Well, we made it! It’s been a long day but we got to Israel, got settled into our apartment, and actually had an action packed first day! The fact that we are all still standing amazes me! Personally, I woke up at 03:30 AM on the morning of Wednesday August 22 and have been up ever since…as I write this it is 7:45 PM on Thursday August 23!
For some odd reason, this trip has started off remarkably smoothly. We were all packed and ready to go 24 hours in advance. We did not forget anything (of consequence, that is). Please understand that this is so far out of the norm for us. I’ll admit that I’m not a great traveler. I get easily stressed and it usually starts a week or so before we leave. That didn’t seem to happen this time, so we were off with a great start!
The flight was long! 9 hours 35 minutes and my movies in the seat back in front of me froze about half way through the flight. That said, we made it unscathed and arrived at Ben Gurion Airport at about 06:30 local time.
Our apartment for the next week is awesome! As I write this I am sitting on the balcony listening to a concert playing off in the distance…somewhere toward the walls of the Old City. After we got settled,me went and found a place for lunch…nobody slept on the airplane, some were all extremely tired…Jake perhaps more than anyone!
After lunch it was crash time…for some of us anyway…Rachel and her parents fell hard asleep, some took the boys to the pool here in the apartment building. After swimming for a few hours and realizing that we need to stay awake a few hours more, it was off to the Old City where we wandered the streets for a few hours, got some dinner and ice cream and then headed home.
There are a few noteworthy photos from our stroll. First, we all fell in love with the SPOVEL! It is the perfect utensil with which one should eat ice cream. It’s the size of a spoon, but shaped like a shovel! I’m not sure why these haven’t made their way across the pond to the USA.
Second, please recall that I live in South Jersey, where our local farmers (that’s why it’s called the Garden State folks) grow the best sweet corn I’ve ever tasted. With that in mind, I have to say that tonight is the first time I have encountered a Corn on the cob vendor outside of the Burlington County Farm Fair! I will guess that his corn doesn’t match up to well with my hometown favorite. What I found most striking, however, is the tremendous contrast in color between the vivid yellow corn and the rest of the drab, beige surroundings of the Old City wall!
Finally, I love walking the ally ways of the Old City markets. The colors, the smells (good and nasty!), the pushy vendors, and the amazing people watching! Check out the wonderful smiles on the women in the foreground as they try on various brightly colored scarves.
As we walked back to the apartment, the streets were less full and we took our time, enjoying the cool, pleasant evening air. We’re all getting ready to hit the sack…I’m not sure what we have in store for ourselves tomorrow, but I know I’ll enjoy filling you afterwards! Here are a few more parting shots for the evening!
10 extra credit points to anyone who can identify this famous landmark!
Tuesday Aug 3: First and foremost, we’re all safe!!! I say this because I am not sure if you got yesterday’s (Aug 2) news from Israel….it was a little startling to wake up to this morning. Apparently there was a rocket attack that originated from Egypt (Sinai Peninsula) and was intended for Eilat Israel yesterday. As you know, we just left there on Saturday. From what I understand it was an Islamic fundamentalist group from World Jihad that was responsible, and they intentionally launched from Egypt in order to disrupt the current peace between Israel and Egypt. The missiles ultimately overshot Eilat and stuck a resort on the Red Sea in Jordan. Its kind of strange to read this stuff in a newspaper but also see that absolutely nobody here is upset or concerned….just a day in the life. When we met with our guide, Yaniv, this morning he told us that this is just what they have come to expect, as evidenced by the headline in the Jerusalem news paper this morning, “Heat worse than missile attack.”
Anyway, once we met up with Yaniv, it was off to see the sites. We started by heading to the Temple Mount. Today the Temple Mount is home to the Dome of the Rock, which outside Mecca is the holiest place in the Islamic religion. It is the site on which the Prophet Mohamed is said to have ascended to heaven, heard the word of Allah, and returned to his earthly existence to spread the word of true Islam.
According to history, this is also the location of both the first Jewish Temple built by Solomon and the Second Temple of Herod the Great, and is also the holiest place in the Jewish religion (I’ll address this a bit more when I talk about the Kotel later). Over the centuries and millennia the Temple of Solomon was destroyed and replaced by the mosque that has become the Dome of the Rock. Because of this, the Temple Mount is currently under Muslim control. Jews are not permitted inside any of the Islamic buildings. Neither Jewish nor Christian religious paraphernalia are permitted on the Temple Mount. Audible discussion about the location of the Jewish Temple is not permitted. In fact, there are Muslim men who will wander around the temple mount and sit listening to your conversation and will have you removed if they don’t approve of your conversation. Even though the Temple Mount is under Muslim control, it remains part of Jerusalem and is legally under the authority of the Israeli police. While we were there, several orthodox Jewish guys were escorted off the Temple Mount by a combination of the Muslim guards and Israeli Police.
There is a fragile balance there, and any disruption of that balance will result in an outbreak of violence. That is why the Israeli police comply with the wished of the Islamic leadership as it relates to the Temple Mount.
I wanted to explore more. Frankly, I wanted to go inside…for two reasons…first because I am truly interested in what lies inside. I am truly interested in the culture of those who worship within the building, and I am truly interested in the fact that at some point, centuries ago, it was the location of the Jewish Temple. Second, I wanted to go inside simply because they say I can’t.
That said, we could not stay all day, and being an equal opportunity vacation we left the Temple Mount and headed to one of, if not perhaps the most holy places in Christianity, The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In order to get there we walked through the Muslim shuk, or marketplace. This one was much cleaner and a lot less scary than the one in Akko.
Admittedly, I know very little about Christianity. What I do know, however, is that Jesus was crucified by the Romans here in Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was erected on the exact site on which Jesus was believed to have been crucified. It is also the location where his body was taken down from the cross and lay to rest for the days following his death. Within the Church one can touch the very limestone slab on which his body was believed to have been placed. This is considered one of the 15 Stations of the Cross, the last 5 of which are all located here in this Church.
Clearly this is a place of importance for many people. It was crowded with pilgrims for all over the world. It was moving to see how being in this place impacted them. Even the collection plate had money placed in the orientation of a cross…intentional or coincidence…one will never know.
We grabbed some lunch and headed to the King David Museum…the views of the Old City and its surroundings from the top of one of the guard towers was simply amazing. Yaniv gave a quick tour of the most important aspects of the museum, and we were off to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. I should have mentioned that the Old City is divided into 4 Quarters: Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian. From the Tower of King David’s Citadel there is an amazing panoramic view of the Old City. In this view almost all of the most sacred sites of each religion can be seen….brownie points to anyone who can identify them!!
While in the Jewish Quarter we explored many locations and walked to an enormous synagogue that has recently been rebuilt after having been destroyed during the 1948 war. Then we shopped!!
Ryan, who is now 11 and will have his Bar Mitzvah in August of 2012, found a Tallit that he fell in love with. Though he will not wear it for another 2 years, we bought it for him. I think the fact that it was found here in Jerusalem will give it a special meaning for Ryan’s entire life.
Before leaving the Jewish Quarter we stopped at the Kotel, or Wailing Wall. Jews from around the globe come to pray here, and consider this to be the holiest place in Judaism because of its proximity to the location where the great Temple once stood.
In fact, the most religious Jews will not go atop the Temple Mount because they believe that if they step on a location that the Temple once stood before its destruction, it would be defiling the Temple and considered to be sacrilegious. So we pray at the Western Wall.
Even Yankee fans come here to pray…this guy was leaning against the wall for at least 15 minutes. Either he was praying for some important personal reasons, or Red Sox fans have a great deal to be concerned about!!!
For generations people have come here to pray and have left hand written prayers in the cracks of the wall. Each of us wrote our prayer before we left the hotel, and we each found a spot to stick ours…here’s to hoping that our prayers are answered. The funny thing is that Jake wrote his and folded the paper very small. He would not say what he wrote and made me promise not to look. Though I carried it in my pocket the entire day, I honored his request and did not look. I gave him the folded paper when we arrived at the wall, I watched him stuff it in a cranny toward the bottom of the wall, and we walked away. Perhaps I will never know what he wrote…though I think I have a good guess…
After we left the Wall, Adam, Judy, Ari, Noah and Rachel left to head to Tel Aviv. Herb and I took the boys into the water tunnel…this is a remarkable feat of engineering. Men carved a tunnel through the bedrock under the City of David. This tunnel was used to carry water from the spring source outside the City’s walls into the City for its inhabitants. Today water still runs through the tunnel….it’s freaking cold and about knee high. It’s also pitch black, so we brought our headlamps and took the 20-minute water hike. It was a very cool experience…no photos, though, as there was water all the way and I was afraid that if I slipped my camera would be done for!!
So comes to an end of day three in Jerusalem. Day four will include a road trip to Mount Masada, the En Gedy Oasis and a swim in the Dead Sea…stay tuned!
Monday Aug 2: Today was an amazing day. Two of my sons have now accomplished something that I never have…they each read Torah in Jerusalem next to the Western Wall. I am awestruck. I am awestruck by this place and its significance. I am not a particularly religious person in my day-to-day existence. However being in this place and standing in front of what remains of King Solomon’s Temple, I can’t help but feel more connected to Judaism, its past and its future. Wars have been fought over the ground on which we stood this morning, and regardless of which side you are on, that ground over which those wars have been fought is the holiest of holy ground. How can one not feel a deeper connection? The stones in the walls and the walkways are thousands of years old. King David, King Solomon, Herod the Great and so many more people in our history (not just Jews) have stepped on these very stones and leaned against these very walls. The place is inspiring, but more than the physical place, its meaning and its significance to so many people leaves me awestruck!
Even beyond that, I am awestruck by my sons’ inextricable connection to both that past and that future. Having now davenned in the holiest place that Judaism has to offer, they will always have a connection to their heritage that will hopefully maintain a special and significant place in their heads and in their hearts. To say that Rachel and I were proud of their accomplishment today would be a gross understatement….wait…what exactly did they accomplish?
The morning started out waiting for the Rabbi by the Dung Gate. Common folklore states that this is the gate named so because the City’s garbage was removed through this gate. I am told this morning that this in untrue and it has to do with other ancient translations of that word. Anyway, we waited by the Dung Gate until the Rabbi arrived.
Many people were passing by, but the gates to the Western Wall do not open at 0700, which is the time at which we arrived…that is unless you hire a Rabbi who has a connection with the gatekeeper who let us in well in advance of the general public. We essentially had the place to ourselves.
DISCLAIMER: I took 246 photos during this ceremony. There are only a few of them posted here. It will take me a great deal of time to process all of them, so these are just to give you the flavor of what we experienced.
The Bar Mitzvah itself was a typical Monday morning Torah service.
As the Grandfather of the two boys Herb did the honor of the first aliyah. The first torah reading, or parsha, was shared between my nephew Ari and Ryan….that’s right, Ryan read from the torah for the very first time right here in Jerusalem!!! He did amazing!!!
For the honor of his Bar Mitzvah, Rachel (Judy’s daughter, not my wife) shared the parsha with my nephew Noah. His Bar Mitzvah in the US is coming up in October. If he does nearly as well then as he did here, we will nail it as well!
Last, but certainly not least, Matt chanted the final parsha.
Having just completed his Bar Mitzvah at home, this was fresh for him, so I think that made it a bit easier than it would have otherwise been. That said, he did this essentially on his own. Adam had made a recording for him, but I think he only used it to check himself. Rachel helped him with the Hebrew just a bit, because he really just did not need it. Words cannot describe how proud I was of both of the boys, and the rest of the family as well…like I said…awe inspiring!
At the conclusion of the bar mitzvah, we returned to the hotel for breakfast. We met our guide Yaniv once again, and he took us to the Israel Museum and the Shrine of the book. This is the location of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Photographs were not allowed there, so I don’t have much to share as far as that goes.
Lunch was in a small vegetarian restaurant that overlooked the walls of the Old City. I wasn’t crazy about it, and frankly I would have rather grabbed a falafel along the way and continued seeing the sights. One could spend a month here and still not see all there is to see.
After lunch some of the group was tired and wanted to head back to rest. Others headed out on foot through the Old City. Then there was Jake and me. Initially, Jake wanted to walk, so off we went with the group. We got through the Jaffa Gate, one of the eight gates of the city, and about one block and he had his late afternoon melt down. It was nearly 5, we had been up since 0600 and he is, after all, only 7. So onto my shoulders he went and we started the long trek back to the hotel.
Wow….what a long, wonderful day!!! So ends the second entry of the journey to Jerusalem. Today, when the rest of the clan wakes up, we will be exploring the old city, the western wall and its tunnels, and the Temple Mount. You may not hear from me for a few more days, as I do not have access to the internet easily and may not be able to post again until we get back to Yavne’el on Thursday night.
In the mean time, I hope you are all well!! Shalom!