Magical: One Day in Jerusalem
Some days are magical. Traveling often makes us pay more attention to what is around us than when we are at home and in a routine, so Israel has been very interesting for us, but Dec. 31, 2014, was really special in its variety and surprise. We woke up to the sound of a chirping bird; the sky blue as Michael, our Servas’ host and prolific painter, went off to work.
Barry and I headed out to explore more of Jerusalem and walked up toward Mt. Scopus. We’d heard that Oscar Schindler, the German who saved 1000s of Polish Jews during WWII, was buried in the British Cemetery.
So as we passed it, we went in to this well-manicured cemetery of soldiers who fought in the Palestine-Sinai campaign for the Commonwealth – 2,515 young men, mainly 20-25 years old, the markers said, from England, Ireland, India, Australia, New Zealand, who died trying to free Jerusalem from the Turks.
Besides all the graves of the identified dead, a huge wall commemorates those 3,300 Commonwealth soldiers whose bodies were never found.
The grounds are beautifully kept, and the chapel says, “Their name liveth for evermore.”
When will we ever learn?
We saw an older man working on the plants. He waved “hi,” so I went over to ask about Schindler’s grave. The man instead directed us to the grave of –
Who knew? This William had been a driver. Muhammad, the groundskeeper said another cemetery in Israel has the body of “Harry Potter.” Muhammad gave us a good history lesson about the cemetery and an invitation for tea after we had looked around.
Muhammad has worked at this cemetery for almost 45 years! He has 10 children! The oldest boy died of cancer, but all the rest are working – as taxi drivers, or in chocolate factories, and such. Each child has an average of three children, so far. Muhammad makes 2,000 NIS a month – about $500 U.S. He gave us tea and then after photos, a bunch of fresh stevia to take with us.
On the way out the cemetery entrance, we met a young Jewish woman who is studying medicine at Hebrew University. She says if she has the strength, she wants to keep learning past her M.D. so she can incorporate healing modalities too. It’s likely she is from a family that emphasizes education and has few children, so unlike Muhammad’s situation, her family can help her get a good education that should lead to a well-paying, meaningful career. The two are typical of the differences between many Arab and Jewish families.
Also, when I said what a waste, referring to the young lives lost, she thought I was talking about the waste of the valuable land for a cemetery. 😦
Barry and I kept climbing up to Mount Scopus and found a botanical garden that we strolled through and Hebrew University.
We were hungry so we asked about a good place to eat on campus. Barry and I love the energy of universities and enjoy watching the young students and their grizzled professors. And we got a healthy, tasty (and huge) meal of the day.
Also at the university, we got to check our e-mail and found that someone has stolen our credit card identity and charged $1,300 to a higher learning institution in Texas. 😦 At least the money was to go to someone’s education – and we are covered, but how did they get the information and is anything else in jeopardy? We do have another credit card, so the hassle won’t be as bad it could be. You never know what will happen.
Barry still has his cold, and the sunny day was passing, so we headed back to Michael’s art-filled apartment. He got home soon after and wanted to show us Jerusalem by night. We went first to Notre Dame Guest House that accepts Christian pilgrims from all over the world. But this is not a humble hostel. It’s beautiful and decorated for Christmas.
Michael took us to the roof, and just as we got there at 7 p.m., the church bells started chiming, and we had a spectacular view of the city and the lights. I could feel the joy of Christmas.
Since it was a special night, Michael wanted to celebrate and show us what Jerusalem had to offer. However, the first possible reservation for the Notre Dame restaurant wasn’t until 9 p.m. A special set menu for New Years was offered; it cost $120 (U.S.) each! I’m a vegetarian, so to spend that much money on vegetables, although I’m sure they would be good, was ridiculous. We wished the pilgrims a good dinner – and left.
We also left Michael’s car parked illegally at the curb in front of this swank hotel and walked across the street through the New Gate into the walled Old City of Jerusalem. Most of the shops were closed.
But the Christmas lights twinkled in this section of the city.
We wandered here and there, and then Michael took off through a door marked with an ancient cross.
We followed and came to a Greek Orthodox church, closed for the night.
Nearby windows were decorated for Christmas and through the open door, we could see a big family and the smell the good aromas of their dinner. They invited us in. At first, I was very reluctant, but we did go in – and then they invited us for dinner with the 10 people there: the Greek Orthodox Arab man, who had invited us in and whose birthday it was, his Cyprian wife, his round daughter, his serious singing son, a sweet aunt, with her two sons (one about 13 on the couch who had been bruised and scraped from a fall- and was getting much attention), and two daughters – and a Japanese girl, Uki, from Nagoya. Uki had been lost in the winding streets of the Old City and had been rescued by one of the boys; she had been staying with the family for a couple of weeks. This was the family who invited us in. Their table was loaded with Middle-Eastern foods – rice, hummus, salads, roasted chicken, olives, and more. Michael says their lives are hard; they are a small minority in a land of many minorities. But on this night, everyone was happy, and they shared their joy.
The property in the Old City is not for sale. It is handed down from generation to generation, and this one had an ultra-modern kitchen, a huge flat-screen T.V. that was turned on to some torrid Indian love story. The sound system blared of mainly Greek music. The son who had studied Byzantine singing in Greece had his karaoke microphone and had all the gestures and tones perfected, but he did not want us to take his photo.
The smoke too was thick, the alcohol too plentiful, the music too loud, but everything was wonderful. The Christmas tree in the corner, the religious photos on the wall, the smiling and welcoming family, the good food all made a great experience. Everyone danced, clapped, and laughed.
Barry said the different characters and the noise were like a Federico Fellini movie.
After a couple of hours, the festivities were winding down and then we remembered the car. There’s security at the hotel, so Michael’s car could have been towed. He wanted me to talk to security, but then he had a better idea and had the dad call the hotel and say how the family had invited us in and wouldn’t let us go.
So with our excuse – back to the Notre Dame Guest House we went.
We saw the beautiful cathedral, the diners, the streams of pilgrims from India, the Philippines, – Detroit, and beyond coming for the 10:30 high mass.
But Michael had another plan, so it was off to the American Colony Hotel, another beautiful and decorated for Christmas place that UN members, ex-pats, and the well heeled frequent. A fired burned in the fireplace; we sat in a cozy room by the bar.
I got an Irish coffee and the guys drinks too. And that’s were we were when midnight struck.
We didn’t get to sleep until about 2am. – but what a magical, wonderful, and varied day – the kind of day we hope for and sometimes get wherever we are.
May your 2015 be filled with love, family, friends, good food, good work, health, adventures, and many magical days.
Aloha & Shalom from Jerusalem, Renée & Barry