylvania." They became enthusiastic - "We know Pennsylvania!" They grabbed another chair and said, "Please, join us!"

And so, that started my day with Gladys and Nargys, my two new Arabic Christians friends from Bethlehem.  We stayed together the entire day, walking the procession and chatting and laughing.  They told me about their families, their travels, their hobbies, and I did the same.  We showed photos of our children, grandchildren, family, pets.  They laughed and told me the cultural idiosyncrasies of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas.  They were solemn when they told me of the persecution they suffer for being Arab Christians.  They each spoke four languages, and I was amazed at them.

We walked along with the Arab Christian section.  They sang their songs in Arabic -- and it was melodic and relaxing.  They laughed at some of the others with their crazy antics, and I appreciated that too.

We finally made it to the Lion's Gate, with us making entry, and people throwing rice and flowers on us in joy from the balconies above.  It was close to mayhem with different groups all trying to "out sing" each other in different languages.  The procession made a turn into the courtyard of St. Anne's to regroup.  We decided we would not stay on for the additional hours of singing and festivities, as we had been traveling for four hours, and we were hungry and needed a restroom.

We went on into the Arab section behind the wall, stopping to haggle for this and that, and then Gladys and Nargys treated me to an authentic Arab dinner.  We ate a delicious dish called "knafa" -- which was goat cheese and candied nuts.  It was really amazing, and they gifted me with some to take home, as well as two loaves of sweet bread that Nargys insist I try.

Finally, Gladys said her husband was meeting her at the Damascus gate and kissed us both goodbye.  I traveled on with Nargys, as we rode the bus back -- I got off at Machane Yehuda, and she went on to City Center, to catch the bus to Tel Aviv for the evening.  We had exchanged information earlier, and they had very kindly offer me to come to Easter dinner at their mother's home in Bethlehem.  I told them I would consider it!

All in all, it was a wonderful time of exploration and meeting new friends in a new city.  That always makes for a fine day!

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Day 3 Jerusalem

I am relaxing today, as it is Shabbat and everything is closed.  Literally.  Last night, the Shabbat siren went off, and everyone quietly went home -- about a half an hour later, I could see the groups of well-dressed people walking to shul, and I knew it was my cue to go down and join them, as per Lisa's invitation.  There were several Temples in the area, including one across the street, but Kol Rina required my walking through the back of the enclave -- through long, narrow alleys of the ancient homes.

As I walked, I felt a nervous trepidation.  The alleys were narrow and confusing, and it suddenly dawned on me that I might not be able to find my way back, especially in the dark.  This made me nervous, as did my solitude as I walked -- I was a stranger there, and that always causes me to feel vulnerable.  I forced the anxiety back and continued to walk along, trying to memorize little landmarks along the way -- the potted plant with the pink blossoms, the one doorway decorated in flowers and Israeli flags, turn left at the corridor with the aqua shutters....I hoped I would remember these things.  I stopped to check my phone to see if I could glom up some free wifi to pinpoint my location via Google, but no luck -- they were all locked.

I made it to Kol Rina, and the folks there were festive, but I was already a bit unsettled from my uneasy walk.  I asked for the Valliers, as per Lisa, who although had sent me, was unable to attend herself.  I stood in the doorway, undecided as to what to do, so I stepped in, hoping I would not make some sort of glaring and offensive cultural mistake, as this was all completely new to me.  As I stood there, a young woman, dressed up in fine clothes, looked at me and said "Shabbat Shalom" and "Are you new?"  I answered, "Yes, I was invited but Lisa Nachalot, and I'm supposed to meet Chaya Vallier here." She looked at me sympathetically and said, "Sorry, I don't know her." I nodded, and squirmed a little, looking back at the alley, and trying to decide whether I should just leave or stay, but I decided to go in and see what this was all about.

I walked through a little tunnel into an underground room.  The Temple was situated in a converted bomb shelter, which was lightly decorated with Israeli artifacts and other ornaments.  In the back, was a section for the women, and separated by a simply made room divider with lace curtains, the men were in the front.  I sat at the back of the row of folding chairs quietly, unsure of what to do.  The women filed in the room in silence, nodding at each other and at me, quietly saying, "Shabbat Shalom".  I sat there nodding back, returning the sentiment.

The shul began, and the men were chanting in Hebrew, some singing, all rocking back and forth with their prayer books.  Some of the women around me got up and did the same.  This ritual went on for a while, and I was completely lost as to what was going on, so I just sat back and watched.  To be honest, it was both fascinating and excruciating at the same time.

When it was all over, in about (guesstimating) 40 minutes, the people all quickly got up and filed out of the room.  One woman came to me in curiosity -- she didn't say her name, but she asked if I was going to dinner after? At this point, I was drained, and as kind as the invitation was, my only concern was finding my way back to my apartment in the dark.  Going even further away to some other place was a terrifying prospect.  I thanked her, but said I must be going, and literally bolted out the door.  I don't know if it was rude or peculiar, but my nerves were kind of frayed by that point.

I stepped out into the dimly lit courtyard, trying to remember which way I had even entered, let alone what corridors I had taken.  I stood for a moment, taking a deep breath, getting my bearings.  Squinting, I saw the one potted plant I made a mental note of: Potted plant, stay straight to the aqua door, turn left.  I walked that way through the dark, till I reached the point of the supposed left turn.  There were four directions to go -- they all looked the same -- dark and narrow.  A feeling of fear and dread crept up. "Oh Lord, please just let me get back without an issue." I made the left and walked determinedly for what seemed like an eternity in the narrow corridors.  Suddenly, I saw the door with the flags and flowers.  A feeling of relief flooded me -- I was going in the right direction.  I picked up my pace, and after a while, I saw the open courtyard of the block of my apartment! Hooray, relief flooded me and I relaxed my walk.  I had made it back and wouldn't be forced to sleep in some alley with the cats that night!

So, this morning, I slept quite late, and then woke to have a leisurely breakfast, and read some Robert Frost on the balcony, enjoying the quiet day and beautiful blue skies.  I did some work for a little bit, then caught up on other things such as correspondence and some sketching.  I have a full schedule these next coming days, so I decided to do what the Israelis do on Saturday -- just rest! This is something very new to me. Maybe I can learn how to do this back in the States! Lisa invited me to the park later, where she will be with her little nieces and nephews, and that will be nice and leisurely as well.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Day 2 - Jerusalem

I didn't write yesterday because I was so exhausted from the trip, I felt tired into my bones.  I hadn't slept in 48 hours, and not being 20 anymore, I just don't have that kind of stamina. I was up pretty much the night before, knowing I had to sleep, but fighting that old insomnia monster -- the more I know I have to sleep, the worse I can't sleep.  Then, the morning arrived and it was three hours to the airport, 2 hours waiting around, 9 hours crammed on a plane, 4 hours dozing in Kiev, another 3 hours on another plane, and then another 2 hours getting out of the airport and to the destination -- it's just alot.

The hotel was crappy, but the bed was comfortable, and it had hot water, a lock, a safe, and wifi.  I was good to go.  I knocked myself out with a Benadryl to make sure I didn't go 72 hours without sleep, because once I get on that insomniac crazy train, it can roll on for more than a week.  So, I was not letting that happen -- I woke up feeling great after a 10-hour snooze and headed out early to my actually sublet in the Nachlot section of Jerusalem -- trendy, and right by the main Mahane marketplace.

My taxi driver was slightly shady, but I was ok with that -- he didn't mug me or anything, just overcharged me 10 shekels.  I gave him a 10 shekel tip for good measure, and he seemed very happy with that.  He even carried my bags to the doorstep.

So, it was an absolutely gorgeous morning, in a beautiful neighborhood, and there I sat, with all the instructions from the apartment owner, but one -- combination for the front door lock wasn't working.  And, I had no phone service (I cruise wifi when I'm overseas).  I sat there feeling mildly panicked, but not quite sure of what my next course of action should be.  There was a crush of people on the main avenue above, and lugging a giant suitcase and a bag of computer equipment was unfathomable. So, I sat on the steps for a moment pondering my next move, and this woman, maybe slightly older than me, came walking by with her shopping wagon and just stood, watching me.  She said, "Are you subletting?"

I nodded.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"I seem to be locked out," I said with a sigh.  "This combination seems to be incorrect."

She put her wagon down and began chatting away, trying to help me with the lock.  "No, it's definitely not working." She looked at me quizzically and asked me where I was from.  "America, the USA -- Northeast.  Pennsylvania now, New York-born." She smiled and nodded at me.  "Wonderful, you're going to love it here -- how long are you staying?" I smiled, and said, "A bit." She nodded enthusiastically and said, "My name is Lisa! I'll be your first friend here! I love your outfit by the way..." I looked down at myself, with my long flowing flowered shirt, leggings and sandals, and said, "Really? Thanks!" She said, "Very artsy.  It's something I'd wear.  What do you do?" I laughed and said, "I'm an artist." She said loudly, "Aha! I knew it!" I laughed, thinking, "I guess I do look insane!" She asked me, "Are you Jewish?" I said, "No, not really.  Like 17% on my Mom's side." Her eyebrows shot up.  "On your Mother's side? Then you're a Jew." I nodded.  Okay.  That sounds good.  She looked at my luggage, and at all my stuff, questioningly.

"Do you have a phone?" I sighed and shook my head "no." She thought for a moment and said, "I don't have mine either." At that point, an older man was walking by and she flagged him down.  "Moshe, let me have your phone.  This girl is locked out of her apartment." We began to call my host and her brother, and soon, we had a little crowd of more neighbors all trying to help.

Within a few minutes, a girl named Miriam showed up.  Miriam stated she had an updated combo for the door, and once in, I could reset it. Problem solved, and everyone was very happy and chattering and inviting me to different meals.  I was a bit overwhelmed, but Lisa became the coordinator, and we exchanged phone numbers with the promise of meeting again tomorrow in the park for the afternoon. I was quite overwhelmed with all of the hospitality I received. The folks in the neighborhood were very warm and welcoming!

 I finally got into my adorable little apartment and was greeted by Sensei the cat.  He purred loudly and gave me a lick on my face to boot.  I was able to unpack, and now, thanks to my new friend Lisa, I have three invitations: one to lunch with a family on the corner, one to the Shul tonight for Shabbat service, and dinner following the service.  Plus, two seders -- one for tomorrow night, and one for Passover.  I am officially being Jewish here in Jerusalem! Shabbat Shalom!

So, in preparation for all of the festivities, and the coming Shabbat, I went out to the shook, Machane Yehuda, and was bowled over by all of the stuff.  Everything you can think of -- heaping mounds of food, spices, meats, sweets, pastries, loaves of bread, produce -- and all sorts of other things for sale from trinkets to housewares to accessories, you name it, it's there.  I walked through quicker than I would have usually, aware I had to be sure I kept my pace up since things would close down early, and I would have no supplies for the weekend.  Lisa had told me not to worry, since an alarm sounds throughout the city, giving people warning that Shabbat will start in 40 minutes.  "It's not an air raid or anything," Lisa said with a laugh.  "Don't get scared -- it's just warning everyone the stores and everything are closing up."

Lisa also came by during her travels and gifted me with some very nice Shabbat candles.  "Light them tonight for Shabbat -- is this too much instructions for you?" I started laughing and just said "thank you no, it's all very fascinating. By all means, I would love to hear more!"

So, tonight, I will be attending Shul at a place called Kol Rina.  I've never done this and I am looking forward to attending a real service with the Jewish families and having dinner with them after.  It will be a real experience for my first official night in Jerusalem!

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