I am back!
Yes, after a long period of silence, I have returned – with a brand new, powerful computer which, hopefully, won’t keep crashing and with Windows 10, which, hopefully, will allow me to post pictures without causing the computer to freeze up, and require a whole day, if not more, to write a new post.
So, where shall I begin?
Since my last post, I have participated in two more nature trips with Yad ben Zvi, a concert in which all five choirs which make up the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir performed Sir Karl Jenkins’ wonderful composition The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, and a Jerusalem Day concert in which I appeared as a soloist.
In addition to that, for several weeks now, so-called “peaceful Palestinian demonstrators” have attempted to violently storm our borders, whilst “peacefully” setting Israeli fields alight with incendiary kites (really, there seems to be no limit to their inventiveness when it comes to destruction) and Hamas and the Islamic Jihad terrorists continue to “peacefully” launch rockets and mortars at Israeli towns and villages bordering the Gaza Strip – one of which landed on and destroyed a kindergarten (which, by the grace of God, was empty at the time, as the children had not yet arrived).
So, as I said – where shall I begin?
Well, let’s start with something pleasant – my April 24th nature trip with Yad Ben Zvi.
This trip was supposed to be to the Upper Galilee, in the wake of the wild peonies which only bloom in the area around Mount Meron and that, for a short two-week period in April. Unfortunately, the unseasonably warm weather had made the peonies bloom early this year – at the beginning of April, round about Pessach – so instead, the trip which had been planned for May, to see the Madonna lilies in the Carmel, was brought forward (needless to say, the lilies also bloomed early) and we set off for the area which is known in Israel as “Little Switzerland”.
I mentioned the unseasonably summery weather which had affected the botanical clock, didn’t I? Well, Murphy’s Law being what it is, April 24th dawned cloudy and rainy, and unseasonably chilly. As our bus headed north under lowering, grey skies, I thanked my lucky stars I had brought an umbrella with me – although later in the day, it nearly caused an accident.
We spotted the Madonna lilies almost immediately:
They were, however, high up on the rock face and it was only because my camera has quite a powerful zoom lens that I was able to take such clear photographs of them.
It wasn’t long after that that the windows of heaven opened and the rain began.
However, that was not going to dampen our enthusiasm, if you will pardon the pun. We continued our walk along a narrow and ever more slippery path, with a steep drop to our left:
At one point, when it seemed the rain was tapering off, I lowered my umbrella in order to close it. As a result, I failed to see a depression in the path and narrowly escaped falling into the void.
But it was worth the discomfort when there were wild hollyhocks, and Mesopotamian irises to be seen:
And late in the afternoon, after we had come down from the mountain and ventured onto the seashore, as the wind was rising and the rain was coming down more and more heavily, to a soundtrack of thunder and lightning, there were also Evening Primroses and Sea Lavender.
But by now, we were being lashed both by the rain and the sea spray, and it was time to head for home.
The heavy rains continued and there were warnings of flooding in the wadis of the Arava and the Negev. Alas, Israelis have an almost intolerable knack for deluding themselves that everything will be all right. As a result, the next day, ten teenagers lost their lives on a school trip when they were swept away by a flash flood. And all because the trip organisers ignored the warnings. Such a waste. Such an entirely preventable tragedy.
The following Sunday, April 29th, was the annual Gala of the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir, of which I have been a member since its foundation, 31 years ago. This year, under the baton of Salome Rebello, and with the participation of the Jerusalem Street Orchestra, we became the first Israeli choir to perform Karl Jenkins’ popular creation The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace. My favourite part of this work is that entitled “Hymn Before Action“, to words by Rudyard Kipling – a poet popularly believed to have been far more jingoistic than he actually was.
Yet it was the final, joyous “Better is Peace” section, with its jubilant “Ring out the thousand wars of old, Ring in the thousand years of peace” which brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes during the Dress Rehearsal.
And how could it fail to do so, when peace seems so far away from our little corner of the world? How could any one of us sing those words without thinking of what could be – what should be – but what I am beginning to believe my generation will never see?
Back to happier thoughts though.
On May 16th, I took part in the last nature hike of the 2017/18 season with Yad Ben Zvi. As I mentioned before, this was supposed to be the one in search of Madonna lilies which was brought forward to April. Instead, this hike was devoted to the flora of pond, river and seashore, in the Western Galilee.
The day started with a visit to the Ein Afek Nature Reserve in the Acco (Acre) Valley.
Here, besides the water buffalo,
dragonflies with iridiscent wings hovered above ponds covered with blue lotus.
Part of the nature reserve is wheelchair accessible, but not the so-called “Floating Bridge”, which enables visitors to observe the plants that thrive in and around the swamp.
That included the usually much later blooming Trachomitum venetum, also known as Apocynum venetum, or to give it its Hebrew name, “Sam Hakelev” (סם הכלב – literally, “The Dog’s Drug”), a member of the dogbane family, and like its relative, the oleander, highly poisonous – as well as the Common Reed ( Phragmites australis), found all over the Reserve, bulrushes (reedmace), spiny rush (sharp rush, sharp-pointed rush), and the intriguingly named Holy Bramble (Rubus Sanctus), so called because of the tradition that this was the Burning Bush that appeared to Moses in the wilderness. Considering that it usually grows along stream banks, I find this rather unlikely. Of course – that could be part of the miracle. 🙂
From Ein Afek, we travelled to Ein Hardalit, one of the springs which feed the Kziv Stream (Nachal Kziv). There, in the green shade, we had a late picnic lunch by its cool, refreshing waters.
Our final stop of the day was the beach at Rosh Hanikra, just south of Israel’s border with Lebanon.
I suppose the tension in the north caused by the heavy Iranian presence in Syria should have made me nervous – and it did, whenever I thought about it, except that I didn’t think about it often. I forgot all about it in the beauty of the rugged shoreline and the diverse, seemingly humble flora of the seashore. There, swept by the salty sea-breezes, the flowers are smaller, as if to present less surface area to be battered by the sands and the winds, but they are no less beautiful.
Among them, there were mauve trifid stocks (Matthiola tricuspidata),
bright yellow Lotus Creticus, Sea Lavender, and many other small, and seemingly insignificant wildflowers which, without our extremely knowlegeable guide, Edna, might well have gone unnoticed.
This trip was the last in the current series of nature hikes. I have not yet decided whether I shall take part in next year’s series, or whether I shall sign up for one of the historical or archaeological courses. Whichever it is, I have no doubt it will prove informative, challenging and inspiring.
So there we are, all caught up.
Except for the ongoing tension on the border with Gaza, in the south.
And except for the continuing tension on the border with Syria, in the north.
And the continuing antisemitic onslaught on Israel in the UN and the world media.
And the shameful capitulation of the Argentinian football team to terrorist threats.
And – on the bright side – the final preparations for my chamber choir’s end-of-season concert next week.
But that’s for next time.