Israel: Day 3

September 6, 2023 • 10:00 am

Today we had a four-hour visit to the old city, with our informed and genial guides Susan (a reader) and her friend Sami. We entered the city through the famous Jaffa Gate, one of the seven gates to the old city, and one that points north towards the port of Jaffa.

UPDATE: This happened just a day after our visit. Even the Old City and Jaffa Gate are not safe from terrorists (click to read; h/t Susan):

This gate is famous for an entrance of a British general taking over the city from the Ottomans. From Wikipedia:

In 1917, British general Edmund Allenby entered the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, giving a speech at the nearby Tower of David. Allenby entered the city on foot in a show of respect for the city and a desire to avoid comparison with the Kaiser’s entry in 1898.

You can see that scene in the movie “Lawrence of Arabia”. And here’s a photo from Wikipedia, showing Allenby at the Jaffa gate on foot (he’d defeated the Ottoman Empire, with the help of Lawrence of Arabia, of course):

Below, the “Tower of David” or citadel of the old city. From Wikipedia:

The Tower of David (Hebrew: מגדל דודromanized: Migdál Davíd), also known as the Citadel (Arabic: القلعةromanized: al-Qala’a), is an ancient citadel located near the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem.

The citadel that stands today dates to the Mamluk and Ottoman periods. It was built on the site of a series of earlier ancient fortifications of the Hasmonean, Herodian, Byzantine and Early Muslim periods, after being destroyed repeatedly during the last decades of Crusader presence in the Holy Land by their Muslim enemies. It contains important archaeological finds dating back over 2,500 years including a quarry dated to the First Temple period, and is a popular venue for benefit events, craft shows, concerts, and sound-and-light performances.

We went up on a nearby rooftop to get the “experience of the Resurrection,” and I was assured that although I didn’t believe in the Resurrection, I would if I saw the view from the top. (It didn’t work.)

Susan is a cat lover, and rescues strays. She has about 20 that live in her garden, and she feeds them twice a day and gives them warm blankets in the winter. Like me, she cannot resist petting a stray, and here are two.

A lovely ginger cat.

Believe it or not, this is an Anglican church, Christ Church of Jerusalem, the first Protestant church built in the Old City (1849), and with a congregation consisting of “Jewish Christians”. (Isn’t that an oxymoron?) There are no crosses, but Hebrew writing and a menorah on the altar!

A view from the rooftop over the old city. The golden dome on the right is The Dome of the Rock, one of the holiest sites of Islam—and Christianity. It’s on that spot where Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac before God told him it was just a joke, and it’s also on that spot that Muhammad supposedly ascended to heaven.  But only Muslims are allowed to go inside the mosque, and Jews, while they can walk around it, are not allowed to pray—they could get arrested if they try. They must pray at the Western Wall (see below).

A panorama:

Below: The Dome of the Rock with the Mount of Olives behind it. The Mount from Wikipedia:

It is named for the olive groves that once covered its slopes. The southern part of the mount was the Silwan necropolis, attributed to the elite of the ancient Kingdom of Judah. The western slopes of the mount, those facing Jerusalem, have been used as a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years and holds approximately 150,000 graves, making it central in the tradition of Jewish cemeteries.

Several key events in the life of Jesus, as related in the Gospels, took place on the Mount of Olives, and in the Acts of the Apostles it is described as the place from which Jesus ascended to heaven. Because of its association with both Jesus and Mary, the mount has been a site of Christian worship since ancient times and is today a major site of pilgrimage for Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants.

There’s a long market that extends from near the Jaffa gate to the Dome of the Rock and the Western wall. It’s largely tourist kitsch, but the side sreets sell staples; fruit, veg, and meat:

. . . and spices.

All the shopkeepers are Arabs; there are no Jewish shopkeepers because this is East Jerusalem, a Muslim area, and Jewish shopkeepers would cause tension. But there are plenty of Jewish shoppers.

A tee shirt. Note the kippe and the sidelocks.

Nougat and halvah:

For lunch we went to Susan’s favorite falafel joint, named—yes—”Arafat’s Falafel”. (There is no sign; you have to know about it.) Mr. Arafat, below, makes fresh hummus on the spot, and this was the best hummus we’ve had so far. Six bucks for a big plate, along with pita bread, falafal, olive oil, some whole chickpeas, and garnishes.

Grinding the chickpeas to make hummus:


I can’t imagine hummus can get any better than this:

A madrasa, or school where Muslim kids learn to read the Qur’an:

And the famous Western Wall (once known as the “wailing wall”), part of the Second (Jewish) Temple built by Herod. From Wikipedia:

The Western Wall plays an important role in Judaism due to its proximity to the Temple Mount. Because of the Temple Mount entry restrictions, the Wall is the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray outside the previous Temple Mount platform, as the presumed site of the Holy of Holies, the most sacred site in the Jewish faith, lies just behind it.

I believe the Muslims have formal control of the wall. It wasn’t too crowded yesterday because it was hot.

Below: the arrow indicates ME inspecting the Wall (photo by Anna):

There were many Orthodox Jews there, of course.

And for a nominal fee you can rent Jewish garb like the tallis (shawl) or tefillin (leather phylacteries):

An IDF soldier worshiping. I was surprised by how many soldiers are religious.

And of course you’re supposed to write a prayer on paper and stuff it into the wall to increase its chance of being fulfilled. No prayers are discarded: from time to time the ones that fall out are collected and buried with a recently deceased person on the Mount of Olives. There’s also an online site where you can write a prayer that will be printed out and put in the Wall.

The women worship separately from the men: a sore spot for religious Jewish feminists. They had comfortable chairs, though.

It’s only a matter of time before a trans man tries to worship on the male side, or vice versa.

It was bloody hot! Anna and I took a break from the heat (photo by Jay Tanzman):

The Via Dolorosa is the path supposedly taken by Jesus on the way to his crucifixion; it has nine “stations of the cross” outside (each marking an incident on the trip, like falling), and five inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was supposedly crucified. The Via is about 600 m. long, and is full of Christians retracing that path, whose course we know nothing about.

The stations aren’t clearly marked because shopkeepers claimed that the crowds were bad for business. Anna, who reads Russian, says that this is one of them

Some of the Christians carry their own crosses with them to share Jesus’s trials, but the one below isn’t a full-sized cross! (Photo by Anna). Also, about fifty times a year (see below) people on the Via suffer from “Jerusalem Syndrome,” overcome by religious psychosis. They think they’re the Messiah or they just go nuts. One of them even tried to set fire to the Al-Aqsa mosque. If you’re curious about religious phenomena, read the Wikipedia article.

The stores around the Church are full of Jesus-related knicknacks  (Photo by Anna.)

Here’s the church, with the photo taken from Wikipedia. It’s certainly the holiest site in Christianity—if you buy the narrative. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre dates back to the fourth century, but has been considerably reconstructed. And of course recapturing it was one of the main aims of the Crusaders. Inside are the places where Jesus was supposedly crucified, his body prepared for burial, the burial site, and where he arose from the dead.

It has Crusader graffiti in it! As Wikipedia notes, the photo below shows “Crusader graffiti in the church: crosses engraved in the staircase leading down to the Chapel of Saint Helena.”

Right where you enter is a large stone slab. Although the stone has been replaced several times, this is said to be the spot where the body of Jesus was laid out for burial. Here’s a mural showing that.  (Photo by Anna.)

People prostrate themselves on the stone, but also leave items there for a short while, including backpacks, hoping to infuse those items with something of Jesus.

I decided to leave my Chicago White Sox hat there to see if it would acquire new powers. Even if it didn’t, perhaps I could sell it on eBay as a genuine religious artifact. Only kidding!  Here I am prostrating and putting my hat on the stone. Perhaps that’s blasphemy. . .(Next three photos by Anna)

My hat on the stone. Will it make the White Sox win the pennant?

I’m not sure if this is a cleric or a religious zealot (it’s hard to tell them apart).

Below, my favorite picture of the day (taken by me): a young woman overcome by the presence of Jesus. She hasn’t gone around the bend, but I read that 50 times a year a Christian goes nuts on the Via Dolorosa and has to be taken to a psychiatric hospital before being sent home. This woman has only a very mild case of Jerusalem Syndrome.

She’s in rapture, that’s for sure! She sat there for a long time, eyes closed and staring at the ceiling.

33 thoughts on “Israel: Day 3

  1. Fantastic pictures, history lesson, geography lesson, food lesson (I want hummus!), and tour of the various historical sites. Keep ‘em coming. Thank you.

    And—it’s hard to believe it but there it is—thanks for the picture of the Seattle Seahawks T-shirt. My guess is that it is not officially licensed for sale by the NFL, but it’s cool to see that the 12th man lives in Israel!

  2. “Jewish Christians. (Isn’t that an oxymoron?)” – One might think so, but they are quite an old phenomenon. Having grown up with the belief that my Polish/Ukrainian mother was the daughter of a Catholic woman and a freethinking/Protestant man, I discovered a few months ago that her parents were in fact extremely devout Jews, and that her eldest brother, destined by his parents for the rabbinate, converted to Christianity and joined the CMJ (Christian mission to the Jews) in England, in which capacity he spent much of the 1930s trying to convert his former coreligionists in Poland and Ukraine. In more modern times, there are organizations like “Jews for Jesus”, which describe themselves as messianic, in the sense that they espouse the belief that the Messiah has already arrived in the shape of Jesus of Nazareth.

  3. Truly interesting and beautiful photos, thank you very much. The hummus, in particular, looks amazing (and I drool for the halvah)!

    To be fair to the “Jewish Christians”, of course, until Saul of Tarsus (“Better call Paul”) opened the whole thing up to the Goyim, ALL Christians were Jewish. And a weirdly disproportionate number of Jews in prisons seem to be “Jews for Jesus” or similar. (I suspect that at least some of the latter is just because the Christians in prison get more chances to get out of the dorms or cells for services. Maybe not. Maybe it’s just that there are so many Christians in American prisons that the peer pressure is hard to resist.)

  4. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is only where most Christians think Jesus was buried and rose from the grave. The Protestants have a different view of the matter, and a different holy grave site. It’s called the Garden Tomb, and as the name suggests, it’s got gardens. If one has time in Jerusalem, it’s worth a visit. It’s a nice place to sit and contemplate things. Much less crowded.

    1. the Garden Tomb is quite delightful it is true but might annoy JC ( the living one not the one revered here)…the garden of Christ Church is just as nice. JC should consider visiting the Ecole Biblique beside the Garden Tomb – – rambling gardens with cats galore.

  5. “She’s in rapture, that’s for sure! She sat there for a long time, eyes closed and staring at the ceiling.”

    I do that every night while wearing my CPAP mask for about 7 hours.

  6. Jesus cooties? Sounds more like magic than theology. But then in the UK I’ve noticed more and more graves (particularly for children) ‘dressed’ with ornaments and sports memorabilia – I guess it is heartfelt grief.

  7. But only Muslims are allowed to go inside the mosque, and Jews, while they can walk around it, are not allowed to pray—they could get arrested if they try.

    Why? Why aren’t the Jews allowed to pray? Who controls who gets to pray there?

    I didn’t know about Jerusalem Syndrome. Maybe Jesus was a bit cuckoo too 🙂

    1. Israel controls the plaza at the Western Wall, but Jordan controls the Temple Mount. Jordan regards Jews silently praying at their holiest site as completely unacceptable.

      1. The Temple Mount, as I said in the post, is also a very holy site for Jews; it’s the site where Abraham was about to kill Isaac, the site of the Second Temple, and is said to contain the “Holy of Holies” (the Ark of the Covenant). Moshe Dayan made a big mistake when he agreed to prohibit Jews from praying there.

  8. I’ve actually wondered before what happens when the chinks in the wall fill up. I wouldn’t mind having a Cleveland Indians t-shirt in Hebrew.

  9. My hat on the stone. Will it make the White Sox win the pennant?

    I just checked the MLB standings, and the Chisox are 53-86 and 20 games out of first place in the AL Central, so I think their chance of winning the pennant this year is beyond whatever mojo the slab in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre may have.

    That would be way beyond water into wine, curing the blind, or even raising the dead.

  10. Wonderful and revealing pictures. Thank you!

    All those wooden crucifixes! Reminds me of a quip attributed to Lenny Bruce, that if Jesus had been born in the US, Christians would be wearing little electric chairs on chains round their necks.

  11. My, oh, my–how I would love some of the hummus and falafel! They look absolutely wonderful. And the stall with spices is fascinating. Thanks for the photos of kitties!

  12. I learned a lot of neat facts from this post, thanks! Looks like you’re having a great experience and thanks for taking us along.

    1. Me too! Thanks Jerry. Glad that you were not caught up in the violence, but I am continually upset by that violence no matter who is involved.

  13. Wonderful pictures, many thanks!

    And all those crucifixes! Reminds me of the old quip attributed to Lenny Bruce: if Jesus had been born in the US, Christians would all be wearing little electric chairs on chains round their necks

  14. Ref the soldiers praying, the old saying “ no atheists in foxholes”
    Didn’t work for me however, I was atheist and, not a soldier but an “airman” (RAF)

  15. A man was adopted after the war; he knows nothing of his natural parents other than that he was one of the many orphaned children of the time. The family in which he was raised later found itself in mid-America and was not particularly observant to any faith, an occasional Christmas in the pew, some seasons with the children singing in the choir. His cultural practices were stereotypically baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet. As he grew, he came to consider himself an agnostic, but he wouldn’t flinch if you called him an atheist. Years passed, he married and had his own children, his wife passed away, and one day his adult daughter called: “Dad, Dad, my 23andMe test says that I’m nearly half Ashkenazi. I had no idea. I thought Mom was German and English? Is that from you?” After having his own DNA test done the man discovered that he was, indeed, nearly 100% Ashkenazi.

    Setting aside quibbles as to how the fictional story unfolds, can someone tell me: While that man is Ashkenazi, is that man also a Jew? If not, why not? (Must he “identify” as such?) And if he is a Jew, in what way would adopting Christian faith negate his Jewishness given that it is defined in this case strictly by genetic heritage with no cultural practices or religious beliefs involved?

    My own Ashkenazi lineage has seen sufficient intermarriage and nonobservance that this is not personal for me. I thus do not have any convictions as to “Who is a Jew?” so rest assured, I am not trying to provoke a fight. I am trying to understand. The issue has long puzzled me, and Jerry’s “oxymoron” comment brought it back to mind.

    1. I think your answer depends (as I’m sure you know) on how ‘Jew’ is defined. If the definition implies that all Ashkenazis (as labelled by 23andMe) are Jews, then he is a Jew. Becoming a Christian makes him a Christian Jew (or Jewish Christian). That is, it would not diminish his Jewishness.

      However, it could be that one can be a Jew by lineage or X or Y or …

      Therefore, if one in not a Jew by lineage, and cannot qualify through another category while being a Christian, then one is out of luck, if luck is what you want to call it 🙂

      None of this precludes the existence of sleazy schemes to convert Jews. It is entirely plausible that such schemes exist.

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