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Sunday, February 27, 2011

O JERUSALEM

Jerusalem is more than a city; it is a dream many people share, and for pilgrims here, it is a solemn, holy place with sites that point to their beginnings. I am no different. In this holy city stood the Temple, destroyed by despots, and until recent times even the last vestiges were kept from us. On these streets walked some of the most influential people of all time.

Last evening when we stood on Mt. Scopus, a site lost and then regained in blood, we looked over the city at twilight, said our shehechayanu in thanks and shared our Kiddush. My heart filled with the emotion of the moment and the recognition that the ancient dream of “Next year in Jerusalem” was now.

But this morning is another day, and we are out to try to find the real Jerusalem. This is not easy, for this is also a city of today, and the streets are filled with shops of all kinds and signage in different languages.

Jerusalem

Jerusalem

But we pass street signs that remind us of the city’s soul.

Western Wall

The city is divided into four quarters: the Jewish quarter, the Muslim quarter, the Christian quarter, and the Armenian quarter. One might ask about the Armenian quarter, but do not forget that prior to WWI, this land was part of the Turkish Empire. We visit all the quarters during our time here including the only shopping mall in Jerusalem where, despite security to enter, everyone shops and eats together.  We also to through the Arab market, the souk, a long narrow corridor of stairs with shops on either side and vendors plying their wares.

Jerusalem is a white city. Jerusalem stone, used as construction material, is white; the buildings are white and, as the stone ages and weathers, it begins to turn different shades of beige. Nevertheless, from far away, the whiteness is striking.

Jerusalem

Jerusalem

The stone also takes on different textures and shapes as it weathers.  Some are quite beautiful, and some look as though they have been carved.  These photos were taken outside the National Cemetery and illustrate the stone's beauty.

Jerusalem Stone_Page000

Our first stop of the day, the Hadassah Hospital, is emblematic of the city. The hospital was built on this site after Jordan occupied the original Mt. Scopus site after the 1948 war. The building is a marvel, and this world-class hospital is extraordinary. Currently under construction, the Tower which will greatly expand the facility.

Hadassah Tower

We are here to see the Chagall windows in the synagogue. (I highly recommend the Chagall windows in the Union Church in Pocantico Hills, NY (http://thirdagetraveler.blogspot.com/2006/08/union-church-at-pocantico-hills.html)  Before he did his designs, Chagall sat for two hours a day to see how the light filtered into the room. As a result of his work and understanding of the light, the hours pass and the light highlights different thematic aspects of the windows. The beauty is beyond the words at my command.

chagall windows_Page000

Some windows were shattered during the ’67 war. Although over 80 years old at the time, Chagall re-created them, and he even used some of the same glass with shrapnel still imbedded. Today there are precautions to save the windows in case of attack. How sad to have to think like this.

One sits in silence in this quiet synagogue awed by the beauty and overcome by the peace in the center of a bustling hospital.

We spend a short time in the Women’s and Children’s Center. Here 70% of the patients are Arab. All things are done in both Arabic and Hebrew, and because sick children sometimes have lengthy hospital stays, school is provided. Parents have a place to sleep in the rooms with their children.

In Israel, all citizens must belong to one of four health plans for which they pay premiums. Palestinian children are brought in and treated for free if they are unable to pay. Doctors volunteer their time to train Palestinian doctors and nurses at no charge. Israel considers healthcare a bridge to peace. During the intifada, for instance, EVERYONE was treated.

There is also a concern for mental health. During the intifada, treatment was given to cleaners, admission people, and others who were not trained to see the kinds of horribly injured and mutilated victims of bombing. Staff was sent on retreats accompanied by psychologists and other mental health professionals to help them recover from the traumatic experiences and sights that became a daily part of their work.

The two Hadassah hospitals in Jerusalem were nominated for the 2005 Nobel Prize because of their commitment to the idea that healthcare is a bridge to peace.

Can you tell I am a member of Hadassah?

Our next stop on our tour is the National Cemetery, akin to our own Arlington National Cemetery. Here are buried many of the important personages as well as the brave soldiers of this country.

We begin at Theodore Hertzl’s grave. Hertzl is the father of modern Zionism. He actually died in 1905 in Budapest and was entombed here in 1949. He inspired the Jewish people through political Zionism.

Hertzl's grave

On the square in front of Hertzl’s grave Israelis welcome the major holidays of Israel. Yom Hazikaron is Israel’s Memorial Day. When it ends, Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day begins. We ask our Margaret Morse guide, David, how people can emotionally move from one holiday to the other, from mourning to celebration. He answers frankly saying many cannot. In so small a country where each generation has fought a war of survival, there probably is not a family in the country who has not lost someone. But everyone recognizes the significance of these days.

We visit the graves of Yitzhak and Leah Rabin. Rabin was the assassinated “martyr for peace” whose memorial we visited in Tel Aviv. (http://thirdagetraveler.blogspot.com/2010/12/israels-history-is-inspiring-and.html)  Then to Gold Meir’s grave, the Prime Minister who brought Henry Kissinger to the Golan Heights and who held her cabinet meetings in her kitchen. Then to Teddy Kollek, the mayor of Jerusalem for 27 years. Many feel he put the modern face on this ancient city.

These gravesites were emotionally moving, but not nearly as moving as the section of soldiers’ graves we visited. 22,000 Israeli soldiers have died for “the cause of the Jewish people.”  One grave here is the resting place of  David's nephew. Most of them are teenagers or in their early 20s.  In Israel, three years of military service is required of male high school graduates; two years is required of females. 

National Cemetery_Page000

Finally we visit a pool memorializing the Palestinian Jews who died fighting with the British against the Germans during World War I and memorializing the first operation of the Israeli Navy.

Israeli soldier
A young Israeli soldier.  In this country they always must be on the ready.

It has been a truly interesting and emotional day, but it is not over yet.

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