Friday, November 26, 2010

Amazing Israel - Part 2

(My favorite of the Chagall Windows at Hadassah Hospital)

Before I launch into the rest of the highlights from my trip to Israel, I wanted to share some more observations:

What we call the West Bank, Israelis call Judea and Samaria. About 300,000 Jews live in Judea and Samaria in settlements. When I used to hear the term “settlements,” I always thought of very small communities. I never realized that three of them had populations of over 30,000 residents each. In other words, one-third actually live in cities. I don’t really want to debate whether the settlements are legal or illegal, but you can imagine how difficult it would be moving 300,000 people.

Jerusalem is a much bigger city than I realized (about 700,000 residents). It is the capital of Israel, although other countries do not recognize it as such. As a result, all of the foreign embassies are located in Tel Aviv. Obviously Jerusalem is a significant place for three major religious groups: Muslims, Jews, and Christians all have deep historical ties to the location so it is easy to see why everyone is interested in who controls the city. Not that I am an expert on Jerusalem, but I really perceived it as one big city as opposed to a disputed city (whether East Jerusalem is part of the city or not). Again, I don’t want to debate who East Jerusalem belongs to. I just thought this illustrates how complex any peace agreement would be. Think of Berlin when it was a divided city. Looking back on history, I am not sure it worked all that well.

Israel is a small place. There are a lot of people living in a small area and the population is expected to grow rapidly in the in the near future. Peace will depend on people of very different views living side by side with one another. While I want to be optimistic that this will happen, I am just not sure it will (at least anytime soon). The good of all has to be considered over the good of some. Unfortunately, self-interest usually get in the way of this.

One final note… Completely unrelated, but timely given the new TSA pat down procedures. It took Wendy and I an hour and forty-five minutes to get through security in Tel Aviv. We were one of the first two people on line. The facts that our trip involved coming home separately from our tour group and that we stayed with an Israeli family seemed to compel Israeli security forces to take a closer look at us. We spent a considerable amount of time getting interviewed by several people and having our bags thoroughly checked. Interestingly, they cared about checking all the things that don’t get a second look in the U.S. In the end, everything came out of my suitcase. They weren’t overly concerned whether my quart sized bag of liquids was pulled out or if I took off my hiking shoes. And no full body scanners. I guess my point is that they rely on thorough human intelligence procedures coupled with good old fashioned going through your stuff. By comparison, our airport security is pretty lax. I somehow doubt newfangled technology alone will solve our security issues.

Now onto some more highlights:

The forth day was really a Hadassah intense day. We spent the morning visiting with Americans in Hadassah’s Young Judea year course. This is a year-long program where students live in three different places in Israel for three months each. In addition to experiencing life in Israel, they do volunteer work and learn Hebrew. While kids do earn college credit for their work and study, this is more like a gap year program between high school and college. I ended up going to the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo to meet with a handful of participants. Really, we were supposed to volunteer there (I guess do what they do at the zoo). Instead, it was more of a tour of the zoo and chat about the program and what they did at the zoo. It was really interesting to talk with the kids participating. If I have one regret about my college life, it is that I didn’t have an international experience. At the time, I just didn’t see how it could happen. It would be complicated and cost a lot of money. Now I see the immense value of living somewhere else for a year. My dream now is to provide this opportunity to my kids in the future.

We spent the afternoon visiting the Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem Campus. Hadassah is building a new 14 story tower there. Normally I am not very interested in hearing about construction and capital projects, but this was a bit different. In the U.S., we don’t build very many things with serious security threats in mind. In Israel they do, so the first five stories of the new hospital tower are underground. They will contain all the operating facilities for the hospital. In addition, the first two floors are being built to withstand an attack.

The next day started with a speaker named Rena Quint. Rena is a holocaust survivor living in Jerusalem. She brought an interesting perspective as a Holocaust survivor because she was a child who lost her entire family. I never really thought about all the young orphaned children who survived. This was the perfect segue to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. Unlike the Holocaust museum in D.C., there is a rather large outdoor memorial as well. The museum is very well done. Honestly, you could spend an entire day there. It was very moving.

We spent the last few hours before Shabbat began at Machaneh Yehudah (“The Shuk”), the big outdoor market. Wendy and I met up with Joel and Ofra, a husband and wife who came to Laramie three years ago to be our camp counselors at Camp Israel. It was great to see them.

After Shabbat started, we returned to the Western Wall to see the celebration. It was extremely crowded with people. It was fun to watch the singing, dancing, and praying. There are no pictures because pictures are not allowed on this day.

Our last day was busy, but not the same busy as the previous days. We went on a walking tour of the Old City in Jerusalem. This was our only time to see it during daylight hours. We walked through the Jaffa Gate then through the Arab quarter. Our tour leader found a perch up high that allowed us to see the four quarters of the old city. We then walked through the Christian quarter to see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is the site of the resurrection of Jesus. Needless to say the place was very crowded!

That’s my trip in a nutshell. Again, it was a fabulous trip! I have recovered. I am still waiting on United customer service to answer my nicely worded complaint letter. Good thing I am not holding my breath.

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