Israel Day 17 by Maia Coen

Today was devoted almost exclusively to New Testament sights. We started with the Mount of Olives, and stopped to take pictures at an overview of city.  Looking down at the city was very cool; I think this was a highlight for me from Israel.  Looking out over everything and seeing the Dome of the Rock in the middle of it all.  The Mount of Olives is near where the Last Supper took place and Jesus spent a lot of time here teaching and giving final instructions to his disciples before he was arrested. From the Mount of Olives we walked down to the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed on night before he was arrested.  The 3 disciples went with him but they kept falling asleep and Peter denied knowing Jesus 3 times before the crowing of the rooster at dawn just like Jesus had told him.  Our next stop was the pools of Bethesda.  We entered the old city through the lion gate and visited the baths of Bethesda.  Then it was on to the church that marks the spot of the first of the Stations of the Cross– the route tradition suggests marks Jesus’ path from conviction in court of Pontius Pilate to Calvary where he was crucified, tried, convicted, and beaten.

My dad and I got coffee and then the group wandered through old city and went through the Stations of the Cross: via Delarosa.  All these stations are throughout a market.  The streets are dominated by shops like a bazaar and the streets twist and turn.  We had all been through here before and somehow we always seem to be able to get to the western wall.  If I hadn’t been with a guide I might have gotten lost, but I know I would have eventually come to the wall security check point.  The final stop of the Stations of the Cross was the church of the holy Sepulcher; the place of Calvary.  St. Helen came in the 4th century, found the spot and built the first church.  The hill was reduced and the stone was used to build the church.  All that remains is a stone pillar marking the exact spot (all according to tradition.)  Pilgrims flock in to venerate the stone pillar and the nearby tomb where Jesus was buried before being resurrected.

We departed the Old City and boarded our bus for Bethlehem.  We stopped on the way and had lunch.   Lastly we went to the church of nativity; the place where Jesus was born.  We learned from Mahdi that the stables were usually cave/cellars under houses and inns.  So Mary and Joseph were probably put in a cave/cellar when there were no inn rooms available.  When Jesus was born, they placed him in a manger, probably made of stone.  We descended into the “basement” of the church to see the actual cave where he was born; the church is a beautiful Byzantine church with an impressive altarpiece and silver chandeliers.

We returned to Jerusalem for a free evening and my dad and I went to meet Mahdi and his family at his brother’s restaurant.  I got to meet his two daughters who were 14 and 18.  They were very welcoming and friendly and spoke perfect English.  It was a little awkward at first but we warmed up to each other and couldn’t stop talking after that.  I found that we all knew about the same things in the world.  As in they knew all about the most popular media trends in the states and they knew the most popular music.  We were able to sit there and talk about the same things.  It didn’t occur to me how incredible this was until my dad brought it up.  It really is amazing that I was able to sit there in Israel and talk to two Palestinian girls about social media trends.  Both girls were lovely and I really enjoyed talking to them.  As an American I unknowingly had stereotyped the Palestinians and the whole conflict in Israel but meeting these people has completely changed my mind and opened my eyes.  They have given the conflict a face.  Here’s this family, leaving peacefully in Jerusalem as Palestinians and not having any trouble with it.  I didn’t know that was possible.  I’m not saying I understand everything that’s going on here, but I feel like I know a lot more about what it’s really like, not just what the media has told me.  That’s why I travel, because no matter how many newspapers, magazines, or history books that you read you will never be able to understand it like you do when you actually make it to a country.  No matter what there is always something that you discover that you never could have learned at home.  That’s what it’s all about.