First, Jeanne and I are safe, and until I received an email from son Eric today, I didn't even know about the rockets being launched towards Israel from Gaza. Too busy to check the news, but I guess I will have to keep a better eye on it. It has seemed to be business as usual everywhere that I have been today. However, they have posted a security guard in front the hotel who is checking purses, backpacks, etc. Jeanne said that they just canceled part of their event that was going to have 150 people in an area south of Tel Aviv. It was supposed to be held in a large tent, and felt that if anything should happen, they would not be able to evacuate that many people efficiently. I will post any info that comes my way regarding the situation here.
My adventure to Jerusalem was exactly that...an adventure. I started by finding a sherut or shared taxi (pronounced Shay Root), that is a 9 passenger van that runs the same routes as the Metro buses. If all works out, you get to where you are going quicker than using buses, and cheaper than taxi's. Using a series of clicks, grunts and facial expressions to impart to the driver what and where I wanted to go (and response from the cabbie was the same, except with a good measure of cabbie disdain expressed to anyone that doesn't know the routine), I then smartly followed the example by the locals in van by firmly buckling up for "Mr Toad's Wild Ride" to Jerusalem. All went well with the journey until for reasons unknown to me, the driver pulled down an alley (instead of the bus station that is somewhere else) and not so politely tells me and a couple that were from Paris to GET OUT HERE, which we did. Only by sheer luck and asking a police officer did we find out that we were only about a mile from the old city.
After finding Jaffe Road, I walked down to the Jaffe Gate and entered the old city. I started by taking the rampart walk, which for 16 shekels you can walk a good portion of the wall that surrounds the city. I was an interesting perspective looking down off the wall into the city. A good number of people live in the old city, evidenced by the many satellite dishes and solar water heaters that are on almost every roof of every house. Many of buildings are very old, and in some areas in very poor shape. As I continued to make my way around the wall, the dwellings fall away from the rampart, and I was left with a magnificent view of the dome of the rock.
I continued on to the Lion's Gate (or Stephen's Gate), only to find that the ramp down into the city was locked due to construction. Backtracking I exited the wall at the Damascus Gate, and found myself in the middle of the Muslim Quarter. It was an endless maze of shops, eateries and various historical sites, including the stations of the cross on the Via Dolorosa, the Ecce Homo Arch, and the Monastery of the Flagellation (where traditionally it is said to be where Jesus was scourged by the Romans). As I explored the quarter, it was apparent the being a very white male tourist that I was ripe pickings by the shop proprietors and pick pockets. Many shop owners would innocently mention that you were missing a great view or place of interest that they would like to show you, ultimately ending in their shop where they give it their best shot to part you from your cash (I learned how to say no from travels elsewhere a long time ago, but I wonder how many don't or can't). In addition, an elementary school let out, and I was surrounded by kids that were doing their best to pick my pockets. They left disappointed after finding that all my stuff was safely tucked away in an inner compartment of my backpack. More than once I felt someone's presence behind me, turned around to find a 7 or 8 year old right at my back pocket.
I continued on the the Western Wall, and after getting through very tight security, was able to go to the wall and pray. Several things you notice at you walk up. There are no women allowed the the main plaza leading up the wall. They are not allowed, and have a separate section to the right of the main plaza. There are many Jews reading and reciting Old Testament passages, and praying at the wall with a rhythmic rocking motion. Also, the huge blocks the make up the wall are worn completely smooth by the countless hands that have been placed on them. Unknowing of the recent rocket attacks at the time, I prayed for peace in Israel and the surrounding countries. It seemed somewhat discordant to me to have one of the holiest sites of Islam sitting on the foundation of holiest site of the Jews.
I was approached at the wall by an ultra-orthodox or Haredi Jew , Josef, dressed in traditional black coat and hat, with full beard who asked me my name and where I was from. I told him that I was Michael and was from the US. He said that was a very good Jewish name, and wanted to know if I was Jewish. I told him that I was Christian, and he pretty much ended the conversation at that point. A little more discordance... Inside joke to Pastor: I will be going by Miguel going forward.
All in all, it was an surreal day to point of sensory overload. Right now, I am glad to be back at the hotel, but looking forward to what tomorrow holds in store for me. Jeanne just showed up and told me I am out of time, but will try to post again tomorrow or the next.