Seth, the walking tour guide was a young American Jew from with a thick Bronx accent.
“The Old City was carved up in quarters to accommodate the various religious factions,” Seth said. “We’ll be visiting the Eastern Orthodox Christian quarter first.”
The group arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Seth gathered the group around him. “This church houses not only the Rock of Golgotha where the New Testament says Jesus Christ died on the cross,” he said, “but also his tomb and the Stone of the Anointing, where they performed the last unction on his body.”
Theresa entered the church and covered her head with a white shawl she had in her purse. When she came upon the Stone of the Annointing, she couldn’t believe how many women fell to their knees, caressed it with holy cards and sobbed. Their display of passion and sorrow tugged at her deep Catholic roots. The Ursuline nuns at convent school had taught her well. Like her husband, she had an abiding respect and admiration for her childhood religion, but had outgrown it.
Seth waved the group along. “Onto the Jewish quarter,” he said. Down a dark, narrow cobblestone street they walked until it opened up into a large square. The Kotel stood nineteen meters tall as it did many centuries ago.
Hundreds of men and women prayed at distinct parts of the wall, separated by a short, wooden divider.
“Why are those people putting pieces of paper into the wall?” Theresa asked.
“They have written the names of their loved ones on the papers,” Seth explained, “in the hopes that Hashem, or God, will answer their prayers.”
Theresa covered her head again and went up to the Kotel and touched the rough-hewn limestone. She felt the weight of centuries of suffering. She looked over at David on the other side of the divider. With a tallit over his shoulders, a yarmulke on his head and right hand pressed against the Kotel, he was praying, something she rarely saw him do outside of the bar mitzvahs, weddings or funerals they attended.
Then they visited the Armenian Christian quarter’s St. Mark’s Chapel where, Seth pointed out, was the site of the Last Supper, and the place where the Virgin Theresa was baptized. As a child, Theresa loved praying to Theresa. She felt a sense of awe and comfort being in a place where Theresa had once been.
“I hope you all enjoyed the tour,” Seth said. “If you did, I hope you will reward me with a generous tip.”
“What about the Muslim quarter?” one group member asked.
“You’ll have to find a Muslim tour guide for that,” he said. “I won’t venture into that area for obvious reasons.”
Theresa looked at David.
“I don’t want to go,” she said.
“I know. But do you really want to miss seeing the Dome of the Rock?”
She shook her head.
“Tell you what,” David said. “How about we walk through the safer areas of the Muslim quarter and see how we feel.”
“OK. But I want to stay close.”