Because the holiest places of worship for three major religions
are located very near each other.
For Christians, the Church
of Sepulcher has two of holiest sites: the spot where Jesus was
crucified and Jesus’ empty tomb where he is said to be buried
Thronged with Christians from all over the world, the church
bustled with grim pilgrims. Imagining the suffering of Jesus, a
shiver ran down my spine.
A very sobering experience.
Walking through winding, narrow streets with small shops run
by Arabs, we came to the Western Wall, the holiest pilgrimage
This ancient off-white limestone wall was crowded by Jews
wearing skull caps, and Orthodox Jews wearing black wide-brim
hats, black suits with long coats and flowing beards.
Proceeding to the long wall, as they touched it, they started
to cry loudly.
No wonder it is also called ‘the weeping or wailing wall’.
Others inserted pieces of paper in the cracks which were
The mystical qualities associated with this ritual are
underlined in a popular Israeli song:
"There are people with hearts of stone, and stones with
hearts of people."
Right next to this wall are steps going up to a magnificent
mosque with a golden dome: the Al-Aqsa mosque from where Prophet
Mohammed is said to have ascended to heaven.
Thus, it is the holiest pilgrimage for Muslims after Mecca.
Not just one, but there are several mosques in this complex.
It is reported, "It was the scene for the most extraordinary
gathering in the history of mankind – when every Prophet that
ever lived were gathered together for a congregational prayer
behind Prophet Muhammad." (muslimmatters.org)
A famous Sufi Master from Punjab, Baba Farid, visited it 800
years ago; swept its floors and went into silence in a nearby
Today, an Indian Hospice functions next to this mosque;
President P. Mukerjee visited it in 2015. Three religious sites
almost next to each other is mind boggling.
The next day started with a visit to the Knesset or the
parliament which was interesting.
A huge wall mural by the famed artist Marc Chagall is in
modern art but the seven branched ‘menorah’ or lamp stand
outside the building is the identifying icon for Israel.
Hebrew University was the next stop.
Its first Board of Governors included Albert Einstein,
Sigmund Freud, Martin Buber, among others.
The campus was distinguished by sculpture of the draped woman
by the famous Henry Moore.
Of course, the star attraction was the Dead Sea Scrolls
displayed in its humongous library.
After a short trip the following day, we reached Yad Vashem,
Martyrs and Heroes Memorial, the Jewish people’s living memorial
to the Holocaust that killed six million European Jews by the
Walk down a corridor and you come to a high dome covered with
photos of the victims who stare down with empty eyes.
See the Nazi posters, news and photos of victims transported
by goods trains to Concentration Camps. And experience life and
death in the Concentration Camp.
The enduring memory of Yad Vashem is the recreation of the
Warsaw Ghetto complete with overcrowded, starving Jews enhanced
with the sounds and smells of this horrendous episode.
Not for the faint hearted.
The climax of the tour was my interview with the then Foreign
Minister, Dr. Abba Eban in Tel Aviv, which I had requested
because he was a renowned scholar of Hebrew and Arabic
languages, soldier and intelligence officer, historian, orator,
politician and diplomat who used words with fluency and
During his career, he was Education Minister, Deputy Prime
Minister, Ambassador to USA and UNO and Vice President of the UN
Dressed in a crisp white shirt, he greeted me warmly and
talked as if we knew each other for years.
The interview went off very well as he answered questions
about Holocaust, Jewish and Indian diaspora and the Arab-Israeli
He graciously autographed one of his books before I came out
We proceed to Golan Heights where the Israeli soldiers faced
Syrian troops in their bunkers atop the hills.
Between the first Arab-Israeli War and the Six-Day War, the
Syrians constantly harassed Israeli border communities by firing
artillery shells from their dominant positions on the Golan
After the Six-Day War in June 1967, Syria’s shelling greatly
intensified but the Israeli army captured the Golan Heights.
Climbing the hills and observing the bunkers made clear the
grit of the Israeli soldiers.
Later, I clicked photos atop a captured Syrian tank.
Next came a Kibbutz, a farming community living together.
Common dining, singing, dancing after a day’s hard work
At the camp fire, it was the famous folk dance ‘Hava Ngila’
that got me going.