Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Bird watching in Israel

As some of you may know from reading this blog, Israel has a reputation for being a world superpower--in birding. Why? Because twice a year, birds from the Northern countries fly south for the winter--and then turn around a few months later to return North.

What does this have to do with Israel? They come through Israel on both trips--app 500,000 birds each time.

It's no joke. Israel is a superpower.

So with that in mind, my wife and I went bird-watching last week. We went south, to the desert--to the Negev.

The Negev in late June is hot--perhaps 96-98 degrees Fahrenheit on the day of our visit--but not unbearably hot. Because there's no humidity to speak of, 96-98 degrees is not miserable. But because it is 96 (or higher) it is still dangerous, partly because the sun in the desert here is not the same sun you get in the Eastern USA. It is brighter, hotter, more intense.

Because we live in the desert ourselves, we didn't take many pictures of the desert in the Northern Negev. We are accustomed to looking at a desert. Another reason we didn't take pictures was that this desert is no longer desert. It is farmland. Perhaps you have heard that the Jews have made the desert bloom; well, this is proof. I would guess that we saw literally hundreds of acres (or more) either growing crops--leafy, green, thick--being prepared for growing something, or just having been plowed. We saw what looked like peach orchards and at least one watermelon field. We didn't know what the leafy green stuff was.

The experience of seeing this farming on such a hot landscape was itself worth the trip. We were so surprised, we didn't think to snap pictures. But then, we were after bigger things; and we were not disappointed.

My first picture is of a momma bird--big, slow and just hovering above her babies. It was quite a picture. Here is it:

That's momma bird in the middle, hovering. Her babies are on the ground, to the right.

Do you know what momma birds do with their babies? They pick them up. Like this:

Momma birds take care of their own, right?

And when a momma bird realizes that she is being watched by perhaps 5,000 people sitting in a sun-drenched desert amphitheatre right next to her, what does she do? She turns around, and gives you all a look:

bye, bye momma bird.

Momma birds are big--and they take care of their babies. Daddy birds, on the other hand are different. Many daddy birds in  nature are more colorful than mamma birds. How do those daddies behave? They show off, of course--like this:

They travel in groups and show off their colors!

In addition to momma and daddies, birds have grandparents. Some grandparents are old--very old. For example, here is a grandparenting pair. They'll old and slow. But boy, can they fly:

First, the introductions:

The plane on the right is a Stillman, probably from the late nineteen thirties-early forties. It's called a bi-plane because it has two wings, one above the other. Can you see that?

Oh, look at the left. That's another 1940's plane.

Wait. Maybe you can't see these two that well. Let's make an adjustment:

Is that better? You can see the yellow plane more clearly, right? Its profile suggests a World War Two Flight Trainer, but it might be something else.I didn't catch its name. You still have a problem seeing the biplane's two wings, though, so let's watch  the planes fly:

Here, the two planes , performing together as a pair. They are just beginning to separate, pulling away from each other. Now you can see why the plane on the right is called a bi-plane. 'Bi' means 'two' or 'divided into two'--and you can see why the plane gets that name.

Now, here's a challenge: with one camera and two planes moving away from each other, which do you follow?


Oh, my, he's fast!

Let's try to catch another picture:

Ugh! Missed him!

Wait. He's climbing higher. Maybe, if I wait, he'll come down--you know, closer:

Got 'em!

What's he doing now? He's turning. He's coming overhead. Quick, catch him in the camera lens. Quick!!

He's low, he's close--and he's past you in a JIF!

By the way, here's a tip: these planes are fast. The ones you will see below are faster. So when they come down at you like this, be careful. Don't lean back with your camera as they fly past overhead. You can fall over!

Okay, you can rest your neck--for now.

Let's look on the ground for a change, at some of the younger birds. You know, the kind that like to show off:

Here are some real show-offs. Why, they don't even wait to get up into the air!

The two birds in the back-left of the picture are just taking off. You can see that their wheels are just a couple of feet off the tarmac; and yes, they're show-offs.

Look at the smoke they are blowing off!

And they aren't the only show-offs. There's more. First, three:

Then, finally, four for some fantastic formal flying formations--really fun!

Flying down--

Flying up--


Flying straight up CLOSER:

Then--waaaay up and a loop-di-loop:

Can you figure out what they did in this picture? First down, then a sharp turn up, then--now--at the top, just before turning sharply down again!

Until, finally, a farewell--almost close enough to touch:

Bye, bye birdees.

Then, just as your neck stops hurting, you have to look higher up into the air for-------------------------

a nursing mommy!

When they get closer, you get a second look:

Next, a surprise, as in, 'Look, Ma, no hands!'

Can you tell what this is? It's a drone--an unmanned aircraft.

Pretty cool, eh?

Now, have you ever seen a bird poop while flying? Well, here's Big Bird. Is he really pooping?

Nope. Those are cargo boxes connected to parachutes. Are they Hummers?

No. Here's the Hummer:

Now, for the next two photos, you have to use your imagination. Imagine, if you will, you are a VERY BIG PLANE, like this:

Next, imagine that you have just unloaded that white Hummer vehicle above--and now, you've got to get airborne--pronto.

Got the picture?


Now imagine that you don't have much road in front of you to take off. What do you do?

Can you guess?

You back up!

Which is what this plane above did. By the way, when he did that, I didn't get a picture because I didn't understand what he was doing. But I could see that he was moving pretty fast for a mechanized hippopotamus--maybe 20 MPH backwards. He went back perhaps a hundred yards, paused, revved up and drove forward as fast as he could get his weight to move. In an instant--much faster than I had expected him to do--he did something extraordinary for his weight.

Can you guess?

That's one of his specialities: short take-off.

Well, I don't know what 'short' really means, but this beast didn't need much road at all before he literally LIFTED up off the ground.

Take it from me: when you watch a hippopotamus fly, that's impressive!

Now, cover your ears. You need to do that, because the police are about to show up--and let me tell you, these guys are not only fast, they are LOUD!

Look, here comes one now.


Now I realize that this is only a picture. But you can still see how low he is to the ground.

I want to tell you something about these jet-fighters: DID I TELL YOU THEY WERE LOUD?



Listen, when these guys fly by this close, they turn up the volume (they seem to be able to do that) and your ears don't hurt at all: they just go NUMB.

You whole body vibrates--ftrom the inside out.

Then, after multiple fly-overs, especially with multiple LOUD planes--

 you have only one half-deaf reaction:

                                          I WANT ONE OF THOSE!

But these guys weren't the LOUDEST or the FASTEST or the BADDEST guys we saw. That ear-splitting/ear-numbing/body-vibrating thrill was saved for last:

This is Israel's front-line, premier police officer. He's LOUD and then LOUDER and then LOUDER still. He can turn on a dime, literally, and fly straight up. Literally. He was so fast, this was the only picture I could get.

What a beauty. What a noise. What power. What a thrill!

                                            I WANT ONE FOR MY BIRTHDAY!

Actually, that's not true. My ears were so numb and my insides so vibrating, I couildn't think at all--all I could do was stare in complete, mind-boggling, ear-numbing awe.

It was my wife who said,

                                     I WANT ONE FOR MY BIRTHDAY!

So of course I told her I'd get her one.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I have 'broken' my blog arrangement!

As you will see if you page-down, I started this blog using a 'theme' format, not a chronological format. You can read about that below.

The next several posts break that format. They cover a time period that is post-aliyah, and use the more traditional 'chronology' format.

If you are on this blog to read about my early aliyah and pre-aliyah experience, page-down to the entry for Friday, April 1, 2011 posting.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Did you know that Israel was 'for the birds!'

It's true.

Israel is for the birds.

You realize what that means, don 't you?

It means that, according to at least two internet websites, Israel is--this is their word--the superpower of birding!


Because Israel has a bird. Here's proof:

And you know what they say about a bird?

Where there's one--there's ten:

Oh, wait. I have that wrong. It's not ten. It's what, fifteen?

Did you count them?

I don't think you counted right:

Be alert!

Count again!

Say, can we talk for a minute? You can't keep trying to count, you know. You'll get confused:

I mean, if you don't stop fidgetting, how can you count? Everything will be a blur, right?

Gosh, that a lot of bird!

You think that's a lot?

What? You say you can't see anything here?

The birds are too high up for you, is that it?

Well, then:


If you like birds:

Bye, bye, birdee.

These birds are storks. My daughter caught them on camera as they flew over our house. Israel is a major bird highway during their annual Spring and Fall migration. We think the storks paused in their flight so we could grab a camera and take these pics!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tiyul: Bar Kochba and Tisha B'Av

Disclosure:  I am neither historian, theologian or archaeologist. What you read here is my own opinion. If a reader feels I have made errors, please click on the 'comment' icon at the end of the post, and let me know; I can check it out, and decide how best to proceed.

The story of Bar Kochba seems to me to be the final consequence of and the capstone to the destruction of the Second Temple.

The Second Temple was destroyed in the year 70 CE, and the Bar Kochba revolt took place app  60 years later. The tragic end to this revolt is the Roman destruction of the Jewish city of Beitar, and that moment is itself linked to the earlier tragedies of the two Temples because all three--the destruction of the First Temple, the Second Temple, and the destruction of the Jewish stronghold at Beitar--all took place on the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, known to Jews as Tisha B'Av: a day of  national tragedies. In addition to the three tragedies above, Tisha B'Av also commemorates other national tragedies which, we discover, also occured on that same date:

 (1) the sin of the spies in the Torah who, upon returning from their mission to check out the land of Israel, spoke ill of the land. Their negative report caused panic among the people, who chose to believe them and not G-d;

(2), after destroying Jerusalem, the Roman Command ploughed under the Temple Mount in app 133CE (at the end of the Bar Kochba revolt);

(3) in 1090, on this date, the First Crusade was declared by Pope Urban II, resulting in the killing of 10,000 Jews in the Crusade's first month, and the destruction of Jewish communitites in France and in the Rhineland;

(4) in 1290, King Edward I of England signed a decree to expel all Jews from England;

 (5) in 1492, the Alhambra Decree took effect, expelling all Jews from Spain and from all Spanish territories;

(6) in 1940, Himmler presents to the Nazi Party his plan for the "Final Solution" to the Jewish problem, on this Hebrew date;

 (7) in 1942, on this Hebrew date, Nazis began to deport Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to death camps.

(8) on this Hebrew date, 1994, the Jewish Communuity center in Buenos Aires was bombed, killing 86 and wounding more than 300.

Tisha B'Av, a day of  national tragedy for Jews, indeed.

It is possible that the Bar Kochba revolt should not have happened. After all, the Roman Emperor Hadrian (also called Andrianus) made many promises to the Jews, including the promise to rebuild their Temple. But after apparently making that promise, something changed. We don't know exactly what happened. But after Hadrian announced  that he would build a new Temple, it turned out that the new Temple, to be built on the site of the destroyed  Jewish Temple, would not be for the Jews. It would be for Jupiter, King of the Roman gods.

Hmm. The Jews are going to like this idea?

In addition, Hadrian decided he would also  rebuild all of Jerusalem--and rename it, Aelia Capitolina--a nice Roman name. He decided that Jewish circumcision should be illegal, punishable by death; and, oh, yes, Shabbat should be prohibited. There were more restrictions, but you get the idea.

The Jews revolted.

Now, at this time, the Roman army was the world's greatest fighting machine. Their soldiers, their equipment and their tactics were well-known--and feared. The Romans were not known for their compassion. Instead, it has been estimated that, during the years they ruled the world,  they directly killed more that 8,000,000 people, not including those they starved to death through seige. They were the super-power of the day, and they were not afraid to rule with an iron fist. The Jews, meanwhile, were not in the same military league. In fact, they may not have been in anybody's military league. So confident was Hadrian of the Roman military superiority in Israel that he (Hadrian) kept only one Legion (comprised of 6,000 to 11,000 soldiers, depending on a number of variables) in Israel.

The revolt--the fighting-- lasted perhaps 3, or as long as five, years (depending on who you read), including up to two years of 'independence' by the Jews. At first, the revolt may not have been organized, and there may not have been many Jews fighting; instead, Jews simply resisted, hiding male children so they could be circumcised, fighting off Roman soldiers who came to a town to cause 'trouble' for the Jews, etc. Soon however, the Jews fought back. Bar Kochba emerged as a charismatic and brilliant leader, one who knew how to organize men, deploy them, pick combat leaders, prepare cities and redoubts for combat against a superior force, and develop combat tactics. He was so brilliant as a military leader that, at one point, his fighting forces wiped out an entire Legion, perhaps 8,000 -10,000 soldiers--an unheard-of accomplishment. Hadrian, of course, was not amused by this. But at first, he could not beat them. He went through at least two Generals until he found one who could do the job. During the 3-5 years of fighting, Hadrian's Legions killed more than 580,000 Jews, and wiped out 985 villages and 50 fortified cities--utter devastation. But the worst was the last, the final battle of the revolt at Beitar, to which Bar Kochba had  retreated after Jerusalem fell to the Romans. By this time, the Romans had had to increase their forces from one Legion to eight. At Beitar, the Romans slaughtered so many Jews that the Talmud says the Romans fertilized their fields for years with Jewish blood.

This is not the entire Bar Kochba story. But it will get you started. To get the full story, you'll just have to come to Israel, and take a tiyul yourself!

Hadrian had, before the Beitar slaughter (or directly afterwards--depending again on whom you read), ordered that the Temple Mount be ploughed under, to erase all physical evidence of the Jews' presence there. He even had a coin minted--a picture of which I have seen--commemorating the ploughing of Jerusalem. This turns out to be an interesting decision for Hadrian, because it has a modern consequence, something that affects Jews and Israel today: on a recent CBS 60-Minute broadcast (Feb/Mar. 2011), the Arab Muslim  in charge of administering the Temple Mount today stated that Jews have no history on the Temple Mount and, in fact, when the Muslims arrived in Jerusalem in perhaps 638 CE, there was absolutely no evidence of Jewish life on the Temple Mount. I believe he said there was nothing there except blowing grass (or, something like that). To a Jew, that sounds like an outrageous lie; but now, hearing about Hadrian's triumphant act of ploughing, that Arab administrator is correct, isn't he? When the Muslims first came to the Temple Mount, there was indeed no evidence of Jewish life--because Hadrian had had the Temple Mount turned into an open field.

What a nicely suave way to misrepresent history ! And, of course, how many Jews--and how many non-Jews--realize that this modern Muslim is ignoring for his own narrow political purposes the Roman (not Jewish) account of the Temple Mount, circa 133 CE?

To the Muslim, our ignorance is his bliss.

The realities of ancient history are never far from the surface here in modern Israel--never.

Our tiyul today starts with the very end of the Roman destruction of the First Temple, some 716 years before Bar Kochba. We start with a cave:

Zedkiyahu's cave (I prefer my spelling of the king's name) is in East Jerusalem, very close to the Damascus Gate. Zedkiyahu was the reigning Jewish king of Jerusalem at the time the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar. Legend has it that, as Jerusalem was falling, Jerusalem's King, Zedkiyahu, sought to flee; he went into a cave; his plan was to enter at one spot in or near Jerusalem, and to exit on the eastern side of Jerusalem, so he could go east, toward modern Jordan. His story has two endings; (1) he made it all the way to the fields near Jericho, perhaps 25-27 miles east of Jerusalem,  where he was captured by the Romans; and (2), he didn't get that far. Instead,  he went into that cave, all right, but the Romans were already after him. They sent troops to find him. They did not know about the cave. As they hunted him, they saw a deer--or an ibex (an Israeli deer)--and decided to chase that. They caught up to the deer at a cave exit just as Zedkiyahu emerged, and they caught him. Ultimately, he was tortured and killed.

People call this cave Zedkiyahu's cave. No one knows if that's accurate. But because this is the Middle East, everyone knows that a nice looking sign with an ancient name on it can make you money. The good new is, inside that cave, it is naturally air-conditioned.  It is absolutely correct to say that this cave is cool (sorry about that; I couldn't resist the pun).

The story of this cave has a curious modern twist; well, because this is Israel, maybe the twist is not so curious. It seems that this cave was rediscovered, as the sign in the picture above says, in the mid-nineteenth century. A man named, Dr. Barclay, was out for a stroll walking his dog one day, when the dog disappeared--into this cave. One person who took interest in the cave at that time was a British Officer named Charles Warren. If you have been to Jerusalem, and have visited the 'City of David' excavations, you may remember this man's name. His name is linked to the City of David dig-site from the 19th century, because he is the man who mapped  some of the findings there. He plays a role here, because he also mapped out the interior of this cave. During his mapping enterprise, he found this room:

This room is extremely large, perhaps 270 feet square, with 20-foot ceilings. Those two lighted areas on the left are tunnel shafts, walking corridors, really, that lead to a lower part of the cave; the lower part is well-lighted, and that is what you see there, light shining up from the lower section.

Now, before I tell you about this room, you have to understand something about Britain and Palestine in the 19th century. Until the end of World War I (1918), Israel, called Palestine, was part of the Turkish Empire. The Turks, in other words, owned the place. They ruled the Middle East. But it seems(I have been told) that they were not an attentive ruler. Apparently, several countries noticed this inattentiveness and decided that it would be to their own advantage to secure a foothold in the land so that when--not if--the Turks fell, they could use that toehold to expand their presence to something more significant. So, during the late 19th century, the Russians, Germans and British all built churches, orphanages and/or hospitals--anything to get 'feet on the ground'. The British, through our hero Charles Warren, also, it seems,  came up with a narrative to help bind the connection between Britain and Palestine: Freemasonry. You see, Charles Warren was a Freemason. I do not know anything about Freemasons, but I am told that they are a somewhat secretive fraternal organization which believes in three things: Freedoms of religion and speech; G-d; and being a loyal citizen to your country. I have heard that 53 of the 56 signers (or, something like that) of the US Constitution (in Philadelphia, 1776) were Freemasons; the Freemasons, apparently, see Solomon as their 'original' Freemason, the original architect of stone who built the greatest of masonry buildings, the Holy Temple of the Jews. The British were, therefore, happy to call this cave, Solomon's Quarries, to help link Palestine to the Freemason narrative--and to attract annual Freemason meetings in this gigantic room.

The bottom line here is that starting in the mid-late 19th century, Freemasons held an annual meeting in this cave's 'hall'. These meetings brought Britishers here, and helped to tie Palestine (at least in some way) to Britain. I'm certain that the Freemasons who came here felt  really cool (again, sorry: I couldn't resist the pun).

Of course, when World War I ended, the Turks were gone, the Germans were on the losing side (with the Turks), the Russians were engulfed in a civil war that distracted them as Communism was born--and the British--with help from the French-- ended up as the sole occupiers of Palestine. Pretty good deal for the British, eh?

Today, the cave is being refurbished to accommodate tourists.

Almost next door to the cave, perhaps 200-feet away is Damascus Gate.

Damascus Gate is in East Jerusalem, an Arab enclave. The vendors are all Arab, and I'd say that 100% of the other folk you see in this picture are also Arab.

Damascus Gate gets its name the same way Jaffa Gate gets its name: it faces the direction you would travel if you walked out of the Gate and travelled straight ahead. Jaffa Gate faces West--towards Jafo, or modern Tel Aviv; Damascus Gate faces North--towards, you guess it, Damascus.

However, you must remember, this is the Middle East. Just because I have given you some good information about Jaffa Gate and Damascus Gate does not mean that you can now deduce something about the other gates to the Old City wall. In practical terms, this means that the Golden Gate does not lead to gold, and the Dung Gate does not lead to....well, you get the idea.

That's the way it is here, in the Middle East. When you walk out into the sunlight, you never know where you're headed: North, West, Gold, or...

The Damascus Gate has an interest to us because of what we had learned from the story of King Chizkiyahu and the Assyrian attack against Jerusalem some 2700 years ago: the North is the City's weakest point, the most logical place for an enemy to attack.

You might see why here. Can you guess?

Damascus Gate is below street level. Its positioning is awkward. An attacking army gains height to fight from the street level.

Its a curious place to put a Gate. But there was a gate here, because we have evidence of Hadrian's celebratory building. First, look at an archway built into the wall below today's modern Gate--which is itself, as you saw above, below street level:

Do you see the clothing hanging above? They hang on a walking bridge that takes you into Damascus Gate. You saw that picture above. This level is a good 25 feet below that, or perhaps 40-50 feet below the street.

Here is a placard near the archway of the above picture. It explains what the arch represents:

The picture on the placard shows what the Gate had looked like. The real-life archway you see is the only archway extant-- the small archway to the left of the main entrance in the placard-picture.

This surviving archway is from Hadrian:

At this point in our tiyul, the battery in my camera drained. No more pictures. The rest of the tiyul covered Jerusalem dig-sites that reveal Roman city-building as Hadrian and then the Byzantians rebuilt Jerusalem to Roman standards. If I can get back to those places on my own, I'll take pictures and add to this story.

I wish to thank tiyul guide Ezra Rosenfeld ( for taking me around Jerusalem with Tanach in hand.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tiyul: when the Second Temple was destroyed

Here is another ancient story from our licensed--but not ancient-- tiyul guide, Ezra Rosenfeld, on July 27, 2011.

Today's tour will take us through part of the old city of Jerusalem. Of course, by American standards, the walls and gates we see here are very old--450 years old. But for us today, that's not old enough. Our story, focusing on when the Second Temple was destroyed, happened more than 1,900 years ago. The current city and the current walls did not exist back then. You'll have to go on a proper tiyul yourself in Jerusalem to see how the city and its fortifications had looked.

We begin with an introduction in the shade outside Jaffa Gate of the Old City, Jerusalem. Here, Ezra takes charge, telling us how he will tell today's story and what--modern and ancient--we will see:

Do you see the tip of a castle tower just over and behind his right shoulder? That's the top of the tower above Jaffa Gate, across the street from where we begin.

Our introduction begins with a story about an old Jew. Very old. This man is a slave by the name of Yosef ben Mattityahu HaCohen or, in English, Joseph the son of Mattisyahu the Priest. Yosef--we can call him, Yossi-- was once a soldier who, it turns out, was probably not a very good soldier. As a young officer in Israel's army, he was ordered to the North of Israel, probably to the Galill, to command  the country's defenses there against that day's enemy, Rome. The year was app. 66 CE. A year or two later, he was captured by the Romans, and became a  prisoner of war. For some, our friend Yossi wasn't exactly 'Mr. Clean'. The story of how he survived to become a prisoner of war, and then how he managed to become both a Roman citizen and then, possibly, a favorite of the Roman Emperor, leave our Yossi looking like a less-than-perfect example of a soldier. However, we also know something else about this man: after changing his name to Josephus Flavius (taking the name of the Emperor)--or, after becoming Flavius Josephus--he not only travelled with the Roman army as they brutally conquered Israel and destroyed the Temple (in 70CE), he did something extraordinary: he wrote two histories of the Jewish people at that time. These two histories survive. More important, they remain arguably the only real history of that period, albeit from his boss' point of view--the Roman Emperor. Sometimes his views are corroborated by Jewish sources, and sometimes  his statements differ, rendering his description of a specific event different from Jewish sources. Since I am no expert in these issues, I cannot tell you if the resulting disparities between Josephus and Jewish sources represent fundamentally serious differences or are simply two accounts of the same incident, each from a different vantage-point. I don't know. Sometimes his descriptions are not entirely different from Jewish sources. Of course, he is not a modern historian, so he does not write as a modern scholar writes.  But he appears to have had a good eye-- subject, of course, to his Boss' sensitivities-- and a number of his descriptions have so far been validated by modern archaeology. I will not tell you much more about him today. But he plays an interesting role in the modern understanding of what happened more than 1,900 years ago; it would appear that one needs a good backround in ancient history, archaeology and Jewish history (from the proper perspective) to get a balanced view of his writings.

We begin our tiyul first with some observations about ancient walled cities, observations which could apply to similar construction 1,900+  years ago.

We start at a gate in the walled city:

This is the plaza in front of Jaffa Gate. Do you see the fence on the left of the picture? Look straight down the fence, past the man standing at the fence: the far end of that fence points directly at Jaffa Gate. You might be able to make out the outline of the gate, a twenty- or thirty foot high archway in the stone wall.

This next picture is a close-up of Jaffa gate. We start here with a discussion of the problem of defense, specifically the probelms presented by having a gate in a wall. Look at Jaffa Gate:

There are two points to note here. First, a gate is a door; it is not thick stone; it is, therefore, a weak point in the security provided by a stone wall. In ancient times, these doors would be made of wood. Wood could be set afire. Wood therefore leaves the people inside vulnerable. Second, the builders of these stone walls--at least 450 years ago, when these walls/gates were erected--had a way to lessen the vulnerability of a wood gate: they created a trap. Look at these doors, above. Look beyond the doors. You cannot see directly into the interior. Instead, what you see is a stone room and, off to the left, a thin slice of daylight that represents the city interior. See that?

Here is a better look at the 'room' you enter as you enter the gate:

 What's going on here? To get into the interior of the city behind the exterior walls, you just don't walk through the gate. You walk through the gate into a room that has three stone sides and an opening in one side--here on the left--so that as you enter you are forced to turn, in this case, to the left, 90 degrees. The 'room' you walk into is perhaps 15-25 feet square. Can you picture how that 'room' forces you to turn to the left?  The  outer doorway here and the doorway that's inside, off to the left, are only about twelve feet wide. That's wide enough to get a lot of people into the interior, quickly. But if upon passing through the pictured outer gate, you enter a stone enclosure where you must then make a sharp left turn to get into the city interior, that will slow you down and make you vulnerable (while you are inside that stone enclosure). That room can plug up--at least a little. Kill a dozen soldiers inside that room (as they rush in) and you create a bottleneck. Suddenly, your wood gate is not such a vulnerability.  Certainly, what you have created is not perfect, but given the architectural difficulties you face, it is an intriguing solution.

The builders of a walled city have a second choice of defense:

This is a curious picture indeed--there is no wall here! Jaffa Gate is off camera,  to your immediate  left; the continuation of the wall on the right is also off camera, to the right. What you see here is a road that enters where there had once been a low wall--and a moat.

Here's the scoop (that's a pun): this point of the walled city, just behind the camera-taker, used to be a steep drop to the street. Actually, there had been no street back then, so the drop-off was just a steep drop. The wall here was originally built, apparently, at the edge of a drop-off. Therefore, by the late 1890's, the wall section here was only perhaps  one-quarter the height of the surrounding walls, and was somehow matched to a moat; most of the street you see here, particularly to the right, was, I have been told, moat. In fact, you can still see a portion of that moat if you walk up to the edge of that tall wall on the right in the above picture; that tall wall is not a building--it's a wall. Once you get to the corner of that tall wall, here is what you'll see if you look down and to your right:

A moat, with the street in the above picture continuing here on the left.

Moats, walls, gates that could trap invaders: these are all just some of the architectural devices a walled-city builder could use, to enhance the security of that city.

There is one more story about these last two pictures you have just seen: the wall section that had once stood here had been removed in 1899. Reason? Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany made a visit to Jerusalem that year, after receiving permission from the Turkish Sultan--the leader of the Ottoman Empire who controlled the Middle East at that time. The Kaiser arrived with, apparently, a massive Royal carriage--so massive that it could not make that left turn through Jaffa Gate, to get into the city. Yes, that gate was designed, as you saw above, to cause just such trouble for an entering army trying to invade--but no one had figured on entry problems during an official state visit. So the Sultan ordered the wall breached. I assume that the road you see here was also either built, rebuilt or somehow prepared, as well. This is the road the Kaiser rode  on as his Royal Carriage entered the old city. Aren't Heads of State so accomodating? 

Now, let's look at how the walls help to defend the city:

This is a picture of the ramparts of the wall, a walkway that is perhaps 7 feet below the top of the wall, on the inside of the wall. Look at the floor of the walkway: do you see slits of sunlight going the length of the walkway? Here is what the sun is shining through:

This is a slit cut through the stone. It's convenient for resting elbows while you aim with bow and arrow. Field of vision, however,  is compromised by safety considerations.

Another view:

In this picture, you are also standing on the ramparts of the wall, looking at another section of wall. As you can see, this wall could be 60 feet high--or higher. If the trees below were cleared away, your sight-angle for watching the bottom of that stretch of wall is excellent. Blind-spots, such as are suggested by the previous picture, can be removed or reduced by another line-of-sight, such as this one.

Another view:

This view is from ground level, outside the wall, looking up. You can see those slits, up near the top. I am sure that those slits have a proper name; I just don't know what it is. Do you?

Now, we talk about the Second Temple, destroyed in 70CE. To give you some sense of the destruction, look first at an artist's drawing of one side of the Temple Mount outer wall:

You are looking at several things here. First, look at the large staircase as it comes to the ground--look at the right bottom portion of the picture. Now, look where the stick-figures of people are behind that staircase, on a street. Can you see them? They are walking on a 50-foot wide street, perhaps a main street in that period's Jerusalem, right outside the North-west corner of the outer Temple Mount wall. In that street are shops on both sides.

Here is another view of this street under that arch, but from a different angle:

Take a moment to compare the two pictures above. Look at two items: first, where the arch attaches to the wall of the Temple Mount; and second, where four shops are--in this picture, the four shop doorways are behind the three figures in the foreground, deeper into the picture, on the left side of the 'street'. See them?

Now look at a modern view of those same four shop doorways:

There are four shop stall doorways on the left. Note the large stone across the top. That stone is part of the support structure for that part of the staircase  (above) that comes straight out of the Wall face, before it turns and descends to the street level. Go back to that picture. This row of shops was on the inside of the staircase, ground level, facing the Temple Mount wall. It was part of the support-base beneathe the large staircase landing platform, where the staircase turns. Can you see that?

Here is a view into the interior of a stall:

The commercial shop in here would be perhaps eight feet wide (beyond the doorway) and perhaps ten feet deep, from the threshold.

Now look at a picture that is a modern equivalent of what you have just seen from 1,900+ years ago. The next two pictures were taken in the Arab Shuk (market) nearby. The Arab shuk 'street ' is not fifty feet wide; it is perhaps ten feet wide. Awnings create shade. But look at the shops:

Can you see a man in a white shirt sitting on the left? Next to him sits another man, with his leg out into the walk-area. It's a dark picture, but can you see his leg? Each of those two men is a separate shop owner. The shops are, for the most part, no more than 6-10 feet wide, and perhaps 15 feet deep--or less; much like the ancient shop stall you just saw.

Here is one of the bigger Arab stalls:

This stall is huge--perhaps 18 feet wide x 20 feet deep.

Now, let's go back to that drawing:

Look at where the arch of the staircase attaches to the wall. See it? Look at where the doors are at the top of the stairs, and look at the size and shape of the stones in the wall, ground to top, surrounding the staircase--they're all the same size and shape, right? In addition, to the left, just below the top of the wall, to the left of the upper doors, the wall-face has a different look, right?

Okay. Now, look at how all of that looks today:

This is what we mean when we say "the Temple was destroyed." Let's get you oriented to the landmarks in this picture. You will see this picture now repeatedly, so you won't have to back-track.
First, the rubble in front of you is how archaeologists found it.  Second, you can see the rear of the line of shop stalls you saw earlier, in the middle of this picture--like part of a miniature Stonehenge: can you see the horizontal line of stone blocks supported by rectangular pillars? It is the only horizontal stone being supported by pillars in the picture.Look at how that row of shops faces the Temple Mount outer wall. Do you see on that large wall facing you, facing the shop stalls, a brownish stain? Here is a close-up of that part of the wall:

Here, you see that brownish stain. You can also see, below the windows in the wall, three layers or rows of stone (in the wall), jutting out from the wall. Right? Well, if I understood our guide correctly, one or both of the top two rows of jutting stone are (is) the attach-point of the staircase  you saw earlier. Here is the drawing again. Look at where the larger stairtcase attaches to the wall, below the doorway:

If you compare these last two pictures, you will see where that staircase arch meets the modern wall.

Here is the modern wall again:

The area where the original staircase attached to the wall is called today, Robinson's arch, after the archaeologist who figured out what those stones were.

By the way, look again at the long-shot picture:

There is no doorway where the top of the staircase should be, right? It's gone.

Now, look closer at the stones around the remaining arch-stones:

Do you see how the stone sizes at the arch level and above are considerably smaller than the stones below? When the arch and the staircase were destroyed, these new, smaller stones were used to rebuild the broken, shattered wall. If you want to see where some of the stones went, from that upper  wall, look to the left of the picture--out of the picture frame:

The rubble of those stones is at the base of the wall, to the far left. Look again at where the arch went into the wall-face, above the brown stain. I am going to guess that the top row of stones jutting out is today about 60 feet above the street--the street here is the original street. Why is that important? Because our guide showed us a picture, taken before explorations began here, perhaps 100 years ago.
Here is that picture:

 In this picture, you see an Arab donkey standing under a tree whose leaves appear to touch a wall. Do you see the stones in the wall seemingly leaning out from the wall, against that tree?  That wall is the wall of  the Temple Mount, and those 'leaning' stones are the arch-stones we have been looking at. A hundred  years ago, that was ground level. All that you see in today's pictures was buried in 60 feet of dirt.

 Now, here is a closer look at the broken rubble at the base of the wall:

First, this is the 'street' that ran under the arch that we saw in the drawings above. It really is at least 50 feet wide. Second, that pile of stone in the picture is massive. Compare it to the people walking near it. It is rubble from the wall above. Finally, the  crushed, indented street in the right foreground  reveals the impact of stones being pushed off the wall above.

Here is a closer view of the same damage:


When the Second Temple was destroyed, Jerusalem was put to the torch. The fires were intense, as the Temple itself and the homes on the 'upper city'--today's Jewish Quarter'--were incinerated:

A burnt section of wood, carbon-dated to Second Temple, found in a Jewish Quarter archaelolgical site, Jerusalem

There was much more to our tiyul. But I think this covers the basics.

Jerusalem is an ancient city. Jewish blood has been spilt everywhere here, in both ancient and modern times. If so much blood has been spilt here, it means something: it means that Jerusalem is so holy that people will kill as many Jews as it takes to get at it.

 Here is what Jews found after they liberated Jerusalem in 1967:

The fighting to liberate Jerusalem was fairly quick. Most of this damage was done by Arabs after they took Jerusalem in 1948. The UN had not meant for the Arabs alone to have total control of this part of Jerusalem, but the Arabs attacked. They wanted it all. It was an ill-advised war for them because they lost much land as a result of their attack--but they took this part of Jerusalem, and locked out the Jews. The damage they did during their 19 years of occupation gives a glimpse into the Arab attitude towards the Jew. In 19 years of occupation, all they could think to do was destroy, destroy, destroy. The irony here, however, is that when the Jews finally took Jerusalem back, and they saw this horrific destruction, archaeologists jumped immediately and said, essentially, hey, let us dig before you rebuild! Apparently, the damage was so great, no one objected. At least, that's what I understand. If you know otherwise, let me know!

See you at the next tiyul.

I wish to thank licensed tiyul guide Ezra Rosenfeld at www. for taking me into Israel, with Tanach in hand.