HOT as Hell

A few months ago, I upgraded my TV and Internet package with HOT, formerly a cable TV company, whose client I have been since cable TV arrived in Jerusalem, but now, a communications giant whose tentacles encompass not just TV, but also the internet, mobile phones and heaven knows what else.

Their customer service is a byword for incompetence and has been the subject of more than one court case (which they have lost).

Lured by the promise of a much faster internet connection, access to all their TV channels except for the “adult” channels and their Premium sports channels (whatever that means, since, even with only “regular” sports channels, I have more than enough – at least half a dozen), a new Wi-Fi modem (I hadn’t had Wi-Fi before, and hadn’t really needed it, since I have only one computer, but it has proved useful, since I can now surf with my smartphone, without cutting into the limited internet package I have with the mobile phone company) and a free telephone attached to the modem, all for a monthly fee of 315 NIS (only 30 NIS more than I was paying already), I decided to take up their offer for “the Triple”.

Frankly, I haven’t felt any difference in the speed of the connection. Moreover, the Wi-Fi is very unstable. Most worrying of all, I felt the modem was getting very overheated. At least, it felt very hot (no pun intended) to me.

So I called HOT Customer Services.
They have one of those ghastly automatic call-routing services, which tell you your place in the queue and then suggest you leave your number (if it’s not the one from which you are calling) and they will call you back.

As my place in the queue was about seven or eight, I decided to let them call me back. Big mistake. I would have been able to speak to a Customer Service representative much faster if I had stayed on the line. It took about three hours before someone identifying himself as Abdullah called me back (HOT is, at least, an Equal Opportunity Employer, I will say that for them). Abdullah was from Customer Service and, after hearing what I had to say, put me through to someone called Adir, from Sales. Adir handed me over to David who claimed that he didn’t work for HOT, but for HOTNET, a subsidiary company and that I needed the Technical Service (I could have told him that!). I was then handed over to someone who identified himself as “Ronny from Hidra’s team”. Once again, I explained my problem(s) and he promised me that “someone from the Technical Department” would call me back.

I have to admit, he was as good as his word. Matan from the Technical Department did indeed call me back – at 6 pm the following day!
When I had explained my problems to Matan, he opined that the overheating of the modem was due to the fact that I turn it on and off too often. I switch it on first thing in the morning, and switch it off last thing at night and when I go out because (a) it is not needed at those times and (b) the Electricity Company advises switching off (and even unplugging) electrical devices which are not going to be used for a long time. Besides which, I have always been taught that leaving on electrical devices which are not in use increases the risk of fire.

Be that as it may, Matan promised to send a technician round the following week to install a new modem.  We settled on Monday, between 9 am and 12 noon.
Shortly after that, I received an email from HOT which I was unable to read, because the letters appeared as gibberish, as well as an SMS to my mobile phone, informing me that I would be visited the following Tuesday by a FedEx courier, who would bring me a new modem, which I was required to install myself!
Furious, I tried to message them back, but this proved to be impossible, so I dashed off an email pointing out that they had made a mistake – well, a number of mistakes, in fact. To my annoyance, I received a return email, thanking me for my email and informing me that someone would get back to me within 3 working days!

That would have been too late, so I phoned them again, and once again, went through seven gates of hell before getting hold of someone who could help me. This was Chaim (from Ghanim’s team). Chaim,  although he brought forward the visit of the technician, who would indeed bring and install a new HOTBOX modem, could not fit me in in the morning, so I was forced to settle for the early afternoon slot, between 1 – 3 pm.

Naturally, a confirmation email arrived shortly afterwards, at which point I discovered that my address was wrongly registered with HOT!

Once again, I dashed off an email and once again, I received a standard reply telling me that someone would contact me within three working days.

I decided not to rise to the bait and phone them, especially as the confirmation email had stressed that the technician would contact me by phone shortly before arriving, in order to make sure that someone was actually at home and I would then be able to explain that I actually lived next door to the address he had been given. In any case, the following day, I received yet another email from them, thanking me for my mail and informing me that the correct address had now been noted in the instructions to the technician.

At about 8.45 on Monday morning, just as I was sitting down to breakfast, the phone rang. It was the technician – the one who was supposed to be coming between 1-3 pm. He happened to be in the neighbourhood, he said, so would it be okay if he came round sometime within the next 10 minutes?!

Despite the fact that I now had to bolt down my breakfast, I said yes. And he came – with the new modem. And he installed it. And he, too, explained that I should leave the modem on all the time, even though, in his opinion, the modem was not overheating. The heat, he said, was quite normal. And he showed me how to properly check my internet connection speed. And he explained that the fluctuations in the Wi-Fi (which, as I said,  I use mostly for surfing with my smartphone) depend on where I am in the apartment and on how many walls and what kind, lie between my mobile device and the modem. And he also helped to set up my smart TV to receive Wi-Fi (I had already figured it out, but it went much faster with his help).

A few days later, I received an SMS from HOT, asking for customer feedback. There were only about four questions. Three of these related to the service provided by the HOT technician.
Let me re-phrase that😉
Three questions related to the service provided by the technician from HOT – had he been punctual, etc.
One question alone called for me to give a general rating to the service I had received. Since, on a scale of 1 to 10, I would have awarded something like minus 7, and since there was no place for a detailed description of what exactly had been unsatisfactory – and I did not want them to think I had any complaints about the technician, who had been professional, friendly and courteous – I ignored the request for feedback.

I should just mention that, the evening before the technician’s visit, there had been a problem with the HOT television service. There was no signal whatsoever. When I phoned them, I got a recorded message to the effect that they had detected a general problem in my street, and that their technicians were working to fix it. If I wished, they would send an SMS as soon as the problem was solved. I did wish. A few hours later, and long after the programme I had wanted to watch had ended, I switched on the TV again – just in case. My instinct proved sound. Services had been restored. It was not until the following morning, however, that I received the promised SMS informing me of the fact!

And, just in case you were wondering – the modem is still overheating, the Wi-Fi connection is still unstable and the Internet download speed is still lower than promised.

 

Posted in Computers and Internet, Daily Life, Humour, Modern Living, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 18 Comments

Charms To Soothe A Savage Breast

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.”

William Congreve (1670-1729)
From The Mourning Bride (1697)

It has been a pretty horrible few weeks since my last post – what with massacres at the airport in Istanbul, Turkey, and  in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida and at the Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, France, and at the Olympia shopping mall in Munich, Germany – not to mention the knife and axe attacks carried out (by Afghan and Syrian “refugees”) in Würzburg and in Reutlingen, Germany, and, only the day before yesterday, the brutal murder of an 85-year-old priest as he was celebrating Mass in his own church in the French town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray  by Islamic terrorists.

I do not believe, for one moment, that music has the power to soothe the breasts of the savages who carried out these attacks. Indeed, in their case, the common misquotation, which substitutes the words “savage beast” for “savage breast”, would probably be more appropriate, but even then, I doubt the power of music to soothe (in fact, I believe the adherents of the Islamic State actually consider music to be “un-Islamic” – and I have written, in the past, about the attitude of Hamas to musicians).

It may, however, provide a brief respite for the troubled hearts of those  who have to suffer the malice of these fiends. To that end, I will (finally!) fulfil my promise and tell you all about my choir’s musical activities over the past couple of months, starting with a “Singalong” performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” at the beginning of June – not really a project of my choir, but rather of one of our members, baritone Louis Sachs, who took the role of Major-General Stanley and who recruited members of the choir, as well as other musical acquaintances, for a most enjoyable evening at a community centre in Jerusalem’s picturesque Nachlaot neighbourhood. This was by no means a staged performance, but the policemen were supplied with British police helmets (some of them, at least), the pirates donned various articles of pirate paraphernalia (plastic swords, eyepatches, ear-rings and bandanas, etc.) and we ladies were asked to wear flowery summer dresses and big straw hats. Yours truly, in the supporting role of Edith Stanley, added a fan – always useful for flirtation and for rapping saucy pirates over the knuckles😉
Entrance was free – and so were the refreshments. Looking back, I think I can safely say that a good time was had by one and all.  Kudos to Louis, who initiated and produced the programme, and who also conducted.

One week later, our choir (the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir, for newcomers to this blog) gave our end-of-the-season concert at Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem. The programme, of music from the British Isles, was entitled “In Windsor Forest”, in deference to the central piece of the evening, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ cantata of that name, adapted from his own opera “Sir John in Love”.  This piece, being a setting of Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor”, was, of course, admirably suited to the fact that this year, 2016, marks four hundred years since the death of the Bard of Avon.

Helping to translate the various works of the programme taught me a great deal. For example, one of the sections of “In Windsor Forest” is a drinking song for male chorus, entitled “Jolly Good Ale”. One of the verses reads:

I love no roast but a nutbrown toast,
And a crab laid in the fire;
A little bread shall do me stead,
Much bread I not desire.

 

Translation of this verse involved me in earnest debate with Liora, who was in charge overall of translating the various works for the printed programme, but who is not a native English-speaker. My researches had led me to the conclusion that “crab” referred here to the crab-apple, rather than to the shellfish. Liora did not feel comfortable with this, maintaining that it was hard to picture someone in an alehouse eating fruit, rather than seafood. I, on the other hand, was not at all certain that common folk in Elizabethan London were accustomed to eating seafood other than ordinary fish. This, in turn, led me to research diet in Tudor England – a fascinating subject in itself! In the end, we were both convinced – myself, of the wider-than-expected range of food available to Shakespeare’s contemporaries, and Liora, of the likelihood that, in this particular case, at least, the reference was, indeed, to the crab-apple.

Another section of this  cantata, the “Wedding Chorus”, contained a line referring to “the bee’s bag” and, while it was clear enough that the reference was to the honey sac, I had no idea how to translate this into Hebrew, because I have (or perhaps I should say, had) no knowledge of the proper zoological terminology. Thus, I went scuttling off to Wikipedia in Hebrew, to research the digestive process of bees. And I have to say, that too was fascinating. What amazing creatures they are!

Now, that’s enough talk. It’s time for music!

As I said, this was a programme of music from the British Isles, music of all kinds, and from all periods, ranging from the Renaissance to the 20th century, music for church and for the stage, folk songs and art music – and even an excerpt from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” which some of us had sung the previous week.

Let us start with a madrigal by the Elizabethan-Jacobean composer John Bennet, one of three madrigals we performed during the course of the evening:


Music for the church was represented by two pieces. One of them, “In Exitu Israel”, a motet by Samuel Wesley, was a setting for double choir (eight voices) of Psalm 114. I was surprised that the nephew of the founder of the Methodist Church should have composed a Latin psalm setting, but apparently, Samuel Wesley converted to Roman Catholicism, to the horror of his father and uncle!

 

The other was a setting of Psalm 119, v.1 – “Beati Quorum Via” –  by that stalwart of the Anglican Church tradition, Charles Villiers Stanford:

 

I have already mentioned Gilbert and Sullivan, who, together with Henry Purcell, represented the English stage in our concert.

The British folk tradition was represented by “Loch Lomond” (kudos to Liora for the polished way in which she dealt with the idiosyncrasies of the Scottish dialect, in translating the words for the programme), as well as by a setting by Stanford’s pupil Gustav Holst of the Cornish ballad “I Love My Love”, and by this beautiful setting of “The Londonderry Air” (at the piano, Rina Schechter, whom you can’t see, because of the camera angle):

 

 

 

Naturally, we also performed music by that giant of 19th-century British music, Sir Edward Elgar, but also by the 20th century Anglo-Jewish composer Gerald Finzi. The latter’s joyous setting of Robert Bridges’ poem “My Spirit Sang All Day”, with its repetition of the word “joy” and its triumphant final line – “Thou art my joy” –  is a love song to his own wife, Joyce, known as “Joy” to her friends and family.

 

 

 

The central piece of the evening was,  as already mentioned, the cantata “In Windsor Forest” by Vaughan Williams. Here it is, all 20 minutes of it – conducted, as was the entire evening, by the inimitable Kate Belshé and with the soloist Shira Cohen, a former member of the choir who is now studying at the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem and of whom we expect great things.

 

 

 

 

As I said, this concert was our end-of-season performance. However, we find it hard to part from each other, even for a two month summer vacation😉   and so last week saw us all together again, in the same location, this time, to record  what will be our first disc under Kate’s baton.

Today, we received the first intimations of Kate’s plans for us in the coming season. I can hardly wait🙂

Before I go, I will leave you with this thought. Today’s post marks a decade of blogging. I started “The View From the Palace” ten years ago tomorrow, July 29th 2006. Tomorrow is also the 42nd anniversary of my aliyah to Israel.

What a time it’s been!

Posted in Music, News, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

A Bloody Weekend

The brutal murder of 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel (HY’D) on Thursday morning was only the start of a particularly bloody weekend. Later that day, in Netanya, another “Palestinian” terrorist, this time from Tulkarm, stabbed two Israeli civilians in the vicinity of the seaside town’s central market, moderately wounding a man in his forties and a woman in her sixties. The terrorist was shot and killed by an armed civilian who was present at the scene.

The following day, Friday, a “Palestinian” terrorist gang armed with guns, carried out a drive-by shooting on Highway 60. They overtook a car in which the Mark family was driving, and opened fire on it. In the hail of bullets which followed, Rabbi Michael Mark, who was driving, suffered gunshot wounds and lost control of the car, which overturned. When paramedics arrived on the scene, there was nothing for them to do but declare him dead. His wife, Chava, was seriously wounded and is not yet out of danger. Their 14-year-old daughter sustained a gunshot wound to the stomach and was rushed to hospital in serious condition, but is now stable. Their 15-year-old son was moderately to lightly injured and has since been discharged from hospital.

Rabbi Mark, who was 48 years old at the time of his murder, was the director of the yeshiva (Torah seminary) in Otniel and the father of ten children. The murderers have not yet been caught.

How did the international media react to this outrage?

Well, the Daily Telegraph gave us:
“Israel stops Palestinian movement in parts of West Bank after rabbi killed in shooting attack”
Thus, the many casual readers who never get past the headline are not told that this was a terrorist attack. Indeed, the first piece of information they are given is that Israel is again limiting the movement of the poor, downtrodden “Palestinians”. The next few paragraphs are devoted to the number of “Palestinians” whose movements are going to be curtailed, while just one sentence is devoted to the actual murder. “An Israeli rabbi was shot dead in front of his children and his wife was badly injured on Friday…”
Only after criticising the “collective punishment” being supposedly imposed on the “Palestinians” does the reporter, Raf Sanchez, get round to describing the actual attack.

The BBC (no surprises here) also focussed on the Israeli response with:
“Israel seals off Hebron after surge of attacks”.
Only after describing Israel’s counter-terror measures  are we told the cause of these measures, in a single line: “It comes after an Israeli man was killed and his wife and two children wounded after their car was fired on near the Jewish settlement of Otniel.”
Nowhere is this described as a terrorist attack, nor does the BBC give any inkling of who carried it out.

The New York Times  headline also gives prominence to the Israeli response, with:
“Israel Imposes Restrictions in West Bank After Attacks”.
And, while it is true that the actual report begins with the words “After two deadly attacks by Palestinians against Israeli civilians in the occupied West Bank in two days…“, (thus subliminally implying that the “occupation” justifies attacks on civilians), the next few paragraphs detail the Israeli counter-terror measures and comments on their alleged harshness, before we finally get to a few lines describing the attack itself. Of course, nowhere is the word “terrorist” used. The New York Times prefers to call the murderers “gunmen”.

I can’t find anything on CNN yet.

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Jewish Child Murdered In Her Bed By “Palestinian” Terrorist Scumbag

This morning, a “Palestinian” terrorist  managed to infiltrate the Jewish town of Kiryat Arba near Hebron, broke into a house in the Ramat Mamre neighbourhood, and repeatedly stabbed 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel as she lay sleeping in her bed. When the town’s security team (which included Hallel’s father) arrived, they had to break into the house, which had been locked from the inside by the terrorist murderer. An armed struggle then developed, in the course of which the Spawn of Satan, who has been identified as Muhammed  Tararia, from the Arab village of Bani Naim, stabbed and seriously wounded one of the security team. The terrorist was killed by another member of the team.

Hallel Yaffa was evacuated to the Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem, where doctors attempted to resuscitate her, but were ultimately forced to declare her death.

At this stage (three hours since the event), I have not, as yet, managed to find any reference to it in foreign media. When the BBC, CNN, Sky News, The Guardian, The New York Times, etc, find time to mention it (if they find time to mention it), I’m ready to bet that they will headline the shooting of the 17-year-old terrorist by “Israeli Security Forces”, while stressing his youth, (but without mentioning that he was a terrorist and a murderer), and only then refer to his child victim, whom they will describe as “a teenage settler” – thus implying that she was, somehow, a legitimate target. And the terrorist-supporting Knesset Member Hanin Zuabi, who abuses her privileges as an MK to slander Israeli soldiers, will claim that the scumbag terrorist who butchered an innocent child in her bed was “murdered by the IDF”.

Would anyone care to bet against me on this?

 

Hallel Yaffa Ariel, aged 13. May God Avenge Her Blood.

 

Posted in News, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

Catching Up

Once again, I have let weeks go by without posting. And by now, there is so much to write about that I am debating with myself whether to split it over two posts, or simply try to be (very) concise😉 .

Let’s just see how it goes, shall we?

I’ll start with the eighth, and final, field trip in the “929 on the map” series, to which I have already referred in several posts.

This last field-trip was devoted to the Book of Isaiah – the longest book in the Bible, with the exception of the Book of Psalms. Unlike the preceding books, Isaiah doesn’t tell a specific historical story linked with specific historical places – except for Jerusalem. However, the book is replete with agricultural references and references to nature, and, in particular, the kind of agriculture and the kind of nature to be found in the countryside around Jerusalem. Isaiah was a citizen of Jerusalem. Consequently, when searching for a metaphor, or a simile, he found them in the landscape he knew – as, for example, in Isaiah 1:8 – “And the daughter of Zion is left as a booth in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.

Or again, in that same chapter, verse 30 – “For ye shall be as a terebinth whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water.

Or, most famous of all, the Parable of the Vineyard, in Chapter 5 – from which it is clear that Isaiah was perfectly familiar with the work of the vineyard.

For this reason, last month’s field trip, instead of taking in the various archaeological sites connected with the Bible chapters being read that week,  concentrated on Biblical landscapes and agriculture. Thus, we spent the whole day at Sataf, just a short drive from Jerusalem, close by the picturesque village of Ein Kerem. Sataf is a popular place for outings on weekends and school holidays, especially with Jerusalemites – although, strangely enough, this was only my second visit to the site.
This trip was at the beginning of May, before the real summer heat set in, so there were still plenty of wildflowers to be seen:

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The ubiquitous sabras, or prickly pears, were also in flower:

20160504_125025 sabra in flower
Sabra” is the name we give to native-born Israelis, who are popularly supposed to be prickly on the outside, but sweet-natured and soft-hearted within, like the fruit of the cactus for which they are named. Ironically, the plant itself is not native to Israel!

The sabra fruit, rich in vitamin C, is a popular snack among Israelis. The cactuses grow wild all over the country, but there are also cultivated sub-species.

Popular, too, are the wild berries:

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The views from Sataf are spectacular:

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The agriculture in the Judaean hills was – and still is – terraced agriculture, used in hilly or mountainous terrain to minimise soil erosion and surface runoff.

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One of the outstanding agricultural images in the Bible is that of the watchtower in the middle of the vineyard. There is a reconstruction of such a vineyard, with its watchtower, at Sataf, but there are also the remains of an ancient watchtower, such as that which might have sheltered the Shulamith maiden, as she guarded her brothers’ vineyards (Song of Songs, 1:6)

20160504_115706 שומרה בכרם

and also of a winepress:

 

 

We learned the difference between ba’al farming, which is dependent on rainfall, and shalhin agriculture (which uses channel-fed irrigation).
The former method served mainly for such crops as almonds, grapevines, figs, pomegranates and olives – fruits which are universally identified with the language and landscape of the Bible.

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A curious fact: although almond trees are to be found the length and breadth of Israel, and the Land of Israel is known as the Land of the Almond Tree, whose flowering symbolises the end of winter here, it is not  one of the Seven Species named in the Bible as the special products of the Holy Land.

We also learned the meaning of the Biblical expression “a sealed fountain” (ma’ayan chatum – מעיין חתום) as used in The Song of Songs 4:12. This is a natural spring, whose waters have been diverted for the purposes of irrigation, by blocking the external opening of the spring, as seen here:

 

 

 

 
There is much more to see at Sataf and it is not surprising that the site is popular with both hikers and picnickers. In fact, when we hosted the Zamir Choir from Bayreuth here in Jerusalem, four years ago, one of the highlights of their visit was a hike and picnic here.

I will leave you with a  glimpse of the wildlife to be found at Sataf – this beautiful butterfly. I hope you have enjoyed our all-too-brief visit. As for the rest of my news, I will have to leave our singalong performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, as well as my choir’s end-of-season concert of music from the British Isles, for next time. After all, we do have a saying in Hebrew which, roughly translated, means, that one doesn’t mingle one cause for rejoicing with another.
Or, to put it another way – why have only one party when you can have two?
😉

Enjoy the butterflies🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Nature, Tourism, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

A Very Busy Month

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

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

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

20160330_11 הסוללה האשורית1406תל לכיש

 

And, of course, the city walls:

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

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

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

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

P1020631 Lachish guard house

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

 

P1020626Flower and butterfly

P1020623Bee on fnnel

 

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

 

P1020647 Qeiyafa gateway

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

I will keep you posted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Shomron – The Ancient Israelite Capital

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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watchtowers from the Hellenistic/Hasmonean period,

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and the remains of a Herodian/Roman theatre.

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On all sides are magnificent views:

 

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

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

20160302_141907עיריונים במצפה יוסף

 

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20160302_145225אירוס על מדרון מצפה יוסף

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

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

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

20160302_171040Samaritan alphabet

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

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

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

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

See you soon.

 

 

 

 

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