Jerusalem Celebrating Back to Normal

Oh, what a difference this year in Jerusalem from last year at this time!

Just a few days after Passover and Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and it is a time of Yom Hazikaron, Remembrance for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror, and Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day.

This year the annual celebrations were back, though with some limitations.

Israel 73 was a time for celebration after a year of lockdowns and isolation.

Extra flags were both flying above and draped along the Knesset Building.

More flags were placed on Israeli government buildings.

Private apartment buildings also were decorated blue and white.

Flags and flowers were seen in Katamon,

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and more flags and flowers lined the streets in Nachalot.

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This year seemed to have more blue and white than I remembered in past.

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And of course, the shops by Machane Yehuda Market were ready.

The Yizkor remembrance symbol, the flower found in Israel, called the Dam HaMacabbim,  appears on memorial stickers and pins. The name is derived form the legend that every spot where the flower grows, a drop of blood was spilled. Last year, my pin stayed in a drawer, this year I was able to wear it outside.

Har Herzl was closed last year to mourning families on Yom HaZikaron. This year it was open but limited, so I went on Tuesday to see them setting up for the official memorial ceremony the next morning.

Security was busy working inside, but two of the memorial guides posed outside of the structure which has the names of fallen engraved on its walls.

Har Herzl Military Cemetery was prepared with flags, black ribbons, memorial candles, flowers and a small white plastic stool at each grave.

This colorful wreath was from the Prime Minister’s Office, placed on the grave of Yoni Netanyahu. Closer and less adorned in the photo is the grave is of David Elazar, the ninth Chief of Staff of the IDF, who served from 1972 to 1974.

In the distance is the grey-haired twin brother of Moshe Sabbah, born in Morocco, who fell at age 19. Each stone resting place marks a son, a brother, so many, too many, 18 to 20-year-olds.

Former lone solider Michael Levin’s grave is piled high from visitors’ remembrances.

Another lone soldier, Alex Sasaki, was buried two years ago and is marked by yellow flags placed by visitors. Zechariah Baumel’s brother came to say Tehillim on Tuesday, where the missing-in-action soldier’s remains were finally returned to Israel and providing closure for the family’s ordeal.

So many graves, each with a story, one could wander and wonder for days.

But walking home from Har Herzl through Nayot Park where hundreds of young people were gathering before Yom HaZikaron was a perfect antidote to the mood of the military cemetery.

Again the next morning, groups of young children stood quietly at attention for two minutes at the sound of the memorial siren.

With limited access to Har Herzl on Yom HaZikaron, commemorations were held at smaller cemeteries throughout Israel.

The Givat Ram Cemetery, with the Supreme Court in view, had more flowers and candles and people coming than when I went a few years ago.

This cemetery became active when in 1948, the Jews could no longer get to the Mount of Olives to bury their loved ones as they had for centuries. Some of the old stones are nameless.

Exiting the cemetery to Gan Sacher, Sacher Park, the new Candle Memorial in memory of those who died in the siege of Leningrad is located along the path.

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Gan Sacher was prepared for the Yom Haatzmaut mangals, BBQs, with new large metal bins around for the remains of the grilling charcoals.

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The official state ceremony for Yom Haatzmaut, begins with a transition from Yizkor, remembering the fallen to the celebrating Independence.

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This year again a live audience watched the televised program as well as those at home watching the show. One of the honored torch lighters was Tzipi Harpenes, the principal of AMIT Elaine Silver Technological High School. I visited her school in Beer Sheva and met her, and I can tell you, there is much more to add to her amazing story.

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However, there were multiple community ceremonies as well. This one at Ramban shul was not only standing room only, but due to corona restrictions, people stood outside as well.

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This was the synagogue of Zechariah Baumel’s family, notice his name was added to the memorial wall on the bottom left.

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For many, this was the first time back at the synagogue in over a year. So the welcome back sign was very appropriate.

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Inside the ark was draped with flags as the evening service began.

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The Great Synagogue was open again, but with limited numbers, the “green pass” and id’s needed to enter.

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The memorial flame was at the entrance to the Begin Heritage Center.

The Kotel, Western Wall Plaza, was again the scene of the official start of Yom HaZikaron, with President Rivlin speaking. The corona dividers were gone, but the numbers were still limited on Tuesday night.

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Wednesday night at the Kotel, the memorial names were still seen.

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But the flag raised and memorial torch extinguished as the Independence Day prayers and celebrations began.

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Thousands attended the service, which ending with singing and dancing.

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Solitude was only to be found at the Egalitarian section of the Western Wall.

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From the Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City,

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from the Takana Rishona, First Station,

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and from Teddy Park the sounds of singing and prayer rang out.

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Teddy Park had limited attendance, but that did not stop dancing in the streets as the music in venues was projected outside.

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It was hard to get a photo of the crowd at Teddy Park – it was so large.

Community centers, Sultan’s Pool, Safra Square, Gan Sacher were some other locations with live music and celebrants well into the morning hours.

But the real streets were not only full of beautiful music and celebrations.

It was distressing and hard to believe so few people made such noise in their antigovernmental protesting. I would have ignored them but they started up again on Shabbat which was even worse.

But to end a busy week on high notes, the flyover was back again this year.

And fireworks. There were multiple locations. But my only decent photo was this one over Silwan which was lit up for Ramadan.

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The beginning of the Muslim Ramadan month and Yom Haatzmaut coincided this year. The walls of the Old City were lit up as we all proceeded home after a night of celebrations.

This year in Jerusalem – so different than last year!

The recording of the national ceremony on Har Herzl – HERE

More Yom HaZikaron images on Facebook HERE

Hope next year to see you on the Jerusalem streets for these special days.

Jerusalem Up and Down Weeks

One day it was so hot I put away my boots and took out the summer clothes. The next day out came the boots again, as the clouds covered the sun and cold winds blew.

Today walking home from the shuk I lost count of how many times the weather changed. Perfect up and down weather for an up and down week.

Passover and Elections seem so long ago, but it was only last week.

It’s that time of year when flags line Jerusalem streets. The season filled with special holidays, the Yoms -Yom HaShoah, Yom Hazikaron, followed by Yom Haatzmaut- Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror, and Israel’s Independence Day.

It is time for the annual roller coaster of emotional events.

But this year, first, was the process of forming a government. Again.

Extra security was in place by Monday morning at Beit Hanasi, the Israeli President’s residence, where there was a full-day schedule of political parties coming to tell the Israeli President their preference for Prime Minister – for the fourth time in two years.

The media room looked similar to how it looked in past elections.

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The main room was set for the delegations to wait prior to meeting with President Rivlin in the smaller room to the right of the red carpet.

The Shas representatives had a consult on their phones outside.

Overhead helicopters practiced for their Yom Haatzmaut morning flyover.

A reporter found a quiet spot to speak in the Beit Hanasi garden,

while out on the street a noisy protest was going in in front of TV cameras.

All-day the politicians came and went. It was interesting to see Shas members leaving and MK Chili Tropper greeting them as fellow Blue and White party members watched the warm exchange.

Then on Tuesday, the streets around the Knesset were closed off.

Horses were draped with Israeli flags on their fancy blankets, lined up by the new National Library, ready to follow motorcycles and lead the Israeli President for the swearing-in of the 24th Knesset.

With street closings, getting out can be as complicated as getting in.

Corona limitations affected the numbers of people allowed to attend the swearing-in, but not as drastically as last year.

Since I did not get access this time, I found a good spot in the Rose Garden.

In the end I was pleased, seeing that the photographers stood all the way on the left. I had a much better view from across the road then they did inside.

But I had to stand next to the noisy protesters, shouting the entire time.

Busha! Busha! screamed a women holding large yellow stars, right into my ear. There were differences of opinion as to what and who should be embarrassed.

It was nice to stroll through Gan Sacher, Sacher Park, on the way home. The weather was cool, the location quiet, with groups having end-of-day BBQs.

On more than one day the Yom Haatzmaut flyover rehearsals filled the skies preparing for the annual aerial stunts missing last year.

Blue and white flags popped up on buildings and flew on cars.

Spring flowers were bursting with color along the Jerusalem streets.

Guides were sharing the stories of Jerusalem’s past to groups of tourists. Here near the new Orient Hotel, each one of the old Templer buildings has a story and history to relate.

One of the locations announced for events this week was the Train Theater.

I finally understand how the popular children’s story time location got its name. The original Train Theater was relocated and landscaped.

It is next to the new Train Theater which was built next to Liberty Bell Park.

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With spring weather and falling corona numbers, Friday felt and looked like a holiday time in Jerusalem parks.

A week of contrasts, not only the weather.

Blowing the bugle at Yad Vashem at the start of Yom HaShoah.

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Stopping and standing for the memorial siren on Yom Shoah morning.

Removing the security checkpoints at Machane Yehuda Market with tour groups back again. The feeling of coming out from a year of isolation.

New signs were hung over the Jerusalem streets in preparation for celebrating Independence in Jerusalem.

What a “happening” week it was and will be in Jerusalem.

Passover – This Year in Jerusalem

Passover or Pesach,

the holidays of Spring have passed.

The Jerusalem holiday crowds returned in the tens of thousands as many of the coronavirus restrictions were lifted. The Birkat Kohanim, Priestly Blessing, was extended to two days in order to accommodate more people at the Kotel, the Western Wall.

Watching the live service online, I was able to get a front-row seat on both days without leaving home. Plus the video is available for all to enjoy now.

Before the holiday began we had elections for the 24th Knesset. Notice the COVID-19 dividers and limited numbers allowed in the room.

Plenty of parties to pick from. But as of today, as the new Knesset is sworn in, the makeup of the new government is still very uncertain. President Rivlin has given the mandate to Benjamin Netanyahu who had the most recommendations, but not a majority of 61, so here we go again. Will have to wait and see what happens next. One difference this fourth time in under two years was the generous amount of hand sanitizer in the voting booth.

On my way home, people were out on the streets. There was a party atmosphere with a day off from work, and finally freed from apartments.

This was the scene in my kitchen when I returned after voting. Those eggs (and more) are long gone and the cucumber salad and pickles were finished off last week, but a few glutin-free cookies remain in the freezer.

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Last year we prepared for a seder with two people, and this year the seder had two tables. One table was preset on Friday to save time after Shabbat.

With the change of clocks and the holidays, time was a blur. It was a bit of a challenge to know what day it was, plus keeping track of who was to be at each meal, downsized from the old days to smaller family units.

For Passover, museums returned and were open with prior registration,

while some previously open food places closed for Passover.

Israeli nature spots and parks were filled with family reunions.

The new visitor center in Tel Lachish was not open, but the trail was ready for the stream of hikers.

New playgrounds in new neighborhoods sprung from the barren earth.

And oh, oh the traffic returning to the Jerusalem streets. Here are the blue lights of the Prime Minister’s motorcade weaving its way out of Jerusalem.

As one who remembers the old Route 1, I marvel each time we wind our way up the new roads to Jerusalem in multiple lanes packed with cars.

At Jaffa Gate, an oversized banner welcomed tens of thousands of visitors with “Happy Passover in Jerusalem” in bright spring colors.

Inside Jaffa Gate, signs showed the way to the Kotel, the Western Wall.

Security was out and visible, but relaxed for the holiday crowds.

A Happy Purim sign was up in the Rova, the Jewish Quarter. Purim was last month, but the crowds indeed seemed happy.

Happy to be out and back in the Old City, and to sit and eat kosher for Passover food they did not have to prepare or eat at home.

The Kotel Plaza was still divided to provide size-regulated services.

The size of holiday crowds was similar to the past years. I went in the afternoon after Birkat Kohanim to see what was happening.

The only quiet location I found on Passover was the usual one at the egalitarian section of the Western Wall. What was unusual was that security allowed a man dressed in his Haredi holiday attire to go down. In the past, I had seen religious-looking men were stopped and denied entrance.

Popup popcorn stands (for Sephardim only) were in multiple locations, wafting the familiar aroma to entice customers.

Young and old, they came, all day, well into the night on Passover walking to the Old City and the Kotel as on holidays past. So many baby strollers!

The clean-up crews were noticeable and are to be commended, as the sanitation workers labored overtime to keep the Jerusalem streets clean.

After an upside down year, it was good to be out, even wearing a mask.

Crowds filled Mamilla Mall, walking, shopping, and sitting to eat.

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The new art in Mamilla Mall was popular with visiting children.

This last sign of the protesters was removed immediately after Passover and the construction of France Square and Paris Fountain has begun.

The original dedication stone with the mayors of Jerusalem and Paris in 2008 could use a good clean-up and restoration.

The image of coming out of hibernation as lumbering bears was no longer appropriate. The lighter feeling on the Jerusalem streets was of millions of butterflies bursting out after a year in cocoons, filling the parks in the pleasant weather.

The fountain was not flowing in Teddy Park, but Israelis sat to enjoy the Jerusalem nature spot.

The Jerusalem cats were looking satisfied after finding full dumpsters.

Jerusalem filled with traffic, a sign of “normal” after a very difficult pandemic year with no international tourism.

This spring Israelis returned to Jerusalem. Here’s hoping as we say at the end of the seder, “Next Year in Jerusalem” will be for all.

But before we can relax and enjoy the flowers, it’s time for the Yoms!

Always something happening on the Jerusalem streets: at Yad Vashem Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes Remembrance Day, will be observed this year starting Wednesday evening, April 7, through Thursday, April 8, 2021, with live broadcast in English – HERE