Behind me a stark white tagine-like dome, called the Shrine of the Book, scratched the chilly pale blue skyline. Michal, also a lawyer, a scholar and an expert on all that is or ever was Israel, showed us where the second temple stood and offered a timeline of events during that time. As we walked through the museum’s outdoor grounds toward the shrine she gave us references from 1st century historian Josephus Flavius and even spoke about the archeological artifacts that lined the way.
She was a walking talking Israeli encyclopedia and, it would turn out, my luggage-finding hero. (More on that later.)
We walked above and then underneath the stark white cone. The Book of Isaiah was waiting in a large dark round chamber, standing on a pedestal that was encased in glass within a display that looked like an oversized Torah. That sacred script and a few other biblical documents displayed around the wall’s circumference were from the Dead Sea Scrolls cache, found in a Qumran cave by a shepherd boy in 1947.
Standing near the glass and studying the ancient words read to me as a child and studied as an adult, I tried not to cry. Israel touched my soul as it had on every previous visit.
Later I was told this was a replica, the real one was hidden. I preferred to ignore this truth and gazed upon those Christian and Jewish words spoken to me and millions and millions of others through the ages.
Israel is the world’s religious jewel and Jerusalem is the centerpiece of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Still clad in the wrap and the clothing I wore getting on the plane one day earlier, I headed to lunch and Yad Vashem. I arrived one week before El Al’s direct Boston to Tel Aviv flight and lost my luggage between Boston and New York. For almost four days I wore an extra-large red, black and white color blocked top, black pants and bright red Bernie Mev flats. I augmented it with a few things I purchased while there. Although an annoyance I was in Israel and didn’t care that my clothing and unmentionables needed washing every night with hotel soap. El Al and Michal cared and made it a mission to find the maroon luggage.
My goal was staying warm and digging into Israel. We headed toward Yad Vashem, the country’s National Memorial and Museum of the Holocaust located upon Mount Herzl. It positioning is significant, Michal said, because the location is a high point and Yad Vashem displays the lowest point in Jewish history.
Yad Vashem, surrounded by trees and greenery, spans acres and acres of indoor and outdoor memorials. Once past the glass and steel entrance visitors walk toward the Righteous Among the Nations, a garden of trees and monuments dedicated to non-Jews who selflessly rescued, helped, or saved Jewish people. More than 26,000 people are recognized in this garden, including German manufacturer, Oskar Schindler. One tree was planted in his name, although many felt his wife deserved credit too. The tree, perhaps knowingly, split into two and grows with two tall trunks.
A declining bridge brought us from the garden into Yad Vashem’s museum. If we spoke at all, it was in hushed tones. This is a living memorial honoring those who suffered and died. The museum, as always, was harsh and sobering. A pile of books readied for burning sat along the floor of one hallway - just as it had in Nazi Germany almost 90 years earlier. Films of the events before, during and after the war painted a horrific picture of German life for the Jewish citizen. Concentration camp garb was displayed. German propaganda cartoons and articles minimized the Jewish population.
There were places to sit between the exhibits. As always I tried taking it all in and not missing one display. There was and is so much. Overwhelmed, sad, and shaken, we made the last turn and saw a faded red railroad car, one that carried people to their death.
The Hall of Names, another building within the museum, echoes the monikers of those who died. The only other sound was shuffling shoes as we moved through. Another building houses the children’s memorial and yet another notes the concentration camps. The floor there was black. The names of each camp were written in white paint.
Ironically, Yad Vashem heals too. Inside the initial museum, once past the train there is a glass balcony overlooking a mountain of green, lush life. No one should visit Israel without experiencing Yad Vashem. Ever.
In Nazareth, now an Arabic city, I walked through the streets enjoying the modern-day sights and sounds before heading to Mary’s 2,000-year-old birthplace. As a Catholic mass was said I peered inside the cave. Legend, lore and the bible said this is where the angel Gabriel called out to her.
Immersed in History
In Jerusalem I walked through the old city once again. Each visit offers something I missed or a new archeological find. This time it’s David’s Citadel, outside the old city walls across from the entrance. Archeologists have unearthed water systems, a former moat and gardens.
Praying at the Western Wall is part of the journey. My prayers were already written on scraps of paper. This time I pushed them into empty creases of a newly excavated portion of the wall found in the tunnels underneath. Mine and a few other prayers, probably from the archeologists first there and, unlike the wall outside, do not fall on the ground.
More than four days into my journey I checked into the Scot’s Hotel St. Andrews in Tiberius, which sits along the Galilee. My luggage arrived, thanks to Michal and El Al. The gray stone buildings were built in 1894 as a mission hospital. It closed in 1959 and was later reopened as a pilgrim’s hospice and later as a guest house. Now it serves as an elegant hotel and gateway to the Galilee. Wi-Fi and every other modern convenience was offered, but the past is honored too. There is a small museum filled with artifacts from the hospital and its founder Dr. David Watt Torrance.
Standing on the mount, better known as Sermon on the Mount, in Galilee, Michal reads the beatitudes from the bible. Each blessing is etched on a curb-like stone long the path toward the top where Jesus spoke his message. Michal whispers as she reads from the bible, blessed are the meek ...
Perhaps we were not meek or quiet enough. An elderly sister, wearing a black habit only modernized in its knee length, shuffled outside the mount’s church, microphone in hand, and began lecturing us. This, she said, was a place for prayer and reflection and a sacred spot. She pointed toward us as she spoke, her voice echoing off the hill opposite the sanctuary and then reverberating down the hill. Michal continued the reading (or praying), still whispering. The sister ambled back into the church. (I still wonder if she realized the irony of her microphone-wielding lecture.)
I saw Ein Karem where John the Baptist was born and we stood in the Jordan where John baptized Christ.
Our journey took us further to the Haifa, Jaffa and Tel Aviv, with a few side trips along the way; but that story is for another day or issue. www.goisrael.com