Growing up in London, Christmas was difficult to ignore, even though we ourselves did not celebrate the holiday – what with the decorations in Oxford and Regent Street, the giant Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square and, of course, year after year, the Blue Peter Advent calendar. Now that I live in Israel, the Christmas season is felt mainly in those towns and neighbourhoods where there is a sizeable Christian population, such as Nazareth, Haifa and the Christian and Armenian Quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem. Of course, the Christmas tree in the lobby of the YMCA, where my choir rehearses twice a week, is also hard to miss 😉 :
All this being the case, it frequently happens that Christmas is already upon us before I remember that I have friends out there who do celebrate the holiday. So I crave their forgiveness for the fact that both Christmas and Boxing Day will have been and gone by the time they read this. However, since they have a long weekend ahead of them, and all of Sunday in which to wind down from the festival frenzy, the roast turkey and the feverish ceremony of opening their presents, I suggest that they consider the gifts I had intended to offer as virtual stocking-fillers, as a pleasant post-Boxing Day interlude before returning to work on Monday.
And for my Jewish friends who will be reading this, hopefully, on Motzaei Shabbat (as I doubt I will manage to finish this post before the start of the Sabbath and will have to continue on Saturday evening), I hope my descriptions of concerts and field trips will prove a pleasant start to their week.
Before that, however, I have to say a word or two about “the Situation”. The Arab terrorist attacks continue unabated and although, for the most part, fatalities have lately been limited to the perpetrators, still there are injuries, some of them extremely serious. For example, a car-ramming attack at a bus stop near the entrance to Jerusalem on Monday December 14th, injured 14 people, including a 15-month-old baby, Yotam Sitbon, who lost a leg as a result of the attack.
And last Wednesday, December 23rd, even as I was enjoying my third field trip in the series “929 on the Map of Israel” (about which, more later), a deadly stabbing attack near the Jaffa Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem, left two dead – and one seriously wounded.
I am not including the terrorist attackers killed by Israeli security forces during the attacks, although if you get your news from the Associated Press, you might be forgiven for thinking that it was the two “Palestinian” perpetrators who were stabbed:
TIME magazine faithfully followed their lead:
CNN, well-known for their blatant anti-Israel bias, left it at:
The reader is left to guess who are the perpetrators and who are the victims.
But I promised you gifts, not tears – and I promised myself, a while ago, that in spite of all the horror, I would try to find something uplifting every day. So let me tell you about the concert my choir gave last Monday, at the Felicja Blumental Music Centre in Tel Aviv’s Bialik Street – a quiet street famous for its Eclectic and Bauhaus Style architecture, ending in an elegant piazza, where the Music Centre stands right next door to the former City Hall. At night, the place looks even more magical:
This concert, under the title “Northern Lights“, because it took place on the longest night of the year, the night of the Winter Solstice, and because it showcased the works of northern European composers, such as the Norwegians Edvard Grieg, Egil Hovland and Ola Gjeilo, the Estonian Cyrillus Kreek and the German Melchior Franck, was basically a repeat performance of our “Jerusalem Luminosa” concert from this last summer. As is my custom, I would like to share with you a few selections from the concert. So here, without further ado, is “Fahet uns die Füchse” (“Take us the little foxes”), a setting of the Song of Songs 2:15-17, by the German Baroque composer Melchior Franck:
And another “Song of Songs” setting, this time by the Anglo-Canadian composer, Healey Willan – “Rise Up, My Love“:
And here is the setting by Cyrillus Kreek of Psalms 1 – sung in Estonian:
The concert took place in the presence of the Estonian Ambassador and the Norwegian cultural attaché. As I jokingly remarked afterwards to Kate Belshé, our conductor and musical director, I hope neither of those countries will be tempted to break off diplomatic relations with Israel because of our mangling of their native tongues. 😉
I promised you a field trip, did I not?
Last Wednesday, December 23rd, was one of those crisp, cold days ideal for an excursion to the Judaean hill country south of Hebron, in the footsteps of David (yet to be king), as he fled from Saul’s insane jealousy and attempts to kill him (1 Samuel 18 – 31).
We began our trip at Tel Ziph (1 Samuel 26), from where there are magnificent views of the surrounding countryside, such as this one, facing south west:
Turning slightly further north, we can see Hebron in the distance:
And here is the view more or less directly to the north:
As it was still quite early in the morning, the sun in the east made it difficult to take pictures of the view in that direction.
One of the interesting things we learned was that the Hebrew word midbar (מדבר) which is generally translated as “wilderness”, and which, in modern Hebrew, is often understood to mean “a desert”, actually means a place where one leads one’s flocks to graze (להדביר את הצאן – lehadbir et hatzon) – ie. a place unsuitable for agriculture, since you cannot have sheep and goats roaming freely in agricultural land as they would simply eat the crops. It does not necessarily mean a place covered with rolling sand dunes!
From Ziph, we proceeded to Tel Maon, stopping on the way to pick up an armed escort of IDF soldiers. Biblical Maon was the home of Nabal, whose possessions were in Carmel (1 Samuel 25), and whose churlish rejection of David’s “request” for assistance awakened the latter’s wrath, averted only by the intervention of Nabal’s wise and beautiful wife Abigail. I had always assumed, on reading this passage, that the reference was to Mount Carmel and could never understand how David could suddenly have appeared so far up north! But it seems there is a Carmel in Judaea also, and we can identify both Maon and Carmel by the fact that their names have been preserved in the names of the present-day Arab villages of Ma’in and Karmil. Carmel was apparently the commercial and economic centre and Ma’on was a residential neighbourhood, a daughter village or suburb (as seems likely also from the name Ma’on – מעון – which means a dwelling place or abode). The geographical location also fits, as does the discovery of an ancient synagogue in Tel Maon.
It was a fairly long,steep climb up from the road to the tel, and engendered quite a lot of grumbling from the many elderly group members:
On the way, we passed an ancient well:
How many pails had to be lowered into the water, one wonders, for the ropes holding them to etch their mark into the stones lining the well, as we can see in this picture?
The view from the windswept summit was certainly worth the climb:
We then had to descend two terraces (“It’ll only take five minutes”, the tour guide said) in order to see the ancient synagogue, with its mikveh, or ritual bath. That was perfectly acceptable, but once we had finished with the synagogue, we discovered we had to climb back up to the summit in order to ascend the way we had come. A chorus of protest arose, at the end of which, the guide contacted the bus driver by mobile phone and told him to bring the bus round to another place further along the road. He then calmly led us (with our military escort) through the nearby Arab village and its olive groves, down to the road – a longer distance, but a more moderate incline.
After dropping off our IDF escort, we proceeded to Susiya for a very late lunch, before heading for our final “port of call”, Mitzpeh Yair, for a breath-taking view of the Judaean Wilderness.
Taking sanctuary from the wind in the settlement’s synagogue, we heard a final summary of the day’s trip from our guide, before heading back to the bus, just as the sun set in the west and the moon rose over the wilderness to the east:
On the way back to Jerusalem, we were stuck, for what seemed an eternity, in a traffic jam in one of the tunnels of Kvish Haminharot (כביש המינהרות – The Tunnels Road), which is part of Highway 60 (about which I have written in previous posts). Once home, I switched on the radio, for the first time since leaving the house that morning, to be greeted with the awful news of the deadly attack at the Old City’s Jaffa Gate, which I mentioned earlier.
Down to earth with a bang. And, by the way, next month’s field trip will be round about the Old City.
I’ll keep you posted.