Cruise: Jerusalem, Israel

Our love affair with Israel only grew deeper the next morning, when we headed into Jerusalem for the day.

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Being firm believers in Jesus Christ, going to Jerusalem was a bit of a pilgrimage for us. Interestingly enough, the weekend we were there was also a pilgrimage holiday weekend for Orthodox Jews. Despite the massive crowds, it was a special experience to walk where Christ walked (and Nephi and Lehi, for all you other Mormons out there) and to imagine what it must have been like to walk those same streets two millennia ago. So much history! And Jerusalem was the center of it all for such a long time!  Whenever I visit a historic place like this, I like to sit in one spot for a little while and pretend I can watch time moving in fast forward. A time-lapse of history playing out before my eyes. I really think if I could pick any super power imbued upon me I would pick the power to travel through time. I would go right back to Jerusalem and just watch throughout various points in history. Ahhh…. how amazing would that be?

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The little hill in the background of the photo above is the Mount of Olives. Does anyone else think it’s surprisingly small? With all of the epic stories and prophesies surrounding the Mount of Olives I had expected it to be a bit more, well…mountain-ish. More like Mount Timpanogos. The similar use of ‘mount’ is very deceiving in this case. The old Jerusalem city center within the ancient walls was smaller than expected as well. Not in a disappointing way, just surprising when you think about it being such the center of civilization at the time. The things you learn when you travel :)

As you can see though, the city surrounding the ancient walls is HUGE and stretches on for miles!

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Massive cemetery on the side of the Mount of Olives.

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Dome of the Rock

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One of the most fascinating things I noticed about Jerusalem was the combination of all the different religions. While religion has such a power to unite, is also has a great power to separate. It was very clear in Jerusalem. On one hand, you had multiple different faiths gathered together to worship their God. I thought it was beautiful being amongst the Jews during their holiday as they prayed and worshiped. While Mormons and Jews are different, I still felt a kinship with them in their devotion and faith. On the other hand, there was a tension throughout the old city. Armed guards waiting around almost every corner would block us from from random streets with their machine guns with no explanation as to why and there is a clear divide between the Muslims, Jews and Christians over certain holy sites. It was a very interesting dynamic.

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Camera man

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The huge crowd at the Western Wall for Sukkot.

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The Western Wall of the ancient temple.

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The Church of All Nations at the base of the Mount of Olives on our way to search for the Garden of Gethsemane.

One of the must-see places on our list was the Garden of Gethsemane, where Christ atoned for the sins of the world. So important was this that we opted to forgo all of the official cruise excursions and venture out on our own because not a single one of the tours included a visit to the garden. In fact, that was an interesting theme we noticed throughout Jerusalem. There were signs everywhere pointing to the Via Dolorosa (the street Christ carried his cross down on the way to his death), multiple supposed sites of Golgotha (where Christ died on the cross) and even the site where the Virgin Mary was supposedly baptized. But we had to leave the city and walk a ways down a busy street before we saw our first sign pointing towards Gethsemane. We found the deemphasis interesting and a bit sad. In the LDS church, a much greater significance is given to what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Christ took upon himself the sins of each and every one of us to satisfy the demands of justice and pave the way for all of us to be forgiven, than what happened when he died on the cross. While still very important, to us his death was the final seal on the atoning sacrifice he began in Gethsemane. With such a beautiful and important thing that happened in the garden, we would have thought it would be much more of a tourist “attraction” but it was not. It seemed the majority of the tourist sites focused on his death and not on what his death actually meant. While the rest of the sites had grand churches and chapels built around them, the entrance to the Garden of Gethsemane was an unassuming wooden door in a stone wall.

Nevertheless, we made it a point to find it and find it we did…. 5 minutes too late!

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Apparently, the garden closes for a few hours during the middle of each day (which information wasn’t found on ANY of the research I had done about how to get there, by the way) and wouldn’t reopen until past the time we had to be on the bus to make it back to our ship. So frustrating! I guess it was alright though, because really… historically they can’t know if it was the actual site of the Atonement. The garden used to span much of the base of the Mount of Olives and the only things that makes this particular patch significant historically are the two 2,000 year old olive trees that were around when Christ would have been there and had managed to survive the Roman ransacking. We still got to see a bunch of other olive trees…just not the really old ones. Although, when someone saw how disappointed we were upon finding the locked gate, they mentioned that if we hiked up some stairs a bit we would be able to see down inside the garden. So we hiked up the stairs. And hiked. And hiked. And hiked…. until we reached the very top of the Mount of Olives! We never found a spot where we could actually see down into the garden, but we got a fantastic panoramic view of the old city! A nice happy accident :)

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Our consolation prize to Gethsemane was getting to see the Garden Tomb. It was also supposed to be closed, but they luckily stayed open that day because of all the tourists in town for the big holiday. Although this can’t be proven officially as the tomb Christ was buried in (there are a few other sites around Jerusalem also claiming to be the spot), it is a tomb contemporary of the time that matches the description in the Bible and was still really cool to see and imagine.

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Loving the markets!

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If you go to Jerusalem, get the fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice. The stands are everywhere and it’s totally a tourist gimmick…but it’s sooo good! Just avoid the guys dragging on cigarettes while they squeeze your drink…

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We only had a few hours to explore Jerusalem, and we left thirsting for much more. We would have liked to explore more of the city surrounding the historic center and soak up more of the rich culture and heritage, as well as venture off to the Dead Sea, Nazareth and Galilee and other sites where Jesus roamed and history unfolded.  Israel is absolutely fantastic and we are definitely, DEFINITELY coming back for more!

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PS: If you are wondering where TCSE were through all of this, they did their own excursion to the Dead Sea for the day. We meet back up with them for excursions coming up in Turkey!

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