The Old City of Jerusalem is probably well known to most of my readers, so I shall not pretend to be a tour guide for you, just sharing a few photos and impressions with you from a 3 hours walk together with Ilham, the charming and knowledgeable office manager of East Jerusalem YMCA
Ilham takes me through the Damascus gate and to the Austrian Hospice, where we climb the four floors to the roof terrace from where there is a breathtaking view of one of history’s most famous cities, Jerusalem, filled to the top of holy sites for Muslims, Jews and Christians.
The atmosphere of the Old City is different from all other cities I have visited, a remarkable mixture of bazaar, lively local community, confiscated houses surrounded by barbed wire and Israeli flags, holy sites and guesthouses of everything from German to Scottish and Italian church affiliations, and crowds of very young soldiers with heavy machineguns on their shoulders.
I have walked here before, in 2002 when there were uneasy times and very few tourists.
Nine years ago, as well as today to be honest, I find it difficult to penetrate all the gold and silver and religious furniture and meditate myself back to the significant moments of Jesus’ life.
According to tradition on this place they cleaned the body of Jesus before He was laid in the grave.
And if I could, I would most surely be brought back to reality by the overenthusiastic elbows of religious tourists.
And quite honestly; I find it difficult to pray surrounded by so much heavy weaponry.
Sunday was my day with Forsan Hussein, the CEO of West Jerusalem International YMCA, and a very good friend. The building is from 1931, a historic, landmark and monumental building, just opposite of King David Hotel.
The vision of this YMCA was from the very beginning to create a meeting place for Jews, Muslims and Christians, to foster peace and understanding in a city full of conflicts.
At the top of the tower you see the entire city, and there is a magnificent collection of bells, on which I played for all of Jerusalem.
I was taken around the building and spent some time with the children in the Children’s Peace Kindergarten, an amazing centre for children of all different backgrounds.
Then Forsan took me down to Jericho and we drove up the Jordan Valley till we reached Nazareth in the north. There is an independent local YMCA in the childhood town of Jesus. We went to the beautiful church in the middle of Nazareth, I was strongly recommended to visit that church, built upon the place where Mary was told that she was to be the mother of Jesus Christ, a small cave and on top of that a modern church with warm, colourful stained glass windows. The church really makes an impression on any visitor, but I had to go outside of the church to be able to imagine the childhood city of Jesus. Nazareth is a hilly town, and Jesus must have walked up and down these steep hills, or maybe he run after a dog or followed an old shepherd with a flock of sheep.
(Today I really struggle with internet in a Bed & Breakfast place and spent 12 minutes to upload this photo, and it did not come through with all of the church. I promise to reload it when I have stronger connection!)
From there we drove to Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee and to the amazing YMCA centre at the shore of the sea, owned by the West Jerusalem International YMCA. Eddie, the very nice manager of the centre serves us fresh fish from the sea. What a special feeling it was to climb from there to the Mount of Beatitudes, from where Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount.
We spent quite a time there contemplating, and Forsan shared with me how he found his vision for his YMCA just on that beautiful mountain overseeing the Sea of Galilee.
My good friend Forsan Hussein looking over the Sea of Galilee, on the Mount of Beatitudes.
We had good conversations in the car on our way back to Jerusalem, where a dinner with the Board concluded a fascinating Sunday.