Saturday, March 3, 2018

My Trip to Israel and Jordan

At Petra in Jordan

I thought Israel would be all cobblestone streets, tiny shops, shouting vendors, stern soldiers with weapons at the ready, and constant danger. That’s the image Americans get from news broadcasts. But on a ten-day sojourn to the embattled Jewish state, what we saw was safe and modern. Of course, we didn’t visit the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. We stayed in the apartment of a friend in a residential section of Jerusalem. When the only images you get of a place are filled with violence, you get a distorted picture. Some relatives still think I lead of life of constance chaos because I’m a New Yorker. 

My images of Jerusalem came from the Old City, made of centuries-old structures and surrounded by a massive wall erected by the Ottoman Empire. The first full day we took a walking tour of this section including the Wailing Wall. Several young boys were being Bar Mitzvahed as their families danced from the gates to this epicenter of Jewish faith, surrounded by bearded men in dark coats and hats. One family had hired a band and huge balloon rabbi like a float in the Thanksgiving Day parade. Thousands of scraps of paper were stuffed into the cracks and the women peaked over the partitions as their sons became men. 

In the afternoon we visited the Israel Museum. The Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei had an extensive exhibit of his revolutionary and unconventional works. My favorite was a long expanse of wallpaper featuring endless designs of refugees made in the style of the figures on Grecian urns. Another wall was taken up with a blown-up photo of the artists after he had been beaten by government police inside a hospital elevator. 

Our hosts Jay and Rachel were infinitely hospitable and arranged for a guide (Phil) to drive us to Masada, the mountainous site of a famous battle between Roman forces and Jewish rebels, and then the Dead Sea where we floated in its salty waters. 

Along the Via Dolorosa in Jersusalem
Jordan is not far, so we took an overnight excursion to see the monumental archeological site at Petra where an early civilization carved a city out of the rocky terrain. After visiting an ancient Roman cities at Jaresh and Aman, the capital, we stayed at a Bedouin campsite. Our guide Adem and the Bedouins running the camp played traditional music as we sipped sweet tea around a hot stove. Our accommodations were large tents, two beds each. They were actually comfortable, but you had to go out in the middle of the night to go the bathroom which was in a separate facility. So Jerry and I slept with our pants on.

Petra was breathtaking but exhausting. There is a long, long walk from the entrance to the magnificent Treasury building. Camel and donkey rides were available, but I had already ridden one in Egypt, so I didn’t feel the need.

Back in Jerusalem we took one final walking tour of the Old City, focusing on the Muslim and Christian Quarters. (There are also Jewish and the Armenian sectors.)  Afterwards, I reasoned since we were there, we may as well also walk the Via Dolorosa, the route Jesus is supposed to have taken on the way to crucifixion. There were crowds of people from all over the world making the walk with tour guides pointing out where Christ allegedly was tried, beaten, stripped, made to carry the
cross and finally executed, ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This house of worship was built in the third century when Helena, the mother of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine took a trip to Jerusalem and had visions of the exact spot where Jesus made his last journey. Other accounts have the path taking place at the Citadel where Pilate would have been in residence. It was fascinating to see soliders armed with assault weapons standing next to Stations of the Cross and bas-reliefs depicting the Passion of Christ.

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