|From 2010 TBE Israel Adventure #1|
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Greetings from Jerusalem!
Our TBE Israel Adventure has now completed its fifth day, and we’re all having a great time. As an added bonus, it’s a whole lot cooler and dryer here than – from what I’ve been hearing – it is back in Stamford. I’ve uploaded a couple of hundred photos from the first few days of the trip – as you’ll see, I’ve really backed away from the torrid photographic pace I set on the March of the Living – yes, I've only taken about 450 photos since arriving, and you can access them all by clicking here (some of the photos are also courtesy of Laura Schwartz).
A brief summary of what we’ve done: We took off on July 4 from JFK (note Judy Aronin’s cool patriotic shades) and when we landed the next morning at 5 AM, we met our guide Peter Abelow (who sends regards to all his friends from prior TBE trips) and toured Tel Aviv, starting out at Independence Hall, a nice way to begin as Americans were still celebrating the 4th. Driving through Tel Aviv on Monday meant bumping up against thousands of Israelis who have been marching from one end of the country to the other in support of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit. Our day also included a visit to the Palmach Museum, a stop in Jaffa and dinner in the Yemenite Quarter.
On Tuesday we started out with a mitzvah project at the Jaffa Institute, where we learned about efforts to help kids from underprivileged backgrounds. Then we made the long climb to Jerusalem, stopping at the Haas Promenade for a traditional Shehechianu, then lunching on Emek Refaim St., where some had the equally traditional first falafel. After that we visited the very new archaeological garden at the very old City of David. For those who have been there, but not for a few years (e.g. me), it is remarkable how beautiful the place is – and relatively comfortable in the heat of the day. This area and the adjacent Arab neighborhood of Silwan has been the site of some controversy lately, but aside from a few protest signs on local shops and a couple of goats on the rooftop across the valley (King David gazed across to see Bathsheba bathing, and we got a couple of goats!), all was quiet. It is understandable that there be protest, as the remarkable new discoveries here are linking the people of Israel even more inextricably to our biblical roots right here, in this place. The tour begin with a 3-D film and ended with our sloshing through Hezekiah’s water tunnel, dug out 2700 years ago, and headed to our hotel. On Tuesday night a number of us took the short stroll downtown for dinner and shopping, with an occasional glimpse into neighboring bars and coffee shops for a World Cup score (which brought to mind the tough question facing all Jews this week: Germany or Spain? It’s like a Yankee fan having to choose between rooting for the Red Sox or the Mets.
I won’t dwell on how refreshingly cool our Jerusalem evenings have been. Sorry, East Coasters.
Wednesday was another beautiful day, which was spent entirely in the Old City. The Jewish quarter, including the Burnt House, the Christian quarter and Kotel Tunnels. A running theme of the week is the sense of security felt throughout the trip. We could not have crisscrossed the Old City so casually just a few years ago. For some of us the day ended with dinner at the Mamilla Mall – which has far surpassed expectations. I never imagined that a high end American style mall would make it in the shadow of one of the most sacred spots on earth, the entrance to the Old City. But the place was hopping, and it was filled with Israelis, not just a few tourists. We caught some of the World Cup match with some Israeli soldiers at one of the restaurants.
Today, another perfect weather day, we had our bar mitzvah affirmation service at the Robinson’s Arch section of the Kotel. Several of our teens read Torah – and they did a great job! It was wonderful to have our service blend in with the many others going on around us. A true celebration of Jewish life and renewal. After that we visited the Etzion bloc of settlements and immersed ourselves into the sad history of the region as well as the settlement issue as a whole. Peter Abelow invited us to his home for a quick reception in honor of our b’nai mitzvah. Then we returned to Jerusalem, avoiding once again the Gilad Shalit march, which caught up to us in Jerusalem, and visited the new and quite stimulating Herzl museum and then the graves of Israel’s leaders on Mount Herzl. Tonight I had the chance to catch up with my sister and her family. Yesterday was my grand nephew Neriya's 1st birthday. He doesn't look a day over 11 months!
That's all for now. As I sit in a neigborhood cafe finishing off this Shabbat Shalom missive while uploading the photos, I want to communicate clearly just how well Israel is faring, despite all the pressures on it. Today at our service we reflected on how important it is for us to be here and how much it has changed and enriched our lives. Nothing will ever be the same.
Tomorrow we go to Yad Vashem and Mahane Yehuda, before preparing for our own Shabbat.