Glorious Jerusalem, Holy Bethlehem

Jerusalem, glorious Jerusalem. By the time we got to Jerusalem, on the 23rd of December, it had been two weeks since I’d been in the city and boy, did I miss it! I had been driving my family nuts talking about all the wonderful things we could do there during our nine days in Jordan. Getting back to Jerusalem was like returning home.

We arrived late in the evening on Friday night and missed the welcoming of Shabbat at the Western Wall. Instead, we grabbed 7-shekel falafel at a stand across from the Damascus Gate and wandered through the Old City at night. My mother was amazed by the cleaning job that had been recently done on the walls and buildings, and my brother and father were astounded by the beauty of this living and breathing Old City.

We made our way through the Muslim quarter to the Western Wall, which was disappointingly empty, and then exited into the newer Jewish Quarter (it had been destroyed by the Israeli army in 1967), ambling through without direction until we arrived at the old Roman Road, which we followed for a while. We then exited through Jaffa Gate and headed to Bell Wood Bar, where my mother had a tasty meal and we were joined by my good friend. It was lovely to be able to sit in a nice bar with good atmosphere and tasty food and drinks after the terrible food and repeated tourist traps in Jordan (save for one delicious restaurant we went to in Amman).

The following morning, on Christmas Eve, we moved ever so slowly back to the Old City to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where I took my family to Golgotha where they could touch the stone upon which Jesus’ cross stood during his crucifixion and look down to the rocks below that had (according to legend) traces of Jesus’ own blood stained on them. We then went together to the stone upon which Jesus’ dead body had been anointed and took turns touching the stone. My brother simply felt that he was “touching a rock” while I felt it was a “significant, amazing rock”. My parents, on the other hand, both made wishes and then my father, noticing that other people were rubbing personal effects on the rock, pulled out his credit card, wrapped it in his scarf and then proceeded to rub it on the rock hoping that it would bring some sort of blessing or good luck! My family and I doubled over laughing inappropriately at his behaviour.

After visiting the various chapels throughout the church – including one in which it is believed the original cross was found but it disappeared because pilgrims bending down to touch it would often take a bite out of the wood to take home a piece as a souvenir! – we returned to the hotel and got ready to catch the bus to Bethlehem for Christmas Eve. The bus, which costs only 7-shekels, took us past the separation wall and through the checkpoint, dropping us off not too far from Manger Square (though we went the wrong way and ended up taking a much longer, but very pleasant, stroll through the Old City and emerging right behind the square). We entered the Church of the Nativity together, where we saw the stunning ancient mosaic preserved in-situ underneath the modern floors. The line to reach the place of Jesus’ birth, however, was too long, so we headed into the adjacent Catholic Church and its life-sized nativity scene. Every half hour or so it seemed they were holding masses or something in the Catholic Church, however, we left just before one began and weren’t allowed in.

The parents then needed a beer, so we found a bar/cafe situated on Manger Square, across from the giant Christmas tree and the lights and stage, and had a few drinks. It was a great setting and we were waiting for the time to pass and looking forward to the live shows and, of course, for Midnight Mass to begin. Unfortunately, at around 7:30pm, it began to rain – and it didn’t stop until Boxing Day. After heading around the corner for some falafel, my father reluctantly agreed to join some of my friends at The Tent in Beit Sahour for some more drinking. They were, however, very happy there once they arrived.

By about 10pm, because it was still raining, my parents and brother decided to forget about attending Midnight Mass and headed home. I stayed at The Tent with the friends before heading to the Intercontinental in Bethlehem for their Christmas Eve party. As we hadn’t reserved tickets in advance, there was a bit of a hooplah at the entrance in Arabic, so me and the other girl with us couldn’t understand a thing. As always, however, the boys we were with sorted everything out and all six of us entered without a problem.

The party was hardly hopping, and we were seated in a dark corner with a view of the stone wall. However, we made the best of the situation, bumping into a couple of people my friends knew and occasionally heading out to dance. Towards the end of the night, a bit of drama unfolded when my friend was told off for dancing too closely to a girl and having her sit on his lap. The other girl and I watched in awe as he was grabbed, then let go, then there was shouting in Arabic… we couldn’t understand a word. All we saw was one guy taken out, then the others following, finally all were outside and we were left at the table on our own trying to understand the situation. When we found out that it was all because one of the guys had been too close to a girl we were baffled, after all the bar was filled with girls wearing skirts shorter than I would ever dream of wearing in public and just beside us was an escort giving a guy a lap-dance, so why were we picked on? It turned out it was because we had gotten in without reservations, so security was ticked off and watching us more closely. They were even more upset when they couldn’t throw us out because head of security was a friend’s cousin. Humph. Partying it up in Palestine.

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