On Sunday morning we packed our things and headed for Jerusalem. It quickly became apparent, that even though we had only travelled for 40 minutes, the atmosphere between the two cities was vastly different. We were now in a city that was fundamentally diverse, more religious and a true melting pot of both creeds and cultures, but just as nice!
Right off of the bat, we met up with some local family friends of Sara’s, who graciously acted as our tour guides for the day. Starving, we started with a stop at a local restaurant in the Machane Yehuda market, where we indulged in hummus, shakshuka and more hummus.
After lunch, we continued our journey, by way of the Jewish orthodox quarter, which was an experience in-and-of itself. The vast majority of the residents in this neighborhood were deeply religious, which was immediately apparent in both the way that they dressed as well as in their refusal to make eye contact with us, particularly with the women. Pivotal to both orthodox Jewish men and women is modesty in their appearance. With that said, the men dressed in traditional black suits, hats and had distinctive long locks of hair in front of their ears. The women were covered, at all times, and were not to wear flashy or tight fitting clothes, and once married, had to cover their hair, unless they were wearing a wig. Gilli and Daniel informed us that most of the men here spend their days studying the Torah, and that earning a living and taking care of the household is left up to the wife and eldest daughter. This way of life is also supported, partially, by the Israeli state, as Jewish orthodox families receive financial support and are exempt from forced conscription to the Israeli Military.
Once we made our way into the old city of Jerusalem, we finally, fully, realized the importance of this place to all 3 monotheistic-Abrahamic faiths. With historically and religiously important sites and buildings adorning every corner, it became clear how the presence of such places contribute to the tension in this disputed city, which status is still considered that of corpus separatum by the European Union and among others.
After visits to an old Ethiopian church and wandering through the quiet Armenian quarter (the old city of Jerusalem is said to consist of a Muslim quarter, Christian quarter, Jewish quarter and Armenian quarter, although many Palestinians’ we met claim that this is an unnecessary divide, since according to them, it has all been mixed for centuries), we finally went inside the Church of Holy Sepulchre. This is where Jesus’ walk up Via Dolorosa with the cross ended, and was the site at which he was crucified, buried and resurrected. A fun fact about this place is that because it is considered to be the holiest site in Christendom, all sects of Christianity wanted the honour and responsibility to look after this church, but as no one could agree on who was to look after it, the keys were given to a Muslim family, who have kept it safe ever since.
After this deeply powerful experience, we strolled past the colorful shops and market stalls, on a street where Israelis’ have recently started to move into the apartments above of the shops, which sometimes causes trouble for the shopkeepers.
We then made our way to the Western Wall, which is located at the very end of this street. It surrounds part of the Temple Mount and is believed to be the last remnant of the first temple that was lost when Emperor Titus attacked the city in the first Roman-Jewish war. It is thus considered to be the holiest place for Jewish prayer.
It also goes by the name “The Wailing Wall”, since Jewish people from all around the world, come specifically to this spot to pray, and thus are often quite emotional in prayer, and in some cases, loudly mourn about loss and tribulation. At the Wall, women and men pray separately from one another, with the women’s section, as you can see, being quite a bit smaller and therefore more crowded in comparison to the men’s section. It is further considered to be disrespectful to turn one’s back to the wall, which means that both men and women are to walk backwards away from the wall.
In the evening we returned back to our own quarter and continued to explore the Yehuda Market with its interesting restaurants, shops, cafes and bars.
However after this extremely hectic, intense, and in many aspects emotional day, many of us experienced difficulty taking anything else in and went to bed early, happy with our first day in this fantastic city and excited about our remaining ones!
Special thanks to Gilli, Daniel and Ofek for showing us around and answering our many, many complicated questions. We hope to see you again soon!
By Kathryn McKay (Biology student from Toronto, member of UF since September) and Alicia Björnsdotter (Travel coordinator and political science student in Uppsala)