Published: December 3rd 2007November 30th 2007
Lined up at the Wailing Wall
It is simply impossible to imagine a more religiously enigmatic city than Jerusalem. Amongst the old city of about 1 sq klm, the Big 3 religions have some of their most significant temples of worship all competing for a piece of the prime reverential real estate cake. I found it mindboggling to have the Wailing Wall butting up against the Al Aqsa Mosque. Watching orthodox Jews going through their paces against the Wall in the shadows of the Temple Mount on one side and the previously mentioned mosque on the other is prime front seat viewing.
These orthodox Jews can be the subject of some cynicism on the part of the more secular section of Israel's populace, having the pseudonym of "penguins" bestowed upon them. Apparently the penguins are the only Israeli citizens exempt from the otherwise obligatory 3 years of military training. Sounds like a pretty decent reason to declare one's faith to orthodox. Aside from the obvious advantages of avoiding said military service, the penguins also get to dress VERY snappily, particularly in the hat department and even more so during the Jewish Sabbath on Saturdays.
The layout of the old city is a maze of twisting, narrow cobbled
Howdy Pardner in the Christian Quarter.
streets, divided roughly into Christian, Jewish and Muslim quarters. (I know mathematically that doesn't correlate but don't blame me, I didn't name it). Within 20 paces, you can walk from the relative tranquility of the Christian Quarter and then be caught up in a bustling, noisy human traffic jam in the middle of a Muslim souq. This place is ecclectic. Three solid days meandering around this most holy of cities and I still can't work out exactly what I think of it.
While there is no overt tension in the city, the security is tight. What did surprise me is the age of some of the soldiers cruising the streets and armed to the teeth. Some of them appear almost pre pubescent:
"Hey Moshe, what did you get for your 16th birthday?"
"A razor for my first shave, a pair of jeans, a couple of CDs and an AK47."
Unfortunately, only 3 days in Jerusalem meant we didn't have time enough to explore any other part of the country. There's a pattern developing here. With time running out, we're skipping sights in the Middle East that will have to be visited next time. I would have loved to have snuck
March of the Penguins.
into Tel Aviv to juxtapose its reported tolerance against Jerusalem's piety. The Dead Sea was also bipassed which is a particular regret. JC got all the wraps for walking on water but the waters of the Dead Sea are so dense, any skinny bloke with big feet could pull that stunt off.
Before closing off on Jerusalem, 3 things I really did enjoy:
* reliable hot water.
* you can flush the toilet paper.
* there's at least some semblance of rudimentary non-smoking etiquette.
- all rare in the Middle East we've seen so far. Loooooooxury.
Jerusalem. The hub of so many religions and the place where it seems so many people head to find themselves or explore their faith.
We arrived mid afternoon Friday, just prior to the Jewish sabbath. By 4pm traffic had just about vanished and shops, restaurants and bars closed. The town took on a ghostly quiet. By 6pm Saturday evening, the cafes and restaurants started opening up again and the traffic was back in full swing.The thing I noticed most about Jerusalem was the heavy presence of military personnel carrying their AK47's. Nowhere else in the middle east has the security been so
Not much call for razor blades in the Jewish Orthodox community.
high. Before entering a cafe, restaurant or retail shop we had to go through a metal detector, have our bags inspected and were asked by the security if we were carrying a gun. All this just to have a coffee and cake. That aside, it is interesting. I can't say the people are welcoming, in fact they appear quite abrupt. Maybe that's because they are always looking over their shoulder.
The old city is very interesting with its churches, mosques and synagogues in close proximity. I wish I had paid closer attention to my teachers in religious studies as a number of these areas would have had a stronger affinity for me. Every part of the old city has significance and even the surrounding new city has historical value.
An expensive city, probably on par with Sydney prices for food and drinks. We were shackled by the sheckle. It is one of the most attractive currencies we have dealt with this year, but not one you would choose to souvenier. But even with elevated prices it was nice to have the opportunity to sample food other than arabic food for a few days, a welcomed change.
So on departing Jerusalem
But they do get to wear some very snappy hats.
and heading to the Jordanian border, I couldn't help but wonder where could you go in the world and see nuns, monks, priests and rabbis all standing at the same intersection waiting to cross the road. I guess that is truly Jerusalem.
There are more photos below