The stonework maze of Old Jerusalem is home to the most sacred shrines of Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. In the space of a single hour, you can stand in the spot where Jesus was crucified, attend a bar mitzvah at the Wailing Wall and answer prayer calls to the very spot where Mohammed ascended into heaven. They ancient city bustles with vibrant markets, haggling for everything from Armenian spices and Moroccan hookahs to fresh pomegranate juice and novelty crowns of thorns. There’s Hebrew cultural centers, Islamic mosques and an Arabian video arcade, not to mention the homes of some 10,000 people tucked away in narrow alley ways and behind religious graffiti covered doors. Everywhere you look there are ascetic Jews, robed Arabs and hustling Armenians shuffled amongst parades of Japanese tourists, teary-eyed pilgrims and stern 18-year-olds with automatic weapons. This is truly a holy place.
The swell faded fast. When the wind turns offshore here, you can literally watch the surf disappear. So, we surfed the last few waves at a gorgeous out-of-town reef-break with the reverberations of bomb testing at a nearby military base, packed up our rental cars and headed off on our cultural tour. After all, surfing is only our excuse for coming here. If pumping waves were our only goal, we’d be in Hawaii with the rest of the WQS right now. But the pilgrimage of a surfing life runs deeper than that. The waves connect us to the rest of the world, but it’s the people and places we visit that matter most.
At dusk, watching the full moon rise over a field of a thousand Jewish graves, we listen as Muslim prayer calls ring a harmonic discord against the Christian bell-towers; two glorious sounds butting heads in the golden light of a setting sun, echoing across the weathered stone walls of 2,000 years of human unrest. We are rendered speechless.
We seek understanding of the issues of this region. Some filter for everything we’ve grown up seeing on the news. But it’s very difficult. Florida surfer Alek Parker and his film partner Jerry Ricciotti are working on a documentary about surfing in Israel, so everywhere we go they point their camera at any willing locals and unleash a barrage of earnest investigation. It’s enlightening to listen in.
In the far north, a shop owner told us about delivering pizzas while Hezbollah zealots launched random rockets into their city from across the border of Lebanon. In Jerusalem, shop owners explained how the drastically different cultures must make room and give respect to the others — each is allotted a particular day of the week, when tourists are barred from their shrines and a degree of solemn tolerance is granted to their rites of faith. It’s the only way such passionate beliefs can abide in such close proximity. Each is different, but in many ways the same. When we join our local host Adi Gluska at his family’s home for dinner, his father — born and raised in Tel Aviv before Israel was even a country — explains how this region has always been host to war in one way or another. Through each of these candid conversations — and especially in the warmth of Adi’s home and amongst his gracious family — we can see that what everyone here wants is the same. They want peace. They want a place to call home. And they want to be safe in their homes with their families. Yet, somehow, they all seem to feel this cannot be. “There was a time when fathers told their children they would not have to join their army when they turned 18,” Adi’s longtime friend explains to us at dinner. “But we don’t say that anymore. These days, there are too many problems.”