Approximate Read Time: 5 minutes
Excursion Cost: 43.80 NIS or $11.40
Gear: Sony A7II with Sony Sonnar T* 35mm f/2.8
1. Make sure to respectfully dawn a kippah if visiting the Western Wall. They're on offer for free near the base of the wall.
2. Most of the Old City shuts down just after sunset, so make it a daytime trip.
3. If you'd prefer an all-inclusive tour of Jerusalem, bus tours are available from Tel Aviv which include transpiration and a guide.
4. If visiting during Hanukkah, stroll the Jewish quarter after dark with sufganiyot (delicious jelly-filled doughnuts), letting the candle light guide your way.
I arrived nearly at sundown after a bus ride from Tel Aviv, chatting with a Russian expat about her many gripes with life in Jerusalem. She wonders why I'd visit this place on three separate occasions during my travels to Israel. For her, Jerusalem represents an outdated, boring, and often violent place to call home. Her train rides to and from class at The Hebrew University at Jerusalem have been interrupted by a pummeling of stones thrown by Arab inhabitants, resulting at times in reduced service along the train's route. She points out a section of shattered hardened plastic on the door beside us, noting that they often need replacing. I told her that it sounds like the real problem here are the stones. She laughed, and I was glad she kept a sense of humor about it all.
I can certainly understand her concerns. This ancient city holds within it's great walls places of pilgrimage for three of the world's oldest religions. Jews, Muslims, and Christians worship en masse at sites like The Dome of the Rock, The Temple Mount and al-Asqa Mosque, charging the place with an incomparable and tangible fervor, all within a space of 0.9 square kilometers. I've been to larger Barnes and Nobles. The belief is simply too large for the geography.
What's more, some sites of worship like the Temple Mount, are sacred to several religions at once. It's like sharing one TV between three siblings and Power Rangers, Family Matters, and 90210 all come on at 4:30 PM, and mom doesn't come home until about 6 PM, so how are you going to figure this one out? And you BETTER not call and bother her again while she's at work, because that's a guaranteed "mom's-coming-home-pissed" move.
In spite of the differences, I find the religious tolerance remarkable. Unlike my Russian friend, I'm enchanted by this place (with a peppering of anxiety). I happened to find myself here during Hanukkah, so I made certain to head straight to the Western Wall. This last remaining section of a much larger wall built by Herod the Great in 19 BCE is the most sacred place to pray if you're Jewish. Even if you're not Jewish, just pray here. It's that good. Beyond the wall lies the Temple Mount - the site where God's presence is believed to be most powerfully manifested. It also marks the spot where the world as we know it expanded, and where Adam himself was created (Biblical Adam, not Adam Driver of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" or the hit HBO series, "Girls," though his performances in both are admittedly divine.)
Equipped with only a 35mm prime lens, I was forced to get in tight for shots of people. Luckily, they obliged or were too lost in prayer to notice. I felt nearly invisible at times, managing to dip in and out of personal spaces again and again.
After sunset, I set off from the Western Wall to explore the rest of the Jewish Quarter. During Hanukkah, these streets become the center of celebration. Residents place candles in windows, illuminating the narrow corridors and drawing crowds down meandering limestone roads.
How to get there from Tel Aviv:
If coming from the south of Tel Aviv, take the 405 bus from the Central Bus Station. Alternatively, avoid the Central Bus Station madness and take the 480 bus from Arlozoroff Bus Terminal (formerly Tel Aviv 2000 Bus Terminal). Tickets are 16 NIS one-way and can be purchased from the driver.
You'll arrive at Jerusalem Central Bus Station in about an hour. From there, it's a 10 minute ride on the Light Rail to City Hall Station. Tickets for that trip are 5.90 NIS one-way.
Hop off, walk to the Jaffa Gate and get ready to put your religion hat on! Actually, take it off out of respect.
(Consider purchasing a Rav Kav card if making several public transit trips. It's a convenient, reloadable transportation pass that can save some shekel.)