Where to start? It’s been three days since getting collected from Be’er Sheva by our tour guide, Nomi. She drives a Mercedes van that, with the exception of the Merkava tank, is the largest vehicle on the road in this nation.We are having a great time with her. From conversation 1, back in Montreal, we clicked and the insight and stories provided have been a gloves-off, straightforward and frank assessment of all aspects, political, social, economic, etc.
Arriving in Jerusalem at sundown Friday is the equivalent to going into a coma. Everything is shut down, from the stores on the streets to the espresso machine in the hotel lobby. If it requires power, it don’t work. Fotunately, the earlier part of the day that preceded sunset was chock full o’ good times. This is our first time in Israel since 1978; my second trip, Lori’s third. Although I’d spent 5 months here last time, I never made it to Masada. Same story with the Rodin Garden in Paris, but I digress.
Heading to the lowest part of the earth, dropping 1,200 meters to about 400 meters below sea level in half an hour was an ear popping experience.
Opting for the cable car route to the mountaintop fortress as opposed to the hairpinned, switchback snake path route with accompanying heart palpatations was an easy choice. The sense of defiance emblemized by the crested defence position that pissed off the Romans to the point whereby they allocated full divisions to rid themselves of the nuissance of 940 men,women, and children 2,000 years back came to mind again today. We visited the Holocaust Memorial Centre at Yad Vashem. In 1943 when five square blocks of the Warshaw Ghetto, housing half starved Jewish resistance fighters armed with home made weaponry
The road to Jerusalem took us along the edge of the Dead Sea, with the setting sun providing beautiful pinkish hues of the mountains of Jordan, just on the other side. Geographically, the area is part of what is known as the Great Rift Valley and extends from Turkey down through Africa. My wish is that the people who live on both sides of it did not take the name so literally.
A brief stop on the way to the capital allowed me to complete a rare accomplishment. I succeeeded in removing two items from my ‘bucket list’ in one day; seeing Masada and
We were both very excited to return to Jerusalem. The city emanated a unique spiritual vibe and I was curious to see if time would have changed all that or if I’d built the experience up to be larger than life. Truth is, the city has grown significantly and had become much more commercialized that I’d remembered. Our initial sense was that Jerusalem had lost its magical identity and now pursued a captitalistic model akin to other developing cities. Introspectively, while I felt disappointed at Jerusalem’s march forward, who was I to ask the city to restrain its growth to allow those such as I to relive nostalgia. Far be it for me to request the citizenry to relinquish their rights toward a more comfortable, and yes, consumer driven lifestyle.
Fortunately, subsequent visits to the old city and other historical and biblical landmarks rekindled some of what made the city special and one of a kind. Touring through the Armenian, Jewish, Christian and Moslem quarters, there was a sense of modernization, even in the market places. Most of the junk being sold in the stalls was repeated from door to door. Now, 95% of the merchandise is made in India or China. The merchants are much less aggressive than last time, and the soldiers from the IDF were almost non-existant, particularly when compared to their omnipresence in the late ’70s. What blew my mind were two things. One a re-emergence of a previous experience, the other something totally new. We visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (are there any unholy sepulchres?) where Jesus was crucified and burried,
Shocked, I asked what the deal was. Nomi advised me that those responsible for its upkeep do not have the money required to maintain and replate. I was awestruck. This site, holy to the Muslims in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Iran, Libya and other petro states can’t afford a bucket of paint?!?
The incredulousness and mystical prowess of Jerusalem is maintained. Slightly less in evidence, but a bit of scratching of the surface is all that is required to bring to light all that is incredible.