The Old City of Jerusalem, from the Mount of Olives

The Old City of Jerusalem, with the bright golden dome of the Qubbat As-Sakhara mosque (also known as the Dome of the Rock) as seen from the nearby hill called the Mount of Olives:

The many stone graves are supposedly on a waiting list to be buried, and if you look hard enough you can see little pebbles on the top of them, which is a Jewish custom akin to putting flowers on a grave. Interestingly, nobody really knows where exactly this tradition developed or what exactly it means.

The amazing Chapel of the Ascension

Jerusalem is an amazing, amazing place. Just outside of the Old City, on the Mount of Olives, sits the Chapel of the Ascension,

This building, also called an Edicule, covers a small rock outcropping that the Christian faithful believe to be the right footprint of Jesus, etched into the stone as he ascended:


The bizzare of old meets new

It can be truly bizzare when old things meet new things.

Consider this Shabbat elevator in my hotel in Jerusalem, Israel:

On the outside it looks like a fairly normal elevator – and indeed, for six days of the week it is. You push the button and patiently wait, and soon the elevator will reach your floor and the doors will open.

But on the Sabbath, this elevator does not behave like a normal elevator at all!  For on the Sabbath Days many orthodox Jewish people are prohibited by their religious beliefs from pushing buttons. Therefore, on the Sabbath, this elevator will run continuously for 24 hours, going from the basement to the top floor and then back down again – stopping at each and every floor, where the doors open automatically, regardless of whether anyone gets in or out.

I find it is wonderful that we humans are smart enough to have technology like this. But I also find it amazing and interesting that things like this can be the modern day consequences of ancient religious laws set down thousands of years ago!

By the way, you can find lots of interesting information about Jewish traditions here.

World’s most amazing church?

This is one of my favorite photographs that I took of a church in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem. But this is no ordinary church. This is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:

There are so many amazing things associated with this church – my blog is too small to hold them all!  Top of the list: Christians will immediate cite this as the location where Jesus was crucified, and where his empty tomb was discovered.

By my favorite fact is an historical one, not a religious one.  The Church is locked in the evening and opened again in the morning, and the holders of the key (the lockers / unlockers, if you will) have come from the same family (the Nusaybah family) and have been doing this job since the seventh century. Amazing!  I’ve found the best place to read more details about this amazing story is the wonderful book by Simon Montefiori, entitles Jerusalem: the Biography.


Western Wall

This is the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites.


A few things struck me when I visited it. First, it was much smaller than I had expected.

Second, it was interesting to look at the various pilgrims and visitors. Some were tourists, like me. Some were extremely pious people for whom this was a once-in-a-lifetime event. And others seemed to be “regulars” who came here often.


Visiting Israel during the crisis in Gaza

This is the so-called "Western Wall" in the old city of Jerusalem. It was amazing, both because it was smaller than I expected, and because essentially no one was visiting on this day.
This is the so-called “Western Wall” in the old city of Jerusalem. It was amazing, both because it was smaller than I expected, and because essentially no one was visiting on this day.

I just returned from my first trip to Israel, where I had a fabulous time. What is happening in Gaza is of course a tragedy, but away from Gaza in Israel – as elsewhere – life goes on.  I wanted to share a few pictures and observations and thoughts after my first visit to this country.


The Gaza conflict has devastated the travel industry. Airline tickets and hotel prices are ridiculously low, sites visited by thousands of tourists are empty, and as as long as you are not in Gaza Israel is statistically safer than your own country, no matter what your country may be. But also, this is a region it seems, unfortunately, of perpetual conflict – and I wanted to see and feel for myself a bit of what life is like in Israel.

Getting there

A few things disappointed me. I had read that the security is so high, even at the airport you’ll be “approached” by other passengers who are really secret Mossad operatives trying to size you up as a terrorist threat. Or that the security in Ben Gurion airport is so high, they will open your luggage and inspect each item. I was really looking forward to this!  Sadly, none of this was true in my case. Our jumbo jet was filled with 30 passengers at most, so we could sit where we wanted. And at the Ben Gurien airport I never saw a guard or a gun. The only difficulty was getting through customs: the customs officer spoke with me (and I am not making this up!) about 10 minutes before he finally let me through. “Sir, you do understand that we are in the middle of a war?” Me: yes. “And let me understand correctly, you are here on holiday?” Me: yes. Well, you can imagine what he was probably thinking.

Finally, I was looking forward to having my passport stamped with “a visa stamp so damaging, other Arab countries may put you in jail.” Sadly, this never happened either. My passport was not stamped; instead I got a little printed paper with a barcode and was told to keep it in my passport. So after returning home, I taped the printout to my passport instead of throwing it away – just to give me that diabolical feeling!


5 days is not nearly enough to take in this fabulous country.  Europe is “brand spanking new” in comparison to the history you’ll find here. Fabulous food. Very friendly people in all Quarters of Jerusalem. Fabulous weather. Economically, lots of shopkeepers seem very worried about their immediate future – since the city is of devoid of tourists, but at this time there should be thousands.

As time permits I’ll share a few other pictures I took.