Israel 2017–Day 10

Photo Album for Day 10

After reading a draft of the paper about Shakespeare’s adaptation of the Bible’s resurrection narrative in The Winter’s Tale I’ll be presenting in a few days at the Conference, my friend George has suggested I provide the opening with more punch. This morning I get up early to avoid the crowds and walk through the deserted City back to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to seek inspiration.

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There I find it in front of the Edicule where tall priests in splendid vestments singing Greek prayers swing smoky censers of incense, enter and leave through its small doorway, and place communion wafers in the mouths of a few early morning worshippers.

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The rich baritone harmony of their chorus is somewhat offset by the monotone chanting of Armenian priests at the back of the Edicule celebrating mass in another language.

After the Orthodox priests ceremonially depart, I hope to enter the little doorway but am stopped by a Franciscan monk who emerges from another chapel with a metal barrier and tells me brusquely that I cant do that until 9:00 a.m.

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Nevertheless I’ve found what I came for. But I’m in desperate need of a bathroom. I ask the armed guard smoking illegally in the courtyard and he vaguely directs me to an unmarked black door in the back of the church that I find only after several passes.

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After I return for breakfast at the hotel, in the bus we pass an unsettling welcome sign

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on the way to the Old City’s “Dung Gate,” so called since antiquity because of its location closest to the Temple, where multitudes of beasts awaited daily sacrifice. Since this leads to the Western Wall, the place considered holiest in the world by observant Jews, and the Jews are excluded from the Temple Mount now controlled by Muslims, it’s a tense though extremely busy location guarded by many soldiers and a checkpoint.

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Visiting the Wall requires segregation of genders. The male side is crowded with men and boys covered with prayer shawls, some of them kissing the wall and intently davening—rocking back and forth while standing and reciting from their prayer books.

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I approach the Wall, wondering whether being at that spot—the target  of “return” that has drawn people here for centuries and that was drawing the hundreds flowing through the security portals, would summon up some primal spiritual force. But it just leaves me puzzled. Throughout the last week, I’ve felt a strange confidence from being a member of a majority rather than a minority.  Yet here, I find it harder to identify with my ethnic brothers than with gentiles. In addition to the beards, costumes and gestures preserved from 19th century Eastern European customs, I don’t understand why a section of masonry built by a non-Jewish tyrant 2000 years ago should elicit such reverence.

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My puzzlement increases during an archaeological tour conducted by an enthusiastic young woman through a half-mile tunnel recently excavated along the base of the wall. She tells us proudly that she’s emigrated from Milwaukee in order to bear many children and practice orthodox Judaism in the Holy City.

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We emerge from underground onto the Via Dolorosa that winds through the Muslim Quarter. The streetside market atmosphere is loud and exotic.

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Gabi leads us through a gateway up steps to the “Austrian Hospice” and to the rooftop of the building which she says offers the best view of the old City from anywhere.

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I would like to remain here staring for a long time, but soon we descend to the café offering Viennese coffee and pastries served in a peaceful walled garden.

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I remember that this was the favorite retreat of Guy DeLisle during his hectic yearlong stay recounted in the graphic chronicle Jerusalem.

Our last night of the tour is scheduled for Shabbat dinner at the home of an Israeli family.  Jan is not feeling well and stays behind in the hotel.  We travel through the quiet streets of West Jerusalem where all public transportation, restaurants, and stores are closed for the weekly holiday and are welcomed by the couple providing the dinner, their daughter who serves in the army, and her boyfriend.  The food is excellent and the conversation is warm.  All of us got along well during the week and felt very positive about our guide and driver and the content and planning of the tour.

 

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