Jerusalem 2018

 

Jerusalem Sabbatical - June 2018

Departure and arrival.

It was not the most auspicious start to my month long sojourn in Israel. I was booked to fly El Al on the Thursday morning and to ensure an early arrival at the airport - their security can be thorough, especially for those travelling alone, and I was - I had arranged a B&B in Luton. I arrived to be told that the recent floods had taken three or four rooms out of service and so, "I'm terribly sorry my lovely there is nothing I can do".
"But I have a flight tomorrow morning."
"Sorry."
"Why was I not told yesterday so I could make other arrangements?"
"Sorry."
Have you ever stayed in one of those soul-less, window-less, chair-less bed-rentals that seem to be put together in the way Lego pieces are combined but without the variety?
The next day the taxi driver helpfully dropped me off half a mile from the airport as it was quicker to walk.
A five hour flight is a mere hop to we seasoned long-haul travellers, though it came with the usual inconveniences - no leg-room, a large man in the seat in front who put his seat back to its fullest extent as soon as he was able; a child behind who found kicking the seat in front, or dropping her tray, were sources of endless fun.
I arrived at Ben Gurion Airport and my taxi driver was waiting. He pointed out that we are in the middle of Ramadan, and in the evenings the old city is heaving as thousands flock to pray at the Haram ash-Sherif, known also as the Temple Mount, the sight of the Golden Dome Shrine and the Al Aqsa  mosque. So the old city is often shut down to traffic. He was preparing me for a walk.  As it happened we were allowed in when a member of the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) accepted the taxi had a permit and we were into the narrow streets, thronged with people and stalls preparing food for the end of the day's fast.


 

The Golden Dome
The Golden Dome

 

 

The Al - Aqsa Mosque
The Al - Aqsa Mosque

 

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion seek to give witness to God's love for the Jewish people and one of the ways it promotes this is by the study of God's Word. Hence the course I will be following from Monday and hence the venue, which is now both Convent and guest house.
In the basement there is a paved area which is thought to be 'The Pavement' also known as 'Gabbatha’ in Hebrew where Pilate condemned Jesus. The Arch in the street outside which runs into the Basilica is known as "Ecce Homo" (Behold the Man), Pilate's words as he had the scourged Jesus brought out before the crowds. Consequently this is the area of the start of the Via Dolorosa, the Road of Sorrow, walked by pilgrims for many centuries who believe they are following in the steps of the Lord.
The belief is not fanciful, but it is not true.
The Convent is built partly on the site of the Fortress Antonia, which Herod the Great erected to keep watch on the Temple area. He named it after his then patron Marc Antony. It was once thought that Pilate, fifth Prefect of Judea, would have stayed in the fortress, close to any possible riot, when he came up to Jerusalem for the major festivals when the place was heaving with pilgrims. Most of the time however he stayed in the more pleasant ambience of Caesarea on the coast and it is now established that when in Jerusalem he actually stayed in Herod's Palace, in the west of the city; more luxurious than soldiers' barracks.
However, generations have blessed the Via Dolorosa with their prayers, genuflections and kisses as they still do today. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre's domes are clearly in view from the terrace, as is much of the old city.
The Pavement below here dates to the time of the Emperor Hadrian, and it has the line scratching of a dice-game the Roman soldiers played. We even know it was called the King's Game and required the capture of 'the King'.

The view from the terrace at Ecce Homo
The view from the terrace at Ecce Homo

 

 

The cupola of the Basilica at Ecce Homo
The cupola of the Basilica at Ecce Homo

 

 

Just outside my room - a place for reflection.
Just outside my room - a place for reflection.

 

 

The dome with the gold cross is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The dome with the gold cross is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

 

 

The Cardo - the main street in the Roman City built by Hadrian over the ruins of Jerusalem.
The Cardo - the main street in the Roman City built by Hadrian over the ruins of Jerusalem.

 

 

Friday June 1st.
It is being reported that between 200-300,000 pilgrims attended prayers at Haram al-Sharif today, almost without incident. (One man was stabbed but this was an accident). The IDF (explained earlier, please keep up) allowed people in without the usual fastidiousness and delays. Would that such cooperative good sense prevailed every day, and was reciprocated.
At supper I met a charming young lady (13 years old) who was here on holiday with her father as a birthday present. She has the delightful name 'Aletheia' which in Greek means 'truth'. I asked her if she lived up to her name. "Most of the time", she replied. She and her dad both agreed she was a dreadful liar. So her name might have been Nathanaella, after the Israelite who was incapable of deceit (Jn,1).

 

The Damascus Gate - it has a sharp turn as a defensive measure
The Damascus Gate - it has a sharp turn as a defensive measure

 


Saturday June 2nd.
I have found the washing machine. Essential as I am travelling light, a fact commented on by my interrogators at Luton, which probably added to their suspicions. I went for a walk to get supplies as I brought only mini toothpaste and deodorant. I went out of the old city through the Damascus Gate and after a little wander I passed the Albright Institute. He was an American scholar and preacher who established biblical archaeology. His desire was to prove the truth of the Bible by digging and famously came to Palestine with a trowel in one hand and the Bible in the other. This approach has been long discredited. Biblical Truth is much richer than an answer to the question 'what really happened?' As our guide would later say quoting someone, "The Bible is all true; and some of it took place".
Then I found St George's Cathedral, an Anglican Church and modern foundation, cool and airy.
Then back into the old city by the New Gate and a stroll towards he Jaffa Gate and a restaurant called Rossini's, recommended in the Rough Guide for the size of its appetisers and glasses of wine, neither of which proved correct, but the baked Denise fish, new to me, was delicious.
The group of students has begun to assemble and our tutor, Nick King has arrived. It will soon be time for work although I did spend a lot of time today annotating Tom O'Loughlin's book on the Eucharist.

Sunday June 3rd.
Bitten by un-named beasties in the night, which will require a trip to a chemist.
That task accomplished I had a quiet day preparing for the work to come.

Monday June 4th.
I strolled through the Jewish quarter looking for some art work. I have a couple of pictures which show an appropriate scene drawn by writing all the Hebrew words of that book. So Job is pictured on his dung heap, and the psalmist is at prayer with his shawl and teffilin. No one at the Institute had come across these, which I think are officially stamped by some authority. The place was only waking up and few shops were open. This quarter is clean and modern. It is a centre of study in which only about 3,000 people permanently live; as opposed to the 30,000 who habit the Muslim quarter.
One person is yet to arrive and so we are not actually starting the study part of the adventure until tomorrow. We have a bit of orientation, and Nick asks me to preside at Mass. I have to prepare a homily quite quickly on a passage of 2 Peter and the parable of the tenants in the vineyard. As Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem at this point in Mark's narrative the task is not too difficult.

Art work in the new city - Isaac is saved.
Art work in the new city - Isaac is saved.

 

Tuesday June 5th.
A morning given over to introductions and administration gives way to the start of the lectures. Nick is excellent, as I expected, and we launch immediately into Luke and his artistry. Nick is convinced Luke was Jewish - most scholarship accepts him to be a Gentile, without looking closely enough, thinks our learned mentor.
We have Mass with the community here, Sisters of Zion and Chemin Neuf, who actually run the guest house.

Wednesday June 6th.
An early start. We are queuing at the security gate at 7.30 to enter Haram El-Sharif, also known as the Temple Mount. It was here that, tradition says, Abraham bound his son Isaac, following the command of God, to offer his son as a burnt offering. This was the mountain where Solomon built the first Temple. David was not allowed to enter following his sins involving Bathsheba, mother of Solomon, and his murder of her husband Uriah. That Temple was destroyed by the Babylonian forces of Nebuchadrezzar and the elite of the people were taken into exile in Babylon. A generation later some returned with the blessing of Cyrus, King of Persia and the Temple was rebuilt. The work was ascribed to Zerubabel, a descendent of David, who then disappears from history. This was the second Temple. It was hugely enhanced by King Herod the Great to accommodate the huge numbers of pilgrims who ascended to Jerusalem on each of the three major feasts - Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. Herod's engineers built a huge retaining wall and then extended the mountain top with a huge platform supported by great arches. That platform, fifteen football pitches in size, is where we are standing. Its great buildings are now the shrine of the Dome of the Rock, and the Al - Aqsa mosque. Islam is an Abrahamic faith and has its origins in Judaism and Christianity whose prophets it also honours. Acknowledging that fact, the caliph Abd al-Malik, having built the shrine as a place sacred to all monotheistic faiths, built the mosque for the followers of Islam. So at least our guide, the excellent Jared, told us.

Jared, our excellent guide & Nick King, our lecturer, in the dark glasses
Jared, our excellent guide & Nick King, our lecturer, in the dark glasses

 

As we were listening, an aggressive chant came from within the mosque. Across the plaza a group of Israeli children were being escorted by soldiers. Others took positions in front of the mosque. Nothing developed but it shows how things could get nasty any time. "Don't worry," Jared assured us. "It happens all the time; and usually passes quickly."

After a quick coffee and water break back at Ecce Home, and a change into more comfortable clothing we were out to the archaeological area in the City of David. Excavations have revealed a huge area of a substantial dwelling which is pre-Davidic and is likely the palace of the Jebusite King. We have a letter from such a person among the Armana letters (you'll have to look that up, I can't explain everything). It is likely that it was taken over by David after he had conquered Jerusalem and made it his city. Bullae, wax seals, were found in this locality, but they date from the 7th century, though one has a name which is the same as we find in a verse of Jeremiah. Jared made the fair point that we have no evidence, outside the bible, for David's existence. I asked about the Tel Dan inscription which refers to the house of David, but as he said, this is indirect - though I would still say conclusive.
King Hezekiah extended the walls of the city to the west to take in refugees fleeing from the northern kingdom of Israel destroyed by the Assyrians, who followed the refugees and laid siege to the city. Jerusalem's water source, the one thing that made the city habitable in this inhospitable area was on the floor of the Kidron valley, outside the walls. It was protected but vulnerable. Hezekiah had the water diverted by building a tunnel into the city. This was discovered in the 19th century by an English officer and amateur archaeologist named Warren. He explored the watery passage way with a notebook, a pen and a candle, holding the candle in his teeth when the waters got high and the passage narrow and low. We walked Hezekiah’s tunnel, with more comfort than Warren.  We emerged at the pool of Siloam - see John chapter 9.

In Hezekiah's tunnel.
In Hezekiah's tunnel.

 

In the afternoon we went to another archaeological park; this one is south and west of the Temple Mount. Pilgrims who washed to purify themselves at the Pool of Siloam will have walked up the hill, after Herod's improvements climbed steps, up to the Temple and entered through a three arched doorway, bricked up but still visible.

Round the corner on the western side, a huge depth has been excavated to reveal huge building stones hurled down by the Roman soldiers in 70 BC with such force that the pavement is bowed. This is ground upon which Jesus stood. Here is the market where pilgrims bought animals for their sacrifices and provisions for their stay. Here and in the great Royal Portico above, teachers would have preached, seeking to capture the attention of the crowds.

A terrific day.

Stones hurled down by Roman Soldiers in their destruction of the temple in 70BC
Stones hurled down by Roman Soldiers in their destruction of the temple in 70BC

 

Thursday June 7th.
We are not only covering the Gospel of Luke in significant depth, line by line, but also learning about Jewish ways of interpreting Scripture. This morning it was a talk from Marcie Lenk on Midrash, which involves a very close reading of the text. It is a method developed by the Rabbis as Judaism transformed from being a religion of sacrifice, impossible after the destruction of the Temple by the Roman forces of Titus in 70BCE, to a religion of the Word. Marcie had grown up believing that Christians wanted either to convert her or to kill her. A meeting at this house for joint bible study with Christians convinced her that neither was actually the case, and her friendships with Christians, and particularly the Sisters of Sion, have strengthened since.

Friday June 8th.
Debbie Weissman opened our day, following on from Marcie yesterday, on a similar theme of Jewish Scriptural interpretation. She has a long background working with the World Council of Churches, (at which the Catholics have only ever had observer status, at our request.) I have read quite a lot of the writings of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and so the area is familiar to me, but hearing in Jerusalem a Jew speak about her faith is wonderful.

Saturday June 9th.
Today is an early start to be at the Holy Sepulchre for Mass at 6.30. The streets are deserted and filthy after the partying the night before - it is still Ramadan, and the all-day fast (and a proper fast, with no food or drink, not even water in these blistering hot days) is broken at sunset with a feast- but the debris litters the Christian quarter too. The Church is one of the great disappointments. That can diminish with familiarity, but, tucked away - it is notoriously easy to miss for even the frequent visitor, and gives no sense of the enormity of what took place here. That is a consequence of its history, multiple destructions and rebuilding, and constant haggling over every aspect of its maintenance by those who share responsibility for its upkeep. Famously the key is held, very proudly, by a Muslim family, and has been for generations, as the Christians cannot agree over that!

Outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - always a disappointment?
Outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - always a disappointment?

 

 

Mass at Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Mass at Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

 

The Franciscan overseeing the sacristy is not thrilled at our appearing and disturbing his reciting of the Divine Office. He asks for our voucher, and the instructions are clear: no singing and twenty five minutes only. Joe who is presiding takes the command seriously, perhaps helped by having prepared a homily for today's feast day, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, but the Mass books are prepared for a votive Mass of The Holy Cross and the stoles given to the concelebrate are red.
We have been given the Calvary Altar. Brother Sacristan leads us up the steps where a crowd of pilgrims and St Mother Theresa's Sisters are waiting for us. It is impossible not to be moved by the belief, which has many supportive reasons for being accepted as truth, that the Lord died very close to this place.
After another session on Luke one of the receptionists speaks to us. She is a Muslim who was born in this house where her father worked for the sisters. He stayed night and day through the wars to keep the place and the sisters safe. He worked from the age of fourteen to retirement in his 60's. She explained Ramadan, i's rationale and its practice. They really do put us to shame, not only by taking fasting very seriously, but by the links that are made with charitable giving to the poor, and hours of prayer and meditation. She also spoke, encouraged by the ladies of the group, about the treatment of women. She is a bit of a feminist herself.
Much of the rest of the day outside the classroom was spent preparing a homily for Mass this evening in the Basilica here at Ecce Homo. I take the opportunity to give an overview of Mark's Gospel. I am delighted to report that it drew praise from Nick.


The Internet allows me to know the half time score in the Rugby international at Ellis Park, and after supper I learn the full time score. What a match it must have been. I hope the recording machine was working back home.
The copy I sent last Thursday has arrived. I send it to myself, so when it reappears in my in tray I know it can be accessed by Anne and put on the web-site. I think it must have been too large, and the carrier pigeon that flies in cyber-space had to make several journeys. I will keep things shorter in future.


Evening mass means that for the first time in YEARS I have a Sunday which is completely free.

Sunday June 10th.
I went for a wander around the Jewish quarter continuing my quest for the biblical script-pictures. I entered the first art shop on the Cardo, the ancient thoroughfare from the time of Hadrian who destroyed Jerusalem after the second revolt and built over it a Roman city, Aelia Capitolina. Recently excavated it is now a fashionable shopping street. A man in a smock covered with paint greeted me. I asked about the pictures. He knew what I was talking about but did not deal in them personally. A shop close by used to have many but had stopped and got rid of all of them. He himself was not computer literate but if I should care to come in tomorrow, his secretary would be in and she could give me a list of the places that deal in them, and save me going from shop to shop. But now he must offer me a glass of water. It is a hot day, going to be very hot. He would have made the offer at once but he had to allow me to ask my question. Two glasses of water appeared, one for me. I asked about his work. His grandfather had lived in the old city and his father was the first to open a shop in the old city after the war. He had been blessed.

I asked about his work. He showed me the piece he was working on. A view of the bricked up Golden Gate with a dove (the Holy Spirit?) in a blaze of light in front of the Gate. He told me his son had asked why the Gate was closed up and he had replied "You may close the gate physically but the spirit you cannot close up.” This is my son he said and  indicated a small picture of a boy looking at a wall covered with images of hands. I said it reminded me of something my school had done as part of a venture with our linked school in South Africa. "You like it? I give it to you." I said I must pay for it. "I like, for the first person who comes into my shop each day, to give them a picture if they like it. It is my way of saying Thank You to God. I have been blessed. I have more than I need." What a lovely start to the day.
I spent much of the morning going into art shops; a gentle, relaxing way so keep the Christian Sabbath.


The Golden Gate, through which, in some Jewish belief, the Messiah will come.
The Golden Gate, through which, in some Jewish belief, the Messiah will come.

 

Monday June 11th.
A morning in the classroom with both Luke and then learning about Jewish Shabbat. 
In the afternoon we have a coach take us to the tops of the Mount of Olives and the traditional site of the Ascension. An octagonal wall gives a sense of the first Byzantine Basilica, the bases of whose pillars are still visible. This was built over an octagonal shrine which had open arches and was open to the sky. Muslims converted it to a mosque and filled in the arches and gave it a roof which is what we see today. Within there is a rock with what has been interpreted to be a footprint!
Around the corner is a Carmelite foundation which is the Church of the Pater Noster. Around the walls of the Church and its, sort of, cloister is written the Lord's Prayer in many languages, on ceramic tiles. A cave in front of the Church is said to be the place where Jesus taught the disciples this prayer. It comes in two versions, one in Matthew, when the teaching is part of the Sermon on the Mount, therefore Jesus is in Galilee, and a shorter version in Luke, when Jesus has just started his journey, setting his face for Jerusalem, and so seems again to be in Galilee; but he has just been in the home of Martha and Mary, which John places in Bethany, just over the hill from where we are. There is nothing simple in Bible studies.
We walk down the steep hill to the Church of Dominus Flevit – where the Lord wept. In Luke's Gospel Jesus, arriving at the top of the Mount of Olives, sees Jerusalem below and weeps, foreseeing its forthcoming destruction. How he wished to gather her children around him like a mother hen - an image which NT Wright (I think) saw as referring to a farmyard where a fire is raging. The hen gathers her chicks under her wings. The fire sweeps through. The mother is a blackened carcass, but the chicks emerge unscathed.
The church was one of many designed by the Franciscan architect, Antonio Barluzzi. It is in the shape of a tear drop, and within there is a picture window behind the altar giving a panoramic view over the city, and central to the scene is the Golden Dome, the site of the Temple of old.

Inside the Church of Dominus Flevit
Inside the Church of Dominus Flevit

 

 

...and outside - it is intended to resemble a teardrop.
...and outside - it is intended to resemble a teardrop.

 

Further down the steep incline we enter the garden of the Church of All Nations, Gethsemane. It was the first of the Barluzzi's churches built in the 1920s. The purple dyed alabaster windows ensure the interior is always quite dark.

The Church of All Nations at the possible site of Gethsamane
The Church of All Nations at the possible site of Gethsamane

 

Onwards to our final destination of the afternoon, the Greek Orthodox Church of the Dormition of Our Lady. Catholic teaching is ambiguous as to whether Mary died and was assumed, body and soul into heaven, or was taken up before death. The Orthodox accept she died and three days later the Assumption happened. Dormition means falling asleep. There is a Catholic Church of the Dormition just outside the walls of the Old City to the South. This seems to be an older tradition of Mary being in the house at Ephesus, looked after by the Beloved Disciple. The Church is entered from a courtyard and immediately there is a long, wide flight of ancient stone steps down to the shrine, decorated with dozens of lamps hanging higgledy piggledy from the ceiling. Time is getting on and we have only five minutes to view the church, but the Lion Gate and home is a mere ten minutes away.

Tuesday June 12th.
A day in the classroom, with a morning and afternoon session on Luke, with some stimulating observations around the table; and a second hour with Debbie Weissman.
After lunch I return to the Jewish quarter and the art shop I visited on Sunday to gain information about the calligraphic art work I am seeking. I am not entirely successful, as it seems the centre of this sort of work, micro calligraphy it is called, is centred on a village with an arty reputation called Safed up in the Galilee. I know I bought a picture there on my last trip, and it seems likely I got these other two there as well. Safed is not on our schedule, but I may get a taxi there if we are given enough free time.

The shop was full of tourists when I arrived but I got a very warm greeting from
Udi, the artist and his assistant did some research on the computer. If I am not successful Udi will do one for me!

In another gallery I saw a beautiful piece that I really liked. I have to think where I would put it!

Wednesday June 13th.

Another day in the classroom, with Luke and the Jewish liturgical calendar;
But tomorrow we go on our next excursion - Qumran and the Dead Sea.

 

Thursday June 14th

 
An early start. Breakfast at 6.30 and ready to leave at 7.15. We are all there and ready to go and Jared, our excellent guide, is there too. Happily the coach is also where it should be. To get to the road we want, to go east, we have to drive round the old city and then we are on the new, modern Jericho Road, which tunnels under the Mount of Olives and when we come into daylight again we are passing through the suburbs and into the desert and descending from way above sea level to way below; in fact to the lowest point on land, the Great Rift Valley and the Dead Sea. 

Jared explains the geological background and the tectonic plate movements which formed the Rift Valley, which extends down to Kenya - yes I've been there too - and how the Dead Sea, being the lowest point, is where all the water which comes from the Herman Mountains, via the River Jordan and all the other mountains, settles. And, as water never flows upwards it ends in the Dead Sea which is journey's end. There is no outlet. Over thousands of years evaporation has removed some of  the water but not the minerals present in the water, which have accumulated. These minerals include salt in a concentration of more than 34% , ten times more than that of the ocean. But also present are magnesium and sodium and these are being extracted to great commercial profit. In the past in-flow balanced evaporation. But since the birth and growth of the nations of Jordan and Israel water has been taken from the sources which used to feed the Dead Sea. Consequence: it is drying up. At present at a rate of one metre per year. It is four hundred metres deep, so it will take a while, but should we wait so long? For Jared it is a serious issue. 
But an up-side it that people are talking about it and working for solutions - and this includes Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Saudis. Talk can bring trust, and with trust who knows what might happen.

Our first stop is in the desert adjacent to a section of the range of mountains we have just driven through. A short walk takes us to a viewing area. What we are looking at are two caves side by side. It was here in 1947 that a young Bedouin herdsman seeking a lost goat (a dreadful thing to happen with dire consequences for him if he cannot find it) threw a stone into one of these two caves to frighten out the goat if it had strayed in. There was a sound which was not that of a stone hitting rock but a noise of a stone hitting pottery. These people of the desert know the difference. He scrambled up to investigate. He found anaphoras storage jars, usually used to store valuable goods such as wine or olive oil but what these contained were scrolls. Gradually fragments of parchment with Hebrew script began to enter the antiquities black market. The story is a curious, though at times squalid tale, but eventually over 900 fragments of scrolls of varying sizes were recovered. Most are in the Museum of Israel in Jerusalem, where research continues on the Dead Sea Scrolls.
A swift ride takes us to the archaeological site, Kherbet Qumran. Jared rightly emphasised that there is no sure connection between the discovery of the Scrolls and whoever occupied this site. Many surmise that there is from archaeological discoveries such as long tables with long parallel grooves in them, such as a scribe might use to aid keeping his lines straight without drawing lines on the parchment, and little pots with ink residue in them. They further speculate that these scribes belonged to a monastic-type community, referred to by the historian Josephus, the elder Pliny and the philosopher Philo, (a contemporary of Jesus) called the Essenes. Having broken away from the Temple, where they felt the High Priesthood and authorities had left the proper path, they went into the wilderness and lived lives of strict ritual purity in common, sharing their goods. They were celibate (although in a cemetery close by female bones have been found - but was the graveyard exclusive to the community?) and, the theory goes, the Dead Sea Scrolls were written by them but at a time of danger were hidden and forgotten. The site was abandoned about 68CE, but not violently destroyed. 
Others speculate that, during the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, the scrolls were secreted out of the city and hidden and forgotten. Many questions, few answers. But it is a place of atmosphere among the ancient stones.

The caves where the stones 'pinged'
The caves where the stones 'pinged'

 

 

A close up of the caves
A close up of the caves

 

 

Another of the treasure caves
Another of the treasure caves

 

Our next stop is En Gedi, the spring of the Buck (as in deer). Some of which we see as soon as we arrive. This is very kind of them as they usually hide away in day time.

They were there to greet us
They were there to greet us

 

 

In number!
In number!

 

This is a national park run by a kibbutz. At the top of the mountain is the spring of David, but we are not going that far. Those who feel up to it are going for a forty minute hike up and around the four water falls which flow from the rock and create little paddling pools, and fresh water for anyone who gets hold of it. That is how the kibbutz will bottle it and sell it, further limiting the water than runs is to the Dead Sea.

 It is good to get the legs working again, but then to lunch - Jared, a vegan, has chosen a vegetarian restaurant, an excellent guide as I said, and here the group, with two venerable reverend exceptions, float in the Dead Sea and some cover themselves with the black mud which is said to rejuvenate. It does not obviously work. Nick and I sit in the shade with an ice cream and a beer.

Another excellent day.

One of the waterfalls
One of the waterfalls

 

 

....and higher
....and higher

 

Friday June 15th


Another day in the classroom. The excitement was kept for the evening. We were going to a Shabbat evening service in a synagogue in Jerusalem. 

An early, cold, but tasty supper - the meals are good, even though some days the kitchen is catering for three dining rooms full and they are learning that vegetarian me has no meat. At half past six we left for the 2.2 kilometre walk through the Damascus Gate and into the new city. We found the place, locked and bolted. We waited, and waited. No one had been to this synagogue before and so doubts began to creep in. Passing locals were friendly and as helpful as they possibly could be - which was not very. A man from Golders Green came from his house with his three children to talk to us and assure us that someone would be turning up in about ten minutes. He did not attend this synagogue as it was a long service, which he thought started at 7.45, not the 7.15 we have come for. There was a lot of singing he added. It was looking like a late night.
After a little more than ten minutes the door opened and the women were allowed in. The men had to go round to the other side, to what was the main entrance and the men's door, where there was now much activity. We were welcomed by the Rabbi, from Sydney, and given our kippurs and told to sit where we liked. Later we were moved to the back as there announcements can be made to help us follow the books we were given, Hebrew on the right, English on the left , reading from the 'back', of course.
Everyone was greeting everyone else with a warm hug, which continued throughout the service as new people arrived. Networking continued and stopped abruptly at the solemn bits. The atmosphere moved between fun and friendly and sacred and serious. After initial private but out loud prayers, with movements of hands and the whole body, the service got underway and we were quickly into a homily, delivered from the barrier separating men from women so that all were included. It was in Hebrew, with some Yiddish, and English for our sake. It was short and encouraged self reflection. Then the singing started with a psalm that opens our Divine Office each day, "Come ring out our joy to the Lord, Hail the God who made us". Once I had got a feel of the chant I could follow the Roman script of the Hebrew, helped by a very jolly man who told us the pages we were on. 
Then came 'the washing machine'. "You must go in. Come on, go in. You will regret it if you don't, I promise you", our jolly guide cajoled us. Some of us ventured in to join the conga line which circled round a central table as a lively song was chanted, and the men hugged those around them - it was a multi-tiered conga throng - and waved their arms and danced. Very Topol, en masse. It happened again later in the service, but I held back fearing for my glasses, which I'd had to put in my pocket.
The whole event was a delightful mix of joy and prayer, with terrific singing , and we were all talking about it the next day.
At the conclusion we were warmly thanked for joining them. How would we react to 30 foreigners of another faith coming to St Bede's one Sunday morning? They did seem happy to have us, and asked if we were joining them for a meal. As a group and individually we were pressed to join them for a Shabbat celebration. Nick and I left as two of the volunteers wanted to get home, they start very early, and so do we. The rest of the group were given a talk by our jolly friend, and the Rabbi, which they said was excellent. 
Should we introduce the washing machine into our liturgy?

 

Saturday June 16th


All the talk at breakfast was of the synagogue.
And then back to the classroom. We are not let off on Saturday afternoons. Though Nick allowed Paul, an Aussie, married eighteen months ago to Jess, who is also on the course, to watch the end of the France vs Australia game in a competition that seems to be underway in Russia. (While delighting in the Cricket results against the Aussies, I am concerned about Rugby against the Boks. We get info on the Internet, but matches from Russia are being shown on a big screen at Notre Dame, a big religious complex - hotel, chapel, restaurant, big screen, just outside the New Gate of the Old City.)
We had a Mass for Sunday in the lithostrotos, the pavement in the basement, which is the convent's claim to fame, along with the Ecce Homo arch. Very atmospheric. We have discovered that one of our group, John Abrahams, has a magnificent singing voice.

 

Sunday June 17th


Nick had suggested earlier in the week that we go to Morning Prayer and Mass at St Anne's Church, which is just down the way, is the home of the White Fathers, the Missionaries for Africa, and is the site of the Pool of Bethsasda, in Chapter 5 of John's Gospel. Until the archaeological discoveries it was thought that the evangelist did not know Jerusalem and had invented the location. Not so. Despite having celebrated with the group we stood to our plan. It was a delight. A beautiful church, with fine acoustics, which two religious sisters showed off magnificently. It was all in French, which was a bit of a challenge, but Nick was able to show off. 
Then we went for a walk on the walls. It is no longer possible to do a complete circumnavigation, and it is no longer free. So we set off from the Jaffa Gate to go round the north section and, rather foolishly, got off when we could go no further, and so had a walk through part of the Muslim quarter close to home and then had to return to the Jaffa Gate to do the southern section before doubling back to return to the Tower / Citadel of David for the English language tour at 11.00. 
Which was not great for two people who know their stuff. There were no genuine artefacts, all the interesting things are elsewhere, including in the British Museum, and the tour was through the history of Jerusalem which we are both familiar with. The highlights were: the view from the Tower and the model of the city submitted for the Great Exhibition in Vienna in the 1870's, I think the guide said. Nick thinks the other model of the ancient city is better, but I must find out where that is, as it has moved.

The view across the city from the tower of Phasael
The view across the city from the tower of Phasael

 

 

Called also the Tower of David , converted to be a mosque
Called also the Tower of David , converted to be a mosque

 

 

The model of Jerusalem
The model of Jerusalem

 

Lunch followed and back in time for a quick clean up and out to learn about the Holy Sepulchre, which I have put on record already as a great disappointment.

The Holy Sepulchre
The Holy Sepulchre