The Corona Chronicles – A Tiny Taste of Freedom (or: How to Go Shopping and Stay Sane)

I have mentioned in the past – more than once – how I hate shopping.聽 I know quite a few people for whom a morning spent in an upmarket shopping mall is their dream of heaven 馃槈聽 but I am not one of those people. I get tired and bored very easily, progressing from shop to shop and usually, getting all hot and bothered as I try things on, never completely satisfied with any of them.

It took a pandemic, and the ensuing lockdown, to change my mind.

Mind you, I don’t say I would have gone on last week’s shopping expedition if I had not been faced with the choice of using up all the points on a gift-card from my former place of work by the 1st of September, or losing them all, or if my newfound enthusiasm for bakery had not required me to stock up on cake tins, measuring cups, cookie-cutters and various other items of kitchen paraphernalia for which I had previously had little or no need.

Quite apart from my dislike of shopping, I am still afraid to go out anywhere where I am likely to come into close quarters with other people in any significant number, in view of the high rate of infection during this Second Wave of the Chinese Coronavirus and the rather cavalier attitude of聽 the general public towards the Social Distancing rules. But I had money that I had to spend and things that I had to buy. The gift-card was not one which can be utilised on-line and I was therefore going to have to take the plunge.
Clearly, a Plan of Action was required.

First of all, I made a list of what I needed/wanted to buy. Then, I made a list of all the shops where this particular gift card is accepted, cross-referencing the two lists.

The next step was to decide which shopping mall to favour with my patronage.聽 I ruled out the Malcha Shopping Mall, the country’s largest, precisely聽because of its size and popularity, and the likelihood of its being crowded.
My two favourite malls in Jerusalem are the Hadar Mall, in the Talpiot neighbourhood, and the Mamilla Mall, opposite the Old City’s Jaffa Gate. I know I have mentioned the latter before. It is extremely upmarket (ie. expensive) but the shops I had marked off as suitable for my requirements belong to retail chains which have branches in all聽 of the major shopping malls and their prices are the same in all of them. Mamilla had the added advantage of being an open air mall and, as we are constantly being told, there is less chance of being infected with COVID-19 in the open air.

Mamilla it was then.
I went by taxi as I still dare not risk travelling by public transport.聽 And as soon as I entered the avenue, lined on both sides by shops and restaurants, I knew I had made the right choice.聽 Mamilla is more than a shopping mall. It is also an outdoor art gallery with regularly changing displays of sculpture, all of which is for sale. Usually, there is a single theme running through each exhibition of artwork. Very often, this theme is somehow connected with music – as it was this time:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After so many weeks cooped up indoors, it was like being on holiday. There were even street musicians – such as these two enterprising young boys, who brought a touch of the exotic to a Jerusalem street, with an unusual combination of Spanish guitar and Azerbaijani kamancha,聽 to remind Israelis trapped by lockdown restrictions and travel bans, of foreign skies and distant horizons.

 

 

Sunshine, fresh air, art and music – what more could one ask?

Oh, of course! The shopping! I almost forgot…

Well, I was very methodical about it. First stop, SuperPharm – the only place where anyone bothered to take my temperature at the entrance – to stock up on essential toiletries, in anticipation of another possible lockdown.

Next, to American Eagle Outfitters. Having already checked out their online catalogue and decided exactly what I wanted, I was able to wrap this up fairly quickly. Of course, navigating the changing rooms without touching anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary proved a trifle awkward. Well, impossible, to be quite frank. Fortunately (and surprisingly), the very first outfit I tried on proved to be the right size and a perfect fit. I can’t remember when I last made such a speedy decision about clothes.
Queueing at the checkout point took longer, however and was fraught with anxiety because other people waiting in line seemed to be unaware of the purpose of those painstakingly marked-out circles on the floor, two metres apart, and many of them seemed to think that facemasks were designed to be worn low on the chin, rather than over the nose and mouth! Fortunately, a polite remark did not induce the kind of explosive reaction I have been reading about in American media (or, indeed, that one tends to expect, perhaps unfairly, from Israelis).

Having disposed of half the points on my gift-card, I proceeded to the next shop on my list – Fox Home, to purchase various items of kitchenware.聽 Ordinarily, I would not have considered much glamour to attach to the acquisition of such mundane items, but Fox Home has some really nice stuff,聽 colourful and guaranteed to make cooking a pleasure. Goodness! I’m beginning to sound like an advert, aren’t I?聽 No, Fox Home is not paying me to endorse their products.聽 Perhaps I should ask them to do so聽 馃槈 .
Anyway, besides the cake tins, cookie-cutters and measuring cups previously mentioned, I came away from there with a new bread bin, a set of brightly coloured tea-towels, and a couple of other things which I had never before imagined I would need.聽 Alas, I forgot to buy a new flower-shaped sponge in their bathroom section聽 馃槮聽 .

I assumed that by now, I had more than used up the points on my gift-card, but I had not taken into account the fact that almost every item in the shop was being sold at a 30 – 40% discount. As a result, I still had about 100 shekels to spare. I hadn’t intended to buy any more books at present as I already have about fifty as yet unread waiting on my library/study shelves – both in Hebrew and English.聽 But a couple more couldn’t do any harm, and I remembered there was a branch of Steimatzky (Israel’s largest bookshop chain) in Mamilla.
Except that there wasn’t. I walked the entire length of the mall but it was not there!

Oh, well! (I thought to myself). I can easily go into town next week and spend the last few shekels (as you can see, this shopping thing was beginning to grow on me, ha ha ha).聽 Holding that thought, I decided to head for home.

A couple of days later, I thought I would just check on-line to see exactly how much money was left on the gift-card. Imagine my consternation when I discovered that, in addition to the 102 shekels remaining from my foray to Mamilla,聽 a further 385 NIS had been added to the card (last year’s Rosh Hashana gift for which, until now, there had been no room on the card)!

So now, I really have no choice but to force myself to make a trip next week to the Hadar Shopping Mall, to spend the rest of the money.

It’s a hard life…

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The Corona Chronicles – The Anniversary Waltz

Today is a special day. It’s the 46th anniversary of my聽aliyah (ascent) to Israel聽 –聽aliyah being the term we use for immigration to Israel. The opposite term, the one we use for emigration from Israel, is聽yerida (descent).

The other anniversary I am celebrating today is the 14th anniversary of this blog!
It seems incredible, but I have been blogging for fourteen years!!! Looking back on my early posts, I see that they were highly political in nature – and today’s post will also be more political than has been my custom lately.

For some weeks now, there has been considerable unrest throughout the country, manifesting itself in demonstrations mostly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but in other towns also. Many of the demonstrators have been protesting about the economic hardship ensuing from the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic – and, believe me, it is hard not to sympathise with them.

But there is another kind of demonstrator, those who are motivated solely by a desire to oust the Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. These people, known here as the Black Flag movement, have been agitating against the Prime Minister (allegedly because he has been indicted for corruption, but the trial has not yet taken place) since long before the Coronavirus Crisis. This movement is a development of the movement which initiated weekly demonstrations outside the private home of the Attorney-General, demanding that he press charges against the PM, and further demanding that the so-called evidence against the PM be interpreted and presented in such a way as to invoke the most serious charges possible. In other words, they demanded not only that the Prime Minister be indicted, but that they themselves should dictate the wording of the indictment!

The Left, having failed to oust the right-wing Likud government under the leadership of Netanyahu, realising that Netanyahu is the glue who holds the right-wing coalition together, have set their sights on removing that glue. Netanyahu has led the country for the past 11 years, winning in election after election. That is how our democracy works – but the Left claims that an eleven-year tenure under the leadership of one man – even though he has been democratically elected – is a danger to democracy. They have failed, again and again, to unseat him by democratic means (ie. through the ballot box) and now hope to unseat him by any other means possible. We have had three elections over the past year, and even with corruption charges hanging over his head, they failed to unseat him. The last round of elections was held days after he was indicted.聽 After the elections, they petitioned the Supreme Court for a ruling that a person who had been indicted, even if his trial had not yet taken place, could not be allowed to form a government. The Supreme Court, while making a few remarks about the moral stain, was unable to find a legal impediment to Netanyahu’s formation of a coalition government. STILL the Black Flag movement is keeping up the pressure. Now, they are jumping on board the bandwagon of those protesters who are (rightly) dissatisfied with the government’s mishandling of the Coronavirus Crisis.

Let me be clear. The government聽has mismanaged the crisis. I would go so far as to say grossly mismanaged it.聽 After presenting a plan for gradually easing lockdown聽 restrictions, and then waiting after each stage to see the effect on the spread of the disease, before proceeding to the next stage, they allowed themselves to be pressured by owners of all kinds of businesses, into almost abandoning the step-by-step strategy, drastically shortening the intervals between each stage and opening up the economy almost completely, far too soon – with the result that we had hardly left the First Wave of the pandemic behind us, before the Second Wave took hold.聽 The promised economic incentives don’t seem to have materialised – at least not for everyone to whom they were promised. There still doesn’t seem to be a long-term strategy for managing the pandemic without destroying the economy. We do now have a single person tasked with overall management of the pandemic, but it’s early days yet to see if this makes any difference.
In the meantime, we have a government and it seems to me that letting them get on with the business for which the coalition was formed (assuming they can stop squabbling over whether we need a one-year emergency budget or a two-year “long-term-strategy” budget) is a far better idea than holding elections again, for the fourth time within a year!

Since I am in Rant Mode, I would like to make plain that I have nothing but anger and contempt for the behaviour of some people on the extreme Right, as well – who have taken it upon themselves to physically attack anti-Netanyahu demonstrators, with stones and glass bottles. Some anti-Netanyahu demonstrators were even stabbed.聽 These thugs聽 have been condemned across the political spectrum – not that this has prevented the Left from accusing Netanyahu of inciting the attacks (which is, of course, nonsense).

I could go on and on, but it just makes me sick at聽 heart, especially when I remember that tomorrow is聽Tisha b’Av, the anniversary of the destruction of both the First and Second Temples – and that our Sages have stated that the reason for the fall of the Second Temple was Causeless Hatred between Jews.

There is plenty of Causeless Hatred in Israel today, and it is coming from both Left and Right.聽 This is not something for which we can blame the government. This is something which is within the control of each and every one of us.聽 If we cannot rein it in, then – for the first time in my 46 years here, which have seen wars, terrorist attacks and rampant inflation – I fear for our future.

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The Corona Chronicles – Looking For A Place To Vent

How much longer is this going to go on? First of all, we endured weeks – nay, months – of lockdown. Then the government began slowly (but, evidently, not slowly enough, as has now become clear) to ease up the restrictions designed to prevent the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, because of the too-rapid return to “normal”, as well as the widespread disregard by far too many people of the remaining social distancing restrictions, especially the requirement to wear face masks which cover the nose and mouth – including government ministers and even police officers, who are supposed to be enforcing the restrictions! – the daily increment to the number of COVID-19 carriers, as well as the numbers of actively sick, is rising by leaps and bounds. The economic situation is dire and businesses which were already in difficulty before the pandemic and which needed only a little push to send them over the edge, are facing possible bankruptcy.

In search of somewhere to vent my frustration, I find myself wasting more and more聽 time in fruitless arguments on Facebook, or on YouTube, merely as a way to let off steam!

As a result, I have found myself branded a “libtard” by followers of The Daily Wire and of Prager University’s YouTube channel, because I pointed out that people who identify as transgender might be suffering from chromosomal or hormonal anomalies, or have been born “intersex”. But when, in the course of a heated discussion on Facebook, I enquired what percentage of people identifying as transgender had actually been diagnosed with such an anomaly, I found myself abused as “a bigot”, because I refused to accept the subjective feelings of “transgender” people as sufficient cause to accept biological males as females or biological females as men and because I adhere to the belief that biology does determine gender. Note, I said Biology – not Anatomy.

Likewise, I have managed to arouse the wrath of both the “Pro-Choice” and the “Pro-Life” lobbies on the question of abortion, as I do not agree fully with either side.

And let’s not even get into the race riots in the United States!

However, unlike so many who cravenly cave to the bullying of the “Cancel Culture”, issuing pathetic apologies for things they might have said or done ten or twenty years ago, humbly begging for forgiveness in a manner reminiscent of the show trials of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, I will not grovel before bullies from either the Right or the Left. I will continue to think for myself, and will not be dictated to by anyone, “conservative” or “liberal”.

As long as I am managing to anger both sides, I feel I must have found the Golden Mean 馃槈 .

And now, having got that off my chest, I am going to relax on a cruise to the Greek islands – courtesy of YouTube 馃檪 .

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The Corona Chronicles – The Second Wave

With 288 new cases over the past 24 hours, it seems safe to say that the expected “Second Wave”聽 has arrived.聽 In spite of that, the government continues to loosen the restrictions on movement and assembly. The railway is to be opened again, and cultural performances (theatre, etc.) are to be permitted although with an audience of no more than 250 (500, with a special dispensation from the Ministry of Health). I have tickets for the opera in two weeks time, but that just isn’t going to happen. Many theatres, concert halls and places of entertainment have said that opening to only partial capacity is simply not economically viable. I would say this is certainly true of the opera which is, in any case, one of the most expensive forms of entertainment there is. The auditorium of the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Centre, where the operas are staged, seats 1,644 when full – and it usually is full. I just checked their website and it says there that they are excited to be back and are currently working on a new performance schedule. However, I doubt that they will be ready for a full-scale performance in just a fortnight.

The death toll in Israel from COVID – 19 stands at 303. That includes a young man of 26 who died a few days ago – a man with no pre-existing medical conditions, who had previously been treated for the virus and was believed to have recovered. Unfortunately, the virus caused a rare complication leading to an inflammatory disease of the heart muscle which proved fatal.聽 聽It is frightening that there is still so much we don’t know about the coronavirus and the complications it can cause, even when the actual symptoms are apparently mild.

On Sunday, we resumed choir practice – sort of.聽 Instead of meeting twice a week, all together, those of us who were ready to risk meeting at all (about 18, out of 25) were divided up into groups, each group to meet once a week with the conductor. Those of us who preferred to meet out of doors, met on Sunday and the rest met indoors yesterday. There should have been nine of us with the conductor, but in the event, we were only seven – and I was the only soprano. Nevertheless, it was good to sing together with other voices after such a long hiatus.

As far as my field-trips with Yad Ben Zvi go, we were recently notified that they will be resumed next month (for the shorter, half-day trips), while for those of us who prefer to finish the course of archaeological field-trips (of which there are two left), these will take place in September.聽 It’s not an easy decision to make. It can be pretty hot in September – and these full-day trips involve a considerable amount of travel by coach with all the problems of social distancing and face-masks involved.聽 In addition to which, there is no telling whether the Second Wave will have passed by then, or got worse, or whether there will be a Third Wave.

As I was writing this post, news came in of the death of World War 2 icon Dame Vera Lynn, the “Sweetheart of the Forces”. I don’t know why this affected me so badly, but I sat and cried for an hour, then put on a playlist of her songs on YouTube – and cried some more. I was born quite a while after the war,聽 but she’s tied up in my mind with so many things I can’t even begin to express. And, of course, for many who did not know her in her heyday, she will now always be associated with the COVID -19 pandemic, the enforced social distancing and the longing that one day, hopefully not too far away, “We’ll Meet Again”.

I can do no better than to leave you with this, her signature song:

 

 

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The Corona Chronicles – We’re Not Yet Out Of The Woods

I hate it when people say “I told you so” but – I told you so.

A month since the government gradually started to ease the lockdown restrictions here in Israel, and a fortnight after they rashly allowed schools to reopen, the number of new COVID – 19 cases is climbing again. At the weekend, the graph spiked at 115 new cases in a single day. Yesterday, there were 98 new cases. Most of the new cases are centred on schools in the Jerusalem area (but not only) – and one school in particular. And this is attributable to the disdain shown by staff and students for the conditions set down by the government for the reopening of schools.

But the truth must be told. Since the relaxation of restrictions, there has been a widespread slackening off of “Corona Discipline”, not only amongst the general public, but also by ministers and parliamentarians. At the extended Shavuot weekend, the media were full of news items about how Israelis were celebrating “the end of the pandemic”, even though they had all been warned that it was聽not over and that a “Second Wave” was almost certain to strike before the end of the summer. People flocked to the parks and beaches, without face masks and without observing the social distancing rules which were still in effect. Even before that, pubs and nightclubs, which had been allowed to open as long as they observed certain rules, did not enforce them (claiming that they could not do so), and even a walk down the street to go shopping exposed the law-abiding citizen to dozens of others who were wearing their masks on their chins rather than over their noses and mouths!

The government says, however, that it is too soon to be sure if this is, indeed, the expected “Second Wave” or merely a localised outbreak and has therefore decided to wait and see, rather than re-impose restrictions which have already been lifted. Fortunately, though, they have at least reconsidered a further easing of restrictions which had been planned for the coming days.

Be that as it may, Yours Truly decided not to take unnecessary risks and, instead of going to my first singing lesson in three months, decided to take up my vocal coach’s offer of a lesson via Zoom.

Which, of course, brings me to my choir. We had a meeting on Sunday – also via Zoom – to discuss when, and in what format, we can venture to start meeting again in person for rehearsals, given the opinion of several experts that choral singing is one of the activities most likely to spread the virus. We have not yet reached a conclusion. Yours Truly was not the only one to think we should wait to see what happens with this latest outbreak of the disease.

It occurs to me that it’s been a while since I taught my non-Hebrew-speaking readers any new Hebrew words, so I shall make up for it now with a whole slew of them.聽 First of all, the Hebrew word for virus (not the kind that gets into your computer) is聽negif聽 (谞讙讬祝) – with the accent on the second syllable. COVID – 19 is simply called negif hacorona.聽 I have heard several suggestions for a proper Hebrew name for the virus, based on the Hebrew words for various kinds of crown or coronet, but so far, the Academy of the Hebrew Language聽 has not seen fit to adopt any of them.

Next up – Social Distancing is聽richuk chevrati (专讬讞讜拽 讞讘专转讬), with the accent on the last syllable in each word. “Ch” is pronounced as something between Johann Sebastian Bach (of course, I would聽make the musical connection 馃槈 ) and聽 the Spanish name Juan. The expression comes from the same roots as rachok (专讞讜拽), meaning “far” and聽chevra (讞讘专讛), meaning “society” or “company”.

Last, but not least, we have just celebrated Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), when it is customary to eat lots of milk products – and what would Shavuot be without Cheesecake (Ougat Gvina – 注讜讙转 讙讘讬谞讛), from the words聽Ouga (cake) and聽Gvina (cheese)?
Since my cheesecake turned out spectacularly well, I can’t possibly聽not聽 share the recipe with you.

 

SHIMONA’S CHEESECAKE

INGREDIENTS

1 tbsp kosher gelatine powder
125 ml (half a cup) boiling water
250 grams Petit Beurre/digestive biscuits
100 grams unsalted butter
750 grams soft white cream cheese (9% fat)
150 grams (2 thirds of a聽 cup) sugar plus 2 tbsp sugar
250 ml whipping cream (32% or 38% fat)
Juice of half a lemon (optional)
A handful of raisins and/or cranberries (also optional)

METHOD

1. Melt the gelatine in half a cup of boiling water and set aside to cool.
2. Crush the biscuits in a food processor or blender.
3. Melt the butter in small saucepan or a microwave till it turns to liquid, pour over the biscuits and mix well.
4. Pour the biscuit crumb and butter mixture into a round cake mould (26 or 28 cm diameter).
5. Mix the cream cheese with 150 grams of sugar.
6. Whip up the whipping cream together with 2 tbsp of sugar until it is stiff and then fold it into the cheese mixture.
7. Add the gelatine mixture which should have now cooled down.
8. At this point, you can add the lemon juice, but, as I said, it’s optional. You also have the option now to toss in a handful of raisins and/or cranberries into the cream-cheese mixture.
9. Pour the cream-cheese mixture over the biscuit crumb mixture.
10. Cover the whole with cling-wrap and refrigerate for several hours until the cake “sets”.

 

 

 

 

Bon appetit –聽or, as we say in Hebrew,聽b’te-avon (讘转讬讗讘讜谉).

 

 

 

Posted in Cuisine, Daily Life, Modern Living, News, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

The Corona Chronicles – Loosening Up

As the number of COVID – 19 patients continues to fall, Israel is gradually moving out of lockdown. I wish I could be sure that the decrease in new cases was not merely due to a drop in the number of people being tested. However, more importantly perhaps, the number of seriously ill continues to fall and for the last two days (or possibly three), no new deaths from the virus have been recorded.聽 If all goes well,聽 many of the remaining restrictions will be removed after Shavuot (Pentecost), which falls this Friday, May 29th – and by the middle of June, theatres and concert halls will also be able to open. However, the social distancing restrictions (face masks, 2 metres distance) are expected to remain in place for a while yet. And, of course, in common with all the rest of the world, a second wave of the disease is predicted later in the year.聽 聽So I still hesitate about getting back to “normal” – whatever that may mean.

Truth to tell, there seems to be a considerable amount of confusion as to what is allowed now and what is not. Some of the government regulations appear to contradict others.

Nor is that the only area where confusion reigns. The weather, too, seems to be confused as to what season it is 馃槈 .聽 Last week’s聽sharav,with temperatures throughout the country averaging around 40 degrees C, might have convinced Israelis that summer was here at last, but over the weekend, the聽sharav broke, temperatures plummeted and Sunday (yesterday) brought pouring rains and unseasonably cool weather (about 16 C here in Jerusalem).

I, myself, despite my hesitation, gave in last week and had a haircut. I had planned on waiting a couple of weeks more, until June, but I feared that if I waited any longer, it would require a machete to hack through my unruly locks. Besides which, the soaring temperatures made it unbearably uncomfortable. The hairdresser complained that it was hard to work while sticking to the Ministry of Health directives (face mask, latex gloves and a visor), and claimed that there was a loss of sensitivity in his fingers which made the job of cutting and styling that much harder. Nor did he seem impressed when I pointed out that surgeons manage to perform the most delicate of operations wearing surgical gloves.聽 However, he managed to do a pretty good job, nonetheless.

I also attended the聽Pidyon Haben ceremony for my nephew’s firstborn son. This is a fairly rare event in Judaism, and for me, it was a first. It was also my first social engagement since the relaxation of lockdown restrictions. I wore a face-mask but the ceremony was preceded by light refreshments (quite a lot of them, actually) and, of course, one cannot eat with a mask on. So I suppose I shall spend the next 14 days in trepidation, hoping I didn’t catch anything…

Meanwhile,聽 I continued my quest to become a master-chef聽 and now have two more cake recipes under my belt (in more ways than one).聽 馃槈
The first is for a Yoghurt and Lemon Cake, the recipe for which, I found on YouTube.

 

 

 

 

 

There were several recipes for this type of cake there and I chose this particular one because it requires only two eggs. You may recall that I mentioned, in previous posts, the on-and-off egg shortage which seems to be afflicting us (or not, as the case may be).聽 I, personally, have not experienced any difficulty in purchasing eggs but since not a few of my friends apparently have, I preferred to err on the side of caution and use no more than I have to. I suppose it’s selfish of me, but when anyone other than family and close friends ask if I know where eggs can be found, I reply that this is classified information and if I were to tell them, I would have to kill them 馃槈 .

I should just mention that I used a slightly greater amount of yoghurt than in the video-clip, as yoghurt is generally sold in Israel in 150 gram tubs. However,聽 since the yoghurt container is afterwards used as a measuring cup, all the other ingredients were increased proportionately, so no harm was done.

The second cake was one which I have made several times before, but was never really satisfied with the result. I mentioned it in my previous post – a dried-fruit and nut loaf. Now, it just so happens that a friend of mine recently shared with me her brother’s recipe for what she calls “a boozy fruit loaf”. I haven’t yet got round to making it, as it requires several ingredients which I don’t have, but it did give me an idea of how I might “tweak” my own dried-fruit and nut loaf, simply by soaking the dried fruit overnight in alcohol. So I gave it a try and found that it vastly improved my own recipe. I should explain that the much richer recipe Amanda sent me uses margarine and three eggs, whereas my recipe uses no margarine and only two eggs. My tweaked recipe turned out much better than my previous attempts. Clearly, the alcohol made a world of difference 馃槈聽 .

So, here is my Fruit Cocktail Loaf:

 

 

And for those who’d like to try making it, here is the recipe:

Shimona’s Fruit Cocktail Loaf

Ingredients:

Cherry brandy
2 eggs
6 tbsp sugar
6 tbsp plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
100 grams chopped walnuts/pecans/hazelnuts/almonds (*that means 100 grams altogether. You can use any or all of these kinds)
100 grams raisins/sultanas/dried cranberries (*see note on nuts)
6 – 8 dried fruits (I used apricots and prunes. You can also use dates)

Method:

  1. Cut the dried fruits into small cubes.
  2. Soak the raisins and other dried fruits overnight in cherry brandy.
  3. Whisk the eggs (no need to separate the whites and the yolks) in a bowl.
  4. Add the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and sugar).
  5. Add the chopped nuts.
  6. Add the (now not so dry) fruit.聽 But drain off the excess alcohol first. (What to do with it, I leave to your own ingenuity. I’m sure you can think of something.聽 馃槈 )
  7. Pour the mixture into an oblong loaf tin (what we, in Israel, call an “English cake” tin).
  8. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees Celsius.
    (You need to keep an eye on this. Every oven is different. I baked it for only 30 minutes this time. )

That’s all there is to it. Good luck!

Before I go, as this Friday is Shavuot, when we celebrate the Giving of the Torah to the Children of Israel,聽 let me wish you all Chag Sameach (讞讙 砖诪讞).

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The Corona Chronicles – The Things We Learn In Lockdown

Confession time:聽 I am not much good at baking. My cakes don’t rise properly, and if they do, they are usually too dry, or even burnt. That’s why I usually confine myself to baking a cake once a year, and it’s almost invariably a cheesecake, for Shavuot (Pentecost).聽 In fact, to say I “bake” a cake would technically be incorrect, as it is one of those cakes made without baking, using a base of biscuit crumbs bound together with melted butter or margarine.

The COVID-19 Crisis, however, has forced me to learn new skills. For example, for several weeks, I was unable to obtain the聽challot (traditional braided bread loaves) which I like for Shabbat and when it became possible to buy them, I was afraid to do so, as they are hand-made and are sold unwrapped and I was afraid of being infected by the virus. So I decided it was time to learn to make them.

I had never baked my own bread before. I had never cooked with yeast before either. This was going to be an interesting experiment.

I have a friend from my choir who loves cooking. He bakes his own bread. He makes home-made ice cream. He even brews his own beer and makes his own wine and cider. I asked him for a recipe. He sent me, not only the recipe, but an illustrated, step-by-step guide, to baking sweet聽challot聽(singular:聽challah).

I think the main reason I have always been afraid of using yeast is that the whole process takes such a lot of time, as one has to wait an hour to an hour and a half for the dough to rise. But I had nothing else to do and if I wanted聽challah for Shabbat, I was going to have to roll up my sleeves, gird my loins and get to work.

I can’t believe how well they turned out!

 

 

I know, I know.聽 The braiding effect is not too well-defined. But don’t forget, this was my very first attempt at baking bread!聽 And they tasted delicious – if a trifle sweet for my taste.

I have since baked two more batches, reducing the sugar content slightly. This was the latest:

 

 

 

My friend Louis, who gave me the recipe, thought these looked a little under-cooked, but I can assure you, they were not.聽 They are lighter in colour than the first batch and have a less “glazed” effect, because I used less egg-wash to brush them with before baking, in light of the on-and-off egg shortage we seem to be experiencing here since before Pessach.

In case anyone is interested, here is the recipe:

1. Mix 1 tbsp yeast and 1 tbsp sugar with 210 ml.聽 lukewarm water and allow to stand for 5 – 10 minutes until the mixture bubbles.
2. Add 1/4 cup of sugar, 1.5 tsp salt, 1/4 cup vegetable oil and a beaten egg and blend all the ingredients together.
3. Add 4 cups of flour, knead and allow the dough to rise for 1 hour, in a warm place.
4. Punch down and braid into 1 large, or 2 smallish loaves.聽 You can also divide the dough into 8 rolls, if you prefer.
5. Brush with egg-wash and allow to rise for 30 minutes more.
6. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes in a pre-heated oven, at 190 degrees C.
You need to keep an eye on the loaves once they are in the oven. The recipe I received called for 30 – 35 minutes in the oven, but I found 20 – 25 was quite sufficient.

Last week, having overcome my fear of yeast cooking and greatly emboldened by my success with the聽challot, I decided to try my hand at preparing home-made聽pita bread. Well, to be quite honest, I really had no choice in the matter. On聽Yom Ha’Atzma’ut (Independence Day), we were again under the same total lockdown that had been imposed for the Passover Seder, and so I was going to have to enjoy the traditional barbecue alone (save for another family get-together via Zoom). I don’t have a barbecue, but I could prepare the marinaded chicken breasts in the oven. However, what is a barbecue (or聽mangal, as we call it here) without聽pita聽bread? And, unfortunately, the local grocery store had none!

This time, I found a recipe on the internet and after a great deal of hesitation and dithering as to whether to聽cook the聽pitot in a skillet on the stove top, or bake them in the oven, I opted for the latter as being less messy and faster, since I would be able to bake several at a time, without having to flip them and risk being spattered with hot oil.

Dear Readers – I doubt that I shall ever buy聽 pita again. The home-made ones were absolutely delicious, even if they did not turn out as perfectly rounded as the mass-produced, store-bought variety:
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For me, Israel Independence Day would not be what it is, without the International Bible Quiz for Jewish Youth, held every year on this day, and celebrating the connection of the Jewish people with our history and our land. I watched it this year, ensconced in front of the TV, happily munching “barbecued” chicken breasts in a marinade invented by my brother, accompanied by potato salad and garden salad, all sandwiched into my own, home-made pita.
Pure delight.

I have also tried to vary my cake repertoire. A dried fruit and nut loaf, which I have attempted several times, was edible, but so far from perfect that I shall not expend too many words on it. On the other hand, a recipe for (vegan) chocolate cake which I found on YouTube and adapted, in accordance with the ingredients which I happened to have available, was such a success that it might well become a standby staple in my kitchen. It can even be cooked in a microwave oven!

Nor was my lockdown learning curve confined to the kitchen. For some time now, I have been experiencing audio problems with my computer (basically – no sound). Under normal circumstances, I would wait until my brother-in-law could come and fix it. The lockdown, however, prevented that – and I needed sound urgently, for the family Zoom link-up on the Seder night. So I started Googling and eventually steeled myself to uninstall my (rather old) loudspeakers, update the drivers and reinstall the speakers.
I am happy to report that it worked! The sound is still rather weak, because (I think) there is a loose wire in one (or both) of the speakers. But I was able to take part in the family Seder, a couple of video-conference rehearsals with my choir – and the聽Brit Mila (circumcision) of my nephew’s firstborn son, last Friday, all courtesy of Zoom聽 聽馃檪

Israel is gradually coming out of lockdown – but I have learned some valuable lessons in technology and household management which I might not otherwise have learned.

They do say every cloud has a silver lining, don’t they?

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The Corona Chronicles – Together But Alone

Today is Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars.聽 This is commemorated every year, one week after Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Memorial Day, and one day before Israel’s Independence Day. Usually, it is marked by nationwide ceremonies at military (and other) cemeteries, the length and breadth of the country. This year, due to the Coronavirus Crisis and consequent restrictions on mass gatherings,聽 these ceremonies are taking place without the presence of the public and in accordance with all the social distancing rules.

It was strange to see the plaza in front of the Western Wall so empty, yesterday evening, and to see the soldiers who formed the Honour Guard, the Chief-of-Staff, and聽 even the President, Reuven Rivlin, wearing surgical face-masks, and latex gloves. The representative of the bereaved families, who kindled the Memorial Beacon, was also masked.聽 Instead of the crowds who usually attend this ceremony, the whole country watched on television:

 

 

 

Israel Independence Day

 

 

After the ceremony, as the Chief Military Cantor sang聽Hatikvah, citizens across the country responded to the Master of Ceremonies’ call to come out onto their balconies and porches, and join in singing Israel’s National Anthem.

 

 

The strangeness continued today. On this day, bereaved families usually flock to visit the graves of their dear ones at the military cemeteries. But this year, under the shadow of the COVID-19 Crisis, the government ordered the military cemeteries closed from 4pm yesterday afternoon until the end of Independence Day, in order to prevent mass gatherings. Indeed,聽 a complete curfew has been imposed for the whole of Independence Day – just like at Pessach (see my previous post). And people are asking – if it was permissible to open branches of IKEA at the beginning of the week, why cannot families visit the graves of their loved ones on such a day as this? It is true that a guard of honour will be in place at all military graves throughout the day, but – it is not the same.

Remembrance Day, it has often been said, is not so much for the bereaved families – they need no special day to remember the sons and daughters, husbands and fathers, wives and mothers, brothers and sisters, who have fallen so that we might live. It is for the rest of us – a time to embrace the bereaved families and show them that they are not alone. The Coronavirus Crisis has done much to bring us together – so much so that I heard of an initiative among the Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) community, so often accused of cutting themselves off from the rest of Israel, so often at loggerheads with the secular community to the extent that they have frequently been castigated for refusing to take part in the two-minute silence at 11 am every Remembrance Day. They have taken it upon themselves to read the entire Book of Psalms 23,816 times – the number of Israel’s fallen – and to dedicate a book to the memory of each and every one of the Fallen.聽 The reading of psalms for the souls of the departed is a time-honoured Jewish tradition, and if you wish to take part in it, you can do so here 聽(in Hebrew) or here (in English).

And yet, it is painfully hard for the families of the Fallen, on this of all days, to be kept away from the last resting-place of their loved ones. This photograph, which was shared on social media, says it all. I am not certain who took the picture, but it broke me completely. The original caption read: “I understand it wasn’t possible for you to come this year – so I came to you instead.”

 

 

 

In just under an hour, the official ceremony for the end of Remembrance Day and the start of Independence Day will begin – also without the presence of the public. It, too, will be broadcast to the nation via TV and the internet.聽 Israel is 72 years young. Celebrate with us.

Chag Atzma’ut Sameach (讞讙 注爪诪讗讜转 砖诪讞 – Happy Independence Day).

 

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The Corona Chronicles – A Night Like No Other

As is the case throughout much of the world these past few weeks, Israel is in virtual lockdown due to the continuing COVID-19 Crisis. In order to ensure that people didn’t go spending the Passover Seder with their extended families, thus increasing the risk of spreading the infection (as happened during Purim, last month), the restrictions were tightened and we were “requested” not to leave our homes at all, from 6 pm. Wednesday evening till 7 am. the following morning. I could not, surely, have been the only one to think of that first Passover night, some 3,500 years ago, when the Children of Israel gathered in their houses in the Land of Egypt, at one and the same time fearful yet hopeful, their doorposts marked with the blood of the Paschal Lamb so that the Angel of Death might recognise and pass over their houses, as they awaited divine deliverance from bondage.

Tens of thousands – possibly hundreds of thousands – of Israelis (Yours Truly among them) – followed the emergency regulations but managed to unite their families by connecting during the Seder service via Zoom or Skype. The local mobile phone company Pelephon reported a 400% spike in the use of the Zoom app on Wednesday evening, in comparison to the same time the week before, and a 70% spike in the use of Skype.聽 Other families found divers ways to connect with friends and relations, without deviating from the Emergency Regulations but without having recourse to modern technology – although one group of Sephardi rabbis did issue a halakhic ruling, permitting the use of video-conferencing technology, in this specific emergency situation, and under certain conditions. Needless to say, their ruling immediately aroused controversy.聽 Those who did not have access to the appropriate technology, or who did not accept the ruling of the Sephardi rabbis, found other creative solutions. I heard of neighbours in an apartment building, who set up family tables in the communal courtyard, each nuclear family at their own table, but with the tables the requisite 2 metres apart. Other families ate on their balconies, or on the pavement outside their houses, so that they were “together” with the other residents of their block, yet still “in their own homes”.

 

 

 

 

Another feature of this utterly unique Seder night was the initiative (I believe, though I may be mistaken, by former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau) to get everyone to come to the balcony or the window at exactly 8:30 pm, to sing the Four Questions, a key part of the Passover Seder, traditionally asked by the youngest member of the family, and beginning with the words “Ma nishtana halayla hazeh mikol haleilot?” (诪讛 谞砖转谞讛 讛诇讬诇讛 讛讝讛 诪讻诇 讛诇讬诇讜转 – How is this night different from all other nights?)

 

 

 

How different, indeed.

 

And it did not end with the聽Ma Nishtana, which actually comes quite early in the Seder service. It continued after the meal, with the Grace After Meals, when we thank the Almighty for his goodness and praise him with聽Hallel聽聽 聽–聽聽“for his lovingkindness endureth forever”.

 

 

And so it was, from Rosh Pina to Ashkelon, from Haifa to Jerusalem, from Bnei Brak to Ashdod. Maybe not always in complete synchronisation – that’s not so easy to do with Zoom or Skype, where there is sometimes a time delay, especially if, as we did, you are including friends and family upon three continents and in four or five different time zones, or if dozens of residents spread out along an entire block are trying to sing together. And yet, unlike in other times of trouble,聽 from the Spanish Inquisition, to the dark days of the Holocaust, when Jews were forced to hide away in small groups and celebrate Pessach in secret,聽 this year, our people defied this scourge that has come upon the world and went out of our way to celebrate the Festival of our Freedom in the open – and, in spite of everything – TOGETHER.

Chag Sameach (a Happy Holiday) and聽Shabbat Shalom (a Peaceful Sabbath) to you all.

 

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Herodion: Herod’s Fortress-Tomb

What an eventful few weeks the tail end of winter has been!聽 The end of February and the beginning of March saw lashing rains and icy winds, not to mention one of the nastiest, dirtiest election campaigns in living memory – culminating, yet again, in an indecisive result in which it seems that neither of the two leading candidates may be capable of forming a government.聽 In all that, I found time for another field trip with Yad Ben Zvi, and a visit to the opera.聽 And now we are in the midst of this awful Coronavirus epidemic. Many of you are possibly “confined to barracks” (ie. stuck at home), whether because you have been exposed to the virus and are in self-isolation, or because you live in one of those countries where restrictions of various degrees have been imposed by the authorities, or because (like me) you are afraid to go out for fear of unwittingly coming into contact with聽 someone who has been infected and does not yet know it – or because, with shops, schools, places of entertainment and many places of work having been temporarily closed down, there is simply no-where to go!
Whatever the reason, you now have plenty of time for reading and so I am inviting you to join me on another virtual field-trip through the highways and byways of Israel.

At the end of February, after several days of heavy rains and thunderstorms, the skies miraculously ceased their weeping on the very day scheduled for our聽tiyul.聽 It was still cold and heavily overcast, and I had a fold-up umbrella discreetly packed in my knapsack – just in case.

We were headed for Herodion, Herod the Great’s palace-cum-fortress, and eventually, site of his tomb.聽 Situated some 12 kilometres south of Jerusalem and 5 kilometres south-east of Bethlehem, it was built – so we are told by the Jewish historian Josephus – in commemoration of Herod’s victory over the Parthians.

Josephus describes it thus:

And as he transmitted to eternity his family and friends, so did he not neglect a聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 memorial for himself, but built a fortress upon a mountain towards Arabia, and named it from himself, Herodium, and he called that hill that was of the shape of a woman’s breast, and was sixty furlongs distant from Jerusalem, by the same name. He also bestowed much curious art upon it, with great ambition, and built round towers all about the top of it, and filled up the remaining space with the most costly palaces round about, insomuch that not only the sight of the inner apartments was splendid, but great wealth was laid out on the outward walls, and partitions, and roofs also. Besides this, he brought a mighty quantity of water from a great distance, and at vast charges, and raised an ascent to it of two hundred steps of the whitest marble, for the hill was itself moderately high, and entirely factitious. He also built other palaces about the roots of the hill, sufficient to receive the furniture that was put into them, with his friends also, insomuch that, on account of its containing all necessaries, the fortress might seem to be a city, but, by the bounds it had, a palace only.

(The Wars of the Jews I,21:10)

 

Herodion is visible for miles around, even from Jerusalem. I used to be able to see it from my old apartment.聽 Josephus described the hill as being shaped like a woman’s breast, although to my mind, it seems more like a volcano:

 

 

At the foot of the hill is Lower Herodion, where Herod built, among other things, a great pool, with a pavilion on an island in its centre. The pavilion was once covered by a roof, supported by columns. The water was brought to the pool by aqueduct, from the springs of Artas near the so-called Pools of Solomon, to the west (about which, more later). The pool, which was plastered, served in Herod’s time as the main reservoir for Herodion, and was also used for swimming.

 

 

 

And here is a view of the Lower Palace complex, seen from above:

 

 

 

The Lower Palace complex was surrounded by porticoed gardens, the remains of whose columns can still be seen. It served Herod for entertaining (and impressing) his friends – but it was vulnerable. Herod, as we know, was paranoid to the point of insanity – perhaps, after all, not entirely without reason. A lot of people had just cause to wish him dead. He therefore had another palace constructed on top of the hill, which rose 60 metres above its surroundings. This palace was more of a fortress – a peculiarly Herodian design, which he repeated in other places, the best known of which is probably Masada.聽 The design is circular.聽 Two massive concentric walls, with 2.5 metres between them, towered 30 metres high, and were protected by four towers. The fortifications surrounded a palace-fortress seven storeys high. Five storeys towered above the central courtyard, and two more were basement storeys.聽 Of the four towers, three were semi-circular. The eastern tower, built on bedrock, was circular and, at a height of about forty metres, was the largest of the four. The Royal Suite on the top floor offered a panoramic view over the Judaean desert, as well as the possibility of enjoying a refreshing breeze on even the hottest days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After construction of the fortification around the hill, an earth rampart of considerable height was laid against its outer foundations.聽 This gave the hill its conical shape, as well as artificially raising its height.

Within the fortifications, stood Herod’s private palace, of modest size but luxuriously appointed. The King spared no expense.聽 There was, for example, a fairly lavish bath-house, consisting of two changing rooms (apodyteria), a large聽caldarium, or Hot Room, heated by a hypocaust,聽 a round tepidarium (Tepid Room) with a domed roof (the earliest of its type to have survived in Israel), and a small聽frigidarium, or Cold Room.聽 The latter included a stepped pool which may have served as a聽mikveh (ritual bath).

Here, you can see the domed roof of the聽tepidarium:

 

 

And in this picture, you can see the remains of the hypocaust which heated the聽caldarium:

 

 

You can see the low pillars which supported the floor, under which the hot air flowed and, if you look carefully at the wall, you can see the flue-channels in the walls through which the hot air rose to the barrel-vaulted ceiling,聽 heating the whole room.

Here we can see the remains of some decorated pillars:

 

 

Excavations are still in聽 progress on the site and new discoveries are being made every day.

 

 

 

One of the most interesting discoveries was the聽triclinium or reception hall.

It had a mosaic floor and frescoed walls and a roof supported by columns. Later, during the Great Revolt (66 – 70 CE), the triclinium was converted into a synagogue by the Jewish fighters, who added stone benches on three of its sides.聽 It served as a synagogue also during the Bar Kochba Revolt (132 – 136 CE).

Herodion was situated in the middle of nowhere, basically, and a major problem which Herod’s architects and engineers had to solve, was the lack of water.聽 I have already mentioned the aqueduct which brought water from Artas to the pool in Lower Herodion.聽 In addition,聽 cisterns below the fortress were filled with rainwater and three large cisterns were cut into the hillside, whence it was drawn by servants, in jars and water-skins, and carried to another cistern at the top of the hill, which was probably always kept full.

Here we can see part of the underground water system:

 

During the Great Revolt, the Jewish fighters excavated a tunnel to ensure the supply of water to the rebels in the Palace Complex, which was besieged by the Romans. This enabled them to bring water from the cisterns to the fortress, without being exposed to the enemy.

Sixty-five years later, during the Bar Kochba Revolt, the Jewish fighters greatly expanded the underground network, and constructed a maze of high-roofed assault tunnels, to enable the swift passage of armed warriors, who could thus make surprise attacks on the Romans and disappear back “into the mountain”, before the enemy knew what had hit them. Two of the exits from this system of assault tunnels have been uncovered near the remains of what is now believed to have been the site of Herod’s tomb.

 

 

On exiting the underground complex, we came across Head Restorer Fuad Abu-Ta’a, who told us, with a grin, that he was “building antiquities” – restoring the small royal theatre where Herod would have entertained his special guests.

Here, too, a monumental staircase was discovered:

 

 

Adjacent to that, were the remains of what was identified by Prof. Ehud Netzer聽 as Herod’s Mausoleum.

Prof. Netzer (1934 – 2010) was a world expert on Herodian architecture, and the driving force behind the development of Herodion as one of the National Parks. He had searched for many years for King Herod’s tomb. Many of his predecessors had believed that the tomb was in one of the towers of the palace-fortress. Netzer believed that the mausoleum would be found outside, at the foot of the mountain.聽 That was how he discovered the lower city, which I described above. However, he did not find the tomb and he therefore began to search on the artificial slopes. In 2007, he began to excavate the slanted wall that encircled the mountain, halfway up its steep slope. He believed that if he dug along this wall, he would eventually find the tomb. After many months of digging, nothing had yet been discovered and so Netzer decided to take a break for a few months, clean up the excavation area and prepare the reports on the finds from Lower Herodion for publication. Reportedly, he remarked to one of his colleagues that the tomb might be cursed and that, when he finally discovered it, something bad would happen.

During the cleanup operations, a fragment of a reddish stone sarcophagus, decorated with a carved rosette, was discovered, as well as the remains of two other white stone sarcophagi, so magnificent that he was convinced they could only have come from King Herod’s tomb. Shortly afterwards, the excavation team unearthed ornamental carved stones and the remains of a monumental building. Eventually, the base of the mausoleum itself was discovered on the north-eastern slope of the mountain, facing Jerusalem and close to the monumental staircase.

The mausoleum itself, was destroyed during the Great Rebellion against Rome and the sarcophagus of the much-hated king was smashed to smithereens by the rebels, such was the loathing felt for the usurper.

On the site now is a scaled-down model of the mausoleum:

 

 

Here is the view from the windswept hill Herod chose for his final resting place:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the discovery of the mausoleum, Prof. Netzer contnued to excavate the surrounding area – excavations which led to the discovery of a small theatre (with room for about 400 spectators) and a lavishly decorated chamber which probably served the king and his guests. Neither the theatre nor the royal chamber are open yet to visitors.

Prof. Netzer’s remark about the mausoleum being cursed, proved eerily prophetic.聽 On October 25th, 2010, he was surveying the site together with the curators of a projected exhibition at the Israel Museum.聽聽聽 He sat down to rest and leaned against a railing, which gave way, hurling him down to the theatre below, where he struck his head. He died three days later, at the age of 76.
Our guide told us that Prof. Netzer’s widow remarked that her husband had died in the very place where he would have wanted to meet his end.

I mentioned before that water for the great pool in Lower Herodion was brought from the misleadingly-named “Solomon’s Pools” in Artas. Their construction is attributed to King Solomon (10th century BCE) on the flimsy evidence of the verse in Ecclesiastes 2, 6:

I made me pools of water, to water therefrom the wood springing up with trees.

Most scholars nowadays, however, believe that the pools date from the 2nd – 1st centuries BCE, that is to say, from the Hasmonean era. The three pools are situated just outside Bethlehem, in territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority, so we were unable to visit them, but merely to view them from the nearest high point overlooking the reservoirs (the Israeli settlement of Efrat). The pools were part of a complex water system, the later part of which may have been built by Herod the Great, which included at least five aqueducts, as well as natural springs.聽 Two of the aqueducts led to Jerusalem.

Here, we can see the Lower Pool. I had to use the maximum zoom on my camera, so the quality is not all that good.

 

The water system continued to supply water to Jerusalem, on and off, for two millenia, including during the British Mandate and even afterwards, by the Jordanians – until 1952, according to our guide.

As I mentioned above, two of the aqueducts led to Jerusalem. One of them, the Lower Aqueduct, also known as the Hasmonean Aqueduct, includes a tunnel which cuts through the ridge separating the Armon Hanatziv neighbourhood from the Old City of Jerusalem. This section is 423 metres long. The entrance is a five minute walk from my father’s house and yet this was the first time I had visited it!

It is very narrow.聽 For this reason, at the entrance, visitors are required to squeeze through a gateway no wider than the narrowest point of the tunnel. Those who fail to do so are not allowed to enter the tunnel, in order to ensure that no-one gets stuck down below!

It is also very dark.
Definitely not recommended for anyone with claustrophobia, a weak heart or a tendency to panic attacks!

The tunnel’s exit is just below the Armon Hanatziv Promenade, within the boundaries of the Arab village of Jebel Mukaber:

 

All Jerusalem now lay before us, including the Dormition Abbey and the Old City, all the way to the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus and beyond:

 

 

 

 

 

As this was the end of the day’s tour, I now left the group and lightly tripped to my father’s house for a brief visit and thence, to my own home, a short walk away.

Our next field-trip, which was to have been last week, has been postponed till the end of April – not because of the COVID-19 crisis, but because our guide has been called up for military reserve duty.聽 In the meantime, I shall not be going anywhere, except maybe to the supermarket to buy (but NOT hoard) food, as we have all been asked to play our part in the war against the invisible enemy (the Corona Virus) by not leaving our homes unless absolutely necessary and keeping ourselves to ourselves, in order to minimise physical contact with others and thus help to prevent the spread of this plague. It isn’t exactly a curfew – not like in Italy. But, as I said, in any case, there isn’t anywhere to go and I certainly don’t want to risk being ill.

One thing worries me more than the virus. No, not the blow to the economy, although that too is cause for great concern. What worries me most is the Blame Game being played by so many. When the crisis started, I wondered if maybe this epidemic had been sent by the Almighty as a punishment for all the causeless hatred in the world. Then I thought, perhaps it is a test, to see if we can all overcome our differences and learn to work together. But I fear that, if the latter is the case – if it was meant to be a test – then we are failing lamentably.

What do聽you think?

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