Monday, October 11, 2010

Impressions of the Old City

I am at a loss for words to describe my first visit to the old city of Jerusalem. It is hard to believe that only 60 Kilometers (37 miles) East of where I live, the country is so starkly different. This was no walk on the beach.

I don't know what I expected from the city, one of the oldest in the world, that has been captured and recaptured 44 times, a sacred site to three of the world's major religions, and the epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What I experienced was a flood of emotions impossible to process.

My friends and I started our tour on the ramparts of the old city (built during Ottoman rule), from which we had beautiful views of the rooftops of the city. We covered our shoulders and descended into the Old City via the Lion's Gate (where Israeli paratroopers recaptured the city during the Six Day War) and started walking the Via Dolorosa, or the last footsteps of Christ. By the fourth Station of the Cross, we were completely exhausted by the historical significance of EVERYTHING.

We changed course and visited the Wailing Wall, or HaKotel HaMa'aravi, the remnants of the Jewish Temple where Jews from all over the world take pilgrimage to place prayers in the cracks of the stones. Directly behind it lies the Dome of the Rock, one of the holiest sites in Islam. We could hear the sound of their prayers echoing across the square. It struck me how these groups with conflicting claims have not finished negotiating what a future co-existence will look like.

After living in Tel Aviv for two months, this visit made me realize how complicated and diverse the country is. I'm glad that I went, and I know I will go back frequently with friends and family and to visit the sites that I missed: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Armenian Quarter, and much more. Next time I will be prepared for the emotional heaviness of the place and I will pace myself.

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