Finally, I was able to fulfill a lifelong dream: to visit Israel! I established myself at the David Intercontinental Hotel, near the seashore along Kauffman Street. I made friends with the bartender, Nikola, and after recovering from jet lag and while Shabbat was closing, I strolled down Kaufmann to the Hatachana, the old Jaffa Train Station that is now a mall with cafes and featuring nice boutiques selling high-end clothes, jewelry, and ceramics.
I then visited the IDF Museum, which shows the history and equipment of the Israeli military from the days of the pre-state Haganah. I saw the exhibit of the Signal Corps, which began with carrier pigeons and a heliograph. Moving on to the exhibit of captured enemy equipment, a group of young IDF soldiers came in to listen to a lecture; I moved away, not wanting to bother them as they were learning. I moved on next to the Carmel Market, which had small shops for books, food, and tourist items. Young people carrying military rifles, presumably IDF solders off duty, strolled along-but, I reflect, and they ever off duty?
I took a tour of the Yitzak Rabin Museum, which told the story of the young farmer-soldier who dedicated his life to the defense of Israel, took part in the reclaiming of Jerusalem, became Prime Minister, negotiated with Yasser Arafat and tried to make peace with the Palestinians, and was assassinated for his efforts. It was all a moving story, showing all his facets-military man, Chief of Staff, husband, father, grandfather, ambassador, peace maker. (I could not take photos, everything was copyrighted.) It was near a military base andI saw several young people in uniform.
Later that day, I went down Ahad Haam Street through the Neve Tzedek district, down Rothschild Boulevard and to the Israel Independence Museum, originally the home of Mier Dizengoff, the first mayor of Tel Aviv, which became a museum and where David Ben-Gurion read Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948. I had a coffee at the Café 12 on Rothschild Boulevard, where there were, as in this country, young people hanging out. I walked through Neve Tzedek, down Allenby Road, then down Jaffa Road and Eilat Road, getting a good view of the city.
Later on, I visited the Palmach Museum, staffed by military personnel. This is dedicated to the elite military unit of pre-state Israel. I was with a group of school kids, guided by young female soldiers, as we went through the museum. It is formatted so that you sense and feel the experiences of a group of young Jewish pioneers gathering for rigorous training to become an elite force, sensing their hardships and camaraderie.
My foreign travel adventure showed me that people are as much alike as they are different; there are couples holding hands and kids riding bicycles. The humanity is the same.
I went next on the bus to Jerusalem, and I was virtually adopted by Shimon, my taxi driver, studying to be a tour guide, to help me on the way to the Kotel (Western Wall). He showed me through the Old City, pointing out the Armenian Section. A few miles away was the Palestinian area. Shimon boasted of how in Israel, high-up officials who were convicted of crimes were put in prison, while in America they get off.
I got out of the taxi and went through the men’s entrance of the Kotel mall, and I put on my kippah. I took a little sheet of paper to write a prayer to put inside the wall, and I walked over to the wall and put the note in. I saw older Orthodox men play and sway, but I didn’t know what to pray, so I put my hands on the wall; that was my prayer.
Do you remember the old Hasidic story of the little kid who did not know how to pray? He just said the Hebrew letters, knowing that God would arrange them in the right way. That’s how it was with me.
Later on, Shimon took me on a tour of Jerusalem, showing me the old Knesset building, which will become the Knesset museum; the modern hotels and upscale apartment buildings, made from the ancient stones. The various districts that make Jerusalem seem like different cities-one all modern and trendy, the other Orthodox and Hasidic. Shlomo said you can tell which Hasidic faction the men belonged to by their hats; how the average Orthodox family could have over a dozen kids, The men don’t work, or do military service, but study Talmud all day. The government gives them money for their children. Shlomo took me next to one of the outdoor restaurants for a Jerusalem sandwich, then we strolled around one of the outdoor market districts near Jaffa Road.
There are several spots I could not get to, in the short span of time, and I had to be careful with my funds; but I have enjoyed my first time in Israel, and trust me, it won’t be the last.