ESRAmagazine

Harry Potter and Cemetery in Ramle

198-harry-potter-cover ESRA day trippers to Ramle and Lod pose for a photograph (Photos: Mike Altman)
Ramle ... the last resting place of Private Harry Potter

To millions of children around the world he's the hero of a series of best-selling fantasy books by author J K Rowling. But in the British Commonwealth Cemetery in Ramle is the tombstone of a soldier whose only link with the fictional character is in the name: both are called Harry Potter.

This Harry Potter was Private 5251351 of the 1st Battalion The Worcestershire Regiment who, according to his headstone, died in action in Hebron on 22nd July 1939 at the tender age of 19 years and 10 months.

The cemetery was the last stop on an ESRA day out which took in both Ramle and Lod, two cities adjacent to each other.

Our day started with a visit to a church in Ramle built during the Crusader period in 1099. It was converted from a classical basilica church in 1266 when Ramle was captured by Mamluk Sultan, Baybars the First. Today it is The Great Mosque or the al Umari Mosque.

As temperatures were reaching 37C and the day was turning into a hamsin, we gathered in the mosque as our leader and guide Stephen Kliner – who donates his experience to ESRA – told us some Moslem traditions and beliefs.

Next we went to The Karaite Center – a totally different experience – and which turned out to be the highlight of our day.

The Karaites are Jews with unique views that set them apart from the central rabbinical movement. They were founded in the 8th century but by 1099, with the conquest of Ramle by the Crusaders, they had disappeared.

Only upon the establishment of the State of Israel did Karaite Jews returned from Egypt to Ramle. There are now only 47,000 worldwide.

A slide presentation in Hebrew was ably translated by our volunteer, Jack Copelovici.

Next stop was The White Mosque, a complex comprising the square white tower and the 8th century White Mosque, which the city of Ramle was built around.

It was an important and beautiful city but had no water. They had to build an aqueduct from Gezer, 13.5 kilometers away and stored the water in three huge cisterns under the mosque, the ruins of which we could see.

From there, we walked through the alleys and roads of the Old City to the shuk, passing the Franciscan Church where Napoleon stayed on his way to Zfat in 1799.

At the shuk, some of us bought freshly squeezed apple and orange juice and sat in the shady Hanasi Park for lunch.

Next on our itinerary was The Pool of Arches, an underground reservoir built in 789 CE. We looked forward to rowing around this cistern in the shade.

It is an underground reservoir built in 789 CE from the time of the Abas Caliphs. It measures 20 x 21 meters. The water is brought from Gezer. Stairs lead down to the pool which has three columns of stone pillars with beautifully carved arches supporting the ceiling. The ceiling has square hatched openings which we could see from the outside, through which water could be drawn.

Helped into the rowing boats, we had a wonderful time rowing around trying not to bump into each other or the walls!


Rowing in the underground reservoir, The Pool of Arches

Finally, we arrived at the British Commonwealth Cemetery which brought home to us the ongoing history of Israel.

Walking through the grounds we looked at the names of so many soldiers who died here, so far from home. And we saw the area where Jewish soldiers, with the Star of David on their tombstones, are buried.

It is such a peaceful, orderly cemetery, with beautiful manicured grass, with graves all in rows.

It was with somber feelings that we boarded our bus home.

Many thanks for another thought-provoking trip to Michael Tucker, Bish ben Ezra, Stephen Kliner and Michael Altman.

The White Tower

Fascinating tale of two cities

Ramle and Lod were never able to thrive economically at the same time. The Arabs first conquered Palestine in the 7th century.

Lod served as their first capital but Lod was a city of Byzantine Christians who did not want to sell to the Moslems.

The Caliph Al-Walid ibn Abd al Malik decided to build a new capital for their new religion. The location he chose was strategically placed on the historical sea route, between Jaffa and Jerusalem.

The name Ramle is taken from the word "Ramal," sand in Arabic because Ramle is built on a bed of sand. Ramle was built by Sulayman ibn Abd al–Malik, the brother of the Caliph, between 705-715 CE.

Ramle is the only city the Arabs built from scratch without using building material from existing churches and synagogues.

 

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Sunday, 29 November 2020

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