ISRAEL: The Land of Milk and Honey – Part 3
It is impossible to describe a journey to Israel in capsule form……indeed each traveler will experience this destination through their own lens. In parts 1 and 2 of my “travelogue”,I shared my connections to the people, the land, the culture and a few unique experiences including dining in a Druz home and herding sheep at a Biblical Land Preserve. In this article, I will share some of the more popular tourist destinations and a sense of the religious history for which Israel is known.
MASADA NATIONAL PARK
If you are a fan of Turner Classics, you may have seen the 1981 film Masada, staring Peter O’Toole as the Roman general leading the epic siege of Masada, the mountain fortress where about 900 Jewish freedom fighters made a heroic stand against 5000 Roman soldiers. Herod the Great, King of Judea, originally built Masada as a castle complex in the last century B.C. When the ancient Romans overtook Judea in the first century A.D, the grounds became a fortress for the Jewish people. The camps, fortifications and assault ramp at its base constitute the most complete surviving ancient Roman siege system. In order to completely explore Masada, we rode a cable car, ascending to the top of the fortress located on a plateau which overlooks the Dead Sea and a breathtaking desert landscape. A walk through its ruins eclipses any powers of imagination one might bring to the battles of Masada and its meaning to the people of Israel.
Today, and throughout history, Masada remains a symbol of Jewish resistance, resilience and humanity’s ongoing struggle for freedom from oppression.
Located on Israel’s Mediterranean coast is the magnificent town of Caesarea, where ancient harbor ruins, beautiful beaches, and impressive modern residences stand side by side. On the site is an archaeological park with pillars and sculptures and the remains of an ancient amphitheater with its frescoes and stone bleachers. The restored amphitheater hosts modern day concerts during the Summer months with guests including Eric Clapton and Alanis Morissette….while the Old City boasts a range of boutiques and restaurants…and the luxurious new town is the home of The Baron deRothschild and many business moguls from Israel and abroad.
This great seaport city, built by King Herod, was the primary residence of Pontius Pilate, who visited Jerusalem only for major events. Each year during the ancient Pagan Easter, Pilate traveled to Jerusalem, where Pilate met Jesus and sentenced him. In a 1961 excavation, a piece of stone inscribed with Pilate’s name was found in Caesarea, confirming his residency there. This stone known as the Pilate stone is now housed in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
YAD VASHEM HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL
Visiting Yad Vashem, Israel’s largest Holocaust Memorial, is a gut-wrenching experience but one Not to be missed. In 1953, Yad Vashem began as an organization to document the history of Holocaust victims and the Jewish people for future generations. Sitting on the slopes of the Mount of Remembrance on the edge of Jerusalem, the new Yad Vashem opened in 2005. Shaped as a prism penetrating the mountain, the museum’s architecture creates an atmosphere for the 9 chilling galleries which present the Holocaust in photographs, films, documents, works of art and personal items found in the camps and ghetto.
Among the galleries is the Hall of Names, an emotionally charged space of photographs and names of over 3 million Holocaust victims. Visitors can search the records and submit additional names to be added to the computerized archive. In addition to the Museum, the campus has several other memorials including the Hall of Remembrance where the ashes of the dead are buried and eternal flames burn; the children’s Memorial, a dark auditorium which commemorates the one and a half million children lost in the Holocaust, and the Memorial to the deportees which is a railroad car hanging over the cliff, winding down the mountain. Lastly, the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations has over 2000 trees, in honor of non-Jews who endangered their lives to rescue Jews from the Nazis.
As a personal note, while there, I noticed a group of young female Israeli soldiers waiting to begin their tour of the museum. In conversation with them, I learned that this tour is a required part of their education as members of the army, designed to foster understanding of this moment in Israeli history and as a reminder of the impact of abuse of power.
THE OLD CITY OF JERUSALEM
Surrounded by ancient walls, The Old City, which is only 0.9 square kilometer (0.35) square miles, is believed by many to be one of the most revered places on earth. It is a place where Jewish, Muslim, Christians and Armenians live together, with the Muslim quarter being the most populated.
Each quarter has its own distinct culture, architecture and history, and one can spend hours wandering through the narrow alleys and soaking up the unique atmosphere of each.
While the Holy Land is visited by millions of pilgrims worldwide, it is said that one does not need to be religious to appreciate the splendor of the Old City, with its historically rich sites, artifacts and museums. Included in our exploration was the Wailing Wall-the Kotel, ` considered to be the holiest site in Judaism, and a tour of the Kotel Tunnels which reveal hidden underground passages of the wall, ancient water trenches, and streets from the Second Temple period.
Visitors are encouraged to insert a wish in the cracks of the wall, which I did with the hope that the children of the Ukraine will be protected in the days ahead.
Of equal interest is the Dome of the Rock, one of the most recognizable landmarks in Jerusalem, and the site where Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed ascended to Heaven. Significant to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike is The Mount of Olives (a mountain ridge located east of Jerusalem’s Old City), believed to be the site where many important events occurred in the lives of Biblical figures such as King David, Jesus and the Prophet Muhammad. And, lastly, is the Via Dolorosa, or the “Way of Sorrow”, which winds along the narrow streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, tracing the fourteen stations of the cross, and ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to be the site where Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected.
These are just a few of the many significant religious landmarks in Israel, home to many different religions and faiths.
MACHANE YEHUDA MARKET
No trip to Israel would be complete without indulging in its rich culinary history, influenced by its location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and North African regions.
Close to the Old City and in the very heart of Jerusalem is the Machane Yehuda market, or shuk, the largest market in Jerusalem with over 250 vendors, selling everything from fruit and vegetables to specialty foods. A myriad of sights, sounds, and smells, it is an intense sensory experience, from magnificent sculpted displays of spices, and a mouthwatering array of foods including the traditional dishes of falafel, hummus and halva to the less familiar Malabi, a sweet dessert made from milk, sugar and rosewater, topped with pistachios and syrup.
This was a delightful way to end our culinary tour of the market, a must stop for any “foodies”!!
AND SO MUCH MORE
Eilat, the Golan Heights, the art galleries of Tel Aviv, the nightlife, the flea markets of Jaffa, the beaches……….with only the luxury of a 10-day visit, I left Israel reluctantly but “forever changed” with a deeper understanding of this wonderous country and an unquenchable desire to return once again to a destination that in many ways feels like “home”.
And in the words of another, “It’s a big world out there, it would be a shame not to experience it”.