Today was yet another very full day at ulpan and in Jerusalem in general. After a very late night watching the final world cup match, I was not in the mood for an early class… but we had to meet at 8:00 am at Aroma to catch a bus for our tour.
Our teachers took us down to Rechov HaNivi’im, literally the "street of the prophets”, to show us around. This historic western Jerusalem neighborhood was home to many of the first international consulates and internationally sponsored churches in the city near the end of Ottoman rule. Most notably, the Russian Compound stands in this area, a sprawling space which includes a large Orthodox Church, an old hotel once owned by the Tsar’s brother (since converted into office space for a number of organizations), and, now, the Jerusalem Municipal Courts and a small prison. Also in this area are old Italian, German, British, and Ethiopian consulates and related churches. The tour was given entirely in Hebrew by our teacher, and I am happy to say that I understood most of it.
Once back at the Hebrew University campus, we got right back to work on binyan huf’al. As with our nif’al – pa’al, exercises, we focused on how to correctly rewrite active sentences as passive and vice versa. We also did more reading about Rechov HaNivi’im, the challenges it has faced as both a historic and now crumbling neighborhood. It’s latest challenge is presented by the construction of the Jerusalem Light Rail, which will, once in operation, be running down Rekhov Yaffo. Formerly one of the major streets in the capital, much of traffic that once went through has been diverted to HaNivi’im, an even more narrow street even less equipped to handle the thousands of cars now taking this route every day. The city is considering widening the road, which would require the demolition of many historical buildings. Obviously this has resulted in some public outcry… No resolution here yet.
After class, I did some work and then took the bus down to the old city to meet friends. After wandering the shuks in the Arab and Christian quarters for a bit, we went to the Jewish Quarter for my first real visit (with the exception of the Kotel) in my time so far in Israel. My real stop of interest was the Hurva Synagogue. I have heard a lot about the reconstruction of this old shul, and was very excited to see the final result. Unfortunately, it was closed to tourists.
I waited with a friend patiently outside as I saw a few people occasionally darting in and out of a side entrance. Once I was able to catch the door open, I ran up to the kid “guarding” and asked if I could go inside. He said that tourists were not allowed right now and that people were studying inside. I said that I could enter to pray, and he let me in. The synagogue is certainly has an air of distinction and awe about it, but it is hardly the impressive site I had imagined.
Out of respect for the many chevrutahs studying inside, I did not take pictures, so please bear with my written description. It really looks much like any other synagogue built in the classic style with a large Aron HaKodesh at the front, a raised bima at the center with columns at all four corners, and fixed rows of pews all around. The (limited) artwork is a bit more interesting in terms of which images they chose to represent. At the rear, is an idyllic mural of a synagogue on a hill with flowers and grass in the foreground with a passage from Psalms underneath. I didn’t catch the specifics so I’ll have to go back.
At each of the four corners of the hall are images of different sites in Israel. At the left of the Aron was a mural of Maharat HaMachpelah (the Tomb of the Patriarchs) in Hebron. To the right was a mural of Kever Rachel (the Tomb of Rachel) in Bethlehem. In the rear left was a mural of the City of Tiveria (Tiberias) on the Sea of Galilee. To the rear right was an image of Migdal David (the Tower of David) in the old city of Jerusalem.
While the symbolism of the first three is fairly clear including two of the most important holy sites in Israel and the northern city of Tiveria where the Talmud Yerushalmi was composed and collected, the inclusion of the Tower of David makes little sense. Despite its illustrious sounding name, the tower was only first constructed in the second century BCE to be destroyed and rebuilt again by Christians, Muslims, Mamluks, and Ottoman conquerors. While it may be an interesting historical reference point for Herodian era defenses (and onward), it really has no religious significance, nor was it in any way associated with the period of Davidic rule. I am very curious to speak with the architects and designers about their choice… In a country like Israel, they cannot be too hard to find.
On the way back to Kfar HaStudentim in the evening, I was taking the 4 bus through Mea Sharim and we were blocked about halfway through the neighborhood by a burning dumpster in the middle of the road. I’m not sure what the residents are protesting now, but I’m sure it will make its way into the papers. Stay tuned.