Another interesting week….On Monday, on our Kibbutz (Mashabei Sadeh), we enjoyed an amazing concert with the unlikely combination of balalaika and piano. Two Russian immigrants played for us. The woman played the piano and explained things in broken Hebrew, but with a great smile, and the man whose name was alternatively Alexander or Sasha, played the balalaika magnificently. They played all sorts of classics and then an entire medley of Fiddler on the Roof. The 50 or so of us gave them a standing ovation. It was charmingly amateur and brilliantly professional all at the same time. This gift is part of the great immigration to Israel of over 1 Million Jews (and descendants of Jews). When they came they brought great talents, high levels of education and a very different political outlook which effects Israel today on many levels. There have been some negatives too, but overall the Aliyah from the former Soviet Union which started in the late 1980’s has been a Blessing to Israel.
Tuesday we spent the afternoon at Neveh Midbar natural hot springs….3 large pools, one very hot, one moderately hot and one outdoor pool for cooling off…..The springs are only about 5 kilometers from our Kibbutz, an 8 minute ride by local bus. It was just great….
Thursday we headed with our class to Jerusalem. There was a fatal attack the day before at Jaffa Gate so we thought about not going but decided we must go as planned. We started with a tour of the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) and were very impressed by the hundreds of high school students that were also touring the center of Israeli Democracy. Also impressive were the enormous Marc Chagall tapestries and his very large mosaic (photo enclosed).
We toured Mahane Yedudah (Yehuda outdoor market) which is in one of the first neighborhoods built outside the Old City Walls in the late 1800’s. The Jews have been a majority in Jerusalem since about 1870 and as the population grew the Old City became more and more crowded. Finally, in about 1875, some brave Jews began to build a new neighborhood outside the city walls……..This seems to us a no-brainer but remember in 1875 Israel was part of the Ottoman Empire and building outside the protection of the City Walls was quite daring, exposing residents to marauding local tribes. I have enclosed photos from the market showing the richness of the Land…..fruits, vegetables and baked goods of great variety and quality. It’s a whole lot more fun than Costco!!
Our next stop was a newly opened Friends of Zion Museum celebrating non-Jews (primarily Christians) who helped the Jewish people to re-establish the State of Israel and helped save Jews during the Holocaust. Through powerful interactive displays designed by Israeli artists, we met such luminaries as Oskar Schindler, Irena Sendler, Chiune Sugihara and Raoul Wallenberg. Oskar Schindler (made famous by “Schindler’s List”) was a German Industrialist who used his factories to save between 1,200 and 1,300 Jews at great risk to himself and the loss of his personal fortune. Irena Sendler was a Polish Catholic nurse who organized a group of 3 dozen to smuggle children out of the Warsaw ghetto. They used every imaginable trick to deceive the Nazis and eventually saved about 2,500 Jewish children. Chiune Sugihara was the Japanese Vice Consul for Lithuania. Seeing the desperate plight of the Jews, he handed out Japanese visas as fast as he could sign them. Before he was done he saved an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 Jews. Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat who was sent to Hungary to do what he could to save what was left of Hungarian Jewry in 1944. Together with a group of over 350, including Swiss, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese diplomats, and using all sorts of deception and bluffing, they saved an estimated 100,000 Hungarian Jews from almost certain destruction. There is no doubt that the Jewish people have enemies; in fact, millions. However, we sometimes forget that we also have friends. All the above, and many, many others, risked their lives to save Jews, and others spent their energies, and even their life savings to help bring about the Jewish dream to re-establish Israel in our ancient Homeland. It was quite something to sit in the middle of Jerusalem on Christmas Eve and learn about these inspirational figures.
After the Museum we toured the “Ir David” or “City of David”. The original site of Jerusalem which King David designated as the capital of his Kingdom over 3,000 years ago. The excavations go down to the bedrock and you can see Canaanite, Israelite, Greek, Roman and Byzantine ruins. The City of David is located outside the city walls on what was a low hill protected by steep valleys on all sides and surrounded by higher mountains. Over the years the footprint of the city was enlarged and modified many times until the current city walls were built in the early 1500’s. A 3-D movie allowed us to see the original topography and what it looked like before King David conquered it. Our guide was a young Israeli whose parents were American, so his English was very good (several in our group don’t speak enough Hebrew for a Hebrew tour), and his younger and very well armed brother, who was on leave from the Golani Brigade, came along as our guard. We ended at the Southern corner of the Western Wall that was below ground until after the 1967 war. Because they were protected from the elements for so many years, the stones are not eroded like the sections of the Wall that Jews have prayed at for nearly 2,000 years. The lowest stones of the wall are truly enormous, estimated to weigh over 80 tons. Quite a feat of construction with no modern machinery! At 11PM all the Church bells began to chime and it was time to go home to our Kibbutz (a 2-hour drive). What a magical time and with no class on Fridays we got to sleep in the next morning!
It’s taken a few days to get this all down on paper and it is now a few minutes to midnight on New Year’s Eve. Sending Blessings for a Peaceful, Joyful, Healthy and Prosperous 2016!!!