Jerusalem was about an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv, where we would hold my grandson Blake’s bar mitzvah — the real reason for our journey and to get to know the historic city.
We checked into the Herbert Samuel Hotel in the center of town and found comfortable rooms, and the hotel had a rooftop restaurant for breakfast only that offered a huge buffet, and an indoor pool. The friendly staff helped me navigate the rooms for our group.
Our first stop of the day was to a remarkable place that I had not seen on my three prior visits to Jerusalem: the premiere Caliber 3 training center for counter-terrorism. We got an insiders’ tour.
First, we met with a unique group of injured Israeli soldiers who created the Brothers for Life, a nonprofit organization that supports on many levels the soldiers who must transition to life outside the army, many who still suffer from their physical injuries and mental trauma.
I got to hear Motty Gruvin tell his story, and it particularly touched me because I could relate to how he handled what happened to him.
He told us that, at age 21, he was ambushed and hurt so badly that he didn’t want to live, and was in a terrible state of depression. He believed his life was over. But he came under the protection and care of the Brothers for Life.
It’s made up of injured soldiers like him, and slowly, with their support, he recovered his mental and physical strength and decided to join the group, which he candidly said “gave me a calling, a purpose to live.”
Today, he’s an instructor for Brothers for Life, helping former Israeli Defense Force (IDF) fighters. He recently got married and is happily expecting his first child. The group helped him get his life back!
Motty became our guide for the day, walking us through the counter-terrorism training center, where Israeli soldiers and people from around the world come to learn and train.
They brought us to the shooting range where we actually got to fire rifles with real bullets! Then, it was on to Kradmaga (Israeli martial arts training), showing us how to handle a personal attack. I’m sure I need more than one training session, but it was a powerful opportunity to see and hear military training at its best!
We bid goodbye to our new friend from Brothers for Life and rode to the inspirational Western Wall, the Kotel, the place where Christian, Muslim and Jewish worlds meet.
We went to a small section of the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount, which in ancient times housed the first and second Temples of the Jewish people. For 2,000 years, this wall was the closest Jews could get to the place where the Holy of Holies stood, and Jews have been praying there since. My grandson’s bar mitzvah will take place at the Western Wall.
We toured the remarkable network of tunnels under the temple, walking through and exploring. It is an ongoing archeological site, with diggings going on daily, and researchers continually finding ancient artifices and paths that lead through the ancient temple area.
Thanks to my friend, Eric Gertler, who oversees the Zuckerman Foundation in Jerusalem, we had a private guide to give us the history of the tunnels and archeological findings. Ori Fisher guided us through the winding narrow passages where people walked thousands of years ago.
From there, we made our way to Luciana, an Italian restaurant overlooking the walls of the ancient city. I can tell you that their pizza was thin-crusted and loaded with cheese and spices. Delicious!
But the day was not over. We went to the Tower of David in the old city by the Jaffa gate, where were dazzled by a light show.
There before our eyes, playing out on the ancient walls, were projected images and music, telling a three-dimensional story of the history of Jerusalem. I felt like I could touch the figures on the wall.
We were exhausted, but we joyously made our way back to the hotel, right in the center of town. Outside our door were musicians and singers entertaining in the middle of the square.
Stay tuned for more next week!