SFO to ATL to TLV to Jerusalem

Posted: December 1, 2006 in Israel, jerusalem

Today I fly. I woke up before the alarm went off and just laid there with mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation. Whenever I fly far distances I always have this temporary feeling of trepidation, right before I go. It’s a mixed bag of feelings…fear of being far from home where no one knows me, fear of being lost, and add to that me missing my wife before I’m even gone. A part of me suddenly doesn’t want to go. But it will subside. After a quick breakfast, I hugged my dog, and we went to the airport. After a long series of hugs and kisses, I told my wife to hold down the fort and pray for me while I’m away. I stood and watched as she drove away….and my heart hurt.

The flights were long and tiresome. The food was terrible, as expected, and they played Die Hard 4 times in a row. It was , however interesting to see how many Spanish speakers were on my flight from Atlanta to Tel Aviv. In fact I sat next to an older couple who were originally from Chile who had transplanted themselves to Israel 36 years ago. We conversed in Spanish and she was telling me about their family, how they came to move from Chile and the social political climate there and in Israel. She was a very sweet old lady.

Israeli customs found it unusual for an American to be traveling solo to Jerusalem and asked me a lot of questions about where I was going, where I was staying and who I was going to be with. I told them I was meeting a friend here in the airport and then where we were going. She already knew who I was meeting and where. She said Rafael was waiting for me at the bookstore. It was a little disconcerting. I found Rafa and we hoped on a Sherut and drove up to Jerusalem. It was night time. We got dropped off at the American Colony Hotel and caught an Arab taxi to go into the old city Muslim quarter where Ecce Homo is. Taha our cab driver spoke English well and was very polite. I had been speaking to him with a Mexican accent, thinking it would be safer for us, but I don’t think I needed to do that in the end.

Dome of the RockWe arrived at Ecce homo and were admitted. The receptionist was a guy named Nabil who was talking to an older gentleman. The older gentleman asked where we were from and we said the SF Bay Area California. He told me he used to live in San Jose. Surprised, I told him that I live there and he said he used to own the Dunkin Donuts on Union and Camden. I knew exactly where that was and told him the area I live in. He introduced himself as Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari and he is Sheikh of the Uzbeks here in Jerusalem. He invited us to come over for tea when ever we wanted. We thanked him and went off to our room to drop our stuff off.

Before heading out for a bite we hit the rooftop. Ecce Homo is a multilevel complex with different rooftop levels perfect for city observation. They even have a roof top garden. The Jerusalem streets are narrow and often you can cross over to the next building via archways. As I stepped out onto the roof, I was greeted by the beautifully lit Dome of the Rock, just a stones throw away. Also in view were the Al Aqsa Mosque, its surrounding towers, and a clear view of the many churches and old city buildings. It was a beautiful sight. After a few snapshots we wandered up and out of the Damascus Gate and grabbed some Falafel, Chicken and Rice.

A few days before departing, I was looking on a site called VirtualTourist.com and saw a post by a guy from the US who was coming out here the day before we were to. He and his buddy were coming to Jerusalem, so I posted that we were too and to let me know if he found any good deals. He posted back that he would and that we should meet up for a beer. Here’s the funny part. While Rafa and I were eating at this restaurant, these two Americans come in and order too. I had a feeling one of them was the same guy from the website so I asked them where they were from and their names. Turns out it was the same guy. They were from Wisconsin and Craig was the guy I spoke to. Luke his buddy, is a pastor in their church. We ended up eating with them.

After dinner we all went to the Wailing Wall. It was about 11PM but the wall was still bustling with movement of the Hassids swaying in prayer, chanting and singing. I had to put on a cardboard yarmulke in order to approach the wall (you cant go without your head covered). The wall was smooth to touch and had notes of prayer stuffed in every crack and crevice. There was a men’s and women’s section, and IDF guards all over. Some of the guards were praying as well. There was one senior Hassid in shiny white who was the collector of the wall tax or something. He reminded me of Santa Claus. Long whiter beard and belly. He collected only from Jews. We stopped into the library adjacent to the wall and watched a rabbi at a table surrounded by young Hassid listening and discussing things in Hebrew. This wall is the most sacred place in Judaism, and all that’s left of the temple. We then left and went back to the convent. We were sleepy.

View today’s photos

Video from the Wailing Wall

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