Jerusalem: Ancient City, Modern Politics, and a Spontaneous Dance Party

The moment that I reached the old city in Jerusalem, I almost had to pinch myself to make sure that what I was seeing was real.  I’ve been a committed Christian all my life and to see a 3,000-year old city of incredible significance to my religious community (not to mention, to millions of Muslims and Jews) was a powerful experience.  Upon starting this blog, I find myself wanting to write something beautiful and profound to reflect the magnitude of the experience.  At the same time, I just have a few days left in Israel and want to be fully engaged for them, so for at least the time being, I’ll remember that “perfection is the enemy of ‘good enough’” and use that as a guiding principle for my writing.

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View of the City

We took two tours of Jerusalem – a day tour around the old city that gave us an in-depth view of the holy sites as well as how 35,000 people carve out a living inside the ancient walls, and a night tour that led us underground to see the inner workings of the wall and the original stones from King Herod’s rein (Herod was king during Jesus’s birth and had embarked on significant building projects in Jerusalem).  It’s kind of mind-blowing to see so much history captured in such a concentrated area, and practically every corner had a story, whether it was along the route of the “stations of the cross” or a place of worship for one of the many religious sects coexisting in the city.  We heard the hauntingly beautiful Muslim call to prayer and visited the Muslim quarter (the gold dome in the photo above is their main mosque in the old city), saw a huge group of Orthodox Jews getting ready for Passover, ate delicious hummus in the market, and much more.

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Our tour guide extraordinaire!

One particular highlight was the Western Wall, or “Wailing Wall,” which is arguably the most sacred site for believers outside of the ancient Jewish temple and a major pilgrimage spot.  I have known about the Wailing Wall for many years because my parents had also visited Jerusalem when they were in their twenties and shared with me about how moving the experience had been.  I took my place among the group of women praying at the wall (men and women pray separately) and appreciated the moment for quiet reflection.

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President Obama is in town staying in a nearby hotel, so we were grateful for our bus driver who skillfully avoided getting stuck in blocked-off roads!  Thankfully, there were no safety issues for us and the nuisance of a presidential visit didn’t impact our trip too much beyond a few rescheduled meetings.  We had to walk 45 minutes in suits to get to our meeting with Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fisher (not that anyone really minded on a beautiful day) and it was certainly interesting to see the locals’ reactions to a group of foreigners in suits.  They appeared very much in the know about the visit and asked if we were part of his entourage and/or offered their opinions about the United States.  Our conversation with Stanley Fisher began with him sharing a lot of details about the Israeli economy and their strategies for dealing with unemployment, education, inflation, foreign investment, and more (I’m glad to have just finished macroeconomics in business school as that definitely enhanced my understanding!) and he weighed in on the conflicts in the Middle East: “[Israel] really needs to gain peace with its neighbors…the situation in this part of the Middle East is getting much worse.”

In the evening, we went for a big group dinner at one of Guy’s favorite restaurants.  The dinner started out something like this…

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…and, thanks to an awesome restaurant staff, ended with music and dancing!

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Krista Sande-Kerback ’14

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