Thursday, October 29, 2009

Journal of a Living Lady #358

Nancy White Kelly

This concludes the travel log of the fantastic trip Charlie and I received as a result of my winning an essay contest sponsored by British Airways. After a greatly anticipated journey from Atlanta to New York to London, we were finally in historic Jerusalem.

The first day was a bust. The narrow streets that were originally intended for donkey travel have not improved much in 2000 years. After returning the rental car to the airport terminal in Tel Aviv, we walked or took taxis driven mostly by Middle Eastern mad men. Communication with drivers was in Southern Anguish. Jerusalem is not laid out in orderly fashion. We paid mucho shekels for each ride and no doubt were exploited for our directional ignorance.

One exception was a Messianic Jewish man named Adam. He observed red-faced Charlie huffing while climbing the Mount of Olives. He offered our out-of-shape son a free ride to the top which he readily accepted. If either of us had known how much walking this tour of Israel would require, we would have prepared by running the Boston Marathon.

Adam was quite knowledgeable of biblical geography and rattled off fascinating facts. Charlie jotted notes. An hour later he rushed into our motel room demanding that I come immediately. Even though I had taken the day off to recoup, I was reasonably dressed. As we hustled down the forty-four stairs, Charlie explained that Adam was going to take us on a personal tour of Bethlehem and connect us with two of his friends. I quietly sat in the back seat trying to decipher Charlie’s earlier cryptic notes. Even though I am a retired educator, it was difficult deciding if his writing was ancient Arabic or the scribbling of a dyslexic second-grader. As we traveled to Bethlehem, the two young men talked enthusiastically and non-stop about the geography, people and events described in the Bible.

A heavily armed guard at the entrance to Bethlehem recognized Adam and waved him through security. Because of the known political and religious unrest in this region, this casualness briefly raised my antennae, but I remained quiet. As the taxi maneuvered narrow streets, the poverty in this quaint historical town was noticeable. Beggars sat on street corners and scraggly children explored the trash piles.

Adam stopped the cab in front of a tiny storefront that looked more like a cave. He honked his horn and out came the proprietor, a small Jewish man who welcomed us like old friends. His aunt offered us cold drinks. I admired the jewelry and the knick-knacks made of intricately carved olive wood. Several times I asked prices, but the aunt was evasive. Instead she offered an obviously well-practiced spiel regarding the artistic skill required to make the souvenirs. This was frustrating because I had no idea of a price range. Was the silver necklace with purple stones five dollars or five thousand?

Adam waved the man and his aunt away and said we would shop later. He wanted to take us to meet other friends. One was the over-seer of the stable site where Jesus Christ was believed to have been born. Many years of renovation had turned the building into an ornate, church-like sanctuary. Long lines of people awaited an opportunity to see the spot where the manger once was. To our surprise, Adam spoke to another friend who shooed all the other visitors back. He motioned for Charlie and me to touch the large, ruby-colored star that marked the historical spot of Christ’s birth. The aggressive manager then grabbed our cameras and photographed each of us. I was puzzled and embarrassed by the preferential treatment. There were many old and lame who obviously had stood in the line for hours for their turn to view the stable site.

Adam must have much influence in Bethlehem. My guess is that he routinely brings in supposedly rich customers from America. Unfortunately, this time he picked a young school teacher and his retired mother who couldn’t give the $3000 requested later that day for “the cause.” When Charlie finally convinced Adam, the stable manager, and the shop owner that we brought little money with us, they offered to take a credit card.

While the needs of the poor in Bethlehem are legitimate, Charlie and I felt like gullible puppets who just had our strings rudely jerked. We rode back to our hotel in Jerusalem in noticeable silence. Charlie paid Adam and we never saw him again.
By the week’s end, we were able to visit most of the sites that are significant to Christians. The one site that impressed us both was the burial tomb of Christ which was provided by Joseph of Arimathea at the time of his death.
During a small span of time between tour groups, Charlie slipped into the stone tomb alone. He remained in solemn solitude for several minutes reflecting on the awesomeness of the moment.

In describing that experience to me later, Charlie beamed as he reported, “Jesus was not there.”

Mother and son smiled in agreement.

“I know,” I responded with a nod. “He is risen.”

Being a newspaper column limits me from giving all the details about our trip. I could fill a book about our inspiring journey to the Holy Land. However, it is time to move on to other adventures of this Living Lady.

Shalom, ya’ll.

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