Israel: A Primer to Jerusalem

Current events: President Trump’s first international trip next week as President of the USA, will include a visit to Israel.

Jerusalem is the center of Israel. The name is a combination of two root words, Jeru (city)和Salem(peace), meaning “Peaceful city.” Religious people are encouraged to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Jerusalem has the distinction of being the cradle for three major world religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Old City of Jerusalem

Old City of Jerusalem

 

Even if you are a non-religious person, you should go to Jerusalem to experience one of the longest histories in human civilization. For me, a traveler and photographer, my reason to go to Jerusalem was even richer. Thousand-year-old historical sites are everywhere. And the variety of culture and life styles made my camera work non-stop.

 

If you simply enjoy life and experiencing other cultures, you will find something to satisfy you in Jerusalem. The city is mysterious to many people. However, once you set foot on this land, you will feel a charm and power that resonates in your heart!

Dome of the Rock

Courtyard of Dome of the Rock

 

People from all corners of the world come to visit this charming city, mainly Old City Jerusalem. Only one square meter in area, the Old City incorporates the most historic religious sites: Dome of the Rock,Al-Aqsa Mosque, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Western Wall, Stations of the Cross, and Tower of David.

Thousand year old olive trees near Church of all Nations

Thousand year old olive trees near Church of all Nations

Outside the stone wall of Old Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives, Mount Zion, there are many other churches and places of interests to see. Every stone has a story to tell.

Stations of the Cross. The first nine stations are in the Muslim quarter.

Stations of the Cross. The first nine stations are in the Muslim quarter.

Old Jerusalem is divided into four quarters: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Armenia. Different people live in their own community. Walking through the Stations of the Cross to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, you will pass the first through the ninth station in the Muslim Quarter. The remainder of the stations are in the Christian Quarter.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

The road is narrow and crowded. People of different dress follow stepping stones along the winding pass, signs on the wall guide them to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus was crucified, entombed, and resurrected. Be prepared to wait hours in order to enter the chamber of the tomb.

Stations of the Cross

Stations of the Cross

 

Dome of the Rock is a landmark shrine in the Old City. You can see its 54 by 24 meters (177 X 79 feet) golden dome from far away. It was built between 687 to 691AD. But the gold dome is attributed to King Hussein of Jordan who donated 24 kilos of gold leaf worth $6.5 million dollars at that time. Inside the shrine is the stone from which Mohamed’s winged horse leaped into the sky, accompanied by the Archangel Gabriel, to begin his ascension into heaven. Muslims must wash their hands and feet and take off their shoes before going inside. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the shrine. Temple Mount is an area. The Dome of Rock is located within this area. Non-Muslims can access the exterior of the Dome from the Temple Mount. You must go early. The security check point closes about 10:00 a.m.

The Wailing Wall or Western Wall

The Wailing Wall or Western Wall

People walk through a corridor by the “Wailing Wall” (Western Wall) to the courtyard. This corridor is a good place to get a panoramic view of the “Wailing Wall”. It is the only relic of the Second Holy Temple. Soon after the Roman army destroyed the Jewish “Second Temple,” in 70 A. D, came the Diaspora of the Jewish people.

Praying at the Western Wall

Praying at the Western Wall

Jews take this 20 by 50 meter (66 X 164 feet) long wall as their first holy place. They touch the wall to mourn and pray. Many people read the Bible by the wall and place prayers written on slips of paper into the gaps in the stones. People have to stand on chairs to find a satisfactory place for their prayers. Men and women enter separate divisions by a low wall. Men must wear Yarmulkes to go in. They are provided at the entrance if a person doesn’t have one.

Men must wear Yarmulkes.

Men must wear Yarmulkes.

Mount of Olives is another holy place in Jerusalem. It is famous for olive trees, many of which are over a thousand years old. The oldest one is 2300 years. It is near the Church of All Nations. Many stories recorded in the Bible happened here. Inside the church is a rock before the alter. It is said Jesus spent the last night on the rock before he was arrested.

Church of St. Mary Magdelene

Church of St. Mary Magdalene

By this church, there is the Russian – style Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Chapel of Dominus Flevit (The Lord Wept),Church of Ascension and Church of Pater Noster, inside you will see prayers written in 44 different languages.

Chapel Dominus Flevit

Chapel Dominus Flevit

If you are not interested in so many churches, hike to the top of the hill for a panoramic view of Mount Temple. Both sunrise and sunset are popular with photographers.

Other Cities in Israel:

Bahai Gardens in Haifa

Bahai Gardens in Haifa

Besides Jerusalem, my husband and I visited Bethlehem, Nazareth, Haifa and Tel Aviv, a beautiful modern city by the Mediterranean. Israel is a nice country, clean and neat. People are friendly. Seeing is believing. We didn’t see any homeless people, thefts or fighters; only a few soldiers in popular tourist spots. Our guide told us, all Israeli people under the age of 42 are soldiers or reservists. If any disturbance happens, people get involved to settle the situation.

Kibbutzim  in Israel:

Another thing that impressed me is what Israel calls Kibbutz. It was formed around 1900 as a Jewish community. The management was quite unique. All members in this community worked according to their ability, different work, same pay. The production belonged to the community and members received their necessities free of charge, except some snacks or things that were not produced on their own farm. There meals were free, too. And there were cars for members to use, they just make an appointment ahead of time. People didn’t have to fuel their tanks as there was always someone to take care of them. The first kibbutznik (people) worked on a farm to make their living, but now the kibbutznik take up other work or even scientific studies. If members lived in community but worked outside the community, they had to pay the community some amount of money. All people were equal. The popularity of the traditional Kibbutz community has morphed into several different policies as Israel has become an important player in the global economy.

This is truly an impressive trip that will not be forgotten.

 About the Author:

Zhu Xiaojian taught English at the university in Fuzhou, China. As a young woman, she briefly lived in the U.S. to learn English and become familiar with the American culture. She is the co-author of Walk Beijing. When I lived and taught English in Fuzhou (1996-97) Zhu and I became close friends. She did her best to teach me Mandarin. We never lost contact with each other. In 2007, I called Zhu and asked her if she would like to co-author a guidebook to Beijing. In August of that year, we joined forces to live in Beijing and write what became Walk Beijing.  She is an incredible person and I am honored to be her friend.

Her husband, Yixien, was the head of the library in Fuzhou. Her daughter, Chery, currently lives in the North Carolina and is studying to be a nurse. Yixien and Zhu are retired and enjoy travel and photography.

 

 

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