Monday, October 13, 2008

Tel Aviv

The first city we visited (yes, I know, my presentation of our trip in this blog is out of order) was Tel Aviv. The second largest city in Israel (by population), Tel Aviv is located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, just north of Jaffa. Founded in 1909, Tel Aviv is Israel's economic center (and home of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange), with many upscale shopping areas and restaurants, a very secular lifestyle, and major cultural and performing arts centers--not to mention a beautiful beach!

The name Tel Aviv is Hebrew for "Hill of Spring"; literally, tel is an archaeological site, and aviv means spring renewal or rebirth, so the name that the Zionists gave to this city symbolized their dream for a reborn Jewish homeland--a dream that eventually came true with the granting of Israeli statehood in 1948.

Tel Aviv is also home to the White City, a collection of 4,000 Bauhaus buildings, the largest of any city worldwide. When the Nazis closed the Bauhaus school in Germany in 1933, many Jewish architects fled to Palestine to join their compatriots who had already immigrated to Tel Aviv in the 1920s. These architects took advantage of the absence of established building conventions to begin building in the Bauhaus tradition, which emphasized functionality and inexpensive building materials. Of course, the style required adaptation to the extremes of the Mediterranean and desert climate: white and light colors to reflect the heat; walls to protect against the sun; small recessed windows to limit the glare; long narrow balconies, shaded by the balcony just above, to catch the sea breeze; flat roofs to provide a common area where residents could gather and cool off in the evenings; pillars to elevate the buildings and allow wind to blow beneath and cool the apartments; garden plots among the structures to encourage self-sufficient agriculture. Despite these innovations, the concrete buildings still become extremely hot during the summers, so the residents of Tel Aviv adopted the Mediterranean custom of strolling in the parks in the evenings, a custom that continues to this day. UNESCO proclaimed the White City a World Cultural Heritage site in 2003, "an outstanding example of new town planning and architecture in the early 20th century."

These two photos show the view of the beach from our hotel--it was a relaxing way to begin our visit to Israel and to rest from our flight before heading out on foot to tour the environs.

Tel Aviv's importance to modern Zionism cannot be understated. As a political secular movement, Zionism really began with the Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodor Herzl in the late 19th century, who encouraged Jews to migrate to Palestine. Zionism has two pillars: religious tradition, which provides a link between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, or the Promised Land; and secular nationalism, which seeks a homeland where Jews can be safe from antisemitism. Zionism was but one of many Jewish political movements in Europe but became the dominant one after the Holocaust. Since the 1st century C.E., most Jews have lived in exile (having been forced out of Jerusalem/Judea by the Romans)--an event known as the Diaspora. In 1800 only 6,700 Jews lived in Palestine--about 2.4% of the total population. Jewish immigration to Palestine really started in earnest in 1882, with several aliyahs, or waves, occurring until the largest influx in the 1930s and 1940s, despite Britain's efforts to control the numbers of Jews allowed into the British mandate. By 1947 the Jewish population of Palestine was 630,000--about 32.5% of the total population. A remarkable change in just 150 years.
Our recollection is that this next photo shows Ben-Gurion's house. David Ben-Gurion was Israel's first prime minister, serving from 1948 to 1963 (except for the two-year period in 1954-55). Born David Grun in Poland in 1886, Ben-Gurion was an ardent Zionist who immigrated to Palestine in 1906. The Ottoman Turks expelled him for his political activities in 1915; so he went to New York City, where he married and had three children. He joined the British Army in 1918 as part of the Jewish Legion, and he and his family returned to Palestine after Britain captured it from the Ottoman Empire. In 1920 he became general secretary of the Histadrut (Zionist Labor Federation in Palestine); in 1930 he provided leadership for the formation of Mapai, a right-wing Zionist labor party; in 1935 he became chair of the executive committee of the Jewish Agency for Palestine; on May 14, 1948, he declared the establishment of the State of Israel. He became prime minister and also oversaw Israel's military during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War (known to Israelis as the War of Independence or the War of Liberation; the Palestinians call it the Catastrophe). After stepping down as prime minister, he remained active in politics, retiring to a kibbutz in the Negev Desert in 1970. (This is just a small bit of the important history that has transpired in Israel in modern times.)
Another important landmark in Tel Aviv is Rothschild Boulevard, named after baron Edmond James de Rothschild, a French member of the Rothschild banking family who actively supported Zionism and donated significant funds to support the early movement. The first boulevard built in the city, Rothschild Boulevard is perhaps the busiest street in Tel Aviv and also is central to the White City. Independence Hall, the site of the signing of Israel's Declaration of Independence, is located on Rothschild Boulevard.

Like much of Israel, Tel Aviv has not escaped political violence. In recent years, suicide bombers have attacked buses and nightclubs in Tel Aviv; here is one of the memorials to the civilians killed in one of the suicide bombings:

Israeli politicians have not been immune from violence either, and Tel Aviv is the site of one of the saddest events in Israeli history.

On November 4, 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin appeared at a rally in support of the Oslo peace accords, held in the outdoor plaza named Kikar Malchei Yisrael (Kings of Israel). After the rally, as he was walking toward his car, he was assassinated, gunned down by Yigal Amir, a right-wing Orthodox Jew who strenuously opposed Rabin's peace initiatives and signing of the Oslo agreement. The plaza has been renamed Rabin Square, and the location is marked by a memorial to Rabin's memory and to the continuation of the peace process.

Upon the stone marker, one can see that a passerby has placed a smaller stone, in remembrance of the deceased peacemaker.

As a major cultural center, Tel Aviv is home to a number of modern art masterpieces. For example, Dizengoff Square is centered on a splendid outdoor fountain designed by Yaacov Agam, an Israeli sculptor and experimental artist known for his abstract and kinetic pieces. Here are some views of his fountain:

Although Tel Aviv did not seem as modern as I remember it from 1983, it's still an incredible city, and it was a comfortable place for us to ease into the unfamiliar world we were about to encounter.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Diamond & Gemstone Jewelry Factory

One of the evenings we were in Tiberias, we visited a diamond and gemstone jewelry factory. There was a short presentation about diamonds through the centuries, but of course, the main reason for the "tour" was to have us view and, it was hoped, purchase some of the rings, pendants, pins, earrings, bracelets, and other diamond and gemstone jewelry on display. The pieces were stunning--as were the prices! Anyway, here are a few images from this evening.

First, a showcase of various rough gemstones. I can't read the Hebrew labels, but I believe there are some pieces of amethyst and opal and quartz in here.

It was not a pure shopping trip, fortunately, for we did learn about the High Priest's Breastplate. Among the other priestly vestments, the breastplate is first described in the book of Exodus, as follows:

You shall make a breastpiece of judgement, in skilled work; you shall make it in the style of the ephod; of gold, of blue and purple and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen you shall make it. It shall be square and doubled, a span in length and a span in width. You shall set in it four rows of stones. A row of carnelian,* chrysolite, and emerald shall be the first row; and the second row a turquoise, a sapphire,* and a moonstone; and the third row a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth row a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper; they shall be set in gold filigree. There shall be twelve stones with names corresponding to the names of the sons of Israel; they shall be like signets, each engraved with its name, for the twelve tribes. You shall make for the breastpiece chains of pure gold, twisted like cords; and you shall make for the breastpiece two rings of gold, and put the two rings on the two edges of the breastpiece. You shall put the two cords of gold in the two rings at the edges of the breastpiece; the two ends of the two cords you shall attach to the two settings, and so attach it in front to the shoulder-pieces of the ephod. You shall make two rings of gold, and put them at the two ends of the breastpiece, on its inside edge next to the ephod. You shall make two rings of gold, and attach them in front to the lower part of the two shoulder-pieces of the ephod, at its joining above the decorated band of the ephod. The breastpiece shall be bound by its rings to the rings of the ephod with a blue cord, so that it may lie on the decorated band of the ephod, and so that the breastpiece shall not come loose from the ephod. So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgement on his heart when he goes into the holy place, for a continual remembrance before the Lord. In the breastpiece of judgement you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart when he goes in before the Lord; thus Aaron shall bear the judgement of the Israelites on his heart before the Lord continually. (Exodus 28:15-30, NRSV)

Aaron was Moses' brother and was the first High Priest of the Israelites after their escape from Egypt. When Aaron died, only his descendants could become high priests, and thus another name for the high priests was "sons of Aaron." Because the High Priest was the people's representative before God, it was considered the most glorious of all positions, and the High Priest's vestments were designed for glory and beauty.

The breastplate was of great importance because God used it to reveal the divine will to the Chosen People. It was a type of oracle, the means by which God responded to the High Priest's inquiries. Scholars believe the process went something like this: Faced with an important decision, a person would submit his or her request to the High Priest, who would then stand before the lampstand near the altar. He would hold the Urim in one hand and the Thurim in the other (these were sacred, some believe miraculous, stones or jewels, the Urim representing light and excellence and the Thummim signifying perfection and completion). The candlelight from the lampstand would reflect from the Urim and Thummim onto the breastplate's stones. The people believed that God's breath caused the candle flames to flicker, altering the angle with which the light would shine onto the Urim and Thummim, and from them onto the stones of the breastplate. Twenty-four combinations of reflection were possible, corresponding to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, so the flashes of light could produce strings of letters, allowing God to communicate directly to the High Priest.

Which stones were set into the breastplate? This is an age-old question. Although the Hebrew names of the stones are well documented, scholars have never agreed upon their translation. The scripture passage cited above gives one possible grouping, but here is another, listed with the corresponding tribe:

Judah: Sardius (red)
Issachar: Topaz (pale green)
Zebulon: Carbuncle (deep red)
Reuben: Emerald (green)
Simeon: Sapphire (deep blue)
Gad: Diamond (transparent)
Ephraim: Ligure (dull red)
Manasseh: Agate (gray)
Benjamin: Amethyst (purple)
Dan: Beryl (bluish green)
Asher: Onyx (bluish white)
Naphtali: Jasper (green)

The stones were set in four rows, three per row, and the name of the tribe was engraved upon its stone.

Finally, I had to photograph the nails of our tour guide. This was some amazing work that must have taken a number of hours--and must have been incredibly expensive. I guess when you can't wear any more diamond rings or bracelets or earrings or necklaces, it makes sense to attach the gems directly to your nails!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Carmel Market

One of the mornings we were in Tel Aviv, we had the opportunity to walk through the Carmel Market, also known as "Shuk Ha'Carmel." This is Tel Aviv's largest outdoor marketplace, though it pales in comparison to the bazaars and markets in Jerusalem. The Carmel Market is a long, crowded, narrow alley with stalls on both sides, and a few smaller, shorter alleyways leading off the main street. At every step, vendors will stop you with their cries of "best price in the market"--now, they cannot each actually have the best price, so the rule in a market such as this is to bargain as much as you can. Also, be sure to get exactly what you've agreed to.

Mounds of vegetables, grown locally and so quite fresh.

In the Carmel Market, you can find almost anything you might need (probably at the lowest prices in the city), from bread and pastry to olives and dried fruit to dried spices to fresh fruits and vegetables to fish and poultry to cheese to flowers! This market also has an area where vendors sell clothing such as scarves, hats, sandals, belts, and so forth.
A sample of some of the exotics we discovered here:

These eggplants were just gorgeous!
An assortment of cheeses and milk products:

A small catch-all grocery stall:

A flower stand:

It was fun to visit this particular market early during our trip to Israel, and it helped prepare us for venturing into the larger, more crowded, and certainly more intense Jerusalem bazaar.

Friday, September 19, 2008

My 1983 Visit to the Holy Land

Our trip to Israel this past summer prompted me to revisit my 1983 experience of the Holy Land, so I looked up the letter I had written afterward to describe everything to my relatives. Here are some excerpts. [Background: I was assigned to an aircraft squadron on board the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy CV-67; this was my first deployment as a junior naval officer. Our task force was en route to the Mediterranean for a "routine" Cold War "cruise" when the U.S. Marine barracks were bombed in Lebanon in the fall of 1983, and we immediately made our way to the eastern Mediterranean and joined the NATO forces on what we called "Bagel Station"--because we were steaming and flying in circles just off the coast of Israel. In response to the intensity of the Lebanese civil war, we were flying nonstop missions around the clock; "down time" was rare, so we were overjoyed to learn that we would have a two-day port call in Haifa, in the north of Israel.]

December 2, 1983--Last Saturday we heard that we were to pull into Haifa, Israel, on Monday. Because of the instability of our schedule, nobody packed even an overnight because no one really expected to stop, not even for the scheduled two days.

We actually did pull in to Haifa. Since I was scheduled for duty on the second day of our visit, I and a couple others in the duty section ran down to Jerusalem on Monday. We didn't get off the ship until late, so we didn't arrive there until 1500 [3:00 p.m.]--just a couple hours of daylight. We saw the Wailing Wall, [the Church of] the Holy Sepulchre, the bazaar, some other parts of the old city, before dark. Then we ran to Tel Aviv for dinner and drinks. We didn't get back to the ship until after 0200 [2:00 a.m.], so I spent most of my duty day asleep. (Tel Aviv is about one hour from Haifa; Jerusalem, about two). At the end of my duty, from 0400 [4:00 a.m.] until sunrise, I had the liberty boat officer watch--I had to ride the liberty boats back and forth from ship to shore just to make sure we had no crashes or groundings and that no one cause any trouble. Fortunately, the crew of my boat was very professional and competent, and we had maybe twenty passengers during the three hours I was on duty.
At the end of my duty, I heard that we were remaining in Israel for an additional two days. We had heard rumors to that effect earlier but had hardly dared to hope. So six of us [from my squadron] hopped on the bus for Jerusalem, planning on an overnight. [One of the guys] and I had taken the bus on Monday, so we led the group down to the bank where the tellers had sold us shekels at the black market rate (seems she and the other tellers "invested" their money in American dollars...). The bus trips were interesting. I learned from [some of the other passengers] that Israel really is a desert land. The desert is still in evidence around Jerusalem--the land is brown, very rocky, with steep hills and few bushes, lots of dust. Only in the past forty years, with irrigation from the north, have the people been able to grow food there--the orange groves stretch for miles; and the cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants, lettuce are all delicious. I don't see how this could have been a "land flowing with milk and honey" before agricultural technology.

When we descended from the bus in Jerusalem, we met two American Jewish girls from the Bronx. They told us of a hostel where we could stay for cheap, so we went to check it out. For four dollars each, the six of us had two rooms with bathrooms down the hall.... The concierge was a very short fat lady who spoke very little English but helped us out with telephone tokens and towels and even directions. By now, it was noon on Wednesday, so we walked to the old city (Old Jerusalem is the part of the city within the walls). What an interesting walk. By chance, we had picked a hostel in the middle of Mea Sherim, which is an old Jewish section outside the walls. Here the men still wear the long curls along the sides of their faces, the beards, black hats, long black coats, prayer shawls. The women, still dresses with kerchiefs on their heads. Everyone reminded me of Tzeitel and Motel [from Fiddler on the Roof]. (Around the corner from our hostel was a school, and Thursday morning as I stood on the sidewalk to take pictures I could hear the young boys singing their Hebrew lessons.)

We finally arrived at the old city and walked along Via Dolorosa--this is the path of the stations of the cross, the path Jesus followed from his cell to Calvary. So much of the "history" is speculation, but this is the traditional path.

We next walked down to the Garden of Gethsemane, which is outside the city walls. The garden where Judas supposedly betrayed Jesus is closed, but we could walk through some of the other gardens--really olive groves. We also visited the Church of All Nations--a church built around the rock of the agony. On this rock Jesus supposedly cried and sweat blood as he came to an acceptance of his coming death--the place of the real victory of the spirit over the body. The church is beautiful. The rock is directly in front of the altar surrounded by a wrought-iron black crown of thorns decorated with doves drinking from chalices. Above the altar is a beautiful mosaic of Jesus in his agony on the rock. On one side is a mosaic of Judas's betrayal; on the other, of Jesus with the disciples. The church was most peaceful, maybe the "holiest" place we saw--certainly the place that felt the most sacred. Our visit here was very meaningful.

We then walked along the outside of the city walls, past the corner of the Temple where the devil tempted Jesus. We entered the city again and revisited the Wailing or Western Wall--the only wall remaining of King Herod's great Temple (he was a masterful builder). The Jewish men worshipped to the left, the women to the right. The people prayed, read the Torah before the wall, stuffed scraps of paper with prayers into the cracks in the wall. Of course, the Israeli Defense Force was patrolling (all over the country, the military is very evident; I sat next to a soldier carrying a loaded machine gun on the bus; many travel in uniform with their weapons).

We did some shopping next, haggling with the Arabs over prices--some bargains, some rip-offs. The kids would come out to you and really bother you; the old men would place objects in your hands, trying to drag you into their shops. After a few times, the ordeal is a real pain.

We next visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre--this church is built upon the traditional location of Calvary and Jesus's tomb. We saw the rock of the hill, the crack in the rock from Jesus's death, the tomb itself. We followed the Franciscan monks through the service--prayers and singing in Latin before all the altars and shrines. The church itself is a combination of the gaudy Orthodox Catholic and the austere Franciscan. The incense filled the church, and the chants were mysterious in the dark caverns.

When we exited, the Moslem call to evening prayer filled the city--another mysterious sound in the dark.

We left the old city then and returned to "America"--we had dinner at the Hilton. The food was superb--the service very much of the country, and our waitress was from Canada (Israel really is a conglomeration of cultures). The best part of the dinner was the Sabra, the Israeli after-dinner cordial--tasted like chocolate-covered orange. Then we returned to our hostel and crashed--I had been up since 3:00 a.m.!

The next morning we stopped at a bakery on our way back to the old city--the cookies were scrumptious!

We visited first Mount Moriah, within the Moslem shrines, open to us only in the morning. As we entered, a group of Moslem women wearing long blue dresses and white head veils were going into their mosque to pray. We removed our shoes and went into the one mosque--huge, could hold 5,000 people, just a large open space completely covered with Iranian carpets. The decoration all around was very ornate. Then we went to the Dome of the Rock, the main mosque of the city. In the center of this mosque is the stone where Abraham supposedly brought his son Isaac for sacrifice to God and where Mohammed ascended into heaven. This mosque was even more ornate than the first--mosaics, tiles, gold leaf, again the carpets--Islam decorates geometrically, symmetrically, colorfully--quite a sight! The outer dome is bronze and rises over blue mosaics. Again, we had to remove our shoes and leave our bags outside.

We returned briefly to the Via Dolorosa, then we caught a cab to Bethlehem. The surrounding countryside is very rugged and dry. The church above the birthplace is Greek Orthodox--again, very elaborate and ornate--not really pretty. The birthplace is below, really in a cave or grotto. Since the Holy Land has changed hands so many times, nothing is as it was. Each conqueror razed the old and erected new structures. For example, the Crusaders built steps leading down to the Cave of the Nativity.

We did some shopping (of course)--the woodworking was just superb--we saw a stunning nativity set for $400. Then we had lunch--eggplant salad was a thick paste to spread on bread, and a falafel was a pita bread pouch stuffed with meat, meal, and salad (lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers).

We returned to Jerusalem to the Garden Tomb--this is the alternate site of Jesus's death and burial. The hill--Golgotha--actually looks like a skull's face; the description of the tomb and the gardens in the gospels all fit this place. The garden was restored by a group of British, and the curators were most informative and extremely friendly. Our visit here was most enjoyable and meaningful, the second-most sacred place, I felt. This garden felt "right" in a way that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre did not.

Then we took the bus back to Haifa--the bus station was a mass of people, all different kinds, and we listened to at least five different languages on the radio (Hebrew, English, French, Spanish, Arabic). Israel really is an interesting grouping of cultures. The land is not as densely populated as I had expected. Jerusalem was a lot older, darker than I thought--it is a maze of narrow streets, rising and falling between the walls and under arches--not very dirty at all, and that too was surprising.

Our first day--Monday--was much too rushed to be any fun. Wednesday and Thursday, our trip was much more relaxed, much more meaningful, and I really enjoyed myself the entire time. I did spend gads of money--I bought a large rug for $50 (he wanted $70, so we haggled some--I don't know if this was a bargain or not, but now is too late to speculate)--but it's only money. Mostly we tried to avoid the tour guides who would latch onto our group and try to wear you down into agreeing to hire them.

The country is very colorful--that's the best word for its diversity. Someday I'd like to return, to spend more time, to feel more; but these few days were golden, and their wealth will last a long time.

I hope you enjoyed my visit too!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Baha'i Shrine and Gardens in Haifa

In northwestern Israel, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, lies the city of Haifa, the third-largest city in modern Israel (after Jerusalem and Tel Aviv) and an extremely important port (my ship, the John F. Kennedy, anchored outside of Haifa's harbor during my visit to Israel in 1983; we rode small ship's boats from the carrier to the docks, a ride of about 30 minutes). Extending from the sea up the slopes of Mount Carmel, Haifa is historically important because it was the home of the prophet Elijah, and the cave where he lived and taught is a popular shrine to this day. On Mount Carmel, the Carmelite Order of Roman Catholic monks was founded in the 12th century (during the Crusades). And in the 21st century, Haifa and Mount Carmel became the headquarters of the Baha'i faith and the home to the Baha'i Shrine and Gardens.

The Baha'i faith first emerged during the 19th century, in Persia. Followers of Baha'i believe in the unity of all religions. As part of their faith, they hold that God has sent messengers to teach humankind the meaning of peace: Krishna, Buddha, Abraham, Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed were all such messengers, and though the details of their teachings may have differed, their message was substantially the same.

In 1844 Siyyid 'Ali-Muhammad, known as the Bab (the "Gate"), founded the Babi Faith in Persia (modern-day Iran), to prepare humanity for the arrival of a new teacher who would lead the world into an age of universal peace.

In 1863 Mirza Husayn-'Ali, known as Baha'u'llah (the "Glory of God"), announced that he was the messenger whom the Bab had foretold, and he founded the Baha'i Faith. A Turk, Baha'u'llah was exiled to Acre in 1868, where he wrote and taught and died (he lived from 1817 to 1892) and is buried.

Just before his death, during a visit to Haifa in 1890 or 1891, Baha'u'llah indicated the place on Mount Carmel where the remains of the Bab should be entombed. The Bab had been martyred in Persia, and his followers eventually smuggled him into the Holy Land, in 1909.

The Shrine of the Bab is a lovely gilded domed building in the center of the Baha'i Gardens; completed in 1953, it is a blending of western and eastern architectural styles (Roman columns, Greek capitals, and Asian arches), to emphasize the Baha'i belief in worldwide religious unity.

Farther up the hill is the Baha'i International Archives, modeled after the Parthenon, and the Baha'i Universal House of Justice, with 58 marble columns and hanging gardens.

Guardian of the Faith Shoghi Effendi originally designed the splendid gardens. A recent redesign of the landscaping, under the supervision of Fariborz Sahba, was begun in 1990 and completed in 2001 and has made the gardens one of the world's most important horticultural attractions. The gardens extend up Mount Carmel for a distance of more than 1 kilometer.

Our group was permitted to visit only the topmost terrace of the Baha'i Gardens (there are 19 terraces), and we were not allowed entrance to any of the buildings. Nevertheless, the view from the top of Mount Carmel was breathtaking, and the gardens are just spectacular.

Though located in the center of a bustling modern city, the Baha'i Gardens are amazingly quiet, and it is a wonderfully peaceful location for meditation or prayer or simply a moment of relaxation.

Baha'u'llah most important teaching is "the earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens." He set forth principles for a world civilization, urging people everywhere to abandon all prejudice, establish equality between the sexes, eliminate extreme poverty and wealth, provide universal education, set up collective security among nations, understand that religion and reason are in harmony, and recognize that the world's great religions have a common source and are essentially one. He felt that each person is responsible to search independently for truth.
The Baha'i community actively supports the United Nations and thousands of social and economic programs worldwide.

The most fitting words are those of BAHÁ'U'LLÁH: "Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator."
I wish we had had more time to spend in the Baha'i Shrine and Gardens, but it was a beautiful visit that left lasting memories and a desire to learn more about the Baha'i.

For more information and inside photos of the Baha'i Shrine and Gardens, visit

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Various Sights around Jerusalem

This entry is a "catch all" of various scenes from our wanderings around Jerusalem. Fear not, I do plan to devote individual entries to more of the major Jerusalem sites (such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of the Agony and the Garden of Gethsemane, the Stations of the Cross, the Tower of David, The Tomb of David, the Upper Room, and so forth). Still, I thought it important to present some images and remembrances that don't necessarily fit neatly in with any of the recognized places.

As we quickly became aware, Israel is a country that is ever vigilant, prepared to defend itself against its surrounding enemies at all times. Once they turn 18, all Israeli Jewish men and women (with some exceptions for religious reasons) are required to serve in the Israeli Defense Force for two or three years, with reserve service continuing until the age of about 45. Members of the IDF almost always keep their weapons and equipment at hand, and it is not unusual to see armed soldiers taking the bus back to base from weekend leave. In Jerusalem, there is a mingling of the IDF, the Israeli Police, and the Preventive Security Service of the Palestinian National Authority.

Security was particularly strong at the "Wailing" or Western Wall; visitors had to pass through metal detectors, and all bags and packages were subject to inspection.
The following photos depict Saturday morning (Shabbat) "traffic" just inside the Jaffa Gate in the walled (old) city of Jerusalem:

Despite orthodox Jewish observances of the sabbath, Jerusalem is a place of such varied beliefs and practices that the markets in the old city were nevertheless open for business. Here are some views of various market stalls and shops from throughout the city:

Rusty and I were particularly impressed with the displays of spices for sale.

These merchants were taking a break from their sales day.

Yes, the Hard Rock Cafe and Coca-Cola are everywhere!
The newer portions of Jerusalem are quite fascinating as well. Our hotel, the Dan Panorama, was very close to the YMCA.

The YMCA, below, is really striking, and beautifully lighted at night.

Here is a view of the King David Hotel, which is just across the street from the YMCA. This hotel is top of the line; many heads of state, dignitaries, and celebrities have stayed here. During our visit, U.S. presidential hopeful Barack Obama was a guest of this hotel.

This is a view of the Knesset, Israel's Parliament; it is located just across the street from the Shrine of the Book museum.
There are many, many antique and antiquities stores located throughout Jerusalem, both the old and the new portions of the city. Here is one storefront, with an amazing Sterling silver scroll "case" (for the scrolls of the Torah) on view:

Outside the Jaffa Gate is a brand-new, ultra-modern, upscale outdoor shopping mall:

The most amazing thing about this shopping mall is that it is reconstructed, each stone having been labeled before the old buildings were taken apart so that the stones could be reassembled to recreate the street once internal reinforcements had been erected.

This is an artist's drawing of the work in progress (and it was ongoing while we were there):

Finally, a couple of scenes from the streets of old Jerusalem; it is a city of many, many tourists, particularly during the summer months:

We were amazed to encounter this outdoor fountain in the old city, since water is so precious here. But it is a beautiful work of art--a "kinetic sculpture," if you will--and testifies to the people's ability to overcome difficulties while continuing to hope for a better future.