I began my first visit to Israel and Jerusalem with some apprehension not knowing what the political climate in the country might yield. While there was a single event that occurred while I was there it had nothing to do with me.
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The country itself is a confusion of many worlds, policies, and people. Each has its own merits I am sure but, I did not go to the country to publicize those. Instead, I want to tell you about the city of Jerusalem, the people I met and the place I stayed while I was there. Israel is not an inexpensive place to visit compared to SE Asia or even for the Eastern European block of countries like the Balkans. There is street food but even doing that you will easily pay $6 for a meal for one person. The food is good and unique to this part of the world. For example, Falafels or Shawarma are the two foods of choice and of course the huge pieces of bread that look like a round pretzel.
I had chosen to stay at a place called the New Palm Hostel. 1) Because of its great location — less than 4 minutes from the Damascus Gate and 2) Because the rates were by far the best I could find near the Old City Area of Jerusalem. There are many reviews pro and con about the hostel but it was in my budget. I was pleasantly surprised that I had an adequate sized room with a private bath. There is a flight of stairs to reach the hostel since it is located above a large market. “Harry” the manager took care of me in every way possible. There are free coffee and teas available, a kitchen to use to offset the cost of buying meals in restaurants and the two young ladies keep the floors and common areas spotless. The people who say it had a terrible odor have just not experienced life in countries such as Israel. Plumbing in the cities, especially the old town areas, is hundreds of years old and this is just something to be expected. I would not tell my mother to visit the New Palm Hostel because she would want a little more, I would, however, tell every other backpacker and budget traveler such as myself that they couldn’t make a better choice – both for location and value for your dollars. You will get a clean comfortable bed, good service and a perfect place for your excursions to the sites of the old city of Jerusalem
After getting into my room I was ready for a good rest, I had spent the night in the Sofia, Bulgaria airport the night before and was exhausted. Before doing that, however, I did go down to the market and purchased some eggs, fruit, and sausages. I made a great meal in the kitchen for about $2.
My first day in the city was an experience, to say the least. If you think about it, the streets are the same streets from the time of Jesus, the Romans, and the Crusades. Every building and rock in the streets just exude the aromas of history. That excites me more than almost anything except maybe photographing those places. I know that many people will never try to see these sites but I want them to get a good view of the way the world is outside of their day to day life. The world is outside of what you might see on CNN or your local news. I spent the day exploring the streets and shooting a few pictures then returned to the hostel for dinner and to watch a movie on the computer.
The second morning I was awake at 5:30 am and wanted to make my first visit to the Western Wall or Wailing Wall as many know it outside of Jerusalem. Here it is more popularly known as the Kotel. This is the most sacred site in the city for the Jewish residents. It is the only part left of the original temple from biblical times. The temple of Herod was destroyed in the Roman Seige of 70CE or AD. That temple was replaced during the Ottoman rule by the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount and later was rebuilt after it collapsed. On one side of the retaining wall is the holiest site of the Jewish Faith and directly opposite on the other side is the Dome of the Rock the most sacred site for the Muslim faith in Jerusalem. I was not disappointed on my visit and I have returned again since I was not happy with my images from the first day. There's a huge open square and small fence that separate the square and worship area. The worship area is filled with the men who come to pray each day and each has his time to go to the wall and pray. They write their prayers on small pieces of paper that are placed in the wall cracks as has been done for over 2000 years now. They are removed once a year and taken to the mount of olives and buried there.
I was approached by a man who had finished praying, he is Jewish but from London and now lives in Jerusalem. He asked where I was from, all about me and what I did. He then called over a friend who was formerly from South Africa to visit as well. I spent more than an hour drinking coffee and visiting with them both. I wanted to get so much information from them but it seemed as though the time was spent more about me and what I do. They did urge me to go down and enter the prayer area for photographs and get a more first-hand look at the time spent by the worshipers each day. It was an exciting and meaningful experience for me and I looked forward to a return trip.
My second day I was to explore one of the two sites purported to be the burial site of Jesus. The Garden as it is known is just outside the Damascus gate and aligns with many of the biblical references. It is located on the Road to Golgotha, the property once belonged to Joseph of Arimathea and the tomb is more or less what is described in the bible. Pilate gave the body of Jesus to this man for burial after his death, and he took the body and buried in a tomb that he had already created for himself. A large stone was then rolled in front of the crypt. I do not know if this is the place or not but I do know that it was in the same spot where all these events took place and it proved to be quite moving even to me.
The second place is at the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre. I am visiting that site as well next week. In a later installment, I will tell you what I find there and try to analyze the pros and cons of the two sites. They are both within a mile of each other and either could be or perhaps neither is the correct spot. Also in my next post will have detailed photos of the Stations of the Cross where I will trace the steps of Christ on that fateful day through the streets of the city.
I have been so happy that I chose to make this trip, to meet the people here and get to share not only my stories but their stories as well. The last thing I want to share with you is about a young man I met at a local food stop. His name is Abdullah Al Natsheh and our conversations started when I saw his camera on the table. I am not a shy person so it was easy to strike up a conversation with him about photography. He is Palestinian and so I got the opportunity to share not only his meal but his stories as well. He is an aspiring videographer and had submitted a 12-minute short film about a girl and boy from different faiths here in Jerusalem. Kind of a Romeo and Juliet type saga all shot with a minimal camera and two of his friends as the actor and actress. I know you will love watching it as much as I did. Be sure and watch the video Sabena below. He has gotten accepted to the New York Film Academy and is currently caught up in the difficult process of getting to the United States because of his nationality. He is a nice pleasant young man and I hope he finds his way to the Big Apple.
The world is such as fantastic place and the people that inhabit it have always proven to be gracious and kind to Laurel and I. They never question our faith, our politics or the color of our skin, They take us at face value as we take them at theirs. I do find it sad that the world is run by a handful of people in governments when the people of the world are always so kind and friendly. Our politicians of the world could learn a few things from these same people.