The Sacred Hill

By: J.Selby (Published in "Tourist Tales" North Penn Reporter, Lansdale, Pa. 4-8-(1976?)

My three month trip to Israel took me through 10 fascinating countries. I can't say it was well planned or financed, but nevertheless I survived and even enjoyed it. I had little more than enough money to fly one way from Philadelphia to Amsterdam (the closest stop on the European continent) with a two-day stopover in England en route. Once in Holland it was 3,075 miles of unknown world to my goal, with only $150 and a lot of prayers. Anyway, the trip took me hitchhiking east across Holland, south across Germany and Switzerland, and southeast through Italy. Thinking that my hitchhiking days were behind me, I sailed from Brindizi, Italy to Greece. Once again, though, I found myself hitching across Greece and than sailing to Turkey. Finally my goal was reached when my last hike took me through Syria, Jordan, then across the King Hussain bridge into Israel. I stayed at the Lutheran youth hostel in Jerusalem's old city and spent most of my time doing pastels and watercolor and ink paintings. Selling my artwork to earn money to keep me going went really well in Athens, but now needing money to get home, it was going rather slowly. There is one particular spot I liked to go and do my artwork, It's a wonderful quiet place called the Garden Tomb, just outside the old city walls. In there, as you might guess, is a garden, with its beautiful flowers and old cisterns, is an excavated tomb, that many Christians esteem as being the very empty tomb of Jesus Christ. I spent many peaceful hours doing artwork in this garden place, and even precious times of meditation inside the tomb when the tourists were gone. Many times I would walk the short winding path up to the observation point, where I would gaze at Golgotha hill, or the "Place of the Skull". As you view the hill from about a hundred feet away, you can see the distinct impression of a skull by the shallow caves in the shear face of it. When I looked at this hill it seemed sacred and awesome. I couldn't help thinking what an interesting painting it would make from the top- here His cross might have been, a picture that Christ might have seen as He hung there looking across the old Jerusalem. Most of all, I wanted to stand in the very place where my Lord's cross might have been. For weeks I only looked and dismissed the thought of ever getting up there. I had heard it was a Moslem cemetery and that there was no way of getting into it , short of becoming a Moslem and dying. Well, from the Garden Tomb it sure looked impossible. There is a 10 foot wall against a 30 foot hill, and then another 10 foot high iron fence (with spear shaped tips) above that. One day, as I was out peddling my paintings, I realized that I was on the street on the opposite side of this honored hill from the Garden Tomb. Between some buildings I spied this rather foreboding gate, and it was open! I could see where the steps inside were going up that sacred hill, and through that Moslem cemetery. I couldn't read the Arabic sign so I just walked on through and wound my way up to that precious summit. I didn't find out until later that the gate was only mistakenly left open for a few minutes. I sat up there until my soul was satisfied, just as comfortable as sitting in my Baptist church. The pastel I did there caught the scene, and when I laid in those crosses before me, silhouetted against the sky, it was like being there when He was crucified. After as hour and a half, I sprayed this new picture and gently placed it into my portfolio with the others and started my peaceful walk back down from the hill toward the gate. When I came in view of the gate I stopped short- it was closed! I looked about kind of shocked, for a exit but there was none. On either side of the gate were buildings all with walls against them, except for the one directly to the left of the gate. It had a patio like thing that opened out toward me and there were people there, the caretakers. The gate was the only way out so I started nonchalantly walking toward it, All prepared to share an everyday hello, and ask if the gate would please be opened. The next thing a dog starts barking, then a little boy starts pointing up at me, jumping up and down and shouting, then his mother sees me and starts doing the same thing. Then two or three men jumped up and joined in unison, and I couldn't understand a word they were shouting! I became a little unsettled when they started toward me, and the three Arabic words I knew didn't seem to impress them, nor did my pantomimes. The men seemed very interested in what was in my portfolio but I knew that that would offer no appeasement. Honestly, by this point I was downright scared! The more I tried to explain , the more hostile they became. Their eyes seemed to be red and glowing as they all began to circle me, and I starting stepping backwards. One of the men could speak English- one word: "Finished!" That's all he would say as he made a horizontal cutting motion with his arms, and kept pointing back up the hill. I seriously thought they were going to kill me. There was no place to go up there, well one, but I was not prepared for such finality just then. It was definitely time for quick Evasive action. There was only one option, which means there was no option- a dash for the gate. I made my move- a 100 foot dash around their left flank, leaving them and their dog trailing in the dust (a good 10 feet behind me). The gate was the real test. Into the air and over the gate went my portfolio and I was right behind it. If my cuff had snagged for one more second on the top of that 12 foot gate. I'm sure it would have made the difference between landing on my head or my feet. The pedestrians on the other side were surprised at my dropping in on them. "I think they were going to kill me!" I said, gasping and picking up my portfolio. "What were you doing in there?" "Well, the gate was open, and I just wanted to do a little..."then I realized that they wouldn't understand either "If you were in there you must die!" "Lord help me" I thought, "It's time for another exit" "If you gentlemen will excuse me"were my last words as I made myself scarce in the crowd. Moments later, my pace almost normal again, I was back at the Garden Tomb, the only place of solace I knew around there, and collapsed on a bench. I spoke with the guides at the Tomb. (*The gate had to be closed and the police called to disperse a small mob that had pursued me there) They told me a little more about the sacred hill. "You see, no one is permitted to go up there, not even our greatest theologians or archeologists". Back at the hostel I confided in a Christian brother who worked there. Gil, which is all of his name that I knew, had been more than kind to me, he understood my circumstances, being an American, he had come to Israel for a visit, met a Dutch girl, married, and so far has never returned. Well, giving him this painting of the crosses on the sacred hill was the least I could do in exchange for his help. This experience in Israel was the most unique of the entire trip (I think), but out of it all not my greatest appreciation gained. About two weeks later, after some financial reinforcement from home, I was able to fly almost directly back to the states. My last hitchhiking of the journey was from New York to Philadelphia, and I loved it, You see, that sacred hill will always be sacred to me, but the only place I ever want to live until my Lord calls me home is right here in this great **United States.

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*not in original published text

** 25 years later I don't feel the same about our once great country.