Jerusalem is old. Really old. 4,000 years old. Even if something is brand new they still cover it in white limestone so it looks old, which means everything is white and chiseled, small and old. You can get a sense of this in all of the photos here. The students hit the market like a swarm of locusts in a land of honey. Fruits like figs and dates, big loaves of Hollah bread, pastries, and spices of all colors and smells; all are for sale and elbow to elbow you bargain for every sweet, salty or shiny thing you see.
The Western Wall during Shabbat has to be experienced to be understood. The power of so many prayers has a physical presence; a weight of words, a wall of grief, love, hope, and honor built higher than the mere physical walls you can see. To touch the wall, to place your prayer, to breathe your words into the wall is one of the most deeply spiritual moments of my life. If you can come to Jerusalem, come on a Friday and no matter what your faith, or lack there of, go to the wall and take in all that you see there.
If Jerusalem is cream and white then Masada and the desert is brown, red and gold. As you crest a hill leaving Jerusalem all color is sucked out of the world and you are left with the sand, rocks and brown scrub of an alien landscape. Traveling through the desert small villages of Bedouin appear and you can see herds of goats and camels in the distance. The blue and white of their clothes stand out against the rocks.
Masada is a place that has layers of history (just like the rest of Israel). You can see the paint from the palace that first stood there still on the walls and admire the tiles pressed into the floors. You can see the baths added by the rebels who dismantled the swimming pool. You can also see part of the ramp and the walls of the Roman camps surrounding the citadel and feel the question hovering in the air. Which would you choose? Death or slavery? Beautiful, somber, and hot the dust of Masada swirls around your legs and coats your shoes with history.
My favorite part of the trip was my first glimpse of the Dead Sea. Calm and blue with a white ring from the salt that washes up onto the brown rocky beaches, you want to dive in to escape the sun, to embrace to turquoise blue and search for salt crystals on the bottom. However, to get the water on your face and in your eyes is not advised, so most float in the water, or coat themselves in mud and bake in the sun. When we went it was cool, but not cold and just warm enough that a dip in the sea was refreshing. Many of us wished we had been smart enough to bring water shoes to protect our feet from the rocks. This is a must for next year.
One thing that Jerusalem impressed upon me are the bright colors that pop up at the oddest moments. Against the white and cream walls, the black and white of the orthodox Jews, and the dust of centuries any bright color attracts the attention. The yellow scarf wrapped on a woman's head, the red of Marielle and Isela's twin shirts, or the glint of light from a ring flashing to emphasis the Hebrew spoken, Jerusalem is a place of flashes of color, passion, and somber prayer.