All told, we took about 230 pictures during our journey so trust me when I say it’s hard to pick pictures for posting on this blog.
First I thought I’d start off with a quick note about security in Israel. The country is surrounded by five Arab countries and has a long and violent history. As such, they take security very seriously.
At the airport, one of the girls on our trip was almost not allowed to board the plane because she was travelling alone (meaning without a spouse or family member) and no one in our group knew her very well. Before you can board a plane going into or out of Israel you are subjected to a long and somber line of questioning until they are certain you are not dangerous. Believe me, you do not even want to think the word “bomb” in front of an Israeli flight representative.
Around the country, and in Jersusalem in particular, there are men and women carrying big guns. In fact, it’s a law there that every group of schoolchildren must be accompanied by an armed member of the militia. I never truly got used to seeing people with huge guns all over the place but Wes really liked it. He snapped the picture above of two Israeli soldiers helping a tourist find something. They’re actually really nice once you get past the artillery.
We took this picture at the Western Wall (aka the Wailing Wall) in Jerusalem. The Wall is sectioned off into two sides, one for men and one for women. It was a deeply powerful place to visit because there were literally people from all over the world there.
While sitting next to it you will hear people chattering and praying in countless different languages. I actually had the chance to practice my high school French, as a matter of fact. I sat next to a woman who turned and asked me to help her up in French and, go figure, I mixed up my languages and responded in Spanish. Luckily for us, however, I helped her up even though there was a very odd language barrier between us.
It’s really neat to see the hundreds of tiny folded scraps of paper tucked into the cracks in the wall. When you look around there you see people doing a wide array of things. Some have their heads bowed while they touch the wall and mutter prayers, others rock back and forth and weep, while others sit quietly to the side and read Scripture. It quickly became apparent to me while sitting there that it’s polite to walk backward away from the wall so as not to turn your back on it. I felt like an idiot doing it but at least I was a polite idiot.
This picture was taken at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. We have about ten pictures from there, all of which contain neat things such as the Dome of the Rock and the Kings Gate, but I like this one because it goes with a story.
We visited the Temple Mount (the location of the Jewish Temple that was destroyed in 70 A.D. It used to be where the Holy of Holies resided) on our free day in Jerusalem with a group of ten friends.
We told our driver that we wanted to be taken to the Dung Gate (Jerusalem has about seven gates, and the Dung Gate was the closest to where we wanted to go) and he proceeded to drop us off in the middle of the street near the Jaffa Gate, which is on the exact opposite side of town from where we wanted to go.
So, we proceeded to attempt to find our way through Old Jerusalem and managed to make it in time to wait in line to enter the Temple Mount. The site is controlled by the Islamic section of Jerusalem and Jews are strongly advised against visiting there.
We saw a sign from the Chief Rabbi of Israel that said that Jews were not allowed to enter the Temple Mount because they would become unclean. We later found out that some Jews are OK with venturing around the outside of the Temple Mount but will not venture up to the courtyard where the Temple stood for fear of inadvertantly walking over the erstwhile Holy of Holies.
The story behind this picture is that we were standing in a courtyard between the mosque there and the Dome of the Rock. To our right there was a large group of Islamic women sitting in the shade listening to a man speak. They did not look happy to see us.
As we were taking this picture one of our compatriots decided to attempt to enter the mosque. Just as we were telling him that he’d need to remove his shoes a yell shot out across the courtyard and some guy came running over to our friend, screaming at him in Arabic. We had no clue what he was saying but our friend walked away from the mosque and we continued on our adventure.
Shortly after, we were strolling through the Arab quarter of Jerusalem and came across some stairs that contained slashes and puddles of what looked like blood. At that point I was acutely aware of how fragile the peace is in that ancient city.
I was also grateful for the traffic laws in our country when I saw a man parking on those stairs a minute later. Another tourist was telling her husband to get off the stairs because a car was coming. The guy replied, “Honey, he’s not gonna park on the stairs” and sure enough, right then the driver of the car gunned his engine and parked right there on those steps.
Sometimes it takes a journey to another country to make you realize you know nothing about almost everything.