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Friday, December 03, 2010


our tour bus
The day in Israel begins with a very thought-provoking stop at the Yitzhak Rabin Memorial at the Municipal Building in the heart of Tel Aviv. Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli fanatic unhappy with Rabin’s attempts to make peace with Yassar Arafat.

The memorial is very modern and depicts upturned stones, the result of an earthquake—Rabin’s assassination. The bedrock, the foundation, loses its solidity. The Memorial speaks for itself, and we get the point.
Rabin Memorial

Our next stop of the day is stunning--the 101 year old building housing the Eretz Israel Museum and once the home of Tel Aviv’s mayor. It was here, in Independence Hall, in front of 350 people on a Friday afternoon shortly before Shabbat that David Ben Gurion proclaimed the birth of the State of Israel.

May 15, 1948 New York Times
Our guide in Independence Hall gives us a background of the city, but she also educates us about Israel’s birth pangs. She shows us the 1947 partition map Israel accepted but the Arabs rebuffed. The orange is the Jewish area; the yellow is the Arab area. The plan was to establish both an Israel and an Arab state, but we know that 62 years later, Israel is still not on all maps in the world.
1947 Partition map

In 1948, by the way, Israel was a functioning country with hospitals, schools, etc. Hebrew was spoken by the children even if their parents came as refugees speaking Yiddish. There was no need to start from scratch in this new nation. The British left on May 15 leaving their remaining weapons to the Arabs. Three hours after they left, Egypt bombed Tel Aviv.

The Israelis invited the Arab population to stay. 350,000 chose to leave anyway. The Arab countries expelled about 650,000 Jews. Israel also absorbed about 350,000 Holocaust survivors. Think about it.

Our guide also said that tourists visiting Israel often think that Israelis are used to the idea of war and go about unconcerned. There is nothing further from the truth, she says. She is a mother. Two of her children have already served in the army, and the third will be serving soon. It is never easy for a mother to send her children to the army. It is never possible to be used to the threat of war.

As we head back to our tour bus past buildings old and new, we walk on Baron Rothschild Boulevard. This is a wide avenue with a middle section as a tree-lined pedestrian mall. Tel Aviv is on the Mediterranean, and it is HOT. The trees provide shade and a bit of shelter and coolness from the heat. It is similar in purpose to the squares of Savannah, Georgia. Lovely.
Baron Rothschild Boulevard

We leave Tel Aviv on the road to Caesarea, King Herod’s magnificent work of architecture and art dedicated to Augustus Caesar. Caesarea was once the largest port in the Roman Empire.

We pass orange groves, melon fields, and fields of prickly pear cactus. As we past Netanya we are traveling along the road once known as the Via Maris, the ancient trade route that made this land so important. Much of the time the sea in on our right, and it is beautiful.

Caesarea is a National Park. Even before we enter the theater we see Roman statues of marble and granite. These we learn had to be imported either finished or in pieces because those stones are not found in Israel.

Roman statues

The statues were found missing heads, noses, or other vital organs, probably because civilizations following the Romans—Christians and Muslims—did not allow graven images.

Roman statue

The theater was one of the first areas excavated because it was visible from the air. Israel uses Herod’s theater TODAY! Imagine—Herod built Caesarea between 22 and 10 BCE.

Roman theater

We look out past Herod’s swimming pool—a freshwater pool with water from 20 miles away traveling through the still-standing aqueducts—that edged the Mediterranean.

Herod's pool

Roman aqueducts

Roman aqueducts

Roman aqueducts

There was the port there, a brilliant feat by Herod, a mad, homicidal genius. He partially filled boxes with pumice, floated them out on the water where they filled, sank, and the pumice turned to cement. He piled box upon box, and it was in that manner that he built his port!

Caesarea is famous for other events too: in 66 CE the great Jewish revolt, the Bar Kochba Rebellion, against the Romans began here. Rabbi Akiva was martyred here. Peter and Paul left from here to spread Christianity. The city’s end came as a result of attacks from the Marmelukes, earthquakes, and the Crusades. Perhaps most important is that a stone engraved with Pontius Pilate’s name was found here, proving historically that he and Jesus lived at the same time.

Pontius Pilate

On to the Roman Hippodrome. This huge area had everything but Charleton Heston and Yul Brenner.

The seats on the sea side have washed down, but the far side of the stadium and its seats are there.
The course is long, but the ends are quite narrow, and there are the choice seats for the chariot accidents tended to happen on the dangerous turns. The Hippodrome is so intact that it is not
difficult to let imaginations run to those days, 2,000 years ago when this was an active recreation venue.

We also look at Roman baths and learn how they worked. Enough of the serious stuff. Our next stop was a Roman toilet. The two stones became the toilet seat, and underneath was a trough through which water ran to wash away waste products. No toilet paper however. By the feet was a shallow trough. A stick with a sponge sat in the water there, and the person used that to clean himself/herself.

Enough? OK.

Caesarea was extraordinary—awesome in the true sense of the word. Once again, our guide, David, was brilliant in his explanations and knowledge.

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