Yesterday, while Jews around the world were finishing up their second Pesach Seder, we here in Israel were waking up to the first day of Chol Hamoed. Of course, that means its time to take the kids on a trip!
We decided to do a nature/history hike through the heart of Jerusalem. I thought I would share our day with you. Here’s what we did:
We took a bus from our home in Beitar Illit to the Old Train Station in Jerusalem. Just next to the bus stop there is a little oasis, right in the center of the city called Givat HaTanach, or Bible Hill.You climb up to the top of the hill and come to a big open area covered with indigenous vegetation and littered with ruined buildings.
This place is called Bible Hill because it is a part of the ancient ‘spine route’ which lead from Be’er Sheva in the south, to the Gilboa Mountain in the north. This is one of the narrowest parts of this ancient route. This means that when you stand here, you can be sure that everyone in the Bible who traveled from north to south walked in this place!
Very few people visit this beautiful island of serenity in the middle of the city. In fact, even though it was Chol Hamoed, we had the place all to our selves. We had a nice picnic lunch to give us strength for the long hike ahead. And of course the kids had fun climbing on the ruins.
Ben Hinnom Valley
After lunch, we headed down the other side of the hill and descended to the Ben Hinnom Valley. This is a valley that runs from just below the Old City and winds around to meet the Kidron Valley at the southern tip of Ir David.
Jeremiah tells us that Jews used to sacrifice their children to Molech in this valley. It was also a place where garbage from the city was dumped. Because of these unsavory associations, the Jewish word for Hell, Gehinnom, is taken from this valley which is called Gei ben Hinnom in Hebrew. Today the valley is a beautiful national park. A place for everyone to enjoy. I wonder of its namesake has benefited from the same fate?
We hiked through the valley until it meets up with the Kidron Valley at the south of Ir David.
As you hike north in the Kidron Valley, Ir David, the original site of Jerusalem, is on your left and the Arab village of Silwan is on your right. You can see the Arab homes built upon the ancient Jewish burial tombs from the First Temple period.
As you continue north, the cemetery transitions from the First Temple to the Second Temple period. You pass some of the famous monumental burial tombs of Second Temple Jerusalem such as Yad Avshalom, and Kever Zeharia.
We stopped to climb and enter Kever Zeharia. Inside you can see the original burial tombs. There are, of course, no bones left in these tombs since the have been raided by grave robbers over the millenia.
Mt. of Olives
We continued north in the Kidron Valley till we had to ascend part way up the Mountain. We ascended via a very beautiful garden that was planted by Mormons from America. From here, you have a panoramic view of all of Jerusalem. At this point my smallest daughter Devorah Leah, needed a bit of help from her Tatty.
Emek Tzurim Sifting Project
Once we got to the top of the garden, we exited and made our way over to the Emek Tzurim Sifting project.
About 13 years ago, the Moslem authorities began a project of expanding the Al Aksa Mosque which sits on the Temple Mount. In order to do this, they illegally brought bulldozers and tractors up to the Temple Mount to dig and move earth. They dumped the earth in the Kidron Valley. The Temple Mount is one of the most sensitive archaeological sites on Earth! So besides the spiritual desecration, this was seen as an archaeological crime of mass proportions.
The Emek Tzurim Sifting Project was set up to take all of this earth and make sure that it was sifted through for finds. Since it has been set up several years ago, they have found many impressive finds such as coins from the Temple, paving stones from the Second Temple and much more.
The sifting is done by volunteers who come for a one hour session which includes a short explanation, training and then the actual sifting. This gives people and excellent opportunity to get a hands on feel for one aspect of archaeology. I think my son Mendel wants to be an archaeologist now!
As we finished up the sun was setting and we took a pair of cabs back to the bus station where we caught our bus back to Beitar Illit in time for dinner at home.
For me, this was a really excellent day. We did the entire day on foot in the city and yet we barely saw a car all day! This is not the kind of tour I get to do often with tourists so I was very happy to be able to do it with my family on Pesach.