Historic Sites...
Golden Gate

Jews were banned from Jerusalem many times but during the rule of  pagan Emperor Julian brought a brief respite. Under Julian's orders work on rebiulding the Jewish Temple began in 363 but the complition was prevented by an earthquake that set fire to the building. With passing of Julian the project was abondoned.



Mount Of Olives

And the glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city. EZEKIEL (11:23)

For any true believer it would be a challenge to find another place on the face of the earth that equals the experience of standing on the top of Mount of Olives overlooking the Jerusalem's Old City. The panoramic view that opens from this natural elevation is nothing short of stunning as the City of David reveals itself sparkling under the bright sun in its splendor and glory.

The spiritual power of this experience is undeniable. Something about seeing all these Holy places up and close makes you think about the presence of God and your place in this universe. The memory of the visit and the effect it has on people is never forgotten.

Mount of Olives (Har HaZeitim in Hebrew) is mentioned in the Bible multiple times as the place where the legendary events took place. The very first of those events was the rebellion of Absalom against his father, King David described in 2 Samuel 15:30. After hearing about his son's treachery, the distressed king "went up the ascent of Mount of Olives, and wept as he went up and his head was covered and he walked barefoot". To his concerned followers, he said that God would deliver him.

Mount of Olives by Haim Zack National Photo Collection 

                  Mount of Olives, Jerusalem by Haim Zack. National Photo Collection, Israel

During the Temple period the high priest would walk through the Golden (Eastern) Gate and up to the Mount of Olives to sanctify the full moon or to sacrifice the unblemished red heifer. The sacrificed heifer would then be burned and its ashes mixed with a holy water were used for ritual purification.

In the book of Zechariah, chapter 14, the Hebrew prophet is predicting the Day of Judgement to take place on the Mount of Olives:

"Behold! A day of the Lord is coming, and your plunder shall be shared within you. And on that day His feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem from the east. And the Mount of Olives shall split in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west be there shall be a very great valley. And half the mountain shall move to the north, and half of it to the south. And it shall come to pass on that day that there shall be no light, only disappearing light and thick darkness. And the Lord shall become King over all the earth; on that day shall the Lord be one, and His name one."

Jews interpret this prophecy as the end of days prediction brought on by the return of Messiah. The word Messiah is derived from the Hebrew word Machiach which literally means the anointed one. During the Biblical times, anointing a person with oil was way of declaring him a king. Thus, just like Zechariah's prophecy indicates the title of Messiah is synonymous with the word king.

After the destruction of the Second Temple by Romans, Jews were forbidden to enter Jerusalem. Despite the risks, many Jews would still try to come as close as they could to the site where Solomon's temple once stood so they could at least have a visual of it. Because Mount of Olives is a couple of hundred feet higher than Temple Mount and offers an unobstructed view of the site it became a traditional place for lamenting the distruction of beloved city. Over the following years, Jews developed a ritual of crying and tearing up their garments as they approached the Holy site.

Mount of Olives is featured in many important events in the long and tortured history of Jerusalem. Roman 10th Legion, under the command of general Titus, camped there for a couple of years as they held a siege of Jerusalem. The siege ended in 70CE with the distraction of the Second Temple and expulsion of Jews from the Holy City. The Crusaders were stationed there in 1099 just before they sacked Jerusalem and drowned it in blood. British army under the command of General Allenby was stationed at the Mount in 1917 as they captured Jerusalem from Ottoman Turks.

Christians also believe in the concept of Messiah except according to their tradition, it is Jesus who will fulfill this prophecy. According to New Testament, Jesus has ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives and his return is also expected to take place on the Mount thus culminating the Second Coming.

At the base of the Mount stands the Church of All Nations also known as the Basilica of Agony. It’s a Roman Catholic Church build between 1919 and 1924 on the spot where two ancient churches previously stood but only the foundation remained. The name, Church of All Nations, was given due to the fact that many nations and different Christian denominations provided contributions to finance the construction.

Right next to the church is the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus came to pray after the last supper just before he was arrested. He already knew that one of his disciples has betrayed him and the end was near but elected to pray in the tranquil surrounding of the olive trees instead of running away. The name Gethsemane, or Gat Shemanim in Hebrew, translates as oil press. Olive trees still dominate the garden with some trees dated back to the time when Jesus walked the earth.

Garden of Gethsemane

                                                 Garden of Gethsemane, Mount of Olives.

As you advance up the slop of the Mount you'll encounter the Church of Mary Magdalene. It’s a Russian Orthodox church build in 1888 at the orders of Russian czar Alexander III and his brothers to commemorate their mother, Empress Maria Alexandrovna, whose patron Saint was Mary Magdalene.

 Right above the Russian compound is the Church constructed in 1955 in the form of the tear drop. The name of the church is Dominus Flevitt and translated from Latin it means Lord wept. It is located at the place, where according to scripture, Jesus wept over the City of Jerusalem predicting its eventual demise.

This event is described in the Luke 19:43, "As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said: The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you and encircle you and close you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and your children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another."

Every year, thousands of visitors to the Jerusalem's Western Wall write the prayer notes to God and then place those notes in the cracks between the stones. Over a million of those notes or wishes are accumulated every year, forcing the authorities to periodically remove them in order to create a room for the new ones. But because the notes are considered to be Holy, designated Rabbies clear the wall twice a year and then bury the notes at the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.

Mount of Olives also served as the place where Jews have buried their dead since the Biblical times. It’s the oldest and the largest Jewish cemetery in the world. During the First and Second Temple periods burial in caves scattered across the Mount was considered to be a great honor. The tradition of burial at the Mount continued for many centuries to the present day.

All dead at Mount of Olives are buried facing the Temple Mount so that when Messiah finally arrives, they will be the first to rise up and walk through the Valley of Jeshoshapat, through the Golden Gate and to the Temple Mount, place of final destination.

Mount of Olives by Mark Neyman National Photo Collection 

                Mount of Olives, Jerusalem by Mark Neyman. National Photo Collection, Israel

The graves are the mix of ancient and contemporary as we can find a grave that is 3000 years old as well as one that is just three days old. The most famous and well preserved of the ancient burials is the cave of the Patriarchs where Hebrew prophets Haggai, Malachi and Zechariah are believed to be buried. More modern names of people buried on the Mount of Olives cemetery include Prime Minister Menachem Begin, father of modern Hebrew Eliezer Ben Yehuda, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook and poet Uri Zvi Greenberg.

It is not uncommon for Diaspora Jews to be buried at the Mount of Olives cemetery, the practice that is going back hundreds of years. Even the soil of the Mount cemetery is considered to be sacred. The Jews of Jerusalem customarily sent bags of soil to the Jewish communities around the world where the recipients would spread this soil on the graves of their loved ones as a gesture of spiritual closeness to the Holy Land.

During the Jordanian control of Jerusalem, between 1948 and 1967, thousands of graves were vandalized and grave stones ether smashed or used as building materials. Jordan is no longer in charge of the cemetery as it is currently under Israeli control.

Unfortunately local Palestinians continue the tradition of burning and desecrating the graves at Jewish cemeteries. Palestinian youths routinely throw stones and firebombs at the mourners and visitors. It’s not uncommon that at the police request Jewish families cannot accompany the burial of their loved ones due to threats of being attacked by the rampaging gangs.

The Israeli government is trying to address this issue of continued Palestinian violence by installing the video cameras and beefing up the security. While the number of violent attacks are down the problem is not yet fully resolved. It is pretty apparent that the Mount of Olives and especially the Jewish cemetery are the integral part of our heritage and source of spirituality and if we want for future generations to have access to them these treasures must remain under Israeli control.

Given the track record of Palestinian treatment of Jewish Holy places left us with no illusions that given the opportunity they will not hesitate to destroy any remnants of Jewish presence on the Mount without any regard for its irreplaceable historical value.

Current access to the Mount of Olives for all religions is unrestricted and the historical and religious tourism to Israel is flourishing. Not all is perfect in the Holy Land as conflict with the Palestinians is always present in the background. There are times when Israeli authorities would cancel some planned trips when it's considered to be unsafe, but the positive is that you can never run out of the Holy places in the land of the prophets.

Regardless of the challenges facing the Jewish state, as long as love the Tribe has for their Holy Places is stronger than hatred aimed at them from the multitudes of enemies they should enjoy these sources of their spirituality for many generations to come.