I am still in Modi’in, at my cousin’s home. Tomorrow morning I will be dropped off near Gimzo and start hiking again, and I have called ahead to a trail angel to stay with tomorrow night.
Yesterday was a much cooler day, which was great. I did about 13 miles, some of which was industrial (I saw a Nestle plant), but some of which was more impressive. In the morning I saw a flock of sheep, and in the afternoon I passed some very ancient remains, such as a winepress that is apparently over 5000 years old, according to my guidebook. There were also some great views from a hill called Tel Hadid. Supposedly on a clear day (which it wasn’t) you can see all the way to Tel Aviv, but it was still quite a view. I also passed several caves and very old wells, which I was careful to avoid. Much of the day was hiking through Ben Shemen forest, home to hundreds of olive trees.
In late afternoon I stopped in the small town of Gimzo and called my cousin to pick me up. He drove me back to his home in Modi’in, where I was greeted with a delicious dinner of zucchini soup, salad, schnitzel, fries,and cake. After a much needed shower I did some yoga in front of the TV watching National Geographic, and had a good night’s sleep.
I decided to stay two nights with my cousin, and not do any hiking today. He was going into Jerusalem for a meeting related to his volunteer job as a docent, so I jumped at the opportunity to see Jerusalem. I went there two years ago on Birthright but I figured there is always more to see. Since my trip to the Old City on Birthright was largely focused on the sites related to Judaism, I wanted to expand my experience and see important places for other religions as well.
I started by going to the Western Wall, and then continued on to the Temple Mount right next to it. The Temple Mount has incredible historical significance to a variety of religions, but is physically dominated by the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim shrine. I did not immediately find the entrance, even after two different people gave me directions. In retrospect, I am pretty sure that at least one of them gave me wrong directions on purpose, because they did not want to help a Jew enter the Temple Mount. When I finally found the entrance, I saw two signs that had me raising an eyebrow. One asserted that according to Jewish law, Jews shouldn’t enter the area. Another told visitors to the Western Wall that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel had approved the act of walking through metal detectors on Shabbat. Interesting.
Obviously, the Temple Mount area is extremely restricted; of the 11 entrances, 10 are reserved for Muslims, and one for non-Muslims, who are allowed in the public square but not into the Dome of the Rock. Possession of any religious artifacts, or prayer for any religions other than Islam, is strictly prohibited. Security guards were everywhere, and I could feel the tension in the air. A man near me with darker skin was stopped right after entering and asked where he was from and his religion, because they thought he was a Muslim and had gone through the wrong gate. He was a Jew from California and he was not too happy about that.
After that I briefly went to Zedekiah’s Cave/ Solomon’s Quarries, which stretches for five city blocks under the Old City. I then continued on to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where I witnessed a communion service. The church was visually stunning; I was in the Vatican two weeks ago but this was more impressive. Part of that was seeing the emotional impact of visiting the church on many of the people around me, most of whom were clearly Christian. In St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, it seemed that only a fraction of the visitors had a religious connection to the place, but here, I was one of only a few people NOT praying or participating in communion.
I then met up with my cousin, and had lunch before going back to his home. I am looking forward to a leisurely afternoon and a good sleep before hitting the trail again tomorrow.