| || |
May 22--Our Anniversary
Today we meandered through the ultra-orthodox section of Jerusalem, visited an Italian synagogue, and self-toured a museum of Judaica. My wife and I have seen clusters of the ultra-orthodox Chasidim and Haredim throughout Jerusalem, but never exclusively in their city within a city, Mea Shearim. I made sure to take pictures discretely—focusing only on buildings--because of the sect’s sensitivities. The narrow bustling streets, tenement outcroppings, and various small shops were a picturesque scene from Eastern Europe in the 19th century. Ironically, our only purchase was a couple of photos of typically reverent ultra-orthodox men; tourists are warned not to take pictures of any ultra-orthodox man, woman, or child in Mea Shearim.
Next, we visited the Italian Synagogue, so-called because all of the ornate furnishings—from the Ark to the light fixtures—either came from or were reproductions of Italian synagogues, primarily one in Venice. The large gold-leaf Ark was the most impressive one I have seen in Jerusalem.
Our last site was the Heichal Shlomo Museum. It contained a wealth of Jewish memorabilia. Three rooms were particularly striking. One housed a collection of anti-Semitic propaganda in the form of grotesquely caricatured Jewish figurines and graphic images of rapacious Jews found in newspaper clippings and posters around the world. Very disturbing stuff. Another room had a dozen or so hanging cloth bags containing irreparably damaged Torahs from Holocaust Europe. Each of the “deceased” was numbered as if it were a tattoo in the concentration camps.
But the most emotional moment for me occurred in part of a room containing a tallit that had survived many close calls since the Holocaust. The incident involved a ship with illegal Jewish immigrants who had tried to dock at Haifa during the Holocaust. The British, not allowing the refugees to disembark, demanded that the ship return to Nazi-dominated Europe, where the deportees would most likely be slaughtered. Some of the Zionist activists on board decided it was better to blow up the ship than send the immigrants back to a certain death—a situation akin to the mass suicides in Masada to avoid Roman slavery. Hundreds of Jews were killed (and 20 British soldiers) in the explosion, but the tallit years later was recovered intact in Haifa harbor.