Not so much Shomar Shabbas

I skipped Shabbat morning service. I was feeling the need to catch up on sleep. So a group of us left the hotel around 10:30 and took a walking tour of the Orthodox neighborhood on the way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. As we were walking, Rafi also showed us some buildings all shot up from the 67 war. Then pointed out what used to be Jordan. It’s easy to see that now Israel has all of Jerusalem, they aren’t going to give up any of it. And of course, what do the Muslims want? Jerusalem.

I know the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is supposed to be a big deal and all, but other than the mosaics and the cemetery in the cave, it made no impact on me. But then, unless you’re Jewish, you probably don’t think the Western Wall is all that interesting.

After that, we were bad Jews and went shopping in the Christian quarter after eating falafels. I bought some of the green spice mixture the give you for the fresh bagels they sell in the streets, but other than that I wasn’t really in the shopping mood. Gwen and I sat down and had a coffee.

We met with a couple of rabbis at THE (yes, the only) conservative synagogue in Jerusalem. Most of the people with the group are converts, so the talk was mostly geared towards them and their specific issues and questions. But, I did find out that Israel does indeed now accept converts for aliyah, even if they didn’t convert Orthodox. That’s a fairly recent development. Who knows if it’ll stay in place. As a Jew, all I have to do is basically show up and say “I want to be an Israeli.” And I wouldn’t have to renounce my U.S. citizenship. Anyway, options are good.

After dinner at the hotel, we had our own little havdalah out by the pool. It was our turn to be stared at by the Orthodox. I looked up and there were all these little heads in the windows checking us out. After that, it was off to Ben Yehuda street because apparently there’s no such thing as too much shopping. I just went along for the ride and the sites. Mitch and I just sat and had a beer, then walked around for a few minutes. Everyone else got back by cab, but Patrick and I walked. Close to the hotel, the Orthodox were staring to burn things again and the police and army presence had thickened quite a bit. Sunday night 100,000 Orthodox are supposed to get together to protest gay pride. Our tour guide is happy we will be gone.


This morning we started a little later. I could have used about 4 more hours of sleep. I don’t think I was the only one. We don’t have quite as busy of a day today though.

First we went to Mt. Herzl. We saw the tomb of Theodor Herzl, basically the father of Zionism. The military cemetery is there as well and the tombs of Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin and more.

Next we went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum complex. The children’s museum is dark when you go in. It uses mirrors to reflect the light of 5 candles to make 1.5 million lights to represent each child lost in the Holocaust. As you walk through, the names of the children and where they were from are read off.

The museum itself is similar to others I’ve been in. But they have much more actual video footage from that time. And the video of survivors telling how it was are priceless. It’s hard to conceptualize what it must have been like sometimes until you hear it from someone’s mouth who was there. The focus of this exhibit seemed to be “why Israel must be.” I didn’t really need to be convinced.

After lunch, we went to the Machaneh Yehuda street market. Stall after stall of fruits, vegetables, nuts, meats, spices, breads, on and on. The sort of place I would shop every day if it was a option. Although I didn’t see any tofu. 🙂 I picked up a fresh pita with the green spice mixture on it for an afternoon snack.

Friday night, we walked to the Kotel (the Western Wall) for Shabbat. I didn’t take any photos for obvious reasons, but imagine the place wall-to-wall with people, probably 1/3-1/2 Orthodox. I looked briefly online, but I’d really love to see a good explanation of all the garb. The furry hockey puck hat is from where? What about the beige striped bathrobe? And so on.

Shabbat dinner at the hotel was packed. Apparently there are a lot of families that come in to Jerusalem just for Shabbat. So the dining room was packed with every sort of Jew. And the hotel had canvas partitions they set up around the Orthodox so they wouldn’t have to look upon anything “not kosher” at another table. There was singing all around the dining room. It was really wild.

Into the Desert

Holy crap it was a busy day! And incredible. We left Jerusalem early and headed into the West Bank for Qumaran. This is the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in a cave. Mikvah’s, cisterns and various rooms have been uncovered at the site where the Essenes studied. And the views of the desert were amazing. When we got back to the bus, there was a camel “parked” in the parking lot.

Next stop was the Ein Gedi oasis. A natural spring pours off the mountain and it is a spot of lush green bordered by desert and the Dead Sea. Well, it really looks like a trickle from a faucet, but fresh water is fresh water. A small herd of ibex were there to greet us. As long as we moved slowly, they kept their distance but didn’t run off. At the kibbutz there they have date palms and mango trees.

Time to play in the Dead Sea! We floated in the Dead Sea for a bit. Then I got out and spread myself with the packet of mud they gave us. You let it dry in the sun then get back in the sea. It really makes you feel soft and makes for some silly photo opportunities. The salt crystallizes into balls that sit on the bottom of the sea. I am bringing a few home with me. After being in the warm sea, they have a regular pool for refreshing yourself. Then we had lunch and were off.

The next stop was Masada where just over 900 Jews committed suicide rather than be taken by the Romans. The Romans had a difficult time getting to them because the Jews were on top of this mountain, Masada. Finally, the Romans used slaves (Jews, oddly enough) to build a ramp and they finally broke into the city, but they didn’t get any more slaves out of the deal.

Most of what we saw at Masada was built by King Herod. You can still see some original mosaics and plaster, mikvahs and baths, a synagogue and some crazy big cisterns. It was about 102 degrees F up there and I think it probably did me in a little bit. Even with drinking tons of water, wearing a hat, etc. It made me glad we took the cable car up and only walked down the Roman ramp rather than taking the snake path up.

But wait, there’s more! We headed about an hour South into the Negev to a Bedouin encampment. I knew we were going to get on camels, but I didn’t know we would caravan them and take about a half an hour ride. The camel Gwen and I got on wasn’t all that happy about it. He bitched about it loudly but seemed less cranky once he’d stood up. The camel behind me kept putting his face on my shirt. I wanted to squeeze his funny whiskery face, but I was pretty sure I’d either get spit on or lose a finger.

After that we went in a tent and learned some things about Bedouin culture. We were served tea and then coffee that they roast, grind and brew right there on a fire. A lot of people didn’t like the coffee but I enjoyed it. It was strong, slightly bitter and had a hint of cardamom. Then the feast came. Giant platters of rice covered with seasoned lamb balls and beef. I was given a separate plate of rice with some potato patties. Plus there were many bowls of different salads, hummus and dolmas. And pita bread.

Okay, so finally we got on the road and headed back to Jerusalem, about a 2 1/2 hour drive. Talk about wiped out. I still can’t believe all that stuff fit in one day. Just to cap it off with a bit of excitement, since it was cool out, I was going to open my window to sleep. I smelled smoke and looked to see a dumpster on fire. See, the Orthodox are angry because there is a gay pride march planned for June 21st. Last year they managed to make enough noise and get it basically cut down to nothing. This year, the police are trying to hold firm. So the Orthodox are lighting trash cans and dumpsters on fire. We saw tons of them on the street as we headed back into the hotel. I wonder if they will be making that much trouble on Shabbat?