Thanks to Yossi Vardi, we got one of the best tour guides around, Yossi Kalmanovich. I joined Lance Johnson who flew in that morning. Yossi is a professional tour guide and you could tell. His explanations were very thorough and balanced considering he was a very passionate and proud Jewish man. We first went to the roof of the University where we could see all of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. Then we went to Mount Olive where he pointed out the primary places and described the Muslim, Jewish and Christian stories. There were a variety of towers by different Christians who believed that the ascension of Christ happened in different places. The rock where Abraham took Isaac is also the place where Mohammed ascends and a stones throw away from where some Christians believe Jesus was crucified. After the bird's eye view of all of the huge variety of churches and mosques including the Mormon University and the Russian Orthodox Church, we went down inside the old part of Jerusalem. We wandered through the bazaars. People were not eating because of Ramadan, but the bazaar was bustling with activity as people stocked up on food for after Ramadan. There was a Muslim quarter, Greek Orthodox quarter, a Armenian Orthodox quarter, a variety of Orthodox Jewish... A huge variety of the Muslim, Christian and Jewish sects were represented and it was an almost unbelievable display of highly religious people mingling and sharing their holy places in what appeared to be a friendly and mutually respectful way. We visited a Church built on where some people believe Christ was crucified. There was supposed to have been an earthquake and a crack in the rock when he was crucified. The church shows a rock which had been cracked. I had never heard this before, but at the bottom of the crack, there is a rock that some believe is the skull of Adam and that Adam and Eve were also buried here. Another thing that I heard that I had not heard before was that the reason the year starts January 1 and not on the birthday of Jesus, December 25 was because Jewish boys are only officially considered alive after they are circumcised 8 days after birth. It was quite an overload of information and Yossi's ability to describe all of the various versions of each of the stories of the major religious and the intertwined nature of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian stories gave me a new appreciation for the extreme similarity and yet the ultimately unreconcilable difference between the three major monotheistic religions.
Yossi also explained the history of the various rulers of Jerusalem and what they built and tore down and why. You can see the difference in the layers of stones of temples that had been built upon temples. The graves of the Jewish waiting for the Messiah as well as the Muslim graves along the front of entrance of the main Temple area almost look like strategic military positions waiting for the return of their respective prophets. So much history and importance compressed into one small place. I'm sure it's not puzzling to people of these faiths, but to someone like me, I kept asking myself... why here?
We also visited the WWII museum, the Western Wall (the holiest place for Jewish), and got to see the West Bank wall, which looked as ominous as I had imagined. It wasn't a continuous wall, but for people who had to now travel over 10 kilometers to go around it, it certainly must feel like quite an obstruction.