It's Christmas, and there's no better time than today to share my adventures of being in Israel last week. My dad and I got to go on the trip together, and we visited so many places from the biblical history, most signifant for today: Bethlehem and the spot where Jesus was born! I got to sit in the cave where Mary and Joseph rested with their baby. It made this a very special Christmas.
Through the loudness of Israel, there is a message of peace that is constantly whispering to ears who will hear it. Here's the story of what I saw and experienced. At the end, read about my #1 favorite spot in Israel and what this place means to me, especially this Christmas season.
We were stuck at the Israeli border for four hours due to protests.
After spending a week in the extremely stable Kingdom of Jordan, I could already tell visiting Israel would be a little bit of a different experience. (So many posts about Jordan coming soon!)
The plan was to wake up at 5:30 a.m., leave the hotel at 6:00, cross the border around 6:30, and get to Jerusalem before 8:00. However, we were taken to the wrong border crossing, and after three conversations in broken English and a lot of pointing around, we learned that the whole border was closed. No one was getting in or out of Israel until 12:00! In four hours.
Finally, the border crossing bus came to get us, and in a flash, we were in Israel!
Our first stop in the country was the Jordan River baptismal site of Jesus. It was a great place to start the adventure because it looked exactly as one would envision it: palms, water plants standing tall, and very biblical-looking muddy water. It was FREEZING cold! Icy to the touch, but I couldn’t help but put my toes in such an historical body of water.
From there we went to Jericho (the very one from the Book of Joshua), where we explored the ruins of the city. And we drank water from the same water source in 2 Kings that was undrinkable until God used Elisha to miraculously transform it into healthy water for the people and land of Jericho.
On the way to Jerusalem, we stopped by the mountain where Jesus tempted and fasted in the desert for 40 days, and we saw the exact sycamore tree Zacchaeus climbed to see Jesus above the crowd in Luke 19.
All of these stories I read about growing up were coming to life in front of me. Seeing them in person fulfilled me so much, I would have gone home happy right then and there; but that was before I knew how eye-opening Jerusalem would be.
Because the protests delayed our arrival so much, we got to Old Jerusalem (where most of Jerusalem's biblical historical events happened within the modern city of Jerusalem) at twilight. We met a guide who took us through all of the sights.
Old Jerusalem is one of my favorite places I’ve seen. But it’s not because it’s where I saw a lot of places where Jesus walked (which does feel really surreal!). In Old Jerusalem, there are four quarters: the Christian quarter, the Armenian quarter (which is also Christian), the Jewish Quarter, and the Muslim quarter. The way they work together while reaching for what they view as holy makes this city so special to me. Read more about that at the end of the post, when I share my #1 favorite spot in all of Israel.
THE UPPER ROOM
We went in the Upper Room where Jesus and his disciples had the Last Supper, where Jesus returned to his disciples after coming back to life, and where the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost. The room was redone by its Crusader discoverers, but the stone floor was original and the floor that Jesus would have walked on.
Many Jews have wanted to be buried on the Mount of Olives because of Jewish tradition (based in the biblical verse Zechariah 14:4) that when the Messiah comes, the resurrection of the dead will begin with those burried on this mountain. (See the solid white on the left side of the mountain? Those are all graves.) There are so many cool things that happened here throughout history. But, to me, the most significant was Jesus' time there the night he was captured. The Garden of Gethsemane rests toward the foot of the mount. According to Acts 1, Mount Olives is also where Jesus ascended into Heaven.
KING DAVID'S TOMB
I am so happy I was in Jerusalem during Hanukkah and Christmas, as I learned so much about Jewish holiday traditions! This photo was taken right after watching a group of singing, clapping men light this menorah! It was so brilliant to watch this and other fun Hanukkah festivities for the first time.
King David's tomb is in a small room, and is divided by a wall as men and women cannot touch while praying.
JESUS AND THE CROSS
This church's courtyard is where the trial of Jesus occurred.
Inside the church, the spot where Jesus’ cross stood in the ground is marked, but I feel it’s not something that should be through up on a blog. This tiled sun lays right in front of the spot, and though I touched the gold circle where the cross anchored into the hill, even just standing this close was moving too. Some of the original rock, the ground of Golgotha, around where the cross was is preserved, on either side of the gold circle, in glass casing. It’s continuously surreal to try to comprehend.
WHO HAS THE KEY TO THE CHURCH?
There are two Christian quarters in Old Jerusalem, the Christians and the Armenians (who are also Christian). They share parts of the Church over where Jesus was tried and crucified. However, every morning there is a ceremony of unlocking the church and every night, a ceremony of locking it up. But if there are two Christian groups, who has the key (or control over the church)? The answer is so fascinating. They gave the key to the Muslims to keep things fair and avoid conflict! I thought that was brilliant. I am consistently in awe of how the four religions work together.
THE WESTERN WALL
We walked to the Jewish Quarter where the Western Wall stands. The Western Wall was built by King Herod and is the location where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac, where Isaac went to pray before meeting Rebecca, and where Jacob dreamed of a ladder reaching to the Heavens.
On the other side of the wall, part of the Temple Mount, is the Dome of the Rock, a sacred mosque for Muslims. But where the mosque stands today, the Jewish people used to have their Holy Temple. So the Western Wall is the closest they can get to the holy ground where their temple stood. The wall is also known as the Wailing Wall for this reason.
People write their prayers or wishes on a paper, and stick it into crevices of the wall. I got to do it, which is still so crazy to think about. I signed mine “Elisabeth Huijskens” to make sure God really knew it was me.
Going to Bethlehem during Christmas time was so special. We got to go to exact spot Jesus was born, marked with a gold ring again, and I sat in the cave where Mary, Joseph, and Jesus rested and received the travelers who ventured to welcome Jesus.
On the right side, you can see some of the original cave exposed.
Above: The view of Old Jerusalem, standing on Mount Olives.
Below: Walking down to Old Jerusalem from the top of the mountain, the route that Jesus walked.
The Garden of Gethsemane
BACK IN OLD JERUSALEM
Walking around the Jewish quarter, I got hungry and delightfully ate some yummy chicken shwarma. And then there were these donuts that are particularly enjoyed during Hanukkah. (The Jewish quarter has the best food!)
ABOVE THE FOUR RELIGIOUS QUARTERS
My favorite place in Israel is standing on a rooftop above where the four religious quarters meet. I spent at least a couple hours there, just sitting and soaking it in. It is so incredibly interesting to me how the four religions and their history intertwine and layer together throughout the city. The way they, at times, lean on each other and respect each other to ensure the social ecosystem of their shared city is fascinating. I have felt so heavy this year from so much division raising up all around. It has creeped up from all the sides of my life and has been one of my least favorite parts of 2017. If I let it, it would make 2017 one of the worst years I've experienced. But I don't like giving power to things that I don't add goodness to our world.
God knew how I needed to end this year: in a place where there is tension, there is opposition, but there is also jaw-dropping co-existence and respect. I was beginning to doubt that was possible anymore and needed to see it with my eyes and feel it in my spirit. I have believed for a long time now that the answer to many views of this world is "yes" and "and" rather than "neither" or "or". (I cannot stand "us" vs. "them" language.) When we say "yes," "and," "welcome," and "thank you" to the opposite side, the chasm then closes, the opposite side becomes our side as well, and we realize we're all just humans looking up for Someone bigger than ourselves. And that's when we find Her, because that's where Love lives -- in that closing chasm, where the quarters meet.
With relentless ambition + passion I live intentionally to take my dreams from plans to reality + empower other women to do the same. I'm a Trades of Hope founder, public speaker, and designer living in Washington, D.C. When I'm not following fashion trends, catching airplanes, or playing with my redhead pup, I'm offering up fashion shortcuts, life lessons I'm learning, and free wallpapers to remind you of how much you've got this.