Jerusalem and the National Holidays

Well, we packed and headed up to Jerusalem for two weeks. We’ve already been here one week working pretty hard! The past couple weeks have been packed again and can pretty much be broken down into two topics: work experience and Israel’s national holidays. I’ll start with the national holidays.

Something that I should point out before really getting into the holidays is that, even though we in the States have the same exact holidays, Israelis have a completely different way of celebrating than we do. The holidays are far more personal and exude far more nationalism. Americans can be very patriotic and many have profound respect for military veterans, but every single Israeli has a personal story attached to these topics.

Part I: The National Holidays
Israel’s national holidays start off with the remembrance of the Holocaust, “Yom HaShoah”, April 8th. That day, we went to a local high school in Akko to attend their memorial service and join a class discussion on the topic of the Holocaust. I have to admit that initially I was not looking forward to going to a high school. As much fun as I had in high school, I avoid them like the plague now and cannot relate to teenagers at all. However, Israeli teens mature much faster than American teens. Israeli 16 year olds act like American 20 year olds. All the students we met connected with us very quickly and I think it had to do with the fact that they all thought we were their age. When they realized we were much older, they were all very shocked. The discussions were all in Hebrew, but there were some students who knew English well enough that they translated for us. The discussions were a little shallow, but very interesting. They didn’t seem to want to open up too much about the topic, in any case, but were more excited in talking to us about who we were and what we were doing in Israel and our personal thoughts on Israel. It made for a memorable day.

At 11am the siren rang. All across Israel on Yom HaShoah, every siren will sound at exactly 11am for exactly one minute. The entire country stops and every person freezes and keeps silent for the full minute in memory of all the people affected by the Holocaust. Every single Israeli is connected to someone directly effected by the Holocaust: grandparent, aunt, uncle, parent, cousin. Survivors of death camps, refugees who made it out without being caught, Jewish soldiers from Palestine (Israel wasn’t yet a state), people secretly fighting to bring the Jews out of Europe and to Palestine or other countries of refuge. Every family has a story.

That evening we went to a Holocaust museum near Akko to attend a memorial service. Important government officials and community leaders were there and we heard the stories of five separate individuals. The entire service was in Hebrew and I didn’t understand much, except the last woman’s story. She talked about how her and her husband were put into a train. There were German soldiers on horseback escorting them to the camp. Somehow they escaped (I didn’t understand everything she said, but I got the general story) and made it to a kibbutz here in Israel. She talked about how much beauty she saw when entering the land and how it gave her so much hope. Made me cry. They ended the services by playing the Israeli national anthem: HaTiqvah, “The Hope”.

The stage. I loved the lighting on the aqueduct.

Took some goofy pics of everyone before the service started. Silly Michael.

The museum

The lights kept changing color!

Me and Riikka

Khail was quite serious.

Riikka was a little more playful.

Benjie showing off his epic beard.

Courtney smiles nicely!

It starts.

Middle/high school string group. They played beautifully.

Changed color again.

Soldiers dressed in white and holding torches.

Some survivors who lit the flames.

Memorial wreaths. The image behind them is of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, which I have seen.

As moving as the services were when hearing about each individual’s story, the overt nationalism could not be missed. Zionist language was thick in the speeches and the statement “never again” was used often. The placement of Yom HaShoah just before Israel’s Independence Day is not by accident. This was the historical event that solidified the creation of a Jewish State in Israel, 6 years after the end of World War II. As an outsider who studied the events that have lead up to the creation of the State, it was also difficult to put out of my mind the mistreatment of Arabs by the State of Israel. Instead, I just focused my attention on the tragedies of the Holocaust.

Then April 15th is the Memorial Day for the Israeli soldiers. Every Israeli citizen, man and woman, is required to join the Israeli Defense Force, men for 3 years, women for 2, minimum. The day before, we went to the Tank Museum in Latrun (where I always stayed when I came to Israel for Tel Gezer!), where they were holding a memorial service for the Masa Olam student program. Masa Olam is a Jewish organization aimed at providing internships for Jews from all over the world to bring them to Israel. There are many many different kinds of internships. Saving the Stones happens to be one of their academic ones and isn’t exclusive for Jews. This time the service was in English, so that was nice.


Mountain mover.

Chuck Norris. I mean, erm, an Israeli soldier.


Latrun Trappist Monastery.

Tel Gezer!



Memorial Wall

Sherman tank on a water tower.

The wall has only the names of the soldiers from the tank division who have died.


They focused on stories of some individuals who were killed in recent battles. Again, the stories were quite moving and nationalism was very overt. Another siren sounded that evening, but this time for a full two minutes. The siren went off again the next morning at 11am. We were working that morning at Kind David’s Tomb. It was bizarre to hear complete silence and stillness in the city.

That night the city shuts down and goes wild because it’s the start of Independence Day. Stores close and bars open. Police blockade roads to car traffic and everyone celebrates in the streets. Kids spayed each other with foam and small masses of people carrying giant Israeli flags started impromptu parades down the streets. On the 16th, everyone goes out to parks and picnics and BBQs. A few of us picnicked and walked around some of the trails around the hills of Jerusalem. It was a good day. And that was pretty much how things went for Israel’s national holidays.

Part II: Work in Jerusalem!
This week we had a small amount of work but they were a lot of fun. Monday and Thursday we worked on remortaring and repointing a wall outside of King David’s Tomb. Aliza is the most amazing person we’ve met so far. She gave us a great break-down of what we were doing and how to make our own mortar. She actually gave us a list of recipes. Ha ha! She was fantastic to work with and very practical. She helped us understand the difference between ideal conservation work and how state funded conservation actually works. We learned how to identify the most important aspects of work and focus on that and do that to the best of our abilities with the tools available to us. She had high expectations for her workers and also for us. I think I learned more from her in two days than I have from all our previous work and lectures combined. She also taught us to hate caper bushes, the most dangerous and evil of the plants. They have very deep roots and tear through mortar and stones like it’s their business to do so.

An evil caper bush, attacking the corner of that wall!

Our work spot!

One of our supervisors, cleaning the last little bits of cement out for us before we start.

Left: ceramic powder; Right: ash. Both will go into our mortar mixture!

Hydraulic lime, sandstone aggregate, ceramic powder. 
Slake lime

Our collection of elements: hydraulic lime, ceramic powder, sandstone powder, ash, and another mix of sandstone.

Aliza showing us the different ingredients.

Yvonne taking a shot of the tools of the trade: rubber gloves (lime burns!), work gloves, spatula, and masons trowel.

We also got to work in the mosaic labs at the Rockefeller Museum. The mosaics we were working on came from Netanyah. They had pulled them out of the site and brought them back to the labs to be cleaned and restored. When removing the mosaics, they cover them in a cloth and glue them to the surface. Then they chisel out the mosaic in sections and flip them onto cardboard or wooden sheets to transport to the labs. Then they find loose pieces to reglue onto the sheet (sometimes replacing pieces that have already fallen off) before adding a plaster backing and flipping them back over. Then we clean the surface, removing the cloth glued to the surface and the dirt and grime accumulated over the hundreds of years they were buried. Then they will display them somewhere or put them back in place at the site.

Example of a bit of mosaic floor attached to the plaster layering and stone foundation.

The mosaic pieces (tesserae) after being removed from the plaster. They're upside down in this photo and in the process of having the loose and missing pieces back in place.

Mosaic after being put back in place. Now it's time for the top to be cleaned!

Once the mosaic is cleaned, a plaster backing is added for easy transport.

This is a lightweight frame to use rather than the plaster.

Mosaic from Lod.

It's absolutely beautiful. Some of its tesserae are made of glass with gold leaf.

Example of some glass tesserae, some with the gold leaf in good condition and another with it corroded.

Next week we’ll check out the Rockefeller archives, look at the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Western Wall Tunnels. It’ll be a busy week but I’m looking forward to it!

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