So today we split into our 'families' and went into the Old City.
We had never been into the Jewish Quarter (it's in the South East section of the city). We had been through the Muslim quarter (it's the largest and the one that you enter when you enter the Damascus Gate). Sidenote: we learned there were nine gates into the old city. One of them is one of the gates that Stephen was stoned outside of (Lions Gate).
Onto the Jewish quarter. So the Old city on a whole is pretty much this tourist trap- a trap however that over 40,000 residents live in. They live above the shops and then in various quarters. We were even told that some residents never even leave the old city. Crazy!
To get to the Jewish quarter, it was a good 20 min walk through the Old City.
The Muslim quarter is BUSY. Packed with people, stores, shops, people being aggressive to you to buy things, etc.
The Jewish quarter is CLEARLY marked from the Muslim Quarter by a big entry way and a clear demarcation in the stone work. We then saw a security guy with an upholstered pistol- just hanging out by the wall. Also, there were a ton of plainclothes officers walking around. We also saw some Israeli soldiers. This is certainly the most heavily "" quarter in the Old City. In other borders, you have the Western (Wailing) wall, an iron gate leading into the Christian quarter, and a clear mark before the Armenian quarter. The shops here in the Jewish quarter are upscale, some sell in American dollars, and they are rumored (and this is true because we tried it) that the vendors do not bargain. This as I said, was proved to be true.
We ate lunch in the Jewish quarter at this place called Schwarma. Alan tells me this is a type of cut of lamb. So I got this HUGE sandwich...I mean, HUGE (check the pics :) ). It was delicious!!!!
We then looked out over the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. For the first time, I got chills that I was in a sacred place. Here we were, overlooking this holy site to so many people- so many people that it has caused devastatingly horrific disasters, murders, riots, etc- so holy that people will give their lives to protect. And here we were. We did not go to the Wall yet, the group will go, but from the upper angle, the rocks on the ground were shiny from how many people have crossed to get to the Wall.
We watched the wall for a while, and then we walked down these stairs that faced the wall. An incredible feeling just passed over me. There is something about this land. A reverence. A sacredness. I can't explain it. And as soon as I felt it, the tears welling up (thanks dad haha), the feeling was gone. I was happen to finally feel this incredible presence of God, of something bigger than myself.
After that we climbed on a section of the Ramparts Wall. This is a ledge that wraps around the city wall. That was pretty incredible too: we looked down into the Kidron Valley (where Christ is supposed to come back and perform judgment on all of us) and then we looked into Gehenna (the place of Hell- legend is this is where Judas killed himself or where his intestines got pulled out by wild dogs, whichever you want to believe) and then over to the monastery that we looked out on the previous day before.
After that we made our way home and I FINALLY got to chat with Dad and Mom on skype :). We had a lovely time in which Mom informed us that August ate her glove. What else is new. hahaha. But I was glad to hear everything is going well at home.
Dinner was good. Chicken/veggies stew and couscous. We also had delicious cake- chocolate and vanilla. During dinner and after, I had a 'seminarian' moment and we had a fabulous conversation on, "does God suffer?" Good stuff.
We had a lecture tonight that was actually very good. A lot of lectures are at 8 pm, and that's a little late for me (lame, I know haha). It was on the History of the Temple Mount (It is currently a Muslim site, the Dome of the Rock is on there). We also found out that there are other temple mount theorists that believe that the Temple Mount in it's current position is not in the original place...who knows, that's a theory. We learned about the Roman fortress on the site.
Now, politically speaking, whomever owns the Mount is a huge question. It all goes back to the question of identity here in Jerusalem. Who owns what? Who was here first?
The Israeli Govt/military police the Mount. The Muslims own the Dome of the Rock (The rock is supposedly where the Holy of Holies was). However, no one really knows where the Holy of Holies is/was and so the orthodox Jews do not go up on the Mount for fear of treading on the Holy of Holies. Just some interesting stuff.
Thanks for reading this crazy stories, I hope they pick up with more interesting stuff when we visit the holy sites. :)