Jerusalem on Foot

October, 2005

Hello from Jerusalem,

During the month of October we had an unusual number of holidays including our own Columbus Day and a series of four Israeli holidays.  We took advantage of this time to explore parts of Israel and Jerusalem we hadn’t yet seen.  Our new home, located only a ten minute walk from the Old City, is a perfect base for fascinating, fun walking tours.

One Sunday evening we walked along the southern wall.  To get there we walked through Yemin Moshe, the first neighborhood of Jerusalem built outside the city walls.  A wealthy British Jewish gentleman, Sir Moses Montefiore, established this community in 1860 as an option to the crowded, unhealthful Old City.  He had to pay people to move there since everyone was hesitant to leave the protection of the walls.  Finally, an outbreak of smallpox or diphtheria or some such thing motivated people to move to the more healthful place.  The now restored, beautifully landscaped neighborhood with narrow cobbled lanes, quaint, multi-gabled houses, and even a windmill, provided a picturesque beginning for our stroll.  Walking through this neighborhood I think to myself, if I were rich and had several homes in the world, one would be here.

Along the southern wall at dusk

Walking outside the walls is almost as interesting as walking in the Old City itself.  Though the current walls, built by the Ottomans, are only about 5-600 years old, you can see Crusader and even earlier foundations in many places.  The walls around the Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount even contain large hewn stones, most probably from Herod’s era, which were used to rebuild the walls.  These large stones were likely pulled from rubble of the Roman’s sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  The two of us discovered paths running along the walls close enough to let us touch the historic stones and wonder what these walls have seen over the centuries.

Ancient blocks, used and re-used

We pass Zion Gate, the southwest entrance into the city.  The outside face of this 500 year old gate is pock-marked with bullet holes from the 1967 war when Jordanian troops fired from within the city and Israeli troops fired from without.

Pockmarked with the traces of war

Walking along the south side of the city, we enjoy a stunning view south toward, though not of, Bethlehem.  The white stone houses seem to line the sides of the hills from valley to peak, coating them like paint from a giant paintbrush.  Closer up we see Arab families sitting together on their flat rooftops waiting for the end of the Ramadan fast for the day so they can eat their evening (and first) meal.  I love seeing fathers with their children, chatting, laughing, sharing special moments together.  We pass Dung Gate, the entrance nearest the Western Wall, the holiest place in Judaism, but we don’t go in; we’ve seen it before and besides, our goal today is to skirt the outside.

Stone houses lining the hills

We walk to the Kidron valley which separates the Mount of Olives from the eastern wall of Jerusalem.  The valley is lined, filled and loaded with a plethora of tombs: rows upon rows, ranks upon ranks of them.  Since the Messiah is supposed to arrive on that side of town, (Jerusalem is His company town, right?) the people buried there will have a front row seat for the end of the world.  The other day I met a guy in the funeral business.  He told me a burial plot there costs $8,000.  Looking down into the valley, we see three Arab boys riding donkeys on a path in front of tall, ancient tombs: Absalom’s, Zechariah’s, and the sons of Hezir’s.  Seeing the riders I rub my eyes and do a double-take.  I’m actually looking at boys riding donkeys along an ancient path next to ancient tombs, some 2,000 years old or older!

Riding donkeys among the tombs

We look around, take pictures, and marvel at this lovely though stark antiquity not 30 minutes walk from our house when the chanting begins.  As if on cue, calls to prayer from many mosques were being broadcast from many different speakers at the same moment.  From where we were on one side of the valley we could hear the eerie, mysterious chanting above us, below us, reverberating all around us.  The echoes of the voices of many imams calling faithful Muslims to prayer mixed together, joining, separating, and joining again, to provide a musical counterpoint to the gradually setting sun and lengthening shadows.  The moment was magical.  I wanted to capture it somehow, by camera or sound recorder, yet such a sensual experience defies recording.  We walked home, once again in awe of the honor it is to be living in Jerusalem, surrounded by history, passion, faith.

Modern tombs crowding the base of the Mount of Olives

About literarylee

I sling words for a living. Always have, always will. Some have been interesting and fun; most not. These days, I write the fun words early in the morning before the adults are up and make me eat my Cream of Wheat.
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