Last Full Day in Jerusalem

Today was my last full day in Jerusalem, and I managed to squeeze into it the things that I was still hoping to do.

I went first to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. The horror of what was done is communicated personally (survivors’ testimonies in video form), poignantly (shoes, photos, personal effects) and graphically (video clips of naked emaciated corpses being bulldozed). Even someone familiar with the history of World War II is still bound to come away with a broadened perspective.

Once one leaves the museum, they will presumably then be struck by the remarkable fact that they were reminded of this attempt to exterminate the Jews in a city and a country largely inhabited by Jews. I don’t think anyone can consider what was done to mid 20th-century Jews in places where their citizenship and rights should have been safeguarded but were not, and still begrudge them the fact that they carved a homeland for themselves out of the waning British Empire’s territorial holdings. And I think that one can say that while still wanting Israel to give full freedom and citizenship to the Palestinians who live among them just as they and their ancestors lived among others. Any modern nation state, whether Israel or a future Palestine, should not be thought of as belonging solely to one sort of people. And so to seek solutions along those lines, which expect people to flee from the place where they once lived or face desolation, is precisely to miss the point with regard to what we can and should learn from the Holocaust.

After Yad Vashem, I went back to the Old City for the last time. I went to the Damascus Gate and made sure I could find the Garden Tomb, even though it was closed today.

I stopped by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher again, and this time was able to get right up to the Edicule. It was being used for worship, and I was reminded again of how much a visitor expects places like this and the whole Old City to be a museum, an exhibit, and yet they turn out to be places for worshipping, living, buying, selling, and going about the business of life.

I was glad to get into the Syrian chapel behind the edicule, but sorry not to have brought a flashlight, as the little nook with other first century tombs went deeper than light would allow me to venture. But the very fact that other tombs are present around the church indicates what I and others have argued, namely that this site was not that of a wealthy man’s personal or family tomb, but was more like a graveyard, and perhaps therefore used to bury those executed nearby.

I went to the Temple Mount. A sign by the chief of the rabbinate recommends not going there due to the holiness of the site. Entry was quick and smooth. The Dome of the Rock, like much architecture of the height of the Islamic era, is impressive. Not being a Muslim, I could not go in, but it was worth seeing from the outside.

From there I went to the Israel Museum, which was wonderful. It w incredible to see in person many texts and artifacts that I have studied, read, taught and in some cases even blogged about. Among those I was particularly thrilled by were: the pedestal from Taanach, which I blogged about at least once, and which I noticed details on that I had not before (such as that the sun disk on the top level is riding on the back of an animal, just as Yahweh and El were thought to ride on the back of a bull); the 9th century “House of David” inscription from Dan (sorry, minimalists); a replica of the Lachish relief; the 7th-6th century BCE amulet from Ketef Hinnom with the priestly blessing; the “Yahweh and his Asherah” inscription with the handprint; a game with an 8-sided die (role playing gamers will understand); amazing coins; and ossuaries of the Caiaphas family as well as one’s belonging to a Jesus son of Joseph and a Judas son of Jesus (I overheard a couple of women discussing the latter worriedly in Italian when I was there). And I could go on! I wonder whether this isn’t a good first stop for visitors, to get a sense of the full sweep of the region’s history, before wandering around places like the Old City and other locations where there things were found.

I left the museum just before it closed, and had just enough time to grab a grilled eggplant, feta cheese and tomato sandwich from one of the museum restaurants. I highly recommend the combination, and I thought it was about time I ate something other than falafel, even though each of the three falafels I have had has been different, as well as delicious, and so it has not been at all tedious.

The only thing I would have liked to do but didn’t is the ramparts walk, to see the Old City from the vantage point of the walls. Well, that and find a convenient spot with free Wi-Fi.

Tomorrow morning I will catch a bus to the Galilee.

By the way, you may have already guessed that I didn’t take my “camera” with me today. Since photography isn’t allowed in museums, it didn’t seem to make sense. Sorry for the lack of photos in this post – I hope to be able to make it up to you next time!

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  • Michael Wilson

    I don’t much care for those that describe the Jewish presence in the land of Israel as being a kind of theft or occupation. There has always been a Jewish presence there and Jews have always seen that area as a cultural heritage.  People have a right to keep contact with cultural kinsmen across time and space, like catholics have a right to be in communion with Rome or Hispanics with the land of Mexico, or capitalist with capitalism (governments are another matter). We may rightly question the fairness of the land purchases that made Zionism possible, or the decisions of the governments that controlled the land by the only legal concepts known. This sort of play has been the norm of human relations for millennia, we cannot seek to retroactively fix histories injustices. In the now, no one should expect Israel to return to the power balance before 1968 without ironclad assurance that the events of that year will not be repeated. As of yet I have no confidence that would be the case.

  • Gary

    It would at least be a nice sign of wanting peace if Israel would stop building new settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. But “nice” does not apply to the middle east, from both sides.