Jerusalem Streets Busy Again

The Jerusalem streets are busy again–the traffic is unpredictable with backups and street closings. Ah, to be “normal” again.

An annual biking event was held for those up early enough to ride through the Jerusalem streets as the sun was rising on Friday morning.

This year it seems like people are trying to make up for lost ‘corona’ time by packing in events and programs and trips to Jerusalem.

With President Guillermo Lasso of the Republic of Ecuador and First Lady María de Lourdes Alcívar on their state visit to Israel, the sounds of official motorcade sirens returned to the streets.

Besides official meetings and a State dinner at Beit Hanasi, with the Israeli President and Michal Herzog, Ecuador opened an Innovation and Trade office in Jerusalem at Hebrew University, with a large delegation of ministers and business people.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kosovo Donika Gërvalla-Schwarz had a motorcade escort as she attended official events, such as going to Yad Vashem and meeting the Israeli Foreign Minister.

Though it was not on the official state list of events, she was accompanied by Israeli protocol and greeted warmly at the Kosovo Embassy in Jerusalem.

She was hosted at a reception held at the Jerusalem Embassy in Israel, where she spoke briefly to invited guests.

In her remarks, she called Charge d’affaires Ines Demiri ‘Ambassador,’ a title I believe she deserves for the work she has done this past year to promote Kosovo and joint business and travel prospects between the two countries.

Here we are in the middle of May and the week with Yom HaZikaron and Yom Haatzmaut is always a busy time, but there was more this year.

The Michael Levin Base for lone soldiers and Bnot Sherut received a Sefer Torah dedicated by the Michael Levin Foundation based in the United States. Former Ambassador Ron Dermer was the featured speaker.

I loved how the crowd builds, as people come out and follow the Torah as it is carried joyously around the Jerusalem streets.

On the same day was the Nefesh BeNefesh Bonei Awards, this year held at Beit Hanasi for the first time. Olim, immigrants, who have contributed to Israel and its growth in various categories were honored.

Not all the honorees were able to attend. Dr. Jonathan Rieck was home sick with Covid, so his two sons accepted his honor. Entertainer Josie Katz also was not able to attend.

I got stuck standing in one spot for the entire program and was not able to get different angles of the speakers or the event.

I remembered a previous time I was in that one spot unable to move because of a live broadcast, but that time I did not complain.

As President, Isaac Herzog seems to enjoy greeting attendees after the events.

No longer under a news embargo is the news of the new state-of-the-art MDA blood collection center in Ramle.

On a media tour before the dedication, we watched as they prepared the facility.

The massive facility is so impressive I did a short video with some of the clips I took as we descended deep underground to see the new storage vault and largest door in Israel and much more.

The 2022 Jerusalem International Book Forum and Mishkenot Sha’ananim Writers’ Festival is back from May 15 – 19. Opening events at the YMCA.

Every Thursday, the Israel Museum’s Illustration Library is offering stories from its collection of thousands of children’s books from all over the world. Ages 3–8 | 4:30 pm Special activity | 5 pm Story hour | Free

The Israeli Ministry of Education is hosting the inaugural Education Innovation Conference on behalf of the OECD and reps from 18 countries are expected to arrive in Israel at the end of this month.

Flags are up for Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day on May 29, 2022, and Jerusalem has prepared a long list of public events to celebrate 55 years.

But first, we have Lag B’Omer this week. With all the building and construction and park renovations, where will the kids make those huge bonfires?

After two years, much more is happening again on the Jerusalem streets!

Hope you can join us in the celebrations soon.

The Best of Jerusalem, as Israel turns 74

It was 21 years ago that I was in Israel for Yom HaZikaron and Yom Haatzmaut for the first time. We arrived after a March of the Living trip to Poland and a visit to Auschwitz on Hitler’s birthday. 

Terrorists were blowing up buses on the Jerusalem, Israel, streets in 2001. Our group was sent to Arad and Beer Sheva instead of Jerusalem, which was thought to be too dangerous during those Intifada days.

The irony – after traveling by bus through Poland, and then being afraid of walking the Jerusalem streets, its buses, and eateries!

On Yom HaZikaron, Israeli Memorial Day, we remembered 24,068 Israeli soldiers who fell in battle and the 4,216 civilians who were murdered by terrorists.

To begin the busy week, The Michael Levin Base had a Sefer Torah dedication Monday night with former Ambassador Ron Dermer the featured speaker. These Torah covers were made specially from the tallis bag Harriet Levin had made for her son fallen soldier, Michael Levin z”l.

“You can’t fulfill your dreams unless you dare to risk it all” he had stated.

Photo credit: Kobi Gideon GPO

The official opening state ceremony is held annually at the Kotel, Western Wall Plaza, with the President of Israel speaking the lighting of a memorial torch with an honor guard, it is similar each year.

However, there are also thousands of smaller community ceremonies held throughout the country and by various groups. For the past two years, Covid severely limited all the major large community commemorations. The ceremony in Arad was well done and still, a vivid memory of a community united in mourning their fallen soldiers.

This year we attended an English event at Givat Tachmoshet, Ammunition Hill, led by The Michael Levin Base and supported by Norman Blaustein, in memory of his wife Sarah z’l who was murdered over 20 years ago. A terrorist sprayed their car with bullets, on an Israeli highway on the way to Jerusalem. One-shot to the back of her head was fatal. She had made aliyah nine months before.

A total of 28,284 men, women, and children have been killed in terrorist attacks and in defense of the Land of Israel since 1860, the year that the first Jewish settlers left the secure walls of Jerusalem to build new Jewish neighborhoods.

Since the last Memorial Day, 56 new names have been added to the roster of those who died defending the country.

A memorial siren sounds at night and again in the morning. There are official events at Har Herzl most of the day with families of soldiers and in communities throughout Israel as well.

This year the Netanyahus attended the program at the school where Sara works. In many Jerusalem neighborhoods, a ceremony was held at the local memorial site with the names of fallen residents.

Memorial Day ended on Wednesday evening, ushering in Israel’s 74th Independence Day with a multitude of live events with music and dancing.

Musical prayer services public and private could be heard walking along the Jerusalem streets after sunset ending the day of mourning.

Examples of the Blue and White themed plastic boppers, balloons, and glowing headbands were available for sale at First Station.

The musical prayer service attracted a huge crowd, while next to it at First Station the annual main event from Har Herzl’s live broadcast was seen.

People coming and going, and the crowd was so large it was hard to find friends. There were too many Jerusalem large events to attend, they included fireworks, and live musical entertainment, with some lasting all night long.

Annually at Beit Hanasi, the President’s Official Residence, the military honors start the daytime events, while in many synagogues the Hallel prayer is added to the morning service.

For thousands of Israelis, a highlight of Yom Haatzmaut is watching the Tanach Chidon or International Youth Bible Quiz on television.

This was the first time I was able to attend the annual and popular event held at the Jerusalem Theater, and fortunate to be there for the exciting finish. It ended with a tie between two young Israelis. The US representative came in third – first for the Diaspora communities.

The President, Prime Minister, and Jerusalem Mayor were honored to ask a question, but, the event is under Education Minister Dr. Yifat Shasha-Biton who was escorted to the stage to speak.

The full recorded broadcast is available online if you want to check your knowledge with that of these impressive youngsters.

I want to add this audience was the most enthusiastic, yet respectful group I have seen, they and we should all be proud.

In the afternoon the annual President’s Diplomatic Reception was back again after the corona limitations of the past two years,

with the traditional photos of representatives of international armed forces,

and religious leaders based in Israel in attendance.

At the colorful event, I love the military hats on the table as in the past.

New this year was the new Israeli President and Michal Herzog hosting, and featuring a variety of Israeli boutique wineries,

and cheese adorned with miniature Blue and White flags.

Ladies dressed in traditional costumes and men in uniform also enjoyed the Israeli ice cream cones or cups offered at the afternoon reception.

I noticed, as always, the diversity of the attendees,

and the large flags near the outdoor stage,

and wished I could have indulged in more wine with the diplomats who were hosted at Beit Hanasi.

But I wanted to get to the Jerusalem International Conference Center for the Israel Prize ceremony. This was the only decent image I could get. This was one event I should have stayed home and watched live on TV. It was much different than in past years when the live crowd filled the big auditorium.

Walking there thru Gan Sacher, Sacher Park, where people were enjoying family get-togethers on Yom Haatzmaut, some of the smallest flags were the cutest and I did see long time friends, so it was worth the time.

Much more happened this past week, but I will conclude with a brief quote from Dermer’s exceptional remarks which I hope to share in full soon.

The Torah gives us purpose. Israel gives us power.

Purpose without power is a lethal combination…

But power without purpose also cannot secure the Jewish future.   The mightiest of Empires and the greatest of civilizations have crumbled when their people lost their way when they lost their sense of purpose.”

The intense week of the Yoms, Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom Haatzmaut, with its extremes of highs and lows has concluded.

The Power of the IDF and the Purpose of the Torah were exemplified this week, and hopefully, we will continue together to build and celebrate Israel at 75 next year in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Streets are not Straight

Oh, what a week it was.

The Jerusalem streets are always bumpy with highs and lows, nothing seems to be straight or planned with logic. Maps and photos can not capture the topography of Jerusalem.

When the week and day start with the heaviest dust storm you have experienced, how nice it was to wander on the Jerusalem streets, just as the sun is beginning to set. The dust cloud lifting was a perfect opportunity to take a photo of the sun in the sky from a newly developed area in the Baka neighborhood.

I was on my way to a post-Passover Mimouna celebration (delayed for one night) with a gorgeous table laid out for the invited guests.

Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan Nahoum was a marvelous hostess! Her boundless energy greeted each person who arrived over several hours as if they were as important as the Mayor of Jerusalem who arrived late.

Flyover rehearsal for Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day was another favorite high of the week. New stunts are planned for this year!

The first time back to Har Herzl, after two long years for an event, I walked past the military cemetery on my way to Yad Vashem.

The official Israel State Opening Ceremony for Holocaust Remembrance Day took place on Wednesday, at 8:00 pm, in Warsaw Ghetto Square at Yad Vashem, on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem, Israel. 

The testimony videos are readily available on the Yad Vashem website and are highly recommended, with subtitles in Hebrew and English.

I decided to share with you behind-the-live camera scenes.

Leaders of the several international interfaith groups in attendance found

the atmosphere is different from watching on a screen alone from home.

It seemed to me that more international media was on site this year, after corona severely limited attendance to the ceremony for the past two years.

The faces of the torch lighters standing proud, each with a horrific story of their survival but beaming with the hope of future generations, are inspiring and uplifting, as seen here – Zvi Gill

The numbers of survivors decrease but young leaders and IDF groups are seated in the back each year. It is not common to see children attending, but David brought his young son to Yad Vashem for the powerful event.

In the large crowd, it was not possible to find them afterward for a comment or to find long-time friends from overseas in attendance.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s son and family seated in the center of the second row were a focus of the media.

Former President Reuven Rivlin met with and posed with some of the GPO photographers he spent time with over the years.

Former Prime Minister and now Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu made a much less dramatic and quieter entrance than in the past.

The IDF Honor Guard was back on stage standing at attention as usual.

The new Prime Minister and President of Israel made their entrance along with their wives and a few other Israeli officials with multiple cameras aimed close to their faces.

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau lit the flame as he has done in the past.

The crowd watched the TV live stream broadcast projected on a screen.

I was able to get close to Naftali Bennett speaking for the first time as Prime Minister at the Yad Vashem ceremony.

How sad that Shmuel Blumenfeld z”l passed away after doing his video, two weeks before the ceremony, but his son Aryeh was present and lit the torch in his honor and memory.

Each year the survivors are assisted by a close relative, often a grandchild serving in the Israel Defense Force. Their faces show expressions of defiance and survival against incredible odds to move forward and rebuild their lives.

Before leaving the plaza, President Isaac and Michal Herzog went to speak with the honor guard after the ceremony ended.

Benjamin Netanyahu did also before making a quiet exit from the plaza.

Ayelet Shaked stopped for a photo with an admirer on her way out.

And Walter Bingham, 98 years young, standing straight and strong, a survivor originally from Germany, still working as a professional journalist, was honored with a special seat.

From the Yad Vashem entrance lit at night,

I walked down Har Herzl past the military cemetery entrance again, where Israeli flags had been lowered to half-mast for Yom HaShoah.

Further, on the way home, I passed the blue and white lights and flags that were ready for Yom HaZikaron and Yom Haatzmaut to follow this week.

The crowd always stands at the end of the official opening Yom HaShoah commemoration in Jerusalem, Israel to sing HaTikvah – The Hope.

The Jerusalem streets are not straight, but there is always hope.