Further Explorations In Jerusalem

Wednesday December 21, 2016

We are still in Jerusalem and had a much different day sightseeing than yesterday.

Our first stop was at the Israel Museum. It is a combination archaeological-historical-Judaica-ethnography and art museum, with a large outdoor sculpture garden thrown in. The historic part goes all the way from early hominid bones and the first instances of pottery, through all of the various kingdoms that ruled here, up to exhibits from the 20th century. The amazing thing is that a large majority of the items actually come from Israel!  This is not the case, say, in our own Field Museum in Chicago.

Immediately after entering (senior discount for Wendy as it starts at age 60 for women, but not for Wayne as it is 65 for men!), we started off by wandering around the outskirts--overwhelming.  Then, we stepped into the Dead Sea Scrolls  exhibit (also housing the Aleppo Codex -- a medieval bound manuscript of the Hebrew Bible, used as the source for copies for hundreds of years). The scrolls were written between the 3rd Century BC and AD 68. All this is housed in a building designed to look like the pottery in Qumram (near Masada) where the Scrolls were found by a goat herder in 1947.

Next we went into the main building. First we were in a gallery looking at the bones of the Naufian Man, found near kibbutz Maayan Baruch in the Hula Valley who was actually ritually buried around 14,000 years ago--late Paleolithic Period.

Then Yuval overheard another guide telling some young women  (in Hebrew) that these were not really the bones of a human since they were not from a Jewish person. He repeated this to us and explained that this is the Orthodox perspective, and he was quite upset that another generation of children is being indoctrinated this way. (Another similar story: Yuval heard an orthodox gentleman say  "there are 4 kinds of living things: plants, animals, speaking animals, and humans". By that categorization they mean that the third group is made up of all non-Jewish people, the fourth of Jews. This is one of the reasons why peace and peaceful coexistence in this region may be so difficult.)

Next, we strolled over to the Judaica and Jewish ethnography exhibit which houses an extraordinary collection of ritual and day-to-day items.  One of the most compelling sections here was the re-assembled sanctuaries from Germany, Suriname, Cochin (India), and Venice (some of which are seen below). 

These were fascinating to us but not altogether unfamiliar as we have seen synagogues around the world.

We stopped briefly in the art museum section--both Israeli and non-Israeli artists--this is an impressive collection representing many renowned artists. Outside there was a work by Anish Kapoor, who also designed Cloudgate ("The Bean") in Chicago (and to which this bears some resemblance). This piece is called "Inverted Jerusalem" because the city is reflected upside-down. (See other of his works here.)

The Billy Rose Statue Garden was amazing; this is just a sampler.
Woman After Eating Too Many Sufganiyot

 Man who refuses to sample sufganiyot

Then, there is this iconic piece.
אהבה  (a-ha-va) means "Love"

We could easily have spent the entire day there and even longer if we tapped into more of Yuval's vast knowledge. But it was time to move on.

The Dome of the Rock is accessible to non-Muslims only twice a day; once in the morning and once in the afternoon, for about an hour each time. We had just enough time to drive back into the old city and queue up to get in.

Remember that this mosque now sits on Temple Mount in the spot where the 2nd Temple was and where the Foundation Rock (where Abraham took Isaac to be sacrificed) is. Parts of it are 1,500 years old, and it is one of the best examples of early Islamic architecture. It is really quite beautiful, with amazing mosaic designs in a number of patterns. Some say it rivals the Taj Mahal in its magnificence. Remember, this is MUCH older and is mosque, not a tomb.

Across the wide plaza is another mosque...the Al-Aqsa, the third holiest site in Sunni Islam...

... an imposing and impressive building, though not in any way as ornate as its partner. Wendy and Emily had seen the Temple Mount from afar in 2014 (there had been an "incident" that morning; security is quite tight throughout the Old City); so visiting today was quite a treat.

We left the Mount by exiting through one of the alleys in the Old City market (remember the other day when, going the other way, we were told entry is not allowed, but obviously exit is), and walked back through the crowded paths to exit at the Damascus Gate. Crossing the street we were in East Jerusalem, and all the store signs were in Arabic.

Eventually we cut back across the dividing street and were once again in West Jerusalem, on our way to "the best falafel in the world"!  It was a small Yemeni proprietor storefront (most falafel stands have no seating) and very crowded (even at 1:45) so we knew it would be good. There are basically 2 things on the non-existent menu: falafel in a pita (traditional) or a falafel wrap (modern). Each comes packed with tahini, hot sauce, pickles and a few French Fries!! You can also customize it yourself with a half dozen other condiments. We ate outside on a bench. Soooo good!  Much better than the falafel we have had at home.

The frying pan in which they prepared the falafel looked surprisingly like the pan from which we had tempura in 2006 (file that under tasty ancient, unhealthy lunches we've known and loved around the world)!

We then continued walking through West Jerusalem until we got to Ben Yehudah street, a beautiful wide thoroughfare (with no cars, but a light rail line running down the middle) that reminded us a little of the Ramplas in Barcelona.

Contrary to what we reported yesterday, the buildings on this street also have that traditional Mediterranean look; many were built during the period of the British Mandate.

Also happy to report that Kippa Man is still in business since the last time Wendy was here.

Of course, in such a popular shopping area, you know there would be many opportunities for sufganiyot photos and sampling.

Eventually we turned off the main street and cut back into and through the Mahane Yehuda Market, and continued walking until we reached the King David.

An hour's rest and then it was time for dinner. Tonight's restaurant is called Mona's. Wendy, Emily, Susan  and Yuval ate here together in 2014  and it was so great that Wendy wanted to return . It was about a 20 minute walk from the hotel. Happily we were joined by one of Wendy's Hands of Peace friends, Hamutal Blanc.

So for this food extravaganza we get to describe four dishes for each course instead of the usual two! Also, we have noted that restaurants set up with all of the silverware on the right hand side of the plate. Is this because they read right to left? Or is there some other reason. We don't remember ever having seen this anywhere else.  

Two of us began with delectably delicate sashimi--whitefish with cucumber foam and tuna in a hot chili broth.  Hamutal had corn ravioli nestled on beets and Wayne chose a salad with persimmons.

For mains, the photos don't really do the flavors justice.  Wendy chose sea bream lovingly balanced on risotto with spinach.  Wayne had lamb ragu pappardelle (good work, Wayne for high experimentation marks).  Hamutal chose polenta with wild mushrooms and Yuval selected ginger Hoisin spare ribs.  Delicious and needless to say, this is not a Kosher restaurant!

Finally, we shared a dessert of chocolate cremeux on sponge cake with coffee ice cream.  Yuval took a slice of goat milk cheesecake (not pictured here) for the road.  This is a really wonderful restaurant.  Highly recommended!

Since we had logged almost 7 miles of walking today (over 18,000 steps but who's counting?) , we decided to take it easy and grab a taxi back to the hotel.

A few words about safety and security: Many of you have expressed concern about our safety in traveling to Israel.  Not to worry.  We have felt as safe here, or safer, than in many of the other places we have visited. And that is not because of an overwhelming police or military presence. On the contrary: the thought of danger has hardly even crossed our minds due to the friendly nature of the people and the general welcoming climate. 

Outside of Jerusalem, about the only sign of the IDF that we saw was the border posts along the Golan Heights. And there were no security checks or other signs (real or imagined) of danger. We felt totally safe walking around anywhere at any time.

In Jerusalem there are many more soldiers walking around (although in the Old City they are referred to as "Police" for political reasons). Ironically, this show of force often makes us feel less safe as the Police themselves can be target for violence. But again, we have walked around with no issue; there are plenty of people on the streets living their own lives and not causing any more trouble than one would expect in any big city.       

So, with that, we sign off.  We love blogging with you and hope you're enjoying our eating and exploration journey as much as we are.  Watch this space--we are off to Masada on Thursday.


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