LETTER FROM ISRAEL
Marsha tells us about a fascinating tour of Jerusalem. Be sure to check the beautiful pictures at the end.
We’ve been home for almost a month after our U.S.A.-Canada trip. Cadillac Mountain was enveloped in fog, but we enjoyed the hike in Acadia, even in the rain. The cruise included Halifax, Saint John, Bar Harbor, Boston, and Newport. We loved the week in Philadelphia, and enjoyed our time in the Poconos and in Hershey.
Somehow I forgot to continue our Jerusalem narrative. The first day having been devoted to old neighborhoods outside the Old City walls, the 2nd and 3rd were spent in the Old City. On the 2nd day we entered through the Zion Gate. When I lived in a divided Jerusalem in 1961, this gate was the closest Jews could get to the Old City. One could ascend to the roof of the Church for a peek before the Jordanian soldier atop the opposite building would threaten with his rifle.
Our first stop in the Jewish Quarter was a cluster of four rebuilt Sephardic synagogues which were blown up by the Jordanians after the War of Independence in 1948. (They were not destroyed during the battles, but by deliberate explosions set by Jordanian soldiers afterwards.) The most famous is the Hurva. Originally designed by a Viennese architect, it has been beautifully restored after the plans were found in the office in Vienna.
From there we saw an exhibit of photos taken on the day the Jewish Quarter surrendered in 1948. (Surviving defenders were taken prisoner and held in Jordan for 18 months until the signing of the Armistice Agreements in 1949.) From there we walked to the Western Wall to go through the Western Wall Tunnels … long, and not for the claustrophobic. (These tunnels are not under the Western Wall itself; they are a continuation of the Wall, but underground.) After these hours of walking some took taxis to the hotel. Due to a lack of public seating in this area, some (including us) had to stand around while a few sat in the tiny cafes. Then we walked along the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount to hear the history and see the beautiful view of the Mount of Olives from there. We had signed up to continue on to tour the Israel Museum and eat there, but all but 8 went back to the hotel. We exited the Old City through the Dung Gate. After a rest Fridel and I decided to take a walk after all, where we saw others from our group refreshed and strolling about. We ate in a neighborhood café and “people watched.”
On the 3rd day we entered the Old City through the Jaffa Gate to tour the Christian Quarter and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Church is divided, with prayer times and areas allotted to different groups, (Coptic, Ethiopian, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Marronite, etc.) The groups are always quarreling among themselves. Sometimes blows are exchanged, and the Israel police are called in to calm things down. In a church!! From there we walked to the Roman Cardo in the Jewish Quarter to meet our bus at the Zion Gate and continue on to Yad Veshem, the Holocaust Memorial Site and Museum. A visit there is always sobering, now more so than ever because of the growth of anti-Semitism in the world and the attempts to de-legitimize Israel. After lunch we drove to Mt. Hertzl for an interactive exhibit on the life of Theodore Hertzl, the Viennese journalist who was the founder of modern Zionism. (Jews had returned, both as individuals and in organized groups, during the entire period since the expulsion by the Romans, but the movement was neither named nor organized internationally.) From there we went to Ammunition Hill, the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Six Days War of 1967. There was also a model of Jerusalem and a lighted explanation of the battle for the city, much like the model we saw at Gettysburg. After a rest at the hotel we had a festive dinner at a restaurant and then headed for the Sound & Light Show at the Citadel, also erroneously known as the Tower of David. This show depicts the history of Jerusalem against the background of the ancient stone of the site. There is no narrative – only music and lights – spectacular and impressive.
On the last day we were in the “new” city again. We visited Mamilla, a neighborhood rebuilt in the area that was known as “nomansland”, demilitarized between May, 1948 and June, 1967. In 1961 it was all rubble and giant rolls of barbed wire. Then we walked to the Russian Compound, used by the British as a prison for political prisoners, and also saw the beautiful Russian Church. A walk down the Street of the Prophets and Ethiopia Street brought us near the hotel and the end of the study vacation.
Inside Hurva Synagogue
View from top of Hurva
View from Dormition, other churches, and a mosque
Street in rebuilt Jewish Quarter
New fresco showing the Cardo as it was in Roman times
Place where the 1948 battle of Jerusalem ended and Jewish defenders surrendered. Note the damaged building with the arches.
The building today, restored, an elementary school
Inside the tunnel
Corner of the southern wall of the Temple Mount
Cemetery on the Mount of Olives as seen from the southern wall