Archive for the ‘jerusalem’ Category

It’s been almost a week since I’ve been home and I’ve given myself a little time to let it all sink in and reflect upon my experience. There is no place in the world like Jerusalem, for better or for worse. It’s a city of paradoxes, a city of collided ideologies, a city in which there exists a fragile balance between these ideologies. I have seen with my own eyes how this city exists, and on a smaller level, how the nation of Israel exists. I have seen with my own eyes the extent of interaction and also the lack of interaction among these varying ideologies. There is an unspoken uneasiness in the city, and it can spill over into something much bigger at any given time.

I came to Israel firstly because I felt an urge, or a call, to come and build upon my faith. To see the where and the how can sometimes help with the why. I didn’t come to “find God” but I did come to experience God in a way I hadn’t before. And experience God I did,  in my talks to monks, cab drivers, Beduins, and more personally in my time alone by the Sea of Galilee. Cliche as it may seem I did have a spiritual experience that I will carry with me forever and the memories of who and what I encountered will also remain, just as the image of the vine growing in the desert will. 

I also came because I am looking for the common ground. I consider myself something of a universalist in that I believe God is for everyone, race or creed aside, and that God is much larger than the boxes we put him in called religion. I am a follower and believer in Christ, yet I won’t subscribe to the idea that only those who are Christian in this life will have the blessings of God in the end. I have seen the spirit of God in others enough to know that God is universal, and just as a parent who loves their child will do anything to take care of and bless their child, I believe God in his infinite wisdom and love has a similar plan for us. I believe that for those that seek God, God will find them and meet them where they are at. So I sleep easy at night knowing things are in much more capable hands than mine. 

Another reason I came to Israel was to see with my own eyes the true state of affairs between my Jewish and Muslim brothers. For a long time now I have had the suspicion that the political and social problem between them was not humanly reparable, that the hatred that goes back thousands of years could not be fixed by diplomacy or political processes. I am convinced now more than ever that this is the case. I do not believe the problem can be fixed by human means. The hatred is too old and too ingrained and neither side is really willing to compromise. In the end, only God in God’s timing will be the solution, and unfortunately, I think that things will get much worse before that happens.  

The ironic thing in all of this is that the 3 of us, Jew, Christian, and Muslim, are all waiting for the same thing. Christians are looking for the return of Christ, which I also see as what the Jews are waiting for, the arrival of Meshiach (Messiah). Muslims are also looking for the return of Christ in not too disimilar ways the Christians are. What I see happening in the end is the 3 separate paths converging into one, uniting them all.    

In the end my experience there has opened my eyes in both spiritual and political ways. There is good to be seen there, but there is also alot of bad. I have seen the open and giving spirit of Christ in people and I have seen the exclusive, self-righteous, legalistic Pharisaical spirit as well, and have been on the receiving end of both. As I stood on the Mt. of Olives and looked down on the city of 3 colliding ideologies, where a struggle for primacy is still going on today, the only words that come to mind are the words Christ spoke long ago in the temple, the place where the Dome of the Rock now stands:

Matthew 23:37-39
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”


Goodbye Israel

Posted: December 16, 2006 in christianity, Israel, jerusalem

I woke up early because it was FREEZING and the wind was howling. It was Saturday and Rafa and I were leaving that evening. I looked over at Rafa’s bunk and I was not too surprised to find it the way he left it the day before. I got up, showered and then went walking down to the beach seeing what I could find.

I had a hot dog for breakfast. I took a few photos and that’s it. Most of the stores were still closed so I just wandered around until I got a text message from Rafa about meeting up at 1PM. We finally met up and had lunch on the beach. We saw a crafts flea market and were looking around. Some old guy was selling his old stuff and he had personalized signed photos of Ella Fitzgerald and Mahalia Jackson. I bargained with him and got them both for 70 bucks! Now I have something to take to the Antiques Roadshow! We spent the day roaming around and talking. Evening was approaching and on the advice of everyone I spoke to I said we should get to the airport 3-4 hours early, becasue of security checks.

Not to my suprise Rafa said he was going to stay until after Christmas so he could get to know Zohar more and maybe go to Egypt. A part of me was jealous about Egypt, but for me, it’s time to go home to my wife. Egypt will be there next time. It’s been waiting thousands of years for me already. I could tell Zohar was happy about and I was happy for him. Maybe she’ll be Mrs. Rafa someday. She is a sweet girl and they clicked really well. So about 6 PM I gave them both a hug and told him to be careful, god bless and take care! I’m terrible with goodbyes and I always get sad, if not a little teary..why? I don’t know. So it was with a little sadness that I jumped into the cab and rode to the airport in silence, just taking in my last glimpses of Israel.

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Of Camels and Buses

Posted: December 14, 2006 in christianity, Israel, jerusalem, petra

I woke up just before sunrise to Rafa getting up. He asked me if I wanted to see the sun come up and I said hell no it’s too warm in my bed. He got up and left and after a few minutes I couldn’t fall back to sleep so I got up and went out to see the sunrise as well. It was beautiful as expected, and the light felt good on the skin.

The camels were waiting for us so after a breakfast of fruit, pita and jam, we mounted the camels, waved goodbye to everyone at camp and began the 12K trek back to Wadi Rum. Camel riding is like horse riding except that your’e alot higher and the up down rhythm is more pronounced on a camel. We trudged along and the camels tried to stop and eat everytime they saw a bush but their keeper kept moving them along. The morning was warm but then we hit a cross current of wind and it was a chilly wind. It didn’t help when the camels walked into the shadow of the mountain next to us either, but we got back into sun and warmth a few minutes afterward.

After about 2 hours of riding the camels the town materialized in the distance and we arrived finally after passing a few goat herds and other camels. We met at Mohammeds house again and after some tea and a little computer help with his email, he gave us both a big hearty hug, and invited us to come again. Our cab back to the border was ready and we jumped in and were on our way back to the Aqaba border crossing station.

Back on the Israeli side Rafa got questioned alot (as usual) by their security but we got through and caught a cab to the bus station. After just an hour or so of being back in Israel I mentioned to Rafa that I already felt a difference in the people and that I missed the warmth and open heartedness of the Beduins. He said he noticed the same thing. Our bus finally arrived and we got on.

What happened next on the bus was something that caused alot of emotion in me and I spent alot of time thinking about the situation and reminding myself that I didn’t know the exact details of what happened so it may not actually be how I perceived it. However it looked extremely ugly to me and made my stomach churn. I will attempt to tell it as objectively as I can.

As we were pulling away this young Orthodox and his wife ran up and got on the bus almost missing it. They got on the bus and were looking for seats. The bus from Eilat to Jerusalem had assigned seating so we had no choice where we sat. The front of the bus was mostly filled. Each 2 seat row had at least one person in it. There were a couple of rows where the aisle seats were both empty, which would have allowed a couple to sit together, just across the aisle from each other. The couple scanned the seats then went to a pair of seats that were filled by 2 darker men, presumably Arab. These were the only 2 Arabs in the front of the bus, the rest were light skinned and many wearing yarmulkes. The Bus was already down the road five minutes and the couple kept standing next to the Arabs, talking to them. I saw the Arabs shake their heads a number of times, and then I saw some other passengers say a few things to them until they finally got up, and one came to the back of the bus the other sat in another empty seat. The look on his face was frustrated embarrassment. As he sat down some of the other guys in the front of the bus kept looking back at him giving him hard stares like he wanted to fight him, which made me think to myself that if they were such gentlemen, why didn’t they offer their seats up themselves! Now I don’t know the details of what happened, whether the Arabs were in the wrong seats or whether the Orthodox just picked their seats because they were Arabs or just random picking, but it felt all wrong and made me mad. It made me think of the USA circa 40 years ago. For a long time I sat and stewed over it and when the bus stopped for a 15 minute break, I approached the Arab guy to try and get his view, since he was obviously the minority in the situation. I asked him if he knew English and he shook his head and walked away. I can understand why he lied. I should have asked the Orthodox their side but didn’t. We finally got back to Jerusalem and I was happy to be off the bus.

We booked a night at the Hebron Hostel in old city and Rafa met these two British girls named Ros and Lottie who offered us a ride to Tel Aviv the next day. We had dinner with them and then called it a night. I was glad to be back and happy to be able to shower again.

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Video of us on camels

Shadows of the camels

Rafa writing on camelback

Passing camels

We got up early, ate, and hopped in Josh’s car. He had offered to drive us to the border late last night and we took him up on his offer. He took us 10 minutes to the border between Israel and Jordan. We shook his hand and headed for the security checkpoint. After making it through the Israeli side we walked the 1/2 mile of no man’s land between the two border checks and did the whole 9 yards again on the Jordan side. The Jordanian border guards were very welcoming. Once through the station we had to catch a taxi to Petra, which is about 2 hours from the border. It cost us 35 JD or about 45USD.

The Jordanian desert and mountains are spectacular: vast, expansive desert, colorful layers of strata, and sky blue and pristine clear. We slowly started ascending into the mountain range and at one point the cabbie pulls over to let us see miles and miles of the Arabah desert. After more winding desert mountain road, we arrive at Wadi Musa, the town next to Petra. The cabbie leaves us at the Petra Gate Hostel, which was recommended to us by the folks at the Shelter Hostel. The place aint the ritz but it’s 10 bucks a day and what it doesn’t have in luxury, it makes up for in service and friendliness. Nasser is the owner and, like the other Jordanians we’ve encountered so far, he is very warm and welcoming. We get our room and Nasser has two packed lunches ready for us to take down to Petra. We walk to 15 minutes to get there, pay the entrance fee, then for the next 8 hours are consecutively awed by what we see.

There are no words I can use to adequately describe the experience of being at Petra. No amount of photos or video can truly do it justice or capture it completely. You just have to see it for yourself. However if you can picture being at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, picture finding a 10 feet wide crevice that goes on for about a half mile or so, then it opens up into another large canyon with Greco-Roman temples carved into the rock walls of the canyon. Imagine about 2 miles of this architecture in the rocks, then you can imagine what Petra is like.

I don’t remember the exact dates or details but Petra was established by the Nabateans before Christ, and was conquered finally by the Romans. The area is littered with caves that are to this day inhabited by beduins. The beduins work the area during the day and live in the caves by night. They sell items to the tourists such as food, animal rides through the canyon and local arts and crafts. We bought kuffirs (Arab head wraps) from some and they invited us to tea, then invited us to their village.

At one point Rafa and I hiked up a hill side and at the top was an old Beduin lady and a young one. They were selling old Roman coins found after the rain washes them out. The older lady asked where we were from and I said Mexico and she responded that she had an email friend from Mexico. Huh? Beduins have email? Ok. I guess they keep up with the times too.

We hiked back down and continued to be amazed at every turn. Our last stop in the city was the monastery which was high above the rest of the city on a mountain peak that also had a jet of rock that was called the sacrifice view, apparently where they held sacrifices above the view of the expanse of the Arabah desert, and part of the Dead Sea. The sun was setting now so we had to hurry back down the mountain. By the time we hit the bottom it was dark and we were the last tourists in the park. We saw fires in the mountain caves in the hills; Beduins.

We finally got back to the hostel just in time for Jordanian style dinner. There was an American father and daughter there who were headed to the same place we were the next day, Wadi Rum, so we said we’d share a cab. They were going to stay in Wadi Rum for 2 nights, and Nasser pulled us aside and said he’d call his friend who was a tour guide in Wadi Rum and get a good deal for a tour and night’s stay. We jumped on it and set it up.

After dinner Rafa got Nasser to play his Ut, which is a pear shaped Arabic stringed instrument, something like a guitar. He then got me to play the tabla drum while Nasser played the Ut. We played for a while then I decided to call it a night. My feet were sore from the days walking and climbing and I wanted to be rested up for the next day. Today was awesome. I saw probably the most amazing things I’d ever seen.

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Video on the way to Petra

Wadi Musa outside of Petra

Inside Petra 1

Walk Through to First Temple

Inside First Temple

Inside Petra 2

Inside Petra 3

Inside Petra 4

Inside Petra 5

Inside Petra 6

Monastery at top of Petra

Sacrifice View

Return to Ein Gedi

Posted: December 11, 2006 in Israel, jerusalem

We tried to get up early to catch the bus to Eilat, but basically missed it by a mere few minutes, so we decided to catch the next bus to Ein Gedi, spend the day there, then catch the last bus to Eilat and find a place to stay for the night. Rafa really wanted to go back to Ein Gedi and I wasn’t too jazzed about going, since I didn’t think there was much to do there, but I’m glad we did.

The plan was to go swimming in the Dead Sea, then go check out Nahal David or David’s Spring. This is the spring that David hid from Saul in when Saul was trying to kill him. We caught the bus and after about an hour or so, were back in the Dead Sea region. I hit the button for the driver to stop at the first Ein Gedi stop and as he did so I got up and looked back to make sure I didn’t forget anything. I guess I took too much time in turning my head because the driver hit the gas and took off, causing me to fall back into my seat. Rafa and I looked at each other like “What the hell?”. The driver then blew through the next stop and then finally stopped at the third one. I was annoyed and so was Rafa.

We got off the bus to find ourselves at some Dead Sea spa with lots of rich old snooty people that looked through us instead of at us. They were all getting onto a tour bus and Rafa wanted to ask the driver if they were going back towards the beach, but before he could get a single word out the driver waved him off. I was pissed already and didn’t want to ask for a ride and was already heading down the road for the 2 mile walk. Rafa then wanted to hitchhike but I said “No way, I don’t want a ride from these snooty bastards. Eff them, I’ll walk”. It was hot but I didn’t care. We walked along the desert highway and finally reached the beach.

We got changed and went down shoreside. It was rocky, not sandy, and hurt when you walked on it. What was worse though was when you stepped into the water and wade in to about knee high depth, the water being so dense actually moves you more so than normal water, so you are thrown off balance and stepping on sharp rocks trying to regain it. Being that the water is 33% mineral and salt it’s thicker than normal water, in fact it feels like baby oil. And the ripples don’t look like normal ripples, they look kind of alien or like computer generated. When you finally get about waist deep, you start to float and either you fall over and struggle trying to adjust to this new experience or you just lay back and roll with it. Because the water is so dense you literally float at or close to the surface, like a piece of wood or paper. You can lay flat and stiff as a board and you will still float. There is, however, a drawback to swimming in this water. If you have a cut or a rash anywhere on your body, you’re literally putting salt in your wound so it stings like a mother! Additionally you can drink the water or let it get in your eyes because it will burn your eyes and throat and possibly make you wretch. However it is pretty neat to float so buoyantly. I joked to Rafa that being the lifeguard here must be the most boring job ever, being that it seems impossible to drown here.

When we were done with the beach we rinsed off and made our way up to Nahal David. The only sign of a spring in the middle of this desert mountain range are a few palm trees by the road. As we walked up to the entrance we saw an Ibex a mere 40 or 50 feet from us. An Ibex is like a mountain goat with these long horns that arc back towards it’s back. It’s a majestic animal to see. We pay the park entrance fee and start the hike up the hill. As we go up the trail we notice in the trees some kind of desert rodent about the size of a cat. Kind of like a big fat squirrel without the tail. They are in the trees and on the ground. There’s a whole bunch of them scurrying around. As we continue to follow the path up the side of hte mountain, we turn a corner past a boulder and to our surprise find a pool of turquoise water being fed by a small waterfall, surrounded by lush green plants, in stark contrast to the dry desert terrain around it. we continue down the path and find more pools with waterfalls. We continue on up the path and find a larger pool with a 10 foot waterfall above it. We climb down off the path and go in the water. We had to climb down past this boulder that was partially concealing it, and the bottom of the boulder was either cut or eroded so as to allow one to duck down and pass underneath it and get to the pool. The water was cool and refreshing, feeling great on the skin. The waterfall felt great too. Here and at Ein Gedi beach were the only places I exposed my tattoos my whole trip, and I noticed a few looks from people at the beach.

While in the pool we noticed an Ibex sitting in the sahde of a boulder not 20 feet away. After getting dried off I climbed up the other side of the boulder to try and get good photo of it. I managed to get pretty close but I did hold back so as to not cause the animal to charge. We continued up the hill finidng more small falls until we came out into a larger crevice cut by a waterfall about 50-60 feet high. It’s cascading water fell into a large pool at the bottom where we were and what was really interesting was that 2/3rd’s the way up there was a large cave partially obscured by the falling water. I only noticed it because of the angle the sun was hitting it.

This spring was like a hidden oasis out here. You have no clue this is here from the highway below. We enjoyed the beauty of our surroundings a little longer and began the trek back down to catch the last bus Eilat. Eilat is still a few hours south so it’s not until about 10PM that we arrive.

The second we step off the bus we are assaulted by people with rooms to rent and this one crazy lady fully gets in our faces insistent we go to her house, causing a scene and ends up freaking Rafa out. We just jumped into a taxi to get away from her, and told the cabbie we wanted to go to the border to cross into Jordan. Unfortunately the border is closed already so we find the Shelter Hostel. The Shelter Hostel is cool in that it’s run by a Christian family and is open to travellers, pilgrims and I believe they give the homeless a place to sleep as well, and it’s not affiliated with any organization or church. It’s just a family doing what they feel God has called them to do.

There we met a guy from Southern California named Josh who has been in Israel for a month or so, basically doing the extended version of what we are doing. After talking to him and to some of the other guests and the family that runs the hostel I got this unusual feeling that I’ll attempt to put into words. Here we were, two Christian “Pilgrims” in the southern tip of Israel between Egypt and Jordan, where although our faith was born in this land, it is a great minority, particularly in the places not affiliated with the faith. We just so happen to stumble upon a place for travellers like us and meet other travellers doing the same thing we are doing, doing a spiritual journey. It just made me think that this is how it could have been in the old days, like the first century when the faith was spreading by people travelling, word of mouth etc., and it makes you feel like your’e a part of something much bigger than yourself. The image that keeps coming to mind is a grapevine growing slowly in the desert.

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Video of Rafa in the Dead Sea

Video of Nahal David by the Dead Sea

A Day Off….Sort Of.

Posted: December 9, 2006 in islam, Israel, jerusalem

Saturday is a day of rest for the Jews and so it was kind of for us as well, being that travel was shut down, so we just kind of hung arod  town. I snacked in the morning and discovered this awesome Arabic delight. It was a cheese pastry soaked in sweet syrup. It was SOOOO good. and SOOOO rich! On Zohar’s recommendation we went to a suburb of Jerusalem called En Kerem. It’s a beautiful hillside town tucked away in a green corner of a mountain. It reminded me alot of the old European towns. Beautiful, tranquil, with old euro style architecture. Apparently Mary the mother of Christ lived in this area as well and so on the hillside there lies the Church of the Annunciation, where it is said that the Angel Gabriel gave her the good news. The church is the most beautiful Marian church I have ever seen, replete with an enormous portrait of Mary on the back wall of the church. I really love Mary themed religious art. Like most Mexicans, I have a special place for her in my heart, just maybe not in the same way they do. Sundown was coming on so we thought we’d catch a movie. I was tired actually but consented to Rafa’s idea anyway.

Our cabbie was an Arab who, on the way, asked us point blank if we believed Jesus was going to come back. We said yes and the said he did too and that he hoped he could live to see the day when he returns. I asked him if he was a Christian and he said no, that he was a Muslim, and that Muslims believe that Jesus will return to bring peace as well. I think that’s something alot of people don’t know about Muslims, that they believe Christ will return too. We ended up having a nice chat with the cabbie about religion, David Copperfield, and ghosts then he left us at the cinema. Kind of funny how sometimes the lines of our perceptions and prejudices get blurred….and how you never know where you will find another believer. Which reminds me, while we were seated at breakfast at the sidewalk cafe this morning, a young Muslim man came up to us and asked if he could give us some literature. We said yes and he asked us if we knew about Islam and I replied yes, that my brother has been Muslim for over 20 years. We spoke briefly but I definitely sensed an earnest spirit and desire to see and experience God in life. It made me glad for him and I even felt a sense of brotherhood with him, even though we are not of the same race or religion. I felt the same kinship I feel when I meet anyone who is looking to grow in God. It was a positive experience.

So anyways, back to the movie. The cinema was closed because shabbat wasn’t over so Rafa ends up finding out that the mall is going to open at sundown and that they have a theater too. We catch a bus for Jerusalem Mall. This was the worst mistake of the trip.

I don’t know if it was a special day or what, but it seemed like the whole city was there. All the stores were selling off of tables in the mall aisles and it was jam packed with people. I mean JAM PACKED. And it seemed like everyone was rude, pushing and pulling. We still had like 2 hours to kill before the movies and I was dead tired so I went to sleep in the food court surrounded by hyper 14 years olds. It was a nightmare. When we finally got into the movie, the screen was slightly larger than my TV, the sound was horrible and the seats were crappy. We also didn’t know that they assigned seats so we got kicked out of our chairs. Then I slept through a terrible movie. How can a Morgan Freeman/John Cusack movie be bad? but it was. I was so happy to finally get out and back on the bus going back to my bed at the convent. On the way I called my wife and told her I loved and missed her then got to my bed and slept like the dead.  

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Into the West Bank

Posted: December 8, 2006 in islam, Israel, jerusalem

I had a strange dream last night. I was at my old Catholic high school and they had installed what appeared to be giant iron doors in place of the old regular ones. When I touched the doors they seemed to turn to putty and I ended up turning them into hanging ribbons of putty. When people at the school saw it they were up in arms about it so I went to the principals office and told them I’d buy them new doors. Then I woke up. weird.

Today we went to Bethlehem, and becasue it lies in the West Bank and is under the Palestinian Authority, we had to take an Arab bus. Israel has two bus systems, one Arab and one Jewish. After a quick bite to eat Rafa, myself an Brenda the Canadian head over to the Arab bus station and pay the 3 and half shekels for the trip.

After a few minutes of driving I see a really tall concrete wall reaching about 40 feet into the air and an even taller security tower. I thought it was an IDF base. It was Bethlehem. The bus let’s us off and we have to go through this security fence and show ID’s and the whole 9 yards till we finally get through the wall. It’s a little disconcerting when you see a wall erected through the middle of a street and buildings. On the inside, the wall is covered in graffiti and stenciling. It’s mostly politically oriented. When we got through the checkpoint were are immediately hit up by cabbies offering tours etc., but I just kept walking, not knowing where I was going, but not wanting the barrage of people. One cabbie was persistent however, in letting me know that the Church of the Nativity was too far to walk to and he showed us on a map where we were in relation to it. He was right, so we agreed to hire him.

His cab was quite nice. A Benz wagon. He introduced himself as Walid. Along the way, he pointed out various sites of interest and I began to ask him about the wall. He said it has been there since 2002, and it’s there because the Islamists and Hamas caused too many problems for Israel. Apparently the IDF still does raids on places there as well and will call in a curfew an hour before the raid. He also told me that there were many Arab Christians in Palestine and that they have always co-existed peacefully with the Muslims.

After some more small talk we arrive at Manger Square and duck into the Church of the Nativity. This is the oldest church in Israel and you can tell. It has the remains of these beautifully ornate mosaics depicting angels and people. The support columns in the church were some sort of reddish-brown marbel or granite and show their age with very old carvings of crosses and script. I take my photos and then leave.

Outside I saw a vendor selling the traditional Arab head dress. I buy one since I’ll be heading out into the desert again in a few days time. The street vendors here are extremely pushy and demanding, and if you don’t know how to deal with it, you’ll find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. That’s what happened to Brenda. She had accepted a “gift” from one of the vendors and was being pressured into buying 5 other things from him. I figured that at her age she should know better than to accept any “gifts” but she ended up getting yelled at by the guy. While I was waiting for Rafa to finish his photos inside, I got to witness the Friday noon prayers across the square where the mosque was. Hundreds of men were lined up in the street, the square and sidewalks to do their ritual. It lasted a few minutes then regular life resumed. Rafa finally finished his pics and we then took Brenda to lunch since it was her Birthday. After we called Walid to come take us back to the wall.

One the way back we spoke some more with Walid about the situation between Palestine and Israel. I asked him if he thought there could ever be peace. He was optimistic.

He dropped us off at the wall and we shook hands. He gave us his crd and told us to let him know if we wanted to come back. I noticed his email address and chuckled. it was He was indeed a big guy. We parted ways and began the walk back through the security checkpoint. As I was walking along, looking at the graffiti, i noticed something. On the wall spray painted in black were the words “Walid the beast”.

Back in the old city I decided to split up with everyone. Rafa had met a girl and I felt I needed some quiet time. I realized that this whole trip so far has had me going non-stop with no time to think about or reflect on what I’ve experienced. I decided to go walking through the city and ended back at the wailing wall. It was almost sunset on Friday; Shabbat was beginning and the area was packed. It was all black suits and hats and yarmulkes. There was a crowd away from the wall in the back of the courtyard area of these happy singing and jumping Jews, while the wall area was mostly solemn. They were swaying, reading the Torah or praying out loud. After people watching for awhile I wandered back through the bazaars and ended up running into Rafa and his new friend Zohar.

Zohar is from Tel Aviv and was just passing through Jerusalem. She doesn’t come often, in fact she says most Israelis in the rest of the country don’t like to come to Jerusalem because they think it’s too dangerous. Her mom was apparently worried that she was here. And it wasn’t even necessarily due to the Arab/Israeli conflict. According to her, the Orthodox Jews have been known to get violent if they don’t like the way a lady or man is dressed in their area, and they apparently have infighting between their own sects. She says they don’t work, have huge families and that the reason the taxes are so high here is because of them. They have strong pull in the government so they get what they want. She was quite opinionated about them, and about eh Arab Israeli conflict as well. In fact she explained that in Israel there is a difference between Palestinians and Arabs. Arabs are Arabs that live outside of Palestine among the Israelis, and Palestinians are the Arabs in Palestine. The Arabs and Israelis apparently lived together for a long time peacefully outside of the Palestinian territory, but then when things got hot in the late 90’s and 2000, the Arabs showed up to protest in favor of the Palestinians and by doing so, they harmed their friendly ties with the Jews. She said she used to have friendly neighbors that were Arabs then after the demonstrations she felt they betrayed their trust. After a good hours talk, she had to get back to Tel Aviv so I said goodbye and Rafa walked her to the bus station. I was tired by now and thought I’d relax and call my wife. By the way, hummus here is spelled homos.

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Video from Church of the Nativity

Churchbells from Church of the Nativity

Sabbath Celebration at the Wailing Wall