|At Jacob's Well|
We were staying in Jerusalem, but we didn't start the next day in Jerusalem. On Sunday, we spent about two hours driving to St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Zababdeh, which is in the West Bank. We switched busses once we were in the West Bank, for reasons that I'm not entirely sure of, but there was a different (Palestinian) license plate, and it gives work to people in the West Bank. We needed our passports, but we were never checked at the check points. The service and sermon were mostly in Arabic, though some parts were in English. We weren't the only English speaking group there; a group from England was there and a few people from Santa Barbara. Our guide said he'd never seen other non-locals there. I had a hard time with the sermon since it was in Arabic, and English is difficult enough for sermons for me, but it was neat to hear the multi-lingual service overall. After the service, one of the British women came up to talk to James during coffee hour and asked if we were seeing sights of meeting people. James said a little of both and the woman replied "Well, WE think people are more important." To which James had no reply. I had been standing off to the side and decided at this point not to join the conversation since holding my tongue with rude people is becoming more and more difficult. Before lunch, we could do some shopping from some local families: hand embroidery and olive wood carvings. Lunch was provided by a local family's restaurant and I really did try to like it. It was a soft break that was soaked in olive oil, stuffed with cooked onion and almond slices and a TON of sumac. This was accompanied by a chicken leg with crispy skin and cucumber/tomato salad and yogurt. After church we headed to another Greek Orthodox church that's built over Jacob's well. I don't remember the name of the church, but it was amazing! The current head priest came into the job when his predecessor was murdered by settlers. However, he finished building the church (actually physically doing the work, not just the plans) and painted all the icons in the church himself. Prolific is the only word to describe how many icons were in the church. It was so bright and cheery and colourful: the icons were gorgeous and the whole church just seemed like a happy pace. It helped that even though the priest looked like Rasputin (most Orthodox priests look like Rasputin to me) he was quick to smile and laugh. He laughed when all the women had our heads covered and said we looked like Russians, but he appreciated the devotion. He was almost impish in fact, especially when he told us that he "stole" the capitals on top of the pillars, with a laugh of course. He took us down to the well and anointed all of us with holy oil (nard) and allowed us to take photos, which was against the rule. We drew water from the well, which was SUPER deep and all got to take a sip: nice and cool. He also had icons and his own hand-painted icons for sale. They were quite expensive, and we didn't know what we would do with them, but they were definitely beautiful. We had some free time to look around the church and we found the previous priest's tomb (you could see his skull, like a relic) and the icon associated with his murder (nothing gory, but a bit unnerving). My mom wanted a photo in front of the church with dad and the priest was locking up and jumped into the photo! A total surprise, but it just seemed like he was a happy and sweet guy, something I think is often lost in the seriousness and severeness of the Orthodox tradition. Iyad took us out for knaffeh (like we made in Jordan) but I had to pass :( Back to Jerusalem and our guest speaker on an Israeli perspective. It was an interesting talk and he definitely conveyed the complicated nature of the topic, but again the bias of the trip showed. Mom and dad went into the Old City after dinner while James and I stayed in to journal and write postcards. Plus, I was having bad allergies and problems breathing with light-headedness, so staying in was best for me. They almost got caught in the Jerusalem Day celebration/demonstration, but luckily only caught the tail end with the police.
|Iconostasis in the Greek section of the|
Church of the Nativity
Mom's birthday was an awesome day! As predicted, it was LONG. We left at 6:30 am because Iyad had managed to get us a real treat: we would be able to celebrate mass with the Franciscans in the Church of the Nativity! This is not a typical tourist thing and I have no idea how he managed it, but I was very grateful. The church is controlled by three denominations: Greek, Armenian and Franciscan, each with their own church and each with their own time in the grotto prior to it opening to tourists. The churches were virtually empty since we were there so early and it was amazing to celebrate mass (in Italian) in the grotto. Last year, James and the kids had to wait two hours just to walk through and spend a few seconds there, but we were lucky enough to be able to spend the entire service there. We had communion right next to the manger and were able to venerate the star, which is over where Mary gave birth. (Another truth and Truth thing). Iyad took us to walk along the wall, the "separation barrier" built in the West Bank around Palestinian neighbourhoods. It was very much like the Berlin Wall with graffiti and slogans and art on it. It was interesting to learn more about the situation, especially that US tax payer money is going to help pay for the building, which can explain a bit of the animosity sometimes shown on television (though honestly, we felt no animosity anywhere in Israel or the West Bank). Iyad then took us to Shepherd's Fields and we were able to go down into a first century cave like the shepherds would have lived in. The church there was beautiful and had great acoustics so we sang some Christmas songs. We shopped for olive wood gifts at the co-op and had lunch at Ruth's Field Restaurant which included a great dip (I think it was that eggplant one) and the best falafels I've ever had. I was sad we each only got one.We ended the day early due to a schedule change, going to the Israel Museum after lunch, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls. Seeing the building they were in was cool since it was designed as a jar like the scrolls were found in, but since James and I had seen the actual scrolls at different times, we weren't that interested. Some of the replicas weren't done very well either...but the model of ancient Jerusalem was awesome! A little like Legoland's miniature cities, it was neat to see where we were staying in relation to the first century city and all the different sites we'd see. We rested at the hotel til 4, then headed into the Old City for some shopping--hard sells, but I got a set of Muslim prayer beads made out of agate; one of the things I really wanted to find while we were there. We headed back for dinner, but had reservations at 8:45 at another restaurant that had pizza since the food was making James sick for some reason. On the way we stopped at the post office, which was an interesting experience with people cutting in front and super expensive stamps. Mom got a cake at dinner with "Happ Birthday Anne!" on it :) and the hotel manager was our speaker on Islam that night. It was an interesting talk, but he was very tangential, so it was a little hard to follow, and I was glad I'd already learned quite a bit about Islam before. We had to duck out at 8:30 for our reservation, but it was totally worth it. The food was delicious and the service was amazing! Dad and James split a pepperoni pizza and mom and I split a caper and green olive pizza. It was Italian-style, with a thinner crust and very, very fresh. After dinner, they brought out baclava for us. So good, and free of charge. And James didn't get sick, which was the whole point. It was at Azzahra Hotel and Restaurant and if you're ever in Jerusalem, I would highly recommend it.
|In front of the Dome of the Rock|
Tuesday was a very, very hot day. Especially since Monday had been chilly. We saw the big sites of the three major religions today. We started at the Western (wailing) Wall. We had to have a head covering (James borrowed Mom's hat) and tuck any crosses into our shirts. We split into men and women to go up and pray. We were able to stick our prayer into the wall. I wonder what happens to the older prayers: if they clean them out or what happens. When we walked in, a group of women was singing. I guess a holiday was coming up, because the Torah arks were out on the men's side and there was a lot of yelling and singing. Some men were singing and dancing on our way out, and the girls on the other side of the barrier were dancing too. Dad and James had picked up some yamakas they offer for men to use. It wasn't too crowded yet, which was nice. Jews pray at the Western wall instead of the southern wall (which is also still intact) because it is closer to the location of the holy of holies. Next we got in line to go up to the Temple Mount (forbidden by the Chief Rabbi because of the holiness of the site) where the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque are. Ever since 2000, when an unannounced visit by Sharon sparked the second intifada, the sites are closed to visitors. They're still gorgeous to see: the gold dome and the blue and green Turkish tiles. The stonework is lovely too; we saw a gorgeous equivalent of a pulpit. We had entered into Jerusalem through the Dung Gate, and on our way to Lion's Gate, we stopped by the Basilica of St. Anne's and the pools of Bethesda, which were said to have healing properties (though I would not get in that water...) The ruins by the pools were gorgeous; I've always found ruins have a very haunting, beautiful quality to me. St. Anne was Mary's mother, and I learned a new factoid: the term "immaculate conception" actually refers to the conception of Mary, not of Jesus. Jesus' deal is called the "virgin birth," but in popular culture nowadays, immaculate conception is used to refer to Mary's conception of Jesus. It was a lovely church, again with good acoustics so we sang a bit before having lunch at Pasha Restaurant. It was a nice restaurant, with the typical mixed grill we always seem to get preceded by the little dishes with toppings/stuffings for pita bread. We got a yummy donut hole -like dessert: very airy and sugary. We went to the Church of the Resurrection or the Holy Sepulchre after lunch. This church is controlled by SIX different denominations: Greek, Armenian, Roman/Francisan, Coptic, Syrian, and Ethiopian, however the keys are controlled by a Muslim family to avoid disputes. The church houses Calvary, Golgotha, the Stone of Anointing, the location of the empty tomb, and Joseph of Arimathea's tomb. It was originally built by St. Helena, Constantine's mother and was built over by the Crusaders later. We had a gospel reading by an Ethiopian priest in their section of the church (very small) and saw various different chapels (though not Golgotha since we'd see that our last day during the Via Dolorosa), even seeing the Armenian, Greek and Coptic priests walk through on their rounds with incense and heard the bells, which were beautiful. We heard about the Holy Fire that sprouted from one of the pillars long ago, and how the tradition is kept alive during Easter with the holy fire from the Edicule, built over the location of Christ's tomb (Truth and truth, remember). We also saw a first century tomb, though no one but dad and me went in, which is believed to be the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Not the one he gave to Jesus, but the one he was actually placed in. It wasn't as well preserved as the one under the convent, but it was neat to see. After this, some people departed for Vespers at another church, but my parents and James and I stayed to get in line to go into the Edicule. I was confused until recently, when I read that the actual cave that was believed to house Jesus' tomb was carved away by a Muslim ruler in an attempt to quash Christianity. Either way, it seems the Greek Orthodox control the Edicule, or at least while we were there. There was a large Russian tour group ahead of us, and boy were they pushy. I was shocked and more than a little disappointed at the rudeness in such a holy place. You'd think of all places to be respectful toward your fellow humans, it would be here, but no such luck. We were pushed around a bit, but eventually got to go in and see the tiny little room that has what looks like a coffin, but is (I think) an altar and pray for a minute, before walking back out. The priests leading people through were communicating via cell phone, and it was kinda funny to see a priest in full Greek Orthodox garb (remember, it reminds me of Rasputin) on a smart phone. Mom and dad got some shrouds and some candles afterward and lit the prayer candles in the holy fire to take back to St. Luke's. While they were doing this, we saw a Greek Orthodox priest with a sprayer of water walking along the prayer candles and putting them out. Which was odd, to say the least. Mom anointed the shrouds on the stone of anointing, where Jesus' body was anointed before burial. James did the same with a shroud of Veronica he got for his prayer partner. I thought the stone magically/miraculously smelled like the oils, but James later explained that pilgrims actually use their own oils and it's the combination of all of these day after day. This was after he'd finished laughing at me of course. We took a leisurely walk through the Old City souk, running into Mark on our way back. We had dinner at Azzahra again, since James just can't seem to get used to the food, even though he likes the taste. Poor guy. Pepperoni for the boys again, but shallot, green olive, basil and artichoke hearts for mom and me this time! Yum! It was hard to believe that we only had 3 days left before leaving after this, but it was drawing nearer to when we were leaving, and only 2 days until the pilgrimage was over and the group would disband.