Visiting the Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives is second only to the Old City as a tourist destination. There is no public transportation to the Mount of Olives, so you have two options: either take a taxi to the sight or walk from the Old City, passing through the Lions’ Gate, and then make the steep ascent.
The view from the Mount of Olives in the morning, when the sun is behind you and the Old City lies before you, is amazing. The mountain is 872 meters in height, towering almost sixty meters above the Old City and that is why it is one of the most beautiful observation points in Jerusalem – not to mention, one of the most interesting places there are.
Sometimes the place is filled with guided groups simply because this is a point where guides can talk about almost any historical subject from Abraham to Obama. You can even talk about the future – the valley between the Mount of Olives and the Old City is called the Valley of Josaphat. The meaning of the name is – ‘God will judge’. Believers from all three religions believe that the mountain will be an important place in the Last Days. Practicing Jews believe that when the Messiah comes, all Jews will rise from the dead, but those who are buried in the Mount of Olives will be the first to rise. Some of the Christians believe that Jesus Christ will return to Jerusalem at this spot because this is the place from which he ascended to Heaven. The Muslims believe that a slender bridge will connect the Temple Mount to the Mount of Olives and that only the righteous will be able to pass safely and the wicked will fall.
The Jewish cemetery
The enormous cemetery that lies on the bottom of the observation area is one of the most important Jewish Cemeteries. Cemeteries imply the importance of life more than anything else and especially indicate the attitude towards death, a truth that is certainly correct in this place, the oldest Jewish cemetery that is still active. Jews have been buried here for hundreds of years, some of the graves date back from the days of the First Temple (2,500 years ago).
In Judaism, death is considered impure so Jews bury their dead as quickly as possible and cemeteries are always placed outside of the city. The defilement of death is considered so harsh that practicing Jews whose last name is Cohen, Cahana, Catz or Cahanovitch… won’t enter a cemetery, even if it is a person from their own family who is being buried. (According to the Bible, they are the descendants of Aaron, Moses’ brother, and they are the priests of the Temple. Today the last name Cohen is very common). In the Bible, it is written that in order to purify oneself from the defilement of death – in case one has touched a corpse or stayed in a house where there was a corpse – they had to burn a red cow on the top of the Mount of Olives and mix the ashes with water and then drip the mixture onto the defiled person.
Jews don’t bury their dead in coffins but wrap them in cloth and bury them underground. 30 days after the burial, a tomb is put up upon which the name, date of birth and death of the deceased is written. In many graves you will see a niche for a candle. It is customary to visit the grave every year on the anniversary of the death and light a candle for the soul. Notice that you will almost never see flowers on graves. Jews, especially practicing Jews, don’t place flowers on graves but they do place small stones instead. This is not a commandment but a tradition – and that’s why you’ll hear a lot of different explanations for it. Some will say that the stones are a way to mark the visit and that’s why you’ll find many stones on the graves of important people. Another explanation is a symbolic participation in the building of the headstone.
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More sights in Jerusalem:
Gethsemane – the hardest point in Jesus’ life
The Chapel of the Ascension – a mosque that turns into a church…
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Wailing Wall (Kotel) – not the holiest place for the Jews
The Old City of Jerusalem – the holiest square kilometer in the world
The most important museums in Jerusalem