Our plan for today was to tour Jerusalem on our own in the morning, see Bethlehem in the early afternoon and then head back to Tel Aviv. We all like Jerusalem and our hotel so much that we decide to stay an extra night. Everybody but Tina gets up early and go directly to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as it was so crowded on our first visit. It was nice walking the old city at 7am before it really woke up and came alive.
The church seemed quiet as we entered it but as we ascended the stairs to see the altar of the crucifixion we realized that there was a service going on already in the small Catholic chapel immediately adjacent to the Golgotha rock and its altar. Sandy was the only one who got down on her knees and actually viewed and touched the rock of Golgotha.
We were able to view the Stone of Anointing, where Jesus’ body is said to have been anointed before burial, without any crowds.
We then went to see the tomb where Jesus was thought to have been buried but there was already a long line waiting on another service being held in the Aedicule which is a 19th century shrine which encloses the burial site. Oh well, Zvi told us to be here at 6:30 and we didn’t come until 7:15. This church is so interesting, complex and hard to explain. The church contains, according to traditions the two holiest sites in Christianity: the site where Jesus was crucified at a place known as “Calvary” or “Golgotha”, and Jesus’s empty tomb, where he is said to have been buried and resurrected. Under an 1852 mandate, the care of this church is shared by no less than six Christian denominations: the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syriac Orthodox. The Status Quo, a 150-year-old understanding between religious communities, applies to this site. Essentially this means that nobody can do anything, including the changing of light bulbs or even removing an old wooden ladder which has been on the facade for a couple of centuries. Interestingly enough a Muslim Arab family holds the ancient key to the church.
We return to our hotel and meet Tina for an incredible Israeli buffet breakfast before heading out to Yad Vashem aka the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. This is a huge complex covering a lot of acreage on a hill in eastern Jerusalem. We have been to Schindler’s factory museum in Krakow Poland and the Holocaust Museum in Berlin with Dick and Andrew. It is difficult to return to another Holocaust Memorial Site but it is very well done, beautiful, moving and even more significant viewing it in Israel with a host of Jewish people and a large tour group of Israeli police cadets. We only did the Holocaust History Museum which is a beautiful building designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie. The museum is a prism-like triangular structure that penetrates the mountain from one side to the other, with both ends dramatically cantilevering into the open air.
We wandered the grounds a bit and then took a taxi to The Israel Museum which was closed until later in the day for a special event. We then walked from there to Mehane Yehuda market stopping at a great outdoor cafe for a light lunch. The afternoon was spent with everyone just wandering leisurely through the shopping streets of the city. Dick conferred with our concierge and came up with a great restaurant a short walking distance from our hotel. The Eucalyptus restaurant, owned and led by Chef Moshe Basson, serves a modern interpretation of biblical cuisine. Chef Basson’s passions for biblical culture drove him to research and resurrect recipes, spices, and local and wild herbs that were part of the traditional cuisine. Every dish has its origins in biblical scenes and all the spices and herbs used grow, as in ancient times, in the surrounding hills of Jerusalem and Judea. We had a great meal and a great time with the waitstaff. The short walk back and forth was also quite scenic and very interesting with beautiful new apartment buildings in the Artist Quarter of Jerusalem.
The next morning we walked on the walls of old Jerusalem. This activity was suggested by Jim’s cousin Phyllis Deets from San Francisco. It is called the ramparts walk and gives great views of both the old and new cities.
We were at the ticket office when it opened at 9am. We walked from the Jaffa gate to Lions gate, a distance of about 1.5 miles on very rough uneven stone with a few up and down staircases. After finishing this trek we walked back inside the old city, exiting the Damascus gate in the Arab Quarter. At 11am we were picked up by an Arab Israeli taxi driver who drove us through the wall into the West Bank to Bethlehem. We stopped at the Walled Off Hotel viewing their piano bar and gift shop.
The wall out front is covered with graffiti by Banksy. Jim’s most religious moment of Israel was touching the wall separating Palestine from Israel.
Our taxi driver then took us to The Church of the Nativity where he introduced us to our Arab guide who took us through the church. You enter the church through the four foot high Door of Humility as you have to bow down to get through it. They made it small to keep larger animals from seeking a cool shelter from the summer heat.The church is undergoing renovations so there was scaffolding up in the interior.
We had to wait in a line funneling us down some stairs to the Altar of the Nativity where tradition says the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus. It was interesting as our pushy Arab guide was unable to penetrate a Russian tour group who stubbornly blockaded the funnel like entrance and we had to wait our turn until all of the Russians had trickled in.
After viewing the Altar we exited and were deposited at the mandatory gift shop by the guide. They were rewarded by purchases from most of us.
Our taxi driver rejoined us here and took us to a lovely Arab restaurant for a lunch of Shawarma, hummus & salads.
We were then driven back through the Israeli checkpoint in the wall for a much more thorough exit check by a very young, stunningly beautiful Israeli girl with the mandatory gun slung over her shoulder. We wanted to take pictures of her but thought better of it. This taxi then drove us back to our apartment in Tel Aviv.