Israeli Days/Jordanian Nights: Day 14
As opposed to the previous day, Day 14 was chock full of sightseeing and activities. In the morning we set out with our ever-faithful, ever-trumpet-toting tour guide Yair to the Mount of Olives, where a grand view of the city of Jerusalem can be enjoyed by the eyeballs. The Mount of Olives, named as such due to the olive groves that in times past graced its slopes, is, according to the Acts of the Apostles, the place where Jesus ascended into Heaven forty days after he rose from the dead.
Quick turnaround ensued as we headed for the Temple Mount, possibly the most religious site in the world when considering Christians, Jews, and Muslims — followers of the three Abrahamic faiths — each lay claim to a portion of the area; it is what one might consider the epicenter of ideological conflict. The Temple Mount is home to the Dome of the Rock, one of the oldest pieces of Islamic architecture in the world, and the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall), which Jews consider the holiest place in the world to pray.
In visiting the Dome, I was unaware I needed to cover my legs and so I had to purchase a scarf thingamajig for 25 shekels (uncool, guys, but I should have known). On the way out, a kid selling snacks and such traded me a water bottle for the scarf, so everything turned out okay.
The Dome of the Rock is believed to be the site where the Islamic prophet Muhammad ascended into Heaven (though others say this occurred at the al-Aqsa Mosque, which is also in the area of the Temple Mount). To be perfectly honest, while Yair was explaining the ditties about the Dome, I was preoccupied about the shekels I had to spend on that blessed scarf.
The Western Wall was dotted with people deep in prayer as we approached. Someone had thought to bring paper and pen along, and so I was able to scribble a brief prayer and insert it between the stones of the wall, as is customary. To avoid anymore Wikipedia-esque writing, let me just say that the Western Wall was constructed under the direction of Herod the Great (he keeps popping up, doesn’t he?) as part of the Second Jewish Temple.
Where to next? Why, the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre, of course. This Church was built over Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified, and also contains his purported tomb (and, thereby, place of resurrection). Unfortunately, the line to go inside the tiny chapel that houses the tomb was hella long and so I did not go in.
We were able to see, however, the spot where Jesus is believed to have died on the cross (at Golgotha, or Calvary) and the Stone of Anointing, where Joseph of Arimathea prepared Jesus’ body for burial. It would have been cool, in my opinion, had the sites not straight up had a gigantic church built over them so that they might appear more or less as they did at the time those Biblical events took place, but I understand, too, creating proper places of worship.
The day was capped — long time coming, am I right? — with a two-hour visit to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which began at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace. A fine gentleman, whose name I never learned, explained how the Truman Institute came to be in the mid-1960s and about its mission of advancing peace in the Middle East. He was blunt in saying that over the last 50 years the institute has failed in its mission, though I cannot imagine no progress whatsoever has been made (lo siento for the double negative; did you cringe too?). At least, I will say, whoever this person was, he seemed determined not to give up, which is heartening.
Finally, a visit to the Hebrew University’s Department of Geography brought us two presentations regarding the economic, social, cultural, and religious divides the residents of Jerusalem face on the daily, particularly women. Of particular note was the first researcher’s focus on which parts of Jerusalem feel like safe spaces for Israeli and Palestinian women. She had surveyed participants aged 18-30 and mapped out her findings, showing a divided city indeed, where it can be difficult for women from either side to feel at home.
Well, well, well, w-e-l-l. That was quite the drop of information. Let’s head out for a drink on Ben Yehuda Street, huh? !לחיים ("L'chaim!")
P.S. Totally forgot to mention that some of us wandered over to the upper room where Jesus and the disciples allegedly had the Last Supper while we were still in Jerusalem's Old City. Personally, I pictured a more intimate space for that famous episode, but it did look much like the renditions I've seen in paintings and what have you.