Touring With the Bible In One’s Hand: Megiddo, Ma’ayan Harod and Gilboa

I often write about terrorist attacks here in Israel, but I already posted in my Facebook account about two deadly atrocities carried out during Pessach by “Palestinians”, in one of which, a British-Israeli mother and two of her daughters were murdered in cold blood after their car was forced off the road, and in the second of which (later the same day), an Arab-Israeli citizen rammed a car into a group of British and Italian tourists, killing one and injuring seven others, so I will not write about them again here. Nor will I do more than mention two more terrorist attacks. Earlier this week, on the eve of Memorial Day, a car driven by an Arab from the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Tsafafa deliberately rammed into a group of pedestrians crossing the road near the Machane Yehuda market, injuring five people before being shot dead by a bystander. One of the victims, a man of 80, is still in critical condition. The following morning, “Palestinian” terrorists carried out a drive-by shooting attack on a group of runners who were taking part in a race in memory of Israel’s fallen. But I prefer to write about positive experiences for a change. So instead, I will invite you to join me on a recreation of a field trip I took the week before Pessach (Passover) with Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi, the fifth in the series on Biblical archaeology which I am taking this year.

The sky was partially cloudy when we set out from Jerusalem at 8 o’clock in the morning, heading for a site which has seen many battles throughout its millenia-long history – Megiddo, or, as it is known to the many Christians who believe it will be the site of the last battle of all, Armageddon, a Greek corruption of Har Megiddo (Mt. Megiddo – although it is not really a mountain but a tell, a mound artificially created by many layers of human occupation).

The city of Megiddo already existed in pre-Israelite times. It enjoyed a strategic location, guarding the western end of a narrow pass on the ancient trade route known to the Romans as the Via Maris, which connected Egypt with the northern empires in Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. It also overlooks the rich and fertile Jezreel Valley. Megiddo is one of the cities said to have been fortified by King Solomon (I Kings, 9:15).

Archaeologists are divided, however, as to whether there is any actual evidence of Solomonic building at Megiddo. And the evidence seems constantly to be changing and to be influenced by findings at other sites, as well as influencing opinions about those other sites. For example, monumental six-chambered gates have been uncovered at Gezer, Hatzor and Megiddo which some archaeologists attribute to King Solomon (10th century BCE) but others insist date from the time of King Ahab (9th century BCE) or even Jeroboam II (8th century BCE), the assumption being that similar gates must have been built round about the same time.

Some say that this gate dates to the Canaanite period, even before King Solomon.

Those who support the theory that the builder was Solomon, point to the above-cited verse, wherein we are told that “this is the account of the levy which King Solomon raised; to build the house of the LORD, and his own house, and Millo, and the wall of Jerusalem, and Hazor, and Megiddo, and Gezer.”

Just to complicate matters – there are, in fact, more than one monumental gateways at the site, dating from different periods. And yes – I know it doesn’t look all that big, but this is where you have to exercise your imagination. The walls would have been much, much higher, towering above the heads of the citizens, and of course, the gateway would have been roofed.

I Kings, 5:26 tells us that “Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen.
This leads us to an apparent discrepancy, since we are told in II Chronicles 9:25, that “Solomon had four thousand stalls for horses and chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen, that he bestowed in the chariot cities, and with the king at Jerusalem.

At all events, at Megiddo, a vast network of structures that appear to have been stables, was uncovered and, as with the monumental gateway, opinions are divided as to whether or not these are the stables built by King Solomon and described in the Book of Chronicles.

In fact, two areas believed to have been stable complexes have been uncovered at Megiddo, one in the north and one in the south, including what appear to have been pillars with holes bored in them, where horses could be tied, and stone mangers or feeding-troughs. Neither appear to have been large enough to house the number of horses ascribed to Solomon, either in I Kings or in II Chronicles. However, this modern sculpture stands at the top of the tell in a nice gesture to the theory that Megiddo was, indeed, one of the “chariot cities”.

Another fascinating feature of the tell is the so-called Sacred Area, or Great Temple Complex, dating back to c.3000 BCE – the early Bronze Age.

This included the huge, 5000-year-old “Great Temple”, one of the largest structures of its time in the Near East (according to its excavators,) including a sanctuary 47.5 by 22 metres. The circular structure has been interpreted as an altar dating to the Canaanite period.

Carved ivories, indicative of the wealth of the city’s inhabitants and the extent of commerce in which Megiddo was engaged, were also found. They are now on display in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem and in the Oriental Institute of Chicago, so we did not see them, but they were dated to the Late Bronze Age layer of the excavations.

We did, however, see the granary and the water system. These would have been of critical importance in times of siege.
Megiddo, in fact, was supplied by two springs, the nearer and therefore more convenient one for the use of the city’s inhabitants being situated on the west, at the bottom of the mound on which the city was built. The trouble was, the spring was outside the city (a similar problem to that encountered by Hezekiah, in Jerusalem). It was therefore inaccessible for the citizens in times of siege, while providing a source of water for the enemy.
How was the problem solved?
A vertical shaft was cut from the mound on which the city sat. Within the shaft, rock-hewn steps led to a tunnel at the bottom of the shaft, which led to the spring. Meanwhile, the approach to the spring from the outside was blocked off and hidden from enemy view.
At some later period, the floor of the tunnel was lowered and hewn on an incline so that the force of gravity would cause the water to flow from the spring to the bottom of the shaft, whence it could be hauled up directly, without the need for the citizens (which is to say, probably the women and girls) to walk through the tunnel to the spring.

In the first picture, we can see a modern wooden walkway through the tunnel, constructed for the benefit of visitors.

Here we can see the spring.

And here is the way out!

I am sure nobody will be surprised to hear that the experts are also divided as to when this great water system was constructed, with some attributing it to King Ahab (9th century BCE), others to King Solomon (10th century BCE) and others yet to pre-Israelite times. Common sense tells me that it was most likely renovated several times, in different centuries.

From Megiddo, we proceeded to the Harod Spring (מעיין הרוד – Ma’ayan Harod) National Park on the Gilboa Ridge, where we ate a picnic lunch before setting out to explore the byways of history – both ancient and modern. The Park is home to the Memorial for residents of the Jezreel Valley – known in Hebrew simply as Ha’Emeq (THE Valley) – who fell in the War of Independence, and later wars. Created by the sculptor, David Plombo, it is shaped like a bridge, broken and cracked, but still standing steadfastly over the stream, and topped by two figures – perhaps burnt trees, perhaps stylised human forms, reaching out to one other but not quite touching each other.
On the wall behind the monument, metal letters spell out the opening words of David’s great lament for Saul and Jonathan: “The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places; how are the mighty fallen” (II Samuel 1:19).

Continuing further up the mountain, we reached the home of Yehoshua Hankin, known as “The Redeemer of the Emeq”, for his work in purchasing lands in the Jezreel Valley for Jewish settlement. Note, I said purchased. Despite the lies spread by “Palestinian” propagandists, the Zionist pioneer movement bought the land on which Jews settled prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. Sometimes, the money was donated by wealthy Jewish or Christian philanthropists in Europe or America. Much of it, however, was painstakingly collected by ordinary Jews, penny by penny, cent by cent, precisely for the purpose of redeeming land for Jewish settlement in the Land of their Fathers.

Hankin began building a house on the slopes of the Gilboa Ridge in 1934, when he was 70 years old. He hoped to live there with his beloved wife, Olga. But Olga, 12 years his senior, became ill and died in 1943. Less than two years later, her devoted husband followed her to the grave. The two of them were buried side by side in the tomb Yehoshua Hankin had prepared, hard by the house they had hoped to live in on Mount Gilboa.

The outer door, bearing the name Hankin in interlocking Hebrew letters, was also created by the sculptor, David Plombo.

Next door to the tomb stands the Hankin house, now converted into a museum, where visitors can see a short film about the life and work of the Hankins. Olga Hankin assisted her husband in his land-purchasing endeavours, but she was also was a professional midwife, possibly the first in the country. Sadly, she and Yehoshua had no children of their own.

Between the house-turned-museum and the tomb, we were fortunate to catch a glimpse of one of the last Gilboa irises (Iris haynei) of the season. Had our tour taken place at the beginning of the month, as was originally planned, instead of being postponed because of the disruption caused by country-wide demonstrations against the government’s planned judicial reform (about which I am NOT going to write now, though I might at some later stage), we might have seen more of them. It flowers for a very short period only, in the spring, and is considered an endangered plant species – for which reason, it is a protected wild plant. It has often happened to us that when we have field trips designed specifically to coincide with the flowering of particular flowers, we are frequently unlucky in that excessively warm (or cold) weather has caused them to bloom unexpectedly early (or late), and so we miss them. At any rate, we did catch this one specimen. Isn’t she a beauty, in her lonely splendour?

It is no wonder that Hankin chose this spot on the slopes of the Gilboa Ridge, for his home and for his final resting place. Here is the view from the winding path leading to the Hankin Compound:

To get back to the Bible – also to be found in the confines of the Ma’ayan Harod National Park is a spring (for which the park is named) rising in a cave known as Gideon’s Cave.

Those of you familiar with the Biblical story (Judges 7) will no doubt recall that Gideon gathered an army of Israelites, 32,000 strong, to fight the Midianites, Amalekites and other tribes from the east, who were terrorising the Israelites. God knew that if the Israelites defeated the Midianites with so large an army, they would attribute their victory to their own strength rather than to divine intervention. He therefore instructed Gideon to send home all those who were afraid to fight. 22,000 men returned to their homes, leaving Gideon with 10,000 soldiers. But God told Gideon that even these were too many. Gideon therefore led his men down to the stream to drink and, as God commanded, those who lay down and lapped directly from the water, like dogs, as well as those who knelt by the brook and lapped with their hands, were sent home. Three hundred men, who remained standing and lapped with one hand (while remaining alert and able to easily draw their weapons and fight, in the case of a surprise attack), were left. With these, God told Gideon, the enemy, who “lay along in the valley like locusts for multitude“, would be delivered into his hands.

Gideon divided his remaining troops into three groups. To each of them, he gave horns and empty pitchers into which they were to put torches. Then, they crept into the outer perimeter of the enemy camp, at the beginning of the middle watch. This would be at the time when the first watch had already retired and were on their way to bed. The men of the third watch would still be asleep and the sentries of the middle watch, who had only recently woken up, would not yet be properly organised and alert. At this critical moment in time, at Gideon’s signal, the 300 Israelite warriors smashed their pitchers and blew their horns and, holding their horns in their right hands and the torches, which had previously been hidden in the pitchers (now broken) in their left hands, shouted: “The sword for the Lord and for Gideon!”.

Total pandemonium now ensued. The Midianites and their allies, taken by surprise and in complete confusion, could not tell friend from foe and began striking each other down, while the Israelites remained in their places on the outer perimeter, blowing their horns and waving their torches (whose light would have dazzled the enemy).

Why does the Bible stress the fact that the Israelites held the torches in their left hands and their horns in their right hands? To make it clear that they were not wielding weapons! The utter rout inflicted on the Midianites and their allies was accomplished by God alone.

Our next, and final, stop was the Gilboa Ridge, scene of King Saul’s final battle. As our bus wound its way up the ridge, the sky, which had been partially cloudy since the morning, became heavily overcast and almost as soon as we disembarked from the bus and continued on foot, it began to rain.

But having come so far, we were not to be deterred by a few drops of rain. What was that, compared to the obstacles that faced King Saul, on the eve of his last, fateful battle?

As the Bible tells us (I Samuel 28), the Philistines had gathered a huge army, which had encamped in Shunem, near the Jezreel Valley, north of Gilboa. The Israelite army had made camp on Gilboa.
The prophet Samuel was dead by then, and Saul had lost God’s favour after he disobeyed the heavenly command to destroy all the Amelekites by sparing their king (a decision which was to boomerang on all Israel, centuries later). Now, when he sought counsel of God, there was none to be had. In despair, he ordered his servants to find for him “a woman that divineth by a ghost” (what we would call “a medium”) – even though he himself had executed or exiled all those who divined by ghosts or familiar spirits, as we are told earlier in that chapter. His servants told him of a sorceress possessed of this ability, living at Ein-Dor, at the edge of the Jezreel Valley. So the king disguised himself and, taking with him two servants, made his way by night to Ein-Dor. To do so, he must have either skirted the enemy lines, at close quarters, or gone right through them, situated as they were in the Valley.

At first the sorceress feared her nocturnal visitor was setting a trap for her, as sorcery had been banned – but Saul gave her his word that she would not be punished and commanded her to bring up Samuel. When she did so, the sorceress recognised her visitor as Saul (why did she not recognise him as soon as he asked her to bring up Samuel? – Ed.)

At all events, Samuel – who, it appears, was not best pleased at being disturbed, told Saul that as punishment for his disobedience in the matter of the Amalekites, not only would he and his sons die on the morrow, but the Israelite army would also be defeated by the Philistines.
Saul collapsed in exhaustion and despair, because he had not eaten all day and had, moreover, just made a perilous nocturnal journey behind enemy lines.

The sorceress and Saul’s two companions, with great difficulty, persuaded him to eat, after which the three of them returned to the Israelite camp.

There is a Midrash which says that Saul also asked Samuel what would happen if he were to flee – and Samuel replied that if he were to do so, his life would be saved. In spite of that, Saul, who knew what his non-appearance would do to the Israelite army, pulled himself together and chose to return. He knew that he was destined to die, and his sons with him. He knew that the Israelite forces were destined to suffer a calamitous defeat. But he knew, also, that they would recover from this defeat and that a new leader would arise to lead them to eventual victory. If, on the other hand, the Israelite forces were to awaken the following morning to discover their king – the first king of a united Israel – had fled, the battle would be lost before it even started, the army would scatter, and it might be generations before the Israelite tribes could unite once more (if they ever could). So he chose to put his fear behind him and become, for one last time, the man whom God had chosen and whom Samuel had anointed all those years ago.

As we listened to the story, sitting on the top of the Gilboa Ridge looking down into the Jezreel Valley below, the rain stopped and the skies began to clear. And then we saw that it had been worth pressing on in the rain – because, without rain, you cannot have a rainbow. And this one was a beauty – a complete arc, stretched out over the Jezreel Valley.

Our guide, Efrat, read us a poem by Natan Alterman, inspired by Saul’s last battle. Originally published in 1945, as World War 2 was drawing to a close, when the first news of the true extent of the Holocaust was becoming known, its message was that even in the face of what seems like total disaster, one must not lose hope but must rise above it and carry on. For this reason, the poem became closely identified with the establishment of the State of Israel, three years later. Set to music by the composer Mordechai Zeira, it was first recorded by Shoshana Damari in 1960. Since then, it has been performed by many of Israel’s most famous singers, including Nechama Hendel and Yehoram Gaon, and has become a staple of the Memorial Day ceremonies and radio broadcasts that take place the day before Independence Day. It was even translated into English – not the most literal translation, but you get the general idea.

Was Alterman thinking of David Ben Gurion when he wrote that goosebump-raising last line, I wonder?

As Efrat read, I started humming the song under my breath. She asked me if I would like to sing it for everyone. I agreed to do so – but only when we were back in the bus and I could use the microphone. It was far too windy on the mountain-top for me to be heard. That might have been a mistake. I discovered that it is not easy for a singer to breath correctly when seated in a bus that is bumping and bouncing as it negotiates the twists and turns of a mountain road!

It was now time for us to head home. I will leave you with the song performed by a far greater singer than I, one whose voice could stir battalions – Shoshana Damari, though in a later recording, from the 1970s, unless I am mistaken. A less bombastic arrangement than the original, this is my favourite of the many versions I have listened to over the past few days.

I hope you have enjoyed this virtual tour and that you will join me for many more.

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Another Link In The Chain

I never intended this blog to become a litany of reports of terrorist attacks perpetrated against the people of Israel, but Man proposes, God disposes.

On Sunday, Hillel Menachem Yaniv (aged 21) and his brother Yagel Ya’akov Yaniv (aged 19) were gunned down at point-blank range by a despicable “Palestinian” terrorist, as they sat in their car, like sitting ducks, in a traffic jam at the exit to the “Palestinian” town of Huwwara – the same junction where our (bullet-proof) bus was gridlocked, on our archaeological field trip to Mt. Ebal back in December, and where we will be again on our field trip to Mt. Gerizim next month.

Again, two brothers, butchered in cold blood, simply for being Jews – like the two children about whom I wrote in my previous post, just two weeks ago.
Are you seeing a pattern here? You should. Because what seemed to interest the international media was not so much the murder of the two brothers, who were, after all, “Jewish settlers” and therefore, apparently, legitimate targets, but the violent reaction of some Israelis, who rampaged through Huwwara in the wake of the terrorist attack. I am not justifying their reaction, but the fact that the international mainstream media seems to be more focussed on that than on the murders, I find outrageous. And let’s not deceive ourselves. Even without the riots in Huwwara, CNN, making no attempt to conceal their egregious anti-Israeli bias, headlined their report “Two Israeli settlers killed in West Bank shooting, days after Israeli raid kills 11 Palestinians”. (Of course, there is no mention of the fact that the Israeli raid was an attempt to arrest known terrorists.) The article starts off “Two Israeli settlers were shot and killed in the West Bank on Sunday, local settler leader Yossi Dagan said, calling it “an extremely serious terrorist attack.” The implication is that there is some doubt as to whether a terrorist attack took place, because the source is a “local settler leader” – and throughout the article, the victims are referred to as “the settlers”, in order to imply that they were legitimate targets, while an eyewitness is described as “another local settler leader”, no doubt with the object of delegitimising his testimony.

True to type, the New York Times also concentrated on the revenge wreaked by Israeli rioters, mentioning the terrorist murder of two Israeli civilians only in passing and making sure to stress their “settler” status.
“Revenge Attacks After Killing of Israeli Settlers Leave West Bank in Turmoil” screams the headline.
I will, however, give credit to the NYT for at least admitting that most of the Palestinians killed in the “West Bank” since the start of the year were killed as a result of gun battles between armed “Palestinian” groups and Israeli troops.

It has also been reported that the US State Department has told Israel that “We expect the Israeli government to ensure full accountability and legal prosecution of those responsible for these attacks, in addition to compensation for the loss of homes and property”.
I wonder if the State Department has also communicated to the “Palestinian Authority” its “expectation” that they arrest and prosecute those responsible for the murder of Hillel and Yagel – instead of paying them (or their families, should Israeli forces manage to lay their hands on the perpetrators) a monthly stipend under their “Pay to Slay” policy.
Israel, at any rate, is certain to prosecute and punish the Israeli rioters. The rampage was roundly condemned by the government – even by leaders of the most “extreme right wing” parties, such as Bezalel Smotrich. The IDF is treating the riots as a terror attack. There were even demonstrations in Tel Aviv, demanding that the rioters be brought to trial and punished and Israelis set up a fund to compensate the “Palestinian” victims.
I wonder – was there any parallel “Palestinian” demonstration against the murder of the two Jewish brothers, or did they, as usual, mark the event by handing out cakes and sweets to passersby?

The very next day, another Israeli civilian was murdered near the Arava Junction. This didn’t lead to riots, so you might not have heard about it, unless you live in Connecticut, USA. The victim, 27-year-old Elan Ganeles, held dual US – Israeli citizenship. He was born, and lived in, West Hartford, CT and was in Israel for a wedding. The vile terrorist murderers fired on two other cars, but without managing to reap any more fatalities, then set fire to their own vehicles and fled in the direction of Jericho, which is under “Palestinian Authority” jurisdiction. Will the US State Department issue a statement to the effect that they “expect” the PA to arrest and prosecute the murderers, in light of the fact that the victim was an American citizen?
Even if they do, the PA is unlikely to comply, considering that, within an hour of the attacks, they were handing out sweets in celebration.

And so it continues. For how long?

I have no answers.

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Massacre of the Innocents

These two little angels are 6-year-old Ya’akov Yisrael Pally and his brother, 8-year-old Asher Menachem Pally.

Last Friday lunchtime, they were waiting at a bus stop in the Ramot neighbourhood of Jerusalem, together with their parents and other siblings, and many other people, including Shlomo Alter Lederman and his wife of two months, when a car driven by a despicable “Palestinian” terrorist, by the name of Hussein Qaraqa, was rammed at full force into the group of innocent civilians, killing 6-year-old Ya’akov and 20-year-old Shlomo, mortally wounding little Asher, critically wounding his father and seriously injuring several others, including the children’s mother, to varying degrees. Who knows how many more he would have murdered, had the perpetrator not been shot dead by police?

8-year-old Asher was rushed to Jerusalem’s Sha’arei Zedek Medical Centre, where doctors fought all night to save him, but to no avail. The little boy died the following day, on Shabbat.

The despicable murder came two weeks to the day after a terrorist shooting attack on worshippers outside a synagogue in another Jerusalem neighbourhood on the evening of Friday January 27th, (International Holocaust Memorial Day) in which seven people were murdered, including 14-year-old Asher Natan. This earlier attack was followed the very next day by another attack by a 13-year-old (!) “Palestinian” terrorist, armed with a gun. In this case, however, his victims fired back and managed to put him out of commission before he could kill anyone.

In the “Palestinian Authority” territories, Qaraqa was hailed as a hero and sweets were distributed (the same response elicited by the massacre perpetrated by Alqam Khayri two weeks earlier).

All three terrorists were Jerusalem residents.

Let me tell you how the international media reported last Friday’s atrocity.

The BBC, which was once regarded as a beacon of truth in Nazi-occupied Europe, remained faithful to its anti-Israel stance by casting doubt on whether the attack had actually happened:

Two Israelis – a six-year-old boy and 20-year-old man – have been killed in a car ramming attack at a bus stop in occupied East Jerusalem, officials say.” (My italics – ed.)
You can be sure no Israeli official would have described a neighbourhood in northern Jerusalem as “occupied East Jerusalem”, but the BBC likes to add such qualifications, as if it serves to mitigate, or even justify, the actions of the despicable murderer.
The BBC then goes on to describe the “spate of deadly incidents” over the past fortnight which have fueled “tensions” between Israel and the so-called Palestinians, taking care to describe Jenin as “the occupied West Bank city”, which it is not. Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, Jenin is in Area A, meaning it is under both the civilian and security administration of the Palestinian Authority.

The Washington Post, while admitting that the car ramming was, indeed, an attack, took care to describe the large Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ramot as a “settlement”, again with the implication that the attack was therefore, in some sort, justified:
Car-ramming attack near Jerusalem settlement kills 2, including 6-year-old“.

The “Palestinian driver” is never called a terrorist – and most of the article doesn’t even deal with the attack but somehow finds the space to discuss the Israeli government’s proposed reforms of the legal system which the writer claims, falsely, would “shield Netanyahu (the Prime Minister – ed.) from ongoing corruption charges”. This is, of course, completely off-topic and mentioned only to bring Israel into disrepute.

CNN, well-known for its obsessive anti-Israel position, describes the attack thus:
“A car drove into several people at a bus stop in Jerusalem on Friday, killing a man and a young child in what Israeli police described as a “ramming terror attack.” A second child died of his injuries Saturday.”
No, CNN. “Drove” is a transitive verb. The car did not drive itself. It was driven by someone – a despicable terrorist. And it was not merely “described” by the Israeli police as a terror attack. It was a terror attack, as scrutiny of the murderer’s social media accounts after the attack made clear.
CNN’s report reminds me of Ilhan Omar’s infamous remark, “some people did something”, to describe the 9/11 attacks.

The New York Times went out of its way to make it appear as if the attack was no more than a tragic traffic accident. From the opening sentence “A man drove a car into a group of civilians outside an Israeli settlement in what the police described as a terrorist attack”, where the site of the attack is described as “outside an Israeli settlement”, the reader is invited to sympathise with the motives of the murderer, who, throughout the article, is referred to only as “the driver”. The victims, all orthodox Jews going about their Sabbath preparations or travelling to spend the sabbath with family (the site was strewn with suitcases) are merely referred to as “a group of civilians”, to disguise the fact that they were targeted because they were Jews. And the description of what the New York Times (no doubt in a case of editorial oversight) did, actually, call “the attack”, was designed to make it seem like an accident: “Video and photos circulated on social media after the attack showed that the car — a blue sedan — collided with a lamppost next to a bus stop, hitting several people and propelling them onto a patch of land several yards to the north.”
No, it did not just collide. It was deliberately rammed into the bus stop!

And, of course, it’s no surprise that CNN also found it necessary to remind its readers/viewers that “It occurred on land that Israel captured from Jordan in 1967 and then annexed, so Palestinians and many international observers consider it to be a settlement on occupied land.”
Because that makes it all right, of course, to cold-bloodedly murder a couple of children waiting at a bus stop with their parents.
By the way, the terrorist scumbag had young children of his own. You would think that fact might have given him pause, but no. The constant incitement in the “Palestinian” media, in their schools and mosques leaves no room for compassion, for decency. And as long as the Palestinian Authority continues to offer financial inducement to potential terrorists, in the form of “pay to slay” stipends to “Palestinian” terrorists and their families (the more Jews they kill, the higher the payment), it seems even concern for their own families’ welfare isn’t going to deter them.

And these are the people with whom we are expected to make peace.
Tell me – how does one make peace with people who don’t want peace?

Posted in Daily Life, News, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

A Most Extraordinary, Ordinary Man

This is the post I have been putting off writing for the past two months – the hardest post I have ever yet had to write, or expect ever to write.
My father’s obituary.

Abba passed away on the evening of Thursday, November 24th, 2022 – Rosh Chodesh Kislev according to the Jewish calendar. My brother managed to catch a flight from London that same evening and arrived just a few hours before the funeral, which, according to Jewish tradition, was held the following day (actually, the same day, since in Judaism, the day starts at sunset). As it was Friday, the eve of the Sabbath, we were told the latest the funeral could take place was at 11 am. The alternative was to wait till Saturday evening, Motzei Shabbat, as funerals are not held on the Sabbath. Moreover, as we were informed when we arrived at the cemetery, on Rosh Chodesh, it is customary not to deliver a eulogy as part of the burial service. Since both my sister and I had gone to considerable lengths to prepare what we were going to say, it was a relief to be informed by the rabbi from the Chevra Kadisha that it would still be possible to deliver a few words after the official burial service.

I was luckier than some, in that I got to say goodbye to my father. He had been in failing health since his operation the summer before last and was, in any case, already in his 96th year, so I cannot say his passing was unexpected. Knowing that, and never having overcome my grief at not having had the opportunity to say goodbye properly to my mother ז”ל, who passed away fifty years ago next month, I had made it a practice to take a loving farewell of him at every parting. So it was the day before he died, when I spent the afternoon and early evening with him. And so it was on his last evening on earth. On this particular evening, knowing he was in the habit of going to bed at around 8 pm, I phoned him at about 7:35 pm to wish him goodnight. I told him I loved him and hoped he would have a good night’s sleep and pleasant dreams, as I did every night.
At two minutes to eight, my sister phoned to tell me he was gone.

Of my father’s history, as a child refugee who came to England in 1939 in the Kindertransport, thus escaping the Holocaust which claimed his parents and much of his near and extended family, I have written before, when I reviewed Abba’s own autobiography. I mention it again now, partly because tomorrow, January 27th, is the International Holocaust Memorial Day, but chiefly because during his last months, I would often find him weeping silently, trying to hide the tears when he saw that I had noticed, apologising (!?) for having upset me or caused concern by his “loss of control”, but when pressed, admitting that he was grieving for his murdered family, blaming himself for “not having done enough to save them” – as if a 12-year-old boy could have done anything! I understand now the meaning and depth of “survivor’s guilt”. I understand, too, why it was so important to him to write his memoirs and to build his family heritage website – to preserve as much as possible of their memory and to recreate, at least on paper or in cyberspace, the family that was so cruelly taken from him.
He used to talk about Shabbat evening meals with his parents, brother and sisters and how he missed them – so much so that, standing over his grave that Friday noon, I could not help but think that now, at last, for the first time in more than eight decades, he would once more be celebrating Shabbat with his beloved parents. And not only them, but with his brother and sisters (all of whom survived the Holocaust, but who predeceased him) and, most of all, with my mother.

On Abba’s tombstone, we had inscribed a quotation from Psalms 15, verse 2:

הוֹלֵךְ תָּמִים, וּפֹעֵל צֶדֶק;    וְדֹבֵר אֱמֶת, בִּלְבָבוֹ

(Holech tamim upo’el tzedek, vedover emet bilvavo)

One who walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh truth in his heart.

The Hebrew word tamim (תמים), here translated as “uprightly”, has connotations in modern Hebrew of naivete and innocence. I do not think my father was naive, in the negative sense of the word. In his own biography, he states clearly that the circumstances of his life influenced his attitude to the world. There was a kind of distrust, a feeling that if we Jews do not look out for ourselves, nobody else is going to do it for us.
And yet, with it, he always looked for the good in people and, as a corollary of that, tried to make the best of the cards life dealt him. In this, I think innocence – in the most positive sense – was, indeed, one of his qualities.

Abba sometimes used to castigate himself for not having been able to provide more for his family in the way of material goods or to help us – his children – more, financially. But I know now, if I didn’t then (why didn’t I know then? My younger brother did!) that on more than one occasion, he and my mother denied themselves so that we children could have the best possible. I remember that one year, for my birthday – presumably because they could not afford to buy me something new – Abba gave me his own Parker fountain pen and propelling pencil set, with my name engraved on them in gold letters. I still have it – and cherish it all the more, knowing that he gave me something of his own – although few people use fountain pens these days and ink is hard to obtain.
Would that have been the year I started secondary school? That would have been at the age of eleven. The use of fountain pens was mandatory – no ballpoint pens in my posh, fee-paying girls’ school (to which I won a scholarship). I remember Abba accompanied me to school daily throughout my first year there, at least, navigating the intricacies of the London Underground on a journey that took well over an hour and involved at least one – or possibly two – connections. And when he and my mother decided I was old enough to go to school on my own, I remember that on the way back, by bus rather than train, I would stop off in Lower Regent Street where my father worked in Rex House, to visit him – and then we would travel home together. That stopped when my school moved to new premises in the Barbican.

During the school holidays, in summer especially, when military bands used to give lunchtime concerts in St. James’ Park, a stone’s throw away from Rex House, my mother would bring us three children to meet my father in the park, where we would picnic on the lawn and listen to the band. How unhappy we all were when he had to leave us at the end of his lunch break to return to the office!

And that recalls another memory, still earlier. I could not have been more than about four, as we were still living in a one-room flat – my parents, my brother and sister and myself. When Abba would leave for work in the mornings, I would cry and beg him not to go and then, I would stand at the window looking down into the street and wave goodbye, until his receding figure disappeared around the corner.
Did I, in fact, stand? Or was my mother holding me in her arms as I cried? So many decades have passed since then that I can no longer be certain.

So many memories come flooding back now, welling up from the mists of time, as the tears are welling from my eyes as I type. Myself as a little girl of two or three at the most, sitting next to Abba in the men’s section of our shul (synagogue), on his lap or curled up on the floor at his feet, playing with the fringes of his tallis (prayer shawl).

I remember him taking me to the ballet, to see a matinee performance of Swan Lake at Covent Garden. In those days, like many a little girl, I wanted to become a ballerina when I grew up.

His pride, and that of my mother, when, at the age of eight or so, I won an essay-writing competition sponsored by our local Borough Council, or several years later, another one sponsored by the Israeli Embassy in the UK or when I placed second in the Junior Examination of the London Board of Jewish Religious Education.

His grief when my mother died, when he came into the room I shared with my sister to tell us that the phone call which woke us late at night was from the hospital and that she was gone. I think that was the first time I ever saw him cry, as he asked, in despair: “What will I do without her?” Wrapped up in my own pain, it was only much later that I fully grasped the depth of his sorrow, this new blow compounding the loss of so much of his family in the Holocaust.

But Abba was strong, stronger than even he knew. Just as he had had to rebuild his life after the Second World War, now he brought us to Israel, remarried, adopted my stepsister and rebuilt his life for the second time. And then there were grandchildren, and eventually, great-grandchildren too. He loved them so much. But the pain of losing his original family was always there, as I was reminded every time I found him silently weeping during these last few months.

The theme of this year’s International Holocaust Memorial Day is “Ordinary People“. Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said: “What is abnormal is that I am normal. That I survived the Holocaust and went on to love beautiful girls, to talk, to write, to have toast and tea and live my life – that is what is abnormal.

My father was not a Nobel Prizewinner. He was not an inventor or a statesman or a great surgeon or a sportsman or a celebrity of any kind. He was an ordinary man. Yet he overcame the catastrophic events of his childhood, he survived, he rebuilt his life – not once, but twice. He lived. He loved. He loved Us, his children. He loved me, as he often told me in the last few months, “even before you were born”.

Not “ordinary” at all.

My Dad.
An ordinary, extraordinary man.

Rest in peace now, Abba – till we meet again.
I love you.

Posted in Autobiography/biography, Uncategorized | Tagged | 33 Comments

When Hanukkah Meets Christmas

One day last week, half way through Hanukkah and at the height of the count-down to Christmas, I joined a Yad Ben Zvi tour in the Old City of Jerusalem to explore the celebration of those two festivals. Although Jewish festivals are fixed according to the lunar calendar, and Christian festivals follow the solar calendar, both holidays fall round about the winter solstice and many scholars claim, not without some justification, that their dates were very likely chosen to conform to a much older tradition, one celebrating the turning of the year, when the shortening days reach their climax on the shortest day of the year, and then start to lengthen, so that it must have seemed to primitive man that the dying sun had been reborn. For example, can it be coincidence alone that both festivals involve the emergence of light from the surrounding darkness (the Hanukkah candles, the candlelit Christmas tree topped by a star, the Yule log), or that both fall on the 25th day of the month (Hanukkah on the 25th of Kislev, Christmas on the 25th of December)?

As far as Hanukkah is concerned, the First Book of the Maccabees (which, in Judaism, is not considered part of the Hebrew Bible), describes how the Seleucid ruler Antiochos IV Epiphanes defiled the holy Temple on the 25th day of Kislev, in the 145th year, by sacrificing to an idol which had been set up on the altar there (I Maccabees 1: 54 – 59). Therefore, when the Maccabee army liberated Jerusalem three years later, they chose the anniversary of the heathen profanation – the 25th day of Kislev – to rededicate the altar (I Maccabees 4: 52 – 59).

As children, we were taught that Hanukkah celebrates the Miracle of the Cruse of Oil. When purifying the Temple prior to its rededication, only one cruse of oil was found which had not been desecrated by the Seleucids and their supporters. This was the olive oil used to light the Temple Menorah, which was supposed to burn continuously. But the amount found was sufficient for one day only. Miraculously, however, it lasted for 8 days, until new oil could be prepared.

However, the Miracle of the Oil is not mentioned in the Book of the Maccabees. In fact, the earliest mention of the Miracle is in the Babylonian Talmud, and dates to the 5th century CE. For comparison, I Maccabees, the earliest of the Books of the Maccabees, was written in Hebrew in the mid 2nd century BCE, but survives only in Greek translation. Since Antiochos IV reigned from 175 BCE to 164 BCE, this means the earliest extant mention of the Miracle of the Cruse of Oil dates to several centuries after the event.

Our guide posited that the sages who composed the Talmud, having witnessed the devastating effects of rebellion against Rome, were anxious not to encourage the kind of military adventurism they saw in the story of the Maccabees, and thus placed the emphasis on the divine miracle of the oil, rather than a military victory wrought by mortal men.

Thus it was until the rise of modern Zionism, which saw every reason to glorify the actions of the patriotic Maccabees and to restore the emphasis on human endeavour.

At all events, these days, both traditions are celebrated. Thus, upon entering the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, we were greeted by security officers/guides dressed as Maccabees, who waved us in the direction of the narrow streets where chanukiot (Hanukkah menorahs with 9 branches, rather than the 7-branched Menorah of the Temple) burned brightly in windows or outside the front doors of the houses.

There were also a lot of cats roaming the narrow streets and alleys.

Emerging from the residential area, we entered the central square of the renovated Jewish Quarter. The rebuilt Hurvah Synagogue rose up before us, blazing with light, and beside it, the replica of the Temple Menorah:

We turned next to the Cardo – the main street of Roman-Byzantine Jerusalem, now lined with shops, where glass-topped piers permit one to view the relics of the city’s defensive walls from the First Temple and Hasmonean periods, below the present pavement.

It was time now to visit the Christian Quarter, to taste the sights and sounds of Christmas.
We had already glimpsed our first Christmas tree in the courtyard of Christ Church, hard by the Jaffa Gate, where we entered the Old City. It is a church where I have often appeared with my choir, the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir – a fact which I happened to mention to our guide, and was then delighted to hear that he not only knew of our choir, and was well-acquainted with our conductor, but also conducted a choir of his own when not engaged in guiding tours around Jerusalem!

Here it was that our guide explained how the date of Christmas had probably been fixed to coincide with one or more ancient Roman festivals – either the Saturnalia (17 – 23 December), or the Sol Invictus (Unconquered Sun) festival, which was celebrated on the 25th of December and celebrated the rebirth of the sun after the Winter Solstice. Again, this fits with the idea of having a festival of light in the middle of winter, when it seems as if the sun has been dying with the shortening of the days, only to be reborn when the days start to grow longer again. Interwoven with this belief was the Christian belief that the birth of Jesus signified the coming of light and rebirth in a world made dark by ignorance and sin.

Now we wandered among the streets decorated with coloured lights, the shops selling Christmas paraphernalia, and the very popular Christmas market.

One enterprising resident of the Quarter, having lived for a while in the United States, and missing the manifestations of Christmas prevalent in the West, created his own “Santa’s House”, where people were lined up round the block to have their pictures taken with Santa Claus, or Baba Nuwil (Papa Noel) as he is known in Arabic.

By the way, in case you were wondering how Santa travels in this part of the world, singularly unsuited to reindeer – he rides a camel, of course!

In the middle of all the Christmas symbolism, we found one house which has been bought by a Jewish organisation, Ateret Cohanim, and turned into a yeshiva.

At which point, it seems appropriate to remember that there were times when openly displaying a menorah outside one’s door, or in the window, represented a genuine threat to one’s life and yet Jews were not deterred. Who can forget this image and what it represents?

At last, it was time to return to the Jaffa Gate, where our tour had begun and where it now ended:

I made my way back through the Mamilla shopping mall, where the cafes were full to overflowing and the shops all had chanukiot displayed in their windows. At the far end of the mall, I was just in time to witness the end of a candlelighting ceremony:

From there, I decided to walk down the road to the Jerusalem International YMCA, judging it would be easier to get a taxi from there – and also because they always have beautiful Christmas decorations, not to mention two Christmas trees, one outdoors and one indoors.

And since it has been all too long since I shared any music with my readers, here is a recording of my choir’s 2016 Christmas concert in the beautiful YMCA Auditorium, where we have appeared many times. Enjoy Benedetto Marcello’s (1686 – 1739) setting of the traditional Hanukkah anthem, Maoz Tsur, followed by selections from Handel’s Messiah.

What better way to end this virtual Hanukkah-Christmas tour of ours?

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Bible in Hand: The Altar of Mount Ebal

In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses, knowing he is destined to die east of the River Jordan, and not enter the Promised Land with the Children of Israel, whom he has led since leading them out of Egypt, takes his farewell with a long speech which comprises most of the Book, in which he reminds them of their history and, in order to ensure that it remains forever etched in their collective memory, charges them to build an altar and offer up sacrifices, and to write all the words of the Torah down on large, plastered stones, which they are to set up, on Mount Ebal, on the day that they cross the Jordan. (See Deuteronomy 27: 1 – 8).

According to the Book of Joshua (Chapter 8:30 – 35), Joshua did, in fact, carry out the charge Moses had laid upon him, but not, apparently, on the very day the Israelites crossed the River Jordan (as Moses commanded in Deuteronomy 27:2), since the building of the altar was preceded by the conquest of Jericho and of Ai (the latter, at the second attempt only, the first having failed as punishment for the taking of loot at Jericho by Achan the son of Carmi – see Joshua 7).

Be that as it may, the Bible is very clear that the altar – an altar of unhewn stones – was built on Mount Ebal, burnt offerings were offered up there, and Joshua wrote down on the stones a copy of the Law of Moses. So – where was Mount Ebal and what can be learned from the archaeological finds there? This was what we set out to discover earlier this month, when I joined another study tour with the Yad Ben-Zvi Institute, deep in Samaria.

In the Bible, Joshua is commanded to divide the people up and set half of them on Mount Gerizim, to pronounce blessings and the other half on Mount Ebal, to pronounce curses. The two mountains lie on either side of the city of Shechem, Ebal to the north, Gerizim to the south. Shechem itself is in the hands of the Palestinian Authority, as are the villages lying on either side of the main road leading to that city, but the road itself is in Israeli hands (Area C according to the Oslo Accords). On the way to the archaeological site, we drove through the town of Huwwara, which lies in Area B, meaning municipal matters and regular daily life is under the control of the Palestinian Authority, but security is in Israeli hands. I am not sure how good the security aspect is, since, minutes after we “escaped” from a seemingly interminable traffic jam near the northern exit from the town, there were reports of stones being thrown at Israeli vehicles using the road, which is lined on both sides by “Palestinian” shops and garages.
Perhaps it was just as well that our bus was bullet-proof – a fact which added several tons to its weight and thus, reduced its manoeuvrability.

In light of the security issues, it will come as no surprise to learn that civilians can only visit the Mount Ebal site with a military escort. In fact, we joined a convoy that was delivering supplies (including petrol) to the IDF base further up the mountain.

Mount Ebal, as I mentioned, overlooks the “Palestinian” city of Shechem. The Arabic name of the city is Nablus (a corruption of the Greek name Neapolis, or Flavia Neapolis – the name given to the city by the Roman emperor Flavius Vespasianus aka Vespasian). From the mountain, there are spectacular views of Shechem and the surrounding countryside, such as this one, taken from the bus:

And these:

Take note of the steep path in the foreground. I shall have more to say about it later on.

Leaving the bus, escorted by a couple of good-looking young servicemen 😉 , we began walking down what started off as a paved road (for the use of military vehicles, one assumes) and which eventually morphed into an unpaved dust track, towards the site of what the archaeologist Adam Zertal (whom we mentioned in connection with the Footprint Site last month) has identified as the site of Joshua’s Altar. This identification has been hotly disputed by other scholars (of course, it would be. Such is the nature of archaeological research, especially archaeological research in the Holy Land).

The ground was covered with early crocuses, of the kind known in Hebrew as Hanukkah Candles (נרות חנוכה – Nerot Hanukkah) because their white petals, with a golden heart, are reminiscent of white candles with a yellow flame.

Mingled among them were the delicate blossoms of meadow saffron, or stavanit (סתוונית) as it is called in Hebrew, no doubt from the Hebrew word for autumn (סתיו – stav), which is when it blooms:

As we drew closer to the site, even the natural rocks seemed to take on the appearance of mythological creatures, such as this one, centre foreground, which reminded me of the White Horses to be found on the chalk Downs of southern England:

Finally, we reached the site which Prof. Zertal identified as the altar. The excavations which took place during the 1980s uncovered scarabs, seals and animal bones dating to the early Israelite period (13th – 11th centuries BCE).
Note what appears to be the remains of a ramp leading up to the altar:

Here is the ramp seen from the side:

Here is the altar seen from the other side:

Still not convinced? Well, Prof. Zertal also discovered plaster plates at the site of the supposed altar. Remember the commandment given to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 27:2?

And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over the Jordan unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaster them with plaster.

And if that isn’t enough to make you think, remember the further charge laid upon the Israelites by Moses:

And it shall come to pass, when the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, that thou shalt set the blessing upon mount Gerizim, and the curse upon mount Ebal.

Among the archaeological finds excavated on Mt. Ebal in the “soil dump pile”, and only deciphered earlier this year, was a tiny lead tablet dated to the 13th century BCE, written in very early Hebrew text – and bearing a curse in the name of “Yahweh”.

Of course, like everything else surrounding the Mt. Ebal site, this, too, is disputed by many scholars, many of whom have a political axe to grind. I should add that last year, roadwork carried out by the Palestinian Authority (which has civil jurisdiction over the site, which lies in Area B) destroyed part of the site, by grinding stones from the exterior wall, as well as some from the site itself, into gravel to pave the road.

On our way back to the bus, we now had to walk up the steep path we had previously walked down. About half way along, I began to feel difficulty breathing and was forced to stop several times to catch my breath. Eventually, I started to feel faint and dizzy and had to take the arm of one of the young soldiers who were escorting us, until we reached their jeep. As it was still some way to go before our own bus was reached, one of them gave up his place in the jeep so that I could be driven to the bus – where I nearly passed out. That, however, happened only after I boarded the bus – not before taking a cordial farewell and thanking our military escort. And I wasn’t feeling so “out of it” that I couldn’t feel a faint pang of regret that I wasn’t 30 or 40 years younger 😉 .

We were supposed to be visiting the Biblical site of Shiloh next, but our guide decided that there would not be enough time to do the site justice, so instead, as we were passing the settlement of Havot Yair, and one of our group happened to have a cousin living there, our guide suggested we take in the sunset from the walkway and lookout point in the settlement, which overlooks the Nachal Qana Nature Reserve. This we did – and it was well worth it, as I think you will agree:

After admiring the view to our hearts’ content, we were invited to join the aforementioned cousin (whose name, alas, I have forgotten) in the settlement’s beautiful synagogue, which overlooks the lovely valley depicted above, and hear about her life in the Samarian heartland, from the earliest days of coping without electricity, to the present day.

Note that the Holy Ark, seen above, contains both Ashkenazi and Sephardic/Mizrahi-type Torah scrolls.

It was, by now, completely dark and it was a long way home, so, regretfully, and with a promise by our guide that we would visit Shiloh on a later trip in the series, we boarded the bus and set off homewards, back to Jerusalem.

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An Afternoon in Ein Karem

Like London, there are neighbourhoods in Jerusalem which still preserve their pastoral atmosphere – villages and moshavim which have been incorporated into the municipal boundaries but which have, so far, managed – often after protracted legal struggles, some of which are ongoing – to resist the attempts of City Hall to turn them into ordinary urban neighbourhoods. Alas, the current municipal administration cares little for beauty, and the assault on the environment continues unabated.

One such neighbourhood is the village of Ein Karem, in the south-west of the city, below the Hadassah Hospital campus. I had an afternoon free, and some points to use up by the end of the year, dating back to the cancellation of a couple of Yad Ben Zvi‘s full day tours two years ago during the first COVID lockdown, so one day last month, I took the time to renew my acquaintance with one of the most beautiful, and still mostly unspoilt, areas of the Capital.

Ein Karem is mostly known to Christian visitors as the supposed birthplace of John the Baptist and, as such, has a very high concentration of churches, convents and monasteries of all the major denominations.

Here, for example, is the Russian Orthodox “Gorny” (Mountainous, in Russian) or “Moskobiya” Convent – which we did not have time to visit.

We did visit two of them – the Catholic monastery of St. John ba-Harim (Hebrew for “in the Mountains”) and the Catholic Convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion. Since the churches all close to visitors at 5pm, according to our guide, we had to visit them first.

The former really does have the Hebrew name written in Latin characters over its gateway:

Our guide explained to the all-Jewish group, the ways in which one can identify which sites belong to the various Christian denomination. In this case, the most obvious giveaway is the official flag of the Franciscan Order’s Custody of the Holy Land flying over the gateway, bearing the symbol of a large cross, with four smaller crosses, one in each corner, which is also carved into the stone lintel above the gates.

In the courtyard are many panels, donated by organizations all over the world, containing the Song of Zechariah (Luke 1:67 – 79) in many languages. This, as our guide explained, was the song of praise uttered by John’s father, who had been mute since expressing his scepticism when informed by the Angel Gabriel that his elderly wife Elizabeth would bear him a child, and who only regained his voice after writing at his son’s circumcision ceremony (for he could not speak) that the infant was to be called John, as had been prophesied:

The church itself is under restoration (and has been, it seems, for several years). It was possible, however, to visit the Crypt beneath the altar which is said to be the actual site of the birth of John the Baptist:

The second church we visited was the Convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, an Order founded by the Ratisbonne brothers, Theodore and Alphonse, who were Jewish by birth but converted to Christianity and who saw it as their mission to convert other Jews to Christianity. We were there to meet Sister Régine, a 101-year-old Jewish-born nun from Bulgaria. She told us her story of how she and her family escaped the Holocaust, how they travelled on a ship that was wrecked off the coast of Turkey in a storm, how her mother and brother drowned, while she and her father were rescued and Régine found her way to a kibbutz. Since, in Bulgaria, she had been educated at a school run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, the nuns back in Bulgaria, hearing what had happened to their former student, sent word to their community in what was then known as Palestine, and they offered to take care of her and invited her to Jerusalem. Eventually, she converted to Christianity and joined the Order. She did not explain why – but, after Sister Régine left, our guide told us that he had had many talks with her, and that, although she would not say so, her decision was, in a great part, made in anger at God for allowing the Holocaust to happen. I don’t really see the logic here. Jews who had converted to Christianity were not exempt from the Nazi race laws, after all. But who am I to judge? I know there were Jews who completely lost their faith in God in the wake of the Holocaust, and there were others who emerged from that Hell with their faith strengthened. We who were not there, who did not endure its horrors, have no right to judge.

By the way, the convent church is where, years ago, my choir made our first professional recording, for the disc The Seventh Gate. Unlike most Roman Catholic churches, it is minimalistic in style, with a very simple, almost austere interior. Note, for example, this frieze showing the Stations of the Cross:

The images look almost like ancient cave paintings, don’t they?

By the time we had concluded our visit in the convent, it was already dark and we wandered around the largely unlit lanes and alleyways of the village until we came to the Hotel Alegra.

This boutique hotel, a favourite with couples seeking a romantic getaway, is located in an old Arab house that used to be known as “The House of the Jewess” – and here is the bitter-sweet Romeo and Juliet story behind the name.

Once upon a time, about a hundred years ago, in the village of Ein Karem, lived a young man called Jaber Rahil, the eldest son of a wealthy and respected Christian Arab family. One day, Jaber rode on his white horse to Jerusalem, and there, he espied a group of young Jewish girls. His eye was immediately drawn to one in particular. Her name was Alegra Bello, daughter of a prominent Sephardic Jewish family. In fact, her father was the Chief Undertaker of the Jerusalem Sephardic community.
Nor did the dashing young horseman go unnoticed by Alegra. The two began to meet secretly, but it was not long before news of the affair reached the ears of their families – both of whom strenuously objected to such a scandalous relationship.

But young love brooks no obstacles and one day, the pair simply vanished. They had eloped to Bethlehem, where Alegra converted to Christianity in order to wed her beloved.

It was only several months later that news of their marriage reached the ears of their families, who turned their backs on the wayward pair. Indeed, Alegra’s father went so far as to mourn her as dead and to sit shiva for her, in accordance with the Jewish custom. Jaber’s father eventually came round, after Alegra gave birth to her first-born son, Youssef, who was, after all, his grandchild. Moreover, she had accepted their faith and converted to Christianity. According to one story, he declared that he would not have his grandson grow up in poverty, and built a house for the young couple in Ein Karem. Another version of the story says that it was Jaber himself who built the house for his bride, and that their first child was born there. Whatever the truth of the story, the house came to be known as “The House of the Jewess”.

When, years later, Alegra heard that her father had died, she took her children to Jerusalem to visit her family, but although her mother initially embraced her, she told her that her father had declared Alegra was never again to be admitted to the house – and sent her away. And in 1948, during Israel’s War of Independence, the Arab inhabitants of Ein Karem fled to Jordan – among them, the Rahil family, including Alegra and her children.

Alegra never saw her Jewish family again, but our guide told us that after the Six Day War, contact was re-established by descendants of the two families.

The house in Ein Karem where Alegra lived with her husband and children changed hands – and purpose – several times, at one point serving as a museum, until it was converted to a hotel some ten or twelve years ago.

Our final visit in this enchanting neighbourhood was to the home of a friend of our guide – the ceramicist Ruth Havilio, who lives and works in a renovated Arab house in the heart of Ein Karem, so that we could get an idea of what a traditional Arab village house looks like from within.

As is customary in Arab villages, the house is intended for the dwelling of the extended family, and has several wings built around a small central courtyard. All around the house and courtyard were flowers, including late-blooming roses (in November!) and flowers spilled out of huge earthenware pots all along the stairways and balconies.

Most of these old houses also had a section on the ground floor where domestic animals, such as chickens and goats were kept, and for use as storerooms. Of course, when such houses are renovated – as in this case – such spaces are converted to other uses.

Ruth’s studio was on the top floor of one of the wings:

It was by now almost 8pm. The tour had already lasted an hour longer than planned. With a last, lingering look across the valley to central Jerusalem, we were obliged to drag ourselves away and head for home.

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The Death Merchants

I had intended, today, to finish the post I was working on, about an afternoon walking tour in one of Jerusalem’s loveliest neighbourhoods. But yesterday, two deadly bomb attacks by “Palestinian” terrorists drove all thoughts of the beauty of Ein Karem from my head, and, although I have mostly refrained from writing about the many terror attacks that the “Palestinians” have carried out over the past few months, preferring to escape into the world of archaeology, nature, and music, I can no longer keep silent.

This is 15-year-old Aryeh Schupak, a yeshiva student who held both Israeli and Canadian citizenship (otherwise, I doubt the Canadian government would have so much as taken notice of his vile murder, let alone condemn it). He and his fellow-student Elchanan Biton were on their way to morning classes at the yeshiva (Jewish religious seminary) where they both studied when, just before 7 o’clock yesterday morning, a massive explosion which was apparently remotely detonated near the bus stops at the Givat Shaul exit from Jerusalem, mortally wounded him, and a man in his 40s, and severely wounded Elchanan and many others. Aryeh was pronounced dead on his arrival at the Sha’arei Zedek Medical Centre. Of the 39 wounded, two are still in serious condition and one, the man in his 40s mentioned above, is fighting for his life*.

Less than half an hour later, another huge explosion rocked the bus stops at the Ramot Junction in north Jerusalem. This bomb was also detonated remotely. Both explosive devices, which forensic experts say were prepared to professional standards, were filled with nails and ball-bearings to maximise injuries. That is how despicable are our enemies, who worship death and who love it even more, the greater the suffering they can inflict on their victims! The spawn of Satan responsible for the attacks have not yet been caught and it is highly possible that they have more such vile actions planned for the near future. Intelligence experts say the attacks were well-planned, by people who know Jerusalem well and who may, actually, be “Palestinians” from east Jerusalem.

In another serious incident, Tiran Fero, an Israeli Druze from Daliyat el-Karmel, who would have celebrated his 18th-birthday today, November 24th, was critically injured on Tuesday afternoon in a traffic accident near the “Palestinian” town of Jenin. He was therefore taken to the hospital in that city, while his companion, who was also injured, had the good fortune to be evacuated to an Israeli hospital. Tiran’s injuries were so severe, he had to be placed on life support. But armed “Palestinians” forced their way into the hospital, disconnected the teenager from the instruments that were keeping him alive, and in so doing, ensured his death – and then snatched the body, before the horrified gaze of his father and uncle, who had rushed there to be with him. There have been claims that he had already been pronounced dead by the hospital, but his uncle and father, who were at his bedside, and who hid in order to avoid being kidnapped, or murdered, by the attackers, have stated categorically that Tiran was still alive when he was abducted. For long hours, it was not certain who had actually abducted the boy (or snatched the body), but the Al-Aqsa Martys Brigades claimed responsibility and demanded a “prisoner exchange” in return for restoring Tiran’s body to his family. After negotiations in which Israel reportedly threatened to take military action, Tiran’s family nobly requested that not one Israeli soldier be endangered in order to bring their son home and armed Druze youths demonstrated in front of the Daliyat el-Karmel Town Hall, threatening that if the body was not returned by this morning, they themselves would go to Jenin and bring their brother home, by whatever means necessary, the body was returned and the funeral is scheduled for this afternoon.

Tiran Fero

How despicable our enemies are, to murder a teenager lying helpless in his hospital bed, and then use his body for blackmail and extortion!

And these are the people with whom we are expected to make peace.

*UPDATE: On Shabbat, November 26th, Tadasa Tashume Ben Ma’ada, an oleh (immigrant) from Ethiopia, succumbed to his wounds sustained in the bombing, becoming the second fatality of the terror attack.

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Touring With the Bible: The Jordan Valley In the Footsteps of Joshua, Elijah – and John the Baptist

I have never been fond of Autumn, the saddest of seasons. We put the clocks back the night between 29 – 30th October, and so it is now dark by 5:30 pm. I find that singularly depressing.

On the other hand, the month of November is a month of new beginnings. Not the least of these was the General Election on the 1st of the month. The Israeli electorate seems to have made its feelings very clear, paving the way for the return to power of former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the losing side.

Last week saw the opening of the Israeli Opera 2022/23 season, with Offenbach’s final opera, Les Contes d’Hoffman, and this week marked the start of two new courses for which I have signed up with the Open University – one on mysticism in Judaism and one on art.

November also saw the beginning of a new series of hiking tours with Yad Ben Zvi – renewing a tradition I had more or less given up in the wake of the COVID pandemic.
This series of tours is called “With the Bible in One’s Hand”, and it got off to a cracking start with a tour in the Jordan Valley, starting with a visit to a lookout point known as the Dead Sea Balcony. Situated in the religious Jewish settlement of Mitzpe Yericho, it offers a stunning view over the Jordan Valley, Jericho and (on a clear day) the northern Dead Sea. I could not see the Dead Sea but we could, and did, enjoy some spectacular views of Jericho and its surroundings, as we discussed the story of Joshua, the Israelite spies and Rahab the harlot and tried to envisage events in the context of the region’s topography.

The Book of Joshua (Chapter 2) tells us that after the death of Moses and the end of the 30 days of mourning, Joshua sent two spies across the Jordan to spy out the land. They came to Jericho, the nearest big city, and the first thing they did was head for the house of Rahab the harlot (one wonders why). It seems they weren’t very good spies, because their presence – and whereabouts – were discovered almost immediately, and the King of Jericho sent his police to Rahab’s house, to demand that the spies be handed over. Rahab, however, not only hid the spies, but sent the King’s men off on a wild goose chase, all the way to the Jordan fords. She then gave the spies information about the low morale in Jericho and the other Canaanite cities, and let them out of the city through a window (her house being situated on the city wall) – not before extracting a promise from them to save her family and herself when the expected Israelite attack came, in return for her kindness. She also told them where to hide for the next three days, until the pursuers returned,

From our viewpoint on the Dead Sea Balcony, we could see a series of caves in the mountain opposite – a mountain known in Arabic as Jebel Quruntul, overlooking the town of Jericho which lies to the east. It was probably here that the spies hid, watching the unsuccessful search by the men from Jericho, and probably able to overhear their pursuers, learn the makeup of their military units, and even their passwords. Eventually, the soldiers gave up the search, no doubt assuming that the Israelite spies had already managed to re-cross the Jordan and were long gone. Only now did the spies return to the Israelite encampment at Shittim.

Jebel Quruntul was the location of a Seleucid, and later, a Maccabean fortress called Dok, and was the site of the assassination of Shimon (Simon), the brother of Judah the Maccabee (Judas Maccabaeus), together with two of his sons, by his own son-in-law, Ptolemy, the Seleucid governor of Jericho, at a feast (Game of Thrones, anyone?)

In one of the Christian traditions, a cave on Jebel Quruntul is supposed to be the site where Jesus fasted for forty days and nights following his baptism by John the Baptist and the mountain itself is said to be the high mountain where the Devil tried to tempt him. The forty day fast led to the mountain being named Mount Quarantine – a name which is preserved in the Arabic name, Jebel Quruntul.

During World War 2, the area was the scene of another spy drama, known as Operation Atlas. In October 1944, five German spies belonging to the Waffen SS were parachuted into the area of Wadi Qelt, near Jericho. Three of them were members of the German Templer movement. The other two were Palestinian Arabs closely aligned with the Nazi-supporting Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el-Husseini. Their intention was to establish an intelligence-gathering base in Mandatory Palestine, to recruit and arm anti-British Palestinian Arabs, buying their support with gold, and to foment tensions between Jews and Arabs, thus creating problems for the British Mandatory authorities and forcing them to divert military resources which were badly needed elsewhere. Some researchers believe that the mission also included a plan to poison the drinking water resources of the residents of Tel Aviv (poison was found in the cargo boxes, although some claim it was intended to poison Arab “collaborators” with the British). Fortunately, none of this came about, as the British authorities discovered the scattered boxes of supplies (including weapons, explosives, radio equipment and money), and deduced that an enemy operation was in progress. Two of the Germans and one of the Arabs, hid in a cave in Wadi Qelt – perhaps the same cave used by the Israelite spies, who can say? – and were captured nine days later. The other two parachutists were not caught and the search for them was eventually called off.

From the Dead Sea Balcony, it was just a short drive to Qasr el-Yahud, (the Tower of the Jews) – traditional site of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. Qasr el-Yahud is, strictly speaking, the Arabic name of the old Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. John the Baptist which was closed down in the 1970s, but recently reopened. There are several other monasteries of various Christian denominations in the area, leading to the region being nicknamed “The Land of the Monasteries”.

The site is believed to be the place where the Israelites crossed over the River Jordan. There are, in fact, several places in the vicinity of Jericho where the water is fairly shallow and the river is narrow enough to make a crossing feasible. On the day of our visit, the waters were sluggish and it was hard to believe that there would have been any need for the miracle described in Joshua 3:14 – 17, when God parted the waters of the raging river, just as he parted the waters of the Red Sea. But our visit took place at the very beginning of autumn, after many months during which no rain falls. The crossing of the Israelites took place on the 10th day of Nissan, just before Pessach (Passover), when the river would have been swollen by the winter rains. Even today, people can be swept away and drowned when the Jordan is in flood. This actually happened, about twenty years ago, to a former member of my choir.

The day of our visit, however, was hot and sunny and the river was, as I said, slow-moving and posed no threat to the parties of Christian pilgrims who had gathered on its banks to relive the baptism of Jesus:

John the Baptist no doubt chose this region because he saw himself as the spiritual heir of Elijah the Prophet, who is believed to have ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot in this same spot, as described in II Kings 2.

The description of the Israelite Crossing in Joshua 3, mentions the city of Adam – identified by most scholars as Tell A-Damiya, a nearby archaeological site. The Adam Bridge (Jisr-A-Damiya), the oldest of the Jordan Valley bridges, was originally built in 1266 by the Mamluk ruler Baybars. The stone bridge was still in existence at the beginning of the 20th century, but was no longer in use, as the River Jordan had changed course slightly, leaving the bridge high and dry. During the period of the British Mandate, a new bridge was constructed, which was blown up by the Palmach in the operation known as “the Night of the Bridges”. Another new bridge was built nearby, which was bombed by the IDF during the Six Day War. It was replaced in January 1968 with a Bailey Bridge and was in intermittent use until the 1990s, when its functions were transferred to the Allenby Bridge. Now the bridge is out of bounds to civilians. We required a special permit from the IDF to visit the site.

To get a proper view of the bridge itself, we had to make our way up to an IDF lookout post, reached by a path delineated by barbed wire, taking care not to step off it as it lay in the middle of a minefield. In the shrubbery bordering the path, we caught sight of an Asian Green Bee-Eater, or, as it is known in Hebrew, a shrakrak gamadi (שרקרק גמדי). I had to be very quick off the mark to catch it with my lens:

From the lookout point, we could enjoy a much clearer view of the damaged bridge:

And the views over the Jordan Valley were spectacular:

We  even caught a glimpse of a Jordanian soldier, patrolling his side of the Bridge:

While we were at the lookout post, the weather which had been hot and sunny, changed. The sky clouded over, some (not very heavy) rain fell and we could hear the roll of distant thunder.

This had more or less cleared up by the time we arrived at our final port of call, the so-called “Footprint Site”, so called because, seen from the air, its outline of rough-hewn stones resembles a human footprint in a sandal.

Nobody knows exactly what its purpose was although it has been suggested that this was the site of Gilgal, the place mentioned several times in the Book of Joshua as the first encampment of the Israelites after crossing the River Jordan (see Joshua 4:19, where it is described as being on the eastern border of Jericho).

In the centre of the irregularly shaped site is a ramp leading to what, at first glance, appears to be an altar – although it does not meet the requirements of an Israelite altar, whose dimensions are clearly delineated in the Torah. Moreover, although animal bones were found there (but NOT the bones of pigs or other forbidden animals), there were far fewer than one might expect had the place served as an Israelite altar for many generations. The bones, and pottery shards unearthed here, indicate a site dating back to the 13th century BCE, which is when the Children of Israel would have entered the Land of Canaan, so from the point of view of the timeline, this place is certainly suitable for identification as the site of Gilgal.

Our guide demonstrated to us that if thousands of people were to ascend the steps of the rocky basin which partly surrounds the site, a person standing below on the ramp can be clearly heard by those seated above, as in an ancient Greek theatre. It has therefore been suggested that this might have been the place where Joshua spoke to the Children of Israel after they crossed the River Jordan, as described in Joshua 4:21.

There is a clearly delineated, paved pathway around the “altar”, and some researchers have suggested that priests, or pilgrims, might have encircled the altar as part of a religious ceremony. It has even been suggested that the word chag (חג – festival, holy day) derives from the word לחוג (lachug – to circle), and that the ancient Hebrew term for making a pilgrimage (לעלות לרגל – la’alot laregel – To Ascend to the Foot), as well as the term used for the three pilgrimage festivals, Pessach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles) – Shalosh Regalim (שלוש רגלים) which literally means “the Three Feet” (or, as we used to call them, the Three “Foot” festivals), actually dates back to a time before the existence of Solomon’s Temple, or even of the Sanctuary at Shiloh, when the Israelites would literally make a pilgrimage to “the Foot” (this one, near Moshav Argaman, or one of four others excavated by the archaeologist Prof. Adam Zertal), and encircle it in solemn procession. By the way, of the three pilgrimage festivals, the one which is often referred to simply as chag in the ancient Jewish sources is Sukkot – a festival which is, to this day, marked by carrying the Four Species in a circle around the synagogue! Coincidence?

And now to the question, why would the Israelites build a pilgrimage site shaped like a human foot?

Well, if the site really is the place where the Israelites first encamped after crossing the Jordan, the clue might lie in the symbolism. In Deuteronomy 11:24, God promises the Children of Israel:
Every place whereon the sole of your foot shall tread shall be yours: from the wilderness, and Lebanon, from the river, the river Euphrates, even unto the hinder sea shall be your border.”
This promise is reiterated in Joshua 1:3 –
Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, to you have I given it, as I spoke unto Moses.”

The symbolism of the placing of one’s foot on a certain piece of land to mark one’s ownership lasted throughout the generations. The placing of the foot is not only a legal act, but also reflects God’s dominion, as we see in Ezekiel 43:7 – “this is the place of My throne, and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel for ever…”

By now, the sun was starting to set and it was time to head for home. I will leave you then, with one last picture of this mysterious site, little known outside of Israel (and scarcely visited even by Israelis, except in the framework of specialised courses such as this one) – and an invitation to next month’s tour, which will take us to Mount Ebal (another site discovered by Prof. Zertal) and Shiloh.

Until then – להתראות (Lehitra’ot).

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A New Year Is Just Around The Corner

Shame on me, allowing almost three months to pass without writing about anything. And now, lo and behold – Rosh Hashana is less than a fortnight away, the children are all back at school (the almost “traditional” teachers’ strike having been averted – as usual – at the last minute), choir rehearsals have started again (we are working on Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, which it has long been an ambition of mine to sing), and earlier this month, I took part in an afternoon walking tour with Yad Ben Zvi – my first in a very, very long time (thanks to the impact of COVID-19).

This tour was (for me) a very local tour, from the old Ottoman Railway Station (now converted into a restaurant and cafe quarter), to the Bible Hill opposite (so called because Ben Gurion wanted to open a Bible Institute on the hill but now, best known for the wildflowers that cover it in spring and autumn, especially the squills which bloom there at the end of the summer and are known as harbingers of the Fall), past the Khan Theatre, taking in St. Andrew’s Scottish Church with its rather tenuous connection to Robert the Bruce, an ancient necropolis dating back to the First Temple period, and ending with a monument to peace made of the debris of war.

Opposite the old Railway Station is a piece of street art, which many people pass by without noticing, except maybe to ask themselves, why anyone would park a car in such an awkward place.

Actually. whenever I see this statue, the work of the sculptor and painter Gavriel Klasmer, I am reminded of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince and the painting of the boa constrictor digesting an elephant, which the undiscerning mistake for a picture of a hat.

A few yards further on is a drinking fountain, donated as a parting gift to the people of Jerusalem by General Sir Arthur Grenfell Wauchope, who served as the British High Commissioner for Palestine between 1931 – 1938.

By the way – it doesn’t work!

Not much further along the road is the Khan Theatre, which I have always been given to understand to have been originally built in the Ottoman Turkish period as a caravanserai – a roadside inn where caravan travellers could rest overnight on their way to Jerusalem in the days when the city gates were closed at sunset. However, it appears there is some disagreement about that. Even the Jerusalem Municipality seems to be unable to make up its mind about the origins of the Khan, which would explain the existence of not one, but TWO plaques, one at each side of the entrance. One of them claims that the building dates to the Mamluk period (1250 – 1517 C.E.):

The other dates the building to 1853 and claims it originally served as a silk factory, before being converted to a hostel for Christian and Jewish pilgrims on their way to Hebron and Bethlehem.

The latter story does seem more likely, as the present building does not bear the distinguishing characteristics of Mamluk architecture as found elsewhere in Jerusalem, such as alternating layers of different coloured bricks, for example. Moreover, the date, 1853, is very specific indeed.
I imagine that there are elements of truth in both stories and it is entirely possible that the present building (which was, itself, renovated in the late 1960s and early 1970s) was built on the site of a pre-existing caravanserai.
Nowadays, as I already mentioned, the building complex houses the Khan Theatre repertory company and serves as the venue for various cultural events in its courtyard and restaurant cafe.

Just beyond the Khan, passing an old stone building which, until quite recently, housed the British Consulate in Jerusalem (well, in western Jerusalem, at least), is the turn-off to what is known to every Jerusalemite as “the Scottish Church” – St. Andrew’s, where I have appeared many times with my choir, the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir. The church, also known as the Scots Memorial Church, was built as a memorial to the Scottish soldiers killed in the region while fighting the Ottoman Turks during World War I. Designed by the British architect Clifford Holliday, the foundation stone was laid on the 7th of May 1927 by Field-Marshal Lord Allenby himself and the church opened its doors in 1930.
Built on a rocky outcrop high above the Hinnom Valley, the church and adjoining hospice, designed to evoke a Highland castle and keep, enjoy a magnificent view of the Old City.

One of the most poignant legends associated with the church is connected to the Scottish king, Robert the Bruce. The story goes that the king had taken a vow to undertake a crusade to fight the “Saracens” in the Holy Land. As he had failed to fulfil that vow, on his deathbed, he instructed that after he died, his heart was to be removed from his body and brought to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Accordingly, after his death on the 7th of June, 1329, his heart was removed and placed in a silver casket, which was entrusted to Sir James Douglas (Black Douglas). The latter, for some reason, was sidetracked to Spain where he joined a campaign against the Moorish kingdom of Granada, in the course of which, he was killed. King Robert’s heart was found and brought back to Scotland, where it was buried at Melrose Abbey, but the Abbey was sacked during the Reformation and later fell into complete disrepair. Over the years, the King’s heart was lost and found and then lost again – and not found again until 1996. It was finally reburied in Melrose Abbey, in 1998. For this reason, there is a plaque set in the floor of St. Andrew’s Church, commemorating the Scottish king’s pious wish for his heart to be buried in Jerusalem – reminding me, at any rate, of the poem by Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi: “My heart is in the East, Whilst I am in the utmost West”.

Adjoining the church is the guesthouse, which contains some beautiful examples of Armenian ceramics created by the artist David Ohanessian, whose tiles also decorate other Jerusalem landmarks, such as the Rockefeller Museum, and the Jerusalem House of Quality:

Ohanessian, a Turkish-born Armenian, survived the genocide wreaked by the Turks on his people and came to Jerusalem as an almost penniless refugee in 1918, to work on the restitution of the tiles of the Dome of the Rock. He founded the Dome of the Rock Tiles ceramic workshop in the Old City’s Via Dolorosa and almost single-handedly, created the Jerusalem Armenian school of ceramics, on the basis of Turkish Ottoman ceramics.

The church and guesthouse are surrounded by a beautiful and well-kept garden, in which one can find the graves of two dogs:

Popular legend has it that these are the graves of two dogs that fought with the Scots troops in the battle for Jerusalem, but according to our guide, they were actually the faithful pets of the guesthouse’s House Mother. Since one of the tombstones states that the dog known (fittingly) as Bruce was born in 1942, this seems much more likely.

Sandwiched between St. Andrew’s Church and the Menachem Begin Heritage Centre lies the small, but fascinating, Ketef Hinnom Archaeological Park, housing a network of tombs from the First Temple period. During that time, it was customary to place the dead on stone benches hewn around the walls of the burial cave. The head would repose in a hollowed out space, as if on a pillow. After about a year, when it could be assumed that the flesh had decomposed, the bare bones would be collected and placed in a chamber hewn under the “bench”, where they would rest with the bones of family members who had gone before. Hence the expression “he was gathered unto his fathers”.

Seven family tombs were discovered here in the 1970’s, containing the bones of 95 people, obviously people of means, to judge by the objects found with them. The latter were discovered almost accidentally, by a 13-year-old boy. They included pottery, coins and jewellery. One of the most important finds was a pair of silver amulets in the form of scrolls. These were so fragile, it took several years before it was possible to open the tiny scrolls without damaging them. When they were finally opened, they were found to be inscribed with the words of the Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6: 23 – 27), still recited by Jews today. Dating back to the 6th century BCE, they pre-date the Dead Sea Scrolls by several hundred years and are the oldest Hebrew texts known to be in existence. They are on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Leaving the archaeological park by the back gate, we now ascended the Bible Hill as the sun slowly sank behind us.

From the ridge, on a clear day, one can see far out into the Judaean Desert. But it was starting to get dark, so we descended the hill on its eastern side and proceeded to the Jerusalem House of Quality.

The building which, nowadays, serves as a centre for showcasing art and artists, was originally built as a wing of St. John’s Eye Hospital – which explains why the entrance courtyard is covered with the coats of arms of Knights of the Order of St. John (the Hospitallers), and why the Cross of the Order (the famous “Maltese” Cross) features prominently among its decorative features:

Like the Scottish Church described above, this building was also designed by the British architect Clifford Holliday – and like the Scottish Church, here too can be seen fine examples of David Ohanessian’s Armenian ceramics:

After an all-to-short twenty minute period to enjoy the more modern art and crafts displayed in the building, it was time for our last stop. Between the Jerusalem House of Quality and the Menachem Begin Heritage Centre is a monument to peace designed by the controversial Israeli painter and sculptor Yigael Tumarkin. and made out of pieces of broken weapons:

You could not say more clearly: “And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks” – and that verse is, indeed, engraved on the pillar.

Nearby, reminiscent of the famous handprints in the Hollywood Boulevard, are the handprints of those who contributed to the cost of erecting the monument, the largest being that of Jerusalem’s legendary mayor, Teddy Kollek:

With that, our tour ended. I hope you have enjoyed reliving it with me.



I started writing this article a week ago today, and before I was even half way through, I was stunned to hear the news of the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. She was Queen before I was born and I always imagined her living to be 100 at least, like her mother – but it was not to be. I left England 48 years ago, but for me, she will always be THE Queen. Talking about King Charles III still feels surreal to me. I suddenly feel very old. It sounds trite but an era has, indeed, ended – the Second Elizabethan Age.
Rest in Peace, Your Majesty. You’ve earned it.

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