Yarmulkes, firearms, and chickpeas

Trip Start Sep 04, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Israel  ,
Saturday, October 25, 2008

One of the things I've missed from home so far are the fall mountain bike rides.  Well, a few days ago, Cisco, Amir and I actually got some great singletrack biking here in Israel around Mt. Carmel.  I really enjoyed it, and though the bike I had wasn't quite as good as my ride back home, the views of the Mediterranean made up for it.

So many sites to see in Israel, it's quite overwhelming.  We made a trip to Nazareth and Galilee to see many New Testament sites.  Although, it's somewhat odd to match these places to their respective events in the Bible.  Such as the church that commemorates Jesus' feeding of the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes.  There's actually a rock in the church, where, legend has it, the food was placed.  This miracle actually occurs twice in the Bible (in the other occurrence the number fed is 4,000, but with seven loaves and two fish).  Why repeat the same miracle?  Why not feed the multitudes with one loaf and one fish?

Above the Church of the Bread and the Fish is the traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount.  The church on top of the mount was funded by...Mussolini!  Blessed are the light in wallet, for they shall receive help from the Axis.

Next, we made our way to Jerusalem, which I've looked forward to more than any place in the Middle East.  We stayed in the Old City, which is inhabited mostly by Arabs, but militarily controlled by Israel.  The city itself is very small, about one square kilometer.  Apparently, the Old City isn't very safe at night, but I never felt uncomfortable.  The young Israeli girls carrying automatic rifles put me at ease.  Outside the walls in the New City, there actually is quite the nightlife on street-side cafes.

One site we didn't get to see after three tries: the Dome of the Rock,  the most famous spot in all of Jerusalem.  However, we did see many other amazing sites.  What's particularly intriguing are the religious pilgrims from all over the world.  Almost all of them on tour buses, these groups march from site to site, touching these areas and relics as if they hold divine power.  It's incredibly difficult for me not to scoff at this, as a cursory reading of the New Testament points to Jesus detesting this type of behavior.

Today, Cisco and I made our way into the West Bank to see Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity.  We passed through the checkpoint and to the other side of the wall, which has been built by Israel over the last few years.  Security was pretty tight, but not quite what I expected.  Tour groups go into the city as well, but the 25 foot high walls are quite imposing.  Inside, taxi drivers try to rip us off.  One younger man quotes 300 shekels to Manger Square.  Cisco gets one guy down to 80 shekels, which he is ready to accept, but it is still incredibly expensive, as it's only a little over a mile.  Eventually, we get a ride for ten shekels.  Later, when we return, the guy who almost had us at 80 shekels tells Cisco that he is a gentleman, but that I am nothing of the sort (as I refused to pay that much).  He was one of about three Palestinian men there, and we laughed about that and shook hands, and talked for quite awhile.

Other sites in Jerusalem from the Bible: Gethsemane, Mount of Olives, Golgotha (in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher), Via Dolorosa (path Jesus took while carrying the cross, original paving stones), and the Church of the Pater Noster (site of the Lord's Prayer, displayed in over 100 languages).

One word: unbelievable!  My highest recommendation for Jerusalem, even if not religious.
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