Christmas, Yad Vashem and Haram al-Sharif

Christmas morning we woke up and it was raining. It was also a Sunday and thus, most museums were closed (though Sunday isn’t a weekend here, this is similar to how museums in the West often close on Mondays).  After much deliberation, we chose the most cheerful place we could possibly go on a rainy Christmas Day: Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Museum). It was one of the only places open.

We took the newly installed Jerusalem light rail, a 10 year construction project that runs from East to West. Unsurprisingly, the construction of the rail, like much in Israel, was plagued by controversy as it passes through settlements in East Jerusalem as well as through Arab East Jerusalem. I also read an interesting article about how the light rail served, in a way, as a connecting bridge between East and West, with the author observing Palestinian families who evidently didn’t often come into West Jerusalem take the train to the end of the line and then get straight back on a return train taking them back to the East, as if they were on a sort of sight-seeing venture. 

Yad Vashem was fascinating, and despite the fact that we spent over four hours perusing the photos and installations in the museum, we barely covered half of it before we were kicked out at closing. I learned a vast amount about the Holocaust and I’m ashamed to say that I don’t remember much of it. Not to worry, however, as I have promised myself that I will return to finish the rest of the museum and to garner a better understanding of both the horrors of the Holocaust as well as of the incredible resilience and spirit of the people affected.

Unfortunately, it was still pouring rain when we left and our umbrellas were quickly turned inside-out by the wind. We ran, soaking wet, back to our hotel to sit in our beautiful room, and watch the rain pour down before having our Christmas dinner in the hotel’s restaurant.

It was possibly one of the most un-festive Christmas’s I’ve ever had; I never thought I’d feel further from Christmas than when I was celebrating it in the Holy Land.

By Monday morning the rain had stopped, so we headed to Jaffa Gate and began the first half of the Ramparts Walk – where you walk the perimeter of Jerusalem’s Old City atop its walls – that took us past the Armenian quarter and various churches and cemeteries as well as provided me with my first view of the controversial City of David and its nearby Arab neighbourhood, Silwan.

The first half of the walk ended near the entrance to the Kotel (the Western Wall) and the entrance to the Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount), where we lined up to visit the al-Aqsa mosque compound and get close to (but, unfortunately, not inside) the Dome of the Rock. It was a stroke of luck that we were allowed access the Temple Mount as the weeks preceding our visit had been plagued by political issues surrounding the closing of the al-Mughrabi bridge, the only entrance from which visitors can visit the complex, because the Israeli authorities deemed it structurally unsound and a hazard.

The Haram al-Sharif is possibly one of my favourite places in Jerusalem. I never do much there, but I love to take in the peaceful olive groves and the mix of worshippers, Muslim tourists and curious foreigners milling about. I love to lean against marble columns and fall asleep briefly in the sun, only to wake up to the stunning Dome of the Rock with the incredible tile work on its exterior and its beautiful carved doors and, of course, its stunning gold dome.

I want so desperately to enter the Dome of the Rock and see the supposedly floating stone from which the Prophet ascended to heaven on his famous Night Journey. And I would love to enter al-Aqsa, which would be a little more difficult, and feel the reverberations of millions of prayers and the significance of the third holiest place in Islam.

Unfortunately, however, after the botched attempt of an Australian terrorist to set fire to the Dome of the Rock in 1969 (it seems he was suffering from Jerusalem Syndrome), visiting hours were set and we only had one hour on Monday afternoon to take in our beautiful surroundings. It is also for this reason that non-Muslim visitors cannot enter either mosque.

After leaving, we headed to Hummus Lina, one of the best hummuseries in the area, as I was starving and grumpy. After a delicious and very filling bowl of hummus, we returned to Jaffa gate to begin the second half of the ramparts walk.

My friend showed us various schools and churches, and I was amazed at the size and number of Catholic structures within the Old City. It was a lovely walk, and we ended our pleasant day with an absolutely delicious meal at Kadosh Cafe in West Jerusalem. However, in my personal opinion, the best meal we had in Jerusalem was the Palestinian meal my friend’s mother and aunt cooked up for us that we ate in their home in the Old City. It was absolutely delicious and, for the first time in my life, my father took four helpings!


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