Christmas in Jerusalem – Jerusalem

On our way back to Rehovot we made a long stop in Jerusalem to compare what Christmas Day would be like there. The Old City and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre were unexpectedly more crowded. Inside the church there was a quiet Eastern Orthodox service taking place (3, 5), but there was surprisingly nothing else special or extravagant going on. The rest of Jerusalem was quiet. Christmas this year was on a Saturday, and (West) Jerusalem being almost entirely Jewish, was enjoying their Sabbath.  The entire city was shut down and there was no sign of the holidays.

As we walked to the bus station we heard angry shouting and cautiously went to investigate. The source was a group of very orthodox Jews protesting cars driving on the Sabbath (8, 9). They had crowded around an intersection were shouting at the few cars that were driving by as policemen and soldiers restrained them from entering the streets and blocking traffic. The local passersby told us that this happened almost every Saturday, and that sometimes it would turn violent: the Jews would throw rocks at the cars and the police would arrive with horses. We watched for a good amount of time before the sun began to set and we headed home.

Christmas in Israel was an amazing experience. It was by far less commercialized: the vibrant lights and presents and decorations were not in excess. Instead it was much more spiritual; being in Bethlehem focuses you on why you celebrate Christmas. In Bethlehem you see that you can do without the lights and the parties (and the huge dinner). And it’s all the more meaningful that there were so many people willing to travel so far to celebrate something so important to them, amidst the underlying tension and poverty in the area. In the end the fact that it all happened here, feels right because this is the area the arguably needs hope (and tourism) the most. But even though I was in Bethlehem, it didn’t quite feel like Christmas without family.

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~ by jonathanmtsai on December 28, 2010.

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