Thursday, January 22, 2009

Israel: Day One!

Today we got up at 5:30 a.m. and left for the airport to travel to Israel. Our plane left for New Jersey at 7:30. We ate breakfast at the airport—then again on the plane! We arrived in New Jersey around 2:00, and ate lunch. When we went to catch our connecting flight to Tel Aviv, I was so surprised by the amount of security just in that area of the airport. They had about 20 security agents, and had the whole area cut off from the rest of the airport. You couldn’t get in or out of the area without a passport and a boarding pass. We had to have all of our carry on bags searched, and Todd and I had to be patted down and searched by security people. Then, even when we were walking down the jetway, they had several security people and a bomb sniffing dog. It was pretty crazy. The plane was HUGE! I have never been on one of these jumbo jets—Todd flew on one to Japan, but it had been quite awhile. The plane took off at 4:00 New Jersey time and the flight was 9 hours. At 6:00 New Jersey time—1 a.m. Tel Aviv time, we ate dinner. Then they turned off the cabin lights so we could go to bed. Of course, we were too excited to sleep, besides, it was only 4:00 Arizona time, so we watched movies and played games for the next 5 or 6 hours. Then, flying over Greece, the sun came back up, and they turned the lights back on, and served us breakfast. It was funny—this was the 5th meal we had already! We arrived in Tel Aviv at 9 a.m.—midnight Arizona time! Bob and Sue met us at the airport, and we traveled to Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Center is a beautiful building built on the Mount of Olives, and overlooking the Old City. The view from the Jerusalem center is breathtaking. I still can’t believe we’re here! It’s an 8 story building, and it sprawls out along the mountainside in a beautiful way. The architecture is just amazing, and it is surely one of the most beautiful buildings here in Jerusalem. We are staying in a dorm room that the students stay in when they are here. There are two twin beds, a desk, and a bathroom with a shower. We got our things out of the car, got them into our room, and went up to the cafeteria for lunch. Bob and Sue have an assignment to eat in the cafeteria—not a bad assignment! We ate beef pattys with curry seasoning, cabbage rolls with rice that was seasoned with cinnamon, sweet potatoes, several vegetables, and pita bread. It was delicious.

After lunch, we went out on a tour of the Old City. There is a huge wall that goes along the outside of the Old City, and several gates that you can enter through. You can tell that the wall has been built and rebuilt over the years due to wars and conflict in Jerusalem. It is amazing, though, that the base of the wall is well over 1,000 years old. We passed the Herod Gate, but they told us that you never go through that gate, it is a Palestinian residential area that isn’t safe to enter. The city is divided into quarters, Muslim quarter, Jewish quarter, Christian quarter, and Armenian quarter. We entered the city through the Damascus Gate, which is a beautiful part of the city. The marketplace is amazing, bustling with activity. They have several shops, with anything you can imagine, from clothes, furniture, trinkets, food, etc. It is a sandstone block ground, intermingled with roman stones that are huge and have been there for thousands of years. The road goes up and down so much, with so many little hills; I have never climbed so many steps in my life!
First, we went to an old Austrian Hospice. In the early years, these hospices were built by several countries so that pilgrims would have a safe place to stay, a place to eat, and a place to worship when they came to the Holy Land. We went up to the roof of the building and there was an amazing view of the city, the Dome of the Rock Mosque, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I was able to get several great pictures.
Then, we headed over to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. On the way there, we were walking through the marketplace and we hear something over head making a horrible noise—as I looked up, a cat fell right through the wooden rafters, and hit me right in the shoulder. It was so funny—raining cats! Several Muslims walking around us were laughing, I hope it’s not some sort of bad omen to have a cat fall out of the sky and hit you! We also passed a meat market, but I will spare you the pictures of the intestines and other gross things--this one I couldn't pass up though, this guy was actually preparing the head of the lamb, shaving the hair off of it. What a sight!
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the holiest Christian site in Jerusalem. It is also a source of contention—not among Muslims and Jews, but among different sects of Christianity. They have split the church up into different parts, and different groups have ownership of different parts of the church. There is an old wooden ladder up on one of the windows on the outside of the church that has been there for centuries because if someone touches it, the others would be angry, so they just leave it there to avoid a confrontation. There had been a scuffle weeks before we arrived, because someone swept part of the church that wasn’t theirs. Police had to come in and everything. Pretty interesting. There is security all around the church, and even a concrete bomb detinator outside in case there is something suspicious. The first part of the church we saw was a marble, or concrete slab, that had candles hanging over it that they say was the slab they laid Jesus’ body on when he died. It is called the anointment stone. Many people stopped to kneel, and kiss it, they hugged it, we even saw ladies rubbing oil on it with a towel. We went up the stairs to another shrine, Golgotha. This has glass enclosures on the floor of the shrine that allow you to see the stone underneath the church which supposedly dates back to Jesus’ time. They also have a hole in the ground underneath the altar that you put your hand into to feel the indentation of where the cross was placed, and feel a piece of wood that dates back to his actual crucifixion. The paintings in this room date back to the 12th century, and are exquisite. In the rotunda you see the Armenian wing of the church, and they have more artwork, and a beautiful mosaic on the floor which depicts the Armenian Christians struggles throughout the centuries dating back to Adam. We then headed over to the sepulchre itself. Bob and Sue were so surprised to find only 2 or 3 other people there—usually when they come to the Church, there is a line at least an hour long to get in. We only had to wait 5 minutes. When you walk in, the first room is called the Angel’s Chapel, where Mary Magdalene visited the grave on the first Sunday and was met by the angel. There are candles and shrines set up to worship there. Then you duck into another tiny room where supposedly Jesus’ body was laid. There is a small stone slab that you can touch that symbolizes the place where his body was laid. Funny thing, on the back of this sepulchre, you will find another shrine, owned by the Copts, which is another denomination, and they say that they own the spot of the sepulcher where Jesus head was laid. They cannot even agree to share our Lord and Saviors body—but fight over who owns the spot for the body and the spot for the head! On the outside of the sepulcher, you see indentations along the wood, where people can put candles for remembrance. It was so amazing to be in this place—to see how devout some of the worshippers are, and see them cry and wail at this holy site. The Syrian wing of the temple is pretty much undecorated, because the Syrians, and the Armenians keep arguing over who owns this part of the church. But it was still interesting to walk down into a small cave that is believed to be the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea, and Nicodemus. These two were the ones who removed the body of Christ from the cross and were believed to be buried nearby him. It was such a blessing to be here! Outside, we got to see the Tower of David, which they say is built over where King David’s palace was, and the tower is the tower he was standing in when he saw Bathsheba bathing in the pools below. We all know what a horrible spiral that started! We headed back to the Jerusalem center around 4:00 p.m., and as we started to drive, the tiredness from being up for 26 hours straight was starting to hit us. We got back and went to take a “nap” before dinner. We laid down and fell right to sleep. Bob and Sue called us at dinnertime, but we were so tired, that we just wanted to sleep! After all, in the course of 26 hours, we had consumed 6 meals! We ended up sleeping ALL NIGHT—just waking up for a few minutes to go to the bathroom and check the time. When we got up the next morning, we felt SO rested! It was a full 12 hours of sleep! AWESOME! What a day!


Kathy P said...

How fun!!! These pictures are the next best thing to being there... so take lots and lots! I want to go there someday. This is beautiful!

Heatherly said...

It looks amazing! Have fun and be safe!

Ed said...

Everything looks so amazing! What an adventure...keep the posts coming!

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