The Corona Chronicles – Looking For A Place To Vent

How much longer is this going to go on? First of all, we endured weeks – nay, months – of lockdown. Then the government began slowly (but, evidently, not slowly enough, as has now become clear) to ease up the restrictions designed to prevent the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, because of the too-rapid return to “normal”, as well as the widespread disregard by far too many people of the remaining social distancing restrictions, especially the requirement to wear face masks which cover the nose and mouth – including government ministers and even police officers, who are supposed to be enforcing the restrictions! – the daily increment to the number of COVID-19 carriers, as well as the numbers of actively sick, is rising by leaps and bounds. The economic situation is dire and businesses which were already in difficulty before the pandemic and which needed only a little push to send them over the edge, are facing possible bankruptcy.

In search of somewhere to vent my frustration, I find myself wasting more and more聽 time in fruitless arguments on Facebook, or on YouTube, merely as a way to let off steam!

As a result, I have found myself branded a “libtard” by followers of The Daily Wire and of Prager University’s YouTube channel, because I pointed out that people who identify as transgender might be suffering from chromosomal or hormonal anomalies, or have been born “intersex”. But when, in the course of a heated discussion on Facebook, I enquired what percentage of people identifying as transgender had actually been diagnosed with such an anomaly, I found myself abused as “a bigot”, because I refused to accept the subjective feelings of “transgender” people as sufficient cause to accept biological males as females or biological females as men and because I adhere to the belief that biology does determine gender. Note, I said Biology – not Anatomy.

Likewise, I have managed to arouse the wrath of both the “Pro-Choice” and the “Pro-Life” lobbies on the question of abortion, as I do not agree fully with either side.

And let’s not even get into the race riots in the United States!

However, unlike so many who cravenly cave to the bullying of the “Cancel Culture”, issuing pathetic apologies for things they might have said or done ten or twenty years ago, humbly begging for forgiveness in a manner reminiscent of the show trials of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, I will not grovel before bullies from either the Right or the Left. I will continue to think for myself, and will not be dictated to by anyone, “conservative” or “liberal”.

As long as I am managing to anger both sides, I feel I must have found the Golden Mean 馃槈 .

And now, having got that off my chest, I am going to relax on a cruise to the Greek islands – courtesy of YouTube 馃檪 .

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Corona Chronicles – The Second Wave

With 288 new cases over the past 24 hours, it seems safe to say that the expected “Second Wave”聽 has arrived.聽 In spite of that, the government continues to loosen the restrictions on movement and assembly. The railway is to be opened again, and cultural performances (theatre, etc.) are to be permitted although with an audience of no more than 250 (500, with a special dispensation from the Ministry of Health). I have tickets for the opera in two weeks time, but that just isn’t going to happen. Many theatres, concert halls and places of entertainment have said that opening to only partial capacity is simply not economically viable. I would say this is certainly true of the opera which is, in any case, one of the most expensive forms of entertainment there is. The auditorium of the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Centre, where the operas are staged, seats 1,644 when full – and it usually is full. I just checked their website and it says there that they are excited to be back and are currently working on a new performance schedule. However, I doubt that they will be ready for a full-scale performance in just a fortnight.

The death toll in Israel from COVID – 19 stands at 303. That includes a young man of 26 who died a few days ago – a man with no pre-existing medical conditions, who had previously been treated for the virus and was believed to have recovered. Unfortunately, the virus caused a rare complication leading to an inflammatory disease of the heart muscle which proved fatal.聽 聽It is frightening that there is still so much we don’t know about the coronavirus and the complications it can cause, even when the actual symptoms are apparently mild.

On Sunday, we resumed choir practice – sort of.聽 Instead of meeting twice a week, all together, those of us who were ready to risk meeting at all (about 18, out of 25) were divided up into groups, each group to meet once a week with the conductor. Those of us who preferred to meet out of doors, met on Sunday and the rest met indoors yesterday. There should have been nine of us with the conductor, but in the event, we were only seven – and I was the only soprano. Nevertheless, it was good to sing together with other voices after such a long hiatus.

As far as my field-trips with Yad Ben Zvi go, we were recently notified that they will be resumed next month (for the shorter, half-day trips), while for those of us who prefer to finish the course of archaeological field-trips (of which there are two left), these will take place in September.聽 It’s not an easy decision to make. It can be pretty hot in September – and these full-day trips involve a considerable amount of travel by coach with all the problems of social distancing and face-masks involved.聽 In addition to which, there is no telling whether the Second Wave will have passed by then, or got worse, or whether there will be a Third Wave.

As I was writing this post, news came in of the death of World War 2 icon Dame Vera Lynn, the “Sweetheart of the Forces”. I don’t know why this affected me so badly, but I sat and cried for an hour, then put on a playlist of her songs on YouTube – and cried some more. I was born quite a while after the war,聽 but she’s tied up in my mind with so many things I can’t even begin to express. And, of course, for many who did not know her in her heyday, she will now always be associated with the COVID -19 pandemic, the enforced social distancing and the longing that one day, hopefully not too far away, “We’ll Meet Again”.

I can do no better than to leave you with this, her signature song:

 

 

Posted in Daily Life, Modern Living, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Corona Chronicles – We’re Not Yet Out Of The Woods

I hate it when people say “I told you so” but – I told you so.

A month since the government gradually started to ease the lockdown restrictions here in Israel, and a fortnight after they rashly allowed schools to reopen, the number of new COVID – 19 cases is climbing again. At the weekend, the graph spiked at 115 new cases in a single day. Yesterday, there were 98 new cases. Most of the new cases are centred on schools in the Jerusalem area (but not only) – and one school in particular. And this is attributable to the disdain shown by staff and students for the conditions set down by the government for the reopening of schools.

But the truth must be told. Since the relaxation of restrictions, there has been a widespread slackening off of “Corona Discipline”, not only amongst the general public, but also by ministers and parliamentarians. At the extended Shavuot weekend, the media were full of news items about how Israelis were celebrating “the end of the pandemic”, even though they had all been warned that it was聽not over and that a “Second Wave” was almost certain to strike before the end of the summer. People flocked to the parks and beaches, without face masks and without observing the social distancing rules which were still in effect. Even before that, pubs and nightclubs, which had been allowed to open as long as they observed certain rules, did not enforce them (claiming that they could not do so), and even a walk down the street to go shopping exposed the law-abiding citizen to dozens of others who were wearing their masks on their chins rather than over their noses and mouths!

The government says, however, that it is too soon to be sure if this is, indeed, the expected “Second Wave” or merely a localised outbreak and has therefore decided to wait and see, rather than re-impose restrictions which have already been lifted. Fortunately, though, they have at least reconsidered a further easing of restrictions which had been planned for the coming days.

Be that as it may, Yours Truly decided not to take unnecessary risks and, instead of going to my first singing lesson in three months, decided to take up my vocal coach’s offer of a lesson via Zoom.

Which, of course, brings me to my choir. We had a meeting on Sunday – also via Zoom – to discuss when, and in what format, we can venture to start meeting again in person for rehearsals, given the opinion of several experts that choral singing is one of the activities most likely to spread the virus. We have not yet reached a conclusion. Yours Truly was not the only one to think we should wait to see what happens with this latest outbreak of the disease.

It occurs to me that it’s been a while since I taught my non-Hebrew-speaking readers any new Hebrew words, so I shall make up for it now with a whole slew of them.聽 First of all, the Hebrew word for virus (not the kind that gets into your computer) is聽negif聽 (谞讙讬祝) – with the accent on the second syllable. COVID – 19 is simply called negif hacorona.聽 I have heard several suggestions for a proper Hebrew name for the virus, based on the Hebrew words for various kinds of crown or coronet, but so far, the Academy of the Hebrew Language聽 has not seen fit to adopt any of them.

Next up – Social Distancing is聽richuk chevrati (专讬讞讜拽 讞讘专转讬), with the accent on the last syllable in each word. “Ch” is pronounced as something between Johann Sebastian Bach (of course, I would聽make the musical connection 馃槈 ) and聽 the Spanish name Juan. The expression comes from the same roots as rachok (专讞讜拽), meaning “far” and聽chevra (讞讘专讛), meaning “society” or “company”.

Last, but not least, we have just celebrated Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), when it is customary to eat lots of milk products – and what would Shavuot be without Cheesecake (Ougat Gvina – 注讜讙转 讙讘讬谞讛), from the words聽Ouga (cake) and聽Gvina (cheese)?
Since my cheesecake turned out spectacularly well, I can’t possibly聽not聽 share the recipe with you.

 

SHIMONA’S CHEESECAKE

INGREDIENTS

1 tbsp kosher gelatine powder
125 ml (half a cup) boiling water
250 grams Petit Beurre/digestive biscuits
100 grams unsalted butter
750 grams soft white cream cheese (9% fat)
150 grams (2 thirds of a聽 cup) sugar plus 2 tbsp sugar
250 ml whipping cream (32% or 38% fat)
Juice of half a lemon (optional)
A handful of raisins and/or cranberries (also optional)

METHOD

1. Melt the gelatine in half a cup of boiling water and set aside to cool.
2. Crush the biscuits in a food processor or blender.
3. Melt the butter in small saucepan or a microwave till it turns to liquid, pour over the biscuits and mix well.
4. Pour the biscuit crumb and butter mixture into a round cake mould (26 or 28 cm diameter).
5. Mix the cream cheese with 150 grams of sugar.
6. Whip up the whipping cream together with 2 tbsp of sugar until it is stiff and then fold it into the cheese mixture.
7. Add the gelatine mixture which should have now cooled down.
8. At this point, you can add the lemon juice, but, as I said, it’s optional. You also have the option now to toss in a handful of raisins and/or cranberries into the cream-cheese mixture.
9. Pour the cream-cheese mixture over the biscuit crumb mixture.
10. Cover the whole with cling-wrap and refrigerate for several hours until the cake “sets”.

 

 

 

 

Bon appetit –聽or, as we say in Hebrew,聽b’te-avon (讘转讬讗讘讜谉).

 

 

 

Posted in Cuisine, Daily Life, Modern Living, News, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

The Corona Chronicles – Loosening Up

As the number of COVID – 19 patients continues to fall, Israel is gradually moving out of lockdown. I wish I could be sure that the decrease in new cases was not merely due to a drop in the number of people being tested. However, more importantly perhaps, the number of seriously ill continues to fall and for the last two days (or possibly three), no new deaths from the virus have been recorded.聽 If all goes well,聽 many of the remaining restrictions will be removed after Shavuot (Pentecost), which falls this Friday, May 29th – and by the middle of June, theatres and concert halls will also be able to open. However, the social distancing restrictions (face masks, 2 metres distance) are expected to remain in place for a while yet. And, of course, in common with all the rest of the world, a second wave of the disease is predicted later in the year.聽 聽So I still hesitate about getting back to “normal” – whatever that may mean.

Truth to tell, there seems to be a considerable amount of confusion as to what is allowed now and what is not. Some of the government regulations appear to contradict others.

Nor is that the only area where confusion reigns. The weather, too, seems to be confused as to what season it is 馃槈 .聽 Last week’s聽sharav,with temperatures throughout the country averaging around 40 degrees C, might have convinced Israelis that summer was here at last, but over the weekend, the聽sharav broke, temperatures plummeted and Sunday (yesterday) brought pouring rains and unseasonably cool weather (about 16 C here in Jerusalem).

I, myself, despite my hesitation, gave in last week and had a haircut. I had planned on waiting a couple of weeks more, until June, but I feared that if I waited any longer, it would require a machete to hack through my unruly locks. Besides which, the soaring temperatures made it unbearably uncomfortable. The hairdresser complained that it was hard to work while sticking to the Ministry of Health directives (face mask, latex gloves and a visor), and claimed that there was a loss of sensitivity in his fingers which made the job of cutting and styling that much harder. Nor did he seem impressed when I pointed out that surgeons manage to perform the most delicate of operations wearing surgical gloves.聽 However, he managed to do a pretty good job, nonetheless.

I also attended the聽Pidyon Haben ceremony for my nephew’s firstborn son. This is a fairly rare event in Judaism, and for me, it was a first. It was also my first social engagement since the relaxation of lockdown restrictions. I wore a face-mask but the ceremony was preceded by light refreshments (quite a lot of them, actually) and, of course, one cannot eat with a mask on. So I suppose I shall spend the next 14 days in trepidation, hoping I didn’t catch anything…

Meanwhile,聽 I continued my quest to become a master-chef聽 and now have two more cake recipes under my belt (in more ways than one).聽 馃槈
The first is for a Yoghurt and Lemon Cake, the recipe for which, I found on YouTube.

 

 

 

 

 

There were several recipes for this type of cake there and I chose this particular one because it requires only two eggs. You may recall that I mentioned, in previous posts, the on-and-off egg shortage which seems to be afflicting us (or not, as the case may be).聽 I, personally, have not experienced any difficulty in purchasing eggs but since not a few of my friends apparently have, I preferred to err on the side of caution and use no more than I have to. I suppose it’s selfish of me, but when anyone other than family and close friends ask if I know where eggs can be found, I reply that this is classified information and if I were to tell them, I would have to kill them 馃槈 .

I should just mention that I used a slightly greater amount of yoghurt than in the video-clip, as yoghurt is generally sold in Israel in 150 gram tubs. However,聽 since the yoghurt container is afterwards used as a measuring cup, all the other ingredients were increased proportionately, so no harm was done.

The second cake was one which I have made several times before, but was never really satisfied with the result. I mentioned it in my previous post – a dried-fruit and nut loaf. Now, it just so happens that a friend of mine recently shared with me her brother’s recipe for what she calls “a boozy fruit loaf”. I haven’t yet got round to making it, as it requires several ingredients which I don’t have, but it did give me an idea of how I might “tweak” my own dried-fruit and nut loaf, simply by soaking the dried fruit overnight in alcohol. So I gave it a try and found that it vastly improved my own recipe. I should explain that the much richer recipe Amanda sent me uses margarine and three eggs, whereas my recipe uses no margarine and only two eggs. My tweaked recipe turned out much better than my previous attempts. Clearly, the alcohol made a world of difference 馃槈聽 .

So, here is my Fruit Cocktail Loaf:

 

 

And for those who’d like to try making it, here is the recipe:

Shimona’s Fruit Cocktail Loaf

Ingredients:

Cherry brandy
2 eggs
6 tbsp sugar
6 tbsp plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
100 grams chopped walnuts/pecans/hazelnuts/almonds (*that means 100 grams altogether. You can use any or all of these kinds)
100 grams raisins/sultanas/dried cranberries (*see note on nuts)
6 – 8 dried fruits (I used apricots and prunes. You can also use dates)

Method:

  1. Cut the dried fruits into small cubes.
  2. Soak the raisins and other dried fruits overnight in cherry brandy.
  3. Whisk the eggs (no need to separate the whites and the yolks) in a bowl.
  4. Add the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and sugar).
  5. Add the chopped nuts.
  6. Add the (now not so dry) fruit.聽 But drain off the excess alcohol first. (What to do with it, I leave to your own ingenuity. I’m sure you can think of something.聽 馃槈 )
  7. Pour the mixture into an oblong loaf tin (what we, in Israel, call an “English cake” tin).
  8. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees Celsius.
    (You need to keep an eye on this. Every oven is different. I baked it for only 30 minutes this time. )

That’s all there is to it. Good luck!

Before I go, as this Friday is Shavuot, when we celebrate the Giving of the Torah to the Children of Israel,聽 let me wish you all Chag Sameach (讞讙 砖诪讞).

Posted in Cuisine, Daily Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Corona Chronicles – The Things We Learn In Lockdown

Confession time:聽 I am not much good at baking. My cakes don’t rise properly, and if they do, they are usually too dry, or even burnt. That’s why I usually confine myself to baking a cake once a year, and it’s almost invariably a cheesecake, for Shavuot (Pentecost).聽 In fact, to say I “bake” a cake would technically be incorrect, as it is one of those cakes made without baking, using a base of biscuit crumbs bound together with melted butter or margarine.

The COVID-19 Crisis, however, has forced me to learn new skills. For example, for several weeks, I was unable to obtain the聽challot (traditional braided bread loaves) which I like for Shabbat and when it became possible to buy them, I was afraid to do so, as they are hand-made and are sold unwrapped and I was afraid of being infected by the virus. So I decided it was time to learn to make them.

I had never baked my own bread before. I had never cooked with yeast before either. This was going to be an interesting experiment.

I have a friend from my choir who loves cooking. He bakes his own bread. He makes home-made ice cream. He even brews his own beer and makes his own wine and cider. I asked him for a recipe. He sent me, not only the recipe, but an illustrated, step-by-step guide, to baking sweet聽challot聽(singular:聽challah).

I think the main reason I have always been afraid of using yeast is that the whole process takes such a lot of time, as one has to wait an hour to an hour and a half for the dough to rise. But I had nothing else to do and if I wanted聽challah for Shabbat, I was going to have to roll up my sleeves, gird my loins and get to work.

I can’t believe how well they turned out!

 

 

I know, I know.聽 The braiding effect is not too well-defined. But don’t forget, this was my very first attempt at baking bread!聽 And they tasted delicious – if a trifle sweet for my taste.

I have since baked two more batches, reducing the sugar content slightly. This was the latest:

 

 

 

My friend Louis, who gave me the recipe, thought these looked a little under-cooked, but I can assure you, they were not.聽 They are lighter in colour than the first batch and have a less “glazed” effect, because I used less egg-wash to brush them with before baking, in light of the on-and-off egg shortage we seem to be experiencing here since before Pessach.

In case anyone is interested, here is the recipe:

1. Mix 1 tbsp yeast and 1 tbsp sugar with 210 ml.聽 lukewarm water and allow to stand for 5 – 10 minutes until the mixture bubbles.
2. Add 1/4 cup of sugar, 1.5 tsp salt, 1/4 cup vegetable oil and a beaten egg and blend all the ingredients together.
3. Add 4 cups of flour, knead and allow the dough to rise for 1 hour, in a warm place.
4. Punch down and braid into 1 large, or 2 smallish loaves.聽 You can also divide the dough into 8 rolls, if you prefer.
5. Brush with egg-wash and allow to rise for 30 minutes more.
6. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes in a pre-heated oven, at 190 degrees C.
You need to keep an eye on the loaves once they are in the oven. The recipe I received called for 30 – 35 minutes in the oven, but I found 20 – 25 was quite sufficient.

Last week, having overcome my fear of yeast cooking and greatly emboldened by my success with the聽challot, I decided to try my hand at preparing home-made聽pita bread. Well, to be quite honest, I really had no choice in the matter. On聽Yom Ha’Atzma’ut (Independence Day), we were again under the same total lockdown that had been imposed for the Passover Seder, and so I was going to have to enjoy the traditional barbecue alone (save for another family get-together via Zoom). I don’t have a barbecue, but I could prepare the marinaded chicken breasts in the oven. However, what is a barbecue (or聽mangal, as we call it here) without聽pita聽bread? And, unfortunately, the local grocery store had none!

This time, I found a recipe on the internet and after a great deal of hesitation and dithering as to whether to聽cook the聽pitot in a skillet on the stove top, or bake them in the oven, I opted for the latter as being less messy and faster, since I would be able to bake several at a time, without having to flip them and risk being spattered with hot oil.

Dear Readers – I doubt that I shall ever buy聽 pita again. The home-made ones were absolutely delicious, even if they did not turn out as perfectly rounded as the mass-produced, store-bought variety:
|

 

For me, Israel Independence Day would not be what it is, without the International Bible Quiz for Jewish Youth, held every year on this day, and celebrating the connection of the Jewish people with our history and our land. I watched it this year, ensconced in front of the TV, happily munching “barbecued” chicken breasts in a marinade invented by my brother, accompanied by potato salad and garden salad, all sandwiched into my own, home-made pita.
Pure delight.

I have also tried to vary my cake repertoire. A dried fruit and nut loaf, which I have attempted several times, was edible, but so far from perfect that I shall not expend too many words on it. On the other hand, a recipe for (vegan) chocolate cake which I found on YouTube and adapted, in accordance with the ingredients which I happened to have available, was such a success that it might well become a standby staple in my kitchen. It can even be cooked in a microwave oven!

Nor was my lockdown learning curve confined to the kitchen. For some time now, I have been experiencing audio problems with my computer (basically – no sound). Under normal circumstances, I would wait until my brother-in-law could come and fix it. The lockdown, however, prevented that – and I needed sound urgently, for the family Zoom link-up on the Seder night. So I started Googling and eventually steeled myself to uninstall my (rather old) loudspeakers, update the drivers and reinstall the speakers.
I am happy to report that it worked! The sound is still rather weak, because (I think) there is a loose wire in one (or both) of the speakers. But I was able to take part in the family Seder, a couple of video-conference rehearsals with my choir – and the聽Brit Mila (circumcision) of my nephew’s firstborn son, last Friday, all courtesy of Zoom聽 聽馃檪

Israel is gradually coming out of lockdown – but I have learned some valuable lessons in technology and household management which I might not otherwise have learned.

They do say every cloud has a silver lining, don’t they?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Corona Chronicles – Together But Alone

Today is Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars.聽 This is commemorated every year, one week after Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Memorial Day, and one day before Israel’s Independence Day. Usually, it is marked by nationwide ceremonies at military (and other) cemeteries, the length and breadth of the country. This year, due to the Coronavirus Crisis and consequent restrictions on mass gatherings,聽 these ceremonies are taking place without the presence of the public and in accordance with all the social distancing rules.

It was strange to see the plaza in front of the Western Wall so empty, yesterday evening, and to see the soldiers who formed the Honour Guard, the Chief-of-Staff, and聽 even the President, Reuven Rivlin, wearing surgical face-masks, and latex gloves. The representative of the bereaved families, who kindled the Memorial Beacon, was also masked.聽 Instead of the crowds who usually attend this ceremony, the whole country watched on television:

 

 

 

Israel Independence Day

 

 

After the ceremony, as the Chief Military Cantor sang聽Hatikvah, citizens across the country responded to the Master of Ceremonies’ call to come out onto their balconies and porches, and join in singing Israel’s National Anthem.

 

 

The strangeness continued today. On this day, bereaved families usually flock to visit the graves of their dear ones at the military cemeteries. But this year, under the shadow of the COVID-19 Crisis, the government ordered the military cemeteries closed from 4pm yesterday afternoon until the end of Independence Day, in order to prevent mass gatherings. Indeed,聽 a complete curfew has been imposed for the whole of Independence Day – just like at Pessach (see my previous post). And people are asking – if it was permissible to open branches of IKEA at the beginning of the week, why cannot families visit the graves of their loved ones on such a day as this? It is true that a guard of honour will be in place at all military graves throughout the day, but – it is not the same.

Remembrance Day, it has often been said, is not so much for the bereaved families – they need no special day to remember the sons and daughters, husbands and fathers, wives and mothers, brothers and sisters, who have fallen so that we might live. It is for the rest of us – a time to embrace the bereaved families and show them that they are not alone. The Coronavirus Crisis has done much to bring us together – so much so that I heard of an initiative among the Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) community, so often accused of cutting themselves off from the rest of Israel, so often at loggerheads with the secular community to the extent that they have frequently been castigated for refusing to take part in the two-minute silence at 11 am every Remembrance Day. They have taken it upon themselves to read the entire Book of Psalms 23,816 times – the number of Israel’s fallen – and to dedicate a book to the memory of each and every one of the Fallen.聽 The reading of psalms for the souls of the departed is a time-honoured Jewish tradition, and if you wish to take part in it, you can do so here 聽(in Hebrew) or here (in English).

And yet, it is painfully hard for the families of the Fallen, on this of all days, to be kept away from the last resting-place of their loved ones. This photograph, which was shared on social media, says it all. I am not certain who took the picture, but it broke me completely. The original caption read: “I understand it wasn’t possible for you to come this year – so I came to you instead.”

 

 

 

In just under an hour, the official ceremony for the end of Remembrance Day and the start of Independence Day will begin – also without the presence of the public. It, too, will be broadcast to the nation via TV and the internet.聽 Israel is 72 years young. Celebrate with us.

Chag Atzma’ut Sameach (讞讙 注爪诪讗讜转 砖诪讞 – Happy Independence Day).

 

Posted in Daily Life, Modern Living, News, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Corona Chronicles – A Night Like No Other

As is the case throughout much of the world these past few weeks, Israel is in virtual lockdown due to the continuing COVID-19 Crisis. In order to ensure that people didn’t go spending the Passover Seder with their extended families, thus increasing the risk of spreading the infection (as happened during Purim, last month), the restrictions were tightened and we were “requested” not to leave our homes at all, from 6 pm. Wednesday evening till 7 am. the following morning. I could not, surely, have been the only one to think of that first Passover night, some 3,500 years ago, when the Children of Israel gathered in their houses in the Land of Egypt, at one and the same time fearful yet hopeful, their doorposts marked with the blood of the Paschal Lamb so that the Angel of Death might recognise and pass over their houses, as they awaited divine deliverance from bondage.

Tens of thousands – possibly hundreds of thousands – of Israelis (Yours Truly among them) – followed the emergency regulations but managed to unite their families by connecting during the Seder service via Zoom or Skype. The local mobile phone company Pelephon reported a 400% spike in the use of the Zoom app on Wednesday evening, in comparison to the same time the week before, and a 70% spike in the use of Skype.聽 Other families found divers ways to connect with friends and relations, without deviating from the Emergency Regulations but without having recourse to modern technology – although one group of Sephardi rabbis did issue a halakhic ruling, permitting the use of video-conferencing technology, in this specific emergency situation, and under certain conditions. Needless to say, their ruling immediately aroused controversy.聽 Those who did not have access to the appropriate technology, or who did not accept the ruling of the Sephardi rabbis, found other creative solutions. I heard of neighbours in an apartment building, who set up family tables in the communal courtyard, each nuclear family at their own table, but with the tables the requisite 2 metres apart. Other families ate on their balconies, or on the pavement outside their houses, so that they were “together” with the other residents of their block, yet still “in their own homes”.

 

 

 

 

Another feature of this utterly unique Seder night was the initiative (I believe, though I may be mistaken, by former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau) to get everyone to come to the balcony or the window at exactly 8:30 pm, to sing the Four Questions, a key part of the Passover Seder, traditionally asked by the youngest member of the family, and beginning with the words “Ma nishtana halayla hazeh mikol haleilot?” (诪讛 谞砖转谞讛 讛诇讬诇讛 讛讝讛 诪讻诇 讛诇讬诇讜转 – How is this night different from all other nights?)

 

 

 

How different, indeed.

 

And it did not end with the聽Ma Nishtana, which actually comes quite early in the Seder service. It continued after the meal, with the Grace After Meals, when we thank the Almighty for his goodness and praise him with聽Hallel聽聽 聽–聽聽“for his lovingkindness endureth forever”.

 

 

And so it was, from Rosh Pina to Ashkelon, from Haifa to Jerusalem, from Bnei Brak to Ashdod. Maybe not always in complete synchronisation – that’s not so easy to do with Zoom or Skype, where there is sometimes a time delay, especially if, as we did, you are including friends and family upon three continents and in four or five different time zones, or if dozens of residents spread out along an entire block are trying to sing together. And yet, unlike in other times of trouble,聽 from the Spanish Inquisition, to the dark days of the Holocaust, when Jews were forced to hide away in small groups and celebrate Pessach in secret,聽 this year, our people defied this scourge that has come upon the world and went out of our way to celebrate the Festival of our Freedom in the open – and, in spite of everything – TOGETHER.

Chag Sameach (a Happy Holiday) and聽Shabbat Shalom (a Peaceful Sabbath) to you all.

 

Posted in Daily Life, Modern Living, Religion, Technology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Herodion: Herod’s Fortress-Tomb

What an eventful few weeks the tail end of winter has been!聽 The end of February and the beginning of March saw lashing rains and icy winds, not to mention one of the nastiest, dirtiest election campaigns in living memory – culminating, yet again, in an indecisive result in which it seems that neither of the two leading candidates may be capable of forming a government.聽 In all that, I found time for another field trip with Yad Ben Zvi, and a visit to the opera.聽 And now we are in the midst of this awful Coronavirus epidemic. Many of you are possibly “confined to barracks” (ie. stuck at home), whether because you have been exposed to the virus and are in self-isolation, or because you live in one of those countries where restrictions of various degrees have been imposed by the authorities, or because (like me) you are afraid to go out for fear of unwittingly coming into contact with聽 someone who has been infected and does not yet know it – or because, with shops, schools, places of entertainment and many places of work having been temporarily closed down, there is simply no-where to go!
Whatever the reason, you now have plenty of time for reading and so I am inviting you to join me on another virtual field-trip through the highways and byways of Israel.

At the end of February, after several days of heavy rains and thunderstorms, the skies miraculously ceased their weeping on the very day scheduled for our聽tiyul.聽 It was still cold and heavily overcast, and I had a fold-up umbrella discreetly packed in my knapsack – just in case.

We were headed for Herodion, Herod the Great’s palace-cum-fortress, and eventually, site of his tomb.聽 Situated some 12 kilometres south of Jerusalem and 5 kilometres south-east of Bethlehem, it was built – so we are told by the Jewish historian Josephus – in commemoration of Herod’s victory over the Parthians.

Josephus describes it thus:

And as he transmitted to eternity his family and friends, so did he not neglect a聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 memorial for himself, but built a fortress upon a mountain towards Arabia, and named it from himself, Herodium, and he called that hill that was of the shape of a woman’s breast, and was sixty furlongs distant from Jerusalem, by the same name. He also bestowed much curious art upon it, with great ambition, and built round towers all about the top of it, and filled up the remaining space with the most costly palaces round about, insomuch that not only the sight of the inner apartments was splendid, but great wealth was laid out on the outward walls, and partitions, and roofs also. Besides this, he brought a mighty quantity of water from a great distance, and at vast charges, and raised an ascent to it of two hundred steps of the whitest marble, for the hill was itself moderately high, and entirely factitious. He also built other palaces about the roots of the hill, sufficient to receive the furniture that was put into them, with his friends also, insomuch that, on account of its containing all necessaries, the fortress might seem to be a city, but, by the bounds it had, a palace only.

(The Wars of the Jews I,21:10)

 

Herodion is visible for miles around, even from Jerusalem. I used to be able to see it from my old apartment.聽 Josephus described the hill as being shaped like a woman’s breast, although to my mind, it seems more like a volcano:

 

 

At the foot of the hill is Lower Herodion, where Herod built, among other things, a great pool, with a pavilion on an island in its centre. The pavilion was once covered by a roof, supported by columns. The water was brought to the pool by aqueduct, from the springs of Artas near the so-called Pools of Solomon, to the west (about which, more later). The pool, which was plastered, served in Herod’s time as the main reservoir for Herodion, and was also used for swimming.

 

 

 

And here is a view of the Lower Palace complex, seen from above:

 

 

 

The Lower Palace complex was surrounded by porticoed gardens, the remains of whose columns can still be seen. It served Herod for entertaining (and impressing) his friends – but it was vulnerable. Herod, as we know, was paranoid to the point of insanity – perhaps, after all, not entirely without reason. A lot of people had just cause to wish him dead. He therefore had another palace constructed on top of the hill, which rose 60 metres above its surroundings. This palace was more of a fortress – a peculiarly Herodian design, which he repeated in other places, the best known of which is probably Masada.聽 The design is circular.聽 Two massive concentric walls, with 2.5 metres between them, towered 30 metres high, and were protected by four towers. The fortifications surrounded a palace-fortress seven storeys high. Five storeys towered above the central courtyard, and two more were basement storeys.聽 Of the four towers, three were semi-circular. The eastern tower, built on bedrock, was circular and, at a height of about forty metres, was the largest of the four. The Royal Suite on the top floor offered a panoramic view over the Judaean desert, as well as the possibility of enjoying a refreshing breeze on even the hottest days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After construction of the fortification around the hill, an earth rampart of considerable height was laid against its outer foundations.聽 This gave the hill its conical shape, as well as artificially raising its height.

Within the fortifications, stood Herod’s private palace, of modest size but luxuriously appointed. The King spared no expense.聽 There was, for example, a fairly lavish bath-house, consisting of two changing rooms (apodyteria), a large聽caldarium, or Hot Room, heated by a hypocaust,聽 a round tepidarium (Tepid Room) with a domed roof (the earliest of its type to have survived in Israel), and a small聽frigidarium, or Cold Room.聽 The latter included a stepped pool which may have served as a聽mikveh (ritual bath).

Here, you can see the domed roof of the聽tepidarium:

 

 

And in this picture, you can see the remains of the hypocaust which heated the聽caldarium:

 

 

You can see the low pillars which supported the floor, under which the hot air flowed and, if you look carefully at the wall, you can see the flue-channels in the walls through which the hot air rose to the barrel-vaulted ceiling,聽 heating the whole room.

Here we can see the remains of some decorated pillars:

 

 

Excavations are still in聽 progress on the site and new discoveries are being made every day.

 

 

 

One of the most interesting discoveries was the聽triclinium or reception hall.

It had a mosaic floor and frescoed walls and a roof supported by columns. Later, during the Great Revolt (66 – 70 CE), the triclinium was converted into a synagogue by the Jewish fighters, who added stone benches on three of its sides.聽 It served as a synagogue also during the Bar Kochba Revolt (132 – 136 CE).

Herodion was situated in the middle of nowhere, basically, and a major problem which Herod’s architects and engineers had to solve, was the lack of water.聽 I have already mentioned the aqueduct which brought water from Artas to the pool in Lower Herodion.聽 In addition,聽 cisterns below the fortress were filled with rainwater and three large cisterns were cut into the hillside, whence it was drawn by servants, in jars and water-skins, and carried to another cistern at the top of the hill, which was probably always kept full.

Here we can see part of the underground water system:

 

During the Great Revolt, the Jewish fighters excavated a tunnel to ensure the supply of water to the rebels in the Palace Complex, which was besieged by the Romans. This enabled them to bring water from the cisterns to the fortress, without being exposed to the enemy.

Sixty-five years later, during the Bar Kochba Revolt, the Jewish fighters greatly expanded the underground network, and constructed a maze of high-roofed assault tunnels, to enable the swift passage of armed warriors, who could thus make surprise attacks on the Romans and disappear back “into the mountain”, before the enemy knew what had hit them. Two of the exits from this system of assault tunnels have been uncovered near the remains of what is now believed to have been the site of Herod’s tomb.

 

 

On exiting the underground complex, we came across Head Restorer Fuad Abu-Ta’a, who told us, with a grin, that he was “building antiquities” – restoring the small royal theatre where Herod would have entertained his special guests.

Here, too, a monumental staircase was discovered:

 

 

Adjacent to that, were the remains of what was identified by Prof. Ehud Netzer聽 as Herod’s Mausoleum.

Prof. Netzer (1934 – 2010) was a world expert on Herodian architecture, and the driving force behind the development of Herodion as one of the National Parks. He had searched for many years for King Herod’s tomb. Many of his predecessors had believed that the tomb was in one of the towers of the palace-fortress. Netzer believed that the mausoleum would be found outside, at the foot of the mountain.聽 That was how he discovered the lower city, which I described above. However, he did not find the tomb and he therefore began to search on the artificial slopes. In 2007, he began to excavate the slanted wall that encircled the mountain, halfway up its steep slope. He believed that if he dug along this wall, he would eventually find the tomb. After many months of digging, nothing had yet been discovered and so Netzer decided to take a break for a few months, clean up the excavation area and prepare the reports on the finds from Lower Herodion for publication. Reportedly, he remarked to one of his colleagues that the tomb might be cursed and that, when he finally discovered it, something bad would happen.

During the cleanup operations, a fragment of a reddish stone sarcophagus, decorated with a carved rosette, was discovered, as well as the remains of two other white stone sarcophagi, so magnificent that he was convinced they could only have come from King Herod’s tomb. Shortly afterwards, the excavation team unearthed ornamental carved stones and the remains of a monumental building. Eventually, the base of the mausoleum itself was discovered on the north-eastern slope of the mountain, facing Jerusalem and close to the monumental staircase.

The mausoleum itself, was destroyed during the Great Rebellion against Rome and the sarcophagus of the much-hated king was smashed to smithereens by the rebels, such was the loathing felt for the usurper.

On the site now is a scaled-down model of the mausoleum:

 

 

Here is the view from the windswept hill Herod chose for his final resting place:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the discovery of the mausoleum, Prof. Netzer contnued to excavate the surrounding area – excavations which led to the discovery of a small theatre (with room for about 400 spectators) and a lavishly decorated chamber which probably served the king and his guests. Neither the theatre nor the royal chamber are open yet to visitors.

Prof. Netzer’s remark about the mausoleum being cursed, proved eerily prophetic.聽 On October 25th, 2010, he was surveying the site together with the curators of a projected exhibition at the Israel Museum.聽聽聽 He sat down to rest and leaned against a railing, which gave way, hurling him down to the theatre below, where he struck his head. He died three days later, at the age of 76.
Our guide told us that Prof. Netzer’s widow remarked that her husband had died in the very place where he would have wanted to meet his end.

I mentioned before that water for the great pool in Lower Herodion was brought from the misleadingly-named “Solomon’s Pools” in Artas. Their construction is attributed to King Solomon (10th century BCE) on the flimsy evidence of the verse in Ecclesiastes 2, 6:

I made me pools of water, to water therefrom the wood springing up with trees.

Most scholars nowadays, however, believe that the pools date from the 2nd – 1st centuries BCE, that is to say, from the Hasmonean era. The three pools are situated just outside Bethlehem, in territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority, so we were unable to visit them, but merely to view them from the nearest high point overlooking the reservoirs (the Israeli settlement of Efrat). The pools were part of a complex water system, the later part of which may have been built by Herod the Great, which included at least five aqueducts, as well as natural springs.聽 Two of the aqueducts led to Jerusalem.

Here, we can see the Lower Pool. I had to use the maximum zoom on my camera, so the quality is not all that good.

 

The water system continued to supply water to Jerusalem, on and off, for two millenia, including during the British Mandate and even afterwards, by the Jordanians – until 1952, according to our guide.

As I mentioned above, two of the aqueducts led to Jerusalem. One of them, the Lower Aqueduct, also known as the Hasmonean Aqueduct, includes a tunnel which cuts through the ridge separating the Armon Hanatziv neighbourhood from the Old City of Jerusalem. This section is 423 metres long. The entrance is a five minute walk from my father’s house and yet this was the first time I had visited it!

It is very narrow.聽 For this reason, at the entrance, visitors are required to squeeze through a gateway no wider than the narrowest point of the tunnel. Those who fail to do so are not allowed to enter the tunnel, in order to ensure that no-one gets stuck down below!

It is also very dark.
Definitely not recommended for anyone with claustrophobia, a weak heart or a tendency to panic attacks!

The tunnel’s exit is just below the Armon Hanatziv Promenade, within the boundaries of the Arab village of Jebel Mukaber:

 

All Jerusalem now lay before us, including the Dormition Abbey and the Old City, all the way to the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus and beyond:

 

 

 

 

 

As this was the end of the day’s tour, I now left the group and lightly tripped to my father’s house for a brief visit and thence, to my own home, a short walk away.

Our next field-trip, which was to have been last week, has been postponed till the end of April – not because of the COVID-19 crisis, but because our guide has been called up for military reserve duty.聽 In the meantime, I shall not be going anywhere, except maybe to the supermarket to buy (but NOT hoard) food, as we have all been asked to play our part in the war against the invisible enemy (the Corona Virus) by not leaving our homes unless absolutely necessary and keeping ourselves to ourselves, in order to minimise physical contact with others and thus help to prevent the spread of this plague. It isn’t exactly a curfew – not like in Italy. But, as I said, in any case, there isn’t anywhere to go and I certainly don’t want to risk being ill.

One thing worries me more than the virus. No, not the blow to the economy, although that too is cause for great concern. What worries me most is the Blame Game being played by so many. When the crisis started, I wondered if maybe this epidemic had been sent by the Almighty as a punishment for all the causeless hatred in the world. Then I thought, perhaps it is a test, to see if we can all overcome our differences and learn to work together. But I fear that, if the latter is the case – if it was meant to be a test – then we are failing lamentably.

What do聽you think?

Posted in Archaeology, History, Tourism, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

In Search of the Crusaders

February is often the rainiest month here in Israel, and, indeed, we seem to have had more than our fair share of downpours this month, some of them very heavy indeed. However, once again we were lucky when, on the latest field-trip with Yad Ben Zvi, at the beginning of the month, we set out to uncover relics of the Crusader kingdoms in the Sharon plain.

The Sharon plain, although possibly the most densely populated part of Israel, does not feature heavily on the usual tourist route. Indeed, on my return to Jerusalem in the evening, when I mentioned to the taxi driver where I had been all day (most of the drivers in my regular taxi company know me and my regular activities), his response was: “I didn’t know there was anything to see there!”

Our first stop was the Poleg River Reserve. The Poleg River – well, it’s more of a stream actually – runs through what remains of the Wood of Arsuf, which Richard the Lionheart’s army had to cross on their way to the fateful Battle of Arsuf on September 2nd, 1191, in which Richard’s army defeated the Saracens, ending Saladin’s reputation for invincibility and (temporarily) restoring Christian rule over the central Levantine coast, including Jaffa.

The name Poleg is derived from the Arabic name, Wadi el-Falik, meaning “the wadi that divides/splits”. It was so called because it runs east to west, splitting the Sharon plain in two. In the past, the river channel was blocked by a ridge of kurkar, a type of sandstone, and the resulting build-up of water caused swamps to develop. An opening was therefore dug in the ridge some time during the Bronze Age which again became clogged up and had to be reopened in the Byzantine Era. Of course, over the years, it again became clogged up and swamps developed once more.聽 It was last cleared again in 1935.

Here, we can see the opening in the ridge:

 

 

 

Along the banks of the stream is a nature reserve and, on the day that we visited, there were several school groups there, include a group of kindergarteners, who came to enjoy the first blossoms of spring:

 

 

 

 

Or maybe they聽were the first blossoms of spring聽 馃檪

 

 

 

 

From Nachal Poleg (nachal – 谞讞诇 – a stream, in Hebrew), we drove to Qaqun, where there are the ruins of a crusader fortress, one of several dotted about the Sharon plain. People think the Crusaders came to the Holy Land simply to liberate the Christian holy places from Muslim control, but the truth is, in many cases, they were driven by lack of land in feudal Europe, where inheritance laws ensured that the eldest son inherited the entire family estate. The Crusader kings granted lands to their followers, who built castles and levied taxes from their tenant farmers, just like in Europe, while these nobles continued to owe their service to their own feudal overlords.

 

 

As you can see, Qaqun, (known then as Caco or Cacho), commanded a strategic position over the Sharon plain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the 20th century, an Arab village stood here.聽 During Israel’s War of Independence, the armies of seven Arab states invaded the nascent Jewish state, among them, units of the Iraqi army. Qaqun’s commanding hilltop position made it a danger to the surrounding Jewish kibbutzim and moshavim (who had been suffering attacks from the village since the Arab riots of 1936 – 1938). Moreover,聽 the invading Arab armies intended to use Qaqun as a jumping-board to slice the new state in two at its narrowest point and press through all the way to the coast. The Israeli High Command therefore decided on a mission to capture this strategic point.

It was estimated that the enemy forces comprised about 200 local Arabs, a company of professional soldiers from the regular Iraqi army, and an Iraqi armoured division.

The mission was entrusted to the Alexandroni Brigade and took place on June 5th, 1948. The fighting was fierce, in many cases, the ill-equipped Israeli forces, faced with regular Iraqi troops, fought the enemy face-to-face with their bare hands.聽 The fighting went on all day but by the time it died down, the Israeli force had gained the upper hand.

Sixteen Israeli fighters fell in the battle. Incredibly, it was only ten years ago that a fitting memorial was erected to their heroism.

 

 

 

As you can see,聽 the monument consists of stone “cutouts”, beside the very blocks from which they have been cut.聽 The empty spaces represent the fallen soldiers (the Hebrew word聽hallal聽 – 讞诇诇 – meaning “an empty space”, is also used for a fallen soldier).

We were supposed to visit the archaeological site of Apollonia next, but these places close early in winter, and our guide preferred to take us to two less well known sites instead.聽 So we went first to Umm Khaled, in Netanya.

After the crusaders were driven from the Holy Land, the Muslim rulers devised a system of defence based on a chain of聽 “shrines” along the coast, designed to ensure a constant flow of (Muslim) pilgrims who would keep an eye out for any further Christian incursions. No matter that, very rarely, were the Muslim saints after whom these alleged “tombs” were named, actually buried there. In fact, the Muslims often simply took over Crusader聽 sites and “converted” them to Islam.

One such was Umm Khaled, (literally: The Mother of Khaled) in Netanya.
The site is in the centre of the oldest part of Netanya and has been grossly neglected. In fact, if we had not been on a field-trip specifically dedicated to the history of the Crusaders in the Holy Land, we would never have stumbled upon it, or, if we had, we might have simply mistaken it for a garbage dump. But a Crusader castle certainly stood on this site, recognisable as such by the remains of its square tower, thick stone walls and the remains of its pointed archways.

 

 

It has been suggested that this was the estate of a Crusader noble called Roger of Lombardy.

The remains on the site show that it had been settled for many hundreds of years before the Crusaders and that it was destroyed during the Great Jewish Revolt between 66 – 70 CE,聽 indicating that it was a Jewish settlement. In fact, graves found on the site point to Jews having lived there at least as far back as the Hasmonean period.

During the Byzantine period (4th – 5th centuries CE), there was a Samaritan settlement on the site, which was destroyed during the Samaritan Revolt of 524 – 529 CE.

After the final defeat of the Crusaders, the remains of the castle served as a khan, or caravan inn, for travellers on the coastal road. This was during the Mameluke period (1260 – 1517).

At all events, as I mentioned above, the Arab invaders “converted” it to a Muslim shrine, in memory of Umm Khaled, the mother of Khaled, a Muslim saint.聽 In the 18th century, an Arab village grew up around the site, and was named after the mother of Khaled ibn Al-Walid, one of the commanders of the Muslim army at the time of the Arab conquest of the Levant in the first half of the 7th century CE. According to Arab legend, his mother was buried nearby.

In the 1920s, a聽 Jewish settlement group purchased lands from the mukhtar of the Arab village which had grown up around the site, and these lands formed the nucleus of what is now the city of Netanya. For a time, the two communities existed side by side, but in 1948, during Israel’s War of Independence, the Arab villagers – like many Arab communities who had been warned by the Arab leadership to flee, either because they would get in the way of the advancing Arab armies, or because (so it was claimed), the Jews would surely slaughter them – disregarded the pleas of their Jewish neighbours and the nascent Israeli leadership, to stay put and live in peace with their Jewish neighbours, choosing, instead, to flee and join the Arab exodus. Later, of course, the Arab leadership accused the State of Israel of “ethnic cleansing”.

While we were there, we also saw the famous old sycamore tree which is the pride of Netanya.

 

 

The exact age of this sycamore, the circumference of whose trunk is about 8 metres, is not known – can only be known, indeed, by cutting it down and counting its growth rings. However, it is mentioned in mediaeval sources, so we know it is at least 600 years old. But, according to some, it might be as old as 1,500 years.聽 To know why, we have to return to Khaled ibn Al-Walid and his mother, who, according to the legend, accompanied him on all his journeys.聽 On one of these journeys, she grew very tired and asked her son to stop so that she could rest. A dutiful son, he paused the march, in the region of what is now Netanya, and his mother lay under a big, shady sycamore tree and fell into a deep sleep, from which she never wakened.聽 Grief-stricken, her formidable son, whom Muhammed himself had named Saif Allah Al-Maslul (The Drawn Sword of Allah) buried her under the self-same tree and forbade anyone ever to touch the tree or cut it down.

Our last port of call was the Sidna Ali mosque on the shores of Herzliya Pituach (an up-market neighbourhood of Herzliya), all that is left of the Arab village of Al-Haram, which stood on the site till 1948, when its inhabitants fled, for the reasons described above.聽 Part of the village land had been sold to Jews in the 1920s, to found what was to become the Israeli city of Herzliya.聽 During the Arab Revolt of 1936 – 1939 (against the British Mandatory authorities), some of the villagers were hauled before the Arab rebel leaders and condemned for having sold land to Jews.聽 On the whole, however, relations between the villagers and their Jewish neighbours were good and indeed, former residents of the Arab village have testified that representatives of the Jewish town had guaranteed their safety.

At all events, the Mosque, which was handed back to the Muslim religious authorities in 1990, is said to mark the burial place of Ali ibn Ullim, who, according to one tradition, was killed in battle against the Crusaders near Apollonia, round about 1250. Written sources, however, say Ali ibn Ullim was killed in 1081, fighting against the Byzantines.
Tradition had it that Ali did not want a roof over his grave and indeed, any roof that was built over it, eventually collapsed. His reputed grave stands in the courtyard of the mosque.聽 In the wall beside the grave, there used to be a black stone, now gone,聽 which believers held to have the power of determining if a person was speaking the truth or falsehood. The person being examined would be blindfolded and made to stand a few steps away from the stone. He would then be told to march forward, holding his arm out in front of him. If his hand touched the stone, he spoke the truth. If not, he was a liar who must pray for forgivness and make atonement at Ali’s tomb.

At all events, we were unable to enter the mosque since, by the time we arrived, the sun had almost set and the hour of evening prayer had arrived, so we had to content ourselves with hearing about it from outside and watching the flaming sky turn to dusky purple as night fell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope you have enjoyed this trip and will join me on my next trip – (to Herodion) – whenever I find the time to write about it 馃槈

Posted in Archaeology, History, Tourism, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Busy Month

A famous quote by the British author, Saki would have it that “The people of Crete unfortunately make more history than they can consume locally.”
With all due respect, I believe that description fits the people of Israel even more. Hardly a day passes by without some new uproar. Wars, terrorist attacks,聽 visits by foreign dignitaries from all over the world which turn the lives of our citizens (at least of those in the capital, Jerusalem), upside down, leading to the lock-down of entire neighbourhoods to ensure the security of VIP convoys, not to mention three general elections within the space of one year (the third is due to be held exactly one month from today). It is no wonder that I seek respite in music, (my choir, a subscription to the opera) and in field-trips and nature rambles the length and breadth of the country.

I started writing this blog in order to bring Israel’s point-of-view to the world. As I tried to find ways to cushion myself against the political and social turmoil surrounding me, the blog itself underwent a change, focusing more and more on what I would call “the beauties of existence”.

I am beginning to wonder, however, if I have not allowed myself to be sidetracked into abandoning my original purpose. That may be the reason why I have allowed the first month of 2020 to pass without writing about TWO field-trips with Yad Ben Zvi, as well as an opera and an “internal” concert with my choir.

At the same time, I know that there are not a few of you out there, who – for reasons of poor health, disability, the great distance, or the cost – can only dream of a visit to the Holy Land, and for whom my descriptions of these tiyulim fill a genuine void.聽 For you, then, here is a partial description of at least聽some of my activities this past month, starting with a visit on January 1st, New Year’s Day, to the City of David excavations in Jerusalem.

It has been claimed by some that the excavations in the area known as Ir David (注讬专 讚讜讚 – City of David), which are carried out under the auspices of what the hostile international press likes to call “a Jewish settler group” are politically motivated. There聽is an element of truth in that. It is important that we prove, in the face of “Palestinian” lies, the long-standing and continuous Jewish presence in Jerusalem. However, unlike the Muslim Waqf, which has been illegally digging under the Temple Mount mosques and deliberately destroying evidence of the Jewish presence on the site in pre-Muslim times, the City of David excavations have meticulously preserved Christian and Muslim Arab antiquities, incorporated them into their Sound and Light presentations and proudly display them to visitors.

This was not my first visit to the City of David site with Yad Ben Zvi and I have written, on this blog, about previous visits. This time, however, we were fortunate enough to be able to visit some parts of the excavations not yet open to the general public, such as the Herodian street leading from the Pool of Shiloah (Siloam/Silwan) to the Temple Mount – following in the footsteps of pilgrims who arrived in Jerusalem to visit the Holy Temple. They would purify themselves beforehand, before making the ascent to that holiest of places.

The street lies below the present-day street level.聽 Here, we can see an ancient manhole, at the entrance to the street, which is at present in a tunnel. still being excavated.聽 This is thought to have been part of the ancient water system.

 

We followed a tunnel which is believed to have been a drainage tunnel beneath the Herodian street. When we later emerged, into the ancient street itself, with its massive paving slabs, we could see drainage channels and more manholes.

 

 

In another subterranean tunnel, as yet not open to the general public, we saw mysterious signs cut into the floor. Various theories have been put forwards as to their significance, such as being part of a game played by besieging soldiers to while away the time, but their true purpose is still anyone’s guess.

 

 

Above ground, we revisited what Dr. Eilat Mazar believes to be the palace of King David – a belief which is hotly contested by other archaeologists.

 

 

Nearby are the remains of a a burnt room and a building known as the House of the Bullae, dating to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. These bullae were official stamps with which documents would be sealed. Some of them bear names which are known to us from the Bible, such as Gemaryahu ben Shaphan, a high-ranking official in the court of King Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 36: 9-12).

 

 

 

And here, we can see more fire-gutted remains from the First Temple period:

 

Descending to yet another subterranean tunnel, our guide showed us a coin dating back to the time of the Great Revolt (66 – 73 CE).

 

As he described the way the Romans hunted down the Jews who were fleeing the burning city through the tunnels, I could not help thinking of another Jewish revolt, almost nineteen centuries later – the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – and of the stories I have read of how the surviving Jewish fighters fled via the the sewers, and were hunted down by the Nazis, who piped gas into the sewers to ensure none escaped.

Two weeks later, we had another field trip, this time to Caesarea, and the impressive water system built by the Romans to supply water to the city, built by Herod the Great, which later became the seat of the Roman prefect of Judaea.

Caesarea is famous for its aqueduct – or rather, aqueducts. We visited Jisr e-Zarka, an Arab village whose name means “The Blue Bridge” or “Bridge Over the Blue” –聽 a reference to the nearby Taninim (Crocodile) River. Don’t worry – there are no crocodiles there (at least, not any more). There are, however, the remains of an aqueduct believed to be part of one which ended in Caesarea.

 

The second picture shows dedicatory plaques affixed to one of the supporting arches of the aqueduct. One mentions the emperor Hadrian, the other bears the insignia of the Tenth Legion Fretensis, whose engineers are preseumed to have built the aqueduct.

We were supposed to visit the Taninim River Nature Reserve, where there are other impressive remains, but it was closed, due to flooding caused by the previous few days of heavy rains. So we headed directly to Caesarea, most famous for its Roman theatre:

 

 

 

 

 

The theatre, which has been restored, is still used for concerts and shows.

I know my Christian readers will be interested in this replica of an inscription unearthed during the excavations of the Roman theatre. The original is on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The inscription informs us that Pontius Pilate dedicated a building to the Emperor Tiberius.

Caesarea was fully Romanised, with all the amenities a Roman citizen would expect to find in a civilised city. Besides the theatre,聽 it boasted a stadium, hippodrome and even public bath-houses and latrines.

 

 

There were elegant villas, with elaborate mosaic floors:

 

 

And there were libraries. We deduce they were libraries from the niches in the walls, where scrolls would have been stored:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the magnificent buildings went right down to the shore:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most spectacular of all are the remains of the Great Aqueduct that runs along the sea-shore:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best time to walk along that shore is, unquestionably, at sunset:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And if you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse, through the arches of the mighty aqueduct, of the sun, as it sinks to rest in the Mediterranean Sea.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Archaeology, History, Tourism, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments