Memorials, Inauguration, and Only Hebrew

Don’t ever trust Google maps. What they said would be a walk of 1 hour 4 minutes was actually closer to a 2 hour walk, and we’re strong walkers!  They also didn’t inform us that it was all uphill, though I knew that it would be — we were headed up a mountain, after all, Mount Herzl.

Mount Herzl is the site of Israel’s national cemetery. The tomb of Theodor Herzl, founder of modern political Zionism, lies at the top of the hill. Walking the cemetery is more like a stroll through a park  — it is forested with great views and lovely paths.

Martin Luther King Day felt like the perfect day to pay homage to Israel’s dead, and particularly to visit the grave of another leader assassinated for his conciliatory and peace-seeking beliefs, that of Yitzchak Rabin. Rabin was the Israeli prime minister who was assassinated in 1995 by a right-wing extremist for signing the Oslo Accords and the man who was President Bill Clinton’s chaver/friend. Shalom, Chaver is how President Clinton ended his eulogy to PM Rabin.

I love the simple and graceful elegance of Rabin’s black stone kissing the white one of his wife Leah, below.

rabin grave

There is a dirt path connecting Yad Vashem (Israel’s official memorial to the Holocaust) to Mount Herzl. The preferred route is to start at Yad Vashem, signifying a dark and victimized past, and from there to make the visit to the national cemetery, representing the reality of the homeland that Herzl had envisioned, the need for a Jewish homeland post-Holocaust, and the political/military coming-of-age of a people in its own land.

However, contrarians that we are, Chaim and I made the journey in the opposite direction. Though it is an amazing museum, we had no plans to visit inside Yad Vashem today in any case, in terms of time, stamina, and emotional will. I did take a few outdoor pictures, however.

Here is the main gate to Yad Vashem, aptly conjuring up Holocaust imagery.

yad vashem gate

From our brief outdoor tour there, Chaim and I took the new light rail (completed in 2010) to Mahane Yehuda to have lunch and do our near-daily fruit and vegetable shop. I took some great shots today when it was quite tame compared to Fridays.

mahane yehudamahane yehuda 2olives

Chaim headed home and I headed to the Israel Broadcasting Authority where Bili works. On my walk there, I bought a beautiful kiddush cup (that I don’t really need, but, hey, the price was right!) at an antique store, as well as a shiviti. (Helen, I finally found one!) A shiviti is a meditative plaque used to focus one’s attention on God, based on Psalms 16:8, Shiviti Adonai l’negdi tamid/I shall keep God before me always.

Bili drove me to Shoeva, the village just outside of Jerusalem where her parents live. She said I was doing a mitzvah since her parents are getting old and miss me so much. She makes it sound like I’m doing something I don’t want to do, which is certainly not the case. Chaim and I have passed by Shoeva each time we’ve come or gone from the city (enroute to Jerusalem from the airport, on the JNF tour, to and from Chaim’s mother’s grave in B’nai Brak, and to and from Tel Aviv.  I get excited every time I see the Shoeva sign, because I have spent so much time there with Bili and her family; it is my home here in Israel. Her parents kvell over me, so how could I not love them back?

Yafa is a Baghdadi Jew. Shmuel is an Ashkenazi Jew who served in the Palmach in the War of Independence. The Palmach was the elite fighting force of the Haganah, the underground army during the period of the British Mandate of Palestine. He speaks some English; Yafa speaks none. I spent most of the day speaking only in Hebrew — asking for directions, interacting with guards, shopkeepers, and passersby. I had a very interesting conversation in Hebrew with an Argentinian woman at Yad Vashem who knew the Argentinian rabbis at B’nai Jeshurun, the synagogue that Chaim and I used to attend in Manhattan. By the way, most Argentinian Jews speak a fluent Hebrew; it’s a given that they will learn it. In any case,  I was relieved that President Obama’s inauguration was on TV, and I could sit back and not think so hard in Hebrew.

Before I left, I did have one request from Shmuel that I knew he would not grant me — please, please, please would he vote tomorrow for Meretz on my behalf?  He and I have battled about Israeli politics since I met him 30+ years ago, and I can’t really expect him to move to the left now. But I had to ask nonetheless, for old time’s sake.

The Shalom Hartman Institute sent out a great article today called “The Struggle for the Israeli Right” by Yossi Klein Halevi.

Had I read it before seeing Shmuel, I might have amended my request of him. Instead of asking him to move all the way to the left, I might have asked him to move only a little bit to the left from his party of choice, Habayit Hayehudi, headed by Naftali Bennet, to a “pragmatic right” party instead. I may have had more luck.

bili's parentsolive tree

Bili’s parents and me                                       Massive olive tree at entrance to Shoeva

So, Mazal Tov, President Obama, and Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King, Jr. And good luck to Israel tomorrow in these elections, another defining moment in Israel’s evolution.


The biographical statement under the street name in Hebrew reads:

“An American leader who fought for civil rights in the United States”


2 thoughts on “Memorials, Inauguration, and Only Hebrew

  1. What a moving record of your journey. I can almost feel your comfort and the feeding of your spirit in all you write!! Thank you!

  2. Sounds like a wonderful experience reuniting with your friend, Bili’s parents. And your photographs are wonderful– the market and all it’s wonderful colors. Can almost smell the aromas. I would some day like to visit Yad Vashem. We just learned that we have cousins — distant– living in Israel. My greatgrandfather’s brother left Riga, Latvia in the 20’s and went to Israel and was in the Haganah. I Understand his name is on some pillar — Chaim Shlomo Albin– in memoriam for his fighting in the Haganah. Hope you continue to have more moving experiences and I look forward to reading about them.

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