Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Dig Information

Even though today is Sunday (a normal day of rest) today started with orientation at the dig site. I took many pictures to be added later.

I know I said I wouldn't post links just yet, but here is one about our particular dig, called Tell Keisan.

The word Tell means a city built by people. As we drove to the site (the next 20 times will be in the dark), the land is flat. Every so often there is a flat topped mound. These are "tells." This one was settled in the Neolithic era at the end of the Stone Age. Note: if the above link has conflicting information, that one is right. Other mounds were built.

Our site is near the city of Akko. The bus at the end of our drive goes to Akko several times a day. I am probably misspelling Akko, which is easy to do since it is spelled differently on every sign. Acre also seems to be a common spelling.

This is the third year of excavating this site. The first year they found a skeleton, but mostly they find animal remains and pottery -- sounds like the dig at Morven in Trenton where they are excavating the kitchen next to the mansion. So far they have gone down about a meter. It is a slo-o-o-w process. The hope is to work on this site for 10 years, one July at a time. It takes years to go down. There is only so much we can do.

Technology allows them to use geomagnetic prospecting before digging, but that is only so accurate. In theory it shows the depth of the filed site without digging to help choose the exact right spot. I talked to Josh at Hunter Research in Trenton about this while at the dig at Howell Living History Farm. It is not 100% accurate, and often you end up digging near where you would find really cool stuff, but not close enough.

The tour is led by college professors who enjoy lecturing. Oddly I was only one of a couple of people taking notes. There are about 50 people in our group, including supervisors, staff, volunteers, and some others.

The dig is focusing on the end of the Stone Age, beginning of the Bronze Age (good professors like to repeat so the information sinks in). It is the 3rd to 2nd millennium BC when the area had fortifications. This focus of this dig is the Phoenicians (which makes me think of Carin since her email was PhoenixStamp). It is near Lebanon. The goal is to find out if the Phoenicians lived here. There was some mention of the city state of Tyre, too. In the first millennium people moved here from Tyre while the Southern Phoenicians lived here. In the 7th century BC this area was used as a storage facility. They found lots of pieces of broken pottery. Last month people were gluing the pieces together.

Back track ... the digging happens for one month a year. The other 11 months archeaologists work on cataloging and taking care of the items found. Then they start all over again.

At the end of the 8th century BC the Assyrian Empire was here. The next area over was controlled by the Egyptians. The interface between the two empires in this strategically important place. In 640 BCE the Assyrians left and the Egyptians moved in. Egyptians did not like to fight, so they hired Greek mercenaries to do the fighting for them. Archeaology proves this by the Phoenician jars. It has always had an international existence.

Digging deeper to the early 8th and 9th centuries BC (the deeper you go, the earlier you get), the Phoenecians explore agriculture, particularly grains, wine, and olive oil. These items are sent to ships in the nearby port for trading. It was truly a global economy.

We've been warned nothing will look impressive. They had dirt floors. Lived modestly. 

The city was destroyed in the 10th century BC (think the era of Solomon and David). The little community was quite wealthy in the 10th, 11th, and 12th centuries BC. It was destroled at the end of RH1 (no idea what that is).

"We like destructions ... everything is still in situ. Gives us context." According to one of our leaders. The others would probably agree.

We are not the first ones to excavate this site. In past digs a church was found, proving a Christian village was there. 

We are near Akko, Galilee, and the Mediterranean, not far from Haifa. The climate is more Mediterranean than Middle Eastern.

The area has fertile plains well suited for agriculture -- wheat, barley. On the nearby mountains they grew wine (grapes), olives, and fruit trees. Further up was ground for herding. Historically the cultures were integrated. The Phoenecians were traders plus in agriculture. Their settlements live to this. It is a complex situation. In 1948 the state of Israel was founded. Half of the population of this Jewish state is Muslim. There are Arab villages in the south, and Jewish villages in the north. The wide fields belong to the Jews. The small fields with huts belong to the Arabs. Plus there are Christian Arabs among them. It is a complex landscape meeting each other. There are not many conflicts here. Have to trust we would not be there if they did not think we would be safe. Certainly feels peaceful and remote.

They all live together in a delicate position. It can be a positive, and it can be a problem if you look for divisiveness.

We walked around the top of the Tell since we won't have much time to do so once we do actual work. It is not a large site.

The first exploration started by the British in 1917. They finished in 1936 because a civil war broke out.

In the 1970s the French Dominican order dug 100 square miles. When this dig is finished in another 7 year they plan to dig 600 square meters. Part of the dig (not the part I am on) is to build off of what the French Dominicans did.

This is the third exploration of the site.

In the 19th century people had cisterns for water. It is very dry area without them. Water was collected by women at the foot of the Tell. During the Ottoman period a road passed through here making it a major area. In ancient times cities were smaller than what we think of today -- they were around 1,000 people. Nearly half the children died before the age of 5.

History lesson over (for now). Liz shared with us logistics. Stay hydrated. Bring full bottles every day.

Many dig sites do 5m x 5m holes. This is a 10m x 10 m dig. The digs I have done have been 2.5 feet by 5 feet (did not seem big enough to be measured in meters). There is one supervisor for each hole, and each supervisor has an assistant. 

Pros to this size:
You can see what you are digging. (Harder to see big context in smaller sections.)
You can dig faster 
You can leave half a section to see what you dug through

You don't have many baulks (the standing bunches of dirt). In the baulks you can see how the ground is changing -- important with dirt floors. 
You move down slower.

We have 6 10x10 sections. I believe I am in section 47. There are 10 in my group, but one is leaving next week to do research. Emily and Anna are our leaders.

At the end of last summer the area was covered with plastic and buried. Tomorrow's job is to uncover the plastic. They are hoping that will only take a day. They also want to teach us what to look for -- what is trash, what are treasures. We should ask Liz questions as we go along. The site supervisors are in charge of our square, but Liz is overall in charge. When cool things are found, she will share with everyone as motivation.

Yulia is working on a seventh site -- they are studying what the French did and building a trench between that one and Tell Keisan to get a better sense of the overall context.

As we waited for the bus, the leader shared some information with us. The area has really been built up over the past 40 years. Modern agriculture is taking over. Farmers use modern equipment to shove the rocks out the way -- rocks that might be ancient city walls or the gate to the city. It is making it impossible to see how they used to live. 

There are other Tell mounds in the area. You can see about 5 or 6. It is impossible to excavate all of them (financially, man power, etc.), so one was chosen. This one dig will serve as an example of the others. 

Traditionally the area was farmed. Grains were grown. These grains were used as currency. In Biblical times workers were paid in grain. The more grain a king grew, the more workers he could have, and the bigger and fancier his empire could become. One liter of grain = one day's work.

The Israelites lived on the mountains. They were poorer. They could not afford to build large cities. The Bible does not say all this, but this is what archaeology is showing.

During the Crusaders era Akko was a Medieval city -- one of the best places they controlled, until it was controlled by the Solodimes. Richard the Lionhearted lived here in the 13th century. It was abandoned in the end of the 17th century. Then there was no settlement. It turned into an agricultural area. 

We choose what narratives to study.

Israel is cooperating with Jewish, Muslims, and Christians. Hard to call something the "Muslim Period," because other religions lived here, too. He calls it the "Medieval and Modern Period." 

We were encouraged to visit Akko to see the Muslim and Jewish populations living together harmoniously. Before 1948 villages were abandoned due to ethnic cleansing. Some of the population cooperated with the Jews and settled in Akko. It is a complex story. More than I'll learn in a few weeks.

All good intentions

I had such good intentions for this week. Each night I would go back to my room and type out my adventures. I would also upload my pictures to my computer for safe keeping. 

Oh well.

I have two hours until dinner and will try to type up some early thoughts. 

Each day I have been posting a selfie. That will probably stop now that life is settling into a routine.

The schedule for the next four weeks:
4 am wake up
4:30 am breakfast #1
4:55 am on the bus to drive to the dig site (30-minute ride)
5:30 am climb up the mountain
9 am second breakfast delivered to us, we will dine under the olive trees 
12 noon fruit break 
12:30 pm start cleaning up
1 pm 30-minute drive back to the kibbutz
1:30 pm lunch
2:00 pm-4:30 pm free time
4:30 pm-6 pm clean some of our findings
6 pm-7 pm lectures on most nights
7 pm dinner
8 pm crash to get up at 4 the next day

Saturdays are completely free time.

Sundays are optional field trips to nearby dig sites.
(probably butchering these names, will fix later)
July 7: Tell Kavrie -- studying the Bronze Age about 45 minutes away.
July 14: Meggiddo -- a big University of Chicago project (as is Tell Keison) and Legio -- big Roman legions
July 21: Bet Shan spectacular to Bet Mar Cruss, then to the Sea of Galilee for swimming, but many opt to go to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv that weekend.

I plan to go to Akko one of the days. Should have today since we have oodles of free time (about 6 hours), but after nearly a week of traveling I opted to stroll the grounds and hand wash clothes. I miss my washer and dryer already. Time will tell how I spend my weekends.

Before I hit save again, a note about living conditions. I am in a quad (reminds me of college) -- two rooms with two beds in each. I am sharing with Julie, the seminarian who told me about the trip. We have two toilets and two sinks, but only one shower for the four of us (and we are all on the same schedule). The others, Connor and Mary seem nice. Mary also went to Princeton Theological Seminary (as did Julie). She is a world traveler who makes my travels seem trivial. I haven't talked to Connor much, yet.

Within a day or so Connor moved out to be with the "masters girls" (those going to college to earn a masters degree, as opposed to the young 'uns still in undergraduate, or us old people). We were spoiled, and we knew it. The younger people had many more people to a bathroom. Some had bunk beds. The rooms were definitely smaller.

Though the rooms were Spartan (the kindest description possible), they were quiet and the air conditioning worked. I later heard the bunk beds were more comfortable than our beds, which had a thin mattress on a plywood board. Neither Julie nor I would have wanted the top bunk.

Food was mighty miserable. We either had a meat meal (with several types of meat) or a dairy meal (with 6-10 types of dairy). When there were vegetables the vitamins were cooked out of them. Of course (no surprise to anyone who has ever traveled to Israel) tomatoes and cucumbers were at every meal --breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Drinks were either water, orange juice, or hot water (to make tea or coffee). There was often fruit and sometimes an ice cream bar (or ice milk). 

On the Kibbutz is a grocery store that was often hit for alcohol and snack food runs. We did not have access to a microwave or stove, though our room did have a refrigerator.

I'm thinking I might not get another chance to type updates until next weekend!

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Graffiti Tour of Tel Aviv

A few days before I left for Israel I asked Paula, my neighbor, for suggestions of things to do in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. She highly recommended taking a Graffiti Tour of Tel Aviv. It turned into one of the highlights of my five-week journey. I only wish I could have stayed until the end of the tour, but between it starting late, and having to meet the rest of the group at the airport, I had to skip out early.

The tour was run by Abraham Hostels. We were to meet our guide at 4:30, but the guide to get us to the guide (I faced this in Jerusalem, too) was late. When he finally showed up he put the four of us (me and a family of three from New York) in a taxi with no further instructions. We arrived at the appointed intersection only to find several other tour groups gathered. After asking around, we found our group and away we went.

Abraham Hostels offers the tours in two different neighborhoods: Florentine and Nahalat Binyamin depending on the day of the week. My tour, led by Shy, was in the Florentine district.

The tour was fairly non-stop, especially for such a hot day. 

Shy asked us to differentiate between graffiti and street art. What it boils down to is not the style of the art, but the legality of it. Graffiti art is "art in the public domain, which is illegal," and street art is "art in the street, which is legal and authorized."

Unlike the United States, Israel is not known for gangs. People who do graffiti in Israel tend to be artists wanting to get their name and art out there. Not for the first time did I think of Don's mom (Honey Bunny) and her late-in-life appreciation of graffiti. She was with me in spirit on this tour.

One of the first pieces we looked was described as an homage to Banksy, who is perhaps the most famous graffiti artist in the world. This piece (with the heart balloons) is by Kislev. The legs are part of a Banksy picture. It is as if the artist is saying "I am trying to follow you." 

This brings up the question, in this day and age with so many cameras all over the place, how does someone create graffiti without getting caught?

They are often done at night, and in this case with a stencil to keep it quick. 

The artist signed his name, so why isn't he caught?

Unless an artist is caught in the act, there is no proof it is him (someone else could have signed his name).

We were told to look up for the next piece of art: a band-aid. Dede paints band-aids all over the city as if he is trying to fix Tel Aviv, or maybe it is because of the trauma he faced from his military service. In either case, it is his signature.

We talked about several different styles of graffiti:
1) Stencil
2) Freehand (with spray paint, for example)
3) Stickers

Revzzz is famous for the sticker method.

Shy asked us why people do graffiti?
For most it is to be seen and to mark their territory.

We went into a community garden filled with art, a quiet space for the locals. Shy showed us a piece of artwork that changed since the last time he gave the tour. That happens.

Some art is site specific, such as this one of monochromatic girls plus an add-on

by Ame 7\\. In this case, the wall chose the art instead of the art chooising the wall. The candy cane painted on a pipe is another example of site specific.

In Israel many of the graffiti artists are women, which broke my impression of graffiti artists. Shy did say that is non common globally.

Eggplant Kid, epk, is another famous local graffiti artist. He paints eggplants in
odd places. Then another artist started mimicking his art by painting carrots around the city. epk was not happy and started covering the carrots with eggplants. 

Mitzger then painted carrot juice in homage to the fallen carrots. Here is
one of a carrot with angel wings and a halo to help him get into heaven.

A little territorial?

Once you see epk's (and others) art, you notice it all over the place. Wishing I had more time in Tel Aviv to wander the streets and study the graffiti art. If you are reading this and thinking about going to Tel Aviv I recommend going on this or a similar tour earlier in your trip so you can play spot the art.

Much of the art is political, which went way over my head, though I appreciated the tour.

Yaffet at the age of 62 became one of the oldest graffiti artists. She hangs braids with googly eyes. Again, made me think of Honey Bunny who became attracted to art in her 80s.

A piece by Senor Gi with the worlds "I decided to save the world today" at 10-15 years old is considered to be one of the oldest pieces of
graffiti art in Tel Aviv.

We passed a bar with what looks to be covered in graffiti, but it is street art because it was

At this point I am running out of time to meet Julie to catch a taxi to meet up with the group at the airport. I have absolutely no idea where I am, or how to get to where I need to be. The tour does not seem to be wrapping up, either.

Not a good feeling.

I speak up and Shy encourages me to stay a little longer. 

I'm glad I did.

The next spot is what is dubbed as a "graffiti workshop." People are allowed to paint over each other and around each other and experiment with drawings. There is one home that is blank because it has a sign on it asking artists to leave their place alone.

You can smell the fresh paint in this area.

The next time Shy returns, it will look completely different, making it fresh for him, too.

Time to join everyone else for the start of our adventures.

Tel Aviv

Julie and I spent our last day of freedom before boarding the bus to the dig site separately -- she hung out at the beach and the Gilgal Hotel while I walked around the city.
 Tel Aviv is most famous for its beach. Our hotel was in the middle of the stretch. As I ended up with a lot of time, I probably should have walked away from Old Jaffa and the back again towards the old part of the city and passed each beach. Instead I turned left and walked towards Old Jaffa.

We were in Tel Aviv on a Saturday. Everyone said much more is open on Shabbat in Tel Aviv than in Jerusalem, plus we had to catch up with the group at the Tel Aviv airport, so it made the most sense to spend the day in Tel Aviv.

I still found many places were closed. Maybe I was in the wrong part of town, but it was a struggle finding a place to eat. I settled on a chain restaurant selling salads called Cafe Cafe.

One of my main goals for Tel Aviv was to take a Graffiti Tour offered by Abraham Hostels. That merits its own post as I took many pictures.

As for Tel Aviv, I wandered around the Old Port, but it was very quiet. A few galleries were open. I saw a couple of small tour groups. A few vendors were set up in the main square. Overall I felt as if I had the place to myself.

I also walked past the beaches. In hindsight, I should have at least stuck my toes in the water. On one beach there was a set of exercise equipment similar to what is now in our local park. As is almost always the case, I saw someone on the "stepper," but not on the other pieces.

It was very hot that day. I had fallen in the habit of wearing "modest" attire and opted for capris instead of shorts. I did wear a tank top, and burned the tops of my shoulders. I would have been fine walking around town wearing shorts.

I found a couple of quiet places and read on the Kindle. I didn't appreciate the solitude enough at the time, but once I went to the Kibbutz I no longer had the luxury of reading while eating. I tried to read a few pages each night, but more often than not my eyelids closed before finishing a chapter. 

I arrived at Abraham Hostel (the place where the tour was starting) a couple of hours early. I enjoyed their air conditioning and WiFi. I'm sure I could have made better use of the day, but sometimes just being is the best way to make use of a day. 

We had stayed at the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem, but the one in Tel Aviv was booked for the date we needed so we stayed at the Gilgal Hotel. The two hotels could not have been more different. The Gilgal was swanky, and only a half a block from the beach. Other than the buffet breakfast, I did not see another guest whereas at Abraham Hostel, people were always hanging about in the lobby and other public spaces making new friends. The Abraham Hostel was clean and we each had a single room, but overall it had a young, eclectic, electric, international vibe. Both offered concierge service and a continental breakfast. At the Gilgal I sat at a table by myself. At Abraham Hostel it was communal dining. Nothing wrong with either. 

At the end, Julie asked me where I would prefer to stay "next time," a concept I could not fathom at the time since I don't plan to ever return to Israel. The question was really which type of place would I want to stay at on future trips. The answer is someplace in-between. Abraham Hostel was nice, but my room faced a busy street and was near the elevator. People walked by the room at all hours of the night talking as they were heading out (despite the signs saying don't do that), which made getting a good night's sleep a challenge. The Gilgal was silent, but I felt I needed to dress up for breakfast.

I do love a good free breakfast to start the day.

Upon further reflection my notes for the day read: "really beat. Resting. After tour the craziness begins." 

Maybe I did appreciate the solitude in the moment after all.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Mount of Olives

After returning from Bethlehem I strolled around the main market, which was extremely busy with shoppers buying food to prepare for their Shabbat dinners. It was the exact opposite of the vibe when I went a couple of days earlier and the same market was opening up on a random mid-week day.

Being tired of tours, well not tired, just over-saturated, Julie and I opted to take mass transit to the Mount of Olives instead of an organized tour. 

We got lost. We had troubles finding the bus station in the Arab section of town. When we finally found the bus, learned it does not take the bus card I was told was good in ALL of Israel (I later found this was the only exception as I used the same bus card throughout Israel, but at the time I felt I was lied to). The bus driver seeing my frustration allowed me to ride for free. Or else Julie paid my 5 shekel ticket and didn't tell me.

As the name implies, it was quite a hike UP hill. My legs were still sore from Masada the day before. The bus ride did feel good, but these two white women with non-covered heads and bare shoulders felt a bit out of place. Perhaps even stared at. I thought about putting on my all-purpose cover, but didn't want Julie suffering from all of their stares.

The view from Mount of Olives stunning. It is the same view anyone who has ever seen a bird's-eye postcard picture of Jerusalem has seen. After I finally look through my pictures, I will add my version here. It was hazy and not at the peak of sunset or sunrise. A quick google search will bring up much better images. Mount of Olives is where Jesus stood when he wept over Jerusalem.

A word of note from the Lonely Planet tour book, and from our experience: women do not go alone, there are always two men sitting on the steps. Nothing happened, but best to not be alone. I found it interesting that not only was that our experience, but happens often enough a tour book felt it was worth noting.

We then decided to walk back down the hill. Many people have told us it is an easy 10-minute walk. We did something wrong because it was a 30-minute walk through some passably shady areas. 

We passed Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed before his Crucifixion (I told you everything was close), and kept going down hill. By this point the buses had stopped running and we had to walk farther than we really wanted to, especially since our end goal for the night was really Tel Aviv.

Fortunately a falaffel place I ate at out earlier in the week was still barely open. "10 minutes." The man kindly let us buy dinner as he cleaned up. He did the same for a couple of others, and apologized for rushing. Other places were already closed. As he closed the gate, at 7:08 pm we heard the sound of
the Shofar signaling the start of Shabat. At that point we knew we had overstayed our time in Jerusalem. 

Fortunately the Sheruts were still running. The driver negotiated if we paid for almost a full Sherut, he would drive us straight to our hotel in Tel Aviv. If he picked up others along the route (we didn't) he would have them pay us. The other option was to drive around looking for eight more people and then be dropped off at the main bus station where we would then (in the dark) have to figure out how to find our hotel. He did give us a discounted rate.

Never so happy to see our hotel. Had to convince them to separate our beds (while we are friends, we are not THAT kind of friends), but that did not take long. I think my head was asleep before I hit the pillow. Had I realized how uncomfortable the beds would be at the Kibbutz, I would have enjoyed it even more.


This was one of my favorite tours in Israel. I was hesitant to leave Jerusalem for another few hours, but was glad I did.

Our tour to Bethlehem started with crossing into the West Bank. I had only promised my dad I would not go near the Gaza Strip. I made no such promises about Palestine or the West Bank.

Bethlehem is an easy 20 minute drive from Jerusalem (about 5 miles), but felt worlds apart. My first impression of Bethlehem was it reminded me of visiting East Berlin over 30 years ago. It felt desolate and full of despair. The buildings were empty. The streets were empty. It was devoid of life. The area is surrounded by a giant wall separating it from Jerusalem. 

I did not catch our guide's name, but his dry presentation was perfect for the bleak setting.

We walked from Star Street to Manager Square --very fitting names. We went down an alley to see the eastern side of Bethlehem. We could see the mountains of Jordan in the background.

For the first time on my journey I was struck by how close the Biblical stories are in real life. Reading the Christmas narrative, Bethlehem sounds like it is on a different planet from the City of David -- after all, they needed a place to stay. They are FIVE MILES apart. Granted roads were not what they are today, and traveling by foot and on donkey is harder than traveling than in a car (even with a check point), but places are much closer than I imagined. I especially felt this traveling past the Stations of the Cross on the via Dolorosa.

In our sights are some mountains, that is the wilderness Jesus went to in Judea where he was tempted, and where John the Baptist lived. See, really close.

There are buildings in the area where the shepherds lived. Up until 30-40 years ago that area was a wasteland. Shepherds field is about two miles from Bethlehem.

Though tourist sites will encourage you to believe differently, the guide makes a point of reminding us we don't know exactly where things took place.

On Star Street I saw a 14-point star of Bethlehem. Later on the tour when I went into a gift shop I wanted to buy a 14-point star, alas they do not carry them.

Star Street is the street Mary and Joseph would have taken. It is the street the wise men and shepherds followed the star. At the time, it was the only street in town.

King Herod (remember him from my day at Masada) was feared because he was evil. He killed his own sons. Herod wasn't a Jew, he was an Arab. Herod sent for biblical scholars -- plural because he didn't trust any one interpretation. They told him about the coming of the Messiah. Star Street was a road, but not part of the "little town of Bethlehem" we sing about at Christmas.

Since 2012 Bethlehem is a World Heritage Site. It had been on the endangered list, but the nearly completed renovations of Church of the Nativity.

We arrived early, so our guide started talking.

The buildings we were looking at were only 300-500 years old (yes, old by American standards). There are 30,000 people in Bethlehem. Christians make up 19% of the population of Bethlehem.

Other stats:
2018: Christianity 0.9% in all of Israel
2006: 25%
2000: 49%
1990: 67%

He blames the decline in Christianity to the decline in tourists from 2000-2008. Star Street was closed. Shops were closed. The wall was built. Israelis are not allowed into the West Bank. Though we saw nothing, the area is deemed to be dangerous.

Following more mass shootings, as countries are starting to warn their citizens not to visit the United States due to gun violence, is it any safer to be here?

Now tour operators are only allowed to bring people into the city for a couple of hours at a time, not even time to eat at a cafe, certainly not enough time to spend a night in a hotel.

We entered through a short, nondescript door into an extremely ornate place to worship. More about the door later.

We queued up for way too long to see the cave where Jesus was born. Our guide did a great job of getting us near the front of the line, but you have to wait until the Armenians are done worshiping in the cave. That time varies on a daily basis. This was their third worship service of the day (it was only 9 AM). After they are finished they clean the cave.

As we waited, a few of us splintered off from the group to take pictures. Church of the Nativity is stunning! A massive renovation was started in 2013 -- the first renovation in about 550 years. It was long overdue.

The Church of the Nativity is another place Saint Helene (Constantine's mother) identified as a holy place in the 4th century. Her family deserves a cut in the royalties for all the money her efforts brought to Israel.

In 326 AD a church was built. Two hundred years later that church was destroyed by the Samaritans. It was rebuilt in 580 AD. It is the oldest church in the country and in the world.

They began the restoration from the top down -- with the cedar wood ceiling, and finishing with the floor. A cover was added to the ceiling 800 years ago because water leaks were damaging the mosaics, and oil lamp smoke was damaging the walls. Today it is all glistening.

As we enter the cave we are in the Greek Orthodox section of the church, as we exit we are in the Armenian section, the cave itself belongs to the Roman Catholics. Reminded me of the Church of the Holy Selpuchre. Everyone wants to claim a part.

In the cave there is a 14-point silver star on the

floor marking the place where Jesus was born. You can touch the place. The 14-points represent the 14 generations of Jesus's lineage. Abraham to David: 14 generations; David to Exile: 14 generations; Exile to Jesus: 14 generations. The cover was built in the 1st century to protect where Jesus was born.

The manger area belongs to the Roman Catholics. Only 6-8 people can fit in there at one time. The space was filled with people holding a small worship service.

In 1891 a church was built next door. This is where the Christmas Eve worship service that is televised around the globe is held. In front of that church is a statue of Volgate, the person responsible for translating the bible from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek into Latin.

After seeing where Jesus was born, this felt less impressive. A worship service was happening so we tiptoed our way around the sanctuary and back outside again.


Back to the tiny door at the entrance of the Church of the Nativity. There used to be three doors, including a rather large door on the right. You can see the framing in the stone. The door was shrunk as a way to stop people from bringing horses and camels into the sanctuary. Today it is called the Door of Humility -- everyone has to bend in order to enter, making everyone even in the eyes of God.

We had a quick stop at a gift shop with items made by locals. Many items made with wood from olive trees. We were told because this area does not have their own currency, they accept both US dollars and shekels. Try to negotiate down 25-30% off. Since I did not see a 14-point star, and nothing caught my eye, I left without making a purchase.
  Our next stop was the Milk Grotto. Lore has it the rocks used to be white, but a drop of Mary's breast milk fell on them and turned them white. Stop rolling your eyes or you'll miss the part that really impressed me.

The grotto has images of Mary breastfeeding Jesus. Have you ever seen that before? I never did. It makes complete sense that a mother would nurse her child since there would not have been many other options, especially for a poor young woman.

Since the 1st century woman have visited this sight for help conceiving. They drink a concoction with milk and many become pregnant. People of all faiths come here to try. Later some bring their medical records to prove before they could not conceive, but somehow did afterwards. I am not testing it out.

Along the walk there were a lot of people trying to sell things to us. I followed the example of our guide, and ignored them. 

Our guide led us down a hill to the bus. Thankfully we did not have to walk back UP the hill.

Our driver took a quick detour to show us a famous piece of a dove by Banksy, an artist I first heard about last year on a Left Bank tour of Paris. A couple of years ago he opened a pop-up hotel, a risky move in a town not at all tourist-friendly.

After a 20-minute wait at the border we were back into the safety of Jerusalem., deposited at our hotel. Here I grabbed my camera charger because I ran out of battery power and there was still a lot of sightseeing left to do.

Of note, my legs were VERY tired from the trip to Masada.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Free Walking Tour of Jerusalem

I'm a sucker for free walking tours.

After waking up before dawn and sightseeing all day I thought the 5 PM walking tour of the Old City would be a good idea. Fortunately, it was. If it wasn't, though, I could have simply walked away at any point.

This tour was much smaller than the one the day before -- only 17 people instead of more than twice as many. Hilo, our guide, conducted the tour in both English and Spanish giving me a chance to catch up on notes as she switched languages.

King David established Jerusalem about 3,000 years ago. He decided there should be ONE capital for the twelves tribes, and this was it. While I was on this tour, Julie was taking the City of David tour, which she said was excellent.

The walls were built by the Ottomans 500 years ago. Things like this always look so much older. About 10% of people in Israel live in Jerusalem (900,000 people).

We started at the Jaffa Gate. If we followed the road away from Jaffa Gate, it would take us to Tel Aviv. A couple of days later when I was in Tel Aviv and saw Old Jaffa City, it clicked. After those on pilgrimages landed in Tel Aviv at the old port, it would have been a two to three day walk along Israel's main street to Jerusalem. There are eight gates into the Old City. I saw three of them. This is the only one with two gates.

Why are there two gates at Jaffa? Today one is for cars and the other one is for pedestrians. When King Wilhelm from Germany came with his carriage the carriage did not fit through the gate. As the Ottomans built the wall so he could visit, a modification was needed. 

This tour focused on the four quarters:
Arab / Muslim

Armenian Quarter

The Armenian Quarter is the smallest of the four. It has a number of ceramic shops. The Armenians are the first nation to convert to Christianity. In the third century they came to Jesus's Holy Land and stayed. In the 16th century the Ottomans divided the city into four quarters. Today they have their own education system and marry within. In general, they are a private group. Their entrances are hidden. We walked along Ararat Street -- named to remind people of Noah's Ark, to remind them of home.

You see a lot of Jewish people in the Armenian quarter because it is a cut-through to the Jewish quarter.

Jewish Quarter

Most Jews living here are extremely holy. They want to be near the holy sites. It is highly inconvenient to live here because you can't park your car near your home (think about that while unloading groceries). There are no yards or open spaces, and you are always annoyed by tourists (*blushing,* it is true). You can tell it is the Jewish Quarter because of the mezuzahs hanging on the right side of the doorways to mark the home as belonging to a Jewish family.

We passed through a place a few steps below street level. Hilo said it was where the Romans had their market 2000 years ago after they destroyed the second temple in 70 AD. Talk about history coming to life! We gathered on Caldo Street -- Caldo means heart. The area was covered up until about 50 years ago. Today the area boasts Roman columns and a wide street.

Our guide (not talking politics, only talking about history) said a concrete wall went up in the Old City separating the area from Jordan. The wall lasted nineteen years, and destroyed many Jewish homes. Afterwards the Jewish section was rebuilt, which is why this new part of town does not have dangling wires.

Hilo showed us a painting that depicts the "City of Creation" that shows how the city looked in the 6th century.

We saw the wall that was the outside wall. Amazing to think it was built before machinery.

Hilo talked bout the outfits we see various Jewish men wearing. According to her, 40% of the Jews in Israel are religious, but there are over 100 different types of Jews. Thirty percent of them are light Orthodox (wear kippahs, have secular friends). Only 10% are Orthodox Jews (like the man who wouldn't sit next to me on the Sherat from the airport). They wear black hats, and fur hats even in the summer; they are very traditional. They wear a black box on their foreheads to aid with praying. They have eight white strings with knots on their undershirts. Women cover their elbows and knees, and wear skirts. They eschew modern life, including the internet, TV, and smart phones. I can't imagine living that way.

Arab / Muslim Quarter

Approximately 5000 years ago Abraham came to the present day Dome of the Rock with his son Isaac to sacrifice him. This is the holiest of holy sites, the place where the three major monotheistic religions believe the world was created.

King Solomon built his temple there 3000 years ago.

The Babylonians destroyed his temple

The Israelis built the second temple here.

The Romans arrived.

The Western Wall is called the Western Wall because it was on the west side. 

In the 7th century Mohammed came here to the edge of the mosque on a pilgrimage. He tied his horse here and walked to where Isaac ascended into heaven 

Take all of this with a grain of salt, and remember someone sleep deprived was scribbling notes she is trying to decipher more than a month later.

As we entered the Muslim Quarter we passed armed guards. By this point I was so used to seeing armed guards, had the guide not pointed them out, I would not have noticed them even though they were right next door to a school.

Walked along the main street (I believe we are talking about the via Dolorosa). On the first first floor are Arab shops, above which are Jewish homes. 

The Muslim homes stand out because they have wires running all over the place. Electricity was invented long after these places were built. People tend to live here from generation to generation. If you see a mezuzah, that is a sign a Jewish family lives there even though it is the Muslim quarter.

Most of the via Dolorosa is in the Muslim Quarter. This is the street where many of the points on the Station of the Cross exist. It leads to the Church of the Holy Selpuchre.

Christian Quarter

Three hundred years after Christ's birth Constantine's mother, Queen Helena went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to identify the places where Jesus lived and died and was resurrected. The result is the via Dolorosa and Church of the Holy Selpuchre, which I covered in THIS post.

The area was built in the 4th century, destroyed, and rebuilt by Crusaders in the 11th century. Parts of it are owned by different groups today. I will defer to more knowledgeable sources, only to say it explains why there is a lack of continuity in architectural styles. Each group must agree before changes are made. Anyone who has sat on a church committee (of only one faith) knows that is an impossible task. There is a Muslim family on staff who opens and closes the door every day.

There are no signs inside the church telling you what you are seeing because it is a church and not a museum.

Inside the Christian Quarter is the Mosque of Omar -- a Muslim place of worship for the locals. 

It is that kind of city.