Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lessons in Jerusalem: Preparing for Exodus

Today was our last day of Jerusalem, and of Spring Break. Itinerary? To climb the Mount of Olives, see the Garden of Gethsemane, and visit the Church of Nations. According to the Book of Zecharia, the Mount of Olives is the place where Jesus will resurrect the dead. The mount was more like an oversized hill, but we had a great time wending our way up through lush olive, spruce, pine and Cyprus trees, and admiring the Dome of the Rock from afar. After the garden (where Jesus prayed after the Last Supper), we went to the Church of Nations. This church is probably my favorite in the Middle East thus far. The ceiling is supported by rose-colored Corinthian columns, the ceiling breaking into mini domes between the columns, almost like a dozen brilliant blue bubbles rose up and pushed the ceiling outward before popping. The stars windmilling out from the center of each mini-dome, the olive branches spidering from each corner, and the earthy tones of the columns give the impression one is standing in a bower of trees rather than a church.

The last thing most of us wanted to see was the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in the New City. No sooner had we gotten to the neighborhood than we were confronted by a large sign saying something like, “Women, we beg you with all our hearts to respect our traditions and dress modestly. Please, no short sleeves, no tight clothing, and no trousers.” Well crap. We were all wearing pants, so we abided by their wishes and quickly walked out. We made a loop back to a cafĂ© and spent a pleasant afternoon reading and doing homework (hard to believe, but necessary).

Towards the end of the afternoon I decided I still really wanted Thai food, so I sucked up my pride (which was not hard; I repeat, I still really wanted Thai food), and went across the street to get some Phad Thai. Ainsley was in the mood for something super healthy, so we went to a vegetarian restaurant for her, and I discovered they had…gluten free carrot cake!?! Incredible! I bought two small loaves for the long bus ride home the next day, and we headed back to the hostel.
I was excited about our plans for the last evening in Jerusalem. We had heard earlier in the day that this night was when the new Israeli army recruits would be inducted at the Western Wall. Wait. Hundreds and hundreds of young, cute Israeli men in uniform? Oh yes. This was definitely a cultural experience we would be ashamed to miss. Tim and Brian were also intrigued by the huge military event, although they were probably focusing on some different aspects… When we got there, we started out observing the ceremony from a balcony far away from the stage, but Ainsley wanted to get closer and um, experience the energy of the crowd. We shimmied our way through the masses, trying to find some Israeli soldiers who might want to take pictures with a few Americans. Ainsley was hesitant, though.

Me: Ainsley, our mission is to take pictures with cute men in uniform. We’re at an Israeli military ceremony; it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

Ainsley: Hmmm...ok.

She soon realized her roommate would be insanely jealous if she came back with proof of her escapade, so we soon found a few good men who were quite obliging and posed with us for pictures. With a few quick shots we were done, and bounded back up the stairs and to Tim and Brian, who were confused why we both seemed so giddy. We spend a quiet evening back at the hostel before our early departure back home to Cairo. Hopefully we’ll get back to Cairo relatively easily. It’s been one crazy adventure, but I’m ready to head back to home base in the morning.