Published: December 7th 2010December 7th 2010
I had the shock of my life last Friday. I went on a full day tour of the Mount of Olives (many sacred Christian and Jewish sites, primarily the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was arrested) and when we got back to Old Jerusalem I noticed incredible hustle and bustle and running around. At one corner there was a "traffic jam" where a group of Muslims was rushing off to the Temple Mount, a group of Christians, carrying a large wooden cross were finishing up their pilgrimage on the Via Dolorosa, and many Jewish people were rushing off to prayer at the Western Wall. I enjoyed the irony of the moment and marvelled at how these three religious groups have many "intersecting" points. The true shock occured when I left the Old City and decided to get some dinner.
Normally, I go down Jaffa Street, the main hub of New Jerusalem to find an eatery and to enjoy my nightly cappuccino at Aroma Coffee House (I can become a creature of habit no matter where you put me!). When I arrived at my destination, I was stunned...the entire street and all of the surrounding streets were completely deserted. I had
forgotten that this was the "Shabat", the Friday sundown where all Jewish businesses and shops must close so that people can join their families for prayer and meal time. It was such an eerie feeling to see an area that is normally incredibly lively and boisterous turn into a ghost town. I don't know whether you would call it secularism, capitalism or just plain luck, the one place that was open was McDonald's! But I was quite amazed at how religion can play such a powerful role in society and the only parallel I could find were my remembrances of Sundays in Toronto as a chid, and how dead the city seemed to be on that day.
Of course, the next evening, I encountered the same problem, a few more places were opened but I was amazed by the power of politics and religion. As a tourist, it was somewhat of a drag but as a person of faith, it must feel good to know you are guaranteed this time period to pray, to feast or just do nothing. Someone pointed out to me, that Saturday night was basically the equivalent of our Sunday night and then and only
then, I felt that knot in my stomach that we all feel on Sunday night when we know the work week will begin the following day. It doesn't matter whether it's Saturday or Sunday...we all share the common dread of the impending deadlines and hustle and bustle of our five day week.
I am now in Haifa, to the north on the Mediterranean coast. It is a charming city, with the hilliest streets I have ever encountered...buns of steel are definitely on the way! Oddly enough, aside from Judaism, this is the "Rome" of the Bah'ai faith and they have a spectacular garden ascending these hills that leads to their main temple. My last pilgrimage site is not far from this city, Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee and despite the rain (they have been in a drought for months) I am determined to get there as my last tourist "duty" before I fly home on Sunday.
I have marked the place where Jesus was born, and more importantly, the site where he died and was resurrected. I have climbed the mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God and the bush that became proof of His
existence. I have also been to the site where Mohammed ascended to Heaven, one of the three most holiest sites for people of the Muslim faith.
My time in Israel has been very spiritual on many levels and no matter what your beliefs are, or how scientifically improbable you may believe these places to be, I cannot deny the fervour and passion of the people who have come to these places simply wishing to touch, pray and in turn, participate in some form of "communion" with their God. It is very moving to say the least. Certainly, once we get into the politics of faith and some of the problems that have resulted in a clash of beliefs this discussion will have no end. But to see people so enraptured by their pilgrimages has in turn, made my time in Israel so moving and so unforgettable. In its simplest form, I can see how faith provides comfort and inner peace and no matter where I stand on the Christian hierarchy or with religion in general, I know that I am a changed person.
There are more photos below