“Ten measures of beauty descended to the world; nine were taken by Jerusalem.” Talmud: Kiddushin 49b.

I just re-read my last post and realized it seemed very critical of Ramallah – and I don’t want anyone to think that! As noisy, crowded, smelly as it is – it’s also vibrant and exciting and thriving, in an otherwise occupied territory.

But today, I will talk about Jerusalem, al-quds in Arabic, yerushala’im in Hebrew. I left early this morning from my apartment in order to take some pictures of Ramallah without all the people:

Ramallah - hills of God - looking out over the city early this morning

Looking up at the City Center of Ramallah

Looking up at the City Center of Ramallah

So today, I decided to go to Jerusalem, but I decided instead of doing Jerusalem in one or two days and trying to fit it all in, I will divide it up into manageable sections and really enjoy everything. Today being a Friday, and the first day of the weekend here, Friday night beginning Shabbat for those who follow Judaism and Friday being the day of prayer for Muslims, I decided to do the main Christian attractions. So I left this morning and grabbed a bus to Ramallah, this time having to stop at the Qalandia checkpoint. Foreigners do not have to get off the bus, and in fact (I don’t really know why) none of the passengers had to get off. When the two Israeli soldiers boarded the bus, holding their AK-47s none too casual this time around, and they asked for our passports, it was really demeaning, not so much for me, which thus made me feel guilty. The one soldier kept repeating, “habiby” which is a very endearing Arabic term – this from a possibly 22-year-old to a very old Arab man. Once the soldier saw that I carried an American passport, he was very nice to me. All in all, it took about 50 minutes to get to Jerusalem.

I entered through the Damascus Gate, into the Muslim Quarter.

From there, I walked down the crazy narrow “streets” – it’s hard to explain. The streets seem to be indoor, they’re surrounded by shops with an overhead thing. So it’s tight and narrow and crowded, and you feel like you’re indoors, except when you get close to one of the gates or some parts are more airy than others.

A "street" without all the shops open (I was there early!)

A "street" without all the shops open (I was there early!)

This makes directions within the the city centre of Jerusalem to be very difficult. I did a lot of turning onto streets, walking a little bit, realizing I had made a wrong, turn, walking back in the same direction I had just come, and getting heckled by the street vendors for not knowing where I’m going.

It’s a crazy city, and it’s so ridiculous to believe that amongst all of the incredibly religious sites, regular people live and work and walk around. It’s just unbelievable to me.

Some sites I saw:

  • The Citadel (Tower of David), which started as the 1st-century palace of Herod the Great, and where General Allenby accepted the surrender of the city in 1917 ending 400 years of Ottoman rule
  • Church of the Holy Sepulchre (eeeeek!!!), the biblical Calvary, where Jesus was nailed to the cross, died, and rose from the dead
  • Christ Church, the Holy Land’s first Protestant church, which later became the British Consulate and now is a Christian hospice
  • Lutheran Church of the Reformer, site of the 11th century church of St.Mary la Latine
  • St. Anne’s Church, the home of Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Virgin Mary (so where the Virgin Mary was born!), the ruins biblical Pool of Bethesda
  • Ecce Homo Convent of the Sisters of Zion, the arch where Pontius Pilate took Jesus out and proclaimed, “Ecce Homo” (Behold the man!).
  • Plus I saw the Franciscan Friars, who were supposed to walk the ACTUAL Stations of the Cross with a cross, but just walked in with a huge procession of us following them
View from Citadel

View from the Tower of David, looking out over the city of Jerusalem, you can see the Dome of the Rock! Beautiful

That’s it for now – heading to a Palestinian poetry night. I know there’s a ton more to post, and pictures will soon be up on facebook, as I took a bazillion more than what I just posted here.


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