A visit to the Knesset in Jerusalem.

After we had failed to see the Knesset with Maria and Jack, David and I made another attempt and almost failed again!  We arrived at the Knesset at 12:05 only to be told that the English-speaking tour had left 5 minutes earlier and that the one and only tour left for the day would not leave until 2 PM; no individual visits were permitted.  Bummer!

We headed to the Wohl Rose Garden right next to the Knesset, and for two hours did just that:  we smelled the roses, watched a waterfall, and chatted with an Orthodox Jew who was strolling around with a big camera taking close-up shots of the flowers in bloom.  The fragrance was overwhelming, the time of the year just right for all sorts of roses in full bloom.

Way before 2 PM we showed up again and this time we made it.   During a 1.5 hour tour we were introduced to the workings, the art, and the architecture of the Knesset.  A Google search will surely give you a lot more than I can give you in this blog, so here are just a few highlights and things that stood out for me:

1.        How incredibly transparent the work at the Knesset is:  The public, whether visitors or citizens can sit in on any session.  A Knesset channel (channel 99) airs the sessions in four languages:  Hebrew, Arabic, English, and Russian.  Yes, Russian is pretty much the fourth official language in Israel now with over 1 million Russian-Jewish immigrants.

2.       How fair representation is:  According to the spread of the population, of the 120 Knesset members 14 are Arabic, 2 are Druze and 1 is Christian.  All members have to be Israeli citizens.

3.       How confusing the makeup is:  You need only 2% of the vote to make it into the Knesset with your party.  No wonder the weirdest parties and many of them, are represented in the Knesset.  Some are part of the government coalition; others are present outside of the coalition.  Here are some examples of the current 18 parties (12 on paper since some are combining forces).  The spread is wonderful from pro-Zionist to anti-Zionist, from pro-peace with Palestinians to no peace, from environmental party to united Arab-Jewish Socialists.  I wish we in the US had a few more parties rather than just the basic two, now three, counting the Tea Party.  I think it would suit us well.  Perhaps not quite 18, but 5 perhaps?

4.       How religion plays a role:  The Knesset building contains a synagogue, and a prayer room for Muslims; no separation of state and “church” here!  In fact, the orthodox Jews complain that the Knesset is not Jewish enough and too democratic, the liberal Jews complain that the Knesset is not democratic enough and too Jewish.  I guess that means that the Knesset has found an acceptable balance.  You can’t please them all.

5.       How the president factors into this:  I was surprised to realize that the president is not even part of the Knesset; he has a VIP seat in the Knesset gallery and can watch any proceedings if he has nothing else to do.  And that the prime minister, the most powerful political figure of the state has no veto right!

One of the central halls in the Knesset – a word, by the way, which was derived from an assembly which formed after the return from the Babylonian exile – is named after its creator:  Chagall Hall.  Inaugurations, public functions and receptions, and festival celebrations take place here.   Three impressive tapestries symbolically depict the past, present and future of the State of Israel.  Interestingly enough, these panels are not arranged chronologically, but it is the “Past” panel that gets center stage and the largest area.  The interpretation is that Chagall implied that people who do not know their past will not have a future.  12 floor mosaics show images found in ancient synagogues and a wall mosaic which includes an angel, the Western Wall, the menorah and a few other things in typical Chagall fashion.

The building itself is stark and geometrical with 10 columns flanking each side and a flat roof.  No exterior ornaments, no frills, not much of a hint of classicism as in almost all governmental buildings of the US which combine Greek and Roman elements; right in line with the Bauhaus/International Style of Tel Aviv.

At the end of the day we visited a high school friend of David’s whom he had not seen in 50 years!  Judy lives with one of her daughters and three grand-children, a dog and two cats in an apartment overlooking the Jerusalem Forest.  It was wonderful to get a bit of an insight into the life of a Jewish Israeli family.   Judy used to live in Chicago but left at the age of 18 never to look back.  So many Americans have resettled in Israel.  Well, it’s all relative, and if you compare it to the 1 million Russian immigrants, the less than 100,000 Americans hardly count.  Still, there they are, and they are shaping the fabric of the current state of Israel.  Good for us – almost everyone here speaks English!  🙂

Once again, we had a full day and learned a lot.

Good night.

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