Emily Torres Visits Jerusalem
"There is no beauty like the beauty of Jerusalem"
The towering walls of Jerusalem cut the cloudless blue sky, their stones shimmering in the bright desert sunlight. Jumu’ah, the Muslim Friday prayer, had just finished and a sea of women in hijab and men in thobe and ghutra wound its way up El-Wad Street toward Damascus Gate. Some stopped to buy ka’ak and other baked goods from young boys with carts, temporarily disrupting the flow of the crowd. Others continued the ascent to leave the shaded narrow street and entered the intense light outside the walls of the Old City.
As I approached the entrance to the Jewish Quarter the crowds dissipated and the calls of vendors became a distant murmur. Nearing the Western Wall, I was met by a barrage of prayers being sung, shouted, and whispered. As the sun began to set the Orthodox Jews bowed their heads repeatedly to the rhythm of their prayers while a group of young Jews on a Birthright trip danced in a circle and sang to welcome Shabbat. A group of older Christian women sat by the stone wall, holding their rosaries with both hands uttering “Dios te salve María, llena eres de gracia...”, a Bible resting quietly in each of their laps. I sat in silence for a few minutes then made my way back to Via Dolorosa to the Ecce Homo convent, where I had a bed for the night. From the roof of the convent I watched the sun finish its descent behind the city walls with the sound of hymns still coming from the occasional passerby on the street below.
I had gone to Israel for a field school in microarchaeology at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. For a week I helped excavate and analyze plaster samples from a Byzantine Period site in a nearby town called Gedera. While sitting on a mosaic floor made in the 3rd century AD, I watched a tractor dig a large hole for the foundation of a new apartment building to the left of me. I wondered if the building’s residents will ever know what lies below them. Then again, every inch of Israel has some religious or archaeological significance. This juxtaposition of modern life against an ancient background followed me from Rehovot to Jerusalem. Every stone and every pathway can be tied to the beginnings of Judaism, Islam, or Christianity, sometimes all three. The histories of the three major world religions converge in Jerusalem, giving it a unique kind of diversity. Pilgrims may come from different countries, speak different languages, and hold different faiths, yet they are all united in a belief in something greater and a shared call to prayer. Standing before the Western Wall on my last night in Jerusalem, the unadulterated welcoming and tolerance I had experienced during my stay was all I could think about as I read the inscription, “There is no beauty like the beauty of Jerusalem.”
Emily is the daughter of Juan Torres and Dr. Mary Jacko, and is a parishioner of Assumption of the Virgin Mary Byzantine Catholic Church in Trenton, NJ where Fr. Yuriy Oros is administrator. She is a GCU Scholarship awardee and the Torres family are 100% GCU members of Lodge 15 in Trenton, NJ.
View of Jerusalem from the roof of the Ecce Homo Convent.