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Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Another beautiful day in Jerusalem. We have a “free” day until 4:00 PM, and while shuttle busses take people to a shopping area, Rob and I see a beautiful park from our balcony. We pack some water, our books and cameras and head off to explore.

Jerusalem gardens

Trees and greenery are precious here, and as the official aim is to re-forest the country there are flowers and trees everywhere. During the Ottoman Empire, trees were taxed, so people denuded the land of ornamental trees, keeping olive trees, date palms and other “useful” trees. When Israel became a state, it began a massive effort to reforest—to re-green—the land. Jewish people give money to the Jewish National Fund and other organizations with the express purpose of planting trees. Any occasion—a memorial or a joyous event may result in a gift of a tree planted in a person's name. The tree symbolizes life, and I've always felt that in its planting the tree allows life to continue. The devastating fires Israel suffered earlier this year, therefore, hurt the country and its people in many ways.

Rob and I want to explore the spot of green we've seen from afar. We enter the park at Dutch Corner where, as a sign of friendship in 1990, Holland gifted Israel with hundreds of tulip bulbs. Of course they are not blooming now in November, but we do see a lion with what seems to be a Delft design on its body. Just a guess.

Dutch Gardens, Jerusalem

There is a windmill inside the park we erroneously assume is also Dutch. Actually the British placed it there, but it never worked in this area. Still it looks tall and stately against the brilliant blue sky.


The park is green, a wide, grassy strip bordered by flowers from the main road down to neighborhood houses. Arbors covered with bountiful and aromatic flowers—as the one under which we sit now as I write—abound with benches to protect people from the bright and hot sun.


The flowers, the date palm trees, and the ever-present silver-leafed olive trees attract birds. The air is filled with their melodies. The breeze cajoles petals into floating to the white Jerusalem stone walkway, and in some spots the ripe olives have fallen too, leaving dark contrasting stains.

Jerusalem neighborhood
Isn't that Jerusalem stone walk gorgeous?

Ironically we are in the first neighborhood built outside the Jerusalem walls, Mishkenot Sheananim, and because Jerusalem is built on hills, we sit here looking across the valley in wonder at those ancient walls, now as always a natural part of the city. Beautiful churches reach toward the heavens in Jerusalem.


To reach our arbor we've walked through narrow streets of homes packed tightly together but many with intricately decorated gates, red Spanish tile roofs, and small yards overflowing with flowers. Lovely and peaceful.

Jerusalem neighborhood.

Jerusalem neighborhood

Jerusalem neighborhood

Jerusalem neighborhood
Notice the address is Windmill Street.  Love it.
We walk to the end of the park by climbing back up the stairway and passing through a copse of evergreens whose pinecones form designs on the thick needle carpet.

Once up on King David Street, the noise level is almost an assault. How the atmosphere has changed in a few short steps. This is a small country with limited space for the luxury of a park in the midst of a famous, ancient, thriving city.
Jerusalem Y
Jerusalem YMCA--famous and rich in programs for all

We walk past the huge YMCA where programs abound.
Past the King David Hotel where fame was gained in 1948.

King David Hotel
entrance to the King David Hotel

We are back in the urban center, and we're ready for lunch in a corner outdoor cafe: avocado/sliced egg/lettuce & tomato on foccacia accompanied by sliced pickles, olives, cherry tomatoes, and sliced cucumbers.

Lunch is over, and it is almost 2:00 PM. On Friday in Jerusalem businesses close at 2 as the city gets ready for Shabbat. For us it's time to go back to the hotel before the next treat of the day, welcoming in the Shabbat by the Western Wall.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011


On our Margaret Morse tour, the day in Jerusalem continues with a walk through the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.

Jewish Quarter

Renewal is the keyword here because work is going on everywhere.

Jewish Quarter

At Hurva Square we are dazzled by the Hurva Synagogue.

Hurva Synagogue

Work on the synagogue first began in 1700, but the building was destroyed by Muslims in 1721; the synagogue ruins (“hurva”) remained until it was rebuilt in 1864. It retained the name “Hurva.” The Hurva Synagogue was next destroyed by the Arabs in the 1948 war. Israel recaptured Jerusalem in 1967, and though numerous plans were conceived and debated, it wasn't finally rebuilt and reopened until March 15, 2010, an ironic date (the Ides of March) since it opened amidst Palestinian protests that it was Israel’s intent to destroy Muslim holy places on the Temple Mount. Can the irony of these specious claims be any more obvious?

Hurva Square is beautiful and white.

Hurva Square

Hurva square

We are lucky enough to catch a bar mitzvah procession and to hear the music and see the young man and his proud family. It’s so easy to smile.

Bar Mitzvah

On the streets are Arab peddlers selling magnificent looking breads and other baked goods.

delicious breads in Jerusalem's Arab quarter

delicious breads in Jerusalem's Arab quarter

We continued to walk through the narrow streets until we came to The Cardo, a busy and dimly lit enclosed avenue of shops really geared for Israel’s tourists. There were religious items for Jews and Christians, maps, artwork, and jewelry. It worked on me, and I left with a few goodies for myself and some friends.

the Cardo

On through the Arab market which was much more colorful with many clothing items hanging from ropes across open stalls.

The Cardo in Jerusalem

Arab bazaar in Jerusalem
the belly dancing ensembles were not quite for me

Arab bazaar in Jerusalem

The street consisted of steps. Vendors stood at the openings of their shops and tried to lure customers as people passed.

Arab bazaar in Jerusalem

Arab bazaar in Jerusalem

delicious breads in Jerusalem's Arab quarter

The market was teeming with people hurrying on their way, and it was an exciting walk as we hurried up to meet our bus trying not to lose sight of our guide, David, as he maneuvered through the crowds.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011


Western Wall & Dome of the Rock
The Western Wall with the Dome of the Rock in the background

Old Jerusalem and the Western Wall. A singular ancient reminder and a singular modern symbol. When the Romans destroyed the second Temple in 70 BC in massive retaliation against the upstart Jews, they sought to totally erase everything important to Jews from the land. This one wall was left probably because it was deemed an unimportant outer wall on the western side of the Mt. Moriah, the Temple Mount. Nevertheless, this vestige of the Second Temple is the holiest site of Judaism. This is the first Margaret Morse Tour stop of our day.

From 1948 until 1967, despite a Jordanian promise to allow Jews to visit the Kotel (literally the “wall” in Hebrew), NO JEWS ALLOWED. One of the first to reach the re-captured Kotel during the 1967 Six Day War was Defense Minister Moshe Dayan who inserted a written prayer in the cracks. That prayer was that a lasting peace “descends on the House of Israel.” Today people, many tearful with emotion, slip their written prayers in the cracks of this great stone wall. I am among these people, and I doubt if ever my prayers were quite as heartfelt as they are in this supremely holy place.
Wendy's Hand
I touch history and add my prayers to others
The Western Wall, Jerusalem
I approach in my light blue hat

crying after praying
As I leave with my friend, Riva, I wipe away a tear of emotion
Those photos are a bit ahead of my story.  Today one passes through security to reach the Kotel, and on the wall is a mezuzah containing the shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is One.”


Before we have an opportunity to spend time at the wall, David, our Margaret Morse guide takes us through the Heritage Exhibit where we graphically see how Herod had the Temple constructed.

Second Temple model
David added to this model piece by piece so we could better understand the construction before we actually entered the tunnel in the lighted distance
King Herod began construction of the Second Temple in 19 BCE. He wanted an enormous Temple so the one million pilgrims who, in those ancient times, came three times a year, Succoth, Shavuot, and Pesach, to pray and sacrifice could be accommodated. He flattened the top of Mt. Moriah to enlarge the space where he built a huge and magnificent structure. This particular piece of ground is very important. Solomon’s Temple, the First Temple, stood here. The Holy of Holies in which the Ark of the Covenant remained was here. It is believed that Abraham brought Isaac here to be sacrificed, although Muslims believe that took place in Mecca. To Muslims, who built the Dome of the Rock on this site of the destroyed Temple, this spot marks where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven. According to the Oxford Archaeological Guide to the Holy Land, Abd al-Malik (the builder of the Dome of the Rock) wanted ”a symbolic statement…of the superiority of the new faith of Islam.” Near the Dome of the Rock is the Al-Aqsa Mosque with its distinctive black dome.

We can only begin to comprehend the magnitude of this structure, done with ancient tools. It is with awe that we look at Herodian stone, stone with a frame carved into it.

Herodian Stone
Notice the chisled frame around the stone.  This is called Herodian stone.
After he explains the construction, we enter the excavated tunnel that runs alongside the wall.

As huge as the exposed wall is, most of its nearly 1,700 foot length lies below ground. Archeologists sought to excavate under the wall to determine its length. This long process, begun in the 1800s, was further complicated by residences built up against the wall, some of which used the area for sewage disposal. Eventually, 2000 years of civilization were uncovered, and we have the opportunity to walk through the tunnel and once again travel back in time to experience, in some small way, those ancient times. We walk over a glassed area where we can look down and see how much deeper the wall goes. We see original columns of stone. As we walk on the original walk, I realize that I follow the footsteps of great leaders like Hillel and Jesus. The feeling reaches deep into my soul.

Deep in the ground in the tunnel along the wall is a chapel for women. It is suggested that this spot where women come daily to pray would have been under and opposite the basement of the Temple. They do not heed us as we pass by; the prayers continue unabated. The excavation of the tunnel is about 750 feet long, and the wall itself is about 1,700 feet long.

Western Wall's Tunnel & women's chapel

Outside we gaze at the Wall before we enter the enclosure. The Kotel is huge—over 180 feet long and more than 60 feet high. The wall built by Herod uses no cement. The process was dry mortar. The stones are huge. Our wonderful guide, David, explained that the stones weigh more than a fully loaded 747 plane. Archeologists do not know how the quarried stone was brought here.

As customary, the men enter on one side of the wall and the women enter from another side. They do not mingle. I met women of other faiths there putting their prayers in the wall as well. That is the thing about Jerusalem. Christians and Jews visit each other’s sites, always with respect and interest.

The Western Wall, Jerusalem

Today is Thursday, the ancient market day. As Thursday was the gathering day for people, it was also the day for Bar Mitzvahs. That custom continues in this place as Jews come from around the world celebrate that special rite. Incredibly to me, however, is that the women—the mothers—must peer over the separating barrier in order to see their sons bar mitzvahed.

The Western Wall, Jerusalem

Ark at The Western Wall, Jerusalem

Careful, supervised excavation continues to be done by archeologists who have not nearly exhausted this treasure trove of antiquity, and we as we leave, we see places where the work continues and ancient walkways are uncovered.

Western Wall
In this site of further careful excavation, notice the stone walkway.  Imagine who walked there.
But Margaret Morse had even more plans for this beautiful day.

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Saturday, March 05, 2011


Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn transports us back to an earlier time, the early part of the 20th century in one of the most famous places on earth, Brooklyn, New York. Here masses of relatively new working class Americans came to make their way, dreaming about the endless possibilities while working hard to make it through the day.

In this long-ago place lives the Nolan family, Katie and Johnnie who marry young, love, work hard, and soon have two children, Francie, young, impressionable and sensitive to the hard world but aware that beyond her neighborhood’s confines is a gentler world she wishes to enter, and Neeley, tough and tender at the same time but rambunctious and anxious to live for the moment.

Johnnie Nolan makes his way as a singing waiter. He is liked by everyone for his friendly, respectful and thoughtful ways. As a father he encourages Francie, his “prima donna,” to follow her dreams, and he encourages her fancies just as he lives in his own—that the impresario will discover him one night as he works, and all his wishes will come true.

In order to keep her home together, Katie Nolan does not have the luxury of dreams. She works as a janitress in her building. She loves Johnnie, but she does not like his drinking nor the idea that she cannot depend upon him. Her sense of responsibility makes her appear hard, and in some ways she is, but she feels she has to act as she does if her children are to have a better and easier life than she has.

Katie’s mother, who can neither read nor write, insists that the family read the Bible and William Shakespeare. Each night they read whether they understand or not, for she knows that somehow it is education that open the doors to a better world. It is Francie’s intention, in fact, to read her way, alphabetically, through the books in the library, and she reads voraciously.

We meet Katie’s sister, Sissy, with her peculiarities and string of husbands. We meet other neighbors, some good and some bad. We see Francie become an adolescent and deal with all the problems that involves, and we see the very difficult and divisive decisions Katie is forced to make as Johnnie’s drinking becomes more of a problem.

Despite the hardships of daily life, the births, sicknesses and deaths,  throughout the novel there is so much good and a great deal of happiness in little triumphs and successes that keep spirit and hopes high.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a testament to the strength of the human spirit. It is a reminder that the little things in life are often the most memorable. It extols the importance of love and family and of forgiving when forgiveness is not easy. Many of the characters are as strong as the tree that grows outside Francie’s building—a tree that refuses to die.

Joan Blondell plays Aunt Sissy to Francie & Neely
I love this book. I’ve read it before and it never loses its appeal. I’ve cried through the sad parts and smiled at others. I love the characters for all their strengths and weaknesses. This is a book about life. An absolutely marvelous movie was made in 1945 starring Peggy Ann Garner and Dorothy Maguire. It cannot cover the entire novel, but it is a treat. I recommend this too.

I re-read the book recently for a library book discussion. I asked the men there if this novel had appeal for them as well, and the answer was an unqualified yes, so take A Tree Grows in Brooklyn along on your next trip.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011


Israel’s Yad Vashem, is a Memorial, not a museum. Its name is derived from Isaiah, chapter 56, verse 5: “And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (a “yad vashem”)…that shall not be cut off.”

Yad Vashem

It is a living memorial to the Holocaust, safeguarding the history and providing education for the future. It is a place where people walk quietly whether they arrive alone or in a group, whether they are young or old. There is an almost palpable presence here and a quiet, peaceful, and reverent atmosphere. I look at the different groups of young people, and am startled by the numbers of young Israeli soldiers. It is good to understand why you are giving your youth to your country.

Yad Vashem is dedicated to what Israel calls the Four Pillars of Remembrance: Commemoration, Documentation, Research and Education. There can be no Holocaust deniers in the face of the truths housed here.

We begin our visit under our Margaret Morse tour guide David’s tutelage. He takes us to the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations. This is a broad walkway, an avenue, lined with trees. Each tree represents a person who saved one or more Jews during the Holocaust. Each tree reminds us of a person who did the right thing while others were doing the wrong thing. There are plaques on the trees commemorating these people.

Yad Vashem-Avenue of the Righteous

I know that every so often, a new person’s story is revealed, and every once in a while I read in the news about a reunion between a saved person and the one who saved him/her. The Avenue of the Righteous is a powerful beginning. Yad Vashem’s website asks for names still to be recognized.

David first leads us to Janusz Korczak Square. The sculpture by Boris Saktsier says it all. Korczak ran an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto. He had the opportunity to flee when the children were arrested, but he refused to leave the approximately 200 children. He went with them and met death with them in the Treblinka death camp.

Boris Saktsier's "Janus Korczak & the Ghetto Children"

On to the Children’s Memorial, an intense and impressive reminder of the approximately 1.5 million children who perished during the Holocaust. There are eternal flames in their memory.

eternal lights at children's memorial

Most of the Memorial is underground. One walks past the pillars and enters single file in semi-darkness past children’s photos as names, ages, and countries of origin are heard. I walked with a lump in my throat as I looked at those precious photographs.

Children's Memorial entrance
the pillars and the entrance to the Children's Memorial

David then leaves us to walk at our own pace through the unique Holocaust History Museum. Its impressive architectural style forces the visitor to follow a path that chronologically tells the story of the Shoah—from the point of view of the Jews. That is a different approach from our Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. In this museum we look at the worlds the Jews occupied under the Nazis and their collaborators. There are artifacts, testimonies, and other examples of reality. It is a difficult, heart-wrenching walk. But it is an important walk to take.

Our time here has not been sufficient to see everything, but this is not a place to hurry through. It takes time to digest it, and, frankly, to let emotions calm down. We leave filled with sadness.

It is evening, and we head back to our hotel for dinner and a lovely evening with friends.

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