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:
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):
. . . 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!:
Tower of David, Ammunition Hill, Mount Herzl
The Western Wall Tunnels
The Western Wall
The First Station
Old City Walls Promenade
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo
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?