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Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Israel, Jerusalem, long term travel, Travel

Religious-ed Out in Jerusalem

We checked in at the Citadel Hostel in Old Jerusalem and headed for a breakfast of shakshuka and hummus. Food was quickly becoming a highlight of my trip to Israel. Here, Anita and I met Dave, a Canadian traveler, who had just arrived from Jordan, so the three of us set out to Rampart’s Walk for a tour of the rooftops of Jerusalem. We then left the Old City at Lion’s Gate and hiked up to Mount of Olives, where we watched Orthodox Jews visit graves and say their prayers. This is a holy place for Jews because they believe when the Messiah returns, this is where he will come. The hike to the top afforded us panoramic views of Jerusalem.

We had a chilled out afternoon and spent the evening at a bar in the New City before heading to Damascus Gate (the Muslim area of Jerusalem) for 7 shekel falafel – the cheapest, and best yet. We walked through the empty Old City on the way back to the hostel, playing an aggressive game of football with a group of street kids. The city had gone to sleep for the night, and I would later come to appreciate this time, when I could roam the winding alleyways, sans tourists and crowds.
The following day, we set ourselves up for a big day of sights, starting at the Holocaust Museum. We spent 3 1/2 hours taking in exhibit after exhibit and story after story of this period of history. The amount of material was extensive and the trip was so educational, but also emotional draining. Since we’d spent so much time here, we scratched afternoon plans and just regrouped over coffee.
I reflected back on the morning and thought about the oppression the Jews experienced. It made me think about my time in Palestine, and despite being on a very different scale, the oppression the Palestinian people are experiencing. Although this stems from religion, it now has simply become a matter of humanity and respect for other human beings. I felt angry knowing that in a way, history has repeated itself in many different places the world over since the Holocaust.
The following morning, we headed to Mount Zion to see the church where apparently Mary is laid to rest. This was flooded with Indian Christians, which was oddly bizarre. Indians believe that part of the God or Deity they are worshipping is alive in the statue or monument, and swarms of these tourists were climbing over security lines and barricades to touch the tomb and the sculpture of Mary resting on top. It was the same with the other sculptures of Mary surrounding the tomb. From here, we did a quick walk through the Room of the Last Supper, which was highly disappointing. We then made a stop at Schindler’s grave, something that had been on my list of things I wanted to see in Israel.
From here, it was time to part ways with Annita. She was heading back to Tel Aviv. I was sad to see her go and feared being a little lost without her. We had spent over a week traveling together and experienced so much. We promised to reconnect in Switzerland in the near future and agreed to make a return trip to Palestine for Yousef’s son’s wedding.
Dave and I continued on the sightseeing circuit, touring the Citadel & Tower of David, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, back to Damascus Gate for falafel and then to the Wailing Wall for the beginning of Shabbat. My head was spinning and Dave suggested a bottle of wine and some backgammon… we needed a break from this religious education. This entailed one more trip back to Damascus Gate for more falafel… an addiction was forming.
On Saturday, I decided to honor Shabbat and do nothing. One of the workers at the hostel invited me to a meal at a local rabbi’s home, and I gladly accepted, excited to witness Jewish traditions and to have the chance to partake in them. I couldn’t help but compare it to the experiences I had already had and unfortunately the hospitality just didn’t compare. Don’t get me wrong, I was gracious and impressed by this family taking in so many people from the local community and all over the world, but I was sitting with a group of people who couldn’t seem to understand why I wanted to be there. It also felt a bit “extreme,” sort of like taking a European to a Baptist Church in the heart of the Bible Belt, so after the breaking of the bread and listening to a few people talk, I snuck out the back door and headed to Damascus Gate for some falafel- shock!
I returned to the hostel and shortly after, Dave returned from his day trip to the Palestinian Territories. We had a lot to talk about, which was done again over red wine and backgammon – which i was getting surprisingly good at. We made plans to get out of Jerusalem the following day and make our way back to Tel Aviv, via Masada and the Dead Sea.