Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Bestest Good Friday

Tonny, Raph and myself journeyed on up to Jerusalem to check out Good Friday goings-on in the Old City. Although I spent years "covering" this significant, Christian holy day while working for foreign news agencies, I never personally witnessed the procession along the Via Dolorosa.

It didn't happen this year either. We arrived too late. BUT action there was aplenty, regardless.

Simply venturing to Jerusalem is akin to traveling abroad for me. Buses packed with red-faced, Yiddish-speaking religious Jews in black and white, fur-lined spodiks and shtreimels atop their heads, long sleeved silk robes, women in heavy stockings... all in heat wave, 80-degree (26.6 C) temps. As I curiously peeked at my bus-mates en route to the Old City, a mutually curious 5-year-old with flowing side-locks peeked back. Schoingemacht. I'm the visiting alien.

We arrived at the Western Wall side of the City and made our way along the stone alleyways towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which, according to Christianity, is built over Golgotha i.e. the place where Jesus was crucified and buried.

As we moved into the Moslem quarter, the muezzin began calling worshippers to Friday prayers at Al Aqsa Mosque. We found ourselves swimming against the tide of carpet-carrying men scurrying to prayer and so ducked into a chatchke shop to wait out the flow.

Heading out again, we knew we were getting closer to the church because the passers-by were getting blonder and the rosary and incense/myrrh shops were gaining in number. The heat was taking its toll so we stopped for lunch at a rooftop restaurant a block from the church.

The food was "eh" but the view from up top was beautiful. All those archeological gradations along Jerusalem's hillsides, church towers, Mosque domes...Who needs a vacation abroad when you can jump on a bus to J-Town? Speak English and occasionally pull out a digital camera and Voila! You're a tourist for the day.

The church was crowded, as would be expected, and I was moved, as happens on each visit to the Holy Sepulchre, by the tourists who kneel and spread their upper bodies over the cool, marble slab covering Jesus' final resting place, weeping openly.

It was a wonderful day, indeed, to be in the Holy City for the sheer experience of taking in all three major religions' holy times in a single go. Definitely one of those "I'm lucky to be here" days.

A Happy Easter to all of my celebrating friends...

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