Shabbat day and Sunday were days on our tour of Israel when we got down to the basic elements of the history of Israel: not all of them, mind you, but we found some of the essential sites here that undergird our history and culture.
On Shabbat morning, we separated for a while: some went to Shabbat services at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the school from which I received my rabbinic degree; others slept in; still others visited relatives; and still others took in the Israel Museum or other cultural sites. At 12:30, we met up and enjoyed a tremendous walking tour of the walled city here in Jerusalem, usually known as “the Old City.”
Many cultures inhabit this place, and the city is divided into four quarters: Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian. We walked through these quarters pretty freely, regardless of the activity in the Arab market (or shuk), or the Shabbat worship that took place at the Western Wall. For many this was their first time here, at the base of the retaining wall of the ancient Jerusalem temple, and for all is it an emotional experience to be there.
We also took a stroll to the rooftops above the city to get an idea of the layout of the city, a place of only one square kilometer.
Saturday evening was free time, and people had dinners on their own. As a reality of Israeli life, we found, on the eve of the summer solstice, that many of the restaurants did not open until after Shabbat concluded, which was about 9 PM.
On Sunday, we visited another element of Jewish life that is essential to our identity: Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum and Memorial Authority. The new permanent exhibit displays, in chronological order, the devolution of the Jewish people through the intentional actions of the Nazi regime of WWII Germany. There are also fitting memorial monuments to the children who were murdered (1.5 million), as well as those who fought the terror in the Warsaw ghetto and other places.
In the afternoon we really dug down to our roots by enjoying an archaeological dig in the region known as Beit Guvrin. A series of 5,000 caves seem to hold treasures from the Maccabean era, and the team at Archaeological Expeditions had us dig into the earth, uncover pottery shards, and then they will try to put together a fuller history of the people of this region.
In the cave known to the digging team as Django, we found an almost complete cooking pot. It was a marvelous experience for us!
Tomorrow we will visit the Dead Sea and Masada, learning the lessons of the martyrdom of the Jews of the early years of the First century of Common Era.