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Three Themes

I am expanding this entry on 6 October, the morning after my return. I have bolded the part I wrote the day after the events described.

Another brief note, I'm afraid. Much less collapsed than yesterday when we returned, but wasn't going to skip wine in the garden with the group!

Yuval, our Israeli guide, said in the morning that the day would address three themes that govern Israeli culture: security, the Holocaust, and religion.

We started the day with Col. Danny Tirza, ret., the architect of the Security Barrier who went with us to the security wall and talked about the rationale for it. Col. Tirza is an engaging, articulate man who really believes in what he does. And he is one of our extremely prominent speakers. He was present at the 2000 Camp David talks with Ehud Barak, Yasser Arafat, and Bill Clinton.

He began his presentation at the foot of a section of the wall overlooking the West Bank. H e pointed out Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the wall between them.

Col. Tirza explained the situation of the widespread suicide bombings that led to his being asked to design a wall. He presented the figures indicating a greatly reduced level of such incidents since its construction. The colonel said that the pictures of the huge wall--nearly three stories high--were misleading, as it is only like that in urban areas, whereas in rural areas it is simply a double fence of barbed wire and electronic sensors. He detailed the challenges to its design in which he sought to minimize its impact on both Israelis and Palestinians. He admitted that in many places, the wall has separated Palestinian villages and neighborhoods from the olive groves that are their main support. But he said that every effort was made to incorporate special agricultural access points. He said that in general the infamous checkpoints could be crossed in about twenty minutes or so. Col. Tirza said that graffiti had been a problem, but that they had finally given up on clearing it. "I am proud of the graffiti," he said, for it indicates that Israel is a democratic society. After his presentation, we cordially bid him good-bye and dropped him off on the way to his next appointment.

Col. Tirza struck me as a humane person who made every effort to integrate security and human needs in following his orders. Despite his saying he welcomed questions, he did not strike me as a person who is used to being questioned.

In our discussion at the aforementioned wine in the garden gathering--of course after the events of the day--Faraj and Yuval both added interesting footnotes to the experience. Faraj emphatically denied Col. Tirza's account of a suicide attack on a school bus in which 19 children died. Most of us felt that this was too adamant a denial, for indeed many children did die in the suicide attacks along with other innocent people--something Faraj did not deny. More convincing was Faraj's assertion that far more of the wall is the nine meter monstrosity than was presented to us. This certainly rings true, and in any case, the question is more one of disrupted lives than aesthetics anyway.

More interesting was Yuval's revelation that throughout the colonel's talk, he had been texting his dad, the aforementioned aide to the late Ytzak Rabin. His father said that with one exception we could not have a better spokesman for this position. I wish I could recall more of the conversation as Yuval read it off his phone, but it did confirm that our suspicion was correct that things were more nuanced than the account we had heard. Yuval said that he does not believe that the great fall-off in suicide attacks in Israel is due to the wall. He pointed out that there are large areas in the north where there is no wall because of inconvenience to settlers. It would be simple for terrorists to get through these places. No, he says, the attacks have fallen off because they didn't work.

Then we went to Yad Vashem, where we had a fine guided tour. More later.

We were dropped off at the visitors' center at Yad Vashem. As we would have a guided tour there, our own guides took a break. Like the Israel Museum, Yad Vashem is arranged not as a single building but as a campus. We met our guide, whose name was Liz, in the Grove of the Righteous Among the Nations, where each tree has a plaque commmorating someone who aided Jews during the Holocaust. Liz then took us into the main part of the memorial, a building designed to give the effect of walking into a tunnel that gradually takes the visitor into the gathering disaster.

We all expected the experience to be intense and difficult, and it was. However, as most of our group, being from the DC area, had been to our Holocaust Museum more than once, the emotional effect was muted. That is not to say that it is not powerful and a good thing to encounter through several senses the experiences of the Holocaust. Though the architecture is different from that of the museum in Washington, most of the displays are similar. One difference that I experienced though involved a room where numerous photographs of people who died, along with some pictures of documents, is displayed. In Washington, there is a room where hundreds of photos of a single village are shown in a tower effect rising above the visitor's head. This is one of the most powerful exhibits there. But because this was a small village in Poland, many of the people are "foreign" looking. At Yad Vashem, the pictures are much more varied, and a majority of the people look like our own relatives, friends and neighbors. For me, the effect was therefore more immediate. This evening I mentioned this to Valerie, Mejdi's logistics coordinator, and she said that her grandmother's sister's picture was among those I had seen.

The museum tour ends at a beautiful panoramic view out on the countryside, indicating that at the end of the Holocaust was. . . Israel. On the bus moving on to our next stop, Yuval told the story of his grandfather who emigrated to Israel in 1939. As I recall Yuval's account, this grandfather was the only one who survived. It was Yuval's plan to walk us through an ultra-orthodox neighborhood for commentary on religion. But by 3:00, with Shabat approaching, and the streets jammed with traffic, he decided instead to walk us through the main market is a gloriously diverse neighborho od. Definitely more later on this!

Since writing the above, I note that a fine summary of the day has been posted at

http://holylandpilgrimage2013.wordpress.com Okay, I promised to write about the market "later," thinking I would get to it before my return home! And here I am. But it was an amazing experience. The market is huge, and it was packed--last chance to shop for Shabat. People of all descriptions--Orthodox Jews; veiled women; western-looking folk, some in skimpy dress; old grandmas; lots of kids of all ages--crowding stalls of fruit, veggies, meat, fish, cheese, halvah, filo sweets, and on and on. There was a clear central aisle through the main part of the market, so Yuval told us to just walk ahead and he would meet us a the other end. So that's what we did, and when we got there, a few people said, "Let's do it again!" There was no time. I know people went back at some point. But as I was not in a position to cook and it can be a hassle getting food through customs when returning to the States, I did not return.

Yuval tied up the day on a street corner near the market, where he spoke about the diversity of Israeli society, and said that is the most meaningful aspect of his country for him. Israel is filled with music of all types--classical, rock, folk, rap. The art scene is vibrant from huge traditional western art museums to small galleries, urban and not, and edgy art fairs. He thinks that at the core of this diversity and creativity is the resurrected Hebrew language. It is the only case in history of a language that had existed only in a religious cocoon for thousands of years being transformed for contemporary use, with thousands of words being created to cover cars and television, never mind the internet. He believes that this has led to a rare level of creativity in using the language, and he spoke enthusiastically about Israel as a center for poetry and other literature. Needless to say, I responded positively to all this.

Colonel Tirza explains the Wall

Colonel Tirza explains the Wall

Grove of the Righteous Among the Nations

Grove of the Righteous Among the Nations

Mahane Yehuda Market

Mahane Yehuda Market

Posted by mlld3536 17:00 Archived in Israel

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