Today we decided to start a bit slower – a whole 15 minutes – and had breakfast at 7:15 am. I think the different spread from American food has lost its charm after a week, but we are still eating well. Today was a free day for us to do whatever we desired. We caught a couple of cabs and headed in to Jerusalem – we were there by 8 am. The streets of the Old Town were being washed down by the merchants, and the streets were very abandoned. We headed back to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and we are so glad that we did – there were few people in the church (even though it opens at 4:30 am), and we were able to take our time at the place of the cross and the place where Jesus was prepared for burial. Again, who knows for sure where this might have taken place, but it is so moving to be able to take time to really focus on these events we will soon remember the next few days in our churches. As our Catholic member of the group mentioned, the Stations of the Cross are so scripted on Good Friday, we methodically work our way through them, but here, we have time to focus and pray at each place.
We took time to admire the incredible artwork and mosaics in the church, then got in line to go in to the place of the tomb itself. The line yesterday was some 3 hours long. Today we stood in line less than a half hour. The stone walls surrounding that spot limit the number who can fit, so it takes a while to get in – only three or four at a time. It was so nice not to be rushed. It was a very meaningful event for all of us.
We headed out of the church and around the corner to the Lutheran Church of Holy Redeemer. The church is very nice – simply decorated, and lovely structure – built by Kaiser Wilhelm II in the 1800s. We then journeyed up the spiral staircases (major climb of the day) to the top of the spire of the church. From here we could see the city in all its splendor. Because God blessed us with another cloudless day, we were able to get some incredible photos.
Once back down to the street level, we took our luck at bartering in the market place. It was fun when Lisa was bartering for a dress, and in the process told the man that it was her birthday. He offered her a blessing that he hoped she would live for 100 years. In his broken English, Lisa thought he said that he thought she WAS 100 years old. He almost lost the sale!
The other fun store was the man who was going out of business, so everything was on sale! Tom and Bruce did very well with their bartering. I spent time taking pictures (much safer for me!). We all bought something, including some delicious honey-roasted nuts with sesame seeds on them. They were great! We also got some fresh squeezed orange juice at one shop that was wonderful.
We stopped at a few other stations of the cross, and worked our way down some streets, including the Muslim Quarter – we were the only Americans around… definitely a market place. Spices, fresh produce, toy stores, shoe makers, you name it. Lots of mothers and children out shopping. We walked up one street and watched a couple of young men riding a cart downhill with fresh produce, hopefully stopping before the end of the street.
We had lunch at a small pizzeria in town, which wasn’t half bad. We watched a couple of tour groups come and go as we ate our lunch. After that, it was time to move on to the next stop of the day, the Yad VaShem Holocaust Museum. This beautiful structure is free of charge, and an excellent historical site. The museum is housed in a long, A-framed building, winding you back and forth from one leg of the A to the other. It begins with the anti-Semitic acts and attitudes of the early 1900s, and carries you through the Ghettos, the Work Camps, the Concentration Camps and the Death Marches, and finally ends with the founding of the country of Israel. The last room you enter is some 30 feet tall, maybe taller, a circular room with volumes of books on the shelves listing information about 3 million verified names (some say that the complete number is as many as 6 – 7 million) of people murdered in the Holocaust. That was powerfully moving.
The exit of the museum leads you out to a breathtaking view of Israel – a reminder of the hope of the nation and the land. We then walked through the Children’s Museum, given in honor of the son one couple lost in the Holocaust. A garden surrounds a statue in honor of Gentiles who saved or helped hide or rescued survivors. A final building is in honor of the children – you enter a dark hallway with lights flickering above – as you walk around the mirrored walls reflecting these points of light, names and ages of the murdered children are read.
It was a weighty experience, but so meaningful, and to walk through as young men and women in military school uniforms are there as well, and in the land of Israel – it made it all the more so powerful.
We ventured back to the hotel, then headed out tonight for Chinese – we walked 10 minutes to the Yo-Si Peking Diner – located above the grocery store down the street from our hotel. We entered, and it was deserted. The place had come highly recommended by a desk clerk at the hotel, but we started out fairly doubtful. Even worse, the waitress didn’t speak much English. So here we are, Americans in a Chinese restaurant not knowing a lick of Hebrew in Jerusalem. BUT, things got much better fast! We ordered drinks and meals, and the feast began – soup (corn, wanton, hot and sour), deliciously fresh egg rolls, then the main dish – orders of sweet and sour chicken, almond chicken, beef and peppers, Thai chicken, and rice and noodles. Fantastic meal, and more than enough to eat! The waitress understood us enough when we told her it Lisa’s birthday, so dessert came with sparklers on it. Dessert included fried bananas and pineapples, leeche, watermelon and cantaloupe and sherbet.
It was a wonderful meal at the end of a wonderful day. We have become good friends on this trip and have enjoyed our time together. We are planning to share our experiences with all of you when we get back some time in April – we are thinking some Sunday after late service with a potluck included. We will share plans with you once we get them finalized.
Tomorrow is our last day of touring – around the outside of the city. Then Wednesday we begin our venture home.
God bless you all – I have been sharing all your comments with the rest of the group, and pass along their greetings to you.