Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Tel Aviv Animal Shelter

Much of my second week in Israel was spent staving off boredom as most of the people I was spending time with were consumed with their first week of internships. Invariably, there were several people whose internships had not started yet with whom I spent the majority of my time. One such unemployed person came to me one day with the suggestion that we go "volunteer" at the Tel Aviv Animal Shelter. By volunteer, what I mean is play with an adorable puppy for a while.
Here we are!
The Tel Aviv Animal Shelter (more formally The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Israel), is exactly what it sounds like. It's a home for abused, or unwanted animals of a seemingly wide variety (mostly dogs). We found the perfect dog to volunteer with. Here he is:
I love dogs though I'm not sure I would make a very good dog owner. Our dog, who we named Rufio was having me rethink that. He was so affectionate!
So what you do is basically take a dog out on a leash in their little courtyard thing that has enough room to walk/run around. There are doggy treats, and some toys to play with - pretty standard dog shelter stuff.

At this point I'd say I've used enough pictures of one thing for one blog post - but he was just so damned cute! I'll have to make an exception. After about a half an hour, another volunteer with another dog came close to us and Rufio barked at them like they were trying to attack us. He was protecting us! At this point we were anticipating some separation anxiety.
I hope Rufio found a good home.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Jerusalem in a Day

In my opinion, no trip to Israel is complete without a visit to Jerusalem. This trip, in relation to the other times I've visited Israel, was decidedly not Jerusalem centered. I enjoyed my experience in Tel Aviv overall, and it was nice to spend lots of time on the beach and see secular Israel, but I'm much more of a Jerusalem guy than a Tel Aviv guy.

I went with my good friend Seth who is in Israel on a Masa Program to see the sites I had seen many times before, but am always excited to see again.

We started by taking the 405 bus from the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv to the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem. From the CBS in Jerusalem, we took the newly completed light-rail directly to the North Gate of the Old City - the Damascus Gate. Entering this gate headed south puts the Christian Quarter on your right and the Muslim Quarter on your left.

We continued south and took a quick look at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This church encompasses the sights where Christians believe Jesus to have been crucified, buried, and resurrected. The several final stations of the cross on the via dolorosa are within the church itself.
There it is.
Site of the crucifixion.
Churches are usually pretty nice looking.
The tomb where Christians believe Jesus was buried and came back to life.
OK this church was established in the 300s by Constantine (most people know him as the guy who converted the Roman empire's religion to Christianity)'s mother Empress Helena. After Constantine changed the official religion - she went on a mission to the holy land to "find relics". She came back to Rome having "found" the true cross, the holy tunic, the nails of the crucifixion, as well as the sites of various important points in Jesus's life such as the site of the nativity, and the place where Jesus was crucified.

It's a little funny to me to imagine her walking the streets of Jerusalem and pointing to the stations of the cross along the road, "and that's where he fell, and that's where Simon the Syrene helped him carry the cross, and that's where he was crucified... and so on". Archeologists believe that the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was once the site of a Roman temple so really it's more like she was sent to convert the holy land into the new religion of the empire - in the same way that late December became Christmas because there was a Roman holiday at that same time of year. I find it hard to believe that basically any of these churches marking the important points mentioned in the bible are actually in the right place, but I understand the Christian desire to have these actual churches erected - it makes it more relate-able that they are walking in the same places as Jesus once walked.

The church itself is shared between the sects of Christianity that are prominent in Jerusalem. These sects have shared responsibilities and prayer times within the church for more than a hundred and fifty years. Every once in a while the status quo of this shared status is tested by something most people would consider to be very minor. A door is left open, a guy moves his chair a few feet to the left - things like that, and a fist fight breaks out between the sects. I think it's pretty funny.
After visiting that church we backtracked a little bit and passed various stations of the cross along the via dolorosa. Here's a picture of one of those:
I think it's one of the two stations that mark where Jesus fell while carrying the cross.
We were backtracking to make our way to the Austrian Hospice. Not hospice like a hospital, a hospice is also like a hostel and generally intended for use by people of a certain religion. The Austrian Hospice in Jerusalem has been in use since 1863.

If you know where it is (it's at a point along the via dolorosa) and if you ring the bell they will buzz you in. Once inside - say hello to some German speakers if you must but then - climb the stairs to the roof!  It's a great view of the old city from inside of it!
Wow that was fun. After that, we started heading toward the Western Wall. Along the way I had to take this picture:
OSU v. Michigan.
So the Western Wall is the closest bit of retention wall holding up the Temple Mount to where the Jewish Temple once stood that is open to the public. It's forbidden to more observant Jews to go up to the Temple Mount lest they stand in the spot where the Holy of Holies once stood because that exact spot isn't known, BUT since the Holy of Holies is the aptly named holiest spot in Judaism, Jews pray towards it, and since this is the closest permissible spot to stand and pray - it's a popular prayer spot. Sorry if that was complicated.
Well - it's usually popular. Sometimes there are lull periods like this one.
Spent some time at the Wall, then, by chance the Temple Mount was opening up to tourists so we went up there. Tourists are only allowed up to the Temple Mount at very odd hours and only at the entrance ramp made of wood visible from the Western Wall prayer plaza. Muslims are allowed to go there by various other entrances, but there are Israeli guards stopping people who don't look Muslim - pretty much the most racially profiling job of all time. I look very local in the Middle East so I probably could have made it in, but Seth looks White - thanks a lot, Seth.

As a tourist, you're not allowed to enter the Dome of the Rock or the Al Aqsa Mosque, but the Temple Mount itself is very pretty.
This kid was having a temper tantrum.
Temper Tantrums are pretty much the same in every language.
See? It's pretty.
Then we took very tourist-y pictures like this one.
From the Temple Mount, you have a great view across a valley towards the Mount of Olives. Half of this hill-face is completely covered with the graves of thousands upon thousands of Jews. The graves are strategically placed. Jewish tradition holds that when the Messiah comes, the dead will wake and live in a Paradise. The people who are buried there are in a prime spot for when that happens - right there facing Jerusalem!

Also on the Mount of olives are various other Churches dedicated to specific events mentioned in the new testament. This picture shows three of them with the giant cemetery just visible at the upper right of the photo.
Lower left to upper right: Church of Gethsemane, The Church of Mary Magdalene, and the Church of Dominus Flevit.
Gethsemane is mentioned in the bible as the garden where Jesus prayed the night before his crucifixion. There's a garden next door to the church with many trees hundreds of years old - perhaps not 2000 years old, but this is the traditional Gethsemane garden. The Russian Orthodox church of Mary Magdalene is very clearly Russian - lots of different nations make their mark like this one on Jerusalem. My history of Jerusalem teacher said that Jerusalem is like a beautiful woman that nations try to woo by giving her beautiful jewelry like this. Interesting way of putting it... Anyway this church is also only open at odd hours like the Temple Mount (I went there back in 2008). The church contains a relic of the pinky bone of the Saint Mary Magdalene herself, but don't ask me about its authenticity... Finally the church of Dominus Flevit marks the passage of the bible where Jesus looks upon Jerusalem and weeps (dominus flevit means "and the lord wept" in latin) because he foresees the destruction of Jerusalem - and so the church is shaped like a tear. That church is tiny. Basically it's a 20 foot square chapel.

After leaving the Temple Mount, we started heading towards modern Jerusalem, after first spending some time in the Jewish Quarter - taking in some sights and eating some shawarma, we headed towards the King David Hotel. This is one of the oldest and most luxurious hotels Israel. Since its opening in 1931, it has hosted royalty from all over the world - presidents, prime ministers etc. The headquarters of the British mandate was housed here - this one scene from the awesome film Exodus was filmed and took place here. Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint had Martinis there - so we ordered some Martinis on the terrace which also has an incredible view of the old city.

To industry!
To the sun never setting on her majesty's empire - oh wait...
After our classy drinks and what had become a lot of time on our feet, we were ready to be done. There was just one more sight I had to see. The Time Elevator. The Time Elevator is the most kitschy, corny thing you could possibly do in Jerusalem - and I hadn't done it yet. I had waited for this moment for years. Basically, it's one of those movies with the moving seats that make people nauseous. You are in a malfunctioning time machine that Chaim Topol - the actor who played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof - helps to navigate back to the present by showing you around the history of Jerusalem, and YES - it is exactly as awesome as that sounds.
After the incredible experience at the Time Elevator, we made our way back to the Jerusalem Central Bus Station and hopped on a bus back to Tel Aviv. We really did see the highlights of Jerusalem tourism in one day of touring - which is a feat! Take it away, Bender!