!ברוך הבא

•October 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

“Baroch Haba” literally means “bless the coming,” but is the common way to say welcome in Hebrew.

Right before I started my year in Israel I decided to keep a photo-travel blog complete with my thoughts and some history, and of course pictures. A lot of the blog was for my friends and family, so they could keep an eye on me while I was in the Middle East, but a lot of the blog was (and still is) for me, to never forget what this experience was like. As I’m writing this it’s been exactly a year to the day that I set foot in Tel Aviv, so some reflection is only fitting. At the risk of sounding cliche, I can only say that it was a life changing experience. Visiting places like the springs along the Dead Sea, Petra, and every inch of Jerusalem (even running up Mt. Scopus during that marathon) was something I won’t trade for anything. And of course being at the religious events in their spiritual homes (like Christmas in Bethlehem, Easter in Jerusalem, and  Passover in a kibbutz) is beyond words. But ironically it’s what I’ve failed to document in this blog: the people I had met and the stories I had heard, that I will need no help remembering (if you’re reading this and you know who you are – תודה רבה). And also the McFalafel. I won’t forget that either.

These entries aren’t limited to simply Israel, they stretch from Tokyo to Vienna and a couple of places in between. The slideshow below features some of my favorite photos from my one year journey. Thanks for reading.


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Shalom Yerushalayim

•June 14, 2011 • Leave a Comment

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Friday (June 10th) was Caltech’s graduation (congrats), and my last trip to Jerusalem (and in Israel). It’s the city I visited the most while here and the city I feel I have explored the least. It has affected me as much as Brussels and Los Angeles. There’s so much to do in such a small area, and I didn’t even scratch the surface (literally – see the following posts). It’s such a strange and chaotic city; for the “city of peace,” it isn’t. Everyone is fighting, pushing, shoving, cheating, shouting. But hidden away (or not) are people praying, singing, and worshiping. In some strange way it meshes together and works.

Jerusalem is one of my favorite cities; I’ve enjoyed every trip I’ve made there, and my final one was no exception. It started with the normal bus route from Rehovot, up the Hills of Judah and into the city. The following posts are new places I visited (and discovered – the cisterns aren’t in the tour books), but my trip ended at my favorite spot, which I visit everytime I visit Jerusalem, the roof of the Austrian Hospice, and did some reading and reflection. This will be one of the things I’ll miss when I go back to California (tomorrow).


Lutheran Church of the Redeemer – Jerusalem

•June 14, 2011 • Leave a Comment

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Background: The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer is one of the few Protestant churches in the Old City. It was finished in 1898 and is under the Evangelical Church of Germany. It currently serves local Palestinian Christians.

Impressions: My first stop was the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, one of the easiest churches to spot because it’s so tall. It stands right next to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but dominates the Old City skyline. I walked up the narrow winding steps up the bell tower and saw an amazing view of the Old City. As it’s a long walk up, not many make the ascent and the top is relatively peaceful, a far departure from the streets of the city. Unfortunately the interior is heavily graffiti-ed and it could use some cleaning and renovation.

Queen Helen Coptic Church (Holy Sepulchre Cistern) – Jerusalem

•June 14, 2011 • 1 Comment

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Background: The Queen Helen Coptic Orthodox Church is located adjacent to (behind) the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, near the 8th station. It houses a vast underground cistern that was discovered by Queen Helen and provided water to the Sepulchre.

Impressions: This church wasn’t found in any of my tour books.. I was just lucky enough to stumble upon it when I was walk around the Old City. In the front is a photograph of a giant cave and so I poked my head into the church. Only one orthodox priest and a local were there, and I walked around a bit, trying to find the entrance to the cistern. I walked past a small room, which turned out to be a bathroom, and stuck my head into a long dark tunnel, into which I couldn’t see more than 2 feet before me. When I asked the priest he turned on the light and I walked down farther into what became a huge open lake. The acoustics were amazing. It’s hard to see from the photos but the black was all water. It’s cool that something this big is hiding in the Old City, unknown to a lot of people.

Kidron Valley – Jerusalem

•June 14, 2011 • Leave a Comment

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Background: The Kidron Valley is nestled between the back of the Old City (near the Golden Gate), and the Mount of Olives. In the Bible it is known as the “Valley of Jehoshaphat” (or the Valley where God will judge), and where David fled through from his son Absalom’s rebellion. In the New Testament Christ passes through this valley many times to and from Bethany. The Kidron Valley houses many famous tombs, including the Virgin Mary, the Pillar of Absalom, the Tomb of Benei Hezir, and the Tomb of Zechariah (see photos).

Impressions: After the cistern I ventured out the Lion’s Gate and into the valley. I had crossed it many times before, to and back from the Mount of Olives, and have been to the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, but I never though to go through it, around the city walls. What I saw was great, and I was disappointed I had missed it before. The Pillar of Absalom, Tomb of Benei Hezir, and Tomb of Zechariah are cool; they’re something you’d expect to see in Petra or Cairo, not nestled between Jerusalem neighborhoods. The Pillar of Absalom and Tomb of Zechariah are monoliths and not actual tombs, but they are still cool to gawk at. I walked around them and noticed inscriptions and writings in Hebrew, and two graves behind the Tomb of Zechariah. Walking up back to the Old City gives you a great view of the structures, and of East Jerusalem.

King Solomon’s Quarries (Zedekiah’s Cave) – Jerusalem

•June 14, 2011 • Leave a Comment

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Background: Zedekiah’s Cave, or King Solomon’s Quarries, is a massive underground limestone quarry than runs about five blocks beneath the  Muslim Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. (Note: most sources call it Zedekiah’s Cave, but the sign on the front says King Solomon’s Quarries and I’m going with that). The entrance is natural, the rest was dug out over thousands of years, mining the area for its stones. Herod the Great used the quarry for the Second Temple, and it was later used by Suleiman the Magnificent. The cave was lost for 300 years and then rediscovered in 1854 by an American missionary and his dog. It’s now a small, hidden, (but awesome), tourist attraction, and is used by the Israeli Freemasons, as a ritual site.

Impressions: King Solomon’s Quarries was my last stop. It usually isn’t open on Fridays (it’s operated by Muslims), but I passed by it and saw the door open. I walked in and was told I couldn’t enter (it was closed), but they let me take a couple of photos. Then they let me move in a little further. And then they just let me go in. The cave is huge; it’s much bigger than you would expect, and opens up into various caverns, pathways, and even one with a small waterfall drizzle thing. It’s crazy to think this is underneath the Old City and many people don’t even know it. After about half a kilometer of walking (it gets a little unsettling when you’re the only one in a giant cave in Jerusalem), I reached an abrupt end. There was a small fence where it seemed like the excavating just stopped. And then you realize what’s on the other side of that rock is probably even more amazing than anything above. But because excavations under the Temple Mount and into the Temple are forbidden (by everyone), we’ll probably never get to see it. But all in all, the caves are an amazing place to go to, especially because it’s hidden away underneath the Old City, and no one really knows about it or thinks to go there.


•June 12, 2011 • Leave a Comment

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Background: The Herodium, known by Crusaders as the “Mountain of Franks” and by the Arabs as “Mountain of Paradise,” is a volcano like hill near Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Herod the Great built a fortress palace on top of the mount commemorating his victory over the Parthians there in 40 BCE. It was later destroyed by the Romans in 71 CE, and used again during the Bar Kokhba revolt (from which the remains of a synagogue are still visible). In 2007, excavations led by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem reported to have found the tomb of Herod, and excavations are still going on.

Impressions: The ruins of Herodium are impressive but not more so than that of Caesarea. At the base of the mountain is a large collection of pillars and the remains of a pool, used for swimming and mock naval battles (last photos). But what makes Herodium special is the ruins on the top of the mount, dug into the mountain itself. Your visit starts midway up the mountain and you walk along the upper ridge to get a whole view of the ruins within the sunken summit. The fortress was really built within the mountain, instead of on top. Within are ancient warehouses, a palace, and a synagogue. A set of tunnels takes you down into the mountain itself. The interior of the mountain is a hive of cisterns and tunnels which are impressively built and cool to see.