The first thing I noticed about Independence Hall was the fact that it is not a beautiful building, but rather normal and low key. Notice the small windows...
At Independence Hall we saw a movie and learned about the origins of Tel Aviv. I thought it was cool that Independence Hall is built on the spot where the founders of Tel Aviv, Zina and Meir Dizengoff built their first home. After Zina passed away, Meir Dizengoff (who was also the Mayor at the time, and we made many jokes about Mayor Meir) donated his home to the city to have them build an art museum. Recently as they were doing some renovations, they found part of the original home behind one of the walls, which happened to be right where we were!
It turns out that they did not have a lot of notice before the declaration. Invitations were sent out only 36 hours before the announcement was to be made. Many people ask why did they not do the announcement in Jerusalem, center of the Jewish world? At the time, Jerusalem was under siege and they knew the British soldiers were leaving on May 15 (which happened to be Shabbat) so they could not wait because there would be an absence of authority and if they waited who knows what would have happened. They made the announcement on Friday, May 14 at 4 pm in a ceremony that lasted only 32 minutes and would allow them all to get home for Shabbat. The art museum was used because the rooms was under ground with small windows and thick cement walls. In other words, they were safe should our neighbors have decided to attack. They did attack Tel Aviv the vert next day.
Here is the very spot where Ben Gurion's made the famous speech.
I couldn't believe I was sitting in the very same room where this historical moment took place. Tali, the guide at the hall taught us about the pronouncement. She explained how emotional it was and had us listen to some of the actual speech. We heard Ben Gurion and after a rabbi who read the shehechianu prayer. Can you imagine how saying the shehechianu at that moment must have felt? We could feel the emotion in their voices and it felt like we were actually there. Then we all stood as the orchestra on the recording played Hatikvah. After a few seconds, I heard some voices joining in and we all began to sing together. It was incredibly emotional, especially because some of the people singing were Israeli high school graduates who would be starting their military service to Israel in a few short months. You could feel the pride in their voices and the respect in their body language. Again, I am blown away by their sense of people hood, their "we" being more important than "I". How can we teach this concept to our children? Tali shared that all Israelis want to live in peace. Not quiet, which is what they have experienced in recent years, but true and lasting peace. And they are willing to give their lives for it so their children can truly feel freedom. It is inspirational and awesome to be among those who have sacrificed so much. It makes me that much more grateful for our soldiers and their families in America who willingly make the same sacrifice. I will not take my freedom for granted again. I can tell you this for sure, Hatikvah holds an entirely new meaning for me now.
After this emotional ceremony, our educator, Zvi had the idea of buying a copy of the Israeli Declaration of Independence and having each of us sign it, on the very same table where the original declaration was read.
What an important statement us signing this document makes. This pilgrimage has solidified our bond with Israel, as the signatures on the original document did for those who had the honor of being a part of that historic day in 1948. Our copy with our signatures will be displayed at TAE as a reminder of our connection to Israel and our responsibility to support her and be her advocate back home.
After this incredible experience we walked Rothschild Blvd., the street where all of this took place. Then it was off to our next adventure, atop of Kibbutzim Hill to The Ayalon Institute, near Rechovot, for an eye opening tour of a secret munitions factory used during the British Mandate and War for Independence. To be honest, I was not too excited to see this place. After all we have experienced, this seemed like a time filler. I cold not be more wrong. We learned about this factory during a film, where we discovered that during the British Mandate and War for Independence, Israel had guns but no ammunition. First they tried to go abroad to purchase ammunition, to no avail. The only option was to make it themselves. Even though this location was right in front of the British soldiers, it was atop a mountain and they cold build under existing buildings. They hollowed out the hill and built a factory under a laundry facility and bakery. They used the sound of the laundry to mask the sounds of the factory underneath. Here is the laundry machine...
And here is how the workers, about 40 of them would climb down into the secret factory each day.
This secret factory was used for years and produced more than 2.25 million bullets used in the fight for independence. Here is the factory itself, with some of the original machines used. There was a lighting system that was used to communicate between the security guard at the kibbutz and the workers below.
As the workers spent more and more time underground they began to feel ill and tired and looked pale. The kibbutz doctor had an electro violet light installed and changed their diet to give them the nutrients they were lacking working underground. Here is the room the workers would spend time in each day to get their "sunlight."
The workers did not share what they were doing with anyone, not even their spouses. There is a story of a man who worked in the factory who did not tell his wife of his work until the museum opened years after the war was over. Did people on the kibbutz not involved with the factory really not know what was going on? Or did they just know they shouldn't ask? Sometimes, not knowing is better for the community. Again, this notion of "we" before "I" comes in to play, a common theme we have found on our trip.
Our next stop was the old city of Jaffa for lunch and a little shopping. Here is the view of Tel Aviv from atop Jaffa.
After lunch and shopping at Jaffa, it was time to head back to our hotel and pack for our trip home. We went to Goshen, a wonderful restaurant for our final meal in Israel, and headed to the airport. As I finish this blog entry, my last of this incredible pilgrimage, I am flooded with so many feelings. I know what you are thinking... How is it possible that I can feel so connected to Israel after such a short trip? I can only explain it like I explain my relationship with Leasa. After a short time, only a few weeks I knew with certainty that I wanted to share my life with her. I can't explain it, I just knew. With Israel, although it is difficult to explain, it is just home. I am overwhelmed by the history, inspired by the sense of people hood and the notion of "we" being more important than "I," in awe of the pride Israelis take in serving their country and more connected to my Jewish identity than I have ever felt in my life. I have touched history in a way I could not have possibly been prepared for. Although I miss my family terribly and am so excited to hold them again, I will miss Israel greatly. And I know I will return. For now, I offer my thanks to those who traveled with me and adopted me as a part of their family for these 10 days. We have created a bond with each other that will stay with us always. I am so grateful to Zvi, who has really and truly shown all of us the difference between a tour guide and an educator. As I said to him during our farewell dinner, he made Israel come to life for us and enabled us to embrace her. His expertise helped each of us, young and old, to create a lifelong bond with Israel. I will forever be grateful to my new friend for giving me this gift. And I want you to have this gift too. I want to take you to Israel so you can feel what we all felt, so you can experience Judaism the way we have. I want you to feel how safe it is there, and how much pride Israelis take in their safety. I want you to learn a few Hebrew words and walk in the footsteps of our ancestors who have created a home for us. You will be hearing me speak of another trip in the near future, and I invite you to join me in TAE's next pilgrimage to our homeland. Over the next few weeks I will post thoughts from other travelers from this trip in the hopes that you will feel inspired to sign up and see Israel for yourself. I leave you with the final picture of our tour, our group together overlooking Tel Aviv and the beautiful Mediterranean Sea.