Time running out
Well, getting close to time running out and a little panic and prioritising has set in.
On my day off last week I made it a ‘Jewish day’, taking in some of the jewels of the Jewish Quarter, which testifies to the sheer dogged fortitude of this nation, especially around the time of the formation of the State.
The ‘Alone on the Walls’ exhibition is a moving record in film and photography of the last stand of the Jewish residents of (old) Jerusalem against the reaction of the Jordanian Arab legions to the Declaration of Independence, after the British forces had left the city in May of 1948. A small conclave of 150 soldiers defended 1,600 mothers, old men and children, all of whom held out for over 10 days against a professional, well-resourced Arab legion, until a dignified surrender on 28 May. With 69 of this small group perishing in the fighting, some of them children, it is a fitting reminder of the cost of conviction. For the next 19 years until 1967 and the extraordinary recapture of Jerusalem in the Six Day War the Jewish Quarter lay in ruins. This is their story.
From the short film and perusal of the excellent photographic exhibition I moved on to the ‘Four Ancient Synagogues’ which, with the original Hurvah Synagogue (see below), served the Jewish communities in Jerusalem for many centuries. Beginning in the 13thcentury, these evolving buildings served different Jewish communities as the population of Jews grew under the Ottomans. Each of these four, very different, synagogues are interconnected, and rebuilt and refurbished since the collapse of the Quarter in 1948. The story of these places is very much the story of the western European Jews in this part of Jerusalem for centuries, as they established themselves in this part of the Muslim world.
My third point of interest on this Friday was The Temple Institute, which both fascinated and bewildered. This small exhibition is a testimony of hope and preparation for the rebuilding of a Third Jerusalem Temple. In readiness for the rebuilding of this Temple most of the ornaments and utensils, according to the Levitical Code, are already in place, and in Jerusalem, in this exhibition, in readiness for that moment. Even the Priest’s (and High Priest’s) garments are made. Trumpets, candelabra, Shewbread Table, Incense altar, even the Seven Branched Menorah are all ready – but there are major obstacles in the way (on the Temple Mount!) Nevertheless, there is a firm belief among the Institute devotees that this Temple will be built, as a place of prayer for the nations.
The Saturday morning saw me back at the Western Wall, minding my own business in the Book of Job, when I was gathered into a ‘synagogue’ gathering for the reciting of the Shabbat ‘Sidur’ prayers. Ok, I was wearing a kippah (headwear, obligatory at the Wall). Ok, I was enveloped in a Tallit (a woollen prayer shawl), a birthday gift with parental money – my treat to me from Jerusalem. And, ok, my skin has turned a bit brown over the past seven weeks! So join I did, and my Hebrew was competent enough to both follow and enjoy the recitation of Psalms and praises of this great day of the week; and this ‘nobody’ was embraced into the family of male intercession and praise at the Western Wall of the Second Temple. Now, does it get any better than this, I ask?
A week of half day duties has enabled me to ‘mop up’ some of the familiar places and one or two remaining buildings on my tick list: some simply architectural, like the David’s Harp Bridge, and some significant, like a trail of the Roman ‘religious’ remains. One more blog should account for my remaining goals: the Knesset (parliamentary building), David’s Citadel, Zedekiah’s Cave, the Rampart’s Walk, another ‘Holy Bagel’! A short time will tell.
One great joy was being at ‘King of Kings’ Church Fellowship last Sunday to hear Joel Rosenberg speak. Joel has had many books, fact and fiction, in the New York Times bestsellers list, and is becoming a critical friend to US policy from the prophetic Christian world. His books are a great read (the fiction is in the ‘Tom Clancy mould’) and frank about the ‘end times’ prophecy that is becoming apparent in the Israeli orbit. Time to “listen up”, as Joel would say. He was here in the Garden last week, with Russian believers. Who, 30 years ago, would have predicted a right wing Christian American preacher and author bringing Russian believers to an English owned religious site in Jerusalem to have a tour conducted by an Anglican Vicar, Graham? The Cold War is truly over! See more about Joel at www.joelrosenberg.com/default.asp. And Google him for YouTube clips.
On Tuesday a number of us were treated to our final meal, which was a bit strange for me, still having a birthday to come here and another 10 days to work. The Kadmah proved another scenic rooftop experience, overlooking Jaffa Gate. It was the opportunity to say goodbye and thanks to three other dear ones who have guided and helped here, and been part of my life for the past month. Ken flies home to Texas, and John (retired clergy) and wife Bridget from Guildford, celebrate their golden wedding this week back in the UK, all of whom have been very sweet.
The Garden is a close and co-operative community, cloistered: an oasis in many ways, but not quite an embassy. It could have that mentality if people never got out, but it is enriched by the presence of permanent residents and Israelis (who mostly live outside of the Garden). Also, the change of guides every month keeps the relationships on the move. We are given a very comfortable apartment within the grounds, so we either keep ourselves to ourselves in spare time, or, as has been my experience, mix well, with meals in and out. Self-catering arrangements preserve the sanctity of one’s space, in what is a beautiful ‘Eden’ in East Jerusalem.
And you thought that it was all work?
Today, 99 in the shade …now that’s work I can handle!
Shalom! One Blog to go…
Three days off
The beginning of July saw the first of three consecutive days off, with the use of a car. But there was one experience I keenly desired before putting some miles between myself and Jerusalem. It may surprise the reader otherwise unfamiliar with Jerusalem’s detailed history that the city has been built on more than one spot. A Sunday morning visit to The City of David, created and maintained by the Jerusalem Walls National Parks, is a must for any visitor, especially in hot weather.
The City of David, just outside of the present Old City to the south, marks the earliest settlement, below what is now the Temple Mount – on Mount Ophel. It is interesting that, as an ancient fortified city, it is not at the summit of the hills. Identified with the Salem of Melchizedek, its prominence is attested in ancient Egyptian texts as a formidable settlement, defeated by Joshua and later inhabited by David as a royal residence, which is when her high fortunes began.
The wonderful exhibition centre is the entrance to many archaeological treasures, which can be experienced in a most imaginative way. First, a 3-D film gives a vivid pictorial explanation of the history of Mount Ophel and its occupation, the building of new walls and fortifications, a royal residence, then a Temple in Solomon’s time. The descent into what is the western side of Kidron Valley (Silwan) gives an impressive view of the archaeological excavations still being processed, where the rebuilding under Nehemiah is clearly identified (Nehemiah 4: 10-18). The downward journey leading to Hezekiah’s tunnel takes you past Warren’s shaft, an important source to the Gihon Spring, where water could be drawn when the city was besieged. The tunnel itself, narrow and pitch black, takes you some 500 metres ever downwards to the Pool of Siloam, a walk often over knee deep in water: a headlamp is ideal – a mobile phone sufficed! It is a tight fit at times for an adult, so if you ever attempt it be prepared for bruised elbows and bruised egos! It is a long (and refreshing) walk wading through water deep underground, a fascinating retracing of ancient and subterranean steps. Truly, a moment of living, moving history.
Monday of the break saw a drive down to the Dead Sea, 423 m below sea level, and 10 degree’s C hotter than Jerusalem. The Dead Sea is an amazing phenomenon of nature, and still rapidly changing. It is now distinctly two seas, as evaporation is reducing the height of the sea by three feet per year. Yet careful irrigation of the region is producing wonderful results in the husbandry of crops. The sea itself is nine times more salty than the ocean, with 33% salinity, rendering it virtually impossible to sink. It can sting a bit. After a dip at the rustic Ein Gedi spa, I moved onward further south, past Qumran and Masada to the hotel dominated Ein Bokek, whose bays were ‘bath-house’ hot. The presence of civilised bars and recreating IDF female soldiers rendered this a good place to rest up for the afternoon. I think I was a little burned by the time I arrived back in Jerusalem for the evening, having spent the day in the mid-forties, in high humidity. It is a wonderful drive, with high peaks on one side of the road and the Sea and Jordan on the other. Interesting, that I stopped off at the Good Samaritan Inn on the way back up the Jericho Road for some water – it was shut!
The Tuesday of the break saw a journey north into Galilee and then west to Jaffa – Tel Aviv. Jaffa is an ancient port, occupied for much of its history by Arab peoples, clearly evidenced in the architecture and culture of the small town overlooking the Mediterranean. That is, until Napoleon trashed it then left in 1799. Knowing about the rain that was besetting Lancashire at the time of visiting there was a wee twinge of guilt in sitting in an open air restaurant, sipping my morning coffee, overlooking the ‘Med’ without a cloud in the sky. Nevertheless, after a long lunch I walked the surf from Jaffa (Joppa) to the far end of the Tel Aviv seaboard, marina to marina, noting a very different Israeli population to that of Jerusalem, before staying for an evening meal at ‘Dr Shakshuka’s’, whose famed culinary creation is celebrated in the land. A dish of sizzling spiced tomatoes and poached eggs, fortified with spiced
sausage, is legend hereabouts, and for 40 shekels (£6.80) a bargain! A last look at the Med, and a last cup of coffee, was a good end to a few days break, seeing more of the land, and the coastal regions.
The following Sunday was a very special one, not least in revisiting Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Memorial) with a Texan from Dallas, whose company has been a hoot. Ken is a former Stockbroker with Morgan Stanley who has flown out here at his own expense to have a three week experience ‘guiding’ in the Garden, and to be ‘vetted’ as to his suitability for a longer tour. I think he will ‘do’ (but vetting is very thorough.) We both cried over different exhibitions, which cannot be described, and split for lunch. I took a taxi down the valley into Ein Kerem (home of John the Baptist and scene of the Visitation) to meet our September tour guide Ronen Ben Moshe, to buy him lunch, which was a wonderful few hours catching up, and laying out a few plans for a Jerusalem City Tour for 2013 (watch this space!) The Ein Kerem Brasserie did us proud on a very hot day his choice, my tab.
Last week was marked by the arrival of our Auditor from England, Tony. Ken (Dallas) and I took him out for the Friday night Shabbat meal to my (so far) favourite eating place, the Armenian Tavern in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City. An underground tavern bedecked with ancient Armenian furniture displaying stunning jewellery and artefacts. We had the Shabbat ‘special’, a piping hot dish of ‘minute’ steak with sliced potatoes in a sauce made of
cream and hummus, which raised a few temperatures. The cavern has a coffee pot which must be six feet tall and wonderfully ornate, which, I confess, I coveted. The culinary weekend was continued with the ‘Saturday Night Dining Club’ meeting at the Pontifical Institute, for an outdoor meal overlooking the northern walls, and coffee on the rooftop terrace We stayed up there for some time, catching a breath of fresh air, to greet the Christian Sabbath. Not too sure about the Papal flag fluttering in the night breeze!
Another interesting use of a half day was an ‘ambassadorial’ visit on behalf of the Garden to the Brigham Young University, the Mormon Centre for Near Eastern Studies. Not surprisingly it is wonderfully designed, lavish in fact, with an unparalleled view down Mount Scopus
overlooking the Old City. My colleague Ken and I were warmly welcomed, given a cinema theatre to ourselves for the obligatory dvd, followed by an organ recital in the Dutch Concert Room, then a tour of the grounds. BYU is the largest private university in the world, with centres throughout, and takes students in for biblical studies and Israel experience visits. Lucky people if they do it from here. Many Mormons visit the Garden, with whom there is a good relationship, though clear differences in core beliefs, graciously accepted on both sides. I talked Ken and I into a lift close back to the Garden on a coach of Tel Aviv pensioners who were also there on a life-long learning visit, and managed to get them lost in East Jerusalem, though looking for The American Colony Hotel. Had he understood my left from my right in perfectly good Hebrew we would have been ok, but I give him credit for a u-turn of amazing dexterity in a barely made up road littered with cars ‘parked’ at every possible angle.
Another airport run to return the Auditor to his Luton-bound flight meant another free ride to Jaffa, and another Med-side meal, this time down on the ancient marina. As it was the Fourth of July, and as Ken from Dallas had cribbed a free ride and therefore a night out of Jerusalem, I let him pay!
A very full and satisfying 10 days or so, which is hurrying my time here to a close. I am sure that there are still one or two more adventures to be had and therefore tales to be told. Till then Shalom and ‘Leila Tov!’
Half time in Jerusalem
A later and longer blog testifies to how much I am cramming in to each day and night, and is but a snapshot of some of the impressions I have taken from the things I have seen and places visited, which are mounting, as is my image library.
Despite the absorbing work at the ‘Garden’ I managed to break out a few more times last week, having a few half days on my timetable, and anticipating a three day break next week with the use of a car. So I thought a driving lesson in Israel well overdue. I volunteered for an airport run to deliver an elderly couple who had been here for two months to Tel Aviv for their El Al flight to Australia. Tel Aviv is a completely different city to Jerusalem, and really belongs to the Mediterranean, whereas Jerusalem is clearly a Middle Eastern city. 40 miles separate them. The behaviour of traffic is all that seems to unite them. Driving on the right hand side in an automatic car is challenge enough, but Israeli drivers defy all sense at times. I have added two items to my ‘Israeli Highway Code’, first, when a car’s brake lights come on it nearly always means that it will change direction, not necessarily by slowing down, secondly, when the indicator comes on, anything else can happen!
Having delivered Alistair and Helen to Ben Gurion Airport, I calmed my nerves with a light meal on the seafront at Jaffa (Joppa), the ancient seaport overlooking modern Tel Aviv, watching the sun set in the west over the Mediterranean Sea, stunning! Another cloudless day. By the time I got back to Jerusalem the traffic would be as peaceful as I then felt.
Sunday brings a different routine here. The Garden is closed. To find no services to lead or sermons to preach is one thing, but to have made connection with a church fellowship that meets at 5pm leaves the whole day free. Now Saturday in Jerusalem is Shabbat (Sabbath) when not even the tram service runs, and all Jewish stores and markets close. It is a serious matter here, and is, of course, obeyed at various levels, one wouldn’t drive a car through Mea Shearim (a very ultra Orthodox district.) But Sunday is the first day of the week here, and all opens again, so a Sunday service at five makes sense to those who return to work (without breaking the ‘shabbat’.) There is a church for everybody in Jerusalem, and for every nationality, even an Anglican Cathedral (just round the corner), which I visited last week. But I have chosen one that is less accessible from home, and speaks for a very particular movement of Christian mission in Israel. The ‘King of Kings’ fellowship meets in the basement Pavillion of a large office block in West Jerusalem aside a tram stop on Jaffa Street.
The congregation average age is probably 30, they meet in their 100’s, and has a distinctive Messianic edge in its teaching and expectations. The congregation is a mixture of ‘Messianic Believers’ (converted Jews), visitors and ex-pats (please note, that very few non-Jewish people attain Israeli residency nowadays, other than the temporary visas.) The worship is a blend of Keswick Ministries (UK) and Hillsong (Aus), with many of the songs in Hebrew (which I can deal with), but to lively and moving music. The presentation and cadence is very American/Canadian, which takes a little getting used to (we don’t have satellite tv at home!), though I find that when Israelis speak English they always, do so in an American accent. Dance features a lot in the worship, quite out of my world, but much practiced in young Jewish and ‘believers’ gatherings, and a beautiful adornment to the honour of worship.
‘Believers’ …The word Christian is infrequently used here. At the Garden we employ equal numbers of Palestinian and Messianic ‘believers’, in addition to the ‘Western’ volunteers. Why believers? Remember the Crusades… Christians have not enjoyed a universal reputation of merit in Jerusalem, and those from the Jewish and Muslim traditions who find faith in Yeshua (Jesus), struggle to own the name Christian. Food for thought.
On Friday morning of last week I arranged a visit to the St John’s Eye Hospital in East Jerusalem, a medical institution aligned to The Order of St John that provides eye care in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Here, patients receive care regardless of race, religion or ability to pay. The hospital first opened in 1882 on Mount Zion until she found herself in ‘no-man’s land’ in 1948. The current building in the West Bank opened in 1960. The hospital group is today the only charitable provider of eye care in key Palestinian areas, where rates of blindness are 10 times higher than in the West, and much higher than the Jewish population. Social factors built upon the lack of opportunity and mobility of Palestinians and the whole issue of close-related marriages is increasing genetic illnesses rapidly, in what is termed a ‘pediatric’ nation (the average age of a Palestinian in Israel is 19!) More recently the work of the Group has expanded to open satellite centres, thereby taking expert eye care to the people of Gaza (west), Hebron (south) and Anabta (north), and initiating Mobile Outreach Clinics which take vital services to those unable to travel easily. Congenital blindness, cataracts and glaucoma affect people of all ages in these communities in extraordinary numbers.
The main Jerusalem hospital has a 49-bed capacity, though increasing, and is staffed by both foreign and local specialist surgeons, doctors, paramedics, overseas medical volunteers and nurses. There is a large, modern outpatients department which is the focus of the work here, specialising in retinal, corneal and pediatric services. Training local doctors and nurses is also an essential objective of the group and I was fortunate to be escorted by the director of nursing, as well as meet the CEO of the group who was ironing out a few thorny problems in their Gaza centre, in what is now a war zone once again. Training local people, is a key aim of the hospital group, investing in the region’s resources and supplies as well as personnel. The group counts both Jewish and Muslim individuals and institutions amongst its supporters, as indeed do organisations the world over who value humanitarian help. Their charity is well applied, and well known to many in Masonic circles. To have seen the product of this aid was an immense privilege. I wrote this part of the blog in the shade of the garden in the American Colony Hotel, the height of luxury hereabouts.
To sign off another week a few notes of tension. I managed to get on to the Temple Mount last Sunday morning, but not before another altercation with the IDF. You may be aware that to gain access to the Western Wall plaza checkpoints have to be negotiated (photographed) from four different directions, which does not improve the site aesthetically. To gain access to the Temple Mount is a little more difficult, as times of opening to non-Muslims are unpredictable, though marshalled by IDF soldiers. To sum up a confused issue of strange loyalty, to get on to the Temple Mount I had a Bible confiscated from by bag by an Israeli soldier at checkpoint, so as not to cause offence or defile a Muslim ‘holy’ place, where the Israeli soldiers are not permitted! Work that out. We do well to remember that the Temple Mount was once the site where Solomon’s Temple housed the Ark of the Covenant in which were placed the Law of God as revealed to Moses and forming an integral part of the ‘believers’ Bible! ‘Miffed’, but it never pays to argue. The soldier might only be 18 years old, but he is an 18 year old with an automatic rifle over his shoulder.
Trouble on the borders is creeping inland. Over 130 rockets were fired onto Israeli territory last week, mainly from Gaza, and a car was blown up on the Sinai border with Egypt, initiating a lot of retaliation and securing of borders. Gunfire is not uncommon in Jerusalem, and often not far away. Who knows what a new Egyptian Prime Minister will bring to the situation, as head of the Muslim Brotherhood. It highlights the isolation of Israel with aggressively Islamic governments over every border, and with her back to the sea.
Well, I suppose it makes it what this place is, at this point in time, which is fascinating.
I am now a little worried that my time here will not get me in front of the things I would now wish to see, but I’ll do my best.
Until the next blog and point of interest, Shalom.
Jerusalem is truly astonishing
Jerusalem is truly astonishing and often surprising, at so many levels, and three weeks here is not ‘rubbing the shine off the ball’.
I am keeping a careful diary of my own impressions and reactions to the many, many splendid encounters here, and the challenging ones too. Most things here, like everywhere else, happen for a reason – either cultural or historical. I am learning so much, and hopefully broadening and deepening my understanding of the many differences that exist between the peoples of this place. It is so different living here to visiting for a few days, and following a tour timetable.
I did get to Bethlehem this week, on the public (Arab) bus service. I was interested to learn that the replacement of the silver sixteen pointed star at the spot of Jesus’ birthplace in the Church of the Nativity was one the causes of the Crimean War. There are many tales of ‘territorial rights’ here, especially in the older churches, and not all are glorious.
My afternoon of the same day was spent in fashionable Ben Yehuda Street in West Jerusalem, where in 2001 a Hamas car bomb and two suicide bombers caused carnage. The catalogue of bombings leading up to this incident was the catalyst for the erection of the separation wall across the West Bank, which, for all its difficulties, politically and aesthetically, has all but stopped suicide bombers. However, others would say that Ariel Sharon’s walkabout on the Temple Mount in 2000 (with hundreds of Israeli riot Police) to reassert the right to these grounds for the Jews, during the failing peace talks in Oslo, sparked the touch-paper which caused riots in Jerusalem for days afterwards. It also closed the upper site of the Temple Mount to Jews to this day, and indeed the inside of the ‘Temple Mount’ Mosques to all but Muslims – and the Second Intifada. I am rather glad now that I was able to go into the Dome of the Rock during my first visit in 1980.
On my return from Bethlehem I was the only person not to be made to leave the bus and be searched at the Checkpoint, but I did have to show my passport to IDF. They proceeded to scour the bus for incendiaries – with only me on it! This happens to every bus offered by this service. Jews (even those with dual nationality) are forbidden to travel to Bethlehem. The ones who visit Rachel’s tomb are taken by armed transport, by special arrangement and dispensation (nearly always to pray for fertility or safe passage in pregnancy.)
On Sunday afternoon last I visited and had the tour of the Hurvah Synagogue (lit. the ‘ruined’ synagogue) in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, and yesterday the Great synagogue in West Jerusalem. Two completely contrasting places, and fulfilling different needs. The Hurvah Synagogue is a rebuilding of one destroyed by the Arabs during Ottoman rule, due to the debts incurred (to the Arab lenders) for the building. When the debts remained unpaid after 20 years it was raised and the Ashkenazy population expelled. The second synagogue on this site re-established the Ashkenazy presence in the City, and was rebuilt in 1864, paying off
all former debts, only to have it blown up in the last stand fighting in the War of Independence against Jordanian troops in 1948. Here the men, women and children of the Quarter surrendered to the Palestinian forces, having given up when the building was blown up. A famous archway marked the place for many years as a reminder of the Hurvah’s former splendour, now rebuilt to the former pattern and out of some of the original materials, completed only two years ago. The perimeter walkway around the dome has splendid views.
The Great Synagogue was only finished in 1982, a magnificent attempt at reconstructing the facade after the First Temple, serving the densely populated Jewish communities of West Jerusalem. It seats over 1,400 men and women, and hosts an education centre and a large collection of rare mezuzah. It is immense in size and has beautiful stained glass ‘in the round’. It is built in honour of the Holocaust victims and the fallen of the various arms of the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces.) The prime mover and benefactor was Isaac Wolfson, a British Jewish philanthropist, though the remaining benefaction came from many families and places.
There has been trouble at the Holocaust Museum ‘Yad Vashem’ this week, with extremist anti-Zionists making the news by daubing graffiti against the strength of the State and public sympathy aroused by the Holocaust, not in denial but seeing the State as something unnecessary and wrong, until Messiah comes.
On a brighter note, the Old City is this week in the grip of ‘light fever’, with the ‘Light in Jerusalem’ festival underway, and it is heart-warming to see Arab and Jew bringing their families to the same event, together with countless pilgrims and tourists, as a most natural social activity to do. However, they will not easily cross each other’s territory, even for fun (Jerusalem is ‘quartered’).
The Garden has been busy, especially with visitors from the USA. I have now guided people from all States other than Alaska, whose residents, I am sure, would appreciate this heat. My timetable gets a little more breathing space after this week, with more time to study for the various lectures and talks that will come out of this sabbatical.
Also, I have a three day break coming up, when I will travel north to Galilee, and perhaps for another dip in the Dead Sea, just to relax. Some ‘labour to refreshment’!
Regards and Shalom,
My first full week
Well, I am now looking back on my first full week guiding and ministering at the Garden Tomb, which has introduced me to a wide-ranging international string of visitors, tourists and pilgrims from every continent. Each day brings a new and unlooked for experience, in both the Garden and Jerusalem.
As the heat turns up for the summer we are experiencing fewer and fewer visits from western Europeans, but more from South America (Brazil!), East Asia (Indonesia!), India, African countries and the southern hemisphere. South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders prevail among the English speaking groups, as well as those from the southern states of the USA, who are most enthusiastic to be here.
My day finished off today with a group of nearly 60 Mormons (Latter Day Saints), whose keen interest and overt courtesy was typical of all American visitors I have encountered, and a wonderful tribute to the open-heartedness of the Garden. The occasional ‘celebrity’ also drops in. Franklin Graham, son of the evangelist Billy Graham, was here yesterday. In his own right he has the personal credit of initiating the ‘shoebox appeal’ known as Operation Christmas Child for orphan and disadvantaged children, in addition to many other Christian social projects worldwide. His visit was unassuming and unheralded, just another pilgrim. But he did ask a very straight question …
Many of the groups we guide have the assistance of an interpreter, working alongside which is a new experience. This is a truly international Garden, day and night, where one’s own English speaking voice can be the only one heard in a day’s work, apart from the other residents and staff here (for many of whom English is a second language.)
My planned visit to Bethlehem on my day off last Friday was aborted early in the day. The nearby bus station, offering routes primarily for Palestinian nationals (to Palestinian occupied areas), was the focus of a political demonstration to raise awareness of the detainees in the city prison, and where there are still hunger strikers.
The noisy but peaceful demonstration was ‘observed’ by the IDF from a distance, two mounted Police and a helicopter. Horses and helicopters are not a combination I associate with home. I decided instead to travel out to west Jerusalem by the new tram system, which had just opened during my visit last September.
Destination – Mount Herzl – to revisit the Holocaust Memorial known as Yad Vashem. This is a truly astonishing experience and repays frequent visits. Stunning and surprising architectural lines house a most moving and detailed series of exhibitions and remembrance halls. The Children’s Memorial is both disarming and spectacular, and provides an atmosphere beyond description. There is a good website at http://www.yadvashem.org/ which has many helpful galleries to view online. I will return many times before I leave here.
The many shorter visits across the road into the Old City, to get daily shopping of fresh produce from local markets (soukhs) has given me a good grasp of the many alleyways and routes within the city walls.
Early one evening I paid my respects at the grave of Oscar Schindler in the Catholic Cemetery on Mt Zion, whose much neglected grave rather surprised and disappointed me. His employment and protection of Jews during the Third Reich and Second World War saved thousands of lives from certain extinction. It is fair to report that his grave is not in the keeping of the Jewish population, who are frequent visitors there.
The Old City has many treasures, on virtually every street and corner, and they become familiar sights and landmarks throughout the week. The distinctions between the four cultural and religious quarters of the city are part of the charm of drifting through this remarkable city on any day.
Sunday morning was spent at the oldest Protestant church in the Middle East, Christ Church in Jerusalem, a centre of the CMJ organisation (now ‘Churches Ministry Among Jewish People’), which, whilst Anglican, had more of a US flavour than the C of E. The English speaking Kenyan liturgy was of a familiar pattern with refreshing differences, and much appreciated by the Kenyan’s visiting on the day, which helped to fill the church to capacity.
Certain unfamiliar things are now going by almost unnoticed: armed Israeli soldiers (IDF), pestering Arab bazaar sellers, beggars, barbed wire, the Muezzin from nearby minarets, the ever-present sun, the cost of living (a downside), fruit and vegetables of the highest and freshest quality (the upside), and the continual need for fluids. And Skype!
Maybe this next Friday I’ll get out of Jerusalem and over the checkpoint into Bethlehem. If not, there is much else to do. A daily advancement in the perfecting of mint tea and Arabic coffee is coming along, which I am determined to import back to St Saviour’s Vicarage.
Till the next blog of news, Shalom.
The first few days…
Well, two days in Jerusalem, two hot days, and it is the Jewish feast of Shavuot, Pentecost, 50 days from Easter / Passover – so a holiday for the majority race here. Sunday morning.
The Garden Tomb is closed on Sundays: no pilgrims, no tourists, no 6 am sweeping of paths and washing of benches. Which I wondered unnecessary when I first saw the rotas, but judging from the sheer numbers of people who pass through here each day, I can now see why every part of the garden is cleaned over every day – which we volunteers and guides do. This is one of the most lush in Jerusalem, having its own store of water by way of a 1,000,000 litre cistern, dating from the time of Roman occupation. Water is a luxury in Israel, and to be able to use it watering trees, shrubs and plants seems excessive. The results provides a beautiful oasis in an otherwise unimpressive disctrict.
Jerusalem is a most complex place, whose history – ancient and modern – hangs around every street corner and building. Diverse customs and communities live in uneasy tension, with the bubble of trouble just waiting to burst with the least provocation. We are situated ’a stone’s throw’ just outside of the Damascus Gate on the northern wall of the Old City, where the major thoroughfares west to Jaffa and north to Damascus (Syria) collide in a number of bus stations: that is, Palestinian (Arab) bus stations. This crossroads pointing away from the city marks an ancient 1st century Jewish stoning ground, Skull Hill, adjacent to which was found a Garden Tomb, an ancient wine press and water cistern ”outside the city wall”.
A predominantly Arab community quickly gives was to Meah Shearim, one of the largest communities of the most ‘ultra-orthodox’ Jewish families where the letter of the law is upheld in extraordinary observance. The ‘Haredim’ pass through this Arab district into the Old City to visit their share of the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, which is interesting to watch. Our little lane to the Garden Tomb off the Nablus Road benefits from a police presence of two armoured vehicles most evenings, which is more reassuring than intimidating. Trouble broke out here and elsewhere on Jerusalem Day, a week or so ago, which is no less than people expect. That said, Jerusalem is safe, so long as one observes the many courtesies and customs required in each sector. It is part of the rich experience to know and understand what each community expects, and why.
So a Sunday off, a rare thing. A few days into a different range of cultures and climate is making the prospect of a sabbatical something to embrace. I begin my work here in earnest tomorrow, Monday, before another day off on Friday. I hope to go out of Jerusalem, south to Bethlehem, by bus, and see the impact of the security wall and ‘checkpoint control’ leading to and from a Palestinian held area.
Of course, as well as Jesus, King David was born there, and Rachel was buried there, and lots of politics hits the streets, which is impossible to shelter from. I had my own brush with Israeli security coming in through Passport control, being detained and my passport confiscated for a short while, until I convinced them I was friend not foe. A small inconvenience to pay, to people whose unenviable task it is to sift out those who would do this great land great harm!
To some, divisive politics spoil this land and the imagination. But as they say here in many languages, “’twas ever thus!” Who knows what Obama’s ‘repartition’ tool will bring, and perhaps soon? One thing is for certain, it will not be universally welcomed. I met my good friend Ronan yesterday in the Garden, our Jewish tour guide from last September, who reminded me of one vital fact to keep in mind, always and everywhere: Jews will always fight over three things if nothing else; politics, religion and hummus! This land, ‘ha aretz’, is a difficult one not to love quickly, and then comes the great task as to unravelling the reasons why.
Hopefully, I’ll start with her people.
Until the next time, with my best wishes.
Graham is taking a well-earned sabbatical
The Provincial Grand Chaplain, Rev Graham Halsall, is taking a well-earned three-month sabbatical break from parish work in Bamber Bridge, most of which time is to be spent in Jerusalem ministering as a volunteer at the Garden Tomb.
The Garden Tomb is one of the most visited ‘holy places’ in the world, and indeed Jerusalem, often receiving thousands of visitors per day, many of whom come to have services, tours and talks provided for them, which will form the core of Graham’s work there.
The Garden Tomb is adjacent to the site that is commonly claimed to be Golgotha (Calvary), as mentioned in the gospel accounts, and the tomb in the garden one of the places in antiquity which has been thought to have housed the body of one Jesus of Nazareeth. If so, it would be the site of his resurrection, giving it a special place in the Christian mind and an obvious place of devotion.
Irrespective, it is a haven of peace, just outside the city walls, where people’s imaginations can be given space away from the tourist track, much of which is populated by shrines and church buildings, which for many people has cluttered the Holy Land.
The focus of the ministry is not to make claims about the site, but about what it bears witness to.
Graham said: “The early summer is the hottest part of the year, which will present some challenges no doubt. To have the privilege of meeting pilgrims and tourists from all over the world is something greatly to be looked forward to, and to have time off to explore one of the most fascinating cities and land without the pressure of tourist itineraries.”
Graham says he is looking forward to giving a weekly update, for those visitors to the website who are interested in following the eight week ‘tour of duty’, beginning on the Thursday after Provincial Grand Lodge.
Visit www.gardentomb.org to find out more about the Garden Tomb.
Rev Graham Halsall
Provincial Grand Chaplain