Solid Foundation

The Foundation Stone captures our curiosity. Centered under the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock, this stone has many traditions surrounding it. Moslems claim it is the site of Mohammed’s Night Journey described in the Koran. Christians point to depressions in the stone as the marks left by Jesus when he upsets the tables of the money changers. Jews see it as the place of the Holy of Holies of the Temple. This one stone is credited with the Binding of Isaac, Jacob’s Ladder, Noah’s sacrifice, Cain and Abel’s sacrifices, and the entry to the Garden of Eden, and it is no surprise that this stone is considered by Jews to be the Foundation Stone, from which the entire world was stone

While I understand the philosophical significance behind naming a stone as the Foundation Stone, marking the seminal event which serves as a basis for a religious belief, I wondered when the foundation stone became known as such in documents. The Bible does not mention this stone explicitly. Solomon is not reported as building the Holy of Holies upon the Foundation Stone, but rather on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. Nor is the Foundation Stone mentioned in reference to any of the other biblical stories attributed to it – not in the binding of Isaac, nor in Jacob’s Ladder, nor in the sacrifices of Noah or Cain and Abel.

The Gemara, however, does attribute this stone with being the foundation of the world. In the Yerushalmi,

Rabbi Yohanan said: “Why is the stone called the Foundation Stone, because from it the world was created.”

The Mishna besides stating the above explanation, projects backwards to the time of David and Samuel who placed the Ark of the Covenant on the Foundation Stone. (Mishna Yoma 5,2)

One idea for the emergence of the Foundation Stone in Judaic thought links it to Josiah’s reforms in the 7th century B.C.E. Josiah destroys not only the cultic centers around Israel dedicated to pagan gods, but also bans scattered altars used for worship of God. Josiah sees the Jewish people becoming scattered. The Northern Kingdom, Israel, has mostly been lost to exile; and as people are more mobile, there is a fear that Jewish peoplehood will be lost. A strong central institution like the Temple and Jerusalem as the center of Jewish life can help to ensure the future of the Jewish people and work against assimilation. As part of his move to reestablish the centrality of Jerusalem, he emphasizes the Foundation Stone as the focal point of the Temple. What had simply been the foundation of the Holy of Holies, now gets additional significance as being known as the Foundation Stone, and associated with other important scenes from the biblical text.

Later, during the times of the Mishna and the Gemara, the Foundation Stone as a uniquely Jewish place, remains after the destruction of the Temple. In essence, the marking of the Foundation Stone by the post-destruction Rabbis, sends a message that while the Romans can destroy the Temple, they can’t destroy its foundation.

Whether or not we believe that this exact stone is the Foundation Stone, the ideas represented within it are eternal. Whether or not the stone marks the exact spot where man connected to God, man showed his unshakable belief in God, or the entire world came into being; it does represent an eternal symbol of those themes and a focus for the Jewish world until today.


Beer Sheva to Jerusalem

Last week on October 31st, Beer Sheva celebrated 100 years since the capture of the city by the British and ANZAC forces in 1917.  And while the area around Beer Sheva was busy with streets closed, parades, thousands of visitors from Australia and New Zealand, and even a reenactment of the light horsemen’s charge, the event was scarcely remembered in the center of the country.  A one-liner on the hourly news was almost all that the event garnered in the national press.  Soon, on December 11th, we will mark 100 years since the British rule in Jerusalem, which will also be celebrated.light horsemen

Echoing the disconnect between people in the center and in the periphery in Israeli society, the two events are seen as separate.  Jerusalem doesn’t recall the Beer Sheva battle; and Beer Sheva has no idea how victory there led to British rule in Jerusalem.  These two events are, in fact, intrinsically connected.  In The Atlas of Palestine: 1917-1966 by Salman H. Abu-Sitta, the first section of the book on the British Mandate starts thus:

On the evening of October 31, 1917, with overwhelming force, the British army over-ran the small Turkish garrison in the town of Beer Sheba in a surprise attack from the south and east. The attack had been expected from the west. The Turkish flag opposite the mosque was lowered and the Union Jack was raised. Thus ended 1400 years of Arab Islamic rule….   Beer Sheba was the key to Palestine at its southern gate. Palestine now lay open to British occupation.

Interestingly, Abu-Sitta does not even mention Allenby’s entry into Jerusalem.  According to him, only because of the victory at Beer Sheva was the British mandate established.  Beer Sheva was the turning point of the war in the Levant.  After horrific losses in Gallipoli, the disheartened Commonwealth soldiers suffered 2 losses at Gaza.  General Allenby replaced General Murray and breathed fresh air into the battle theater.  His direct attack and victory at Beer Sheva would lead, finally, to conquest of Gaza and then Jaffa.

The possibility of threatening Jerusalem from the east via Hebron and from the west from Jaffa meant that the Ottoman line was stretched thin through mountainous terrain.  Allenby decided to strike from the North and cut off the Jerusalem-Nablus road.  This necessitated continuing on to el-Bireh through Shilta (Shilat), el-Burj (Givat Titura in Modiin), and Beit Ur El Tachta – Rt. 443 of today.

The fighting continued as a back and forth with a decisive battle happening on the plains below el-Burj.  There, the Australian and New Zealand troops joined with the Scots who were stationed there.  December 1, 1917 in the Judean hills was very different from Beer Sheva of October 31, 1917.  Winter had set in and the rain was falling.  (The Scots were still in their short knickers.)  Added to the inclement weather, the British troops faced “storm troopers”, specially chosen and trained by the Germans.  Only by sheer force of will and dedication did the British hold their fire when, “Allah hu achbar” was heard in the dark, cold silence.  They waited until the Turks were at point-blank range and then opened fire.  In the morning light the British troops prevailed and were able to advance up Rt. 443, cutting Turkish access to Jerusalem.

According to HS Gullett, an Australian War correspondent:

Had the enemy seized El Burj, the British would have been deprived of the use of the road leading up from Berfilya (on the western edge of Modiin), and the Beit Nuba (Mevo Horon) – Beit Sira valley would have become untenable. This would have weakened all the pressure towards the Nablus road, and exposed the left flank of the infantry which was making the main advance towards Jerusalem.

The same troops who first captured Beer Sheva were responsible for taking key positions on the road to Jerusalem.  By learning the relationship between events, we can form a more complete picture of the true connectivity of all of the land of Israel – periphery as well as center.

Jonah and the Whale

Yom Kippur is one of the central holidays of the Jewish people and during that day the book of Jonah is read in its entirety.  The story of Jonah and the whale is one of the epic tales of all times.  So, it shouldn’t be surprising that the places associated with the Jewish prophet are sought out and revered. Here in Israel there are several spots along the coast which are associated with Jonah. The port of Jaffa from whence he departed is one. As to where the whale deposited Jonah after he agreed to go on God’s mission, there are 3 candidates: Tel Yonah next to the Rishon LeZion beach, Givat Yonah overlooking Ashdod, and Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip.

After his predicament in the whale/fish, Jonah does end up going to prophesy against the people of Nineveh, and they repent, making this an appropriate reading for a day associated with repentance.

What happens to Jonah afterwards, however, is a mystery. The biblical account does not follow him to the end of his life.  One tradition posits that Jonah stayed around Nineveh, dies and was buried there. A shrine in Mosul, known as the Nebi Yunis (Prophet Jonah) shrine marks a spot that is revered by both Christians and Moslems. It occupies a place of importance on one of two mounds which made up the ancient city of Nineveh.

Tragically, in 2014, the shrine along with many antiquities in Mosul were destroyed by ISIS, their treasures destroyed or sold off to fund the terror organization.  (See before and after in inset.)

nebi yunus -1After the Iraqi government recaptured Mosul, archaeologist Layla Salih came to the site to do emergency archaeological work. She found that the ISIS terrorists did not just destroy and loot that which was visible, but also dug tunnels in order to harvest even more antiquities, hundreds of objects according to Salih.

This story is not just tragic, though, for in digging these tunnels, they unwittingly discovered that the shrine to Jonah sat on an earlier building, a 7th century B.C.E. palace. There had been earlier excavation at the site during quieter times; the Ottomans headed an expedition in 1852 and the Iraqi government revisited it in the 1950’s, but neither reached as deep as the palace.

Among the finds was a marble cuneiform inscription describing King Esarhaddon. He was the son of Sennacherib who destroyed cities in Judea and set siege on Jerusalem in approximately 701 B.C.E. Archaeologists believe that the Royal residence of Assyrian kings was initially built for Sannacherib himself. Sometime during Esarhaddon’s reign (681-669 B.C.E.), the palace was expanded and renovated. A later renovation was during the reign of Ashurbanipal (669-627 B.C.E.). In 612 B.C.E. Nineveh was destroyed by the Babylonians and, with the city, the imperial palace. In the 7th century C.E. an Assyrian Church stood on the hill and that church became associated with Jonah. Sometime in the 8th century C.E. a mosque and shrine took the place of the church.

The wheels of time have a way of turning history upside down. Jonah the prophet was sent to proclaim the destruction of Nineveh, and in so doing, preserved the city when the residents repented. In modern times, the destruction surrounding Jonah’s tomb, reveals the ancient palace and makes possible preservation of the site.

Ideal Family

One of my favorite families in the history of the land of Israel in the early 1900s is the Bentwich family. Herbert and Susanna, their 11 children and descendants made their mark on the land and on the emerging state and it’s institutions.

I have been trying to put my finger on exactly what I find to be so interesting.  There are lots of crazy stories within the family – some of them are actually crazy.  I think what impresses me the most, though, is that the Bentwich’s are a family driven by ideals.

Herbert and Susanna, who are part of the English Jewish aristocracy in the second half of the 19th century, raise their children on 3 central tenets:  music, education and Zionism.  I used to think that the scariest part of being a parent was that, even after all my efforts, my kids wouldn’t listen to me. As I mature, I find that the most terrifying part of parenthood is that your kids actually listen to you.  These Bentwich kids did just that, each in his own way.
Susanna Bentwich was a concert pianist. She conveyed her love of music by assigning her children, in a predetermined order,  a musical instrument.   The first learned piano; the second, the violin; the third, the cello.  This pattern – piano, violin, cello – repeated for the remaining 8 children.  Nita and her husband, Michael Lange, made their home a haven for musicians and hosted many concerts.  Another sibling, Thelma founded a music school in Israel which exists until today. Grandson Daniel studied piano at Julliard.  Margery is a professional violinist.  Most of the siblings end up having a significant connection to music.

Education is also an important pillar of the family.  Besides Thelma and her music school, Norman Bentwich, the oldest son, after a stint in the British army as a major of a camel division, becomes a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  The youngest Bentwich, Joseph, becomes a teacher in  two of the most prestigious high schools in Israel – Gymnasia Hertzelia in Tel Aviv and HaReali Haifa. He then goes on to become deputy Secretary of Education in the young state of Israel.  Joseph’s son, Michael, was also a professor of Engineering at Hebrew University.


bentwichAnother pillar of this illustrious family is their commitment to Zionism.  When Susanna dies young in 1915, Herbert arranges to buy land on the Mount of Olives in which to bury her and to establish an estate.  He succeeds in bringing her body to Israel in 1921 to establish the family cemetery.  His plans for an estate on the same piece of land fail when the Ottomans refuse to give him a permit.  Instead, he donates the land to establish the Hebrew University, on the condition that they maintain for perpetuity the cemetery.  Many Bentwich family members were buried on the Mount of Olives in the family cemetery.  When Herbert finally moves to Palestine, as it is called under the British, in 1929, he already has 8 of his children living (or buried) here.

Norman is employed by the British to update the laws in Palestine, incorporating Ottoman laws into the British framework; the political system he devises is the basis for Israeli law until today.

The town of Zichron Yaacov is interwoven with the Bentwich family. Many Bentwich children and grandchildren lived at Chatzer Carmel, the estate established by Michael and Nita Bentwich Lange.

Also, Jerusalem owes a debt to the Bentwich’s.  Besides Hebrew University,  the neighborhood of Rechavia benefited from the family.  The first house in the new neighborhood built in 1924 was of Eliezer and Thelma Bentwich Yellin.

They may not be actually an ideal family, but they are definitely a family with ideals.


Hole in the Wall

The gates of Jerusalem’s Old City are not only ways to get inside the city. Each one is a site with a history of its own. How the gates developed, why they were built where they were, and how their names came about is a fascinating topic written about in this site here and here. Building a strong defense depends on controlling access, but there are sometimes holes in that defense. One of those holes centers around a story of a building and a mission from 1000 years ago.

Just to the east of today’s New Gate, a complex was built 1000 years ago and served pilgrims during the Crusader period. The Monastery of St. Lazarus was built by the knights of the Order of St. Lazarus. Originally not a military order at all , the monks who maintained this facility catered to lepers not only from the Christian pilgrims but also the local Moslem population. The first mention of this order’s existence is in 1137 during the reign of Melisende and Fulk d’Anjou, who gave money towards its maintenance. The location of the leper house was documented in 1172 by Theodoric,

“Whoever makes a circuit of the city walls beginning from the Tower of David will find next to the western corner the church and habitations of the lepers, which are furnished and well ordered.”

The hospital accepted all lepers and became a haven for leprous knights from other orders as well. It was this outside influence which, over time, led to the Order of St. Lazarus becoming not just an association for catering to the sick but also an agent in war.

St. Lazarus

The complex was abandoned on the eve of Salahadin’s advance against Jerusalem in 1187, and the colony was moved to the south in the area of today’s Zion Gate on Mt. Zion. After the conquest, the order’s headquarters were moved to Akko and only a branch remained in Jerusalem to resettled in the original location. The knights were allowed by the Ayyubid conquerors to open a small gate, a postern gate, to allow access to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher inside the city, as Christians were forbidden to enter the city through the Jaffa Gate or the Damascus Gate. Six-hundred years later, it was through this postern gate that the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef entered to visit the newly constructed Austrian Hospice, and becomes the first Christian ruler to enter the city since the days of the Crusaders.

Today, in the Old City of Jerusalem, the issue of who is allowed to enter and where is a hot topic. It isn’t a new topic, however; and even emperors in the modern era entered the city through a hole in the wall.

Which Way to St. Stephen’s Gate?

Getting directions in Jerusalem can be confusing. So many place names are similar, and the same place can be known by many names. This is especially true of the gates of the Old City which have many different names. Whether you are looking for Jaffa Gate, David’s Gate, The Beloved’s (Abraham’s) Gate or Hebron Gate you will end up in the same place.

There is one address which actually applies to TWO Gates – St. Stephen’s Gate. According to Christian tradition, Stephen was a Hellenized Jew (thus the Greek name – Stephanus) living in Jerusalem. He got involved in social affairs when it was felt that the rabbinic authorities were not fairly allocating tax monies set aside for widows. The group which was spear-heading this protest movement were also supporters of Jesus. Because of his involvement against the rabbis, he was accused of blasphemy and brought before the Sanhedrin – the rabbinic court. He was sentenced to death, driven out of Jerusalem and stoned outside of the city of Jerusalem, making Stephen the first Christian martyr. This is the moment you realize that Monty Python actually did their homework.

st. stephen's stoning

Here’s where the tricky part comes. In which direction was Stephen driven out of the city?

According to an early Byzantine tradition, he was taken out of the city to the north and stoned at the current location of Saint-Etienne, a modern Catholic church close to the Damascus Gate which was built over a 5th century Byzantine church.

A later, 12th century, Crusader tradition places the stoning to the east outside of the Lion’s Gate, much closer to the location of the court and better fitting with the account in Acts, but with no tradition associated with it. When the Greek Orthodox Patriarchy started building a church in this spot dedicated to St. Stephen, they even found an ancient lintel dedicated to St. Stephen which was buried near the foundations. Unfortunately, that dedication was later shown to have been planted to create facts on the ground – literally – and was actually from Beer Sheva where there had been several Byzantine churches, one dedicated to St. Stephen.

As a result of these 2 traditions, some Christians refer to either the Damascus Gate or the Lion’s Gate as “St. Stephen’s Gate”. Because Jerusalem is not confusing enough. So if someone wants to meet you at St. Stephen’s Gate, make sure to ask, “Which one?”

Dreams of our Fathers

Our ideals lead to dreams and actions, but not always to actualization.  Israel Beck was born in Bardichev, Ukraine in 1797.  He moved to Israel and settled in Tzfat in 1831 where he opened a printing business. His medical books were picked up by the Egyptian ruler, Ibrahim Pasha, who was suffering from a high fever.

After the Tzfat earthquake in 1837 destroyed Israel Beck’s printing press, and in appreciation for his books, the Pasha gave Beck his blessing to found a Jewish farming community on Jabal al-Jarmaq, Mt. Meron.  This was the first Jewish settlement founded by Jewish immigrants in the Land of Israel in modern times. The new agricultural settlement attracted a group of about 15 Jewish families..

Unfortunately, Ibrahim Pasha, Israel Beck’s friend, fell out of power, and the renewed Ottoman leadership did not allow for the Jewish community of Jarmaq to continue.  Like today’s tragedy with the families of Amona, it was government and narrow interest groups which were the end of Jarmaq’s Jewish community. Hurvat Beck on Mount Meron

Israel Beck moved with his family to Jerusalem in 1841. He writes recalling Jarmaq:

“There were in the village, gardens and orchards, but now there is nothing but forest and large rocks…I built houses in which to live, I made gardens and planted fields, and within the year, satisfied myself with the grain of the land.  In the second year, I had cows and flocks, 6 sheep and 6 goats, horses and donkeys, and with God’s help, I observed the sabbatical year in detail.  Also all the commandments of the land, I observed in a heightened way.  My house was open wide and God’s blessing was on all the works of the house and the field, even though this is not a place of planting because of the numerous rocks.  Even so, I worked hard and God was my helpmate.  Numerous difficult factors came upon us in 1839 because of the terrible war between the Turkish sultan and the Egyptian Pasha, which, because of them, forced me to leave this pleasant village and go to Jerusalem.”

His children and grandchildren, however, raised listening to their father and grandfather, received his Living Will and continued Israel Beck’s mission to rebuild the land.  His son, Nissan Beck, famous for the Tiferet Israel synagogue in Jerusalem, also built the first Hasidic community outside the Old City of Jerusalem, Batei Nissan Beck, near Damascus Gate.  Israel Beck’s grandson, Shimon Rokach, was among the founders of Neve Tzedek, the first Jewish neighborhood outside of Jaffa.

Israel Beck never moved from within the Old City once he arrived, and lived out his days in Jerusalem.  His settlement on Mt. Meron stands until today a ruin and a monument to his dream.  His contribution can be best expressed not by that heap of rubble but by his dream. Building the Land of Israel lay beyond the grasp of Israel Beck, yet it was achieved through those who sat at his feet and understood their role in continuing his dream.

Not Whether You Win or Lose

When learning about a place, one can focus on the physical – stone upon stone – what we see.  And while it is true that physical remains can tell a story, the people behind the objects often tell a much more interesting tale.

sophronius_of_jerusalemSophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem from 634 C.E. until his death in 638 C.E. was one such character.  His life was filled with failure, and yet we still remember him.  We don’t know where Sophronius was born or what his racial background was.  He ended up at the age of 20 in Egypt and then went to join a monastery outside of Bethlehem.  He latched onto a monk who was much more famous than he was, and traveled with him through the Byzantine empire.  When his traveling companion died on him in Rome, Sophronius made sure to accompany the body back to Jerusalem for a proper monk’s burial.

Sophronius believed strongly in the doctrine of dualism and tried to dissuade Patriarchs in the church from competing philosophies, but he was unsuccessful.  His writings from this time period on this topic are lost.  After he became Patriarch of Jerusalem, he continued his quest to champion dualism.  These writing from this time period are also lost.

Sophronius did not oppose the Moslem advance on Jerusalem and, indeed, toured the city with the visiting conqueror, Omar, in 637 C.E.  Sophronius invited Omar to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher during the tour, but Omar declined.  Omar was worried about setting precedent for future Moslems who may want to mark the place where he prayed and would take over the Church, converting it to a mosque.  As a token of his sensitivity, Omar received the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher from Sophronius.  He gave the privilege of opening and closing the church to a trustworthy Moslem family, who continue to perform this duty until today. It is hard for us to remember that there were Moslem leaders once who were sensitive to other religious narratives.

Sophronius, who was beatified, suffered many losses: losses of his written work, losses of his philosophical arguments, loss of the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher; but his memory remains as the one who tread through the transfer of Jerusalem from the Byzantine Empire to Moslem control.  Sometimes it’s not whether you win or lose, but when and where you stand which determines your historical significance.

Related sites:

  • Church of the Holy Sepulcher
  • Temple Mount
  • St. Avtimius Monastery

Running Away, But Not Too Far Away

The Dead Sea as a center of refuge was the topic of my oral licensing exam to become a tour guide and continues to fascinate me.  What pressures drive people to seek refuge in this inhabitable landscape?  Men as long ago as the Chalcolithic Period (6000 years ago) fled here and left signs in the desert cliffs above the Dead Sea.  Long before the Dead Sea scrolls were sequestered in caves, Chalcolithic man built temples in the Dead Sea area and suddenly left their habitations and fled into the caves.  Hoardes of copper ritual objects were found in the caves above the Mishmar Stream.  Whatever pushed these early settlers to “head for the hills” was so catastrophic that they did not return to claim their treasures or resume their temple worship.

Uncovering lost treasures has been a driving force for modern exploration in the Dead Sea area.  Unfortunately, not all treasure-hunters are licensed archaeologists but are often Palestinian antiquity thieves.  In a recent sting operation, Israeli police arrested 6 Palestinians on their way out of the Cave of Skulls in the cliffs above Tze’elim Stream.  Habitation in this cliff shows just how far people are willing to go in the name of self-preservation.  Access to this cave is only possible by rappelling down over the cliff edge to the cave entrance.  One wonders how the ancients accessed this cave which is located 80 m (250 ft.) below the cliff top. cave-of-skulls

In order to stay one step ahead of the thieves who will inevitably return to search for scrolls and other items to sell on the black market, last summer a 3-week excavation was undertaken to scientifically study the cave again (a first dig was conducted in the 1960’s).  Among the many bones found in the Cave of Skulls, so named because of the 7 human skeletons buried there during the Bar Cochva revolt, are a few pieces of papyrus.  They have not been fully studied yet to see if perhaps they have writing on them, but this finding leaves the door open for the possibility of finding more scrolls in the Dead Sea area.

There are finds here dating from 139 C.E., several years after the Bar Cochva revolt, and show the presence of Jews in this area even as they had been banned by Hadrian from the area of Jerusalem.  The Jewish connection to Jerusalem is strong and the Jews hiding in the Cave of Skulls over 1850 years ago were not ready to give up on that.  They were willing to live under extreme conditions to keep the dream of return to Jerusalem alive.

Nearby sites

  • Dragot Stream
  • Ein Gedi Chalcolithic Temple
  • Qumran

Holey Walls

One of the most beautiful attributes of Jerusalem is the use of stones in building.  Because stones are natural, the variance in the facings leads to unique interplay between the environment and buildings.  In ancient times, stones were used for everything – buildings, towers, and walls.  And many of those well-made, well-engineered buildings remain today in Jerusalem.

Sometimes, however, a beautiful ancient wall is defaced by intentional cavities dug out of them by later builders.  And then one has to answer the question: for what purpose would someone deface a structurally sound, beautiful wall?  One such instance is on the Tower of David (“Phasael” tower).  tower-of-david-holes

Peter the Iberian (Iberia was a kingdom in eastern Georgia) was the son of the Iberian king.  In order for his father to prove that he was not aligned with the Persians, he gave his son, Peter, as a slave to the emperor in Constantinople at age 5.  Peter the Iberian was no ordinary slave, however.  He was a slave in the house of the emperor and was raised and educated by the empress, Eudocia.  At age 20, Peter the Iberian decided that he wanted to tour the Holy Land and asked for permission to leave.  The Emperor did not allow it so Peter the Iberian had no choice but to run away.  He was met on the way by his friend, John.

Upon arriving in Jerusalem, he founded his own monastery near the Tower of David.  He was given the land for free as part of a policy to encourage building in Jerusalem after the destruction of the wall and general decline in the late Roman Period.  However, the neighbors of the new monastery felt that their property rights had been infringed upon.  They punched John in the face.  When John returned to Peter after the brawl, the two of them understood how lucky they were to be sharing in Jesus suffering.  The next day unexpectedly, the neighbor died proving to Peter and John their righteousness.  Later when Peter the Iberian started running out of money, he expanded the monastery and added a hotel for pilgrims.

The holes in the walls of the tower are thought to be the insertion points for wooden beams associated with these building erected by Peter the Iberian.  In Jerusalem, even ugly holes in beautiful walls have a story.