Thursday, August 22, 2019

Israel Day 3: Ammunition Hill

Leaving Tel Maresha, and heading back towards Jerusalem, we stopped for lunch at a food court of an Israeli mall.

We didn't eat at the McDonald's but instead we ordered food from the falafel place to the left of it. Very tasty stuff.

Then back on the road towards Ammunition Hill.

Ammunition Hill is a strategic location that dominated the road to the Old City of Jerusalem and Mount Scopus. Mount Scopus was an Israeli enclave inside Jordanian controlled territory that contained both Hebrew university and Hadassah Hospital, and when the Six Day War broke out and Jordan entered the war, and needed to be immediately relieved by Israeli forces or it would be overrun.

Ammunition Hill was then the site of a major battle in the 6 Day War. Held by a well dug-in and entrenched force of the Jordanian Army, it was taken after a serious battle by Israeli Paratroops reinforced with units of the Harel Brigade.

The site is now a museum and a memorial site.

The Jordanian trench line and fortifications are still in place.

And there's armoured vehicles that took part in the battle including:

A captured Jordanian armored vehicle:

An Israeli Haltrack With the Jordanian captured vehicle and captured Jordanian Jeep in the background):

And a Sherman Tank:

All along the trench line, there are plaques with accounts of the many acts of heroism by the soldiers during the battle.

The indoor museum has room with a large diorama and a short film that describes the background of the battle and the battle itself, with the diorama lighting up to show various details as the battle takes place.

There's also memorials to the paratroopers and Harel Brigade members killed in the fighting.

The Ammunition Hill site is a worth visiting.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Israel Day 3: The Archaeological Dig At Tel Maresha

Tel Maresha is not just a National Park in Israel, its also an active archeological site.

A settlement active at the time of the Maccabees, in the 3rd Century BCE, it was abandoned shorty thereafter.

The inhabitants cut caves into the soft limestone were used as basements of houses by the inhabitants and as workshops and importantly as columbariums. Most caves at the Tel are still unexplored, unexcavated, and many are still not even discovered yet, even after over 80 caves have been discovered at the Tel.

We first visited the main Columbarium Cave, which has been fully excavated.

We entered the underground cave through its arch leading on a descent downward.

To say it is impressively large inside would be an understatement:

What's a Columbarium? In this case its not how the word is normally defined.

In this case, it's an underground place to raise pigeons.

Each pigeon-hole was hand-cut into the rock, and yes, pigeons still live there.

Can you see the pigeons in the picture? Click to embiggen:

Pigeons create baby pigeons and pigeon poop, both important items in the ancient world - food and fertilizer.

There are over 20,000 pigeon holes in this main columbarium cave. Other pigeon holes, numbering in the thousands can be found in other caves.

Some let their photo be taken out by the exit of the cave.

Then we got to participate in an Archeological Dig.

Down into a cave we went.

The rooms were smaller, as the "floor" while seeming solid wasn't the floor at all, instead it was packed ancient dirt that had fallen into the cave over the centuries.

Now pretty deep underground in a cave system undergoing excavation, we got our trowels, buckets and after some instruction we began to dig into the ancient dirt, moving rocks and rubble out of the way.

It wasn't long before we began finding things. We were keenly aware that we were the first people to see these items in over 2.300 years.

Abby found a large fragment of an ancient plate:

All of us continued to find animal bones, pottery shards - both large and small. Leah and Abby discovered an small stairway leading down to an entry to another cave room and entrance, right where the archeologist figured it would be, which is why she had them dig there. That new found room will be excavated in time.

The dig felt much too short, and we could have spent days in there digging our way through history. If you're visiting in Israel it's a must-do.

Later, while sifting through the dirt brought up in the buckets, Leah found something amazing.

She saw a round small object and pointed it out. It was a bronze ring or possible jewelry adornment, washed off, it looked like this:

No one had seen it for over 2,300 years.

The archeologist was quite excited by the find and had it placed in the important finds bucket that is secured in the dig lab each day rather than in the loose pottery buckets that are less impressive and less prone to scavengers and site looters.

Yes, that was a real highlight of the trip.

Next the archeologist took us into we headed to a completely unexcavated cave.

Lit only by candles it was not a space for the claustrophobic.

Getting in took some wiggling.

There were tight tunnels to go through. We all went in single file with the archeologist at the head of the line and I was the caboose, very little room on any side.

This worked out well. Unfortunately one of the guys doing the dig had a panic attack underground due to claustrophobia. Natasha doing her therapist thing kept him calm enough to move and I was able to guide him back out to the outside where he calmed down. I then went back in and caught up to the group, following the trail of candles left as markers so I didn't head into any side passages.

Then we got pretty deep in to an area that widened out and we sat down to look around.

As one would expect, pigeon holes were cut in the walls.

There was an amazing structure made out of stone bricks but we were warned not to touch it or try to go behind it as there seemed to be a passage there but they didn't know if it was stable at this point or where it led to yet.

Then we headed out up an ancient stairway to the cave exit.

Seeing a cave fully excavated, participating in excavating one, and going through a cave yet to be touched were all amazing experiences the whole family thoroughly enjoyed. The experience of such closeness to ancient history was awesome.

To say it was an incredible and amazing morning was an understatement.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Israel Day 3

On Day 3 we headed out of Jerusalem. On the way out we passed by the road hosting the new US Embassy:

And the Montefiore Windmill, built in 1857:

Israelis are rather happy that Trump moved the embassy to Jerusalem and has taken a far less pro-arabist stance than his predecessors:


Then we headed off to Tel Maresha, which deserves an entire post of its own.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Her First Day As A Sophomore

Abby's first day as a Sophomore was today. She was a bit nervous to have her first day with all new teachers, but comforted herself that she wasn't a freshman anymore.

High School certainly starts early this year, and time is definitely flying by. No idea how she grew up this fast.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Israel Day 2: The Hurva Synagogue

After visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, we went through the Armenian Quarter and then to the Jewish Quarter and visited the Hurva Synagogue.

First built in the 1700s it was first destroyed by Muslims in 1721 and then rebuilt in 1864.

The Hurva Synagogue was then completely demolished by the Jordanians after they occupied the Old City in 1948, and they then placed mines in the ruins.

In 1967 after Israel recaptured the Old City, the Synagogue was then rebuilt in its original style, and is used as a place of worship today.

The ceiling has paintings of biblical locations on it such as Rachel's Tomb and King David's Tower.

A model inside shows the building as it is now restored:

Heading up to the top level, we headed to the overlook around the base of the dome of the synagogue.

The views were spectacular:

After visiting the Hurva Synagogue, we exited the Old City through the Zion Gate.

That was the end of a very packed Day 2 in Israel.

Israel Day 2: The Christian Quarter And Churches

On entering the Christian Quarter, we first visited the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. Built between 1893 and 1898 and dedicated by Kaiser Wilhelm II, who entered Jerusalem for the dedication on a horse to much fanfare.

Then we headed to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

During Christian Holidays and the cooler months, the lineup to enter can take hours, if not in some case a day or more. In the late July heat, it was almost no waiting at all.

Here's a picture of the famous (or infamous) immovable ladder at the outside of the Church.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is shared by six denominations, each of which guards their claimed portion of the church. This makes any maintenance difficult as if one party does it, the other groups fear it lets them expand their claim. Fistfights can and do occur on a regular basis between monks of the different sects for things as small as moving a chair toward the other's space or leaving a door open at the wrong time.

The ladder apparently was placed there by someone in the first half of the 19th century. Since no one knows who it was or what sect he belongs to, no one dares move the ladder as it might upset the status quo, and its been there since at least 1852 and hasn't been moved since.

Entering the Church you first see the Stone of Anointing, and many pilgrims kneel upon it, pray on it, kiss it, or place objects on it to have them blessed.

Beautiful artwork adorns the walls, telling the story of the crucifxion and resurrection.

Then you find yourself under the rotunda, which lets the sun in casting its rays down into the church.

The you see the The Aedicule which houses the tomb itself.

Interestingly, some sects enter the The Aedicule shrine area by the front entrance and others from the other side, depending on who controls what entrance.

Chapels are all around the Aedicule area, many with extensive adornments.

Some of the pilgrims and worshipers also lit candles in various designated spots.

The Church of The Holy Sepulcher is a very impressive and awe-inspiring building.