Jerusalem, Israel

Warning: I have zero tolerance for anyone who bashes Israel’s right to exist and defend itself against terrorism, and for anyone who disproportionately, obsessively criticises Israel in comparison to every other nation in the world.

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The Dome of the Rock, by the Mount of Olives.

The Sidna Omar Mosque in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, long sealed and unused but under protection as a holy site.

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The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, where it’s believed Peter denied Jesus thrice before the rooster crowed. Gallicantu is Latin for “cock’s-crow.”

Jerusalem (Yerushalayim) has been inhabited since at least 4500 BCE, and is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. So many peoples have lived there over the millennia, with so much history unfolding. Every single rock feels special and holy, knowing what kinds of stories it could tell if it could talk.

Jerusalem is the holiest city in the world, and feels very friendly and safe for such a large city. Even when I’ve been lost there, I never felt afraid. It reminds me of a big city like Boston in the way it’s designed and how nice the people are, in comparison to how easy it is to get lost and not always find friendly help in Manhattan.

It’s interesting to note that Jerusalem is never mentioned in the Torah. Every time the future spot of the Tabernacle (later Temple) is mentioned, it’s referred to in vague, veiled language, like “the place the Lord will choose.” This teaches us that every city in Eretz Yisrael was potentially holy, all in the running to be a Jerusalem.

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The Dome of the Rock from another angle.

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Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Stone of the Anointing, believed to be where Jesus was prepared for burial.

Today Jerusalem is made up of two major sections, the Old City and the New City. The Old City contains the Jewish, Christian, Armenian, and Muslim Quarters. Eight gates wall off the Old City. Not till 1869 was the first neighbourhood, Mishkenot Sha’ananim (Peaceful Habitation), built outside of the walls, with financing from Sir Moses Montefiore.

The Old City was in Jordanian hands from 1948-67, when it was liberated during the Six-Day War. During the Jordanian occupation, holy sites were desecrated and off-limits. The graves in the vast Mount of Olives Cemetery were used as a staircase. Even the Kotel (Western Wall) wasn’t available for worship. This is real, documented history, yet the obsessive Israel-bashers on the extreme Left refuse to believe it happened, or call you a racist if you mention it.

The start of the Via Dolorosa. 

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Panorama by the Mount of Olives, with the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the background.

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In front of the Kotel, when my hair was much shorter.

This is a city where history truly comes alive, where the ancient and modern frequently converge in a beautiful blend. Just witness a car driving past the old stone gates, or an electronics store a stone’s throw away from some ruins. The road to Jerusalem is littered with the charred remains of trucks which were ambushed and burnt by Arabs during the siege in 1948, during the War of Independence. Those trucks were trying to bring food, water, and other supplies to the starving, trapped people.

A small section of the Valley of Destroyed Communities in Yad Vashem. Each pillar bears the names of cities and towns whose Jewish population was destroyed or taken down to almost nothing by the Shoah. The biggest cities, like Warsaw, Lodz, and Bialystok, have their names in large font and on their own panel, like:

Nowadays, IDF soldiers are sworn in by the Valley of the Destroyed Communities instead of Masada. It’s meant to impress upon them what they’re fighting for, so that there’ll never be another Shoah. Masada symbolises cowardice, people who chose suicide over self-defence.

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Mount of Olives panorama. The church with the dark grey roof, a bit right of centre, is Dominus Flevit (The Lord Wept). It’s believed that Jesus sat and cried over the wickedness of the world at that spot.

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Small section of the Mount of Olives Cemetery. During the Jordanian occupation of 1948-67, the cemetery was desecrated and the graves were used as a staircase for the mount.

Jerusalem appears in my writing a number of times, starting in the currently-numbered Part XXIX of my handwritten magnum opus Cinnimin. Much of Part XXIX is set in Jerusalem in Autumn 1981. It’s a frequent setting from Saga VI (the Nineties) onward, as some of the next generation live and study in Israel.

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One of the many Israeli squirrels I’ve photographed.

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Soldiers entering Zion Gate in the Old City. Those are bulletholes in the ancient stone wall, from the War of Independence.

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A typical narrow stone street of the Old City.

Jerusalem also appears in my hiatused WIP Lazarus Lost and Found, as teenage Lazarus von Hinderburg lives in the Old City with his former protector Magdalena Müller and her family in 1947. A conversation with an old man by the Kotel convinces him his place is in America, with the childhood sweetheart he survived for.

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Somewhere in this cemetery, Oskar Schindler is buried. The gates were locked, but I got some nice close-up shots, from many angles, through the gates and over the lower walls. A little Arab boy crawled in through the gates to tell us the hours of operation, and then rode away on a donkey.

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Children are children, no matter where you go.

Jerusalem will feature in my planned books Rebuilding the Remnants, set during the War of Independence and following my Hungarian characters who made aliyah instead of going to America; and Bittersweet Hope, about the long, challenging journey faced by Etke Berkowitz (spinster aunt of Lazarus’s friends the Roblenskies) and her adopted teen daughter Tekla (Tecia) Czernowicz on their way to making aliyah after the liberation.

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This is either King Herod’s tomb or a burial tomb from King Herod’s era.

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The Moses Montefiore Windmill by dusk.

I’m sure Jerusalem will also feature in some of my other planned books about my Shoah characters.

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A clown entertaining a child in the children’s wing of Hadassah Hospital.

Quarter-Century Mark

Today is the last day of the October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge. Three major things happened when I was 25:

1. I finally learnt to drive, though I wasn’t to get my car till I was a month shy of 27. I’d grown up with the media-perpetuated stereotype that everyone automatically takes driver’s ed in high school and is driving by 16, usually in a car their parents give them for a birthday present. Total BS. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one person who was given a car by her parents, and she had to earn that present. It wasn’t given to her automatically.

My brother learnt how to drive the same year I did, though he’s 6.5 years my junior. He was a better learner than I was. I was so terrified in the early days of being behind the wheel. It was like I couldn’t believe I was responsible for moving this huge heavy machine all by myself. I was scared out of my mind the first time I drove on a road, to say nothing of being on the highway.

Practice makes perfect, and I’m a pretty good driver today. I didn’t pass my road test till the third try, but I’ve made up for lost time since.

2. I finally went on Birthright in June 2005. Birthright is a free 10-day trip to Israel for youth between ages 18-26 who’ve never been on an organized trip there before. It’s really important for building pro-Israel advocacy and a strong, positive Jewish identity. The trip has changed so many lives. I applied several times at uni, but was put on waiting lists every time. I applied again after graduation, but was on waiting lists then too.

One of the trip leaders was actually a girl I’d gone to uni with. I went with the IsraelExperts group, on a Boston-based trip. It’s impossible to describe the beauty and awe of this amazing land where ancient and modern co-exist, where five religions live together, where the events of the Bible happened. There’s a Magickal, mystical element to the passage of time, sort of like the so-called “mystical vav” in the Torah.

Beautiful mosque, beautiful purple flowers

This is the Sidna Omar Mosque, in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. It hasn’t been used in decades, but after the city’s reunification after the Six-Day War, it was restored and protected.

So beautiful and yet so off-limits and audaciously built right on top of the Temple Mount

I’ve gotten some much better pictures of the Dome of the Rock on my later two trips. It’s such a beautiful, integral part of the Jerusalem cityscape. I love the idea of a Third Temple being built as a universal house of prayer for all peoples, with no animal sacrifice, but not on this spot. World War III would break out if zealots destroyed the Dome of the Rock just to build a new Temple on the same spot as the old ones.

The Santa Claus House

This strange place is called the Santa Claus House. It’s in Haifa, Israel’s most well-integrated city, where all 5 faiths live together in love, peace, and harmony. Every year, lots of people, regardless of faith, come to this house to celebrate Christmas together.

3. My grandpap died. I’ve previously written about him and what a wonderful person he was. He was a product of his time, but he was also a very, very good person. He lived what he knew, even if some of his attitudes come off as close-minded or racist in the modern era or in a larger city. I know a bit what that’s like myself, having grown up considering words like “Eskimo” and “mentally retarded” to be socially acceptable, yet today many people consider them offensive. I couldn’t help the language I was taught when I had no frame of reference to think that was bad.

My grandma was given some “Grandmother Remembers”-type book by my parents when I was young, and she gave it to me when I was an adult. In the “Grandpap Would Like You to Know” page, she wrote that he wasn’t a bit mad at me for the time I accidentally turned on one of his beloved lawnmowers and sent it barreling down the hill in the backyard towards the woods.

I was four years old, and fooling around in the toolshed. I ran away when I realized what I’d done. Grandpap had to run after the lawnmower to catch it before it got too far into the woods and down onto the highway below. Apparently he often laughed about the incident.