By Shay Orentlicher, fall 2019 participant from Indianapolis, IN
No teenager likes getting up extra early, but at Heller High, it tends to be worth it. When we stumbled out of bed at 6:25 am, it wasn’t an early wakeup for no reason; it meant that we would be going on a tiyul, or a fieldtrip, to Ir David (city of David) that morning, with a packed schedule of learning and fun ahead of us. No matter how groggy I am or how many times I yawn, I know the excitement of the tiyul will energize me and get me ready for what is guaranteed to be an amazing morning.
For the first part of our morning tiyul, we split into our two Jewish History classes so our teachers could give us the day’s lessons in the sites where it all actually happened. We took notes on the story of King David while facing Area G, the remaining ruins of an ancient house that was under the palace. We learned about his complicated legacy while standing where he would have stood at some point, our cameras capturing the same views that he too once admired. Two students dressed up in costumes in a silly imitation of the biblical story of King David and Batsheva, right by the palace where that story actually took place. Learning about these ancient events where they actually took place provided a whole new layer of depth for me that even years of Jewish studies didn’t give me.
When I was standing on top of thousands of years of Jewish history in Jerusalem, it made it infinitely easier to understand why King David would want his capital there. Although part of me logically understood the political implications of a centralized capital that’s not in any tribe’s territory, another part of me was caught up in the holy feeling that also played a huge role: this was the place where the Temple was built, where its one remaining wall still stands. There’s something special about Jerusalem, and it’s particularly palpable in Ir David. It makes sense that King David could use such a city to unite the Jewish people into one kingdom, and it makes sense that this was where God would want the Temple to be built.
One thing in particular that stood out to me in our learning was the story of Batsheva. As a kid, I was taught sugarcoated versions of Jewish history. War and murder were glossed over, flawed Jewish figures were glorified, and everything was painted as relatively black and white. This story destroys that notion by breaking down one of the most revered figures in Jewish history in a story of him doing something awful. According to the book of Samuel II, he sleeps with Batsheva, a married woman, and when his attempts to pass off the child as her husband’s don’t work, he sends her husband to war so he will be killed. This attempt is successful, and as punishment, King David will not be the one to build the Temple, the child conceived from the affair will die, and David’s family will be plagued by scandal. King David is one of the greatest figures in Jewish history, and to see his worst flaws laid out before us like that was a complete shift in perspective for me. The notion of this man, who was supposed to be a great leader of the Jewish people and a follower of God, committing such a terrible deed destroys the pedestal I’d always imagined him on and makes him just like anyone else; human. His bad deed was more extreme than most, but then, so were his good deeds. More importantly, he did תשובה tshuva (repentance). Through the story of his sin, I was able to enrich my understanding of him and every other flawed Jewish figure.
After our lessons, we merged back into one group and went down to Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This tunnel was used to transport water into Jerusalem, and it now is open for tourists to walk through. The tunnel is a little over 500 meters long, with water up to the ankles most of the time. As we always do on tiyulim, we had plenty of fun with it, singing some of our favorite pop songs and laughing together as we made our way through the tunnel.
Near the end of the tunnel, there was a plaque commemorating an amazing discovery in the place that it was found: a tablet written in ancient Hebrew that stated, “The tunneling was completed… While the hewers wielded the ax, each man toward his fellow… there was heard a man’s voice calling to his fellow… the hewers hacked each toward the other, ax against ax, and the water flowed from the spring to the pool, a distance of 1,200 cubits…” This discovery provides historicity, or corroboration for what the Tanakh says. The Tanakh mentions this water system, and the ancient Hebrew text means that it was in fact real, a concept we’ve been focusing on a lot in our tiyulim to historical sites.
By the end of the tiyul, we were all thoroughly exhausted, but it had been an amazing experience. I felt like I had learned so much about King David, Jewish life in Jerusalem, and Jewish history in general. Even as I collapsed into my seat on the bus, I felt just as much accomplished as I did tired. From the lessons about King David and his mistakes to the exhausting ten-minute climb up a steep hill to get back to our bus from the tunnel, I’d been challenged to learn and grow in every aspect. It truly was a rewarding, eye-opening experience.