Monday, July 11, 2011

Bucket List Items

The beautiful Land of Israel was truly an amazing place. During our last few days, we ventured to Jerusalem's historic Old City and out to the Judean desert and the Dead Sea. The final few days were filled with remarkable once in a life time activities--as many of us noted we were crossing off bucket list items each day!

Before we toured the Old City, we wrapped up our time at Yad Vashem with a lecture from renowned Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer who so succinctly explored some of the more controversial aspects of Holocaust studies. Dr. Bauer's lecture was a perfect way to end our time at Yad Vashem. We had a bit more time to explore the campus, so a few of us went off in search of the two art museums--one with works created during the Holocaust by the victims and the other with works by survivors. Both exhibits were wonderful, and the works of victims really solidified my desire to use artwork differently in my forthcoming Holocaust classes.

As we ventured toward the Old City, our bus driver Benny navigated us around crowds of Muslims leaving afternoon prayers and we headed to Zion gate of the Old City. Located by the gate are the supposed site of King David's tomb. Unfortunately, at this point on Friday the tomb was closed. As we entered the Old City, we dodged cars (it's unbelievable that there are even cars in Old City) and came into the Armenian quarter. Our guide explained to us that the Old City which is less than a square mile, is broken into four quarters: Armenian, Muslim, Jewish and Christian quarters. We quickly found ourselves in the Jewish quarter which has buildings comparably newer than the other quarters. In addition to stores and businesses, hundreds of thousands of people are squeezed into this walled city. Our tour led us to the remnants of the Western Wall of the temple (which is now a mosque) also known as the wailing wall. Here we were able to partake in the act of leaving a wish or prayer in the cracks of the wall. As our guide explained, the notes all receive a proper Jewish burial and a considered sacred--it was an unbelievable experience to leave a note in the wall and walk backwards thinking about my wish. Check on the bucket list! After the wall, we traveled through the tight streets of the Muslim quarter and followed many of the points along the route of Jesus's final path before the crucifixion. We ended our your in the Christian quarter at the site of the Holy Sepulcher--a site where various Christian denominations vie for rights. While we were there we saw Franciscan monks perform prayers and rituals. The Old City is unlike anywhere else in the world--groups with great animosity toward one another live side by side in some of the tightest quarters of the world,. Within an hour walk, you can experience four distinct culture all within the walled city.

Our final full day in Jerusalem began with a ride through the Judean desert to the historic fortress of Masada. King Herrod commissioned the fortress and used it as a place of refuge until the Romans conquered the site in 70 CE. You could walk up the snake path to the fortress ruins, but thankfully we took the fancy cable car that drops you off at the top. Even at 8 AM the desert heat was oppressive and about 90 degrees. Masada provided us with amazing views of the surrounding mountains, the Dead sea, and Jordan beyond it. After many of the gang purchased lovely Ahava products, we journeyed to the Dead Sea--where the products originate from!

My buddies (Branda, Megan, Dougie, Zuleika and Jessica) and I got our swimming trunks on and prepared for our jaunt in the mineral filled water. We noticed a contraption off to the side of the area where we entered the water but didn't realize it's significance until our delicate feet started hurting from the salt crystals. We're sure the other tourists were laughing at the silly Americans who were startled to find out how much that salt could hurt. Once we were out a little ways we realized how buoyant the water made us and we all started floating. Branda served as our photographer at first and snapped some great shots of the rest of us standing while floating in the water--such a crazy sensation! After some persuading we were able convince Branda to come in and float with the rest of us. We stayed in the cleansing water for about 20 minutes which was just long enough. We had a buffet lunch a the hotel on the sea, and then drove north to the natural oasis of En Gedi.

When stories tell of people wandering the desert and coming upon an oasis, En Gedi is a perfect example! Benny dropped us off at the gates to this natural reserve, and our tour guide told us it would be a short hike to the natural springs. He even called it a "child's path"... Well it certainly started off fine but with over 100 degree temperatures and climbing uphill a bit, we were all exhausted when we reached the springs and waterfall. Thankfully the water was delightful and refreshing, and the waterfall was the much needed shower I'd been craving! Branda again played photo documenter while Jessica, Dougie, Megan, and I waded in. Branda captured some fabulous moments and used her skills to capture herself along with us in some shots. What a wonderful way to round out our time in Jerusalem! We finished the evening with one more meal on the Mamilla's rooftop restaurant.

On Sunday morning, we left Jerusalem for the museum of Massuah. This museum was designed for students to not only gain insight through study of content but also through application and creation base on knowledge gained, Massuah's key exhibit features the testimony of the Eichmann trial, which is regarded as opening up dialogue about the Holocaust among survivors, particularly in Israel. The testimony was amazing, but the most amazing part of our time at Massuah was getting to meet Shomlo Perl, who's story is captured in the book and film Europa, Europa. Mr. Perl disguised himself as a member of the Hitler Youth and survived the war as part of the HJ. 

From Massuah we drove to our hotel in Tel Aviv for a six hour stop over before our journey to Germany. The Crowne Plaza hotel was amazing and served as a nice resting place for us. Unfortunately, the rest only lasted so long when we boarded a bus for the airport at 1 in the morning. Despite a lengthy day of travel to Frankfurt and then Hannover Germany, the second country of our trip has treated us well so far! 

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