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"When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion." - Abraham Lincoln

I'm ambivalent about organized religion. I'm glad it's there to provide hope, comfort and a sense of purpose for so many humans around the globe, and I respect the right to practice any faith. Yet I must be honest and say I don't feel comfortable in overly religious settings or environments. My mentality is more aligned with Abe Lincoln's statement or the doctrine of karma. In my childhood, I was constantly surrounded by religion because I attended a conservative Baptist school from 5th - 12th grade. All the Biblical tales were embedded in my head, but once I graduated I never thought of them again, or picked up a Bible. After 20 years, it's difficult for me to remember the significance of all these holy sites in Jerusalem but many people in my group knew every detail and even recited Bible quotes to remind us of their relevance. Today, we take a quick look at some of the most popular pilgrimage sites in the ancient city.

1. First stop on the route is the Church of the Pater Noster, located on the Mount of Olives. It was here that Jesus taught his disciples the Lord's Prayer. The prayer is translated in over 60 languages, appearing on plaques located around the grounds.


2. The church is huge, with a lot of different caves and walkways. Old ladies climb down the uneven steps to view one of the grottoes in which people place their heads on the stones and recite prayers. In the background, you can see more plaques with the Lord's Prayer in multiple languages.


3. Many believers lean down and kiss the stone. Why? I'm not sure. Maybe it's just a simple sign of respect for the holy site?


4. These two men followed me around the church. Their English was very poor, and it was almost impossible to communicate. But, they asked to pose for the camera and I promised to publish their photo. So, here it is. Wave hello to them from Russia. :)


5. Outside the church, you are met with the ever present Israeli guards with guns. A constant sea of people, cars and tour buses in motion. Be careful and alert while walking in the region.


6. Mount of Olives is one of the top pilgramage sites in Jerusalem. It is here where Jesus ascended to heaven. So, it's no surprise that the holy site is also a burial ground for the deeply religious. Over 150,000 graves have accumulated over the past 3,000 years. Rows and rows of monochromatic slates pressed against each other on the sacred site. This is the most ancient and holy place for Jews to be buried, some paying up to $25,000 USD for a slot.

I'm not an expert in Judaism, but it's my understanding that many Jews believe when the Messiah returns the dead will rise from their graves and walk to the holy Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City. From this cemetery, that's only a few hundred meters, thus people who are buried here will be amongst the first to greet the Messiah upon his return. I even read that everyone in the cemetery is buried with their feet facing the Temple Mount so they can come straight up on the big day and not have to adjust themselves. Amazing preparation and global positioning!


7. Not all of the graves are well-maintained, some are cracked or completely displaced. Still, bright red flowers grow in between the broken slabs. They add color to an otherwise dull, grey scene. I don't know what happens when we die, and really spend little time thinking about it. I prefer to focus on the present, trying to make a positive impact during my living days on Earth.


8. Even for the non-religious, it's worth the long hike to the top of the Mount. There, you see sweeping views of Jerusalem and the famous Temple Mount, with the gold Dome of the Rock. The Temple Mount is one of the holiest sites in Jerusalem, playing an integral role in both Judaism and Islam. Muslims believe the Temple is part of Mohammad's journey to Jerusalem and the location of his ascent to heaven. Judaism considers the Temple as the place where God chose the divine persence to rest, and it is from here he gathered the dust used to create the first man, Adam. From that day forward, the world expanded into the present form as we know it. Because the Temple Mount is so important to both Judaism and Islam, it also is entangled in the constant conflict and chaos in the region. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority claim sovereignty over the religious site, and sadly it remains at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, as a sign of concession by Israel, no non-Muslim prayers are permitted on the site.


9. Alternative view of Jerusalem from the top of Mount of Olives.


10. At the foot of the Mount of Olives sits the Garden of Gethsemane. According to the gospel, this is where Jesus prayed and his disciples slept on the evening before crucifixion. Under Eastern Orthodox tradition, the garden is believed to be the site where Mary was buried and assumed into heaven. Scientists believe some of the olive trees in the garden are the oldest in history. One of them is pictured below.


11. My favorite church is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where Jesus was crucified. It now serves as the headquarters for the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, but I love it for all the colorful flags swinging in the wind. Swarms of tourists were too much for me, so I only stayed inside for a few minutes. Instead, I took a break from the hot Israeli sun and watched the flags dance with the humid air.


12. On this trip, I began to wonder about traditions. In every church, people light candles. But why do we do it? I think sometimes in life people simply go through the motions and follow the customs of the crowds, without understanding or even thinking about the significance of various behaviors. I'm the type of person who always asks "why?". Just like a small child. :) I quickly researched the topic on the Internet, but there's no concrete answer as to why candles are lit. Most clergy believe the candle simply represents Jesus as the Light of the World. Others believe Christians light candles as a humbling offering or gift to the church. In ancient times, believers simply used the candles to light the path if they visited holy sites during dark hours. What's the reason? Maybe readers can enlighten me as to why humans around the globe light candles in churches? I've done it in the past, always in memory of a loved one who is deceased.


13. One of the most prominent religious stops in Jerusalem is the Western Wall, more commonly known in America as the Wailing Wall. All of these sites are very close to each other in the Old City, within walking distance from place to place. You can cover them all in one day.


14. Locals sit, chat, eat and pray all around the Wall.


15. In Judaism, the Western Wall is revered as the sole remnant of the Holy Temple. It has become a place of pilgrimage for Jews, as it's the closest permitted accessible site to the holiest spot in Judaism, namely the Even ha-shetiya or Foundation Stone, which lies on the Temple Mount. However, as I explained above, non-Muslim prayers aren't permitted there. Prayers at the Western Wall became so heartfelt, emotional and vocal that it earned the name "Wailing Wall" by gentiles. It's yet another holy site at the heart of the Israeli-Arab conflict, but also within the Jewish community due to strict gender rules for prayers at the location.


16. Ultra-Orthodox groups have long opposed organized women's prayer services at the Wall, maintaining they should only be held by males. On occasion, there have been disputes and protests, resulting in chairs and other objects being thrown at the praying women. On the day I visited, everything was peaceful and in order. Men and women can't pray at the same spot, and the Wall is divided into "male" and "female" sections. Why these harsh gender biases? I don't know, but any religion that imposes restrictions based on gender is flawed in my view. There is a large feminist organization known as "Women of the Wall" which advocates for full rights of women at the holy site. You can read about them here, if interested.


17.  I guess rules are different if the male is a young child, because I saw many young Orthodox boys with their mother in the "female" section of the Wall.


18. Some women pray away from the big crowds, but still in the Wall vicinity. It took about five minutes to wait for an open spot to touch the Wall, and place your paper with a written prayer within its cracks. It's a tradition even for non-believers, like me, to write heartfelt messages to be left at the holy site. I did it, but my written message will remain known only to me. Sitting there in the cracks of the ancient city, or perhaps blown away by the wind, or crumpled by the weight of someone's shoe by now.


19. One of the most common questions - why do Ultra-Orthodox Jews always have beards and ringlets in their hair? The Jewish word for these curls is "payot." Many believe the mandate comes directly from the Torah, specifically Leviticus 19:27, which states: "Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard."

However, the various branches of Judaism interpret this differently. The Ultra-Orthodox ban shaving altogether, while some modern Orthodox believe the law bans only razors - but not electric razors, which are like scissors because they have two blades. Reform Jews place no restrictions on shaving. According to one Rabbi: "The beard is hair that grows down from the head to the rest of the body. It's the bridge between mind and heart, thoughts and action, theory and practice, good intentions and good deeds. So we don't cut the beard, but rather let it flow freely, to open a direct flow from the ideals and philosophies of our minds into our everyday life." This is the best explanation I could find. But why the curls? I presume the tight ringlets simply restrain the hair and prevent it from looking disheveled or flying into the face.


20. The big, fuzzy hat worn by this guy denotes affiliation with a particular sect known as Haredi Judaism. They are the most conservative of the Ultra-Orthodox Jews and completely opposed to a Zionist State. In fact, I saw a group of them last week protesting with Palestinians in front of the White House. The vast majority of Haredim in Israel remain opposed to the Zionist State for religious, ethical and political reasons. Haredi religious teachings claim the Jewish people are bound by three oaths: (1) not to settle in Israel by using force or violence; (2) not to make war with other nations; and (3) not to act as if the other nations of the world would persecute Israel. Thus, it's easy to understand why this group is aligned with the Palestinian leadership and are loud opponents of the shiny, new Jewish settlements popping up all over the West Bank. I saw these settlements with my own eyes, so to claim that they're not quickly expanding in recent years is a falsity. Based on my readings, the Haredi have very archaic views of women's roles in society. You can read the article here, where several Orthodox women recount tales of being spit at and attacked in Haredi neighborhoods while doing simple activities like cycling or running, despite the fact that they were modestly dressed.


21. Unique facial hair. :)


22. As you can see, almost all men wear black suits and black hats. I assume the lack of color is for simplicity, or out of a sign of modesty, but perhaps there is some religious significance of which I'm not aware.


23. Outside the Wall, extreme congestion! Just like any big city. Traffic, honking horns, rude drivers...


24. Highway and road infrastructure here is completely normal. Tons of signs, all duplicated in English. You can compare the infrastructure here with that in the West Bank of Palestine, which I already wrote about. Remarkable difference. Israeli flags hang almost everywhere.


25. In the midst of all these tourist sites, vendors sell everything imaginable. Food, toys, souvenirs. All of it typically junk.


26. If you don't want to visit the religious sites, you can simply walk around the Old City. Lots of shops, cafes and interesting people to watch. Just be prepared to sweat in the hot desert sun and deal with very crowded, narrow streets full of people. By the way, I apologize in advance if there are any errors about Judaism or the religious sites in this report. I know several of my readers actively practice Judaism, so please feel free to correct me or comment on any of the topics raised in the post. I welcome your insight!


Jerusalem - it's not the place for me. I have absolutely no desire to return, though I'm glad I got the opportunity to view such ancient and historical sites. As a citizen of a very young country, it's mind blowing to stand in a city with over 3,000 years of history!

The most interesting thing here is the cultural dynamics and tensions, and I believe they exist even within the local Jewish community. For instance, it's my understanding the Israeli government financially supports Ultra-Orthodox Jews so they can dedicate all their time to religious studies. This causes some protest from the secular Jewish residents of the country. I don't support any government initiative of this sort, as I'm 100% in favor of separation of Church and State. Until recently, Ultra-Orthodox Jews were also exempt from mandatory military service in the Israeli Defense Force. I can live in harmony with people of any culture, race or religion, but believe in full equality on all grounds. Absolutely no special or exclusionary government treatment based on gender, religion or ethnicity. It's simply my view of the way the world should work, but I recognize many disagree and the balance between freedom of religion and separation of Church and State is very tricky from a legal perspective.

How about you? Is Israel on your destination list? Should a government provide financial assistance or impose special rules or exemptions solely on the basis of religion?

Next, I'll return to stories from America and finally begin posts about my Alaska journey!

Related Posts
Journey Through the West Bank - Palestine

Battle with Orthodox Jew

Market in Old City, Jerusalem


( 79 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 21st, 2014 01:12 pm (UTC)
The fellow looks very much like Leo Tolstoy (Once I saw his photo in a book a girl was reading on the subway in D.C.)
Oct. 21st, 2014 02:33 pm (UTC)
Yes, he does! I don't know if that guy is a rabbi, priest or some other religious leader. It doesn't even matter, but it bothers me that I still don't know based on his dress. The main thing I'll remember is that he was extremely kind. He held my hand the whole way down Mount of Olives, rubbing it and saying "bless you beautiful." :)
Oct. 21st, 2014 01:22 pm (UTC)
The evolution of Israel is impeded by the permanent state of war as I see the situation.
Religion kept the Jews in existence for a couple of thousand years. It is the oldest ethnos.
Religion led to creation of Jews as a nation in 1947. Although there were other reasons for Israel to be (re)born - Stalin's will to create havoc in the Middle East.

Religion is dying generally everywhere. With time the same could happen in Israel, though not soon.

I will never come to Israel as tourist, yet if there were a big war, I might come to fight for Israel.
Oct. 21st, 2014 02:38 pm (UTC)
Why do you think religion is dying? I have read articles that support both positions - religion in modern society is increasing while other polls and scientists support the proposition that more people are beginning to believe "God is dead." It's interesting you are willing to take up arms and fight for Israel. Why so much passion for this country? Just because you are Jewish?
(no subject) - sov0k - Oct. 21st, 2014 03:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - onkel_hans - Oct. 22nd, 2014 03:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 21st, 2014 01:36 pm (UTC)
Awful hats!
Oct. 21st, 2014 02:39 pm (UTC)
Which hats? The black or fuzzy ones? Personally, I think the fuzzy ones are cool, but I don't like the philosophy of the sect that wears them.
Oct. 21st, 2014 03:29 pm (UTC)
Располагайтесь в гробу правильно.
I am inspired by the idea of ​​being buried at the cemetery next to Temple Mount. When the Messiah comes, i think that leopard skin around my hips, a cap with a red star and the fact that I'm not a jew will attract the attention of the Messiah to me. I think he will like me:)
Oct. 21st, 2014 03:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Располагайтесь в гробу правильно.
The Messiah doesn't have time for your jokes, esp. on the day he returns! I imagine he will be quite busy. :) I remember in my religious school, they terrified us with thoughts of the rapture, and all the evil things that would happen after during the tribulation for non-believers. If I recall, this event isn't directly mentioned in the scriptures, but it really frightened me in youth.
Пьер Безухоff
Oct. 21st, 2014 04:16 pm (UTC)
Shannon, what do you know about Orthodoxy?
Have you ever experienced clinical death?

Edited at 2014-10-21 04:18 pm (UTC)
Oct. 21st, 2014 04:21 pm (UTC)
No, I've never been pronounced clinically dead, as most humans on the planet. I've visited many Russian Orthodox churches in Russia, Eastern Europe and the U.S., but have only attended one service. If you're talking about the Orthodox information I wrote in connection with photo 10, the Garden, I found it on a religious website about the location. Are you Orthodox? If so, what do you want to teach me about it?
(no subject) - Пьер Безухоff - Oct. 21st, 2014 04:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 21st, 2014 04:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 21st, 2014 04:19 pm (UTC)
Nice photos. Remember in Judaism you are a child until the age of 12 (for a girl) and 13 for a boy. That's why the small boy was with his mother. 12 & 13 was considered an adult.
Oct. 21st, 2014 04:23 pm (UTC)
Thanks. Yes, I'm aware of the transition to adulthood. I've attended all of the celebrations for my boss' children. Two Bar Mitzvahs and one Bat Mitzvah. They are great parties. :) How about the Haredi? Did I characterize their beliefs properly?
(no subject) - andrey_kaminsky - Oct. 21st, 2014 04:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 21st, 2014 04:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Oct. 21st, 2014 06:39 pm (UTC)
fire burns gases
can therefore use candles..

better tell about Alaska)))
Oct. 21st, 2014 06:41 pm (UTC)
How does your comment explain why candles are burned in churches? Yes, Alaska stories will start next week. :) There is nothing interesting about Jerusalem, as everyone has read hundreds of posts about this city.
(no subject) - a_nimaida - Oct. 21st, 2014 06:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 21st, 2014 06:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - a_nimaida - Oct. 22nd, 2014 05:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 21st, 2014 06:51 pm (UTC)
Haha, these furry hats look fundamental but they would not make crown chakras of their owners bigger
I think that religious education and military service should come together like for templar knights, Shaolin monks or Jedi khights :)

Based on my Wikipedia readings I like Hassidic sects of Judaism because they are practical mystics.

Oct. 21st, 2014 07:00 pm (UTC)
Are there a lot of Orthodox Jews in Moscow? I don't remember ever seeing any during my visits. Where do they migrate to in Russia, to which city?

Edited at 2014-10-21 07:00 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - baron2012 - Oct. 21st, 2014 07:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Oct. 21st, 2014 08:53 pm (UTC)
I didn't read all of it, but a few comments regarding what I did read:

Regarding mount Olives, you wrote that "Not all of the graves are well-maintained, some are cracked or completely displaced" - Unfortunately Arabs from time to time
break and vandalize the gravestones in the Jewish cemeraty there.

I'm an Israeli Jew living in west Jerusalem and I don't visit the old city a lot. For me, Jerusalem is the Jerusalem outside the walls - a city full of beautiful gardens and parks, some nice neighborhoods, coffeeshops, cultural life etc.
There are some very beautiful areas in west Jerusalem that tourists don't get to visit and they mainly visit the religious site inside the walls.
The old city (inside the walls) is mainly an Arab city, with the exception of the Jewish quarter, and is very different in many ways than my Jerusalem - which is the new city outside the walls.
Oct. 21st, 2014 08:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your comments. I visited some of Jerusalem outside the walls, but it was still too congested for my liking. This could be because I visited during the worst possible time - an unusual week in which both Passover and Easter fell. Unfortunately, the timeframe for the visit was beyond my control. I was a guest of a tour company, who sponsored the expedition. In the West Bank, only Bethlehem was included in our original itinerary but I convinced them to drive me to some of the more rural areas (Sebastia and the outskirts of Jenin, as well as the big city of Ramallah). I liked these places much better.

Edited at 2014-10-21 09:04 pm (UTC)
Oct. 22nd, 2014 05:42 pm (UTC)
>>What's the reason? Maybe readers can enlighten me as to why humans around the globe light candles in churches?

Извини, но я на русском напишу:)
Причины 2:
1. Свеча - это символ. Символ молитвы. Как огонь свечи поднимается вверх, так и наши молитвы тоже поднимаются вверх.
2. Свеча - это пожертвование. Самый простой вариант.
Oct. 22nd, 2014 05:43 pm (UTC)
Good explanations. :)
(no subject) - yarowind - Oct. 22nd, 2014 05:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 23rd, 2014 12:13 am (UTC)
Thanks for the pictures!
I think that the separation of religious organizations from the government does not always have to be in tough shape and completely, sometimes such religious organizations may have their representatives in the government, to address specific issues related to, for the most part, with the help of people in severe living conditions, sometimes it can be useful because some people are more inclined to trust the representatives of such organizations.

P.s. in Russia (in courts of general jurisdiction) to send a statement (a complaint or other documents in the civil case, for example) may be personally (directly in the court) or by mail (postal mail), submit the application (appeal or other documents) in electronic form, as it is not provided for by the applicable procedural law. In my this characterizes the local backwardness of the judicial system.
Oct. 23rd, 2014 02:54 pm (UTC)
Hi! I think it's okay to have meetings with religious figures, I'm speaking only about official government support or advocacy for a certain religion (either financial support or by endorsement). Many political leaders in America openly profess their faith, and even bring the topic of Christianity and religion into their public speeches, etc.

Thanks for the note about Russian legal procedure. :) How is the other party (defendant) notified a complaint has been filed against them? In America, we must effect "service of process" and prove to the Court that the complaint has been received by the individual or, in the case of a corporation, a representative of the company. Usually the complaints are hand-delivered.
(no subject) - liver22 - Oct. 24th, 2014 12:04 am (UTC) - Expand
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Oct. 30th, 2014 10:05 am (UTC)
Ancient temples look so astonishingly with modern skyscrapers on their background. :)) The old olives are stunning! I have never imagined their truncs can be so wide, like baobab's ones. :)))
Oct. 30th, 2014 02:01 pm (UTC)
The trees were beautiful, but I could never survive in the hot, desert climate there. I hated it. :(
(no subject) - maria_3692 - Nov. 11th, 2014 06:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Nov. 11th, 2014 07:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - maria_3692 - Nov. 11th, 2014 09:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
( 79 comments — Leave a comment )


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