Israel: Day 14 (and a bit of day 13)

September 16, 2023 • 9:15 am

It’s Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and also Sabbath. All this means that Jerusalem is closed down tighter than Mitch McConnell’s mind, and even Donald Trump has more neurons than there are people in the street.  Here’s a photo taken about noon on Jaffa Street, one of the main streets of the city. It’s BARREN! The only people afoot are pious Jews on their way to and from shul:

I saw NO stores or restaurants open today—not one. This is a disaster for me, as I decided not to purchase the expensive breakfasts in my hotel, thinking that surely some Arab or secular Jew would be serving noms somewhere.

I was wrong. Perhaps in the Muslim quarter of the Old City they are dispensing dishes of hummus, but after a long morning’s walk I’m too tired to find out.  And so I’m resting in the afternoon heat, with my only food for the day consisting of cookies.

But enough tsouris. Here are a few photos from my visit yesterday to Yad Vashem, Israel’s huge memorial to the Holocaust.  It consists of several parts, including the dominant Holocaust History Museum, in which I spent over three hours, as well as a Children’s Memorial, which was closed, as was the Hall of Holocaust Art (though there’s plenty of that art in the Museum), and also closed was the Hall of Names, which tries to document every person killed in the Holocaust. Here’s a summary from Wikipedia:

Established in 1953, Yad Vashem is located on the Mount of Remembrance, on the western slope of Mount Herzl, a height in western Jerusalem, 804 meters (2,638 ft) above sea level and adjacent to the Jerusalem Forest. The memorial consists of a 180-dunam (18.0 ha; 44.5-acre) complex containing two types of facilities: some dedicated to the scientific study of the Holocaust, and memorials and museums catering to the needs of the larger public. Among the former there are an International Research Institute for Holocaust Research, an archives, a library, a publishing house and the International School for Holocaust Studies; the Holocaust History Museum, memorial sites such as the Children’s Memorial and the Hall of Remembrance, the Museum of Holocaust Art, sculptures, outdoor commemorative sites such as the Valley of the Communities, as well as a synagogue.

A core goal of Yad Vashem’s founders was to recognize non-Jews who, at personal risk and without financial or evangelistic motives, chose to save Jews from the ongoing genocide during the Holocaust. Those recognized by Israel as Righteous Among the Nations are honored in a section of Yad Vashem known as the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations. [One of these is Oskar Schindler, whose famous list is in the Museum.]

Yad Vashem is the second-most-visited Israeli tourist site, after the Western Wall, with approximately one million visitors each year. It charges no admission fee.

I was unable to make reservations online for some reason, but I showed up at opening time and was the first person admitted. Here’s Yad Vashem’s site on Mt. Herzl (where Theodor Herzl, the “father of Zionism” is also buried:

The Visitors’ Center is in front, with the large triangular History Museum behind it. Other places are scattered through the lovely wooded site.

No photos are allowed inside, so I took none. All I can say is that the Museum has a ton of stuff, arranged chronologically beginning when the Nazis took power, going through their gradual oppression of the Jews, the formation of ghettos, the camps and executions of Jews, and finishing (after several hours if you look at everything) with the Allied liberation of the camps, in some ways the most heartbreaking bit.

I’ll say only three things: of the Holocaust-related sites I’ve visited, this is one that, like Auschwitz, will change your life and view of humanity. Second, if you are in Jerusalem and don’t visit Yad Vashem, you’re making a huge mistake. Finally, given the tons and tons of evidence on display, anybody who denies the Holocaust is a blithering idiot. And yet many do; it’s as ridiculous as denying that the Earth is spherical.

Here’s Herzl’s grave, which I didn’t see, in a photo from Wikipedia. He died at only 44 of heart disease and was originally buried in Vienna. His remains were moved to Israel in 1949:

On the way back to town on the tram, there were quite a few ultra-Orthodox Jews (Haredim). Several, like this young man, were reading bits of the Torah and praying or reading aloud. (Note the diagnosic sidelocks, called payot). While I feel a genetic kinship (and, indeed, have one) with the Haredim, their beliefs—and especially the way they treat their women and pollute the minds of their children—appall me. Such is my inner conflict with religious Jews.

Back in town, there were police (with sniffer d*gs) and IDF soldiers everywhere, preparing for any holiday-related terrorism:

But on a nearby door, the Lion of Judah was there to protect me:

I went to lunch at the nearby place I call “Mr. Falafel,” because that’s what he looks like. A falafel in half a pita with all the trimmings, including fries, makes a satisfying lunch.

Yesterday’s lunch avec Fanta. I swear: I could survive on hummus and falafel alone, and they’re healthy!

Since today was a holiday, I figured I’d have a long walk around the ultra-Orthodox area of Jerusalem: the Mea Sharim. Insofar as they can, the inhabitants here live the life of a 19th century shtetl: no t.v., no music, schools teaching only religion, all men dressed in black with religious accoutrements, and so on. Many of the women shave their heads, covering them with wigs and scarves, and must undergo ritual purification after their periods.

And of course shabbos is observed from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. I wanted to take photos, too, but tried to do so with some respect, not letting people see me with my camera. I realize that this too is disrespectful in a way, as I’m seeing these people as curiosities as well as humans, but sue me.

I’ve mentioned my cognitive dissonance about this group. They have so much diligence, and such respect for learning, but then squander it all on religious learning. Kids are brainwashed from birth, never getting a chance to have secular learning. Women are taught that their role is to take care of the home and breed prolifically; rarely do you see a mother without a passel of kids in tow. All this waste and oppression in the service of a delusion!

And yet why do I feel a kinship with them? I do not know.

Some photos from around Mea Sharim this morning. First a flag that I assume is the flag of Jerusalem:

The residents:

Haredim break out the fur hats, which can cost several thousand dollars, on special occasions like today. And remember: it’s hot!

Every haredi child I see breaks my heart. Their entire lives are mapped out for them, a life just like that of their parents:

Many of the haredim are poor and prefer to study the Torah rather than engage in jobs. The Israeli government, to its discredit, promotes this by giving them subsidies (ultra-Orhodox are also exempt from Army service). Some of the homes I saw were shabby, but I can’t say they’re all like that. When I took this photo I heard religious singing from within:

You never see a young family without a stroller, and often with four or five kids. The woman’s job is to have a big brood.

The man on the right is the only black Orthodox Jew I’ve seen in Israel.

All over the city are stickers showing the scary visage of Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994). But he wasn’t really scary, and was quite magnanimous for an Orthodox rabbi (read the bio):

From Wikipedia:

. . . known to many as the Lubavitcher Rebbe or simply the Rebbe, [Schneerson] was an Orthodox rabbi and the most recent Rebbe of the Lubavitch Hasidic dynasty. He is considered one of the most influential Jewish leaders of the 20th century.

As leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, he took an insular Hasidic group that almost came to an end with the Holocaust and transformed it into one of the most influential movements in religious Jewry, with an international network of over 5,000 educational and social centers.  The institutions he established include kindergartens, schools, drug-rehabilitation centers, care-homes for the disabled, and synagogues.

Schneerson’s published teachings fill more than 400 volumes. . . He is recognized as the pioneer of Jewish outreach. During his lifetime, many of his adherents believed that he was the Messiah. His own attitude to the subject, and whether he openly encouraged this, is hotly debated among academics. During Schneerson’s lifetime, the messianic controversy and other issues elicited fierce criticism from many quarters in the Orthodox world, especially earning him the enmity of Rabbi Elazar Shach.

Schneerson moved to the US in 1941, eventually building his synagogue in Brooklyn. I visited there years ago, giving my non-Jewish girlfriend a tour of NY Judaism, and we were immediately swept up by Lubavitchers. She was spirited to the “women’s section” of the synagogue, where ladies were allowed to watch the real worship below from behind a small screen, while I was draped, despite my objections, with a yarmulke, a tallis, and tefillin wrapped around my arm. I was then forced onto the synagogue floor where hundreds of Lubavitchers were praying and davening. I refused to pray, of course, but they prayed over me, hoping that this would constitute a mitzvah that would hasten the return of the Messiah.

Curiously, many Lubavitchers believed that Schneerson was the messiah, and refused to believe he had died. Read about him on Wikipedia; he had an amazing life, working 18 hours a day every day and never taking a vacation.

Back to Jerusalem: I was getting famished and saw this sign, but of course the place was closed. Even as I write this my tummy is growling:

No soup for me! Kubbe has semolina dumplings in it. I won’t mention the soup dispenser in Seinfeld.

The lost and found police station, once the residence of the British consul:

Note the lions. This is what you get when you shoot into the sun with a dirty camera lens.

And, as I see so often, a sign where a terrorist attack occurred. Those who can read Hebrew are invited to translate it in the comments:

Jerusalem Monopoly—a “fast dealing property game.” I’m dying to find out what the properties are named.

Wait: I just found out!:

Locations include:

David’s Tomb
Teddy Stadium
Presidential Residence
Tower of David, Ammunition Hill, Mount Herzl
The Western Wall Tunnels
The Western Wall
The Kotel
The First Station
Montefiore Windmill
Old City Walls Promenade
Mea She’arim
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Lion’s Gate
The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo
Chords Bridge
The Knesset
The Israel Museum
Mount of Olives
Mahane Yehuda Market
City of David.

This board game can bring Biblical locations to life. It also teaches some basic math and counting skills through all the wheeling and dealing among players. Monopoly: Jerusalem Edition can also be an effective Hebrew School teaching aid for children ages 8+.

A kitty outside my hotel, where I was looking in vain for food:

And a kitty on the window of a sushi joint. Hebrew readers: what is it saying?

Lord, am I hungry. Where is my manna?

25 thoughts on “Israel: Day 14 (and a bit of day 13)

  1. Lots of people I know—-including some of my own Jewish relatives—think that the Hasidim are either vestiges of the “original” Jews or that they live their lives as the original Jews lived theirs. My guess is that people believe this because the Hasidim seem to live primitive lives and practice primitive customs.

    In fact, they are not remnants of the early Jews. Hasidim represent a relatively recent development in Jewish history. (Read about it here: Of course they are free to live their lives in the way they want, but their extreme customs and dress color people’s perceptions of who the Jewish people are. They are highly visible, often reject science (COVID vaccinations and precautions) and all the rest, all of which are unhelpful to the public perception of Jews and Judaism.

  2. google translate on help wanted ad?
    Kitchen needed
    for part-time/full-time work

  3. google translate on memorial
    Bat Sheva Unterman Lily (Debora) Goren Jean Reloy
    who were murdered at this place in a terrorist attack in 19 Sion 5558 (2.7.08)

    On July 2, 2008, an Arab resident of East Jerusalem identified as Hussam Taysir Duwait (also referred to as Hussam Duwiyat,[2] Hossam Dawyyat,[3] or erroneously as Jabr Duwait[4]) attacked several cars on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem in a vehicle-ramming attack using a front-end loader (erroneously referred to as a bulldozer in the media[5]), killing three people and wounding at least thirty other pedestrians, before being shot to death.

    1. Efrat Unterman, the five-month-old baby whose mother threw her out of her car window to save her during Wednesday’s horrific terrorist attack on the capital’s Jaffa Road, was reunited with her father on Thursday. The child’s mother, Batsheva Unterman, 33, was one of the three people during the bulldozer rampage by a Palestinian from east Jerusalem. Seconds before her car was struck, she saved her baby by throwing the child to safety. The baby escaped unhurt. It took hours to locate the child’s father, who did not know his wife and baby were involved in the attack, rescue services said Thursday.

      i better leave, dominating the comments in violation of the rules

  4. One thing I’ve never understood: How did Hasidim from the Polish/Ukrainian/Western Russian area decide back in the 19th century, “ah, this way we dress now, this is how our god wants us to dress forever!” It’s the same question I have about dress for some other niche religious movements, though it makes some sense for the Amish because they’re basically Luddites. But who decides suffocating black overcoats and hats, regardless of weather, is what their god wants? And why?

    1. My understanding is that the orthodox Jewish uniform is borrowed from the dress of the
      17th century small-time gentry (the szlachty) of Poland and western Ukraine under Polish rule. This is, of course, particularly evident in the shtreimel or fur hat. I suppose this anachronistic costume was adopted before the 19th century, and have no idea how it spread among pious Jews in that century.

      Once, when I visited Brooklyn and was eating with friends at a restaurant near Williamsburg, we observed a group of Haredim walking by outside. My friends claimed that they were simple Amish farmers who raised goats in the pastures of Greenpoint.

  5. I do hope that the Holocaust History Museum covered the deplorable history of the
    persecution of the Jews in Europe for many centuries that culminated in the Third

    1. For what it’s worth, the Holocaust changed international law. At the Nuremberg Tribunals, the high-ranking surviving Nazis could only be charged and convicted of crimes committed after Hitler transgressed the borders of Germany as an act of war (i.e., into Poland and elsewhere). (The Americans particularly wanted to avoid the tribunals being seen merely as victors’ justice.) The existing crimes of waging aggressive war and crimes against humanity applied from then on but only outside Germany. There was in 1945 no international convention restricting the right of a sovereign state to do whatever it wanted to its citizens within its own borders. So the Nuremberg laws and all the brutality committed and abetted by the regime against Jews and others in Germany could not be punished or even examined.

      Raphael Lemkin’s almost single-handed success in getting the new United Nations to adopt the Convention on Genocide in 1948 — Lemkin himself coined the word as his own family was being exterminated — meant that génocidaires could no longer hide behind the shield of national sovereignty but would be at risk of arrest and prosecution by the international community. Signatories undertook to use military force to arrest perpetrators on their own soil.

      I don’t know if the Holocaust History Museum marks this distinction as to its book-ends — as Jerry says, every finite space has to start and end somewhere — but it is a fact that the Holocaust in Germany and in Europe was a singular event.

  6. “I’ll say only three things: of the Holocaust-related sites I’ve visited, this is one that, like Auschwitz, will change your life and view of humanity.”

    Would be very interested in a long piece from you expanding in this observation.

    1. I don’t know if I NEED a long piece to discuss this; a short one would suffice. And I wouldn’t say anything that others, like Elie Wiesel or Primo Levi, haven’t said before, and much better. They lived through it in the camps, after all.

  7. In the summer of 1987 I was part of a group of folks from the U.S. who conducted morning workshops for substance abuse service providers in Jerusalem. It was a mixed group of Palestinians and Jews. In the afternoons we were tourists, sometimes accompanied by our workshop participants. On one afternoon, we visited Yad Vashem, accompanied by several of the Palestinian workshop attendees who had never been there. At the end of our tour, several of the Palestinians remarked that they had had no idea of the suffering of the Jews during the Holocaust. The Children’s Memorial especially affected them. The Americans and Europeans in our group were dumbfounded at this response.

  8. I’m enjoying “our” trip v. much as I’ve never been to Israel, despite being to most of its neighbors. I’ll read the above later today, but there are actually plenty of “hats” (Orthodox, as we call them in NYC) in Tel Aviv. They keep ’em in Bnei Brak , a pious neighborhood not far from you.

    I’d visit there (or Mea Shearim) b/c I’m interested in fundamentalism as a thing.
    Keep well,

  9. I worry about the future of Israel as a secular state. The ultraconservative Jews have many more children than secular Jews, and the recent election show that like other conservative religions that gain secular power they will impose their beliefs on everyone.

  10. Some of you may know that UCL was founded in the 1820s to be a university without a religious test, so Jews, non-conformists, Catholics, and even women were allowed in! It was referred to as the ‘Godless institution of Gower Street,’ and the associated hospital, UCH was often called Jew-CH. It’s still true that the Jewish population of north London regard UCH as their hospital, and send their sons and daughters there to train. So imagine an innocent 22 year old goy sitting in on a gynaecology clinic there with a middle-aged Jewish lady in the 1970s. She seemed to have a succession of orthodox Jewish patients, and how they delighted in shocking me! Not with the gynaecological bits, but the customs! Everything began “Did you know that….?” as they amused themselves telling this little outsider all about ritual purification and buying their wigs. The more uncomfortable I looked the more they giggled. Later it reminded me of the Mennonite community near my practice. Their womenfolk led restricted lives, but get them together with a non-threatening outsider and they’d talk all day of how they really ran the show and just let the menfolk think they were in charge. I guess that’s some consolation for the narrowness of their lives as they appear to the rest of us.

  11. I am fascinated by the history and culture, but confused as well. Enjoyed this post, and it raised a question or two. In most of the world, inflation is an issue, and in most of the world, the number of children per family is declining. With all these ultra-religious people having huge families, what kinds of employment do the men have that allow them to support a non-working wife and so many kids? And why do you think Israel is so different from other, similarly sized, countries, including their neighbors, in terms of their economy. Clearly Israel is doing better than its neighbors. They remind me of Mormons (from when I did my post-doc in Logan), in which Utah has the most religious and fastest-growing population in the country. And it’s prosperous, relatively. But similar in that all the young women have babies and are pregnant. It seems to me that to support that kind of economy, the men must be working in something very lucrative and in which case, it seems a bit avaricious and counter to what I’d expect from very religious people.

  12. SABBATH sounds like English Sundays in the 1950s. But you could still get stuff from a corner shop. I thought it was a secular state?! Surely if there is a market for opening someone would?

  13. If they refuse to fight then they won’t last long! The US subsidises Israel so I suppose indirectly subdidises these religious nutters…!

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