14 Best Things To Do In Jerusalem

An Introduction To The Ancient City Of Jerusalem (45)

Depending on who you speak to, you’ll get lots of different explanations as to why Jerusalem is so important, who the city belongs to and even what the most important place in the city is. One thing everyone can agree on though is that Jerusalem is one of the oldest and most important religious cities in the world.

Jerusalem has a history that spans across millennia, a lot of which is there to explore and experience in the city, making it not just an important spot if you’re religious but also if you have even the slightest interest in history.

One of the biggest surprises of visiting though was definitely seeing how the city’s varied history brought together three distinctly different religions and how the city is important to each one. Typically religious sites in most other places across the world tend to be more important to just one religion, not several all at once and especially so not with how important and highly revered the city is to each religion.

 

Then there’s how beautiful it is too! In some ways, it feels like walking back in time with buildings here that are thousands of years old – except, of course, updated and preserved for modern times.

Suffice to say, a visit to the city is one that you absolutely have to add to your travel plans. Oh, and while you’re here, I’d recommend getting a guide.  You can easily explore without one but there’s so much detail to the city (for instance, the Via Dolorosa below) that you might perhaps otherwise miss if you just wanted around for the first time without know where you’re going to.

Rather than carrying on about how amazing the Jerusalem is, let me show you exactly what I mean, as well as the very best things to do in Jerusalem when you visit.

1.) Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered to be the holiest site in the world for Christians and is reported to be built on the place that Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and resurrected.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered to be the holiest site in the world for Christians and is reported to be built on the place that Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and resurrected.

The building as it stands was built and destroyed several times over thousands of years with what exists now being a rather huge and impressive church.

Given its huge significance, be prepared to queue here if you want to see most of the main sights in the church with some queues lasting hours – especially so the queue to see Jesus’s tomb where he resurrected from.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is also the most important and final spot on from the Via Dolorosa pilgrimage (which I’ll explain further below).

2.) The Western Wall or The Wailing Wall

The Western Wall is actually what’s left of an ancient temple of Jerusalem and is a hugely hallowed site for people of the Jewish faith, Christians and Muslims. The wall was first constructed around 19BCE and is easily one of the oldest places to visit in Jerusalem.

When you visit, there are separate sections for men and women – with men having to cover their heads; women don’t have the same requirement though they need to cover their shoulders and legs.

There’s a whole etiquette to visiting which, while not enforced (e.g. taking a few steps away from the wall, walking backwards so you don’t turn your back to it) is greatly appreciated as this is an important and much-revered site in Jerusalem (having a guide here was invaluable because the knowledge and details provided here really helps you understand why the Western Wall is so important to so many people).

3.) The Temple Mount or Haram esh-Sharif

Haram esh-Sharif is considered to be one of the holiest sites in Jerusalem – revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims for multiple reasons. I’d attempt to go into each one but I feel like Wikipedia might best serve this purpose as it’s far too long and too detailed to get into here.

It is worth noting that this is one of the harder places to visit in Jerusalem due to its huge importance, making it reserved more for prayer than anything else.

In modern times (i.e. these days), the stunning Dome of the Rock stands proudly on this site and is the most iconic landmark in the city. The central dome of this church glitters with gold and the colorful tiled exterior walls are absolutely beautiful. 

4.) Dome of the Rock

As mentioned before, the Dome of the Rock is actually on the Temple Mount and is an intricately designed Islamic shrine, which – in addition to the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

If you want to visit, be prepared to queue as admission is only allowed in at certain times (it’s used otherwise for religious purposes) and as such, be prepared to set aside a fair bit of time to explore it properly.

5.) Armenian Quarter

Jerusalem has played host to a large Armenian community for many years and this quarter is packed full of charming ancient architecture and historical buildings.

Armenians also know quite a thing or two about pottery and ceramic works so this is a great spot to visit to grab yourself a souvenir. (By the way, there are 4 quarters in total in Jerusalem – the Armenian quarter, the Christian quarter, The Jewish quarter and the Muslim quarter).

The center of the Armenian Quarter is located on the Armenian Patriarchate Road and spreads outwards to include the churches of St. James and St. Mark. This is a fantastic part of the city that is often explored less than the more well-known sites.

6.) Via Dolorosa

 

Another hugely important site for those of the Christians the world over, the Via Dolorosa, or the Way of Sorrow is reported to follow the route that Jesus Christ took when carrying the cross to Golgotha. It follows all the 14 stations of the Cross and when you’re here, you can follow this same route, ergo why this is a hugely important site for Christian pilgrims.

On Fridays, you can actually follow a procession that is led by Franciscan monks through the Via Dolorosa. If you’re there on any other day (or to make the most of this route), it is worth having a guide who can point out each station as you go along.

7.) Christian Quarter

Situated north of the Jaffa Gate and centered around the impressive Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Christian Quarter is an absolute must.

Within the confines of this quarter is a swath of beautiful architecture from various ages, and a myriad of bustling Souks, markets, and pleasant cafes. Notable sites include the Ethiopian Monastery, the Church of St. John the Baptist and the Protestant Christ Church.

8.) The Tower of David

This complex actually has no connection to King David and is also known as the Citadel. Built in 24 BC, this ancient structure has stood proudly for thousands of years and was erected by the notorious King Herod.

Within this structure is the interesting Tower of David Museum that displays the history of the city and its evolution.

It is also possible to climb to the rooftop of the citadel for fantastic views of Jerusalem across to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (Highly recommend it, it’s one of the best views of the city and really helps you get a sense of where everything is.)

9.) Muslim Quarter

If you are looking for a place to shop and experience local life, the Muslim quarter is one of the best places to visit. It’s perhaps the busiest of all the quarters with its bustling markets, busy restaurants and refreshing juice spots to cool off in the heat (it was sooooooo hot when we visited).

Starting at Damascus gate, the Muslim quarter is bursting with activity and is a fantastic place to find a bargain, haggle with the locals or visit the historic Pool of Bethesda.

10.) The Cardo

I was so fascinated and excited about this one as I’d just a few months before, seen the oldest mosaic map in the world (in Jordan) which referred to this spot.

The Cardo essentially was like this long as grand walkway with Roman columns adorning the path and a market bustling all around. The map in Jordan (the Madaba map) even showed the Cardo with the columns it would have had back then.

While you’re there, to get a sense of what this once bustling part of the city looked like, keep an eye out for the mural depicting the old city of Jerusalem.

11.) Jewish Quarter

The Jewish quarter is where you’ll find some of the most important spots to visit in the city e.g. Western Wall and the Cardo, amongst others.

Now while you might not necessarily notice when you switch from one quarter to another here, you do notice a big difference in how the quarters are organized. The Jewish quarter being, perhaps with the exception of the Armenian quarter (and the main sight in it – the Western Wall) being fairly quiet compared to say the busier Muslim and Christian quarters.

If you’re looking for a break from the crowds, this is easily one of the best parts of the city to explore.

12.) Mount Zion

Another hugely significant religious site, Mount Zion is the place where Christ held the Last Supper and where the Virgin Mary lived during the later years of her life. For the Jewish community, this is also the place of King David’s Tomb.

Located on this hill today is a variety of stunning shrines and churches; furthermore, you can also see the expanse of the city on a clear day.

13.) Kidron Valley

Located between Mount Zion and Mount of Olives; this is one of the most ancient parts of Jerusalem. This is the area that both Muslims and Jews believe that the Last Judgment will take place.

Archaeological excavations have found structures dating back as far as 4000 years old and various tunnels and temples are open to exploring such as Warren’s Shaft, Hezekiah’s Tunnel and the Pool of Siloam.

14.) Jaffa Gate

This ancient gate used to be one of the 7 gates into Jerusalem and is quite the architectural masterpiece to behold. It was built in the 1500s and was done in an L-shape as a defensive measure to help slow down attackers.

It’s easily one of the best things to do in Jerusalem you want to get a sense of what it looked like centuries ago and can be done either as you enter Jerusalem or indeed, as you leave.

50 Travel Tips About Armenia

Armenia isn’t on many people’s list of countries to visit. However, if you are considering visiting Armenia soon, you will probably have a few problems finding correct and reliable information. Why? There aren’t many people traveling to Armenia and even less writing about it. That’s why after visiting Armenia we built this list!

50 Travel Tips About Armenia | Armenia And The Locals

#1 Armenia isn’t a “tourist ready” country, but that’s probably just another thing that makes it even more interesting! This doesn’t mean that tourists aren’t welcome since we were always pleasantly received in Armenia. However, the country still lacks many infrastructures to receive big amounts of tourists.

#2 Barely anyone speaks English, only Russian and Armenian. We believe it’s the least English-speaking country we have been to… Communication can be very difficult, though it’s manageable.

#3 Armenia is a very dry country, at least in the Summer. Yellow is the prevailing color and makes it quite scenic 🙂 There’s something about it that’s soothing…

Karahunj Observatory

#4 It’s very mountainous or else wouldn’t be a Caucasus country… The mountains aren’t as high as its neighboring Georgia but the whole country is marked by mountains, gorges, and valleys.

#5 There are more Armenians outside Armenia than in the country! In fact, there are almost 3 times more Armenians outside Armenia (8M) than living in Armenia (3M)! This happened due to the Armenian Diaspora.

#6 During WWI the Ottoman Government (nowadays Turkey) killed 1-1.5 M Armenians in what it’s called the Armenian Genocide or Armenian Holocaust. Until today Turkey does not recognize what happened as a Genocide.

#7 Armenia is considered the first Christian country! Christianity was implemented as the state religion in 301 A.D. Though it was introduced in Armenia even earlier, during the 1st century by Christ’s disciples Bartholomew and Thaddeus. They are known as the “Illuminators of the Armenian world”. Even today Armenia is still a very conservative and religious country, 95 % of the population is Armenian Apostolic.

#8 Armenia (and Georgia) connects Europe and Asia. For centuries was a center of trade between continents and the epicenter of many wars! It has been attacked and invaded by the Greeks, Mongols, Persians, Turks, Russians, etc…

#9 However, today Armenia is a geopolitical hotspot! It has no access to the ocean and has a conflict with many of their neighboring countries. It has no relation with Turkey and Azerbaijan. Iran to the south mostly supports their fellow Islamic countries. This leaves only Georgia,  who wasn’t too happy with their support to Russia during the recent war…

In Armenia, you get some astonishing views

#10 All this made Armenia’s economic struggle and made Armenia’s transition to a market economy more difficult. Though, Armenia is still a very poor country!

#11 However, don’t feel discouraged Armenia is a stable and safe country. Moreover, it feels safe… As a tourist, I always felt relaxed and comfortable, almost as in Georgia or Western Europe.

The famous cascade in Yerevan

 

Travel In Armenia And The Tourists

#12 Armenia is one of the least touristy countries in Europe. Out of the few tourists they host, even fewer are western backpackers… We only saw a handful of them.

Armenia has so many cool things to do and see, yet has so few visitors…

#13 Even in the peak season, in the biggest tourist attractions, we only saw a few tourists and no queues. It was great not being overwhelmed by people everywhere we went

#14 If you are planning an overland trip be aware that Armenia borders are closed with both Turkey and Azerbaijan. If you want to go to any of these countries your best option is to go through Georgia.

#15 While traveling through Armenia, one thing will catch your eyes… Half the country seems to have been abandoned to their own fate… There are way too many half-deserted towns with buildings falling apart.

#16 Yerevan is the exception, the center is much more developed than the rest of the country. It’s known as the pink city because of the color of the stones of the beautiful old and new buildings. Yerevan is a buzzing city and very pleasant to walk around both during the day and at night!

#17 If we had to choose the best travel attraction of Armenia, that would be the Tatev monastery and the Wings of Tatev aerial roadway! The Tatev monastery is amazing and situated in an incredibly scenic mountain range, which you can appreciate from the Wings of Tatev.

The gorgeous Tatev Monastery

 

#18 Mount Ararat is a very important part of Armenian National identity, however, it’s nowadays part of Turkish territory! Though you can see it from Armenia and it’s an incredible view that allows some amazing pictures particularly from Khor Virap! Unfortunately, when we were closer to it, there was a strong fog ruining the pictures

Khor Virap, with Mount Ararat behind – unfortunately it was a bit foggy

#19 Sevan Lake is the biggest lake in Armenia and occupies 5% of the territory! We read how beautiful it was and that it’s a beach destination within Armenia… Well, the lake is impressive and being 1900-meters high makes it rather unique, however, most of the surrounding felt abandoned! it definitely wasn’t a place where we wanted to beach…

Sevan Lake

#20 Moreover, the town of Sevan itself was probably the worst place we have been in Armenia! Felt completely abandoned and with nothing to do… I would suggest visiting the lake as a stopover on a road trip, but nothing more!

#21 Armenia is the place to go if you want to see unique monasteries in a beautiful setting, usually hidden away in the Mountains. The most interesting we visited were Noravank, Tatev, and Geghard. Khor Virap isn’t that impressive by itself, but the view of Ararat is incredible! We also went to Etchmiadzin, which is supposedly the first cathedral ever built (between 301-303)!

Just one example of the many Armenian Monasteries

 

Food And Drinks In Armenia

#22 Armenian food is pretty cheap, even in restaurants. With 5-10 Euros one couple can have a very good meal at a nice restaurant.

#23 However, it isn’t easy to find quick meals or fast food. Definitely, the country isn’t prepared for travelers… We ended up going to supermarkets and buying supplies to being able to eat “on the road”.

#24 Lavash is the staple bread in Armenia. When you ask for bread, usually you get Lavash. It’s a soft, thin flatbread. “Lavash, the preparation, meaning, and appearance of traditional bread as an expression of culture in Armenia” was inscribed in the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

#25 The best things we tried in Armenia were Zhingyalov hats and Dolma. Zhingyalov hats are flatbread stuffed with finely diced herbs and green vegetables. Dolma is a dish of minced meat wrapped in grape leaves.

#26 Be careful when you ask for a Lemonade! It may not be what you expect… We learned that, in Armenia, a Lemonade is Soda, and it doesn’t have to be a Lemon Soda! You can easily have a pear or Tarragon (Yeap…) Lemonade! 🙂

#27 Fruit (fresh and dried) is very good in Armenia, particularly peaches and figs! You will also see lots of melons and watermelons…  Enjoy them, it’s a great way to eat some healthy food during the trips!

We love buying fruit and veggies from street vendors – Armenia was no exception

Money And Expenses In Armenia

#28 Overall Armenia is a very cheap country to travel in! Food, accommodation, fuel, and tickets to attractions are all very inexpensive. Overall, in 5 days we only spent 190 Euros, which means less than 20 Euros per person per day. This doesn’t include the car rental!

#29 You can withdraw money from almost any ATM with your foreign card, without extra fees! It’s similar to Georgia and very different (better!) from SE Asia! Note: We are talking about the local ATM fees, not the fees charged by your bank… those depend only on your bank!

#30 The problem is that in most places it can be difficult to find ATMs! I would advise you to take a few extra Eur/USD just in case you need an alternative… The exception is Yerevan, where there’s ATM everywhere like you would expect in a big capital city.

#31 Accommodation is also very cheap! It’s fairly easy to find a private double room in a nice guesthouse under 20 Euros. Most of the times we ended up paying about 15 Euros per night.

breakfast in Armenia

#32 Expect to pay an added service fee of 10% in every restaurant. That information is usually on the menu. Besides, even with this small added tax, meals are very cheap in Armenian restaurants.

#33 Cash is King in Armenia. Many places only accept cash, even some that have Visa’s and Mastercard’s signs (no internet, no service or any other problem).

Most supermarkets and big restaurants/hotels are exceptions. Almost every guest house will have to be paid in cash and you can’t even pay with a card when booking.

How To Travel In Armenia

 

#34 Roads in Armenia are terrible, much worse than in Georgia. They are full of potholes, even some of the main roads that connect the country. Also, be aware that just because a road is considered a highway or a main road doesn’t mean that is any good, or even paved… You may need to drive gravel in places you won’t expect it!

#35 Therefore, you cannot blindly trust Google Maps (or maps me) expected time or you’ll be in for a bad time! In our experience, add 30 – 50% to the ETA to be safe…

Roads in Armenia are a hassle…

#36 However, you don’t have to drive a 4 x 4 / SUV! It will make your journey more pleasant and allow you to go to more extreme places, but most of the usual destinations can be reached with a normal car. We did it with a small Toyota and it was OK.

#37 If the roads terrible, drivers are even worse… mostly because they are impatient and will overtake you in the craziest places. We think they are more reckless than actually aggressive. Anyway, it can be dangerous and if you are driving you should be aware of it. Our experience driving in Angola was very, very useful 🙂

Out of nowhere, the road becomes like this…

#38 Fuel is very cheap at half the price of western Europe countries, which is great for road trippers!

#39 In Armenia you can (or may really need to) fill up your car in these pumps… how cool is that? 🙂

#40 Armenia is part of the silk road and one of its most famous passes was the Selim pass (now called Orbelian’s pass). The scenery is amazing and the road is actually good and enjoyable to drive in. Selim pass goes as high as 2410 meters!

#41 If you are planning to drive in Armenia please note that there are way too many speed cameras on the main roads! In almost every small town you’ll see one, or several! We didn’t get any ticket, however, be careful because they usually enforce the speed limit.

Beautiful open Road in Armenia…

#42 If you are planning to bring a car from Georgia to Armenia you will need a cross-border authorization to cross the border to Armenia. It’s a document from the car rental authorizing you to take the car to Armenia in Georgian and translated to Armenian! It will cost at least 50 USD and you’ll probably need to request it 1 or 2 days in advance.

#43 Additionally you will also need to buy car insurance in Armenia, but you’ll need to buy it in Armenia. Right after crossing the border you’ll find many places selling insurance. Just stop and buy it. It’ll probably cost 10-15 USD.

Other Travel Information About Armenia

#44 In Armenia you’ll find free WIFI everywhere, restaurants, bars, hotels, guesthouses, and even some tourist attractions! However, if you want you can also easily buy a sim card close to the borders. We didn’t buy and didn’t miss it!

#45 Armenia uses the power sockets and plugs of type C and F, with a standard voltage of 230 V and a frequency of 50 Hz. Type C plug is usually called the Euro socket as it’s used in almost every country in Continental Europe. If you need to buy an adapter, we recommend this one.

#46 Do you need a visa to enter Armenia? Probably not. The citizens of many countries are exempted from visa: the US, most EU, the UK, Australia, etc.. Curiously, not Canada… Both Canadians and Indians need a visa on arrival. Nevertheless, have a look here for the lists of countries that exempted countries, visa on arrival, and visa requests.

#47 If you can buy products on the side of the road. This way you will get great products at very reasonable prices and it will directly help the local economy! Fruits, nuts, honey, and wine are some of the great things you can buy…

Another street vendor – this time it was honey

#48 Be aware that the working day starts very late… There’s nothing open before 9:00… However, at night many things come to live, particularly in Yerevan.

#49 Crossing borders between Georgia and Armenia is perfectly easy and fairly quick. One time took us 30 minutes, the other for almost 2 hours. But most importantly it was peaceful and without any “problems” from the Police. We were particularly worried about the Brava Border (because it’s very small) but it was very simple and without any trouble!

#50 If you want to travel to a country that it’s still off the radar of tourism, visiting Armenia is probably one of your best options! It’s safe, cheap, relaxed, fairly easy to travel. It has many interesting destinations and unique culture and history!

Garni Temple, close to Yerevan

 

10 Most Beautiful Churches in Armenia That You Must Visit

Armenia being one of the oldest countries in the world was also the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion back in 301 AD (that’s more than 1,700 years ago!). Its millennium old monasteries can usually be found situated on highlands among-st picturesque landscapes where they are less vulnerable to attacks. Armenia, also known as the “land of churches”, has around 4,000 monasteries and churches. Here’s our curated list in random order for the 10 most beautiful churches in Armenia that you must visit at least once in your life!

1. Khor Virap Monastery

It’s no wonder why Khor Virap is one of the favorite attractions of most travelers in Armenia. The majestic Mt Ararat positioned right behind the church makes a fantastic backdrop for a panorama view of the church. The locals also believed that Mt Ararat protected the monastery against a strong earthquake in the past.

                               The absolutely stunning Khor Virap against the majestic Mt. Ararat.

It is believed that St Gregory the illuminator was imprisoned here in this dungeon was dug 7-8 meters underground for his preaching of Christianity to the people in Armenia. It was such a miracle that despite being imprisoned for 13 years, he was still alive when they found him. It turned out that throughout the years, there was this Christian lady who continued to give him some bread surreptitiously.

Tip: For those who are claustrophobic, it’s advisable to not enter the pit. It was quite challenging climbing down the vertical ladder into the pit.

The pit where St. Gregory the Illiminator was imprisoned for 13 years

2. Noravank Monastery

This monastery is most famous for its two-story church whereby you will have to climb up to the main entrance via a narrow staircase made from stones jutting out from the face of building.

 

 

3. Echimiazin Armenian Apostolic Church

This was the first cathedral that was ever built in Armenia and also the oldest cathedral in the world. Sadly the main church building has been under construction for the past few years, hence we were not able to get a nice shot of it. The photo below shows the main entrance to this Church. This place was also the headquarter for all the churches in Armenia.

And yes, this is the majestic view of the Echmiadzin church in summer when it was not under any renovation. Very beautiful right?

4. Zvartnots Ruins

Zvartnots is also known as the “temple of ruins” and it is listed as a UNESCO heritage site. This place was the first circular 3 story church built back in the 6th century which only lasted for 3 centuries before it was destroyed by an earthquake. Some of the pillars and the altar of the church were relatively well preserved and you could also still see its exterior circular architecture.  The Armenians later learnt to built more stable rectangular based churches instead of circular shaped

5. Geghard Monastery

This was one of the most interesting and unique monasteries that we’ve seen during our time in Armenia and also my personal favorite. This entire cave monastery was carved inside a rock mountain, how is that even possible back then with limited tools and technology?! Its name “Geghard” means spear and this spear was actually referring to the same spear that was used to pierce Christ after he was being crucified on the cross to check if he was still alive. Many pilgrims head here to see the relic of the “spear” and hence they eventually renamed the monastery to Geghard Monastery (Spear Monastery).

Can you imagine, this entire church was carved inside a rock mountain! Look at the details on the pillars and sides of the walls. Also, the                                                         exact spot where we were standing in the photo below was said to have the best natural acoustics ever. We did try humming a tune and it                                                     immediately sent tingles up our spine! The echo was unbelievable and even the slightest whisper could be heard clearly and beautifully!

 

Remember to try singing a tune at this exact spot if you ever get a chance to be here!

 

6. Sevanakvank monastery

Most people travel to this monastery situated on a hill adjacent to the beautiful Lake Sevan to get a glimpse of the unique green cross stone that was made from limestone. This place was originally built for the priests that have sinned as this monastery was isolated and far away from the city and women. Also, this was one of the only 3 churches in Armenia that has Christ illustrated on the cross stone.

 

The maze on the right of the photo used to be the dormitory for the monks

7. Tatev Monastery

Another stunning fairy tale like monastery that literally took our breath away. This was in fact Daniel’s favourite out of the lot that we’ve seen! But this monastery is definitely more beautiful during summer

During winter, the road that leads up to the spot where you could capture a nice panorama shot of the monastery was too slippery and                                                          dangerous.

                                                 Useful tip: During winter, the cable car that leads up to the monastery only operates on Sat & Sun.

This is the breathtaking panorama view that you can get when you travel here during summer. Super amazing right?! Photo not taken by us obviously since we were there during winter.

8. St Grigor Lusavorich

The St Grigor Lusavorich cathedral is also the symbol of the 1700th anniversary of the proclamation of Christianity as a state religion in Armenia as well as a tribute to St Gregory, the illuminator, who was responsible for introducing Christianity to Armenia. This church is one of the newest church in Armenia and was built only around 6-7 years ago.

Useful tip: Visit this church twice! Once in the day and again at night. This church is particularly beautiful at night after being illuminated by the floodlights.

9. Odzun church

This church was different because of its pink felsite stoned walls. Most of the other churches that we’ve seen were grey/dark colored, so this was indeed quite refreshing for us! Especially with its picturesque setting of the magnificent ridge as the backdrop, this church quickly became one of our favorites.

10. Sanahin monastery complex

The Sanahin Monastery was very impressive because of its remarkable archways. The Sanahin was especially rich in Khachkars (cross stones) where more than 80 of them survived till date. If you’re visiting this complex, do remember to pay more attention to the intricate details on the khachkars. Most of these khachkars depict the traditional cross growing out of a grain with branches at its sides. According to our guide, this symbolizes “life”.

 

 

Spitting on Christians in Jerusalem raises eyebrows

By Mihran Kalaydjian, CHA

Spitting on Christians in Jerusalem raises eyebrows

 

JERUSALEM From his ceramics gallery along Armenian Patriarchate Road, Garo Sandrouni has a sweeping view of one of the Old City of Jerusalem’s longest thoroughfares, stretching from Jaffa Gate deep into the Jewish Quarter.

Jewish worshipers heading to and from the Western Wall jostle for space along the narrow passage with Armenian priests and seminarians, and Sandrouni says about once a week he finds himself breaking up fights between them.

Typically the skirmishes begin when a young yeshiva student spits on or near a group of teenage seminarians, who occasionally respond by beating up their attacker. Several years ago, a young religious man pulled a gun when Sandrouni moved to intervene in a fight.

“Most of the incidents that happen, unfortunately, they happen in front of my store,” said Sandrouni, who more than once has come to the aid of a yeshiva student bloodied after a run-in with a group of seminarians.

“Almost everybody, after the fight, they apologized,” Sandrouni said. “They say, ‘We are sorry. We didn’t know that their reaction would be so strong.’”

Attacks on Christian clergyman in Jerusalem are not a new phenomenon, and may result from an extreme interpretation of the Bible’s injunction to “abhor” idol worshipers. Five years ago, in what many say is the worst incident on record, a crucifix hanging from the neck of the Armenian archbishop, Nourhan Manougian, was broken in the course of an altercation with a yeshiva student who had spit on him.

Christian leaders stress that the problem is not one of Christian-Jewish relations in Israel. Most Israelis, they say, are peaceful and welcoming. In an interview with several Armenian Jerusalemites, they emphasized repeatedly that their relations with the largely religious community in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter are normal.

The assaults, according to George Hintlian, a spokesman for the Armenian community in Jerusalem, are carried out by people from the outside — visitors to Jerusalem from other towns, and even from abroad.

Several people familiar with the issue say the attacks recently have reached epidemic proportions — or at least enough that government officials and Orthodox rabbinic figures have begun to take notice.

A recent meeting between Foreign Ministry officials, the Jerusalem municipality and fervently Orthodox, or haredi, leaders resulted in a statement by Beth Din Tzedek, a haredi rabbinic tribunal, denouncing the phenomenon. In a sign of the ministry’s concern over the issue, both the meeting and the statement were publicized on the Web site of Israel’s diplomatic mission to the Vatican.

“Besides desecrating the Holy Name, which in itself represents a very grave sin, provoking gentiles is, according to our sages — blessed be their holy and righteous memory — forbidden and is liable to bring tragic consequences upon our own community, may God have mercy,” said the statement.

The incident that appears to have gotten the ministry’s attention occurred last September, when a pair of teenage Armenian seminarians reportedly fought with a young yeshiva student who spit on them. Police intervened, arrested the seminarians and referred the matter to the Interior Ministry.

According to Hintlian, the seminarians are now facing deportation — a decision the Armenians have officially protested. Carrying out the order would require the police to seize the boys from their seminary in the Old City, Hintlian said, which likely would result in a public relations disaster.

“It won’t happen easily,” Hintlian said. “They’ll think twice.”

Though they may bear the brunt of the phenomenon, given the proximity of the Armenian and Jewish quarters, cases of spitting are confined neither to Armenian clergy nor the Old City.

Athanasius Macora, a Texas-born Franciscan friar who lives in western Jerusalem, frequently has been the target of spitting during his nearly two decades residing in the Israeli capital.

Macora, whose brown habit easily identifies him as a Christian clergyman, says that while he has not endured any spitting incidents recently, recollections of past incidents started flowing over the course of 30-minute interview.

In a sitting room at Terra Sancta College, where he is the superior, Macora recalled the blond-haired man who spit at him on Agron Street, not far from the U.S. Consulate. Another time, walking with an Armenian priest in the same area, a man in a car opened his window to let the spittle fly. Once it was a group of yeshiva students in the Old City, another time a young girl.

Sometimes the assailants are clad in distinctive haredi garb; other times the attackers are wearing the knitted yarmulkes of the national religious camp. In almost all cases, though, they are young religious men.

A Franciscan church just outside the Old City walls was vandalized recently with anti-Christian graffiti, Macora said.

“I think it’s just a small group of people who are hostile, and a very small group of people,” Macora said. “If I go to offices or other places, a lot of people are very friendly.”

Meanwhile, the Beth Din Tzedek statement, and an earlier one from Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, have impressed the Christians and raised hopes that the spitting may soon end.

“We hope that this problem will be solved one day,” Sandrouni said, “for the sake of mutual coexistence.”