Our first order of business was to rent a car. Normally on Shabbat all places of business are closed by Israeli law, but the airport and the services within it are exceptions. We approached the Thrifty counter, where we had a reservation. The rental agreement stipulated that insurance would not cover parking in East Jerusalem or the West Bank, an indication of the continuing tensions between Jews and Palestinians. My mother also told me that Israelis were famous for being terrible drivers, and that more Israelis die every year on the road than have died in all the wars combined since Israel was founded. (This statistic proved to be false. According to my guidebook, more people have died in Israel on the road since its founding than have died in war. Actually, that's a fairly meaningless statistic; I wouldn't be at all surprised if the same statement holds true of the United States since 1948. But that's not really the point; presumably, if one looked at yearly auto fatalities in Israel as a percentage of population, the number would be alarmingly high.)
The first challenge was driving from the airport to Ann's house in Ramat Hasharon, a suburb to the northeast of Tel Aviv. Ben-Gurion airport is about 30 minutes south of Tel Aviv. The challenge was exacerbated by the fact that my mother had neither instructions to Ann's house nor her address. She hoped to rely on memory and instinct to get there--two qualities which proved fairly unreliable.
When you first arrive in a foreign country, it is often the little details that jump out at you. The same details which, after a day or two, blend into the background and are completely forgotten. Since my first hours in Israel were spent getting lost on the highways, the highway details are the ones that made the biggest impression. Although it was a clear, bright day, everyone had their headlights on. (It turns out that it is a law in Israel that headlights must be turned on in the winter months on the highways.) Nearly all of the cars were adorned with barber-shop-pole bumper stickers, rectangular strips of alternating diagonal white and red stripes. These were meant to be reflective safety devices, but I didn't see how they could possibly increase the visibility of the cars by any significant amount. Freeway entrance and exit ramps do not follow the logic of those in the United States. There is not necessarily an on-ramp everywhere there is an off-ramp, and vice- versa; one direction (say Eastbound) might have both on- and off-ramps, while the other direction might have only one, or none at all. This is an unfortunate situation when one is lost. After discovering we were heading in the wrong direction, we would get off the highway, only to find we couldn't get back on in the other direction.
Other road differences: dotted white lines separate lanes of traffic moving in the same or opposite directions. As an American used to a strict distinction between white and yellow lines, I found this disconcerting as well as dangerous; on a number of occasions, I nearly veered into oncoming traffic thinking I was simply easing into the passing lane. Traffic lights flash green for a second or two before they turn yellow and then red; before turning green again, the green and yellow lights briefly turn on together. I saw no direct evidence of truly dangerous driving, but it became obvious immediately that Israelis are impatient and aggressive drivers. The cars behind you start honking just before your light turns green; if you hesitate, you are barraged mercilously with angry horn blasts. On the other hand, I never saw anyone run a red light or even enter an intersection on a yellow, a habit we are guilty of here in the San Francisco Bay Area.
But enough boring facts about driving! Suffice to say, after a number of hours we arrived in Ramat Hasharon and Ann's neighborhood. We were unable to find her house (whose number we didn't know) or her street (whose name we didn't know). Nor could we call her, since we didn't have a phone card or know where to buy one. So my mother stopped a gentleman strolling on the sidewalk and asked him where Ann lived. He knew. We arrived.
Ramat Hasharon is a wealthy suburb, and the houses are large and beautiful. Even so, they are built on a decidedly European scale. I was surprised that in a house so large, with a spacious living room and atrium, and picture windows looking onto a lush yard, the bathrooms were smaller than the one in my tiny apartment in in the United States. An exuberant grapefruit tree stood just outside the kitchen window, and in the morning Ann would reach outside, pick a ripe fruit, squeeze it, and serve the juice. All over Israel, in fact, I had incredibly fresh and delicious citrus fruit and citrus juice. The Israelis rightly take pride in their oranges and grapefruits.
For some reason Ann and her husband Barry decided we should go see a ballet performance that evening, and for some other reason, my mother and I agreed, despite seven (her) and ten (me) hours of jet lag and an all-night plane flight. Barry, now a private businessman, had been for 20 years the director of the Israeli National Ballet; he has no problem getting tickets at the last minute for performances. The ballet was an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet choreographed by an Albanian and performed by a French troupe; it was set in a futuristic fascist state, the stage decorated in ominous sets full of oozing dry ice and menacing militaristic structures. The central theme of forbidden love was transformed into an allegory of the struggle between freedom--freedom to love--and the repression of the state. The Juliet figure was a daughter of a ruling fascist family, while the Romeo figure was a prole living in the back alleys of the city. I wasn't in much of a physical state to appreciate the ballet; in fact, I kept nodding off. Some of the dancing was fantastic, especially the scenes in which a distraught Romeo agonized over a seemingly dead Juliet, throwing her lifeless body around like a rag doll. She appeared totally lifeless and inert, yet managed to do so with elegance and without fracturing her spine.
After the performance we stopped at a late-night Middle Eastern diner for some much-needed sustenance and my first taste of Israeli food. The Middle Eastern meal in Israel is built around a number of salad and sauce dishes, eaten with pita. Hummos is the staple; baba ghanoush, tahini, and the like are also prevalent. The salads are usually based on finely chopped combinations of lettuce, cucumber, and tomato; the cheese of choice is a delicious white goat's cheese, sliced thin; it's mild in flavor and slightly resistant to the bite. For warm dishes we had a number of meat- and cheese-stuffed items: eggplant, zuchinni, etc.
I'd managed to stay awake to a reasonable hour, 11:00, and for me that's the secret of avoiding jet lag. By going to sleep at an appropriate local time, I knew that when I awoke in the morning I'd be assimilated properly. My mother, tired out not just from the flight but also weeks of sleep deprivation, slept until noon the next morning.
We drove into Tel Aviv for a walking tour of the city. Tel Aviv lies on the Mediterranean Coast, its buildings crowded into a thick north-south strip along the water. At the sourthern end of the city is Jaffa, the ancient port city. We parked at the north edge of the city, where major hotels crowd up alongside the beach, and had lunch at a little cafe. The city is not terribly attractive, but has a certain European sensibility. Most of the houses have dull white tile facades, and sit on stilts above the ground. It's a decidedly secular place, and the center of Israeli nightlife. Aside from the Hebrew everywhere, it didn't feel like I was in Israel, or the Middle East; I felt instead like I was visiting a European city which happened to have an unusual alphabet.
After lunch we decided to try to find the office of a particular tourist company to look into tours of the northern part of Israel for the last few days of our trip, still well over a week away. We were told it was located near the Old Bus Station, in the sourthern part of town. We walked south down Ben Yehuda Street and onto Allenby. Here some older buildings, from the 30s and 40s, with attractive decorative facades, were still standing amid the drab structures of the 50s and 60s. Every few storefronts we passed a Russian bookstore. The recent immigration of nearly a million Russian Jews (and quite a few non-Jews) has dramatically changed the demographics of the country, which has a population of only 5 million. According to Ann, the pattern of settlement of these new immigrants is quite different than in the United States. She claimed there was no ghettoization, that there were no Russian communities or neighborhoods. The Russians were being distributed throughout the country, their children attending integrated schools and joining integrated army units, and were therefore all learning Hebrew. She predicted, furthermore, that Russian wouldn't survive more than a single generation as a spoken language. It was hard to believe given the predominance of the language everywhere we visited. (A differing viewpoint is offered by the Israeli David Grossman in the April 20 issue of the New Yorker: "In recent years, there has been a gradual emergence of ghettos for different populations that are entirely alienated from one another. The immigrants from the Soviet Union, who constitute almost a fifth of the coutnry's inhabitants, have created a sociocultural enclave that shows few signs of belnding with the original Israeli culture, and even disdains it for its 'shallowness'.")
Two hours of walking finally brought us to the neighborhood of the bus station, where we were completely unable to find the office we were looking for. Not only could no one we asked direct us there, but no one had even heard of the street it was supposed to be on. So we turned to the West, and walked into Jaffa, arriving just before sunset. Jaffa had once been a thriving Arab port, and parts of it were still bustling and full of street life. But a good deal of the historic port area had been transformed into a scrubbed, shiny tourist attraction, with gift shops and restaurants tucked into restored historic buildings and linked by a spotless plaza. Pleasant, but sanitized. As darkness fell, we took a more direct route back to the car, walking north along the beach. The city is in the process of building a series of waterfront parklands, linked by a winding path. The tall hotels of the city glowed brightly on our right as walked, and the sounds of crashing surf pulsed rhythmically on our left. The night was chilly, and there weren't many people out; the seaside parks seemed desolate, even deserted, waiting for summer. But we passed a number of single women jogging alone, and I was struck, as I often am when traveling, at how violent and dangerous our own country is, and how pleasant it must be to live someplace where you don't have to think twice about going anywhere you like at any time of day.
Ann and Barry took us out to dinner at an elegant seaside restaurant named Kahol, "blue". It's well north of Tel Aviv proper, in an area that's rather quiet and deserted--at least, it seemed so in the dark, when we drove in. After leaving the highway we drove along an unlit winding road toward the beach. There were no buildings around, no man- made structures at all in fact. That's why it was such a shock to find two prostitutes, standing stiffly in the cold breeze, lit up by our headlights as we turned in toward the restaurant parking lot. To all appearances they were turning their tricks out in the middle of nowhere, on a road leading to a fancy seaside restaurant.
When we entered the parking lot Barry, who was driving, had an interaction with the lot attendant in his booth which struck me as typically Israeli. The attendant asked Barry for the fee. Barry took his time taking off his seatbelt so he could get to his wallet, and mumbled to the attendant, "wait a minute". The attendant, who hadn't heard this clearly, snapped, "what?" Barry, agitation in his raised voice, shot back, "Wait a minute!". The attendant, apparently fed up, rolled his eyes with a dismissive "achh". The money changed hands, and we went on our way. Israelis, you see, are often brusque, pushy, and rude, but they have adapted to this by not getting offended even as they go through the motions. At the end everyone just shrugs and life goes on, no harm done. Neither Barry nor the attendant were actually upset. The interaction wasn't pleasant, but it was immediately forgotten. I doubt very much if anyone in the car but me even noticed what had happened.
The next morning my mother and I drove from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It's a short drive, only about an hour, but the psychological distance is considerable. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are symbolic of the polar oppositions that run through Israeli society: religious versus secular, ancient versus modern, carefree versus strained and tense. As we climbed up into the Jerusalem hills during the last third of the trip, the temperature began to drop, and it started to feel like winter. We were entering a different world.
The city makes a strong immediate impression. By law--a law dating from the time of the British mandate (1919-1948)--all buildings must be faced with Jeruslam stone. This gives the city a uniform, pleasing look, preserving the ancient feel of the place even with all the modern architectural styles. It also gives the city its unique glow, since the light, whose quality changes throughout the day, is reflected uniformly everywhere. On the streets of the modern part of the city, ordinary- looking people mix with orthodox jews in black coats and hats, beards and braids. The city is bright and bustling, full of life and energy, and feels safe despite the tension that hovers beneath the surface.
The old walled city, east of the new section, has only been in Israeli hands since the six-day war of 1967. It is divided into four traditional quarters: Jewish, Armenian, Muslim, and Christian. The old city is small and crowded, especially in the Muslim quarter; everyone is jostled up against each other vying for space among the narrow cobbled alleyways. One sees orthodox jews, keffiyah-ed Arabs, bedouins, black- swathed Ethiopians, all walking the streets together. In the Christain quarter many different denominations (Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Coptic, Syrian Orthodox) compete for space in the awkwardly partitioned Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Ethiopians are camped out in tiny leaning rock-hewn homes on the roof of the church. Parts of the city destroyed in the war have been rebuilt in the Jewish Quarter; ancient Roman ruins have been excavated and lie exposed. The Old City is a crazy jumble, yet remains beautiful and magical.
My mother had been to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre before. She was amazed when we went in at how empty it was--apparently it's usually a crush of people. There were even times when the area around the slab marking the spot where Jesus' body had been laid out after his crucifixion was completely devoid of people. Around the corner, near the cave where Jesus' body had been buried, a procession was starting. The church hall was lined with Franciscan monks (of every race and color) intoning Gregorian chants. A priest walked forward between the two lines of monks, swinging an incense ball. Before him the way was led, according to tradition, by two Turkish guards, wearing bright red fezzes and sporting large scimitars strapped to their belts. They banged scepters on the stone floor as they processed. The reason for this unusual event? We were told that a high-level delegation from the Vatican was visiting to arrange a millenial Year 2000 visit from the Pope. (The last papal visit to Jerusalem had been in 1964.)
When we left the church, around 4:30, the surrounding alleys were deserted. The Arab shopkeepers had all closed up and gone home for Ramadan as evening approached. Our guide, an Israeli-born Iraqi Jew, said he'd never seen anything like it. Most of the merchants aren't very observant, and they usually stay to sell to tourists, even during Ramadan. But now the right-wing religious Palestinians are forcing them to observe, and succeeding, indicating their inreasing power and influence. "This is very, very dangerous," our guide said. Among the Palestinians, just as among the Jews, attitudes are polarizing.
The Muslim Quarter seemed safe enough to walk in. I'd expected the guidebook to say something about safety issues there, but it just described the sights as if it is perfectly normal for tourists to go there. Earlier that day we'd met my mother's friend Chani for coffee. She'd recommended that we avoid the Muslim Quarter. "Why?" I asked. "What could happen?"
"You could get stabbed," she suggested.
It turns out that, even though the intifadah (the Palestinian uprising against Israel) has ended, Jewish Israelis basically still do not venture into the Muslim Quarter of the Old City or into predominantly Arab East Jerusalem. Because of this I had expected those areas would look or feel dangerous, or run-down, or be blocked off, or marked with warning signs. Instead, looking eastward from the Old City into the Arab neighborhoods, everything looked normal. No barriers, no roadblocks. Cars on the streets, people walking around. Yet I felt very much constrained by what I'd been told, and chafed against the restriction. I wanted to go into those neighborhoods and look around.
We had dinner Monday night, after our tour of the Old City, with Peretz and Miriam Rodman. They had been my Bar Mitzvah tutors when I was 12. They were Brandeis students at the time; a few years later they moved to Israel. I hadn't seen them in 15 years. Now they have three kids and live in a pleasant Jewish suburb of Jerusalem. The neighborhoods of Jerusalem are a complicated patchwork of new Jewish settlements, old Arab towns, and former Arab towns now occupied by Jews. Nothing is exactly as safe as it appears. Peretz is on neighborhood patrol, for which he walks the streets at night with a rifle. Ordinary crime is low; the gun is not for protection against muggers or car thieves.
We went to dinner at another Middle Eastern place for shish-kebab. In addition to ordinary pita, they also served the Iraqi variety, which are larger, thinner, darker and crisper. At dinner we discussed Israeli society, particularly the trends of rudeness and corruption which Miriam, as a transplanted American, found frustrating. She said much of what drives social behavior is a desire to take advantage, to thumb one's nose at the law. Not to do so--to pay taxes, to follow regulations, even to allow another car to cut in front of you--is to be a "fryer", a sucker. After dinner Peretz took us on a driving tour around the city, with night views from the surrounding hills. He also pointed out two hotels, one of which was taller by two stories than the zoning code allowed, and one which had been built too wide, eating up what had been a driving lane in the road. In both cases officials had turned a blind eye at key moments of construction, then accepted the buildings as fait accompli after construction had been completed. Bribes may have been involved. In both cases the builders had knowingly violated the law and cheated the system, and it had paid off for them.
Back in our hotel room, we opened the curtain and the window. We had a perfect view of the Old City, lit with a golden glow in the darkness. With the breezes of Jerusalem blowing in, we went to sleep. Early that morning, at around 4:00, I was awoken by the ethereal chanting of the Muslim call to prayer, wafting down from a minaret of the Old City. Muslims must rise early during Ramadan, to pray and eat before sunrise. This waking for me wasn't a jarring unpleasant experience. It was a drowsy, dream-like waking, and the ululations flowing in on the night air of the dark city outside seemed to carry with them all the ancient magic and power of this special place. When it the call to prayer ended, I quickly fell back asleep.
Tuesday morning we got up early, walked to the Old City, and went to the Dome of the Rock. The peak of Mount Moriah, the hill on which the Old City is located, is said to be the place where Abraham was called instructed to sacrifice Isaac to God. The Jewish Temple compound was built around the peak (the famed Wailing Wall is part of the western retaining wall of the compound), and the temple itself was constructed so that the rocky peak itself was its inner sanctorum, the "holy of holies". This same peak is the spot from which Mohammad ascended to heaven. When the conquering Muslimes took Jerusalem in the seventh century, they built a mosque on the compound (the Jewish temple having been destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE) and a gold dome over the peak. This Dome of the Rock is the third-holiest site in Islam. There are eight gates through which the compound can be entered, but all save one are off-limits to non-Muslims. I don't know if this is for security or religious reasons, but anyone can leave through any gate. We entered via the Wailing Wall plaza, through a checkpoint with a metal detector. (The Wailing Wall plaza itself can only be entered through metal detectors.)
It's a tense area. Many Jews would like nothing better than to kick the Muslims off their sacred Temple Mount and reclaim it. Many Muslims would love to get the Jews out of Jerusalem and secure their hold over their holy site. The de facto situation holds on the ground, but any perceived threat to the delicate balance of power currently in effect can lead quickly to riots and killings. While we were in Israel, a Jew was convicted of trying to throw a pig's head over the compound wall into the mosque area, profaning the sacredness of the site. Israeli soldiers uneasily patrol these areas, trying to guarantee everyone access to their own holy sites and tourists access to everything, while guarding against terrorists, assassins, and zealots. (Later that day we saw a school field trip in the Western Wall plaza, little kids, perhaps in late elementary school. Accompanying them and their teacher was a man in civilian clothes with a submachine gun over his shoulder. All school groups in Israel are accompanied by an armed parent to prevent hostage-takings.)
As soon as we stepped onto the compound we felt like we'd entered a different country. The area was full of Arabs, the men in checked keffiyahs and the women wrapped in white headscarves. I felt a little nervous, as if I'd entered a potentially lawless no-man's land after the comfortable security of the Jewish side. (I would guess Arabs feel the same way when they visit the Western Wall plaza, which is full of heavily armed Israeli soldiers.) There were plenty of Western tourists around--Germans mostly, it seemed to me--but they couldn't dispel my acute sense of anxiety. We entered first the Al-Aqsa mosque, at the south end of the compound, then the Dome of the Rock itself. The latter is a round hall, dominated in the center by the craggy rock peak of Mt. Moriah, which rises to a height of about four feet above floor level. The peak is surrounded by a high wooden wall, which I am just tall enough to peer over on tiptoes to get a glimpse of the holy rocky surface. To one side of the hall row upon row of kneeling women prostrated themselves and bowed toward the rock.
By 10:00 in the morning we had to leave because special Ramadan prayers were to begin, and my mother and I both breathed a sigh of relief on stepping out of the wide, open compound into the narrow alleyways of the Old City.
We spent the next few hours on the ramparts of the Old City wall, from which there are excellent views of both the new city without and the Old City within. While we were walking around the ramparts outside the Muslim Quarter, a man in the top floor of a nearby building opened his window, and cupped his balls at us. My mother took this to be a hostile gesture.
At 1:30 we took a tour of the "Western Wall tunnel". Archeologists have been digging it out for years, and tours have been available for some time. Until last year, though, the only entrance was at the Western Wall Plaza, and after the tour ended the visitors would have to retrace their steps to exit. Last year a door at the other end of the tunnel was opened into the Muslim Quarter, prompting Palestinian riots. The door itself didn't disrupt the city in any way, but as I noted earlier, everyone in the Old City is extremely nervous about any changes to the status quo, and physical changes by Israeli authorities, especially in the Arab area of the city, are automatically viewed as threats.
It turns out that the Wailing Wall (more properly termed simply the Western Wall) is only a small part of the temple compound's original western retaining wall, built by King Herod 2000 years ago. The wall continues, hidden, hundreds of meters to the north and dozens of meters down. (Jerusalem is built on many successive layers of structures; when you stand in the old city, there are whole cities beneath your feet.) The tour was astounding. We walked under ancient bridges, through ancient cisterns, over ancient roads, past lovely Roman arches--all now deep underground. We got a full appreciation of the massive scale of Herod's temple project, and of the incredible workmanship evident in the beveled edges on every stone. After going through the tunnel it is impossible to look at the Old City the same way again--it's like donning a pair of X-Ray specs.
Our plans for that evening were to meet my mother's friend Galia for dinner. She is a professor of Soviet studies at Hebrew University, and head of Israel's left-wing Peace Now organization, which was founded to protest Israel's invasion of Lebanon in the early 1980s, and is now active in promoting a settlement with the Palestinians. As it happened, a Peace Now rally was scheduled for that evening near the Prime Minister's residence, to coincide with Netanyahu's visit to Washington. We met Galia at the protest, and also saw Peretz there. The protestors carried torches and signs reading "The government is an obstacle to peace." Occasionally young men walking on the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street from the rally--Israelis with more right-wing political views--would shake their fists at the crowd and yell in rage.
When Galia suggested we eat dinner in Arab East Jerusalem, I was surprised and thrilled. "But I thought no one went there!" I said.
"Well, no one does. But I do go to this one restaurant, sometimes, or if I have meetings with Palestinians. The owner knows and likes me. And luckily the bumper sticker on my car says 'Peace Now' in Arabic as well as Hebrew." She said that businesses in East Jerusalem are really suffering, partly because no Jews go there anymore, but mostly because the Israeli government has blocked access to East Jerusalem for all West Bank Palestinians. (They now go to Ramallah instead, which is said to be hopping with nightlife.) Over dinner at the restaurant, called Philadelphia, we talked alot about the current situation in Israel, both the internal and external political conflicts and the social problems which Miriam had talked about the night before. Galia said that her daughter and son-in-law (an Iraqi Jew) had recently traveled in Europe, and were astounded by how polite and friendly the people they met there were. They were awakened to the rudeness that had become a way of life in Israel, and it made them feel ashamed to be Israeli. Galia also talked about the terrible divisions in Israeli society between "secular" and "religious" Jews. I put the terms in quotations because they mean different things than they do here in the US. While Jews who go to synogogue even a few times a year might be considered religious here, anyone who isn't strictly orthodox in Israel usually classifies themselves as "secular". To be secular in Israel means basically to support a liberal democracy with strong civil rights and freedoms. The secular Jews are afraid that the religious Jews are trying to turn Israel into a fundamentalist Jewish state based on Jewish law--in this respect they seem strikingly similar to fundamentalist Muslims throughout the Middle East. And, because of the structure of Israeli politics, many of these small religious groups are able to wield tremendous political influence, as the major parties court them when they need to form majority coalitions in parliament. Meanwhile, the religious Jews see the secular Jews as hell-bent on destroying the Jewish character of Israel, of betraying the Jewish cause by giving up holy land to the Arabs, and of bringing corrupting Westernized influences into Israeli culture. Many secular Jews find the atmosphere in Jerusalem intolerable since the number of religious Jews is so high there, and prefer to live in the relative normalcy of Tel Aviv.
One result of the secular-religious split is that many secular young people no longer think of themselves as Jewish. Both Galia and Ann said their kids consider themselves Israelis, not Jews. They have a nationality, no different from being French, or Canadian, or Indonesian. If they happen to be of Jewish ancestry, that's a secondary matter. Many of them are shocked when they first travel abroad, and discover that "Israeli" is not really a meaningful category for most of the world. When you grow up in a society where everyone has a special Shabbat dinner, where restaurants are kosher more often than not, where the whole place shuts down for major holidays like Yom Kippur, it can be a shock to go to a place where doing those things suddenly marks you as a Jew, instead of just an Israeli. One of Ann's children went to Australia, where he was suddenly labeled Jewish, and discovered what it means to be a stereotyped minority. (This labeling goes two ways. Ann told us that in South Africa, where she immigrated from, she was Jewish. Here in Israel she finds that she's suddenly "Anglo-Saxon".)
The secular-religious schism in Israeli society is perhaps simply a reflection of the impossible mandate which Israel is laboring under: to be a Jewish state, and a liberal democracy. If Jews are to have special rights in Israel, then a religious authority is needed to regulate Jewishness. But if one religious authority can dictate who is Jewish and who is not, many Jews will be denied the full rights of citizenship. And all non-Jews will be formally relegated to the status of second- class citizens. On the other hand, if the state is fully divorced from religion (as in the US), what will preserve the Jewish nature of the country? How can Israel be a guaranteed safe haven for a people without any other national home?
What's amazing to me is that Israel is still functioning as a free society. The country is under continual threat of terrorist attack; two countries on its borders are formally at war with it; and there is an undisputed need for high security. And yet martial law has not been declared. One can travel freely, speak freely, carry out business freely. The country is somehow in a state of war and not in a state of war. At least for Israeli citizens and tourists (though not for Palestinians in the West Bank), the country feels like a pretty normal place.
Our dinner, incidentally, was delicious. We started with "salad". The waiter brought out about 20 small plates to the table--olives, hummos, pickles, baba ghanoush, tomato salad, cheese, stuffed carrots, felafal, pickled-pink baby eggplant, and a dozen other unidentifiable items. After that came delicious shish-kebab chicken and lamb. Finally dessert: four large serving plates each piled high with dozens of baklavah-type honey-pastry-nut confections. The serving plates are left at the table, an endless supply. After we ate what we liked, the plates were removed and brought to the next table.
The next day, our third and last in Jerusalem, we drove to the fabulous Israel museum on the outskirts of town. This modern complex is a playland of fantastic archeological pieces, steeped in the rich, complex history of the country. There is no shortage of the stuff in Israel; every time someone builds a house, they dig up ancient goodies. And massive public works projects have put a large number of Russian immigrants to work on excavation projects, increasing the flood of discoveries in the last few years. We got tours in English of the main archeological collection and of the legendary Dead Sea Scrolls. We saw Philistine sarcophogi, Hasmonean building blocks, Greek and Roman statuary. In the more modern collection are entire synogogues which have been imported whole from Italy, Germany, and even Cochin (in Kerala State, India). The synogogues are from towns which no longer have Jewish communities, and have been installed in their own rooms in the museum.
That afternoon we drove back to Tel Aviv, spent the night at Ann's home, and left with Ann and Barry early the next morning for Eilat. We flew out of the tiny domestic airport Sedi Dov on a little propeller plane, arriving in the sunny warmth of Eilat an hour later. Descended the little staircase to the tarmac and walked across to the terminal. The skyline to the east was dominated by the brown, craggy mountains of Jordan, piled up in row after jagged row like a patchwork of cardboard cutouts.
Pictures of Jerusalem (Set 1) | Pictures of Jerusalem (Set 2)
This page last modified May 9, 1998.
Zev Handel / zev_web#namkung.com