A Spiritual Trip Dedicated to the Indian Community
Updated: Apr 22, 2020
I never thought I would be planning a trip to ‘The Wailing Wall’ with the Indian community in mind. The way it came about is due to good Karma. It all started out with my first subscriber, a diligent young gentleman, who found my blog even before I shared the website with my friends. After confirming that he found me through ‘google’, I was so delighted that I decided to dedicate a post to the Indian community. I’ve been to India a number of times on business trips, mainly to Bangalore, Chennai, New Delhi and Kolkata and have always been extended such gracious hospitality that I have prepared a trip that I hope will reflect my heartfelt thanks and appreciation.
The old city of Jerusalem is the spiritual center of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions. The first part of the tour includes the three most sacred places of each: ‘The Wailing Wall’ aka ‘The Western Wall’, ‘The Church of the Holy Sepulchre’ and ‘The Dome of the Rock’. Visiting them takes about half a day. You can either choose to continue staying in the old city for the rest of the day and I’ve provided an additional optional activity. However, I chose to drive to a picturesque town seated in the midst of the Judea mountains called Ein Karem. The town contains several additional churches and quite a few artists galleries that you can enter. However, due to the serenity of the location and in line with the spiritual theme, I chose to end the day with a Yoga class and will provide you with the instructor’s contact details.
Trip Itinerary Options:
Part 1 – Sites in the Old City of Jerusalem
The Western Wall aka ‘The Wailing Wall’
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Dome of the Rock
The Western Wall Tunnels
Part 2 – Picturesque ‘Ein Karem’
A Yoga Class in Ein Karem
Church of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Part 1 – Sites in the Old City of Jerusalem
To get there, park at the Mamilla or Karta parking lots near the Jaffa gate. Once you enter the Jaffa gate, you continue walking straight ahead, for a couple of hundred meters till you enter the Christian Quarter’s market. On your left-hand side, you pass a tourist office where you can get a printed map in case your mobile phone isn’t working and additional directions. A walk through the market stalls, first straight and then to the left leads you to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. After visiting the church, continue following the signs to ‘The Western Wall’. From a security perspective, I just wanted to mention that aside from patrolling soldiers in the district, at the entrance to the ‘Western Wall’ you’ll undergo a full security check including a baggage check.
‘The Western Wall’ is a remnant of the ‘Holy Temple’ built by the Jews returning from Babylonian exile in 516 BCE. The temple itself was expanded and refurbished by Herod the Great and was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. The timing of my tour is symbolic in that it is taking place a few days after completion of the fasting ‘Day of Atonement’ or ‘Yom Kippur’, the only day in the year in which the high priest used to enter the Holy of Holies in order to proffer the sacrifices and pentinence of the Jewish people. It is also taking place a few days before the holiday of ‘Succot’ or ‘Feast of the Tabernacles’, which is one of the three holidays in which Jews were commanded in the bible to visit the ‘Holy Temple’. Once the ‘Holy Temple’ was destroyed the sacrifices were replaced by prayers and the gathering place at the temple was replaced by synagogues. However, ‘The Wailing Wall’ is still considered the holiest site in Judaism. People come to pray and the common practice is to write down any special requests/prayers on a note of paper and after folding it, place it within the cracks of the wall. Out of respect, customary practice is to leave the wall by walking backwards so that you do not turn your back on it.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the holiest shrines of the Christian religion. The church was built in 335 CE by St. Helena, mother of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great after her visit to Jerusalem during which she allegedly located the site of the true cross. The church is acclaimed as both the site of Christ’s crucifixion and site of his burial.
However, the visit itself is more than just a site-seeing of a historic landmark. It is a live religious experience. During my visit, I met people from several nationalities: USA, Turkey and Poland to name a few and I saw together with them the prayers that were taking place. There are priests conducting daily ceremonies in the church and the visitors from all over the world are welcome to join in prayer.
The church encloses a number of holy sites within its boundaries. However, they are not marked by plaques within the church so from experience, it would be helpful if you printed out the photos of the sites that you wish to see so that you recognize them.
Stone of Annointing
The first site you see upon entry is the ‘Stone of Annointing’, which tradition believes to be the spot where Jesus' body was prepared for burial. A beautiful mosaic depicting the burial of Jesus right behind the stone. The word ‘Christian’ comes from the greek work ‘Christos’ which means ‘The Annointed One’.
Rotunda and Aedicule
If you continue walking forward to the left with the crowd, you will reach the Rotunda, a building located under the larger of the church’s domes enclosing a small chapel called the Aedicule within which lies the tomb.
Opposite the Rotunda is the main altar of the church, today the Greek Orthodox Catholicon. The second dome of the church sits directly above the site, which was once thought to be the center of the world associated with the site of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.
If you continue walking beyond the Rotunda in the same clockwise direction, you will see a stone chapel with blackened walls which is thought to be the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.
Chapel of St. Helena and Chapel of the Invention of the Holy Cross
Further on, you will come to stairs on your left leading downstairs to the ‘Chapel of St. Helena’ and a second set of steps leading downstairs leads to the ‘Chapel of the Invention of the Holy Cross’ were the True Cross was allegedly found.
Calvary or Golgotha
Once you come back up and continuing the clockwise direction, just before you arrive back at the ‘Stone of Annointing’, on your left you will see steps leading upstairs to the Calvary or Golgotha. This is traditionally regarded as the site of Jesus' crucifixion. The main altar there is Greek Orthodox and contains the Rock of Calvary (12th Station of the Cross). The rock can be seen under glass on both sides of the altar, and beneath the altar there is a hole aid to be the place where the cross was raised.
Beneath the Calvary, (i.e. if you don’t go upstairs), is the location of the ‘Chapel of Adam’, where it is thought that the blood of Jesus ran down the cross and then down the earth till it reached the skull of Adam, thus atoning for Adam’s original sin.
Although I didn’t visit it, the Dome of the Rock is an Islamic shrine located on Temple Mount that is open to the public. The site's great significance for Muslims derives from traditions connecting it to the creation of the world and to the belief that the Prophet Mohammad started his night’s journey to the heaven from the rock located in the temple. The rock also bears great significance for Jews as the site of Abraham's attempted sacrifice of his son.
A nice tour that I recommend reserving in advance is a 1.5 hour tour of the Western Wall Tunnels. The tour takes visitors to the subterranean part of the Western Wall and describes the history of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple.
If you wish to sleep near the old city, a few places are: ‘Jerusalem International YMCA Three Arches Hotel’, ‘Mamilla Hotel’, ‘National Hotel Jerusalem’ and the ‘Notre Dame Guest House’.
Part 2 – Ein Karem
A Yoga Class in Ein Karem
There are other Yoga studies in the city, but I chose the one in Ein Karem due to the location. I could not think of a more green and serene atmosphere than the middle of the town of Ein Karem. The lessons take place at the house of a Yoga teacher called Nira Finzi Gitai. In warm weather, lessons take place outside in her back yard and during the winter inside her house. You can either join an ongoing class or reserve a private lesson. Usually classes take about an hour and a half. The optimal group size is twelve, but she can accommodate up to twenty people outside.
Nira Finzi Gitai’s house is within walking distance from the church dedicated to St. John the Baptist, son of Zechariah and his wife St. Elizabeth, a cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Inside, to the left of the main altar, one can see a small cave where St. John was born.
Also, within walking distance, you can visit the spring of water that Mary drank from while visiting. Note that the water isn’t potable today.
In between, you will come across various artists’ shops, café’s and galleries that you can enter during your visit, but that will be part of another less spiritual post.
This turned out to be the most difficult part of the trip because although there are several Indian restaurants in Tel-Aviv (e.g. Indira, Market TLV, Salaam Bombay and 24 Rupees) and if you are headed back you can choose one of them, I didn’t find one in Jerusalem and since I was determined to find something that was suitable for the Indian palate, I was very picky.
As you can see, I divided my day into two separate sections of the city so for lunch, I found a nice ‘Falafel’ place in the old city where you can sit and dine by a table and not just buy a portion at a stand. ‘Falafel’ is a local food made of chick peas. It is vegetarian and from my experience, was well liked by Indians that I met. The restaurant is called ‘Tala Hummus and Falafel’ and is near the Jaffa gate so you can eat there either before continuing to Ein Karem or before entering the old city like I did (I started with Ein Karem in the morning). Additionally, the restaurant does have meat dishes if you’re interested.
For a dinner location, although there are several restaurants in Ein Karem and even some with vegetarian dishes, I’d like to suggest contacting a vegan chef who is located in Ein Karem, called Sharon Bar Lev. She will be able to prepare a full meal tailored to your needs. Also, if you're willing to make one last effort for a good meal or if Sharon is booked, you may want to contact another culinary tour guide located in a nearby village called 'Moshav Mata'. Her name is Nurit Hertz and she won an Indian food competition in 2015 held by the Indian embassy (look for "cooking india flighting india") and now hosts Indian vegan meals and teaches cooking classes at home.
Just as a final note, if you’re staying in Jerusalem for more than a day and you’re homesick for some really good Chai, you can end the day at Halita’tea Teahouse and Shop. The menu is undergoing changes and most of the menu isn’t Indian so I don’t know if you’ll find much to eat, but the tea blends are worthy of mention and a perfect way to relax at the end of a long day.
Due to logistical constraints, I reversed the order of the trip as recommended. Coming from the center, I drove 1 hr to Ein Karem and started with a Yoga class at 9:30. Since the 'Church of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist' is minutes away, I was there by 11:15. After that and a view of Mary's spring, I arrived at the 'Tala Hummus and Falafel' restaurant for lunch. By 14:30, I was at the 'Church of the Holy Sepulchre' and at 16:00 arrived at the 'Western Wall'. I ended the day at the Halita'tea Teahouse and Shop.
This is what it looks like on the map:
In my previous post, I mentioned the fact that Israel is celebrating its 70th birthday this year and since India declared independence in the same year, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you an early Happy Anniversary! We share a lot in common as two recently founded hard-working countries. How are you planning on celebrating?
By the way, is there any other Israeli food that you are fond of other than ‘Falafel’?
May your prayers come true.
If you're interested, you can read about an Indian family that is travelling the world on geobeetles.
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