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Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Holy Land Day 9 Part 3

This is one of our busiest days to date, but there is so much to see.

After lunch we wind our way out of the Jewish quarter, passing a huge menorah, built for the next temple and set on display in full view of the Temple Mount. We pass beggars, most Orthodox Jews, who offer prayers for a price. We've only learned a smattering of this sect's life. There are many groups of them, each defining themselves by their hat style, and devoting their lives to the study of the Scripture. Most don't work, or else their wives do, and live on the charity of other Jews. They were long coats, beards and curly sideburns and huge black hats. Our first night in this city, two Orthodox young men helped us find our way to the City Wall, and I know from previous experience they are pleasant to speak with, although I noticed one turn his head away from looking at a woman. Their women cover their hair, either with a wig, as the older women do, or by scarves as the younger women do.
We pass the menorah, and walk down to the Wailing Wall. It's segregated, and I weave through the throng of Jewish women toward the wall. I look up.

Among the few plants growing from the cracks, I see doves. Tradition says that when there are doves on the wall, God is there. I tear off a piece of paper and write a prayer on it, then roll it and squeeze it into on of the cracks.
Jews do not turn their backs on the wall, instead backing away from it. I didn't know what they were doing at first.
I discover that the men must cover their heads. White yarmulkes are free and Allan took one, although a baseball cap is acceptable. 
The washroom behind us are brand new. They are right beside the entrance to the tunnels. Recently discovered, they are tunnels and cisterns and incomplete work that date back to Herod the Great. Jews come here for a quiet place to pray, although the fans run constantly, moving the hot moist air around. 
Rafe answers some questions from the group. What do the Muslims think of this? They are afraid that the Jews will tunnel in under the Dome of the Rock. No, most Jews don't want Dome of the Rock destroyed. In Jewish culture, killing is wrong. The Zealots at Masada felt they had no choice. Trying to win back the Temple Mount would cost too many lives. 

We continue down the tunnels to the very end, where we see how instead of dragging big rocks in, they dressed the bedrock to look like stonework. The area is incomplete here, perhaps because the workers had just learned of Herod's death and didn't expect his son to continue with the work. In the dark, it's hard to get a decent photo.
We head afterward to the Antonio Fortress, where Jesus was flogged. It's from there we begin along the Via Dolorosa that is through the Muslim quarter. 

It's disappointing. Shop owners call out to you in this narrow street, barely wide enough to keep two abreast. A few of the (now) 14 stations of the cross. You press through the crowd, clinging to a loved one, stop at each station and move on. One of us comments that it's almost like when Jesus cleared the temple, and how disappointing this Way of Sorrows is now. 

Finally we enter the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. A massive building with various denominations squabbling. There is little evidence left, as the tomb was removed in the 4th century and the altar covers much of a rock said to be the place on which Jesus was crucified. The line to kneel and pray is long, with may pilgrims going in alone and staying there for several long minutes. But the people are patient. Our group bypasses it and moves on to the shrine where the tomb was. Again, another long line, It's a noisy place, with chanting, and incense and the glintings from a thousand oil lamps. I cannot find any resemblance to a tomb here and escape outside.
We have a short time to shop amidst the tiny shops and stands. Rafe has given us some code words to tell us which shops are safe and which aren't. I won't reveal them here. It's the only way he can do his job and tour guide and still protect both the vendors and the guests. Again, that delicate balance.

I bought a pomegranate juice, freshly squeezed, along with a few small gifts.
At supper, we're given Pilgrim Certificates, a nice touch. Tomorrow, our last day here, we're off to Palestine again. But this time, to Bethlehem!

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