Steve and I haven't been big hostel patrons. The idea of sharing a dorm room with 4 or 6 or more young revelers has never appealed to us. But in recent years we've become aware that many hostels offer private rooms, many with private bathrooms. I've also noticed they're showing up more often in the search engines I use such as TripAdvisor and booking.com and in guidebooks like Lonely Planet. One such source made me aware of the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem. The enthusiastic reviews of it, coupled with the high cost of hotel rooms in Israel, prompted me to book a private room for 6 nights there.
When I got up early Sunday morning to blog, I went down to the common room. It was empty, except for a guy who was setting up the breakfast. Although the Swiss Jura was still warming up, he invited me to help myself to hot water and instant coffee. We chatted a bit, and I learned he was the visionary behind the Abraham. He had opened it four years ago, and it was such a huge success, he would be opening a second one in Tel Aviv in about two months.
We've now devoted the last four days to them. Friday we spent pretty much the whole day touring the Old City and the pilgrimage sites that dot the nearby Mt. of Olives: the churches commemorating the spots where Jesus is believed to have ascended to heaven, and the Virgin Mary may be buried…
My feelings about being here in Jerusalem changed noticeably throughout that day. I was raised a Catholic; taught by nuns throughout primary and secondary school. In a sense, I spent part of my childhood in the Holy Land (in my head). Later, in adulthood, I came to understand that all the stories I grew up with were situated in modern Israel, a real place. But it wasn't until our flight from Amman was descending over Israel (9 days ago) that I realized how mythological the Holy Land felt to me. Shortly, I would be walking in the same streets where I'd envisioned Jesus walking, when I was a child. It seemed as weird as an imminent arrival at Mordor International Airport or the King's Landing Hyatt.
When I got my first good look last Friday at the Dome of the Rock (revered by Muslims as one of the holiest places on earth because the Prophet ascended to heaven there) or the Western (aka Wailing) Wall (revered by Jews because of its proximity to where the second temple once stood), I felt that jolt that accompanies seeing a really famous sight for the first time with one's own eyes. But those ancient olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemene affected me differently; they made the mythological garden in my mind melt away, and they took its place. All this has nothing to do with faith; I suspect that a lot of people, both believers and infidels, might react the same way.
It's a progressive experience. A dozen or so mythic Christian sites have now transformed into real ones for me, and there are more to come. I'm starting to feel jaded. And we still haven't been inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (where the crucifixion and resurrection are believed to have occurred.) We'll do that tomorrow. In the last three days, we shifted our attention away from the Bible and to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (first) and some of Israel's most famous natural wonders (second). Those deserve posts of their own.