History and Hope – Jerusalem, Israel

Sitting on the bus to the Tel Aviv central bus station while I watched the lively streets being to pick up momentum gearing up for a busy Thursday. Tomorrow is Jewish New Years Eve. I arrived at the station and after a cheerful talk with the security guard that checked my pack I made my way to my platform. I tried not to ingest the secondhand smoke that was hanging about as I just people watched to pass the hour before I had to board.

I thought about the past few days I had spent in Israel. I made a trip to Haifa where there is a mountain called Carmel. I was very impressed by the stunning and elaborate Bahai gardens which looking down over the seaside town boasted postcard views.

I took a tour to Jerusalem, and the whole bus spoke Spanish except me. The guide reminded me heavily of my grade 11 Spanish teacher in every way so it wasn’t odd to feel like I was on a field trip. The drive was only around an hour or so passing by the 6 million trees planted in memory of the holocaust; 4.5 M pines for the adults and 1.5 M cypress for the children.

As we pulled around the hilly terrain I was intrigued by the rectangular beige box architecture stacked along the mountainsides. It just looked so neat and organized. I was taken aback with the size of what I found out was the largest city in Israel, home to 650,000. Ironically, the “City of Peace” has been destroyed and rebuilt 18 times.

We went to Mount Zion and saw a few people praying in the very small room occupying the tomb of David. We checked out the room where the Last Supper was held which was much smaller and different than depicted in all the pictures and paintings I have ever seen. I listened to our guide talk about all the lineage and symbolics in both English and Spanish (perhaps I could practice my very limited Spanish vocab) but I got saturated quick quickly. Why is everything biblical so concentrated around numbers?

As we walked towards the old city, inevitably we were offered postcards and camel rides by the young boys basking in the shade. The old city was divided into quarters and I was astonished at how the were so different. Within a matter of steps you could walk from the subdued shiny shopping mall atmosphere of the Jewish quarter into the contrasting Arab quarter. We were whisked through quickly but my senses were inundated with the fascinating smells, sounds and sights of the culture.

I struggled to take it all in but was just overwhelmed with the diversity and richness of the experience. From the spicy aromas wafting from the spice shops to the distinctive clang of Arabic music to veiled Muslim women towing their bright eyed inquisitive babes around, the market type atmosphere held me in a sense of awe.

I really wish I had more time to explore and was skeptical of the heavy warnings not to dawdle here or else. I didn’t feel like it was dangerous or that I would be harmed as I looked deep into the eyes of the shopkeepers who seemed welcoming, once they overcame the initial shock that I was in fact trying to communicate a smile. I know that things have been volatile here and maybe I am just naive but I really felt that the warnings were exaggerated.

We ended up in the Christian sector where the group stopped to eat lunch but as I wasn’t hungry I decided to venture off to explore. I was advised against this heavily but brushed off the “go ahead, but you may not make it back alive” comments. Come on. I visited shop after shop talking with the keepers who were obviously suffering due to the lack of tourists.

We toured around looking at a bunch of historical and religious sites but if you really want to learn about that stuff there are some pretty famous books written. I am sure you’ve heard of them. I was more interested in the people living there right now and the effect that history has had on them now. Suffice to say, I made it out of Jerusalem and Israel just fine with not one scrape or bruise.

I wonder why people look at me like I must be either stupid or crazy when I speak and live optimistically. I wonder why its criticized to choose to live in a positive state of mind. Negative connotations to “just a dreamer”, “head in the clouds”, “in a fantasy world”.

I sat in a chair in front of the Wailing Wall when someone asked me if I had made my “wish”. I guess you are supposed to write down your prayer or wish and shove it into the cracks of this most ancient sacred wall where God can read them. I glanced at the ground which was littered with hundreds crumpled pieces of paper which had fallen out of the overflowing crevices. I wondered how many of those prayers had been answered and if God would still read them if they were torn and dirty. I wondered if this wish held more weight than the shooting star or stray eyelash wish I made last week. And then I wondered what exactly could be crazy about faith, hope and optimism.

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