At last, the day we visit the Old City of Jerusalem, the holy land described in the Bible and continual battleground of war. For this special occasion I wore my rose flower tie and Kippah throughout the day.
Before entering the Old City, we were given a radical political tour Jerusalem. We went to three different locations and looked at maps of how the city had been divided and how those divisional boundaries have changed through the years. One of our lookout spots was at the boarder to West Bank, and how it goes from a large wall to a fence at a certain point. Another spot we visited was a bus stop where in the early 2000s a terrorist blew up a bus with a bomb hidden in their jacket. (UPDATE: It was at one of these locations we visited that on January 8 2017, less than a week later, there was a new terrorist attack of a truck running into a crowd of people getting off a bus, killing 5 and harming a dozen. Oy vey)
When we finally entered the stone gates to the old city, it really felt like a religious experience – here we are in Promised Land. Our tour was very strict – we were not allowed to visit any of the other parts of the Old City except the Jewish Quarter. While touring the underground markets I almost accidentally walked past the boundary into the Muslim Quarter and I was alerted by tour guide to halt and turn around. The markets were neat and reminded me of Tzfat. I tried to buy some jewelry from one of the markets but the salesperson was too busy to help me with my purchase. As we walked through the ancient streets we came across excavations of even older roads that were buried under the Roman roads we walked on.
Finally we made it to The Kotel – The Western wall, and remains to the first Temple. As we overlooked it our tour guide discussed the story of how it came to be just a wall, and the significance of the Dome of the Rock, where God’s presence exists on Earth. I was unaware that Jews were not allowed to visit The Dome of The Rock as it is within Muslim Quarter and in order to get in you must answer questions from the Quran in Arabic. Although it is now forbidden for the Jewish people to visit their holiest place on Earth, the closest place they can visit to pray to God is The Kotel. When entering the Western Wall the men were split from women. I grabbed a piece of paper – wrote nothing on it – and headed to the wall to make my prayers.
After spending maybe 10 minutes there grasping the cold stone wall I headed back to the rabbis standing by the Chabad booth. One of the rabbis approached me to dress me in the traditional prayer attire and asked where I was from after reading my pins making a joke that I am Andy Warhol and Made in China. I said I am from Gainesville, Florida and he quickly exclaimed “Oh! You are a gator! Do you know Rabbi Berl Goldman?” I commented “Of Course! He is my Rabbi!” This was quite startling to realize how small the Jewish world is. I asked the rabbi where he was from as he was from New England. Once I was dressed like a Jew I once again went to pray.
Our group only spent about 25 minutes at the Western Wall. As we left we passed through the Dung Gate and were back on the bus. We headed to the Shook – the local market, where we spent about 2 hours wandering by ourselves. There were lots of fresh foods and stuff to buy. After eating a Schwarma sandwich I entered a shop to look at the leather jackets. They were all too large and too expensive but the owner kept insisting me to try on every coat. Eventually I tried to leave the store after trying on the most ugly looking coat, and the owner asked me “How much you want for this coat?” I said “ I don’t want it – its ugly” He immediately took half the price off of the sticker price, bringing it down to 200 shekels. I still did not want it, and started to leave. He put the coat in a plastic bag, and yelled 150 shekels. Again I shook my head and left. He ran out the door chasing me down and shouted 50 shekels NOW! I walked away.
At one of the shops I bought a bracelet that has the Shima prayer written on it. Toward the end of my time in the market, when I was exiting a store that only sold leather belts I got my foot stuck in between the closing doors and that hurt greatly. I limped across the street to sit down and just sat there for half an hour as the rest of the group got back together.
The next activity was one I was waiting for since I found out I got accepted to this trip – gallery hopping and studio visiting in Jerusalem. My original trip to Israel was supposed to be a focus on fashion, art, architecture but my trip got changed to his global experience (which is great) because not enough people signed up, but I was very glad to find out that some of the actives from the Experience Design trip were now being implemented!
The first stop we visited was the first shopping mall in Israel – it was in not great condition but was a haven for many working artists on the top floors, turning vintage storefronts into studio spaces. There was a sculptor who was creating a large piece in fiberglass ad mud. On the rooftop there were buckets full of flora. Our tour guide explained that in the past he used to be obsessed with rooftop gardening to grow his own vegetables and started taking the plants out of their buckets to show us how the irrigation system works with two buckets and soil.
The galleries we visited were not on the main streets and felt like hidden oasis in the ancient city. The fist gallery we visited had a group exhibition called “paper cuts” in which paper was the primary media. The next gallery was quite contemporary – mostly drawings and paintings. Then our group visited a studio of orthodox female artists. All of the artwork was beautiful and so Jewish. I had lengthy conversation with one of the collage artists about glue.
We eventually headed back to the hotel for dinner, but were allowed to go back out again that night to visit a nice street in Jerusalem for drinks and shopping. I entered a shop that said half off price for Taglit Birthright – and so I got a nice Mezuzah and a kosher scroll. Next I rejoined some of the group at a bar and got a Gold Star beer with some of the group. There was music playing so I started dancing and in a few moments there was a small dance club by the front door of the bar.
As I left the bar, we headed to another bar next door. They offered our group free hookah and free shots but no one believed it, so we went on to the next place. I think everyone was trying to find places that had girls, but I was more interested in a good music to dance to, so I left the group to search for good vibes. I found one place that was playing My Chemical Romance on the TV screen but the music was Latin reggae ton – I was happy with the strange combination.