Some of us, including me, awoke very early in the morning on our first day in Jerusalem to make it to Temple Mount, a holy religious site for Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, and site of the famous dome of the rock. For most of the trip we stuck to Jewish areas, so this was our most prolonged exposure to Islam. There were women praying at the site, children running around, and there were some Islam sites that Jews couldn’t access. It was a powerful experience to see how one fairly small area could be meaningful to so many different people, and the structures like the dome were beautiful.
The entire group then reconvened for a tour of Yad LaKashish, which teaches poor elderly people skills in arts and crafts, then puts them to use making beautiful items which are sold in their gift shop to fund the operation. The contrast between what Yad LaKashish does and what we frequently do with senior citizens in America was massive. Rather than being passive, the elderly people at Yad LaKashish were given a direction, were able to learn something new even at an old age, and there seemed to be a bond among them as they worked together to make these products. There was something incredibly dignified about these people from so many different backgrounds quietly going about their work as we toured the many different rooms.
At the end of the tour, the group loaded up on items in the gift-shop, all of which were hand-crafted by the elderly people of the organization. Yad LaKashish inspired a similar operation in St. Paul called By Hand and Heart, and hopefully will inspire many more.
For more information on Yad LaKashish: http://www.lifeline.org.il/
For more information on By Hand and Heart: http://www.stpauljcc.org/adults/hand_heart.lasso
Doron then led us on a walking tour of the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, providing his usual blend of humor and encyclopedic information about the history and people of Israel. Eventually we wound up at the Western Wall, one of the biggest sites for Jews, and certainly one of the most moving spiritual experiences of the trip. There were seemingly a thousand different Bar Mitzvahs taking place at the wall, which involved shooting colorful pieces of paper into the air and playing a lot of music. Just seeing so many Jews around the wall, silently praying or leaving notes, was an undeniably powerful experience.
One of the fascinating elements of Jerusalem is how it is such an ancient city with such a rich history that has also had to embrace modernity. I saw it first-hand at the Western Wall, when I witnessed an orthodox Jew, in full black-and-white garb, answer his cell phone while praying. When we had an aerial view of the city, we saw hundreds of satellite dishes topping the buildings. This combination of the newest things and some of the oldest things gives the city a unique energy that isn’t really found in America, which has such a relatively young history.
After walking through the Western Wall tunnel, the group split up again, with the options being either an archaeological dig or a tour of the Israel Museum. The younger people, including me, and most of the others went on the dig, with my parents joining the rabbi at the museum.
The dig might have been the most pure fun that I had on the trip. The enthusiastic tour guides took is down into a cave that contained a population nearly 2000 years ago. I had some skepticism of this dig would be that eventful or if it’d be mostly us digging up dirt, but there was an incredible amount of items buried in the cave. Doron and Ellis in particular hit a hotspot in the corner, digging up full pieces of pottery and several shards. With some help from one of the guides, I found an animal jaw that still had teeth attached to it. We had been learning so much history throughout the trip, but this was a chance to actually hold it right in our hands.
I received word that the Israel Museum was also fun, and Rabbi Spilker managed to get a private tour because congregant Jenny Schneider’s brother is the director of the museum. My mom said it was a fascinating museum, but they were only able to see 1/10 of it due to its size.
After the longest day of the trip so far, I was happy to have some time off that evening, and ended up going to sleep early, eager for another day in one of the most interesting cities in the world.