"Birkat Hakohanim" - Priestly Blessing
The priestly blessing takes place daily, in every synagogue across Israel.
However, twice a year, once during Passover and once during Sukkot, a mass priestly blessing is held at the Western Wall.
The gathering which attracts tens of thousands became a tradition, following its initiation by the Hasidic Rabbi Menachem Mendel Gafner , during the War of Attrition, believing in the impact and power the priestly blessing holds, during very difficult periods in the State. (The blessings text)
This Passover the event was spread across 2 days, to allow, as many people as possible to attend, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Exactly, on this mad masses praying Tuesday date, we made the fatal mistake, at a last minute notice recommendation, to join our dear friends, on a guided "Islamic Jerusalem" day tour, while being clueless about the impact, of this religious mob pilgrimage event.
Combating congested routes, tackling road blocks, and running against populous massive traffic jams, turned into our "war of attrition" throughout the day,
The guided day tour was offered by: Pegasos' Guide - Nir Amran - 050 576 7166
Although the poor guide did his best under the challenging circumstances, the socio/cultural make-up aspects, of the group itself, and that of the encountered
black dressed religious clusters, who swarmed in masses, not just the Western Wall, but the entire old city's narrow alleys, made the unexpected experience quite traumatic....
A bus ride from TLV to Jerusalem was offered, that morning, however, we joined the group in Jerusalem, since we spent the previous night in the city. at our daughter's Keren Thus we were spared the morning traffic and blockades, getting into the city..
However, problematic instructions given by the Pegasos tour guide. made the arrival to the first meeting vista point, a complicated task.
A lift given by Keren, 2 taxi rides, one by a clueless driver, who dropped us in mid road mountain, by the Mosque/square at Ras al Amud Arab neighborhood, and several phone calls with the guide, finally landed us, at the right location.
Rehavam Observation Point
.For add reasons the GPS mislead us in reaching the Rehavam Observation Point, on Mt. Olives which is situated, right below the "Seven Arches" Hotel (ex Intercontinental) and above the 3000 years old vast Jewish cemetery, attributed to the Judean Kingdom, and reputedly the oldest still in use anywhere.
View from the vista point
Mount of Olives which is named for the olive groves, that once covered its slopes, is east to the Old city, and offers the best Old City vistas, with its landmark domes and towers, squarely spread out in a picture-postcard panoramic view.
The magnificent, gold Dome of the Rock and the black-domed al-Aqsa Mosque, the large gray dome of the Holy Sepulcher and the white one of the Jewish Quarter's Hurva Synagogue.,the cone-roof Dormition Abbey and its adjacent clock tower crown Mount Zion, (today outside the walls but within the city of the II Temple period) all.running in visibility contest, among faiths and nations..
Before departing to our next stop, I am not sure what triggered the guide to share a unusual story, about 1200 years old Islamic saint woman, but here it is:
Rabea el adaweyaa - A Sufi woman scholar 8th-century Sufi saint Rabia Al-Adawiya. is known in some parts of the world as, HazratBibi Rabia Basri, Rabia Al Basri or simply Rabia Basr.
She was the one who first set forth the doctrine of Divine Love known as Ishq-e-Haqeeqi and is widely considered to be the most important of the early renunciation, one mode of piety, that would eventually become labeled as Sufism
One of the many myths that surround her life is, that she was freed from slavery because her master saw her praying while surrounded by light. He realized that
she was a saint and feared for his life if he continued to keep her as a slave.
Much of the poetry that is attributed to her is of unknown origin. After a life of hardship, she spontaneously achieved a state of self-realization, and able to perform divine miracles because of her intimacy with God through this introspection,
Driving toward the Old City via the Arab majority At-Tur nighborhood (The Mount) also on Mt Olives, the bus continued via the adjacent Mt Scopes.,where section of the Hebrew University, is now located, and in which I studied, for a year, before David snatched me back to Haifa, many many many... years a go, .
Inside the Jewish Jerusalem, car access to the Old City's gates, from all sides, was also blocked to traffic, The bus driver's efforts to make it to Zion Gate (our next stop) had also failed.
After spending a prolonged time, sitting in the bus, stuck in the city's traffic jams, finally a spot was detected, where the group, could be unloaded safely, by the mobbed Jaffa Gate.
Jerusalem's Old City is divided to 4 quarters along the Roman city grid plan
being the Jewish Quarter, Christian Quarter Muslim Quarter and Armenian Quarter.
The greed's principal axis of the city, the primary north-south thoroughfare is the cardo maximus, which is the Lechaion Road, dividing the urban area into two nearly equal segments, and. of major east-west decumani axis road. We were supposed to enter the Old City via the Zion Gate, However due to the traffic problems, we entered through the Jaffa gate, walked via the Armenian Quarter
passing the huge Dormition Abbey, stopping by the Cenacle Room of "Last supper" Church/mosque, and exited via the Zion Gate.
The Armenian quarter
Located in the southwestern corner of the fortified Old City, the Armenian is one of the
4 quarters, within the the current walls of Jerusalem, that were reconstructed In 1538, on the orders of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. in order to fortify and glorify Jerusalem and its holy sites.
This is the last among the many walls that were built in Jerusalem throughout history..
The Armenian presence in Jerusalem dates back to the 4th AD, when Armenia
adopted Christianity as a national religion and Armenian monks settled in Jerusalem
and are considered the oldest living diaspora community outside the Armenian homeland.
Though formally separate from Greek Orthodox and Latin (Catholic) Christians, the Armenians consider their quarter to be part of the Christian Quarter.
Cenacle Room (Dining room) of "Last supper"
Located on an upper floor of King David’s Tomb, the Room of the Last Supper, is considered one of the holiest sites for Christianity in Jerusalem, since according to the tradition, it was the place where the last supper took place of the festive Passover meal, which Jesus shared with his apostles on the eve of his death.
How appropriate was it for us, to pay the room a courteous visit, during this Passover, 2021 years later...
The site’s hall was built by the crusaders 800 years ago, as part of a big church constructed, upon the remnants of an ancient Byzantine Church. dating prior to the 12th-13th C, but by tradition its origins are from Roman times.
The building was renovated into its current form in 1335 by the Franciscan monks, the custodians of the Holy Land then.
The structure also bears a Muslim prayer niche facing Mecca attesting that this room used to be, also a mosque in the past.
Below the Last Supper Room is a compound consecrating the tomb of King David by Jewish tradition. (which we didn't visit)
The whole building is uniquely sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike..
Zion Gate - Bab Harat al-Yahud
Zion Gate, on the south side of the wall, is one of the 8 gates surrounding the old city which leads in the direction of Mount Zion.
Also know as King David’s Gate , it connects the Jewish quarter, the Armenian Quarter and Mount Zion,
The gate. as the wall, that was reconstructed by Suleiman the Magnificent, but was not reconstructed at the initial site, where once the original gate stood. During the Temple era the original gate stood further down hill West of the current location, and it was buried under the rebels caused by the Roma destruction of 70AD.
The ruins of the original gate were excavated and can be seen in the photo below
Once we were done with the gate, pushing one's way, through the temperamental inflated masses that had poured in waves, toward the Western side security checkpoint entrances, leading to, both, the Temple Mount and Western Wall Plazas, became excruciating.
The lines at security checkpoint, where our group's members assembled, way prior to the official visit opening hour, had swelled up, doubled and lengthened, by the time, the security, finally let the shoving visitors in.
Temple Mount Plaza - Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary)
The Temple Mount where the 2 Jewish Temples were located, is the holiest site in Judaism, as well as a holy sanctuary to Muslims.
The huge white stone-paved courtyard, 140 acres large, which seemed almost empty, when we visited, in comparison to the zoo scenery, by the Wailing wall, was as impressive and full of owe, as I remembered it, from the first time I set my foot there, in 1974, during my studiedly year in Jerusalem's Hebrew U.
The platform surrounding the Temple Mount, built, as was the II Temple, during the times of king Herod at the end of the 1st C. was constructed as an artificial land-fill
and expansion of the hill.
It was built on top of a Mount Moriah, which is identified in the Jewish tradition as the most sacred place for the Jewish people. It is believed to be where the beginning of the world’s creation, the Binding of Isaac and King Solomon's I Temple, took place.
and where the exiles of Babel returned to build the II Temple renovated. by king Herod.
The platform is supported by four huge supporting walls, built from large chiseled stones that were placed on top of each other. One of the supporting walls is the
Western Wall, by which today's prayers and gatherings, were done in capsules, yet literary useless, due to the hundred thousands who frequented it
The platform of the Temple Mount remained empty and deserted for many years, after it was destroyed by the Romans., It is possible that during the Roman era there was a pagan temple in the courtyard), until the Muslim occupation in 638, by the Calif Omar Ibn El Khattab,
For the Muslim believers, this is the 3rd holiest site in the world.
It is identified as the place from which Mohamed ascended to the sky, where he met God and the prophets.
This Islamic prime real estate of the Temple Mount site contains the:
al Aqsa Mosque - The Dark Cape
al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, and the second oldest in the world, after the Kaaba in Mecca, was built by El Walid is situated at the southern edge of the Temple Mount and covers a relatively small area of the Mount's surface..
Islamic faith, believes that this is the location of Al Aqsa, where Mohamed arrived after a night journey, riding a magical beast named “Al-Boraq”. ( More on the mosque)
The structure is characteristic of early Islamic architecture and its larger precincts can contain up to 400,000 worshipers. It has four minarets and a beautiful, tile-covered facade with 14 Romanesque arches.
Dome of the Rock - Qubbat al- Sakhara
The iconic Gold Dome of the Rock shrine which is not a mosque, yet is considered the third holiest site to Islam after Mecca and Medina. was built by the Calif Abed El Malek in 691, upon the platform of the Temple Mount.
At the center of the Dome of the Rock sits a large rock, believed to be the location where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son Ismail (Isaac in the Judaeo/Christian tradition).
The last funds for the gold plated renovation of the dome,were contributed by the Saudi and Jordanian kingdoms, along with the Osama Ben-laden family.
The gorgeous mosaic on the structure contains no human figures nor animals, only geometrical designs. The magnificent structure is in use for only women praying...
El Marwani Mosqe - Salomon's Stables
In an underground vaulted space, of 500 square m, at the bottom of stairs which lead down from the al-Aqsa Mosque, under the Temple Mount, where twelve rows of pillars and arches are featured, located under the southeastern corner, and known by name as Solomon's Stables, now is in use a Muslim prayer hall
In December 1996 the Waqf converted the space by adding lights and floor tiles and renamed it the El-Marwani Prayer Hall.
The Solomon's Stables no longer exist as such. The structure probably was built by King Herod as part of his extension of the platform southward onto the Ophel. by building a substructure consisting of a series of vaulted arches in order to reduce pressure on the retaining walls. These vaults, were originally storage areas of the Second Temple
The Crusaders converted it into a stable for the cavalry. and hence. the structure has been called Solomon's Stables since the time of the Crusades.
and there are other small structures on the plaza.
During our group's wondering around the mount's plaza, a couple posing for a photo
shoot in an embraced hugging position,, had raised a rage in one of the holy site modesty keepers.
A barrage of juicy curses in Arabic, like a hailing cold rain, was showered on our group, and almost created a diplomatic incident, when one of the group members tried to scold the keeper for the use of the "Sharmuta" curses...
Our guide had to apologize profusely for the disrespect wrongly displaced,
Exiting the plaza is funneled through the opposite side, via the "Cotton Market"
to assure the livelihood of the pestering merchants which their stalls are lined up
at this charming archway oriental bazaar.
Cotton Market = Suq el-Qattnin
Built in Mameluke style - Ablaq - a combination of red and yellow stones, or black and white, topped by a Muqarnas decoration, during the 14th century, in the days of the Mameluke Emir Tankiz. , the market is a covered, elongated archway, tunnel like.
It borders the gate which leads to the Temple Mount - the cotton merchants- Bab El Qattanin, gate, the closest to the Dome of the rock.
There are currently no more cotton merchants at this site, but the gate and the market bear the memory of commerce from the past. There are now about 50 shops there.
Within the Market's boundaries, there is a Khan (an Inn ), Khan Tankiz, serves today as “The Center for Jerusalem Studies” of El Quds University.
There are also 2 luxurious bath houses - Hamams, The water of the impressive Mameluke Hamam, named Hamam El Eyn (meaning, in Arabic: the spring bath). came from the Pools of Solomon, via an aqueduct from the times of the Second Temple, which was renovated during the Mameluke era. and there are residential rooms
Khan al- Sultan -Royal Inn al-Wakala
Being in the midst of remodeling again, now, the Khan is attributed to the Mamluk Sultan al-Zahir Barquq, who renovated it in 1386 AD. to provide accommodation to the travelers and merchants who came to Jerusalem.
Sultan Barquq sought to improve the city's condition and undertook civil building projects for the public welfare. He also built the Sultan's Pool and repaired the aqueduct that brought water to the city from the Arrub spring
This Khan was a center for commercial life, whereby goods were priced, taxed and distributed to retail traders.
The income from this Khan was earmarked for al-Aqsa Mosque maintenance projects, amounting in the 9th C to about 400 gold dinars.
Until recently, the Khan was a center for selling cheeses, dairy products
The long rectangular structure aligned north-south, and is entered via a passageway portal among shops on Tariq Bab al-Silsila Street.
The Khan is composed of 2 floors, the lower of which was used for keeping animals and receiving goods arriving to Jerusalem from the countryside, while the upper floor included private areas used for receiving traveling traders.
The small rooms that were used as lodgings or shops are humble and their only source of light and air is a square opening above the doors
Today, it is commercially deserted, used for storage or as living quarters for poor families .
Battling our way out, through the narrow congested alleys to get back to Jaffa Gate where the bus was supposed to pick the group up, we also passed through the
Christian Quarter by the following sites:
Alexander Nevsky Church -
Built between 1896-1903 the Russian Baroque style, red and white stones is stunning.
Part of the Byzantine cardo was discovered at the site, as well as remnants of an original portal of the Byzantine Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and also remnants of the Roman forum built during the 2nd AD
In front of the above Nevsky church stands the German Lutheran church of the Savior, which was built in a Neo-Romanesque style on top of the crusader church, It was inaugurated in 1898 in the presence of the German emperor Wilhelm the 2nd.
Mosque of Omar
The Ayyubid mosque stands opposite the southern courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Muristan area of the Christian Quarter.
The current Mosque of Omar was built in its current shape by the Ayyubid Sultan Al-Afdal ibn Salah ad-Din in 1193 to commemorate the prayer of the caliph Omar.
The site is where Caliph Omar Ibn al-Khattab accepted the city’s surrender from the Byzantines following a brief siege in 638 CE.
By that late after-noon hour, the sun already set down, and the much cooler air as well as the fatigue of extensive walking and shoving through the crowed alleys, had overwhelmed the group members, who decided they had enough, and demanded to get back on the bus.
To avoid fighting traffic drive, at the end of this crazy day, we left the car in Jerusalem and took the ride back to TLV, on the tour bus,, relieved that this unusual tour day, though interesting , was actually over.