Hello from Jerusalem!
I have to say, the past two days have been extremely exhausting. First, my group and I got on a plane in Philadelphia at 9:15 Monday night, and ten hours later we landed at 3 pm in Tel Aviv. The first thing I notice was how nice the airport was. In some cases, it was even nicer than Philadelphia’s. As we got on the bus and began driving to the home of an Israeli couple that some of the teachers on our trip know, I noticed how Western everything looked. I came into the trip prepared to have a culture shock, yet I felt oddly comfortable. The couple’s house was very pretty, and they were very nice and welcoming. We sat down and listened to them talk about their experience in Israel (most of us were too tired to engage in conversation). One point that I found most interesting was that the women said that she would never enter East Jerusalem (the Palestinian side) because she was afraid of how they would react to her. Yet one of our trip leaders said that in her time in Jerusalem, she doesn’t even notice she is crossing from West to East Jerusalem.
We then drove to the Azzahra Hotel in East Jerusalem. We ate a very tasty dinner and promptly went to sleep. As I was falling asleep, I thought about how strange everything felt. My experience at that point was completely different from my expectations going into the trip. Nothing seemed very different from what I was used to.
In the morning we were out the door by 8, and went on a walking tour of the Old City. It wasn’t until we were walking through the crowded streets of the Muslim quarter that I felt that culture shock. It was amazing to see all of the holy sites such as the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and the al-Aqsa mosque. The one that struck me most, though, was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I was raised Christian, but a very secular one. Yet, something about seeing where Jesus was crucified and buried meant a lot to me. It hard is to put into words, but I could very clearly feel the passion that many have for Christianity.
In the afternoon, we visited an organization called Israelis Against House Demolitions. We went on a bus tour of parts of East Jerusalem, and the woman giving the tour was very interesting and I learned so much about the complicated situations Israelis and Palestinians find themselves in. What I found most striking was what we saw. We stopped at a portion of the separation wall, and you could very clearly see how it literally split a town in half. What is heart breaking about that was how those who found themselves outside the wall are no longer allowed in Jerusalem unless they can get a permit which is extremely rare to get. We also stopped briefly in a settlement about ten minutes into the West Bank. I was shocked by how everything look. It felt like I could have been in any upper-middle class town in Southern California. It made it seemed like nothing was wrong. Our tour guide mentioned that she had a friend who didn’t even realize she that the town she lived in was a settlement until she was 19 years old. Going from this settlement into some of the towns in East Jerusalem was shocking. There was trash everywhere. The streets were narrow and dirty, and many of the houses were in terrible condition. I couldn’t believe the difference in the quality of living from places that were five minutes away from each other.
Tomorrow we are off to a Kibbutz in Israel. I wish we could spend more time here, but there is so much else to see. I am not sure what the internet will be like there, so I might not be able to get back on here until the weekend.