Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Day in New City Jerusalem.

Children's Memorial at Yad Vashem

Uri was due to pick me up from the hotel at 8:30a. I lingered in bed as long as I could. I then got ready for the day and headed down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. It was a buffet style meal and there was quite a large selection though I really wanted eggs and some sort of meat but that's not to be had in Israel so it was scrambled eggs, creamed potatoes and sardines. Yeah, it was a weird breakfast. The restaurant was large but it's obvious this hotel caters to large tour groups because the place was filled with tourists. I found a small table and ate my meal.


At about 8:15a, I took my last bite and headed back to my room to grab my backpack and head out to the front entrance to wait for Uri.

The guy is not late. A few minutes after 8:30a and I could see Uri and the white van pull up. I boarded and everyone one else was already there - I was the last person to be picked up!

As we pulled out of the hotel drive way, Uri gave us our itinerary. Yad Vashem which is Israel's Holocaust Museum first and then to the Israel Museum to see the Book of the Shrine. We would grab a quick lunch at the museum's cafeteria in time to be at the Knesset by 1:45p for our 2p tour. After that, we would have some free time and then we had to be in the Old City by about 5:30p to queue up for the 6p lightshow at the Tower of David Museum. We would then have dinner at 7p at a restaurant in the Armenian Quarter. He's obviously run this tour many, many, many times before - he's got the timing down pat! It was going to be an activity filled day!

We soon got sucked into the morning rush hour traffic. Yes, they have the morning commute jam here but I can say it's nowhere as bad as what we have in the DC metro area. In any event, we were moving along at snail's pace. We were going nowhere fast but luckily, it's a small city so we soon arrived at Yad Vashem.

Uri parked the van in the museum's parking garage and we followed him up the elevator to the entrance. There, Uri gave us a briefing about the museum and very importantly, how it was laid out. We had 2 1/2 hours to spend. I was thinking that would be too much time but little did I know. Photography was not allowed inside.

The entrance into the museum.

The building is built into the hillside.  The main part of the museum is in the section under the hill.

Yad Vashem is built into a hillside with just a small section protruding over the hillside. It is triangular shaped and very well laid out. The rooms tell the story of the Holocaust starting with what life was like for Jews in various countries - basically, there were active citizens who contributed to the societies they were part of. In each room, there are TV monitors displaying short interviews with Holocaust survivors. In essence, the museum presents the history as it was witnessed by them. It's a much more powerful way of preserving history than if the museum just presented artifacts from the period.

The story of Hitler and the Nazi uprising is also presented. To me, it's shocking how one many was able to convince millions of people that Jews needed to be obliterated as a race. Really scary to see how many people bought into his cause. His influence spanned from Belgium to the Netherlands to Poland to Austria, Italy and even North Africa!

The start of the horror is also recounted by survivors who speak of how people were caught off guard by the rise of anti-Semitism; that people who were their friends and neighbors and colleagues one day basically became their enemies overnight.

There was one room dedicated to how Jews, all over Europe, we essentially treated as if there were less than humans, allowed to starve. The stories of the survivors were painful to listen to. I cannot imagine passing by men, women and children who are so emaciated from starvation that one survivor said they were nothing more than hair, bones and eyes.

After this, the horror escalates and you can see from the survivors that the words are harder to speak out loud. I entered one exhibit where a woman was recounting of how Nazi supporters would shove people on the back of truck borne carriage, so many people that everyone had to stand shoulder to shoulder, chest to back. They were on their journey to the concentration camps. Along the way, the weak would die. When the Jews asked for the corpses to be removed because of the stench of decay, they were told that the body count had to remain the same from the start of the journey to the end so the corpses had to stay.

Towards the end, the exhibit rooms focus on the *life* in the concentration camps. I could not take it hearing or seeing any more of the torture and suffering so I skipped those exhibits. The last exhibit room is a circular shaped room with shelves lining the walls from pretty much floor to ceiling. The shelves hold binders filled with the names of the 6 millions who were killed in the Holocaust.

I had made through the end. Surprisingly, I had spent almost two hours in the museum! In all honesty, I could have easily spent another 2 hours.

Back outside, I wound my way through the small courtyard which contained ancillary museum buildings. I followed the exit signs out and along the way, entered in a small, freestanding pavilion that contained an eternal flame. On the floor, around the flame, were the names of all the concentration camps.

View of the surrounding landscape.

Walking from the exit towards a courtyard where there was a gift shop, an auditorium and administrative buildings.

The only stone used, for buildings in Jerusalem, is quarried from nearby hills.

A view of the museum building from a distance.  Very modern looking structure.

The pretty little courtyard.  The people in the photo are around the gift shop.

Building where the eternal flame was housed.

Decorative panel.  I found Israelis to be incredibly artistic.

I continued my walk which eventually led to a garden space. I came across this metal tower.


I have no idea what it represents - all the text was in Hebrew.


The path ended at a well tended but small garden that was the Children's Memorial. Located atop a small hill are the pillars representing the nearly 1 1/2 million children whose lives were horribly and sadly cut short.



The path wound down to a small room;  the carved face of a young child marked the entrance.  Inside there were photographic images of children backlit by what seemed like thousands of candles. Later, Uri told us that this really an illusion - there are really only six candles and LOTS of mirrors are used to reflect the flames of those few candles to make it look like thousands.


Of all the memorials, I think the Children's one was the most poignant.

By now, it was about 10 minutes before our scheduled meeting time. When I got back to the entrance, Meera and Raj were already there. We waited quite a while for everyone else to show up.

The front entrance courtyard.  I found a spot to sit on and people watched while waiting for the others to arrive.

Back in the van, Uri drove the short distance to the Israel Museum. He pointed that the Knesset was located just next door so we didn't have far to go to get to our next destination.

Uri got us our entry tickets and we followed him in to our first stop which was to see the miniature of the Old City as it existed during the 2nd Temple Period. After having spent days wandering through the present day Old City, it was interesting to compare it to what archeologists thought the 2nd Temple Period city was laid out as.

It took artisans two years to construct the model, using tiny pieces of the same Jerusalem stone that buildings in both the ancient and modern cities are constructed from so the model would have a more realistic look to it.

By now,  I knew the Old City well.  It was fun comparing it to the model.


This is the Eastern Wall view.

This is a view from the southeastern section of the wall.

This is a view of the model that shows where the Western Wall was located; Jewish Quarter buildings in the foreground.



Looking down at the model from the stairs leading up to the Shrine of the Book.

Located in a garden adjacent to the model is the Shrine of the Book, its uniquely shaped structure recalls the shape of the cap of the clay vessels that the first set Dead Sea Scrolls was found contained in. Water jets were propelling streams over the exterior of the white dome - Uri said that was to help keep the temperature of the building down.








Near the Shrine of the Book was a solid, polished, free standing black stone wall. The contrast between the white dome and the black wall alludes to the tension evident in the scrolls between the spiritual world of the “Sons of Light” (as the Judean Desert sectarians called themselves) and the “Sons of Darkness” (the sect’s enemies). The corridor leading into the Shrine itself resembles a cave, giving you the feeling of entering the site where the ancient manuscripts were discovered.


At the entrance walkway into the Shrine, there are exhibits of artifacts recovered from the caves - coins, clay vessels, bits of fabric and even some human hair!

In the center of the dome are glassed exhibits displaying the scrolls or what was discovered of the scrolls. It's amazing to see how fine the lettering is, not crude *chicken scratch* as you might expect of something produced centuries ago. Instead, it was beautiful Hebrew manuscript. On a raised platform, located in the center of the room, is a reproduction of the Scroll of Isaiah. The only intact scroll discovered, you can imagine how valuable the original is to the State of Israel - no way they will risk its loss by putting it on display. The reproduction is presented in the round. The display is topped by a giant replica of the end of the Torah scroll.

From the Shrine of the Book, we headed back towards the Museum's entrance where there was a small, cafeteria style restaurant. We barely had 1/2 hour to eat. I plunked down 36 shekels for a smoked salmon sandwich which was served on dark, multigrain bread. Tasty enough and for $10, one of the cheaper items on the menu!

Entrance courtyard at the Israel Museum.

We had to gulp down our food and scoot out or we would be late for the English tour at the Knesset. I could see Uri getting anxious. I don't like to be late so I was at the designated meeting spot well ahead of time. When everyone had arrived, Uri went and got the van. It's unfortunate that we have people in the group who literally struggle with walking.

Uri parked the street on the road, just one block, downhill from the entrance to the Knesset.

At the entrance, we each had to show our passport and border control card. As with the day before, Meera and Raj had left their passports in the hotel so poor Uri had to explain to the guard what the deal was. All we were allowed to bring in was our camera, wallet and cellphone so I had to plop my backpack into a large cloth bag that Uri had gotten for the group. At this point, Uri was getting super anxious because it was past 2pm and he was told that the English tour was being held back, waiting for us. But we were stuck in security. What to do?

We queued up in line to enter into another room where there were was security scans and more guards to look over our passports and border control cards. Before I was allowed to pass through, I was handed a yellow sticker that presumably identified me as a member of a specific group.

Once we passed the security check, we were greeted by a large promenade that leads to the main Knesset building. We entered the main building and were immediately ushered into a room where there were other people waiting for us.


As soon as we took our seats, a young man entered. In a perfect English accent, he told us we would be watching a brief movie that would be our introduction into the Knesset and the Israeli government.

After the movie, we followed our English guide (yes, he was born in the UK), to an open area where he handed us stereo receivers and headphones. Apparently, there are a lot of groups going through the Knesset at the same time and it can be difficult to hear your guide over all the noise so the headphones will help us to hear him. What a great idea!


We followed our guide up the stairs and entered through a pair of very nondescript doors to the Plenary Hall where the main business of government takes place.

Our guide proceeded to explain the layout of the room to us. There are exactly 120 members of the government including the Prime Minister so the floor has to have that many seats to accommodate. The seats are arranged in the form of a ten branched candelabrum, with the Government table, shaped like a horseshoe, constitutes the two center branches. The Government table is where the Prime Minister and members of his cabinet sit.


Around them are members of the other parties. The minimum party representation is 2% so some parties have as few as 2 members sitting in the Plenary Hall.

The viewing gallery, just above the main floor, is for VIPs. The upper gallery, which is separated from the main room with bulletproof glass is for members of the general public. The glass separation was added after a demented person had thrown a hand grenade into the plenary hall in the Knesset, on October 29, 1957, when it was still located in the Frumin building. On that occasion Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, and several other Ministers were wounded.

From the Plenary Hall, we went back downstairs to the State Hall which is used for State events and receptions. This space is all about the artwork donated by Marc Chagall who is probably Israel's most famous artist.

In 1960 the Speaker of the Knesset, Kadish Luz, asked Chagall if he would be willing to decorate the State Hall. At first the idea was to have stainless-glass windows, such as those that Chagall had designed several years earlier for the synagogue in the Hadassah hospital at Ein Karem, or murals. Instead, Chagall proposed tapestries, even though it was an artform he was not at all familiar with. As it turned out, it was not easy to translate his style of painting into tapestry stitches. According to our guide, it took Chagall a year just to find the right colored thread! After the Knesset accepted the idea, Chagall proposed that the themes for the tapestries should be: “At The End of Time”; “Moses, King David and the Diaspora”, and the “Reemergence of the State of Israel” or as our guide more simply put it - the present, the past and the future of Israel.


In July 1964, it was agreed with Chagall that the floor in the State Hall would not be covered with a wall to wall carpet but instead made of polished stone. Chagall proposed that twelve asymmetrical mosaics, depicting traditional motifs appearing in mosaics found in ancient synagogues in the country from the sixth and sevenths centuries AD, be set in the floor.


In December 1965 Chagall also decided to add a wall mosaic, representing the phrase from the Book of Psalms: “On the River of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion… If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning…” (137:1&6). After concluding that there were no mosaic makers in Israel capable of performing the job to his satisfaction, Chagall sent for his favorite mosaic artists - the Melano couple from Paris, and they came to Jerusalem to do the job.


After the State Hall, we took a quick look at the copy of Israel's constitution which sits in glass display just as you enter the State Hall.



Next, we got to see a small sculpture, carved from the trunk of an olive tree, depicting "The Seven Species" which are the seven fruits and grains named in the Torah. 

Deuteronomy 8:8 tells us that Israel was "a land of wheat, barley, grapevines, figs, and pomegranates; a land of oil olives and date honey."
The seven species are:
 
Wheat (chitah in Hebrew)
Barley (se'orah in Hebrew)
Grapes (gefen in Hebrew), usually consumed as wine.
Figs (te'enah in Hebrew)
Pomegranates (rimon in Hebrew)
Olives (zayit in Hebrew), usually consumed in oil for
Dates (tamar or d'vash in Hebrew)

In ancient times these foods were staples of the Israelite diet. Today the seven species are still important agricultural items in modern Israel but they no longer dominate the produce of the country as they once did.


That concluded our tour of the Knesset. We returned our receivers and headphones and met back up with Uri. We headed out a side door and back to the main checkpoint where we picked up the black cloth bag. I got my backpack.

Entry to the Knesset complex.

We then had to make our way back to the van. It was late afternoon and wind had picked up. It was getting chilly. I just hoped it would not be quite as cold in the Old City as the light show at the Tower of David Museum is held outdoors.

From here, we had some free time. Uri's plan was to drop us off at Mamilla Mall and the pick us up around 5:30p. I didn't want to go to the mall, I would rather wander through the Old City so I asked Uri if it was okay for him to meet up with me by the Tourist Information Center that's located just inside Jaffa Gate. Of course it was. I quickly formulated a plan to go and visit the Church of Redeemer that I did not have a chance to go into yesterday. Cathy and Mitch decided they wanted to tag along with me. Uri dropped us off at Mamilla Mall and I led the way over to the Old City. I know this place well :-)

Without, yes, without my trusty map of the city in hand, I made my way back to the Christian Quarter. Along the way, Cathy bought a shawl. She only had a short sleeved shirt on and it was going to be a cold night. Mitch also bought a t-shirt - both as a souvenir and as an extra layer underneath his long sleeved polo shirt. He too would have been cold without the extra layer.

Archway leading to the Muristan where we had lunch yesterday.

When we arrived at the Church, the doors were closed so I headed back, through the souk, towards Jaffa Gate. On our way, Cathy bought another shawl - if you ask me, she was pretty much bullied by the vendor into buying it. According to Mitch, she's not good at saying, "no". While waiting for her, I bought a pomegranate juice to sip on. I was thirsty. When Cathy was down, we continued on our walk back towards Jaffa Gate and then headed through the Armenian Quarter and through the Jewish Quarter to the spot by the Wohl Arechological Museum where you can get that wonderful view of the Western Wall and Temple Mount. Cathy and Mitch had no desire to head back down to the Western Wall Plaza and so I led them through the Jewish Quarter back to the souk where we made our way back to Jaffa Gate. I told you I know this Old City well!!

Last view of El Khattab Square as I wait for the others to arrive. 

We had about 20 minutes to kill before Uri would be arriving. I had appointed Mitch to be time keeper and he kept good watch! The wind had picked up and it was getting really cold....the wind was even cutting through my winter coat. I tried to huddle close to the wall to escape the wind.

Jaffa Gate.  People were heading out of the Old City.

I sent Mitch off to put his shirt on. I pointed him the restrooms. The ever dutiful wife, Cathy followed him. They were gone for what seemed like an eternity. I was getting worried that maybe they got lost! I exited Jaffa Gate to see if maybe they were waiting on the other side and when I reentered the Gate, there was Cathy and Meera standing. Apparently, the restroom that I had pointed them to was closed so they actually went all the way over to Mamilla Mall to find a restroom there. Raj and Mitch were at the Aroma Cafe, the designated meeting spot, waiting for Uri, George and Marion to arrive.

The gals inside Jaffa Gate didn't have to wait long before the others arrived. We then headed to the Tower of David Museum which is pretty much just across the street from the Tourist Information Center. Uri got us our tickets and we queued in line to get in. We would meet at the exit when the show was over.

The doors to the Museum opened promptly at 6pm and we made our way inside to the Museum's large interior courtyard. A winding, downhill path led to the seats. Along the way, moving images were projected on various sections of walls. It was general seating so we just found ourselves some seats. George and Marion have difficulty walking so they lagged behind. Eventually, George showed up two rows below us though I don't know that he saw us. He asked the person, seated several seats over, to watch over his stuff while he went back to get Marion. She seems to have a lot of difficulty walking down steps so she needs his help.

From my seat taking a photo of the Israeli flag against the twilight sky.
By now, I was pretty much chilled to the bone. The seating was amphitheater style and we were one level below the top tier and I think that was actually a bad idea because the cold wind was hitting my neck. We should have sat closer to the bottom. Oh well. I just zipped up my jacket and lifted the collar to cover the back of my neck.

The show started. Corny as it may sound, I love light shows and this was one of the best I've ever seen!! Brief, animated movies were projected on the stone walls of the museum and the creators of the show took advantage of the doors, windows and unusual angles of the walls to play out their stories. The projections were not just on one wall but on side walls as well. Without a doubt, this was the largest and most unusual movie screen I had ever seen! Accompanied by a background musical score, the different scenes basically told the story of Jerusalem from the time the area was occupied by tribes to early 20th century. I was so caught up in the whole experience, I completely forgot about the cold weather.

45 minutes after the start of the show, it ended. We followed the crowd out the exit and Uri was there waiting for us.

Finally, it was time for dinner. The smoked salmon sandwich that I had for lunch had long made its way through my system. My stomach was sounding out small growls.

Uri had pre-arranged the dinner for us at a restaurant in the Armenian Quarter. I hate "conducted tour group" meals. They're never good. This was a typical Middle Eastern/Mediterranean meal. For appetizers, it was hummus, pita, olives, tzatziki, pickled vegetables, bulgar wheat etc. For the entree, everyone had the same grilled chicken and lamb kebab served with more bulgar and boiled vegetables. Desert was mint tea (for me) and baklava. Sigh....I amd sure there is so much better food to be had inside the souk and probably much cheaper too!

At dinner, we were introduced to Alina (sp?) who was born in Romania but raised in Israel. She now lives in Romania but was back in Israel visiting family. She would be joining us on our trip tomorrow to Massada, Qumran, and the Dead Sea.

After dinner, Uri dropped us at our hotels. I was the first to go. Though it was just shortly after 9p, I have to admit, I was already tired. All I wanted to do and all I did was take a shower and pop into bed. I still had to pack as well as I'm checking out of the hotel. Uri had suggested that we arrange for a packed breakfast and despite a couple of attempts, I never got through to Room Service. Oh well. I won't starve if I don't get breakfast....have plenty of belly reserve, if you know what I mean.

After getting all my *chores* done, my brain was still active so I spent a few minutes writing this posting. Tomorrow we're headed out of town and it will be another busy day. I can't believe this is my last night in Jerusalem. After five days of being here, I have barely nicked the surface of all there is to see let alone do. I definitely have to come back one day and finish my visit!

For the last time, goodnight from Jerusalem!