Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Beit Shemesh - Abu Gosh - Western Wall Tunnels


We picked up the car today, next to King David Hotel, where an Arab taxi driver tried to not let us go into the hotel and take a ride from him instead, so we walked away from him, checked out the lobby oif the infamous King David Hotel and then picked up our car. and drove off to show Micah, Hebrew University at Mount Scopus and the beautiful view, and no I recognized nothing, the hills were full of new homes, the old city seemed much further away than I remembered, the view was still beautiful.

And then we followed the signs to Beit Shemesh and miraculously we arrived there easily around noon. The stalagmite/stalactite cave was other worldly like an underground Yellowstone National Park, the configurations of the limestone were spectacular, it was like a journey to the center of the earth.

The funniest thing was we found ourselves with a group of french people, the guide from the caves spoke in Hebrew, their guide translated into French and there were english subtitles for the short intro film during which no on shut up (didn't really matter to us). Half the people talked and the other half shhhhh'ed - it was a great combination of french and israeli personalities.

The cave itself was large, 300 meters in diameter, i think as I seem to have lost the brochure. Lit up with small lights and a concrete path that weaved its way through, we circled the path twice, once, way ahead of the guided group and then again way behind them.

After the caves we drove to Abu Gosh for a late lunch, sat and ate huge chicken schwarmas in lafa bread with all the fixings and then it was back to Jerusalem where it took us an hour in heavy traffic and being somewhat lost to finally find our hotel where we rested before our 8pm tour of the excavations beneath the Western Wall.
Jerusalem, what a city, a hustling, bustling western city, traffic, horns, buses, crazy drivers, open air markets, major highways, all in the oldest place on earth...

And then around 6pm, Micah and I arose from our rest to head for the Western Wall. We took the bus to the center of the new city and walked down to Jaffa Gate. People everywhere, shops open, the city was alive. We wandered through the Arab Market of the Old City, arriving at the Western Wall an hour or so before our tour so we wandered down to the Wall (Ha Kotel) and watched:

a hasidic man
dressed in traditional black
long fuzzy brown gray beard
comes up to us

it's just after sundown
the beginning of a new day

where are you from? he asks us
Montana, United States, I reply hesitantly
all the way from Boise? he says
I laugh, that's Idaho
oh yeah, he replies, where is it
We have a new Chabad in Montana, now
I was supposed to go there
every year we send two to help convert
Yes, I reply, in my hometown, Bozeman, Chaim
Yes, Chaim, his last name is B...b...b...
I can't remember, I tell him
Come, put on tefillin, you and your son,
it's a mitzvah before Rosh Hoshana,
he gets another man, dressed identically
who says, Helena,
Not Helena, I say, Bozeman

Is your mother jewish?
Is his mother jewish?
well than come with me, you can put on tefillin
and your son can watch and learn
Why? I ask, he was just bar mitzvahed
he should do it, too
unless he had a kosher conversion he can't
come you can do it and he can learn

No thank you, we walk away
as they yell to us, come come

Micah and I then sat down on a bench and watched the groups of people pray, young men with tefillin on, the hasidic jews praying or talking, young children playing soccer with a tennis ball. We sat and talked and watched. Micah was amazed at the conversation with the hasidic jews, a kosher conversion? he was a bit flabbergasted.

And then at 8 pm we took the guided tour underneath the Western Wall, through excavated tunnels. It was great explanation of how the temple was built, all about Herod, the roman who ruled Jerusalem around the time of Jesus and how he built the giant plaza where the second temple stood, the size of the stones and how enormous some of them were. The most interesting thing on the tour was the foundation stone, the place of the holiest of holies. At one point in the tunnels is the closest spot - only 90 meters away - from this spot and people come here to pray. The guide told the story of how the head rabbi was the only one allowed into the temple to see the foundation stone and only on Yom Kippur. They would tie a rope around his legs so they could pull him out in case he died because no one else was allowed in. And the guide gave us a speech about love. Not the love we have today, which is I love me so therefore I enjoy being with you, but the love of a mother for a child, the rabbi loved his people truly the way a mother loves her own child, and for the rabbi to go into the foundation stone was like the whole community going in to see the foundation stone and god forgiving everyone for their sins even moreso...

Historically the world beneath the Western Wall brought you back to the time of Herod, to the time of the second temple, to the time of the roman empire, we walked on the same cobblestones that people walked on 2000 years ago, the main difference when they walked on these cobblestones they were open to the sky, not covered by 2000 years of destruction and rebuilding...

Most of the stones of Herod's walls were 60 tons, but there was a giant stone that was at least 500 tons, 50 feet long, 4 meters wide, huge huge, how it was moved there no one knows... supposedly the heaviest object moved by humans...

After the tour we found ourselves at a still very busy western wall - the night is when everyone seems to come out as it is much more pleasant outside, we wandered outside the walls and found a taxi to take us home so we could get a little bit of sleep before getting up at 3:15 am for our trip to Masada only 5 hours away...

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