Saturday, November 12, 2011

Trip to Jordan

Trip to Jordan
We proceeded from Elat to the Yitzhak Rabin border crossing that would lead us into Jordan. Our tour guide Tamar and trusted bus driver Uzi drove us to the border crossing where they waved goodbye. We stood in line to exit Israel and then began what many in the group felt to be an uncomfortable experience of walking with our luggage across a corridor of about fifty yards into Jordan. Our trekkers expressed to me that they really felt vulnerable walking from one country to the next. Images of check point charley in the old east-west divide were conjured up into their minds. But that feeling started to disappear as our Jordanian tour guide Naim greeted us along with the new bus driver and a tourism policeman who accompanied us throughout the trip. Naim’s mission was to make us feel at ease and safe being in Jordan. He tried to ease our underlying uneasiness by assuring us that we were safe and that Jordan welcomed us. In fact Naim used his knowledge of Hebrew and fluent English to prove to us that Jordan and Israel were friends and valued our presence.
We began our trip to Petra which was about one and a half hours. Naim showed us the places of historic significance such as the Mt Hor which was where, according to the Torah, where Aaron died. Basically these two days in Jordan were geared to experiencing Petra and then heading north to Amman. At the same time we would be following the kings highway which is one of the oldest highways in history. Second we would be passing three territories that go back to the trek of the Israelites in their journey to the Promised Land. The first region surrounding Petra was the Edomites and then headed north into the ancestral lands of the Moabites with the final stop in Amman which was the land of the Ammonites.  At the same time through our stops at various places we would see the modern state and culture of Jordan.
Petra: We finally arrived in Petra. Our hotel was right next to the area of Petra. We began our descent into the valley of the Nabatean kingdom which build Petra, the city out of stone. It took about a mile or so to get to the famous “Treasurey Building” that Steven Spielberg made famous in one of his Indiana Jones movies. We walked down a narrow pathway with rock formations protruding and one can start to see  evidence of civilization and the remnants of  public art work that once decorated the entrance to the Nabatean kingdom. We finally arrived to the first level Treasury Building and one cannot help but gasp at the beauty of the structure with Greco roman pillars carved out of the rock. A few of us continued downwards and beheld the amphitheatre and other public buildings built into the rock.  Of course the Bedouin were there to let us ride horses or ride in a carriage for price down and up.  And if we wanted we could take a came as well. But none of us went in that direction –too stinky.
My sense was that Petra captured the imagination of the group and garnered the respect for the Nabatean civilization.  Naim did his best to offer theories about the Nabateans and what the various buildings might have been used for but only guesses. That seems to be a pattern in trying to decipher archaeology in the Middle East.
We walked all the way up back to the hotel and which was about a 2 mile trek. We had dinner t at the hotel. Everyone liked the hotel. The next day at 7:30 am we boarded the bus and began the last leg of the trip towards Amman. We made a few stops which are required by tour guides not only for the use of the facilities but to visit roadside stores with all of Jordan’s best products. It is just part of the process of touring the Middle East. Our first big stop was at the Crusader Castle near Madaba. Wow. What we saw was an enormous castle that enabled the crusader army (it housed over 5000 troops at one time) to see over the valley. We entered inside and could feel the sounds of the soldiers and imagined them and their horses and the community they formed. We felt no admiration for them personally but we definitely, after having visited the crusader castle in Acco, why Arabs use this imagery as a rallying cry against the west.  We had lunch in the city of Madaba and then to Mt. Nebo outside of Amman.
We also went to visit the St George Greek Orthodox Church with the famous 6thb century Mosaic of Jerusalem. That was special. The candles were lit and one could listen to the Greek Orthodox version of chanting that set the mystical tone as we entered and took our pictures. It also showed to us that there is a Christian presence in Jordan. They are a minority but one that lives beside their Muslim countrymen peacefully.
We got off the bus noting that Mt. Nebo is the mountain that God had Moses stand on to view the Promised Land showing him the land and reminding him that he would never enter it himself. He died there and was buried by God somewhere in the valley near Nebo. The land now is in the hands of the Franciscan Church.  I gathered the group together on Mt Nebo overlooking Israel. Since it was clear in the mid afternoon we could see the tops of buildings in Jerusalem. That was awesome too. But I explained to the group that this marked the end of the Israelite journey. In a sense it was our moment following in the footsteps of our ancestors in the Torah. We could see what they saw. We could imagine their eyes looking in great anticipation for the beginning of the promise fulfilled. We were in the Diaspora but just across the way from the Promised Land. What a feeling. It was not about our Ashkenazi roots in Poland, I explained, it was, however, about our roots in the land of Israel. Our historic roots as recorded in the Torah and in the Bible have been the underlying theme of this trip. It was about remembering all the touring we did in Jerusalem and the archaeological sites we visited of our civilization that once flourished. It was the vision that Theodore Herzl possessed to revive our roots in the soil. Our group could now see that this moment was going to be an appropriate conclusion and represent a full circle of the Exodus and the journey of the Jew in discovering his or her heritage.
We spent the rest of the night in Amman at the Marriot.  The next day we headed off to the final spot of the Roman city of Jerash. That was the city named for the emperor Trajan. I have never seen any Roman city like this one. One could walk down the Cardo and imagine that glory of this city in its day. The Roman amphitheatre, the columns and the religious sites all contributed to  a glimpse of history and what this region looked like two thousand years ago.  We were all stunned to see this Roman city preserved so well.
I just want to say something about Amman.  Remember Jordan is a country of about 6 million people. Half the population is Palestinian and the rest are Arabs who lived here before the Palestinians arrived. It is country that is about %85 percent barren dessert. Three million live in Amman. It is sadly a city struggling to be a major player but does not quite make it. Our people were taken back on the bus ride to Jerash at the amount of trash on the side of the roads we saw. On the other hands the peace treaty the Israelis and the Jordanians signed was a good thing because Jordan has definitely benefitted by tourism and USIA development funds to small businesses. So there is a respect for Israel and America in Jordan along with the respect and reverence for the King and his family. Naim was willing to talk to us about the politics of the Middle East and give us his perspective. He also talked about cultural life in Jordan such as the tradition that the grooms side of the family pays for the wedding of a son. His narrative of the process of giving his son a wedding was most enlightening.
We arrived at the Jordanian border and drove across to the Israeli side at the border crossing called the Allenby Bridge. Our tour guide Tamar and Uzi met us there and we headed back to Tel Aviv to get our bags and prepare for the farewell dinner and then off to Ben Gurion Airport.