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ISRAEL TRAVELOGUE

Israel Travelogue—Preface to the Vignettes

The Church of the Beatitudes has traditionally been the spot where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. Within the acoustically superb sanctuary, we heard a group of Asian tourists chanting sacred melodies. Their singing, plus the shimmering church itself, was uplifting. When a group from America later began their chorale, one of the nuns told them to stop. They did so reluctantly. That broke the spell for us.

Later, we walked over the mostly unadorned Church of the Primacy of St. Peter. It reminded me of an ancient, isolated cloister.

 

Jordan River & Hammat Tiberias National Park:

We visited the Jordan River Baptismal site at Yardenit, near Tiberias. Various groups of people from America to Asia, mostly middle-aged women, got baptized in the small sectioned-off area in the vicinity where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. All of the initiates were beaming
after the ceremony.

At the national park, we marveled at the well-preserved walls of a 4th century B.C.E. synagogue that included an elaborate mosaic zodiac calendar floor. An adjacent museum had many well-preserved ritual baths (mikvahs) for purification. At the top of the park, hot springs sluiced downstream. Marie put her feet into the water: it was still close to scalding after these many centuries.

Bet She’an National Park:

Bet She’an has a mammoth display of Roman antiquity: Massive colonnades along a walkway and surrounding the ruins of a temple; public bath houses that contain toilet pits; a well-preserved amphitheater that seated thousands of spectators; large thick-walled archways, a diversity of stairways, extensive mosaics, and a cistern or two. We spent hours touring this ancient archaeological treasure trove.

 

Nazareth

We visited the main Nazareth churches: the Basilica of the Annunciation, the Church of St. Joseph, and the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation. Each church was splendidly arrayed with vivid paintings and sculptures and highly stylized pillars. The vast recesses of the Basilica of the Nativity were an unexpected awesome spectacle.

Yigal Alon Museum of the Galilee

March 23—The Yigal Alon Museum of the Galilee houses a partially resurrected fishing boat during the time of Jesus’s ministry. The Museum contains the incredibly intact wooden frame of the oldest fishing boat in the world, dating from the 1st century A.D.

A video amply shows how the boat was discovered, unearthed, decontaminated, lifted to the Museum, put on supports, and kept in a permanently temperature-controlled stage.

March 24—Utopia Orchid Park north of Netanya has an incredibly varied selection of flowers in its mammoth three-story greenhouse. The spurting fountains outside accompanied by Israeli martial music are another treat.

 

Two Nature Reserves:

The two nature reserves at the southern tip of Netanya (Iris and Nahal Peleg) are along the Mediterranean Sea. At the foot of huge sand dunes and craggy cliffs are fields of wildflowers. The Irises were not in bloom (that was a disappointment), but we enjoyed viewing the particularly bright red anemones.

Mts. Arbel and Betel:

Early in the morning, we went back to Yigdal Museum to finish our tour. We were happy to find some Hebraic artifacts tucked away in the far corners of the building.

The next attraction was the Arbel Nature Reserve just outside of Tiberias with it sheer cliffs filled with man-made caves. Even though we couldn't locate the peak's entrance, and we didn't climb up or down the extremely steep mountain paths, we had astounding views of Arbel's extensive cubbyholes from the roadside.

That afternoon, we traveled to Mt. Betel, the scene of decisive battles the Israelis won against the Syrians. We saw lots of barbed wire and discarded Syrian tanks plus expansive views of the Golan Heights.

 

Hermon Nature Reserve and the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes:

Before getting to the prime attraction at Banais Falls in the Hermon Nature Reserve, we just by accident noticed a delightful but unheralded waterfall (Sa'ar) on the way to the Reserve. The celebrated Banais Falls, the highest one in Israel, was impressive but we had a hard time getting to it because  rowdy groups of teenagers blocked our way as did their equally obstreperous adult guides.

Later on the day, we sought refuge in a well-known nut and dried fruit store in Tiberias. After stocking up on some of these delectable items, we headed for the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. The exterior was fairly austere, even ascetic, but the interior was much more colorful with its pastel paintings of saints.

 

March 27, Sefad or Sefat or Zefat:

We drove to Zefat’s artists’ quarter. There were dozens of shops containing exceptionally well-conceived and well-produced sculptures, paintings, and jewelry. The ride up was just as illuminating. The hillsides leading to Zefat are studded with mammoth rows of various sized and contoured rocks, an artistic landscape in its own right.

 

The Hula Valley Nature Reserve and Tel Dan National Park

We didn't any migrating birds at The Hula Valley Nature Reserve, but we did see some spectacular sights in the water. Beneath one of the large bridges, masses of catfish were swimming under masses of turtles, each group oblivious of the other.

At Tel Dan National Park, there were abundant archaeological remains, but the most fascinating were the Israelite fortifications and the Canaanite arches, caves, and mounds.

 

The Spa at Hammat Gadar:

The alligators and the mountainous setting were spectacular, but nothing was as awesome and amazing as the massage that Peter gave Marie.

 

Off to Haifa with Michael:

Elijah's Cave, the oldest synagogue in continuous use, was a relic Jews have cherished for centuries--reverence incorporated.

For lunch, he wanted us to eat at Maxim’s, a restaurant that had been bombed a couple of times during Palestinian uprisings. With some misgivings, we agreed to go there. The odds were that we’d be safe, and in Israel, you have to go with the odds or you’d go nowhere.

 

Chorazim or Korazim National Park, the Doma Galilee, Capernaum National Park, and Jethro’s Tomb: March 31

First we went to the Doma Galilee, an ultra-modern monastery. Then off to Korazim National Park to see the extensive remains of a 4th- to 5th-century synagogue constructed out of black basalt. In Capernaum, we saw a better preserved 3rd-century synagogue made out of white limestone. Next to it is a small, secluded area traditionally denoted as St. Peter’s Home. At nearby Capernaum National Park, there is a highly ornate Greek Orthodox Church with brilliantly colorful paintings covering every crevice—from the dome to the floor. Our last visit was to Jethro’s Tomb in the Druze mosque near Kefar Zeitim. The mosque grounds serve as a communal gathering place for picnickers—we can still smell the kabobs.

 

April 1 & 2 Yehudiya Forest Nature Reserve

April 1: Our main objective today was to hike through parts of the Yehudiya Forest Nature Reserve. We started on a walk to one of the waterfalls, but there was so little shade in such a desolate area that we turned back after going halfway. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the view of distant but distinct Mt. Hermon and the sprawling semi-wilderness. But what made the trip truly memorable was the spectacle of at least a hundred off-duty IDF soldiers in T-shirts and shorts and carrying their omnipresent Uzis. Marie found out from one of the recruits (a 20-year old named Omri) that his whole Golan Heights battalion had a day off—with pay—as long as they stayed close to their base. And the Reserve is nearby. Marie couldn’t help herself: she enticed the young man to let me take a picture of both of them: Marie leaned in, as close to an Uzi as she will ever get.

April 2: Today was an easy day before our five-day jaunt to the Dead Sea and Petra. Marie bought some sandals from the Israeli shoe outlet Naot (right next to the shoe factory) in Neot Mordechai. As we backtracked into Tiberias, we saw some military vehicles on the road. The soldiers were in full combat gear. That you would expect. But what startled us was a covered armament jutting out of the top of the trucks. It was shaped like a large assault weapon.

In downtown Tiberias, we located the unpretentious Tomb of Maimonides (Rambam) flanked by the reddish gird irons of a modernistic tower. Typically, men were praying on the right side of the monument; women, on the left. Our last venture was to buy a sampling of the ripest fruit at the outdoor food market (the Shuk) in Tiberias.

 

Qumran and the Dead Sea

April 3: On the way to the Dead Sea, we passed desolate mountains randomly streaked ash-white or in pastels. That was impressive. But even more awesome (perhaps because it was so unexpected), we saw areas of lush tropical trees in the desert; and nearby were shrubs and seedlings covered with immense netting to enhance their growth.

North of the Dead Sea, we visited Qumran, where the Essenes composed and secreted the Dead Sea Scrolls. We viewed the extensive but modest living quarters of these sequestered scribes. Above us, we saw the various caves carved out of mountain rock that housed these invaluable biblical documents.

Just before twilight, we arrived at the Oasis Spa across from the Dead Sea. Marie and I gingerly waded in the water, making sure not to get the high concentration of salt in our eyes. Not a problem: no waves, no frolicking youngsters, and no commotion at all—just a lot of old folks like ourselves effortlessly and serenely floating in the restorative (if slimy) sea.

 

 

Masada

April 5: Yesterday, we were too busy at the indoor salt pool and other spa areas to take pictures. Today at Masada was different. Although we couldn’t take pictures in the museum, we put the camera in overdrive as we ventured into Masada itself. It is an archeological supersite, from its strategically built palaces to its cavernous cisterns. But throughout our self-tour, we could never forget the saga of the mass suicides of the Zealots who preferred death to slavery. The last artifacts at the Masada Museum were pottery shards with the names of the Jewish fighters who were chosen to kill their comrades rather than surrender to the Romans. Looking at those decipherable Hebrew names gave me a few shudders, but I managed to stifle any tears.

The rest of the day was an anticlimax as we drove to Eilat before venturing April 6 and 7th to our main attraction in Jordan, Petra.

Petra, Jordan: April 6 and 7

On the 6th, we were with a small tour group as we crossed over to Jordan from Eilat to Petra. On the way, whenever we stopped, we took some pictures of the scenery, especially the mist-enveloped “Grand Canyon” of Jordan. At Petra, we walked through a maze of canyons until we saw the so-called Treasury, the most elaborate and monumental building of the ancient Nabateans.

We couldn’t take as many pictures as we wanted to because of the tour guide’s time restrictions, but the next day, we headed out on own at our own pace (until, of course, we had to be back at 3:00 to depart for Eilat).

In our six hours in Petra, we savored every feature of its archeological grandeur—from the at times surrealistically sculptured cliffs, the chiseled (by nature and by the Nabateans) canyon walls, and the natural and man-made dams. Nor can be forget the caravans of tourists riding camels, donkeys, horses, and horse-drawn carriages. Our camera covered it all, plus a few unrehearsed shots of traditionally dressed Arabs.

While I was riding in a tour bus from Aqaba to Petra, Jordan, two solitary camels were traveling side by side along the shoulder of the superhighway, the only paved road for hundreds of miles. And then on the way back, I noticed a camel comfortably standing in the back of a pickup truck going at least 50 miles per hour.

At noon in the Petra canyons, I wanted to sit down while my wife sent to the WC. There was one vacant spot next to an Arab woman. I took it for a minute until I heard a growl. In front of me was an indignant Arab man. He thrust his hands out and motioned for me to get off the seat. I did so immediately. I don’t know what—if any—relationship he had with the woman. Perhaps I had committed some sort of taboo. In any case, I was happy to stand up until my wife rejoined me.

 

The Rosh Hanikra Grottoes near the Lebanese Border

April 11: The tour books say that the best time to visit this site is during stormy weather. The seas were indeed churned up when we arrived: rain clouds were pelting the off-shore waters. Accordingly, as we ventured through the grottoes, the ocean smacked against the rocks so forcefully that huge waves boomed into the caves (the explosive sounds were as loud as cannon fire) and soaked a few spectators. But what was really eerie was that the grotto openings would get extremely dark just before an onslaught of waves.

 

April 12: The Old City of Acre (or Akko)

Ancient walls still surround this city within a city. We marveled at the massive remains of Crusader fortifications, halls, tunnels, and underground prison works. Nearby were a well-preserved Turkish bathhouse and the Al Jazeer Mosque with its dazzling colors and ornate contours.

 

April 13: Jaffa

We spent most of our time in the old port city of Jaffa, at the southern tip of Tel Aviv. Some of the sights included clock towers, mosques, steep cobblestone stairways, Muslim and Jewish monuments, court yards and winding terraces. Before eating at a downtown Tel Aviv restaurant, Marie took pictures of some of the distinctive buildings there.

 

April 14th: Last Day in Tiberius: Megiddo


Our last day in Tiberius was spent primarily in Megiddo, named Armageddon in the Book of Revelation because so many pivotal battles were fought there for millennia. But before we got to the national park there, Stan stopped at Afula (very near the West Bank) to see a monument commemorating the Israeli soldiers who died in the wars (from Israel’s inception in 1948 until isolated skirmishes in 2011). Stan got a bit choked up when he saw that one of the soldiers had the same Hebrew first name as he has.

At Tel Megiddo, we toured the site with some ad-libbed commentary from a woman (with her three children in tow) who just happened to be a travel guide in Jerusalem. We saw ruins of numerous civilizations since the Iron Age—granaries, water tunnels, horse stables, temples, and cubbyholes next to the main gate, areas most likely used for collecting miscellaneous commercial fees. Just outside of the park, Stan took a picture of a lone, forlorn looking headstone.

As we drove back to Tiberias, we took final pics of the countryside, some more headstones, and shots from our rental condo.

 

The First Day at Yad Vashem—Jaded no More

There were abundantly poignant moments at the History Museum in Israel’s Holocaust Museum that my wife and I visited yesterday for seven hours, especially the testimony of survivors. Most of the horror that they depicted was already drearily familiar to me, for example, desperate women in the concentration camps strangling their own babies rather than have the Nazis brutalize and fling these infants into the gas chambers.

But one of the testimonial videos—up until the Warsaw Ghetto section—recalled some incidents that I had never heard or read about and will never forget. That video burned off the last layer of any complacency that accompanied me as I dutifully took in the exhibits. It was even more powerful than seeing and touching a cattle car that transported thousands of men, women, and children to Auschwitz.

The narrator, a Jewish man in the Treblinka camp, believed that to survive, the strong had to exploit the weak; and the victim, unless he in turn became the predator, was doomed. One night, the inmate realized that his hat was missing. He was terrified because anyone who wasn’t wearing a hat during morning inspection was automatically shot dead. Unable to locate his cap, he realized that his only chance to remain alive was to steal a hat from someone who wasn’t vigilant enough. Moving from bunk to bunk, the man saw a portion of a cap sticking out from underneath a fellow inmate’s stomach. The man removed the cap and returned to his own quarters. He didn’t try to rationalize his theft; he simply did not want to die, no matter who had to be sacrificed. Although he couldn’t face the man as he was executed that morning, the survivor said that he wasn’t ashamed of his treachery.

But what he did regret occurred a few days later. His father, exhausted and debilitated, fell down in a ditch. Anyone who couldn’t stand up would be soon sent to the crematorium. The son wanted to pick up his father, but if he did so, he would be violating a Nazi regulation, incurring his own death. Torn between his allegiance to his father and his own survival, the son remorsefully chose to leave his father in the muck. And for all the ensuing years, he has never been able to forgive himself for selfishly deserting his father.

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Day Two at Yad VaShem

Yesterday, my wife and I finished our self-guided tour of the Holocaust History Museum. I touched all of the exhibits—from the triple-decker inmate bunk beds to the carts and concrete blocks from the work camp projects. I saw gruesome pictures of skeletal remains of the living and the dead. I listened to survivors recounting their litany of Nazi atrocities. I read many accounts of the Righteous Gentiles who endangered and sometimes sacrificed their lives by harboring Jews throughout Europe. But none of these gut-churning and throat-constricting remembrances equaled the overpowering sense of loss I felt at the last station of the Holocaust’s own Via Dolorosa.

On one of the videos commemorating Israel’s becoming an independent state in 1948, a large group of grade-school children were singing Hatikva, Israel’s national anthem. Finally, there was something to truly celebrate, the perpetuation of the Jewish race. But as I watched the video for a second time, I noticed—on the upper right hand corner of the screen—an inscription: Munkacs, 1930’s. These children were not Israelis: they were Jewish Hungarians singing a traditional song (written in the 1880’s) about yearning for a homeland in Zion. How tragically ironic! How slight the possibility that any of these youngsters might have escaped the Holocaust to witness the creation of the state of Israel.

It was too late in the day for my wife and me to tour the Children’s Museum at the far end of Yad VaShem. Maybe that’s just as well. I need time to recover from the haunting video of the doomed school children who would soon fill the ranks of the six million murdered in the Holocaust.

 

YAD VASHEM AGAIN

This was our last day at Yad VaShem. Quite by accident, my wife located an enclave containing memorial plaques—some matter of fact, others poignant—composed by family members of Holocaust victims. Next we finished our tour of the Valley of the Communities, the massive towers listing every one of the annihilated Jewish populations in Nazi-controlled Europe.

The only bright spot for me was that the Dutch town Vlaaringen that my wife and I once stayed in for a couple of weeks while on vacation was not inscribed on the pillars. The last thing we did was revisit the Children’s Memorial. We spent much more time there than we did on an earlier visit. What struck me the most was that the panoramically reflected lights representing the 1.5 million children murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators seemed like innumerable sheets of stars glowing in the firmament.

During our first two days at Yad Vashem, we were inside where no pictures were allowed. But this afternoon, we visited the outdoor sites—from the Warsaw Ghetto sculpture to the 2.5 acre massive walls of the Valley of the Communities.

 

Some Snippets from Israel and Jordan

Throughout a cobbled street in the overhead covered shopping bazaar in Safed, there is a narrow gutter between the two sides of the walkway. During a cloudburst, I saw an elderly man diligently sweeping pools of water downhill, a cascade that threatened to overflow from the gutter onto the pedestrian path. The man made sure that not one drop of water slid onto the cobblestones that are inherently slick enough. Adding water to them would only increase the danger of slipping.

While I was riding in a tour bus from Aqaba to Petra, Jordan, two solitary camels were traveling side by side along the shoulder of the superhighway, the only paved road for hundreds of miles. And then on the way back, I noticed a camel comfortably standing in the back of a pickup truck going at least 50 miles per hour.

At noon in the Petra canyons, I wanted to sit down while my wife sent to the WC. There was one vacant spot next to an Arab woman. I took it for a minute until I heard a growl. In front of me was an indignant Arab man. He thrust his hands out and motioned for me to get off the seat. I did so immediately. I don’t know what—if any—relationship he had with the woman. Perhaps I had committed some sort of taboo. In any case, I was happy to stand up until my wife rejoined me.

In all of the urinals at a rest stop in The Golan Heights, the plastic sheaths over the drains resemble the Hand of Miriam, an Israeli talisman to ward off the evil eye. In some of the men’s rooms elsewhere, I was startled to see and hear water flushing as I entered a urinal’s perimeter.

My wife took a rear-angle picture of a middle-aged woman browsing through some clothing articles in an outside shopping area. Strapped to the back of the woman was a completely visible holstered gun. Whoa!

An armed security soldier at the Jerusalem Mall accosted my wife just as she had finished taking a picture of the mall façade. He had thought that she had photographed him, a no-no in Israel. My wife assured him that he was not in the picture and then showed him the shot. He was appeased and somewhat apologetic, but my wife was a little shaken by his initial vehemence.

 

IN JERUSALEM

The Jewish Quarter of the Old City

Yesterday I came close to tears at the Chain of Generation exhibition/drama commemorating the survival of the Jewish people. A searing Holocaust story as a backdrop to the reflections of an Israeli soldier who helped liberate Jerusalem made my throat tighten. But my eyes were only slightly moist.

In the afternoon, we spent a lot of time at the Wohl Archaeological Museum in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. The most astounding finds were at a palatial home in a “suburb” of Jerusalem during the Second Temple period. The partial ruins contained huge anterooms, entertainment halls, ritual bathing facilities, dining rooms, and a maze of bedrooms. Before leaving the Old City, we visited a memorial to the Jewish soldiers who died in the 1948 War of Independence: it was very sobering.

 

 

Christian Sites in the Old City and Bloomfield Park

Today was spent mostly at churches and ended at a park. First we visited the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Christian Quarter of the Old City. Compared to the more elegant Catholic churches nearby, this Protestant church was quite toned down. It had a subdued grandeur. We could have climbed up the 100 or so steps to the tower but decided to save our strength. Next came The Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate Church at the 8th station on the Via Dolorosa—somehow we had missed this site on an earlier self-guided tour. We were sure glad we just happened to bump into this magnificent church on our way to revisit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Coptic Church was very elaborately studded with portraits and statues of saints and an elaborately carved, mammoth chandelier.

After having lunch, we entered the Holy Church of the Sepulcher, where Marie placed some family crosses on one of the holiest spots in the church, Christ’s resting place after being taken off the cross.

Later, we visited St. James Church, the major church in the Armenian Quarter. We got there just in time for the 3:00 service, the only time the church is open to the public. Picture taking was frowned on; in fact, one priest hounded a woman who got caught. Marie did happen to take two pictures—without a flash—initially but abided by the restriction after that. I crossed my legs at one point; a lady next to me chided me for this apparent faux pas. Afterwards, I found out on the internet that crossing one’s legs in many churches is disrespectful. St. James Church, while fairly dark, is supremely ornate. It is also chock full of censers in all its chambers. During the service, a priest shook so much incense out of his censer that Stan got woozy from smoke inhalation.

Before taking the bus home, we went to Bloomfield Gardens for some r and r. In the background, Stan first took pictures of the majestic Dormition Abbey and its towers. Then he focused on the people in the park:

 

The Next Day: St. Andrew’s Church and Guest House, Liberty Park, the Inbal Hotel, and Mt. Hertzl Military Cemetery

St. Andrew’s Church was pretty bare bones, no bells and whistles here or in its guest house. But the ambience was welcoming.

Liberty Park had a few unusual embellishments: oddly shaped monoliths, a tucked-away amphitheater for kids’ theatrical productions, and a replica of our Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.

The Inbal Hotel, easily viewed from Liberty Park, is ultra-modern and elegant. Some of its shops contain outstanding heirloom Judaica.

Later on, we toured Mt. Hertzl Military Cemetery. Besides seeing the tomb of Jewish notables like Zionist pioneer Theodore Herzl and assassinated Prime Minister Rabin, we roamed through the twenty or so sections devoted to the soldiers who died in various wars defending Israel. The markers along the routes succinctly paid tribute to these soldiers (from 16 year olds to men in their forties).

 

Self-Guided Walk May 13: HaNevi’im and Jaffa Streets

Today we walked on a self-guided tour of one of the oldest sections of modern Jerusalem, HaNevi’im Street. We had been passed there before but had never methodically scoured the area. Most of the buildings were closed, so we could take pictures of the facades like the Church of St. Paul and the Biblical Institute. Other buildings were open (the hospitals) but there was nothing remarkable to see inside them.

One place that was open, however, was well worth visiting inside: The Jerusalem Print Workshop, where authentic prints were and still are made. One of the workers spent lots of time with us outlining the old-fashioned and more modern processes involved. Marie understood the technical language much better than Stan did. Later on, Marie became quite fond of the quaint lodgings and courtyards at the Swedish Theological Institute.

After our tour of HaNevi’im, we crossed over to Jaffa Street—so named because it goes to Jaffa at the southern tip of Tel Aviv where we took random pictures of its everyday teeming life.

 

May 15: Hebrew University Science Campus and Botanical Gardens
 

Today was relatively easy. We took only one bus directly to the Gardens. And in a couple of hours, we had toured all the acreage. Marie has a good eye for unusual flowers and recesses in the woods, so she took most of the pictures. Stan concentrated on the building facades and the strange juxtaposition of ancient rock and modern construction cranes. The gardens weren’t as flamboyant as the ones in Orchid Park in Northern Israel, but they were a delightful change from the bustling cityscapes that we walked through yesterday.

Scrolls of Fire, Hebrew University at Mt. Scopus

"And I shall put My spirit in you and you shall live, and I shall place you in your own land."

That is the translated inscription from Ezekiel that is engraved on the Scrolls of Fire, a huge sculpture about the Holocaust and the consequent creation of the State of Israel.

At the bottom of the sculpture we see the pitifully dehumanized victims of the concentration camps. But as the layers of figures spiral upward, indomitable Israeli soldiers are lifting up the revitalized Jewish people (secular and religious); and an angel is leading the procession that signifies the transcendent might of Israel: the newly formed nation will squash any attempts to initiate another Holocaust.

We also visited a high-end harp factory. Each kind of harp, from doorbells to concert instruments, is exquisitely designed.

We owe everything we toured to a woman who befriended us earlier at Megiddo and escorted us yesterday (with her delightful children) to two sites that we on our own would never have seen.

Our visit to Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus was a delight. The abundant array of flowering plants along the main campus path was stunning. The uncultivated botanical garden, while not lush, contained copious indigenous foliage painstakingly marked at every turn. Within the garden were some well-documented ancient Hebrew tombs—with many ossuaries.

The modern campus buildings were architecturally diverse and named after famous Jewish and non-Jewish supporters of Israel— Steve Lawrence, Edie Gorme, and Barbara Streisand, Harry Truman, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Reagan, George Bush. Adjacent to and within the buildings are avant-garde sculptures, one by the celebrated Henry Moore.

 

May 20: The Jewish Quarter

We wandered into the Jewish Quarter where we saw young people celebrating Jerusalem Day, the time when during the 1967 Six Day’s War, Israel gained control of Jerusalem. There was a lot of chanting, dancing, and waving of flags. One teenager was even wearing a flag.

After eating at our favorite restaurant in the Jewish Quarter, Keresh Kotel, we visited the Four Sephardic Synagogues, all of which the Jordanians had virtually destroyed during the 1948 War of Independence, all of which the Israelis have restored—with the help of splendid Jewish synagogue furnishings from Italy and Spain. I noted that during all of the Arab-Israeli wars, Israel has never bombed any Muslim religious site. In fact, a mosque is still standing next to the once-decimated Hurva Synagogue, the main reconstructed sanctuary in the Jewish Quarter.

Our last roundup in the Jewish Quarter consisted of visiting the unadorned Ramban and Chabad Synagogues, marveling at the ornately carved doors of a closed Kabbalistic synagogue, and touring the Court Museum primarily devoted to Jewish domestic life in the Ottoman and British Mandate eras; many intricately crafted Torah scrolls were also on display.

 

King David Hotel and Rechavia

This day was a nostalgic panorama of many places we have enjoyed frequenting: the cosmopolitan area around the King David Hotel, the quaint alleyways of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City, the artistic accoutrements in The Jerusalem Theatre, and the luxurious sections of Rechavia.

May 22: Our Anniversary: Mea Shearim and the Italian Synagogue

 Today we meandered through the ultra-orthodox section of Jerusalem, visited an Italian synagogue, and self-toured a museum of Judaica. My wife and I have seen clusters of the ultra-orthodox Chasidim and Haredim throughout Jerusalem, but never exclusively in their city within a city, Mea Shearim.

I made sure to take pictures discretely, focusing only on buildings, because of the sect’s sensitivities. The narrow bustling streets, tenement outcroppings, and various small shops were a picturesque scene from Eastern Europe in the 19th century. Ironically, our only purchase was a couple of photos of typically reverent ultra-orthodox men; tourists are warned not to take pictures of any ultra-orthodox man, woman, or child in Mea Shearim.

Next, we visited the Italian Synagogue, so-called because all of the ornate furnishings—from the Ark to the light fixtures—either came from or were reproductions of Italian synagogues, primarily one in Venice. The large gold-leaf Ark was the most impressive one I have seen in Jerusalem.

 

East Jerusalem: May 23

Our first locale for the day was the Rockefeller Museum on the outskirts of East Jerusalem. It contained artifacts from Israel, beginning with the earliest periods in pre-human history and moving on to Holy Land relics from Israelite, Egyptian, Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic civilizations. I was surprisingly impressed by the variety of exquisitely crafted pottery, but I also enjoyed looking at the mosaics, statues, sarcophagi, and commemorative plaques. One of these plaques applauded a Roman legion that had helped crush the second (Bar Kochbar) Jewish revolt against the Empire.

The next venue was Zedekiah’s Cave, a few steps from the Damascus Gate of the Old City. The cave, once used as a quarry, is the largest artificial one in Israel. It extends under some of the paths in the Muslim Quarter. One of the areas in the cave is a mammoth hall filled today with tables and chairs for some sort of a gala affair. Occasionally, majestic limestone columns—some slender, some stout—bolster parts of the cave’s ceiling.

Just by accident, we came across the stately Notre Dame Jerusalem Center administered by the Vatican. This magnificent building is one of the most prominent sites in Jerusalem. The chapel on the second floor has an understated elegance, with a glowingly alabaster sculpture of the Virgin Mary as the centerpiece.

 

The End of Our Stay: the Cathedral of St. George, and the American Colony Hotel

On the way back to East Jerusalem in the late afternoon, we were wowed by The Cathedral of St. George. It was the only gothic church we have seen in northern Israel and in Jerusalem. The architectural splendor inside and outside was complemented by sumptuous gardens surrounding a few courtyards.

Our last site was the American Colony Hotel founded by European Protestants in the late 1800’s seeking a haven for their Christian simplicity while offering a haven for the poor and the downtrodden Jerusalemites. The grandly modest hotel has a comfortable old-world feel to it.

 

 

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