As Mr. Twain pointed out in “Innocents,” every rock, thorn, bush, brick and fragment of masonry in Jerusalem has a story behind it. Often, it doesn’t have just a story even – it also has a church, mosque, basilica or shrine built over it. The tree from which the wood allegedly came to build the cross is enshrined under its own church, just off the highway.
We passed by this “holy place” on our way to a kibbutz. (Jewish words are fun. Just sayin.) A kibbutz is a traditional Jewish village, often based around agriculture.
This particular kibbutz is the location of the writing of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” because as you sit on this hill, you overlook the fields of Ruth and Boaz, which are basically the same valley where David shepherded and fought off the enemies of his flock. The town of Bethlehem is on the hill in the background.
Our final official tour stop was “the Garden Tomb.” Now here’s the thing: there are two proposed locations for the crucifixion and burial of Christ. One is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, celebrated for roughly a couple of millennia as the place it all went down, and the other is the Garden Tomb, which was proposed as the site in the mid 1800’s. There is an argument to be made for either one. In my humble opinion, the sepulchre is probably the place, but the garden tomb gives you more of an idea of what it looked like back then.
At the rock face in the photo above, a minaret is visible to the right. Below is the sound that interrupted the explanation of the site:
We are hearing about the crucifixion, but straining to listen and worship for the fact that there are Muslim loudspeakers strategically placed at all the Christian sites to overpower the events there.
This was quite an experience and I was seeing that it was common. I was beginning to believe the local Jewish and Christian perspective – that it is purposeful – deliberate.
We all had to go back to the hotel together on the bus to let a few people pack for an early flight out, but I just turned around and went back to the Old City with a specific mission: I wanted a Pilgrim’s Cross and an English translation of the Koran. A Pilgrim’s Cross is a square cross with another cross in each right angle. It is also called the Jerusalem Cross, or even the Crusaders’ Cross. There are several explanations of this design, (see wikipedia) but I have heard it called the Pilgrims Cross so many times I wanted one for a wall of my study. I reached the Jaffa Gate of the Old City by cab, and for the first time, I was free to wander old Jerusalem in the dusky evening hours as I did in London. No tour guide, few tourists; just me with lots of potential to get lost or abducted by extremist christian lawyer haters. The walled city has a Jewish quarter, a Christian quarter, an Armenian quarter, and a Muslim quarter. So I wander down the first street of the Christian quarter.
These are streets just wide enough for a compact car or sometimes just a four wheeler or motorcycle. As I was strolling, a friendly man close to my age asked if he could help me find anything. I told him what I was looking for and we struck up a conversation about faith and politics – just the things you’re told NOT to talk about. But isn’t that just the point? He explained to me that though he is out of costume, he is “The Santa of Jerusalem.”
Issa invited me in, so I saw his shop, met his parents, and had a tour of the home his family has occupied for 700 years, since moving from Greece. I was flabbergasted. His family has occupied that one home since well before the U.S. was the U.S. After getting to know them, they gave me a Jerusalem cross belonging to the family as a gift, and then he made a phone call to another friend to try to secure a Koran. He understood that my motive was not an interest in conversion so much as clearing up information and mis-information by reading for myself. The friend he called was a Muslim who is employed at the Dome of the Rock, the shrine of Muslims over the rock of Mount Moriah where their and our mutual father Abraham bound his son Isaac for sacrifice. He assured me that they would obtain a Koran from inside the Dome, where Christians are not permitted. Wow. I assured him that since he likes to give out candy canes as the Jerusalem Santa, but they are hard to come by in Israel, I would mail him some candy canes to help with his mission. We exchanged contact info, enjoyed some fresh dates, and I left, having a new friend.
From Issa’s home, I walked back to, and out of, the Jaffa Gate of the old city and caught a cab to return to the hotel and ready my luggage for today’s traveling.
My cabbie was an elderly Muslim man named, of all things, Ishmael. The original Ishmael, of course, was the child of Abraham from which the Muslim line came, so I started a conversation about what he thinks of Americans and Christians, and whether he would like to, or feels lead by Allah to, kill me as an infidel, and the fact that I am riding in his car and he could easily do so. We agreed that we both have wives and children that we love, and that we are both humans. We agreed that the governments have more issues with one another than the individuals do, and both sides believe themselves to be the party acting in self defense against the other. A vicious cycle continued mostly by the people who are least likely to die as a result.
But the minarets still force their way into the ears of the Jews and Christians, and Mosques with these loudspeakers are still being planted at each holy site of the other faiths.
It’s frustrating. Time to board the plane, which has been delayed 4 hours.