Jerusalem: A Walk Through Christian History

St. Mark's Church

The apse of St. Mark’s Syriac Church, a small and very old church in Jerusalem’s Old City

Recently, I have been preparing my next Jerusalem: Meet Jerusalem walking tour, which will focus on Christian Jerusalem for Non-Christians. In the process I have come to explore and discover many of Jerusalem’s churches. Obviously, Jerusalem is a very holy city to Christianity, and there are innumerable churches here, many of them within the approximately one square kilometer surrounded by the Old City walls.

But as I began to explore more, and uncovered some of the lesser known churches here, I became endlessly fascinated by the variety of Christian sects. There are tens of different denominations, split into a number of larger branches of Christianity, many of which are fairly unknown to most people — Christians and non-Christians alike! And of those many sects, tons of them have churches in Jerusalem, including a number of those less known denominations.

I began to organize them all for myself, grouping them into related branches and placing them in the sequence of their various splits from each other. By looking at them this way, I could see the very development of Christianity itself, reflected in the distinctive churches in my city. I soon realized that walking through Jerusalem’s Old City is like a walk through a living museum of Christian history.

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Israel: Land of Diversity

Hedge arch in Akko Baha'i Gardens. Israel.

Take a seat and enjoy the view in the Baha’i Gardens in Akko, surrounding the Shrine of the Baha’ullah

I just finished guiding an American family for the past two weeks, and we traveled all over Israel. We left out the Negev (south) because it is too hot in the middle of August, but beyond that, we pretty much hit the rest of the country and got at least a taste of all of its diverse regions. I designed the itinerary, and when planning an itinerary of this nature, the main guiding principle is going to be geography, i.e. we visit things that are close together on a single day, and move from region to region in logical sequence. In this case, we basically made a circular route, heading from the airport to Tel Aviv, then up the coast, across the Galilee to the Golan Heights and Kineret region, down the Jordan Valley to the Dead Sea, and then to Jerusalem and the Shefelah/Lowlands.

Of course, in designing such a tour, I also aim to present things that show various aspects of what this country has to offer. No one wants to spend two weeks seeing the same things over and over. But it wasn’t until I was on the tour with this family, a few days in, that it hit me just how diverse were the sites we were visiting. I know I’ve discussed Israel’s diversity before, but I was still impressed that we literally visited almost no sites that were redundant with each other.

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ONLY in Israel – Top 5

View Across the Dead Sea. Fun Joel Haber. Israel Tour Guide.

A View Over the Dead Sea from Mount Sodom

Frequently, you hear people comment “Only in Israel,” in response to various things they overhear or see here. Often, it is meant to try to capture some of the unique aspects of the character of the Israeli people. But as we all know, these things don’t only happen in Israel, even if they are somewhat demonstrative and capture the spirit of the country.

For that reason, however, I wanted to write a post about the things that you truly can only see in Israel. Nowhere else in the world. Tour guides typically speak in hyperbolic extremes. I know that I am certainly “guilty” of this at times. We’ll tell you how a spot is the highest, largest, newest or furthest south of its kind. But while those extremes may be interesting, and can be mildly significant, they rarely are very important. They are typically little more than gimmicks to maintain interest.

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This is Not a Political Post

Mughrabi Bridge, Jerusalem, Old City. Israel tour guide. Fun Joel Haber.

The Temporary Mughrabi Bridge in the Plaza of the Western Wall (photo courtesy of Flickr user Ariela R.)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I hate politics.

But living in Israel and working in the field of tourism, it is fairly difficult to completely avoid dealing with political issues. Nearly every visitor has heard things about the political situation and/or sees things that relate to the issue. So they will inevitably ask some questions.

And it would not be right for me to ignore these questions. So the way I handle them is to respond in as objective a manner as possible, all the while recognizing and admitting that it is actually impossible for anyone to be truly objective. I try to relate the facts as I see them, and try to keep my opinions out of things. When Israel does or has done something wrong, I admit them. But when I see lies or misrepresentations that damage Israel’s image, I will speak out against them as well.

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Top 10 Things to Do in Jerusalem – Part 1

Jerusalem Old City.

The Old City of Jerusalem

I love lists like this, where people list the top things to do in a certain place. But I find that often those lists are just a rehashing of the tourist sites you can find in any Lonely Planet, Let’s Go or Fodor’s Guide. And other times they list a number of places that barely scratch the surface of the location.

So I wanted to do something a bit different with this post. This is not a list of ten places to visit in the Holy City of Jerusalem. This is going to go a little bit deeper. I want to give you some things to do so that you really get a feel for what life in Jerusalem is like. So I have chosen ten categories of things that will help you feel like a Jerusalemite while also seeing, smelling, hearing and tasting everything that my wonderful city has to offer!

Due to length, I’m splitting this post into 3 parts. Now, in no particular order…

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Israel Mystery Photo #10

Another Israel Mystery Photo. Picture. Tourism. Tourguide. Tour Guide. Joel Haber. Fun Joel.

Look familiar? Many of you have seen this before! Guess where it is!

That time again… Another Israel Mystery Photo. This one is one that I think many of you have probably seen but perhaps didn’t look that closely at. So I look forward to seeing how many of you can recognize it, and also to telling you about it in the next Israel Mystery Photo post!

But what about last week’s mystery photo? Well, many fewer guesses, possibly due to how late I posted it. Benny, however, was correct — it was indeed the covering of Abraham’s tomb in Ma’arat HaMachpelah / The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. I bet Aaron is kicking himself for not recognizing that one; you were so close, dude, and yet didn’t quite get it!

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Israel Mystery Photo #4

This week's Israel Mystery Photo

Any idea where in Israel this is?

Okay, so last week’s Israel Mystery Photo was a bit more challenging, even for all of my classmates at Machon Lander. But even everyone who was incorrect made logical guesses, which makes this fun!

Also, hiding the comments until now made it more fun as well, since nobody could see the other responses. So I will continue doing that.

So first and foremost, the correct answer was Hurfeish, a Druze town beneath Nebi Sabalan. And though I didn’t ask what it was a picture of, a few people got that one right: a statue of Sultan al-Atrash.

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What is the Israel Dream Itinerary?

Lake Kinneret / Sea of Galilee behind the palms

A good old friend of mine is finally making her first trip to Israel next week. She’ll be here for 2-3 weeks, and I am excited to be showing her around a lot, and helping her plan her time here. Someone else (a friend of a friend) contacted me to suggest places for her to visit when she comes here in the Fall. And many other times people ask me similar questions when they hear I am studying to become a tour guide.

Itinerary planning is a job and skill in itself. And it is a major task in the tour guiding profession. But it is not yet something which I have studied or have a lot of experience with. And yet, I am going to have to get started on it now to help Lara have an awesome fun time here! So while I’ve started to think about it, I’d love to hear from you guys as well.

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