Day 1: Thursday
I made it! I’m glad to say I have my first transatlantic flight under my belt. The flight to Tel Aviv took forever! It was hard entertaining myself for 12 hours. I watched three movies, read my book, and took an hour and a half nap.
I was so happy that Kurtis met me at the airport! It felt a bit overwhelming navigating through the airport because everything is in Hebrew. We took a sherut from the airport. Traffic was pretty bad, so it took us about two hours to get from the airport to our apartment. My first experience in Israel was exciting to say the least; our driver got into a heated argument with another driver behind us. Luckily, a police officer was there and quickly intervened and settled the dispute before a fist fight began.
Once I got settled in at the apartment, I took the best nap ever! After my much needed nap, Kurtis, Amin, and I headed out to the old city to meet a couple of friends and see the light show festival. It was so cool! They had fire dancers, opera singers, and live bands performing in different sections of the old city. There were so many people there! Also, it’s interesting to see the military forces here. Israeli’s are required to serve in the militarily after turning 18. Men are required to serve for three years. Women are required to serve for two. So, it’s really weird seeing teenagers walking around or sitting in coffee shops with assault riffles, but again, it doesn’t feel that strange because I’m used to the military base back home. Any who, after we managed to navigate our way out of the old city we wandered in search of food. We ended up going to Moshiko for dinner (they have really good shawarma pitas there). After dinner we headed home for some much needed rest.
Day Two: Friday
Today, we went to Mahane Yehuda Market (aka the shuk) to pick up a few groceries. It was so crowded! It felt like everyone was there doing their last minute shopping in preparation for Shabbat. When we were going through the market, we saw people begging in the street and a lot of haggling going on with the vendors. I just remember wondering how much the people of Jerusalem have actually changed since Jesus walked the Earth. It’s funny how we as people just never really change. I’ll admit, I was a bit apprehensive to go to the market at first because of stabbings that have occurred there recently-mostly religious affiliated. After we made our way through the market, we stopped by a coffee shop for some ice coffee and a pastry. It was nice getting a cold drink since it’s been so hot outside. I’m still having a hard time drinking the water here. For some reason it’s just really hard on my stomach, but adding lemon juice to it helps ease the taste (thanks Kurtis and Amin).
Anywho, after the Shabbat horn sounded, Kurtis I took a stroll around the city. I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed our talking and exploring together. We walked back through the Shuk and it was drastically different. It’s crazy how the city literally just shuts down from Friday to Saturday night, but it’s amazing at the same to to see how tradition and modernization intertwine here.
Day Three: Saturday
I feel like I’ve been really paranoid, or just incredibly self-conscious, about how to dress here. For the most part women tend to dress conservatively. It’s interesting to see the delicate dance between tradition and Western influence here. For example, if I decided to my leave my apartment and turn left wearing a pair of shorts and a dressy top or a sleeveless V-neck type dress that goes to my knees, I could very early get spat on or shunned based of my apparel, but if I keep walking down the road in the other direction for about twenty minutes, I’ll see way shorter hem lines and pride flags. I like to think that I dress modestly, but it’s taken to a whole new level here. I’m not saying I think it’s a bad thing, I just find it very interesting how modestly can be so strongly guarded within a secular state.
Overall, Saturday was a pretty laid back day. Kurtis and I went to the Anticipation Mass at the Notre Dame Center. The Pontifical Institute Notre Dame Of Jerusalem Center is so pretty! It was comforting to go there because no matter where I am in the world, the Mass will always be the same. When I was sitting in the sanctuary waiting for the homily to start, a thought occurred to me, “I’m about to receive Communion literally right across the street not only from where Jesus instituted the Eucharist, but also where he was crucified, died, and was buried.” That was an incredibly moving thought to have. The homily was amazing too. The readings were I Kings 17:17-24; Gal 1:11-17 & 19; St. Luke 7:11-17. He talked about the conversion of St. Paul and how when you encounter Christ everything changes and that living the gospels is life changing. He went on a tangent for a bit about the Gospel and was talking about how Christ understands our sorrows. He said, “You can’t bury your head in the sand and ignore death. It’s inevitable and catches up to us all. When I went to a women on her death bed, I asked her, “What do you think death will be?” and she answered, “It will be me closing my eyes and opening them to Jesus.” He just smiled and said, “Such faith.” I always struggle with doubt, and I’m crying again just writing about it; it’s so beautiful to me. I can tell that I’m going to be a complete mess when we go to mass at Calvary.
After Mass Kurtis, Amin, and I went in search of food and ended up settling on pizza. I keep forgetting that you can’t get meat and cheese together on food here! The pizza place we found reminded me of Sapori di Napoli back home. They had a lot of specialty pizzas and they were named after each neighborhood in the area. After pizza, we grabbed ice cream on the way home.
Day Four: Sunday
On Sunday, we went back to the Shuk to grab a few ingredients that we needed to make dinner. It’s fun getting to see all of the different foods and colors in the market. When we got back home I I did laundry and hung it to dry for the first time. I was very paranoid that something would fly off the drying rack. When I took the last pin out of the bag it flew out of my hand, and I think it’s probably still stuck to the side of the building, lol! Sunday was Jerusalem Day, so we just stayed home for the most part. Better to avoid the crowds and flag-cape wearing Jerusalemites.
Day five: Monday
On Monday, I got to spend some more time exploring the Notre Dame Center! I met a group of pilgrims from Florida. We learned about the sanctuary (where pope Francis visited as well during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land) and about the tabernacle that Pope Benedict XVI gave to the center as well. They were very kind, and they gave me a lot of tips to keep in my back pocket. I received advice from one of the pilgrims that resonated in my heart in an amazing way. I think my favorite part of the tour was Fr. Kelly’s geography of the gospels in three minutes.
We walked through the Shroud of Turin exhibit together, and Father made an interesting point: there is peace to be found in the Cross. If you look at the face in the Shroud, it looks completely at peace. It’s the face of a victor. When we think of the Crucifixion we think of salvation, suffering, hope, love, etc. Father gave an example, it’s like at the Super Bowl and when the players are standing there with the big Lombardi trophy and their teeth missing, the only thing that they can think about is that it was worth it. I can only imagine that every second, every wound, every mocking cry was worth it for the prize of every soul and the billions of souls to come. It was really moving. I had never given the Shroud of Turin much thought before, but it is definitely something worth giving a deeper look.
Day Six: Tuesday
So how do you describe receiving the Eucharist at Calvary? I honestly had zero intention on going to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre today. Lets rewind for a second. Okay, so last night Kurtis met with our new priest friend and he encouraged us to go to morning Mass at Calvary. So when the butt crack of dawn came I had like the worst Catholic guilt trip ever! Lol! I really wanted to sleep in but Kurtis kept asking me if I wanted to go to Mass but every excuse I had was thoroughly beaten by “but Calvary.”For example, me “I’m so tired. It’s way too early for that,” but my heart would go,”and I’m sure Jesus felt fantastic when we was on the Cross at Calvary dying for you.” So, I got up and went to Mass.
When we arrived to the old city we got a bit lost, but we found a priest and a Franciscan monk that helped us along the way. We got about half way on our own, but I’m really happy to have run into them, especially since I was so unsure as to where I was going. The path from the New Gate to the Holy Sepulchre is pretty direct, but the way the roads in the old city suddenly end and twist are very confusing. Also, anyone considering or preparing for the trip make sure the look out for all of the tiny steps on the street. It’s very easy to miss one and fall. Oh and the stones are slippery; wear shoes with a grip!
The Holy Sepulchre was a very moving place. It’s surprisingly not as massive as I had imagined it to be. It’s filled with colorful tile and beautiful iconography. When you arrive at the Sepulchre the first thing you see is the dressing stone, it’s a scented stone where the body of Christ was anointed for burial. To the right of that is the staircase to Calvary and to the left is the tomb (which is under renovation right now). It was humbling to think, “I’m walking up the staircase (very narrow and steep btw) to Calvary.” When you reach the top of Golgotha you immediately know what you are looking at. It is a very silent place of reflection and prayer. The Sepulchre is filled with pilgrims, priests, and religious from around the world. I crossed paths with a man who’s origins I do not know. He entered the Sepulchre without shoes and bowed and prayed most fervently at every major spot. Such devotion was moving to see.
During the Mass when Father was consecrating the Eucharist I could see the devotion of the Armenean, Egyptian, Orthodox, and Coptic Christians as they approached Calvary behind him. It was so beautiful. Seeing the loving devotion of the persecuted church and contemplating the choices I’ve made in life for our paths to cross on this pilgrimage has been the most overwhelming abundance of grace I’ve ever received. Receiving the body of Christ right beside where he died? You can feel the all consuming presence of Christ everywhere, and it’s the same feeling I have when I sit in front of the Eucharist for adoration. It’s an amazing experience, and I honestly don’t know how to write down the emotions I felt.
Day Seven: Wednesday
Today, I stayed home and caught up on some much needed rest. Last night we went to a hummus restaurant with a group of friends, and I tried falafel for the first time, and it made me very sick later that night. So today I just decided to take it easy.