Today is Eid al-Hada or Greater Eid, in the Moslem calendar, and the beginning of an important four day religious holiday for Moslems to honour the willingness of the Prophet Abraham to sacrifice his young firstborn son Ishmael (not Isaac you will note) as an act of submission to God, and his son’s acceptance of the sacrifice, before God intervened and provided a ram for the sacrifice instead. Our hotel is an Arab hotel, situated just outside the old city walls, and the Moslem Arab staff rush us through breakfast because they want to get home as quickly as possible to spend the day with their families. If they can afford it families get together and sacrifice a sheep and have a family meal together. They have big extended families over here. I guess it will be the Christian Arab members of staff who will be on duty at dinner in our hotel this evening?
This morning the various members of our group are all doing different things. Some are going to the Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the holocaust victims. Julia and I have been there before. It was a very moving experience, especially the Children’s Memorial – a darkened room lit by a solitary candle reflected by mirrors, in which the names of the hundreds of child victims of the holocaust are read out one after the other in perpetuity. Others are going to walk across Jerusalem, through the Souk (market) to the Jewish quarter to visit the alleged tomb of King David and the Upper Room. Julia and I are too tired to join either group – my legs will fall off if I do any more major walking, and Julia went with Phil and a few others to a concert at the King of Kings Centre, the home of the Jerusalem Messianic Jewish Congregation. The ‘Liturgi-Kal’ Concert Choir (the choir that Phil normally sings with) was performing ‘The German Requiem’ by Johannes Brahms, accompanied by the ‘Barrocade’ Chamber Orchestra conducted by David Loden. Apparently it was a wonderful evening.
After breakfast Julia and I spend some time talking and praying in our room before deciding to go out for a short walk in the immediate vicinity. We want to visit Saint George’s Anglican Cathedral, and the Jerusalem House of Prayer (that we have heard so much about from various people), and also have a coffee at the American Colony Hotel (that has also been recommended to us). They are both ‘just round the corner’ more or less so it won’t necessitate any strenuous walking for either of us.
Jerusalem is very quiet today we notice as we leave our hotel. Since it is Eid al-Hada, almost all the shops, restaurants, and cafes are shut, and there is hardly any traffic on the usually crowded roads. The Jewish Sabbath also starts later on today so things will only get even quieter as the day progresses. On the way to the Cathedral we pass the hotel we stayed in eight years ago. It has a new posh name but looks just the same. We find the Jerusalem House of Prayer and ring the door bell. We are warmly welcomed by the resident staff, who show us around and tell us the history of the building and this wonderful work. We join with them in prayer for their immediate neighbours – Orthodox Jews, Arab Moslems and Arab Christians – and then we spend a wonderful hour or so in prayer and meditation in their wonderful Interactive Prayer Room. It turns out to be another of the many highlights of our month in Israel-Palestine (www.jerusalemprayercenter.com).
When we leave the Jerusalem Prayer Centre we call in at Saint George’s Anglican Cathedral. We worshipped here eight years ago and it looks just the same. We have a chance to look around a bit more this time than we did then … and are delighted to find a rather splendid baptismal pool designed for ‘adult baptisms’! From there we walk down to the American Colony Hotel. It is rather posh but really nice. We sit in their open air Garden Restaurant and enjoy an excellent cup of coffee. The American Colony Hotel has a fascinating and moving history. The American Colony was a colony established in Jerusalem in 1881 by a Christian utopian society lead by Anna and Horatio Spafford. Spafford is perhaps best remembered for writing the lyrics of the hymn ‘It is well with my soul’ which has brought comfort to many people over the years. He wrote it the night that he received the tragic news that his four young children had all been drowned when the ship they were travelling on sunk on a journey to Europe (although thankfully his wife survived). There is so much more to the Spafford’s story than this, however, and it worth looking up on the Internet. Although the magnificent house where the Spafford’s lived in community with the other members of the ‘American Colony’ (which also included a number of Swedes) is now a luxury hotel, the hotel still proudly retains the name and is happy to hand out booklets about their remarkable Christian heritage to guests and members of the public alike. We really like the American Colony Hotel … perhaps May could arrange for us to stay here next time we come to Israel?