Jerusalem in Review - Jill's Perspective
Honestly, I'm not quite sure where to begin. Jerusalem has left me at a relative loss for words. There have been few places I've visited that have left me as conflicted as here. I want to say that I liked it, that I found it incredible and the history and religion overwhelming. But I can't. There are elements that I think are nice - a garden here and there, a neighborhood or two, the Old City surely has it's charms - but my overall feeling is that I wouldn't come back and I didn't really enjoy my time here.
I felt like I was trying to convince myself that this was a sacred place for many people. Maybe I have some hidden expectations for how I think a sacred place should feel but as I wandered around, I did not feel anything but a sense of meh. Maybe it would be different if we weren't here over Easter and Passover. Many businesses close, certain types of goods become difficult to get and there are gobs of people all trying to get to their share of spirit. But I don't think any of this was my issue.
To start, it's really dirty. Now, I've been in some dirty places in my time, but this just feels like a blatant disregard for the earth and as though picking up after oneself is just not done. There are bottles, bags, clothes, etc. strewn all around; in certain areas. Other areas are quite clean and lovely. There are very many places where prices are not listed and you know you are being charged way more because you are a tourist. When you ask "how much" you can sort of see it in some shopkeepers eyes that they will charge you extra. Maybe I'm wrong, but I generally have a good sense for these things.
I felt safe but not welcome. Jerusalem is not a place that readily brings people into its arms and gives them a hearty welcome. I think I was told "no" more times in the span of a week than I have ever been told "no" out in public in many years.
I am reluctant to even say these things because I feel like it might be taken as me being a spoiled American or that I am racist, biased and not accepting of cultural differences. I don't think this is what is driving my low opinion. And that's the thing. I can't put my finger on just what makes this feel like such a sad, closed and unhappy place.
If you come to Jerusalem, I hope you have a different experience than I did. There's a lot of complexity in this place and a lot of complexity in my feelings about this place. I am sure that I will continue to process all that I've taken in and experienced as we continue throughout Israel and beyond. I am also sure that my feelings will likely soften and I will convince myself I could come back. Sure, I could, but I just don't think I want to.
Jerusalem in Review - Zac's Perspective
The writer in me loves Jerusalem.
Within a single five minute respite sitting on a cool stone step that led up to a walled off doorway I saw more religions walk by than I knew existed. While sitting there another tourist huffed up and plopped his largess next to me to catch his breath. His wife soon followed. Soon enough an old man with a skeleton key the length of a femur came by and opened a door and onto the sidewalk poured four well dressed women. The tourist and his wife tried in three languages to ask if it was a hotel, finally settling on a fourth language I couldn't recognize. Information was exchanged and the old man with the key brusquely walked away. It's these moments that make me love Jerusalem.
The history buff in me loves Jerusalem.
The true shame here is that it's a history I'm not entirely familiar with, and after reading up on it a little bit while I'm here, not sure I fully believe. We went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and we went to the Garden Tomb. Both claim to be the place where Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and then resurrected. Over the centuries there has been much debate over the actual location of these key events. Millions of people come visit and pray and weep on these sites where these important events reportedly occurred, and it's all based on supposition.
Religious tourism is a big big business in Jerusalem. And that itself feels rather disgusting to me. The commodification of people's beliefs is nothing new, and in my opinion it's one of the hallmarks of religion.
But the traveler in me abhors Jerusalem.
It's prohibitively expensive for even the most basic of staples like rice and beans. Foods we know around the world to be insanely cheap. As Jill mentioned above, who you are and where you are from changes everything. Let's call it a tourist tax. The color of your skin (or the clothes you wear) determines how much you pay and what streets you can traverse. And if you are Palestinian this goes triple for you.
There is extreme inequality here, and this can be seen in the piles of rubbish in every bush, parking lot and street. We were staying in a predominantly Arab neighborhood and it became quite apparent that there isn't a regular or frequent enough pickup. Which means the garbage is overflowing and the wind and animals get into it. Combine this with the notion that it's acceptable to toss your chip bag, lunch or coffee over your shoulder rather than find the nearest trash bin. Saw this on several occasions.
It's amazing to me that a city that draws so many people from around the world, a city so many people consider to be holy is a city that doesn't give a rats ass about its residents, it's visitors or the literal ground it is all built upon.
I think that the hardest part about Jerusalem isn't that it isn't comfortable for a general tourist. By no means is a city obliged to be comfortable. But it's hard to ignore the obvious and blatant inequality on display. It's hard to ignore the racial and religious discrimination in a place that purports itself to be sacred and holy.