Visiting Jewish and Christian Sites in the Holy City of Jerusalem

We had been in Israel for several days prior to arriving in Jerusalem, but we were not emotionally moved until we entered Jerusalem's Old City. The Old City of Jerusalem is divided into four quarters -- Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim. The walls of the Old City embrace sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. When we walked down narrow cobblestone lanes, passed devout Jews in black and white clothing with men wearing fancy black fur hats, and Arab women in long flowing embroidered dresses and wearing hajibs, we knew we had arrived in a very special place.

Key Jewish Sites

The Western Wall

We first entered the Jewish Quarter of the Old City to explore the Western Wall. The 2000 year old Western Wall is the remaining remnant of the ancient second Jewish Temple. It is widely considered to be the most sacred place for Jews. Each year over one million notes containing prayers and petitions are placed into the cracks of the wall. In the southeast corner of the Old City, the wall can be accessed through the Jewish Quarter or the Dung Gate. There are separate entries to the wall for men and women, with the women's side being smaller.

In front of both sides of the wall, orthodox Jews sit in prayer with books on tables. The devout sway as they recite their prayers. A large plaza was built in front of the wall in 1967 to accommodate the crowds who come from around the world. At the back of the western wall, my wife had her adult bat mitzvah during the Saturday of our trip. This is the only area where men and women are allowed to be together.

From the Western Wall, we were able to view the magnificent golden Dome of the Rock. The octagonal Dome with its gold leaf dominates the Jerusalem skyline. The Jewish tradition identifies the great rock at the summit of Temple Mount as the place where Abraham bound and almost sacrificed his son Isaac. Also noted in the Old Testament, this is the where King Solomon built the first temple. While standing at the Western Wall and viewing the Dome of the Rock, we were able to hear the piecing call to prayer from the large black domed al-Aqsa Mosque. This mosque is considered the third holiest site for Muslims, where the prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven. At almost the same time, we could also hear bells from churches nearby.

Western Wall Tunnels

Within the old city, these underground tunnels help show more about daily life in Jerusalem after the Roman conquest. The tunnel begins near the men's side of the Western Wall and was deliberately dug up in recent years to expose a strip of the 2000 year old wall along its entire length. Within the tunnels, we were able to see ancient cisterns, aqueducts, arches that once supported staircases and homes. Particularly intriguing is a newly built synagogue deep within the tunnels (Shaarei Teshuva). The structure was built by a wealthy Israeli over the period of twelve years. Above ground, only a small portion of the Western Wall can be viewed. One section is particularly sacred for Jews as it is the portion of the wall closest to the original Jewish Temple.

Tomb of David

According to the Hebrew Bible, the Israelite King David was buried in Jerusalem. The tenth century BC tomb is draped with a velvet cloth embroidered with symbols and Hebrew texts traditionally associated with King David. There are separate entrances into the tomb for men and women, along the same lines as the Western Wall. The tomb is located on Mount Zion beneath the Room of the Last Supper. Whether King David was actually buried here has been questioned.

Yad Vashem

The national official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust is an essential, emotional and educational experience. The museum is located on the slope of Mount Herzl next to the Jerusalem Forest. We spent about half of one day within the underground historical museum, with its state of the art interactive displays. We were most interested in the testimonial videos from survivors, as well as some of the original artifacts and personal possessions saved from ghettos and concentration camps. Much like the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., this museum emphasizes the experiences of individual victims, as well as telling the story of the rise of Nazism. .

Outside Yad Vashem, the Avenue of the Righteous contains a series of trees planted with plaques honoring the non-Jews who saved Jews from annihilation during the World War Two era. There are several dramatic sculptures nearby. Also outdoors, the Children's Memorial commemorates the 1.5 million children who died during the Holocaust. This unique memorial is hollowed out from an underground cavern. Memorial candles, a customary Jewish tradition to remember the dead, are reflected in a dark and somber space, creating the impression of shining stars. The children's memorial was built with the donations of Abe and Edita Spiegel, whose son Uziel was murdered in a concentration camp.

Hurva Square

In the center of the Jewish Quarter, this square contains the historic Hurva Synagogue. Rebuilt in 2010 in nineteenth century style, the current building stands on the site of synagogues from the first and second Old Temple periods. Prior buildings were destroyed several times in various eras. A giant dome tops the synagogue. In front of the synagogue, behind glass, a giant golden menorah stands which is a replica of the menorah that was contained in the original biblical temple.

Key Christian Sites

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Inside the old city of Jerusalem within the Christian quarter, Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the place where Jesus is believed to have been crucified. This church is one of Christianity's great pilgrimage sites. It includes an empty tomb where it is said that Jesus was buried and resurrected. The church also contains beautiful iridescent mosaics with biblical scenes.

The church represents five of the fourteen stations in Jesus' final journey through Jerusalem. The church we see today was built in the time of the Crusaders in the twelfth century. Admission is free, but the church, with only one entrance through a large arched door as part of a courtyard, is quite crowded at most times.

Via Dolorosa

The church adjoins the path Jesus is believed to have taken as he carried the cross to his crucifixion. During the Saturday of our visit we saw a group recreating the processional route, holding crosses with some participants wearing historically accurate clothing, stopping at each station. The route is marked by nine of the fourteen Stations of the Cross, leading from St. Stephen's Gate to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The stations are clearly marked with plaques (e.g., station 5 is on the Chapel of Simon of Cyrene).

The Room of the Last Supper

According to Christian tradition, Jesus partook of the Passover eve meal with his disciples just before the crucifixion. At that time, the site was within Jerusalem's city walls. Today the room is located just outside the old city's walls atop Mount Zion. The current chamber has the ornaments of a mosque with restored stained glass Arabic inscriptions inside the Gothic windows, two Arabic plaques in the wall and an ornate alcove indicating the Muslim direction of prayer toward Mecca.

This room is also referred to as the upper room because is on top of the Tomb of David.

Mount of Olives

East of the old city, the Mount of Olives provides a panoramic view of the old city, with the golden Dome of the Rock in the center. This spot is a great opportunity for pictures of the Jerusalem skyline. Several key events in the life of Jesus took place here, including the spot where Jesus ascended to heaven. On the slope beneath is a very large old Jewish cemetery where Jews have been buried for over 3000 years. With old and New Testament references, the 2710 foot high mountain has religious significance for Jews and Christians.

At the foot of the Mount of Olives, the Church of All Nations is located. This church is said to be where Jesus prayed before he was betrayed. The current version of the church was built between 1919 and 1924. On the front facade, statutes of the four evangelists sit atop Corinthian columns. The front facade also contains a multi-colored mosaic depicting Jesus as the mediator between man and God.

Next to the Church is the Garden of Gethsemane. After the last supper, Jesus and his disciplines walked to Gethsemane where he was betrayed and arrested. On this site, huge olive trees flourish in the garden. In 1681, the garden was donated to the Franciscans.

Eating in Jerusalem

The Machsneh Yehuda market (shuk) within the neighborhood of the same name features food from all over the Middle East. The market is located off of Agripas Street on Machaneh Yehuda and Eitz Chaim Streets.

At Piccolino the food is Italian Kosher. It is located in a historic stone building on 12 Yoel Moshe Solomon Street, near Music Square. We ate within a large courtyard.

We had ice cream at the former Ottoman Railway Station at the Veniglia stand. From 1892 to 1998, this neo-classical building was Jerusalem's rail link. In 2013, it was converted into a cultural and entertainment complex called First Station, with several restaurants. It is located on David Remez square.

We had a traditional kosher Shabbat buffet dinner at Beit Shmuel, a complex for Jewish culture and hospitality. Not far from the Old City near the King David Hotel this is the center for progressive Judaism is along the lines of the reform and conservative Jewish movements in the United States..

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Saul Schwartz lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with his wife Fern. He loves to travel throughout the world and share his experiences through stories and pictures. Saul has published many articles, but most focus upon his passion to travel.

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