For this post we will each be sharing our unique perspectives on our four day visit to Jerusalem.
Amy’s Take – Then and Now
So Keith and I broke one of our travel “rules” about not going anywhere either of us had been before. We took a quick four-night detour to Jerusalem, Israel, and I am glad we did. Before we went to Jerusalem, I imagined that the trip would mostly be for Keith to see the sights that were of interest to him and for me to wonder around a somewhat familiar city. His impressions of the city are below. However, it is amazing how different my experience was now than when I first went to Jerusalem nearly nine years ago.
It was four months into what is known in Israel as the Second Intifada. The nightly news was constantly running stories about the violence in Israel, to the point that I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was scared to even go on the trip. In fact, I didn’t fully commit to going until I arrived at the El Al terminal at JFK airport and met the rest of my tour group. Once in Israel, I felt pretty safe. Maybe I was naïve, or maybe it was the grueling pace of a ten-day tour, but I didn’t really feel like I was in the middle of anything dangerous, despite being escorted by armed military personnel and being whisked in and out and area around the Western Wall early one Friday morning, with the explanation that we needed to leave before the noon prayers and the rock-throwing from the Temple Mount began.
It wasn’t until this recent trip that I realized just how little of Jerusalem I’d been able to see on my previous tour. Now, instead of cutting our time at the Western Wall short, Keith and I were able to go up to the Temple Mount (though not into the Al-Asqa Mosque or Dome of the Rock). Instead of being limited to a quick visit of the Jewish Quarter, we were able to take our time exploring all four quarters of the Old City, enjoying the different religious sites throughout. We could stroll along Ben Yehuda Street and enjoy dinner and a drink without the constant military presence that had been keeping an eye out for suicide bombers nine years earlier.
Even though I had been to Jerusalem before, this trip was like visiting a brand new city. While some of the sights were the same, the feel of Jerusalem was completely different, granting me a new experience and a new perspective. It was definitely worth breaking one of our rules.
Keith’s Take – Holy Sights & Positive People
Growing up Catholic in Ohio and going to St. Xavier, an all boys Jesuit High School in Cincinnati, my interactions with Muslims and Jews were somewhat limited early on in life. As such, I could not pass up the chance to see some of the holiest sites for these religions packed into one city, Jerusalem. And see holy sights we did. Below is a picture collage of some of the highlights including: Jesus’s tomb, a Noah’s Ark Mosaic – Mt. Ararat is holy to the Armenian’s, and the top of Mt Golgatha – where Jesus was crucified. All of these are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We also saw the upper room, where some Christians believe the last supper happened, Dome of the Rock, King David’s tomb and the Western Wall.
However, beyond all of the religious sights, the city of Jerusalem struck me as a city full of enthusiastic and friendly people. I came into Israel thinking that I would find the city that is so often portrayed in the evening news, one where Jewish settlements anger everyone, where terrorists blow up buses and there is palpable tension among the Jews, Muslims and Christian groups. As I have found often on this trip, the reality was much different. On our Holy Cities tour we stopped and ate lunch at Abu Shukri, a delicious restaurant in the Arab quarter, and our Jewish tour guide and his Jewish friends mentioned that this is one of their favorite places to eat. I would have to agree because for 35 shekels (~$10) we got unlimited falafel, hummus, pita bread and all the vegetable sides we could eat – it left me full until breakfast the next day.
What made Israel different from the other places we have been so far is that the people we met in Jerusalem seemed to be genuinely happy to have us there. From our tour guide Divr who took a genuine interest in our trip, to the waitress at Kitchen and Beer that provided Amy and I each with two free shots of the house anise flavored liquor because our food was 5 minutes late coming from the kitchen, they all wanted to ensure that as visitors we had as much fun as they were having. Maybe it is the difference between a positive outlook towards the future and one that is less so that makes a difference that you can sense as a visitor.
For more pictures from Israel, click here.