The Western Wall was built by King Herod in 70 ad, but the actual stones and the surrounding areas were there when Jesus was still walking on the earth. The Wall is part of the structure which supports the Temple Mount from the west. This is considered to be the supreme holy Jewish site in the world. There are Torahs for loan and purchase, women crying and praying fervently, and crowds of people, many denominations, trying to stick their prayer requests into the crevices in the wall, no small task. (Our group had many prayer requests which we put on the Wall) The praying areas are divided into male and female, with a man made divider separating the two sides. The men’s section, filled with Orthodox Jews along with many other men, is larger than the women’s side ( our guide said that it is because women pray all the time so they provided them less space. I think this implies that men pray less in general, but the men’s side looked very busy). Entrance into the Wall was a long process, security as always in the Middle East at a high level. No Christian bibles are allowed, and we were asked to cover our crosses and cover our heads. The Western Wall is apparently never deserted; even throughout the night there is always someone there praying, meditating, reading the Torah or putting in prayer requests. It was a moving experience to be a part of such spiritual and historical significance.
Nearby, located on the Temple Mount is the Dome of the Rock, which is considered sacred to both Jews and Muslims. The Temple Mount has remained sacred in Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition since it was sanctified by God when King Solomon completed its first building. The Dome building itself is covered with ceramic tiles on the outside, but the Dome’s pure gold, a donation to Jerusalem from Jordan’s King Hussein, is a beautiful sight from all over Jerusalem. Viewing the skyline of the old city from anywhere, the Dome is a focal point, considered the foundation stone of the world. According to Islamic tradition, Mohammed ascended into heaven from here on a horse and left hoofprints behind. Jerusalem–truly God’s city for all.
So, Martha and I were lucky enough to have Zion as our dinner partner last night and he might as well have been in the Inquisition. If Martha didn’t ask it, Karen did. His sister and her family have moved in with his parents after the rocket destroyed their home. Our group gave a donation to help them in the meantime. Zion’s 18 yr old daughter recently started her 2 years in the Israeli army. Zion explained that it was not only necessary but prudent to go into the army. After the 1st 2 years, you can stay a 3rd or you can begin college with a 2 year scholarship paid by the Israeli government. (How nice would that be??) We asked him what the legal drinking age was (18) and if the kids drank and partied in high school like the American kids. With a very straight, no nonsense face, he said never. He then explained that one infraction eliminates a student’s right to the army. Without the army, no college. Without college he said that one would become a cleaner. All jobs hinge on army service. His job as a tour guide/ bus driver was not possible without the army service in the IDF. After your initial 2 year stint-man or woman-you are required to spend one month each year in the army for the next 28 years, so 30 years service. Service is mandatory for all Israelis except strict Orthodox Jews and Arabs.
We then asked about gun laws. He said that you receive your permit when you begin your service in the IDF. Whenever you go out, it is required that your gun accompany you. Therefore, tourists see armed soldiers often walking or traveling on busses and think Israel is dangerous. Zion said that it is normal-just like in America when all the kids have backpacks on!
He said that he loves Americans and wishes they would start coming back to Israel. His country appreciates all the billions of $s America has spent on Israeli roads and other improvements. He would love to come to America, so Martha & I assured him he was welcome in our homes. He wants to come to St. Luke’s! It was a great evening here in old Jerusalem, K
We went to the Old City today, which is divided into 4 quadrants, the Armenian section, the Jewish, the Muslim, and the Christian. They all have a flavor of their own and bazaars everywhere. Herzl, our Israeli guide, would not “allow” us to shop (seriously-he was our boss on that topic and this was hard to do!). So, we stayed true to our tour and it was truly an amazing day. We started our walk down the Via Dolorosa, path of suffering, at station 5 of the cross, and walked the path that Christ walked with the cross on his back. When we arrived at the end of the Via, we waited in line to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was built in 300 AD by the emperor Constantine. After the Muslims destroyed the church, it was rebuilt and is today considered to be one of the most important of all Christian sites in the world. Kent pointed out that ironically, to enter the church of the Holy Sepulchre, the keys are entrusted to a Muslim family who hand the responsibility and the keys down each generation. Apparently the Christians fought too much over this job so they were relieved of the keys! The church contains the last 5 stations of the cross. We climbed into a small area to touch the stone where the cross was located, as our group sang countless refrains of “The Old Rugged Cross,” a beautiful moment. Kent annointed each of us with some oil and the sign of the cross and the words, “He is risen. He lives in you.” Another amazing day in this truly Holy Land. Good night from Jerusalem, Karen