I worked a little in the morning at the church office, while also tying up a few loose ends of preparation before we left. I charged the video camera and backed up my hard drive and after praying with Pastor I went to collect Noel from his house! We went down to Carrigaline to get my luggage and Dad also made some chicken for my lunch. I had to eat it in the car as we were already running a small bit late. When we arrived Barry was already there and his family had already left. It didn’t take us long to check-in and we went upstairs and had some coffee and talked about the trip. Going through the security check point, Barry got frisked which I thought was funny! The flight to London was very short and I got talking to a guy next to me who was heading back to Newcastle, Australia, but originally from Co. Kerry. After we landed, we eventually found Terminal 5 after taking a first class train there :-) We ate some dinner (I had some nice chilli con carne), and wandered around for a while as our flight wasn’t for a few hours. Went into the Apple store and also read and studied a bit before our boarding gate number was announced. At B44, there were Hassidic Jews praying out of the windows which was strange to see. The wore hats and black suits, and had long locks growing at the sideburns while the rest of their head of hair was much shorter. Some would pray out loud, and all of them moved rhythmically, either bobbing forward and back at the waist, or swaying side to side, or both! In time, we would see this sight again at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. I slept well enough on the 5hr flight and noticed that British Airways are a little more comfier to travel with than the United Airlines plane had been the year before.
Arriving in Israel – Wednesday 14th April
We touched down to a round of applause at 5.30am local time and then disembarked and headed through customs. Ariel from Diesenhaus Tours was there to meet us and talked with us while we were waiting for our bags. It turned out, he actually wasn’t waiting for us at all and was supposed to be meeting an American couple named Mr. And Mrs. Rushling!! So he left us with a cab driver and we headed straight to Jerusalem. Though we were tired (we arrived 3.30am on our body clocks), it was beautiful to see the morning sun glowing in the horizon and to look out of the window of the cab and see the landscape of Israel. Although it was nice and quiet on the roads, the cab driver assured us it would get busier and later on he would weaving around traffic like a madman and overtaking on inside lanes and things. We would come to learn that this was normal! It only took about 35mins I think to get to hotel, as we got close to Jerusalem we were looking up at Jerusalem and I was reminded of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew saying, a city set on a hill cannot be hid. When we arrived, we checked in to our room, got our things together and had a lovely breakfast and headed straight for the Old City of Jerusalem.
We entered on the western side of the city through the Jaffa gate and headed through the Armenian quarter. The descending streets were narrow cobblestone with a step down every now and again. The shops on either side belonged to Arabs selling various trinkets, souvenirs and even archaeological items. We soon saw a sign for the Western Wall and after a security checkpoint much like the airport, we stood looking at the Wall and beyond it the Temple Mount area. The section of the wall used for prayer by the Jews was a little smaller than I expected, but as we passed through into the Men’s only section (it’s pretty much men only!) it was an intrigueing sight! The Jewish men, some with their long hassidic locks, were wearing items like kippahs and black hats, prayer shawls and phylacteries. Some were looking into their Hebrew prayer books were praying out loud and moving rhythmically as they recited them. The whole place was alive with prayer, some men with their faces pressed against the wall, written prayer requests were pushed into the cracks of the wall as high as a person could reach. Some of the white limestone blocks dated back to the days of Herod the Great! The whole area has been treated as a holy place for the Jewish people since the time of Suleiman the Manificent in the 1500's. Though I’m not sure as to the actual reason as I heard officially (on a tour) that the area is the closest place the Jews can get to the spot where the Holy of Holies was when the Jewish Temple stood in the Temple Mount area.
As we walked about staring and gawking at the Jews, they were very tolerant with us Gentiles as we took pictures though they didn’t want to talk to us! I thought it would have cool to have had enough Hebrew to be able to understand what they were praying about.
After visiting the wall, we found the queue for the Temple Mount Area, which was actually right next to the Western Wall site. I thought there might be an entrance fee but there wasn’t. We ascended a wooden ramp structure that provided access to the gate in the wall which was maybe 30 feet from the ground below. We got some good shots of the Western Wall and also took some funny photos with some riot shields we found stacked there! We were greeted by a group of security guards kitted out in full riot gear as we entered through the gate in the wall. Noel asked for a photo but they flatly refused! Immediately, we saw the Al Aqsa Mosque directly ahead and over the trees to our left you could see the gold leaf covered Dome of the Rock. Unfortunately the Dome was closed for renovations and also we could not enter the Al Aqsa mosque as we weren’t Muslim. We took some photos as we passed by a group having some sort of Koran study and to the right was a circular area for washing feet, perhaps ten taps or so. The Dome of the Rock was ornately tiled with portions of the Koran in blue and white. It had four doors one facing North, South, East and West. Next to the Eastern end was a smaller open dome which was called the center of the Universe. I heard that according to Jewish tradition, this was the place God began to create the universe!
After leaving the Temple Mount area, we found our way back to the Western Wall area and headed down towards the dung gate. Outside the southern part of the Temple Mount wall was a place called the Davidson Center, I think we paid something like 30 shekels to get in there. I didn’t really know what exactly was in there but we saw a walkway going across the top of the Old city wall and we wanted to go up there! It turned out to be more fun than we expected as we got a spectacular view looking south out of the Old City towards Siloam and the City of David, and you could also see the massive wall in the distance dividing Israel from the West Bank area. As we walked along the wall eastwards we saw the Mount of Olives which is basically a big graveyard! Some people said that one reason why is that they think they will be first to be resurrected when Jesus comes back! As we came off the wall, there was old houses preserved from Ottoman empire times, I think perhaps a couple of hundred years old. The floors were beautifully mosaiced and there was also another area nearer the Huldah Gates (now bricked shut, it was the entrance to the temple area in Herod’s time) where there was remnants of ritual baths that were used for cleansing before entering the temple area.
By this time we were quite tired, but one more site needed a quick visit just before we finished up for the day! The pool of Siloam! Siloam is situated towards the south-east just outside the old city of Jerusalem. We left through the dung gate and passed by the City of David ruins where there are excavations that date back to the Jebusites which inhabited Jerusalem before David took the city in battle. Now, all of a sudden, going down a steep hill we found ourselves in what Barry called the “real Jerusalem”! The streets were plain and simple houses lined both sides of the streets. Dusty, old run-down vehicles were parked here and there, and we even passed some pro-palestinian banners which denounced the City of David tourist site we just passed further up. We passed a mosque on the left and reached the bottom of the hill. We knew we should have seen a sign for it on the hill so Barry took out his guide book and looked at the hebrew phrases in the back! I saw a guy, probably muslim at a bus stop so I said, “efo (where, according to the book) pool of Siloam”? I wasn’t sure how he would react to us dumb tourists but he very nicely pointed back to the nearby mosque and told us in english! However, it turned out that we didn’t quite enter the pool through the right entrance. All the same, an old arab man said he would show us the “real siloam pool where Jesus “healed the blind man” for a “donation”! He showed us the exit section of Hezekiah’s tunnel and said that this the genuine spot and the other place was a lie! We took a few photos and gave him 10 shekels and then headed back to the hotel for some rest! On the way back, we picked up some pizza and then got some sleep before we headed to a nearby baptist church for some preaching!
After a cab, and then some walking we found the church on a side street off of another street called Salah Eddin street. It was called the First Baptist Bible Church of Jerusalem. Excited, we went in to find that we had missed the Bible study, as they had recently changed the time from 6pm to 5pm!! Disaster! Well, praise God after a few moments with Pastor Abdullah, he suddenly said, sit down, we will have an extra service! He preached in arabic from John 6:17-24 while another man translated after each sentence or two. I had never heard preaching through a translator but I don’t think it hindered in any way the delivery of the message. The sermon was about how we can get away from God, yet He is never far and never leaves us. He actively seeks us, and when we are back in the light, we are stronger for it. Stronger in love (as we are forgiven much), and stronger in faith (as He has delivered us). I am very thankful that we went, and although we could not make it Sunday as we would be in Galilee, we determined to go back again the next Wednesday. After much fellowship and testimonies after the service, we headed back home, through the Damascus Gate on the northern end of the Old City and passed the Western Wall, and out the Jaffa gate (on the east side) towards the hotel. What an amazing day!