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Pilgrims Converge on Jerusalem as Passover, Easter Coincide

Jewish and Christian pilgrims have converged on Jerusalem as Passover and Easter coincide.

Thousands of Israelis participated in a Passover tradition: the biblical Priestly Blessing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City. Jews who are descendants of the priestly caste of Aaron, the first High Priest in the Bible, covered their heads with prayer shawls and raised their hands to bless the congregation.

The event has added symbolism this year, coming against the background of Israel's rejection of demands by the United States to stop building in disputed East Jerusalem. The Old City with its Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy places is part of the eastern half of Jerusalem that Israel captured from Jordan during the 1967 war. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its eternal capital, but the U.S. backs Palestinian demands that East Jerusalem should be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

U.S.-Israel ties have plummeted over the issue, but Israeli Rabbi David Rosen sees a silver lining.

"We have a venerable Jewish tradition of lamenting the tensions," said Rosen. "But the most wonderful thing is that despite all those tensions, people are able to worship freely, there is such a variety of different devotion and celebration in the streets of Jerusalem, and that's the spirit that really should predominate at this time."

The narrow cobblestone alleyways of the Old City were packed with Israelis visiting for the week-long Passover holiday and Christian pilgrims who are here for Easter Holy Week. Bud Baker came from North Carolina in the United States.

"It's so wonderful to see so many people from different places who come together to pray," Baker said.

The crowds of Christian pilgrims are especially large because for the first time in years, the Eastern Orthodox and Western Churches are marking Easter – the day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus – at the same time.