I just returned from a pilgrimage to Israel and Italy and the impact of the trip has left my head full of images, sounds, and smells. As Dorothy said to Toto in the Wizard of Oz, Americans such as myself quickly realize that in Israel, especially in Old Jerusalem, we’re not in “Kansas” anymore, an expression that indicates things are very different than our norm.
Jerusalem is the largest and poorest city in Israel. Located between the Mediterranean and Dead Seas, it’s also one of the oldest and perhaps, holiest, cities in the world. The first human settlers are believed to have arrived in the Early Bronze Age around 3500 B.C. In 1000 B.C, King David conquered Jerusalem and his son, Solomon, built the first temple.
In only about a third of a square mile, numerous locations are considered significantly important to Jews, Christians, and Muslims which has resulted in a long history of conflict.
For the Jewish community, Jerusalem is recognized as the site of Mount Zion, the traditional site of King David’s tomb, and the Western Wall.
Christians hold the city sacred because it is where 12-year-old Jesus impressed the elders in the temple and later spent the last days of his ministry, was sentenced, scourged, taunted, crucified, and resurrected.
Muslims also are religiously connected to Jerusalem because it is where the prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven from what is known as the Temple Mount.
In addition to being emotionally and spiritually moved, Israel was fascinating for me because I’m intrigued with other cultures and religions and appreciate the opportunity to learn from them. Personally, I never felt unsafe but often did not feel welcome by the majority of Israelis.
When traveling, I strive to be a good guest and representative of my home country. I’m not sure how much this mattered to most people I encountered. Greeting Jews in Hebrew rarely resulted in anything other than a blank stare. Currently, more than 60% of its residents are Jewish, 36.5% are Muslim, and only 1.8% are Christian. (The other 1.2% are unspecified.)
The religious tension in the country is evident, even among the Christian denominations.
Everyone vigorously defends their sacred site and appears to be reluctant to allow others to visit. Without the assistance of our experienced and knowledgable guide, navigation through the country and entering sites at the best times would have been difficult, if not impossible. Our guide also protected our money by pointing out where we could safely use a credit card and deal fairly with merchants.
Most of our meals were prearranged and buffet style. Typical meals consisted of stews, fish, grilled vegetables, salads, and breads. My favorite foods were those common in the region including falafal, schnitzel, shwarma, hummus, olives, herring, and dates.
Stay tuned for more to come on this adventure! Faith-related posts will be posted on my other blog, Mary K Doyle Books.