This post was written by, student, Meredith Scott
Our Cohort comes from a variety of different backgrounds. Some celebrate Hanukkah and some celebrate Christmas, but we all celebrate together. This year is a special year because the first day of Hanukkah and Christmas fell on the same day, December 25. Haifa is a very diverse city which celebrates holidays from Judaism, Islam and Christianity, with a festival called the Holiday of Holidays. For almost three weeks, people and venders flood the streets. People from these faiths come together around the German Colony, and Wadi Nisnas for the festival. Different dancing groups came and performed in the streets, next to vendors selling all sorts of wares. There were also pop-up Christmas shops all over the area.
A few students from our Cohort decided to spend the holidays in Jerusalem, myself included. On Christmas Eve, the city of Jerusalem had free shuttles taking people to Bethlehem. It was the experience of a lifetime. Most of the festivities happened in Manger Square, where St. Catherine’s is located. Tickets to midnight mass sold out in early November, but they did project the mass outside of the church itself. I decided to go back to Jerusalem, and we went to midnight mass at the Dormition Abbey.The service half in German, which is great because I’m studying German here.
On Christmas Day and the first day of Hanukkah, a student from our Cohort offered to give us a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem. The best tour of the Old City is with an Israeli who knows the layout like the back of their hand. Avsha, our tour guide, is a history teacher in the suburbs of Jerusalem, and was extremely well informed about the vast and colorful history of the Old City. First we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was built on top of Golgotha. The church is shared between many different denominations of Christianity, specifically Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic. The Egyptian Copts, Syriacs and Ethiopian church also have some claim in the church. Avsha showed us the almost forgotten Syrian Chapel, it was destroyed in the eleventh century and was never restored. The Syrian Chapel also has two small Jewish tombs from the first century. Seeing the Syrian Chapel is a must when you visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Avsha also showed us the different quarters within the Old City: Muslim, Christian, Armenian and Jewish. There was a recent discovery of a main Roman road within the Old City found just outside of the Western Wall. Learning the diverse history of Jerusalem was enlightening and the perfect way to spend the holidays: celebrating our differences and respective holidays. This is one of the greatest perks of living in Israel. As a non-Jew, studying the Holocaust, it was really important to me learn about the religion. I can’t think of a better place to do that than in Israel.