Jerusalem of Light

Signs of summer are starting to show up in Jerusalem.  The city put up these fun mini-umbrellas on Yoel Solomon Street.

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Later in the evening I stepped out again to see the mini-light show on the walls of the Old City.

And then I walked through Mamilla on the way home.  And it was crowded!  It seemed to be an equal mix of Jews, Arabs and tourists.

The crowds are worth pointing out.  A week ago, a young police officer was killed by a terrorist at Damascus Gate, a northern gate.  Mamilla is near Jaffa Gate, a western gate.  They aren’t that far apart with only the Christian and Muslim Quarters separating them from each other.  Also, it’s Ramadan.  And yet – it’s nearly 10pm and the streets are full.

Jerusalem is beautiful at night and I’m so glad that our mayor and the city council have made it both possible and aesthetically pleasing to be out and about in the city.  We don’t quake in fear in the face of terrorism.  The minute we do, they win.

Jerusalem is known as the city of light.  And for good reason!

Next week we will host the “Light Festival, Jerusalem,” so expect more pictures of the beautiful walls of the Old City from Zion Gate in the south up to Damascus Gate in the north featuring light installations by artists from all around the world.

A nudnik in the backyard

One of my favorite things about Jerusalem is that everywhere you go you find layers upon layers of human history.  It’s a lot like geological layering, but in human history each layer has a story.  I liked writing the Michener history of The Hill of Evil Council and was planning to do that this week, but I’m going to come at it from a slightly different angle.

My office has what might be called a backyard.  It’s an archaeological site, but still it’s a space between us and St. Andrew’s Scottish Church.  Even now, if you didn’t know what you were looking at, it would look like someone had carved into the rock and made a few flat surfaces and cleared some space in the middle.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a good picture of it, but that’s not really what this post is about anyway.

800px-st_andrews_jerusalemJust below the domes of the church – upper right of the image – is the archaeological site. (Postcard from 1930 when the church was completed.)

In short, it’s a First Temple Period burial cave.  In 1979, Gabriel Barkay excavated the site and found evidence of a burial cave, Roman coins to suggest that the 10th Legion had been there during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, and mosaics from a Byzantine-era church.  The cave had collapsed because it had been used as a weapons cache during the Ottoman period and most likely something exploded accidentally causing the cave to fall in.  In Jerusalem, that’s a pretty typical backyard.

Once the archaeological team decided they had cleared the site, they brought kids in for field trips to do some amateur archaeological digging.  They brought in a group of 12-13-year-old boys and among them was one nudnik.  A nudnik is a Yiddish word meaning an annoying pest of a person.  I don’t think it’s quite as harsh as it sounds in English.

Anyway, the nudnik is aggravating Barkay and he sends the kid down into a hole and tells him to brush the floor and make it as clean as possible.  The kid, being a nudnik and a boy, gets bored and finds a hammer.  Rather than brush the floor, he starts hammering it.

Our nudnik comes back to Barkay and tells him that he found something.  Barkay is completely incredulous.  They go down and realize that the “floor” was a false floor – or possibly the ceiling fell in and created the illusion of a floor.  Barkay gathers his team and they dig and find one of the biggest and most significant archaeological hauls in Israel.  Lots of jewelry, bones, trinkets, pottery, and most significantly, two tiny scrolls of silver that have verses from the Bible written on them in script that dates from the late First Temple Period (650 BCE – 587 BCE).  On the silver scrolls were written what is known as The Priestly Blessing (“May the Lord bless you and keep you…”).

These scrolls are the oldest artifacts ever found with biblical text on them and they are 400 years older than the Dead Sea Scrolls.  (Don’t worry.  They are in the Israel Museum now.)

MORAL OF THE STORY 1:  Don’t underestimate a nudnik!  Imagine that one of the greatest archaeological finds in Israel stood undisturbed for 2,500 years.  None of the thousands of people who built on that hill ever found this treasure.  No soldiers, no tomb raiders, no shepherds, no archaeologists.  It was a nudnik kid!

MORAL OF THE STORY 2:  Looks can be deceiving.  A rocky hillside that functions as a backyard is actually the site of one of the greatest treasure troves found in Israel!

It’s my pleasure to be the messenger

As I was walking to the Western Wall this morning it occurred to me that I live in one of the most special places on earth.  The Old City of Jerusalem is just part of my neighborhood, so I often forget to take a moment and enjoy my surroundings.

After a rainy and cold week, the sun was shining this morning.  It was the perfect day to deliver a small note to the Western Wall on behalf of a friend and take the opportunity to say a few words of gratitude for all the blessing I have in my life.

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A note for a friend (the blue-green one)

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Looking up

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Panorama

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Recent excavation at the Western Wall Plaza of a Roman era street

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Tower of David, Jaffa Gate

Oh, Jerusalem

Today is Inauguration Day in the US.  In Israel, it’s just an ordinary Friday.  We’re running our weekly errands and preparing ourselves for Shabbat or other weekend plans.

US voters in Israel tend to vote for the president on one issue and one issue alone: how will the next president relate to Israel.  It’s a variation on the punch line, “yes, but is it good for the Jews?”  This is understandable.  We human beings care about our immediate surroundings, our families, and our close friends.  If it doesn’t affect us personally, then it’s more of an “out there” issue and not an “in here” issue.

Israel, it turns out, has the same opinion.  I ran across a video from Mayor Nir Barkat asking citizens of Jerusalem to welcome President Donald Trump as a friend and to sign a letter supporting the decision to move the US embassy to the undivided capital of Israel, Jerusalem.  I’ve spoken to other Israelis and they agree with our mayor.  I don’t think this is a minority opinion.

(It’s 1 minute and subbed in English.)

As great as Trump may be for Israel, I feel that Israel may be a bit narrow in its view and possibly short-sighted.  Leaving peace negotiations aside and all the problems in the Middle East (yes, I can do that!), if a person is insulting the leadership of other countries, nominating a cabinet that seems to be unqualified for their positions, and is divisive in his own nation – is that person actually good for Israel?

I would have to research it more, but it seems similar to Israel being one of the few countries that had dealings with South Africa at the height of Apartheid when all other countries were boycotting South Africa.  The rationale was that Israel had so few friends in the world.  Is that the case today?  Many, many Israelis would say it absolutely is.

Well, I’m not a political analyst, so I don’t know what will happen.  It remains to be seen.

I still like our mayor – he’s done a lot of great things for Jerusalem – but since I’m already questioning him, I have another complaint.

I don’t drive in Israel.  I have a license, but I don’t enjoy the experience and I live in a place where parking is almost non-existent.  It’s a lifestyle choice.  But this week, I had an unbelievable experience in traffic.

MFA was driving and I’m glad she was and not me.  I don’t know if I could have handled it.  After lunch one day, we got into the car to drive the 5-10 minutes to my house.  We got on a main road and saw that it was clearly rush hour, but still, it was only about a mile, traffic should be moving, right?  Nope.

trafficThis is our route and the traffic situation as I write this post.

This main road runs under the walls of the Old City, so it’s impossible to turn off onto a side street – there are no side streets – so you are stuck.

On the way, in the opposite lane, we saw a guy violently pop his car up on a curb, leave his wife in the car, and forcibly pull another guy out of his van to let him know how much he disliked his driving.  That was tense.  Luckily, they got back into their cars and went on – whew, no fisticuffs.

We finally get to the left turn we need to take and MFA is careful not to block traffic in the intersection too much since we can’t quite get all the way into the next street.  Then we’re stuck there for a good long while.  We move about a foot in 10 or 15 minutes.

A young woman edges up close to us as if she wants to get into our lane.  This seems totally bizarre because there is no reason for her to get into our lane right here and she’s blocking cars behind her as well as merging traffic from the other side. People, including a bus driver, get out of their vehicles to yell at her and she just shrugs her shoulders at them.  Some – who are not blocked by her – are laughing because this girl clearly just doesn’t care at all.

The car in front of us moves a bit and MFA decides to be nice and let the girl in because it should loosen up all the traffic that she’s blocking.  And this girl, this crazy, crazy girl, cuts across the lane to MAKE A U-TURN!!!  She’s blocked by traffic going the other way that won’t let her in.  And at the same time, ANOTHER CRAZY GIRL taps the back of the first girl’s car and swerves around her TO ALSO MAKE A U-TURN!!!

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In our car, we are both screaming.  WTF!!!

When we get to the end of the street we see that many of the problems here stem from double-parked tour buses and people blocking traffic as they try to get into the parking garage.  After we passed the last entrance to the parking garage, there was not a car in sight!  Nothing.  Completely clear roads.

I’m sure I should care about the US Embassy moving to Jerusalem, but to be honest, I think a bigger issue is this stupid traffic and selfish drivers.  Yeah, I probably seem to have narrow vision and may be short-sighted, but I’ll tell you what: When the sun is setting and the colors are changing on the gorgeous walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, I don’t want to feel murderous rage toward my fellow human beings who don’t care at all about anyone else around them.

No matter what Trump’s relationship with Israel is, he’s not going to fix traffic.

Dear Mr. Mayor, I know you need to have vision and see the big picture, but I’m too embarrassed about this traffic situation to want anyone to visit, much less move the embassy!!  Fix this first!!

Winter in Jerusalem

Fuzzy slippers

blankets, fleece, socks

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another winter in Jerusalem

Jerusalem is located on the same latitude as San Diego.  You expect mild winters and hot summers.  So when you move here from northern climates – snow every winter, ice on the roads, negative wind chill factors – you expect to have easy winters.  And yet, if you ask around, Jerusalem winters are the coldest anyone has ever experienced.

I also think Jerusalem winters are the coldest I’ve ever experienced, even though I’m writing this sitting on my porch with the sun warming my face and with only a light fleece as a jacket.  I’m writing outside because it’s actually warmer outside than inside right now.  Winter in Jerusalem is strange and as we enjoy the daytime mild weather, we maintain that Jerusalem is the coldest place we’ve ever lived.  Here are a few of the theories.

  1. Elevation

No.  Jerusalem is only 800 meters (2,600 feet) above sea level and many of us have been to higher elevations.  Even if the wind feels like it’s blowing off of a glacier, there are no nearby glaciers.

  1. It’s the desert

Possible.  It is a known fact that deserts during the day are hot and freezing at night.  However, the actual temperature is not freezing and yet we complain more bitterly of the cold here.

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  1. Housing materials

Maybe.  Homes are made of poured concrete with no insulation.  Floors are covered with tile.  Their coldness is lovely during a hot summer and like living in an igloo in the winter.  To slightly counteract the ice cold tile issue, some homes have installed heating elements under the tiles so that heat is radiating from the floor.

  1. No fireplaces

I just miss a nice roaring fire.  I’ve often thought it might be nice to build a fire in the middle of my living room, but that would only be a temporary solution to an ongoing problem.

  1. Mysterious cold zones

I have walked in Jerusalem and suddenly felt an enormous chill in the air.  I have never found any explanation for this.  If you didn’t believe in ghosts before, these chilling zones might make you rethink it.

  1. It’s cultural cold

This is my theory.  In cold climates, you have the right clothes and you go from your warm home with insulation and wall-to-wall carpeting to your warm car to your warm office.  You are not feeling the cold in the same way that the cold surrounds you here.  Here you wake up in your chilly house (unless you can afford to run the electric heater all night), you put your feet on the ice cold tile when you get out of bed (slippers and area rugs minimize the chill), your hot water heater has only a certain amount of hot water (as uninsulated hot water heaters are generally on the roof to maximize solar energy), and the clothes you put on are somehow never warm enough.  As you walk to the office, it’s not so bad unless it’s raining or the wind is blowing.  The office is probably warm though, because it’s a business.  When you get home, sometimes you hang around outside until the heater warms up the space because the inside of your house feels like a walk-in freezer.

Then, once every few years it snows in Jerusalem and you forget about all your complaints because it’s just so pretty and reminds you of your childhood.  (Photos from February 2015)

Jerusalem Lovefest, I mean, Parade

After last week’s UNESCO vote, the Jerusalem Parade is extremely well-timed.  There will be a new vote on the UNESCO resolution, but it feels like rumblings rather than outright condemnations of an obviously biased document.

During Sukkot, Jerusalem is filled with both Jewish and Christian tourists from all around the world.  The streets are filled with families, restaurants have sukkahs (booths) outside, and there is a festival atmosphere throughout the city during the whole week.

For many years, I thought the parade was primarily a Christian thing, but it turns out that the first parade was in 1955 during Passover.  Then after 1980 when the Christian Embassy was founded in Jerusalem the parade evolved into what we have today.  The parade begins with Israeli groups – banks, insurance companies, army units, corporate groups, and others – and then the Christian groups from around the world join in.

The Christian groups are often singing songs in Hebrew to show their support.  Not being Hebrew-speakers they tend to choose the ones with simple and repetitive lyrics, but strong messages.  “Am Israel, Am Israel, Am Israel, Chai!” (The people of Israel live!) “Havenu Shalom Aleichem” (We wish you peace) “Ya’aseh Shalom, Shalom Aleinu v’Al Kol Israel” (May He bring peace, peace to us and all Israel).

Here are a few pictures from the parade.  I chose them based on the ones that turned out rather than any other criteria.

The Chinese took the phrase “Go Big or Go Home” to heart and had the biggest flags and banners and also brought along the Ark of the Covenant with trumpeting angels.

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Hungary had its own group, but the Gipsy nation came on its own.

All the northern countries were represented, but these were two signs I caught.

All around the world is not an exaggeration:  Fiji, New Zealand, Bolivia, Thailand, Taiwan, Zambia, Kenya, South Africa, France, Germany, UK, Ireland, US, Canada, and more and more and more.

My wish for this holiday season is that all these people would call their UN representatives and let UNESCO know that they came to Israel to strengthen their Jewish and Christian connections to the land.

*Note:  Christians are not allowed to proselytize in Israel.  They are not permitted to hand out any religious material at all.  So this event is a surprisingly non-political, non-religious event that is very simply an expression of support and love for Israel the country, not its government or policies.

UNESCO Rewrites History

Mom told me a story once about her mother and how she had once been a history teacher in the Soviet Union.  She was helping her students prepare for a big exam and reminding them how a certain general was a “hero of the people.”  During the week of preparations, this general became an “enemy of the people,” so all the questions about him were changed to reflect his new status.  Grandma was disillusioned and changed careers to become an accountant.

That was the Soviet Union then.  This is now.

This week a UNESCO resolution is trying to rewrite history and suggest that Jews and Christians have no connection to the Old City of Jerusalem.  I mentioned the resolution in a blog post in July and discussed very briefly the postmodern idea of “narratives of history” in May.

The main problem (among many others) with the resolution is that it purposely eliminates or minimizes the Jewish names of the holy sites:  Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif is never referred to as the Temple Mount and Buraq Plaza is the name for the “Western Wall Plaza” (quotation marks in original).  Full text is reprinted here.

The “Buraq Plaza” of 1916-1917 – not much of a plaza and not a Muslim site.

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Source

The Office of Foreign Affairs posted this on their Facebook page to highlight the changing of history aspect of the purposeful elimination of names.

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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a statement that said:

To say Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount is like saying that China has no connection to the Great Wall of China or that Egypt has no connection to the pyramids. With this absurd decision, UNESCO has lost the modicum of legitimacy it had left.

And he followed it up with this tweet.

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In my opinion, the most worrisome thing is the vote.  The resolution was approved in committee 24 for and 6 against, with 26 abstentions.  The countries that stood up to vote against this resolution were: Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands, United Kingdom and United States.  I applaud their strength!  I wonder about the countries that abstained.  They chose not to vote yes, but could not bring themselves to vote no.  Abstaining doesn’t mean they get to pretend this resolution didn’t happen.

UNESCO’s Director-General issued a lukewarm statement mentioning that all three monotheistic religions have a connection to the Old City, but did not cancel or condemn the resolution.

In response, Israel’s government has suspended cooperation with UNESCO at this time.  And rightly so.

Being a UNESCO Heritage Site used to be a badge of honor.  But if UNESCO can vote on and pass resolutions that skew and twist history to suit a particular agenda, doesn’t it call into question all of UNESCO’s decisions and resolutions?  Is UNESCO a new totalitarian regime telling us what history is?