“For if a land has a soul, Jerusalem is the soul of the land of Israel” — David Ben-Gurion
Imagine all that separates your own family from mortal danger and perhaps your entire people from their holiest site are enemy forces just yards away, firing at you from a position of strategic advantage in fortified trenches at the top of a hillside. Would you find the courage and strength to fight, even if the odds were stacked against you?
This scenario is what the Israeli soldiers faced at Ammunition Hill, the site of one of the fiercest battles of the Six-Day War. On the night of June 6, 1967, Israeli Paratroopers infiltrated this fortified Jordanian military post, and after four hours of intense battle, their intrepid brigade conquered Ammunition Hill, helping to secure the route to the Kotel in the fight for Jerusalem.
Today, we learned about the battle that took place at Ammunition Hill, where 36 Israeli soldiers and 71 Jordanians lost their lives. We paid tribute at this national memorial to those who died and heard stories of personal bravery and loss in a documentary brought to life through an illuminated topographical map. We also navigated the underground trenches to learn firsthand how they gave the Jordanians a military advantage that the Israeli paratroopers overcame despite being significantly outnumbered.
Eitan played for us the song Givat Hatachmoshet (גבעת התחמושת), which gives an authentic description of the experience of the battle, and we explored the tanks and cannons on the grounds of Ammunition Hill overlooking Mount Scopus.
We then played our own “war games” in an intensely negotiated and hard-fought match of Capture the Flag, military-style, where anyone tagged out had to do pushups or jumping jacks rather than go to jail. Somehow Orelle managed to smile for the photo below while holding plank position for several minutes – no easy feat! Occasionally, Mr. Steinberg would announce a grenade attack, and everyone had to duck and take cover. But have no fear, ice cream was the reward for our hard-working soldiers …
We then moved on to the Old City, starting at the Jaffa Gate with 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 dizzying walk took us high above the Armenian Quarter, ultimately descending at the Zion Gate near David’s Tomb.
From there, it was a short walk to the Jewish Quarter, for lunch and shopping and to explore more of the history of the Old City. We learned about life in the Cardo (the main thoroughfare) in Roman times, heard from some Jewish Quarter residents, and even spotted a Nobel Laureate basking in the afternoon Jerusalem sunshine.
On Shabbat, the crowds made it difficult to actually reach the Western Wall. Today was finally our moment for private prayer at this holiest of holy sites, our time to write notes to God or personal thoughts and place them between the ancient stones. Some of us also grappled with the complex politics and history of the unequal prayer rights of men and women at the Wall.
We then descended underground again into the Western Wall Tunnels, which provided time travel 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 subterranean passageway, seeing ancient roads, cisterns, and a mikvah. We took a moment for reflection in the dark quiet overlooking the green pool that ends the ancient water aqueduct in the tunnel.
Believe it or not, we then squeezed in a trip to the popular Malcha Mall for dinner before heading back to the hotel …
Our feet may ache from miles of walking on the unforgiving Jerusalem stone, but our hearts and minds are overflowing from all we learned and experienced today during our trek through the Old City. Here were a few reflections:
- “The Kotel was very powerful for me. I was very grateful that I got to be there not only myself, but with my friends.”
- “It still doesn’t feel real to me that we are in Israel. We’ve been waiting for this for nine years, and it feels strange that we aren’t going to be together next year.”
- “I’ve really liked all the activities, especially the water tunnels and the shuk, but also the people who are surrounding us…not only our classmates, but also the Israelis.”
- “At the mall today, I went to a store and the people who were running the store were very talkative to me. I felt like there was a connection even though we are from different countries, and that was nice. I also really like how you can bargain at shuks. I wish we could do that in America.”
- “I appreciate the culture and telling my parents about it and how they should come, too. Israel feels like it is mine.”
- “I was really nervous to go up on to the top of the walls because I am afraid of heights, but I did it, and I didn’t really have fun, but I am glad that I did it.”
One of our Hebrew words of the day from our counselor Gali was ‘אחלה’ or ‘Achla,’ meaning great … which pretty much says it all!