I expected the global mix of languages, skin tones and attire. I was stirred by the universal expressions of hope and faith: scarf-covered heads, humble bows, hushed to fervent prayers.
Resurrection can mean a rejuvenation of spirit as well as the revival of life, and that process is ongoing among the countless people of faith who find their way to Jerusalem, Israel’s most sacred city.
What I didn’t expect was the thick assortment of vendors who sold wood-carved camels and tightly woven carpets, just-baked pita bread and crosses of silver and pewter as I followed the 14-station, 650-yard Via Dolorosa (“Way of Grief”).
I resist the temptation to buy a tidy four-pack of holy water, soil, olive oil and incense. I gave in to a thick and sweet slosh of warm almond milk with dried fruit and cinnamon.
Every day is an Easter Sunday of sorts in the Old City of Jerusalem, but commerce is a stunning part of the busy, narrow and winding path upon which Jesus reportedly carried his heavy wooden cross to crucifixion.
The route begins at Lions Gate, at the city’s Muslim Quarter, and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, biblical site of Christ’s death and resurrection. Look up to find the first nine cross stations, each simply identified by affixed or carved Roman numerals.
The last five stations are inside the church, which is more of a massive, standing-room-only memorial than place for worship services.
Tour guide Doobie Sabbo notes that Jerusalem, his hometown, draws more types of disciples than the average person would expect. It is a magnet for ultra-Orthodox to secular Jews, rosary-clutching to casual Christians, devout Muslims – some shrouded, ritualistic pagans and curious agnostics.
Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa is one of three mosques in the Islam world that the Prophet Muhammad designated as a place of pilgrimage. On the city’s Mount Scopus are the 23,500 students of Hebrew University, a 10-minute walk north of Brigham Young University’s campus for 160 Mormons.
The Western (Wailing) Wall, which dates to the reign of King Herod, is among Judaism’s most sacred sites, although respectful people of any faith are welcome to approach the structure with a written wish, gentle touch or kiss.
Some sit, linger and pray aloud. Others silently slip notes into a wall crevice. Most walk backwards, in reverence, as they leave. A long and tall partition – but with slits to peer through – separates men from women.
At Christian sites, the devout kneel onto cool, marble floors – some using canes to maintain balance – or add a lit candle to the long rows of those already aflame. Equally bright are the flashes from cameras and phones. Some place a hand, necklace or other article atop a sacred space, to carry home a blessing.
At the Garden of Gethsemane, visitors crowd and touch the bedrock that Jesus purportedly leaned on during the night of his capture. While waiting to enter the adjacent basilica, in the distance I hear a faint, noontime call to Muslim prayer.
Who holds the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher? A Palestinian Muslim family, Doobie notes, which but a sliver of the multi-hued Israeli mystique.
Although Bethlehem, six miles south of Jerusalem’s Old City, is under Palestinian control, U.S. travelers routinely and safely pass from one city into the other, typically by hiring a tour guide who works a hand-off with a second guide at the Bethlehem border.
The average traveler spends three or four days exploring the Jerusalem area, often with a private guide who charges by the day, based upon the number of travelers, where they go, touring time and whether a car is involved. For more: www.goisrael.com, www.israeliguide.com.