Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and its largest city in both population and area, Located in the Judean Mountains, between the Mediterranean Sea and the northern tip of the Dead Sea, modern Jerusalem has grown up outside the Old City of Jerusalem.
The city has a history that goes back to the 4th millennium BC, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. Jerusalem has been the holiest city in Judaism and the spiritual center of the Jewish people since the 10th century BC, contains a number of significant ancient Christian sites, and is considered the third-holiest city in Islam. Despite having an area of only 0.9 square kilometer (0.35 square mile), the Old City is home to sites of key religious importance, among them the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque. The old walled city, a World Heritage site, has been traditionally divided into four quarters, although the names used today — the Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Quarters — were introduced in the early 19th century. In the course of its history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.
Today, the status of Jerusalem remains one of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem has been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations and related bodies, and Palestinians foresee East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. In the wake of United Nations Security Council Resolution 478, most foreign embassies moved out of Jerusalem.
We spent several days in Jerusalem and had an opportunity to visit not just the Old City but the more modern environs as well. The city is quite modern but has kept its “medieval” feel largely by ensuring that new construction generally follows the look and feel of the Old City rocks. The city was vibrant with a late night arts and crafts fair contrasted against a rocky landscape of settlements, new apartment buildings, and even bedouin towns as you enter the city.
Mount Zion is a hill just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. There is reason to believe that in Biblical times the name Mount Zion referred to the area of what today is called by Jews the Temple Mount. However, as early as the first century the hill today called Mount Zion had acquired the name for unknown reasons. Important sites on Mount Zion are Dormition Abbey, King David’s Tomb and the Room of the Last Supper. The Chamber of the Holocaust (Martef HaShoah), the precursor of Yad Vashem is also located on Mount Zion. Another place of interest is the Catholic cemetery where Oskar Schindler, a Righteous Gentile who saved the lives of 1,200 Jews in the Holocaust, is buried.
Room of the Last Supper
In the Christian Gospels, the Last Supper (also called the Lord’s Supper or Mystical Supper) was the last meal Jesus shared with his Twelve Apostles and disciples before his death. The Last Supper has been the subject of many paintings, perhaps the most famous by Leonardo da Vinci. Today, many Christians believe the room of the Last Supper lies on the second floor of a building on Mount Zion just outside the Dormition Church behind the Franciscan house on Sion, and south of the Zion Gate in the Old City walls. In the basement of the building is what is supposed by Jewish leaders as King David’s Tomb, although the Bible says David was buried in the city of David, which is south of Mount Moriah.
Our guide gave us a brief narrative on the relation between the room, Islam, Judaism and Christianity – in particular those who follow Pentecostalism which is a fundamentalist religious movement within Christianity. Pentecostals believe in a holy rapture of Christians before a great tribulation and that speaking in tongues serves three distinct functions. The first belief is that “speaking in tongues” is the “outward manifestation” or “initial evidence” of the Baptism with the Holy Ghost. The second belief relates specifically to prayer and occurs on a more personal level. In this case, the person communicates to God in a language of which they have no understanding. This language may not necessarily be a language spoken on Earth, as it is a more personal worship between the individual and God. Consequently, it is usually categorized as Glossolalia. The third belief relates to its role inside the church community. Pentecostals believe that God can communicate to the church through the Holy Spirit. This is not limited to speaking in tongues, but can also include other means of communication such as prophecy.
Tomb of King David
King David’s Tomb is believed to be buried inside the City of David together with other Judean kings, but ancient tradition holds that he is buried in the structure adjacent to the Dormition Church.
The tomb has David’s name on it, covered on beautiful clothes with crown-shaped ornaments placed on top of Torah scrolls.
Yad Vashem (also spelled Yad VaShem; “Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority”) is Israel’s official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust established in 1953 through the Yad Vashem Law passed by the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. The origin of the name is from a Biblical verse: “And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (Yad Vashem) that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah, chapter 56, verse 5). Located at the foot of Mount Herzl on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem is a 45-acre complex containing the Holocaust History Museum, memorial sites, such as the Children’s Memorial and the Hall of Remembrance, The Museum of Holocaust Art, sculptures, outdoor commemorative sites such as the Valley of the Communities, a synagogue, archives, a research institute, library, publishing house and an educational center, The International School for Holocaust Studies. Non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust, at personal risk, are honored by Yad Vashem as “Righteous Among the Nations.”
Our guide described the premise behind Yad Vashem including some interesting factoids regarding countries that stood by (and didn’t stand by) during the murderous Final Solution. He describes one of the most touching places – the Children’s Memorial – which is dedicated to the 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered by the Nazis in World War Two. As you walk through the Memorial, the names of children are recited and candles flicker in the darkness. Our guide informed us that in order to hear the same name twice, one must revisit the Memorial every three and a half years.
Yad Vashem is an amazing place to visit but a somber reminder of humanity’s capacity for evil.
Mount Herzl and Museum
Mount Herzl is a hilltop and national cemetery in Jerusalem named after Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism and the father of Israeli state. Herzl’s tomb lies at the top of the hill and near the museum is a cemetery for national figures, soldiers, and other security force personnel. In fact, Mount Herzl is the burial place of three of Israel’s prime ministers: Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin (who is buried beside his wife Leah).
The Israel Museum was founded in 1965 as Israel’s national museum. It is situated on a hill in the Givat Ram neighborhood of Jerusalem, near the Knesset, the Israeli Supreme Court, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The museum complex was designed in the late 1950s by Alfred Mansfeld and Dora Gad, with the Shrine of the Book designed by Armand Phillip Bartos and Frederick John Kiesler, and the Billy Rose sculpture garden designed by Isamu Noguchi.
The museum today includes extensive collections of Judaica, ethnography, fine art, artifacts from Africa, North and South America, Oceania and the Far East, archeology, rare manuscripts, ancient glass and sculpture. A uniquely designed building on the grounds of the museum, the Shrine of the Book, houses the Dead Sea Scrolls and artifacts discovered on Masada.
Marc Chagall was a Russian-Belarusian-French painter of Jewish origin, who was born in Belarus, at that time part of the Russian Empire. In 1960, he created stained glass windows for the synagogue of the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem and, in 1966, wall art for the new parliament being constructed in that city. During the Six Day War the hospital came under severe attack, placing Chagall’s work under threat. In response to this, Chagall wrote a letter from France stating “I am not worried about the windows, only about the safety of Israel. Let Israel be safe and I will make you lovelier windows.”. In 1973, Israel issued a series of stamps featuring the Chagall windows, which depict Twelve tribes.