Temples, and Toilets, and Tombs, Oh My — Part 10

It’s all a blur…..

I can definitely say without fear of contradiction that our merry band of travelers visited Deir El Madina and Ramesseum on Feb. 6, 2023, not because I actually remember where we were on that day, and not because that’s what it said on the handy-dandy sheet we were given at the start of our journey – which got changed daily as we went along. Every place we went to has an entry fee – no surprise there – and we got a ticket to present as we went in. For some of the major sites, Shepherd Travel had purchased said tickets back in January, good for one year from date of purchase. However, for some of the smaller sites, Migo and John bought tickets when we got off the bus and handed them out as we walked to the entrance, and those show they were printed on Feb. 6, 2023, and valid on that date. Each ticket got deposited in my backpack after I flashed it at the gate and got bundled with the rest of our tour material when we returned to The Land. That’s the only reason I know what we did on Monday, the last day before our flight back, because it says so on the ticket. Which leaves me to wonder when we stopped at Medinet Habu, because it doesn’t say and it’s all a blur.

With a little sleuthing, I determined that the last place we visited was Ramesseum, the mortuary temple for Ramesses II, because the photographs from Wikipedia match those that I took there. You can’t mistake the columns and those massive statues. (See the picture below.) When I looked up Medinet Habu, the mortuary temple for Ramesses III, then I remembered being there from the photographs I took. The third site, Deir El Madina, that must be where they have this enormous statue basically ‘lying in state’ under a protective cover. Yeah, we were there too.

Medinet Habu


But before I even got out of bed that morning, some of our group – including my charming wife – were up and about at something like 4:30AM, getting ready to ascend in a hot air balloon, just to see what the area looked like from above. And they paid a princely sum for this ‘privilege.’ Now Cindy knows her customers. When this option was first presented to us, Cindy ‘knew’ that she could coax Barbara into signing up. Likewise, my demurral (No thanks; my head is permanently in the clouds.) I’m sure came as no surprise. What I understand happened was that the balloons, guided only by the prevailing winds, floated over places where they were not supposed to be (think military installations) before landing unceremoniously in someone’s field. I’m glad I heard about the group’s misadventures, but not for a moment have I regretted not being part of the ‘fun.’ Remember, my head is permanently in the clouds; I don’t need to pay top dollar for the privilege.

We started out in shul; we ended in shul…

And that was all there was supposed to be. The next morning our group, this merry band of travelers, who started out as couples or small groups of friends and had morphed almost into a family, would begin to go their separate ways. Those returning to The States would be leaving the hotel at something like (shudder!) 4AM to catch their flight. The rest of us would fly back from Luxor to Cairo as a group. A number of people had plans to stay on in Egypt for a few more days and the rest would fly back to Israel later that day but on different flights. However, that left a whole lot of time to ‘kill.’ Would we have to wait and wait at the Cairo airport, or could we go somewhere, do something, during that time? The folks at Shai Bar Ilan and Shepherd Travel put their heads together and came up with an alternative plan, a short tour of Cairo. OK, better than staring into space at the airport. But then it got more interesting.

Our bus pulled up in a quiet, residential area of the city, and we walked down a narrow street, up to an old door that was clearly not open and hadn’t been opened for the longest time. I guess this plan wasn’t going to work out. But then, someone found another door, and that one opened and we were ushered inside. Welcome to the Eitz Chaim Synagogue. Or what was once a synagogue, not a lavish ornate synagogue like the pre-evacuation Shaarei Shemayim synagogue, the place where we had begun our adventure, probably one of a number of smaller neighborhood batei knesset that were used by the 20,000 Jews who lived in Cairo in 1950.

Not that it had been turned into something else: a church, an auto parts store, a bowling alley. No, it was simply an abandoned building with two elderly people left to remain as caretakers, for how long, and until when, I cannot say. Why would the two of them, not Jewish, devote their lives to maintaining a site that was crumbling, with no official or unofficial support to tide them over? If I got the story right, their parents had been the caretakers back in the day.  The synagogue, or someone in the synagogue, had provided the funds for Ramadan (that’s the guy’s name) to get an education. So he stayed on when good times turned to bad, and so did his sister, whose name I never discovered. Was she ever married, someone asked. In effect, she was ‘married’ to this holy place. (We were relying on John to translate for us. Did I mention that when we arrived at the Cairo airport, Migo bid us farewell; he had another group coming in, and he was there to welcome them.) Barbara kept noodging me to take this woman’s picture. I was reluctant at first; I never like to stick my camera in someone’s face, but I did, and I’m glad I did, because it’s one of the best photographs I took during our trip. Don’t you agree?

Most of the ‘action’ was by the aron kodesh, opened to show the Torah scrolls inside, hidden away for decades since the departure of the Jewish community in the 1950’s. R. Berman reminded us that, while it’s not exactly de rigueur to take a Torah scroll from its resting place just to gawk at it, there’s nothing stopping a Jew from removing the scroll in order to read from it. And so, he took out one of the scrolls (almost certainly not kosher after decades of neglect) and read aloud from it for a minute or two before returning it to its proper place.

While this was going on, I walked around the premises, looking at the crumbling walls and what remains of the furniture. And yes, there was a plaque, reminding anyone who cared that Yaakov Rachamim Yisrael and his wife Rebecca had passed through these doors in better times. Let’s admit that this simple tribute was a little less elaborate than what the pharaohs had in mind for themselves, but equally as heartfelt – maybe more so.

I also realized that the two caretakers had a small apartment elsewhere on the premises. Here’s a view of part of their kitchen. Imagine if they got to take all their worldly possessions to their final resting place, the way the pharaohs did. The two of them might need a small suitcase. But, on the bright side, there wouldn’t be any worries about grave robbers.

After a while, we went outside to a courtyard. There was a yeshiva that used these premises. Here’s Ramadan pointing to what had been the aron kodesh the young men used.

By this time, a number of us could have used a restroom. Wait a minute; isn’t there one in the back? Ummmm, maybe we should wait until we get back on the bus.

We had one more stop, another synagogue, this one used by the Karaites. It was a lot fancier, with marble columns but no furniture, except for the cubbies near the entrance where the worshippers would put their shoes upon entering. (Cindy reminded us that the Karaites, like the Muslims, pray by prostrating themselves on the ground, so no use for pews.) Unfortunately, there was no one there to show us around or give us a backstory; so it was somewhat of an anti-climax – especially since this was absolutely, positively the last stop on our magical mystery tour. Except to head to the airport for our journey home – wherever that may be.

Barbara and I had been given the option: we could retrace our steps, flying from Cairo to Amman and then to Ben-Gurion, which would get us back to Israel at something like 11PM, meaning we would get back to Ma’ale Adumim well after midnight; or for several hundred dollars extra, we could get a direct flight to Ben-Gurion and arrive at 5PM. I’m the frugal type, but sometimes it’s worth it to cough up the money for a little comfort. We had spent $21 in Egypt for trinkets, but what the heck. So that’s what happened, and our sojourn in Egypt had come to an end. Although not my articles; there’s one more to come. Stay tuned.


Sunday night, Barbara and I were resting in our hotel room after a day of touring, when the wife announced, “I just got a text message from Michal.” (That’s the young woman who was apartment-sitting while we were away.) Oh no, I thought, one of our cats got loose; maybe it’s Shekhi wandering around the neighborhood, and we’ll have to go fetch him when we get back.

“What did she say?”

“It’s been raining hard in Ma’ale Adumim and there’s a flood in our living room.”

“Is that all? At least the cats are OK.”   

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