Friday, March 23, 2012

David's Citadel

While Jeff and Angie went off to find Oscar Schindler's grave on Mt Zion, I went into the Old City.

The Citadel of David Museum provides a great introduction to the history of Jerusalem. A bit dumb to be seeing it on my last day, but there you go.

Guess I'm not the only dolt here: someone whose hourglass was a few grains short came up with quite the name for an minaret from the Ottoman period: "David's Tower." The name stuck, so the city of Florence made the best of an embarrassing mistake and gifted an impressive statue of the shepherd boy with the Big G's head at his feet.

Afterwards, I wandered through alleyways in the Moslem Quarter, then headed over to the Jewish Quarter where a few days ago a Jewish man stopped me, put his small Bible on my head, prayed that I would be protected from the Evil Eye, then stretched out his hand for a donation. I shook his hand, put nothing in it, and moved on.

Today, though, no one accosts me, so I spend an hour in the big Jewish bookshop and read about Kabbala and the Jewish longing for the Messiah.

I've got my return train ticket home but, fortified by some fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice and having a full supply of red and white corpuscles, I decide to walk home.

It is as pleasant as yesterday in every way, including the smell from the bakery. Another doughnut calls my name as I walk past, but I pretend not to hear it since I am a goy who speaks no Hebrew. It works and I get back without adding any calories. I buy a couple of candy bars with my few remaining shekels. For the plane trip, of course. We will get up at 1am and who knows when the next meal will be.

But first we will have our Shabbat (sabbath) meal and service which Rabbi Steve (a gentile) will lead. To our surprise, we gentiles have been given a table in the Jewish dining room, not upstairs as usual. All around us are the sounds of Jewish families welcoming in "Queen Shabbat." We feel a little conspicuous. I want to run upstairs and put on anything black I can find, and wear my kippa/yarmulke I was given at the wailing wall.

There are a few curious looks, but none of them hostile, and soon I begin to relax as Steve starts the service. The wine is quite good and quite sweet. 12% according to the label. "Blessed art Thou O Lord God, King of the universe, for bringing forth the fruit of the vine from the earth," Steve prays.

After the meal, it's off to the room to finish packing, do this post, and get a couple of hours sleep before the big Mediterranean and Atlantic treks begin.

Last Day in Jerusalem

I've almost reached my international data plan limit so need to be sparing with pics today.

Had a great chat last night with Rabbi Steve from the messianic congregation who toured with us. Discussed, among other things, how Gentiles relate to the Torah, the Old Testament Law.

Here's a part of my reading this morning from Psalm 128, A Song of Ascents (going up to Jerusalem):

The Lord bless you from Zion!
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life!
May you see your children's children!
Peace be upon Israel!

Time to get on the train and ascend to the old city of Jerusalem.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Long Walk Home

The rest of the day was, well, interesting. I got to putz around in the Temple Institute for about an hour, reading various books.
These are the folks who are preparing all the temple artifacts for the future temple, such as the menora I photographed in an earlier post.

I was a few feet away from the counter reading a book I think I really must buy, when a bearded guy with long hair and a cowboy hat came in and started taking to the proprietor, a Brit who emigrated to Israel.

I tried to close my ears, but you've seen them - easier said than done.Anyway, he's been very involved in all that Sinai in the Arabian peninsula archeological intrigue that's been a hot item on youtube and which one or two Lakeviewers have been pretty excited about.

After all that cloak and dagger stuff, I wandered here and there in the old city tourist-watching, as well as spying on the locals. Eventually, I headed back "home," but decided to walk rather than use my return train ticket.

My first stop of interest en route was the Bible Society. As I looked in the window at some great titles about Scripture and Jesus, an orthodox man, in black suit and hat, did the same. I prayed then and invite you to pray with me again - that he might find the Messiah who gave His life's blood for him.

Speaking of blood, the next stop on my jaunt was the famous Ben Yehuda, street (where the Jews of Jerusalem do much of their shopping and where 11 were killed in a suicide bombing a decade ago).

In the square I saw a mobile blood unit. On a whim, I poked my head in and asked if you had to be an Israeli to donate blood. "No," the guy wearing blue latex gloves replied, "you just need a passport."

Well, that wasn't quite true since I had to fill in a questionnaire about who I'd been sleeping with etc. Worse than that, it was in Hebrew. They gave me a cheat sheet in English, but I think I still only got a D+ on the test cause here documents go from right to left and it's all pretty confusing for a guy who's from down under.

The whole thing, which was meant to take 20 minutes, took an hour. But I can now say I gave a pint of blood for an Israeli since a Jew shed his life's blood for me.

I also got two free cups of water.

They told me not to exert myself, so I moseyed on home at a geriatric pace. This let me observe slices of normal Israeli life. The ones that stick with me now: a secular man determinedly racing the train on his bike; a religious man running, undignified, for the train (his son's ringlets/side curls bobbing as the young boy tried to keep up with his father); a dentist's office set below street level so I could observe the prone body and two gowned figures looking into his mouth. What's "ouch" in Hebrew?

The final image is multi-sensory, not just visual. I smelled the bakery first, then saw the biggest and most delectable round doughnut I've ever seen. And it was deluged with cinnamon sugar.

I'd like to be able to tell you I just walked on by, but that would be a lie. My knees grew weak and I felt faint. Was it loss of blood, or the doughnut? I couldn't tell. So I went up close for a better look. And a better smell.

Oi Vey, it was good. It was irresistible. But I walked away. Slowly. Ponderously. I felt like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold as a geriatric. It was, perhaps, my finest hour in the Holy Land.

Back to the Western Wall

Like the others who came with me on this pilgrimage, the pace was so fast and furious that I/we didn't keep up with our readings. So it's been nice to read and reflect a little, and to unhurriedly pray.

I got to pray at the wall for each one in my beloved family and for Lakeview: that we will enjoy unity, that will be Jesus to our community.

What a treat to bring praise and requests to Him in the City of God, and so close to where the Ark of the Covenant and the Temple and Holy of holies was.

The Jewish Quarter

I'm in the Jewish Quarter, in the square, doing nothing but enjoying the warm sun and watching the people. Sure, I did have a mango cone ten minutes ago, but that was then and this is now. Always good to live in the present, even in cities that go back millennia.

A man sits at a table in the square with a banner telling us, in Nike speak, that we should just wear phylacteries. His tefilin wind around his arm, making him the poster child for a new generation. Move over Michael Jordan and Tiger.

I go into the Dead Sea Products Center and sample some of the famous Ahava products for men. I will return to Stoughton with an entirely new aroma to define me. Hmmm. Essence of Masada, or Essence of Qumran?

Herod lived at Masada when he was particularly paranoid and smelled of fear. John the Baptist quite likely had contact with the Essenes at Qumran when he thought it was the right time of year to come in out of the desert and have a bath. Still, I'm guessing "Essence of John the Baptist" and "Essence of Herod" never made it past the marketing folks at Ahava. It's not one of Israel's most profitable companies for nothing.

Bar mitzvah Day

I was here in the western wall plaza Monday and today is Thursday. These are the two days when, it seems, every Jew in Jerusalem comes to celebrate the coming of age of their sons or their uncle's second cousin's son who's had his bunions twice removed.

I'm just up a little from the plaza, enjoying some delicious schwarma for lunch, and a little peace and quiet from the pace of the last ten days.

Just now a troupe of professional bar-mitzvah-for-hire musicians with drums and trumpets have started assailing my ears with the kind of volume that should be reserved for King David, our even his more famous "son."

There's dancing and much happiness. Better these guys than professional mourners.

Toward Al Asqa Mosque

After the tunnels, we split up for the rest of the day. I head toward the mosque and am stooped a little short of it. I retrace my steps to the smell of incense which wafts from this Moslem vendor.

I wander a little further on and find a stall full of pomegranates. Other vendors told us there was none in the city. I buy a small cup from the woman for 15 shekels and sit down to blog.

A few minutes later, she sits next to me. She rocks to the side, almost imperceptibly, and breaks wind. I'm not quite sure whether I should feel honored or insulted. So I just suck on my straw and keep blogging.

The Western Wall Tunnels

I'd hoped to be able to get the whole group here but Angie, Jeff and I will need to act as surrogates.

Only about 10% of the western wall is visible, so we're going underground to see all the rest of it, heading north and following the natural rising slope of the valley.

The western wall is the foundation for the temple plaza which Herod built - the greatest religious structure of its time. The plaza, which housed the temple standing in Jesus' day covers an area equivalent to five football fields.

Underneath, in the tunnels, we see a single rock the size of a bus and weighing 600 tons. Herod may have been an animal, but he sure knew how to build.

We come to a place which is the closest access point to where the Holy of holies was located. This is where the presence of God uniquely dwelled.

To the Old City

Our second full free day since the team left. We jumped on the train and headed toward the old city. There are a few soldiers here and there, but not nearly as many as on my last trip.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Holocaust Museum

Saw the team off at 2am, slept in until about 8, when some drilling in the room upstairs became too obnoxious to ignore.

Breakfast and lunch: a couple of small danishes. Ok, four to be exact.

Then off to the holocaust museum for the second time to pick up where I left off. Another deluge of data and feelings and shame that my humanity is capable of this. Is capable of such systematic and sustained barbarism. I say my humanity since the Germans, those cultured guardians of civilization in Europe, expressed the depravity that lurks in us all.

Four-and-a-half hours later, I'm shooed from the museum with many others. Evil may never sleep, but the curators do, and so it's closing time.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Garden Tomb

This is a very moving place and so was incredibly fitting as the last site for our pilgrimage.

It was pretty emotional for many of us as Rabbi Steve (messianic pastor) and Pastor Dave read the Scriptures surrounding Jesus' crucifixion, and as we sang "The Old Rugged Cross." Then I led communion with a short reflection.

The bad news is that our sin sent Jesus (willingly) to the cross. The good news is that he was forsaken so that we could be accepted. And last I checked (a few hours ago), the tomb is empty.

This is really what our whole trip has been about in one way our another:  appreciating and loving Jesus more. I think that may well have happened. But you'll have to ask someone from the team yourself. Just get ready for a rather animated, and even lengthy, answer.

They leave at 1:30am - just a few hours. It's been an amazing 10 days.

Jeff, Angie and I are staying for three more, so you haven't heard the last of me.

Shrine of the Book

Where some of the Dead Sea Scrolls are displayed.

And the model of Jerusalem at Jesus' time.

Temple Steps

Sitting on some of the original steps from Herod's temple. Jesus walked on these very steps.

Also, a sign from one of the entrances to Jerusalem.

King David's Tomb

The Upper Room

Right above King David's tomb (traditional site, not established site) is the Upper Room. If authentic, this is the place where Jesus and the disciples shared the last supper.

The Western Wall Continued

Dave Sheard (middle, light shirt) prays that Edi will enjoy another wonderful 29 years. It's her birthday today.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Western Wall

Monday and Thursday mornings are when barmitzvahs take place at the Western wall. We witnessed the joy of these families as their sons became "sons of the law."

We also saw the huge menora crafted in preparation for the building of the next temple.

The Ramparts Walk

This morning I read Psalm 48:
Walk about Zion, go around her,
number her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
go through her citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
He will guide us forever.

So how cool was it to be able to do an unplanned walk around the top of the wall, starting at the Jaffa Gate and ending at the Western Wall. What a great way to see the city.

As the day progressed, a sandstorm blew in. I can taste the dust even now. You can see it in one of the pictures as a haze that gradually took over everything in the following hours.

Free Day In the Old City

Our guide left us to our own devices today, so we jumped on a train that had only been in operation 2 weeks. That means the officials have only been employed a short time and are anxious to do things by the book, or perhaps haven't even read the book yet.

Anyway, in the crush and the rush, four of us didn't validate our tickets in the machine. So we were taken off the train, short of our destination. Actually, the four were taken off the train and, at first oblivious to what was happening, the rest of us luckily managed to also get off before it started moving again. Passports were looked at and fines were levied despite our attempts to play the "dumb foreigner" card, something I have reasonable experience doing. Hopefully our guide can convince the powers that be to be sensible.

Yad Vashem

Two-and-a-half hours at the holocaust museum was not nearly enough. Perhaps I'll go back on one of my days once the team leaves.

The horror of the slaughter of six million men, women and children can never be adequately communicated. But the museum does a superb job, even so.

We all came out very sober.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Cindy and Barb in front of the famous cave where the first Dead Sea Scroll was found: inside the clay jar was the Isaiah scroll. It was the oldest scroll by 1000 years.

Live! From the Dead Sea

Live Lakeview Babes at the Dead Sea

Down the Snake Path

Five of us snuck away, like Jewish zealots, and descended this ancient, famous path to the Roman army camp remains below.

Masada Contd

On top of Herod's mountain fortress.


The oldest synagogue in the world.

Off to the Dead Sea

Mike and I are the first ones on the bus. Obsessive-compulsive? No, we just want to sit in the front today.

The bus doors are open and it's freezing. Been 40 to 50 degrees colder than in Stoughton. Our guide says he can't remember when it was so cold.

We're headed to the lowest point on earth, so it should be a bit warmer.