I love Jerusalem. I think it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It's hard not to be overawed as you pull up and you see the walls of the city, so tall and stood for so long. It's humbling to think that those walls have stood, and withstood so much, for so much longer than you have existed and may well do so for so much longe after you have gone. The tangibility of the history blows me away. And the colour of the city - it really is golden! The whole day I had the song "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav" stuck in my head (Jerusalem, City of Gold).
So. We as a group basically had three priorities - chachka shopping, the Kotel (Wailing/Western Wall) and Yad Vashem (Holocaust Museum). We hied it down to the Kotel in the hopes that we would also be able to go to the Dome of the Rock. No such luck as it was closed for lunch (prayers, I think). So we did the Kotel and then headed off.
What do I mean by "did"? Men and women may approach the wall but in separate areas, divided in two by a barrier. So P and I headed down to the women's area (you have to get searched before you can enter the area and even that is divided into men and women!). I wanted to put a small prayer into the wall. So P and I sat down and each wrote something on a tiny piece of paper and then approached the wall to find a crack and put our rolled up paper in it. I had an idea of what I wanted to pray for (I had had so long before I even came to Israel) but on sitting in front of the wall, I was overcome and felt like anything that I wanted to ask for was petty and selfish. I asked for World Peace in the end (and some other smaller things). It was also a bit hard approaching the wall - right up close to it there are 3 or 5 rows of women sitting and praying, and then a row of women actually leaning on it and praying, and then everyone kinda stares at you, like who are you to approach the wall? Maybe they scoff and those of us who slip paper in the cracks, I don' know. But I remember thinking "it's not just *your* wall, it's *my* wall too!". (Have a photo to go here too!)
You don't turn your back on the wall so as you leave it, you walk backwards away from it. That was kinda funny watching women doing it on our approach. But when it was time for me to leave, there was something really respectful and humbling about slowly backing away from the wall.
I got some great shots of the wall so I will either post these separately or eta these and then blog the links later.
After the wall we went and had lunch in a little cafe just near it. I am for some reason making a point of eating Shakshuka whenever I can. Why not? *Israeli shrug*. And then we wandered through some streets and some markets. I think I am going to buy a belly dancer outfit before I leave. I also had a bit of a look at some Magen Davids and saw nothing I liked. The others bought chachkas, I am very far behind in the chachka buying. I have none!!!
And then we caught a taxi to Yad Vashem.
This is an enormous deal. For those of you who know me, and for those who have read this blog for long enough, you will know I have a "thing" about the Holocaust (like you couldn't have one about it but whatever). I quote my uncle with "thing" because it became apparent on our trip as we vaguely discussed when we would go etc - P really wanted to go, it was on her list to do here. I was reluctant but figured it might take me 50 years to actually do it and I might need a very slow introduction - like this decade I will simply stand outside the front. I took a book with me and didn't mind sitting and reading for 2 hours whilst she went through it.
So we went and my D and P were really good with me - I decided to sort of see as much as I could and then bow out when it was enough and they continued to check how I was going.
I didn't have nightmares last night so I think that was okay.
The Museum is not one building - it sprawls across several with beautiful squares and tree groves linking them. There are also halls and auditoriums and stunning views of Jerusalem. However, the actual history museum does not permit children under 10.
I decided to visit the Hall of Remembrance with the others. It was an overwhelming experience. I was flooded with emotion and realised that I was not actually going to be able to see all that much more after it. You enter the hall which is very dark, and the walls are made of large boulder type rocks. Everything else is black. Set down from the walkway is another floor which you look down to see the names of all the concentration camps in large gold letters. There is a flame burning off to the right hand side and several large wreaths. That is all. You, the dark, the names of all the camps and an eternal flame. That is all. And that is all that needs to be said. It is enough. More than enough. And it tears your insides out.
This is such a beautifully and compassionately crafted museum. They have thought very carefully how people will feel and you constantly are thrust back into the daylight and everywhere there are vast expanses of blue sky and groves of trees. You are constantly grounded back into the present.
I made it slightly further along, to the art gallery. Artwork displayed was done by the victims - some in the ghettos and some in the camps. A lot of it was not what you would expect - ie it was artwork by artists, who happened to perish. So pictures of dancers or portraits or whatever. There was the most beautiful set of illustrations for a bible that an artist did for his 2 year old daughter. It and the daughter were hidden with a catholic family and both survived the war. There are 90 illustrations of scenes from the bible and they are just exquisite, I want a bible illustrated with them (the artist includes some twists and rereadings of passages that show you his sense of humour and insights to his mind - they were just great)
There's only so much of "here was something brilliant or genius and beautiful and then the Nazis destroyed it" that you can take. But my "thing" about the Holocaust was at maximum and I was starting to feel panicky and very very upset. That was pretty much all for me and I was about to bail out, which was fine by D and P, and then the boy called me! All the way from Australia on my mobile! In fact, he had been trying to call me back when I was panicky in the gallery but there was no reception in there.
It was so lovely to hear his voice and I sat and listened to him and overlooked the vista of Jerusalem and he chased all the horrible images and thoughts out of my head. He talked to me for 55 minutes whilst the others went to the graphic, historical museum, and by the time they came back, I was good. All the yucky was gone. And I was up to looking in the bookshop - where I actually freaking bought 2 books (poetry and art by the children in the camps and ghettos and a Women in the Holocaust - letters they wrote and stuff). And I didn't have any nightmares last night.
After the gruellingness of the day, we caught a Sherut back to Tel Aviv, hit the cafe strip, enjoyed all that was built to be sure that never happens again and then went home to bed.