Sunday, July 25, 2004

The Brawer family in front of the KotelPosted by Hello

A man blowing a shofar and another man with a Torah scroll at the Kotel. It was a crazy scene down there. Of course there are many people praying, but also two days per week they hold Bar Mitzvahs at the Wall. So all the boys are reading their prayers and carrying the scrolls around while their families help them and celebrate and make a general commotion. Posted by Hello

Me praying at the KotelPosted by Hello 

Leaving the Temple Mount we came here to the Western Wall, known as the Kotel in Israel. I was in awe. This is a site that is very misunderstood by the general public. Many people think that it is the remaining western wall of Solomon's Temple. The truth is that it is the remaining part of the retaining wall of the Temple Mount. It is considered the holiest site in Judaism because it is the closest place Jews can get to the holy of holies. Posted by Hello

Read more on the Western Wall.

Heading north out of the Temple Mount and towards the Arab quarter of the Old City. Posted by Hello

From the north side of the Temple Mount. Where we are standing is actually where the holy of holies used to be in Herod's temple, during the Second Temple period. Posted by Hello

My understanding is that this little structure is technically a mosque. To have a mosque, all you need is a shrine covered by a dome, and it can be declared a mosque. There are many of these little structures on the Temple Mount. Let's just say it behooves the Muslims to have a lot of mosques on the Mount. Posted by Hello

Close up of the side of the Dome of the Rock. Very beautiful. Posted by Hello

Here it is - the Dome of the Rock. It was quite surreal standing here looking at this building. Not just because of it's historical significance or it's iconic status as a symbol of modern Jerusalem. But because inside this building is what was for Jews and Christians the holiest site in all the universe - the holy of holies, where the Spirit of G-d resided. Posted by Hello

View facing south of the al-Aqsa mosque, represented by the large gray dome in the background. The Temple Mount contains the Dome of the Rock, which is a shrine, and the al-Aqsa mosque - people get those confused sometimes. Posted by Hello

The Temple Mount

On our first day touring in Jerusalem, we visited the Temple Mount (see the link below for more info). Here is the Dome of the Rock hiding behind some trees. It's remarkable that we were even able to visit the Temple Mount - it's been closed to non-Muslims for the last 3 years during the intifada, but has recently been re-opened. Steve the TG claimed this was the best site in the whole tour. It is a site holy to both Muslims and Jews, and, like many things in Israel, the source of much debate, contention, and conflict. I wish I had the space and time here to relate everything that I've learned about the history and importance of the Temple Mount, but you will have to try to investigate that on your own. Posted by Hello

Read more on the Temple Mount.

This is a partial view of Jerusalem from our hotel room, where we stayed for the last 4 days of the trip. Posted by Hello

We arrived in Jerusalem in the afternoon and this is the first stop we made. This is on the Mount of Olives looking westward on the the Temple Mount and the Old City. Towards the bottom you can see a cemetary which is the largest Jewish cemetary in the world - many famous Jewish and Israeli people are buried there (also Oskar Schindler, I believe.) You can imagine what kind of state we were in taking in this view for the first time. A mixture of awe, disbelief, and reverence. It's very surreal.  Posted by Hello

Funny story: When we got off the tour bus here there was a man with a camel - he was selling rides on the camel. Kind of random to have a camel in the middle of a city, but whatever. Anyway, the camel is laying on the ground and I ask the guy if I can take a picture. He reluctantly agreed - he would have preferred that I pay for a ride, but he said okay.  So I go to take the picture and some man sitting there in a taxi says in a rather unpleasant tone, "Hey!  You want to take a picture?  Five dollars."  So I said well this other guy told me it was okay, and he says "No!  It's my camel, if you want a picture, it's five dollars!"  Then the first guy says something to him and they both start screaming at each other in Arabic.  I just walked away thinking, great, five minutes in Jerusalem and I'm already starting a riot.

Back by popular demand

I've gotten a really good response from people who are finally catching on to my blog.  I guess a picture is worth 1,000 words.  Thanks everyone for checking in out.

Anyway, I've still got the last 1/4 of the trip to photoblog - I will try to finish it up soon.  So, here goes...

Monday, July 05, 2004

This is Joel, a soldier that I befriended outside of Ein Gedi. He was waiting here for some of his military buddies to go and swim in the pools in the nature reserve. Soldiers are everywhere in Israel, and all the American tourists jockey to get their pictures taken with them. Especially the girls (ahem, Christiana and Micha!) But I did get to converse with this kid for about 20 minutes. Posted by Hello

On the way down from Ein Gedi - beautiful shot with the Dead Sea in the back. Posted by Hello

After a short hike we finally came to this. Pretty amazing that this kind of place exists in the middle of this unforgiving desert. We swam in the pools and, sweaty and dirty after hiking Masada, it was an unspeakable relief. Interesting factoid: It is believed that this spot actually used to be a large cave - you can see large rocks on the ground that crashed down from a crumbling ceiling. It's possible that this may have been the very cave where David hid from Saul for so long. Posted by Hello

Along the way we saw many of these - called ibex. There were several families of them with small babies, and we even saw a couple of large males butting heads and battling. We were pretty close to them - they didn't seem to care at all that we were there. Posted by Hello

After Masada we went to a nearby oasis/nature reserve called Ein Gedi. It was in this region that David hid from Saul, then the king of Israel. He evaded Saul for possibly 15 years, and in this desert oasis he likely penned many of the psalms. Posted by Hello

Steve the TG pontificating about what's what at Masada. You have to read up on Masada - I'm telling you guys - it's sick! Posted by Hello

Ruins from the city that was atop Masada. Posted by Hello

Me and my pops at the top of Masada with the desert and the Dead Sea in the background. Posted by Hello

My dad and Josie resting at the top of Masada, looking a bit fatigued and flushed, and understandably so. I was the first to the top out of the group (besides Steve the Tour Guide) at 33 minutes. Josie and my dad were 2 and 3 - go Brawers! It's really not the distance or the steepness of the climb that kills you, it's the heat. I think it was about 105 degrees that day.  Posted by Hello

On Day 2 in the Dead Sea region we hiked the desert fortress Masada. Masada is such a cool place historically and symbolically, I encourage everyone to read a bit about it. It was definitely one of my favorite sites. The short version is, it's a mountain where Herod built one of his palaces, and later it became the home of some 900 Jewish rebels, who killed themselves rather than be taken by the Roman army. As you can see from this photo, there is a narrow trail that snakes up the side of the mountain, and there is also a gondola car that takes you to the top in about 4 minutes. I took this shot about 3/4 of the way to the top...climbing the trail, naturally. Posted by Hello

Here I am frollicking in the Dead Sea...well as much as one can frollick in a hot pool of burning salt water. As you can probably tell, the Dead Sea experience wasn't really what I was hoping for. First of all, there was no mineral-rich mud to lather on one's self and renew and re-invogorate one's skin. I don't know if we just picked the non-muddy section or what. Secondly, after about five minutes, certain, uh, areas of the body begin to have a distinct burning sensation, which is not pleasant. And if you get the water in your eyes, which is nearly impossible not to do, you can forget about it - better look for some fresh water quick. Also, 70 degree water isn't exactly refreshing when you're in a 100 degree desert. So you can understand if I'm a little salty about my Dead Sea experience. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) But I do have to admit the unsinkable phenomenon was pretty cool. Everyone, no matter how much hummus he may have eaten, floats. Anyway, since we were staying in some oasis mega-resort, I spent most of the afternoon by the pool.  Posted by Hello

Here we are at Qumran, a site near the Dead Sea where lived a community of Jews around the 1st century AD known as the Essenes. They are also believed to have written the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered in some caves nearby in the 1950's. Both the Essene community and the Dead Sea Scrolls are fascinating topics - read up on them in the Virtual Israel Library (follow the link on my sidebar.) Posted by Hello