Guns don’t kill people, dads with pretty daughters do. This I realised five minutes after stepping inside a falafel and shawarma shop in Jerusalem. One of the shawarma guys—who claimed to be a part-time law student—had just asked my gorgeous sister to marry him. “Go make your shawarmas”, my old man replied. Ha! Shalom, Jerusalem! Your shawarma guy obviously failed to charm our pants off, but three nights in the city was enough to make me see why you matter.
“Wake up! Breakfast is served!” I rushed into the bedrooms and urged everyone to get going. It was almost 7:00 am. Our guide pleadingly asked the night before that we be ready by 8:30 am at the latest if we want to visit the must-sees of the New City.
“Good morning! Did you have a good sleep?” Ofir greeted us with a lovely Hebrew accent. “Today is Yom Ha’atzmaut—a very important holiday for us Israelis. We’re celebrating 68 years of Independence. We’ve got a long list of things to do, and streets are going to be crowded, so make sure you stay with me all throughout” A holiday in a foreign land. I was intrigued.
I had a lot of thoughts while on the Mount. There I was standing on a hill whose slope is covered with thousands of gravestones, and right before my eyes was a perfect panoramic view of the old city. For a moment, I thought I was in a movie that was set a thousand years ago. The ancient city was miles away, but I could hear and feel its magnificent walls boast of her history, survival, and people. She was speaking to me; she was asking for my undivided attention… and she got it. I was captivated. It was magical.
At the bottom of the Mount is the Garden of Gethsemane and the adjacent Basilica of the Agony. The garden is not quite what I had in mind. I was expecting seclusion, wilderness, and a lot of hanging vines and creepers, but what I saw instead was a small, well maintained, and man-made piece of land. To be honest, I wasn’t too impressed, but it made me think of the events that occurred during biblical times, and made me reevaluate the way I picture my savior. Maybe Jesus wasn’t a mountain boy. How did I even get the idea that he was a mountain boy? Maybe he was like me—a city kind of gal.
This religious architecture was built with the help of donations from different nations. As I have mentioned in my previous post, I’m not a fan of churches, but this is another church that’s worth visiting. It’s one of the places that actually felt holy to me. The sky-like ceiling, detailed mosaics, and stained glass windows in different hues of blues and purples gave an overwhelming air of melancholy. It felt heavy and sad, but at the same time, really beautiful.
Please allow me my cheesy moment: I feel so lucky and happy (and insert blessed here) for having the chance to witness two important holidays in Israel—Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) while I was in Tiberias and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day) while I was in Jerusalem. I love learning about different cultures, and visiting during an entirely “new to me” holiday certainly gave me a more authentic and educational experience. I felt like I was a part of the Israeli community, and not just a mere outsider.
I wasn’t able to fully observe the events that happened during Yom Hazikaron—I was probably doing some touristy stuff—but what I remember clearly is the sharp sound of a 2-minute siren while having dinner at a buffet. Everyone around us stood up and stopped whatever they were doing for two minutes. I had to stop sipping my thick and hearty lentil soup too.
Shout out to my newfound friend and airplane seatmate Nir for being helpful and telling me in advance about this practice. I would have easily mistaken it for a fire—or some sort of national emergency—alarm if not for the notice.
“Nir, that felt like the longest 2 minutes of my life. I am amazed by how serious people take the 2-minute standstill.”
“It’s longer when you’re thinking of friends you’ve lost. There isn’t anyone in Israel who hasn’t lost a friend or family over the years. So yeah, we do take it seriously.”
Yom Ha’atzmaut is the exact opposite of Yom Hazikaron. The stark contrast in the atmosphere between the two days is stunning, and the emotional transition is impossible to miss.
Independence Day in Israel is family day, a military parade, and a party for the entire nation. Parents and kids go out on hikes and parks for barbecues and picnics; streets become a venue for singing and dancing; the Israeli Air Force performs a number of flybys; and fireworks light up the sky at night.
The most awesome part is that a number of museums were open and FREE of charge! When I learned that admission to The Israel Museum was free during that day, I was like “For real? That’s so cool!” Seriously though, who doesn’t love free stuff? Israel is certainly doing a good job of educating its citizens and foreigners like me.
If there was another thing that I’m not a big fan of, it’s museums. I like art, and I admire people who have a sincere appreciation for museums. I have tried a few times to like them. But nope. I get bored after about half an hour in a museum, and I would rather be outdoors people watching or roaming the aisles of a nearby grocery store.
The Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust Museum) however, is a totally different story. I myself am surprised that I actually LOVED it, and was even a bit disappointed that I had to rush through some parts because we were running out of time. You definitely need more than a day to explore the entire place.
I’m not going to say that I “enjoyed” it, because it was honestly sad and heartbreaking to see preserved photographs and videos of the Holocaust, and to hear the stories of survivors. But I appreciated it and learned a lot.
The museum is perfect in every aspect from the location, design, layout, lighting, data presentation, down to the exit area. It is just so beautiful and moving and powerful. I was left speechless.
Please, please, please visit Yad Vashem if you ever get the chance. If you’re traveling as a family, be informed that kids under the age of 10 aren’t allowed inside.
A little bit of trivia to end my post: Did you know that the Philippine Commonwealth opened its doors to around a thousand plus European Jews during the Holocaust? And this is exactly the reason why we Filipinos are allowed to visit Israel without a visa. How awesome is that?