This morning we gathered to see King David's tomb, which is not mentioned in Scripture, but is a traditional site whose location has been known through the centuries. It was hidden, evidently, during times of persecution, and brought back after Constantine made Christianity legal.
I was feeling guilty for not bringing my scarf today, so I asked Chen if it would offend the orthodox to put a prayer shawl or tallit on my head instead. I had been wanting to purchase one anyway, even tho' men wore them around their waists. He answered quite seriously: "If you were to walk in the Orthodox section of the old city with it on your head, the women would stone you. And if they didn't kill you, the men would finish the job." Case closed!
Next, we exchanged drivers and tour guides, and crossed over the border into the West Bank to see Bethlehem, the place where Jesus was born. Well, we saw the STAR on top of the place where Jesus was born. Actually, the CHURCH that housed the STAR that marked the place where Jesus was born. For an hour and a half we stood sweating and hungry inside a stuffy Byzantine turned Crusader's church in a queue to see this spot where Jesus lay...and Jack didn't even build it! I think the Holy Family would be puzzled at this commemoration of the birth of the Christ Child. Churches house amazing works of art, but most folks on our tour would tell you that this was a very trying experience.
Well, it was a test of patience and fortitude...that's what we get when we "go back to Egypt"! Bethlehem is on Palestinian territory, so they did not allow our Israeli guide/driver to lead us. We were back with the familiar, "one dollar for cold water," or, "necklaces, five for ten dollars," or "postcards for a dollar, Miss".
It's such a relief to be back in Israel. We feel so safe and relaxed...it's a different world. There is a feeling of peace, order and purpose here, instead of chaos.
Our last stop was the site of the home of John the Baptist, or, more accurately, his father, Zechariah's home. It was exactly five miles from the center of town, in a beautiful terraced area in the hills with trees and flowers. Many present day artists live and work here to find the inspiration they need to create. Scripture says in Luke 1:39, that Mary went to her cousin Elizabeth's home in the hill country for encouragement, because she, too, was pregnant with a child...John the Baptist.
We were all dragging, and so were relieved to finally arrive at our hotel. A Shabbat meal was prepared for us, and we noticed a number of orthodox families waiting in the lobby to gather for a celebration. Two of the elevators in our hotel were on Shabbat mode, which meant they stopped at each of the 18 floors, so no one needed to press a button. Remember that no work is allowed on this day of rest.
A rest sounds more than welcome tonight...Shabbat Shalom!