Today we spent the entire day in the City of Jerusalem. All flags were at half mast because it is Holocaust Remembrance Day. At 10am, sirens sounded for two minutes as all activity ceased and we joined the rest of the nation in silent respect for the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. (Click here for a video.)
Our first experience was to visit the Wailing Wall, the closest area to the Temple’s Holy of Holies. Areas of the wall are segregated for men and women. Before entering the prayer area, we were symbolically purified by cleansing our hands at a washing station modeled after one used by the priests in the temple. A row of white plastic chairs sit a few feet back from the wall to accommodate the elderly. The wall is massive and the pale limestone blocks are smooth and cool to the touch. Prayers written on small pieces of white paper are rolled or folded and inserted into cracks in the stone. Delicate green plants grow sporadically between some of the stones and birds rest in crevasses and sing their praises as sweetly as any choir. While I knew we were visiting a site holy to the Jews, I had not anticipated it would be a holy experience for me as I experienced God at the Wailing Wall.
Underground tunnels connect the western wall to the northwest side of the temple mount. While it was fascinating to walk a labyrinth of stone-enclosed tunnels which reveal awesome architectural and masonry skills, it felt as if we were Hobbits wandering the goblin passages of Misty Mountain until we somehow meandered into the daylight again.
Back in the old city, we walked through parts of the Muslim and Jewish Quarters. The streets were crowded with tourists from all over the world, vendors hawking their wares, local people shopping, school children hurrying to lunch or playtime and the occasional cat meandering through it all. We spotted a dog with a second story vista (pictured below) silently watching all the activity. Also watching was the Israeli military, who were stationed throughout the Old City.
We (and the hundreds of other pilgrims) visited the Upper Room where Christ and his disciples celebrated Passover. The large room has stone ceilings, floor and walls and artistic additions in stonework and stained glass from the various groups who have controlled the Holy City. The Upper Room is under the auspices of the Ministry of Tourism so that every religious group has access to this important Biblical site.
Israel has plans to build a third temple and our group was able to see some of the items (such as a menorah, priestly garments and horns) which have already been completed for use once the building is constructed. All items are made following instructions in the Old Testament.
We visited a museum with a 1/50 scale of the City of Jerusalem as it looked before the sacking of the city in 68 AD. The model was made by Hans Kroch to honor his son, who was killed in the 1948 War of Independence. Also at the museum were some of the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran. Our guide, Malcolm Cartier, said we may be the final generation to see the scrolls because even under special conditions, the scrolls slowly disintegrate when on display.
Our final stop of the day was to the Holocaust Museum. Yad Vashem, established in 1953, uses artifacts, photographs, videos of survivors and placards of information to follow the rise of anti-Semitism through the persecution and attempted total destruction of the Jewish People. Although normally photography is not allowed inside the buildings, today it was allowed because it is Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Every day of our tour is truly amazing. Bible people, places and stories are made more understandable and relatable as we experience the Holy Land and walk where Jesus walked. Today we followed in almost 11,000 of Jesus steps as we explored the Holy City.
(pictures by Julie Sams)