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Take a walk with me…

Today I’m feeling nostalgic, and therefore will write, but not in my standard way (as you can tell by my title). (and yes, I will get back to my favorite moments at some point…)
I just had an overwhelming feeling of wanting to be back in Israel. I can envision in my mind’s eye that I’m walking along the road headed to the Jaffa Gate. So I think today, I shall tell of the walk through the old city.

Please join me, As we go down the elevator and walk into the lobby of the Tower Hotel in Jerusalem. Walking strait, I go through the side door, because for some reason the revolving door always freaks me out just a smidge. As I walk out of my hotel, there is a large section of brick sidewalk, and then the road. To the right are shops, mainly selling clothes or coffee or some cheap accessories. And when I look to the left there’s a plethora of restaurants From Italian, Chinese, Japanese or American. Anything you want to eat is just a jaunt down the road.

Turn left to head to the old city. Walking past people, vendors and that graffiti that states “set the police in fire” on the side of the building. Such an odd thing to see posted on the side of a building. As we walk we go downhill, continuing for less than a mile, now we pass apartments and parked cars. We come to an intersection, where there are two roads curving at odd angles, which makes the sidewalk come to a sharp point where the roads meet. Time to cross, and don’t worry about waiting for the signal, as long as there aren’t any cars, you can cross. Sharp right! Cross two roads now, it’s a split road. Now just go down the stairs and you’ll see this:

This leads to the Jaffa gate

Pretty isn't it?

This is the passageway that leads to the Jaffa gate. You’ll notice that the wall ont the left has markings on it. That’s because they took it down and marked each piece and then rebuilt it, kink of like a giant puzzle. Something that my not be quite as clear from this picture is the art that line the walkway. Local artists (i belive) have sculpture lining this walkway it makes for a very chic and artsy look as you walk down. You almost feel like you’re in a giant art exhibit. The shops that line the walkway are a high price for the most part. Fancy spas or restaurants, but mainly clothes with super cute dresses in the windows.

We are now arriving at the end of the passageway, go up the stairs (amphitheater like, half circle stairs, just so you get a picture in your head). As you walk up you see the walls cascading up, there my friend is the Old City wall. From the stairs there’s a courtyard of sorts with people buzzing all around and vendors trying to sell you fresh bread and sweets. And apparently, just because they want to let you know that they’re hip, there’s a huge pice of modern art in the center of the courtyard. Looks kind of like a 40 foot tall mobile. Interesting really.

Moving forward we go through the gate, which is a huge (about 20? feet) pointed door. Then turn to the left and you’re now inside those mammoth walls that are the Old City of Jerusalem. This is what it looks like from the inside:

In the City Walls

Ooooo....Inside the City Walls

Now I don’t know if I’ve told you this or not, but did you know that all the buildings in Jerusalem (and I believe in Israel) have to be built with Israeli stone? Meaning all buildings are made with stones quarried from Israel itself. Interesting? Yes. Causing issues with a lack of building material? Yes.

If you keep going straight, following the sidewalk, you will enter the bazaar. It’s crazy and colorful and full of people and things yelling and walking and moving about. I didn’t get a picture of this. I’m sorry I failed you. walk through two slices of the bazaar then turn left then make a right, then walk down those stairs you are now entering a courtyard. to your left there is a beautiful synagogue which is being re-built, it’s one of the oldest in the city. Looking forward there are outdoor tables and chairs with umbrellas where people can sit and eat their lunch. The first time we walked down this way most of my classmates went into a small archeological museum, while me and a few others wandered around outside waiting for them. If you walk down one of the little roads it leads to a residential area, and that’s exactly where I went, you can see some of the pictures below:


A wall near the residential portion of the Old City

More Walls

A little side alley where people lived

This was actually one of my favorite times in the city. It was day 1 in Jerusalem and we only had about 15 or so minutes to take a break while the others went through the museum. But it was here that I saw the daily lives of the good Jewish Israelis. The women had their heads covered, and were wearing long skirts and 3/4 length shirts. They were taking out their trash, watching their kids and having conversations with their neighbors. It was here that I realized that they aren’t really any different from you or me. Despite the fact that they live in the Holy Land, they are still people looking to make a life for themselves. Taking care of their daily needs, and they were also people who had hurts and pains and were just as lost as anyone in the world. They were beautiful, and as I sat on a ledge under a tree, I began feeling God’s heart for his people and his land.

Israel really is a Holy Land, you can feel it when you stand there. But the funny thing is, you have to look for it. It doesn’t hit you in the face when you land in the airplane. It doesn’t hit you when you’re on the temple mount, and it doesn’t hit you when you’re standing in the countryside with a pick in your hand. It hits you when you sit and pray. When you ask God to show you. Then it hits you hard. Israel is a land full of religion…but God isn’t active there, not unless you search him out. And if you do seek him…well…hold on, it will be a crazy ride.

I got off on a tangent there…sorry.

Anyway! Going through that courtyard at an angle, you will head down a road lined with food vendors, (I got a bagel, seemed appropriate in the Jewish Quarter). Going under a large archway we keep going and make a slight shift to the right, and then you were there. At the top of the stairs looking down at the Western (Wailing) Wall. Descending the flight of stairs you go through the security system at the Wall (not unlike airport security). Then you walk out and you’re in the courtyard of the Western Wall, Isn’t it pretty?

The Courtyard for at the Western Wall

This picture wasn’t taken in the courtyard obviously, it’s taken from above, but I thought it would give you a better understanding of the layout.

From here you do your best to be respectful of the people at the Wall. If you so chose you can approach it. When I did the first time it was in the middle of the day, broad daylight. I walked up, found a small place between to women, and touched the wall. I placed my written prayers in the cracks…then I prayed. And then I cried. I cried for the people of Israel, I cried for my family, I cried for my schoolmates that were with me, and I cried for my (now) fiance. And then I cried for me.

I walked that road every day I was in Israel. From the hotel to the Jaffa gate, then normally to the Wall or somewhere around it. So I thought I’d share with you some of my walk. I hope you enjoyed the company.



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Dear Favorite Moments pt 1

RE: Israel

Sorry I’ve not been in correspondence lately, I’ve been a bit distracted with being out of the country and then readjusting to being home. My intention in writing today is to not only get me back into the swing of writing again, but also to tell you about a few of my adventures overseas.

I know that you will probably be expecting me to tell you all the fascinating things that happened to me in Israel, but I doubt very much that I will write such a long post. So forgive me, but I think I’ll focus on only the major highlights of my trip. And even this I’ve decided after writing for a bit will be done in parts.

OK. First, before I even start, I’d like to give a quick shout out to my parents for helping me go on this adventure. What a huge blessing. Also, I’d like to thank Professor Mike Pytlik and Dr. Stamps for the opportunity to join them on OakDig 2011. All the work, sweat and tears they put into this trip was worth it in my opinion, and I loved every second of it. Thank you all so much!

My highlights of this trip will be organized as follows:

  • My favorite place we went (pt 1)
  • My favorite people I met (pt 2)
  • My favorite times with my group (pt 3)
  • My favorite part of the dig (pt 4)
  • What I learned from all this (pt 5)

Part 1:

My favorite Place I Went:

all three of our weekends were full of interesting things to do, and beautiful things to see. However, as people ask me my favorite place when I speak to them, I have one place in particular that stands out above the rest. The Garden of Gethsemane (here after named as The Garden). If I look back at the day I went it’s easy to see why it was my favorite place. In the morning our entire group headed to the Church of the Holy Sepulichre (considered to be the place where Jesus was hung on a cross, buried and rose again) (and here after name as CHS). I was expecting to enjoy the experience immensely, I mean come on, it’s the place where Jesus died and was buried man!

Outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

 However, when I entered the most holy church the feeling was…less than holy. When you first walk in there is this pink, flat slab of marble on the ground. Someone leaned over to me and told me it’s supposed to be the place where Jesus was laid in preparations for his burial once he was dead. People were walking up to it, kneeling (because it was almost at floor level) and putting their things that they bought or relics from home on it. Apparently this is supposed to give the things some type of blessing. Although I didn’t really see the point, I went up and knelt down, touched the stone and prayed. I belive my prayer went something like “Hi again. Um, so this is the stone where you laid. I suppose I should re-pray for my family, give them a blessing, let them know that I love them while I’m away. Amen.” Epic prayer right? No not really. But what do you pray about at the stone where Jesus laid. Especially when you don’t think the thing has any powers of blessing at all, it’s just a stone.

Now please understand, I’m not trying to talk down the Sepulchre here, I’m giving you my impressions of the place. I’m sure that there are plenty of people who have had epic experiences there…I wasn’t one of them is all.

From the stone we headed upstairs to the place considered Golgotha, which didn’t look like anything but a big rock under the floor with this epic altar built on top of it. Well, not wanting to miss out on any experience I stood in line waiting for my turn to step up to the altar and say a prayer. I’m thinking I stood there with Danielle (my roommate and friend) for a good 10 to 15 minutes waiting, you see, it’s a one-at-a-time kind of thing. We made it finally, and I let her go first. My turn now. So when you get to the altar you have to kneel down to get under it (lots of kneeling these people), and there is a little hole in this piece of glass, and in this hole I assume must have been where the cross stood on the stone. Because it looked to me like a hole in a stone. Once again, not wanting to miss out, I prayed.

“God…you’re not here are you? This may have been the place where Jesus was killed, but Jesus rose from the dead and is alive. You’re not here are you? Hm…”

I know, I kick hinny at prayers. But in all honesty, I really didn’t know what to say, I knelt there and looked at this hole and just felt that all of this is was rigamarow…it was all religion, God wasn’t there. Mainly because God dwells in the ‘hearts’ of his believers and not in a church. But it seemed like everyone there was looking for God in that place…but they weren’t going to find him there. At least I didn’t.

We went through the rest of the Church, it’s huge man, like 3 stories. Fun fact: the church is owned by four different denominations and each one is extremely Orthodox. So apparently, all changes or repairs to the CHS have to be agreed upon by all four parties. And in most things, they don’t agree. So there are parts of the church that are in serious disrepair because the stupid parties can’t agree on the way it should be fixed. Not really a fun fact…more of a sad fact.  

Some other things that left a bad taste in my mouth was the decorations. think, Greek Orthodox shiny fanciness mixed with intense Roman Catholic paintings, mixed with Medieval architecture. The place just bombarded you with stuff EVERYWHERE!  you couldn’t get away from it really. I suppose one of the good things about it was that you didn’t have to pay to get in. there are some places, not a lot, but some that you have to pay money to see historic things. That’s stupid. But none the less, people try to make money and they know how to get it.

ANYWAY! I needed to tell you my experience with the CHS because it shows why I enjoyed the Garden of Gethsemane so much more.

The Garden of Gethsemane Church

The Garden of Gethsemane Church

So, this is one of my favorite places I went. Mainly, as I said because it was in comparison to the CHS. This place is across the Kidron Valley, which is outside of the ‘City of David’ and the ‘Old City’. So for orientation purposes, if you’re standing with your back to the Eastern wall of the Temple Mount, you’d be looking at this building, along with the Mount of Olives.OK. So after the CHS, and after unknowingly walking the Via Dolorosa (backwards) a few of us broke off from the group and headed for a food tour of Jerusalem led by Hagi. Hagi had been the one who told me that I would probably like The Garden. You see, as we were leaving the CHS Hagi asked me how I liked it. I gave my honest opinion of the place and then he suggested on our little tour we make a detour at The Garden. So this was one of the first places we went after we broke off from the group.We arrived a little early, The Garden doesn’t open until 2pm, why? I don’t know. But none the less, we got to chill on the street for about 10 to 15 minutes before entering (this is a completely pointless fact, but I added it to make you feel like you were there with me). Anyway, once the doors opened we walked inside with the small crowd that had gathered, and we looked around the garden for a bit. Below is a picture from a distance, you can see the Garden is on the left and the church on the right:

The Whole Garden of Gethsemane Church

So, as you should be able to tell there are some trees and things, but overall the Garden is pretty small. You’re not allowed to go into it, only look from behind the fence. One interesting thing that Hagi told us was that the trees that are currently in the garden are olive trees. Now, the interesting thing about them is that once they get to  be over 100 years or so old they begin decomposing from the inside out. so some of the trees in the garden were in fact hollow. I of course didn’t get a picture of this, but thanks to Google Images I can still show you.

Olive Tree (not in the Garden)

Olive Tree

As you should be able to see the tree looks like it’s a bunch of small trees fused together with a hollow center. It’s not though, it’s one huge ancient tree that is hollow in the center because it’s decomposed from the inside out. So, The Garden had several of these trees. Hagi said that it’s hard for them to date the trees after a certain period of time, because unlike other trees where you can count the growth rings, these trees are hollow. So we know that they are over 100 years old, but there is no way of knowing if they date back to the time of Christ.

After we spent a few minutes out in the garden area we then walked into the church. Everyone had come for me, so no one else really entered with me, they just hung back at the entrance or in the doorway maybe around the edges of the church. When you enter the church one of the first things you notice is the darkness of the place. There was hardly any light other than the front of the church which illuminated  the stone that Jesus was supposed to have thrown him self down on to pray and also the light that streams in from the purple stain glass windows, and even that is a faded light.

Awesome stain glass windows

Awesome Stain Glass Windows

As I walked into the church I could feel the silence around me. There were no more than 15 people in the church, most of which were praying. I walked up the right side of the church, looking at the awesome purple cross stain glass  windows, and then arrived at the front of the church. I knelt down at the kneelers which surround the stone at the front of the church. One of my favorite things about this place was when I went and kneeled down there were these funny things in picture frames. They were Bible passages of the record of Jesus being at the Garden, Matthew 26:36-46. Along all the kneelers these verses were spread out. I would say the were in about 9 different languages, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, English, Spanish, etc.

As I knelt and read I could see why Jesus would have come here. The people who keep up the church have done an excellent job making it a place where you feel comfortable praying and calling out to God. The silence all around you makes you reflect about where you are, and why you’re there. For the most part I prayed for my family, but I also prayed for everyone I was on the trip with. During my prayer I felt like I could understand a sliver of what Christ was going through when he prayed. There was passion behind my prayer, that doesn’t normally happen. I was praying with an earnest heart, I wanted to see the things I was praying for come to fruition so badly. After my prayer, I walked back to my group. Hagi asked how I liked the Church and I confirmed that this place was much more what I was looking for than the CHS.

Overall, looking back, this experience was one of hundreds that I had in Israel. But whenever anyone asks me what my favorite place was my answer is always the Garden of Gethsemane. Maybe it’s just because it was a place where I met God for a time, I don’t know. But this is one of many places that I went that I loved, and I hope you enjoyed reading about it.
I hope to be in touch again soon,