Once again, I am lucky enough to have access to the Internet here, so I will write as much as I can while I have the ability to do so. Keep in mind, I am doing this for my own benefit as well, because this will be sort of a journal of my travel experiences, which I am very happy to share with you, my friends and readers.
Right now, I am sitting in an Internet cafe in Jerusalem, right outside the old city in the Russian compound. It is amazing to be back here, even though I have been to Israel and Jerusalem so many times before. It always stirs within me the deepest emotions of connection and roots. What can I say? I love it here!
I stole my dad’s rental car, after promising to drive safe and not talk to strangers, and drove to Jerusalem by myself. That was interesting, never having driven in Israel alone. Let me tell you, these people are CRAZY drivers. When you are stopped at a red light, the light turns yellow before it turns green, and they slam their horns yelling at you to go even before you are allowed to. More people die of car accidents here than of terrorist attacks.
Jerusalem is beautiful. This evening I met my old friend Shlomi near the “Mishbier”, which is a landmark in the city center that everyone knows of. It’s basically a glorified indoor flea market next to a very tall building visible from all of Jerusalem.
I was starving, so I had to go right away to McDonald’s for some authentic Israeli cheeseburgers (Shlomi wasn’t hungry yet, so I had to have something to tide me over). I know my way around here pretty well, so I led the way to the Old City (I am speaking of the ancient portion of Jerusalem when I say “Old City”). It is enclosed within the most amazing walls. It is such a beautiful sight, especially at night when it’s all lit up.
Jerusalem is divided into two sections – east and west. The Old City was part of the eastern section, which was captured by Jordan in 1948 and held by them until the 6-day war in 1967 when Israel took the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem. The Old City is the source of one of the biggest disputes ever over such a small piece of territory. Within its walls there are some of the holiest sites to the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
For the Jews, it contains the Western Wall that they regard as the last remnant of their ancient Temple. They gather there constantly for prayer and meditation. For the Christians, it includes the Via Dolorosa (“Way of Suffering”), the path taken by Jesus to his eventual crucifixion, as well as the church of the Holy Sepulcher, enclosing the site many Christians believe the crucifixion and burial took place. For Islam, the city contains the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest site to Islam from which Moslems believe the prophet Mohamed ascended to heaven for a little tour. The city is under a major dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel captured it in 1967 and annexed it, vowing never again to relinquish hold on the city. The Palestinians, however, regard the eastern section as the future capital of the emerging state of Palestine. So, that presents a bit of a problem when one side holds the other side’s coveted prize. We shall see what happens.
We walked all around the Arab markets, where you can find some of the most interesting cultural items, as well as the standard touristy useless stuff. You can bargain as much as you want here. Never pay what they ask, if you manage to find your way to these markets.
After a dinner of “Laffa” (a giant flat bread containing chicken, humus, salads, and “chips”) at this fine cafe, Shlomi patiently waits for me to finish this update. Tonight I shall have my first stay in a Youth Hostel on this trip….yay!