Uneasy Peace

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.”

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author
June Rogers is Canadian journalist. She recently graduated from the University of Toronto’s Creative Writing program. Her non-fiction has appeared in Maclean's, Chatelaine, enRoute, the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star.
4 Responses
  1. author

    Carolyn Taylor-Watts10 months ago

    June, is is wonderful, beautifully written and intertwined with a simple and clear history. Well done!

    Reply
  2. author

    Lucinda10 months ago

    June,
    Such a well written historical account–your descriptions were visual and beautiful–your dialogue, a wonderful device for moving the story forward. I was completely absorbed from the moment of reading your powerful opening to the end. Congratulations.

    Reply
  3. author

    Kalman10 months ago

    This is a wonderful story that threads together history, geography, religion, politics and culture in a complex quilt that is Jerusalem. June’s evocative tale of visiting the Holy City is well-written and a joy to read. Mazel Tov!

    Reply
  4. author

    Irina Yakobson10 months ago

    You chose a very interesting subject to write about. Interesting for me 🙂 Also I like the way you show it – from outside. All the way through reading I was hoping they will not go there.

    And this question has been haunting me for years: ““Why would they want to leave the relative safety of their home countries?” she asked.”

    This description is amazing, I can feel the taste: “At the old Mahane Yehuda market, hawkers, vendors, and beggars clamored for their attention. She sampled sweet halvah made from sesame paste, honey and a variety of fillings such as pistachios or cashews. She gawked at softball-sized artichokes and fresh pomegranates cracked open to reveal their ruby seeds. She drank chalky goat’s milk mixed with secret Yemeni health elixirs.”

    I recognize that exact feeling: “She felt cold in the hot sun.”

    Reply

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