Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Middle East--Part I

What surprised me most about Israel were the stones. Everywhere there are rocks, mostly big ones. Not just in Jerusalem, where you stare at the huge multi-ton stones that form the remains of the Western Wall.

It brought me back to grade school, when at assembly, they often read Biblical selections that would offend neither Christian nor Jew (there weren’t any other religions present back then.) So either we read a psalm or the part from Ecclesiastes about “A time for war and a time for peace…” Remember the line “A time to gather stones together and a time to cast away stones”? Now I finally know what that meant in a place where there are stones all over the place, and not just around ruins, of which there are a huge number.

We started out in Jordan, where we figured it made sense not to mention “the other place,” where we were heading in a day or two on the Royal Jordanian flight from Amman. Eileen was on a work assignment training people and meeting with officials and I turned up in time for the drive to Petra. In case you hadn’t heard, Petra is one of the more recently selected wonders of the world. It should have been one of the seven ancient wonders (of them, only the pyramids are still standing) but no one knew Petra existed since it was effectively “lost” for centuries.

It lives up to the build-up because you emerge from the Siq—the narrow entry canyon that gives you several kilometers of water systems and interesting markings to prepare you for the sight of the Treasury, the Greek-styled front carved into the red rock face of the mountain. There are other marvelous sights even if you don’t climb up torturous paths; and our runners and walkers should note that we walked the miles in and out of Petra without clambering aboard a horse, donkey, carriage, or camel, all of which were bidding for our custom.

We have squeezed a lot into eight days here in Israel. A day in West Jerusalem seeing the Israel Museum and Yad Vashem and a day in the Old City seeing the City of David, the Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Armenian Quarter, and the best falafel I’ve ever tasted from a stand near the Wall that should be named the Falafel King of the Kotel. And then we visited Eileen’s frum cousin and her daughter (who has nine children) in a seriously observant section of the city and amazingly, we emerged in good humor.

Stopped off in Be’ersheva to catch up with Grace Erdmann, teaching English in an elementary school, who gave us yet another view of life in the Holy Land. Then on to Masada—don’t even ask if we took the cable car, because we did—which is a spectacular sight along with the sadly diminished Dead Sea, victim of the country’s vicious version of privatization. Couldn’t give away the secret of the En Gedi synagogue’s warning from 2000 years ago, although it likely was the perfume they made to mask the smell of the dead.

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