We woke up early and participated in a fabulous archaeology project that was absolutely amazing. Sponsored by the City of David and private donors, we went to a temporary site (literally a tent) -- in which archaeologists and volunteers are working to "sift" through rubble from the Old City of Jerusalem that was unfortunately bulldozed in 1999. The rubble, taken mostly from the Temple Mount area has yielded amazing finds that date back from the Roman times until the present. The site has been in operation for the past 7 years, and only 1/3 of the rubble has been sifted. They have had many volunteers over the years, who, like us, find incredible pieces that will help reconstruct the Temple Mount area through the generations. This was no "rigged" activity. In fact, our group found a few wonderful remains -- pottery shards, part of one of the painted tiles from the Dome of the Rock, marble imported from Egypt or Italy, and more. All of this work and some of the best minds in archeology...all under one simple, temporary tent in the hills of Jerusalem.
From there we spent a few hours at Yad Vashem -- Israel's Holocaust museum. But it is far more than a museum; it is a living memorial to those who lived and died under the Nazi regime -- and also those who saved Jews at great risk to their own lives. It was a gratifying experience to go through this amazing place with our students -- many of whom had traveled together two years ago to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. I was really proud of our students who really took in a great deal of difficult information from our guide, synthesized it, and came out of the museum with questions and comments of a sophisticated nature. I think one of the most moving moments of the entire trip was at Yad Vashem, where Ilana Pavlotsky stood with all of us under an enormous photograph of Babi Yar and told the story of her family and her mom's friend who somehow crawled out from amongst the dead bodies...and survived.
From Yad Vashem we headed for the Old City of Jerusalem. What a contrast of mood and color and texture....that is the story of the Jewish experience and indeed the message of Jerusalem. One goes from one type of intensity to another. Following the intensely sad and painful experience of Yad Vashem, we went to the equally intense Old City where life is carefully balanced for all who live there and the least interruption in the status quo disrupts the entire place. We walked the winding streets of the Old City, observing the different people from all over the world and of every religion and culture who, like us, seek to understand the meaning and mystique of this singular place on earth.
As the sun sunk in the horizon, one did not need a calendar or a watch to know that Shabbat was imminent. There was a rush of people in the Jewish Quarter getting ready, the smell of Shabbat dinner in the air, and the clatter of dishes and pots and pans as we strolled through the neighborhoods. Our walk ended in dramatic fashion as we found ourselves overlooking the Kotel (the Western Wall) as it was filling with men, women and children ready to welcome the Sabbath - each in his or her own way. Our students puts notes in the Wall, said the Shema together and quietly made keen observations as they took it all into their minds and hearts. It is always an overwhelming experience to be there: at once welcoming and forbidding. As liberal Jews, especially, there is a sense of belonging and alienation that is immediately felt among the many Orthodox varieties of people who just seem more comfortable there. We reminded the students that this place, the Kotel, belongs equally to us all even if we do not always feel a sense of ownership when we are there. History, after all, has not differentiated between Jews and the manner and fashion in which they and we practiced over the years. I, personally, have discovered the best way to "be" at the Kotel is to feel and not think too much. And, then, to dream about the next visit to Israel. We walked back to the hotel and enjoyed Shabbat blessings, dinner together and a night of some leisure time together.
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On Shabbat morning, we took a walk to a very different part of the Old City -- to the Arab Market (known as the Shuk). As quiet as the Jewish Quarter is on Shabbat, that is how busy and filled with color the Arab Market is! We experienced the Market in traditional fashion: we gave the students one area in the Christian Quarter to explore, observe, bargain, and shop. The smell of middle eastern spices and the sight of multi-colored clothing and foods and merchandise is indescribable. I waited in one of the small intersections in the Arab Market and observed Christians from all over the world rushing in one direction to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Moslems were heading to Mosques for prayer in another direction, and Jews of all varieties were going with Siddurim in hand to and from the Jewish Quarter.
We traveled by bus to a sweeping overlook of Jerusalem, and took some pictures together as we said goodbye to this amazing and complex city. We then traveled to the ancient city of Jaffa - Tel Aviv's great-great-grandparent! Jaffa is a magnificent port city that has been in continuous existence for some 7000 years. We had a wonderful Yeminite lunch outside overlooking the Mediterranean, and even though rain threatened, the sun ultimately emerged for us as we strolled through the ancient city that served as the major port city of Israel for many years. We boarded the bus and then began walking the boardwalk that connects Jaffa and Tel Aviv -- moving from ancient to modern and cosmopolitan within a few minutes. It was obviously Purim -- people throughout Tel Aviv were dressed in costume and there was truly fun and laughs all around us. We were reunited with all 3 of our Puzzle Israel leaders -- Nir, Guy and Nikki -- for our final hours in Tel Aviv before heading to the airport for our midnight flight. We walked and walked through the streets of Tel Aviv, all the way to the newly renovated Dizengoff Center where the Agam fountain serves as a centerpiece of the entire modern city. We walked passed cafes and shops and homes and condos and got a sense of why young people living in Israel - and outside of it - rush to Tel Aviv to visit and live. In Tel Aviv, the pace is fast, the economy seems to be booming, the young outnumber the old, and the tourists enjoy the beaches, clubs and night-life.
We were tired when we boarded the bus to travel from Tel Aviv to nearby Ben Gurion Airport. The experience of the ten days we traveled together caused the usual Tel Aviv airport hassles to vanish into insignificance. Our flights were on time despite weather predictions to the contrary...and most of us got at least a few hours of much needed rest on the plane.
The pictures and words only tell a fraction of the story that was our experience over the course of our journey together. I, personally, am enriched and energized by the quality of our travels and the extraordinary interest, wisdom and passion of this group of students from Temple Beth Avodah. As parents of teenagers, we often wonder if indeed we are succeeding; if we are doing a "good job," and if the hard work of raising kids in the 21st century will ultimately yield the kind of adults we hope to nurture and then, just a few years later, offer to the world. I can tell you without hesitation that each and every one of your children is a gem in his or her own way. I am grateful to have returned to Boston safely and happily -- with our teens who are well on their way to adulthood that will bring them -- and us -- gratification and satisfaction. I thank their parents for entrusting them to us; for thinking out of the box and allowing us to travel a great distance with them; for giving them the gift of Israel as high school students. I assure you that in doing so, these parents have enriched them for today, and helped secure their future -- and ours -- for many years to come.