Usually I write about exotic places far from my home. But, in fact, one half hour from my home is a city that defies comparison. It has been the Jewish capital for over 3000 years, and wherever Jews have lived, when they prayed they turned toward Jerusalem. In the Galapagos Islands, we consulted with our compass so that we could face Jerusalem in prayer. In China and Vietnam, we turned toward the west, in the direction of Jerusalem.

Mount Zion, Jerusalem

About a year ago when I was in South America, some of the people on my tour were talking about the magnificent time they had when they went to see the opera Nabucco at Masada. So, when I heard that this year they were performing Aida at Masada, I immediately tried to buy tickets. Unfortunately, because the opera started late in the evening, a hotel stay had to be part of the package and because people were coming from all over the world to see the opera, the tickets were expensive and the hotels could charge whatever they wanted. We realized that we could travel to Europe on two 5 day jaunts for the price of one night at the opera!

Disappointed, I looked to see if Aida was being presented in Jerusalem. It was not.

A couple of weeks ago I received an email with this tempting offer: a night in a hotel in Jerusalem and two tickets to the Verdi opera, Jerusalem. The hotel was a newly renovated boutique hotel located within easy walking distance of the Sultan’s Pool Amphitheater, the venue of the opera, which lies at the base of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. How could I resist? Included were special gifts like chocolates and a bottle of wine, and a magnificent view from the large balcony overlooking the Old City.

We took the opportunity to visit the Begin Center, a wonderfully designed facility that teaches about the life and legacy of Menachem Begin, Israel’s sixth prime minister and the man who was the first to make peace with an Arab country, Egypt.

Entrance to the Begin Center

Begin’s life was fascinating. He loved his land and his people. Begin was unaffected and humble. He was a man of principle. His first act as Prime Minister was to order the rescue of 200 Vietnamese refugees who had requested asylum. He wrote his own speeches.

Begin's handwritten remarks for the ceremony on the White House Lawn

After an impressive visit to the Begin Center, we made our way to the Old City.

Up the steps to Mount Zion

We climbed up to Mount Zion, a place we’ve been many times, but never fails to entrance me. We walked toward the Jewish Quarter. We found it bustling with people. The city is full of tourists from everywhere in the world, and everyone was having a great time. There are now numerous stores and restaurants in the Jewish Quarter, but our destination was the Hurva Synagogue. The history of the synagogue is here. Destroyed in 1948 when the Arabs captured the Old City and murdered some Jews and exiled the rest, the rubble lay waiting for redemption. In 1967, with the reunification of Jerusalem, a decision needed to be made about what to do with all of the destroyed buildings. Eventually, only an arch was erected at the ruins of the Hurva and it stood as a symbol of what had been there. Fortunately, the end of the story is a happy one. A year ago full reconstruction of the synagogue was completed, and we were able to see it in all of its glory last Monday. It was particularly then since they were going to be dedicating a sefer torah that night and the next night was shavuot. The synagogue was festooned with flowers.

After dinner, we descended Mount Zion and went back to the hotel to get ready for the opera.

Walking down from Mount Zion

. The Israeli orchestra and soloists were accompanied by a choir from Romania. There were thousands of people in attendance. The performance was magnificent. The setting, exquisite. We walked from the performance back to our hotel, looking back at the city walls. The atmosphere was magical.

As Jerusalem mayor, Nir Barkat, said to the audience, “Next year in Jerusalem!”

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