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Another experience unique to Jerusalem is the opportunity to have coffee or a meal on the balcony of the renowned King David Hotel. While the superb food is certainly a draw, the panoramic view of the Old City with its awe-inspiring ramparts as well as the Golden dome of the Omar mosque and the al-Aksa mosque and the Tower of David (the evening light shows dominant the sky), are what leave an everlasting impression.
Gross’ description of Israel reflects the sentiments of many assimilated Jews who have discarded all vestiges of their Jewish identity, when he writes, “But to me, a deeply secular Jew, Israel has always felt less like a country than a politically iffy burden. For decades I’d tried to put as much distance between myself and Judaism as possible, and the idea that I was supposed to feel some connection to my ostensible homeland seemed ridiculous. Give me Montenegro, Chiapas, Iran even. But Israel was like Christmas: something I’d never do.”
Had Gross stepped beyond his mental confines he would have found a fascinating Israel and an extraordinary Jerusalem. Had he taken the southwestern approach to the city through Ein Karem not only would he would have encountered the refreshing and dry air in the pine-tree forested hills of Jerusalem, its secret streams, and the miracle of science and compassion that awaits any visitor to Hadassah hospital. Entering the city through its diverse neighborhoods he could have gone to Israel Museum, where the Dead Sea scrolls are protected in a feat of engineering known as The Shrine of the Book, continued on to see The Bible Museum, Yad Vashem, Mt. Herzl, Jerusalem University on Mt. Scopus and, in his travels, the continual growth of an ancient-new city.
Israel and Jerusalem, for those who truly seek to know, is a microcosm of all that is beautiful and diverse. Surrounded by hostile neighbors whose countries are mired in violence and poverty, Israel is an island of progress, modernity, and civility. Here the Bible comes alive and with new discoveries every day, is an archaeological wonderland. It is a small, (less than 8000 Sq. miles) country with every conceivable landscape: Snow laden slopes of Mt. Hermon in the northern Golan where skiers abound, to a moon-shaped desert in the southern Negev. The lush Galilee with its mountains and sea resembles the Pacific Northwest. The Sharon region with its orange groves resembles California and Florida, while Tel Aviv with the Mediterranean shoreline looks a bit like Miami and, Haifa is Israel’s San Francisco. Eilat, at its southern tip is Israel’s Las Vegas and Hawaii, offering physical beauty and year round sun without humidity.
To most self-respecting Jews, Israel is a miracle they are proud of and they will tell you that Israel is no Iraq or Afghanistan. Israel is a self-sustaining nation where the combination of efforts made by Jews, Muslims, Christians and others are on display throughout the country. If one travels away from their media sources and ventures into the markets, theatres, streets and universities, they will see how different cultures and traditions are respectfully accommodating to one and other in a way that belies the negative reports.
For most of humanity, Christian and Jews in particular, Jerusalem is the center of the world, the shining city of many hills with unparalleled beauty and history. Matt Gross was guided by his prejudices and as such was unable to grasp the gifts. The city of Jerusalem does deserve better…
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