Day 5 with Ecclesia Houston on our Breaking Bread Journeys tour of the Holy Land was a deep dive into Old City Jerusalem. We began with a walk to the Lion’s Gate (called the “Sheep’s Gate” in John’s Gospel) which put us near the start of the Via Dolorosa. Located there is the beautiful Church of St. Anne, built between 1131 and 1138 on top of the site believed to be the childhood home and perhaps the birthplace of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The church possesses mesmerizing acoustics, and this makes the church a pilgrimage site for soloists and choirs, of which we got to hear a few from around the world singing praises in various languages. We contributed our own songs as well!
The church is located right beside the archaeological excavation of the Pool of Bethesda and its collonades mentioned in the 5th Chapter of John’s Gospel. Pastor Chris Seay read to us this Gospel account of the crippled man who had been waiting 38 years to be healed in the pool which was known at the time to have healing powers (“a heavenly messenger would come to stir the water in the pool. Whoever reached the water first and got in after it was agitated would be healed of his or her disease”). Chris mentioned how we have trouble waiting 38 days, much less 38 years.
And I thought about how this crippled man had kept his faith all those years, believing that he could be healed if only he could get in the pool at the right time. And the passage indicates that Jesus knew of this man’s longsuffering spirit in waiting for so many years. I think perhaps that’s why he chose to heal him, to underscore how great this humble man’s faith was. Look at the results of his faith: a visit from the son of God himself, and he was instantly healed. May we all have even half the faith and patience of this man.
After our visit to St. Anne’s, the Pool of Bethesda, and the beautiful gardens therein, we ventured out for a food and market tour of the old city within the walls. Our first stop brought us to Abu Shukri, a cafe famous for its hummus and falafel, located beside Stations of the Cross V on the Via Dolorosa. We then made our way up to the hidden gem of Zalatimo’s Sweets. In a small room with just an oven, a refrigerator, and a few tables, Mr. Zalatimo and his relatives serve up the greatest pastry the Old City has to offer, an Arab treat known as a mutabak (from the Arabic for “folded”). The flaky phyllo dough type creation is the only food served at Zalatimo’s, and ordering is simple: “with nuts” or “with cheese.” The shop also includes another treasure: one of the original entrances to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is now sealed off and no longer used. We wandered a bit more through the Christian Quarter and wound up in the spice market where our group ordered many famous spices to take home.
We then visited a famous photography print shop, known as Elia’s Photo Service. The pictures this Armenian family sell are part of a collection of about 3,000 photographs taken by their late father Elia Kahvedjian, a refugee of the Armenian genocide and one of the greatest photographers in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 20th century. The pictures, which had been hidden away since 1947, were rediscovered by the family just 30 years ago and serve to help researchers and aficionados of Jerusalem probe its past. For a fascinating article on the importance of the photographs, you can read this article. Several of us bought his book, Jerusalem Through My Father’s Eyes, which is a rare and beautiful collector’s item of which I myself am a proud owner!
We then had some free time to wander the city and I found some more scenes to document in the old city. After our free time, we made our way to Chef Moshe Basson’s “The Eucalyptus” restaurant just outside the old city near the Jaffa Gate. Basson is famous worldwide for his revival of the biblical menu. He shared with us several stories of herbs and spices used in biblical times, as he passed these herbs around for us to smell. We then enjoyed an unforgettable meal at his beautiful restaurant.
Last but not least, we ended the night with a visit from Palestinian Christian Wassim Razzouk, whose family has been in the tattoo business in the Old City for over 700 years. It has been a longstanding practice for Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem to get the Jerusalem Cross tattooed as a commemoration of their pilgrimage. Several of the members in our group did just that. To learn more about the fascinating history of the Razzouk family business, you can read an article here.