I’m So Busy, My Head Is Spinning…

Apologies to Tommy Roe for the paraphrase but…

My stepmother warned me that, after I retired, I would find myself busier than ever I was while I was working.

What can I say?

The last few weeks have been so full of music, tiyulim and related activity that I haven’t had time to write about them.

Hmmmm.

That’s generally considered to be A Good Thing, isn’t it?

Be that as it may, if I don’t write about them now, before  I  get swept up in the next round of Activities, I probably never will.

January finished on a high note (literally), with an opera, a tiyul and our annual Gilbert and Sullivan singalong.

I will start with the opera – Richard Strauss’s Salome at the Israel Opera.  This was a completely new, Israeli production, directed by Itay Tiran. The sets, costumes and lighting were all Israeli-designed, the choreographer and video designer were Israeli, and so, too, were the conductor and many of the soloists (depending on which day one saw the performance, of course).  I actually saw one of the guest artistes, the Swedish soprano, Elisabet Strid, in the title role and thought her excellent. I did not quite understand the intentions of the costume designer, whose sci-fi like costumes all included necklaces, or other accessories, made of lights. I did, however, find Eran Atzmon’s set quite fascinating, especially the giant, revolving sphere which was present throughout the opera, doing duty first as the moon, which so fascinates Narraboth and the Page, at the beginning of the opera, and later as the rock covering the entry to Jochanaan’s dungeon. The changes are effected by the brilliant lighting design of veteran Israel Opera lighting designer, Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi).  In fact, the lighting was crucial to the set – so much so as to be an inextricable part of it.

 

 

I did read, in one of the reviews, that the sci-fi costumes were intentional and that the whole thing was designed to make it seem as if the action was taking place on an alien planet. A friend of mine from my choir, who had seen the production a few days earlier, remarked that Herod resembled Jabba the Hutt from the Star Wars franchise. Perhaps, then, the light necklaces were supposed to remind us of the light sabres wielded by the Jedi knights?

Whatever the case may be, this production won rave reviews from the Israeli press and, believe me, it deserved it.

 

Next up was a study trip with Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi to Einot Tzukim (Ein Feshkha) and the Judaean desert, in the wake of the people, flora and fauna who have made the area their home.

Einot Tzukim is a nature reserve and archaeological site on the north-west shore of the Dead Sea. It is divided into three parts – a closed reserve, used by researchers, an open reserve, which contains mineral pools where one can bathe, and the so-called “Hidden Reserve”, where access is limited to organized groups and by special arrangement only.
In the open reserve, one can see the remains of a Herodian villa and industrial complex. The purpose of the latter is unknown, although some have theorized that it might have served for the production of the famous afarsimon perfume for which the region was famous.

The villa, too, judging by its remains, was impressive:

 

 

As we passed the mineral pools, our guide pointed out to us the plant known in Hebrew as תפוח סדום (tapuach sdom – Apple of Sodom). Its botanical name is calotropis procera.

 

 

The fruit is large, round and somewhat resembles an apple, but when opened, it is almost completely hollow, save for the seeds to which fibres are attached. The milky sap is toxic.

It has an alternative name in Hebrew – פתילת המדבר (p’tilat hamidbar – desert wick) and is so-called because the fibres attached to the seeds could be twisted into wicks for lighting oil-lamps.

Next we entered the Hidden Reserve, where you might find it hard to believe you were in the middle of the desert:

 

 

See the contrast!

 

 

 

 

 

 

WAIT A MINUTE!
How did the freshwater St. Peter’s Fish (tilapia), commonly found in the Sea of Galilee, and the River Jordan, reach this pool on the shores of the extremely salty Dead Sea?!
And not just any St. Peter’s Fish, but the most genetically pure members of the species in Israel?

 

 

From the Hidden Reserve, we proceeded to Wadi Nuhil:

 

 

 

 

 

Here, besides indigenous crops like date palms, a (successful) attempt has been made to grow imported fruits, such as the papaya:

 

 

 

In ancient times, however, the Wadi was home to hermits’ caves rather than to agriculturalists:

 

We made the steep climb up to one of these caves:

 

 

Those hermits certainly knew how to choose a room with a view 😉

 

The Judaean Wilderness has its share of Muslim shrines as well – not the least of them being Nabi Musa, the reputed Tomb of Moses. Of course, this does not fit the Biblical narrative, according to which, Moses died and was buried by the hand of God Himself, on Mount Nevo, east of the River Jordan. Indeed, originally, Nabi Musa was known merely as a vantage point on the route of travellers making the hadj (pilgrimage) to Mecca, from where they could look beyond the Jordan to Mount Nevo. Over the years, it became confused in the mind of Muslim believers with the actual Tomb, as happens with many shrines and thus, history is reinvented. Such reinvented histories continue to cause strife right up to the present day.

 

 

At the time we visited, extensive renovations were being carried out, under the aegis of the Palestinian Authority which plans to build a hotel on the site (where there was once a khan or caravanserai).

Unusually for these study trips, we returned to Jerusalem before the sun had completely set, but this would be offset by the next trip, much further afield. About that – more in my next post.

January went out in style with the Jerusalem Gilbert and Sullivan Singalong of Trial By Jury.  Although not formally staged, we always make an attempt to add “atmosphere” to these singalongs, by, for example, having the men wear sailor’s hats (as in the production of H.M.S. Pinafore two years ago).  This year, we were asked to come dressed as we would if we were going to appear in court. Naturally, I thought this would be a cinch. All I needed to do (as I fondly imagined), was to wear one of my “lawyer’s suits”, which have been hanging in my wardrobe since I retired.
Alas! I had forgotten that clothes left hanging unused for more than a year, inevitably shrink at least two sizes.
It’s a basic law of nature 😉 .

And on that note, I will leave you.
Till the next time – Lehitra’ot (להתראות).

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The Bridges of Beit Shean County

2018 ended with some pretty cold, rainy weather but 2019 got off to a good start with several sunny days in succession – at least in the east of the country, which is the focal point of the current series of Yad Ben Zvi study-tours in which I am taking part.
Two days into the New Year, we headed north-east in the direction of the Beit Shean valley, in the Lower Galilee district of northern Israel. This is the area known as the Valley of the Springs (Emeq Hama’ayanot – עמק המעיינות), lying at the foot of the Mountains of Gilboa.  It is a popular region for hiking, because of the many streams and springs which are found there.

Our first stop was at the Al-Kantara Bridge, which we reached by travelling along the ancient Nachal Amal  (the Amal Stream).  The bridge, which was built in the Mamluk period (1260 – 1517), carried an aqueduct which brought water from Nachal Amal to the agricultural areas north of Nachal Harod (the Harod Stream), which it crossed.

 

 

In this close-up picture, you may be able to see more clearly the travertine wall which the calcium carbonate-rich waters of the stream have created below the bridge.

 

 

The bridge originally had three arches. One of them collapsed and was repaired by the British Mandate authorities – efficiently, no doubt, but with little regard for authenticity, as you can see, for they used concrete rather than stone or bricks.

I mentioned earlier that we were blessed with bright, sunny weather, although it was far from being a hot day. The Beit Shean Valley can be unbearably hot and humid in summer, but on January 2nd, it was hovering around a comfortable 20 degrees C and I felt no need or desire to discard either of the two light sweaters I was wearing. However, the heavy rain of the previous days had had two effects. One, the ground was still exceedingly muddy and, in many places, one had to take great care not to slip. The other – more pleasant – was that everywhere around us was green and bursting with life, although the carpets of wildflowers which mark the beginning of spring were not yet visible. However, there are some growing things that follow the rain, as surely as night follows day:

 

 

The next place on our itinerary was the Twin Flour Mills, also known as the Bridge Mill, one (or perhaps I should say two?) of the approximately 30 flour mills located along the course of the Harod Stream and powered by its rushing waters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Known as “the Twin Mills” because of the two identical water funnels situated between them, they were powered by water flowing along the river from the bottom of a 7-metre high cascade into a central aqueduct dating from the Byzantine era and thence, into a secondary aqueduct built some time in the pre-Arab era.

 

As I said, the mill is also known as the Bridge Mill, because it is situated beside a bridge originally built by the Romans, but later renovated by the Ottoman Turks.

Speaking of bridges – we were now on what is known as “the Bridges Trail” – for obvious reasons, as you will see from the pictures below. As we wandered along the Harod Stream, everywhere we looked was green and growing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eventually, we reached the so-called “Truncated Bridge”.

 

 

Built on mighty arches towering 14 metres above the Harod Stream, the remains of this enormous bridge testify to the power and importance of Beit Shean (Scythopolis) in Roman times.  But the bridge collapsed in the earthquake which destroyed the city in 749 CE. There is, however, a local Arab legend which tells a different story of how the bridge came to be broken. According to this legend, the Crusader king, Godfrey of Bouillon, was a mighty warrior, who wrought havoc upon the Muslims, by virtue of a magical crown which had the power of rendering him invisible. He was thus able to break through the Muslim lines and cut down his enemies at will.
In despair, the Muslims called upon their greatest hero, Ali Ibn Abu Talib, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammed, for assistance. (Ali actually lived and died some 440 – 450 years before Godfrey, but facts are facts and legends are legends.)
Ali sallied forth at the head of his army, and actually succeeded in besting the Crusaders – until Godfrey donned his magic crown, at which point, the tide of battle turned and Godfrey managed to wound the Muslim warrior in his arm, forcing him to retreat to the as-yet-unbroken bridge. There, Ali prayed for assistance from Allah. Allah heard his prayer and sent his servant El-Khader (identified by some as Elijah the Prophet), who flew over the heads of the protagonists and snatched off Godfrey’s magic crown. Thus, the Crusader warrior became visible to his rival. Ali then raised his sword and smote Godfrey such a mighty blow as to cleave him, his horse and the bridge on which they fought, in two.
As I said, facts are facts and legends are legends. Historians relate that Godfrey actually died in Jerusalem, after a prolonged illness (attributed,  by some, to poison) some 450 years after Ali was assassinated in Kufa  (Iraq).

 

 

 

 

 

Continuing our walk beside the stream, we saw many fascinating sights, such as this shed snakeskin:

 

 

We were accompanied by the babbling of rushing water:

 

 

 

 

 

And everywhere, cranes were flying overhead:

 

 

 

Eventually, we reached our next port-of-call, the Nachal Tavor railway bridge:

 

 

 

The bridge was built by the Ottoman Turks as part of the Hejaz Railway in the first decade of the 20th century. This was a narrow-gauge railway, intended to connect Istanbul, capital of the Ottoman Empire, with Mecca, the holiest city in Islam. Construction was halted by the outbreak of World War I, in which the Ottoman Empire found itself on the losing side, and thus, the line only got as far as Medina.

The Nachal Tavor Bridge was part of the branch line connecting the Port of Haifa to Dera’a in Syria, on the main Damascus-Medina line. Its last stop within Mandatory Palestine was at Al-Hamma, now known as Hammat Gader, and it was part of the legendary Jezreel Valley Railway.
Regular services on this part of the line ceased after Israel’s War of Independence (1948 – 1949), partly because of the incompatibility of its narrow gauge with the rest of the Israeli rail system, not to be renewed until 2016!

As we walked back to the bus, the sun was beginning to sink slowly in the west, its rays reflected in the many fishponds in the vicinity:

 

 

 

I was fascinated to see many “islands” of what looked like tiny windmills, scattered across the ponds.  I was told that, in order to ensure the quality of the water, dozens of little pumps serve to make sure the waters are well-mingled and the oxygen content evenly distributed:

 

 

Our final destination (I couldn’t resist that one, in view of the previous railway references) was the Gesher lookout point, offering a magnificent view of the Jordan Valley, all the way beyond the river  into the Hashemite Kingdom:

This was an opportunity to summarise all we had learned today, about the history of the bridges of Beit Shean County.

Our next tour is due to take place next week. Before that, however, I must just add a brief update on my previous post and tell you that last week, the terrorist Assam Barghouti, who carried out the terror attack at the Givat Assaf Junction last month, and who, together with his brother Saleh, was responsible for the murder of the baby Amiad Yisrael Ish-Ran at Hanukkah, was finally arrested last week. He was apparently planning yet another terror attack which, thankfully, was thwarted by his arrest.  As members of his victims’ families noted, his arrest brings no real comfort, other than the prevention of future attacks,  because he was taken alive and will very likely be released some time in the future, as has happened with other terrorist murderers. However, I join the Security Services in hoping that, besides preventing the attack he was planning at the time of his arrest, they will also be able to extract from him information about other terrorists who were involved in the attacks at Givat Assaf and at Ofra, and who may still be active in terror cells.

And, to be quite honest – I care very little what they have to do to extract that information from him.

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“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.

REFRAIN:
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.

REFRAIN:
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.

REFRAIN:
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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Oases

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Translation:

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.

Refrain:
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.

Refrain:
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:

 

WhatsApp Image 2018-10-31 at 10.48.2511

 

One of several waterfalls feeding the stream:

 

rsz_20181031_112550waterfall_at_ein_bokek

 

 

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

 

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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:

 

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Another waterfall:

 

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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 😉  .

 

 

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

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some of which were slippery with green algae:

 

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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:

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

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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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