ISRAEL NOV 1996 – A JOURNEY IN ISRAEL BY STEVE ACHORD

ISRAEL NOV 1996

The Trip

The following is an account of five travelers who embarked upon a journey to view time as it was and how it has become. The land…The Holy Land. As did Abraham who traversed The Fertile Crescent in search of the Promised Land, the Mameluke’s, the Persians, the Muslims and many others, and now five Americans from New Orleans.

I now must step into first person because I will be your narrator. Hopefully you will have a glimpse into our journey and when you make your own journey, our steps, our stories and our words will guide you.

My travel companions:

Clay Corvin – He was our guide, driver, still photographer, resident archaeologist (in the absence of Dennis Cole), schedule maker and keeper (Masada in one hour-yea, right), and of course leader.

Jimmy Dukes – He was our New Testament scholar who related what we saw to Biblical accounts, chief humbler (don’t need any whiny babies on this trip), devotional leader and all around funny guy.

Robert Cleland – Robert making his second trip told us what we were seeing when Clay “better get your hearing checked before your December paycheck” Corvin mumbled at certain historical sites. He was our insightful number two guide, personality balance between some of the men, and chief scripture finder.

Chris Friedman – By birth, a good looking German man, he was also the recipient of most of our jokes, yet provided much of the enthusiasm for the trip. He was our gift shop finder, our coffee and food taster and Guide (CJ) wannabe. He was the official video photographer and audio recorder.

Steve Achord – That’s me, the official record keeper, note taker and journalist. I was also the skinniest of the five which meant when we traveled I rode in the back seat in the middle on the hump. I survived to tell about it and that is what I now must do.

The account is divided into smaller stories or articles that related to our journey. I hope to give insightful tips ranging from food in Israel, making the plane trip across the ocean more enjoyable to making it through Israeli Customs. Enjoy the ride.

 

The Long and Winding Road
Daddy, Are we There Yet?
I read once that the national sport of Israel is driving brashness because drivers tend to be impatient and aggressive. Sitting on the curve at Ben-Gurion Airport waiting for Clay to return with a rental car, I realized this was an accurate statement. Honking horns, rapid starts, sudden stops, speeding buses and five men in a Plymouth Neon would make for an interesting way to experience Israel.

Israel is a small country with many automobiles, all traveling quickly to their destinations. The American concept of interstate highways is quickly missed because main highways are rarely wide and straight. Many of the secondary roads are narrow with many curves, none of which create passing taboos for Israeli drivers. Despite narrow driving conditions, most roads tended to be maintained fairly well, with construction projects underway in several places. The city of New Orleans has more potholes than all the major U.S. cities combined, so it’s not too bad. The driving/riding experience in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem can be compared to most cities in the world; lots of traffic, lots of people and few parking places. However, out on the open highway with the window rolled down there were many enjoyable sites and sounds to tempt the senses. Here are a few brief notes I took while riding in the back seat of our Neon that illustrates some of our experiences on the winding roads of Israel.

“At the end of our first day it is difficult to assess the day except we traveled a great deal and saw a lot. It was a long day, yet wonderful. Driving from place to place we pulled into our memories many wonderful sights, smells and sounds that basically said, ‘welcome to Israel, the land of Abraham, David and of course Jesus.’ There was so much to gather, but we didn’t mind seeing so much of the land we had read about all of our lives.”

“The excitement built as we descended from the north toward the Sea of Galilee. The sun was setting to the west casting an orange glow on the glassy water. The cool wind felt great against my face as a million thoughts about Jesus’ ministry in this very area rushed through my mind.”

“The old ways and the modern ways meet head-on as we pass large farms with miles and miles of irrigated farmland and then suddenly you see an old man walking behind a mule and plow tending to his fields.”

“At every bus stop dozens of young people could be seen hitchhiking. Suddenly, I was in a 70’s time warp in the states when hitchhiking idea was still popular and safe.”

“Drove through another checkpoint as we headed into the West Bank. We all showed our passports and for a brief moment thought we may have to sacrifice Chris to the PLO to travel any further.”

“Leaving Jacob’s well we had to wait a minute for the man riding bareback on a donkey to pass our van.”

“Just as it was in Biblical times, terrace farming along the mountain is still widely practiced.”

“I didn’t think I would be excited to see those golden arches in the distance, an American icon we take for granted, but it was great to take a break today.”

Overall, riding in a car was the best way to see the country. We complained about tight quarters and limited leg room, but none of us would have traded the riding experience. I take that back, Jimmy would beg to differ as he held on to the dash, barely breathing, as Clay made one of those A.J. Foyt, passing in a mountain curve experiences on the way to Jerusalem. You can breath now Jimmy.

 

New Orleans to Tel Aviv and back home again
What to expect on the plane
New Orleans International Airport is in the midst of major renovations. For frequent travelers, it seems this has always been the case. Despite the construction, our departure from New Orleans went smoothly. At 12:11 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, our plane was racing down the runway under cloudy skies and hot and humid conditions.

Our Delta Airlines flight to Atlanta was full, but with a great in-flight magazine, eight great audio channels and headphones on the plane, and of course peanuts and soft drinks, the hour flight passed quickly. The flight magazine Sky provided interesting articles and of course a listing of what to listen to while in the air. Articles about Joan Allen, (she played Pat Nixon in the screen version of Nixon) and Pat Boone and his latest project “Heavy and Metal” made great company. My favorite article in the November edition was “The Great Trunk Road.” This informative article detailed travel by truck along the Route 66 of India and Pakistan.

We landed in Atlanta at 1:17 p.m. and ventured to the waiting area before boarding our Swiss Air flight to Zurich, Switzerland. Boarding the 747 took place at 4:05 p.m., but actual take off did not occur until 5:12 p.m. for the 4,684 mile, eight-hour flight.

The flight plan takes the plane up the Eastern Seaboard over Greensboro, North Carolina over New York City and Nova Scotia and then over the North Atlantic toward Europe. About an hour into the flight the aroma of airline food wafted through the cabin as flight attendants prepared to serve dinner. Traveling at 620 mph and 32,000 feet above sea level, our food was actually pretty tasty.

Dinner included: mineral water, two bistro rolls, (wheat and white), salad, similar to cole slaw, but with sliced sausage and walnuts, a stuffed chicken breast with a mushroom gravy. On the side were green peas, wild rice, butter and a cheese spread for the rolls. A double chocolate cake and hot coffee were served for dessert.

An interesting part of the Swiss Air flight was the video map that showed us continuous updates of our location. In several languages our coordinates were given visually. A larger map showing a white plane and its path was shown, as well as a more detailed map of the cities we were flying over. Next, our altitude, ground speed, outside air temperature, distance to destination, time to destination, local time at present position and the estimated arrival time were shown.

Two hours later the lights were dimmed and the Michael Keaton film, Multiplicity was shown. I had trouble staying focused on the somewhat confusing film so I tried to sleep. At 11:30 p.m., the lights were turned back on and hot, steamed towels were given out. A hot towel on your face can make you forget about any problems you may have encountered on the flight. I felt my pores tighten up and suddenly I was wide awake and ready to enjoy the cool orange juice being served.

At almost midnight New Orleans time and 5:30 a.m. local time, breakfast rolled down the aisle. This meal included: a roll served at room temperature, a mini croissant served hot, Danon strawberry yogurt, a small bunch of red grapes, a banana nut muffin, a wedge of Swiss cheese, butter, jelly, juice and coffee.

Shortly after eating breakfast we were over land again and small patches of lights could be seen below. From the window, the sun was barely visible. A small glow of orange sunlight peaked above the horizon. Just below the orange glow, a thin yellow line followed by another thin line of green streaked across the morning sky. These streaks of colors opened into a deep blue abyss. A very beautiful sight indeed. Good morning, Lord. Already you are putting the day’s new colors on your giant canvas for me to enjoy.

At 1 a.m. New Orleans time, we arrived in Zurich. Despite a very cloudy morning, the city and country side was beautiful. Following a brief layover and tight security in Zurich, we boarded our next flight which took us to Israel.

The flight above the Alps is incredible. Snow-capped mountains standing majestically under now clear, deep blue skies reminded me of God’s awesome creativity. Down below we saw a large lake nestled between the mountains. Watching and admiring the beautiful scenery made me hungry. Good thing lunch was on its way.

Lunch included: pea salad with a hard boiled egg wedge, chicken kiev with steamed broccoli and buttered noodles, pudding and Evian water. A very good lunch.

Following lunch, I napped for awhile and read the flight magazine. Near the end of the flight the hot towels were brought to us. I left mine on my face for about 10 seconds until the towel was cold. So refreshing. I was ready to hit Israel running now.

Tips to help you endure and even enjoy the plane trip:

1. Put everything you carry on the plane into the overhead bin. Leave as much room for your feet as possible so you can stretch out.

2. Bring your own reading material. I would suggest a good paperback that will last the entire flight if needed.

3. Put your basic toiletries in the top portion of your carry-on luggage. Nothing feels better than brushing your teeth and washing your face with a soft wash cloth you have brought from home after being on the go all day. Those brown towels you find in the lavatory are rough on your face.

4. Buy small locks for every piece of luggage and put the keys on a small chain around your neck. This gives you piece of mind while you travel.

5. Don’t bother with your personal CD or cassette player. There is a wide selection of music on the plane and headphones were provided free of charge.

6. Pack a few snacks in your carry-on luggage in case your eating schedule differs from the airline’s.

7. Drink lots of fluids, bottled water and juice, rather than carbonated beverages to help prevent jet lag.

8. Try and sleep. If you can sleep sitting up, get an aisle seat. If you need to lean against something to sleep, ask for a window seat.

9. Long sleeves if you are cold-natured.

10. Wear warm up pants for maximum comfort.

11. Wear heavy socks so you can kick off your shoes for the entire flight. I walked around in my socks and it felt great.

12. If you have the tendency to go to the restroom regularly or need to stretch often, get an aisle seat.

13. Buy one of those inflatable neck pillows to help you sleep better.

14. Try and watch the movie to help pass the time away.

15. Don’t pass up the meals and beverages because they are already paid for and it makes you feel like you are getting your money’s worth.

16. Bring along Tylenol PM if you need help falling asleep.

 

Going through Customs
We don’t need any comedians now
Our first encounter with customs agents was in Zurich, Switzerland following an overnight transatlantic flight. Prior to boarding our plane from Zurich to Tel Aviv, agents asked us several questions about our trip into the country and our reasons for going to Israel. Sophisticated x-ray equipment checked our carry-on baggage and agents rechecked each piece. Don’t be surprised if you are asked to step to another room for additional questions or a pat-down by one of the officials. These concerns are merely a safety precaution and these Swiss officials don’t take a neutral stand on safety.

Prior to arrival in Tel Aviv, flight attendants from Swiss Air gave us a form to complete for our entrance into the country. In the airport, custom officials take a copy of this visa for themselves and return a copy to you. Don’t lose this copy. Expect the same seriousness, if not more, from Israeli agents as you receive from the Swiss. Our entrance into the country was relatively quick with limited hassle.

Leaving the country is more time consuming and very thorough. Arrive early, be patient, and be cooperative with customs officials. For a 5 a.m. flight out of Israel, we arrived at Ben Gurion Airport at 1:45 a.m. to begin the process. At 2 a.m., we were allowed to place our bags in line for our first inspection. It’s important to note many of the men and women who work in customs are young and look like they should be hanging out at a coffee shop studying for college exams. Don’t let their age fool you. They take their job seriously, perform it seriously and know what they are looking for as they go through the tedious process of allowing travelers to enter and exit their country.

Step 1. Your bags are placed on a table where an agent takes yourairline ticket, passport and asks the initial questions about your recent visit to Israel. This person checks to see if the name on the luggage matches the tickets and passport. This agent reports his or her findings to the supervisor in the area.

Step 2. After passing this step, your luggage is taken to a large x-ray machine and your bags are scanned. If anything looks suspicious, you are asked to open your baggage for a visual inspection.

Step 3. If all is found to be okay, your bags are tagged with yellow stickers along with your ticket. Keep your entry certificate with you through these steps.

Step 4. Proceed to another line where your flight arrangements will be made and your boarding pass is issued.

Step 5. You are directed to another line which leads to an upstairs waiting area. Once again, your tickets, passports and carry-on baggage are checked to see if they belong to you.

Step 6. Congratulations, you have made it through customs and now you are free to shop until you drop in the duty free shopping area. This large wing houses a mini mall with a variety of shops and eating establishments. Although it is 3:00 in the morning, every shop is open and fully staffed to meet your needs.

Step 7. Prepare to Board. Your boarding pass is taken by another agent and you are directed downstairs to a waiting bus that will take you to the tarmac where you are allowed to board the airplane. Entering and exiting airplanes at Ben Gurion Airport is away from the main terminal and transportation to and from the planes requires a short ride by bus.

Step 8. Disembark from the bus and head up the outside ramp to the plane. There are lots of security officers watching the loading of the plane.

Step 9. Board the plane and find your seat.

Be polite when answering the many questions asked by customs officials. Do not leave your bags unattended. This is a security concern that will promptly bring officials to the unattended bags. Here are some of the questions you may be asked while going through customs:
– Why did you travel to Israel?
– Was your trip for business or personal reasons?
– Who planned your trip?
– Who do these bags belong to?
– Did you pack your luggage yourself?
– Do you have any friends or family in Israel?
– Who brought you to the airport and what is their relationship to you?
– Where did you go in Israel?

Additional Questions:
– Where did you spend the night while you were in Israel?
– What sites did you see in Jerusalem?
– What sections of Jerusalem did you visit?
– Where did you sleep in Jerusalem?
– What do you do for a living in the United States?
– Do you have a business card that identifies your place of employment?

Famous Quotes
This is what they said in front your face
The following quotes were expressed by American tourists during a recent trip to Israel. The names were omitted to protect the guilty and remember no one is innocent. In order for some quotes to be humorous, you may have had to been there.

“I’m such a cool guy.”
“That’s a treasure.”
“Robert, how about some apricot jam.”
“Oh yes, that’s Roman glass.”
“You’re a good looking German man.”
“No, that is strictly forbidden.”
“Your papers are not in order.”
“Do not walk away from me when I am talking to you,” he said. “I didn’t ask you to talk to me.”
“Everyday of my life I add another name to the long list of people who have ticked me off.”
“Let me show my shop, everything is half-price.”
“Where’s the WC?”
“Five filter coffees please.”
“Excuse me sir, do you need a private guide.”
“Yea. That’s a good buy on film, too bad it’s 32 mm.”
“We’ve decided to take turns being Clay for the day,” he said. “No way,
Chris, you’re standing alone on this one.”
“You’re a good looking German man.”
“You can use leaves, moss or a corncob.”
“I’m sorry what did you say?”
“Get your ears checked before you get your December paycheck.”
“Only 8 1/2 more days.”
“What are you going to do tomorrow?” “I don’t know, I’m waiting for Clay to tell me.”
“Where’s Chrissy?” “Who knows?”
“Get your raggedy tail…”
“CJ, Clay, Jr.”
“Welcome to Bethlehem everyone.” “Thanks, now get us out.”
“I think the battery in my watch has gone dead.”
“I think time moves slower in Israel than it does back home.”
“Dern Duke.”
“First of all, I’m glad I was able to provide you with some entertainment. Secondly, you didn’t enjoy it as much as I did. Thirdly, that’s the ultimate way to spell relief.”
“Shut up whiny butt.”
“You’re a good looking German man.”

 

Food in Israel
I can’t eat another bite
Going to The Holy Land inspires lots of questions from your friends and family once you return home. But, despite the historical significance of the land, archeological findings, Israeli-Arab conflicts and other hot topics, the number one question asked was, “what did you eat?”

Israel is a land of many cultures and people groups and Jewish immigrants from countries around the globe. With each new conquering group or immigrant to arrive on Israel’s shore, so have the number of great recipes increased. I did not take the time to evaluate the fat content of the food, but it sure looked healthier than the many burgers and fried foods we Americans devour each day. Here is a sampling of the meals we enjoyed.

We were introduced to a traditional Israeli meal on our first evening in Israel after arriving at our hotel in Natanya. The first items to arrive at our table were the two things we ate the most the entire trip: hummus and pita bread. (More about these items later.) Next came potato salad with green peas, a green salad which consisted of lettuce, tomatoes, peas, peppers and a light dressing. Our waiter then brought a delicately fried filet of sole. I added lime juice, salt and pepper to my piece of fish and it was great. Next a deep bowl of hearty lentil and barley soup. No matter how many times I dipped my spoon for another bite, my soup never disappeared. Don’t panic like I did, we have not even started the main dish yet. Lastly, we enjoyed white rice smothered with tomatoes and bell peppers and a round steak smothered in brown gravy. The rice dish was akin to smothered okra and the steak was tender enough to cut with a fork. I thought to myself if this is how it’s going to be the entire trip I may even gain a pound or two.

Following our meal, the five of us rolled out of the restaurant and then strolled through the open shopping area along the Mediterranean Sea. As a cool breeze blew from the sea, we sipped filter coffees and enjoyed a lovely evening talking about the great sites we were going to see in the next nine days.

Breakfast the next morning consisted of fresh fruit, orange juice, corn flakes, (I tasted them again for the first time and Kellogg’s is by far the best), instant coffee, (no thank you), cottage cheese, soft cheese, yogurt, egg salad, smoked herring, cucumbers, vine ripened tomatoes and sliced bread. It is important to note, Chris was the only one man enough to eat the fish at 7:00 a.m.

Lunch the next day was hummus and pita bread, green salad, baked chicken, rice and vegetable soup.

Dinner that evening in Beit Hava was just as good as we dined on green salad, pickle chips, eggplant casserole, pickled artichokes, whipped potatoes in a puffed pastry shell, stir fry beef, baked chicken and plums for dessert.

As our group headed toward the Sea of Galilee and the city of Tiberias, much of the food remained the same although we enjoyed a few new items from the menu. Our hotel dining facility in Tiberias had a staff that was predominately Arab and many of the hotel quests were from the west, and food trends showed an influence of both cultures.

A very large spread in a dining hall that sat nearly 300 at one time was standard each morning for breakfast and in the evening for dinner. Our evening buffet featured a tasty apple-walnut salad, green salad, eggplant casserole, your basic vegetables of carrots, corn, beans, white rice, squash medley, sliced tomatoes and sliced cucumbers, etc. An interesting asparagus soup, fried fish, fried turkey breasts and meatloaf with a tomato gravy were our main entrees.

All of our meals were not restricted to hotel buffets. We enjoyed venturing into some very interesting restaurants as well. Here is a sampling of a few restaurants we enjoyed.

The Philadelphia – This Arab restaurant, located in the Arab section of East Jerusalem is well-known for some of the best salads in the city. Our friend, Omar insisted we sample every salad on the menu. So we did. I counted 12 different salads, but it could have been more because I was busy fighting off the ravenous gluttons sitting at my table. I sampled hummus, eggplant casserole, marinated cucumbers, olives, dates, pickled beets and several other tasty items. Next came lamb, lamb and then more lamb. Tender, delicately seasoned lamb chops and shish kebabs that didn’t last long. I was tempted to jab the others with one of my empty kebab stakes in order to get more lamb, but somehow I remained calm.

The Yeminite Step – This delightful cafĂ© near the Ben Yahuda Mall, was the setting for one of our evening meals. Being cool and very pleasant, we opted to sit outside next to the portable furnace to enjoy great soups and tasty Melawach served with honey.

Cafeteria St. Michel – I strongly recommend this cozy cafeteria if you are hungry and need an economical lunch in the old city. Don’t expect to find a seat at noon because the twenty-five seats fill up quickly during this busy time of the day. Clay enjoyed a Greek salad with fresh vegetables and a tangy dressing. Robert enjoyed chicken soup and I feasted on vegetable soup. Chris and Jimmy devoured shwarma. I was full and it felt great to only spend 18 shekels for the meal.

Ramon’s – Another great restaurant in the Ben Yahuda shopping area, Ramon’s nearly takes up an entire side street with several sites on both sides of the street. Once again, we sat outside under clear skies and enjoyed a delicious meal as we watched evening shoppers scurrying in and out of adjacent stores.

Cacao – At the Cinematheque on Hebron Road, this restaurant offers a superb view of the Old City Walls while you dine on fresh vegetables, wonderful breads or perhaps an individual size pizza. I recommend the freshly baked focaccia bread with olive oil or one of the homemade pasta dishes or as Jimmy discovered, the fresh fish, such as salmon or trout is excellent. If the sky is clear, ask the waiter to let you sit outside on the patio and enjoy a hot cup of coffee or hot chocolate following your meal. Conversation will soon turn to the beauty of the Old City Walls and the historical setting, where people, like yourself, have gazed upon this moonlit edifice over the centuries.

Abu Ali – Once again, thank you Omar for showing us this Palestinian restaurant that is housed in the basement of several shops in East Jerusalem. If you are not from the area, you will never find this neighborhood establishment that definitely caters to the local crowd. The interior reminds you of Mel’s Diner, but more subdued because Flo wasn’t around. Omar ordered hummus, pita bread, hot pickles and a round of those great Coca-Cola’s in the small bottles. We ate more, but I can’t remember exactly what it was because I was too busy soaking in the atmosphere. A group of old men sat in one corner discussing politics while a few other patrons sat nearby taking curious glances at us between bites of pita bread. Now and then a few locals bounced in and out yelling at our Arab friends behind the serving counter and those seated at the other tables. Everyone seemed to know one another and it kind of made all of us feel at ease despite such a foreign environment.

And the Rest – No, this is not the name of a restaurant, but a heading for the rest of the eateries we found ourselves wondering into. We enjoyed every place we found, including McDonald’s where you could always count on a great cup of coffee.

 

Recipes from the Holy Land
Pitta Recipe
Ingredients for twelve pitas:
1 rounded tbs dried yeast
1 rounded tbs salt
2 rounded tbs honey
5-5 1/2 cups plain flour.

1. Mix the yeast, honey and 1/4 pint water in a bowl and leave to rest for 10 min. Measure out 3 1/4 cups flour and add the yeast mixture and 1 pint warm water.

2. Beat the mixture for 2 min., add the salt and remainder of the flour and beat again. Knead the dough on a floured board for 10 min. and then place in a greased bowl.

3. Leave the dough for 1 hour in a warm, draft-free place (it will double in volume). Pre-heat the oven to 445 degrees and divide the dough into twelve portions.

4. Roll each portion into a ball and then flatten into rounds about 2 1/4 – 2 1/2 inches thick. Allow to rise before cooking. Cook for 10 min. and then raise the temperature so that they brown.

Omar’s Hummus Recipe
1. Soak 2 pounds of chick peas in water for 24 hours. Cook in boiling water until soft. Drain water.

2. Put peas in blender until they are well blended. Not very long.

3. This is the tricky step. You must add the following ingredients according to your taste buds. Sesame oil, fresh garlic, lemon juice and salt. Olive oil can be used instead of sesame oil.

 

Omar Bakri Grandfather of the Arabs
Just beyond the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem, the grandfather of the Arabs works in a tiny olive wood shop. Lining the shelves of the shop are hundreds of unique olive wood carvings all designed by the man who personally greets each visitor to the shop. Ironically, the man better known by family and friends as Omar, is actually named Nizar, which in Arabic means the “grandfather of the Arabs.” A name that strikingly fits this master olive wood carver whose works have spawned numerous would be copycat grandchildren seeking to achieve the same carving excellence Omar has achieved. One visit to the shop on 3 Masoudi Street and you immediately fall in love with the olive carvings and the man who greets his friends with a gentle hug and a wide smile. On our visit, Omar insisted we enjoy a cup of mint tea.

As is the case for many young boys, Omar was sometimes mischievous and found himself getting into trouble. His parents found a master olive carver who allowed Omar to work after school in his wood shop. His reward…staying out of trouble and fifty cents a week.

For seven years, Omar learned the art of carving olive wood. None of the master’s children desired to learn the family business, so he decided to teach Omar everything he knew. The most tedious part was learning how to carve the faces on the carvings, Omar said.

“He carved faces behind a door because he didn’t want anyone to see how he did them,” he said.

It took nearly 300 pieces of wood before Omar learned how to carve the eyes and the face, a technique that now separates him from most carvers in the Holy Land. In fact, Omar tells would-be buyers to look at the faces of his carvings and then go and compare his work with other carvers in the city. “Eighty percent come back to my shop,” a smiling Bakri says.

Drawing inspiration from his native land and the Bible, Omar’s work, as well as his reputation, continues to grow. Today, Omar’s carvings can be found on mantles on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Despite the success, you can still find the humble, smiling Omar personally greeting his customers and discussing his native Palestine over a cup of mint tea.

By the way, how did the “grandfather of the Arabs” become known as Omar? Legend tells us, or maybe it was Omar himself who said, “in the 1970’s friends told me I looked like Omar Sharif, the actor. The name just kind of stuck.”

 

First Impressions of the Holy Land
“Leave us alone, we are not in a hurry,” I growled at the impatient motorist who was honking his horn at us as the light turned green. All around us, cars scurried by, dodging pedestrians, cyclists and other automobiles. The only thing that seemed to be the king of the road were city buses, and rightfully so considering their size and somewhat arrogance to do as they pleased on the crowded streets around the walled city. My mind was moving in slow motion, taking in all the sights and sounds as we approached the city walls of the old city for the first time. “The place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put His name there, even unto His habitation…(will be Jerusalem).” Deuteronomy 12:5

All my life I had heard the stories of this ancient city. For a moment, I was five years old listening to my Sunday school teacher tell me about a young boy named Jesus going into the temple. All of those wonderful Bible stories and the times and places when I heard them for the first time were rushing through my mind.

Gallantly standing in ancient wonder, the walls, the ramparts and gates stood bravely greeting our arrival. Despite the modern structures all around us and the hurried pace of their inhabitants, these impressive stone walls stood majestically toward the blue sky separating the old from the new.

Built between 1520 and 1566 by Sultan-Caliph Suleyman or Suleiman, on the lines of the Roman fortifications, these ancient structures remain much unchanged today. The ramparts were designed to protect Jerusalem from Bedouin raids or a possible Crusader attack and stand between 39 to 49 feet high and roughly 5330 yards long.

There are eight gates in the Old City fortress wall. The gates into the wall are the Jaffa Gate, entered from Mamilla-Agron Street or Jaffa Road, and the Damascus Gate, entered from Ha-Nevi’im or Nablus Road. Israelis call Damascus Gate Sha’ar Shechem because it led to the Syrian capital; the Arabic name is Bab el Amud or Gate of the Column. The Golden Gate has been bricked up for centuries, due to Muslim tradition a conqueror will enter through this gate to destroy the city and by another Muslim belief this will be the traditional entrance point for the Messiah.

Other gates include Herod’s Gate (or Flower Gate), due to belief of pilgrims that this gate was built next to the house of Herod Antipas the king. Zion Gate, the original gate is called by the Arabs, Bab el-Nabi Dahoud, “David’s Gate”, after the prophet. Maghreb Gate (Dung Gate) owes its name to the community from Maghreb, which settled below Haram el-Sharif at the end of the 12th century. St. Stephen’s Gate is also called the “Lions’ Gate”, due to the lions which the Mameluke sultan Baybars had carved in order to dispel a dream in which he was torn to pieces by an animal. Finally, the New Gate, built in 1889 at the request of the European powers in the northwest corner of the enclosure. It serves the Christian population.

In the Hebrew language, you do not say you will “go to Jerusalem.” I asked for clarification and found out the idiom is to “ascend” or “go up” to the city. Although Jerusalem stands at over 2500 feet above sea level, I soon discovered our journey through Israel would not be complete until
we ascended to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the pinnacle of our journey into this awesome land.

The writer in the Knoph Guidebook, The Holy Land, illustrates my thoughts best. “Jerusalem is the incarnation of prophetic and Messianic dreams, the ‘center of the world’ mentioned 656 times in the Old Testament and 140 times in the New Testament, and the ‘throne of Allah’ in the Koran. Jerusalem in all its glory, whether idealized, symbolic or real, is a fertile ground for all imaginations and the subject of innumerable representations.”

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming out of heaven from God…” Revelations 21: 1-2

 

The Western Wall


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