The world as seen through the eyes of a child can offer valuable insights into a how things might be. It can often be a simpler world, one which is more positive, and there is a greater sense of awe. In one such instance, my grandson made a biblical report on a recent visit to Israel. He was amazed by Jewish hospitality — even though most Indians are caught in a quagmire, since India has been the big supporter of the Palestine struggle.
My grandson, Apratim Acharyya (12) is a student of VII Standard, in the Amity International School, New Delhi, India, and has an in-born eagerness in digging at depth into global mythology, having been born in a country where mythology plays an important role in religion. Following is his report, which I believe you will enjoy.
By Apratim Acharyya
There are many countries in the world which are well-known and famous for some of their heritage and historical sites. The Taj Mahal in Agra, the Amber Fort in Jaipur, Red Fort in New Delhi, Meenakshi temple in the south, to name a few, are some famous historical sites.
While I have had the good fortune to visit a few, the list can be endless and one’s lifetime may not be enough to see all of them. That’s because besides the historical sites, we have ancient temples, monuments and so much history steeped in it that visiting it once is certainly not enough.
I have held a keen interest in following and studying history from my childhood days. So, when my family decided to go for a vacation to Israel, I was thrilled and ecstatic. Israel as we all know, is one of if not the most religious places in the world.
There was a lot of thought and planning that went into deciding where all we will go as we only had a little over a week to see the rich historical sites. I helped my parents in zeroing in on the must-see places; the reason for that being that I have been reading the stories of Bible and knew the Old and the New Testament thoroughly. I can’t say that I am a voracious reader but if there is something that piques my interest, I can be quite dogged about it.
Finally, the day of our trip had arrived, and I cannot begin to tell you about the excitement and the joy I was experiencing. Our flight from New Delhi was at 17:00 hrs and we were in the airport good three hours prior to our departure. We quickly completed the mandatory formalities at the airport, boarded the plane and I grabbed the window seat. My grandparents were also travelling with us. It was a 7-hour flight; we finally landed at 8:00 PM (local time). It was actually 11:30 pm, by my watch, since Israel is 3.5 hours behind India.
The Jewish hospitality and the love that they have for India was something that I had heard about. And now it was time to experience it. As soon as we landed in Tel Aviv, collected our luggage, and stood in the immigration queue (which was quite long); few officers approached us and seeing that we were travelling with elderly folks, they immediately took us to the front of the queue and processed our visas at the speed of light. ‘
Our trip was to begin from Jerusalem, so from Tel Aviv we took a cab to our BNB. Our friendly driver Igal was there at the Ben Gurion airport to pick us up. It was a huge Mercedes wagon, super comfy and super luxurious, my first ride in such a huge vehicle. It was an hour drive to Jerusalem from the airport. Even though it was late evening I caught a glimpse of a modern and highly developed country with state-of-the-art infrastructure. The roads were broad, people were driving in their lanes, no one was honking and surprisingly I could not see a single two-wheeler. It was a very different sight from the Delhi traffic that we see every day – disciplined and complaint.
Our BnB was in a posh residency in Jerusalem. It was a beautiful 3-storey bungalow with a lift and a garden. However, since all of us were quite tired after our long journey, we decided to call it a day.
The next morning when I woke up, I realized what a beautiful house it was. There were 3 bedrooms, with an open kitchen and a balcony at the front and at the rear of the apartment which made me feel at home away from home.
We were all set to begin our trip in one of the oldest cities of the world – Jerusalem. The excitement I was feeling could not be expressed in words. First on the agenda was a tour of the old city. We boarded the local bus and reached Damascus gate which was one of the many gates in Israel. The old city is divided in four quarters: the Jewish quarter, Muslim quarter (biggest of the lot), the Christian and the Armenian quarter. As we entered through the gate, we immediately saw how similar it was to India. Like the Sarojini Market in Delhi, there was cacophony as the hawkers were trying to attract people to their restaurants or shops. It was a visual delight and I felt like Aladdin roaming the bazaars of Arabia. The narrow alleys, the aroma of kebabs and spices, the sweet shops selling baklavas and kunefe and the familiar aroma of coffee were all creating a buzz in my head. We looked around a bit and decided to stop for a snack. The shawarma was juicy and delectable, and we hogged at them. The shopkeeper saw our animated behaviour and offered us a free orange and pomegranate juice. It was cool and refreshing and rejuvenated us for the long walk ahead.
Via Dolorosa – This is the very path where Jesus Christ walked with the cross on his back wearing a crown of thorns. The local guide helped us explore this path of rich history. This path traverses fourteen stops which Jesus made on his way to crucifixion. Our first stop was an unassuming souvenir shop, which we didn’t know was Jesus Christ’s first of the 14 stops. There was a small chapel next to the shop and after some persuasion from my father I decided to go inside. The chapel was small and humid, there were some glass paintings. The guide explained that this was the place where Jesus was being held before his trial. The governor of Jerusalem at that time was Pilate. Since he did not want to meddle in the affairs of the trial, he washed his hands off from the decision-making process. It was here that the verdict was passed that Jesus would be crucified with two other robbers Gestas who was on the cross to the left of Jesus and Dismas was on the cross to the right of Jesus. With this information we headed out in the search of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where the tomb of Jesus lay.
The church is revered as one of the holiest shrines as the events that happened here determined the course of history. The interior was dark, was decorated with candles, and there were hundreds of paintings of Jesus on the cross, Jesus being buried and more. It emitted an eerie feeling. Since this was an important site from a religious and historic point of view, people had queued up waiting for their turn to see the messiah’s tomb. We were told that this queue was nothing compared to one which could be seen on Christmas or Good Friday. After standing in the queue for close to 45 minutes we entered the room where the coffin of Jesus was kept. I was filled with grief and despair at the very sight of the tomb. It was as if I was witnessing the slow death process live. What a nightmare it must have been to see Jesus Christ being crucified with the two robbers being on the same platform as him. A heart wrenching and overwhelming experience it was for me, etched in my memory.
The next day our plan was to visit the Church of the Nativity, the place where Jesus was born. The Church of the Nativity is located in Bethlehem which is in present day Palestine. It is operated and overseen by three separate Christian denominations: the Armenian Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church. This is the result of complicated political and cultural shifts over the years and long negotiations. The church has many paintings of Mother Mary, the mother of Jesus. However, two paintings stood out for me, in one of them the Mother Mary is depicted as sad holding Jesus in her arms and in the other Mary is looking happy holding him. I asked the guide, and he explained that one of the paintings was Mary of Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified and the other one was Mary of Bethlehem where Jesus was born. The first Mary (Mary of Bethlehem) was happy because she had just conceived the son of God, the second Mary (Mary of Jerusalem) was sad because she had just seen her boy die. How true!
Inside the church there is a small cave which was the actual birthplace of Jesus. We had to bend double to enter the cave. The crevice where Jesus was conceived was even smaller, regardless, the sight of the small hole where Jesus was born was a sight, we knew we would see once in a lifetime and taking advantage of that thought we took hundreds of pictures. We touched and felt the holy place; a star was made. The tour guide then invited us at his house for a cup of tea. The tea was excellent and we bought small souvenirs from the shop next door.
Th next day we went to see the Wailing Wall or the Western Wall, or the “Kotel”, which is the most religious site in the world for the Jewish people. Located in the Old City of Jerusalem, it is the last remaining outer wall of the ancient Jewish temple, and an incredibly important site of modern Israeli history. a wall which was destroyed then built again and again destroyed. The wall is the remains of the biggest temple in Jewish culture that was built by Solomon the Wise. Since it was the wailing wall people were crying and banging their heads against it, a way of paying respect to the departed. Jewish people have been praying at the wall for two thousand years and travel from around the world to gather and pray at this holy site. Jews pray facing the wall three times daily, often in tears which is why some refer to the wall as the “Wailing Wall”.
We roamed in the Muslim and Christian quarters. There were a lot of shops selling clothes, Israeli sweets and even musical instruments. My mother was buying things left and right. It was really a sight to see.
Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus was next on our list. Jesus as we all know, came from a humble background. He grew up in Nazareth, the northern part of Israel. This old town is the cradle of Christianity, the city where, according to tradition, the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit (The Basilica of the Annunciation) and the place where Jesus spent his childhood and youth. There are so many stories about this place. We saw the place where Jesus had turned water into wine in a wedding. The church in which he did this miracle is still used for weddings and renewing wedding vows. Incidentally it was my parents wedding anniversary that day (27th November) but they said they did not believe in renewing marriage vows! But apart from all the religious adventures we also went to many fun places. A trip to Nazareth is incomplete without a visit to the Sea of Galilee – called Lake Tiberias or Kinneret, a freshwater lake in Israel. The fabled Sea of Galilee is where Christians believe Jesus walked on water, calmed the storm, and made Peter and Andrew into “fishers of men.” It’s where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. And it’s where Jesus fed the masses with a few loaves and fish and gave his Sermon on the Mount.
Dead Sea – the only sea on earth which is below sea level. We dipped our feet in the world’s lowest and the saltiest ocean. Swimming in its waters can be dangerous due to its high salt content and strong currents. It is called the Dead Sea as most of the sea organisms are not able to survive due to the extreme saline levels of the sea. The sea is bordered by Jordan on one side and Israel on the other. It is considered the world’s best spa and Queen Cleopatra is rumoured to have taken bath here which was the secret behind her unmatchable beauty.
My friends now you understand what a beautiful and memorable trip it was. After spending eight days of fun and religious activities I learnt something important – the world is full of religious places, and we must cherish and respect all. We may or may not have the good luck of visiting all of them but whenever we visit these places, we must cherish these beautiful moments and the experience as a whole. This will always help us to respect our past and remind us of the important role they play in shaping us as individuals and help us grow.
*Apratim Acharyya, Amity International School (Class VII) Pushp Vihar, New Delhi.