[Tour of Israel Part 3] Day of Museums

Thursday, June 8 / יום חמישי. 14 סיון

My day started at 06:45, again to Seth’s alarm on his phone. I equipped a white button-down shirt and black pants, and we both elevated (er, descended) to the lobby. I ate breakfast with Seth and the Feldmans, and had salad, lox, croissant, tea, and more. It was another long day, so I will skip further details prior to getting on the bus. I want to detail the adventures, not the meals!

We drove from our hotel toward Mount Herzl. It was quick, but once again we were delayed as we approached Yad Vashem. This time the Slovenian embassy delayed our entry! Before we got there, Gili told us about the places that we passed, and explained some of the geography of Jerusalem. My attention was split while on the bus. Once we got to the “reception” area for Yad Vashem, we got headphones and a receiver. However, the receivers were not working — go figure! Our guide through the museum was Alice, who knew Luna, who was a mainstay of the Lincoln Jewish community long ago. After a short prelude, we immediately entered the museum, and the symbolism was apparent right from the get-go.

Going down the ramp into the museum, there was a symbolic descent, heading toward the forbidding triangular prismic building. We saw a video montage of German Jews and their culture, including singing, working, and playing. At that point where we saw the video, there was carpet. Toward the end of the montage, faces began to fade away before the montage restarted for the next visitors. A few steps beyond, the carpet gave way to a hard stone floor, symbolizing the end of the comfort.

We saw the actor’s certificate of Szabtaj Bliacher, who was a Jewish-Polish person. Despite not having money, he managed to sneak into a play, and asked to become an assistant. Rather than being kicked out, the company appreciated his work ethic. Later, when he was in the Vilna Ghetto, he put on plays for other inmates of the ghetto. Though he was killed in the Holocaust, the artifacts remain as a testament to him. One of the important parts of remembering the Holocaust is remembering the people who died in it.

The museum is set up so that even though you can see the exit from the entrance, which is a gleam of light ahead, you can’t reach it: you have to go around all of the halls which symbolize turns of the Holocaust. In 1939, the Nazis were democratically elected, but their regime became even more racist and anti-Semitic once in power. Anti-Jewish laws led to Kristallnacht, which led to ghettos where Jews were moved to, and the ghettos were intended to be unsurvivable, but to kill the Jews in a “passive” manner.

In the museum, the cobblestones and train tracks were originals from the Warsaw Ghetto. There were over 1100 ghettos, but none of them were in Western Europe, since those cities didn’t want to drive away tourists. It was illegal for Jewish people to leave a ghetto, with a capital punishment inflicted upon an escapee who was caught. Some kids managed to sneak out of the ghetto in order to procure nourishment for the people, since everyone was only provided about 108 Calories per day otherwise. Starvation and disease were the major killers.

Between making a soup kitchen within the ghetto, and continuing culture (e.g. theatre, music) underground, the Jews held onto life in the face of death. This idea may have been the biggest takeaway from the museum. Despite the Jewish will to live, ordinary non-Jews seemed to stand by, complicit in watching Jews die at the hands of starvation, disease, and Nazi soldiers. We saw the video of a shooting pit, and the videographer and other bystanders did not step in.

I didn’t last very long after the discussion of active killing with guns and/or gas: seeing the model of the death camp and the crematoria, along with the descriptions thereof, did me in with a vagal reaction. Nancy performed Operation Rescue on me much like what Dan did six years ago, guiding me to the decompression chamber. If I come back again, I need to remove my headphones when we get to this area (which is the bottom of the museum) in order to try and mentally survive. While I was in the decompression chamber, Gil was also there, as we discussed social justice after I recovered from my vagal reaction.

We exited the museum to a view of Jerusalem on an upward-sloping floor, and we took a few pictures. Walking through the Hope Square, there were trees of peace. Then we ascended stairs (some of us took the escalator instead) to the upper deck. Behind us, we could see the Hall of Remembrance, which we did not enter, but did learn that no building on this campus may eclipse it vertically. Passing through a break where we could look down into the museum, the Pillar of Heroism appeared ahead.

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Many of us then went through the Children’s Memorial (which I did not go through six years ago). It was a room illuminated only by 6 candles, and these candles reflect over mirrors to expand to 1.5 million flames–an approximate number of the children whose lives were cut short as a result of the Holocaust. As I held onto the handrails in order to navigate safely through the reflectors, a piped-in voice was reading the names, ages, and countries of origin of some of these children so that they will not be forgotten. I didn’t take notes on any of the names, and this now makes me feel guilty. (Maybe, though, since I remember Szabtaj, one name is better than none.) The Children’s Memorial then exited to a view of the International School for Holocaust Studies.

We returned to the reception building, and took about 10 minutes to get water filled up, bladders emptied, and recombobulation in general. Gili encouraged us to keep drinking water, and the fountains here had excellently-cold water! Boarding the bus, we counted off, which was much less awkward than on Day One: we’re getting the hang of it! The bus drove down the road which had the light rail. Gili talked about the Military Cemetery and Mount Herzl, which we did not exit to see.

A new thing that I learnt: Every cemetery in Israel has a section for IDF soldiers who were killed in action. In Israel, everyone knows someone who was killed in the military, since EVERYONE goes into the IDF after high school. The contrast of the 48-hour period that starts with יום הזכרון (Memorial Day) and ends with יום העצמאות (Independence Day) was described too. I would love at some point to experience the siren and everything coming to a stop. As we drove on, we passed the light rail bridge that looks like David’s harp, and soon got to שוק מחנה יהודה (Shuk Machaneh Yehudah: the marketplace).

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I followed the outside drag with Nancy, Ken, and some others. Some of us chose to stop at בוריטו חי (Burrito Chai), but I didn’t feel like Mexican food today. Ergo, we continued to the bottom of that hill, and found רחמו (Rachmo): the restaurant I ate at six years ago on Birthright. Their menu had hanged from then, so we continued to Agrippas Street, headed downhill, and got to פלאפל מולה (Falafel Mulla). Besides the פלאפל,  I also had fries and Coke. It was nice and filling, and fun to eat with Jemma, Charlie, Ken, and Seth (and I think there was one or two other, if I recall right). We then returned to “Mexico” after we got done eating.

En route, a shoe fell off as I was crossing the street! I regained it by recrossing the street, although a car tire or two rolled over it first. It was still wearable! Back at בוריטו חי, I met up with יהושוע, and we walked through the inside part of the שוק, tasting a thick תחינה (tahini) and taking some photos of the stands. We exited the stuffy market and entered a shul after crossing the train tracks (though I didn’t record the name of it). We prayed מנחה, and it was in a small room, in the Orthodox style. I had a hard time following, because it was too quick. (Additionally, I had a hard time finding the correct page. Though I can read the headers of each page, I couldn’t find the right page, and this place doesn’t appear to be user-friendly.) After we left, יהושוע said that this synagogue acts as a site for “Pickup Minyanim.” Yep, just like pickup basketball, but with praying!

Shopping time! I headed past the crowd on the open-air part of the שוק and reached Kippa Man. I got a nice blue-and-white כיפה (kippah/yarmulke), a White Sox כיפה, a pair of שבת (Shabbat) candleholders (using teacandles), and a cup for קידוש (Kiddush). This took a significant amount of time, and I may have been “That Person” to make us late! Something about Thursdays, Israel, and me making people late (since six years ago, the full Thursday we spent was The Masada Incident!)

We (i.e. Nancy, Gili, and I) scurried back to the parking lot where Natural Choice was, and the bus picked us (and the rest of the tour group) up and took us to the Israel Museum. We again passed Sacher Park, and before entering the Museum, saw the כנסת (K’nesset) on the right. That will be described a little bit later! At the Museum, there was a security guard who didn’t need us to take off watches, shoes, etc. when going through the metal detector, and didn’t flag any of us despite the fact that all of us beeped it. We refilled water, used the restrooms, and then headed outside to see the model of ancient Jerusalem!

The city had 3 separate sets of walls as it expanded. The model used to be in a hotel, but additional archaeological evidence gave more material for building. (Also, that Holyland hotel shut down and is now a luxury apartment). The model is a living work — as more archaeological finds are discovered, the model will be updated. Some of it is an artistic representation or guess. When the model moved from the Holyland Hotel, it moved on 40 flatbed trucks! Each part of the city was told as we walked around the scale model, trying to find shade from the heat. We also moved in the sense of being forced from a baseball base when a group of IDF soldiers or a group of youth approached our area.

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Continuing, we turned right after a white fountain, and descended stairs to enter the Shrine of the Book. This started with a descending passage, with pots and items behind glass on either side. This passageway opened to a chamber that was built to resemble the interior of a jar. We were now in the Shrine of the Book, and the jar appearance was intentional — to resemble the jars that scrolls were kept in during olden days.

A spiral staircase in the center led up to a scroll with the עץ חיים (roller of a תורה scroll) atop. On the lower level, there were compilations of the Dead Sea Scrolls, including the Aleppo Codex. The Dead Sea Scrolls came from the Essenes, who eschewed the practices of the Temple, and took their Judaism away from Jerusalem during the time of the Second Temple.

Before going on my own, I went with the group to the Nanobible exhibit. This described the imprinting of the Pentateuch onto a 0.5-square-millimeter area. It was made at הטכניון (The Technion). After that, I continued with Charlie to the main drag, with steps up to the sculpture garden, museum, and more. Quickly we ascended the stairs to the museum, in order to escape the heat.

Nancy suggested the Synagogues of the Diaspora exhibit, but couldn’t corral Jemma or Charlie. The latter led me, and we eventually found the synagogues of Horb, Suriname, and a few other places. They were fascinating to see how different they are from our shuls. Before leaving at 16:00, we saw some paintings, and I walked to the אהבה (LOVE) sculpture with Gili in order to get a few photos.

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Most of us took the bus back to the hotel at this point, and then had a few hours of free time. Seth and I spent some of it chatting, regarding relationships and synagogue politics. He is now the president of the synagogue, and there is currently a search for a spiritual leader, since Nancy plans on making עלייה (aliyah: immigration to Israel)  in 2 years. His political views are right-leaning, and it’s giving me an opportunity to learn about respectful disagreement with other points of view! To use critical thinking, you need to consider multiple sources.

At 19:00, we proceeded to Olive and Fish Restaurant. The meal started with salads and breads like always, and I chatted with the Feldmans and Watches during appetizers. I had עוף פרגיות (chicken pargiyot), which was a chicken breast with Mediterranean spices. It tasted good, but I was more intrigued by Rabbi Graetz, the speaker of the night.

Graetz recently celebrated 50 years of having been ordained as a rabbi. His calim to fame is being a key face toward the מסורתי movement. When he was ordained, Elie Wiesel spoke at his commencement. Shortly after his ordination, the Six Day War broke out. His loyalty to Israel had him reneging on his contract for a rabbi position in the States… met with full support of the boss, in order to make עלייה!

His inspiration for the מסורתי movement came one day during the מלחמת יום כפור (Yom Kippur War). He found the lack of Jewish education among the soldiers disturbing. By introducing pluralism and receiving support from some Midwestern Conservative shuls (including עדת ישורון במיניטונקה [Adath Jeshurun in Minnetonka]), the מסורתי movement stayed afloat. The רבנות ישראל (Rabbinate of Israel) was an idea to separate the state and synagogue, but not completely minimize the relationship. The whole conversation was interesting, AND more coherent than my account as given here.

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It was about 21:00, and we returned to the Dan Panorama. Ken and Seth wanted to go to Ben Yehuda Street. I was a little tired, and obviously didn’t feel like drinking as they were probably going to do. Nevertheless, I went along with them, as well as the Follicks and Uncle Howard. As we neared רחוב הלל (Hillel Street), I noticed a slight stomachache, though I tried to ignore it as we walked. One of the things that made me come was the promise of live music.

Going along the street, they looked for bars as I did some people-watching. There wasn’t a big crowd — they were dispersing as a concert seemed to have just ended at the bottom of the hill. (In retrospect, the real action was happening at the שוק!) We eventually sat near Cofix, as Seth and Ken split a beer, the Follicks tried to get Ari to eat her ice cream, and Uncle Howard had already abdicated.

Ken and Seth talked about winning the lottery (and 24 million shekels), women and people-watching, and more. I was not particularly engaged in the conversation. Since I was there grudgingly, my Shut Down button was within reach. I gave them ample warning, and we escaped at 23:15, averting the Shut Down or Melt Down buttons.

Upon return to the hotel, I took a “Pepto” tablet and tried to sleep. The stomachache made it hard for me to get to sleep, and I didn’t successfully stay asleep until after 25:25. Nevertheless, I didn’t suffer any diarrhea or vomiting, which is a good thing…

>> TO BE CONTINUED

===========================================

(Dirty?) Thirty: 10 days

Nebraska Regional: 44 days

Semester Kickoff: 75 days

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