Impressions of Israel
by Terry Distin
computer skills take us over many mountains of problems in order to publish
books and this periodical. His dear wife Toni, and their sons Ben and
Christopher, are like family to me. In Israel, Terry’s expertise was freely
given to other tourists in helping put their pictures and stories together.
He gives here a refreshing down-to-earth view of Israel you will enjoy
I live in a place where
a 30-year-old house is considered old, where a 100-year-old building is torn
down for a parking lot or a glass and steel high-rise – and no one gives
this a second thought. Most everything is temporary here in the US: if it’s
not to our satisfaction or profitable, we simply replace it. Had this way of
thinking predominated throughout Jerusalem’s history, it would not be the
place it is today.
The Old City of
Jerusalem, where people have lived for some 4,000 years, where the
castellated stone walls date back to the 1500’s, and built on top of those
going back much further, is far from anything I’ve ever seen. Not that
Jerusalem is immune from rebuilding and refurbishing, but great effort is
made to preserve its history.
first look at the Jaffa Gate from outside the Old City walls.
Our initiation to
Jerusalem began on the first day we arrived in Israel. Our El Al airplane
had landed earlier at the new Tel Aviv-Yafo Ben Gurion International
Airport. After clearing customs and getting our passports stamped, we were
met by Asher Sofer, Blossoming Rose’s Manager of Biblical Tamar Park. Asher
drove us to Jerusalem, climbing all the way. Israel is more mountainous and
yet more tropical than I had imagined it would be, with lemon and orange
groves visible from the roads we traveled. (We also saw banana groves up
North near Tiberius.) The streets and roads do not remain straight for very
long as they wind up, down and around those hills. I remember being
surprised, and a little nervous, as we drove. The streets are a lot narrower
than in the U.S. and they’re so crowded cars have to park on the sidewalks.
How we managed to miss them, I don’t know.
Coming in from the west
and looking at the newer Jerusalem located outside the walls, I saw that the
vast majority of the buildings appeared to be made out of the same kind of
stone. Then I learned there are construction laws that all buildings,
commercial and residential, be built or at least faced with Jerusalem Stone.
At the foot of Ben
Yehuda Street is Zion Square where other streets converge.
We joined Chris
Josephson and the rest of the tour group who were waiting for us on Agron
Street in the heart of Jerusalem. Our first excursion was to the Holocaust
Memorial where we spent time viewing the exhibits of Nazi atrocities in
their attempt to annihilate the Jews. A lot of people were there including
large groups of school children learning what had happened.
Later, Asher drove us
to the Jaffa Gate, the western entrance to the Old City. I learned the
original gate was angled so you couldn’t enter directly into the city
without making a sharp 90-degree turn. This was done to prevent enemies on
horseback from charging straight ahead through the city gates, and to make
it difficult for a long battering ram to break down the gates. The gap
through the wall between the Jaffa Gate and David’s Tower, enabling direct
entrance, was opened in 1898. This was done by the ruling Ottoman Turks so
Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany would not have to dismount his carriage to
enter the city.
the Old City through the Jaffa Gate.
It is in fact the
Ottomans who rebuilt the walls we now see over the locations of the previous
ruined walls. Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566) had two architects
rebuild the city walls. Work began in 1537 and was completed in 1541. Just
inside the Jaffa Gate is a small enclosure with two graves nearly hidden
beneath the trees. These are believed to be the graves of those two
architects. They fell out of favor with the Sultan who had them murdered.
During our tour with Zev
(left), he asked a very helpful and friendly Armenian priest some questions
as Chris (center facing), Lila (center right) and Sunnie Bell (right) look
on listening closely.
Later, when we returned
to Jerusalem (after being in Tamar Biblical Park in the Arava Desert) we
were blessed to have a lengthy tour through the Old City with Zev Kedem.
After we walked through a portion of the Armenian Quarter to get to the
Jewish Quarter, we found ourselves overlooking a part of the Cardo. This
public fairway was discovered after the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967.
It is about 8 feet beneath the level of the bordering Jewish Quarter Road.
We could see from our vantage point a single row of columns surrounded by
paving stones. Many were whole and many were broken into pieces, dating back
to the time of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (76-138 AD). He rebuilt the city
over the ruins of Jerusalem and called it Aelia Capitolina. The city had a
grid system built on two broad thoroughfares intersecting at right angles.
The north-south axis was the Cardo Maximus. The east-west axis was the
Decumanus. Later the Cardo was extended southward. At that time the Cardo
was Jerusalem’s “heart” with small shops where each sold spices, olives,
grains and various other items.
Looking down from the
Jewish Quarter, we see the entrance to the Cardo, discovered after the
reunification of Jerusalem in 1967.
For me the most
interesting aspect of the Cardo was seeing the archaeological excavations
beneath it. Archaeologists have uncovered Hasmonean city walls, a gate
dating from the 2nd – 1st century B.C. and some building remains from the
First Temple period around the 8th century B.C. Such longevity serving as
the foundation for the Cardo, which serves as the foundation for the modern
Jewish Quarter, is difficult for this American to grasp.
Today, parts of the
Cardo have been completely refurbished while other parts do not look as new.
Much of it remains buried beneath the city, but the parts uncovered are
still used for specialty shops with all kinds of items available for sale –
from paintings to pastries, clothing to electronics and food items.
This shop specializes in
Most of the shops
behind the walls of the Old City are run by Arabs and are quite different
from what I have experienced in the U.S. Each was a small shop specializing
in a particular kind of item. One would be selling mostly olives; another
glittery clothing that made me think of what a belly dancer might wear. My
mother was first to notice that one and said, “Terry look at that,” in a
discreet way. When I noticed what she had seen, I turned to her with a smile
and asked, “Did you want to try it on?”
Stores where meat is
sold, besides having large cuts of meat (not wrapped in plastic), also
displayed whole carcasses hanging right out in front where people were
Along the way, we passed
a butcher's shop – one of many – among the numerous shops along the Cardo.
In the open-air markets
many beautiful fresh fruits and vegetables are on display, including
cauliflower as big as a basketball!
Leaving the Cardo area
behind us, we walked through this open-air market nearing the Damascus Gate.
We were all impressed by
the size of these heads of cauliflower. Sunnie Bell (who heads Blossoming
Rose's "Grafted In" project) with an enormous head of cauliflower.
In the narrow shopping
streets of the Old City, merchants approach you, inviting you into their
stores, and their assertiveness made me feel uncomfortable. We were wearing
our tourist name tags and they started calling to us by name. “Mr. Terry,
Mrs. Lila, come see my store. Let’s make a deal. I have what you want.”
These were common phrases as we approached their stores in the
claustrophobic shopping streets of the Old City. We quickly took our name
After this first day in
Jerusalem, we visited beautiful Galilee, and then we spent wonderful days
south of the Dead Sea at Tamar Biblical Park, about which both my mother and
Chris have written.
We left Tamar Park to
spend the last 4 days with Chris and her friends in Jerusalem. On the way,
we stopped at Ma’ale Michmas to see the settlement and the almond orchard.
The kind leaders in that community had prepared a fabulous brunch for us.
When we walked into the library of the community center, we saw a large
table set with a big spread of salads, bread, rolls, dips, drinks and a side
table with fresh fruit and deserts. Thinking this was the entire menu for
the brunch, we sat down to enjoy it. A short time later, to our surprise and
delight, another full course of Israeli dishes was served.
Two sections of the
breakfast buffet at the El Dan Hotel. Plenty of good food and hospitality is
an Israeli specialty.
We stayed at the Eldan hotel on King David Street (outside the old city). The big Israeli
breakfast buffet was something to behold with a very large variety of foods
– though some were not what we would expect to see for breakfast! Besides
fresh fruit, fruit juices, coffee, tea, yogurt, freshly baked bread,
egg-based casseroles and some sweet things to eat, there were also tomatoes,
cucumbers, salads, many kinds of cheeses, pickles and herring! When we
complemented the hotel manager about the sumptuous buffet she said that
feeding guests plenty of good food and hospitality is an Israeli specialty.
They do it well!
Part of the King David
Just across the street
from the Eldan is the famous King David hotel. One day, we went there for
lunch in the King’s Garden restaurant where dining can be either indoor or
out. In our last issue of Bible Light on the News, we
published a picture of Chris and Dora Ben Yehudah Wittmann sitting at a
Front entrance to
Jerusalem's YMCA, which is directly across the street from the King David
hotel. The El Dan hotel, where we stayed, is across a street to the right of
The YMCA (fondly called
Yimka) is just across the street from the King David and is a
landmark in Jerusalem. It, too, was a favorite place for us to dine.
Storeowners outside the
walled city were also of two varieties. Chris took us to Ben Yehudah Street
to go shopping. For me, this was a much more comfortable atmosphere. The
street is wide and spacious. Unless the store was a kiosk down the center of
the outdoor mall, the merchandise was kept on shelves inside Western-style
storefronts. There were even a McDonald’s and a Burger King in this area!
The shopkeepers were charming and genuinely friendly. Many were Jewish
immigrants from various countries. In one store where we stopped to browse,
the shopkeeper mentioned that she speaks seven different languages. When I
asked her in French if she spoke that language, she heartily replied,
“Avec plaisir!” (with pleasure).
I should be clear,
here, that walking along the busy sidewalk is almost like walking down the
busy streets of Chicago: people may bump you while hurrying past and not
pause to apologize. I’m sure that for the native Israelis our offers of
apologies only confirmed the Midwest American Tourist sign invisibly stamped
onto our foreheads. This was evident when everywhere we went people spoke to
us almost always in English. But seeing street and road signs written in
three alphabets let us know we weren’t in Kansas anymore!
No place was this more
evident than when we visited the Western Wall. It is an impressive sight in
and of itself with imposing blocks of stone forming the remains of the
retaining wall that supports the western part of the Temple Mount (see
picture below). Called the Kotel in Hebrew, it is the most
Holy place available for Jews to pray now. In the large open courtyard next
to the Wall, people from all walks of life can be seen wearing many kinds of
clothing. I saw some men with long curls hanging down the sides of their
faces wearing long black coats and black fur hats that designated them as
belonging to a sect of Judaism that originated in Eastern Europe. Other men
were in western dress. Many women wore scarves or hats and were usually very
modestly dressed. Others – men and women – wore jeans or sweats; the kind of
clothing you might see in any American town.
No matter the dress,
everyone there came to pray at the wall and many left written notes in the
cracks between the large Roman stones (distinguished by beveled edges). For
me, the entire trip was the biggest blessing I’ve ever received in my entire
life, but Chris had made arrangements for even more blessings.
On four occasions, we
had Bible Studies with some of Chris’s friends. Our first was with John
Hulley. The next two were with Zev Kedem and the last was with Jordan Fedder.
Sitting at a table in our hotel lobby, Bibles open with both Jews and
Christians studying and sharing together is an event you need to experience
to appreciate. Afterwards, even the hotel desk clerk told us she had been
straining her ears to hear our Bible study. We think of the Scripture:
“…out of Zion shall go forth the Law and the Word of the Lord from
Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3 and Micah 4:2).