Monday, September 19, 2011

The Holy Land

Israel's Holiest city is so holy that even the bagel I ate there was from a place called Holy Bagel.

Jerusalem is a potpourri of the 3 major Abrahamic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
And I was lucky enough to go there twice.

The city is divided into 4 quarters - the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian.
Walking through the cobbled alleyways, surrounded by the limestone walls made me suddenly feel transported straight into a dreamworld.

The first time I went to Jerusalem was with Daniela.
We took a bus and then a minibus and made it there by lunchtime.
We had shawermas and frozen yoghurt - the first of many.

As compared to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem has a completely different feel.
While everyone is Tel Aviv is in swimwear, the people in Jerusalem are more orthodox in their beliefs, behaviour and choice of clothing.
It's funny when you travel from one city to another for just an hour and see a world of a difference.

Daniela and I walked around the old city, took pictures, visited a little art gallery and finally made it to the Western Wall after having had a gallon of water. It was like the sun was on steroids.
On our way to the Western Wall we met a man who started chatting with us and tied red Kabbalah threads on our wrists for luck. I said "Cool, thank you". Then I realised even luck isn't free these days. And for 10 Shekels I bought enough luck for my whole family.

After being bubble-wrapped in luck, it was time to go to the Western Wall.
The Western Wall is a remnant of the ancient holy Temple. Daniela told me even Shakira and Obama had paid a little visit there. We covered our shoulders with scarves and walked down to the wall ready to make wishes.
I love making wishes. I wrote down everything I wanted which frankly isn't much. But, I went a little crazy writing my note which looked like I was writing Chapter One of a book. After writing our wishes on little pieces of paper, we folded and pushed them into the crevices of the stone wall before walking backwards away from the wall out of respect.

It felt like a special day, just being there.

After this we made our way to the fruit market where we met the Halva king who gave us commoners some free halva samples.
I bought bananas, grapes and mango for breakfast which are basically easy-to-eat fruits which I don't need to cut. (Incase you're wondering how I eat mango without cutting it, my secret is that I pierce a hole on the top and eat it out of that. It's a little caveman-like but it works.)
We then got our dose of fresh orange juice because my day would feel incomplete without it.

My second trip to the capital was when Daniela was away.
This time it was to explore the Christian quarter.
I found a tour group in Tel Aviv and went along with them. It was an interesting mix of people. Some Japanese, some American, German, Brazilian and 2 Indian guys (a perfect example of awkward-friendly).
I had woken up at 6 am that morning or I wouldn't have been able to make it to Tel Aviv to catch the bus at 7 am and so I slept for most of the journey only waking up to catch glimpses of vineyards, olive trees, almond trees and cotton fields.

We reached Jerusalem soon enough and as I looked out of my window, I could see limestone buildings everywhere. I noticed a beautiful bridge which I later found out was designed to look like a harp since the harp was the instrument known to be played by David (King David of Israel). Design with meaning is always something I appreciate.
Overall Jerusalem is just a beautiful and well planned city - now with a new tram.

Our first stop that day was at Mount Scopus from where we could see all of Jerusalem. From here we could see the Al Aqsa Mosque inside which lies the Dome of the Rock - the shrine built on the spot where Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. It is no wonder then that Jerusalem is Islam's third holiest city.
Even the Jews pray facing this direction as they believe that there lies the Foundation Stone where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac.
We could also see the Mount of Olives - where Jesus spent time after the last supper, the Church of Holy Sepulchre - where Jesus  was crucified and resurrected and the Western Wall.

I felt so overwhelmed just being there. Being Hindu, it didn't have any religious significance for me, but something about it felt special.

We then passed through the Kidron Valley - the Valley of Judgement for the Jewish people which also happens to be the location of the Tomb of Mary.

From here we began our walking tour through the different quarters and I got to go back to the Western Wall to make my wishes again. Just as a reminder.
This time however, being a Monday, I got to see the Bar Mitzvah ceremonies that were taking place that day. I climbed onto a chair like many other women from the ladies side of the wall so I could get a good look at the ceremonies taking place on the men's side of the wall. It was exciting to be present for such a significant moment of a stranger's life and still feel like a part of it. I especially loved the part where we were showered with sweets after every ceremony. Mazel Tov.

We then moved into the Christian quarter of Jerusalem. We walked along the Via Dolorosa - the route marked by the stations of the Cross through which Jesus walked before being crucified. We were then led to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

I went to a Christian school where we grew up singing the 'Our Father' which to me felt like just a song we sang every morning but being in Jerusalem that day suddenly felt a bit surreal.

After all this, my group was taken souvenir shopping. And I faced the usual stuff. "Are you from India? Namaste. Are you married? Oh, this would look lovely on you." And the whole time I was thinking 'Ok bye. I just want to go next door and eat my Shawerma'.

My group bonded while I got my fill of Shawerma and OJ. Everyone seemed nice and fun and mingled well. While Indian guy no.1 (who gave me his card with the hope of a future 'friendship') insisted on a pure veg meal and was wondering what chickpeas were, I was too bored/mean to bother to tell him it's channa after being annoyed by Indian guy no.2 (with his George Michael earring) who had had a beer for breakfast and blown smoke in my face through the tour.

After lunch I went to visit Yad Vashem - the Holocaust Museum.
It is a huge museum dedicated to the Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust and is divided into the 3 parts - the main museum, the Hall of Remembrance and the Children's memorial.
The garden at the entrance is lined with thousands of trees to honour those who helped the Jews during the Holocaust.
Seeing photos, belongings and videos of the people who had actually experienced being there at a young age and losing their loved ones was really difficult. It seemed so cruel that it just didn't seem real. It felt like I was a part of a really sad movie. But, then from time to time I'd realise that it wasn't a movie but someone's life.
I think I could've skipped this and visited Bethlehem instead that afternoon.

I left Jerusalem with a lot of thoughts - about life, death and how humans can sometimes be so inhuman.
Yad Vashem seemed like a bad dream. I had fallen asleep on the bus on my way back only to be woken up by a bunch of people laughing at me having dropped all my belongings. Or maybe I was snoring. Who knows.
It felt good to be back in Bat Yam. Back in the present. Back to reality.
Reality being my holiday.


New Age Yogi said...

Isn't it a bit strange that many people in India still have these illusions about Hitler's real legacy, even glorifying that asshole in many instances. Wish we all could understand what he really stood for.

Neha Kamath said...

yea. just seeing his photos and watching his videos with people cheering for him made me feel so angry.

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