Sunday, April 19, 2015

Jerusalem past and present

For our second report from Jerusalem we begin outside the walls of today's Old City at the archeological site believed to be the original city of David. While the possibilities of what is being discovered in the layers beneath the surface are exciting, arriving at this site we see that the archeological park abuts and cuts into the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan where people living today are in communities upon that surface. Here again we are exposed to the multi-faceted and complex nature of every site in Jerusalem.

Up here is also the entrance to the ancient water tunnels that were dug to bring water into the walled city. For this part of today\s report we turn to Andrew, Ben and Lily Rosenfeld who wrote up this report on our morning adventure:
Our first adventure of the day was exploring Hezekiah’s tunnels. These tunnels were constructed almost 3000 years ago to transport spring water to the City of David. This was used as a military tactic to provide water even when the city was under siege. We walked down several flights of stairs as we headed towards the beginning of the tunnel, and as soon as we entered the tunnel the cold (but refreshing) water quickly got to almost 2 1/2 feet deep. This may not seem like much for most, but it was quite adventurous for our youngest, 7 year old explorer! We proceeded though the dark 1750 foot tunnel only able to see with the help of our headlamps and flashlights, wading through the narrow and twisting tunnel which at times was less than 5 feet high. We really enjoyed this adventure and found it amazing to think that this underground tunnel was built so long ago without the conveniences of modern day technology.

Some of our group opted for a drier route, but below are the brave souls who waded through, celebrating their victorious exit at the other end!
From here we made our way via the Dung Gate (so called because this was the means by which the Romans removed their sewage from the city) back to the Kotel plaza and into the tunnels that take us the length of the Western Wall underground, revealing the amazing scale of the supporting wall that Herod built to create the temple mount, along with remnants of that time such as a pavement, columns and additional water systems. 

We had two incredible guides today. Both were Orthodox women. The first shared that she had close to 40 grandchildren! She brought Jerusalem of 2000 years ago to life as we walked through the Kotel tunnels. Her passion was evident and this was yet another important voice for us to hear, even if we might dispute some of what we heard presented as history. This trip is all about taking in ALL of the narratives and encountering all of the people of Israel and this was an importnat voice for us to hear too. And there was no question that she left us with a feeing of pride and wonderment and deep sense of connection to our ancient past.

A short lunch break was enjoyed at Machaneh Yehudah - the Jerusalem outdoor food market. Blocks of Halva were aquired, borekas and rogelach enjoyed, spices smelt, and more. 

We ended the afternoon with a very powerful and emotional visit to Yad Vashem. One of our group, Jeff Govendo, saw the same of someone who shared the same last name in the very first exhibit we saw -- someone who occupied a place somewhere on his extended family tree. Our excellent guide emphasizd personal connectioons and individual stories throughout our tour. The museum was packed full - we saw members of St. Stephen's there too, as well as a large group of female IDF soldiers. We learned that it is a requirement for all IDF soldiers to visit Yad Vashem sometime during their service. What makes this Holocaust museum experience unique is the deep sense that is strongly communicated that Israel is the response to the Holocaust. It is the way that, as a Jewish people, we have the ability to make 
Never again mean that we will never again rely on others to provide safae haven to the Jews of the world when trouble strikes.  We ended our visit with a brief reflection circle, El Malei, Kaddish, and our gude, Noam, gave each of us a card with the name of someone who perished in the Holocaust whose name bore some resemblance to our own.

After a break back at the hotel, we had the enormous pleasure of spending a delicious meal wth Joe Federman. Joe grew up at CBS, the son of Toby and Mike who are founding members of the congregation. He is now Bureau Chief for the Associated Press covering Gaza, Israel and the Palestinian authority. We had a wonderful conversation, learning about the nature of the news business in this complex part of the world, post election analysis, the US-Israel relationshiip, the Red Sox, NE Patriots, and more!

Today's blog post has been written on the bus at 4 am as we make our way to Masada in time for sunrise. Forgive any blurry eyed typos!

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