With the help of our tour guide – Tzvi Goldwag http://goldenisrael.com (pictured here with a map and my daughter, Jenn, assisting to steady the paper) we had three amazing, full-day tours. With a degree in history, and a Tour Guide designation, Tzvi knows all details about Israel, the country he calls home. A devout Jewish father and husband, he is obliging and happy to take you anywhere you want to go to see the sites of his beloved country.
My most memorable tour day was the Old City of Jerusalem, including the City of David, where Tzvi lives with his family. After touring this part of the world I can’t help but think how lucky he is so lucky to be living in this amazing place.
For me, there was the awe of beauty, historical places and learning. For example, I was under the misconception that Israel is considered a “Jewish state” but the Old City in Jerusalem shows us otherwise. This is the place where religions intersect. It is divided into four quarters – Muslim, Armenian, Jewish and Christian. This is one memory you will never forget.
Here is your experience: There is an old man holding out a cup asking for some money. Instead of looking away, like you do in Toronto or most North American cities, you stop and open your wallet. A single shekel (worth about 25 cents US) is like a fortune to this man and he thanks you “Toda Raba” very much.
There are Arab men with donkeys and so many things that make you wonder if the turn of any modern century has ever touched this place. But look around the corner. You see a truck and cars ambling slowly through the twists and turns of the road meant for feet rather than wheels.
Around another corner there is a vendor with small stuffed camels, batteries for your camera and cold bottled water that you desperately want as the hot sun beats down on you. It is a mixture of past and present, with commerce (of course) intertwined.
It doesn’t matter what faith or religion you may practice, or whether you choose not to. When you walk through holy places – Via Dolorosa, the route that Jesus took between his condemnation, crucifixion and burial; the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the room of the last supper, you are awestruck. There are some small whispers inside the church walls but people move slowly and many won’t speak. It doesn’t feel right to talk when you’re surrounded with so much beauty and history.
Later, you go to the Western Wall, where all faiths go to pray – women on one side, men on the other. You tear off a sheet of paper and find a pen and write a quick blessing fold it and put it in a crack overflowing with blessings, then kiss the wall.
The amazing beauty of this part of the world – perhaps the oldest place of recorded history – is overwhelming. And when you look up and back from where you started out, to where you are now, the words recited each year at the conclusion of the Yom Kippur service and the Passover Seder – “Next Year in Jerusalem” – immediately come to mind. And you vow that you will return here again.