“Palestinian Heroism” Shows Its True Face Once Again

At the end of my last post, I wished you all a Happy Hanukkah, as we were due to light the eighth and final Hanukkah candle that night.
Alas, there was to be no Hanukkah miracle for 21- year-old Shira Ish-Ran, nine months married and 30 weeks pregnant with her first child, or her husband, Amichai. As they waited that evening at a bus-top at the entrance to the community settlement of Ofra, a car drove up and a “Palestinian” terrorist opened fire on them and on other civilians waiting there. Although there were also soldiers waiting at the bus-stop, the scumbag terrorist deliberately targeted the civilians, shooting the heavily pregnant Shira in the stomach. He also shot six other civilians, including Shira’s husband, Amichai, before making his escape in the direction of the “Palestinian” capital, Ramallah.

In critical condition, Shira was rushed to the Sha’arei Zedek hospital in Jerusalem, where doctors performed an emergency Caesarean section in an effort to save her life and the life of her son.  Shira’s condition gradually stabilised but on Tuesday, even as Hamas and other “Palestinian” terrorist organisations were hailing the cowardly attack as “a heroic enterprise”, her baby took a turn for the worse. Throughout Israel, people prayed and said psalms for this innocent child, who hadn’t even  received a name. Alas, their prayers went unanswered and on Wednesday, Shira’s baby lost his fight for life.

He was buried Wednesday evening on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, in the presence of hundreds of mourners, after being given the name Amiad Yisrael, (meaning – “Eternal is my people Israel”),  symbolising the eternal bond between the Almighty and His people, Israel.  The newspapers report that mourners shielded the tiny body, wrapped in a tallit (prayer-shawl) with their umbrellas, for it was raining heavily. Even the heavens were weeping for the 3-day old baby, murdered in his mother’s womb by a Son of Satan.

His parents were absent. They were still in hospital. Shira only regained consciousness on Tuesday evening and only on Wednesday morning were she and her husband able to see their baby for the first – and last – time.

Later that same evening, Israeli security forces tracked down several “Palestinians” suspected of being part of the terror cell responsible for the Ofra attack. One of them, Saleh Omar Barghouti, son of a “West Bank” Hamas leader, was killed while resisting arrest (GOOD!). Hamas announced today that he was the “holy martyr” who carried out the “heroic attack”.
The same evening, Israeli forces finally located Ashraf Na’alwa, the scumbag murderer who carried out the despicable attack at the Barkan Industrial Park two months ago. Na’alwa was armed and it was feared he was planning another attack. In the ensuing attempt to arrest him, he, too, was shot and killed (again, GOOD!).

Security sources, however, warned that some members of the terror cell responsible for the Ofra attack earlier this week were still at large and possibly planning further attacks. Whether or not the same swine were responsible, late this morning, there was yet another terrorist atrocity, also a drive-by shooting, at the Givat Assaf Junction, near Beit El, in which two Israelis were murdered and two critically wounded. One of the latter, a young man of 21, who suffered a gunshot wound to the head, is fighting for his life even as I type these words.

You probably won’t hear about all this in the western media. If you do, it will be under the headline: “Israeli Forces Kill Palestinians”, and you will have to read the whole article to discover (if you’re lucky) the whys and wherefores.
Now, if this had happened in Europe or the United States or Canada, all the news channels would be reporting on the attacks to the exclusion of all else (as Israeli TV did with the Strasbourg attack – because in Israel, we recognise terrorism as terrorism wherever it may be).

Hamas has praised these despicable attacks as “heroic acts of resistance”  – but Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), the so-called “Palestinian President” is no less to blame. By his policy of paying terrorists (or their families) a monthly salary (financed by western governments and NGOs), he is encouraging murder.
By constantly inciting his people against Israel, and praising “the martyrs”  while at the same time  presenting to the world a false image of a man seeking peace, he is encouraging murder.
By giving shelter to the scumbags who shoot pregnant women in the stomach, he is encouraging murder.
By refusing to condemn these crimes – he is encouraging murder.
And he is proving, once again, that Israel has no partner for peace among the so-called “Palestinians”.


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In the Footsteps of Dreamers

As I have mentioned before, this academic year, I am taking part in a series of field trips with Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, concentrating on the eastern part of Israel. These trips take place, on an average, about once a month. November’s tiyul focused on Qumran and the Dead Sea Sect. (By the way, I hope you are taking the opportunity to learn a few words in Hebrew – tiyul being one of them.) Each tiyul has a title, usually taken from the words of a popular Hebrew song. Last month’s title was: “And he carries one dream in his heart”, taken from the refrain of a song by Yoram Tehar-Lev (words) and Yair Rosenblum (melody) and first performed by Rivka Zohar at the 1969 Israel Song Festival. It only reached fourth place, but was a huge public success, and was voted Song of the Year in the annual hit parade of both Israel Radio and Galei Zahal (Israel Army Radio).
The song tells of three craftsmen, dreaming of a Messianic age, when the Temple will be rebuilt.

Here is the song in its entirety, followed by my own translation of the words.





In our narrow street
Lives a rather strange carpenter.
He just sits in his hut
And doesn’t do a thing.

No-one comes to buy
And no-one comes to visit
And for two years now,
He’s done no carpentry.
And he still carries one dream in his heart
To build a chair for Elijah, when he comes.
In his own hands he will bring it
To Elijah the Prophet.

And he sits and awaits him.
For years now, he has dreamed his wish will be granted.
He guards his secret, and awaits him.
When will the day come?


In our narrow street
Lives a rather strange cobbler.
He just sits in his hut
And doesn’t do a thing.
His empty shelves
Are covered with dust.
For two years now,
His awl has lain in its sack.
And he dreams of sewing shoes
In which the feet of the messenger of good tidings will be beautiful upon the mountains.
In his own hands he will bring them
To Elijah the Prophet.

And he sits and awaits him.
For years now, he has dreamed his wish will be granted.
He guards his secret, and awaits him.
When will the day come?


In Jerusalem, there is
A man, no longer young,
Who has built many houses
In all corners of the city.
He knows every alley,
Every street and neighbourhood.
He has been building the city
For seventy years now.
And he dreams that, just as he built the City,
He will lay the cornerstone for the Holy Temple.
In his own hands he will bring it
To Elijah the Prophet.

And he sits and awaits him.
For years now, he has dreamed his wish will be granted.
He guards his secret, and awaits him.
When will the day come?


So now you have learned a new word in Hebrew – חלום (chalom – dream). The “ch” is pronounced, more or less, like the “ch” in Johann Sebastian Bach, or in the Scottish word “loch”.

In the late Second Temple period (2nd century BCE – 1st century CE), the dreamers who left Jerusalem, (a city whose leaders had, in their eyes, become corrupt), turned their gaze eastward, to the Judaean Wilderness and the Dead Sea.  One such group was the Essenes, whom the Roman author Pliny the Elder located in the area of Ein Gedi, by the western shore of the Dead Sea. Some scholars have identified the Dead Sea Sect as an offshoot of the Essenes. Both sects placed great emphasis on ritual immersion as a ritual of purification. Possibly for this reason, it has been speculated that John the Baptist was an Essene.

Be that as it may, our first stop on this tiyul was at Qasr el-Yahud (an Arabic name meaning, literally, “Castle of the Jews”). This site, just north of the spot where the River Jordan flows into the Dead Sea, is sacred to Christians as the site where John baptised Jesus. It is also traditionally considered to be the place where the Israelites crossed the River Jordan and entered the Promised Land, and where Elijah  the Prophet was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot.
You will understand, now, the choice of the song which gave a title to this field trip.

Qasr el-Yahud, formerly controlled by Jordan, until Israel’s miraculous victory in the Six Day War, now marks the Israel-Jordan border. The border itself runs through the middle of the river, which is very narrow at that point.





As I said, this  is the traditional site of Jesus’s baptism. Christian pilgrims flock to the site, where, clad in white robes, they seek to recreate that event by immersing themselves in the waters of the River Jordan (which, when we visited, were extremely muddy).
Many of them burst spontaneously into songs of praise.






As we left the baptism site, our guide drew our attention to what appeared to be a jetty, on our left, between the road and the Dead Sea.





Now, who in the world would build a jetty in the middle of dry land?
And thereby hangs the tale of another dreamer.

Moshe Novomeysky was a Russian-born Jewish mining engineer, who dreamed of extracting minerals from the Dead Sea. In the 1920s, he founded the Palestine Potash Company which, in 1929, won the tender for mining the Dead Sea area. In those days, the Dead Sea was much larger and transportation to and from the mineral extraction plant was by boat. In the wake of Israel’s War of Independence, the northern half of the production facilities was occupied by the Jordanian Legion and subsequently destroyed.
In 1952, the company was replaced by the Dead Sea Works.
In the years since then, the shoreline has receded. Many environmentalists claim that the activities of the company have contributed to the Dead Sea’s slow evaporation. At any rate, this is the reason that a jetty, which once saw ships carrying potash and other minerals, is now in the middle of the desert.

Our next stop was at Nachal Qumran, whose towering rock formations are home to dozens of caves which served as hiding-places for those who did not wish to be found, as refuge for hermits, as home for those who turned their back on a Jerusalem which had, in their eyes, become corrupt under the Hasmonean priest-kings (and later, under the Herodian dynasty) – and where, 2000 years later, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, in caves like these:





We hiked up the mountainside, not as far as the caves, but high enough, especially considering how narrow the “path” was – in some places, no more than about 30 centimetres – and how dizzying the drop.





I daresay it was nothing to this pigeon:




I, however, do not have wings – and although, when we reached the highest point of our hike (which was still quite far from the top), we met a fearless abseiler preparing to rappel down the cliffside, I myself took care not to get too close to the edge when having my photo taken.






Efrat, our guide, explained how the Essene sub-sect that lived here, diverted the channel of the Qumran stream so that when, in winter, the waters came rushing down in a torrent, they would not cause too much erosion and sweep everything away before them.




Our final stop was at the Qumran National Park, where, amongst other things, one can see the ritual baths, divided in the middle so as to separate those going down into the purifying waters from those who, having already purified themselves, were on their way up:





Perhaps of greatest interest is the Scriptorium, where benches and inkstands were found and where, possibly, some of the scrolls found in the nearby caves may have actually been written.



Our trip to the Qumran National Park ended with a short visit to the on-site museum, where, besides replicas of scrolls, eating utensils and other day-to-day items such as would have been used by the Qumran Sect  (which called itself The Yachad – “Together”), which can actually be handled by the visitor (hence the use of replicas), there is also an audio-visual presentation documenting the lifestyle and beliefs of this fascinating community.

Once again, the early winter sunset forced an early end to the day’s activity, as it would have been dangerous to continue hiking in that region in the dark.

Our next tiyul won’t be until January. In the meantime, since tonight, we kindle the eighth and final Hanukkah candle, let me take the opportunity to wish you all a Happy Hanukkah.

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Scarcely had I hit “Publish” on my last post, when a “ceasefire” came into effect. Rendered cynical by Israel’s past experience of so-called “ceasefires” with Hamas,  (we cease and they fire), I shall not be holding my breath to find out how long this one lasts.

I shall, however, take advantage of the hiatus to describe last month’s tiyul to three interesting sites near the Dead Sea. Yes, autumn has come, and with it, the start of the academic year – including the first of this year’s field trips with Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi, an institution about which I have written much in the past and will, no doubt, continue to write much in the future.

This year, I opted for a series of field trips specialising in that part of Israel which lies east of the north-south watershed. This series rejoices in the title “Lift up your eyes to the East” – the name of a song by Yoram Tehar-Lev and Uri Kariv, here performed by the Central Command Troupe of the Israel Defence Forces:








Earth facing earth.
Greenhouse facing greenhouse.
How did such blessed abundance
Grow here in the wilderness?

The Jordan is like a mirror.
Take binoculars and see
The abundance and fruit
Here in the East.

Lift up your eyes to the East
And see how quietly
The two banks of the Jordan Valley lie before you.

Lift up your eyes to the East
And see how she (the valley) grows
And rises from her thousands and thousands of years.

The Jordan has two banks.
This one flourishes, that one also,
And neighbour facing neighbour
Bears his crops.

And Man facing Man.
And perchance, both here and there,
Greenery may cover
The dust and the blood.

Lift up your eyes to the East etc.



This song was playing in the background as my brother and I, who was here in Israel for a brief visit, set out on a field trip to the area around Ein Gedi, on the last day of October.

Ein Gedi is mentioned several times in the Bible, most notably as the place to which King David fled (before he became king) and hid from King Saul (see: I Samuel 23, 29; I Samuel 24, 1).  There, it is described as a fortress. But in the Song of Songs, Ein Gedi appears as an oasis (see: Song of Songs 1, 14).

The Ein Gedi National park and Nature Reserve comprises several springs and streams. We visited two of them, Ein Bokek and Nachal Arugot.

Ein Bokek is a small spring which wells up in one of the channels of Nachal Bokek (the Bokek stream). As it was a very hot day (32 C), the fact that for most of the hike, we were actually walking in the stream was a blessed relief. (In fact, I had dragged my brother all over town the previous day in order to buy him a pair of canvas sneakers in which he could walk in water, without spoiling them). The springwater used to flow directly into Nachal Bokek, but nowadays, most of it is pumped to provide water for the Dead Sea hotel complex. This is probably why, on this part of the hike, the water rarely came over our ankles.


Some members of our group seemed hesitant about wading even through such shallow water:



rsz_20181031_112523Hiking at Ein Bokek



And some needed help scrambling over the rocks and boulders:


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One of several waterfalls feeding the stream:





Taking a breather in the shade while our guide, Shai, explains some of the features of Nachal Bokek:





On these “explanation stops”, it isn’t always easy to find a comfortable rock to sit on, but these two managed it – albeit somewhat further away from the guide:





Another waterfall:




From Ein Bokek, we travelled to Nachal Arugot, a stream which, since it is fed by springs and is not dependent on rainfall, flows throughout the year. Nachal Arugot receives the runoff from several smaller streams. Here, the water level was considerably higher than at Ein Bokek. Our guide warned us that we would be wading through knee-high water. Of course, “knee-high” is a relative term, depending, as it does,  entirely on the height of the person doing the wading 😉  .





Nor was it easy, scrambling up and over the rocks,



some of which were slippery with green algae:




And some people required more assistance than others:


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One thing I can tell you for sure – my trousers certainly got wet above the knees 😉  .

And no wonder – because, looking down on the channel of the stream from above, one can tell that this is quite a respectable stream and, in comparison to Nachal Bokek, one might easily take it for a mighty river:







From Nachal Arugot, we were in a hurry to reach the ancient synagogue of Ein Gedi before sunset, as the archaeological site closes early in winter.


The Jewish settlement at Ein Gedi (or, at any rate, the particular settlement which was excavated at this site) existed during the late Roman and Byzantine periods (3rd – 6th centuries CE), that is to say, the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods.
Beneath the late Roman era site, remains were found of a much larger Jewish settlement dating back to the time of the Second Temple (that is to say, the early part of the Roman era).

The inhabitants of the village made quite a substantial living from two luxury crops. One was the date palm. Indeed, Ein Gedi was also known in ancient times as Hazazon Tamar (II Chronicles 20, 2) – tamar (תמר) being the Hebrew word for “date”.

The other was the famous balsam or bossem, made from the apharsemon (אפרסמון) –  a word which today is translated as “persimmon” but which is believed to have been produced from Commiphora opobalsamum. The latter has sometimes been identified with Commiphora gileadensis, the Arabian Balsam Tree, also known as Balm of Gilead, said to have been brought to the Land of Israel as a gift for King Solomon by the Queen of Sheba. At all events, just as nobody knows for certain today the secret of the staggeringly expensive perfume produced by the inhabitants of Ein Gedi, its composition was a closely guarded secret in ancient times also . So much so that one of the mosaics found in the ancient synagogue of Ein Gedi includes a curse against whoever reveals the town’s secret to outsiders.

In the main hall of the ancient synagogue is an astonishingly complete mosaic floor:




Other mosaics display manifestly Jewish symbols, such as the seven-branched menorah (candelabrum).


More surprising,  given the language of the 2nd Commandment, are the mosaic portrayals of  birds:



However,  depending on how one punctuates the Biblical injunction, it is perfectly possible to understand it as merely prohibiting the creation of graven images for worship, but not for decoration.


The synagogue was destroyed by fire sometime in the 6th century CE. When it was excavated in 1970, charred remnants were found in the synagogue’s holy ark. These were the burnt Torah scrolls, which could not be opened because they would have disintegrated. Nor did the technology exist for scanning them without opening them.

Fast forward to 2016, and the development of high resolution 3D CT scanning. Thanks to the collaboration between the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Dead Sea Scrolls preservation lab, and the Computer Science Department of the University of Kentucky, not only was it possible to scan and decipher one of  the scrolls, revealing it to be part of the Book of Leviticus. it was also possible, by use of radio-carbon dating, to determine that the scroll, previously thought to date to the 6th century CE, the same time when the synagogue was burnt down, had actually been written at least 200 years earlier – and examination of the scroll’s distinctive handwriting suggests that it might be older still, possibly even 1st or 2nd century CE.

The Ein Gedi synagogue was our last stop for the day. The sun was already setting when we left and by the time we got back to Jerusalem, it was already completely dark – and quite chilly, especially in contrast to the desert heat around the Dead Sea.

I always find dusk somewhat depressing – especially in winter. But I shall put that thought behind me, for now.
I hope you, my faithful readers, enjoyed this virtual visit to one of the most beautiful places in Israel and will join me again, in future tiyulim, as we continue to explore the many and varied landscapes of my country.



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Are We Heading for War (Again)?

For six months now, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad have been committing daily acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians, attempting to cross the security fence which protects Israel’s border with Gaza, sending booby-trapped balloons and kites into Israel which have set fire to, and burned down, thousands of acres of agricultural land – without any protest or condemnation from the rest of the world, without the mainstream media of the rest of the world even taking notice of what has been happening, unless Israel reacted (in which case, the headlines noted Israel’s reaction, rather than the acts of terrorism by the Gazans which evoked said reaction).

The “Palestinian Authority” under Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has refused to transfer money to the Hamas leadership in Gaza, leading – so we are told – to a “humanitarian crisis”, as they are unable to pay salaries to public workers.

Earlier this week, Israel allowed Qatar to transfer suitcases full of cash, to the tune of $15 million dollars, to the Gaza Strip (ie. to Hamas) – through Israel –  in order to avert the threatened “humanitarian crisis” and on the understanding that Hamas would see to it that the terrorist activity described above was considerably toned down (not even completely halted!).

What has been the result? From Monday afternoon, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad has been firing over 400 rockets at Israeli towns in the western Negev. There have been dozens of casualties, some serious, at least one fatal.

You won’t hear about this either in the mainstream media – unless and until Israel strikes back. And Israel WILL strike back – because firing 400 rockets on a neighbouring state is, by any normal interpretation of international law, a casus belli.

Only that isn’t how the mainstream media (or mendacious Israel-haters such as Ali Abunimah or Mondoweiss or Richard Silverstein, on their pathetic little blogs) will present it.
No. The headlines will scream: “Dozens (or Hundreds, or Thousands) of Palestinian Civilians Killed in Israeli Airstrikes”.

And when, as now seems more than likely, we send in ground troops – who do you suppose will be blamed for the “escalation in violence”?

No prizes for a correct guess…


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The True Face of “Palestinian Heroism”

This is Kim Levengrond-Yehezkel. 28 years old.  Wife of Guy. Mother of 15-month-old Kai, who had recently started to walk. Daughter of Chava and Rafi. She worked as a secretary  at the Alon Group recycling plant in the Barkan Industrial Zone, while studying for the Israel Bar exams.


Kim Levengrond-Yehezkel


And this is Ziv Hajbi, just a few days short of his 35th birthday. Husband of Natalie, his high-school sweetheart. Father of a four-year-old toddler and seven-year-old twins. Son of Iris and Yehezkel. He worked for the same company as Kim, as an accountant.




Ashraf Na’alwa, a “Palestinian” Arab from the village of Shuweika, also worked for the Alon Group, as an electrician.  The Barkan Industrial Park is a beacon of co-existence, where Israelis and “Palestinians” work side by side, as equals.

None of that mattered to Na’alwa, who, yesterday (Sunday, October 7th) used his employee’s card to enter the factory with a locally-produced Carlo submachine gun hidden in his backpack. Once inside, he carried out the electrical repair job he had been summoned to do and then set out on his real mission of the day – to murder Jews. In a move that brings to mind ISIS atrocities, he forced another employee, at gunpoint, to handcuff Kim with plastic zip handcuffs. Once that was done, he ordered the man – a “Palestinian” – to get out, and then shot Kim dead, at point-blank range.
When another employee, 54-year-old Sara Vaturi came out of her office to see what was happening, he shot her in the stomach and then continued his murderous rampage, handcuffing and then fatally shooting Ziv.

Sara was lucky. She survived.

Kim will never take the Bar exams. Her baby son will never again feel his mother’s embrace.

Ziv, who would have celebrated his birthday this coming Shabbat, surrounded by his family, will never see his children grow to adulthood.

Na’alwa, who, before the attack yesterday, posted on Facebook that he was “waiting for Allah”, fled the scene with his weapon and has yet to be caught, despite a widespread manhunt.

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad organization praised the attack, calling it “heroic” and
“a natural response to the Israeli occupation’s crimes at the expense of the Palestinian people.”

And these are the people with whom the world expects Israel to negotiate – even make concessions to. People in whose eyes it is “heroic” to handcuff a young mother and murder her in cold blood. That is what they call “a natural response”.

And the world wonders why there is no peace.




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By The Shores Of The Caspian Sea: 5 Days in Baku

Azerbaijan is probably not the first place you would think of, when considering where to take your annual vacation. In fact, I had no such thought in my head until a newsletter  landed in my postbox, detailing the August activities of the Retirees Association of the organisation for which I used to work – and these included a five-day trip to Baku, capital of that oil-rich nation, between the mountains of the Caucasus and the waters of the Caspian Sea.
And I thought to myself – why not?

My friends from choir are constantly travelling to all kinds of unusual places. Everyone seems to have visited Vietnam, or Georgia, or Armenia, or India.
None of them have yet been to Azerbaijan, a Shiite Muslim country which, nevertheless, maintains friendly relations with Israel.

A masterstroke of one-upmanship?

Well, not quite. After I had booked the trip, I discovered that Baku is one of the “hot” locations for Israelis this summer. Hot in more ways than one. My stepsister informed me that many of her friends had visited there, and that the climate, at this time of year, was unbearably hot and humid. And my stepmother,  envisaging Baku as the godforsaken provincial Soviet town it was in the 1970s, when she left what was then the USSR, on hearing my holiday plans, asked: “What on earth for?!”

Not very encouraging.

How glad I am, though, that I did not let myself be discouraged!

Baku, a three hour flight from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, is a thriving modern town – at least, the part that tourists get to see – often described as “the Dubai of the Caucasus”, with numerous upscale shopping malls, skyscrapers and state-of-the-art avant garde architecture, as typified by the Heydar Aliyev Centre, designed by Iraqi-British architect, Zara Hadid, side by side with an Old City reminiscent of a scene from The Arabian Nights, and juxtaposed with Soviet Era buildings which have been renovated by the simple addition of 19th century European-style façades, leaving the tiny, crowded Soviet apartments unchanged.




Our hotel,  just across the road from the seafront promenade, was well up to my exacting standards. And, although the 6th floor room I was originally assigned faced inland, a quick word with the extremely helpful Lala, at the front desk, brought instant results in the form of a 10th floor room overlooking the vast expanse of the Caspian Sea.


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I have to admit, however, to being somewhat disconcerted by the minibar menu:


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And something else that I found odd – the elevators. There were three of these, labelled A, B and C. There was a touchpad beside each elevator. The way they worked was as follows. You had to key in the floor you wanted to go to, on the touchpad, and then a letter would appear, telling you which elevator would take you to your destination.  Only rarely would your designated elevator be the one beside which you were standing. Almost every time,  I would key in my destination and then have to run across to the opposite side of the lobby to catch my designated elevator before the doors closed!

We landed at about 1 pm local time (Azerbaijan is one hour ahead of Israel) but the long queues both at the automatic visa machines and at Passport Control ensured that we didn’t leave the airport much before 3 pm, and there wasn’t much time therefore, for sightseeing on that first day. We did get a panoramic view of the city, stopping to take photos beside the iconic “I Love Baku” sculpture outside the Heydar Aliyev Centre (see above). We also visited the Avenue of the Martyrs and the Eternal Flame Memorial, dedicated to the Azerbaijanis (mostly civilians) who were killed by the Soviet Army on January 20th 1990, (Black Saturday) in a crackdown on the Azerbaijani independence movement.

Our guide told us the Soviets were aided by ethnic Armenians. The Soviets claimed they were forced to intervene to protect these ethnic Armenians from pogroms by ethnic Azeris. Of course, it is true that the enmity between the two nations is long-standing. It is also true that the Soviets – and later, Russia, after the fall of the Soviet Union – had a history of intervening “to protect” one ethnic group or another, when the group that supposedly poses the threat is invariably the one striving for freedom from Russian control (further examples – Georgia, the Ukraine etc.). What our guide did not tell us was that a week before “Black Saturday”, and over a period of several days, Azerbaijani nationalists had carried out a pogrom against ethnic Armenians living in Baku.
As I said, the enmity between the two nations, one Christian, one Muslim,  is long-standing.

The Martyrs’ Memorial is unexpectedly moving – especially when you look at the pictures and the names and dates of the dead and realise how young some of them were. For example, the very first memorial is to Ilham and Fariza Allahverdiyev, a young couple in their twenties. The picture on the black marble memorial shows them on their wedding day. Ilham was killed by the Soviet troops and on learning of his fate, his young wife committed suicide.



Possibly even more heart-rending is the memorial to  the young daughter of a Ukrainian mother and an Azerbaijani father – Larissa Mammadova, not yet 13 years old when she was killed:


20180806_181003Avenue of the Martyrs, Baku


At the far end of the avenue is a soaring monument, sheltering the Eternal Flame.


20180806_181034Martyrs Memorial





Returning along the Avenue, one is treated to magnificent views of the Caspian Sea:



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As one walks along the Avenue, away from the Eternal Flame Memorial, the iconic silhouettes of the Flame Towers loom ever closer:


These skyscrapers are completely covered with LED screens, which, when darkness falls, illuminate the Baku skyline with images of the Azerbaijani national flag, sportsmen and women and, inevitably, a dazzling display which gives the illusion of buildings on fire. All this we saw the following night, from the 24th-floor terrace of the Hilton Grill Bar:



The flame motif occurs again and again in Azerbaijan, which is known as “The Land of Fire”. Some say this is because of the burning hillsides, where natural gas leaking from fissures gives the appearance of flaming mountains. We saw one of these later in  our tour – Yanar Dag – the Burning Mountain.  I have to admit that I did not find it overly impressive. More interesting was the Fire Temple complex known as Baku Ateshgah, possibly Zoroastrian, but this is open to debate. The flame there is no longer fed by natural gas but the site is very interesting as a museum, with a courtyard around which are reconstructions explaining the ancient, pre-Islamic monotheistic religion of the Zoroastrians. What can I say? I like museums, especially when they are as “user-friendly” as this one.  So, as I am now the owner of a new computer and learning how to use Windows 10  😉  I decided to make a video of some of my pictures from this visit.



In Baku itself, and not very far from our hotel, the Old City, with its many mosques, bath-houses, the Maiden’s Tower (or Maiden Tower) and the 15th century Palace of the Shirvanshahs (described by UNESCO as “one of the pearls of Azerbaijan’s architecture) is quite small and easily explored on foot. I could have happily spent the whole day there, but the fact that this was only a five day trip meant we had to content ourselves with something of a whistle-stop tour. In fact, it was only after I got back home to Israel and began looking things up on the internet, in preparation for writing this post, that I realised how many things we had not managed to see 😦  .

At all events,  here are some of my pictures of the Old City of Baku  (Icheri Shekher):



Our rather rushed tour of the Old City  included a visit to the delightful Museum of Miniature Books.  I have always had a fondness for tiny books, a fondness I share with my siblings, ever since, as children, we first learned about the tiny books written and stitched together by the young Brontes.  Inspired by their creative genius, we attempted to emulate them. In fact, cleaning out a cupboard recently, I found one of our own tiny books that had survived. Alas, it contained only the beginning of a story…

After an all-too-short visit in this enchanting and unusual museum,  we had what was, in my opinion, an overly-extended lunch break in and around Nizami Square, before proceeding to what our guide described as one of his personal favourites – the Carpet Museum.  Situated in a building of startlingly modern architectural design, shaped like a rolled up carpet, the museum is home to the largest collection of Azerbaijani carpets in the world.



According to our guide, carpets from Azerbaijan hold third place in status after Persian carpets and Afghan carpets.

The museum showcased the history of carpet-making, as well as explanations of how the carpets are made, the traditional patterns of carpets from different regions of Azerbaijan, and the different uses to which carpets were put – such as saddle-bags:




And here, we can see how carpets would have been used in a nobleman’s house, not just as floor covering, but also as wall-hangings:





On the top floor of the museum are contemporary carpets, and it was there that I realised that carpets can be a medium for artistic expression just as well as watercolours or oil paintings.

Here, for example, is a carpet depicting the tragic love story of Layla and Mejnun:




In the Soviet Era, carpets were used to promote political and social ideas, such as this one, lauding sporting activity:






Today, in nominally democratic Azerbaijan, where all the power and money are concentrated in the hands of the President’s family, and dissent is frowned upon, carpets can serve to convey political criticism. This one, for example,  declares in no uncertain terms, that the oil industry is destroying the Azeri heritage:





Earlier, I mentioned our extended lunch break around Nizami Square – a pedestrian mall with elegant shops and cafes, lined with statues and offering a green lung in the heart of the city – one of many.

The following evening, I returned to Nizami Street, a popular evening promenade – to find a scene reminiscent of London’s Regent Street decorated for Christmas.



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While most of our time was spent in Baku, we did travel outside the capital to visit the Gobustan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for its prehistoric petroglyphs, or rock paintings, depicting life in the region thousands of years ago, including pictures of hunting scenes, animals, and even people dancing the traditional Azerbaijani dance, the Yalli, which is still danced today.

The landscape of the site reminded us of Israel’s Arava region and the mountains around Eilat:








At the site there is also a small, but well-designed Visitors Centre, explaining how people lived in prehistoric times, with displays of articles in daily use, as well as three dimensional displays:











On the way back to Baku, we stopped to visit the Bibi Heybat Mosque. The original mosque was built in the 13th century, over the tomb of a descendant of the Prophet Muhammed, who had the reputation of being a holy woman. That mosque was blown up in 1936 by the Communists, but was rebuilt in the 1990s, after Azerbaijan gained its independence, and dedicated in 1997.




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The day before we were due to depart was given over to two very different places. First thing in the morning, we visited the Green Market – Yasil Bazar. This is a covered market where you can buy all kinds of fruits, vegetables,  caviar and honey,  locally-made cheeses and  confectionary, and spices such as saffron, at what – for the western visitor – are ridiculously low prices.




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Our second port of call was completely different – the Heydar Aliyev Centre, which I already mentioned at the beginning of this post. An icon of contemporary architecture, to enter the museum, one had to pass security measures worthy of an airport – such as metal detectors at the entrance. Once inside, one is confronted with an equally avant garde interior, where straight lines are shunned and graceful curves are de rigueur. Even the views from the windows are futuristic.



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In many ways, the centre is intended to serve as a shrine to Azerbaijan’s third president, Heydar Aliyev (father of the current president, Ilham Aliyev) – and contains a great many exhibits pertaining to his life, personal items such as his uniforms, his official cars and items gifted to him by visiting dignitaries and other celebrities. But the museum also serves as a temple to Azerbaijani culture, including an extensive display of traditional costumes from the different regions of Azerbaijan , a section devoted to the art of carpet weaving, and one of particular interest to me – a collection of traditional Azerbaijani musical instruments. You cannot touch them, of course – but before each instrument is a pad on which one steps to activate a recording of the sound of that instrument.





I think my favourite part of the museum was the Art of the Doll exhibit. I took as many pictures as possible, before being told by one of the custodians that photography was prohibited in this part of the museum. Why this part specifically, I have no idea – but I incorporated those photos I did manage to take into the following video:





That evening, we rounded up our tour with an evening of Azerbaijani food and folklore at the Shirvanshah Museum Restaurant, which really does look like a museum, with displays of Azerbaijani culture and costume on each floor and where the staff wear traditional Azerbaijani national dress:


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As we dined, we were entertained by traditional Azeri dancers:



At some point in the evening, a young couple on the opposite side of the room announced their engagement, and more music and dancing ensued – in which most of the other diners had no hesitation in joining:




After supper, there was just time for a last look at Baku by night, before returning to our hotel.


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The following day,  after a leisurely breakfast, we made our way to the airport – another strikingly modern piece of architecture – and boarded a plane back to Israel, where we landed mid-afternoon. It was a Friday and I made it home just in time to shower and light my Shabbat candles.

I will leave you with a last view of Baku, the old-new city on the shores of the Caspian Sea.









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Forgiveness and Remembrance

In a few hours, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, will begin. For the past few years, I have attended Kol Nidrei services on the eve of Yom Kippur, not at the synagogue where I usually pray, but at the local community centre where the service is always followed by an open discussion. The subject tonight is “What am I (not) prepared to forgive?”

I started thinking about that and I realised that it is not always easy to distinguish between forgiveness and forgetfulness. I think of  people who have injured me by word or deed over the years and even if I forgive them – or think I have – I have not forgotten what they did.  So – does that mean I have not truly forgiven them? That I still bear a grudge?
What, in fact, is the essence of forgiveness?  What does it mean?

One says: “Forgive and forget”. But not always. Sometimes we say: “Forgive – but do not forget.” In other cases, such as when we speak of the Holocaust, for example,  we say plainly: “We do not forgive. We do not forget.”
Those who tried to destroy us, we do not forget.

We are not a People who forgets. We remember – everything.  We are enjoined to remember Amalek.  And this was in the sense of taking revenge. King Saul was commanded by God to wipe out the very name of Amalek but disobeyed and spared their king, Agag, who was then executed by the Prophet Samuel.

We even institute festivals and fasts, for the purpose of remembering. On Tisha B’Av, we remember how our enemies (first the Babylonians, then the Romans) destroyed our holy Temple and crushed our nation. On Purim, we remember our deliverance from Haman who attempted to exterminate the entire Jewish nation. Coincidentally (or not), Haman was a descendant of the Amalekite king whom Saul spared. And we celebrate (there is no other word for it) his downfall. Or are we celebrating our deliverance, rather than the fact that our enemy got his just deserts?  I suppose it depends on your point of view.

So – is it possible to forgive and yet remember? Is it truly possible to wipe the slate clean of the wish for revenge, or at least restitution, while retaining the memory of the injury? Does the answer to this question depend on the degree of injury?

What do you think?

Gmar Hatima Tova            גמר חתימה טובה



Posted in Philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments