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Middle East Monica Dispatch

Is It Monica, or Is Itů Moses: Under the Spell of the Holy City
January 8, 2000


Mom, Dad and I took a taxi from Damascus Gate, in the Old City, to our hotel in the New City of Jerusalem. On the way, our driver, Samir, asked us what religion we were. He told us that he was muslim and went on to explain to us the times at which he prays each day, what Mecca is like, and the significance of Ramadan.

Expert Fact


Did you know that during the holy month of Ramadan the price of food increases dramatically?

Provided by: Geoffrey Aronson, Foundation for Middle East Peace(FMEP)

He then said, "Christians, I see them, in Bethlehem." He told us Christians sometimes report having witnessed appearances of their revered Mary, Mother of Jesus, in a market here, or on a side street there. "Do you believe that?" he asked, looking at my mom and me through the rear-view mirror.

Welcome to Jerusalem, I thought.

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In front of the Wailing Wall

Nowhere in our travels so far have I felt a sense of religious identification so strongly as in Jerusalem. For example, my parents and I visited the Western Wall one evening, and as we were leaving written prayers in the cracks of the wall-the most holy of Jewish sites-we could hear the muezzin of the Haram Ash-Sharif (Temple Mount) calling faithful Muslims to prayer. As we walked away we could also see the Mount of Olives not far in the distance: this is the sacred site where Jesus is said to have spent the night before his death. In terms of distinct religious clothing, one commonly sees the hijab on Muslim women; the kippas on observant Jewish men; the robes of Greek Orthodox priests; or the cassocks of Franciscan friars, just to name a few.

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Can you see the Dome of the Rock behind me?

The multitudes of faithful pilgrims of all denominations must come for a reason, whether it is to see the sacred sites; to feel the spiritual and historical connection with the city; or to reassess or reaffirm their belief in their faith. "The energy," Abeja had explained to me earlier, "is like a constant buzz." I definitely feel it.

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Incense burns in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Incense burns in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

I'm not the only one touched by the vibe the city gives off. A priest relates to me a story about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is separated into defined areas under the custody of different Christian orders. When someone once tried to clean an area that wasn't within the agreed-upon boundary, monks from another order poured boiling oil over him, killing him! This happened within the last thousand years, and I can't imagine something as extreme happening now, but you never know.

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At the heart of the Muristan market

It's possible for visitors to become overwhelmed by the feeling of religious zeal. Psychologists even have a name for it: the "Jerusalem Syndrome." It sounds like a science-fiction film, but it happens to real individuals-just like you and me-about 200 times a year. According to our Lonely Planet guidebooks, foreign visitors sometimes are "overwhelmed by the impact of the Holy City's historical and religious heritage." They may believe themselves to be figures from the sacred texts such as Moses, Samson, King David, Jesus Christ, Mary or, most popularly with Christians, John the Baptist. Sometimes the Jerusalem Syndrome is considered a threat: thirty years ago, for example, the Al-Aqsa Mosque (near the Temple Mount) was set on fire by someone suffering from the syndrome.

"People affected by the Jerusalem Syndrome", continues our guidebook, "are of all ages and backgrounds, but most are unmarried, 20- to 30-year-old Christians or Jews from North America and Western Europe who grew up in religious homes." Hmmm. Did you read the "Meet Monica" page? I wonder if I'm at risků

Ramadan - the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and Islam's most holy month
cassocks - a long, close-fitting garment
sepulchre - a tomb, grave or burial place
zeal - fervor for a person, cause or object

Security is an issue right now in the Holy Land. Three million people are expected to visit here from late 1999 through the year 2000-including the Trekkers-and Israeli authorities are ON THE LOOKOUT for anyone who might ignite a violent conflict in order to speed up the "Second Coming." This is considered a very real threat to public safety, and I'm sure you've heard in the news of various groups or individuals kicked out of different places-such as the Mount of Olives, where the Bible says Jesus Christ will return to earth.

While sufferers of the Jerusalem Syndrome usually just spend some time at the state psychiatric hospital in Kfar Shaul before flying back to their home countries, the point I want to make is that this place, Jerusalem, can really affect people deeply. Perhaps people with Jerusalem Syndrome just feel it much (much, much, much) stronger than others. We'll keep you posted on new developments during our stay!


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Kevin - Three thousand years of ships, wars, and prosperity
Team - Lawrence of Arabia: a World Trekker at Heart!
Abeja - The Masada's Last Stand
Monica - Code Red - Do You Read Me?

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