This trip started in New York City where we briefly paused to pay our respects at the 9/11 Memorial. We did not expect to be doing so again here in Israel. The small 9/11memorial here is thirty minutes out of town in a park. Our always capable bus driver had a real challenge getting us there; the road was better suited for bicycles than a big bus. The memorial is not on the tourist beat and we wondered why we were going there. But thanks to Anahid, it ended up being an emotional experience. She wanted us to know that Israel recognizes that we have been their #1 supporter and that they will always be our their debt. When you are suffering it can be a comfort to know that others truly feel your pain. When 3,000 of us were killed on that fateful day by Arabs, Israelis felt our pain and knew that we can feel theirs. As we stood around the memorial which contains a piece of one of the girders from the World Trade Center, some of us shared where we were that fateful day. Many of our fellow travelers had a closer, more personal relationship with the people who died that day than we did. It was an emotional stop.
On our way back to town we drove through an Orthodox neighborhood. Anahid has tried hard to explain the mystifying beliefs of these rigid people. It's hard for us to wrap our minds around how they choose to spend their lives. When she was a university student here, she was on a bus riding to class wearing a mini skirt on a hot day and one of them spit on her for immodest dress and blamed her for all of Israel's troubles. If Israel can ever make peace with its Arab neighbors, it will only be halfway to a real peace. There's a civil war going on inside this country between the more moderate Jews who live life much as we do and the cultish ultra orthodox. They have huge families and are always being fruitful and multiplying. These huge families are supposed to have separate kitchens with separate dishes for preparing dishes with meat and milk. These days they turn to paper plates and plastic ware. Their neighborhood was almost as littered with the stuff as the Arab ones that have taken us aback. In their neighborhood there were no signs that we could read. Hat shops also sold wigs, since Orthodox women have to keep their heads covered whenever they are outside. The men wear yarmulkes underneath tall top hats that remind us of Abe Lincoln's. They are happy to take in the tax monies of their fellow Israelis, but do not bother to educate their children in subjects like science. The Talmud is the only thing worth knowing. Last month Tel Aviv started letting public buses run on the Sabbath. The ultra orthodox protested in the streets. They sound like a "my way or the highway" kind of people.
The highlight of the day was a visit to Temple Mount, the golden domed mosque that dominates views of the city from afar. There are few spots in this holy city that are as holy. This is Judaism's holiest site, and Islam's third after Mecca and Medina. The huge, open plaza was built over the biblical spot where Adam, Cain, Abel and Noah performed ritual sacrifices and Abraham offered sacrifice his son Isaac to God. The first temple built by Solomon was also here. After it was destroyed the Romans built a temple to Zeus there, which was later turned into a Christian church. Today only Moslems are allowed to go inside the mosque which contains the stone from which Mohammad ascended into heaven.
Tourists are only allowed to visit the temple plaza between prayers and services. The line to get in was long and we had to go through security. But we have never been as entertained standing in line as we were today. The Temple Mount is adjacent to the Western Wall and that is a special location for boys to complete their Bar Mitzvah and become men. Huge proud family groups paraded in accompanied by loud music and singing. The bar mitzvah boys were under a white canopy where they recited the lessons they had memorized from the Torah. Some families made bigger productions out of this than others, but it was a joyous time. The Temple Mount mosque was as beautiful close up as it is from afar. The golden tiled dome glistened in the sun and the Arabic writing and symmetrical decorations on the walls were breathtaking. A great way to end our visit to the Middle East.