Ushering in the New Year

Last week was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. As it fell on Wednesday and Thursday, we had a four day weekend which my boss very kindly extended to a five day weekend for me as I wanted to attend Taybeh’s Oktoberfest which fell on Saturday and Sunday. What better way to usher in the new year than with a weekend of wonderful nights and incredible days? Unfortunately, due to the fact that my camera cannot be fixed after the thief so carelessly tossed it in the river, I do not have any photos. Perhaps friends will upload some which I can then plug into the blog.

On Thursday at 9am my couchsurfer for the weekend – a lovely American girl from Hawaii – and I headed to Jerusalem for a tour of some of its Christian history with my German friend living there. We started with an exhausting walk up to the top of the Mount of Olives. Though I complained most of the way up, it was worth it for the view from the top from which we could see all of Jerusalem. We then visited the Mosque of the Ascension (which becomes  a church once a year on the Day of the Ascension) and saw the alleged footprint of Jesus from where he ascended to heaven.

From there, we headed down to Dominus Flevit Church. The chapel there had the most incredible view over the Old City and if you stand in the right place, the cross of the chapel is situated smack bang in the middle of the Dome of the Rock. Following that, we walked down to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was allegedly caught in the olive groves before his crucifixion, and the Church of Agony (aka the Church of All Nations) where I fell asleep under its beautiful, painted ceiling.

We then entered the Old City through Lion’s Gate and visited, once again, the birth place of the Virgin Mary. Actually, it seems she has two birth-places as we visited both! One is the small cavernous dwelling I had stumbled upon before, the second is a location on which an incredible church has been built. We then followed the Stations of the Cross – visiting some of the churches and sites along it – to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where my friend gave us some details that we were unaware of.

Lunch/supper consisted of hummus from Abu Shukri and falafels from Basti atop the roof of the Austrian Hospice at sunset. When it got dark and chilly, we made our way out of the Old City through Jaffa Gate and to Asgard for drinks. We were joined a little later by a Palestinian friend of mine from the Old City who took us to another bar called The Blue Hole with an outdoor terrace in a very beautiful courtyard. Though the space was empty, we had a lovely time and got home only at 6am.

Friday started late, with an hour-long walk from Katamon to the Old City with the American couchsurfer and another German acquaintance. We bought 6-shekel falafels outside the Damascus Gate and sat in the shade people-watching until my friend from the Old City joined us and took us around. Though I’ve been there time and time again, this time was different. I normally frequent the Muslim quarter, this time we were taken through the Jewish and Christian quarters.

My friend took us into a residential part of the Armenian Quarter that foreigners aren’t allowed to visit. It was incredible. I would have been happy to sit in a corner and enjoy the relative peace and quiet compared to the rest of the city. It reminded me of Rome, big squares and old buildings, and there was something about it that I still can’t shake, something magical. Following that, we went to the Western Wall and watched the Jews come in and welcome the Sabbath with singing and dancing from above.

Our evening ended with my friends drinking whiskey on the walls (and later in what seems to have been an old amphitheater) of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City while watching fireworks. We then headed back to The Blue Hole so I could grab a bite to eat and my friend took us to a bar – name unknown – that, behind its modest exterior and soundproof walls, was packed with people on its tiny dance floor where we danced until 3:30am.

Come Friday, my couchsurfer went back to Tel Aviv and I boarded a sherut with 5 German friends and acquaintances and headed to Ramallah and then Taybeh for Oktoberfest. Once in Taybeh, we split into two groups and after my friends got their beers, I headed off with them outside the Oktoberfest grounds and into Taybeh, where we visited the town’s three churches and its Old City. Taybeh is a beautiful little town and is also the only entirely Christian town left in the West Bank – its whole population is Christian. In one of the churches, we bumped into a priest giving another priest an explanation of the church and the village, so we stood by and listened. We then headed out to the Oktoberfest’s Old City stage and watched a Palestinian circus/clown troupe perform.

After the performance, a DJ started playing some music and the Germans and I danced on the walls of Taybeh’s Old City while the sun set behind the church. It was incredible and possibly the highlight of my time here so far (actually, that’s not fair, every sunset and evening in any old city is incredible). Then, a Palestinian theater group performed and as we had been there the whole time and their audience was so small, we didn’t want to leave. We sat for a half hour and watched their play – entirely in Arabic – before heading back into Oktoberfest and meeting with another German friend who drove us to his place in Ramallah for the night.

The following day, accompanied by my friend from the Old City, we headed back to Taybeh for a second day of music, performances and beer. This time around we spent the whole time in the Oktoberfest area and watched traditional Palestinian dancers, rappers and finally, my friend’s brother’s band – Eurasica – performed. They were surprisingly good.

Exhausted and after almost a week on less than 4 hours of sleep per night, we got into a large group with my friend’s friends and rented a taxi to the Hizma checkpoint. There, my German friend and I got into a taxi with my friend from the Old City and a friend of his to go through another checkpoint without the others – they all had valid ID whereas us foreigners were  in a problematic situation. Both my German friend and I are without visas in Israel – though still legally here, because we are in the process of applying for a new one. Despite our fears, we went through without a problem and our epic weekend came to a lovely, lovely close. Shana tova!

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