By Mehdy Ghannad
We made our way upstairs to the common area to have a bite. It was a full house of backpackers eating away, up early and excited to get out into Jerusalem to enjoy another sunny day in Israel. We signed up to take a free walking tour in the Old City with a company called Sandeman’s New Europe Tours, which has clearly expanded since their inception. They offer incredibly informative and entertaining tours that only cost what you think the tour guide deserves for a tip. It’s a pretty awesome deal for travelers who aren’t able to cough up loads of cash.
We walked from the hostel and met the group outside of the Jaffa Gate into the Old City. Our guide, Mitch, gave the twenty or so folks in the tour a brief history lesson about the Old City before we walked through the gate and back in time. The tour usually lasts three or so hours and takes you throughout the one square kilometer of the ancient city. We started by first cruising through the Christian Quarter followed by the Muslim Quarter and then on to the Jewish Quarter. We visited a lot of the main sites including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock while also walking through the narrow alleys and markets. We lost the group at the Western Wall and continued on, slowly taking in the melting pot that is the Old City.
We arranged to meet with a Haredim rabbi in an ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem to get a better feel for their way of life. Not too far from the Old City, we met the rabbi in his office for a quick chat about Judaism through the eyes of the Haredim. Believing that all people with different beliefs should live segregated lives, it wasn’t exactly on par with The Hostel Life’s view on life however the rabbi was incredibly warm and engaging and made us feel incredibly welcome. Beyond Judaism we discussed the anomaly of Jerusalem being such a multi-cultural place, with people from different faiths living and traveling there by the masses, but how it also divides the very same people. It is obviously a touchy and rather difficult topic to discuss with anyone, let alone an older, ultra orthodox rabbi, but we were all able to find a bit of common ground in some areas of the conversation, though those commonalities were few and far between.
It was interesting to see the looks on the ultra orthodox children’s faces as we left the office and walked through the neighborhood that is devoted to that way of life. Being a camera crew only made us stand out more! The discussion definitely fueled some rather deep and even confusing thoughts and reactions and we played the rabbi’s words in our minds all the way back to the hostel, not saying much but rather reflecting on how we all look at life and religion and the way we as individuals interact with each other.
We returned to the hostel to make some pasta and get some rest. We had been running around constantly and we were all pretty beat. The spaghetti came and went and we turned in early, ready to pass our last twenty-four hours in Jerusalem before renting a car and hitting the road for a four day road trip through the desert.