Sunday June 19, 2011
Behind the scenes at the Kotel
Well, if the Arabs knew what the Jews were doing behind closed doors at the Kotel, I don’t even want to know what kind of heck would break loose. But that comes this afternoon.
This morning Reuven (had to be 82 but was as spry as any 62 yr. old Swede) guided us through the Archaeology and Jewish Art & Life exhibits at the recently renovated Israel Museum.
We are in a MUCH larger group of BOGgers now and so the simple logistics of herding the halt & the lame onto and off of the buses becomes a “joy”. About 50 or so of us were assigned to poor Reuven who mentioned, more than once, that this is a ‘large’ group to shepherd and he was hoping he’d be heard by the herd. Those of us agile enough to keep up had no difficulty. Those lagging behind were probably shot by the efficient and omnipresent security police.
We are unwitting VIP’s, it appears. Well, I should restate that. Clearly, some amongst us are VIP’s. Just ask them, they’ll tell you. As for the rest, we’re just along for the ride and have no difficulty be escorted on our tours by a contingent of pistol toting mama’s (and some papa’s, too).
The Israel Museum completed a $____ renovation in July 2010 and the new gallery spaces are laid out in a more logical and easy to navigate fashion. This was particularly important in the Archaeology wing as the last thing I want to do is mix up the early Hittite period with the late Jebusite period. Hoo boy!
That said, tracing the timeline of the occupation of the land of Israel makes it clear that the entire area is actually occupied territory and God is probably coming back to get it sooner or later.
The Israel Museum’s crown jewels are 4 actual synagogues that have been rebuilt inside the museum gallery. The newest addition to the previous exhibition of synagogues from Horb, Germany; Cochin, India; and Vittoria Venetto (near Venice), Italy is the Portuguese Synagogue Tzedek v’Shalom from Paramaraibo, Suriname featuring a floor of sand (apparently somewhat typical of Carribean rim synagogues from the 1700’s.
Milestone moment: Debbie did NOT buy anything in the Museum Gift Shop. This is a big day and I for one am happy to publicize this information. Unfortunately, my ‘hot streak’ will come to an abrupt end later this afternoon. Read on….
Lunch was a shared shwarma laffa in the Old City along with about 70,000 young (maybe 5 yrs. old?) soldiers. We asked one why they were all in the Old City. She said it was a kind of holiday tour, in uniform mind you.
We saw each unit taking turns to take a group in front of the Kotel. 100 or so 5 yr. olds in uniform and I old guy (may 14?) who was clearly the Commander of the Unit as he didn’t have to get lined up for the team photo until the last moment. And they say that rank has no privileges?
We had a sit at a café for about 20 minutes in advance of meeting the other missionaries for a ‘Behind the Scenes’ Tour of the Kotel Wall exacavations and tunnels. We were asked to share a table with 3 young fellows from Nashville and one of them told us he was originally from Canada.
“Us too. Where in Canada?” we asked. “Edmonton”, he says. “What’s your name?” we enquire. “My last name is Barzel” says he. “Ur?” says we. “Yep”, says he.
And so, once again, a random encounter with someone we know in the middle of Jerusalem. Funny thing, same thing happened to me in 2004 when I ran into Ari Enkin at…..and I know you won’t believe this…. the EXACT SAME CAFÉ!!!
We had a great catch up with Ur (married an “Murrican” and moved around a bit but likes his job working as a Jewish educator in Nashville. He went to the same Jewish Studies program at York U. that Ari did.
We promised to say hi to Tslila & Gershon for him and took a picture of him to show them and then continued on to the Kotel to meet up with the rest of the missionaries for the ‘behind the scenes’ Wall Tunnel and excavation tour.
Batya is the prototypical settler. A 60-yr. old who dresses like a Mennonite (I thought at first from her American accent that she was – you never know around here!). She was an excellent guide and took us to see the ongoing Western Wall excavations that are not open yet to the public. She is also the toughest 60 yr. old settler babe around and I’m pretty sure she was packing heat.
The reason these excavations aren’t open to the public yet is obvious – they are still being excavated and the ‘stairs’ and other normal safety features that will be needed for the public to see these things aren’t in place yet. There was a lot of use of the word “rickety” today in the tunnels and as we climbed up and down.
That said, the knowledge that we were seeing, for example, mikveh’s used for purification just before going to the Temple Mount 2,000+ years ago was really really cool. One of the Mikveh’s (the men’s) still has water in it.
We exited the ‘above ground’ underground excavations at Ohel Ya’acov synagogue. Destroyed under Jordanian rule between 1948-1967 the deed to the land was purchased in1993 by that well-known Jewish philanthropy….. American Friends of Everest. They rebuilt the synagogue and it was rededicated in 2008.
The deed specifies that it will be turned over to the Shomrei Ha Chomot Kollel upon the coming of the Moshiach. I’m not sure whether this should be considered a short-term or long-term lease situation but either way, it would have been fun to draft the deed!
A mere 8 years ago what was simply a ‘hill’ across from the main plaza of the kotel started to undergo excavation. The progress made in a very short time is astounding. Unearthed to date are extensions of the Cardo (market) which predate the building of West Edmonton Mall (but not the roller coaster ride there, mind you).
After our tour of the Kotel we got another guided tour. This time from Ari & Leslie who led us directly (do not stop at Go!) to Hashem Natsheh and his emporium of delights deep in the Arab Quarter. (Okay, it’s actually on the main path (David St.) in the Christian Quarter Arab Souq but it sounds more ‘exotic’ the other way).
Hashem himself is a very, very nice fellow but there are very, very bad things that go on in his shop. (Translation: What’s good for Hashem is bad for Howie’s bank account).
I won’t even try to recount the various items that are now winging their way to Canada – or will be once the Canada Post strike is over! Actually, I’m not sure why the flying carpet we bought couldn’t just make the trip without the postage stamps, come to think of it.
The carpet is the best: Hashem pulls out a cigarette lighter and tries to light it on fire…. But it won’t burn! This, he says, is the miracle of camel hair. This, I think to myself, will be a lot of fun to try at home when people visit. (“Come on, guys, just TRY to burn the bloody thing!”).
You know you’re in trouble when Hashem says to you: “Okay, now leave your wife out here and we’ll go in the back in talk.” When he takes the little calculator back there with him you may as well just abandon all hope. Let’s just say that Hashem is my new BFF and leave it at that.
And so, as you can see, we’ve had a lot of great guides on this visit to Israel. Ari & Leslie were hilarious ones, that’s for sure but once he told me that they bought a rug from Hashem 2 days ago that WOULD NOT BURN!!! they (and he) had me hooked, lined and sunk.
Estelle picked us up at the hotel tonight and whisked us away to dinner in Talpiyot. She looks great and it was wonderful catching up with her. She is taking baking classes in between working full-time (remember, the work week here is 6 days) and watching her two daughters grow up which we all know is a full-time job in and of itself.
Ezra had an event to oversee tonight and couldn’t join us but he did deliver our laundry to Estelle last night and she brought it to us tonight all folded and pressed – amazing friend! We felt like campers during the inter-session break asking mom to do our laundry. She agreed that the analogy was good except she said she had been willing to separate the dark from the whites. She’s right – the mounds of laundry we came home with during inter-session simply didn’t lend itself to that kind of ‘nicety’.
Estelle took us to a great ….. wait for it….. Mixed Grill restaurant. Yay! 30 gazillion small plates of “stuff” followed by meat on a skewer. This is definitely the way to live. We’re hoping to catch up with Estelle & Ezra again this weekend. By then we should have devoured another 15 or so skewers of various meats.