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Events and Life Politics and government Spirituality Travel and places

Tragedy and Inspiration in Jerusalem

My friend visited me recently, and I took some time off to spend with him. One of our day trips was to Jerusalem, primarily to visit Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

We started off by taking a relatively new train to Jerusalem from the Ben Gurion Airport. This train takes about half an hour to reach Jerusalem, and shaves an hour (or more) off the previous train route that left from Tel Aviv.

Jerusalem train station

As I mentioned recently, I really like the new station. It was a great welcome back to Jerusalem.

We took the light rail up to Mount Herzl, the site of both Theodore Herzl‘s grave, and Yad Vashem.

We arrived at Yad Vashem at a pretty busy time. There were easily half a dozen tour buses there already.

Yad Vashem

We picked up two audio guides for a self-guided tour (although the guided tours are apparently really good too).

The main museum was pretty crowded, although the tour groups eventually moved past us as we walked through the exhibits describing the events leading up to, and the Holocaust itself in visceral detail.

Walking through the museum takes time, and I almost always felt like I was moments away from tears as I listened to the narrative describing how European Jews were first marginalised, dehumanised, and then eradicated in the many death camps they were shipped to like cattle.

It took us three hours to make our way through the exhibits, and each step reinforced why Israel is so important. Having our own country with an effective military means that Jews are no longer subject to the whims of other nations who repeatedly return to old stereotypes, and prejudices.

What still alarms me (even though I know better), is that we see the same rhetoric being repeated in various countries as the Nazis used in the 1930s, and other groups used in the centuries that preceded them. It seems that some things never change. Some people seem to drift back to anti-Semitism when they need someone to blame.

From Yad Vashem, we made our way to the Old City, towards the Western Wall.

Western Wall

We arrived at the Wall after lunch at a nearby schwarma place, and during preparations for Yom HaZikaron (our memorial day for soldiers and victims of terror attacks) two days later.

This photo of these three men sitting, facing the Wall reminded me of a previous visit where I saw three monks leaning over the railing, looking at the Wall and it’s visitors.

From here, we made our way back out of the Old City towards the train station, and home.

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Science and nature Travel and places

A preview of the The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History

We visited the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History with our kids today. It’s a remarkable museum, well worth visiting, with or without kids.

We took a train into Tel Aviv to visit the museum during its trial phase. Here’s an explanation about this from the museum’s website:

The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, located adjacent to Tel Aviv University, will open fully this upcoming September.

As of July 2, the museum has been open for a trial run to test crowd flow and to get feedback on the exhibits, according to Professor Tamar Dayan, the Museum’s chair.
“For the trial run, we open for about four hours a day and we limit the number of visitors because we first want to finish the exhibitions properly and then we want to work out any kinks there may be,” Professor Dayan said.

The museum houses over five and a half million specimen.

My wife, Gina, booked tickets a few weeks ago. We arrived around 11:30 for the afternoon round of visitors.

The museum’s exhibits are spread over three levels (there’s a fourth planned, I believe), and it’s a terrific explanation of Israel’s ecology, and natural history. Each section is themed, with explanations in Hebrew, English, and Arabic.

One of the more interesting exhibits is on the third floor. It’s inspired by how birds construct their nests. At least, that’s what I understood from this one. It didn’t seem to have English explanations of several aspects of the exhibit.

We took our own lunch. There’s a deck with both outdoor and indoor seating where you can sit, and eat as you make your way through the exhibits.

The museum is really well thought out. The exhibits are fascinating, and I like how they’re put together. Our kids really enjoyed exploring different facets of Israel’s natural history, and its varied ecosystems.

One aspect of the museum that I really like is how we have insight into the work behind the scenes. The biodiversity section (a fascinating exhibit in its own right) includes windows into the team’s storage area, and even a section where a team member was working on a new extension of an exhibit.

This sort of approach is a great way to involve visitors in what the team’s doing, and a terrific way to show us that this is an evolving project. This was a fun visit, I look forward to visiting again some day.