ABSTRACT: After learning about Yitzhak Rabin, we travel to Jerusalem and much of the experience is beyond words and pictures.
Monday, July 25 / Sheni, 23 Tammuz
The day started with an alarm at 645h. I descended downstairs, excited for a big day. Rolling the suitcase into the elevator, dropping it in the lobby, I then jogged to the second floor for breakfast [307-308]. The “potato pancakes” that they allegedly had were really just puff pastry. Others in the group seemed tired, probably due to partying late after midnight. I’m insufficiently-sufficiently rested.
Leaving the furnace (i.e. hotel), we headed to Rabin Square. I took a snapshot of a street corner and a bike rental thingy [309-311]. Green transportation is good! I sat on the left-hand side and a window-side of the bus. In the shade in Rabin Square, Dan explained Yitzhak Rabin’s legacy, through Israeli wars, but then envisioning peace. Rabin believed that Palestinians needed a state too.
Around the park [312-317], we asked a few Israelis about their flashbulb memories from the night of Rabin’s assassination. (I collected names, but do not write them down here for their privacy). One of them was in the Army in the North, and there was celebration in that area by some of the more extreme Jews who felt no mercy toward the Palestinians. Another person who we talked to was a neighbor of the assassin’s family! The killer was even Jewish, which made it perhaps even more surprising. That has to be something scary.
Other stories, back in the shade, included a then-twelve-year-old at the rally who left prior to the assassination. Some people interviewed actually saw it live; other people saw it on TV or heard it on the radio. Surprise was sometimes characteristic, but sleeplessness, fear, and other post-traumatic things were rampant. The phrase “shalom chaver” (i.e. good-bye, friend) uttered by Bill Clinton, the bloodied “Shir Shalom” (Song of Peace) , and other similar details made it easier to relate to.
Walking down the sidewalk past an excavation (?) zone, we reached the side of stairs where the assassination happened. It was unbelievable how close the killer managed to get in the eyes of the bodyguards [323-326, etc.]. The rocks from the Galilee were a powerful symbolism  with the colour of the rocks (i.e. mourning), shape (imperfections in people), and more. They say that Rabin’s vision died with him. I could have written more here, but the pictures tell a lot of the story here.
The heat and humidity was stifling. The thermometer on the bus was even busted ! As we left Tel Aviv, I saw some of the neat buildings, and ANOTHER protest with cow paraphernalia. It seems that Jewish people really do like to complain. Granted, I suppose complaining is a natural tendency of all people. [334-341]. While further exiting Tel Aviv, we paralleled train tracks for a while, which reminded me of Interstate 55 in Chicago and the Orange Line. One train picture succeeded, but the remainder were flubs [342-347].
Along the road, I chatted with Eric about group dynamics, people-meeting, and circles of friends. He’s my photo-taking rival—he’s already up to about 1000 exposures! Of course, I’m not strictly in competition for photos here. My chronicles will be fine! I took some roadside pictures, and Nitzan got on the mike at the 20-km sign, “Wakey-wakey!”
The road to Jerusalem is a valley. In 1948, Israeli convoys would try to access the city, but the Arabs had position at the top of the valley, throwing bombs down to stop the convoys. The remains were on medians on the highway [353-356]. From my vantage point, it was impossible to take pictures of the road signs or the approach of Jerusalem. As we got there, an executive decision to play the song “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” (Jerusalem of Gold) occurred, and my eyes welled up in tears of joy.
Oops… I screwed up. Chronology… silly me! We first stopped at a parking garage outside of Jerusalem  and got popsicles from Taglit. I’m not sure what the main point of that short stop was for. Then, I took some fail pictures  en route to Jerusalem, and as the aforementioned song played, we passed the Sakhorov Gardens . The pictures I took were insufficient to show the whole way, of course, but include [365-372]. Heading up a hill and seeing yet another protest tent [373-374], Dan told us about the Gilad Shalit situation. Shalit hasn’t been heard from in five years after being captured by Hamas.
The bus kept climbing hills, and my bladder became a ticking time bomb. I got a few interesting buildings [376-378], and atop the hill, I hastily joined the group, and ha-shirutim (the restroom) called my name, where relief of the bladder came (yes, I know… too much information). The top of this hill was a lookout over the city, and was breathtaking. Some pictures where the scenery was either the foreground OR the background commenced [379-388]. In semi-shade afterward, the scenery was explained. The Talmud says that there are ten parts of beauty in the world, and nine of them are in Jerusalem. Further, it is true that eyes from two thirds of ALL the people on the whole planet look here. The shear magnitude of this is awesome, to say the least!
Prior to us visiting The Old City, we had lunch in the German Colony. Tons of restaurants were on this drag, and the ones strongly recommended were Baba or Big Apple Pizza. I went with Rachel, Lisa, and a few others, and eventually ended up at Big Apple Pizza, where others also joined. They had some, but not every, USA license plate (there were none from Nebraska 😦 , but one from Illinois) [389-396]. Without much cheese, the regular pizza tasted great. During the lunch, a crazy man came into the restaurant, babbling nonsense toward the ladies of the party, and after he quickly left, he snapped at others on the street. Freaky!
En route to The Old City, some interesting street names and buildings passed [397-398]. Walking to The Old City on the slippery stones, alongside Nitzan and others in a yalla-yalla (hurry up!) fashion, the pictures of the 500-year-old-stone and the stairs leading to the Zion Gate piqued my excitement and fascination [399-407]. Major Jewish history is just around the corner, and these steps!
The story of the Zion Gate is that the walls are nearly 500 years old. The entrance is curved to confound marauders, and holes visible in the gate  were from the War of Independence. A mezuzah sits on the gate, just like in any Jewish building, which I kissed as I entered (hopefully someone got a picture of this… I failed to!). I’m home, in a spiritual sense!
Walking through this spiritual home, some vendors were on the south drag where cars and motorcycles passed, which seemed quite out of place. Yet, at the same time, the Old City is the original “living history museum.” The history and beauty of what I am seeing can’t be expressed in either my words or my pictures. We were advised to not be offended by Hasidics who might drop water or garbage on less-observent-looking Jewish people. I hope that doesn’t happen! Through the alleys we went [410-423], until the rooftops.
The rooftops [424-426] gave some good views of the city, and a much closer view of the Temple Mount. A bunch of fireworks blew up in the northeast, implying a wedding or something at that mosque. Here, Dan and Nitzan explained that Jerusalem has “modern” houses atop the Old City, and further down, the years also decrease. Kids play, ride bikes, etc. all around here, as the area is just like any other neighborhood, only with a lot more activity going on daily. From this rooftop, we could see the Dome of the Rock, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Al-Aqsa Mosque, and more. Here, whether Muslim prayer calls from minarets, church bells, or synagogue services, G-d (whether Hashem, Allah, or any other name) hears all. It amazes me to see all the harmony that could be here, when there probably is not.
Backtracking a bit, there was an undercroft that led to a cavernous area. The group heard explanations on the mural , but I missed them as I had another need to use the restroom. Past this area, which I saw en route to the restroom but returned with the group, pillars and a mural caught what this area may have looked like a long time ago [430-436]. With stories from the Torah [437-449], the old city’s walls in 900 BCE were evident later. Seeing the story come alive before my eyes is a beautiful thing, as the road name  implied.
Walking on Tiferet Israel Road, we heard the story of the white-cap synagogue. It is called “The Ruins” because it has been twice destroyed, although the arch there has survived both times. I hope the third time is a charm—it was just re-completed last year. It definitely DOES look brand-new [450-456]!
Continuing down an alley, we stopped short of the “Moriah” sign . Forming two lines on the stairs, we put our heads down. Holding hands, we descended stairs, ascended other stairs, took corners, and walked backwards. “Step. Step. Step. Step. …” Once they turned us around, we got a live panorama of the Western Wall ! In ancient Israel, it was the nearest wall of the Temple Mount to the Holy of Holies. Eyes welling up again, a few photos were taken, and a path backing us up was the way to go.
After a few more steps of walking [459-468], we finally reached the plaza of the Western Wall, first having to go through security. Before going toward the Wall, I took some pictures [469-476] and then proceeded. I started by praying the Amidah, and after back-stepping, a Chabadnik asked me to don tefillin, which I accepted. The pamphlet also contained the Sh’ma, which I silently recited before doing some personal meditation. The moment was beyond emotion and mind—I simply can’t explain any more for a spiritual experience.
Leaving The Old City, happy/enlightened tears flowed again in my eyes. These two days have really moved me, somewhat beyond my grasp. And no, I’m not the “thoughtless who cannot comprehend or the foolish who cannot fathom this.” En route to the hotel, Dan described the opportunity for anyone on the trip to undergo a B’nai Mitzvah or Hebrew-naming ceremony on the upcoming Shabbat. The ride to the hotel simply involved some photos [478-492] while small-talking with Eric. The ride led to Hotel Leonardo, where I offered to help others with their bags up the steps. It’s the offer that counts.
Dinner at the hotel—now I forgot what it was! I sat with Jen, Mike, Paul, and Michelle, among others, but conversations were pretty light. I may also be muddling different things together, since I didn’t take notes on meals most of the time. Oh well! After dinner, we took our bags upstairs as I was paired with Jared H (again) and Heedye. The TV was busted, there were no towels, but at least the room was bigger than Marina [493-500].
Downstairs, we went for the group activity. A rep from Masa got us information about future post-graduate ways to get to Israel [501-502]. The main activity was a pre-discussion on Yad Vashem. I won’t rehash all of the details here, (a) because I was way behind on journaling when I wrote this in the physical journal and (b) because of what will be accounted for in Part 7 of the journal. Here are the notes that I took:
- Six million is not a number that can easily be tangibly imagined. Dollars? Grains of sand? Paper clips?
- Survivors of the Holocaust may have flashbulb memories of it, and not have any memories prior to the Holocaust
- Mental instability is very common, as it is a PTSD
- The second generation has to deal with the baggage, and many survivors don’t want to talk about it. There were many cases of fathers being killed right in front of their sons
- One-word-to-describe: words like “unfathomable,” “sickening,” “unfair,” “helpless,” “massacre,” and such. However, Heedye said the word “G-d.”
- A German philosopher explained that G-d encompasses both the good guys and the bad guys… anyone can be either the monster or the victim
- No words can fully describe the Holocaust
- The name Yad Vashem literally translates “Memorial and Name.” It gives a name and a face to the people who were killed… they are more than just numbers
- One story was that of Aaron and Lisa (last name I failed to capture), who escaped together, but Aaron was nearly killed twice during the escape
We are forced to go to Tel Aviv tomorrow for some required Taglit fair, and a ton of complaining followed. It sounds annoying, but I’ll roll with it. Although some of the trip has seemed to be “Taglitch,” it’s still the experience of a lifetime, and I consider all of these glitches to be mere trivialities. I showered, applied SeaBreeze, and journaled a tad before sleeping at 2300h or so.
>> TO BE CONTINUED…