Lay of the Land
“Jerusalem is a festival and a lamentation. Its song is a sigh across the ages, a delicate, robust, mournful psalm at the great junction of spiritual cultures.”~David K. Shipler
It’s hard to know what to expect from Jerusalem; the city so hotly debated in political circles is also deeply significant for many religions, and upon first inspection, Jerusalem can seem at odds with itself. The vibe is at once quiet and sedate, but also furiously active; a deep spirituality keeps the city tame in terms of nightlife, but there are dynamic interpersonal, or inter-spiritual, interactions.
Set on a plateau in the Judean Mountains, Jerusalem is a holy city for three religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. One of the most fought-over cities in the world, Jerusalem is still caught in a tug-of-war between unrelenting sides. Because of the historical and spiritual significance Jerusalem holds for many cultures, the issue of who has rightful claim to and control of the sacred land is difficult to resolve. Navigating the city is straightforward; the walled-off Old City is the epicenter, and is divided into four quarters, clockwise from the northeast: Muslim, Jewish, Armenian and Christian. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Old City is expectedly breathtaking; visually, emotionally and spiritually. The New City, divided into East and West, lies outside the walls, with most of the luxury hotels within walking distance of the Old City.
Jerusalem is an easy one-hour drive southeast from Tel Aviv—many Israelis make the commute daily—where most international flights arrive. Due to Israel’s compact size, travel within the country is easily done by car. Major sites like the Dead Sea and Bethlehem are a short dive from Jerusalem, and the Negev Desert and Galilee are each just over two hours away by car. Travel within the city can be done on foot or by taxi. (Make sure the meter is running so drivers don’t charge an inflated price. Taxis running on Shabbat abide by a fixed rate.)