Jerusalem Tour: So Near Yet So Far

Israel is a place of many faces and only one hour and a world away from the lavish late nights and bronzed beach beauty of Tel Aviv you can walk the austere ancient streets of Jerusalem. Whenever I closed my eyes and pictured Israel, it was always Jerusalem that I saw, a place where squat golden buildings sat parched by the sun, where wrinkled women sat on the floor selling goats’ milk in plastic bottles and where the pilgrims roam the streets seeking the place where the son of God laid his hand or head. A Jerusalem tour was a must on my bucket list.

My introduction to the complexities of the city started on the Mount of Olives, the spot where Jesus is said to have spilt a sacred tear as he gazed out onto the city. Today the city skyline is tapered with raised steeples, flat roofs and the golden glow of the Dome of the Rock whose prayer bells call for a sea of Muslims to flock to its feet for the noon worship. On clear days, if your view isn’t obstructed by the tourist camel, you can turn your back on the city and see all the way to the red dust hills of Jordan or even catch a glimpse of the low lying salt sea.

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Orthodox Jews bury their dead beneath the Mount of Olives, ‘to be first in line’ my guide explains with a smile tugging his lips, my gaze raises from the black clad figures in large brim hats standing amongst the white wash tombs that stretch seemingly forever down the hill, my eyes look past them and over to the Dome where throngs of Muslims are gathered to pray, ‘So near, yet so far’ my guide whispers once more, a statement that becomes a mantra as I pass through Jerusalem.

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The Garden of Gethsemane is still, as though it has dared not move for thousands of years, the trees still seem to weep and the red smear of flowers betray a kiss.  The Mount of Olives gives you the chance to look at a picture, before you choose to dive right in. The city is a veritable maze of narrow alleys, walking on rooftops, passing stars or crosses etched on doors and pushing through the throngs of people seeking their own answers in the Holy City. I press against a wall as a chain of Polish Christians with green kerchiefs wrapped around their necks pass holding hands and singing softly as they go from one station of the cross to the other.

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Slipping across rooftops we come to the Wailing Wall, whose crowds have been dispersed by Sabbath preparations. On the woman’s side the stain of tears streams down faces and the murmur of emotion rises high. Prayers are pushed into every crack, the wall so full it spills secrets on the floor, ‘There are people with hearts of stone, and stones with hearts of people.’ The song plays over and over in my mind as I watch women shake and tremble as they touch the wall before walking backwards afraid to turn their back.

In the Church of the Holy Scepter, pilgrims kneel to kiss the spot where the savior’s body is said to have broken. The Church of the Resurrection is half Ottoman Empire with its gilded gold paintings and hanging lanterns and half catholic shadowed colors. We take the maze like journey up narrow stairwells where candles burn like a bed of stars, down into half burnt out hollows and around and around finally glad to emerge from the weight of a thousand worlds into the bright sunshine of now.

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Despite the close-knit streets scattered with different symbols and the taut history that can pull apart the pieces of the day, Jerusalem remains a wonder to behold. An average moment sees a melting pot of cultures and religions walking side by side, sees the markets spilling over the freshly baked bread to be broken at Sabbath, sees young people dancing in the aisles, paper plates of thick creamy hummus getting past from place to place and the rhythms of life continue to be the thread that binds us all together.

 

Big thanks to the lovely people at Vibe Israel for inviting me to enjoy the bounty of their beautiful country. Vibe Israel is a non profit and non political organization, find out more at www.vibeisrael.com 

All Images’ Source: www.orkaplan.com

Jodie Oakes

Jodie Oakes

Jodie Oakes is a seasoned writer and an avid surfer with continuously itchy feet and a love of the finer things in life. After traveling through the continent with a touring band, living in Paris, Amsterdam and under the Auroras Borealis, she is now in Bulgaria where she attempts to piece together her first poetry collection.
Jodie Oakes