by Stephanie Gold
Jerusalem evokes a swirl of glory, religious splendor, historic battles, and political conflict, and that’s before you ever set foot in the city. Yerushalayim in Hebrew and Bayt al-Muqaddas in Arabic, the city is holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. Beautiful and hilly, with cool, clean air, and strategically located along an important trade route pass through the Judean Hills, Jerusalem has been desired and fought over for a long time. It’s a city that takes traditions seriously; conflict is one of them, and religion is another, though the two often go hand in hand.
For Jews, Jerusalem has been at the core of their religion since David set up the holy Ark of the Covenant there and Solomon built the First Temple. Christians revere the city as the place where Jesus taught and was crucified. And Muslims count Jerusalem as their third most holy site (after Mecca and Medina) because Mohammed is believed to have ascended to heaven from the Temple Mount. Out of a total of roughly 550,000 inhabitants, Jews now make up about 72 percent of the Jerusalem population, and Arabs about 26 percent, while the Christian minority continues to dwindle. Both Hebrew and Arabic are spoken, and English is known about as well as elsewhere in the country, which is to say it depends on whom you talk to.
Jerusalem is a magnet that draws people from all over the world and for a wide array of reasons. Religious pilgrims of many denominations have been coming here for centuries to see and worship at the holy sites, students of archaeology come for the excavations and museums, and fans of political history come to see what happens when so many different groups want to honor and possess the same place. The main thing to bear in mind, whether this is your first or your tenth visit, whether you’re staying for a day or a month, is that there is no way you’ll see and do it all.
Don’t try, and don’t berate yourself for what you didn’t get to, that’s the rule for a good visit to Jerusalem. Figure out your interests and priorities, and whether you’d get more from a few sights seen in depth or many seen superficially (or some combination thereof), and take it from there.
It’s a resplendent and special place to be, with some of the best dining, cafes, and nightlife around to supplement the religious, cultural, and historic points that shout from every corner, hill, and dale. Not surprisingly, Jerusalem is the place where many new immigrants come to establish a new life, and tourism is the city’s primary pot of gold. Take a deep breath and enjoy the city on your terms and at your pace.