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On the day after Pesach break ended, Sunday, I decided to check out a place I have heard a lot about but never been to – Eizariya, the Arabic name for “Place of Lazarus.” In the West Bank, about 6 miles from Jerusalem, this place has the traditional location of the first tomb of Lazarus, and the house of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. Scott was also interested in visiting there, so we departed Sunday using our tried-and-true method… we took the Arabic bus #1 to their central bus station, and simply asked around for the correct bus to take. In this case, it was a complex answer: we needed to take the 36 bus, but only a specific iteration of the 36, off in the corner of the smaller central depot.

Getting aboard, we slowly drove through the streets of Jerusalem, and eventually made it into the West Bank. We drove along for a little bit longer, and at some point I realized that although we were on the right bus, we really had no idea of where to get off. Being the one seated in the aisle seat (due to height issues, as one can imagine), I “volunteered” to go try and ask the driver where we needed to get off. It wasn’t that he wasn’t friendly; its just that when we asked if his was the bus to Al-Eizariya, we got an emphatic nod but no English-based response. I tried a bit in English and a bit in Hebrew, and thank God that the older Palestinian gentleman seated behind the driver heard what I was asking and pointed me in the right direction, as well as explaining to the driver where we wanted to go. It turns out that the name of the Church of Lazarus in Arabic sounds quite similar to how it would be in Hebrew, “knessia al-eizariya.”

Getting off at the suggested spot, we immediately saw where we intended to go, up a hill. The road we walked on, as you’ll see from the attached photographs, was very recently the recipient of US taxpayer assistance through the USAID program, which pleased me; it is reassuring to know that at least a small portion of the money taken by the US government is used for a good purpose. The road itself is brand new tile done from Jerusalem stone, and is a beauty to behold; it really prepares one well for the Christian and Muslim holy site they are about to enter. Walking up that new tiled road, we arrived underneath an orange sign proclaiming “the Tomb of Lazarus.” There was a gentleman who walked with crutches underneath, “asking” for a 5 shekel donation to get in, but it was clear that we needed to pay to get in. We entered the narrow corridor, and Scott was immediately accosted by an elderly pilgrim who insisted on Scott becoming his photographer.

After assisting that man with photos, we descended downwards for quite some time; close to 5 meters under the ground, actually. We arrived in a small alcove filled to the brim with Russian Orthodox pilgrims, and then a small table with votive candles and a donation box. We each were handed candles (so not really donation-based, as it were), and then attempted to go down into the tomb itself. I say attempted, as more than half of the Russian Orthodox pilgrims in the upper part of the tomb instantly and loudly admonished us, promising that “THERE’S NO ROOM FOR YOU IN THERE.” Not wanting a fight, we waited patiently until something like 8 people came out of the tiny tomb. We then proceeded down into the tomb, which was problematic for me. Being 6’4″ and wearing a backpack, I instantly handed Scott my camera and candle as he nimbly crawled down into the tomb. I then managed some 5-star contortionist acts to get in crawling on hands and knees through the very small whole leading to the Tomb itself.

Once therein, the temperature actually managed to get even warmer (a minor miracle, to be honest), and there were several alcoves with votive candles burning. There are photographs attached which do justice to just how small of a space the Tomb really is. After climbing several meters up to the street again, Scott and I noticed that we were both sweating, but breathing really heavily; like, the sort of out-of-breath that people who run a marathon have going on. Thinking for a moment, it all clicked in my head: a very small space with a small corridor leading down to it (not much air flow); a bunch of people generating heat and carbon dioxide, as well as constantly burning votive candles = a recipe to get really light-headed, if not worse. It was actually sort of scary to realize just how out of breath (partially asphyxiated, given how long we were down there) we were upon coming up again.

We wanted to get some lunch first, so we went and had some excellent chicken schnitzel at a nearby Arabic stand, for quite the cheap price of 17 shekels each (a bit more than USD $4), and thats including a can of Coca Cola per person. After eating and a discussion ranging from reactions to the neighborhood to the oddities of Newfoundland accents (as Scott explained, a “cross between Canadian and Scottish, but less comprehensible”), we departed to go and actually see the inside of the church, but ended up needing to wait for the Catholic Arabic service to end. After sitting and admiring the ancient pillars in the courtyard for a while, the service finally ended and we went in… accompanied by something like 85 Spanish-speaking tourists (at first, I couldn’t determine if they were Italian or Spanish, but then the all-telling “yo pero” came forth and truth was determined). They were just as welcome to go in as Scott and I were, but they were a different sort… Scott and I like to visit places and interact with the people there (I said “Salaam” to every member of the congregation leaving the sanctuary), while the other group in that church literally pushed congregation members out of the way in their fervor to be tourists. Its a big difference that I see all too often, and I can’t say that I appreciate the way that people act when they come to Israel or Palestine as “tourists.”

In any event, we left the church and started walking along the main road because 1) we needed the 36 bus to get back and they come somewhat infrequently; and 2) I wanted to see some more of Al Eizariya as the modern neighborhood. I hope you enjoy the attached photos of what I did get to see.

And a short video of the very end of the Muslim call to prayer from the mosque above the Tomb of Lazarus.

The photographs, as per usual with captions.

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One Comment

  1. Michael, I like your pictures and video but miss your commentary


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