Wow… What a weekend! It’s hard to express in words the extraordinary joy of taking your children to Jerusalem for their first time. Watching and participating in their experience felt like as much of a gift to us as it was to them.
We left for Jerusalem shortly after the kids arrived home from school and drove straight to the hotel located just outside the walls of the Old City. It took us only 60 minutes door-to-door. It was interesting and fun to see so many Jewish families at the hotel observing Shabbat in the traditional manner. Our kids found the “Shabbat Elevators” to be interesting. For those that are unfamiliar, observant Jews abstain from operating electrical switches on Shabbat. As a result, most hotels in Israel (especially in Jerusalem) set 1-2 of their elevators on Shabbat to automatically stop on every floor so that the more observant can ride without operating.
The hotel has a beautiful infinity pool on the roof, overlooking the Old City. Pretty unique!
After an excellent dinner at the hotel, Danielle took Michael and Allison back up to the room to get ready for bed. We had a big next day planned and thus wanted to make sure everyone was asleep close to their normal bedtime. Because Jacob still had another 90 minutes, I decided to surprise him with a quick visit to the Western Wall. Visiting the Wall is always a powerful experience. But being there on Shabbat, at night, when the entire complex is dramatically illuminated, felt extra special.
We started off Saturday morning driving with our guide to the top of the Mount of Olives which provides a spectacular view of Jerusalem and especially of the Old City. It was the perfect place for our guide to provide a brief (kid-friendly) history of Jerusalem and to point out the various places we’d be visiting throughout the weekend.
From there we headed into the Old City through one of the eight gates and began exploring the Jewish Quarter. Our kids enjoyed the mystery and chaos of the narrow, ancient roadways, packed with what feels like the most diverse gathering of mankind.
After about thirty minutes, we came upon the Kotel (Western Wall). It really is a remarkable site. The kids had already prepared notes to insert into one of the thousands of cracks.
Preparing their notes:
Feel badly sharing Allison’s wishes, but too cute not to:
Adult women are required to cover their shoulders and knees. Allison is helping Danielle to comply:
Family time together at the Wall:
The remainder of the day was spent exploring the most iconic sites within the other three Quarters.
The day required a TON of walking and it was very hot. Although Mikey and Allie each negotiated a few piggy-back rides, there was only a minimal amount of complaining. Overall, we were very proud of how well the kids did.
Perfect ending to a great day…
August 26th, Michael’s 6th birthday!
We started the day at an active archeological site. This was a first for all of us. Together, we sifted through several buckets of dirt collected from ancient tunnels under the City of David and from dirt recently collected from excavations under the Temple Mount. Every bucket contained at least a few artifacts. We sorted the items into: pottery, bone, glass, flint, coins, and misc. Our guide explained that sifting through dirt in Jerusalem is like a box of chocolates… You never know what you’re gonna get!
From there we headed back into the Old City for a tunnel tour alongside (and under ground) the Western Wall. This tour provides incredible access to parts of the wall that, until very recently, had been buried for thousands of years.
After a hearty lunch in the Muslim Quarter, we left the Old City and made our way to the City of David which marks the very origins of Jerusalem. The history still being excavated is almost incomprehensible. From underneath the City of David, the kids experienced one of the major highlights of their Israel experience to date… The Water Tunnels!
In short, these tunnels were dug thousands of years ago for the critical purpose of bringing fresh water into the city if under siege. They now provide the opportunity for an incredible hiking adventure. After climbing deep underground, one can hike through over 500 yards of hand-carved tunnels full of fresh, ice-cold water that ranges from ankle deep to almost waist deep. Without flashlights, the tunnels are absolutely pitch black. It’s a real thrill!
To Michael’s surprise, we brought birthday candles with us into the tunnel. About halfway through, we lit the candles and sang “Happy Birthday”. No doubt that even at the young age of six, he knew it was a very special moment. We’re equally confident that as he gets older, this will be something he’ll look back on with great appreciation. Hard to imagine a more unique and special location to celebrate a sixth birthday!
One last stop at The Time Elevator before heading home to Ra’anana.
Michael was surprised to find his bedroom festively decorated. We had just enough time left for cake and presents. His official birthday party will be this weekend with all of his new school friends.
It was a strange feeling arriving home after our weekend in Jerusalem. Strange because Ra’anana, and our house more specifically, really feels like home now. We had just spent our weekend in Jerusalem, arguably one of the most fascinating places in the world and a place that we have always thought of as a land far, far away. We left the Western Wall at 5:45pm and we were back at home, eating dinner in our kitchen at 6:45pm. This felt very surreal and a bit hard to reconcile. But in the most amazing of ways.