A day we looked forward to, and also dreaded. Emotions ran high, but first much patience was needed.
The bus this morning brought us to another holy site,the Mount of Olives…or tried to. This, too, is in Arab East Jerusalem, and luck wasn’t with us today. Ibrahim constantly monitors his travel guide group, and found out there were two Arabs on the main Palm Sunday path harassing tourists. So a quick change of plans had us stopping at a gorgeous lookout over the entire old city of Jerusalem. Except we almost couldn’t get there.
Traffic was bumper to bumper because of the problem with police cars and the hundreds of tourists heading towards the spot, and for over an hour we inched our up the high hill towards the top. Cars cut off busses, and vice versa, and it was every driver for himself, inching towards the goal.
While on the bus, we got a history lesson in the real " day in the life" of Arabs and Jews. This is still area C (full Israeli control) but many of the Arab community include criminals and political vigilantes as well as other angry Arabs who refuse citizenship, but still, amazingly get all the rights of citizenship— health, pensions,etc. They can even vote in local elections except voting for prime minister. They also have the highest unemployment rate, but are entitled to unemployment payments.
Many drop out of school, as well. Officially there is a required Israeli curriculum but schools here follow their own Palestinian one with strong anti-Israel content (although it is believed that this is slowly changing). This area hospital only serves the Palestinian authority, not Israeli people. They will not acknowledge Israel and feel that this is their land,taken illegally from them.
We finally made it to a scenic overlook. Ibrahim explained about the oldest Jewish cemetery on top of the hill (very expensive and elite- when the messiah comes down, you are closer 🤗). We took some wonderful pictures of the old city and surrounding area, and a group shot, and left with a sigh of relief.
Ibrahim took this opportunity to share some of the controversial aspects of the political and cultural differences here, and although we were not threatened in any way, we were relieved that he also kept us safe.
Our next stop was also difficult, but for an entirely different reason. Yad Vashem means a memorial and a name. This world famous museum is built on Mt. Hertzl where not only Theodore Hertzl is buried, but also all the fallen soldiers from the wars in Israel. It tells the story of the over six million Jews killed in the holocaust and is a memorial and testament of all the suffering and persecution that took place but also to the resilience of the Jewish people.
Pictures are not allowed except outside but here are some from the entranceway and some websites.
Two hours was not enough to really read and absorb everything. Walking from room to room, we saw the development of the rise of Nazism, the increasing crescendo of anti-Semitism in Germany, followed by incredibly detailed accounts of the ghettos, the resistance, the camps, and the Final Solution.
The last two rooms inside were the Righteous Among the Nations— non-Jews recognized by the State of Israel who risked their lives to save Jews, and the Hall of Names where pictures dotted the big dome, books of names lined the walls, and spaces were left bare for the many who were unknown. Extremely powerful and moving.
Back outside, we walked around to the children’s memorial, commemorating the one and a half million Jewish children who died in the holocaust, another incredibly moving room of darkness lit by many flickering candles. Slowly, names, ages and countries of the children were read out loud as we walked through.
To say it was heart wrenching and emotional does not due justice to the powerfulness of this story. The entrance and grounds are very expansive, beautiful and peaceful and bring some quiet contemplation and solace when coming out. Although we went to Yad Vashem when we first visited Israel in 1976, this new location and building were built in 2005 and is designed in the shape of a prism dividing the mountain.
It was hard snapping out of the somber mood when we left, but on the way to Tel Aviv, our guide had a touristy lunch stop to get help do it rather quickly.
It was called Elvis American Diner, a lively shrine to the "king of rock n roll" that had all kinds of Elvis memorabilia inside. The big juicy burgers (an actual CHEESEburger in Israel - OMG!) and tasty fries made a nice change from all of the middle eastern food we’ve been eating.
We arrived in Tel Aviv to the nicest and most luxurious hotel, the Royal Beach. I guess they saved the best for last! Location, location, right across from the wide expanse of Mediterranean beaches and beach volleyball courts, the area was teeming with activity.
It is a 4 day weekend here with Shavuot, a huge holiday preceding Shabbat. Everybody has off and heads for the beach with friends and/ or family.
We went to a Greek restaurant right along the beach for dinner which was pretty wild, crowded and noisy. But joining in the spirit of the place, and the young vibrancy of the city was really fun.
More about Tel Aviv tomorrow.