Day 7: Exploring the Muslim and Christian Quarters

Jerusalem Travel Blog

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Torah law forbids Jews from entering the site of the Dome of the Rock.

I begin today in a most precarious situation.  Our group is taking a tour of the Muslim Quarter of the Old City including the grounds around the Dome of the Rock (a mosque that covers holy ground of all three major religions) and I am denied entry because my skirt is too short (it ends just above my knees).  Lucky for me there is another girl on my tour who has come prepared with an extra skirt and I quickly throw it on over my dress so I can enter.  We have a very brief tour of the area (it's close to noonday prayers and only Muslims can be in this area at that time--a loud alarm will sound when it's time for Muslims to gather and us to leave).  We learn that Jerusalem is the third holiest place to Muslims (behind Mecca and Medina) and that the Dome of the Rock is on the site where Abraham offered his son in sacrifice to God (also significant to Jews and Christians, but they claim that son was Isaac, while Muslims believe it was Ishmael).

The Dome of the Rock.
  We are also told that the Dome is where Mohammed ascended to Heaven (the dome created when the rocks of the earth tried to ascend with him) during his spiritual transformation. 

One woman in our group is muslim and is allowed to enter the mosque, but only after close scrutiny.  First she must delcare allegience to Allah and name Mohammed as his phophet.  Then she must recite the first chapter of the Koran and finally she must completely cover her head.  Only then is she allowed to go in.  We learn that the Dome of the Rock is generally used as a mosque for women and that most men come to pray at the nearby El Aksa mosque which faces toward Mecca. 

After a quick lunch back at the hotel, we travel back to the Old City again to visit the Christian Quarter.

I love this picture--I call it my National Geographic photo.
  Prior to arriving here, we overheard one of our group leaders mention that we'd have paramedics travel with us through the Christian Quarter. I am surprised by this and wonder why we'd be more prone to allergic reactions, strokes or choking accidents while in this section.  As we begin the tour, I realize that an Israeli paramedic is different from an American one.  This paramedic was young, buff and equipped with a very large and very powerful gun.  We were packing heat!  It turns out the Christian quarter is largely sympathetic to Palestinean causes so for safety's sake we traveled with an armed guard. 

Our tour guide tells us that the Christians in Israel are mainly those of Eastern influence (Greek Orthodox, etc), but that there is a growing number of Western influenced Christians arriving.

A touch of modern life in an old, old city.
  We visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchure which is the site of both Jesus's crucifixtion and ressurection.  The church was built on the site in 320 by Helena, mother of Constantine.  Since arriving in Israel, I confess I've felt a bit ignorant as I know very little about Judaism and it's made it somewhat of a struggle to keep track of all the history I'm witnessing.  Today I realize my limited understanding of Christianity makes me an expert in my group when I witness the following conversation:

Tour Guide:  This was the room where Helena discovered Jesus's cross.

Lady in my group:  Which cross?

TG:  THE cross

LIMG:  Which one?  The one Jesus carried?

TG:  Well, yes, um.

Our "paramedic"
..he did carry it.  But he was also crucified on it. 

LIMG:  Oh, really...oh, okay. 

After our tour we go back to the hotel for dinner (more veggies, rice, pita, hummus and watermelon) then a concert of North African music featuring an amazing Moroccan singer.  Then Sara and I go back to our room where we are lucky enough to find an episode of "The Office" on TV (Jim:  If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?  Dwight:  I can travel anywhere in the world...except Cuba.). We waste precious sleep minutes watching it, but it's well worth it.  Tomorrow we're up early for Tel Aviv.

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Torah law forbids Jews from enteri…
Torah law forbids Jews from enter…
The Dome of the Rock.
The Dome of the Rock.
I love this picture--I call it my …
I love this picture--I call it my…
A touch of modern life in an old, …
A touch of modern life in an old,…
Our paramedic
Our "paramedic"
A muslim woman outside the mosque.
A muslim woman outside the mosque.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchure
The Church of the Holy Sepulchure
People reach down to touch the sup…
People reach down to touch the su…
photo by: daynnightraveller