Day 17 - Netzach - Dana Bitton
Timing in Judaism is always somehow spot on. Last night we lit the 4th candle to celebrate the festival of Chanukah, which commemorates the succession of the Jewish people that took place in the Old City. Yesterday of all days, I felt extremely privileged to have gone through those holy sites that connect us, a group of young Australian Jews on IST, to our very own history and the miracles that took place in the city of Jerusalem. Yesterday’s journey allowed us to visit many different time periods, and was experienced through historical recounts, the use of our imaginations, and a whole lot of stone.
At the ripe hour of 5:30 am, 45 Netzach kids set out bright eyed and bushy tailed, eager to make their way through the still, dark streets of Jerusalem. As this morning was the first that offered a sleep in following the three early morning wakeups in the Negev, this morning’s early rise was completely voluntary, so looking around at the yawning mass, we were all quite proud at how many of us were able to drag ourselves out of bed. Upon arriving at the Kotel, the boys and girls split off into their respective sides and enjoyed a beautiful davening session as dawn set in and the skies became lit. After powerful praying and a couple of minutes aside to capture the moment with some photos, we concluded the morning with rugelach and warm coffee and returned to the hotel for breakfast.
Not too long after, our day officially began in the Old City of Jerusalem where we met our tour guide for the day, Brian Shapiro. Brian led us up onto the rooftop overlooking King David’s city where he told us about the history of the site and its struggles of ownership over the years, enduring numerous conquers. Brian then prepared us for how to appreciate the tour that we were about to embark on with inspiration from the words of the great Rabbi Fruman: “We are here in Israel. You are walking on the land of Israel.” He told us. “As modern kids, this doesn’t mean very much to you, but you must know that this land is soaked with holiness, it’s soaked with feeling.” He then prompted us to use our imaginations, something he urged us to do as much as we can, telling us that it is the only way we can really feel a connection to times before ourselves. Brian asked us to imagine the mountain that we were standing on-with the holy stones of Jerusalem- soaking through our feet, hands and into our brains.” So, following his instruction, I closed my eyes and tried to feel. However, at that point, I struggled to truly appreciate where I was.
We walked into the beautiful reservoir of the Shiloah water tunnels and once the anxiety of wetting our clothes grew less and the height jokes- such as when a couple of people were warned not to drown in the ankle-level tide- settled down, I began to really immerse myself in the unusual experience I was enduring, and I felt it. I felt that I had soaked up the land, just as Brian had asked us to and I realised that I was walking through water that has not stopped flowing since the creation of the world. I was walking in the footsteps of my grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather, going back 3 and a half thousand years. These tunnels, the mountains of the old city and this water I was walking through right then: These were the symbols of Jewish continuity.
Brian painted another picture in our heads: The year is 70 CE, most of Jerusalem has fallen and the second temple has been destroyed. Thousands of Jews are trying to flee the conquering Romans, so they take their most sacred and useful belongings and where did they go to hide? Under the sewers. Much like in the Warsaw Ghetto, where we were only a few weeks ago, Jews have had to find themselves seeking shelter in sewers. In Europe, many Jews took precious sifrei torah and diamonds, and in Jerusalem they took gold coins, cooking pots and parts of the garments of the high priest. So what did they really take with them? The belief in the future. The belief that one day the Jewish people will return to the land. That was the dream of the people going into them.
I stood there and felt a responsibility to those people who sacrificed their lives for Judaism and those who died for the land of Israel. A similar responsibility I felt walking through the horrors of the ghettos in Poland. The faith that these people carried, to risk their lives and still believe there was hope that we, the Jews, will still remain and being the evidence that we have remained thousands of years later makes me very proud to be here.
We finished our tour of the Shiloah tunnels and walked through an alley that separated east and west Jerusalem until we reached the centre of the Jewish Quarter where we received coupons to spend on a delicious, Jerusalem-style lunch.
After lunch we continued our tour. We walked through Roman remains and The Cardo, where we came across a beautiful mural that depicts the representation of the main street and its commercial and cultural life during the Roman period Jerusalem. The complexity of this mural and it’s contrast of old ancient life with a simple modern day boy was a true example of a picture can paint a thousand words and Brian made us think: “Would you have had the guts to uphold your Judaism when there’s a regime like that against you? What bravery must it mean to send your child to learn a bit of torah? To keep shabbat?”
The highlight of my day was when we continued on into the city and bumped into a man who was standing outside his house. His name was Zachariah Chatucha, and he was what Brian called a “holy Jew”. Zachariah shared with us that in the months before the 1967 war, him and his friends would infiltrate into the old city dressed as women and used perfect Arabic to sell water to the locals and explore the old city. This way they were able to learn the area allowing them to study it and eventually capture it in the war. Once Israel conquered the old city, Zachariah bought a piece of land that was once a Jordanian police station where he now lives happily and proudly.
We continued on to the mass grave in the Jewish Quarter and later Robert Goot shared with us his own memories of Jerusalem with barbed wire and completely out of bounds for the Jews. He stressed our privilege in living in a time that we are allowed to visit whenever we like and urged us to appreciate it for all that it is. “It’s miraculous that we now have the old city back under our control and the restoration of the holy sites- don’t take it for granted.”
According to nature, the Jews shouldn’t be here. We should have faded out- Conquer after conquer after conquer. But here we are in 2018, IST from Sydney, Australia can return to our homeland.
That night we lit 4 candles. 4 little candles. Where are the Romans? All they’re left with is archeology. For us, after Netzach walked through the city today, the fact that tonight we light 4 candles; that is the proof of our success. That is what we have to show that we’re still here. We ended the night with dinner and shopping at Mamilla Mall - a beautiful end to a beautiful day. Chanukah Sameach.