May 13

I wrote the first part of today’s blog in the Old City, near the plaza which overlooks the Western Wall.  I browsed a Jewish book store, remarkably only purchasing one book.  I could have seriously damaged my credit in the store, but I did not want to buy anything that was easily available at home.  It is still quite chilly in Jerusalem, where I am sitting there is a cold breeze, making wish I had not worn shorts this morning.  Last trip it was so hot here, I am quite surprised at the low temperatures.

Most of the group has gone into the Old City to finish their shopping, so I have stationed myself in a shaded walkway with a very nice latte.  From here I can people-watch a bit, and of course get ahead on this blog.  I am always thinking of my readers!

My goal was to spend some time in the Old City and then the city of David.  We were able to do this for the most part, although today and tomorrow is Naqba, the Palestinian day of remembrance for the loss of Jerusalem, sort of an anti-independence day.  The word means “catastrophe,” and while I have never heard of any trouble on this day, there is always a potential for problems. (Obviously this year was different!)

The police presence in the old city is remarkable, we saw several units of police equipped with riot gear at the gates of the Old City.  I chose therefore not to try and enter the Temple Mount, which is a disappointment.  Our driver Feras suggested we avoid it, and I thought it best to take his advice.

We therefore visited the Southern Wall excavations for two hours.  The museum is nice, although the film lacks production value.  I think it does a good job describing religious practice in the Second Temple period, and I was able to highlight a few things after the film which looking at the model of the archaeological park.  For me, this is one of the most remarkable sites in the Old City since the Antiquities Authority has done such a nice job excavating and restoring the Second Temple streets and buildings.  Robinson;s Arch is easy to find and there are several artist’s reconstructions around the area to help visualize the architecture of the first century.  I particularly appreciate the fact they have left man of the stones pushed off the Temple Mount as they were discovered so that we can see the extent of the destruction of the city.

The city of David was our next stop, walking back out the Dung Gate to the national park site. Five brave souls opted for Hezekiah’s Tunnel, the rest of us (the wise) went through the dry Canaanite tunnels.  The walk is narrow in places (although that might just be my problem), but the lighting is good most of the way.  At the end of the cave there is a nice park to view the Jebusite walls.  The area was so nice and peaceful we rested there for ten or fifteen minutes before walking the rather steep stairs to the visitor center.  The peace of the Garden is all the more remarkable because it is the Silwan Valley, one of the more disputed areas in Jerusalem.  It really was hard to believe that just up the hill there was a serious conflict.

Feras picked us up at the Dung Gate and brought us back to the hotel. I spent some time in the lobby of the hotel catching up on my journal, and watching a large Jewish family arrive for a Bar-mitzvah celebration. Some of the kids were running around and sliding on the marble floors, like kids do. It is refreshing to know that kids are the same in every culture.