Category Archives: Jerusalem

Israel, Jerusalem – the Israel Museum

I started my visit in Jerusalem in one museum and ended it in another – this time the amazing Israel Museum which has something for everyone. We got onto a free tour which lasted two hours and was fascinating. The docent managed to cover the history of mankind (really, she did!) as she took as around the evidence from archaeological digs to the first signs of man to their move from hunters to settlers and farmers to developing thought processes to plan for the future. She was brilliant and was able to carefully cover the perspectives from the bible and clarify what people believe to be true, what they have proved to be true and also said that a lot of unanswered questions still remain.

For instance on the top right below is what is believed to be the remains of the very first fire place (first sign of people staying put and starting to farm and eat food in one place) and the remains on the bottom left is a girl cradling her dog (first sign of domestic animals). Note whenever you see bones they are casts of original bones as Jewish people do not believe in showcasing real bones of people.

Below top right is the oldest known fragment of the written bible. It predates the Dead Sea Scrolls which is the oldest known complete written bible. Top left is one half of the fortress gate at Hazor during the time of King Ahab. Below right – the gorgeous sculpture of a head was only found in 2017. It is an elegant style so they know it must be a distinguished person – probably a king but it was found on the border of 3 different kingdoms – they just haven’t figured out who yet BUT they do know it dates back to the 9th Century BC.

And then humans very early on began to like aesthetics – how things looked had to be just right – and this was well before the selfie era! This is reflected in the intricate carvings on the mummy, the first known use of gold (about 6000 years BC) – probably a form of ingot rather then jewellery but very pretty nevertheless and also as people started to stay put they realised the importance of things like weather to their ability to survive and so amulets started to appear for good luck and protection.

The docent then took us to a fabulous section of the museum on Judaica – where the best of the best is on display from Jewish communities all around the world. Some of the clothes worn on special occasions from Eastern Europe and the Levant and Arab world are below.

The museum also has four synagogues in it – 3 in very good condition that have been shipped over and reconstructed in the museum. I loved the fact that they came from very different parts of the world and have adapted their design to that used in the country they were created but as the pointed out the contents of the Torah never change – she described it as “Same prayer, different melodies”.

The two synagogues below are from Italy (baroque style abundant) and India (Cochin) where the Indian woodwork design prevails. And when the Indian one was built they were into listening to females speak publicly so the upstairs section has a place where they could read from the Torah!

The synagogue immediately below is from Suriname and designed in the Dutch Protestant style (as they were colonising this part of the world at that time) and it has sand on the floor – something I had seen in Caribbean synagogues – and no-one knows why for sure. The least good condition synagogue was the one from Bavaria which is where my mother came from so I immediately recognised the style of adornment.

They also have some beautiful embroidered coverings and wedding gifts in this section of the museum.

Outside the main buildings – and there are a lot of them – is a full scale model of Old Jerusalem as they believed it to be during the time of the 2nd Temple – using a scale of 1:50 – really fun to walk around having been to the real thing (sadly without the 2nd temple of course). On the right is the place called the Shrine of the Book where the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed – no inside pics allowed.

Aside from all the anthropological and historical and Judaica items – the Isreal Museum has a pretty good selection of international and Israeli art. I chose these four Picassos.

And the building and gardens around are impressive and house some excellent modern and contemporary sculptures including Anish Kapoor’s Turning the World Upside Down.

If I come back to Jerusalem I will definitely return to this museum. We stayed nearly 5 hours without a break.

Israel, Masada, River Jordan and the Dead Sea

And back to the bible – this time it is the River Jordan and the spot where John the Baptist is believed to have baptized Jesus. Back in 2012 my friend Beth and I visited Jordan and we saw this site from the opposite side looking back at Israel so it was great to now see it from the Israeli side looking back at Jordan. The river is very narrow and is in fact an official border between the countries but there is no official crossing here. People come to be baptized here and also to collect water to take home for baptisms. Due to climate change the water levels of the river are dropping substantially.

From Jordan in 2012

From Israel in 2019

Then we headed to the Dead Sea – the lowest point on earth and you can feel your ears pop as you descend from well above to 430 meters below sea level. Once again climate change is impacting the scenery – those holes you can see are giant sink holes caused by the continued reduction of water in the Dead Sea. It means these areas are also no longer able to be used as beaches. Real shame.

We then “mudded up” and enjoyed a bit of floating in the Dead Sea. It is a very strange experience as the sea is 30% salt compared to 5% in most oceans and you cannot even stand up with your own propulsion once you are above your knees in the water – you just have to float and try not to giggle too much as this is NOT good stuff to swallow. Getting out again involves dragging yourself along the bottom with your hands until you get to a point where you can stand up again.

The pics below show how climate change has caused the evaporation of a lot of the water and in fact the Dead Sea is now two seas as a portion has dried and created a land mass in the middle of the Sea.

Next we headed to Masada – a very special place both as the location of one of the many palaces that King Herod built and then later as a citadel. King Herod – who I tended to think of as the guy who wanted all the first born killed as he heard a rumor there was to be a new King of Jews born – was actually a huge influence in this part of the world as he was a great builder and loved to use all the latest techniques to do so. He rebuilt the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem and Masada was one of his palaces where he had all the latest mod cons.

He built this one on top of a high mountain (because he could) and we ascended to the top by cable car. We walked around for 90 minutes in 39 degree heat but it was well worth it as the place is in very good condition and extensive.

The subsequent period of importance was when this became a Jewish citadel during the Roman Empire period. The Romas held the city under siege for 2 years and when the Jewish populace realised that the wall was going to be breached and they had no chance they decided to commit suicide rather than be slaves. In the Jewish religion suicide is forbidden and means you cannot be buried in the cemetery. Therefore they decided that the men would kill the women and children and when the last 10 men were left they picked lots to decide which one would kill the next until only one was left – so they reduced the number who had to commit the sin of suicide (although quite why murdering their kin was not a sin is a mystery to me!). When the Romans walked in the next day they found the place full of dead bodies except for two women and a few kids who had rather sensibly decided that they would rather live – and of course that meant they were around to tell the story of what happened.

Having said all that there is a lot of debate about whether the whole story is really true and they are still reviewing the archaeology to see if they can be sure it is. Thats the thing about Israel – everything we understand about the past is constantly changing as we get smarter in understanding the evidence that is found.

Back to Herod

Israel, Jerusalem – the King David Hotel

Today I am devoting my blog to the iconic King David Hotel in Jerusalem. All the good and the great (and not so great have stayed here over the years. And many of the famous residents have signed their names on a long row of floor tiles that mark one end of the main lobby corridor to the other.

The lobby is elegant and the staff impeccable and the flowers gorgeous.

There is loads of space both inside and out to just hang around and relax – whether on the outside terrace or the lobby lounge or slightly more private lounge area. And I love the ceilings which have been restored splendidly.

The pool area looking back on the classic building design is pretty special too and great for a brief respite after all that walking in the heat.

And the flowers in the garden areas are kept in impeccable condition too.

At night you can see the old City and watch the sun go down.

A very special treat to stay here.

Israel, Jerusalem – a day walking around the Old City

I am staying at the iconic King David Hotel which is only a minute walk to the old city. we had a great tour guide called

It is hard to explain the old city in some ways because you feel like you are walking through the Bible at every turn – visiting places mentioned both in the Old and New Testaments and they are right in front of you.

The city of Jerusalem has a long a chequered history including being invaded many times – back to the Babylonians when the first Temple was destroyed right through to the 20th century but it somehow keeps rebuilding itself and carrying on. Jerusalem was fully returned to Israel after the 6 Day War in 1967.

We entered through the Jaffa Gate – built at right angles like all the city gates to avoid marauders charging in as they would have to slow down to turn a corner. The first thing you see is the Tower of David – an archaeologist’s dream. We were hoping to get to see the light show they have here every night depicting the story of David and also of Jerusalem but it was already sold out. So next time maybe.

The city is about 1 square kilometre with a lot of hills and divided into 4 quarters – Armenian, Jewish, Christian and Muslim. We passed by the Armenian Quarter first and were able to look at this courtyard with a traditional Armenian church but no-one is permitted into this quarter except for the Armenians – they have long been persecuted and like to live a quiet life without disturbance. There are a few shops of hand painted Armenian pottery which is beautiful.

Then we visited the Room of the last Supper – a fair amount of research has proven that this was very likely the place where it happened. As I said – walking through the bible……..

I had asked to visit a Sephardic synagogue if possible but we actually got to visit four of them all attached to one another

They are all beautiful and I have learned two tricks how to distinguish a Sephardic from an ashkenazi synagogue at first glance. First check the table used for reading the Torah – for the Sephardic it is usually flat as the Torah is often kept in a self standing case (as below) but in ashkenazi synagogues the book is moved to the stand which is tilted to ensure it is easier to read. Also check out the seating – ashkenazi in rows (more like a church) but Sephardic in rows surrounding the rabbi – apparently making whispering and non verbal signals easier across everyone who is there – the sephardics like to talk more apparently:)

We then headed to spot which gave us a bird’s eye view of the Dome of the Rock built on Temple Mount.  This is the third version of the Dome (following two lots of destructions of the temples) and it’s now a mosque as it’s believed to be the place Mohammed ascended to heaven. It is the third most holy place for muslims in the world after Mecca and Medina. Unfortunately the interior is only available for muslims. It towers above the Wailing Wall (or Western Wall) or various other names depending on your persuasion.

Men and women are separated in prayer on the WW but as you can see below you can stand on a small platform and look over to the male side. (It’s not that interesting:). People write prayers on slips of paper and put them into the cracks of the walls. They exit from the wall taking 10 steps backwards first before turning round as you should never turn your back on God.

We then took a cool tour through the tunnels under the Western Wall which unbelievably now include a brand new synagogue where services take place.

Then on to the Muslim quarter of the Old City where we had a traditional lunch having walked through the Via Dolorosa which is where Jesus carried the cross to Calgary. There are many Christian groups who walk this route and stop at various marked points which reflect places that Jesus stopped along the way according to the bible.

After a traditional hummus lunch we braved the “Holy church of the Sepulchre”. I say braved as it was packed with mostly Christian pilgrims. The interior is divided into areas reflecting different Christian sects such as Coptic, Armenian etc and so are differently designed. This church is also part of the pilgrims’ route.

Below, the faithful are kissing and praying over a slab which is believed to be where Jesus’ dead body was prepared for burial. And the long line is people queueing up for a 2 second opportunity to see the area under which Jesus is supposed to have been crucified.

Back in the relatively quiet streets we passed more stalls selling everything from brass to spices. The top left hand pic shows a part of the outside of the Church of the Sepulchre which by agreement has to remain unchanged from a point in time. If you look under one of the windows you can see a little ladder. It has nothing to do with anything religious but it happened to be there when the agreement was signed and so it has to stay there forever (I believe it’s been replaced a few times!)

The newly built ashkenazi synagogue is below with a giant menorah (candlestick) in front of it. Based on archaeological findings Including the Triumph Arch in Rome (which I saw a couple of years ago and includes a carving of a menorah being carried out of Jerusalem) , the menorah is considered the true symbol of Judaism rather than the Star of David which is much more recent.

Israel, Jerusalem (my 104th country) – Yad Vashem and the Mahaneh Yehuda Market

Well I didn’t mean to start my first visit to Jerusalem with Yad Vashem (the holocaust museum) but we ended up there as our first choice was the Israel Museum but it doesn’t open until 4pm on a Tuesday – which we found out on arrival at 11am! And we wanted to hold off visiting the Old City until Wednesday when we had a full day private tour planned – so decision made to do it earlier on in the visit.

The museum is excellent and comprehensive and as shocking as I had expected. It covers the whole period in the run up to WWII to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and in particular gives histories and memories from each European country and how it was impacted. It becomes easy to see which occupied countries stood out and did what they could to save Jews compared to those who collaborated immediately with the Nazi demands to turn in names.

I always wonder how I would react to these kinds of circumstances and whether I would stand up to do what is right? Of course we’d all like to think we would but even in the workplace I’ve seen how easy it is to do what you are told to do regardless, so imagine what it must be like to be courageous enough to do the right thing when you are risking not only your own but your family’s immediate execution for doing so. This is a debate for a different forum but a review of the events before, during and after the holocaust make you think. This museum makes a big effort to recognise those who were not Jewish who did what they could at huge risk as well as the Jewish resistance fighters during the war. Heroes and heroines – all of them.

The museum is approached from a bridge and its design is modern but sombre in a slate gray triangle shape as you go in and head towards the light. Off both sides of each section as you walk down are rooms that give extensive information and personal memories on what was happening across Europe together with an excellent audio guide.

As was the case when I visited Auschwitz, I find it hard to show pictures of the exhibits and some of the evidence of what happened so I have limited these as I feel this is the kind of place you need to visit for about 3 hours and to immerse yourself in. It is free btw.

The pic below is a little snippet. At the top, examples of anti Jewish sentiment, part of a scale model of Auschwitz Birkenau showing each stage of the process at people were led from the rail tracks down to the “changing rooms” (below) and then following on another showing them naked in the gas chambers screaming as the Zyclon B gas was injected into the space and finally the bodies being removed and taken to the crematorium to be burned. Below that is the Hall of Names which includes the names and personal details of millions of victims as provided by surviving relatives or friends. They still ask visitors to add any others that may be missing so they can be remembered

When you get to the light at the end of the hallway there is a lovely view of the Jerusalem hills and it is good to look at for some reflection time.

In the grounds of Yad Vashem – which are quite large we also visited the Hall of Remembrance with an eternal flame where each camp’s name is etched into the ground and then the Children’s Memorial which is an infinity light tribute to the 1.5 million children murdered during this period. As you walk through you hear their names, age and country of origin being read out. It is very moving.

That evening we had completely different surroundings with a visit to the nearby Mahaneh Yehuda Market and then dinner at an excellent restaurant recommended by my friend Leon called Machneyuda- loud, fun and marvelous local food.

The market has a strong focus on traditional Jewish foods and was a riot of colour. There must be at least 15 halvas to choose from and so many majdool dates and check out the dried watermelon!

And then off to dinner with Jo