March 7, 2020 Blog Post by The Abramsons

The theme of our final full day was different religions and different groups within the Jewish community vying to decide what will be the soundtrack and face of Jerusalem. This tension can erupt violently, as with the stabbing death of 16 year old Shira Banki by an Ultra Orthodox man at the 2015 Gay Parade. Yet our guide Nathan argued that it can also reflect the beauty of greater diversity than Tel Aviv. Gay Parade attendance in Jerusalem doubled the year after the stabbing and there was even an Ultra Orthodox Rabbi carrying a sign next

to Banki’s memorial, “Do unto others as you would have done to yourself.”

We saw religions delicately interfacing and compromising in a city with limited real estate that is holy to many groups. Sam, our resident climber, snapped a photo of the Mount Zion cemetery, aided by not-always-steady support from our guide, leading Lee-Anne to ask, “Are you trying to put my son in the cemetery?”

The graveyard was neatly delineated by religion, which worked fine almost all the time, but the occasional intermarried couple requires imagination, as with the Muslim “section for one” surrounded by the Armenian cemetery.

On the subject of limited real estate, we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Our group was brusquely slammed aside with the rest of the crowd in the tsunami resulting from security forces making way for successive processions of Franciscan, Greek Orthodox, Armenian and then Egyptian priests on Lent (40 days before Easter). A premises map showed the complex split between areas controlled by various Catholic Orthodox Christian sects, not to mention the 2 Muslim families that have been gatekeepers for the past 800 years. It’s a bit like splitting up a synagogue between every Jewish group from Reform to Chabad. Protestants reject the idea that the holiest of Catholic sites in the world is where Christ was crucified, since it’s inside the city walls. But the rejection may also have something to do with the fact that all the real estate within the church was claimed by the time the Protestants came along.

We saw two interesting Jewish neighbourhoods outside the city walls. Moses Montefiore, from France, built the first in 1856, including attractive features like a sewage system to make it a sustainable place that Jews would want to live. Yet residents within the walls had to be paid to move outside and initially would go back within the walls at night. How much would it cost now? If you need to ask, then you can’t afford it. Mughrabim was the third Jewish neighbourhood outside the walls. It was built in the only land that less well off Moroccan Jews could afford:  between a swamp and Muslim cemetery. Simon, of Moroccan descent, told of his grandparents that spoke French and Arabic, his parents that speak English and Arabic, and his Israeli cousins who speak Hebrew. Stairs and buildings in this region have beautiful Maghreb (North African) tiles and designs.

We also explored the Room of the Last Supper and King David’s Tomb, which were in close proximity. How do we know they were there? Because the priest/Rabbi and tour guide say so! King David’s Tomb had special importance for Jews between 1948 and 1967 when the Green Line prevented them from accessing the Wailing Wall. Even Bar Mitzvahs were held in the Tomb building. On the roof, a small door led to the Israeli President’s Rooms, where you could meet him and, if he was not there, phone him using the number written on the door.

The day ended with a wonderful Havdalah blessing at the Hotel, followed by a festive meal down the street around a rectangular table that the Rabbi had alway

s wanted for group dinners in the past but never seemed to get.

We paired up around the table to debrief and exchange our Aha (good), Ah! (insights) and Uh-uh (not great) impressions from the trip. Uh-uh impressions were much tougher to come up with than the other two. The “youngsters” (in mind or age) carried on to Mahane Yehuda market for a noisy, festive beer or two.

Thanks so much to Rabbi, Sari, Shelley, Noam, Moshe and Nathan for the trip of a lifetime!