Jerusalem 1/4/10

First of all, I need to backtrack to the last trip to Jerusalem (mostly because Terri insists I need to talk about this). On our way to Jerusalem on 12/31 there was some sort of road problem and our driver diverted us to Modi’in. Modi’in itself was not particularly interesting but the route we took followed the now famous or infamous (depending on your perspective) wall of separation between Israel and Palestine. The portion we could see was roughly divided in two. A lower half that was variously fence, tile or concrete but everywhere topped with barbed wire.

The sense it provoked in me was one of profound sadness that the political situation could not be better resolved. I do not intend any criticism of the wall here–since I and my family are not in daily, imminent danger I don’t think it right to intrude my views on the people who are in such danger. I will admit that my feelings are that however necessary the wall may be, Israel should have some obligation to ease the effects on the Palestinians. I feel that it is in Israel’s best interests to avoid the sowing of hatred in new generations of Palestinians. But it’s hard to argue with the fact that since the wall has been created, the violence against Israelis (and that means non-Jewish as well as Jewish Israelis) has been greatly reduced.

So today it was back to Jerusalem. We had hoped to walk the ramp up to the top of the Temple Mount, but despite arriving at the entrance an hour before the listed closing, we discovered that it had just closed. We were told to come back at 12:30. So we backtracked through the Jewish Quarter to our first museum stop of the day, Migdal David (the Tower of David). As is commonplace with Jerusalem sites, Migdal David has absolutely nothing to do with King David. Its actually a medieval structure. But there is a larger enclosure which is usually referred to as the Citadel which has a fascinating history and archaeology and which has been adopted as the primary municipal museum of the history of Jerusalem.

We entered the Citadel and followed a combination track for history and archaeology. When you climb to the top of the Citadel you can see beautiful vistas of Jerusalem and its topographical highlights (more when I can upload photos). Many of the restored rooms of the structure have been converted to exhibit halls. Each major period of Jerusalem’s history is given its own room. In the middle of the enclosure are the archaeological dig(s) which have uncovered buildings and artifacts as early as Hasmonean times, a few Herodian structures (perhaps the Phasael, one of three towers named for Herod’s intimates, in this case his brother). and then a series of medieval and Ottoman period layers.

We stopped for lunch in the new mall outside the Jaffa Gate (food was OK, but we would have been better off in a family owned restaurant in the city). From there we took a cab to the Israel museum. Our driver was an Arab from East Jerusalem who claimed to have been born in the Old City of Jerusalem, and who was fervently pro-Israeli. His basic comment on politics is that Arafat screwed everything up. Anyway, he cheerfully took us to Givat Ram.

The Israel Museum is the Smithsonian of Israel and almost as vast in scale. Unfortunately for us, the museum is undergoing a major renovation and most of it is unavailable until July 2010. There were three major exhibits open: the model of Jerusalem in the era of Herod, the Shrine of the Book, and the Rose Sculpture Garden. The model was originally part of the grounds of the Holy Land Hotel and was moved to the museum in 2006. I had visited the model back in 1977 with my friend David Halperin and I probably would never have seen it without his urging. At the time that I visited the discovery had recently been made that Robinson’s Arch led not to a bridge across the valley, but rather to a monumental staircase down to the floor of the valley. The crew had just finished replacing the bridge with a staircase. I was a little surprised to see that the southern wall contained only double gates rather than a triple gate, but perhaps I am not remembering that part of the story well enough.

The Shrine of the Book is as awesome now as when I first viewed it. It’s still a little strange to realize that the centerpiece exhibit, the Dead Sea Scroll version of the full text of Isaiah, is just a facsimile. There are two security guards stationed to guard the fake which is clearly labeled a fake. But at least we know that the original exists and is stored for safekeeping in a highly protected vault of the museum. Most of the other scrolls are the originals, and I could just wish for better lighting in the facility so that one might attempt to read them.

Aside from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Shrine of the Book is hosting a lovely exhibit of the Aleppo Codex, and it is the original that’s on display. The Aleppo Codex was one of the few reasonably complete Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible, but it is no longer complete. It was as recently as 1948, but it barely survived riots that broke out in Syria related to Israel’s struggle for independence. Most of the Torah is gone, some material at the end of the Bible and a few pages in the middle. Occasionally a page or a fragment turns up, so perhaps some day more of it will be restored. The Aleppo Codex is likely the version that Maimonides used for his “model Torah scroll” so it is possible that all modern Torah scrolls are based on the Aleppo.

From the Israel Museum we found a bus to downtown Jerusalem and then walked to the King George/Ben Yehuda mall where we tried the dairy side of the Rimon Cafe. I didn’t think they did as well on the dairy side as our prior meat based meal, but the food was plentiful and reasonably priced. From there we made the quick trip to Rav Kook Street and took the sheirut back to Tel Aviv.

Back in Tel Aviv, Terri insisted on a shopping trip which resulted in both of us buying Na’ot shoes. A two mile walk home allowed us to reach the total of just shy of 12 miles on the day. And a good day it was!

Tomorrow, Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee.

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