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2002-06-26 "Doubting Thomas" goes to Israel

The barber shop customers had their throats slit, and ended up as filling for the pies in the shop below (My editor told me I must grab people's attention at the outset).

 

The barber in question was of course Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. And one of my first jobs was to perform all the small tenor roles in this piece with New Israeli Opera.

Having eventually got through the rigorous security surrounding all El Al flights, I was met at midnight in Tel Aviv by my driver who had keys for my city centre apartment. I tried to open the door but woke the family in my flat - nightmare!

I checked myself into a local hotel, and in the morning the opera company apologised profusely for giving me the incorrect apartment number -nightmare over.

I attended my first music call and was told I wasnt needed for six days. I felt very guilty being in a luxury apartment in the sun, being paid, but managed to get over the guilt after a few minutes and began to plan my six days.

The following day I got a bus to Jerusalem, sitting surrounded by armed teenagers, which was unsettling at first, but soon I realised it was a normal sight because of the conscription laws.

Being one of the most doubting Thomases in the business with a very rocky faith, I was still overwhelmed when I stepped out of the bus and walked through the Damascus Gate.

However, I was brought back to reality with a bang when I found myself being tripped and pushed to the ground. Someone went for my wallet, but the attemped mugging was a failure.

A little shaken, I resumed my wandering, but soon found myself in a very dodgy Arab quarter being stared at and pointed at.

Having learned from my mistakes, I contacted Egged Tours who run very cheap and well-informed tours of all the major Israeli hot-spots, and boy, was it hot there in July. So my main tip would be not to go it alone in Israel but rather join a guided tour.

The Egged bus dropped us at the Jaffa Gate, and we were taken to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - site of the Crucifixion - down the Via Dolorosa with its intriguing markets, and eventually to the Wailing Wall. Then we walked around the top of the city wall looking down on the famous Temple Mount (that distinctive golden dome) and the Mount of Olives.

On to Yad Vashem, a place I hate to admit I had never heard of before. I was quite simply unprepared for this experience. Having always had an absolute intolerance of racism, neo-Naziism and extremism of any kind, I found myself plunged into a memorial to the Holocaust.

The Childrens memorial left me silent, tearful and feeling sick - a long dark corridor which you have to feel your way along while candles flicker beside photos of the young victims, as their names and ages are read out slowly.

There is much more to Yad Vashem, including of course Schindlers Grave, but what I took away was a total intolerance for neo-Naziism, racism, the BNPs of this world and all extremism.

Then it was a day-trip to Nazareth (disappointing), Bethlehem (a little tacky), Tiberias (diamond factory), Capernaum (45 degrees), the River Jordan and the Sea of Galilee which were as Id imagined them from my Bible stories.

The opera company were also staging a spectacular Aida at the Roman amphitheatre in Caesarea. I was on the guest list for two performances, and despite the soprano and tenor weighing in at around 35 stone each and only just able to touch fingertips - let alone anything else.

The Dead Sea is a must of course. I did the mudbath bit, and the floating unaided bit, but dont get water in your eyes. Masada, Herods Dead Sea palace retreat, was another major highlight of the entire trip, but I dread to think how he got up there, let alone his builders. My six week stay in this fascinating country allowed me to revisit these places many times, but I did do some work too, honest.