“This Jerusalem stone, so resilient and supple, bows to the transient follies of humankind, bearing testimony like a hundred witnesses, and yet remains silent.” — Chaim Be’er
Today, our feet may ache from miles and miles of walking on the unforgiving Jerusalem stone, but our hearts and minds are overflowing from all we learned and experienced today during our epic trek through the Old City.
We began essentially where it all began, in the City of David, the place where Jerusalem was born. We walked back in time 3,800 years–yes, 3,800 years–at the site of a mindblowing archeological excavation that is ongoing at the site where King David built his palace. Using the Tanakh as our guide and drawing upon the history learned in Jewish Studies, our journey then took us into the period of King Solomon, as we walked to the site where he was anointed as king. “Long live King Solomon!” our guide Ariel shouted, his voice reverberating in the underground chamber.
We then continued into the period of King Hezekiah, who fortified the city against the invading Assyrians and also rerouted the waters of the Gihon Spring into the city about 2,700 years ago through an underground tunnel known as Hezekiah’s Tunnel. An inscription engraved in the wall of the tunnel teaches us that this feat of engineering was accomplished by carving simultaneously from both ends until the workers met each other somewhere in the middle.
We walked through the 1,750-foot tunnel one direction only, making our way through the knee-high cold water of the Gihon Spring in the darkness with only glowsticks as our guide, a few of us singing Matisyahu’s “One Day” and “Jerusalem of Gold” at the top of our lungs. At the end of the trek, we reached the Siloam Pool, where we celebrated our successful tunnel walk, dried our feet, and learned about the Prophet Jeremiah, who foretold the painful destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple.
Flash forward to the Second Temple period. We continued walking underground–this time in a dry tunnel–until we found ourselves at Robinson’s Arch, a monumental staircase carried by a wide stone arch that stood at the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount. It was built as part of the expansion of the Second Temple initiated by Herod the Great. Here, we debriefed our walk through history, including some takeaway lessons about leadership and Jewish ethics from the kings in each period.
We then enjoyed a pizza and shawarma lunch, shopping, and a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, which led us to the Ramparts Walk. We climbed the narrow stone catwalk surrounding the Old City, giving us a bird’s eye view of both ancient and modern Jerusalem. The walk took us above the Armenian Quarter, passing by the Tower of David and crossing over the Zion Gate. We descended before the Dung Gate, and from there, it was just a short walk back to the Kotel.
On Shavuot, it was impossible to actually reach the Western Wall. Today was finally our moment for private prayer and reflection at this holiest of sites, our time to write notes to God and place them between the ancient stones of the wall.
We then descended underground one more time into the Western Wall Tunnels, which provided another ‘time tunnel’ to ancient Jerusalem–this time back to the city’s glory days in the 1st century CE. The tunnels are the result of excavations underway to try to uncover the entire length of the Kotel. We walked along this subterreanean passageway, seeing ancient roads and aqueducts that brought water to Jerusalem’s residents and pilgrims. We even saw a stone that makes up the wall that weighs more than 600 tons!
Here’s a fast-forward look at some of our tunnel time today …
After a very long day of walking, it was off to the Hadar Mall for a quick dinner and then a surprise birthday celebration for Eric, Israel-style! Yom Huledet Sameach to Eric, and we’re excited to continue our Jerusalem adventure tomorrow …