[Tour of Israel Day 9] Tel Aviv and Old Jaffa

Wednesday, June 14 / יום רביעי, 20 סיון

The day started for me at 07:00. I got dressed in the same clothes as yesterday (for now). Taking the elevator down to Level H, the dining hall was just ahead after taking a right turn from the elevator. A set of tables for “Tiferet Israel” were right up front, and the Corens were there too. I had watermelon, salmon pastrami, croissant, and a few other items too. The spread was much bigger than any of the other breakfasts that I had seen in Israel thus far! When I first saw the pastrami on Charlie’s plate, I had to do a double take, because it sure looked a lot like something which would NOT have been allowed here.

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Don’t these pastramis sort of look like a certain type of non-kosher breakfast meat? Photo credit: Seth Harris

The Corens, Hamicksburgs, and Ken then walked with me to the beach. The traffic of people was light, but there were a lot of cars moving around. We found the sandy beach near the Manta Ray restaurant. The kids and Ken got into the water, but I was content to just watch and journal. However, they violated the borders of the buoys, which made Nancy nervous. They also found a dead jellyfish washed up on the shore, and handled it, much to the chagrin of the parents.

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Even if I wasn’t wearing a swimsuit, might as well have a beach photo!

Returning to the Dan Panorama, I showered before putting on my Nebraska Football “Hawaii-style” shirt, and also comfy shorts. Then, I stuffed my bags and got ready to leave as Seth showered. At 10:00, we became lobbyists, and checked out of the hotel before boarding the bus.

Next stop: downtown Tel Aviv! We were released from the bus at מגדל שלום מאיר (Tower of Meir’s Peace), which was the tallest building in the Middle East some 50 years ago. A different building in Tel Aviv, with a height of 613 feet (intentionally designed as such for the number of commandments), now dwarfs this tower, but is of course dwarfed by buildings like the Burj Khalifa. We entered the tower, and saw pictures of the development of the city of תל אביב from the early 1900s. The settlement started in 1909, and this tower used to be where the first Hebrew school (Gimnasia Herzlia) was. Seeing the old city maps was fascinating!

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The map of Tel Aviv from 1935—all in Hebrew.

On the second floor, we saw old posters and items, and a (probably-to-scale) model of the city. The model included the Dan Panorama, but said model wasn’t structurally sound: one of the corners was peeling off! (I will have a picture of this on Facebook soon.) A mosaic awaited us once we took the escalator down to the first storey. Then, we exited the tower and continued walking. During the walk, we passed a friend of Gili who was leading a תגלית group. We passed the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange too, including stock tickers which were in Hebrew. Eventually, we got to Independence Hall, and there was a large crowd waiting to get in.

Once inside, we went straight to the subterranean art gallery, which is where the State of Israel was declared. The seating up front, along with the flags and Herzl picture, remained. All the groups got to hear a lecture about the timeline, and I will reproduce some of the lecture now. Before the declaration of independence, Meir Dizengoff was mayor of Tel Aviv (insert your favorite pun here). Independence Hall used to be the mayor’s house until 1936, when he donated it to the city as an art museum. The building doubled as a bomb shelter, since the windows were high, the back room cavernous, and the back room not easily visible from the front. After World War II, Jews had nowhere to go unlike other POWs or refugees. As the British Mandate started to expire and a partition plan was found, the Jews accepted it despite the flaws. On 29 November 1947, the UN vote resulted in 33 Yeas, 13 Nays, and 10 abstentions. This led to joy in Tel Aviv, but fear from David Ben Gurion, and indeed, the next day Jerusalem was besieged and war broke out.

The vote by the People’s Council was held on 12 May 1948 in Tel Aviv — not in Jerusalem due to the siege. The vote for independence passed 6-4. Only 150 people were invited to the declaration ceremony, but the secret was leaked. The whole process on 14 May took just 32 minutes, starting at 15:30. This would give enough time to allow preparation for שבת since 14 May 1948 was a Friday. The declaration ended with the band playing התקוה (HaTikvah / The Hope), which then became the national anthem. David Ben Gurion then said, “The state of Israel is born. This meeting is over.” We heard the recording of the end of the meeting, including התקוה for which we stood and sang (without dry eyes).

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The lecture about the declaration of Israeli independence.

We exited and re-entered the building to see a video that had a different perspective on the house and the events. I will skip the details, since I saw this video on תגלית (or so I think). As we left, there was a horse-on-rider sculpture, but not just any old rider. It was Mayor Meir on a Mare! (And blame Gili for this description — I’m merely the messenger here, for which he may also be a messenger!) We boarded the bus, which navigated some tight streets, before reaching the Jaffa clock tower near the flea market.

I headed to the clock tower to wait for אייל (Eyal, a friend from my Birthright trip), who said that he was on his way. The city offered free Wi-Fi, which I took advantage of, and the wait continued. At 13:10, he said that he just gotten on the train, and I should have realized right there that my attempted rendezvous would be a Mission Failed (or perhaps a Fission Mailed). But no, my unrealistically optimistic side continued to wait for him. A few tour groups came by the clock tower as well, but I didn’t engage in any conversation. And I didn’t journal either — said item was on the bus! At 13:35, I went to the Haj Kalil Express across the roundabout north of the clock tower to get שווארמה. Unfortunately, אייל did not arrive in time, so the rendezvous was indeed a failure. I feel horribly guilty for him because he wasted a lot of commuting time on account of me!

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The Tower of Noah’s Disappointment.

The rest of our group had appeared at the clock tower, and our Old Jaffa tour guide, Sulaiman, had arrived as well. While he explained the clock tower, I was not paying attention, as I had one last hope of meeting up with אייל and inviting him to join our tour. We started walking and the hope was gone. We walked eastward and arrived at the mosque from which I had heard the call to prayer during my wild-goose-wait.

Outside the mosque, he began by saying that thinking of Islam by the reports of Daesh is “bullshit.” (Not my words, but I’m reporting significant things that I heard!) The major tenets of Islam are similar to Judaism, actually! He described the five pillars: monotheism, five-times-a-day prayer, Ramadan, charity (2.5% of income), and hajj. The lattermost word actually means “circling around in a clockwise direction,” referring to the method of people making hajj to Mecca. Sulaiman thinks that the primary problem of the fanaticists is their interpretation of their religion’s holy scriptures. He also explained that Ramadan is intended to give your own body a rest and to empathise with the poor. That idea sounds a lot like the הפטרה (haftarah) from יום כפור (Yom Kippur)!

Moreover, he talked to us about jihad. It does NOT mean religious war, but it means the struggle or effort for a JUSTIFIED cause. Violence is a bug that is built into everyone’s brain, unfortunately. He also made jokes about lamb being the favorite food of The Eternal, by mentioning the binding of Isaac, Passover, and a few other stories from holy scriptures.

We got to see the courtyard of the mosque, but weren’t allowed to enter because some of the group was wearing immodest-for-a-mosque clothes. The domes are used to promote air circulation. The minarets face the south, toward Mecca, just like how Arks face Jerusalem (or the Temple Mount). Their prayers are sex-separated in order to avoid distraction while praying.

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The mosque’s courtyard and a dome.

We then went to a gazebo-fountain. In 1179, Napoleon conquered Jaffa. At the fountain, we learned about Abu-Nabbut, and after climbing a hill, saw his old place which is now a hideout for bats. Climbing further, to 45 meters above sea level, we got a bathroom break before going to the Old City Square, which had a Zodiac fountain to the east. We were under umbrellas as we listened to the next part of the story.

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The fountain in the gazebo.

In Islam, fighting is only acceptable as self-defense — being the initial aggressor is not tolerable. As Sulaiman described it, the Shi’ite Muslims are those who are from the bloodline of the Prophet, but Sunnis are not. There are no imams in Shi’ite Islam. He believes that Sunnis are the radical branch, and claimed that Daesh is a break-off of Sunni extremists.

Moreover, Israel is a human cocktail! When speaking of the Israeli-Palestinianconflict, there are three big questions. First: What should be done about the borders? Second: What should be done about the refugees? And third: what should be done about Jerusalem? Whatever happens, the key word is RESPECT. Before we left the square, we headed over to the zodiac fountain, which had stone carvings of all 12 zodiac signs.

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The zodiac fountain.

Ascending some steps, we saw a pistachio tree before crossing the Wishing Bridge, and I took a selfie with Cancer (the zodiac sign, of course). From the vista across the bridge, we could see the hills of Jerusalem to the east, and the city of Tel Aviv to the north and east. The red roofs that were close by were part of the first modern Jewish settlement. On this vista, an arch depicted the עקידה,  the ladder in Jacob’s dream, and the siege of Jericho, which were the three times in the תורה that the Land of Israel was promised to the Hebrews.

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The three-story arch.

Going down a hill, we saw grey and black crows, as well as a hoopoe — the latter is Israel’s national bird. Down an alleyway littered with steps, we took a left into another alleyway, emerging at a suspended shamouti tree. This tree produces Jaffa oranges. The suspension of the tree actually brings our trip full circle: the idea of Above and Below can re-surface right here, right now! With this, we wished Sulaiman a Ramadan Kareem and went back into the alleyway for a new direction.

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The suspended shamouti tree.

Following the Old City streets, we briefly stopped at Adina Plastelina, which makes medallions like a sushi chef would — the video showed how they make one with the face of Marilyn Monroe. A cavern behind the store had some interesting artifacts too, but I took no notes on them. We then walked on a street in the port in order to find restrooms. A map of locations’ distances to Jaffa was at our feet, to scale, but it only went to 4000 kilometers from Jaffa: not enough to reach the States!

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Places close to Jaffa.

Boarding the bus and leaving Jaffa, we headed to our last stop of the tour. Along Kauffman Street, some motorcycles drove perilously. We heard a song from the group קפה שחור חזק (literally: Black Strong Coffee), and also passed Rabin Square. Gili offered a moral of the story after briefly talking about the events there: We must bring light and love into the world. The park had a book fair going on, and there are often other events happening there!

Not long afterward, we arrived at ליליות for dinner. Many of their employees are at-risk youth, and they get to learn valuable life skills. I sat at the “cool people’s” table, which had all of the Under-30s. Dinner started with bread and a ground-beef-and-spices on pita. Various conversations abounded, and we sang עוד יבוא שלום עלינו. We had both chicken and steak for the main course, and it was good.

(Alas, I have no pictures from dinner.)

Just like during the שבת dinner, we went ’round the horn, giving memories of the trip and bestowing blessings. Singing also continued throughout the dinner, but we were shushed and had to reduce our volume. Once everyone shared their memories and blessings, Gili blessed us all with a song about Jerusalem that he wrote in the airport one time when leaving Israel, and it was a tear-jerker for me. We then bentsched aloud but quietly, and boarded the bus for the last time. Gili further wants to make sure that we take a piece of Israel with us (in the metaphorical sense).

En route to the airport, a few facts came out, but my emotions blocked the information. As we got onto the highway, the triplets sang the songs “Leaving on a Jetplane” and “ירושלים של זהב”, both of which caused my eyes to well up. More hugs followed at the bus drop-off point, and then some of us (Seth, Hamicksburgs, Feldmans, and me) entered the airport.

The Feldmans got into line for check-in and boarding at 21:10 (their flight is at midnight). I joined the others near the bathrooms on the north (?) side of the ticket counters floor. We sat on benches near the elevators. I wasn’t allowed to check my bags and receive my boarding pass until three hours pre-departure (which would happen at 25:50 (i.e. 01:50 on Thursday). I journaled, and also took one Speed Sleep nap. Gilad had found an outlet, and let me charge my phone.

Writing continued until 25:50, but it wasn’t very efficient. I was amused by the “DING-DONG” that preceded calls to passengers—this should not surprise anyone!. I walked toward the desks, realizing that I should probably grab my bag for checking while I’m there anyway. The wait for check-in was short, but I was grilled by the primary security officer, more than what I was expecting. Granted, maybe my tiredness and absentmindedness made me seem somewhat suspicious. I don’t know! Once I checked my bag and received my boarding pass, I went through the remainder of security and the exit visa gate with no trouble. I went down the ramp toward the mall, and the time was about 26:18 at the time — quite interesting if you consider my clock photo from Day Zero!

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Panning out on the clock just like on Saturday Night Live…

I inefficiently journaled for another hour or so, before walking around the duty-free mall and the food court. I saw the Rosses, and then saw them off (or they saw me off). Boarding of my plane started at 28:00, and once I was in my middle seat, I immediately fell asleep.

צאתכם לשלום!

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(Dirty?) Thirty: 4 days

Nebraska Regional: 38 days

Semester Kickoff: 69 days

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This is the last post in this sequence.