Friday, December 22, 1995

1995 Israel: Jerusalem II (12/22/1995)

Friday, December 22, 1995
We all slept in, waking at 8:30 and letting Brynne sleep later, as she had a barking cough and a slight fever. Gave her cough medicine and Tylenol. Tom left for work, having left his keys for us again, but had to come back as he had given us the garage key instead of the apartment house key. Dot was going to a 10:00 concert at the Ticho House, and left about 10:15. So it was after that we got Brynne up and all of us left the apartment. Another sunny day where we started off in sweaters. I checked my mini guidebook before we went to the bus stop and very soon bus #15 arrived. The driver punched our ticket three more times and we headed to City Hall again. We walked to the old city walls, and this time we did not head south to the Jaffa Gate, but northeast to the Damascus Gate to start our tour of the Mount of Olives. It was apparent we were entering east Jerusalem because of all the Arab dress. At an area in front of the gate, many taxis waited. A driver came up to us and I said we wanted to go to the Seven Arches Hotel. He said ‘okay’ and helped us into his taxi. I asked if the meter was working, and he said it would cost 15 shekels. That seemed right, so off we went. Lots of traffic, with horns honking. Passed a checkpoint with Israeli soldiers at the far corner of the old city walls. The taxi took us way out on a road up the hillside, and I was wondering if we were to follow the same long way back. As it turned out, we did not. We were dropped off at the Seven Arches Hotel, paid the driver his 15 NIS, and went in to hotel reception to see if they could change our 200 NIS bills into something smaller, as most places did not seem to have change. They could only change one of the bills. There was a Christmas tree and decorations in the lobby, and lots of Korean tourists.
Seven Arches Hotel Christmas decorations
We went back outside and crossed the street to the outlook with a view of the Old City. One guy came up to us to sell those giant postcards, and because Kent did not respond, the guy yelled, “Are you deaf?!” We skirted the camels that were photo opportunities. A couple kids tried to sell us the same postcards. We had a great view across the Kidron Valley to Jerusalem.
View of Old City from Mount of Olives
Tamiko and Brynne (KSS)
Brynne and Kent
On the slope below us was a Jewish cemetery, the oldest at 2,000 years. Jews wish to be buried here to be nearby when the Messiah arrives through the Golden Gate, and the dead will be resurrected. It is now a privilege to be buried here. To the right of the golden Dome of the Rock we should have seen the blocked double-arch Gate of Mercy aka the Golden Gate, where the Jews say the Messiah will enter, and the Christians say he already has. I went to retrieve my guidebook from my hip pack, and could not find it! I knew I had last looked at it at the Ls’ apartment and wondered if I had left it there. Or instead of slipping it into the hip pack, did I accidentally slip it behind the pack so that is could have fallen out anywhere? Here we were on top of the Mount of Olives without any directions for getting down!
At least we had a map. I remembered we had to walk back along the approach road to the hotel to see something, and saw a sign for the Dome of the Ascension.
Dome of the Ascension
We entered a stone-walled courtyard with a small domed edifice in the center. A table with souvenirs stood by the door, and a small Arab boy seemed to be loitering nearby. The structure was only 10-feet in diameter, from the Crusader period, and used to be open at the top. Inside there was an indentation in natural rock on the floor, supposedly a footprint of Jesus before he ascended to heaven.
Brynne's feet near the "footprint" of Jesus
Now there is an Islamic style dome. The Muslim caretakers were not to be seen. We left, and the boy entered the edifice, perhaps to see if we left a donation. Many of these places have a spot to leave a donation with a bill left as a sample of what you should give, usually something rather generous! Even United States dollar bills are left.
Because it was just off our not too clear map, we missed the Pater Noster Convent. We debated whether to go up or down, and decided on heading downhill, looking for the onion domes of the Mary Magdalene Church to guide us. Just as we spotted the onions through the trees, we saw a sign for the Temple of Prophets. A man at the gate led us to another gate and down stone steps to an underground burial complex. This is said to contain the now empty tombs of the prophets Haggai and Malachia/Zacchariah, but more likely it was a burial cave from the Byzantine era 1,500 years ago. There was a round entrance hall with four niches in the walls for wash basins, and stone cut-aways for water drainage. Three passages radiated from this hall to two semi-circular corridors. The inner corridor was supposedly for praying, and the outer corridor had 26 burial niches, now all empty. The burial area for the two prophets was separate. The man quietly explained everything, and when we asked what we owed, he said whatever we wanted to give, even nothing. We gave him 10 NIS. We took a path downhill, but the path turned out to be a road and we had to watch for cars. It was time for Islamic prayers and we could hear the prayer leaders being broadcast from the Old City. It was actually quite harmonious a cappella music for a while, but later it just sounded like news announcements.
Next, to the right, we came to Dominus Flevit (Our Lord Wept), a small modern tear-shaped church built 1953-1955, designed by Antonio Barluzzi. It had a simple interior with a superb view of the Old City through the front picture window. The iron cross of the altar and the iron-work of the window silhouetted against the Dome of the Rock. In the back were colorful floor mosaics. Tradition states this is where Jesus wept over Jerusalem as he prophesied its destruction. No archaeological finds earlier than the Crusades were ever found here. I bought four postcards for $1 US from the friar here, who spoke French to the nun outside the gate selling souvenirs. Kent used the restroom, and they seemed to close up after we left. We continued downhill and the road turned to the left. We passed an open gate, when a man came out calling to us. He announced the Garden of Gethsemane was closed, but he could show us the cemetery with Schindler and Begin. I knew that Begin was buried in the Mount of Olives Cemetery below the Seven Arches Hotel, but did not realize the cemetery extended this far. I wondered whether a non-Jew would be buried in a Jewish cemetery, but when the man said he has been a guard here over 30 years, we knew to keep going! Actually, this was a part of a Jewish cemetery where there is a common grave for 48 Jews killed in battle for the Jewish Quarter in 1948. They had been buried in the Jewish Quarter, but were re-interred here in 1967, including 10-year old messenger boys.
We passed the gate to the Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene, and could no longer see its gold onion domes or sculpted white turrets. It was built on order of Tsar Alexander III for his mother, the Russian Grand Duchess Elizabeth, who apparently lies in the crypt. It is only open on Thursdays from 10-11:30! At the bottom of this winding road on the left was the entrance to the Garden of Gethsemane, and it was indeed closed now at 11:45. But a man in a suit and London Fog coat asked if we wanted a guide. How much? 30 NIS. We figured we were not coming back, and so we would pay that much to get in when it is supposedly closed. Traditionally this is the place where Jesus came with his disciples after the Last Supper, prayed, sweated blood, was betrayed, and arrested.
Garden of Gethsemane with ancient olive trees
Gethsemane is from the Aramaic gat shaman or the Hebrew gat shemania, meaning oil press. Olive trees grew in profusion in this area with the fruit providing lamp oil. Now there are eight old thick-trunk olive trees that could date back to the time of Jesus. Within the garden walls was the Church of All Nations, also known as the Basilica of Agony, designed by Antonio Barluzzi and dedicated in 1924.
Church of All Nations
Window of marble and alabaster
Rock surface is the Rock of Agony
In the interior domes are mosaics with symbols of all the countries that contributed to this building, including the United States seal in the first dome on the right as you enter. The windows are made of marble with panes of translucent alabaster in browns and purples. A mystical atmosphere. At the altar is the Rock of Agony here Jesus endured the Passion. Large wall mosaics depict events at this site. The altar was floodlighted as someone seemed to be doing some professional videotaping. We were allowed to take photos. The guide hurried us along, out of the garden and down the path/street to the right, where steps took us down to the subterranean Church of the Assumption or Tomb of the Virgin. We were supposedly being hurried in case it closed, but it was open with no sign of closing. We passed a priest who simply nodded. We entered through a Crusader Gothic fa├žade and down a long wide stairway. Halfway down the stairs were chapels to either side. The one on the right was a Greek Orthodox chapel to Mary, and the one on the left was an Armenian chapel to Anne, Mary’s mother. Lots of hanging oil lamps, especially as we descended into the dark church. Two priests sat to one side, as the guide took us to get candles. We only wanted one for Brynne. We were taken to the right to an enclosed area with a sarcophagus of 12th century marble, at the traditional site of Mary’s tomb. Brynne lit the candle and placed it in the sand-filled container. We left $1 US as a donation.
Another site for the tomb of the Virgin
The Church of the Assumption was divided between the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Churches, as seen by the two icons on the sarcophagus (and the two chapels).  As we climbed out of the church, there was a doorway to the left in the hillside, supposedly the Franciscan-run Grotto of Gethsemane with a rock ceiling. Franciscans claim this was the site of the actual arrest of Jesus.
Kent handed our guide 30 NIS and he exclaimed, “Oh, no! Sixty shekels, 30 for the garden and 30 for here.” We were dumbfounded and protested little. Kent went ahead and paid the 60 NIS, but the guide continued to defend himself, saying he would not cheat us as he had been to the United States 11 times, and he even pulled out his wallet to show Kent an Arizona driver’s license. We left in a hurry, being pretty disgusted with certain Arabs!
Mount of Olives
The road we climbed back up around the old city walls was double-parked with cars of Muslims going to the mosque as today, Friday, is their Sabbath day. We had to squeeze out of the way of buses and trucks driving past. Brynne was tired and mellow as she was not feeling well, but she soldiered on. I gave her piggy-back rides when I could, except for the uphill climbs, which this was at the moment. At the top of the hill was the checkpoint, but only for cars. We walked around the corner and crossed the street to the Rockefeller Museum. We were not interested in the archaeological museum, but thought they might have a cafeteria. But the museum was closed at lunchtime. We trudged onward through streets crowded with Arabs, past markets and shops. We saw our 60 MIS guide walking by with a bag of groceries! Saw stands selling bread, probably with the za’atar spice Dot had us try, sort of a salty Bell’s stuffing herb mix! We were trying to find Derekh Shechem Street, and I figured we had passed it when we reached the Damascus Gate. I remembered someone asking at the last corner if this was what sounded like “forty-seven.” I guess “forty-seven” was really “derekh shechem!” We headed back just as a crowd of Arab women crossed the road. They pushed right through us and I had to run interference for Brynne so she would not get knocked over. Very pushy. We turned up the street that was jam-packed with cars, buses, and vans, moving only inches at a time with lots of honking and yelling. Some cars made strange backwards and sideways maneuvers, mere inches from parked cars. There was a woman going from bus driver to bus driver, apparently searching for the right bus.
Partway up the street we found a lane going to the right, up to the Garden Tomb. There were high walls to both sides and overhanging trees, and suddenly we heard a plop. A big wad of what looked like spit on the ground. Brynne got a little on her shoulder, which we cleaned off with a wet wipe. Couldn’t have been a person, probably bird poop. At the top of the lane was the entrance to the Garden Tomb, but it was closed until 14:00. It was only 13:00, so we sat on a bench to rest. We decided against going out into the Arab crowd to forage for food for lunch, so just snacked on what we had in the backpack: bananas, raisins, Grandma S’s cookies, Chex Mix, and Cocoa Krispies! Plus water and lemonade.
Break time!
Entrance to the Garden Tomb
It was peaceful, despite the loud noises from the traffic jam down at the end of the lane. We could see the jumble of buses and cars inching along. A few people came and went, and a couple girls chose to wait by lying in the sun. Kent went to sit in the sun himself. A Russian tour group was allowed into the Garden Tomb early. At 14:00 we entered, and it was free with a tour guide! We waited for the girls to use the restroom, and were joined by a man from Tunisia, where our guide from northern England had a home! We were led through a lush garden to an overlook.
Place of the Skull
Above us were pockmarked cliffs with gaping holes may have created the illusion of the eyes, nose, and mouth of a skull. Below was the busy bus station with noisy engines and honking. Plus a delicious aroma of roasting meat! The guide told the story of General Charles Gordon (later beheaded in Khartoum) who spent time in Jerusalem. From the window of his apartment just inside the old city walls, he could see across to this cliff and noted the skull-like features. He was convinced this was the “place of the skull” where Jesus was crucified. The area between the cliff and the old city walls was a flat floor of a rock quarry, and was a likely spot for executions. It was felt that punishments would take place where they would be seen from the main road, and many people would have passed by this place. The theory was that Jesus was crucified down in the flat area near the road with the “skull” behind him. In 1883 General Gordon raised funds through the Garden Tomb Association, a sum of 2,000 £, to purchase this plot of land adjacent to the cliff. They found a large underground water cistern, which seemed to indicate there was a garden as there would be no other need for water here. That led to the belief that this might be the Garden of Gethsemane.
Wine press
We were taken to a manhole cover with a grate to peer down into the cistern, then taken to see the wine press, which was a tub of stones with a place for the wine to drain out. That was another clue that there was a “garden” here. And lo and behold! They also discovered an ancient rock-cut tomb that fit with Jesus being buried in a fresh tomb of wealthy Joseph of Arimathea, as well as this tomb being thought to be an upper class tomb of the Second Temple period, which was the time of Jesus. However, the tomb was dated to the Old Testament period, too old for Jesus’ time. The tomb had an antechamber or weeping room, then a fenced off area of two niches.
Inside the Garden Tomb
One was finished with a cut-away for the feet and stone pillow for the head, while the other was unfinished.
Garden Tomb with a track to roll a stone cover over the opening
In front of the tomb opening was a track in which the circular stone cover would have been rolled over the opening. The guide told of Mary Magdalene discovering the body of Jesus was gone and running to get Peter and John. Peter rushed into the tomb, while John stayed outside, but could still see that the place where Jesus was laid. We, too, could see the place by standing outside. The guide noted that everything pointed to this place as the burial place of Jesus, but admitted it could not be proven. What was important was the message of the event, that Jesus died for our sins, etc. It was indeed a peaceful site for meditation/contemplation. The guides come for two-year stints and their wives run the gift shop, which we perused, buying more postcards. We also used the modern toilet facilities. They gave away sprigs of rosemary that we have seen growing everywhere. Finally dragged ourselves away. By now, “rush hour” had abated.
Damascus Gate
We walked back to the Damascus Gate, supposedly the most beautiful of the seven gates to the Old City, with tapered carved stone crenellations, ornamented embrasures/arrow or gun ports, from the 16th century. It is also the busiest gate in the Arab neighborhood, and outside on the steps and terraces was what appeared to be a huge flea market, selling baubles, rugs, stoves, clothing, slippers, food, etc. We were cautioned not to linger and went through the gate to look for the entrance to the Ramparts Walk, thinking to use the second day of our tickets and avoid the busy streets. Looking on both sides of the gate, we saw an exit, but no entrance. We did see a man with binoculars up on the walk, looking towards the outside. We went back out the gate, and realized we had to go down into the moat to see the Roman ruins that connected to the Ramparts Walk. The area did not look inviting with a lone Arab loiterer, so we continued along the outside of the old city wall towards the New Gate. Continued on the city street, then turned left on King David Street, going downhill, then uphill. It is definitely hilly here!
We passed the King David Hotel, a large building that was the British Headquarters before Israel’s independence. In 1947, it was blown up by Irgun Zvai Leumi, a Jewish underground organization. Today it was undergoing renovations in one whole wing to the right as you faced it. American VIPs used to stay here, but because of the renovations they have moved to the more modern Laromme Hotel. Across the street from the King David Hotel was a huge impressive building rivaling the hotel itself, with a tall bell tower. This was the YMCA! We did not realize that one could climb the 207 steps in the bell tower for a view.
Yemin Moshe community
Kent and Brynne in a garden
Farther along was a large garden/park with a view of the old city walls, with giant century plants. We continued to the windmill that was built by British philanthropist Moshe/Moses Montefiore, who financed the first Jewish settlement outside the Old City here. The area called Yemin Moshe is now an artists’ colony. The windmill was built for the Jews’ livelihood and now is a museum in honor of Montefiore.
Yemin Moshe windmill
We crossed the street to go to the Liberty Bell Park, where we let Brynne play on the modernistic playground equipment.
Brynne and Kent in the playground
There was an open-air building that must house a library in the summer; also an open-air amphitheater. Every bench had a plaque in memory of someone. The entrance arbor was named for Hubert H Humphrey!
Brynne in the arbor
Brynne did not want to go look for the Liberty Bell replica, so we headed back to the Ls’ along Jabotinsky Street.
Street sign in three languages and three scripts
Took an early left and cut across the plaza of the Performing Arts Center.
Performing Arts Center
Saw funny gray and black crows (Corvus cornix/Hooded Crow).
Corvus cornix/Hooded Crow
We thought we were getting back early, but again it was almost sundown, around 17:00 when we reached the Ls’. Snacked and gave Brynne Tylenol. Each day when Brynne returned to the Ls’ she would go straight to her journal to write the entry for the day. We added a few pictures cut out from a travel brochure. Despite not feeling well, she does seem to be absorbing something as she remembers place names and events tied to them. After Tom came home after 17:30, we had dinner of a veal roast, roasted potatoes and leftover yams, broccoli, a salad and bread with butter. As usual, a delicious dinner and we ate more than we usually do. Kent joined the Ls for some beer. Same dessert choices. We showered and tried to go to bed earlier, since we will have to get up earlier to meet the Egged Tour bus at 7:00. We have decided not to go to Bethlehem, since it was today that it was handed over to the Palestinian Authority from Israeli control, and it is reported that the Palestinians usually celebrate by shooting guns in the air. Plus they expect 100,000 people in Bethlehem, which would be extremely overcrowded. Additionally, Arafat is to arrive tomorrow and stay for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. It was just not a good time to go to Bethlehem, and I was disappointed at not being able to look up Hosson M.
We had also decided to skip Tel Aviv on Christmas Day and decided to see more of Jerusalem instead on days where Tom would be available to accompany (and drive!) us.
Next: Oops, Jerusalem III.

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