In The City Of God
After a week of R&R in sunny Tel Aviv I set my sights eastwards towards Jerusalem. I had recently finished reading Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Montefiore and my interest was peaked. Jerusalem had been the centre of the world at points, and the events that took place in that city have touched on almost every society on Earth, and I had to go at least once.
Now, I’m not a religious person, well I suppose I have Alfa Romeo, but really god is not my thing. But I am interested in history so I was looking forward to a few days in the religious capital of the world. I left Tel Aviv on a Saturday afternoon, while the country was quiet for Shabbat, and headed out to Jerusalem to stay with a friend.
I met up with my friend Yair in the early evening and we walked around a little until the end of Shabbat, when the restaurants opened up again. In Jerusalem people are a lot more serious about those sort of rules than people are in Tel Aviv.
After a good dinner and a night’s rest I set out to take in the city in the morning. I was alone and my main goal for the day was to see the Church Of The Holy Sepulchre, which is the holiest site in Christianity, the religion in which I was raised. In fact, I attended more than 12 years of religious education, but it didn’t rub off. I usually feel a bit uneasy when trespassing in the religious sites of “The Other” but Christianity was the religion that forced itself into my life by the hands of the Pious. It has its good points, and I suppose it’s rather pretty, but it did try to sabotage my mind as a child, so the Pious will have to forgive my intrusion with my camera, it’s only fair I think.
I arrived at the city gates after a lazy stroll through the beautiful park which separates the Old City from the modern West Jerusalem. I was instantly approached by the tourist touts that I had almost forgot existed, last really seeing them in Tanzania. They thought I was a religious tourist from America or something, so most of what they were selling was not interesting at all. I usually pretend to speak only German in these encounters, or just wait until they turn away for a second and make a run for it.
I found my way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (without a guide thank you very much) and found it down a little alley. There is a small square outside where the main door is located, which was full of pilgrims from all over the world.
Inside the church things were a little strange. The church is laid out in a weird way that you can never really tell how large the building is, or where you are. It’s always full of religious devotees crying on the anointing stone or trying to reach the Rock of Calvary, but it’s also full of tourists dressed for Disney Land instead of a holy site. Even I bothered to dress up a little to show respect, but it seems the average pilgrim is not to bothered about it. They’re also quite noisy and chatty and do a lot of flash photography. But beyond the pilgrims the site is fascinating.
I had arrived in Jerusalem at a tense time. The Temple Mount was closed to the public, after a stabbing incident a few days before I arrived. I am interested in history but the central theme in Jerusalem is religion, which I just don’t get, so much of it was lost on me I’m afraid.
The weather had become rather gloomy and I felt I was developing Reverse-Jerusalem Syndrome. The more time I spent there the more silly I found religion, and it was impossible to escape it in the city. As interesting as Jerusalem is, I was eager to return to Tel Aviv where life was light-hearted and relaxed. Perhaps I’ll return to Jerusalem one day, and with company and better weather maybe I’ll find it a little more cheery.