The beginning of September was back to school, and as a solution I was off to Jerusalem!
I have always wanted, from the very bottom of my heart, to discover the promise land, so this project pleased me immensely!
It gives me great pleasure to share my impressions from the trip with you. At the end of the article you will find all the useful addresses and links you need.
We traveled over a long, four-day weekend in November, three days of which were spent in Jerusalem and one in Tel Aviv. When we touched down at Ben Gurion Airport, the aircraft commander announced that it was 30° C (86° F)! All four of us filed into a taxi which brought us to our hotel “The American Colony,” a legendary place where General Allenby victoriously overcame the Ottoman Turks in 1918 and where Lawrence of Arabia stayed. It’s a charming hotel that has been owned by the same family, the Spaffords, since 1896. The hotel has a patio flowered with bougainvillea where we settled in and plunged directly into the Middle East by tasting delicious mezzes.
Our guide, Norbert Nakache, was already there and ready to have us experience two quite intense days filled with visits and spirituality. The sun was setting as we pressed on impatiently towards the gateways to our history. Norbert was an exceptional guide for many reasons. First, his family history was unique for his uncle was the swimming champion, Alfred Nakache “the Swimmer of Auschwitz,” who competed in the Olympic Games of 1936 in Berlin. After being deported and surviving (which was unfortunately not the case with his wife and daughter), Alfred returned to the very highest level of competition in 1945. Second, Norbert’s personal story of his double nationality, making him both French and Israeli, is extraordinary. And lastly, our guide’s own culture and knowledge of Jerusalem were remarkable. It was therefore under his energetic and kind guidance that we started on our journey, both sacred and secular.
We took off in the direction of Damascus Gate and entered through the Muslim Quarter. That’s Jerusalem’s particularity: Muslims, Christians, and Jews live side by side, pass by each other, and live together without ever mingling. A surprising city, the center of the world and even called “the world’s navel” (omphalos in Greek), Jerusalem holds 30 centuries of history ranging from the conquest of the Canaans by David to the tragic convulsions of contemporary history, right at our fingertips.
Along Via Dolorosa we followed the steps of Jesus Christ and the path that the cross took at different stages. In this Muslim neighborhood, we found a little Austrian enclave with Viennese coffee and we imagined Dr. Sigmund Freud under the palm trees—though Freud never actually went to Jerusalem, preferring instead the smog of London to the olive trees of Mount Zion. We continued further down into the depths of the Earth and found a spring. Next, we saw a Coptic Ethiopian church and priests with tonsures in a lovely square. This religious establishment constitutes the oldest Christian church of Africa.
Here, Norbert showed us the famous little ladder balanced high against the wall (visible from the right, when facing the church) that has not wavered since 1850. What a miracle!
Inside the church we passed by a considerably orthodox line of people who were waiting their turn to see the tomb of Jesus. Right next to it in a little niche, in the chapel known as the “Syrians,” were two other tombs embedded in the stone. These tombs could have been those of Jesus and Joseph of Arimathea.
In front of the Wailing Wall (Western Wall), which was itself immaculate and illuminated by a virginal whiteness, we were dazzled by the intensity of the place. In a moment of contemplation, we left our written vows on miniscule pieces of paper.
The next day we met at Lions’ Gate and headed towards the Jewish quarter by first passing by the Armenian district. The area was impeccably clean with beautiful homes—we were moved by a poster we saw on one of the walls demanding recognition of the Armenian genocide.
On Friday we had to hurry to get to the Mount of Olives (Golden Gate) before 11 o’clock because it was the day of Shabbat when Orthodox Jewish families would be having taking family outings. I learned then that the women in these families wore wigs.
We passed in front of the Roman columns of Cardo, constructed by the Romans during Herod the Great’s era, and came upon a unique viewpoint worthy of a post card: a representation of all three religious monotheists, the church, the mosque, and the synagogue. We discovered in the City of David, excavated by Israeli archeologists, ruins of the castle where Queen Helena of Adiabene (who famously converted to Judaism) had lived.
At the Pool of Siloam, where the Cedron river ends, we went went quite a ways down in order to reach it–Jesus most definitely took this path.
In the New Testament, it’s actually the Hezekiah pool where Jesus sent the man, blind from birth, to wash himself and whom he healed in the Gospel, according to Saint John (John 9:1-41).
We then admired the Dome of the Rock, which is a sanctuary rather than a mosque constructed in the 7th century and which constitutes the third holy place of Islam, after Mecca and Medina. Constructed around 691-692 CE, it is one of the oldest sanctuaries in the Muslim world. The Dome of the Rock shelters the “Foundation Stone” where, according to the Muslim custom, Mohammed would have arrived from Mecca during “Isra” (Night Journey) and from there ascended to Heaven. Traditionally, this is where the Bible places Mount Moriah, the massive mountain range Abraham is supposed to have climbed with his son Isaac to offer as a sacrifice to God as well as where Solomon built the old Temple of Jerusalem (destroyed by Nabuchodonosor, King of Babylon).
In Jerusalem, each stone, each little detail has a meaning. Independent from our will, we let ourselves be transported in this spirituality, this fervor.
Within the Garden of Gethsemani I found a grove of olive trees in which one of the trees had been planted 1200 years ago. Pope Frances, as a Franciscan, planted one of his own there as well. Constructed between 1922 and 1924, the garden contains the rock where, according to tradition, Jesus prayed in anguish before his arrest (Luke 22:41). The basilica is magnificent; it had been rebuilt as an exact replica according to the Byzantine Church’s plans from the 4th century, when Theodosius was emperor, by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi in 1920. Several nations took part in offering dome and apse mosaics.
Visit to Tel Aviv, following suggestions from Agnès Bitton:
In the morning we strolled along the Tayelet (Tel Aviv Promenade) from east to west, and had a coffee with our feet in the sand at one of the bars/restaurants. Continuing down the Tayelet until we reached Jaffa, we then visited this old area with its little streets, artisans, and had falafel for lunch. It was incredibly beautiful.
Next, we went down Rothschild Blvd. along the median strip and stopped for some crazy fruit juice that put our little organic place on rue de l’Abbaye to shame. This was in the Bauhaus neighborhood…
…and then we were onto the hipster-chic Nevé Tsedeck neighborhood, where the night is electric and friendly. The best plan would be to dine on the late side at Nanuchka, from 11:00 PM onward, and then proceed to dance on the tables, and even on the bar…Of course there’s also the modern art museum if you’re able to do it at a quick pace, because yes, of course they’re proud, they have beautiful artwork to show!
And it’s true, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art made quite an impression on me, having been welcomed by the gigantic piece called “Pace of Time” by Yaacov Agam in 1970 that Georges Pompidou had particularly appreciated. Pompidou had had the antechambers of the private apartments along l’Elysée decorated with such art, samples of which are now on display at the Centre Pompidou’s “Salon Elysée” titled “a Visual Symphony.”
Amongst the dazzling collections of Moshe, Sara Mayer, and Mizne Blumental (all masterpieces directly following Renoir), I found a portrait of Misia Sert, Monet’s nymphs, Gauguin, Cézanne, Bonnard, Chagall “The Wailing Wall,” Max Ernst, an Eiffel Tower by Robert Delaunay, Picasso, and last but most certainly not least, a beautiful portrait by Klimt. As a result, I left this place completely enchanted by my visit.
Florence Briat Soulie
Translated by Brianna Reed
- Our guide :
Norbert Nakache firstname.lastname@example.org
- Our hotel :
The American Colony Hotel where we stayed is very charming, with very good food and a wonderful pool (don’t forget your swimsuit!).
Hôtel American Colony
- Notre Dame Restaurant, with a magnificent view over the city and high-quality cuisine.
3 Ha Tsanhanim Road, Jerusalem 91204
Tel + 972 2627 9111
- In the Christian quarter, one can find oneself on a patio savoring a shwarma and little salads, to then finish with an Arabic cardamom coffee.
A day in Tel Aviv :
- Museum : Tel Aviv Museum of Art http://www.tamuseum.org.il/
27 Shaul Hamelech Blvd, POB 33288,
The Golda Meir Cultural and Art Center, 61332012 Tel Aviv, Israel
Information, Box Office: +972 (0)3 6077020
- Nanoushka Restaurant – Open: Sun-Sat 12:00- Last customer.
Address: 28 Lilenbloom St.
Tel: (03) 516-2254
- To read: the blog “Kef Israël” by Rachel Samoul where you will learn all sorts of information about Tel Aviv : http://kefisrael.com/
- Thanks go out to my friends: Séverine Pelletier for the great organization,
Agnès Bitton and Laurence Benichou Goldmann for the useful addresses.
Old district of Tel Aviv – Yaffa