My oldest sister, Jen, and her husband, Jim came to visit us all the way from Arizona right after Christmas. Neither of them had ever been to Israel before, so we were really looking forward to getting out and exploring with them. As hard as we have wanted to get out with the six of us, we haven’t done as much as we wish for a lot of different reasons (most of which have been outside of our control). However, we hired a tour guide for the two days we had planned for Jerusalem while the Taskers were here and it ended up being really awesome. Aladdin, an Israeli Muslim, was our guide for those days and he drove us all over the area and was able to give us tons of great information. He even answered most of our questions about all things cultural, political, geographical and historical. He was great. The Taskers were delayed for a full day in San Francisco on their way here, so we only had them for 5 days. But, we made the most of it by stuffing as much in as we could. They were such good sports, especially given all of the jet lag you deal with in a 9 hour time change.
We walked around Orson Hyde Park and the Garden of Gethsemane on one of our only sunny days during their visit. The winter weather here is slightly erratic, but this has been an extremely wet and windy one and Jenn and Jim experienced that for sure. It was also pretty cold in Jerusalem while we visited, so you’ll see us packing on the jackets and layers to stay warm!
We visited the Garden of Gethsemane and the Mt. of Olives, the Last Supper Room as well as the house of Caiaphas. But my favorite part was seeing Bethlehem for the first time. Bethlehem is in Palestine, where a good portion of its inhabitants are Christian. Crossing the border and seeing the massive wall that separates Israel from Palestine was pretty incredible. The graffiti alone spoke of so much political strife and the Palestinian desire to be understood. I could go on and on about how I feel about the situation.
We saw the Christmas trees and decorations all over there that we missed so badly in Tel Aviv over the holidays. We made our way to the Church of the Nativity, where the traditional site of Christ’s birth is enshrined. I loved the old church and the feeling there. It felt like a genuine sight and we were able to get right in and down the small stairs that led to the cave below the church where they believe Christ was born. My entire life I thought He was born in a traditional wood stable, but that is not the case.
Down the steps into the cave, as shown above. Aladdin pulled a few tricks and got permission to slide us right to the front of the long line (I’m going to call it “perks of paying for a tour guide”??). It was a quiet, serene place despite the amount of people down there. Everyone seemed to understand the need for it.
I love this Christmas story that we get to celebrate.
This is a wood working store in Bethlehem, but we went later that night to Jimmys Bazaar in Jerusalem. It was bazaar (no pun intended) to see all of the LDS carvings from the Book of Mormon there, as well as some Jimmer Fredettes to throw in the mix. BYU cougar enshrined in wood? Why not. You can get it at Jimmy’s. We left with a couple of things that we really loved and will help to remind us of our time here in Israel.
We spent a full day in Tel Aviv one day, letting everyone sleep in and then walking over to Jaffa’s Old City to grab something to eat and poke around their cool shops. I love Jaffa.
On day two of our tour of Jerusalem- again with Aladdin as our guide, we saw a TON. I loved this day because, while we have spent a fair amount of time here, we haven’t really done many of the sights other than the market and Western Wall. We met Aladdin early so that we could get into the Dome of the Rock in the morning before it closes for Prayer. It sits right above the Western Wall, so as you’re walking into it, you look over at the worshippers here, many of which were celebrating Bat and Bar Mitzvahs on their traditional Tuesdays. So fascinating for me.
Inside the Dome of the Rock was pretty awesome. The views of the Mt. of Olives as well as parts of the old city were so nice. But the actual shrine, as it sits on Temple Mount, with its gold dome and commanding presence is amazing, especially given the history of the sight and it being the epicenter of so much angst and conflict between Muslims and Jews.
Here is our guide, Aladdin, no doubt telling us something totally engrossing about the history here. Its hard to wrap your head around how long and by how many this land has been controlled over the last few thousand years. Even the more recent conflict is fascinating.
The mosaics on the shrine are stunning. Muslims don’t ever depict people, or really any living things, because they believe they are created by God and we could never do it justice with our natural human shortcomings. From the Dome of the Rock, we began to walk along the Via Dolorosa, exploring the churches at the various stations of the cross as we went. These pictures are slightly out of order, so I’ll try to give context as I go along.
After lunch (pita sandwiches that we ate on the steps of Damascus Gate….yum!), we ventured over to the Sacred Grove, where many people believe is Golgotha, or Calvary, as well as the tomb where Christ may have been buried after His death. It is extremely peaceful at this particular sight, versus the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where the majority believe the death and burial took place.
St. Anne’s Church is near the pools of Bethesda and we saw this for the first time today. We fell in love with this place right off. Its quiet, tucked away almost, but so well preserved. It felt truly sacred in a place where most significant sights are covered in ornamentation. We spent a bit of time walking around here, as well as this gorgeous church with its famous acoustics.
We walked through the market of the Old City and even tried several Palestinian delicacies, such as kanafeh and their yellow bread with dates. Definitely different from American desserts, but I’m glad we got to try it all. We got to see the Western Wall up close and made sure Jenn was able to touch it. This place is just unreal.
We made a stop at the Church of The Holy Sepulchre while walking Jerusalem as well. We ventured into this shop right across from it too. Its an antiquities shop owned by a man named Yasser Barakat, a Muslim, and he’s been in business from the moment his father gave this same shop to him. Everything around here seems to be passed down from generation to generation and this one was no different. I love that. He was the nicest man and as we walked around his shop, we noticed familiar pictures of prominent members of our church on his walls and quickly realized that this was someone who had met and knew many members of the LDS church.
Yasser’s daughter (pictured above) even attended BYU…so cool! You know you’re a fan (or a good marketer??) when you put a BYU sticker in your front window in Jerusalem!
Ok, this is a cool picture. If you look straight up and on to the hill above, you notice that giant wall, right? Thats the border separating Palestine (Bethlehem, specifically) from Israel. I think this is taken from the house of Caiaphas, where Jesus was imprisoned before His death.
These are original steps from the time of Jesus at the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. Pretty awesome they are still there, although people are no longer allowed to walk on them.
This depiction on the doors of the church show the prophecy of Peter denying Christ three times.
Church of St. John the Baptist enshrines the traditional site of John the Baptist’s birth. It is located in Ein Kerem, which was the last place we saw on day two as the sun was starting to go down. This city was stunning, especially at sunset. The views from the hilltops were so beautiful.
Aladdin and a tour guide friend discussing how we get our money back from a very dishonest money changer in Jerusalem. We went to get cash to pay Aladdin and this shop totally swindled us out of several hundred dollars. Because Brian and Jim were in a hurry at the time, they didn’t notice until after we drove off. Once they realized it though, Aladdin was pretty upset and was trying to figure out what they could do about it. After our tour, he drove the boys back to the shop and they were very upfront about the dishonesty and the owner knew he’d been caught and immediately gave them their money back. Buyer beware at money changers in Jerusalem…some things never change! (Referencing money changers at the temple in Christ’s time and we got our own taste of it!)
The pictures above are from our night exploring in and around Jaffa. We walked along the oldest port in the world and paid the guy making pitas near the back door at Old Man and the Sea to give us some warm ones right out of the oven. Heaven. That and some gelato made for a well-balanced dinner. Our next day would be the last with the Taskers here in the Holy Land and we did something I just loved!! Stay tuned.