Endings

The second half of June saw the end of many things. For example, the last lecture in the Bible course I am taking, which involves reading one chapter of the Hebrew Bible every weekday. The final lecture in the course took place last week, although we shall not reach the 929th (and final) chapter till the middle of next week.  Then, we shall start all over again.

I have already registered for next year’s course, which will focus (as its name suggests) on prophets and kings (or prophets versus kings, as they so often were) – as well as for two courses on music, including an in-depth study of all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies. More about that, however, in future posts.

The week before last saw the final concert of the season for my choir, the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir. This was particularly poignant, marking, as it did, our farewell from Kate Belshé   who has been our conductor and musical director for the past four years. She will be sorely missed.

During her “term of office”, Kate brought us a great deal of music from composers with whose work we were not familiar, as well as lot more contemporary music than we had previously been used to – but also more traditional styles. This last concert was no exception, featuring, as it did, music ranging from the 14th century Llibre Vermell de Montserrat,  a motet by the Renaissance composer Tomas Luis de Victoria,   through the Romantic Era, with Bruckner and Stanford, right up to the 20th century (Poulenc, Durufle, Frank Martin) and beyond, with contemporary composers such as the Hungarians, Miklos Kocsar and Laszlo Halmos, the Spaniard, Javier Busto, the American Morten Lauridsen and the Portuguese composer Alfredo Teixeira.

The music performed ranged from relatively simple dance tunes composed in the late Middle Ages to help pilgrims to the great Monastery of Montserrat stay awake during their nocturnal vigils, to the terrifyingly difficult Mass for Double Choir by Frank Martin.
All this took place under the title Stile Antico – Stile ModernoSettings of Latin Prayers Through the Agesin the splendidly evocative location of the Ratisbonne Monastery, Jerusalem. This is a very beautiful Roman Catholic church dating from the 19th century, in the heart of the capital of the Jewish state, with exactly the kind of acoustics one wants for the kind of music we were performing.

You can see the whole concert  (which was streamed live, via mobile phone,  on Facebook) here, minus the first two pieces.

Two days later, it was the turn of the “mother choir”, the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir of which the Chamber Choir is a leading component, to celebrate the end of the musical season with a party, in which each of the five member choirs performed pieces from the season’s repertoire. In addition, individual choir members contributed solo or small group performances.

Yours Truly performed the duet La ci darem la mano, from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, together with David Kovensky, who sings bass-baritone with our Chamber Choir.

 

 

June was supposed to end with a belated cast party for the participants of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta “Patience”, which I mentioned in a previous post, but never got around to writing about. Alas, the day before the party was due to take place, we were stunned to hear about the untimely death of one of the principal singers – apparently by his own hand. I am told he had been suffering from clinical depression for years. I did not know him all that well, so I cannot blame myself for having somehow “missed the signs”, but from posts that his close friends wrote on Facebook, it seems that the signs were there, and many people missed them and blamed themselves for not having extended a hand to help him. Now I cannot help asking myself – are there people round about me who are in trouble, who are struggling, without me seeing the signs, even though we are close? How many of us really see when our friends are in distress, in need of a shoulder to lean on, or of a helping hand.

Food for thought.

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Catching Up

I am back!

Yes, after a long period of silence, I have returned – with a brand new, powerful  computer which, hopefully, won’t keep crashing and with Windows 10, which, hopefully, will allow me to post pictures without causing the computer to freeze up, and require a whole day, if not more, to write a new post.

So, where shall I begin?

Since my last post, I have participated in two more nature trips with Yad ben Zvi, a concert in which all five choirs which make up the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir performed Sir Karl Jenkins’ wonderful composition The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, and a Jerusalem Day concert in which I appeared as a soloist.

In addition to that, for several weeks now, so-called “peaceful Palestinian demonstrators”  have attempted to violently storm our borders, whilst “peacefully” setting Israeli fields alight with incendiary kites (really, there seems to be no limit to their inventiveness when it comes to destruction) and Hamas and the Islamic Jihad terrorists continue to “peacefully” launch rockets and mortars at Israeli towns and villages bordering the Gaza Strip – one of which landed on and destroyed a kindergarten (which, by the grace of God, was empty at the time, as the children had not yet arrived).

So, as I said – where shall I begin?

Well, let’s start with something pleasant – my April 24th nature trip with Yad Ben Zvi.

This trip was supposed to be to the Upper Galilee, in the wake of the wild peonies which only bloom in the area around Mount Meron and that, for a short two-week period in April. Unfortunately, the unseasonably warm weather had made the peonies bloom early this year – at the beginning of April, round about Pessach – so instead, the trip which had been planned for May, to see the Madonna lilies in the Carmel, was brought forward (needless to say, the lilies also bloomed early) and we set off for the area which is known in Israel as “Little Switzerland”.

I mentioned the unseasonably summery weather which had affected the botanical clock, didn’t I? Well, Murphy’s Law being what it is, April 24th dawned cloudy and rainy, and unseasonably chilly. As our bus headed north under lowering, grey skies, I thanked my lucky stars I had brought an umbrella with me – although later in the day, it nearly caused an accident.

We spotted the Madonna lilies almost immediately:

P1030662Madonna Lily

They were, however, high up on the rock face and it was only because my camera has quite a powerful zoom lens that I was able to take such clear photographs of them.

It wasn’t long after that that the windows of heaven opened and the rain began.

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However, that was not going to dampen our enthusiasm, if you will pardon the pun. We continued our walk along a narrow and ever more slippery path, with a steep drop to our left:

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At one point, when it seemed the rain was tapering off, I lowered my umbrella in order to close it. As a result, I failed to see a depression in the path and narrowly escaped falling into the void.

But it was worth the discomfort when there were wild hollyhocks, and Mesopotamian irises to be seen:

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P1030681Iris mesopotamica

And late in the afternoon, after we had come down from the mountain and ventured onto the seashore, as the wind was rising and the rain was coming down more and more heavily, to a soundtrack of thunder and lightning,  there were also Evening Primroses and Sea Lavender.

But by now, we were being lashed both by the rain and the sea spray, and it was time to head for home.

The heavy rains continued and there were warnings of flooding in the wadis of the Arava and the Negev. Alas, Israelis have an almost intolerable knack for deluding themselves that everything will be all right. As a result, the next day, ten teenagers lost their lives on a school trip when they were swept away by a flash flood. And all because the trip organisers ignored the warnings. Such a waste. Such an entirely  preventable tragedy.

The following Sunday, April 29th, was the annual Gala of the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir, of which I have been a member since its foundation, 31 years ago. This year, under the baton of Salome Rebello, and with the participation of the Jerusalem Street Orchestra, we became the first Israeli choir to perform Karl Jenkins’ popular creation The Armed Man: A Mass for PeaceMy favourite part of this work is that entitled “Hymn Before Action“, to words by Rudyard Kipling – a poet popularly believed to have been far more jingoistic than he actually was.

 

 

Yet it was the final, joyous “Better is Peace” section, with its jubilant “Ring out the thousand wars of old, Ring in the thousand years of peace” which brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes during the Dress Rehearsal.

 

 

 

And how could it fail to do so, when peace seems so far away from our little corner of the world? How could any one of us sing those words without thinking of what could be – what should be – but what I am beginning to believe my generation will never see?

Back to happier thoughts though.
On May 16th, I took part in the last nature hike of the 2017/18 season with Yad Ben Zvi. As I mentioned before, this was supposed to be the one in search of Madonna lilies which was brought forward to April. Instead, this hike was devoted to the flora of pond, river and seashore, in the Western Galilee.

The day started with a visit to the Ein Afek Nature Reserve in the Acco (Acre) Valley.

 

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Here, besides the water buffalo,

 

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and coypu,

 

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dragonflies with iridiscent wings hovered above ponds covered with blue lotus.

P1030710DDragonfly at Ein Afek

 

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Part of the nature reserve is wheelchair accessible, but not the so-called “Floating Bridge”, which enables visitors to observe the plants that thrive in and around the swamp.

20180516_123422 (2)Ein Afek Floating Bridge

That included the usually much later blooming Trachomitum venetum, also known as Apocynum venetum, or to give it its Hebrew name, “Sam Hakelev”  (סם הכלב – literally, “The Dog’s Drug”), a member of the dogbane family, and like its relative, the oleander, highly poisonous – as well as the Common Reed ( Phragmites australis), found all over the Reserve, bulrushes (reedmace), spiny rush (sharp rush, sharp-pointed rush), and the intriguingly named Holy Bramble (Rubus Sanctus), so called because of the tradition that this was the Burning Bush that appeared to Moses in the wilderness.  Considering that it usually grows along stream banks, I find this rather unlikely.  Of course – that could be part of the miracle.  🙂

 

From Ein Afek, we travelled to Ein Hardalit, one of the springs which feed the Kziv Stream (Nachal Kziv). There, in the green shade, we had a late picnic lunch by its cool, refreshing waters.

P1030720 (2)Ein Hardalit

 

Our final stop of the day was the beach at Rosh Hanikra, just south of Israel’s border with Lebanon.

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I suppose the tension in the north caused by the heavy Iranian presence in Syria should have made me nervous – and it did, whenever I thought about it, except that I didn’t think about it often. I forgot all about it in the beauty of the rugged shoreline and the diverse, seemingly humble flora of the seashore. There, swept by the salty sea-breezes, the flowers are smaller, as if to present less surface area to be battered by the sands and the winds, but they are no less beautiful.

Among them, there were mauve trifid stocks (Matthiola tricuspidata),

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bright yellow Lotus Creticus,  Sea Lavender, and many other small, and seemingly insignificant wildflowers which, without our extremely knowlegeable guide, Edna, might well have gone unnoticed.

This trip was the last in the current series of nature hikes. I have not yet decided whether I shall take part in next year’s series, or whether I shall sign up for one of the historical or archaeological courses. Whichever it is, I have no doubt it will prove informative, challenging and inspiring.

So there we are, all caught up.
Except for the ongoing tension on the border with Gaza, in the south.
And except for the continuing tension on the border with Syria, in the north.
And the continuing antisemitic onslaught on Israel in the UN and the world media.
And the shameful capitulation of the Argentinian football team to terrorist threats.
And – on the bright side – the final preparations for my chamber choir’s end-of-season concert next week.

But that’s for next time.

 

 

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A Nation Remembers

The fortnight or so following the end of Pessach (Passover) is not an easy time. Mirroring the seven-weeks between Pessach and Shavuot (Pentecost), two festivals which commemorate, respectively, the Exodus from Egypt and the Giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai (when a rabble of twelve tribes became one nation, with one God and one Law), this short period encompasses Holocaust Memorial Day, Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s wars and Independence Day.

Neither the proximity, nor the parallels, are coincidental.

On Holocaust Memorial Day, we remember the Six Million of our people who were murdered because we had no home, nowhere to run to when the forces of Darkness enveloped the world. But the Jewish people rose like a phoenix from the ashes of Europe, and, like the Israelite slaves freed from Egypt, set their faces eastward, to the Promised Land. Here, we became once more a nation, with our own country and our own laws. This is commemorated on Independence Day, which falls tomorrow and is preceded by Remembrance Day for the Fallen.

Both Holocaust Memorial Day and Remembrance Day for the Fallen are marked by solemn ceremonies, special programming on all the country’s TV and radio stations, and a minute’s silence marked by a siren. In fact, Remembrance Day has not one, but two sirens, one the evening before, marking the start of the official ceremony at the Western Wall, and one on the day itself, at 11 am, marking the start of the ceremony at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.  I don’t know why there is this apparent “discrimination” between the two days of remembrance. Maybe it’s because there are, each year, fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors among us, whereas, alas, each year there are more and more bereaved families observing Remembrance Day for the Fallen. Personally, I feel the diminishing number of Holocaust survivors in our midst makes it all the more imperative that we, and future generations, keep the memory of the Holocaust – and its lessons – alive.

When Hitler first came to power, the world powers ignored his threats against the Jewish People. It was just bluster, they said. And in any case, those uppity Jews, who controlled the media, world finance, Hollywood, governments etc. needed taking down a peg or two. Hitler would just clip their wings a bit, and that would be the end of it.
We all know how that ended.

The ayatollahs of Iran have been threatening Israel with destruction since they came to power.  And the world powers have dismissed those threats, just as they dismissed the threats of the Nazis. Hitler clearly spelled out his plans for the Jewish People but no-one wanted to hear what he was saying. So too the Iranians. But the world powers were all too eager to find an excuse to abolish the sanctions they had, most reluctantly, imposed on Iran – sanctions which were preventing them from concluding lucrative contracts with that country.

Now Iran is openly supporting the Butcher of Damascus, Syrian president Bashir Al-Assad, Iranian armed forces are on Israel’s very borders, and Iranian generals claim that “the date has been set for Israel’s destruction”.

I would be less than honest if I said I don’t feel the slightest twinge of alarm. But then I listen to the stories of the Fallen of Israel’s wars.  Stories of heroes, like Major Roi Klein, who sacrificed his life by throwing himself on a live grenade to save his comrades. Who died with “Shema Yisrael“, the Jewish declaration of faith, on his lips.
Heroes like Staff Sergeant  Nissim Sean Carmeli, killed by  Hamas terrorists in Gaza, who could have chosen a safe, easy life in South Padre Island, Texas, where he was born, but chose, instead, to leave his family in the US and come to Israel, to serve as a “lone soldier”. Who could have avoided front-line service in Gaza because of an injury to his foot, but who insisted on serving with his unit.
Heroines like Hadas Malka, who was repeatedly stabbed by a terrorist in Jerusalem last year, but who continued to struggle to prevent him taking her gun. Who began her national service in the Navy and who could have remained there, but who insisted on transferring to a more dangerous posting in the Border Police, where she felt she could contribute more.

And I think of Natan Alterman’s poem, “The Silver Platter”.

And I remember the words of the Yizkor prayer recited at the memorial ceremony yesterday evening at the Western Wall: “May the People of Israel remember its sons and its daughters, the faithful and the brave, the soldiers of the Israel Defence Forces … may Israel remember and be blessed in its seed...”

In less than an hour, the sorrow of Remembrance Day will morph into the joy of Independence Day.  The sudden switch must be agonising for bereaved families and has given rise, over the years, to proposals to separate the two occasions. Yet I see the logic in their proximity. We must never forget that without the sacrifice of these brave men and women, we have our own state. It has more than once been said that Remembrance Day is not so  much for the bereaved families, for whom every day is “Remembrance Day”, as for all the rest of us, lest we forget, in our rejoicing, how much we owe to those who gave all they had, so that Israel could live and thrive.

Israel is, indeed, blessed in its seed.

Happy Independence Day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Strong Medicine

Spring is right around the corner. If proof were necessary, it was there in abundance in last month’s field trip with Yad Ben Zvi, to the Shefelah, in search of early spring flora – anemones, wild orchids, irises, cyclamens (one of my favourite flowers), lupins, mandrakes and many others.

We were blessed by ideal weather conditions – not too hot and not too cold.

Driving through the Elah Valley (Valley of the Terebinth), our first “port of call” was the Adullam Park, near the city of Beit Shemesh. Here, we saw red anemones and pink butterfly orchids, mauve stork’s bill (Erodium gruinum) and yellow field marigolds (Calendula arvensis). These last are known in Hebrew as Tzipornei Hechatul  (ציפורני החתול – Cat’s claws), because of the shape of their seeds.

 

 

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20180221_101800@סחלב פרפרני

20180221_101853@מקור החסידה (סגול)

 

In the Adullam Park, there are several archaeological sites. As this was a nature ramble, we visited only one – Hurvat Itri – a ruined Jewish village from the Second Temple period. I took very few pictures here. Truth to tell, I wasn’t paying very much attention to what Edna, the guide, was telling us, as, at this point, I started to feel extremely unwell. The accompanying paramedic wanted to take my blood pressure only to discover that the batteries of his digital BP gauge were flat. He was obliged to borrow the batteries of someone’s camera. It turned out my blood pressure was very low and he suggested I return to the bus, a 10-minute walk away. But I felt that if I could walk to the bus, I might just as well walk slowly about the ruins with the others.

Fortified with a caffeine-fix from a mocha drink provided by Renana, the tour co-ordinator,  and sipping water as I walked among cyclamens and yellow gold-crocuses (Gagea  commutata), I started to feel better.

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When we reached a field of anemones, I suddenly realised that the dizziness had disappeared and I was feeling my old self again. How could I feel ill amid such beauty? These were medicinal plants in the true meaning of the word!

 

20180221_131623@Me in anemone field

As we made our way down to where the bus was waiting for us, we saw that the wild irises, which had still been closed when we arrived in the morning, were now open.

 

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After a picnic lunch under a carob tree on a hillside overlooking the carpark (in reality, merely a tract of open ground between the hills), we boarded the bus and drove to Tel Sokho, rising above the Elah Valley and famous for its proximity to the site of the battle fought in ancient times between David and Goliath (I Samuel 17).

The site is popularly known as the Hill of the Lupins  (גבעת התורמוסים –Givat Haturmosim)  –  for reasons which will quickly become abundantly clear 😉   .

Besides the cyclamens, sickle-fruit hypercoum, euphorbia (spurge),  and the delicate white blossoms of musk dead-nettle, not to mention the ubiquitous anemones, and the ancient terebinth trees for which the Elah Valley is named, the hill is covered in early springtime with the blue lupins which gave it its popular name.

 

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P1030615Terebinth in Tel Socho Lupin Hill

 

P1030626Me - surrounded by lupins at Tel Socho

Alas, as Israel does not put the clocks forward till late March, the setting sun forced us to start wending our way back to the bus at around five o’clock, stopping every few minutes to admire the many beautiful wildflowers along the path. When we finally reached the bottom of the hill, we were surprised and delighted to see a haredi  (ultra-orthodox) family celebrating a birthday party amid the flowers. Clearly, the family was combining an early Purim celebration with that of the birthday, as the children were all in fancy dress.

 

20180221_173057@Birthday party

It was a heartwarming end to what had been a beautiful day – even if a few drops of rain had started to fall as we made our way down from the hilltop.

But that was not the end of the goodies late February had in store. Oh, no – by no means.

You didn’t think I was going to leave you without some music to round things off, did you? Music and flowers are the best medicine I can think of, for almost anything 🙂  . You’ve had the flowers. Now it’s time for the music.

At the beginning of February, my choir – the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir, together with our sister choir Bel Canto (also a part of the larger Jerusalem Oratorio Choir), took part in a concert with the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Vag Papian, performing the Fauré Requiem at the Jerusalem International YMCA. And at the end of February, the JOCC joined the Ellerhein Girls’ Choir from Tallinn, Estonia, the Bat Kol Choir and the Maayan Choir from Tel Aviv, and the Yoav Choir from the south of Israel, to participate in the annual MustonenFest in Tel Aviv, performing – under the baton of the festival’s founder, Maestro Andres Mustonen – a new work by contemporary Israeli composer Eitan Steinberg. This was the world premiere of a work for six choirs and percussion, entitled “Sod HaKavana” – literally “The Secret of the Intention” To quote from the introduction to the score, “the Jewish expression kavana refers to the mystical power of one’s inner intention when saying a prayer or performing an act, and to the deep impact that such an intention has. The Midrash refers to the intention to the words written in the prayer, while the Kabbalah adds mystical intentions beyond the meaning of the written words.

I have to admit, when I first heard that we were to perform a piece of contemporary music, I felt the greatest misgivings. And I won’t lie – it was not easy, what with the many changes of tempo (sometimes extreme) and the complex rhythms. But somehow, when all the choirs and the percussionists came together – everything seemed to work out. I really liked it.
Just to give you a taste, here is a short videoclip of part of the Dress Rehearsal. Since each choir had a different role and different scores and had been working separately, this was the first time all the singers and instrumentalists had come together to work on the piece.

 

 

 

 

We gave two performances – one at the Ashdod Centre for the Performing Arts (the same place where we had performed The Magic Flute the previous month, and Beethoven’s Choral Symphony in October) and one at the Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv. In both locations, the audience responded with prolonged applause.

With barely time to catch our breath, many of us will be taking part, later this month, in a sing-along production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Patience“.
But that’s for next time 🙂  .

 

 

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Flutes, Flowers and the Sex Life of Snails

It’s been a busy few weeks, no doubt about that. The second half of December was taken up with rehearsals for The Jerusalem Opera’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, in which my choir, the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir, took part, together with a cast of extremely talented soloists from Israel and abroad, including several young singers at the start of what are certain to be highly successful professional careers.

The choir’s part in this opera is not large – especially that of the women. However, a few intensive rehearsals were required, to cope with not only the musical demands of Mozart’s score, but also the staging requirements.

Dear Readers – I think I have been bitten by the Stage Bug. Costumes, makeup, lighting, sound effects – I had forgotten how much fun all this could be. I don’t think I have taken part in a fully-staged production of anything since high school.

Stay! There was a Jerusalem Academy of Music production of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld in which our choir participated in its early years.

But I digress.
I would never have imagined how many things can go wrong. Not for nothing is there a Stage Director, Assistant Stage Director, Producer, Assistant Producer, Chorus Master, Assistant Chorus Master, a Stage Manager – and that is merely a partial list!

Backstage seemed like bedlam 😉 .  With so many things that can go amiss, it’s no wonder that the backstage staff carry walky-talkies or mobile phones at all times.
One wonders how they coped in Mozart’s time!

And things did go wrong. On the opening night, there were a few ghastly seconds in the Act 1 Finale when the choir and the orchestra were out of synch with each other, and half the choir was not in synch with the conductor (Omer Arieli), because those of them who were at the back of the stage could not even see the conductor, nor could they see the video monitors which are supposed to overcome this problem, the latter being placed too far to the Front Right and Front Left of the stage for those at the centre of the stage to see them. There was also a problem of sound delay with the audio monitors.
These glitches were corrected in time for the next performance, but again one wonders how on earth Mozart’s generation managed, without monitors, mobile phones or walky-talkies!!!

To be perfectly honest, The Magic Flute has never been high on my list of favourite operas. Nevertheless, from now on, it will always hold a warm place in my heart. As my faithful readers know, I am not a fan of “updating” opera. Dressing the characters of Il Trovatore in overalls and setting it in a shipyard, for example, is more than likely to leave me cold. The Magic Flute, however, is pure pantomime. As  with a fairytale, the director (in this case, Monica Waitzfelder) is free to do almost anything he or she likes. Likewise the costume designer. So I rather liked the quirky costumes designed by Shira Weiss for this production.

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We gave two performances in Jerusalem, and a final performance in Ashdod, from which we returned to the Capital in the small hours of the morning – and I went to bed at about 2 am.
Just to give you a taste, here are a couple of short videoclips.

In the first, we see Hungarian soprano Viktoria Varga as the Queen of the Night, (with local girl Na’ama Shulman as Pamina):

 

 

 

 

 
In the second, filmed by Chorus Master Oded Shomroni and shared here with his permission, we can see (most of) the opera finale, from the second Jerusalem performance. You can’t see me very well, however, as the rather tall Sarastro (Denis Sedov) is right in front of me and effectively hides me from the camera 😉  .

 

A week later, I had another field trip with Yad Ben Zvi – this time, to the Negev, to enjoy the wildflowers which were thriving after the week’s rain. The emphasis was supposed to be on the narcissi (Narcissus tazetta) which grow as far south as Dimona – but on the way, we stopped at a hill on the outskirts of Omer, near Beersheba, where, at first sight, there appears to be nothing noteworthy – just a bare  hill, but when you get closer, you can see it is carpeted with Colchicum ritchii – known in Hebrew as Sitvanit HaNegev (סתוונית הנגב) and in English as Egyptian Autumn Crocus or Egyptian meadow-saffron – and not to be confused with Steven’s meadow-saffron, which we saw in our December field trip.

 

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We also saw eucalyptus trees, with their distinctive fruit and flowers.

P1030488 Eucalyptus fruit

Our next stop was Nachal Dimona, where the narcissi we had come to see were, we were reliably informed,  in full bloom.

We made our way along the streambed, stopping to admire other plant species, such as thymelaea, believed to be the plant from which Delilah made cords in her attempt to bind Samson (Judges 16: 10-12) and Arabian Globe-cress  ( Golanit arav  גולנית ערב)
On our way, we also stopped to talk about the snails, which were so thick on the ground, it was almost impossible not to step on them and crush them.

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According to Edna, our guide, the snail’s slow speed could make for difficulties in their  love life 😉 Why? Well, suppose Mr. Snail, out in search of a mate, sees a fine looking potential partner from a distance, and slowly, painfully makes his way over the ten yards or so that lie between them, only to discover that what he had supposed to be Ms. Snail, is, in fact, another male. He would have come all that way for nothing! Fortunately, most snails are hermaphrodites, having both male and female organs. Hey presto! Problem solved!

 

At a point high above the stream bed, we were faced with the option of a terrifying descent down narrow paths overhanging a dizzying drop, or retracing our footsteps and approaching the location of the narcissus beds from the opposite direction. Despite the lateness of the hour, we opted for the latter. The following picture may give you some idea as to why:

 

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The delay cost us the chance to visit Ein Yorke’am, a beautiful desert canyon, but since it was the narcissi we had come to see, it could not be helped. And I am sure you will agree they were worth it!

P1030497 Clumps of wild narcissi in Nachal Dimona

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On our way back, as the sun started to set, we stopped off at the Ben Gurion Park in Dimona, with its gigantic, Gaudi-style environmental sculptures, by Ruslan Sergeev:

 

 

 
its forest, and its artificial lake:

 

 

 
Whoever would have dreamed, when Dimona was founded in the 1950s, that the out-of-the way development town, populated mostly by new immigrants, where nobody really wanted to live, would, one day, look like this?

But that’s Israel for you.  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Capital Idea!

Last week, the world reacted – mostly with disapprobation – to the fact that “the Leader of the Free World” faced up to reality and declared to all that Jerusalem is, indeed, Israel’s capital. The mass hysteria from the so-called “Palestinians” – and, indeed, from the entire Muslim world, (which recognises no Jewish rights in Jerusalem and denies our history there), is understandable, despite the fact that President Trump crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s when he spelled out what he means by that. He stated, quite clearly, that there is nothing in the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to prevent that city (or part of it) from eventually serving as the capital of a “Palestinian” state (an event I devoutly hope will never take place!), or, indeed, to express an opinion as to the borders of Israel’s capital. Many of us, in fact, noted – with disappointment – that he most emphatically did not refer to the city as Israel’s undivided capital. On the other hand, if you were listening carefully, you might have noticed the slight emphasis on the word “Israel”, when he said, at 5:29: “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital” (which is to say, nobody else’s).

 

 

 

Less understandable is the agitated response from other countries of the so-called Free World, who got their knickers into a real twist, claiming this was “ill-timed” and would further hinder the progress of the “Peace Process”. Ill-timed it certainly was! This is a declaration that should have been made 69 years ago. “The Free World” has long recognised the State of Israel within her 1949 armistice boundaries. Why, then, will they not recognise at least “West Jerusalem” as Israel’s capital? 

The capital city of a country, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary , is “The city or town that functions as the seat of government and administrative centre of a country or region.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a capital city as “being the seat of government”.

As President Trump so succinctly and clearly pointed out, Jerusalem fulfils all these functions. Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, is in Jerusalem. Israel’s Supreme Court is in Jerusalem. The official residences of Israel’s President and Prime Minister are in Jerusalem.  (All of these, by the way, are in “West Jerusalem” – that part of the city which lies within Israel’s internationally recognised boundaries.) The head offices of all the government ministries are also in Jerusalem. Thus, the legislature, judiciary and executive branches of government are all headquartered in Jerusalem. The same can most emphatically not be said of the instruments of government of the non-existent “State of Palestine”, which, in so far as they exist at all, are to be found either in Ramallah, or the Gaza Strip.

As for “hindering the Peace Process” – it should be blindingly obvious to everyone that there is no peace process. No doubt, the “Palestinians” will use this as yet another excuse not to negotiate – but then, they’ve been avoiding negotiations for decades, and perhaps the time has come for them to understand that, as time goes by, the rest of the world is also likely to reach the same conclusion as President Trump, namely, that “the belief that delaying the recognition of Jerusalem would advance the cause of peace” has proven to be a false hope, that “we cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past”  and that “it would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.”
And, if it comes to that – why would the establishment of a Palestinian state be dependent on having Jerusalem as its capital? When the United Nations passed the 1947 Partition Resolution, providing for the division of the Palestine Mandate territory into two states, one Jewish and one Arab (not “Palestinian”), it expressly determined that Jerusalem was to be a corpus separatum, not to be included in either state. The Jewish leadership accepted, albeit with heavy hearts, because they recognised the vital necessity of having a national homeland for the Jewish people even if, as so many Jewish leaders have put it, the Land of Israel, without Jerusalem, is like a body without a soul. The Arabs, however, rejected it – as they have rejected every offer of a settlement made to them since then. Clearly the “Palestinians” are not so desperate for an independent state as they would have us all believe.

Pessimists among Israel’s supporters and friends point out that President Trump made it clear that the actual transfer of the American Embassy will not take place for several years and that “talk costs nothing”. But we should remember – there was a time when no less than sixteen states had their embassies in Jerusalem, including the Netherlands, a handful from Africa, and almost a dozen from Latin America. As we see, embassies can be moved. On the other hand, the world’s only super power is now on record as recognising Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel.
An official declaration recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is not so easy to change.

 

Posted in International Relations, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Get Ready, Folks! It’s Shoe Time!

The great Swedish Wagnerian soprano, Birgit Nilsson, when asked what was the most essential requirement for singing the role of Isolde, is said to have replied: “Comfortable shoes”.

Although none of my choir’s upcoming performances is likely to require me to be on my feet for as long as even a single act of Tristan and Isolde the start of the new concert season made it imperative that I acquire a new pair of black shoes that are both elegant and comfortable.

I put this challenge first to the shoe salesman in one of the Jerusalem branches of H&O. He did his best, poor man, but his quest was doomed to failure. Everything that seemed half way suitable was either unavailable in black, unavailable in my size or unavailable as a pair!
Still, my foray was not a complete waste of time. I came home with a new little black dress (of the kind every woman should have, according to Coco Chanel) and a new black blouse – both of which I should be able to wear for spring and summer performances and neither of which were strictly necessary, as I have an abundance of festive black clothing for concert wear. Still it’s always nice to have something new 😉  .

The following day, I tried my luck at the downtown branch of Hamashbir Latzarchan, which, when I first came on aliyah, over 40 years ago, was Israel’s only real department store and not exactly a flagship of Fashion.
It has changed. I presented my challenge to the head of the shoe department, Gazi. “Elegant – and comfortable?” he said, stroking his chin. “They don’t always go together”.
How’s that for a masterpiece of understatement? In my experience, they hardly ever go together – if at all 😦  .

I was looking for a pair of simple court shoes (pumps) with a fairly low heel – but a heel, nonetheless, and preferably a wide one, as these are far more comfortable when one is going to be on one’s feet for any length of time.  I would have considered a cone heel. I refuse to wear stilettos. I won’t even wear kitten heels. I have no intention of torturing myself. I can’t imagine how the fashion industry has managed to convince women that tottering around on four-inch stilts is “power dressing”. To my way of thinking, the kind of man who thinks women look sexy in such instruments of torture is no different from the kind of man who used to fetishize the bound feet of Chinese women. As for Lady Gaga – she must be a masochist!

Gazi first showed me a display stand full of patent leather (or fake leather) shoes. I waved them away. I don’t really care for patent leather. I spotted a stand displaying the Fly Foot brand. These are supposed to be orthopaedically designed – not that my experience in the past with orthopaedically designed shoes has been a happy one. I once bought a pair of Lady Comfort shoes which turned out to be the most uncomfortable shoes it has ever been my misfortune to wear. I couldn’t even wear them long enough to break them in.

I found shoes which looked suitable but turned out to be too narrow. Another pair, which were similar, but wider, were not available in black, only in dark blue. I thought I might be able to get away with that, if I were to wear them with a long skirt or trousers, but it turned out that the size I usually wear was too large for me (or maybe too small – I can’t remember!) and the next size down (or up, as the case may be) was out of stock.

I was beginning to think that I had embarked on Mission Impossible. In despair, I turned back to the black patent shoes Gazi had first shown me.

They fit! They were even moderately comfortable. I began calculating. Could I stand in them for one hour? Just one hour. I believe I could.

I bought them. What else could I do?  I must have elegant black shoes for our concerts, especially when I am – occasionally – a soloist. And next week, I am going to the opera. I need to be elegant there as well.
As Gazi said – one has to suffer a little to be beautiful (I retorted that that’s easy for a man to say).

Well, what’s done is done, so let’s hope for the best. When I got them home, and tried them on again with my concert clothes, they were actually more comfortable than in the shop. That’s a promising start. Plus – they were really quite cheap. They were on sale, besides which, I have a Club Member’s card which gives me a considerable reduction.
And I doubt whether they are actually made of real leather, so I can feel virtuous about not being responsible for the slaughter of some hapless animal just to provide me with footwear 😉  .

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Posted in Daily Life, Humour, Modern Living, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 7 Comments