The alarm went off at 5:45. We left the campground by 6:40 (no showers though) and arrived in Iraklio by 8:00-ish. We needed to gas up the car before we gave it back to Babas, but couldn't find a gas station that accepted credit cards, and didn't want to have to take out more drachma just as we were leaving Greece. In the end, we drove to Babas and asked him if he would drive us to a gas station and then drop us off at the port, which he did willingly. He thought we meant airport though and we had to turn around. I don't know what we would have done without him, because it was really tricky finding the right port, and our boat was scheduled to leave at 9:00. Babas drove around and ran into cafes and port offices getting the correct information, then drove right up to the edge of the pier and dropped us off. It was great. The customs official on the ship assured us that the boat wouldn't leave until 9:30 (why do I bother to stress?), so I ran back down the pier to the nearest phone to call Mike and inform him of our plans for arrival. I had to go through the customs office to get to it and ran into the drug-sniffing dog, who was despite first impressions quite friendly. My phone card ran out while Mike was giving me directions to their house from Tel Aviv, but when I calmed down, I figured we'd probably be able to call from Israel just as easily. We were going to be on the boat for 45 hours. We could worry about the directions after that.
We were shown to our cabin by the Gopher-esque guy. It had two bunkbeds and a bathroom with a shower (which we definitely hadn't asked or paid for.) Until we left, we were afraid that someone would come and tell us that we were in the wrong cabin.
Not much to report. We were on the boat. We arrived in Cyprus at noon. However, we never realized until after the fact that we could go ashore for the day because the announcements were only made in Greek, and possibly, Hebrew. We had intended to eat lunch up on the top deck but a huge, sooty fire on the shore covered us in ash and we retreated to our cabin. (The bar and self-service always seemed to be closed.) We set sail again at 7:30 or so.
The boat was docked a long way from the Customs and Immigration, and we could have just walked out of the port before we got there and no one would have known. Security really wasn't very tight. But we all stood around like sheep until someone finally came and told us where to go. Once in the Customs house, we made our acquaintance with Duchess, the bomb-sniffing dog. She was a very cute yellow lab. Her person only checked Paul's packs cursorily, and mine not at all. Then we were in. We changed some money, enough so that we'd have cash, but not enough to feel like we were being robbed blind by the port exchange rates, which are usually much higher than elsewhere.
I asked the woman at Information about a bus to Modi'in, the new settlement where the Barths live. She thought there was a bus to Jerusalem that stopped in Modi'in. On the way out of the port, we asked the guard if we were going in the right direction to the bus station. He asked us where we were going and then told us that it would be better if we took a train to Tel Aviv and then get the bus to Modi'in, because the train station was right below the port. We thanked him and went into the train station. All we knew about Modi'in was that it was between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem somewhere. It wasn't on our map. As an extra added challenge, we had to arrive before sunset, because the holiday of Sukkot began that evening.
We bought two tickets to Tel Aviv from the woman behind the counter. As far as I could tell, she wished all her customers dead, preferably before they got in her line. Lamp poles have been known to be more helpful. I asked where I could buy a map of Israel, and she looked at me contemptuously and said, "In Tel Aviv!" as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. Then she slammed the ticket window shut. We thought we had a slight chance of finding a map a little closer and Paul went across the street and got one at a car rental place. Good thing too, because in talking to the people there, he found out that the train was not the best way to go, because it was a long walk from the train station to the bus station, once we got to Tel Aviv. We should just get on a local bus here to the main bus station, then get the bus to Tel Aviv, then get a bus to Modi'in.
For some reason, the whole time we were in Israel, this was the roundabout, irritating way we got information. Every time we asked for directions, well-intentioned people steered us in the wrong direction. Bank directors misinformed us about cash advance laws. I don't think anyone meant to deliberately mislead us, but on the other hand, it's amazing how many people gave us bad information. I wish I knew why.
Naturally, the woman at the ticket counter wouldn't refund us our train tickets to Tel Aviv. So we just picked up our gear and walked to the bus stop to wait for the local bus. Once there, we met a young couple who advised us to just walk to the main bus station, because it was only a fifteen minute walk. Which it was -- hot and sweaty too. But we got there. We got some cash at the ATM there, and the bus was just leaving, so we quickly bought the tickets and were the last ones on, then it left. Of course, we also got the two last seats, next to a young soldier with his gun propped up in the handle of the seat in front of him (and pointing at me). But we finally arrived. Just outside the bus station, a man got on the bus to inspect for stray packages (bombs). Since we'd gotten on the bus as it was leaving, the bus driver hadn't let us put our bags underneath the bus, so we looked quite suspect. But once we claimed the bags as ours, the guy decided everything was okay and the bus was allowed to proceed into the station.
The Tel Aviv bus station is the biggest in the world and was 40 years in the designing and building. Our bus let us off on the sixth floor. The bus station is like a mall: there are lots of stores and eateries, loud music and flashing lights. There are few helpful signs and no maps to help you navigate the Labyrinth. But if you can just find the place, everything is there.
We found a booth marked Information and asked about a bus to Modi'in. The woman told us there was only one, at 2:30. She gave us bus number and platform information. We bought a phone card and called the Barths. Janice set us straight. The booth where we'd gotten our "information" was only for Egged bus lines. The bus system was recently privatized and bus companies don't like to give any information about competing lines. Janice told us to go find the bus stop for bus 100, which was at Levinsky 108 and would have a green and yellow sign. A bus would leave at noon for Modi'in. Information gathering is thirsty work. We bought drinks (5 shekel, $1.25) and then looked around for a place to get information about where to get this bus 100. We couldn't find anyplace and reluctantly got back in the Egged Information line again to see what they would tell us. Unfortunately, I dropped my mango juice (glass bottle) from a high of 4" off the ground, which was enough to smash it. Even worse, I dropped it inside our food bag and had to ditch most of the food because I was afraid of glass shards. In the meantime, Paul did battle with a group of seasoned budgers and was able to find out only that the bus stop for our bus was somewhere outside.
We followed the signs to Levinsky Street but had no idea where number 108 was. A taxi driver, who kept calling us "Friend" offered to take us to Modi'in for $30.00. Some friend. He said he was only trying to help us out. But when we asked our friend where the bus stop was, he wouldn't tell us. We put down the packs and I went out to scout. Not 20 yards from where the taxi driver was standing, I found the stop. The taxi driver had come down to $25.00 by the time I got back, but I smugly told him that I'd found the bus stop, thanks. We had some time so we went into McDonald's (all signs in Hebrew -- the logo looks great) and had Cokes and fries, which cost 32 shekels. There was a bank of card phones right outside the McDonald's and I went over every ten minutes or so to try and get ahold of Janice, to tell her we'd found the stop and to get further directions once we got to Modi'in. I couldn't get her the first few times. She said we should get off at the last stop and that there were only two. Sounded pretty easy.
The bus arrived early and had no number on it. We asked the driver to make sure and then paid 7.60 shekels each (and the taxi driver wanted $30.00!?!) to go to Modi'in. There were many stops, so we asked the driver to tell us when to get off. Even then it was confusing, because the street the Barths live on is divided, with a park, schools and a shopping center in between. Once we figured out that the even numbers were on the other side of the school, we were golden. And we still had four hours 'til sunset.
The Barth's new apartment in the two-year-old settlement of Modi'in is at the top of a white limestone building. It's a huge white space with two decks and lots of light. All the buildings are made of the same stone, and at first, they all looked alike. The city was designed by a famous architect, whose name I keep forgetting. He also designed a city in India to effectively house a million people. The concept is of a valley, with the divided main road and park in the middle, and white buildings rising up in terraced levels on either side. A lot of people in a small space but with a feeling of spaciousness. It works quite well.
Janice was out when we first arrived, but Mike plied us with juice and Tamar (8) and Yonah (5) stuck close to him and acted shy. That didn't last long though. Janice came back with Matan (18 months) and the preparations for Sukkot began in earnest. All the kids had to have a bath, the adults, showers. (Paul and I had one together; Janice said we were allowed because we're married now. She also said that it's Jewish custom for the newlyweds to be treated like royalty for one year after they're married.) Mike's brother, Neil, and Neil's daughter, Shira, came over as well. Janice was making sure dinner was ready. Mike's and Neil's father called from the States just after sundown. Then Sukkot began with prayers over the candles, then prayers over the bread. There is a ritual washing of hands, you pour a pitcher of water over each hand three times, then say a prayer. You're supposed to stay silent until you've eaten bread sprinkled with salt, which serves as a sacrifice. Then you may talk. The kids of course couldn't stay quiet, and "mmmmm"'d through closed mouths and giggled a lot. It was fun. Janice got a kick out of showing us all the ritual and explaining it to us.
Sukkot is a celebration of the harvest, and the end of the reading of the Torah. For a week, you are supposed to live in a sukha, or hut. Most of the huts we saw were made of plastic sheeting and the roofs were made from date palm fronds (with the dates still attached). Most people erect one on their balconies or in the garden and eat all their meals in it. Some people also sleep in them. Most kosher restaurants put them up as well. We had soup, then chicken, and cookies and cake for dessert. Neil and Shira slept in the sukha, but we slept in beds.
We woke up at 5:30, which was when Matan got up. He's quite loud, and has the habit of banging his high chair against the wall, loudly and rhythmically. Janice took Matan for a walk however, and peace reigned for a little while. We got up the second time at 6:45 when Janice and Matan came back.
At 8:00, Mike went to shul with Neil and the girls. The girls took snacks and water with them, which certainly would have made church more fun when I was a kid. Mike said that we should come later with Janice, since the interesting part for us would be the lulov. Janice got us all ready: I didn't have a long skirt to wear, but she gave me a hat to cover my hair as married woman do. Paul put on a yamulka. Matan has a cool hat he's supposed to wear, but he just throws it on the ground. Boys don't have to wear a yamulka until they are three years old. Before that time, they are considered to be still babies. You don't cut a boy's hair until he's three either. We were all ready and we walked across the street to the shul, which is temporarily at the at the school, interesting because shul is the Yiddish for school. They are building a shul but it's not finished yet. Paul went to the men's side with Mike; Janice, Matan and I stayed on the woman's side. It was a lot more chaotic than I would have expected. Kids were running in and out, mothers would periodically leave to check on their children and come back. Men came and went as well, and from what I could hear, they were all reading the prayers at the same time but each at his own pace. Not in sync at all. I'd expected a chanting men's choir I guess.
There was only one other woman in a short skirt. I felt very conspicuous. Women are supposed to dress modestly, with legs, shoulders and head covered. It's impressive how fashionable everyone looked, very chic in gorgeous hats and beautiful clothes, all the while sticking to the guidelines. It wasn't restrictive-feeling at all, and a far cry from what Muslim woman are subjected to. I mentally put all my strappy new sundresses away for the foreseeable future.
Woman don't have to pray or go to shul if they don't have time. That's probably why the woman's side of the shul is smaller. But it seems unfair to me that they can't see the Torah and the Ark and the priests. The men and women are divided so it will be easier for each group to keep its thoughts on God. A lot of the men rocked back and forth while they chanted. There were movements that everyone made at certain times but I couldn't follow it.
We didn't stay very long, because Matan wouldn't stay still or quiet. We took him out for a walk until shul was over. And after all, we had missed the lulov, because they'd only done it once early on. All the men have a bundle of four things: citron, date palm fronds, myrtle, and an elusive fourth item that I can't remember and couldn't find when I looked it up. The men wave the lulov in the air in the direction of the four compass points. But we had missed it.
After shul, everyone was very social. It felt like it used to be after church at camp, where we belonged to a very small congregation mostly made up of summer people. Mike stayed and talked to a guy from the States who worked for one of the Big Four accounting firms. (Mike's an accountant with one of the Big Four.) we had cake and coffee in the sukha. It was very hot in there and we all were sweating. A little while later, we had lunch and it was even hotter then. Lunch was great though, we had potato soup, carrot kugel, salad with fresh dill, tabouleh, quiche, and a plate of hummus, eggplant and other spicy things to go with pita bread.
We went to have naps afterward. I read The Stone Diaries, on loan from Janice, but may have dozed off for a minute or two. Then we all celebrated Yonah's fifth birthday with cake and sprinkles. She had recently celebrated her birthday by the Gregorian calendar; today she was celebrating by the Hebrew calendar. she would also celebrate at school after the holidays (the kids were off all week) and have a party for friends after that. They do birthdays right in the Barth household.
We grownups got ready to go out into Jerusalem (Yerushalayim) for the evening. Mike and Janice had arranged for the girl next door (who was of Indian descent) to come and babysit. You have to cross the "Green Line" to get into Jerusalem, into the occupied territory of the West Bank. It's interesting: all the touristy maps that we got show the occupied territory as being Israel. There is no green line at all. But you have to pass through a serious checkpoint. The soldiers generally don't stop you unless you look like an Arab though. Israel has given some land back to the Palestinians, at least provisionally; Gaza, of course, but also Jericho, Bethlehem, Hebron and others, which I hadn't known about. There are "safe passage" routes that Palestinians can take from one Palestinian Authority to another.
Mike took us to Mount of Olives first, so that our first glimpse of Jerusalem would be from above. Historians agree that Mt. of Olives may have been the Garden of Gesthemene, but no one's sure. Jews believe that when the Messiah arrives, he will come to Jerusalem via the Mt. of Olives. The view of the Old City walls was really beautiful. There are hundreds of thousands of Jewish graves in the hills down to the Old City, because Jews wanted to be buried as close to the Temple Mount as possible (more on that later). This land once belonged to Jordan (some would say that the jury's still out about who can lay claim to it) and the Jordanians used slabs from some of the graves to build a hotel on top of the cemetery. So many layers of unrest.
Janice had warned us it would be "cold" in Jerusalem. The drive is all uphill and it is cooler there. I think she's lost her NY snow and cold protectors though, and has turned Israeli in her acclimatizing. Janice was freezing the whole time we were there. We walked around the pedestrian areas, where all Jerusalem's young and hip hang out: university students in black and soldiers in green. Both men and women must do a three-year stint, although religious girls can opt to do civil service instead. All men stay in the reserves after that, but women don't have to. For all the seriousness of the situation, the soldiers we saw were pretty relaxed. They were talking and laughing and a lot of them were chatting on their cell phones. There was a real party atmosphere because all the students had the week off.
It was about 9:30 and we were all starving. We finally picked a kosher Yemeni restaurant, the Yemenite Step. The food was great and we ordered way too much: chicken with rosemary and honey (fantastic), hummus with mushrooms (not very exciting), and malawah with tahini, which is fried filo dough with sesame paste (also excellent). Janice told us that earlier in Israel, during a darker time apparently, Yemeni mothers were told that their children had died during childbirth, and then the children were raised with Israeli families. Now dozens of different kinds of ethnic Jews live together pretty peacefully in Israel. I love the Eastern European Jews best, who wear black or blue brocade belted robes and fur hats, despite the heat. Janice said that they all stick to the old traditions (even when they don't make sense to outsiders). All of Ethiopia's Jews came at once in a secret operation. Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1991 or 92, Israel absorbed one million new immigrants, pretty impressive for a country that had a population of only four million at the time. It was really fun to all these different Jews all living side by side in Jerusalem.
After dinner, we walked to Carvel's (just like at home) to have ice cream, but unfortunately, they were closed. We drove home and collapsed into exhausted.
We didn't wake until 7:00 (Matan must have decided to sleep in) and Janice treated us to a wonderful breakfast of melon, salty cheese and tomato, tiny cucumbers, carrot kugel, quiche, salad, and clementines, all in the sukha. Janice said it was great to have company, because normally they don't eat like this in the morning, so this felt special. It probably had to do with Mike being off work all week as well. Normally he leaves by 7:00 or so and doesn't get home until 8:30 or later.
Mike and Janice were going to take the kids to see some caves nearby. There was a huge production to get everyone ready to go and to assemble all the necessary gear. But they finally made it out by 11:00 or so. We stayed and did some administrative chores: we called El Al to change our flight to India to a week later, called the clinic about getting the necessary shots and malaria pills (but got an answering machine with a message in Hebrew only), checked the email, and did some reading to find out where we wanted to go in Israel.
We caught the 2:00 bus into Tel Aviv, and after a while, found Tourist Information on the 6th floor of the New Central Bus Station (NCBS). A very charming, nosy older woman helped us out, not only with maps and brochures but also with phone numbers, bus schedules and various and sundry general information (not all of it solicited). While we were there, she put a caller "on hold", i.e., put the phone down, then after talking to us for another minute or so, noticed that the phone was off the hook, and hung it up. When the caller called back, slightly irate, the woman smoothly apologized and said they must have got "disconnected". A man called wanting information about going to Jordan. "Oh, you'll never get there tonight," the woman said dismissively, although the man had never indicated that he wanted to go today.
We walked to Diezengoff Center from the NCBS, a very long walk. The only way to get information about busses is to either ask at the NCBS or walk by all the bus stops and check and see if one is going in your direction. It seemed needlessly frustrating to me, although Mike seemed unable to see the problem when I told him about it. But then, I didn't like Tel Aviv either. I never felt comfortable there; I always had a tight feeling around my collarbone when I was there. Too many soldiers, flashing police lights (they always drive around with the lights flashing) and tension for my taste. But we finally arrived at Diezengoff Center, which is a big mall. Then we walked even farther to an incredible used back store at 191 Diezengoff, called Book Boutique, because it closed earlier than the mall, and we didn't want to miss it. We got some books, including last year's Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, and then walked back to Diezengoff Center. A guard searched Paul's daypack on the way in. The pharmacy didn't have the lotion I wanted after all that. There was a live jazz band playing on the lower level, and we had cold drinks at the TCBY and listened from the floor above. Then we trekked back to the NCBS and caught the bus back home.
I had a sore throat again and was grouchy about it. (Counting the one I was getting, I've had three colds in as many months.) So I opted to stay home while Paul went into Tel Aviv to change the flights at El Al. Mike had to take his laptop into work to have new email software installed, and so decided to make a day of it by taking the girls to the beach. Paul went along too, then went to switch the flights. Janice made me some nice, hot chicken soup, and then I typed some journal, and did some laundry and watched Moll Flanders on the VCR. Actually, listened more than watched, because something is wrong with the tracking. Janice sometimes watched with me, but she also got a lot of chores done. She also did some lesson plans for her teaching class. Later we took Matan for a walk. He insisted on walking into the street and running away from us when he was on the ground, so Janice carried him while he screamed in frustration. It was a short walk.
Mike and the kids got home first, and then Paul got home a while later. We had potato soup and salad for dinner. After the kids went to bed, we watched Heat on TV. We had popcorn and split two bottles of beer. I thought it was a boring film though, so Paul and I snuck out early.
Janice made me coffee almost every morning we were in Modi'in. This morning, it came with pastry as well. We caught the 9:00 bus to Tel Aviv, because we'd arranged to get shots at the district health office that morning. They were open from 8:00 to noon. We had trouble finding the right street. There are street maps on lots of corners but most of them only in Hebrew. A nice soldier pointed us in the right direction.
A kind, white-haired guard searched the daypack and we had to pass through a metal detector. Then the guard told us to go to room 103, one flight up. There were two doors to room 103, and both were closed. One had a bunch of photocopied signs printed in Hebrew on it, which of course we couldn't read, but we figured that must be the right door, so Paul knocked. A man whipped the door open, yelled something at us in Hebrew, pointed emphatically at the signs on the door and then slammed the door in our faces. We were struck dumb. We went to a little cashier's window to find out whether we had misunderstood the guard's directions. While we were asking, a woman came out of the other door marked 103 and said, "Oh, you don't speak Hebrew," and then ushered us into the office. There was the angry man, who turned out to be a very nice doctor, once he got to know you. He said that we had knocked so loudly (we hadn't) that they thought there must be something wrong outside. We were still mystified. All we could think of was that, if there was a bomb scare, someone would run by all the doors and knock loudly. Who knows, but it seems like a symptom of Israel's constant edginess to me.
The woman gave us our shots after we had filled out some forms and had paid our fees to the cashier, which were Japanese encephalitis (one of two -- we'd have to come back in a week) and meningitis. It seemed to me that we were being let off too easy. Only two shots and neither one in the "hip", as they so gracefully euphemize it. We also had to start malaria pills, last week according to the doctor, but our book claimed that one week before was fine, as had the traveller's clinics I'd been to in the past.
We promised to come back in a week and said our goodbyes. We walked back to the NCBS and caught a bus to Jerusalem. It was a two km walk from the bus station to the Old City, but it was downhill. Jerusalem's Old City is 5000 years old. It makes Split look like a baby. There are at least 20 societies built one on top of the other, so that now there is an artificial hill, or Tel, there. It was a Canaanite settlement for the 2000 to 3000 years before David conquered it around 1000 BCE. He established Jerusalem as the Israelite capital. Solomon, his son, built the first temple out of cedar trees from Lebanon. This was the Great Temple, where sacrificial offerings were made and the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Solomon died in 933 BCE and at that time, the Israelite tribe split. The group from the South, centered around Judea, developed Judaism. Things were pretty peaceful for 300 years or so. Then the Babylonians, headed by King Nebuchandezzar (I love that name) conquered Jerusalem in 596 BCE. Zedekiah led a rebellion against the Babylonians and lost. In retaliation, the Jews were exiled from Jerusalem and the temple and other important buildings were burned (587 BCE).
In 539 BCE, Cyrus of Persia conquered the Babylonians and allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem. By 515 BCE, the Jews had built a second Temple and rededicated it. Peace and prosperity again reigned for another 200 years or so, until the next conqueror arrived, this time, Alexander the Great, in 332 BCE. He came in and set about Hellenizing the Jews. In 198 BCE the Seleucid Empire conquered the city. King Antiochus IV forbade all Jewish practices, including celebrating Shabbat, circumcision and the reading of the Torah. He converted the Great Temple into a temple for Zeus. There were many rebellions during this period. Judas Maccabeus ran a successful one. (There's now an Israeli beer named after him.) By 164 BCE, the Temple had been re-sanctified, and the Hasmonean dynasty ruled peacefully for the next 100 years.
But then the Romans stomped in (64 BCE) and there they remained for the next 650 years. Herod was made King (he had a Jewish father and a Samaritan mother) and he had the temple reconstructed and added to it the Western Wall around 20 BCE. In 6 CE, Pontius Pilate was made procurator of Jerusalem by the Romans. (And we all know what contributions to Christianity he made in 33 CE.) But for now, let's continue the history of Jerusalem from the Jewish point of view. In 66 CE, the Jews revolted against Roman rule. It took Titus four long years, during which the Temple and city were razed, and all the Jews enslaved or exiled, to crush the rebellion. This was the beginning of the diaspora, when many Jews left their homeland to seek more welcoming governments. In 135 CE, Emperor Hadrian destroyed Jerusalem again, and decreed that it was off limits to Jews. He built a new city, Aelia Capitola, on the top of the rubble. It's Hadrian's city plan that remains today.
Of course, the history of other cultures is intertwined as well. At some point (I haven't finished reading James Michener's The Source yet, so I don't know exactly when), the Romans split into two groups, the Eastern group became the Byzantines and were Christianized. In 326, Constantine's mother, Eleni, came on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and it was she who determined where Calvary was -- the Church of the Holy Sepulchre now resides on the site. She was probably one of the world's first archaeologists and she was a woman. When she excavated at the site, she found three crosses and what she believed was the grave of Joseph of Arimathea. Today, three sects of Christians are represented in Jerusalem: the Franciscan order, the Greek Orthodox, and the Armenians. The Romans were finally conquered by Caliph Omar and he took over Jerusalem in 638. For a reference point, Muhammed had died 6 years before. Near the Temple Mount, the gate there is called Dung Gate. It was called this because the Byzantines used the area near this gate as a sewage area. Caliph Omar set about cleaning up the town and apparently with his own hands, he helped to clear away the accumulated dung from the gate.
I don't know what I expected from Jerusalem, but what I got was vastly different from it. It's such a holy place for so many different religions. The main streets in the Jewish and Muslim quarters are filled with stall after stall of tourist souvenirs: stuffed camels, dresses, necklaces, pottery, mystical symbology, etc. It's busy and exciting but it's kind of a letdown. Still, I liked the feel of Jerusalem. It exists on many layers at once; they are constantly excavating old layers, but at the same time much of the city is also covered, presumably against the heat.
We went to the Western Wall first, which is all that exists anymore of the Great Temple, and is presumably also where Jesus chastised the merchants for doing business. A little boy tried to get us to let him be a tour guide, whether for money or so his older brothers could rob us in a secluded alley we didn't bother to find out. We were standing next to the sign pointing us in the right direction when he showed up. We had to stand in line to have our daypacks searched by soldiers and walk through metal detectors in checkpoints surrounded by bulletproof glass. It definitely detracted from the overall experience. Janice told us that when she first went to the Western Wall, she wasn't even religious, but she had a mystical experience there that changed her life. As she stood in front of the Wall, it seemed impossibly high to her. (It's actually 18 M high above ground.) It loomed over her and I think she saw in it a kind of truth. I found it interesting, but didn't have the same kind of experience. You can watch people praying from above, which is nice. But as a woman who's seeing the men's side for the first time, I was a bit disappointed with the very obvious inequalities. The men have more and nicer prayer books, tables, the Torah and the Ark, and a much bigger space. (They can also go into an underground part of the wall that's been excavated, while woman are excluded.) I know that women aren't bound by the same strictness in the religion, but it still seems a bit unfair that those who are religious must settle for somewhat less. Many Jews take special petitions written on scraps of paper to the Wall, and stick them in a crevice. Interestingly, there is now a special fax service for Jews who live too far away to send in petitions as well.
We went through another checkpoint to enter the Temple Mount, where the Great Temple once stood. It's an impressive place, 35 acres big, and has been a holy place for a dozen important religions. It's associated with Mount Moriah, where God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Interestingly, the Muslims have a similar story, but it was Ishmail, Abraham's son by a servant of his wife, Sarah, named Hagar, whom God asked Abraham to sacrifice. Since the 600s, the Temple Mount has been a Muslim site. The Dome of the Rock, a beautiful mosque, with gold roofs, was completed in 691. In 715, the Al Aqsa mosque was finished nearby. Muslims believe that the Dome of the Rock surrounds the altar where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Ishmail. And in Muslim mythology, God took Muhammed on a "mystical night journey" (miraj -- could that be the origin of the word mirage?) from Mecca to the "outer mosque", meaning Al Aqsa, "the farthest", before taking him to Heaven.
We were not favored to enter even the Dome of the Rock, however. The whole thing seemed strange because at first, it seemed as if it would be all right to go in if we left our shoes on the shelves provided (even though we had just seen people go in carrying their shoes). then we were asked for tickets, which we didn't have nor know we needed. "It's closed," the guards said, although others were allowed in. It wasn't even 2:00, I couldn't figure out why it should be closed. When we'd entered the Temple Mount, Paul had been given a blue skirt made out of t-shirt material to wear over his immodest shorts. I was wearing a long skirt already so I had no problem. We thought we'd be able to leave Paul's skirt at the opposite entrance but no one was there, so we walked all the way back to where we'd come in. There, we found the door closed and were told to go to another one. No wonder they have to close so early, they make it so hard to leave.
Once we were finally clear of the Temple Mount, we bought sodas from a stall (I mistakenly chose a diet Sprite) and sat in the narrow street in the Muslim Quarter watching school kids go by. One young boy got us with his squirt gun and Paul chased after him. I was surprised, but Paul maintained that that was the response the boy expected. As we walked through the crowded streets, another boy rode his bike very aggressively behind us, ringing his bell and shouting things. It really bothered me, but Paul even more, and he said, "F--- you," to the boy, which really shocked me, and the boy.
We wandered through the streets, and managed to find a few Stations of the Cross. I must not have been paying much attention in Sunday School because only belatedly did I realize that these were really the stations of the cross, that Jesus had actually walked here. I'm not religious at all, but that really blew my mind. Later, of course, I read that Christian scholars aren't sure that the route, called Via Dolorosa, or path of sorrows, is correct. Something about the time of year that it was, that Pontius Pilate would be staying in a different residence then, and so would have pronounced judgement from a different location than originally thought. It still had an enormous impact on me.
We wound our way through town. A lot of the streets have stairs with little bike ramps built in. We saw a boy maneuvering a cart piled high with eggs down one of these streets. The cart kept tipping precariously and I thought there'd be a huge crash (or smash) but the boy managed in the end. Then we saw a small tractor with a trash cart behind it negotiating the same ramps. It only just fit in the street and the rest of us had to jump out of its way. It was a relief to see it though, because we were appalled by the amount of litter, especially in the drains. At least it's taken out periodically.
We ended up at the Damascus Gate and left the Old City for a little air. I'd had enough of the crowds. We sat on the wall and watched old men sweeping up trash, women carrying huge parcels on their heads, and all the different Jews walking around in their various modes of dress. Then we went into a little outdoor cafe just inside the Wall in the Muslim Quarter. The man there asked me if I wanted Turkish coffee and I assented. It turned out to be wonderful, the best coffee of the year so far, with cardamom in it. I also had a plate of hummus and veggies. Paul claimed not to be hungry, but managed to help me eat quite a bit. While we were eating, we could hear the Muslim chanting over the loudspeakers. It was great. (So that's why they were closed.)
After our break, we were ready to tackle the Walls of the Old City. You can walk around quite a bit of them on the top. I thought they were charging 10 shekels to walk the walls and 25 shekels for a sort of package tour of several sites, and we chose the cheaper ticket. But it turned out that the 10 shekels only allowed us access to one part of the Wall, and not a very interesting one at that. But we were up there while a parade was going by, sort of an "Isn't Israel Great?" parade, and we had a great view. We watched with the soldiers who were up there patrolling. We found out later that the Barths were also at the parade. A suspicious package was found near the parade and the soldiers quickly cordoned off the area and blew the package up, without bothering to find out what it was. I though it was kind of appalling to have to live with this kind of thing all the time, but the Barths were full of pride for the fast-acting soldiers.
There are four quarters in the Old City: the Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian sectors. The only one we hadn't seen yet was the Armenian Quarter. We walked around it trying to find some life, but were unsuccessful. We found out later that the Armenian compound is off limits to tourists. Can't say I blame them... The sun went down. We were exhausted. We sat in a little cafe watching people and reading the badly written pamphlets about the validity of the Quran that we'd been given earlier while we sipped drinks (Paul a beer and I mango juice.) We had dinner at the Armenian Tavern, the only Armenian restaurant we could find. I had meat wrapped in grape leaves served in a broth with rice; Paul had a mixed plate, which a little bit of a lot of different kinds of meat and sausage dishes. This was not the place to be a vegetarian, but the food was good.
We walked back to the bus station. We didn't have a schedule and had no idea where to go to get a bus back to Modi'in, but like magic it was right there when we arrived. The driver was new and didn't know the route. He had to turn around twice, once on the highway, and kids on the bus had to direct him where to go.