Friday Morning we left the Galil and Kibutz Lavi for Jerusalem. We left very rely in the morning so we arrived in Jerusalem at around 10am. The first thing that was unusual for me is that for the last 25 years or so, every time I find myself in Israel with a group we begin our visit to Yerushalayim by playing Yerushalayim Shel Zahav on the bus as we make our final way up to Jerusalem. This time there was also music playing. I really could not tell you what we were listening to but it seemed to be a Christian spiritual song about the importance of Jerusalem. As much as the background music was different, the faces of amazement were exactly the same. Every person on that bus who had never seen Jerusalem before seemed to shine in a very special way the first time they laid eyes on the Old City.
We proceeded directly to the overlook at The Mount of Olives, which, to tell you the truth was also extremely unusual for me. Most Jewish groups go directly to The Haas Promenade on Armon Ha Natziv, commonly known as The “Tayelet”. More often than not we pour some wine and eat some rugelach and recite a Shecheyanu. Standing at The Mount of Olives was a very different experience and it was interesting to find out that The Promenade overlooking The Old City at The Mount of Olives was named in memory of Rehavam Ze’evi, Israel Minister of Turism that was assassinated by Palestinian murderers inside The Old Hyatt Hotel on French Hill. I think there is a poignant meaning and significance behind the naming of this beautiful outlook, why? Well, I will leave that reasoning up to you…
From The Mount of Olives we made our way down by foot from the top of the mountain. We passed The Jewish Cemetary and entered a couple of significant places for the pastors in our mission. When we got to the bottom we found ourselves in the heart of East Jerusalem at the precise time that prayers at The Mosque were concluding. It really felt like being in a different world. At not time did it felt dangerous, it just felt different. By the way throughout our descent from the Mount of Olives we kept bumping upon tourists from many different parts of the world. I noticed for the first time how many different people come on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and how many actually stay on the East Side of The City and have Arabs as their guides. I wonder if all of these tourists understand that if Israel did not exist, many of these holly Christian sights would have been destroyed and desecrated already like has been the case in many Arab countries.
We visited The Garden of Gethsemane where the gospels claim Jesus was arrested by The Romans. I really never in my life imagined that I was going to find myself there nor did I know that place existed until that very moment. I understand, there is no reason why I should actually know all these details but I suddenly realized that it is almost irresponsible not to have a clue, especially when we live in the midst of christian neighbors. What stroke me about this place was the beauty and age of the olive trees in the garden. I also learnt that Evangelical Christians consider themselves to be a branch of an Olive Tree, The Olive Tree being Judaism itself. As opposed to The Catholic Church who refuses to refuse any acknowledgement of its direct connection to Judaism, Evangelical Christians feel proud of that connection. It is precisely from the trees in the garden comes from.
Later, after many stops we found ourselves in The Old City and in The Jewish Quarter. I must confess that it was a little bit of a relief! I found myself in a familiar place and now the tables began to turn, I was once again able to start explaining Israel through my eyes to my Christian Friends. After lunch we visited The Cardo and other important places in The Jewish Quarter. We visited the home of Rabbi Daniel Sperber who is one of Israel greatest minds in the area of research of Jewish traditions and rituals. We visited his library and we looked at the view of Jerusalem from his roof top. I must say this is one of the most beautiful homes I have ever been to in Israel.
We then proceeded to The Kotel where the pastors joined the thousands of people welcoming Shabbat. I took a little side trip together with Rabbi Bradley Tecktiel from Midbar Kodesh Temple to see first hand our section of The Kotel. The section where men and women can pray in egalitarian fashion. We have been able to do that for many years but the space is now open 24 hours a day. The government has built an elevated platform and now provide Torah Scrolls so that we can pray there just like they do for the Orthodox. The place is absolutely beautiful. It is still possible to go all the way down to the bottom and pray where we did before. The new platform however, is breathtaking.