March 18th, 1989
Tel Aviv, Israel
What an incredible day! Met most of our crew in the lobby this morning, including Leslie, who was decked out from head to toe, in various hues of lime green. The tour bus (organized by the hotel concierge but instigated by Leslie) showed up on time and we piled in.
The first stop was in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity, where the queues were long but because we were with a guide, we were able to skip the wait and enter through the Door of Humility. The Church itself was beautiful inside, with huge pillars and I especially liked the Greek Orthodox Chapel with its hundreds of hanging candles.
We made our way to the Grotto of the Nativity and ahead of us I could hushed sobs. The artwork along the way was exquisite and I wanted to touch the rich, mostly red, hanging tapestries but of course doing so was not permitted.
When we reached the place of Jesus’s birth, the only way to see was to get low to the ground and peer in. People from all over the world, kissed the ground and some of them were clearly very overcome with emotion at such a sight. Others prayed quietly and I felt very moved just being in such historic surroundings. I think regardless of your beliefs, it would be difficult not to come away from there with some measure of deep thought.
Outside, the light shone intensely after being in such muted quarters and the market stalls were selling all kinds of paraphernalia. Children were begging and one little boy held his hand out to me. I stuck my hand in my bag to see what I could give him and all of a sudden, Kalmar, our guide and driver, shouted, “get in the bus, get in the bus.” The next second, a rock flew past my head and I instinctively ducked. I made a dash for the bus as did the others and we piled in as fast as we could. Just as Kalmar was screeching out of the square, a rock hit one of the side windows. Someone screamed and we all ducked. A minute later, Kalmar told us we were out of harm’s way and it was safe to sit up. He asked if everyone was ok and our nervous energy prompted much conversation about the conflicts that have long been in existence in that area.
The next stop was in Jerusalem and the only word I can use is breathtaking. Kalmar stopped the bus on a steep hill, from which, the views across the city were just spectacular. I don’t know if it was the after effects of the stoning or the fact we’d just come from the place of Jesus’s birth, but suddenly everyone was very quiet and very still.
From there, Kalmar took us to Jericho, where we saw the Monastery of Temptation, followed by a stop at the Wailing Wall. And there was indeed much wailing. I absolutely loved how expressive people were in their sorrow and again, being in that space felt very moving.
At Mary Magdalene Chapel, goats and camels walked around freely and sadly, more children were begging.
The last stop was at the Dead Sea and the mud, oh the marvelous mud! On this day I decided not to be inhibited about how I look, so I stripped down to my swimsuit. The mud felt absolutely amazing on my skin and then to literally just float on top of it felt fantastic.
On the journey back to the hotel my head was whizzing with all we had seen and I decided to skip dinner with the crew tonight so I could take the time to think about today. I also wanted to write a mega letter to Ben (already did that) and now I’m settling into bed, watching “Nuts.” With Barbara Streisand.