Field Experts

Oh, Jerusalem

Down Route 1 from Tel Aviv Jerusalem is a 45 minute ride – 45 minutes, that is, if you aren’t stuck in gridlock that seems to have its origin in Tel Aviv. By the time we make our way to the City of Peace, it is dark, cold and raining. To add to the distress, our cab driver is refusing to drive us to the entrance of our hotel. He plans to deposit us –in the cold rain - outside Jaffa Gate, luggage and all. Taxi drivers do not like to get stuck on the narrow one way system that circumvents the walled city.

We pass through Jaffa Gate, the majestic northern gate of the Old City built in the 16th century by Suleiman the Magnificent that has come to signify Jerusalem. In spite of the lateness of the evening, vendors are out, shielding stacks of oversized bagels from the rain with clear plastic coverings. As we remove our luggage from the cab onto the cobblestone street, my Sunday school image of this ancient city is bearing out. Through the rain and the amber glow of street lamps, I can make out minarets, bell towers and the shadows of the surrounding ramparts.

It is Sunday evening and restaurants in the Old City are closed. So, we make our way out from Jaffa Gate, down twisting flights of uneven stone steps that lead, amazingly, to a super-luxurious pedestrian mall - a mere stone’s throw from David’s Tower! Through the glass facade of elegant restaurants, cafés and designer stores, I see animated families, friends, lovers and the ever-present Israeli dogs on long leashes enjoying themselves immensely. My early Christian education has led me to expect one thing and I am finding another. Welcome to Jerusalem.

With the distant early call of the muezzin, followed by the toll of nearby church bells, the day begins behind the old battlements of this ancient city where empires have collided and the world’s three monotheistic religions coexist. The sharp Jerusalem light is legend. It bounces, blindingly, off the turreted stone ramparts built brick by brick with sand colored Jerusalem stone. You can inch your way along the promenade which curves around the Christian Quarter with rooftop vistas of the Old City and west Jerusalem laid out below.

One forgets that the Old City is not a museum – twenty thousand people live in this walled city. To prove my point, we pass a bakery where racks of fresh pita bread are being pulled from the wood burning oven. We are in the Christian Quarter which is almost modern in its simplicity. It borders the labyrinthine passageways of the Muslim Quarter which lead straight down into the very different, colorful Arab souk. Fresh pomegranate juice is proffered at the entrance to El Bazar and shopkeepers beckon you into their exotic shops… What makes the old, narrow alleys fascinating is that by simply rounding a corner you can find yourself in a different world, with a separate creed, all within the confines of two square miles.

Beginning to absorb the spiritual and historical atmosphere of the four separate religious quarters, it is not surprising that visitors can sometimes become afflicted with “Jerusalem Syndrome”. Perfectly normal people have been known to become delusional and exhibit bizarre behavior, like wandering around the city wrapped in a white hotel sheet claiming to be John the Baptist. The atmosphere can get pretty heady between religious tour groups stopping at the Stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa and the stream of worshippers praying at the Western (wailing) Wall.

At dusk each day except Friday the Citadel, popularly known as David’s Tower (a misnomer as it was actually built by King Herod), comes alive with an impressive Son et Lumière show. We watch the wrap-around computer-generated images projected onto the exterior walls of the Citadel each evening from the balcony of our hotel room and get caught up in the two thousand year old story. Jerusalem is as imaginary as it is real.

As we depart from the Holy City, a layer of dark nimbus clouds are stunningly creating a formation that looks very much like the hole in-the-sky scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark”. I look up and wonder if it’s possible that the salvation of the millennium will come from the sky, or is it that I too have been afflicted with Jerusalem Syndrome?

Courtney Campbell