There is much being said about Jerusalem in the news these days. It is Israel’s capital city, though most of the world does not recognize it as so. It is a weighty city with a beautiful yet violent history. While visiting Jerusalem during my CPGC trip, I enjoyed walking the ancient streets and tried to imagine the many events that occurred there. It took a bit of imagination because the reality today is quite different.
In Jerusalem there is tension between the vast varieties of people, yet it is a product of the openness of the city. Only under Jewish control of Jerusalem has there been religious freedom for all people. And it comes at great risk and a high price as Jerusalem has been one of the hot spots for terrorism. There is no other place in the world where I could have walked the streets and find myself brushing shoulders with not only multiple sects of Judaism, but also the Eastern Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Armenians, and even Mormons. The list could go on and on. Sometimes I felt like I was walking around the ancient version of Manhattan! Walking through the old stone streets of Jerusalem were monks, Imams, and my personal favorite, the evangelical tour groups who were occasionally found singing hymns.
Within the ancient walls of Jerusalem’s Old City lie four ancient and distinctive cultures. The Old City is divided into four quarters – the Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter, Armenian Quarter and Christian Quarter.
Constant streams of pilgrims visit the most holy site to the Jewish nation, the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall. Five times daily, one can hear the Muslim call to prayer being sounded from the El Aksa mosque located right above the Western Wall. Armenians fulfill their daily ritual prayers in the Church of the Holy Archangels – a structure dating back to the medieval period. And throughout the year, Christians retrace the steps of Jesus, visiting the temple ruins, Gethsemane, The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Garden Tomb.
The diversity of the ancient city of Jerusalem rarely, if ever, makes headline news, but it should. While Israel’s so called “intolerance” toward its Arab citizens dominates the mainstream media focus, individuals of every race and creed are granted cultural and religious freedom throughout Israel and most visibly in Jerusalem – the most holy city of the Jewish faith. This can hardly be said of any other country in the region and certainly not Saudi Arabia which will not even permit a Jewish person entrance into their country or any non-Muslim/infidel in Mecca.
Jerusalem is a shining example of religious and cultural freedom in an area of the world where religious persecution is practiced regularly and quite brutally. Jerusalem has seen much bloodshed in the past from religious conquests to dominate the region and the minds of her citizens. Thankfully today, there is freedom of conscience for all people. I am thankful to Israel and the Jewish people that I, as a Christian and a foreigner, was able to visit and celebrate the life of Jesus and worship freely without fear of intimidation or persecution.