Jerusalem and Tel Aviv

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

The D&O Diary is on assignment overseas this week with a lengthy itinerary including multiple stops. The first stop on my schedule was in Israel, where I had business meetings in Tel Aviv. My timetable while I was in Israel also allowed an opportunity for a first-time ever visit to Jerusalem. As reflected in the pictures below, the Jerusalem stopover was a truly extraordinary experience.

 

The primary purpose for my visit to Israel was to participate as the keynote speaker at an event organized by Howden Israel, in collaboration with the Pearl Cohen law firm. The event was well-organized and very well-attended. The audience was lively and attentive – and asked a lot of questions. It was a pleasure to meet so many industry professionals and attorneys who read The D&O Diary. It was also interesting to learn about how much is going on in Israel both as far as economic activity and business development, and in terms of directors’ and officers’ liability and insurance issues, as well. I would like to thank Izik Malik of Howden Israel and Piers Davies and Lianne Gras of RKH Specialty for inviting me to be a part of this terrific event, and for being such excellent hosts while I was in Tel Aviv.

 

There was a great audience for the Tel Aviv event. It was so well-attended, they had to bring in extra chairs.

 

With Izik Malik of Howden Israel and Michel Ohayon of the Pearl Cohen law firm. The event was held in Pearl Cohen’s offices, which afford really spectacular view of the city and of the Mediterranean Sea.

 

Enjoying the Tel Aviv evening: from right to left, Lianne Gras of RKH Specialty, London; Ran Weinstock of Howden Israel; Ran Subara of RKH Specialty, London; Izik Malik, of Howden Israel; me; and Ella Levine of Teva Pharmaceuticals.

 

A very enjoyable visit to the Clos du Gat winery, in the foothills of the Judean Mountains, with Lianne Gras, Izik Malik, and Ran Subara.

 

Before my visit to Tel Aviv, I spent the weekend  in Jerusalem. I have to admit that I had very high expectations for my Jerusalem visit. Seeing Jerusalem is something that I have basically wanted to do my entire life. Though my expectations were high, the visit to the Holy City far exceeded my expectations. Jerusalem is an amazing place.

 

To get a perspective on the Old City of Jerusalem, the best thing to do is to climb the Mount of Olives, to the east of the city. In this view, you can see the Dome of the Rock in the center of the picture and the New City beyond. Looking at this view, I reflected on Benjamin Disraeli’s words that “The view of Jerusalem is the history of the world; it is more; it is the history of heaven and earth.”

 

In this picture, I am standing before the Western Wall (also sometimes called the Wailing Wall). It is the last remnant of the Second Temple, which was otherwise completely destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. It was very special being there. The wall’s stones were warm in the afternoon sunshine. I placed my forehead on the warm stones and thought about all of the history surrounding this one place and all it has meant for so many people.

 

 

I also walked the Via Dolorosa, traditionally the path that Jesus followed on his way to Calvary. (I suspect there were fewer souvenir shops along the way then.)

 

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which contains both the tomb of Jesus and the site of the Crucifixion. The building itself has a very long and very complicated history, as a result of which visiting it is a less than satisfying experience. The competition of a large number of Christian sects for exclusive possession of this special place — or even for just a larger share of this special place — has left only a divided building,  a diminished, dark, and disappointing vestige of the sites’ sacred significance.

 

The narrow, atmospheric streets within the Old City are lined with shops selling fabric, rugs, ceramics, spices, jewelry, as well as religious items.

 

Known as the Tower of David since the Byzantine era, this bastion was first built during the time of King Herod the Great, 1,000 years after David and largely restored in the 16th century by Suleiman the Magnificent. The minaret was added by the Ottomans in the 17th Century.

 

The Golden Gate in the walls of the Old City. The gate has been sealed since the Medieval era. According to Jewish tradition, this is the gate through which the Anointed One (the Messiah) will enter Jerusalem. According to Christian tradition, this is the gate through which Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

 

The Garden of Gethsemane. According to tradition, Judas kissed Jesus by the olive tree on the right. (Though the olive trees are old, they are not actually that old.)

 

The Mount of Olives viewed from the walls of the Old City. The Mount has been a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years. There are over 150,000 graves. According to Jewish tradition, when the Messiah comes, the resurrection of the dead will begin there.

 

The remnants of the Roman-era Pool of Bethesda. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus healed a paralytic here. The Gospel doesn’t mention it, but the Pool is located next to the site that according to tradition was the home of Joachim and Anne, the Virgin Mary’s parents. Perhaps Jesus went to the Pool while visiting his maternal grandparents?

 

The Pater Noster Cloister. According to Christian tradition, this is where Jesus taught his disciples to pray.

 

The Chapel of the Ascension, on the top of the Mount of Olives. According to Christian tradition, this is the spot from which Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after the resurrection. Tradition also holds that this is the place to which Jesus will return when He comes again. And when He returns in all of His glory, first thing that will happen is some guy will come up to Him and say, “Hello, Sir! You need taxi?”

 

In some really important ways, the weekend is absolutely the wrong time to visit Jerusalem. On Fridays and Saturdays, the Jewish and Muslim sites are closed.  Of greatest significance, Temple Mount is closed to non-Muslims on Fridays and Saturdays. I was not able to visit Temple Mount until Sunday morning, the last day of my stay in Jerusalem. The hours in which non-Muslims may visit Temple Mount are short, from 8:30 am to 11:30 am. The guide books warn that due to security controls the lines to enter can be very long, so I got there early to be in line when it opened at 8:30. As it turned out, the gates had opened at 7:30, so there was no line at all when I arrived. I did face a one question interrogation (in English): “Where you from?” When I said I was from the United States, the security guard waived me through impatiently. These are not the Droids that you are looking for.

 

The centerpiece of Temple Mount is the Dome of the Rock, one of the oldest extant works of Islamic architecture. It was completed under the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik in 692 A.D. The building is a shrine to the Foundation Stone. According to the traditions of the Abrahamic religions, the Stone marks the place where God created the World and Adam, and the Stone is also the place where Abraham set about to sacrifice Issac. According to Jewish tradition it is the place where God’s presence is more manifest than any other. Muslim tradition holds that the Rock is the place from which the Prophet Mohammad began his Night Journey to heaven.

 

The time scales in Jerusalem are mind-boggling. Between the time the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 AD and the time of the Dome of the Rock’s completion was 622 years. By way of comparison, it has only been 527 years since Columbus’s First Voyage until today. And yet the Dome of the Rock has been there for 1,325 years (that is, more than twice the time since Columbus). Many of the decorative tiles have been replaced and the Dome itself was recently re-gilded, but the basis structure is essentially as it was originally built.

 

The Al-Aqsa Mosque, which according to Islamic tradition represents the site of “the Farthest Mosque” to which Mohammed traveled from the Sacred Mosque in Mecca during his Night Journey. The current structure has been there since the 11th century.

 

The distinctive walls off the Old City date to the 16th century and were built by the Ottomans under Suleiman the Magnificent. However, as this picture shows, the walls are built on the remnants of much more ancient walls, dating back to the Romans — or even earlier.

 

After the wonder and amazement of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv required a little mental adjustment. Tel Aviv is a prosperous, crowded, busy place traffic-clogged streets — and a great beach and great night life. Fortunately, I had time while I was in Tel Aviv to enjoy the beach.

 

A view of the Tel Aviv beach from the roof-top pool deck of my hotel, looking South toward Jaffa.

 

 

On the afternoon of my last day in Tel Aviv, I walked from my hotel to the ancient port city of Jaffa (about two hours round trip). A great walk along the seashore.

 

In the old port of Jaffa (Yafo, in Hebrew)

 

Sunset over the Mediterranean

 

A final note. For anyone planning a visit to Jerusalem (or for anyone who wishes to visit but who can’t travel there now), I strongly recommend Simon Sebag Montefieore’s excellent book “Jerusalem: The Biography.” The book covers the city’s complicated and multi-layered history thoroughly yet entertainingly. Montefiore reviews the city’s history from the time of King David through the Six-Days War. Reading this book substantially enhanced my enjoyment of visiting Jerusalem. It was also extraordinarily helpful in explaining the current situation in the city, as well.

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