February 12, 2018
Last week I wrote about the people of Israel; this week I will focus on some of the buildings in that great land.
But let me warn you about something before we get started.
If you are hoping for a scholarly dissertation on all of the background facts I absorbed while listening to our learned guide, Leo, you might be disappointed. While I did have an earpiece in place and picked up many interesting tidbits during the tours, most of my brain cells were focused on the images around me just waiting to me captured. In other words, I went to Israel as a photographer, not a scholar.
More than once, Leo good-humoredly mentioned the fact that our group kept on taking photos while he was trying to talk. I could definitely commiserate with how frustrating it must have been for him to lecture to a whole wall of cell phones held aloft so I learned the fine art of lagging behind a little or hiding behind a taller person or easing my way out of his line of vision so I could grab the photos that my Nikon was just begging me to take.
Oftentimes, we rode the bus to the sites but other days, like when we spent the entire day in the Old City of Jerusalem, we walked over 10,000 steps and were almost constantly on the move. As we all know, locomoting speedily is not my forte, what with being slightly fluffy, decidedly midddle-aged, and contending with both COPD and R.A.
I tend to run toward the back of the pack on the best of days but then if you add in the fact that every few steps, I would find something fabulous to take a picture of, well, you can only imagine how really far behind I got. Every minute or two, I would glance up from my rapid fire, frantic shooting and realize that I was going to have to hustle to not be left behind entirely. Off I would flail, at long last catching up with the group while I heaved for oxygen and looked more than slightly the worse for wear.
I’m actually surprised that any of my pictures turned out at all since so many of them were taken in the space of a nanosecond or two, while in the middle of a trot, trying to keep up with the pack and not be lost forever somewhere in a dusty corner of Jerusalem.
At any rate, it was an exhilarating, inspirational time and my only regret is that I didn’t have time to leisurely meander through that landscape for weeks, luxuriously gathering up all the photographic beauty. But having to do it speedily was a whole lot better than not getting to do it at all.
I’ll start with our hotel, the Olive Tree Hotel in Jerusalem. It was built around an ancient olive tree which legend says provided shade for caravans of pilgrims just before they entered the Holy City of Jerusalem.
Steve got to see a particular building that no one else on the team got to see: a local pharmacy. He stayed behind from touring on the two last days because of bronchitis and finally got so miserable that he asked the front desk for a recommendation to a pharmacy in the area. After walking a mile through an Arabic neighborhood, he finally arrived at this particular not-so-historic building.
This is his description of the experience from his FB page:
Bronchitis in Jerusalem. Today I took in an authentic, non-touristy excursion in the ancient city. The cacophony of sounds, the diesel stench and the sights of the daily grind of an unfamiliar Arab culture marked my one mile journey on foot to find a pharmacy. Hand waving, broken English and confused faces followed as the pharmacist and I devised a treatment plan. Antibiotics and cough suppressant. Total damage about 87 shekels or 29 dollars. A rich memory added to a memorable trip. Cough, snort. Repeat.
Actually, this is not so much a building as it is a model of many buildings in ancient Jerusalem. It is interesting to read about how it was built, moved and set up all over again. Absolutely incredible, detailed workmanship.
Another incredible place was the Temple Mount. It is located in the Old City of Jerusalem and for thousands of years, has been venerated as a holy site, by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike.
We had to go through a couple of security screenings while touring the area which, as a rule would not be a problem. However, at one of them, I was asked to lay everything on a counter and that turned into a problem since I was wearing around my neck the following items: a passport, a tour name tag, a device for hearing the tour guide (as shown in the picture), PLUS my camera (with a new strap I wasn’t accustomed to) and a cross body bag.
You can see the “cast of characters” in the two photos below.
Here they are, laid out on the bed for Steve and I to don each morning.
Problem was, all of those items had to come off and in the span of time between putting the items on and having to remove them, they had become inextricably entangled with one another . I came perilously close to strangling myself right there in the security line.
Of course, there was a whole throng of people lined up behind me to witness my complete lack of grace. skill and panache as an international traveler. I’m sure I looked something like a malfunctioning helicopter trying to take off as I flailed around with my numerous straps and appendages, untangling, and re-tangling myself in all sorts of creative ways. Unfortunately, this was a day when Steve stayed behind in the room; otherwise, he would have been there to help extricate me from my straps and my humiliations.
It was a memorable moment on my trip–but not necessarily in a good way.
It was worth all the effort though, to get to stand at one of the most famous places in the world. What an incredible opportunity to not only see it from up close and also from varying vantage points around the area.
One of my favorite places was the Monastery of Temptation. It is an Orthodox Christian monastery located in the West Bank, along a cliff overlooking the city of Jericho and the Jordan Valley. It is built on the slopes of the Mount of Temptation where Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. It was especially amazing to me how buildings could be carved right into the face of a rock.
As we stood and looked at the desolate, rocky vista all around us, our guide asked us all to be completely quiet for a minute or two and just listen to what silence really sounded like. Out of all the events of a busy, sometimes frantic week, that is the moment that has stuck in my mind the most: the complete absence of noise of any kind and the accompanying awareness that Jesus had listened to that very same silence.
I think I especially liked this place because it was so unchanged from 2,000 years ago. All the temples and buildings and holy sites that we had seen had been constructed, reconstructed, added on to and changed. But out in the middle of these rocks, it was very easy to picture that this was exactly what it looked like in Jesus’ day.
So for many reasons, this was my favorite place.
The Church of St Anne is the best-preserved Crusader church in Jerusalem. It marks the traditional site of the home of Jesus’ maternal grandparents, Anne and Joachim, and the birthplace of the Virgin Mary.
I thought it was especially interesting that the building is asymmetrical in its design: Opposite columns do not match, windows are all different sizes, and buttresses differ in thickness and height.
The Pool of Bethesda is right beside it; you will see it in the photo album.
As a musician, I was especially fascinated by the famed acoustics of this building. Anyone who wanted to could stand at the front and sing so our little group went up and sang a hymn. As soon as we started singing, I teared up. The sound and the history and the Biblical richness all around us, the joy of getting to join voices with and sing a great hymn of the church . . . it was a definite highlight. (Unfortunately, this was one of the days when Steve stayed behind at the hotel; he would have loved it.)
It was interesting to visit the Western Wall and compare it to all the images I’ve seen of it over my lifetime; actually, the area was quite a bit smaller than I had pictured.
Standing there in a place where millions of people have offered prayers over the years was incredible. I had brought a few written prayers with me and tucked those between the stones. I didn’t stay long but just reached out my hand and put it on that ancient stone wall for just a moment, feeling the connection between all the people of all the generations before me. I will never forget that moment.
Interesting note: There was a side for the men and a side for the women; you can see the dividing wall behind me. The men were required to wear a hat, either one of their own or a yamakah which was provided free of charge.
The most powerful image I saw the whole trip was at the Holocaust Museum in the Hall of Names.
When I was in this hall, I was completely alone for several minutes and the silence and the solitude and the import of all those pictures and the opportunity to bear witness to all those names was sobering, heart-wrenching and inspiring.
(Cameras weren’t allowed so these are not my photos.)
As I said earlier, I wasn’t always listening intently to the tour guide so I have ended up with some pictures which I can’t really recall where they came from. They are still beautiful, interesting pictures so I will just put them in a category by themselves which I guess I could call, “The Confused Photographer’s Gallery.”
In Israel, a call to prayer is heard five times a day over loudspeakers. As I was walking outside one of the churches, one of the calls to prayer began and I took a moment to record it.
Here are some details from some of the other places we visited; the links are included if you are interested in learning more.
This is a church in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. According to tradition, the church contains the two holiest sites in Christianity: the site where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and Jesus’s empty tomb, where he is said to have been buried and resurrected.
This was established over the site where the Catholic tradition holds to be the house of Virgin Mary, and where angel Gabriel appeared to her and announced that she would conceive and bear the Son of God, Jesus – an event known as the Annunciation. For this reason, the site and the city of Nazareth are among the most sacred places in the Christian world. (wikipedia)
Church of the Nativity
The holy site, known as the Grotto, that the Church of the Nativity sits atop, is today associated with the cave in which the birth of Jesus of Nazareth is said to have occurred.
Even though I would rather write about people, buildings have much history and many mysteries of their own and I was so interested to learn more about them. I’ve always loved old buildings and the fact that America is a relatively young nation means that all the buildings here are also relatively young.
But to walk through Israel and to know that the structures I visited were from millennia gone by was one of the greatest experiences of the trip. It was a thrill to set my feet down inside those sacred, ancient buildings and to breathe in all the stories and the memories captured within their walls.
Truly. Amazing land. Amazing buildings.
Thrift stores, fuzzy socks
and conversing with my Yorkie
are all on the list of things I love.