Alabama woman, 101, visits Jerusalem holy sites virtually

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    Covid regulations don’t get in the way of Romy Davis’ desire to visit Jerusalem, as she tours its holiest sites using cutting-edge VR technology.

    Romay Davis from Montgomery, Alabama, has always loved to travel. And at the grand age of 101, she can now tick off another place from her destination bucket list, having recently visited Jerusalem’s holiest sites using cutting-edge virtual reality technology.

    For a little under an hour, Davis was transported to the sights and sounds of the Old City of Jerusalem, courtesy of The Holy City Immersive Experience created by the Tower of David Innovation Lab that allows users to wander through the area’s holiest sites.

    The Western Wall, Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque, and Church of the Holy Sepulcher were all captured using both volumetric scanning and virtual reality filming by an interfaith team of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian innovators.

    3D video and audio technologies allowed the team to capture real environments in detail, and through exclusive relationships with key local religious figures, they were granted access to the holy sites.

    These sacred sites are presented in an all-access way and are bookmarked by their holiest events: the Orthodox Easter Holy Fire ceremony celebration at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Ramadan prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Priestly Blessing at the Western Wall.

    Davis is an avid traveler but has never made it to Israel – the nearest she got was neighboring Egypt, from which she caught a glimpse of the country many years ago.

    A community advocate, Davis is a World War II veteran, a former model and fashion designer, and an employee at her local grocery store. She earned her black belt in taekwondo at the age of 70.

    ‘A marvelous experience’

    She participated in the virtual tour of Jerusalem through “Wish of a Lifetime” from AARP, which grants wishes to senior citizens in recognition of their special accomplishments and contributions.

    “It has been a marvelous, marvelous experience,” Davis says of her virtual tour. “It is the capture of reality, that’s what it is. It makes you think you are participating. I enjoyed it as you have never enjoyed anything in your life. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

    Her favorite part, she says, was the prayers. “I was watching people pray. If you look at it for a long time, you’d think it was real and you can put your hand on the people, on the brick, and touch the artifacts.”

    This April, the three Abrahamic religions are celebrating Passover, Easter, and Ramadan in the same month. In any other year, this would mean that tourists from all over the world would be flocking to Jerusalem, but Covid-19 travel regulations mean that the city is unusually empty.

    To enjoy the festive yet extraordinary season, the Tower of David Museum is giving free access to The Holy City Immersive Experience.

    About the Author:

    Naama Barak is a writer at ISRAEL21c. A Ph.D. student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, she loves all things history and politics. Food and fashion come a close second. Prior to joining ISRAEL21c, Naama worked for Israel’s leading English-language dailies and cutting-edge startups.

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