Jerusalem: The Holy City

Israel — By on April 8, 2011 at 12:00 pm

By Brittany Gowan, LG Foreign Correspondent
Check out my blog ShortWalls

Last summer I escaped my cubicle job to take a year off to travel and write. Since then I have seen many amazing and unique parts of this world and had several memorable experiences that changed my understanding and opened my mind to new thoughts. Jerusalem was simply transformative.

Israel is a land that exudes religious significance and at times is almost too much to take in. As a Christian, I have visited many iconic cathedrals and churches in New York City and Europe, and lived in Rome not far from the Vatican. Last fall, I traveled to Jordan where I visited Christian friends but was immersed in the Islamic culture and became accustomed to hearing the call to prayer. Because of my religious upbringing and experience around people of other faiths, I greatly anticipated my time in Jerusalem. What I would see, feel, and how I would grow could not be predicted.

Regardless of your reason for visiting Jerusalem, the city is emotionally moving. Jerusalem is sacred to all the Abrahamic faiths. When I was there, the first time I heard the call to prayer followed by church bells my mind lacked thoughts. I was extremely humbled.

In Jerusalem, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are walled tightly together in the Old City, an area that represents the dynamics of the Middle East and symbolizes the crux of ongoing international arguments. Walking through the Jewish Quarter to the Muslim and Christian Quarters, the faces, food, language, and wares highlight people’s eclectic differences. Seeing how the locals coexist and attempt to tolerate each other is a microcosm of how neighbors in close quarters try to get along and play nice. Across cities and continents, our cultural differences will always divide us and religious beliefs can unfortunately create walls that aren’t of stone.

In life, I strive to be eternally optimistic but the dynamics of Jerusalem left me split between wanting to stay hopeful yet feeling disheartened. If there has been conflict for centuries over one little plot of land, what is the possibility for peace there or anywhere else. As kids, we fight over what we think is ours and what is important to us. Little changes as we get older and ironically faith isn’t an exception.

For Christians who walk the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem’s Old City, the most important site is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This is where Jesus was crucified and buried. I wasn’t prepared for how surreal this place would be. I felt instantly changed but I didn’t have words for how.

Growing up, I read the Bible in Sunday school and played the role of Mary and Gabriel in countless Christmas pageants. I was even baby Jesus on my first Christmas. Though I acted out the parts and believed in what I was saying, sometimes it felt pretend. They were people in a story set thousands of years ago in a land that looks nothing like Upstate N.Y., where I grew up. In a way, I had the places, people, and scenes in my head like you would in a fictional story.

However, while traveling through Israel and Jerusalem, the people of the book began to come to life. We drove past Bethany and Nazareth at dusk when the city lights were just turning on. Now I have that memory and these places exist in the realm of my intimate experience and understanding. Seeing is believing. Sometimes there are reasons for cliché.

Jerusalem is a city that has an inescapable spiritual aura. It exemplifies the feeling you can have when you witness an amazing sunset, rainbow, or thunderstorm. You feel something so much bigger and unearthly than your own person. I believe as a visitor you must come expecting some kind of change. My last day in Jerusalem, after the rain, the sun finally came out and lit up the city against approaching night sky. Looking towards the Western Wall and the golden Dome of the Rock, I stood holding my stare, almost afraid to blink. It’s like the last page of the book. You don’t want it to not exist or be over.

I enjoyed great accommodations at The Dan Boutique Hotel in Jerusalem, a modern, chic, and quick eight-minute cab ride from the Old City with beautiful views of Mount Zion.

Colony is an urban inspired bar/lounge/restaurant with exposed ceiling grid, pipes, and lights, bright red chandeliers, and colorful paintings. Young professionals gather at the large wraparound bar, while diners enjoy the intimate setting of wood floors and dimmed lighting. The lamb kebab is excellent.

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