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Feeling the Churban in Ir David

When visiting Yerushalayim during the days leading up to Tisha B’Av, there are a few places that one can truly feel and see the vestiges of the Churban. To me, one of the most moving moments is listening to the words of Josephus and seeing what archeologists Eli Shukrun and Roni Reich revealed under the Herodian street in Ir David.

Descending deep into the southern end of the City of David, right above Brechat HaShiloach (Siloam pool), we reach the southern tip of a main street that led from the Shiloach all the way up to the Temple Mount and served the thousands of oley regel, making their way on shloshet haRegalim to the Beit HaMikdash. After immersing in the pool to ensure that they were tahor, they ascended this street towards Har HaBayit. According to archeological finds, the street itself has been dated to the first century CE. Below the street there was an impressive complex drainage system. The city’s water did not drain into the Shiloach pool but into the Kidron Valley.

It is in these underground cavities that part of our story takes place. You see, Josephus* describes for us the tragic double war taking place, a civil war amongst the Jews, in which he describes tyrannical leaders, Jews opposed to the rebellion against the Romans and who are against the Jews whom they consider radicals. The civil war was so severe that the Jews burned their own food storages because of internal fighting. This is such a hard concept for us to imagine!

Having set the Upper City and the Temple in flames, the Romans now try to capture the last of the rebels, searching house to house and they finally realize that many Jews and rebels were hiding underground in the drainage system. The Romans sought out each and every rebel and killed everyone they found in the drainage system. When Shukrun and Reich excavated here they found the personal effects of those who were in hiding, including the cookware that they had taken in order to survive underground.

Ir David Foundation has placed glass over the places where artifacts were found so that visitors can peer inside. One can see the broken streets and the very places the Romans chopped up to reach the Jews in hiding. The cookware didn’t help when food ran out, and most of those who fled died of starvation. A Roman sword was often found, testimony to the bloody death that those the Romans caught alive met. Other items of worth were found, illustrating that those in hiding believed they would survive.

In Ir David today, one can walk the very streets the pilgrims walked as they ascended to Har HaBayit, but right under our feet as we walk up, we are reminded of what took place as we glance into the glass coverings showcasing the cookware and belongings of the Jews who expected to overcome the Roman Empire but did not. We can really feel the Hurban here.

Perhaps, witnessing the personal items of Jews desperately trying to escape the Romans touched me more profoundly because of my own family’s underground survival story during the Shoah.

Although centuries divided the Jews of Bayit Shayni from my father and grandparents, they too found refuge in an underground bunker, hidden by a Righteous Gentile for two years in Przemyśl, Poland, 16 Jews in hiding. It was only recently that I miraculously managed to uncover the name of the rescuer, Wladimir Riszko, learn that he married one of the Jews he saved, and met his children on Zoom, Eva and George, who held a partial list of the Jews in hiding all, of whom survived because of their father. Of the approximately 24,000 Jews who lived in Przemyśl approximately 350 survived, although the Nazis and their collaborators, just like the Romans, went house to house searching for every bunker and every Jew. Thankfully some were never found.

*Josephus Flavius, “The War of the Jews,” Book 6, Chptr. 9, 4

By Sara Wolf

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