Not What I Planned To Write (2)

Once again, I had planned to tell you all about my latest field trip in the “929 on the map” course I am taking at Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi. And, once again, the murderous activities of “Palestinian” terrorists have forced a change of plan – because, last Wednesday, even as we were happily walking among the wild flowers in the hills and valleys between Beit Shemesh and the Coastal Plain, on the trail of the Ark of the Covenant, a trio of assassins were carrying out a deadly attack in the Old City of Jerusalem. A few hours later, another beautiful young Jewish woman – scarcely more than a girl – was dead.

The three Spawn of Satan were armed with knives, guns and pipe bombs. Two of them, by their nervous demeanour and apparent unease, attracted the attention of a Border Police patrol outside the Damascus Gate. The police officers, including two young female recruits, asked to see their identity papers. In response, one of the Arabs began stabbing – and seriously wounding – one of the young policewomen, 20-year-old Ravit Mirilashvilli. A second policewoman, 19-year-old Hadar Cohen, who had been in the Border Police for less than two months, shot the attacker –  saving her friend’s life in the process. At that point, a third assassin, who had been sitting some way apart, lurking in the shadows, unnoticed by the patrol, opened fire with an automatic weapon, mortally wounding Hadar, who, despite heroic efforts by medical staff at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Centre, succumbed to her wounds a few hours later. All three terrorists were shot dead by Israeli security personnel during the attack. They were found to have been carrying pipe bombs and, had they not been identified and stopped by Hadar and her fellow Border Police officers, would undoubtedly have been able to kill many more people.

The Hebrew name Hadar (הדר) means “a citrus fruit”. But it has another meaning also – glory or splendour. In the philosophy of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, “Hadar” can be understood as meaning “Honour” – the honour of the Jewish People.

Hadar Cohen (HY”D), who was committed to protecting the lives of her fellow citizens, and who died saving the life of her colleague (and who knows how many more), surely personifies the latter meaning.

May her memory be for a blessing.



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The Things That You’re Liable To Read In The Bible

Just opposite the old Jerusalem Railway Station (now turned into a restaurant and cultural complex) is a hill known as the Bible Hill. Traditionally, this hill marks the spot from which “on the third day, Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place (Mt. Moriah) afar off” (Genesis 22:4). Some scholars also believe it is the mountain referred to in the Book of Joshua as being one of the markers delineating the boundaries of the territory allotted to the tribe of Judah: “And the border went up by the Valley of Ben-Hinnom unto the side of the Jebusite southward–the same is Jerusalem–and the border went up to the top of the mountain that lieth before the Valley of Hinnom westward, which is at the uttermost part of the vale of Rephaim northward.” (Joshua 15:8)

Bible Hill lies on the ridge marking the Jerusalem watershed. On the side facing the old railway station, rainwater flows into the Rephaim Valley and thence, to the Mediterranean Sea. On the other side, it falls into the Ben Hinnom and Kidron Valleys and from there, through the Judaean Wilderness down to the Dead Sea.

This, then, was the starting point of our field trip the week before last, which took as its theme King David’s conquest of Jerusalem from the Jebusites, and the city’s rebirth as the capital of the Israelite kingdom.

Quite apart from its historical significance, Bible Hill is an urban nature site, which in spring and autumn especially, is covered with wild flowers.

20160120_100030 Bible Hill

On the day of our trip – a bitterly cold, heavily overcast day, with rain a constant threat – the first red anemones were just coming into bloom.


20160120_095252 Bible Hill
From Bible Hill, we walked down past the Cinematheque and along the course of the Ben-Hinnom Valley, through the mud, under dark, looming clouds and discussed whether Jerusalem actually lay within the territory allotted to the tribe of Judah (as it would appear from Joshua 15:8), or the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 18:28). In both the Book of Joshua and the Book of Judges, we are told, in many cases, that various tribes failed to conquer certain cities within their allotted territories, and that the Canaanite inhabitants continued to occupy them, “unto this day” i.e. to the time when the Books of Joshua and Judges were written.
For example, of the Jebusite city of Jerusalem, we are told in Joshua 15:63 that “as for the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Judah could not drive them out; but the Jebusites dwelt with the children of Judah at Jerusalem, unto this day.
On the other hand, Judges 1:8 informs us that “the children of Judah fought against Jerusalem, and took it, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and set the city on fire.
Moreover, a few verses later, in Judges 1:21, we learn that “the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites that inhabited Jerusalem; but the Jebusites dwelt with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem, unto this day.


20160120_101245 Hinnom Valley








20160120_102638 Hinnom Valley


As we can see from the Bible, there was constant rivalry between the two tribes for the leadership of the Israelites, symbolised by the friction between the House of Saul (of the Tribe of Benjamin) and the House of David (of the Tribe of Judah). This was no doubt a factor in David’s decision to move his capital from Hebron to Jerusalem – a city on the border between the two tribes and claimed by both. What city could be more suitable as the capital of a united kingdom?

Eventually, we reached the City of David archaeological site. (As a student and a recent new immigrant, I myself participated in the early excavations carried out by Prof. Yigal Shilo at the City of David in the late 1970s.)  Here, after seeing an impressive 3D presentation, we paused for lunch. And here, I met a friendly feline:



After lunch, we began our tour right under the wooden deck where we had had lunch. One of the first things we saw were the remains of what archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar believes to have been the royal palace of King David himself, although many dispute this:

20160120_124032 David's Palace


Going down still further, are the remains of what appear to have been government buildings, and the homes of the very wealthy, as is attested by the large number of bullae, or seals, from the First Temple period, bearing the names of officials mentioned in the Bible, and by the dimensions of the residential buildings and the remains of expensive furniture found in them.

Here, our guide, the immensely knowledgeable Shmuel Bahat is showing us one of these buildings.


20160120_125740 See the First Temple loo

If you look closely at the lower right-hand corner, you can see what appears to be a First Temple period toilet bowl (I kid you not)!

Here is a close-up:

Only a wealthy family, with high social standing, would have had a private toilet in their home in those days.

By this time, the skies were beginning to clear and the sun came out. Ironically, we now descended into the sunless bowels of the earth, to learn about Jerusalem’s water supply system during the First Temple period.
Starting with Warren’s Shaft, we followed dimly-lit tunnels to caverns where the sun never shone.

20160120_143329_LLS First Temple water system
We came to a place now covered by a concrete roof, but which, in King David’s time, was open to the sky and is believed to be the place where his son Solomon was proclaimed King of Israel (I Kings 1, 38-40). There, a film presentation is projected onto the ancient stones and raises the city up again before the eyes of the visitor.


Edited 1st Temple Water system

Our guide led us also to a part of the exhibit which (if I understand correctly), is not yet on display to the general public, where massive walls from the Jebusite period make it clear why it was necessary for David’s general, Joab, to scale “the gutter” or “pipe” (הצינור – hatzinnor) and capture the city by subterfuge, rather than by attempting to storm the mighty fortifications (II Samuel 5, 6 -9).

20160120_145010 First Temple water system-Jebusite walls


Warren (after whom Warren’s Shaft was named) believed that his discovery was the actual  tzinnor of which the Bible speaks, but later excavations have shown that in the time of King David, the shaft was covered with rock, and so could not possibly have been the passageway through which Joab climbed.

Returning to surface level, our next stop was the Pool of Shiloah or Siloam. Another group of visitors, high-school students, no doubt braver than we and more inured to the cold, ventured into the darkness of Hezekiah’s tunnel, and walked through its freezing waters to the Pool which provided water for Jerusalem under siege. We, however, were taken by shuttle to the Pool, and from there, we walked for what seemed like hours (although it was actually no more than about twenty minutes) through a tunnel dating from the Second Temple period, all the way into the Old City and the Western Wall.


From Shiloah to the Kotel underground

We emerged hard by Robinson’s Arch as the sun was beginning to set.

20160120_165648 Robinson's Arch
On the paved Herodian street below the arch, one can see a huge pile of massive stones, which were hurled down from the Temple Mount above by the Roman soldiers, after their destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.


20160120_170600 Stones thrown down by the Romans
The Temple Mount was not part of the Jebusite city conquered by King David. The original city was quite small, but after establishing Jerusalem as his capital, David expanded it and purchased, at full value, the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite (II Samuel 24, 18-25), where his son, Solomon, later built his Temple. It is significant, both historically and morally, that the two places most sacred to the Jewish people, the Temple Mount and the Tomb of the Patriarchs or Cave of Machpelah (Genesis 23), were purchased for their full market value, the one by King David and the other, by Abraham. Both these places were taken over by the invading Muslims, who converted them into mosques. Yet at neither of these places, despite the fact that they are now under Israeli/Jewish control (theoretically), are Jews allowed to pray freely (or at all, in the case of the Temple Mount).

The last part of our tour was in the archaeological park around the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount.

20160120_171559 South wall excavations
However, it was by now almost dark, so we finished our field trip with a 3-D presentation summing up what we had learned before walking back through the shadowy streets of the Old City to the Zion Gate, where our bus was waiting.

It had been a long day’s touring – more than ten hours, all of it on foot. But it was one of the most informative so far. And certainly one of the most challenging, even though, this time, we had not ventured so far afield as in previous field trips. All of this – right here, practically under my nose.
But that’s how it is when you have the good fortune, as I do, to live in Jerusalem.


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Not What I Planned To Write

Today’s post was supposed to be all about this month’s field trip with Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi, as part of the course “929 on the map of Israel”,  about which I have written in previous posts.

Instead, I have to write about the murder of a beautiful, young Jewish woman, Shlomit Krigman, and the attempted murder of another woman, in yet another cowardly Arab terrorist attack in a supermarket, yesterday afternoon. This comes hard on the heels of the murder, last week, of a young Jewish mother of six, Dafna Meir,  stabbed to death at the entrance to her own home, in the Jewish community of Otniel, as she protected her children from a 15-year-old “Palestinian” terrorist. The latter, unlike the two cowardly scumbags who murdered Shlomit Krigman, managed to escape and was only captured two days later. His father announced that he was proud of his son! If there were any truth in the lies put about by Sweden’s antisemitic Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström, the teenage murderer would not have been taken alive. Personally, I would have been happy if this piece of human excrement had been stupid enough to open fire on the Israeli security forces and been shot resisting arrest, as was Nashat Milhem, an Israeli Arab, who murdered three people (including an Arab taxi driver) and wounded many others in a shooting attack on a Tel Aviv pub on January 1st. Milhem managed to evade the police and security forces, generating a week-long manhunt, culminating in a shootout in which the spawn of Satan was shot dead. The fact is, Israeli security forces do not carry out “extra-judicial executions”, and do their best to capture terrorists alive.
Shooting a terrorist who is coming at you with a knife – even if that terrorist is a 13-year-old girl hell-bent on becoming a shahida, or martyr – is not judicial execution. It is self-defence.

So I am sure you will understand why today, I do not feel like writing about a carefree day spent exploring the history of King David’s Jerusalem, or even a review of the wonderful book I started reading last week.
Maybe in a day or two…
I promise…

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Christmas Stocking Fillers and (Post) Boxing Day Delights

Growing up in London, Christmas was difficult to ignore, even though we ourselves did not celebrate the holiday – what with the decorations in Oxford and Regent Street, the giant Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square and, of course, year after year, the Blue Peter Advent calendar. Now that I live in Israel, the Christmas season is felt mainly in those towns and neighbourhoods where there is a sizeable Christian population, such as Nazareth, Haifa and the Christian and Armenian Quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem. Of course, the Christmas tree in the lobby of the YMCA, where my choir rehearses twice a week, is also hard to miss ;-)  :


20151213_211943YMCA Xmas tree


All this being the case, it frequently happens that Christmas is already upon us before I remember that I have friends out there who do celebrate the holiday. So I crave their forgiveness for the fact that both Christmas and Boxing Day will have been and gone by the time they read this. However, since they have a long weekend ahead of them, and all of Sunday in which to wind down from the festival frenzy, the roast turkey and the feverish ceremony of opening their presents, I suggest that they consider the gifts I had intended to offer as virtual stocking-fillers, as a pleasant post-Boxing Day interlude before returning to work on Monday.

And for my Jewish friends who will be reading this, hopefully, on Motzaei Shabbat (as I doubt I will manage to finish this post before the start of the Sabbath and will have to continue on Saturday evening), I hope my descriptions of concerts and field trips will prove a pleasant start to their week.

Before that, however, I have to say a word or two about “the Situation”. The Arab terrorist attacks continue unabated and although, for the most part, fatalities have lately been limited to the perpetrators, still there are injuries, some of them extremely serious. For example, a car-ramming attack at a bus stop near the entrance to Jerusalem on Monday December 14th, injured 14 people, including a 15-month-old baby, Yotam Sitbon, who lost a leg as a result of the attack.

And last Wednesday, December 23rd, even as I was enjoying my third field trip in the series “929 on the Map of Israel” (about which, more later), a deadly stabbing attack near the Jaffa Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem, left two dead – and one seriously wounded.
I am not including the terrorist attackers killed by Israeli security forces during the attacks, although if you get your news from the Associated Press, you might be forgiven for thinking that it was the two “Palestinian” perpetrators who were stabbed:


TIME magazine faithfully followed their lead:


CNN, well-known for their blatant anti-Israel bias, left it at:


The reader is left to guess who are the perpetrators and who are the victims.

But I promised you gifts, not tears – and I promised myself, a while ago, that in spite of all the horror, I would try to find something uplifting every day. So let me tell you about the concert my choir gave last Monday, at the Felicja Blumental  Music Centre in Tel Aviv’s Bialik Street – a quiet street famous for its Eclectic and Bauhaus Style architecture, ending in an elegant piazza, where the Music Centre stands right next door to the former City Hall. At night, the place looks even more magical:


20151221_180925Piazza in front of Felicja Blumental Centre


This concert, under the title “Northern Lights“, because it took place on the longest night of the year, the night of the Winter Solstice, and because it showcased the works of northern European composers, such as the Norwegians Edvard Grieg, Egil Hovland and Ola Gjeilo, the Estonian Cyrillus Kreek and the German Melchior Franck, was basically a repeat performance of our “Jerusalem Luminosa” concert from this last summer. As is my custom, I would like to share with you a few selections from the concert. So here, without further ado, is “Fahet uns die Füchse” (“Take us the little foxes”), a setting of the Song of Songs 2:15-17, by the German Baroque composer Melchior Franck:


And another “Song of Songs” setting, this time by the Anglo-Canadian composer, Healey Willan – “Rise Up, My Love“:



And here is the setting by Cyrillus Kreek of Psalms 1 – sung in Estonian:


The concert took place in the presence of the Estonian Ambassador and the Norwegian cultural attaché. As I jokingly remarked afterwards to Kate Belshé, our conductor and musical director, I hope neither of those countries will be tempted to break off diplomatic relations with Israel because of our mangling of their native tongues.   ;-)


I promised you a field trip, did I not?
Last Wednesday, December 23rd, was one of those crisp, cold days ideal for an excursion to the Judaean hill country south of Hebron, in the footsteps of David (yet to be king), as he fled from Saul’s insane jealousy and attempts to kill him (1 Samuel 18 – 31).

We began our trip at Tel Ziph (1 Samuel 26), from where there are magnificent views of the surrounding countryside, such as this one, facing south west:

20151223_102722View south-west from Tel Ziph


Turning slightly further north, we can see Hebron in the distance:

20151223_102732View from Tel Ziph towards hebron


And here is the view more or less directly to the north:


As it was still quite early in the morning, the sun in the east made it difficult to take pictures of the view in that direction.

One of the interesting things we learned was that the Hebrew word midbar (מדבר) which is generally translated as “wilderness”, and which, in modern Hebrew, is often understood to mean “a desert”, actually means a place where one leads one’s flocks to graze (להדביר את הצאן – lehadbir et hatzon) – ie. a place unsuitable for agriculture, since you cannot have sheep and goats roaming freely in agricultural land as they would simply eat the crops. It does not necessarily mean a place covered with rolling sand dunes!

From Ziph, we proceeded to Tel Maon, stopping on the way to pick up an armed escort of IDF soldiers. Biblical Maon was the home of Nabal, whose possessions were in Carmel (1 Samuel 25), and whose churlish rejection of David’s “request” for assistance awakened the latter’s wrath, averted only by the intervention of Nabal’s wise and beautiful wife Abigail. I had always assumed, on reading this passage, that the reference was to Mount Carmel and could never understand how David could suddenly have appeared so far up north! But it seems there is a Carmel in Judaea also, and we can identify both Maon and Carmel by the fact that their names have been preserved in the names of the present-day Arab villages of Ma’in and Karmil. Carmel was apparently the commercial and economic centre and Ma’on was a residential neighbourhood, a daughter village or suburb (as seems likely also from the name Ma’on – מעון – which means a dwelling place or abode). The geographical location also fits, as does the discovery of an ancient synagogue in Tel Maon.

It was a fairly long,steep climb up from the road to the tel, and engendered quite a lot of grumbling from the many elderly group members:

Climbing Tel Maon


On the way, we passed an ancient well:

20151223_120241באר במשכנות הרועים

How many pails had to be lowered into the water, one wonders, for the ropes holding them to etch their mark into the stones lining the well, as we can see in this picture?

The view from the windswept summit was certainly worth the climb:

On the summit of Tel Maon


We then had to descend two terraces (“It’ll only take five minutes”, the tour guide said) in order to see the ancient synagogue, with its mikveh, or ritual bath. That was perfectly acceptable, but once we had finished with the synagogue, we discovered we had to climb back up to the summit in order to ascend the way we had come. A chorus of protest arose, at the end of which, the guide contacted the bus driver by mobile phone and told him to bring the bus round to another place further along the road. He then calmly led us (with our military escort) through the nearby Arab village and its olive groves, down to the road – a longer distance, but a more moderate incline.

20151223_140220On the way down from Tel Ma'on






20151223_140711יורדים מתל מעון


After dropping off our IDF escort, we proceeded to Susiya for a very late lunch, before heading for our final “port of call”, Mitzpeh Yair, for a breath-taking view of the Judaean Wilderness.


20151223_153248View from Mitzpeh Yair


Taking sanctuary from the wind in the settlement’s synagogue, we heard a final summary of the day’s trip from our guide, before heading back to the bus, just as the sun set in the west and the moon rose over the wilderness to the east:

20151223_163350Sunset from Mitzpeh Yair







20151223_163308Moonrise from Mitzpeh Yair

On the way back to Jerusalem, we were stuck, for what seemed an eternity, in a traffic jam in one of the tunnels of Kvish Haminharot  (כביש המינהרות – The Tunnels Road), which is part of  Highway 60 (about which I have written in previous posts). Once home, I switched on the radio, for the first time since leaving the house that morning, to be greeted with the awful news of the deadly attack at the Old City’s Jaffa Gate, which I mentioned earlier.

Down to earth with a bang. And, by the way, next month’s field trip will be round about the Old City.
I’ll keep you posted.

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An Unknown Jewel

In the heart of Jerusalem, in Hillel Street, lies a beautiful and little-known museum, the U. Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art. I would describe it as a boutique museum. If you are pressed for time, you can see the entire museum in a single 45 minute visit, but for those who care to linger, it is an unknown jewel, showcasing beautiful religious artifacts of the Italian Jewish community, such as this lovely 18th century Holy Ark, from the town of San Daniele del Friuli:


or this parochet (curtain for the Holy Ark), lovingly embroidered by the women of the community:


Or there is this beautiful tallit (prayer shawl), embroidered, according to Jewish tradition, by a bride for her bridegroom, in honour of their wedding (nowadays, a Jewish bride is more likely to crochet a kippa, or yarmulka, for her beloved).

20151210_223157 Tallit

The crowning glory of the museum is a 17th-century synagogue which was transferred in its entirety from its home in the town of Conegliano Veneto, after the Second World War. It is still used by the Italian Jewish community in Jerusalem, with services being held regularly on Shabbat and holy days. The Italian Jewish rite (Minhag Bnei Roma) differs from both the Sephardic and Ashkenazic rites and can be most closely compared to the Yemenite Jewish rite. It is thus one of the oldest forms of Jewish liturgy, and believed to follow closely the form practised in the Land of Israel at the time of the Roman conquest and occupation.

It was to this jewel that we came, the members of the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir and our conductor, Kate Belshé, last Thursday, the fifth night of Hanukkah, to give a concert in the framework of the Chamshushalayim (חמשושלים – a made-up portmanteau word consisting of the Hebrew names for Thursday, Friday and Jerusalem), which is the name given by the Jerusalem Municipality to a series of weekend cultural events taking place throughout the city during the month of December.

What was different about this concert was that it moved from room to room in the museum, each section of the concert being preceded by an explanation by one of the museum guides about the exhibits in that particular room.

Thus, we began in the Renaissance-style entrance hall, with its beautiful painted ceiling:


There, we sang three songs, including the beautiful I Himmelen (In Heaven) by Edvard Grieg (baritone soloist: Louis Sachs):

We then proceeded to the synagogue, with its magnificent Ark, made of wood and covered in 24 carat gold, with beautiful carvings and inscriptions:


Note the intricate carving of the latticework screens looking down from the Women’s Gallery to the men’s section, in this next picture:


In the synagogue, besides the concert repertoire, we also lit the fifth Hanukkah candle, with the participation of the audience:

We then moved on to the exhibition rooms, where, fittingly, there was an exhibition of menorot (menorahs, Hanukkah candelabra), such as this magnificent specimen , made in 1743 for the synagogue of Casale Monferrato:


In the room where this next picture was taken is a magnificent wooden Ark from Mantua, dating from 1543: 


There are many other extremely beautiful religious artifacts to be seen, and it seems to me a great pity that the museum is not better known. As I said, the museum is small – although crammed with items of beauty – and can be seen and enjoyed in a mere three-quarters of an hour, although personally, I recommend that you take your time and enjoy it to the full. It isn’t even exactly off-the-beaten track, as far as location goes, being situated in Hillel Street, just a two minute walk from the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall.

Our choir appears regularly at the museum and, small as it is, I always discover something lovely there – either a new, temporary exhibition, or some object of beauty which I didn’t notice before, or which I noticed but which now appears to me in a new light.  Whether you’re a first-time visitor in Jerusalem, or a jaded regular who thinks they have seen all the “usual” tourist attractions, this is one which is well worth seeing. And if you happen to find yourself in Jerusalem when our choir is appearing at the museum, we’ll be happy to see you among the audience.   :-)



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A Good Day To Be Alive

Today – like yesterday, and the day before – dawned crisp and clear, with achingly blue skies and not a cloud in sight. But cold. Bitterly cold. The lack of cloud cover makes for a quicker loss of heat when the sun goes down. I had to leave one of the taps dripping overnight to make sure the water didn’t freeze in the pipes. Still, it’s a lovely day. In the Klingon universe, the exhortation before battle is “Today is a good day to die”. In a reality in which, any day, I could go out, be waiting at a bus stop and get rammed by a terrorist-driven car, or stabbed by a 14-year-old “Palestinian” schoolgirl, or be ambushed in a firebombing, stone-throwing, or shooting attack on the road, I prefer to declare, as my father did: “It’s a lovely day – and one in which it’s good to be alive.”

It’s also a good day to finally tell you all about our second field trip in the series “929 on the map.

As you can imagine, under the circumstances, it was not without a certain amount of trepidation that we boarded our bus (with its specially-reinforced bullet-proof windows) for a tour in the footsteps of the prophet Samuel and King Saul, along what is essentially Highway 60, scene of many of the past two month’s “Palestinian” terrorist attacks.

Highway 60 runs from Beersheba, in the south of Israel, to Nazareth, in the north, traversing Judaea and Samaria , the so-called “West Bank”. Because it follows the path of the ancient highway along which our forefathers travelled, it is also known in Hebrew as Derech Ha’Avot  (דרך האבות – “The Way of the Patriarchs”).

Officially, this field trip was supposed to take us in the footsteps of Saul, who went to seek his father’s lost asses and instead, found a kingdom (1 Samuel, 9). However, with such a knowledgeable tour-guide, and with so much to tell, we also learned a great deal about the prophet Samuel, about Joshua, about other characters from the Book of Judges, about the Crusaders – and about General Allenby’s campaign against the Ottoman Turks in Palestine, during World War 1, and the nascent IDF’s battles during the War of Independence.

Our first stop was at Nebi Samwil – or Navi Shmuel, as it is known in Hebrew. This place has long been associated with the prophet Samuel and, hence, also with Hannah, his mother (thus, there is a spring there, known as Hannah’s Spring). The most prominent building there is a Crusader Church (this being the spot from which they allegedly caught their first glimpse of Jerusalem). The Muslims added a minaret and converted it into a mosque, from whose roof there is a spectacular panorama, while below is a synagogue, in which is a covered tomb, supposedly that of Samuel.

20151125_092303חנוכיה ראשונה שהוצב בכותל אחרי 1967

The menorah you can see in the foreground is the first menorah which was placed at the Western Wall after the Six Day War in 1967, for the first public Hanukkah candle-lighting in the liberated Old City of Jerusalem, a tradition which has continued every year since then and will do so this year also, starting last night, the first night of Hanukkah.



The picture above shows the view from the roof of the Crusader church in the direction of Ramallah. If you are planning on visiting, I should warn you that, even when it isn’t a particularly cold day, it is very windy up there.

And here is a view in the opposite direction, towards Jerusalem:

In the following pictures, you can see some of the archaeological excavations taking place at the site:

Some of the ruins date back to the time of the Hasmoneans:

20151125_112318חפירות חשמונאיות בנבי סמויל
As I mentioned earlier, there is also a spring, rather dubiously ascribed to Hannah, Samuel’s mother:

20151125_110350 מעיין חנה בנבי סמויל

Nebi Samwil’s strategic importance, overlooking Jerusalem, was not lost on later generations, such as Allenby’s army, or the nascent IDF, which failed to capture it during Israel’s War of Independence. It was not till the Six Day War that Israeli forces managed to restore Jewish control of this strategic site.

From Navi Shmuel, we proceeded north, to the Land of Benjamin and the hills of Ephraim, via Givat Shaul (the Hill of Saul) and Nachal Michmas, scene of a daring two-man commando raid by Saul’s son Jonathan, and his armour-bearer, who took the Philistines completely by surprise and wreaked havoc in their ranks (1 Samuel, 14). Almost three thousand years later, Jonathan’s daring also inspired a junior officer in the British army during their WW1 campaign against the Turks. The unnamed officer, who was accustomed to read the Bible every night, remembered the story of Jonathan’s surprise attack, alerted his Commanding Officer and thanks to their rediscovery of the ancient path through the ravine, the British were able to outflank the Turkish position and take the town.

We were now deep in Samaria and thus we came to Shiloh, where the Tent of Meeting (the Tabernacle) was set up by Joshua (Joshua 18:1) after the Children of Israel entered the Promised Land. There it remained for 369 years, the first Israelite capital.

Shiloh is now the site of a thriving modern Jewish “settlement”, re-established by a handful of families in 1978. There, they built a synagogue designed like the Biblical Tabernacle . There is also a Visitors’ Centre and, in a modernistic building known as Migdal HaRo’eh  (מגדל הרואה – The Seer’s Tower), an exhibition showcases some of the archaeological finds from the site, while on the upper floor, from where there is a splendid panorama of the surrounding countryside, one can see a multimedia presentation of the history of Shiloh.

However, it was ancient Shiloh that we had come to see.

Here, for example, is the courtyard of a later structure from the Mameluke period, known as the Jama al  Yatim – the Orphan’s Mosque. Some people have said that this refers to the orphaned Ichabod, son of Pinchas, one of the two sons of Eli the High Priest, whose mother died giving birth to him. He was born on the same day that his father was killed in the battle with the Philistines at Eben-Ha’Ezer and the Ark of the Covenant was taken into captivity (1 Samuel, 4: 10 – 22). Unsurprisingly, the mosque was built on the remains of two Byzantine churches, the remains of whose beautiful mosaic floors can be seen in the next picture:

20151125_135131Djama el-yatim

The excavations are still in progress. Underneath the Byzantine ruins, yet another layer has been discovered – a synagogue (what a surprise!), and the archaeologists are wrestling with the problem of how best to uncover the earlier building without destroying the beautiful Byzantine mosaics.

A Danish archaeological team carried out excavations at Shiloh between the years 1926 – 1932 and unearthed the remains of a Byzantine church dating from the 5th-6th centuries C.E.. They partially reconstructed the basilica, but the mosaic shown below is from the original church. Bear in mind that the Magen David (Shield – or Star – of David) was not always an exclusively Jewish symbol.

Magen David in Shiloh Byzantine basilica
You might be wondering how we know that this is actually the site of Biblical Shiloh. Well, for one thing,  the Bible gives a very precise description of its location – ” north of Beth-el, on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Beth-el to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah.” (Judges 21:19). The location of the points of coordination, especially Shechem (Nablus) are known. Moreover, the Arabic names of surrounding villages preserved the Biblical place-names. Thus, the name of Lebonah (Levona) is preserved in the name of the Arab village Al-Lubban ash-Sharqiya   (known to the Crusaders as Lubanum) and the name of Shiloh has been preserved in the Byzantine name of the town – as is shown by an inscription found in the Church which stood on the site of the Orphan’s Mosque previously mentioned, praying for the welfare of the residents of Seilun. In addition, the Arabic name for the site is Khirbet Seilun.

A rectangular area approximately 25 metres (50 cubits) wide, running from east to west and enclosed on the north and south sides by low rock walls, has been suggested as the site of the Tabernacle. The width and direction match the instructions in the Bible for the Tabernacle courtyard (Exodus 27: 9 – 13). You might ask, why has no archaeological evidence of the Tabernacle itself been found,  but you must remember that until Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, the Tabernacle was a temporary structure made of wood and fabric, rather than stone and if, as has been assumed, (although the Bible does not specifically say so) the Philistines burnt the town of Shiloh after their victory at Eben-Ha’Ezer, one would not expect to find  remains, as one would, had the Tabernacle been made of stone.

Other archaeological discoveries at Tel Shiloh (the ancient site) included the Canaanite wall, beyond which the Israelites expanded the city after conquering it. They then used the wall as a foundation for further building, such as the storehouses shown below, in which archaeologists discovered dozens of intact earthenware vessels in a layer of ash, testifying to a mighty conflagration which had apparently destroyed the city. These vessels served to contain food supplies. Charred raisins found on the site were carbon-dated to the middle of the 11th century BCE. This would be round about the time of the Philistine victory over the Israelites at the Battle of Eben-Ha’Ezer mentioned above.

20151125_142111 Israelite storehouses outside the Canaanite wall of Shiloh
The days are very short in Israel in winter. By 5 pm, it is already almost dark, so we had not time to see much more. Our last stop was Ma’aleh Levona, named for the ancient Israelite village of Levona (Lebonah) which stood nearby and whose name is preserved in the name of the Arab village on that site,  Al-Lubban ash-Sharqiya.

From the hilltop is another spectacular view:

20151125_160856view from maale levona
Ma’aleh Levona overlooks the mountain pass which was the scene of the first hand-to-hand battle between Yehuda Ha’Maccabee (Judas Maccabaeus) and the Seleucid army, in which the Maccabees scored a resounding victory over greatly superior Syrian-Greek forces and Yehuda personally killed the Seleucid commander, Apollonius, taking his sword for himself (1 Maccabees 3, 10 – 12).

Today, being the first day of Hanukkah, this first victory of the Maccabees over the forces of tyranny and assimilation seems to be a fitting point on which to end this field trip, and indeed, after our brief visit to Ma’aleh Levona, we headed back to Jerusalem.

I hope you have enjoyed our tour, and the accompanying pictures and hope you will join me again, later this month, for another virtual trip to the Land of the Bible. Meanwhile, let me wish you all a Happy Hanukkah.

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The Good, the Bad, the Ugly – and the Beautiful

Still no let up in the vicious attacks of our enemies. I had intended to devote today’s post to last week’s field trip, in the footsteps of the prophet Samuel and of King Saul, but instead, I must write, once again, of lives lost and of worlds destroyed – and of a world rebuilt.

My last post described the murder of five innocent civilians in two separate “Palestinian” terrorist attacks on Thursday November 19th. I posted about that the following day, Friday – and the very next evening, Motzaei Shabbat, another terrorist went on the rampage, stabbing four people – including a 13-year-old girl whom he stabbed in the stomach and chest. It was only after a manhunt lasting several hours that the assailant – an Arab from the Hebron area – was apprehended.

Although the little girl’s injuries were fairly serious, there were fortunately no fatalities in this attack. But the following day, 21-year-old Hadar Buchris (HY”D), from Safad, was not so lucky. She was stabbed in the head and neck by an Arab terrorist, and shortly afterwards, died of her wounds. Her murderer, who was shot dead by IDF troops, was hailed by the “Palestinian” media as a “hero”. What kind of evil, twisted ideology finds heroism in the murder of a 21-year-old girl?

Less than a day went by before Monday (November 23rd) brought a double attack by two “Palestinian” girls, Norhan and Hadil Awad, cousins aged 14 and 16, who went on the rampage in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market , attacking passers-by with scissors. One of their victims was a 70-year-old man. Both girls were shot, one of them – fatally. Ironically, their 70-year-old victim turned out to be a “Palestinian” from Bethlehem, who sustained stab wounds to his upper body.

Later that day, at the Dor Gas Station on Route 443, 18-year-old Ziv Mizrachi was stabbed to death by a “Palestinian” terrorist  who also wounded Ziv’s companion, a young woman of 22, before being shot dead himself by security forces.

Ziv Mizrahi

The brutal murder of Ziv Mizrachi (HY”D – May God Avenge His Blood), who was stabbed repeatedly in the abdomen,  brings the number of Israeli victims of “Palestinian” terrorism over the past two months, to 22.
And the world remains silent.


How do I go from this to finding that tiny ray of light, that moment of joy, of beauty,  that I wrote about earlier this month, that tiny spark that might enable me to forget, for just a few moments, the grim reality?

Perhaps in the wedding of Sarah-Techiya Litman and Ariel Biegel, whom I wrote about last week, whose wedding took place last Thursday evening, in the presence of thousands of well-wishers from all over the country – nay, from all over the world – many of whom had never met the bride and who had come to comfort and to gladden her and her family. I know a lot of people who cry at weddings, and I doubt if there was a single dry eye at this one, but Sarah-Techiya (the name “Techiya” means, appropriately, “Rebirth”) said it all when she prefaced her invitation to the whole nation to take part in her (postponed) wedding with these words of defiance from Micah 7:8:
Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy; though I am fallen, I shall arise.

I will leave you with this webcast of the wedding. The actual ceremony starts at 1:09:00 with the entrance of the bride.

Whatever horrors our enemies may devise, whatever they throw at us, in spite of all terror – Am Yisrael Chai (עם ישראל חי – The People of Israel Lives).

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