Shalom and Good Morning everyone! Since I'll be writing about taxis, eating, and shopping, I should talk a little about money first. Israeli currency is the Shekel, which is equivalent to about 28 cents. It's a good value point, because it doesn't need to be fractionally divided (all prices are in whole shekels) and yet it still works well for larger purchases. (I think there is such thing as a half-shekel, but I haven't seen one yet.)
We're doing a lot of walking. Jerusalem is mostly intersections, and finding street signs can be tricky. All the street crossings use audible crosswalk signals that sound like a pulsating sprinkler: tick - tick - tick - tick - tick - ticktickticktickticktick..... When the ticking sound speeds up, the green pedestrian lights and it's safe to cross.
The first thing we did on Friday was browse the Armenian Museum in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City. I had a special interest here due to my strong Armenian heritage.
The museum is housed in a large two-story building with a courtyard in the center. It seems it may have been a monastery at one time, but I'm not sure.
Being here has increased my sense of the tremendous significance of words, history, and language. (I'll return to this subject when I tell you about the Dead Sea Scrolls.) There was a painting in the museum of St. Mesrop Mashtodz and the founding of the Armenian language.
"And he saw not a dream in sleep, not a vision while awake, but in the depths of his heart there appeared to the eyes of the soul a right hand writing on rock, for the stone retained as tracks are traced in snow."
The Genocide of 1915-1917 still weighs heavily on the Armenian consciousness. There were numerous posters both inside and outside the museum with a map showing the extent of the murderous event and an injunction to "Demand and remember April 24: The day the Armenians mourn the death of the victims of the first genocide of the 20th century."
This is the east side of the second story portico. There were pigeons flitting about in the sun-filled central courtyard. It was one of the most peaceful places we've visited so far.
After the museum we walked down to the Southeast corner of the city and visited The Jerusalem Archaeological Park. We walked the ancient road along the western wall of the temple, and toured the adjacent courtyard while listening to the Muslim call to prayer being broadcast from the Mosque above. I have pictures of this but they require a bit more explanation and can wait until I get back, which will also conserve space in this already long post.
We ate a quick lunch in a stone alcove beneath the southern Temple wall and then headed over to the Wailing Wall. After passing through security, we donned paper caps to approach the wall. The experience is hard to describe. One feels themselves an outsider, and yet is awed by the obvious significance of the place and the passion of the prayers that are offered here.
The devotion of the Jews is real, but seeing it up close made me wonder if sometimes we over-dramatize it. These worshipers are real people who bring their kids in strollers, pray for awhile, and then leave to have lunch or return to work or go home and watch football. This is just part of their identity, part of their way-of-life.
There was a large Police presence inside the Western Wall Plaza; it seemed to be some kind of headquarters. The Police here run their light bars continuously, which serves as a reminder of and metaphor for the constant threat of violence. We're getting good at bag checks and metal detectors.
The Temple Institute - where they are reproducing the equipment of the Temple - was closed, so we split up to explore the city and buy some food in preparation for the Sabbath. Joseph and I wound our way North through the city toward the Damascus gate, where by coincidence we met up again with Timothy and Brittany.
It's unfortunate that the camera does not pick up smells, because one's nose is definitely working overtime. The smoky smell of incense, the spicy fragrance of seasonings, and the reek of garbage all blend together for a formidable olfactory experience.
The city streets give one the feeling of being half inside and half outside. They are very narrow, and often completely covered above. Sometimes you will break out into wider streets or small plazas, where the air is somewhat fresher. Everywhere there is people.
The shops are small, deep, and crammed to overflowing. In preparation for walking through Hezekiah's Tunnel, Joseph and I purchased leather sandals from a sandal merchant in a small shop near Jaffa Gate. We talked him down from 200 NIS to 170 NIS for the two pairs. On larger purchases it seems you can usually bring the price down about 15-20%.
We also bought two types of bread: "bagel" and "Challah." (Challah is the braided egg-bread that Leah makes occasionally.) Bread costs about 7 NIS per bagel or loaf. The bagel was a bit too ethnic-tasting for me, but the Challah was quite good. (I still like Leah's version better. She can bake circles around the best of them.)
I was getting hungry for some real, colorful, crunchy stuff, so we found a produce seller and purchased some bananas, bell peppers, apples, and a carrot. Fruits and vegetables are fairly inexpensive: you can buy a small bag for just a couple shekels.
We exited the Old City via Damascus Gate, where there were more merchants selling everything from fish to tennis shoes to screwdrivers. It was impressive. Bazaars like this have that indescribable chaotic orderliness that the West has never been able to replicate.
From Damascus Gate we headed over to Skull Hill, one of the possible locations of Golgotha. There was a pair of geologists analyzing the site while we were there. One of them explained - matter-of-factly and with a strong British accent - that the cliff was composed of hard dolomites on one side, soft limestone in the center, and more hard dolomites on the other side. The symbolism was almost overwhelming. Selah.
I found this project for David in the rear of the bus yard in front of Skull Hill. A carburator rebuild and a little grinding work and she'd be good as new - eh, Dave?
The last stop of the day was the Garden Tomb. It took us a few minutes and a bit of walking to locate it, but thanks to Joseph's good memory and marvelous intuition we found it without too much trouble. When you enter the Garden Tomb compound, you feel as if you've stepped into another world. It is lush, tranquil, and quiet. A truly beautiful place.
Seeing the tomb itself was a profound experience. I can't do it justice here; ask me about it when I get back.
One of the videos in the Davidson Center, (part of the Archaeological Park,) mentioned the Greek sages' enumeration of the three wonders of Israel: "a sea where everything floats, a day when no work is done, and a temple without a single statue;" all equally astonishing to the pagan mind. Oh that God would make them astonishing to us all over again.