My day in Jerusalem

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My trip to Jerusalem went, for reasons only an economist will understand, from Frankfurt over Riga. I arrived in Tel Aviv at around 4 or 5 in the morning, feeling fairly exhausted, and we took a shared taxi to Haifa. Next to me sat a mother of two, Anet, and we chatted about life in Israel. She is a social worker, and warned me that in the south there was some shooting going on. I better not get mixed into it, since the doctors are on strike. Also, the McDonalds in Israel have much bigger burgers than the ones in the US, for the same prize. I should make sure to test one out.

I only had a room starting that day, so I arrived too early at the hotel. I went to the venue of the conference, and in front of it there were a few tents, a couch, and a few people cooking on the street. Since the conference had not started yet, I started chatting to them. They were demonstrators, trying to pull more attention to the situation of the young, the students, of the doctors, and of the social workers in the country. Rising costs are putting a strain on most people, especially the housing costs have risen sharply lately. Partly due to the lasting peace -- as perversely as it sounds -- as a war leads to a correction of the rental costs. We were talking, I tried to understand their situation, and they invited me to share their breakfast, a Shakshuka. The choice of food was symbolic, they explained to me, connecting it to a movie called "The Shakshuka System".

When the conference started, I had a few chats, and then the afternoon was free. On a short notice I decided to grab the bus and head for Jerusalem, as I knew that it would be my only chance to see the city. I arrived there, and, unprepared as I was, I didn't have a clue where to go. I found the old city, stumbled through it, and were amazed by the suqs, the small alleys and criss crossing paths and stairways through the city, covered, cool. I walked around, not knowing what I was looking for, not knowing where I am, hoping to find a hotel where I would be able to get a map.

Slightly desperate I finally found a café with a big map of the old city. My hopes raising, I stared at it, trying to find a big red dot saying "You are here". There was none. A dark haired man was sitting in front of the map, sipping a coffee. I asked him.

"Where am I?"
"Where do you want to go?"
"I don't know"
"Then it doesn't matter"

I liked him. I looked at the map and pointed to the most prominent building which was not the Al-Aksa Mosque. The mosque was closed to non-muslims, as it was Ramadan. So I pointed to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
"This is where I want to go."
"I'll bring you there."
"No, no hassle. Just point me the way."
"I am not asking for money. I'll just bring you there." He paid for the coffee, and ushered me on.

On the way, we chatted more. His name was Tudor and he was from Romania. I remarked on the beauty of Romanian women, and he sighted, saying that he was a man of the church back then. He has moved to Jerusalem sixteen years ago. But eleven years ago he met this woman from Switzerland, and now they are married. He was visiting Jerusalem to see the few friends who chose to still be his friends. We were quiete for one and a half flights of stairs.

"The tower of David..." I asked, remembering the map.
"Is it the real one?"
He shrugged. "Money makes stories"
"But stories make meaning."
He stopped, looked at me and smiled. "I'll show you something in the church", he said, and fastened his pace.

We arrived at the church of the sepulchre, one of the holiest churches in christianity. He immeadiately turned left inside, for the actual sepulchre, the grave of Jesus Christ. He remarked how empty it is, only maybe ten people or so were waiting in line to enter the grave.

"Look up, what do you see?"
I looked up. It was a chapel, the center of it let some light in. A star was decorating the chapel.
"Count" he told me.
Eight points, I said, confused.
"Do you know what it means?"
I shook my head. Darn, it is a while since I was reading those kind of books. Then I noticed the amulett he was wearing. An eight-pointed star. The very same eight-pointed star that was above us. "What..."
"I am not sure I am allowed to tell you.", he says. He was obviously pulling my leg, wasn't he. He pointed to a double headed eagle. "The symbol of a new country?" he asked.
I was more confused than before he answered, but it was our turn to enter the grave, and I didn't want to break the sanctity of the place by pestering him with more questions. We passed the Angel's stone, and we prayed at the grave together. Coming out, I wanted to ask another question, but he cut me short.
"Keep your eyes open. Count. I have to leave now. Farewell!" he said, and I only could stutter a thank you before he was gone.

I did. Eight lamps were over the stone of anointing, where Jesus' dead body was oiled. I climbed up on Golgotha, the hill of the crucifixion, and down to the grave of Adam, the first man. I saw the navel of the world, and confused, but happy, I left the place. I am a sucker for mysticism.

I strolled further to the city. I tried to get to Al-Aksa, but I was stopped, as expected. Finally, being tired and seeing that my time was getting short, I took a guide who led me to a few further places. "Ask me anything", he challenged me. "I know all the secrets, and for a meager hundred shekels, I will tell them all."
We walked through some underground caverns under what once was the palace of Pilates, and there he pointed me to an old carving of a seven-armed Menorah, the symbol of Jewish faith. "Seven was the number of the Jews, Nine was the number of Christ.", he explained.
"What about the eight?" All secrets, he said. Let him earn the hundred shekel.
He looked at me surprised. "Mary Magdalene, but that is a secret.", he answered quickly. Then he hurried outside, and explained that the tour has come to an end. They probably all have seen that Dan Brown movie. I liked it still.

I left the old city, as I had to go back to the bus station. As usual, I got lost, but a young man I asked shared part of the way, so he offered to bring me there halfway. Right on this day he was released from his three years of army service, he said, still in uniform, and having a guitar slung around him. He is going home.

"What will you do with your life now?"
"Well, first I want to go to Romania, to walk the mountains there."
"Romania has beautiful women."
He smiled and winked. "And then... I am thinking of joining the demonstrators, before I start studying. I am in a band", he points to the guitar, "and I want to sing songs about what my generation needs to say."

We parted ways, and finally I was in the bus back to Haifa, sitting next to a man my age, Michail, who moved here ten years ago from Russia. He went here to the military, studied here, and now has a job at Intel in Haifa. Sure, he doesn't have much money, he cannot afford a car, and has to visit his girlfriend in Jerusalem with the bus, but he dislikes the demonstrations going on.
"It was so much worse in Russia. They should be happy here. You work hard, you get your money, you can live. What's the point of demonstrating? Just go ahead and change things. Do it better. That's what you should do. Just sitting around in tents won't improve anything."

It was a long day. Back in my hotel, I was exhausted and hungry. I had not slept for two days, and there was so much stuff spinning through my head, but before I went to bed, I quickly jumped to next McDonalds. Anet was right. It was certainly bigger here.