The day ended with me sitting in an Israeli police station, an experience reminding me that that Jerusalem is not immune from ordinary crime.
We began our day at the Temple Mount; the massive stone remains of the “Second Temple” built by King Solomon and rebuilt by King Herod the Great. The Temple was burned and torn down after the Jewish revolt of 60 A.D. The mount was abandoned until the rise of Islam and the construction of the gold-plated “Dome of the Rock” atop of the remains of the Temple.
For centuries, Jews have worshipped at the base of the Western Wall, or “Wailing Wall,” while Muslims have built mosques on top of the Temple Mount. Although the Temple plays a prominent role in the story of Jesus, oddly Christians never built anything on the Temple Mount even when they controlled it in the Middle Ages. Just outside the Temple gates is a Medieval Crusader church next to the pools of Bethesda where Jesus came to heal the sick.
As we approached the Temple Mount, we joined Jews, Muslims and Christians all jostling to get access to their corner of this sacred space. We flowed along with throngs.
We started in the Jewish section. On Mondays and Thursdays, Jews are allowed to hold bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs near the Western Wall. With permission of an American family, we joined their Bat Mitzvah for their daughter. The rabbi told the bat mitzvah, in English, “Take this ritual, take this confidence, and continue to live as a Jew in America.”
We then went to the Western Wall itself – the Wailing Wall – with men going to one side and women to another. I donned a kippa (one I brought with me), and went down to touch the wall. I expected the area near the wall would be solemn but the atmosphere was like a festival. Soldiers posed for pictures at the Wall, while others rocked in prayer facing the wall.
Next we ascended to the top of the Temple Mount, walking over a bridge that crosses over the Western Wall enclosure.
Atop the Temple Mount was breathtaking. It is a huge expanse of stone, with the stunning gold “Dome of the Rock” that encloses the rock outcropping where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac (or Ismaal, as the Muslims would maintain). Women in full burkas walked past, while others took off their shoes to go inside. We did not go inside.
We walked across the Mount to an exit leading to the Crusader Church at the pools of Bethesda. They were a place where in the time of Jesus, people who were sick went hoping to find healing in pools fed by natural springs.
As one of our guides explained, the religious authorities were not serving those who went to the pools; they were considered unclean and not allowed to go inside the Temple. Religion had failed them, and so they went to the pools hoping for healing. The pools were the closest to a secular place there would be in ancient Jerusalem. And it was there that Jesus went to find them.
|Lori and Anne on steps|
Jesus would have walked
to go up to the Temple
Was I inspired by all of this variety of religious expression? I am not sure. I felt a great sadness that all of these great religions must carve out their own spaces, walled off with fences, bridges and metal detectors. How can God really be pleased with any of this? Yet, I also felt awed by the rich breadth of religious expression. I looked on as outsider, not really connected to any of this, but grateful for the friendly smiles and the human yearning that there must be more to life than what we see now.
Our afternoon was spent walking around the bazaars and shops of the Old City. We saw jewelry and Bedouin tapestries, and the biggest assortment of spices, candies, fruits and breads I have ever seen in my life. Alas, in all of the jostling, an aggressive young man hawking postcards managed to steal our newest camera from Lori (the photos here were taken with an older spare camera I’ve been carrying).
I went with one of the St. George’s staff people to an Israeli police station to report the theft. It was a stark neon-lit building and, let us just say, chaotic. I am thankful that all we lost was a camera, and we are going to take a break and rest at St. George’s on Tuesday.