Map of events
Joe’s Diner Logo

Home » Adventures » Holy Land » Jerusalem


The Western Wall with Dome of the Rock in the background

I spent the majority of my time in Jerusalem around the Old City, mostly visiting the holy sites. Still, the city itself was a great experience. It is divided into Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Armenian quarters, each with its own very unique feel. Things would change dramatically in just a few steps, including the physical layouts of the streets, what the shops sold, how people dressed, and the language spoken. The Old City is not just some tourist destination either, but a home where people live, work, and go to school. In many spots locals vastly outnumber any tourists.

Security is also very heavy around Jerusalem, and Israel in general. Machine gun carrying soldiers patrol the streets, guards are at the entrances to stores, and metal detectors are common.

I also was in Jerusalem on a Sabbath. Everything closes. It is not a mere weekend or a day off though, but an integral part of their weekly religious routine. Family and spiritual life revolves around the Sabbath meal.


I took the bus from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, which is located in Palestinian territory. I saw some of the large security barriers and got a glimpse of the extra checks Palestinians go through even on this relatively open border crossing. I rode a regular city bus across, so I had to wander around Bethlehem a while before finally finding the Church of the Nativity. The current entryway to the church is through a small doorway about four feet high. This entrance is currently touted as forcing visitors to bow as a sign of respect while entering, but its origin is actually strategic. The original doorway was normal sized (you can still see its frame) but was partially filled in to prevent marauders from riding in on horseback.

Church of the Nativity

The roof inside seemed to resemble a barn. I was not sure if that was intentional to recall the birth in a manger, something I imagined, or just an artifact of church undergoing renovations.

I waited in the (at least well behaved) mass of humanity to enter the grotto of Jesus’ birthplace but was not very moved when I finally got there. A fourteen point star marked the supposed exact spot, which was surrounded in very ornate decorations. I am not an iconoclast, but from my religious background the surroundings were overwhelming. I know they are meant as a sign of respect and honor, but they distracted me from focusing on what that site meant. Still, it made me once again step back and contemplate the mystery of the incarnation, caused by mankind’s sin and God’s love to save us.

City of David

Myself walking through the knee deep water of Hezekiah’s Tunnel inside David’s City

Just outside the current wall of Jerusalem’s Old City were the ruins of the City of King David. These ruins were from the time he ruled Israel and may have included his actual house. The largest part of the remains seemed to the waterworks, which included tunnels to channel spring water into large, defensible pools. Hezekiah’s Tunnel still had water flowing through, and I had fun crawling through the several hundred meter long, knee deep water. It was hard to image how these precise tunnels were cut through the rock well over 2,000 years ago. The tunnel was dug from both ends, and despite many twists and turns the two mining teams met in the middle. The gradient was only a couple dozen centimeters for its entire length. That tunnel emptied near the Pool of Siloam, which had the very stones from when Jesus healed a blind man.

Dome of the Rock (Temple Mount)

Dome of the Rock

Between a Muslim holiday and the only religious spot that actually enforced the “no shorts” rule, it took me a couple attempts to visit Dome of the Rock (Temple Mount to Jews). After finally getting inside though, I realized there was not a whole lot for non-Muslims there. The mosques and shrines are not open to visitors, but I could still walk around the outside of the Dome of the Rock and admire the fine mosaics adorning its exterior and golden roof. The large, peaceful gardens on top were also a nice contrast to the busy, crowded streets of Jerusalem.

Israel Museum

A good chunk of the Israel Museum was devoted to art that did not usually interest me. It also had some excellent exhibitions of Judaism though, explaining cultural as well as religious tenants. This was ironically juxtaposed with another wing that gave the scientific and archaeological view of the area and Judaism, along with random, truncated Bible quotes that kind of went along with the exhibit. Outside a separate building for the Dead Sea Scrolls was impressive, but since for preservation purposes only copies of the scrolls were on display, it was a little of a let down.

Mount of Olives

The Garden of Gethsemane

Outside the walls of the Old City across the Kidron Valley was the Mount of Olives. At the base was the Church of All Nations and the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed before being handed over to the authorities. The garden was probably better maintained than in Jesus’ day, but some of the olive trees were supposedly 2,000 years old. Inside the church there was an impressive mural of Jesus’ betrayal. Further up the hill was the Church of Dominus Flevit, where Jesus was to have wept over Jerusalem.

At the top of the Mount of Olives was a great vantage point of the Old City. The Mount of Olives was also covered with many Jewish graves, as it was prophesied that the judgment will start here.

Via Dolorosa

I walked the Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross), from the Lion’s Gate to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was fulfilling to actually be taking part in something, rather than just being a tourist onlooker like I was so much in Europe. I do not think many of the stations are located where the events they commiserate actually occurred, but they were at least in close proximity. The stations recalled the final steps of Jesus’ Passion and reading through those Gospel accounts on the streets where they transpired was great. The Church of Flagellation was the most impressive, with a cathedral with a large crown of thorns painted on its dome, along with stain glass of crowds watching on.

Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross) sign

The Via Dolorosa ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional crucifixion and burial site of Jesus. It was packed full of pilgrims and tour groups. I waited through the large crowds to go inside the temple over where Jesus was said to be buried. The throngs were poorly managed and did not act with much Christian patience or consideration, but after a long wait I finally made it inside, which contained what looked like an elaborate marble slab. It seemed out of place, since I had always envisioned Jesus’ tomb as merely a small cave. I am sure the site has been improved quite a bit, and might not be the exact site anyway. The entire time I was inside, a priest was also hurrying along pilgrims to keep the line moving.

In fact the whole church was different than I was expecting. I had images of crosses on a hillside, but now there is a large church over that, with basically an “X” marking the spot. Still, it was moving to be in at least proximity to the crucifixion site, as well as hammering home its meaning.

Wall Walk

I did the walk atop the Old City’s walls, from Jaffa to Lions Gate. There were a couple nice views of the city from up there, and walking along the tops of the walls was unique enough. But it also ran basically ran atop people’s backyards. The Old City was still home to many people, and the wall walk showed the Old City’s other side, with a lot of run down buildings and garbage.

Yad Vashem

The Hall of Names

I visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum. It was very powerful to walk though, even though I had heard many of these stories in Europe and seen some of the sites firsthand. The extent of the Holocaust and the endless tragic stories never ceases to amaze and sadden. The Hall of Names was especially moving. Although the dome with the pictures of victims is the most recognizable part of Yad Vashem, the walls behind the dome were even more moving. In the walls were cases with volume after volume of names and details of people that were murdered in the Holocaust. They dwarfed any volumes of encyclopedias ever created. And only about half of the Jewish victims have been recorded.

Other spots around Yad Vashem included the Hall of Remembrance, with an eternal flame and the names of the most infamous concentration camps. The Children’s Memorial consisted of a single burning candle being reflected countless times on mirrors around the walls of a dark room. It felt like being in the middle of a star field. A monument to the boxcars used to transport so many of the victims to their eventual deaths included one of the actual cars nearing the end of a broken trestle. A large outdoor garden also included the names of many of the Jewish communities that were destroyed by the Nazis.