JULY 20, 2021: Yesterday, during the hottest day of a week-long heatwave, we spent the day in Jerusalem. During the heatwave, Jerusalem was about 5 degrees hotter than Tel Aviv, with temperatures in the high 30’s (Celsius). Luckily, in Jerusalem it is easy to fill the day with indoor activities to escape the hot weather.
We had spent the previous night in the Leonardo Hotel in Beer Sheva. I had an MRI appointment in the middle of the night at Assuta Beer Sheva (still trying to figure out why I fainted in Denver), and instead of driving back and forth tired, Mark slept at the hotel, and I joined him after the MRI for a few hours sleep. In the morning, rather than driving straight home, we took a vacation day. Not finding anything we wanted to do on a hot day in the Beer Sheva area , we decided to go to Jerusalem. We made reservations for the Western Wall Tunnel Tour. Underground is good in a heat wave.
We arrived in Jerusalem about 11:30 in the morning. First stop was Aroma Café in Mamilla – I needed my morning coffee. We tried sitting on the porch outside to enjoy the view, but after a minute, went inside to enjoy the air conditioning.
From there, we did the short walk to the old city. We had a few hours to kill until our reservation for the Tunnel Tour. We recently discovered that you can get 10 shekel tickets for many museums through our subscription to Mifal Hapais. (This is even better than using the senior citizen discount, which I now qualify for.) Last week we went with 10 shekel tickets to the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv (very good), and yesterday to the Tower of David Museum. Admission included an audio guide. There are three paths in the museum – the green, the red and the blue. First, we followed the green path, that displayed different models of how Jerusalem looked over the ages.
The red path was a delightful surprise – it was an exhibit about the Banai family. They came from Persia to Jerusalem in the late 1800’s and their family history is very much also the history of Jerusalem. The family includes many famous singers and actors in the Israeli entertainment industry. A great-great-grandson, Noam Banai, even auditioned for Kohav Nolad in a recent episode. The exhibit includes many video clips and my favorite was Yossi Banai singing “Me, Simon and little Moiz” – a song that captures his childhood in Jerusalem.
We had spent almost two hours in the museum, decided to leave the blue path for next time, and headed to a vegan Ethiopian restaurant for lunch. The restaurant was unfortunately closed (next time we will call first) and we ended up having falafel in a small restaurant across from city hall. This was a small place where most everyone who came in knew the owner by name, and they exchanged stories as he prepared their food. It was interesting to watch while eating our meal.
After lunch, on the way back, we walked through the grounds of Jerusalem City Hall. In front, there was an interesting water sculpture that turned and looked like a screw. Mark, the engineer, knew that this was an Archimedes’ screw – a simple machine used to lift water from a lower level to a higher level.
Another interesting object, in the garden in front of city hall, is a huge radio. It works and you can even tune the station.
On the walls of the city hall was an exhibit of photographs of Holocaust survivors – the Lonka Project – which includes photos of more than 360 survivors, from 35 countries, created by over 270 photographers.
We specifically went through the grounds of City Hall because Mark wanted to show me the pillows he had seen on a previous tour there. These are colorful cushions, which visitors are welcome to relax on. But be careful, they are not soft – they are made of concrete!
We then returned to the old city, entering through the New Gate into the Christian Quarter, passing Santa’s residence in Jerusalem on the way. Ho Ho Holy Land.
From there, we made our way to the Jaffa Gate, and then down through the Marketplace towards the Western Wall. This walk through the Arab market, with all the merchants selling the ceramic wares and the embroidered dresses, was very much how I remember the old city from my childhood (maybe a bit cleaner and more organized than it was way back then).
We reached the waiting area for the tunnel tour, which was still over an hour away. Tours leaving sooner were all sold out, but I was happy to sit in the air-conditioned lobby and wait. Mark in the meantime went to pray Mincha at the Kotel.
Things I learned on the tour – 1 – the Wailing Wall (the Kotel) that we see is just a small part of the wall that surrounded the temple. The wall extends a bit further south and much farther north. Since 1968, archeologists have been excavating the area. The plan is to make the Kotel area two layers – that is to add an additional prayer place below the Kotel plaza that currently exists. Today, when you go to the Kotel, only the first 6 or 7 rows of rocks are from the time of the second temple. The rocks above are from later time periods. Below the rows we see in the Kotel today, are 12 more rows of stone, all from the second temple. The plan is that this underground area will eventually become an additional place to visit the Kotel.
2 – We also saw the largest stone that makes up the wall – it is over 14 meters in length and weighs over 50 tons. It is still an unsolved mystery of how they were able to move this stone into place and use it as part of the wall.
3 – Another thing that the tour guide pointed out, was the arches that we were walking under. The plaza that the temple was built on, was an area of the mountain that was levelled off. When they wanted to build dwellings near the temple, in what is the old city today, they wanted to raise them to be close to the same level as the plaza. To do so, they built arches. There are many arches underground, and each time period has its own style of arch. During the tour we walked under arches from all the different time periods and could see the different styles.
4 – There is a new synagogue underground near the tunnels. It opened half a year before Corona and only recently started being used again on Shabbat. The synagogue is modern in its design – the tour guide explained that whatever restorations they do, they do in a modern fashion. They do not try to recreate what was – but rather, they try to put their own modern stamp on the place, like each time period put their own designs on the area.
5 – The last room we saw on the tour, was a small 50 meter room, that overlooked excavations that show a street from Bayit Rishon (3000 years ago), a mikva from Bayit Sheni, and other artifacts from more modern times. The guide emphasized that nowhere else in the world, within a 50 meter space, could you see the time span of different periods over 3000 years.
Once the tour was over, we walked back towards our car through the Jewish and Armenian quarters. Mark pointed out that we had been in all four quarters – Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Armenian – in one day. Originally we planned to eat dinner at a restaurant Michal recommended on the other side of town, but time was getting late – we still needed to pick up my dog Rusty who Tamar was babysitting, and Mark gives a shiur on Monday nights that he needed to be back in time for. Dinner instead was near where we parked the car – the Rimon Café in Mamilla. No complaints. Food was good.
Arrived home exhausted and happy. MRI results will arrive within 10 days.
Bye bye nice place!