Every year, my family spends a few days touring Yerushalayim while staying in the timeshare apartment in the center of the city that I and my brother inherited from my parents of blessed memory. We decided that this year we would take it easy and not run around too much. We would just “chill.” Well, chilling was not such an option in the boiling weather, and we ended up running around quite a bit. I’ll just share with you a few highlights.
We love to simply walk the streets of Yerushalayim, which is a good thing because there is no place to park a car. We walk and use public transportation for all of our travel. We were happy to see Yerushalayim bustling with tourists once again. We missed everybody during COVID days. In our small country, with so many visitors, especially this time of year, you never know whom you will meet. I bumped into acquaintances I hadn’t seen in decades (Please don’t ask me how many). On Friday morning, my husband shook hands with Nir Barkat, former Mayor of Jerusalem and current Member of the Knesset, while walking through the shuk at Machane Yehudah. On Friday night, my son shook hands with Ben Shapiro, the well-known conservative political commentator, who came to daven at the Kosel.
We took a walk to the Kosel one afternoon and stopped off on the way to see two movies in the Old City. One was a free movie recounting the war fought to capture the Old City, and the other was at Beit Plugat HaKotel, a museum located in the heart of the Jewish Quarter that tells the fascinating story of the Western Wall Platoon, a group of young members of the Beitar movement who protected the Old City and the people who wished to daven at the Kosel during the British Mandate. Although secular, they placed their lives at risk in order to blow the shofar at the Kosel on Motza’ei Yom Kippur. Both movies are highly recommended. Beit Plugat HaKotel requires reservations.
One morning, we spontaneously decided to take a tour of the Knesset, an excellent tour that has two critical components: It’s interesting and it’s fully air-conditioned! Unfortunately, we forgot that visitors must show identification. My husband and I didn’t have our teudot zehut (identity cards) with us, but we did have our driver licenses. Our son had nothing to show. Uh-oh. The guard would not accept an electronic copy of his teudat zehut. This was a government building with members of the Parliament walking around, after all. But my son is so not-threatening. The guard was not impressed. He wouldn’t budge. I had to figure out a solution quickly. Otherwise, we would be back in the scorching sun. Not a viable option. I searched through my wallet for something that would help bolster my case and pulled out an adorable baby photo of my son. Such a cute baby would obviously never make trouble in the Knesset, or anywhere else for that matter. The guard burst out laughing and suggested that we try to get permission inside. Great! We had crossed the first hurdle. The clerks inside also explained that only hard copy identification documents are acceptable, but they said that maybe they could ask Koby. I said that asking Koby, whoever he was, sounded like a great idea. Koby took a look at our digital teudat zehut and at our son. He then tested our son’s knowledge of his identity number and birthdate. Thankfully, my son passed the test and we were in! Only in Israel!
I’ve done the Knesset tour several times. I always enjoy it, but this guide was the best. He was well-informed, entertaining, and mentioned a few things that I had never heard. I’ll only tell you some of what he said, so that you will be able to enjoy the tour when you come to visit.
The guide started at the replica of the Israeli Declaration of Independence which stands close to the entrance of the Knesset so that as the MKs (Members of the Knesset) enter the building, they will be reminded of why they are there and what they are trying to accomplish. The declaration was written by a sofer who requested to remain anonymous. Those who signed the declaration originally signed a blank paper. This is because the British Mandate ended on a Friday afternoon. There was not enough time to write the declaration on parchment, the declaration that all the parties had agreed to before Shabbos, and the council did not want the state to be established through chilul Shabbos. At the same time, they did not want to leave a political vacuum that could potentially be dangerous to the fledgling state of their dreams. Even though there were many opinions among the people who signed, they all had enough trust in David Ben-Gurion to sign a blank paper. Wouldn’t it be nice if such trust existed today, as well? The Declaration of Independence identifies the principles and characteristics of the state on which everyone agrees. The State of Israel will always be Jewish and democratic.
Usually, when touring the Plenum Hall, visitors sit in the visitors’ sound-proof and bullet-proof gallery located in the upper part of the hall. Since the Knesset is not in session due to the elections, we sat in the VIP area. Not bad. The guide emphasized over and over again that everything that takes place in the Knesset is transparent. There are video cameras that live-stream the sessions to the Knesset channel on the Internet. With the exception of committees dealing with the security of the State, Israeli citizens are welcome to sit in on, and sometimes even participate in the meetings. Every member of the Knesset has the right to speak for one minute about any topic he/she chooses. I once sat in the plenum during The Three Weeks and one of the chareidi MKs spoke about the significance of the loss of the Beis HaMikdash to am Yisrael. Another one spoke about Rav Elyashiv, who had just passed away. The guide said that one MK consistently stands at the podium and lists the names of people killed in car accidents.
The wall behind the Speaker’s dais in the Plenum Hall symbolizes the relationship between the physical and the spiritual Jerusalem. There are many geometric shapes representing all of the people in the country living in harmony.
The guide talked about the role of the Knesset to pass laws and also be an example to the nation. The Knesset hires many people with disabilities to work in various capacities. Some work in the dining room and some drive carts delivering messages from one person to another. The Knesset also hires retirees. There is an MK who is deaf. The Knesset hopes that the rest of the country will follow suit in this regard.
When we left the Knesset, to our pleasant surprise, we noticed that we were passing the kever of Rav Gedalya Moshe, the Zvhiller Rebbe. People from all walks of life who daven at the kever of this tzadik have been known to see y’shuos (salvation) in health, shidduchim, having children, and many other needs. There are handwritten and printed notes hanging all over the area of the kever, publicizing these y’shuos. This kever has become popular in recent years with even major government officials coming to daven there. We could not let this opportunity pass, and so we stopped off to daven there, as well.
As much as we tour Yerushalayim, there is always more to see and experience. I look forward to our next visit and invite you to do the same.