Our race against the snow was successful, and on January 7th we arrived in Jerusalem. Read about the previous part of the trip here.
Fun fact: I’ve actually been to Jerusalem before, but have no memory of it. Technically, I’ve even lived there for a year while my parents worked there. Enough time to have been taken all over the city, but too young to remember it.
The sense of rediscovery has only added to the allure that Jerusalem presents. Coupled with the stories from my parents and seeing the name in the news, I couldn’t wait to go. And finally, over 18 years since I’d left, I was back!
The snows arrived as my group did, and our itinerary was dashed. A group of college age students couldn’t be cooped up for long though, and the first night a group of us headed into the city. We strolled from our hotel through the closed down streets as snow fell from above. While the snow wasn’t deep, it was wet and heavy; perfect for the occasional snowball that flew between our group.
We soon passed from the streets to a small modern outside mall, cheerily lit only for our group it seemed. And after a short flight of stairs we found ourselves against old, old walls: the entrance to the old city. It was much like the souk in Morocco at night: narrow alleys with no hint of life behind the metal doors. I was told it looked very different in the daytime.
Our group was content nonetheless to wander through the paths, heading deeper into the souk/shouk/bazaar/market of the Old City. Then just before midnight we turned a corner and were presented with a series of descending staircases that gave us an overlook of what was below.
In the distance we could see the golden Dome of the Rock lit up. As I snapped a picture I also noticed an area below it that was especially well lit: the Western Wall. And so, as a group, we walked down the steps, through the sleepily-attended metal detector, and approached it.
The wall is split into two sections, one of which for men and the other for women. While nearly empty, a few orthodox Jews in heavy black coats and hats prayed near the wall. As we approached the men’s side, one offered us Yamakas to cover our heads in respect. Up close, the wall itself was not only bigger than I had expected, but the stones used to built it were too.
It was a magical way to be introduced to Jerusalem: the massive wall rising from the snow-covered ground into the midnight air as a floodlight illuminated each crevice stuffed with handwritten prayers. And it was a sight shared only among our group and the solitary few praying that night.
The next few days were just as spectacular as we wove our way through the city. We saw King David’s Tomb, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, The Great Synagogue, and the different parts of the Old City.
In addition to attending mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, I had the chance to learn about and experience some of the Jewish faith and tradition. While the majority of the group weren’t Jewish, we did have the opportunity to celebrate Shabbat, observe some services, and eat a great deal of delicious food.
The addition of snow to the trip definitely threw us a loop, and I’ll have to return to experience the city in some warmer weather. And a few days is not nearly enough time to see it all. So while I’m grateful to have visited and can check it off the bucket list, I’m also already looking forward to next time.