At first glance we thought that a week in Jerusalem might be too much. Wrong. It’s been so nice having time to wander the city on these last three days and experience it both as a tourist but also as a part of the community.
Yesterday, after seeing our friend Elie Pierpz again during breakfast, we headed out for a tour of the Menachem Begin Museum.
Right before the tour there was another Remembrance Day Siren at 11 AM. Once again, people paused throughout Israel for two minutes. Longer ceremonies are also held throughout the day. We had a small ceremony at the museum before our tour began.
As is expected in a “Presidential-style” museum we got a very specific story about the personal and political life of the leader. But given what we learned earlier this week about the 1973 Yom Kippur War, it was fascinating to follow the post-war story about the first time lsrael’s Labor Party lost a national election since Independence in 1948, and the center-right Likud Party’s first win.
Menachem Begin’s background is fascinating; from escaping the holocaust in Poland (Nazis murdered both of his parents),
to his imprisonment by Russia in Lithuania (where he had fled to escape the Nazis), to his journey to Israel during WW2 as part of the Free Poland Army (ironically supported by Russia, which had invaded Poland at the same time as the Nazis, but then was itself invaded by the Nazis 2 years later), and eventually his leadership of the militant “Etzel” Israeli Independence Movement. His group was responsible for the attacks against the British occupation of Israel prior to its Independence, including the bombing of the King David Hotel.
His election as Prime Minister of Israel followed his 29 years in various minority parties and ultimately led to the Peace Agreement with Egypt’s President Sadat. They both shared the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize. Although he lived very modestly, he donated his $50,000 cash prize to help disadvantaged Israelis attend college.
How modestly did he live? in part of the museum we got to sit on the two very modest living room couches that he and his wife pushed together to use as their bed after their three children went to bed in the only bedroom in their one bedroom apartment, which they rented, not owned, and where they lived most of their lives.
He was responsible for convincing the Russians to eventually allow hundreds of thousands of Jews to migrate to Israel, as well as the “lost tribe” of African Jews from Ethiopia.
After finishing our tour of the museum, we took another Segway tour on the new Promenade Park with its fabulous views of the new and Old City.
This is also where you can see the big wall separating the West Bank from Jerusalem and Israel. You can also see the large UN facility (on a very nice piece of view property) where the UN still monitors the 1948 War’s cease-fire line (the “green line” that used to divide Jerusalem Into its Israeli & Jordanian halves).
The UN is still there, in the same place, even though the border with Jordan moved 10 miles east to the Jordan River & Dead Sea in 1967 (which later became the official border after the Israeli-Jordanian Peace Treaty more than 20 years ago). Because the USA is the largest funder of the UN, this is an unfortunate example of your Amercan tax dollars being wasted overseas.
After resting we headed out to experience the fun and celebration of Israel’s Independence Day (like other Israeli holidays, the holiday begins at sundown, and then continues for 24 hours until sundown on the next day). We had a great time walking around and experiencing the music, the dancing and the joyous celebration.
As the Independence Day holiday continued today, people here usually celebrate in parks with picnics and BBQ’s. But today’s weather was very unusual: it was windy, rainy and cold all day. So it felt like almost everyone in Jerusalem had the same idea: visit the huge Israel Museum and enjoy today’s free admission. Although it was crowded it was also fun and we were happy to share the museum with thousands of local families including lots and lots of children.
Amazingly, we ran into our Australian friends we met in Tel Aviv, Rick and Jan, in the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit. Most people
Although it was cold and windy we spent almost an hour outside looking at the huge model of ancient Jerusalem before the Romans destroyed it for rebelling in 66 AD.
After taking a break to warm up and get a snack we headed to the massive archaeological exhibit. But we wandered into the modern art exhibits and it was so cute watching 2 young boys giggle at this giant statue and his “pee pee” as they called it.
Although we have seen many other antiquities, in other great museums such as the Smithsonian Museum, the British Museum and the Vatican Museum, seeing the Israel Museum here in Jerusalem, having just visited the area and learning the history, created the perfect expiriential learning experience for us. It was very meaningful.
Tomorrow we meet up again with our guide Ari. I think we are going to “get dirty” at an archaeological dig.