A Very Busy Month

I can’t believe I let more than a month go by without posting anything! And now, I hardly know where to start.
I suppose I can do no better than to follow the King of Hearts’ advice to the White Rabbit: “Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

Technically, then, I must begin at the end of March, with the penultimate field trip in the “929 on the map of Israel” series which I am taking with Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi. The previous field trip had dealt with the last days of the northern Israelite kingdom. The subject of this present trip was the Assyrian and Babylonian campaigns which eventually led to the fall of the southern kingdom, the Kingdom of Judah, to King Nebuchadnezzar.

Our first stop was at Tel Lachish, site of the ancient city of Lachish which was the second most important town in the Kingdom of Judah, after Jerusalem. Amongst the archaeological finds we saw there was the Assyrian siege ramp:

20160330_11 הסוללה האשורית1406תל לכיש


And, of course, the city walls:

20160330_112139חומת לכיש


And the royal palace (you have to use your imagination a bit for this):

20160330_113447כניסה לארמון


We know about the siege and conquest of Lachish by the Assyrian king Sennacherib, not only from the Bible but also from external sources such as the set of alabaster panels which completely covered the walls of one of the rooms in Sennacherib’s palace at Nineveh. Excavated in the 1840s, by the Englishman Henry Austen Layard, the Lachish Relief is now on display in the British Museum. Possibly the great importance which Sennacherib evidently ascribed to the capture and sack of Lachish is indicative of a natural wish to gloss over his failure to capture the capital city of the Judean Kingdom – Jerusalem.

With the decline of the Assyrian Empire, the city was rebuilt, but later fell to the Babylonians.

Of the siege and destruction of the city at the hands of the Babylonians in 587 B.C.E. we have the evidence, not only of the Bible but also of the “Lachish Letters“. These were discovered in what was, apparently, a guard house (the ruins of which can be seen in the picture below), in which  the writer was held pending trial. They were preserved, it is believed,  because they were supposed to serve as evidence, either for the accused or against him.

P1020631 Lachish guard house

Most of these, too, are to be found in the British Museum, although some are in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem, including letter #4, in which the writer states: “we are watching for the fire signals of Lachish according to all the signs which my lord has given, because we cannot see Azeqah.
We are told in the Book of Jeremiah 34:6-7 that Lachish and Azeqah were the last two fortified towns to fall to the Babylonians before the overthrow of Jerusalem itself, and it is chilling to think that while the writer’s failure to see Azekah might merely be indicative of his position, in a place from which Azeqah is not visible, it is more likely that the meaning behind his words is that the watch-fires of Azeqah have been extinguished, because the city has already fallen.
How poignant it is today, to see the ruins of this once powerful city, now covered with wild flowers.


P1020626Flower and butterfly

P1020623Bee on fnnel


Our next stop was Khirbet Qeiyafa, which some archaeologists believe is the biblical Sha’arayim (lit. “Two Gates”), because the circular city wall has two gates, whereas usually, contemporary sites had only one gate.


P1020647 Qeiyafa gateway


Controversy reigns as to whether or not this was an Israelite site (as at the Beit Shemesh site, no pig bones were found, indicating that the town’s inhabitants refrained from eating pork products) and whether or not it existed as early as the time of King David (see the Wikipedia link for a fuller discussion of these questions). It has even been claimed that one of the structures found was King David’s palace. At all events, it is important to the discussion as to whether or not the Israelite kingdom was anything other than a small, tribal entity, rather than the force to be reckoned with which is described in the Bible – a kingdom of sufficient importance for neighbouring kingdoms, such as Egypt and Sidon, to link themselves to in diplomatic marriages, or to seek as an ally against such threats as Assyria.

From Khirbet Qeiyafa, we returned to Jerusalem. The Assyrians never conquered Jerusalem, perhaps due to her massive fortifications, some of which – such as the Broad Wall (seven metres in depth) –   can be seen beneath the present-day Jewish Quarter.



The Assyrians could not prevail, but Jerusalem’s massive  towers, such as the one below, failed to defend the city against the Babylonians, more than a century later.



At the foot of the tower, many arrowheads were found, evidence of the desperate, last ditch struggle which ended with the fall of the Judean capital and the Babylonian exile.




A happier subject is the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir’s joint project with the Bel Canto Choir (another of the five choirs making up the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir) and with the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Vag Papian. Although the timing was rather awkward (Tuesday, April 19th) – just three days before the start of Pessach) – it was in some ways a welcome respite from the burden of Pessach cleaning. Several weeks of intensive rehearsals, first each choir separately, with our own conductors (Kate Belshé for the Chamber Choir, Salome Rebello for Bel Canto), then both choirs together, culminated in two joint rehearsals with Maestro Vagian. The first was on the Sunday, April 17th, with piano accompaniment only. The second, the following day, was with the orchestra,  both choirs and the instrumentalists having to crowd into the lecture hall/banqueting room at the Jerusalem YMCA. This was definitely something of a squeeze, and, after we had finally managed to arrange enough chairs to accommodate all of the choir, Maestro Vagian decided he needed to change them all around! I didn’t think there would be room for everyone, but Israel is, after all, the land of miracles😉
It was not until the day of the concert that we were able to have a relatively short rehearsal in the auditorium itself. The YMCA auditorium was, until the inauguration of the Henry Crown Symphony Hall in the 1970s, the home of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, but the stage there is relatively small. For this reason, instead of being placed behind the orchestra, as we usually are, the choir was ranged along the two sides of the stage, with the happy result that I found myself behind the first violins instead of – as usually happens – somewhere between the brass and the percussion!

I always enjoy the first rehearsal with the orchestra, when all the hard work of the previous weeks starts coming together. Some people find the sound of an orchestra tuning up to be a mere cacophony. To me, it’s an adventure, a promise of something wonderful to come.

It was after the break, mid-evening, as I was settling back in my chair, that one of my fellow sopranos murmured in my ear: “Did you hear about the terrorist attack?”
No, as it happened. I had not! What attack? Where?
Thank heavens for smart-phones. Mine informed me that a bomb had exploded in an empty bus, and that a few people in adjacent vehicles had been lightly wounded. That’s almost always how it goes. At first, you hear that there were only one or two lightly wounded. Then the gory details begin to pile up, whether it’s the number of casualties, or the extent of their injuries.
After the rehearsal, when I got home and switched on the television, more details emerged. Like the fact that the bus in question was a no. 12, one of the buses which serves my own neighbourhood. And the fact that 21 people had been injured and that two of them were in critical condition. One of these turned out to have been the terrorist, who had apparently not intended to detonate the bomb so early, when the bus was still empty. At any rate, although doctors did their best to save his life (what for?), he died a couple of days later.  Good riddance to bad rubbish.
Hamas eventually claimed responsibility for this attack.

The concert the following day did much to improve my mood. It was an evening devoted to three of the great German Romantic composers  – Mendelssohn, Schubert and Brahms. The evening started off with Mendelssohn’s Third Symphony (the “Scottish” Symphony), here performed by Mendelssohn’s own Gewandhaus Orchestra.  This was followed, after a short break, by Schubert’s Mass no. 2, in G-Major.

Here, you can see the Sanctus section of the Mass, filmed by my brother on his camera phone:



The last item of the evening was Brahms’ Schicksalslied – the Song of Destiny – a beautiful piece which, incredibly, I had not known before. Here is an excerpt – once again, filmed by my brother on his camera phone.



Nor was this the end of that week’s musical delights, for on the Thursday (the day before the Seder Night), I travelled down to Tel Aviv to see the opera Romeo et Juliette by Gounod. You all know by now how I hate “modernistic” opera productions, where the plot is updated to the present day, the characters dressed in overalls or leather jackets and the action transferred to a Soviet munitions factory. I was relieved and delighted to see that this Romeo et Juliette was a traditional production, with beautiful, colourful costumes as well as melodious, lyrical singing:



I also loved the exhibition in the lower lobby – a series of amazing cakes made of sugar icing and all inspired by ballet and opera.














The very next evening, the Seder night ushered in the Pessach holiday, with the traditional meal, at the home of my father and stepmother. The weather, being unusually warm for this time of year, made it possible for us to sup outside, in the garden.

Pessach is now behind us, and in a few days, we shall be celebrating Yom Ha’Atzma’ut – Independence Day. In the meanwhile, the last field trip in the “929 on the map of Israel” also came and went – but I shall leave that for another occasion.


One last word. Even as I write these lines, news is breaking of yet another cowardly “Palestinian” terrorist attack – this time, on a group of elderly ladies who were taking their morning constitutional on the Armon Hanatziv Promenade. Two masked thugs came upon these senior citizens from behind and attacked them with knives, moderately wounding two women in their seventies.

I will keep you posted.









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Shomron – The Ancient Israelite Capital

Scarcely had we put the clocks forward by one hour at the end of last month and moved into Summer Time, when the weather turned cold and wintery. It’s warm and sunny again this week, but this time of year, the weather is notoriously changeable. So this would seem to be a good time to bring back memories of my field trip at the beginning of last month with Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi, to Shomron (Samaria/Sebaste/Sebastiya) and Mount Gerizim, which was blessed with peculiarly good weather for early March.

Shomron was the capital of ancient Israel, after the division of the Kingdom following the death of King Solomon, into the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Founded by the Israelite King Omri, in the 9th century BCE, it survived as capital of the northern kingdom until the last quarter of the following century. Omri founded a royal dynasty the most famous (or perhaps I should say infamous) of whom was Ahab, who married the still more infamous Jezebel. There was a restored city there in the Hellenistic/Hasmonean period. In Roman times, King Herod “the Great” built over the site and renamed it Sebaste and later, an Arab village, Sebastiya, was built nearby.
The archaeological site lies in Area C, under the Oslo Accords, which means it is under Israeli security and civilian control. Our visit therefore had to be co-ordinated with the Israeli Military Administration, and we were accompanied by an armed IDF escort (the necessity of which became clear that evening, as I shall explain later).

Come join me now, as we approach the ancient city of Shomron.



It is the ruins of the Herodian forum which first greet the visitor, but this was not what we had come to see. Of far more importance, considering the subject of the field trip (the northern Israelite kingdom) were the remains of the ancient Israelite city, dating to the First Temple period:



Higher up, and reached by a picturesque climb through carpets of wild flowers and olive trees,


are the remains of a Herodian temple (Herod liked to curry favours with his Roman masters),



watchtowers from the Hellenistic/Hasmonean period,

20160302_120348שרידים ארכיאולוגיים בסבסטיה

and the remains of a Herodian/Roman theatre.

20160302_120652תיאטרון רומי בסבסטיה

On all sides are magnificent views:



From Shomron/Samaria, it was a logical step to Mt. Gerizim, holy site of the present day Samaritan community. On our way, we visited Mitzpeh Yosef, so called because, from its high vantage-point, it is possible to see the Tomb of Joseph. The Tomb itself lies within the city of Shechem (Nablus) which is under the control of the Palestinian Authority and visits there are only possible in coordination with the IDF.

In early spring, the hills are blanketed with wild flowers, of which Israel has some 2500 native species! The hills above Shechem were carpeted with yellow asphodel, the ubiquitous red anemones were still in bloom, and there were even wild orchids and irises.

20160302_141907עיריונים במצפה יוסף



20160302_141813 Wild orchid


20160302_145225אירוס על מדרון מצפה יוסף

Claiming descent from the ancient Israelites (a claim rejected, until lately, by the official Jewish religious, rabbinical establishment), the modern-day Samaritans have to tread a narrow and frequently awkward path between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Bible, as you may recall, tells us (II Kings 17: 24 – 28) that after the fall of the Northern Israelite kingdom, the Assyrian conqueror, carried off the Israelites into exile and repopulated Samaria with citizens from other parts of the Assyrian empire, who were forcibly resettled there. (This, by the way, is precisely the kind of resettlement of “occupied territories” which the Geneva Conventions address, and not the voluntary “settlement” by Israelis of those same ancestral lands, as is claimed by Israel’s enemies today!)

We visited the Samaritan Museum and met with one of their priests, Cohen Yefet. We learned that there are now only between 700-800 Samaritans, half of whom live in Holon, in Israel and half of whom live in the Samaritan neighbourhood on Mount Gerizim and hold both Israeli and “Palestinian” Identity Cards. Cohen Yefet told us, probably only half in jest, that he also has two mobile phones – one on the Israeli cellphone network and one for the “Palestinian” network. Actually, it turned out that he had three phones, but I am not sure what the third was for:-)

In the Museum, we saw some fascination exhibits, such as a prayer-book written in the ancient Samaritan script, a ketubah or marriage-contract, in the same script, a Samaritan Torah scroll, and a display of traditional Sabbath and festival clothing.

20160302_171040Samaritan alphabet



Also of interest is the Samaritan mezuzah, which, as you can see, is vastly different from the one used by Rabbinical Jews. After all, who is to say what “and you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates”   (Deuteronomy 6:9 and 11:20) actually means?

20160302_160830מזוזה שומרוני

Nearby is the Israeli-Jewish community (aka “settlement”) of Har Bracha, where we visited a techina (tahini) factory and learned about the production process. I am not, in general, madly keen on this dish, but I have to say, theirs was particularly delicious, so I bought a large jar of it, for 25 NIS.

20160302_152616  20160302_152934

I cannot mention Har Bracha without also mentioning that, upon returning home that evening and switching on the radio, having not heard the news all day, I discovered that, only a couple of hours after our visit,  there had been a terrorist attack there, with two IDF soldiers being stabbed by “Palestinians”. Fortunately, they were only lightly to moderately wounded. Now it should be clear why visits by civilians to the area require a military escort. Thus, the day – which had begun with the news of an infiltration by “Palestinian” terrorists into the Jewish community of Eli (also in Samaria) and the attack with knives and clubs on a Jewish Israeli civilian – could be said to have ended in much the same way as it had begun.

The field trip to Shomron was one of two field trips I made with Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi last month, but a description of the second one will have to wait for my next post. I also wanted to tell you about a truly beautiful book I am currently reading, but that, my friends, merits a post all of its own:-)

See you soon.





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In Search of a Bubble

If you live in the United States, you probably heard of at least one of the Arab terrorist attacks which took place in Israel last week, because in one of the five attacks which took place last Wednesday alone, a “Palestinian” terrorist went on a murderous rampage with a knife, fatally wounding an American tourist, US Army veteran Taylor Force, aged 29, who died of his wounds shortly after, and wounding almost a dozen other innocent people, including Force’s wife, a Russian tourist and a pregnant woman.
As I say, you probably heard about the attack. If the source of your information was CNN, however, what you would have learned from the CNN headline would have been:
“American fatally stabbed in Israel terror attack that wounds 10 others”.

You perceive my drift? From the headline alone, the implication is that a terror attack carried out by Israel was responsible for the death of an American.  Not until almost halfway through the article is there any mention of the fact that the terrorist was a so-called “Palestinian” and any further mention of the wave of “Palestinian” terrorism makes a point of implying that the identity of the terrorists as “Palestinians” is in doubt, because the description is always qualified by phrases such as “Israel says”, “Israel claims”, or “Israel blames” etc.  Here, for example, we are told that “Tuesday’s incident is among a spate of terrorist attacks that Israeli authorities have blamed on Palestinians, be they from the West Bank or elsewhere.”

But that’s CNN for you. Nothing if not consistent, when it comes to anti-Israel bias.

I have mentioned before how I try to find, each day, something good to rejoice in, to take my mind off this latest wave of murderous terror which is being incited by the “Palestinian Authority”. Sometimes, I just leave the radio off and cut myself off from the world for a few hours. Often, it is the activities of my choir which enable me to detach myself from the harsh reality of the relentless war which is being waged against us and exist in a kind of bubble for a few hours, or even – if I am lucky – for an entire weekend. The weekend before last, for example, I had the good fortune to be able to participate in a choral workshop on Handel’s “Messiah” under the direction of British conductor Tim Brown, which took place at Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael, in the north of Israel. This was a wonderful opportunity to get away from it all and make glorious music with 250 singers from choirs all over Israel.

It might seem rather odd to roll up to the gates of a kibbutz and ask the guard at the entrance: “Shalom! Where can we find the Messiah?” – but it wasn’t actually necessary, as there were signposts everywhere and there was even someone at the entrance to point out the way😉


The children from the kibbutz kindergarten, who paid us a surprise visit, certainly enjoyed watching and listening to our rehearsal, in wide-eyed wonder. Just in case the link doesn’t work, and for those of you who don’t have a Facebook account and can’t get in to see the pictures, I am reproducing the photo here:

Photo credit to Nona Vocal Arts (who organized the event) and Oliver (surname unknown).

And if we are speaking of the children of the kibbutz, who could resist a shot like this, taken outside the kibbutz dining-room?


On the afternoon of the first day of the workshop, we had a few hours to spare after the morning session, so, after checking in at our hotel, we went to the nearby Dor Beach (one of the loveliest stretches of Israel’s Mediterranean coastline), to enjoy the archaeological remains along the shore, the rocky inlets and tidal pools – and the sunset. That was after Waze let us down and sent us off first to the wrong beach, and we went hurtling over the sands in a regular family car with the qualities of a 4×4 recreational vehicle, driven like a professional rally driver, by Raul from our bass section.  😉












And then, of course, being who we are, we welcomed Queen Sabbath with “Shabbat Hamalka” , as the sun slowly sank into the sea:


We stayed overnight at the Eden Inn in Zichron Ya’acov, where we enjoyed a rich and varied buffet supper – and an equally sumptuous Shabbat morning breakfast the following day, which included such delicacies as jachnun – a traditional Yemenite Jewish dish served on Shabbat morning for breakfast – as well the more traditional Israeli breakfast.

After checkout, it was back to Ma’agan Michael for the second (and final) day of the workshop, culminating in a sold-out concert on Shabbat afternoon. The  entire concert, Messiah at Ma’agan Michael, was recorded, so you can see it for yourselves.

Enjoy our bubble:-)









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Raiders of the Lost Ark

So many bad things kept happening to make me postpone telling you all about last month’s “929 on the map” field trip, that our next field trip was upon us, before I had time to tell you about its predecessor.

So, without further ado, here is the tale of our journey in the footsteps of the Ark of the Covenant, from its capture by the Philistines at the Battle of Eben-Ezer (1 Samuel, 4:11), until its return to the hands of the Israelites.

Eben-Ezer, where the Bible tells us the Israelites encamped, lay opposite Afek, on the ancient international highway between Egypt (to the south) and her northern neighbours. There is still an important interchange at the same location, the Kessem interchange. There is a fortress on the site, dating from the Ottoman Era.

The site of Eben-Ezer is in dispute, but some historians and archaeologists place it on the site of modern day Rosh Ha’Ayin,because of the latter’s geographical position relative to Afek. In Rosh Ha’ayin, there is an archaeological site called Izbet-Sartah, pointing to the existence of a small, but well-fortified  settlement. Remains there date back to the 10th-century BCE, and even earlier. Like many other supposed Israelite settlements, this one also stands out for the fact that no remains of swine were found there. As the guide explained, archaeologists love finding remains of food, which can teach us how people lived thousands of years ago, including what they ate – or, perhaps even more tellingly, what they did not eat. The absence of any evidence of pork products could easily be explained by a settlement of Israelites, adhering to Jewish dietary laws, which prohibit the consumption of swine’s flesh.

The archaeological remains at this site include large houses with well-fortified walls and grain silos:

20160203_103743ממגורות לאחסון תבואה 20160203_103331

Some archaeologists believe, however, that this was one large farmhouse with outlying buildings.

A church from the Byzantine Era was also unearthed in the vicinity.

As the Bible tells us (1 Samuel 5), after the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant, they took it first to the city of Ashdod, where it was placed in the Temple of Dagon. However,  mysterious disasters occurred to the statue of Dagon, and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, a most unpleasant plague struck the population of Ashdod, who, for some strange reason, rather than drawing the obvious conclusion and adopting the faith of the Israelites, decided instead to get rid of the Ark, which they believed to be responsible for all their woes, and quickly dispatched it to Gath. However, the plague which had beset the men of Ashdod now struck the citizens of Gath and so, like a hot potato, the Ark was sent on to another Philistine city, Ekron, much to the displeasure of the inhabitants of that city, who had already heard of what the Ark had wrought in Ashdod and Gath.

A visit to Ashdod and Gath (even supposing the exact location of the latter were known – its previous identification with the site on which Kiryat Gat now stands being due to error) would have lengthened our tour in such a way as to make it impracticable for a one day field trip. We did, however, visit the Britannia Park, from where there are magnificent panoramic views towards Ashdod and Gath – the nearest we could manage in the limited time at our disposal.

20160203_122526from park britannia to gath +ashdod

Visible signs of spring being just around the corner, could be seen in the many blossoming almond trees:

20160203_121716The Britannia Park includes several sites of interest, including our next stop, Tel Azeka, near which David is believed to have triumphed over Goliath, and from where there are spectacular views of the surrounding countryside:



Here, our informative and amusing guide, Uriel Fainerman, demonstrated – in his inimitable French accent – the use of the slingshot with which David would have felled the Philistine giant:



At Tel Azeka,  we found an abundance of wild flowers, including species which, I am told (for botany is not my field of expertise), do not normally bloom side by side, such as marigolds and chrysanthemums:


20160203_130916חרציות וציפורני חתול בתל עזקה



And let us not forget the scarlet anemones:


20160203_130840כלנית בתל עזקה







From Tel Azeka, we proceded to Tel Batash, believed to be the site of the Biblical Timnah. As the town sat on the access route between the Coastal Plain (held by the Philistines), through the Shephelah, into the Judaean Mountains, it is logical to assume that, after the inhabitants of Ekron rebelled against the presence of the Ark in their city, and the Philistines decided to send it back “to its own place”, its route would have led it through Timnah, on its way back to Beit Shemesh, a city in the territory of the tribe of Judah which had been given to the priests.

The Tel Batash site, reached by a twenty-five minute walk through green fields,  is little-known and not frequented by many visitors, but offers spectacular views of the surrounding Valley of Sorek.


20160203_150428nachal sorek from tel batash

20160203_152756view from tel batash

20160203_150439fron tel batash biblical timna









Many of the archaeological remains are still surrounded by dense foliage, making it necessary to scramble over ancient walls and through overgrown bushes to reach them – such as this ancient olive oil press:


By now, the day was waning fast. There was just time for a visit to Kiryat Yearim, hard by the Arab village of Abu-Ghosh, whence the Ark was taken after its return by the Philistines (1 Samuel 7) and where it remained until it was taken by King David to Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 13, 5 – 8). A small Byzantine Church was built on the site, but in 614 CE, it was demolished by the invading Persian army. It remained in ruins for thirteen centuries, until being rebuilt in 1924, as the Church of Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant. The present day church belongs to the French Sisters of the Order of St. Joseph of the Revelation and is well known to many Israelis as the venue of the Abu Ghosh Music Festival, held twice a year, at Succot and Shavuot,  in which I myself have appeared several times with my choir. That being the case, it seemed that not only the Ark, but I myself had returned home, as it were  :-)

By now, it was almost dark, and it was time to end our tour and return to Jerusalem.

Stay tuned for another tour in the footsteps of the Bible in the near future.

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No Hiding Place

Israelis are famous for being addicted to the news. We have radio newscasts every hour, on the hour – unless, like me, you have your radio permanently tuned to Kol Hamusica (קול המוסיקה – The Voice of Music), Israel’s classical music and jazz programme, more or less equivalent to the BBC’s Radio 3. In that case, your daily news consumption is limited to hourly broadcasts between 6 am – 9 am, and then you can remain blissfully unaware of what is going on in Israel and the rest of the world until the 2 pm broadcast. If you managed to miss that one too, the next broadcast is at 8 pm, with a final roundup pf the day’s events at midnight.

Sometimes, especially when I have something planned for the evening, like a concert, or a visit to the opera in Tel Aviv, I switch off the radio and go and lie down for a long nap in the afternoon, and it isn’t until midnight that I get a chance to catch up on what has been going on.
Maybe it’s better that way. So often, lately, I have returned from a day devoted to trying to forget, for a few short hours, the relentless campaign of terror being waged against us, only to learn, once again, that there is no hiding place from evil. How could I have enjoyed Die Fledermaus last Thursday evening (February 18th), knowing that earlier that afternoon, there had been a deadly terrorist attack in a supermarket in Sha’ar Binyamin, just north of Jerusalem and that a young husband and father , 21-year-old Tuvia Yanai Weismann had been murdered – stabbed to death while attempting to protect other shoppers from two teenage “Palestinian” terrorists. Although a member of the IDF, Yanai (as his wife called him) was home on leave and was out shopping for Shabbat with his wife and baby daughter, and was unarmed. The two terrorists, who continued their rampage and seriously wounded another Israeli, were eventually neutralised by armed citizens.

I knew nothing about this, having had the radio off all afternoon, and it wasn’t until riding home in the taxi, at midnight, planning the blog I intended to write about the opera, that I heard the bitter news.
If you live outside Israel, and are dependant on foreign media for your news, you probably won’t have heard about this at all. If you have, the headline probably gave precedence to the fact that the two teenage “Palestinians” (the terrorist murderers) were shot, and that one of them later died. If you read past the headline, all you would probably have learned about the Jewish Israeli victim was that he was an IDF soldier (albeit off-duty) and a “settler”.

But the victim had a name. He had a family. He was someone’s husband, someone’s father, someone’s son.

Tuvia Yanai Weissman leaves a young widow, Yael and a baby daughter, Netta.

tuvia yanai weissman


May God avenge his blood.

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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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