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A Very Busy Thursday and Friday in Jerusalem

We have had a wonderful time in Jerusalem, where the weather was like summer! We left off on Thursday morning when we awoke to the brilliant sunshine in Jerusalem and headed from our hotel to YadVashem. Because there are no pictures permitted in Yad Vashem, you will have to talk to the students about the experience…it was amazing and quite moving. The fact that we had a phenomenal guide (the best I have ever had at Yad Vashem) made it an absolutely "perfect" experience - if one can call Yad Vashem "perfect." It was difficult, but we learned a lot and came away more sensitive to issues surrounding the Holocaust, Jewish identity, and the birth of the State of Israel. We also had the opportunity to compare Yad Vashem to the US Memorial Holocaust Museum in Washington DC which many of us visited together as part of a TBA Grade 8 trip a couple of years ago.

Matt and Daniel each spoke about Yad Vashem and they will share the guest blog for Yad Vashem:

Matthew: "Yad Vashem is so different than the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. It was a beautiful museum and actually had a lot more to teach about pre-World War II history than I remember from Washington. It was absolutely eye-opening to visit Yad Vashem because there was so much more detail and pictures from the labor camps and the concentration camps. We had an awesome tour guide who spoke English (she is from Canada!) and who explained everything very well for us. The stories were so interesting.”

Daniel: "I feel as if the visit to Yad Vashem connected me even more with Israel. It is not only a museum about the past; it is also very future-focused. While the State of Israel does not justify the Holocaust, I can see the connection between the two events now. The children's exhibit was excellent and different than anything I have seen before. It is set up in a way that causes people to think about not just about the actual children who died in the Holocaust, but how much of the future was also killed with those children. They lost their lives…and with them, the future was lost."

From Yad Vashem -- where 3 hours flew by -- we went to Machaneh Yehudah, the Jewish market -- for some food and fun! We had a great time looking at everything and everyone -- and the hustle and crowds of the market. Nir and Guy divided us into 2 teams, and each team had a list of ingredients written in Hebrew. We found out that we were going to do a scavenger hunt, and our assignment was to get all of the ingredients on our list so that we could make a fabulous lunch for ourselves. It was great! So much fun!

When we had everything we needed for lunch, we headed back toward the center of Jerusalem so that we could cook lunch. We did so in this really cool hostel that serves an international population of mostly people in their twenties. They have a "guest kitchen" in the youth hostel, and we made a fantastic lunch! We made a dish called "Shakshuka" which is a breakfast dish with eggs and tomatoes and onions. We also had meat-stuffed eggplant, salad, and baked pears with chocolate sauce!

Then we went back to the hotel for a bit of a rest. We met in the early evening for a fantastic time shopping, eating, and watching people on Ben Yehudah Street - the outdoor shopping area in Jerusalem that is a street without any cars and is known for great cafes, felafel, all kinds of jewelry stores, restaurants and STUFF! Thursday night was the night that some of the students met up with family members and friends…and we saw Carly Meisel who is studying in Jerusalem for a semester. It was terrific to see her so happy in Jerusalem.

We walked back to the hotel and were so tired…we were looking forward to a good night's sleep.

Friday, we spent an absolutely fantastic full day in the Old City of Jerusalem. We entered through the Jaffa Gate, and led by Shachar, wandered through the winding streets of the Old City. It was so beautiful there -- and so hard to believe that there is so much contention on a daily basis, because to us it seemed peaceful. We made an excellent visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre -- one of the holiest sites for Christians -- said to be the place where Jesus was resurrected. We saw Christian pilgrims from all over the world -- visiting the Church and seeing all of the important places that Jesus walked in Jerusalem. We stopped for a break at a gorgeous Austrian hostel that was originally a hospice for Austrian royalty. We sat in the gardens and had something cold to drink because it was very hot and very dry in Jerusalem. After walking through the Christian part of the Arab market (the "shuk") and the Moslem part of the Old City, we finally arrived in the Jewish Quarter where people were hurrying around preparing for Shabbat. We went to the ancient Roman street in the Jewish Quarter called the Cardo, and did some shopping in the galleries and artists' studios. We then took a short walk with our eyes closed…and were led to the most beautiful view of the Western Wall (the Kotel) -- surrounded by the golden Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque. It look exactly like the postcards! We took a slow walk down to the Wall….where it was relatively quiet and not so crowded. As always, it was a memorable experience. We put notes in the Wall -- and said some prayers -- together and separately.

Julius commented on the experience he had at the Wall: "It was a very personal and very intimate experience for me at the Western Wall. I wrote a note, but not really about myself. I actually wrote a note and prayed for the well-being and peace of everyone, not just myself. I felt like that there was something at that moment that was greater than me…and I was aware that I was at a very special place.

At the Western Wall, everyone chose their own "stone" in the Wall….so that when we come back again, everyone can go back to his or her "stone" -- and think about the progression of life. I find that is the best way to feel a sense of "ownership" over such a big and ancient and historic place. We talked about finding one's own "zone" -- for just a few moments…finding a place in the chain of Jewish tradition and history that is ours and ours alone. Everyone came back feeling energized and happy that we shared the experience together.

Dinner in Jerusalem was excellent! The students went out to dinner with Guy and Nir and Shachar…and Rabbi Joe and I were sent out to dinner at a fabulous Jerusalem restaurant -- a gift from Puzzle Israel. We all compared our dinner notes when we returned to the hotel and were looking forward to a good night's sleep because Saturday would be a long day prior to our departure.

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