Jerusalem and Jordan Part 1
Ever since we set off across the Atlantic, I have had visions of travel dancing in my head. I knew that we would be primarily cruising only in the summer – and that has worked out perfectly allowing us to catch up on boat projects, chores, and Jacks school. But I had always imagined that we would be doing more land travel in the winter. I had hoped that we could take advantage of the near flight travel so close to some of the interior locales that I had always dreamed we would see.
Well, honestly, our winter travel has happened -but only to a much more limited extent than we had hoped. The primary reason is that we just get busy settling into our routine and, just as at home, the inertia of the day to day gets in the way of breaking the seal and just leaving.
This year is going to be different though. For one thing, the reality that we are in the final 1.5 years has really sunk in. We can’t believe that we are looking to the end (or the break) instead of working out plans to travel to another continent, country, or adventure. So, to be this close to countries that are so far from home and not take the quick flight to check them out is simply unacceptable. So, we did it! We bought tickets and took the trip to Israel and Jordan.
Alec gave me a very strict budget of 1 week. We were not allowed to spend any more time there than that. If you have been to the holy land, you know that there is far more to see than can be easily covered in a week. But we did it. We saw as much as we could, and we left feeling like we have a much better sense of this area of the world than when we arrived.
I know that there are times when my family wishes they could tie me up and send me away and this week was one of them. Given that we only had 6 days, I crammed alot in. It is not the way that Alec likes to travel – well, to be honest, none of us likes to spend the day going from one to another thing. We like the laid-back relaxed way of “living” in a foreign land and absorbing as much through the monuments and buildings as we do from sipping a chai at the local café. But I just couldn’t bear to leave any of the bigger stones unturned. So, we hit the ground running and this is what we learned, saw, and experienced.
From where we are living in Turkey, the flight was a very short 1.5 hours to Israel. In fact, we spent far more time getting to the airport and in the airport than we did on the plane. But given that the flight from our home in the US would have been excruciatingly long and the time change profound, this was a must see while we are so close.
We landed in Israel and the public transportation was fantastic. We easily navigated through the airport to the train and the ride to Jerusalem was a simple 35 minutes. Easy peasy. We had planned to take a bus to our Airbnb, but the day was gorgeous, and we had been cooped up in the airport and plane, so we decided to have a nice hour long walk. This was serendipitous because it took us through one of the most enjoyable places to see, the Yehuda market. We found a delicious spot to enjoy 2 of our favorite things, Halvah and Hummus. Yum! And we enjoyed our first introduction to the spirit of Israel. There is nothing like a lively local market to infuse you with the culture, food and sounds of a country. Once we arrived at the Airbnb, we spent the night resting up for our day ahead.
The first full day in Jerusalem we met up with our friends Francois, Colleen, and Travis. They are just beginning their great explore having just moved aboard a catamaran, and we were thrilled to be able to meet up with them for a short time in our early days in Kas, Türkiye. Unfortunately, we are not in the same marina all winter, and they are doing more land travel anyway, but we had an amazing time with them in Israel. Colleen had arranged a tour with a fantastic guide. If you find yourself in Jerusalem and looking for a good guide, this is your guy. His name is Julian Resnick, and his WhatsApp number is +972 50 767 4260. Julian is Jewish and lives in a kubutz, but he travels extensively and is well educated about not only his region, but most of Europe. I have received a lot of advice from travelers about who one should hire and not hire. What I can say is that to have any sense whatsoever of the complexity of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, one should try to get a guide who can share both sides of the issues. If I’m honest, I would say that I can appreciate the conflict and the history of the region far better having visited, but I cannot nearly “know” the conflict. I don’t believe anyone not living in the thick emotional air that is Israel can possibly understand it fully. I think that all conflict of this magnitude is a bruise on the soul of the planet, and I believe that we are all affected by it. But there is simply no way to “know” it without being born to and living in it day in and day out. And we can’t judge the ability to resolve these conflicts as being one or another’s fault. I think that all we can do is what we would do for a loved one in a serious dispute with a family member. Hold the space for honest conversations on both sides, brace yourself for the inevitable tears and pray like crazy that cooler heads will prevail. Since politics is way beyond the scope of this travel blog of our family’s experiences, I’ll leave it there. On to the travel…
Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world and all 3 Abrahamic religions (descendants of Abraham) claim it as their holy land. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital but because this is an ongoing dispute, very few nations recognize either claim. The possible exception to this is that the US moved their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This was a move which upset most of the Islamic world and was done in 2019.
The tour we had took us through the Old (walled)City. Some of the city walls are from 200 CE but others are more recent as most of the city was rebuilt under Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire. Currently the city is divided into 4 quarters known as the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Armenian. According to Wikipedia, the population is comprised of roughly 60% Jewish, and 38% Palestinian with Christian accounting for a mere 1.7% but these numbers fluctuate depending on the site. Our tour guide told us that in each quarter you could sell your property to someone of a different faith but doing so would not only excommunicate you from your neighbors, but your life would also be in peril. So, it is simply not done. Property in the quarters changes hands only to people of the same faith and background.
We are Christians by faith, so our experience was felt through the prism of the many bible stories that we were brought up with. Standing in a place that you had heard about every Sunday of your childhood couldn’t help but be powerful. Standing in the church of the Holy Sepulchre, built by Constantine I in the 4th century, and believed to be the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial site, was for me, the most profound experience of the day but I had goosebumps when, while standing at one of the most sacred sites in the Islamic faith Julian pointed to the place where Jesus was sentenced to death.
There are 6 denominations of Christians who pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and they are all given their own section and hours to worship. It is fascinating to me that in a city rife with conflict, even people of the same essential faith can’t manage to get along. They all share the same church, but no changes can be made without all 6 of them agreeing. Our guide told us that for this reason, a ladder that goes nowhere has been standing in the place for years because nobody can move it since they don’t all agree to it. I pray that it is not true because if holy people living in a holy land can’t even agree on the placement of a ladder, what hope is there for humanity or any of us.
But I digress…
The walls of the old city are themselves a history lesson spanning millennia rather than centuries. One of the funniest anecdotes we were told is how the Jaffa Gate was re-bult to accommodate Kaiser Wilhelm I during his visit insisting that he enter by carriage. So clearly egoic leaders are nothing new…
And the Western wall which we saw both at night and again the following day, is all that remains of a retaining wall that surrounded the second Jewish Temple which was destroyed in 70AD. This is such a holy place for Jews that there is a separation between the male and females. Watching the faithful pray before this wall after leaving the church of the Holy Sepulchre allowed me to understand exactly how the faithful praying before the wall of their second temple must feel. Julian shared that Jews the world over pray facing Jerusalem, but Jews in Jerusalem pray facing the wall. The Western Wall, sometimes called the Wailing Wall, is a holy pilgrimage site for Jews all around the world. Having only regained the right to worship here following the 6-day war in 1967, there is a site paying tribute to those who gave their life in this war.
We were treated to several 13-year-old children coming of age in the Old Town. Their Bar Mitzvah was celebratory and joyful with music and dancing and (unfortunately) balloons released in the air. Regular readers remember that we have had a family embargo on balloons since the summer of 2018 when we saw dozens if not hundreds of balloons floating in the Atlantic Ocean on the US East coast – a terrible hazard to marine life and pollution.
The Temple Mount in Jerusalem is a site that has been venerated as holy by all 3 religions. According to Wikipedia, the site surrounded by retaining walls were built by King Herod in the 1st century BC with plans to expand the Second Jewish Temple. During the city’s capture in 661, the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock were completed in 692. The oldest existing work of Islamic Architecture and more significantly, according to our guide (though I didn’t find any information to confirm this,) Muhammad ascended into heaven from the Temple Mount. There are 11 gates through which Muslims may access the Temple mount. One of the 11 is where non-believers must pass. Guarded by Israeli guards with machine guns and metal detectors, one can sense immediately the tension between the 2 groups who regularly interact in this holy place. We were advised by our guide that we must be respectful and reverent. Non-Muslims are only permitted access to the mount during certain hours on certain days. While we were there, we were told no touching each other at all – no arms around each other during photos. Which explains why we are all standing as work colleagues rather than beloved friends in the photos. Considered the holiest site in Judaism, this was the site of the First Temple built by King Solomon. So sacred is this site that some Orthodox Jews will not even enter it since according to rabbinical law, only the Holiest were permitted inside the temple. Other jews however, enter regularly so that their presence is noted and presumably they maintain a type of occupancy in this place that they consider their own since the 6-day war. The agreement which they have with the Palestinians (referred to as status quo) is that they will maintain the security of the Temple Mount and are permitted access to it during certain hours, but they will not pray there, so the Jewish people who go there are not allowed to open prayer books or appear to be in prayer.
Our day spent with Julian was priceless and afforded us a closer understanding of these amazing holy places revered by all 3 religions who call this home. We could never have come close to grasping the significance without this guide and I thank Julian for spending his time with our two families. To Colleen, Francois, and Travis, thank you so much for sharing this visit with us. We loved traveling with you 3 and our memories of this special place will forever be infused with our affinity for the 3 of you.
Since this post has already well exceeded the usual number of words, I give to a post I will stop there. Part 2 will include the rest of our stay in Jerusalem as well as Petra in Jordan.