I had a terrific flight from the US to Tel Aviv. I took EL AL airlines, and their new Dreamliner 787 Business class provided excellent food and service. I never usually sleep on planes, but I got in a few hours of shut-eye. I am not sure what knocked me out, maybe it was the 2 gin and tonics.
Once I got to the airport, Archaeological Paths (AP) had someone meet me in the baggage claim area and then had arranged a taxi to take me straight to the Dan Jerusalem, in Jerusalem which was about 50 minutes away.
By the time I got to my room, it was only noon, and I was not tired. I did not even unpack. We are only at this hotel for 2 days, so I decided I will just pull out things as I need them. Plus, I wanted to make sure I got some sightseeing done before the tour begins tomorrow.
Getting to the Western Wall, no I mean the Kotel
I first wanted to deliver some prayers at the Western Wall. When I went to get a taxi, my app for taxi service in Israel, GETT, was not working correctly, so I asked the valet to get me a taxi. She asked me where I was going, so I told her the Wailing Wall. She could not understand what I meant, so I said the Western Wall. Again still nothing, so I googled Western Wall on my phone and showed her the results. She finally understood me. I guess I should have just said Kotel. https://english.thekotel.org/
Once I haggled with my taxi driver over the fair, I was on my way. Getting into the ancient city took quite a while. Traffic is just as congested as Boston, but my taxi driver who did not speak too much English was super friendly and tried to point out “attractions” to me.
Once I got inside the City Walls, I pretty quickly could see where everyone was praying. I first had to go through a security line for women. The wall separated into a men’s section and a woman’s section, but both areas could look over a partition to see what was happening on the other side. I peeked over to see a Rabbi reading from the Torah, and a young boy becoming a man during his Bar Mizpah.
After some waiting, I got my way to the actual wall. I stuck my prayer in a crack plus three prayers from my friends. One prayer envelope was so big I had to grab a chair to stand on just to find a crack big enough to hold it.
Red String Blessing
Walking out, a Rabbi stopped me. He tied a red string on my left wrist. I was not sure of the meaning, but I thought it might be a blessing, so I let him tie it on me. I was not sure if I would have to pay for it, but just as he finishes tying it on me a very good-looking young Israeli military officer (gun and all) outstretched his left arm to the Rabbi. He wanted one too, and I became swiftly ignored, so I walked away. I guess the Rabbi lost his sale, but I would pay for it later on.
Next, I was off to see Oskar Schindler’s grave since I did not think this would be part of the tour itinerary tomorrow. I am very sad to say; I did not use google maps and got very lost. I walked past the Dung and Zion Gate and all the way to the Jaffa Gate when I figured out I went too far.
I was walking along when the jet lag wore for only a moment. It hit me like a thunderbolt. I realized they would never put a cemetery inside the city walls. How stupid of me. The walls are continuous until you get to a gate (duh) so I had to backtrack a lot. Once I got back to the Zion Gate, I walked out and started heading downhill, figuring I would find a cemetery. I then remembered reading online before my trip it is across from King David’s Tomb. It was, and I finally found the cemetery.
My imagination got carried away
Once I passed through the gates, I came across a large group of older adults. They were just about to head up a set of stairs I was heading down. Suddenly, many of them outstretched their arms like they were welcoming me into their fold. Boy, did I feel special, that was until I realized all the people in the group were deaf. I caught onto this when I saw people “signing” to one another. I think they were complaining about more stairs to climb. My ego instantly got deflated.
After I found the grave, I paid my respects and placed on a stone the lid.
I then wanted to see the Golden Gate so I thought it would be a good idea to ask directions this time. (Here is a great article on its backstory) https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-for-over-1-000-years-j-lem-s-golden-gate-has-been-at-center-of-religious-conflicts-1.7046254
The Rabbi with Nine Children
I then spotted a Rabbi that was just about to pass me by (just one of a hundred) I spotted on this day and I asked him, “Can you please tell me how to get to the Golden Gate?” He said, “No, what is this Golden Gate?”
What, what, what? How could a Rabbi not know where the Golden Gate is?
I then said, “It is the sealed gate where some say it will reopen for the Messiah-the place of the Last Judgement.” He told me to go back to the Wailing Wall, so I gave up, said thank you. I was about to head off when he asked me if I could give him a few dollars for his family. He then pulled out a photo of his family. He had nine children. I said yes, I could give him a few dollars, and then looked in my clear bag for some small bills, but the smallest bill I had was a twenty, so I gave it to him. Then he says, “I really need $100. I have a family to feed.”
What, what, what? You asked for a few dollars. I gave you twenty, but then you eye my stash and want more.
I politely said no more, and while blessing words streamed from his mouth, I walked away. Twenty dollars down and no directions.
Still searching for the Golden Gate
I had to think over in my very tired mind…look for a Muslim cemetery right outside the wall. In addition, I figured it is a popular tourist spot so look for lots of people.
I went down a large hill and came up to a location that we are visiting tomorrow, the Second Temple period Shiloah Pool. It is beside the Mount of Olives cemetery. I was way off course, and now I had a huge hill to climb back up. Here is where all that mountain training work pays off; it was not too bad. (Update: I was wrong on this location too! I walked down to the tombs Hezir and Zechariah in the Kidron Valley at the foot of the Mount of Olives)
I then looked up and saw the cemetery and started following a wall around to see if I could find an entrance. I walked for a good 10 minutes and could not find an opening to get in. I then walked back to where I almost started and low, and behold, I found the entrance. Had I not crossed the street to follow some other tourists, I would have seen it long ago.
When I got there, yes, there was a horde of tourists right outside the gate.
Other fun facts: I tried to pass into a Muslim police protected area. I thought there was a shortcut to cross through the city, and I cannot read Arabic. When I tried to pass, one very pleasant armed guard asked me if I was Arab. He smiled at me like he would let me go through, but then another officer spoke up and said no.
While I had lots of fun, it will be helpful to hear the history of this incredible place from a knowledge guide tomorrow. I also know I will not get lost.
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