March 9, 2020
Well, we’re leading up to the second reason (the kid, of course, being the first) as to why we came to Israel at this particular moment in time. Two years ago, we came here to celebrate our first Purim in Israel, along with the kid’s 19th birthday. We had so much fun, I told the hubby that I never wanted to spend Purim outside Israel ever again. And, of course, we were stuck in the U.S. last year because we already had a trip planned for April to see the kid’s graduation from medic training that ended up being postponed until May, at which time I flew solo for the first time in five years. It took the rest of the year to pay off those two trips, but here we are!
I was woken up this morning around 4:00AM by some sort of loud “music.” Knowing Purim was right around the corner, and having experienced the intensity of Purim two years ago, the hubby suggested that The First Station, located across the street, and the place we had spent Purim two years ago, was still celebrating from the night before.
Me: Who the f**k is playing that loud music so early in the morning?! It’s 4:00AM! WTF?!
Also me (slowly waking up and recognizing the “music” as Arabic singing): Oops…it’s the call to prayer.
And I realized that no music had played the night before and was still not playing this morning – unusual for The First Station. The previous three nights, the hubby complained about the music waking him up, but not today.
Checking in on the latest news, Israel has decided that all visitors from America must quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival, following the closures of schools in the United States amid this whole coronavirus thing. Although (Shushan) Purim won’t be celebrated for two more days in Jerusalem, there’s talk of live-streaming Megillah readings, as well as the cancellation of Purim activities throughout the country. I am not a happy camper right now. I get the precautionary mindset, but I still feel like I’m missing something here. There’s only one case of COVID 19 in Israel right now, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor with numerous pre-existing health issues. No one is walking around looking concerned…
Today is the Fast of Esther, so we’ll be spending the day not eating or drinking. Whatever shall we do? Well, the kid has decided she wants to check out the Christian Quarter – something she experienced only once nine years ago and doesn’t remember. I mean this with all due respect, but the thing about a Jew going into the Christian Quarter is that they have to travel through Muslim areas and parts of the Muslim Quarter in order to see some of the Christian holy sites. What the kid specifically doesn’t remember from nine years ago is that we walked through the Muslim Quarter and were cursed at and spat on by the people working in the shuk stalls. Needless to say, the hubby and I were not major fans of the kid’s decision.
Ultimately volunteering to go with the kid on her exploratory expedition (the hubby opting to visit the Kotel), we first headed to the Holy Sepulchre. Not remembering how to get there, I suggested we visit the Visitors Center at Jaffa Gate and ask for directions and pick up a free map. Thankfully, the kid agreed, which seriously didn’t matter because we still couldn’t figure out which alley to take regardless of verbal directions and a map. Attempting to choose between two separate alleyways, a young man approached us, asking us where we were heading. Explaining to him that we just needed to know which of the two alleys accessed the Holy Sepulchre, he attempted to lure us into his shop to show us his wares in the hopes of us buying something. Again, explaining that we weren’t shopping and simply wanted to see the Holy Sepulchre, our friendly young man suddenly became hostile and asked us to leave.
Saddened by the experience, the kid and I took one of the two alleys in hopes it was the correct one, which, of course wasn’t the most direct route and completely in the Muslim Quarter. However, fortunately for us, we found ourselves walking with the tail end of an American Christian tour group from the Midwest.
Me (catching up to a young woman at the back of the group): You guys going to the church?
Young woman: You mean the church of the Holy Sepulcher?
Me (to myself): You idiot…there’s more than one church in the Christian Quarter (insert face slap emoji here please). It’s like asking someone in the Jewish Quarter if they’re going to “the synagogue.”
Either way, not being offended by my ignorance, the tour group was very friendly and allowed us to walk with them.
As we walked along the corridors of the Muslim Quarter, I slowly started to recognize some shops and knew we would soon spill out into the plaza of the Holy Sepulcher where hundreds of tourists were waiting with their guides to enter the church complex. For those who may not be familiar with the Holy Sepulchre, it is believed among Christians to be the site of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus and is one of Jerusalem’s most visited tourist attractions. It is the home to Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic Christians.
Thanking our Christian guides for helping us find our destination safely, the kid and I made our way inside the Atrium. Upon entering, the visitor first encounters the Stone of Unction, a stone slab believed to be where Jesus was laid and anointed after his crucifixion. I remember our last visit here and watching the multitudes of visitors kneeling beside the stone, prostrating themselves and praying over the stone. We also got to witness the clerics replacing the oil in the overhanging lamps. This time there were significantly less people.
Not having a map of the complex, we aimlessly wandered in and out of the numerous chapels, tombs and cloisters while masses of the three Christian denominations popped up amongst the latest construction. Making our way around the circumference of the building, we kept questioning each other as to why there was a line of dozens of people wrapped around a large structure appearing to be a tomb, not realizing it was believed to be the Holy Tomb (of Jesus).
We discovered this after asking a priest, explaining that we were not Christians and had no idea what we were looking at. Quickly responding and whisking off into the crowd, the kid and I decided it was time to move on. These pilgrims certainly did not look overly concerned about catching one another’s cooties and probably had never quarantined upon their arrival.
Exiting the church, we wandered if we should go back the way we came, not completely sure exactly how to get back to Jaffa Gate, or do we trust my navigational skills and head the opposite direction, which I believe to be a direct route to Mt. Zion, our next stop on the tour.
I was completely wrong. Making our way deeper and deeper into the Muslim Quarter, having no idea where we were and our paranoia growing exponentially, we made the decision to turn around and take our chances with the original route. Along the way we were approached by several shop owners who attempted to persuade us to buy their merchandise. Choosing to ignore them and find our way back ASAP, we were than verbally accosted and told to leave the area, of which we gladly obliged. Thank goodness the kid has better navigational skills than mine because she managed to get us back to Jaffa Gate within minutes.
Quickly making our way to Zion Gate, the kid asked to see Dormition Abbey, believed by some to be the final resting place of the Virgin Mary. It is located on Mt. Zion, the highest point in ancient Jerusalem. As we approached the church, the haunting music coming from the bell tower created an eerily peaceful mood. Normally this complex of buildings would be packed with tourists, but not today.
As we entered the upper sanctuary of the basilica, we found ourselves completely alone, surrounded by gorgeous mosaics covering the walls, ceilings and floors, as well as the half dozen chapels tucked away throughout the main sanctuary. Finding our way to a spiral staircase descending to the lower sanctuary, we discovered a large group of English-speaking tourists kneeling around the crypt of Mary and reciting the rosary in responsive prayer. Not wanting to disrupt, the kid and I sat on a marble bench to observe and show respect until they were done. Once again, completely alone, we examined the multitude of mosaics and paintings in an attempt to decipher them as Mary’s statue lay quietly in the center of the room.
Not remembering her visit from nine years ago, the kid also wanted to see The Cenacle, the room believed to be the site of The Last Supper, located on the upper floor of the Tomb of (King) David. This time we’re not alone, finding ourselves among a group of friendly Jamaican tourists as we climbed the stairs to the second floor. Inside the large and mostly empty rectangular-shaped room, the Jamaicans are singing Christian hymns and praying while a European tour group strains to hear their guide explain the history of the site. The crowd is so overwhelming, the kid and I decided to finally meet up with the hubby, texting him to meet us at the Tomb of David downstairs.
After getting volunteered for mincha (afternoon prayer service), the hubby met up with me and the kid to head back into the Old City to visit a store in the Cardo called Rina because the kid wants to buy a new ring. As we walked through Hurva Square, we watched some local children attempting to fly a drone but repeatedly crashed it into people sitting on the benches enveloping the plaza. Rina is owned by a man named Chanan, who was introduced to us by our tour guide (and Chanan’s neighbor) four years ago after discussing my need to by a new wedding band. Rina specializes in personalized and handmade jewelry, particularly sterling silver. The store also carries unique artwork and Judaica made by local artists.
While the kid perused the rings, a small group of American tourists stormed the store and buzzed around busily looking for souvenirs to bring home. I struck up a conversation about the sudden changes emerging daily as a result of the coronavirus with one of the husbands. They are due to leave the country tomorrow and have yet to hear of any flight modifications, so I’m feeling somewhat hopeful about our return situation. After spending thousands of dollars, the Americans departed and the kid has found two rings she likes but can’t decide on which one to purchase, one ring being significantly more expensive than the other. Unbeknownst to the kid, for her 21st birthday, the hubby and I have already secretly agreed to buy whatever ring she chooses. Informing her of our decision, much to our surprise, Chanan announces that he will give the less expensive ring to the kid for her birthday and as a thank you for being a chayalet bodedet (female lone soldier). After Chanan engraved a psalm of the kid’s choice onto the purchased ring, we headed off to Yafo Street to see what’s cooking for Purim and hopefully replace the plates I shattered over Shabbat at Hamishbar.
In the end, we’ve decided to tell the owners about the plates, but first I want to at least have a fighting chance at finding replacements. Walking past Safra Square (City Hall), the signs advertising Purim events are still hanging on the surrounding buildings. According to these signs, the Purim festival began today at 10:00AM. I have a feeling that’s not happening today.The square is empty. Two years ago, this square was completely packed with people and entertainers, everyone dressed in costume. Aside from the old man sitting at the piano and allowing the occasional child play along with him, the place is dead. No one needs to tell me that Purim has been cancelled at this point. Now I’m REALLY not a happy camper.
Finally managing to locate Hamishbar, I have discovered that they only sell Luminarc dishes in white as sets in servings for twelve. In a panic, I momentarily considered buying the whole set. I truly did feel bad about breaking their dishes, but the set was almost $100. As an alternative, they have grey versions of the dishes on clearance. Resigning to purchase the wrong color dishes, I now realize the owners must be told about the breakage. There’s got to be another place that sells these damn dishes in white and as singles. I’m determined to find one. My other purchase was a lucky one. After hearing news stories about the hoarding hysteria of essential items over in America, namely hand sanitizer, I found small bottles of this liquid gold at the counter and bought two, just to be safe.
Heading back to the apartment, the kid stopped off at a pharmacy so we could buy her some other essentials to take back to base upon her return. While she and the hubby were inside, I painfully listened to a street musician butchering the lyrics to Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.” However, I was surprisingly impressed that the one line he got correct was the song’s most difficult and misquoted: “And the sign said, ‘The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls.’” As a bohemian-type man carrying a large turquoise case and a portable stool walked by, I was reunited with the hubby and the kid.
One of the things the hubby and I love to do while in Israel is EAT. Before leaving the U.S., I asked some friends where to buy for Purim the best hamantaschen in Jerusalem. Kadosh Café Patisserie won hands down. Not quite sure where it was located and not planning to visit today, we miraculously walked by without even trying. And hamantaschen they had with six different and unique flavors! On our way back to the apartment, I’m feeling less panicked about the whole coronavirus thing. The restaurants are packed and people are going about their business as usual. And the bohemian-type man is now sitting on his portable stool playing a harp on the sidewalk outside.Touro Chef Restaurant, located in Yemin Moshe, is one of our absolute favorite meat restaurants. Aside from their amazing food, every seat has a view of the Old City walls. And the kid was even able to find something vegetarian to eat. As always, dinner was perfect.
After dinner, the kid asked to stop off at Mike’s Place to see her friend Zach, who was now the night manager. Catching up in between costumers, a loud and obnoxious group of young American boys sat at the table next to us.
Boy #1: Are we sitting outside? I don’t want to.
Boy #2: Yes, we’re sitting outside. I wanna roll one.
Us: Time to go…
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sounds of silence
The Sound of Silence – Paul Simon