A tour of the Old City of Jerusalem with MK Uzi Dayan

Dayan, the nephew of the lase defense minister, Moshe Dayan, says his tours are"open to people of all political stripes."

July 30, 2019 18:25
A tour of the Old City of Jerusalem with MK Uzi Dayan

Uzi Dayan stands outside the Hurva Synagogue in the Old City, reading passages from a Tanach. (photo credit: REBECCA ARATEN)

When MK Uzi Dayan realized 12 years ago that young Israelis were getting their information about Israel from the satirical television show “Eretz Nehederet,” he decided to take matters into his own hands.

Dayan—a member of the Likud party and nephew of the late defense minister Moshe Dayan—has been organizing monthly tours to different places in Israel ever since, bringing Israelis from all over the country and charging only bus fees.

“It really irritated me and made me laugh, that [their] source is a program that represses the truth,” Dayan told a tour group, as they stood by Zion Gate waiting for their tour of the Old City of Jerusalem to begin.

Uzi Dayan addresses five busloads of tourists in the City of David, right outside the Pilgrimage Road (Photo credit: Rebecca Araten)

This month’s tour brought five busloads of people through 3,000 years of Jewish history, as participants walked through the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and saw structures and artifacts that have endured since the Second Temple period.

From the roof of the Hurva Synagogue, Dayan greeted each of the groups, replete with a cowboy hat on his head and a copy of the Hebrew Bible in his hand. As tourists looked out upon the expanse of the city, Dayan explained his connection to the land that surrounded them.

At the small moshav where Dayan grew up, schools lacked electricity, flooring, and roads. But they did have books and many opportunities for experiential learning, he explained. In a classroom where one teacher juggled two different grades, Dayan learned a number of biblical stories, almost all of which took place in the land of Ancient Israel. He was intrigued.

“It arouses curiosity, if you’re in a small class,” he explained. He began to study the stories of the Tanakh outside of the classroom, understanding the significance of the land on which he was living. “I go everywhere with a Tanakh, he said. “We don’t learn it as a holy book: it’s presented as a book that is our mandate for the Land of Israel.”

Dayan said that he has been teaching tourists about different sites’ relevance to Jewish history, especially when that history is overlooked. When he took a group to visit Qasr el Yahud on bank of the Jordan River, he realized that nearly all of the explanations about it focused on Jesus’ baptism there. “There’s not a word about the fact that this is the first place that the Jews entered Israel,” Dayan said.

According to him, proper guidance through the historic locations can make or break the experience. “In essence, what happens on the tour comes, at the end of the day, from the level of guidance,” he said.

Since realizing that the Jewish history of Qasr el Yahud sometimes gets swept aside, Dayan has been attempting to add the site’s biblical name, “Maabrot HaYarden,” to its list of designated names.

One of Dayan’s pet peeves is the prevalence of non-Hebrew signage in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter. Standing under the shade of a tree outside the Hurva Synagogue, Dayan gestured at the cafes and restaurants around him, which sported names such as “Bakery.”

He spoke of what he called the “frustrating phenomenon in the Old City: there’s not a word of Hebrew.” Dayan pointed out that in France, certain laws force all restaurants to have French names. In Israel, no such legislation exists. “It’s incredible, and in the Jewish quarter it’s especially prevalent,” he said.

Dayan maintained that his tours were not political, and that they were open to people of all political stripes. “Now that I’m a member of Knesset, I try very hard not to make this partisan,” he said. “We’re not filtering people, that’s not our job. Here are people who have totally different opinions.”

In his eyes, his goal is that of an educator. “My job is for them to get familiar with the places,” he professed. “That is to say, you have opinions from the streets. They should be based on familiarity.”

Dayan said that he curates each of his tours to make them relevant to whatever is going on in the world. “I speak with people about Parashat Hashavua (the weekly Torah portion), but Parashat Hashavua is not “Matot,” it’s not the parsha from the Torah," he said. “Rather it’s an interesting occurrence that happened in the past week or month...so that brings the concretization of things of how and what is happening today.”

Dayan also brings elements of military history into his tours, which hearkens back to his own personal background: he is a high-ranking IDF officer, having served in a variety of positions such as Deputy Chief of Staff, the head of Central Command, and the head of the Israeli National Security Council.

When bringing past groups to Hebron, he told them stories about his own first visit to Maarat Hamachpela (the Cave of the Patriarchs), which took place while he was serving in the Central Command.

In his Old City tour, Dayan paid homage to his years in the military by alluding to an army idiom: “A soldier who’s left alone, what do they say happens to him?” he asked the tourists. He implored them to stick with the group.

Tour participants, many of whom have been on multiple of Dayan’s tours, said that they enjoy Dayan’s tours in particular.

“He always gives added value,” said Bentzi Kesher, who has taken Dayan’s tours 15 times. When he went on Dayan’s tour to Beit Shemesh, his group met with the mayor. “In general, we meet people, and [Uzi] gives a lecture that’s related to the situation,” he said.

This time, the special element of the tour was a walk down the Pilgrimage Road located under the village of Silwan. 

Houses from the Second Temple period, from the Herodian Quarter in the Old City (Photo Credit: Rebecca Araten)

The road leads to the Kotel, and archaeologists posit that Jews travelled up this road on holidays during the Second Temple Period, over 2,000 years ago.

The road, which is still being excavated, is not yet open to the public. “I heard about it, I read about it in the paper,” Kesher said, “but it’s not opened to everyone. And we will visit.”

With the help of tour guide Haim Yoavi Rabinovitz, who has been involved with the tour planning from the start, Dayan is in the process of organizing next month’s tour. This one will take participants to the Elon Moreh settlement in the West Bank, right near the hills of Mount Kabir.

“People will learn from the place, they’ll ask they’ll speak, they’ll argue,” Dayan said.

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