Assistant Sports Information Director Brian DeBenedictis is chronicling the women’s basketball team’s trip to Israel.
After another rough night of getting only three hours of sleep (this wireless Internet connection is killing me), I chose once again not to workout this morning. When my cell phone alarm went off at 6:30 a.m., the only thing I could do was let out an awful grown. I got my tired, old bones out of bed, put in my contacts, and proceeded to eat still another gigantic breakfast buffet. I don’t consider myself a picky eater by any means, but I just couldn’t take down another huge breakfast, so I went with the old reliable Coco Puffs and a cup of coffee. Did you know there are no Starbucks in all of Israel? I’m still shaking and twitching because of it!After breakfast, we repacked our bags and loaded up the bus for an 8 a.m. departure from Haifa for the city of Jerusalem. We did make a quick stop along the way at the Baha’l Temple to take a few pictures of their beautiful gardens and breathtaking views of Haifa and the Haifa Bay.
With a two-hour drive ahead of us, I would say about 85 percent of the group slept during this time. I did a little work at the beginning for about 45 minutes, but I was knocked out for the other part of the trip to the Holy City. Did you know that Jerusalem, the largest city in Israel, also has been called the Golden City, the City of David and the City of Peace? To Jews, it is their national and spiritual epicenter: the incarnation of ancient Israel; the place where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac; the site of David’s glory and Solomon’s Temple. To Christians, it is the city where Jesus spent his last days on earth: the site of the last supper, the crucifixion and resurrection. Pretty unbelievable and amazing stuff!
A little more food for thought about Jerusalem: In ancient times, it was said that the world has 10 measures of beauty, of which nine belonged in Jerusalem. The city is also made up of almost 67 percent Jews and almost 33 percent Palestinians.
Upon entering Jerusalem, we made our way to Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust museum. Our group was split up into two and taken on abbreviated but unbelievable tours. I could have stayed there for five or six hours and still probably not seen everything.
We are now a couple hours removed from the tour, and I still have goose bumps from the images and stories. We were not allowed to take any pictures inside the museum, but the images I have imbedded in my brain are going to be there for a long, long time. I always knew the death toll from the Holocaust was in the millions, but I had no idea it was six million.
At the end of the tour, we went into a big room where there was a huge hole in the middle of it, which represented a proper burial place for all the deceased. Along the outer walls of the room, there were tons of pictures of the deceased people, as well as books that contained the names of almost two million deceased men, women and children. Then our group noticed there was still a lot of empty space on the walls and came to find out that area is to be used to fill in the names of the other four million casualties. It was truly a surreal experience.
One of the other big things I learned on the tour was that World War II actually started on Sept. 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. I always thought it was Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor — oops!
Following the tour, our group made its way to the children’s museum of the Holocaust. I didn’t think I could be more upset or turned off by what I saw earlier in the day, but after walking through the children’s museum, I certainly was. There was a small, dark inside portion to the children’s museum that we walked through and saw even more pictures of the little ones and listened to the entire list of the deceased. It was a gut-wrenching experience to say the least.
Our two groups reconvened at the bus and ventured downtown for more sightseeing and lunch. The area we were dropped off was pretty crowded, and we were all on our own to eat. Head Coach Tricia Cullop, Assistant Coach Katie Griggs, Assistant Coach Todd Mitmesser, Assistant Athletic Director for Finance Tony Zaworkski, UT Videographer Don Reiber, Athletic Trainer Sara Meserth and Team Physician Jacklyn Keifer and I went to a small pizza shop and had a couple pieces of some pretty good pie. The shop offered cheese, mushrooms, green olives as well as a pizza with feta cheese, tomatoes and black olives. After lunch, everybody in my group — but me — got dessert. I know that may be a shock to most that know me well, because I have a huge sweet tooth. I can’t lie though: I was shocked myself that I didn’t get any dessert as well!
We rounded up our group at 2:45 p.m. and traveled to the hotel, Dan Boutique. We had a little less than two hours of free time before our next adventure, and I just knew most people would get caught up on more sleep. I had a little different thought process though and got a solid training session in. I tried to use the fitness center in the hotel, but for some reason unknown to me it was closed. I had to resort to plan B and do pushups and sit-ups in my room — not exactly what I wanted, but it all worked out just the same.
We finally wrapped up the Shabbat Shalom at the Western Wall or Kotel ha-Ma’aravi in the early evening. It is almost impossible to put into words the history of the wall and our experience there today. This place, which was located only 10 minutes from our hotel, was jammed full of worshippers, pilgrims and tourists. Did you know the wall is the only remaining structure from the Second Temple? This was yet another moving site in our venture across the globe.
We ate dinner in the hotel at around 7:30 p.m. and it was fabulous. We had everything from kosher chicken, beef, rice, au gratin potatoes, a couple different kinds of salads, a mixed vegetable salad, hummus, raw vegetables, fish and many, many desserts. Since I didn’t have any dessert for lunch and got a little bit of a training session in, I treated myself to a piece of chocolate cheesecake; it was simply delicious!
Tomorrow, our group is staying in Jerusalem and will tour the Old City (Christian, Jewish and Muslim), visit the Israel Museum (ranked among the leading art and archaeology museums in the world), and close out the day in Bethlehem. Need I say more?!