Neal Freeland

Engineering/marketing manager, family guy. My personal blog with a few work thoughts mixed in.


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I was on the road the last two weeks visiting people in our offices in Montreal and Tel Aviv. As I had the weekend free in Israel, I hired a guide and went to Jerusalem. Benny Goodman was a fit 60+ year old professional guide who served in the artillery during the ’67 war, and was still a press officer in the reserves. As we approached the border, I asked him about the wall Israel has been building over the last five years. He corrected me and said that the western press likes to call it that, but it’s really just an obstacle meant to hinder terrorist movement. Only in certain areas is it actually a concrete wall. As we went past the checkpoint through the obstacle, I asked him if we were now in the West Bank. He corrected me and said we were now in the occupied territories, an area that Israel took in their war of independence in 1947 and had yet to return to a sovereign nation through a negotiated peace. As we neared Jerusalem, I pointed out the car’s window and asked if those were Palestinian towns. He corrected me and said they were Arab towns, as there is no nation of Palestine. Obviously, the trip was a very interesting history lesson in the politics of the Middle East. It also made it clear to me why Tel Aviv felt so safe: there was a lot of work going on to protect the borders.
The tour of the city was equally interesting. Benny knew every little nook of the city. For example, in the Edicule of Church of the Holy Sepulcre, where Jesus was laid to rest, he took me past the huge crowd waiting to go inside the tomb. Instead he "borrowed" a candle from a priest’s reading spot, and led me through a small hole in the wall. As we crouched down and moved further into the darkness, we entered a cave area and he showed where the sarcaphagus was squeezed into a spot hacked from the rock.
I was surprised by the scale of the city. To my eyes it seemed tiny: the valleys surrounding the town seemed like gullies, and the mountains just hills. The history was where the depth dominated, with multiple religions and sects within each religion each finding endless details for their faith in the geographic features of the city, and unfortunately also for arguing with each other. Overall, though, I felt like the city was ossified, caught by history and unable to evolve. Partly this was because the economy is based on tourism, and even though millions of people marched along the streets each year for a trip of a lifetime, this ever changing flow provided a constant backdrop for the residents. More, though, it felt as though the weight and passion of history had been passed on to the residents. The water in a river is constantly renewed, but the course is immutable, or at least appears so when observed over the span of an individual life.
The passion of the city did impact me, though. I was moved to buy Amelia a silver Jerusalem cross, and to follow an old custom by passing it over the spot where Jesus paused on his way to the crucifixion, which blesses the object and makes the gift holy. Perhaps one day Amelia will be inspired to take a trip to this part of the world and learn where the gift originated.
I was also moved by the Western Wall, which is the remaining part of the great temple built by Herod and destroyed by the Romans in retribution for the Jewish resistance to their rule. I found a prayer immediately in my thoughts and heart, and let it roll out as I followed custom and leaned against that holy place, feeling both thankful and lucky that I was allowed to share it.
Benny Goodman, Guide
Where Jesus paused along the Villa Dolorosa,
and where I passed Amelia’s cross to bless it.
Jerusalem Cross, the shape of Amelia’s necklace.

Written by nealfreeland

June 28, 2008 at 5:32 pm

Posted in Travel

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