DAY FIVE JERUSALEM
The fifth and last day of our tour of Israel was the most interesting of all.
As on other days we left our hotel at a civilised hour , but already in very hot sunshine, and made this time for Jerusalem. It is with excitement and anticipation that we make for the Holy City of Jerusalem. This place is as Moshe our guide reminds us “ the most fought over piece of real estate on the face of the earth”. No city has been fought over, claimed, longed after, prayed for and simultaneously hated as this great city to which we are driving today. Jerusalem has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.
As on other days when we skirted the city, we saw the abandoned relics of the war of independence of 1948. Destroyed or disabled armoured cars and jeeps lie beside the road, as reminders of the war that brought the modern state of Israel into existence. The vehicles have been painted and preserved as memorials beside the road.
As we leave Netanya we are given a stern warning by Moshe to leave all our valuables on the bus when we arrive in Jerusalem. We will be alighting from the bus on the Mount of Olives, and walking into the old city from there. It is with trepidation but also with dismay and disappointment we learn that the Mount of Olives is the second worst place on the world for pickpockets. According to Moshe only Krakow in Poland is worse, which I found very strange. So we are to leave purses, wallets, cameras etc on bus. We drive into the city from Mount Scopus in the North East of Jerusalem and after going through a police checkpoint, we reached the Mount of Olives from the East.
We alight from the bus at the top of the Mount of Olives and to our relief find that there are no pickpockets or anyone else there. We walk down the Mount of Olives, stopping for a time at the various cemeteries on the Mount. Jews who can wish to be buried on the Mount of Olives as they believe Messiah will come to the Mount of Olives.
We believe that he already has come;
‘ As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen’ Luke 19:37 (ESV)
And that He will return;
‘ On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward’. Zechariah 14:4 (ESV)
From the Mount of Olives we could eventually get a glimpse of the old city of Jerusalem . Near the bottom of the ascent we found the Church of all Nations , and behind it what is believed to be Gethsemane. It is very hard for me to describe the peaceful spirit in that place. We all felt the church of all Nations to be a very special place. We went into Gethsemane, or one of many Gethsemanes or Olive groves on the Mount of Olives.
Here we took a group photo the only one of the trip, looking out over the Kidron Valley ( See John 18:1), and the wall of the Old city with the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque on top. In the wall below is the Golden Gate where Jews expected Messiah to enter the city. In a bid to stop this Muslims, established cemeteries in front of the Gate. The Messiah has already come.
Crossing the Kidron Valley like King David ( 2 Samuel 15:23) and the Lord Jesus we came into the old city. Calumina feels so at home here. Having spent so long in Jerusalem she feels completely at ease in the city, and confesses that she never feels nervous in the labyrinth of streets. We are so fortunate in having her with us, she always radiates a calm serenity that witnesses to a very strong faith. On an earlier day, we had to get Calumina to buy drinking water for us from a vendor who could speak only Hebrew.
2PM CET 4th June Jerusalem the old City The old city is spilt into four different quarters; The Jewish Quarter, The Armenian Quarter, The Christian Quarter, and The Muslim Quarter. Our first visit is to the Western Wall. This is the holiest Shrine in Judaism. It is Friday, and there a heightened tension in the city as it is the Muslim day of prayer, and the Jewish Shabbat ( Sabbath) is drawing near. Police helicopters fly overhead , and we have to go through a very rigorous security check point before we are allowed into the precincts of the Western wall, sometimes known by Westerners as the wailing wall, although Jews find this term pejorative and insulting. Police are armed with fast firing Uzi sub-machine guns, soldiers in the background are armed with M16 assault rifles. DJ and I are on our best behaviour.
Male and Female are divided ( men to the left women to the right) as we proceed to the wall. It reminds me of the prayer meeting in Bernera long ago, where the same division along gender lines existed. Men have to cover their heads, usually this is with the Jewish Kippah, as a male head-covering. DJ and I cover our heads with baseball caps which seem acceptable.
DJ and I prayed at the wall with the others, but if I am to be honest I felt nothing, it is just old stone with thousands of written prayers shoved into every crevice on scraps of paper. It reminded me of how Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple.
And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Mark 13:1-2 (ESV).
After the Western Wall, we went to the upper room And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.”Mark 14:15 (ESV)
Which looked nothing like I imagined it to be and if I am honest I am sceptical if this is THE upper room spoken of in the gospel. From there we went to David’s tomb, again a very holy shrine to Jews. Here again cultural contrasts abound for me. As at the Western wall, men must cover their heads here, females must NOT cover their heads. Complete contrast to the cultural practice that used to prevail in the islands. The reason given for this is from the Talmud ( Rabbinic teachings ) and not so much from the scriptures. The scriptural example often cited for this is however from David himself who;
“And David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, and wept as he went, and his head was covered and he walked barefoot. Then all the people who were with him each covered his head and went up weeping as they went. (2 Samuel 15:30)
4 PM Jerusalem It is mid afternoon and the undoubted high point of the whole trip. We go to the Garden Tomb, an oasis of calm shalom (peace) in a bustling and often troubled city. The Garden tomb was the one place that exceeded my expectations. Situated “outside a city wall” as the old hymn puts it, it is in the shadow of Gordon’s Calvary , the place discovered by General Charles Gordon as a possible site of Golgotha or Calvary. On the other side is the bus station which is a bit surreal , but here on a Friday afternoon in Jerusalem, we met to remember the one who died for us on a Friday afternoon in Jerusalem. And so in a communion service led by Glynn we remembered Jesus , and we remembered “He is not here He is Risen”.
6.30 PM (CET) Carmel Hotel Netanya Israel We are back in our hotel to find it is now mobbed. The hotel had been quiet all week, as it is not yet holiday season here. However Moshe had warned us on the journey back that the hotel would be very noisy this evening as families would spend the weekend there “ so you’ll have a million Israeli kids running about there tonight”.
Moshe was right tonight was lively. This is Shabbat and instead of having a quiet and solemn contemplative day as I am used to in Lewis, we have boisterous Jews singing their Shabbat songs. At one point Glynn asked Calumina what they were singing, as she was ( apart from Moshe obviously) the only fluent Hebrew speaker among us.
The evening was very different from the other nights we spent here. The room where we met for morning and evening devotions, is taken over as a makeshift synagogue, complete with makeshift Rabbi! There are more cultural/religious contrasts here. We can only use one of the hotel’s lifts ( there are two). We have to use the ‘Gentile lift’( not sure if it was called that). We cannot use the ‘Shabbat lift’ as that is programmed to stop at every floor in turn automatically during Shabbat. This is so that a button does not have to be pressed or that would count as work! The Shabbat lift came complete with a chair and a copy of the Torah ( the Hebrew scriptures) for people to read as they ascended very slowly to their room on the twentieth floor! Such legalism is bizarre to my way of thinking.