As soon as I entered the Old City of Jerusalem through Jaffa Gate on Easter morning, I knew something was amiss. It was as if, with those few steps into the walled city, I had walked into another reality.
Jewish children dressed up as chefs and pirates clung to their mothers’ who were pushing baby carriages as they walked briskly to their destination to celebrate the festive Jewish holiday of Purim, where children wear costumes and adults exchange gifts of sweets and pastries.
A few early-rising backpackers walked out the doors of nearby hostels, blinking in the bright sunshine.
A group of local Muslim women, covered from head to foot, headed down the ancient roads, perhaps to get in some early morning shopping at the vegetables stalls, or maybe they were going back home after their morning prayers at a nearby mosque.
Pilgrims from the Philippines picked their way over the large protruding stones of the remnants of the ancient Roman road on their way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on this beautiful, sunny morning.
Along the way, the few shopkeepers who had opened their stores early called out to them genially to look at their wares. Some of the pilgrims stopped and examined the exotic-looking dresses, the colorful ceramics and olive-wood carvings. But there was no time to shop as they were on their way to Easter Mass — the highlight of their eight-day pilgrimage.
The muted thudding of the wheels of the special green carts merchants use to get their wares from one place to the other in the Old City echoed through the stone-paved roads as messenger boys pushed the carts down the steps descending deeper into the shuk, the Arab market. Somewhere along the metal awnings above, the shops birds were singing their morning songs.
My eyes consciously blocked out the site of the heavily armed Israeli soldiers along the roads — on high alert following the shooting attack on a Jerusalem seminary which left eight students dead earlier in the month.
And for one brief warm spring day, Jerusalem was as it should be.
PHOTO: A Christian pilgrim prays after an Easter Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem March 23. (CNS/Yannis Behrakis, Reuters)