February 11—we left at 6:30am to visit first the Western (“Wailing”) Wall. The Western Wall is just beyond the Dung Gate (named for obvious reasons) to the Old City. There is security—a metal detector—and then armed soldiers/police on the other side of security but not a heavy presence along the plaza. The first photo is part of the plaza.
The wall is separated by sex. Men and women pray separately. We brought small pieces of paper on which we had written prayers to place in the cracks of the wall. The notes are collected by rabbis and buried at Mt. Olive. The second photo is the women’s section;
the third photo is the men’s section.
After the wailing Wall, we went through another security checkpoint to get into the adjacent Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. (This area is called the Temple Mount by the Jews) The mosque is actually the entire (huge) plaza surrounding the Dome of the Rock. Muslims may enter the mosque through any of many entrances but non-Muslims must go through a single entrance. All entrances have guarded checkpoints.
The mosque grounds are tree lined and later in the day more crowded with worshippers. The fourth photo is a scene of some worshippers on the plaza.
Then is the Dome of the Rock.
The sixth photo is of the skyline from the Dome of the Rock.
Non-Muslims are no longer allowed in to the Dome of the Rock itself due to religious tension. Muslims consider the entire mosque to be sacred space. Jews are not welcome and if they enter (which is forbidden by Jewish religious leaders) they are typically escorted by a phalanx of Israeli soldiers for their safety. There have been many instances of Muslims being very aggressive towards Jews who enter. Typically the Jews who enter are fairly radical Jews who want the mosque torn down and to rebuild the third Jewish temple. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_Mount_and_Eretz_Yisrael_Faithful_Movement
After leaving the Temple Mount our first stop was for mint tea and bread at a shop run by one of Iyad’s “cousins.” The bread—covered with sesame seeds and opened and filled by Iyad with a spice called zatar–was, as always, delicious. Iyad has lots of “cousins” but as he has made clear, there are good cousins and bad cousins. Leaving the snack bar we had to navigate some bad cousins who Iyad told us had a reputation for being pickpockets. Good information and we all ran the gauntlet with our possessions intact.
The next stop was St. Anne’s. Located at the start of the Via Dolorosa, near the Lions’ Gate in the Muslim Quarter of the old city, this may be the best church in the entire Middle East. It’s a pretty and small Crusader church that escaped the wrath of the Muslims when they overran Jerusalem in 1187. Although it’s been restored a bit over the years it is the best-preserved Crusader church in the city. It’s called St. Anne’s because it’s constructed on the site of what the Crusaders believed to be the home of Anna and Joachim and birthplace of the Virgin Mary. The Nave is on the right.
The altar in the grotto believed by the Crusaders to be the birthplace of Mary is pictured below.
The visual attractiveness is just the beginning. The interior acoustics are simply unbelievable. No one in our group had experienced anything like it. Doyt knew about this from prior visits and we came prepared with two hymns to sing. We made several recordings of them and we’re attaching a recording. The soloist for the second verse was, of course, Tyler, whose voice took full advantage of the rare acoustics. While we were singing, a German group from Bavaria came into the church and complimented us on our choice of the second hymn—apparently it was originally a German hymn. As we were exploring the church, they were singing—apparently, that’s what’s “done” here.
After we finished at St. Anne’s we went to visit the Princess Basma Centre, a facility connected with the Episcopal diocese here that offers therapeutic services to Palestinian children born with disabilities. See http://www.basma-centre.org/history/. Epiphany has been providing support to them for a few years and expects to continue. It was a moving experience and the work they are doing is terrific. The kids we saw, little boys and girls of pre-school age, were simply adorable, both in the physical cuteness one usually sees in children of that age but also in their gameness to work through the extra burden that life has thrown at them.
A couple of other thoughts. The facility guide told us that in local culture the “blame” for these situations falls on the mother. At first, I (Rich) thought this was just a poor word choice—that he meant the responsibility for getting the children to the treatment fell on the mother but then he repeated the word and I realized he really meant “blame,” like the mother was responsible for the birth disability in the first place. How very sad, and I’m not sure what else there is to say.
The Princess Basma Centre also runs a school on the property for grades 1 through 12, where the disabled kids are mixed with normally-developing children. That caught our ear as two of our children spent a preschool year at the UW’s Experimental Education Unit, a program that does a similar mix for children up to six years old.
Finally, we went to the Centre’s woodwork shop where they provide continued training and some employment for disabled youth post-school. They made beautiful furniture and other things and several people bought trays or similar objects.
For lunch we went to the Borderline Restaurant for another great meal. Here’s the main course, which came with a half game hen. Then, we were offered the opportunity to skip the Israeli Museum and many of did so. We took the opportunity to write this blog post. Tonight we meet with the Archbishop and another gentleman who will give us a Muslim perspective. Tomorrow is a early morning departure for Bethlehem.
Sherilyn and Rich