28 Cheshvan 5759

(November 17, 1998) – Jerusalem

When it comes to breakfast, I just cannot win! When I walked in at 6:45 a.m., the General Assembly people were already there. It was an early day on their itinerary. At least they are nice. This morning was my first encounter with Ugly Americans In Jerusalem, none of whom was associated with General Assembly. Breakfast was shorter than usual because of the negative vibe from the table of Ugly Americans.

Writing this in my room, late at night after a long and confusing day, I think I am in two completely different countries. The places I saw bore little resemblance to the Old City under yesterday’s feet. Although on second thought, a very old heart beats under the newness of modern Jerusalem.

I walked up to the Knesset and Israeli Museum. Wish my camera recorded sounds and odors. Can I ever forget the intense security of the Knesset compound with its “moat” and dogs barking constantly as they patrol the perimeter? Every American president and Secretary of State should spend a week in Jerusalem to earn a sense of the realness of the danger and the paradox of the dilemmas faced here.

At first I thought they were being awfully nice to allow me inside to photograph the menorah. Then I realized that set of guards was only keeping out potential car bombers. The second set did the thorough security clearance.

The Wohl Rose Garden delighted me from start to finish. The roses were still in full bloom! Hard to believe that friends in Philadelphia were probably wearing overcoats while I wander this land in short sleeves. I am getting a tan!

To the Israeli Museum, which is sponsoring a special exhibit called The Joy of Color, a private collection on display. Lots of Chagall, Monet in the collection. But I got goosebumps when I saw Paul Klee, Emil Nolde, Gabriele Münter, Franz Marc, all Germans banned or nearly-banned during the Third Reich. Many of the pre-1933 paintings by these artists have been lost forever because of Nazi policies. (Klee and Nolde hold special meaning, because of their friendship with the family of Christoph Probst.)

And here – in a museum in Israel! – paintings dated 1911, 1918, from these gifted artists! It would only have been more perfect had this collection contained Wilhelm Geyer’s fabulous work. But I was happy to see old familiar friends.

At breakfast, I had not intended to wander the entire museum – other things on the itinerary – but I kept going from one fascinating topic to another. This reminds me of a creative version of Munich’s Deutsches Museum.

I even worked in the Dead Sea Scrolls museum and exhibit. In the US, people tend to think of this as a “Christian” topic. And the gift shop bears that out. Trinkets for sale in that section were overwhelmingly Christian – crosses as jewelry, t-shirts, and the like. While the artifacts on display supported a completely different point of view, with prayer shawls and a halakhic supplement. The dichotomy of the Dead Sea Scrolls museum pervades most of Israeli society.

Back to the Israeli Museum: I sat longest in the Horb Synagogue. I don’t know Horb, but I know its environs. The sadness within those walls moved me almost to tears. How could it have been abandoned, left to rot? What happened in that place, one hundred years before Kristallnacht, to allow a people to walk off and leave their shul?

The music piped in was emotionally charged as well. The melancholy of that synagogue overshadowed the fact that the Königsberg High Holy Days liturgy had been composed for an extraordinarily joyous occasion. In that place, it sounded like a funeral dirge. In its own right, the music celebrated the birth of a new shul one thousand miles distant.

While strolling through the exhibits, I met an American from Tampa who explored the museum at the same time. We walked together for a while, and the experience was more fun for the lively exchange of views.

Leaving the museum, the wail of police sirens made me think there had been a bombing at the Knesset. A dozen police cars whizzed by – followed by three Mercedes limousines and another dozen police cars. Guess Bibi was going to work. False alarm.

At the museum, I learned a bit about Middle Eastern diplomacy. I had just read in the Jerusalem Post about “pack your bags diplomacy” and was still puzzling through its meaning. At the Israeli Museum, I decided to buy a t-shirt. I was distinctly first in line at the cash register. Yet the first saleswoman waited on the second person in line. Then the second saleswoman waited on the third person in line. They refused to acknowledge me, an obvious snub.

So I loudly placed my package on the counter and said, “Forget it!” I didn’t say another word as I turned to walk out the door. Immediately, the first saleswoman ran after me, opened another register, and checked me out. First-hand experience with “pack your bags diplomacy”!

I walked back to the Sheraton the long way so I could see Gan Sacher (Sacher Park). Up Bezalel Street, such a mixture of lower and upper income living side by side. It is amazing that the two can coexist. Peacefully?

It had been a long day, and I wasn’t quite ready to go back to the Sheraton. So I decided to stop at the restaurant or cafe of the Great Synagogue across the street from the hotel. I will never do that again!

First, they put me in the waiter’s closet along with extra chairs and dirty linens. There were plenty of empty tables in the restaurant, because it was early. They were open, so it wasn’t too early. In other words, there was no reason to have been treated as a second-class citizen, just because I was a woman not in the company of a man.

Then, I am pretty sure that I got ripped off. The waiter charged me NIS 28 for strudel and coffee, more than the same thing would have cost at the Sheraton. Since I had not been given a menu nor told prices in advance, I could not know for certain.

This experience taught me a valuable lesson about the complexity of life in Israel. We can and should support Eretz Yisroel’s right to exist as a democracy in the Middle East. No matter the country’s flaws, she is light years ahead of her neighbors in offering peace, prosperity, and civil rights to her citizens. As long as Israel’s neighbors continue to disenfranchise women and non-Muslims, Israel is the best and brightest hope for stability in the region.

Yet we may not grant Israel blanket approval for everything her politicians do. The Ultra Orthodox have a stranglehold on Israeli political life, forcing their fundamentalist viewpoints on all Israelis. Fundamentalism is dangerous, no matter the flavor of the religion. As long as Israeli fundamentalists continue to make single women eat their strudel and drink their coffee in the waiter’s closet, Israel has problems that she needs to fix. And we – the United States of America – need to take a stand on those issues too.

Dinner tonight was a much better event, one that I will repeat if possible. Dan had recommended the Yemenite Step [2012 note: no longer open]. Great food, top-notch waiters. Refreshed me to my very core.

Odd that I am learning how to live in a paradox!

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