My introduction to Jerusalem is one I won’t forget. Our tour bus emerged from a tunnel. Below us lay the city—the city over which Scripture tells me Jesus wept; shared a final meal with His disciples; was crucified; conquered sin and death; will one day return. As we entered Jerusalem, strains of The Holy City, a 19th Century hymn, filled the air:
Lift up your gates and sing
Hosanna in the highest
Hosanna to your King!
The recollection still creates goosebumps!
I’m not a seasoned traveler. My last trip outside North America occurred ten years ago. I don’t possess a huge repertoire of foreign cities with which to compare Jerusalem, but one thing I know. Jerusalem assaulted every single one of my senses in a way no location has ever done.
While in Jerusalem, also known as the City of David, each sensory system: smell, touch, taste, sight and hearing heightened.
Smells of Jerusalem I’ll never forget:
- Inviting scents of freshly baked bread and pungent spices sold from carts or open-air markets
- the aroma of roasting meats
- cigarette smoke wafting from the table of a neighboring diner (Israel’s no-smoking laws are minimally enforced!)
- exhaust fumes filling crowded streets and alleyways.
The aroma of pungent spices wafted from specialty stands at open air markets.
Touches I’ll always associate with Jerusalem:
- Rough stone walls
- dry, hot sand
- sticky dates and honey
- the press of our tour group schooling protectively like fish while in areas known to be frequented by pickpockets or other unsavory characters.
Tastes that will remind me of our time in Jerusalem:
- flavor-laden swarmas
- warm, soft pitas
- cucumbers, tomatoes and tangy yogurt, seasoned with fresh dill
- freshly-squeezed pomegranate juice
- tart, minty lemonade slushes
- honey-laden desserts
- good strong coffee
- olives—every variety served with every meal—and, by the way, olives were my favorite.
Olives are staples in the Jewish diet—a delicious treat for an olive-lover like me.
Sights from Jerusalem I’ll Remember:
- Throngs of people gathered in bunches: tourists from many nations; schoolgirls in matching uniforms; families celebrating Shabbat
- aggressive marketplace patrons—pushing, shoving as they shopped
- strong muscular shop owners with glistening olive-toned skin, hustling wares to gullible tourists
- ancient ruins and modern architecture, standing side by side
- uneven stone pathways and steps—lots of stone steps
- the glistening gold Dome of the Rock
- brightly-colored scarves and contrasting stark black and white garb worn by Arab women
- Orthodox or ultra conservative Jewish men
- walking alongside their little sons, their side curls bobbing,
- others wearing black, furry, square-topped hats or prayer shawls
- some wearing phylacteries on their foreheads—small black cubes containing Holy Scripture, attached with straps to the left arms.
Jerusalem awakens. The sun rises over the Mount of Olives.
Side curls, black hats and prayer shawls are some of the traits identifying devout Orthodox Jews living in Jerusalem.
Crowds of shoppers pressed together in the outdoor market, preparing for of Rosh Hashana, which would begin in a few hours. During Shabbat and holy days, Jewish marketplaces like this close become eerily silent.
The Dome of the Rock, sacred Muslim site, is located on the Temple Mount in old Jerusalem.
Above all else, I’ll never forget the sounds of Jerusalem.
- Resounding bells pealing from magnificent cathedrals
- Muslim calls to prayer
- many different languages: Hebrew; Arabic; native tongues of visitors; and, thankfully, English
- pedestrians warning, “Car coming!”; horns honking as rapidly-moving vehicles careened through narrow alley-like streets, seemingly unconcerned by the row of pedestrians hugging the wall
- loud invitations of shopkeepers to any passerby willing to listen
- voices of our group leaders: Jane’s lovely English/Hebrew accent sharing her rich wealth of information about the land she loved; Dan’s passion-filled insights and challenges; Sharon’s knowledgeable, no-nonsense instructions; Tod’s call to worship in song
- speaking of music:
- young schoolgirls holding hands, singing
- street musicians and dancers
- a group of Asian Christian young people singing in the square on Ben Yehuda street
- Christians from Africa, colorfully-garbed, their melodic praises and moaning shofar echoing through an ancient alleyway.
- Sad and somber whispers at Yad Vashem, the nation’s memorial to Holocaust victims.
- Soft sounds of weeping, noses blowing shortly before our tour’s conclusion, while we remembered Jesus and together celebrated communion at the Garden Tomb.
Pealing bells from magnificent Christian cathedrals are some of the sounds I’ll always remember from Jerusalem.
No words could describe the breathtaking solemnity of the Yad Vashem memorial to children who perished in the Holocaust.
Although my knowledge increased in the few days I spent in the city, and the experience left memorable imprints on every one of my senses, I cannot begin to comprehend the complexity of Jerusalem in terms of world religions, politics and eschatology.
I feel the insufficiency of these thoughts I’ve expressed. I know my effort to capture, in less than1000 words, the essence of perhaps the most important city in the world is woefully inadequate. As I considered my lack of capability, I recalled a Scripture—1 Corinthians 2:19—reminding me that humanity will always limit our perceptions. In this earthly lifetime, we’ll never experience absolute sufficiency. We’ll never be able to fully
inhale the aroma of G-d’s sweetness,
feel G-d’s tender touch,
taste G-d’s goodness,
see G-d’s glory, nor
hear G-d’s voice with absolute clarity.
I close with the verse brought to my memory while writing this blog post, quoted from the Orthodox Jewish Bible.
But even as it has been written, “Things which no eye has seen and LO SHAMU (“they had not heard”) nor did it come up into the heart of Bnei Adam, the things G-d prepared for the ones who have ahavah for him.” Isa 64:3 TARGUM HASHIVIM; Isa 52:15 Kehillah in Corinth I 2:9
Blessings on your journey!
- The Jewish religion venerates the name of The Almighty highly and will not write fully the name. ↑
- See biblegateway.com for many different translations.
Note: For more information about your own trip to Israel, we recommend highly Dan and Sharon Stolbarger, our group leaders. If this is a trip you’d love to make, check them out at http://holygroundexplorations.com/ ↑