Personal Encounters: Stories from Jerusalem Rising

I belong here. I feel safe here. This feels like home to me more than any other place in the world, and there is no other place that I’d rather be.

Excerpted from the book Jerusalem Rising: The City of Peace Awakens by Doug Hershey

In this stunning photographic journey, author Doug Hershey and adventure-travel photographer Edden Ram document Zechariah’s prophecy coming to fulfillment as the city of Jerusalem reawakens. Following in the footsteps of Jerusalem’s first photographers, Doug and Edden recapture the same shots while sharing the stories of those they’ve encountered along the way.

Temple Mount, 1844 (Girault de Prangey)

This Is My Home

A trusted Palestinian friend, Ahmed, lives in East Jerusalem and drives a taxi. When Jewish tour guides tell me I will not be able to get somewhere due to “political reasons,” I call Ahmed. He knows people everywhere, as well he should. His family has lived in the same Jerusalem village for almost two centuries, dating back to when just a few families made up his small town. In the Arab culture, respect, honor, and a good name are everything. As a leader in his community, he possesses them all.

For example, at one location during this shoot, a Jewish guide told me in a concerned tone that the angle for the photo above was from inside what is now an Arab school. He confided that he was inside only once, ten years ago, and that I might need to give up re-creating that angle due to the current political climate. I quietly said “Okay,” nodded, and smiled.

Then I called Ahmed. After telling him what I wanted to do, and where, he immediately responded, “No problem. When do you want to go?”—as casually as if we were planning to meet at the corner coffee shop. Within twelve hours, Ahmed was greeting us with hearty smiles and traditional Arab cheek kisses. Soon we were standing inside this school at almost the exact spot French photographer Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey stood 175 years before, capturing an angle of the Temple Mount few have ever seen.

In this part of the world, relationship is everything.

This rarely seen angle of the Temple Mount was taken from inside an Arab school that our friend Ahmed gave us access to.

Later, while enjoying a thick Turkish coffee at Ahmed’s house, we began talking about life in Jerusalem.

“People are people,” he said in thickly Arabic-accented English. “Everyone wants to live in peace, but there are some who make that difficult.”

After a thoughtful drag on a cigarette and a sip of potent coffee that looked like used motor oil, he continued. “I’ve been to the US and to places in Europe, and those places are nice. I have been offered millions and millions of dollars for my home . . . but I want to live here.”

Ahmed’s family endured the harsh Ottoman Empire, Westernization attempts under the British Mandate, and nineteen years of destructive Jordanian rule. Then came the growing prosperity of Israeli sovereignty. Despite the current challenges, personal struggles, and disagreements that many Arabs have with Israel’s government, Ahmed confided that the last twenty-five years of Palestinian rule has been awful. Most Palestinians quietly recognize that Israeli control remains the best option.

“I love it here,” he said. “This is my home. There is nowhere else I’d rather be. We can all live together.”

At that time they will call Jerusalem ‘The Throne of the Lord,’ and all nations will be gathered to it, to Jerusalem, for the name of the Lord; nor will they walk anymore after the stubbornness of their evil heart. In those days the house of Judah will walk with the house of Israel, and they will come together from the land of the north to the land that I gave your fathers as an inheritance.

Jeremiah 3:17-18, NASB
Left: Western Wall (Kotel), View from the South, 1940-46 (ACC—Western Wall) Right: Western Wall today

Gentile Groom at the Western Wall

When I have the opportunity, I often stand at the wall for my own time of meditation and prayer, then pull up one of the plastic chairs to watch the devotion of the regulars and the wonder-filled emotions of firsttimers as they step into such a treasured place.

On one particular day, I chose a shaded spot in the middle of the men’s section that was close enough to still be in the mix of the coming-and-going crowds—but not too close to distract those praying at the Wall. Soon I noticed an older American man about three or four meters (ten feet) to my left. He was wearing a baseball hat, sunglasses, and an amazed countenance and had chosen a similar approach as I had, finding a seat to soak everything in. After overhearing a few people interact with him and seeing the look on his face turn to confusion, I struck up a friendly conversation, asking if he was okay.

Gary, a Gentile, had an interesting story. Deeply in love, he was newly engaged to a beautiful Israeli woman he’d met in Brooklyn, New York, and was now on his first trip to Israel to meet her family and learn about her Jewish heritage. We casually talked about how they met, if they had a wedding date set, and whether they were considering living in Israel after they were married. He never anticipated he would meet and fall in love with an Israeli woman, nor had he ever experienced a desire to come to Israel. Yet now that he was sitting in awe in the shadow of the Western Wall, his perspective was changing.

Left: Western Wall (Kotel), 1910-20 (ACC—Western Wall) Right: Western Wall today

“I . . . I never expected . . . that I would feel this way in this place,” he stammered, slowly struggling for words. “Who knows, maybe we could live here. . . . But at the very least, I already would like to return.”

I smiled, knowing full well that this city has an indescribable effect on people. After some more chatting, I realized I was simply a distraction to his ongoing experience. I gave him my heartfelt congratulations, but since there was nothing else to say, I left him to ponder his unanticipated holy moment. I had no doubt that, just like many others from the nations, he would be back.

The people in prayer thrust their hands into the interstices [between the stones], and also push as far into the crevices as they can, prayers they have written to God. . . . It is a most remarkable sight; these people all thronging the pavement, and wailing so intensely, that often the tears roll down their faces.

Charles Warren, 1867, English archeologist

Café Confessions

One evening after a long day of photo shoots, Edden and I went to a popular café in Jerusalem to review the day and plan for the next. Sarah, a young blonde server with a clearly American accent, struck up a conversation with us since it was still relatively early by Middle Eastern standards. She began by asking us where we were from—not an unusual question in such an international city. The more we chatted about what had brought us to Israel, Jerusalem, and specifically that café, the more her own fascinating story began pouring out. As unique as it was, it is one that I hear quite often, minus the specific personal details.

Sarah grew up in Oregon, and as many young Western Jews do, she first came to Israel on a Birthright Israel tour. This organization brings young people from Jewish communities throughout the world to Israel, connecting them with the land of their ancestors and their heritage. Something happened while she was in Israel: Israel began happening in her.

At age twenty-two, after ending a relationship and feeling like she needed a fresh start, Sarah responded to the longing for Israel that had quietly taken root in her heart. Soon she took a step on her own, making aliyah (the term used for Jewish people returning to the Land and becoming Israeli citizens) and immersing herself in Israeli culture.

By the time we met her, Sarah had been living in Jerusalem for more than a year and was making her own way. She talked about how she had found the job at the restaurant and made new friends, about how she was struggling with Hebrew language school and had just gotten a puppy. But I was still waiting to hear the real reason for her solo move halfway around the world from her family and hometown, so I simply asked an open-ended question.

“Tell me—why Israel, and why Jerusalem?”

Without skipping a beat, she smiled wryly and shrugged her shoulders, then said the words I hear from so many others and that few are able to explain.

“Because I belong here. I feel safe here. This feels like home to me more than any other place in the world, and there is no other place that I’d rather be.”

At this comment, Edden began chuckling and said with a sense of wonderment, “What other country on earth do you hear that about? All my friends say the same thing.” I can’t deny that I feel the same way about this city and nation.

Just like Sarah, Jewish people throughout the world continue to feel the pull to the Land, and they are responding.

You’ve been reading from

Jerusalem Rising by Doug Hershey

Documented Proof of the Prophetic Promises of God Revealed

Author Doug Hershey and adventure-travel photographer Edden Ram gained exclusive access to storied vantage points to reshoot the exact angles of these stunning and seldom-seen historical photos. The result is an awe-inspiring and groundbreaking collection that will captivate hearts and reveal the accuracy of the prophet’s words. The book also features fascinating insights into Jerusalem’s first photographers and firsthand accounts from pilgrims, locals, and would-be conquerors that capture the longing and desire for this treasured city, spanning almost 2,000 years.

Indeed, the reawakening of the City of Peace is at hand.

About the Author

Whether writing or speaking, Doug Hershey shares from a perspective of historian and storyteller. His personal accounts of present day Israel, the Middle East and the awakening of bible prophecy are as intriguing as they are rare. Doug is also the founder of Ezra Adventures, an Israel focused travel company. Based out of Portland, Maine, when he’s not in Israel he is speaking at churches, synagogues and universities.

Christine loves how stories open our imaginations to God and His work in our lives. As a marketing coordinator at Tyndale, she is excited to help readers connect to life-changing stories through books, Bibles, and blog articles. In her free time, Christine enjoys reading multiple books simultaneously, exploring the forest preserve near her home, and writing about everything she sees and experiences.

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