[Tour of Israel Day 2] Tunneling Through Ancient Cities

Wednesday, June 7 (יום רביעי, 13 סיון)

Seth’s alarm blared at 06:30, but I rose to my own alarm at 06:45. Equipping the red TI shirt and khakis, we went to the Lobby and had breakfast in the dining hall together. I had Israeli salad with hummus, a croissant, juice, and plain yogurt — the latter was not to my liking. I will omit the rest of the prelim details, since the day was a really long one!

We headed on the bus (except for one hold-out from illness), and took off at 08:15. We’re going to the Old City again! Gili repeated his stories about הר הזיתים (Mt. of Olives), and the valleys,, and without a פקק this morning, it was a quick arrival at עיר דוד (City of David). At the gate, there was a harp motif, as well as the name… in ANCIENT Hebrew! There, the daleths were like deltas, and other letters didn’t resemble modern Hebrew at all! Nevertheless, it was exciting to read.


Upon entering, we took a left and a stairwell and a walkway led to an alcove with an umbrella, where Gili talked to us about the ongoing excavation of the area. The strategic choice of where the city should be placed was also spoken about, in the context of history. We then entered an air-conditioned theatre where a film about the City of David traced the history of Jerusalem, and this area of the city as well. In history, Jerusalem was chosen as the unifying capital of the Twelve Tribes, since it wasn’t a part of any tribal land. It is much like Mexico D.F. or Washington D.C.

The tour continued on the roof of the theatre, where we saw a high-low panorama of the Old City, the Older City, and the Arab village Silwan. The palace of David might have been found where the visitor’s center is now, and a preview of the day was given, with the beginning of a story about King Zedekiah.

The next stop was the visitor center, for the gift shop, bathrooms, and water fill-ups. It was already really warm, and the sun was bright. Not surprisingly, Gili beseeched us to stay hydrated. After a while, we descended stairs to the dig underneath the visitor center, and sparks flew on one side. We discussed the columns and palace, including a replica of the column seen on one of the walls.

We ascended a spiral staircase, and started down a path. Olive, pomegranate, palm, and fig trees appeared along this path, and there’s no coincidence here: all of those fruits are considered holy in Scripture. I also noticed a few placards involving a number and פרדס רימונים (Pardes Rimonim/Pomegranate Orchard). After asking Gili, he told me that is a street name, and that some people live in this area! Wow! Before getting to the inside tunnels, we saw the Arab village Silwan across the valley as well as the Hebrew toms that could be seen. The tombs have Hebrew engraved on them, which suggests the original claim of the Jews to this area. His explanations stress the use of evidence, and it’s a part of critical thinking! He also talked about how tombs used to be raided significantly due to the propensity to bury treasures with the bodies.

Going through some iron revolving gates, like at the Lincoln zoo or certain L stations, we took another spiral staircase down to an area with art depicting the digging of tunnels which let water reroute through the mountain. Everyone continued into the tunnels. As we walked, I took pictures and walked carefully. Some of the terrain was grating (i.e. metal grates), and other terrain was “carpet” over rock (which was harder to walk on than the rocks!), and other terrain was rock itself.

The purpose of the rerouting of water was a continuing story as we made stops. The water was redirected to provide a Plan B to get water to the City of David in the case of enemies cutting off the visible water sources (i.e. the valley below the city). We heard and saw a simulation of the well, and pretty blue lights were used in this simulation. It turns out that the Canaanites had this idea too — not every idea is new.

We took the Dry Tunnel, and it was very narrow and obviously tortuous. Not a torture to me, though! It felt good to be in a cool cave, and the adventure was fun, especially with the echoes and a few people playing Marco-Polo! As I walked, I touched the wall and a piece of it broke off — it should be a good souvenir for myself or Dina! At the exit, a path to the שילוח (Shiloach) pool was mentioned, and we also looked at the history of the eastern village. The question was further brought up: “Who is occupying whom?”


What goes down usually comes up! (Don’t worry, I’m not talking about Gastro-Intestinal problems.) We ascended many stairs, which was easy for me and for the youth, but challenging for some of the others. There were no major delays like what happened to my Birthright group at Gilabon. The reason I bring that up: at the end of that hike, there was an ice cream truck that I resisted the temptation to patronize. But this time, I got a Crunch ice cream bar at the convenience store, and it hit the spot!

Shortly after everyone returned, we exited the City of David, returned to the spot where Zachariah dropped us off, and then the bus did the heavy lifting in trucking up the hill toward the Old City. There were some traffic delays and a hairpin turn. We got to the Zion Gate (or close enough by bus).

This time, I touched and kissed the מזוזה (mezuzah) that was on the wall of the gate. This was an example of a weapon beaten into a ploughshare. A car was trying to get out of the City, which made us have to deftly(?) avoid it. Walking to a parking lot, we then entered the close quarters of the Jewish Quarter. There was a strip of restaurants as we exited, I had a funny face by imitating a stickman at רחוב התופים (see photo below), and then we descended to the Cardo — the old Roman road that had pillars. Only one of these pillars is original, as the others have obvious signs of being repaired.


Going through the tunnel, we got to the Greek map that I saw on תגלית (Birthright) as well as the perspective market place painting that I didn’t have to rush past with explosive bladder syndrome this time! (Whew, that sentence was a stream of consciousness.) Past this, there was an actual market: the Artist’s Colony, which had a bunch of boutique shops that sold art, Judaica, and more. Our stop was the Fifth Quarter.

In said shop, there was a סופר (scribe) inscribing onto a scroll, there was a lot of Judaica around, and in another room, there were שופרות (ram horns) that the young ones were trying to blow. I showed that I haven’t lost my touch with them! Though I wanted to buy some Judaica (like candleholders for שבת (Shabbat) or a קידוש (Kiddush) cup), Nancy recommended that I wait till another place: prices are probably lower elsewhere. Before we left, the fish tank contained a rare snail-like creature, which can produce the blue color (the פתיל תחילת [p’til t’cheilet] on the Jewish flag or as required by the third paragraph of the שמע [see Numbers 15:37-41]).


As we left, I noticed Hebrew letters on the stairs and areas around the stairs (see the picture below). In an alcove on the stairs, the letters ק,מ,פ,י appeared on separate entities. Those don’t spell a word in Hebrew to the best of my knowledge, but I will pronounce it “kahm-fee“… which you might hear as “comfy.” Well, that’s interesting, since my name in Hebrew comes from the verb לנוח, which means to rest or be comfortable!


We ascended stairs and took a right, and then a left. This led to the square which included the חורבה (Hurva) Synagogue: the one that had been rebuilt and was brand-new when I was here 6 years ago. I ate lunch with Aunt Lori and Uncle Howard, at Holy Cafe. Their menu had small-plate platters: three items of tapas. I was treated to lunch by them, and was thankful for that! I enjoyed three different types of fish dishes: two fish cakes and one mini-salad. The service was a little slow, but it worked.

After lunch, I had some more free time, so I went rogue. I walked about the area, following a sign to Tifereth Israel Synagogue, which took me up a flight of stairs outside. Nothing near this area mentioned the synagogue, though. Strange! I did find רחוב הקראים (Ha-Karim Street), which made me want to take a picture of it to let Kristin and Lindsay know that I was thinking of them and their countersuggestion to Segulah back when I requested it in January 2014. A bit later, I found a door with “44” written on it, which gave a chance to let Dina know I was thinking of her (44 was her Iron Number, 6 years ago). Additionally, one of the doors that I saw has one of my favorite lines from Psalms (Ps. 119:1-2); see below.


I ran into Seth and returned to where I was, encountering a few Jewish young adults and engaging in conversation about language, Jewish practice, and Nebraska. It was enjoyable, though I took no notes over the specifics. I don’t need to give a full play-by-play, after all! However, I will say that this encounter may have been a crowning moment of the day, since part of the joy of international travel is getting to communicate with unfamiliar folks. We returned the square prior to the appointed time of 14:10.

Our first stop was the Burnt House, which was of the Katros family: the priestly family in 70 CE. In most cases, the victors are the ones to write the stories and history, but it seems that the Jews have survived many non-victories and written about them. We watched a video that contained an artist’s interpretation of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE: the civil war between the Zealots and the moderate Jews seemed to weaken the Jewish resistance against the Romans. I knew that the destruction was blamed on שנאת חינם (sinat chinam/baseless hatred) but didn’t realize that the civil war was a part of that. It was fascinating to see the artifacts, including a spear, stoneware, and the מקבה (mikveh: ritual bath) in the basement.


A moral of the story: when you read a story, be a critical reader. The fact that it was written by a victor most of the time could create a bias. We left the house, and shortly found a few lion sculptures. After some pictures that involved “roaring,” I learnt that the lion is the symbol of the city of Jerusalem. Another nickname for this city is אריאל (Ariel: the Lion of G-d). The lion was also the symbol of the tribe of Judah. We saw a building dedicated to the restoration of the Holy Temple, and then we continued walking.

Back and forth, zig and zag. That’s what makes the world go ’round! We walked back to the playground that we saw earlier, and after a little time for the pre-teens to play on the equipment, we saw the wall of King Zedekiah. Originally, the wall went up about 8 meters! A lot was done here, and I don’t recall hearing this story when I was at this point six years ago. Around the corner was a break, followed by a photo at the sign of Tiferet Israel Road as a group. A few of the group members bailed out from exhaustion at this point, but I had plenty of energy to soldier on. We’re going to the Herodian quarter!



The underground area of the Herodian quarter, where cameras were forbidden, showed ruins of what were probably aristocratic houses. They had mikvehs, and the neighborhood had several houses like this. We also learnt about the חורבה  synagogue, and the rebuilding project of the תפארת ישראל synagogue. Both of these synagogues had wonderful domes atop them. The latter is going to be rebuilt, but it could take a long time. In the last set of ruins, there was the role-playing of a Jewish aristocrat who invited Bar Kamtza (his enemy) rather than Kamtza (his friend). Bar Kamtza tried to save face, even offering to pay for the whole party, but the inviter couldn’t bring himself to accept it, instead forcing Bar Kamtza out. As a result, Bar Kamtza ratted out the Jews to the Romans. The story seemed to relate to complicity in today’s stories involving social justice.

Upon exiting the ruins of the Herodian Quarter, we got to the Menorah, which was pure gold. The Arch of Titus was mentioned, and Yehuda HaLevi also came into play. We were also waiting for Ken, who seemed to vanish somewhere in the Herodian Quarter. Afterward (before we found him), we returned to the Western Wall, where I repeated my actions of yesterday. The rabbi who helped me today seemed more strict than the one from yesterday.

We continued on a new adventure for me: the Western Wall Tunnels. It began in an exhibition room with 6000 Years In Ten Minutes. The presentation included a diorama of the hills of Jerusalem, together with the Temple Mount and more. Continuing past more rooms and past restricted areas on a straightaway, we saw an arch after following the “Tours” sign, and stopped for discussion.

There were multiple arches for support, and the reason that arches work is because each brick is supporting two others. It is a metaphor for how humans can support each other, in fact! Continuing under this arch, and then down some stairs, we saw another arch and a pool of water. Behind this pool was a chamber that was a functioning מקבה! We discussed the ancient and modern uses of the מקבה, and the idea of ritual purity that only seems to exist in the Orthodox tradition.


Going forward in the direction that we had turned, there was more of the wall (and a misspelled sign: the “Westrern Wall Tunnels”. I’ll say that the Hebrew is also “upside down.” It reads “West to the tunnels of the Wall”). We learned the difference between Herodian stone and Muslim stone, and it was fascinating! Each stone on the Wall was probably 600 tons apiece, which obviously makes us think: HOW DID THEY DO THAT!?! Before we left, the ladies got to see another Women’s Section through a door in the tunnels.



Our final stop was the Virtual Reality tour of the Temple Mount. It toured the Temple, from the courtyard to the inner courts, to the sanctuary. It did not proceed to the Holy of Holies, but did show renditions of priests, commoners, and Levites. No animal sacrifices were shown on the tour, but the implication was there. I enjoyed it, though it came late! We were delayed because a foreign embassy (or other government entity) had come! Nevertheless, we got through. Afterward, the clock read 19:30, and we headed back to the hotel on the bus.

Upon return, we were on our own for dinner. Seth and I chose to go to Ben Yehuda Street, which was a straight walk up רחוב קרן היסוד. This became King George V at the Leonardo Hotel, and yes, that means that this territory is now very familiar! We ended up having dinner at Moshiko, which had falafel and shawarma. The latter was what I ate (a half-pita), and it was good! There were quite a few people walking around too, but I didn’t want to stay out too late.

Walking back to the hotel, we mostly turned in for the night. As Seth slept, I took an hour to listen to the radio on my phone and do some journaling, and then I turned out my own light at 23:00.



(Dirty?) Thirty: 11 days

Nebraska Regional: 45 days

Semester Kickoff: 76 days

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EDIT: Sue Vincent’s “Tunnel” theme was too good for me to pass up for this post, although I will stick with the Israeli tunnels over the U.K. tunnels for argument’s sake!


10 thoughts on “[Tour of Israel Day 2] Tunneling Through Ancient Cities

  1. Thanks for posting! It’s like reliving the entire trip, one day at a time. Small correction: the king we talked about here was not Zedekiah, but his great-great-grandfather Hezekiah, who built the wall to successfully defend the city against the Assyrian attack. A century later, Zedekiah was the last Judean king of the Davidic dynasty, when the city succumbed to the Babylonian Empire that had replaced the Assyrians as the super power of the time.


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