Our flight was uneventful, but long. Delta had the best entertainment system I have seen yet. Not only did every passenger have a personal screen, there was a huge selection of movies, including Lincoln, Argo, and Beasts of the Southern Wild, as well as TV shows, games, music, and the good old standard of “your flight in progress.” I think we all made it through the night unscathed. I still find the act of flying to be miraculous and to wake up on the other side of the world to be amazing.
The weather in Tel Aviv was warm and breezy. The group split in half and took two separate shuttles to get to Jerusalem. The first shuttle passed through Mea Sharim, the ultra orthodox section of town, and witnessed a demonstration in progress. Ultra orthodox Jews were protesting the use of automobiles on Shabbat. Jacki’s description of the event is very articulate.
The second shuttle took a different route through the West Bank. The road passed by several Palestinian villages where we could see evidence of olive groves and terracing of the hillsides. We also saw many views of the separation fence/wall. At some points it was a fence and at other times a huge concrete wall. Our passing through the checkpoint out of the West Bank was a non-event as the soldiers just smiled and waved us through.
Our driver pointed out wreckage along the roadside from the ’67 war and said he has fought in that war. He indicated that he had suffered from some paralysis in his left arm from the war and also some injuries to his face. He also pointed out a prison outside of Ramallah, where in his words, “terrorists are sent.” We went through an Israeli community north of Jerusalem, Pisgat Ze’ev to drop off one of the passengers in the shuttle. Yen Anh noted how small, but organized the housing units seemed to be. She found the styling to be aesthetically pleasing.
Then we arrived to Damascus Gate to enter the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Not only was it chilly, the place was jammed with cars and pedestrians, so we needed to move quickly. It was exciting to see the wide eyes of the students as we navigated the hustle and bustle of the area. Yaseen noticed how similar this part of the city was to parts of Cairo. Fnally we checked into the Austrian Hospice.
Kids are in nice clean dorm rooms, with several sets of bunk beds in a large room. The place is in the heart of the Old City and the view from the roof is breathtaking.
Next door there is the minaret of the mosque, plus three other minarets in view. Several church steeples and domes can be seen as well as some castle-like towers in the distance (perhaps Herod’s Tower or the Tower of David at the Citadel). The Dome of the Rock appears to be on our doorstep. As the crow flies, it is probably 400 meters from us, but when we visit we”ll need plenty of time to following the snaking pathway through the city and then to wait in line to get up to the plaza. From the roof one notices that the tops of buildings have all types of shapes, rounded, square, balconied. You get the sense that this city has grown to use every inch of available space. I look forward to seeing the same view in the morning light.
After checking in, we went out to dinner and then walked through the Old City to the Jewish Quarter. We headed down to the Western Wall and spent some time reflecting and in some cases praying at the wall. Some students left messages in the wall and others just observed. It was a peaceful experience.
We found our way back through the narrow tunnels and alley ways of the Old City to crash into bed for a big day tomorrow.