Israel Mifgash - Day 3

Sunday, which is Israel’s Monday – to our student’s confusion – has arrived, and with it the anticipated journey to Jerusalem. We gathered at Hugim, exchanged impressions from Shabbat, and quickly proceeded to take part in one of Israel’s favorite past times – sitting in traffic. The new(ish) Rt. 6 that crosses Israel from North to South does make the country even “smaller” than it is, but it is also notorious for serious traffic jams. The teens didn’t seem bothered though, as it gave them more time for some bus-singalongs, ranging from Havah Nagillah to Hamilton tunes.

The drive south on RT. 6, which plays touch-and-go with the separation fence between Israel-proper and the West Bank, meant we have already bumped against three borders – after visiting the northern border at Rosh Hanikra, and the Mediterranean on the West – only in four short days. Not a bad way to comprehend Israel’s modest proportions.

As traffic eased, we began climbing East on Rt. 1, which connects Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. But Rt. 1 hasn’t always been an open highway. Following the UN Partition Plan in 1947, the path to Jerusalem was a battlefield between the Jewish and Arab paramilitary organizations, when on the line was the fate of Jerusalem – should the Arabs succeed in besieging it, it would put an end to Israel’s hopes of controlling the city; Should the Jews succeed in securing access to it, the borders of the new State would look completely different. 

While we know how things turned out, the details of this important battle were revealed in a fascinating way in the new Bab El-Wad Museum, which was our first stop for the day. At this very interactive museum, students explored testimonies of soldiers and ordinary citizens who tried keeping the path to Jerusalem open, the dilemmas they faced, and the efforts that led to the outcome that benefited the Jewish State tremendously. 

We left Bab El-Wad and began the climb towards Jerusalem. Our guide, Gil, picked a terrific location for us to begin exploring this vast, complex, layered, and conflicted city – Armon Hanatziv Promenade in the southern part of the modern city, directly under the Old City. From this vantage point, we had an excellent view of the Dome of the Rock, with West (Jewish) Jerusalem to our left, and East (Palestinian) Jerusalem to our right. 

Once we were somewhat oriented, as much as one can be on their first (or second) visit to Jerusalem, we marched into the Old City through Zion Gate. The Old City, which spans less than half a square mile, is home to some of the most important and holy places for Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike – The Kotel (Western Wall), El Aktza Mosque, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, respectively.

It was interesting to see that while most of the students were well aware of the city’s importance for Jews, the fact that the other two monotheistic religions hold tremendous value to it came as somewhat of a surprise. 

Making our way through the narrow streets of the Jewish and Christian quarters, between the hustling and bustling markets, and endless groups of tourists mixed with yeshiva students, we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – the site in which Catholic tradition teaches that Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected. Witnessing hundreds of emotional pilgrims come in and out of the church, one could not deny the spiritual forces this city emits.

Moving onward we stopped on a rooftop, overlooking the Western Wall beneath Dome of the Rock. We took a breath and following tradition, composed personal notes of prayers and wishes, which we would soon safely place in God’s P.O. Box.

As we reached the vast open space just outside the Kotel, not much needed to be said. We each just gravitated towards the wall, some in groups, some on their own; some for a quick touch, some for moments of solitude. Sharing this powerful experience together, it was clear the day had come to its end.

Tomorrow will provide us the opportunity to engage with the modern city of Jerusalem, and more specifically two of its monumental landmarks – Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, and Mount Hertzel, Israel’s National Cemetery. 

 A note about navigating Jerusalem in today’s reality: the recent events are having their effect on our visit. Today, we didn’t allow students free time at the Old City Market. While an attractive experience, our decision was to stay together as a group at all times while there. Tomorrow (Monday), the city is bracing for a mass protest outside the Knesset (Israeli Parliament), which could limit our ability to arrive at different locations. We are staying tuned of course, and will adapt accordingly.

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