Day 28: Knesset, Supreme Court, Israel Museum

Trip Start May 14, 2008
Trip End Jun 17, 2008

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Today is about modern Israel as we learn about present day law at the Knesset, and about justice at the Supreme Court.  The hotel concierge has called both in advance to get the English speaking tour times and we learned, despite what the Knesset website states, no reservations are necessary.  You are just supposed to arrive 15 minutes before for a check of passports and for security check.  We take a taxi well in advance of the tour time, allowing time for the unexpected so we can still be on time.

We arrive with no unexpected events, so we have plenty of time before the tour.  We decide to stroll through the Wohl Rose Garden, right next to the Knesset.    During last night, Harvey woke up with thoughts of his mother who passed away this past January.  Now, walking through the Rose Garden, his thoughts go to both of his parents who he knows visited this Rose Garden.  Just at the time he mentions this, I see two large birds that are flying together.  We stop to observe and the birds stop on a tree branch not far from us and are chattering.  Is this a coincidence or another Kabbalah moment?

Our plan for the day is to do the Supreme Court tour at 12 PM and then the Knesset tour at 2:30 PM., not knowing how much time it takes for each tour and the walking time between buildings.  As we were early, we walk to the Knesset to double check the English tour time and the guard at the first security gate is really nice; he suggests we take the 11 AM tour and that we will have time to get to the Supreme Court for the 12 PM tour.  We think this sounds tight, but we trust his information and judgment.

Going through the security check at The Knesset, they look at our passports and require us to check our backpack, giving us a receipt for pick up when we depart. No cameras are allowed, so we put our camera in the backpack as well.   As we walk across the broad open plaza to the Knesset building, we comment how we are probably on some security camera.  We look ahead and note the classic architecture of the building, probably built in the 1960's.   As we enter the building we are directed to a waiting area in the large open space.  Others join us and we wait for quite some time.  We are wondering how we are possibly going to make the Supreme Court tour, but hey we are committed now.

Our guide does join us about fifteen minutes late and tells us that it is a forty minute tour.   We do the math and realize that it is unlikely that we will be able to get into the Supreme Court, but we are glad to be here at the Knesset, so let's make the most of this tour.  We follow her to the main meeting room of the Knesset that we see on television.

The television cameras must have wide angle lenses because in person, the room seemed small!  This is a very high tech room in comparison to what we saw of the original Knesset chamber in Tel Aviv, used when the state of Israel had just been formed. Our guide gave a clear explanation of the Israel system of government and how it is different from the US and England.  It really is very interesting, even though I could not repeat most of what she said.  That's how it is with me and all the information that I hear on tours. But, overall I think I absorb SOMETHING!  The guide refers to President Bush as "sir President". One of the American tourists, who is not a Bush fan, starts to complain about the "sir".  After a while the rest of us ask the complainer to please let the guide continue.  Talk about beating a dead horse...

Our tour includes a visit to the Chagall tapestries and mosaic.  The guide's interpretation of the three tapestries, of Israel in the old days, current days and future, has inspired me to want to read more interpretations of Chagall's art work. Although I might not personally relate to his artistic style, his interpretations and how he expresses himself are interesting and that I can appreciate. Apparently Chagall used to come on tours incognito and listen to peoples' interpretations of his work.  Since he never explained them he was amused to hear what others thought he was trying to express.  I suppose that the better you get, the more meanings people can find in your work.  If you are really good you probably have no idea what you are trying to express, but others think it is very deep.

At the end of the tour, we pass through the lunch area where most of the real Knesset business probably occurs.  There doesn't appear to be the same sunshine laws that we have here in Miami Dade County, Florida where it is illegal for elected officials to talk about government business at restaurants or anywhere out of the public eye; when the bills for these dinners or news of these hit the newspapers there is always a public denial.  It must be universal that all politics takes place over food.

We are glad that we made this visit to the Knesset and it gave us a much better understanding of the government process, especially some of the challenges when the country has not been able to agree upon a constitution in all these 60 years.

It is now noon and we quickly depart the Knesset building, moving our feet as fast as we can through the plaza leading to the security building, where we retrieve our backpack.  We get directions on how to walk to the Supreme Court building and learn that there is a direct path connecting both buildings.  I can be a very fast walker and today, Harvey keeps up with me.  It was only in the train station in Tel Aviv that I have ever seen Harvey walk faster than me, but then he was following a really good looking female soldier.   I can only surmise that today he really wants to get to the Supreme Court!  Within minutes we are there!  At the security desk we are told that we can still join the tour and with relief we walk up a flight of stairs and find the group!  This tour has also started late and we have only missed a few minutes!  We recognize a few people who had also been on the Knesset tour, but had left early so as not to miss this tour.

The architecture of the Supreme Court building is exceptional and the tour is definitely worth going to because you learn about the building's design as well as the court system of justice.   Our guide takes us into a number of rooms and explains the purpose as well as the symbolism in the design.  For more details, there is an excellent pamphlet that the guide distributes that could serve as a self guided tour, explaining each section of the building and the symbolism.  Actual visiting hours are Sunday through Thursday, 8:30 - 2:30 PM, with English tours at 12 noon.  But with this pamphlet, you could get a high level introduction to the court system and a good description of each room's architectural symbolism.  If your schedule doesn't fit the guided tour, you could still learn something by coming and see the striking architecture that takes form meets function to a new level.  The benefit of the tour is that you have someone to ask questions and Harvey was keen on learning a bit more about the structure of the court and the appeals process.  What is truly remarkable is that anyone having a case against the government can apply to be heard to the Supreme Court.  Also, in considering cases, it is permissible to use as precedent all courts of law in the entire world!

We have lunch at the cafeteria in the Supreme Court, which is quite good and a welcome break.  There is a fellow bussing tables.  He comes over to chat.  In addition to this job he also plays piano professionally.  He is from South Africa.  He warns us about walking in some areas near our hotel, as in the park at night. We return on the walkway past the Knesset, cross the main street and in about 15 minutes, we arrive at the Israel Museum.  Most of the Israel Museum is not open, as a new complex is under construction, but it is still worth the price admission to see the Second Temple Model and the Dead Sea Scrolls.  And definitely get the audio guide!

Our first stop was a building housing art of modern Israeli artists; it is way too far out for our tastes.  There are however, a few thought provoking photographs. Perhaps the most dramatic, from our perspective, is a photo of IDF soldiers in a setting reminiscent of DaVinci's Last Supper.  You cannot help but stop and look at this one.  Another photo that stands out for us is one that showed a Tel Aviv rain storm. The artist had stitched together photos of the same place, with the same people, taken at different times.  Part of the photo had the storm and part of the photo was dry.  It was as if you could see someone walking in sunshine, through a gate into the storm.  The audio guide does give some understanding and maybe some day we will appreciate this modern art!    Another building contains art work that was stolen during the holocaust and is considered orphaned since the original owners have not been found. These are more classical, and some have audio descriptions.

We had heard that the model of the Second Temple was something special and indeed it is!  It is a very large scale model of the Old City during the time of the Second Temple.  And this is great because after walking through the Old City, you now get a really good visual of how all the parts had fit together in that time period, with replicas of how the buildings actually looked at that time!  The audio guide is an excellent aide.  Take a look at our photo gallery!  

The Shrine of the Book contains the Dead Sea Scrolls that were found near Qumran.  Tip:  don't miss the ten minute movie!  This movie and exhibit is better than in Qumran, although it was neat to actually see the area where the scrolls were found and see remnants of the people who made the scrolls & where they lived.  At the Shrine of the Book, the original Isaiah scroll is on display. From our perspective it could have been a replica, we would not have known the difference. A replica has been on display for many years.  However, it has been 40 years since the original has been open for viewing.   We decide to learn more about the text of this scroll when we return home.  The amount of information on the internet is incredible.  You try to wrap your mind around seeing something so old and you just can't take it in, just can't fathom it.  This is all part of the Israel experience!  

We have been so absorbed that time has flown by and the museum is close to its closing time.  We take a brief tour of the sculpture garden.  Outside the museum, we are quoted 60 shekels, with a driver of a Mercedes taxi.  We say that we didn't need a VIP car and besides, what does he think we are, tourists?   We've been here a few days and have an idea what things should cost! Another driver agrees to take us and we settle at 40 shekels for a ride in his VIP car.  

We are now sitting on the terrace of our hotel room.  Church bells from within the Old City are peeling and it is a very comfortable temperature with a light breeze. Many birds are chirping. Traffic on the road near the Old City is heavy and cars are honking.  It has been another time traveler day from modern Israel with the Knesset and Supreme Court to ancient Israel with the Dead Sea Scrolls!  We didn't expect it to be such a full long day! But that's how things go here in Jerusalem.   You go to a place, get interested in what you are seeing and time just flies by!

Harvey is playing his guitar.  I am writing this journal.  I am feeling inspired to synthesize some of my impressions of Israel.  Reflecting and jotting down notes, the beginning of a photo collage project is stirring in my mind.  Seeds have been planted by the experience and they appear to be beginning to sprout!  
More church bells! 

Click here for today's photos!  
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