This is an excerpt from Isabel’s travel journal while she was abroad in Israel during the summer of 2016.
Today we walked… EVERYWHERE. At least that’s how it felt. I now feel like there is nothing about the Old City of Jerusalem that I don’t know (although I also am quite aware of the fact that that is DEFINITELY not true). We learned so much today, it’s impossible to write it all down, although I can say that I stood in places that hold such a rich and conflict-filled history that it is enough to shake you to the bones. Walking between the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian quarters was a very tangible reminder of how this land, in some ways, belongs to no one and everyone. The sharp contrast of the shiny, tall Dome of the Rock blocked off by the Western Wall, at the base of which hundreds of Jews stand and pray, was yet another reminder of this—that so many lay claim to this land, and this land lays claim to so many. It is equal parts fascinating and heartbreaking.
There were so many things I noticed today I hope I always remember—pictures that are frozen in my head. The old man walking down the side of the road, leisurely, with his hands folded behind his back, taking in the view. The little boy tugging on his mama’s sleeve, trying to get her to stop and look at the gargantuan, multi-colored parrot that was casually perched on a pole alongside the main shop walkway. The men carting the MASSIVE amounts of water bottles through the narrow alleyway, causing a traffic jam, climbing through rafters to get them settled, yelling and shouting at each other and everyone around. The smell of incense along the road, burning in the front of shops as they yelled at you, “Pretty lady! I like your hairstyle!”. The young people dressed in military gear and carrying guns, but who looked and talked and walked like me and my friends. The young Israeli English woman who asked me when I got here and, when I said yesterday, excitedly exclaimed, “Welcome to the most wonderful place in the world!” The little boy who was sitting against the wall, big tears running down from his huge brown eyes, staring up at me dolefully as what I can only assume was his mother corralled her other children on the other side of the street, shouting for him to come over.
That moment in the cathedral where the Russian men were singing the ‘alleluia’ so beautifully, descant and all, as it echoed and swelled around us, harmonies over harmonies. The taste of the sweet dates at breakfast this morning, with the sour, cold yogurt. The feel of the sun on the back of my neck as we looked at the graves on the Mount of Olives, thousands of graves lined up in white, reflecting brightly on the hillside. The cold stone when we finally got to sit down for a moment in the middle of what used to be the Cardo (the old Roman road through the center of the Old City). The scary steps as we descended down into the dark underground where what used to be the Pool of Bethesda lay deep under the rock, foundations of churches built one after the other over the sacred site. Thinking about how, here I am, 2,000 years later, standing where generations of Christians have stood and worshipped the same God I worship now, the same God who stood there himself—in the flesh—and healed the man who could not walk. Walking down the Via Dolorosa.
So many sights and sounds and feelings to take in, I hope to never forget the beauty of it all.
By: Isabel Packevicz, Israel Alumna, Summer ’16.