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,聽 (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).聽 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:

 

rsz_20181031_113432ein_bokek

 

 

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:

 

rsz_p1030904hiking_in_ein_bokek

 

 

Another waterfall:

 

rsz_p1030906hiking_in_ein_bokek

 

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,聽 entirely on the height of the person doing the wading 馃槈聽 .

 

 

rsz_20181031_143705nachal_arugot

 

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

rsz_20181031_144421hiking_in_nachal_arugot

 

some of which were slippery with green algae:

 

rsz_120181031_143652讘谞讞诇_注专讜讙讜转

 

And some people required more assistance than others:

 

WhatsApp Image 2018-10-31 at 12.42.0913

 

One thing I can tell you for sure – my trousers certainly got wet聽above the knees 馃槈聽 .

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:

 

 

 

 

rsz_p1030911hiking_in_nachal_arugot

 

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) –聽tamar (转诪专) being the Hebrew word for “date”.

The other was the famous balsam or聽bossem, made from the聽apharsemon (讗驻专住诪讜谉) –聽 a word which today is translated as “persimmon” but which is believed to have been produced from聽Commiphora opobalsamum. The latter has sometimes been identified with聽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聽menorah聽(candelabrum).

 

More surprising,聽 given the language of the 2nd Commandment, are the mosaic portrayals of聽 birds:

 

 

However,聽 depending on how one punctuates the Biblical injunction, it is perfectly possible to understand it as merely prohibiting the creation of graven images聽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聽 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聽tiyulim, as we continue to explore the many and varied landscapes of my country.

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in Archaeology, Nature, Tourism, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

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 –聽 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聽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…

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 17 Comments

The True Face of “Palestinian Heroism”

This is Kim Levengrond-Yehezkel. 28 years old.聽 Wife of Guy. Mother of 15-month-old Kai, who had聽recently started to walk. Daughter of Chava and Rafi. She worked as a secretary聽 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.

 

Ziv-Hajbi-e1538914048444-640x400

 

Ashraf Na’alwa, a “Palestinian” Arab from the village of Shuweika, also worked for the Alon Group, as an electrician.聽 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
鈥渁 natural response to the Israeli occupation鈥檚 crimes at the expense of the Palestinian people.鈥

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.

 

 

 

Posted in News, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

By The Shores Of The Caspian Sea: 5 Days in Baku

Azerbaijan is probably not the first place you would think of, when considering where to take your annual vacation. In fact, I had no such thought in my head until a newsletter聽 landed in my postbox, detailing the August activities of the Retirees Association of the organisation for which I used to work – and these included a five-day trip to Baku, capital of that oil-rich nation, between the mountains of the Caucasus and the waters of the Caspian Sea.
And I thought to myself – why not?

My friends from choir are constantly travelling to all kinds of unusual places. Everyone seems to have visited Vietnam, or Georgia, or Armenia, or India.
None of them have yet been to Azerbaijan, a Shiite Muslim country which, nevertheless, maintains friendly relations with Israel.

A masterstroke of one-upmanship?

Well, not quite. After I had booked the trip, I discovered that Baku is one of the “hot” locations for Israelis this summer. Hot in more ways than one. My stepsister informed me that many of her friends had visited there, and that the climate, at this time of year, was unbearably hot and humid. And my stepmother,聽 envisaging Baku as the godforsaken provincial Soviet town it was in the 1970s, when she left what was then the USSR, on hearing my holiday plans, asked: “What on earth for?!”

Not very encouraging.

How glad I am, though, that I did not let myself be discouraged!

Baku, a three hour flight from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, is a thriving modern town – at least, the part that tourists get to see – often described as “the Dubai of the Caucasus”, with numerous upscale shopping malls, skyscrapers and state-of-the-art avant garde architecture, as typified by the Heydar Aliyev Centre, designed by Iraqi-British architect, Zara Hadid, side by side with an Old City reminiscent of a scene from The Arabian Nights, and juxtaposed with Soviet Era buildings which have been renovated by the simple addition of 19th century European-style fa莽ades, leaving the tiny, crowded Soviet apartments unchanged.

 

P1030753.JPG

 

Our hotel,聽聽just across the road from the seafront promenade, was well up to my exacting standards. And, although the 6th floor room I was originally assigned faced inland, a quick word with the extremely helpful Lala, at the front desk, brought instant results in the form of a 10th floor room overlooking the vast expanse of the Caspian Sea.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

I have to admit, however, to being somewhat disconcerted by the minibar menu:

 

rsz_20180806_190847_2_li (1)

 

And something else that I found odd – the elevators. There were three of these, labelled A, B and C. There was a touchpad beside each elevator. The way they worked was as follows. You had to key in the floor you wanted to go to, on the touchpad, and then a letter would appear, telling you which elevator would take you to your destination.聽 Only rarely would your designated elevator be the one beside which you were standing. Almost every time,聽 I would key in my destination and then have to run across to the opposite side of the lobby to catch my designated elevator before the doors closed!

We landed at about 1 pm local time (Azerbaijan is one hour ahead of Israel) but the long queues both at the automatic visa machines and at Passport Control ensured that we didn’t leave the airport much before 3 pm, and there wasn’t much time therefore, for sightseeing on that first day. We did get a panoramic view of the city, stopping to take photos beside the iconic “I Love Baku” sculpture outside the Heydar Aliyev Centre (see above). We also visited the Avenue of the Martyrs and the Eternal Flame Memorial, dedicated to the Azerbaijanis (mostly civilians) who were killed by the Soviet Army on January 20th 1990, (Black Saturday) in a crackdown on the Azerbaijani independence movement.

Our guide told us the Soviets were aided by ethnic Armenians. The Soviets claimed they were forced to intervene to protect these ethnic Armenians from pogroms by ethnic Azeris. Of course, it is true that the enmity between the two nations is long-standing. It is also true that the Soviets – and later, Russia, after the fall of the Soviet Union – had a history of intervening “to protect” one ethnic group or another, when the group that supposedly poses the threat is invariably the one striving for freedom from Russian control (further examples – Georgia, the Ukraine etc.). What our guide did聽not聽tell us was that a week before “Black Saturday”, and over a period of several days, Azerbaijani nationalists had carried out a pogrom against ethnic Armenians living in Baku.
As I said, the enmity between the two nations, one Christian, one Muslim,聽 is long-standing.

The Martyrs’ Memorial is unexpectedly moving – especially when you look at the pictures and the names and dates of the dead and realise how young some of them were. For example, the very first memorial is to Ilham and Fariza Allahverdiyev, a young couple in their twenties. The picture on the black marble memorial shows them on their wedding day. Ilham was killed by the Soviet troops and on learning of his fate, his young wife committed suicide.

P1030761

 

Possibly even more heart-rending is the memorial to聽 the young daughter of a Ukrainian mother and an Azerbaijani father –聽Larissa Mammadova, not yet 13 years old when she was killed:

 

20180806_181003Avenue of the Martyrs, Baku

 

At the far end of the avenue is a soaring monument, sheltering the Eternal Flame.

 

20180806_181034Martyrs Memorial

 

 

P1030764

 

Returning along the Avenue, one is treated to magnificent views of the Caspian Sea:

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

As one walks along the Avenue, away from the Eternal Flame Memorial, the iconic silhouettes of the Flame Towers loom ever closer:

20180806_182424

These skyscrapers are completely covered with LED screens, which, when darkness falls, illuminate the Baku skyline with images of the Azerbaijani national flag, sportsmen and women and, inevitably, a dazzling display which gives the illusion of buildings on fire. All this we saw the following night, from the 24th-floor terrace of the Hilton Grill Bar:

 

 

The flame motif occurs again and again in Azerbaijan, which is known as “The Land of Fire”. Some say this is because of the burning hillsides, where natural gas leaking from fissures gives the appearance of flaming mountains. We saw one of these later in聽 our tour – Yanar Dag聽– the Burning Mountain.聽 I have to admit that I did not find it overly impressive. More interesting was the Fire Temple complex known as Baku Ateshgah, possibly Zoroastrian, but this is open to debate. The flame there is no longer fed by natural gas but the site is very interesting as a museum, with a courtyard around which are reconstructions explaining the ancient, pre-Islamic monotheistic religion of the Zoroastrians. What can I say? I like museums, especially when they are as “user-friendly” as this one.聽 So, as I am now the owner of a new computer and learning how to use Windows 10聽 馃槈聽 I decided to make a video of some of my pictures from this visit.

 

 

In Baku itself, and not very far from our hotel, the Old City, with its many mosques, bath-houses, the Maiden’s Tower (or Maiden Tower) and the 15th century Palace of the Shirvanshahs (described by UNESCO as “one of the pearls of Azerbaijan’s architecture) is quite small and easily explored on foot. I could have happily spent the whole day there, but the fact that this was only a five day trip meant we had to content ourselves with something of a whistle-stop tour. In fact, it was only after I got back home to Israel and began looking things up on the internet, in preparation for writing this post, that I realised how many things we had not managed to see 馃槮聽 .

At all events,聽 here are some of my pictures of the Old City of Baku聽 (Icheri Shekher):

 

 

Our rather rushed tour of the Old City聽 included a visit to the delightful Museum of Miniature Books.聽 I have always had a fondness for tiny books, a fondness I share with my siblings, ever since, as children, we first learned about the tiny books written and stitched together by the young聽Brontes.聽 Inspired by their creative genius, we attempted to emulate them. In fact, cleaning out a cupboard recently, I found one of our own tiny books that had survived. Alas, it contained only the beginning of a story…

After an all-too-short visit in this enchanting and unusual museum,聽 we had what was, in my opinion, an overly-extended lunch break in and around Nizami Square, before proceeding to what our guide described as one of his personal favourites – the Carpet Museum.聽 Situated in a building of startlingly modern architectural design, shaped like a rolled up carpet, the museum is home to the largest collection of Azerbaijani carpets in the world.

 

 

According to our guide, carpets from Azerbaijan hold third place in status after Persian carpets and Afghan carpets.

The museum showcased the history of carpet-making, as well as explanations of how the carpets are made, the traditional patterns of carpets from different regions of Azerbaijan, and the different uses to which carpets were put – such as saddle-bags:

 
20180807_164046

 

 

And here, we can see how carpets would have been used in a nobleman’s house, not just as floor covering, but also as wall-hangings:

 

 

20180807_165452

 

On the top floor of the museum are contemporary carpets, and it was there that I realised that carpets can be a medium for artistic expression just as well as watercolours or oil paintings.

Here, for example, is a carpet depicting the tragic love story of Layla and Mejnun:

 
rsz_20180807_170346leyli_and_majnun

 

 

In the Soviet Era, carpets were used to promote political and social ideas, such as this one, lauding sporting activity:

 

 

rsz_20180807_165913soviet_era_carpet

 

 

Today, in nominally democratic Azerbaijan, where all the power and money are concentrated in the hands of the President’s family, and dissent is frowned upon, carpets can serve to convey political criticism. This one, for example,聽 declares in no uncertain terms, that the oil industry is destroying the Azeri heritage:

 

 

rsz_20180807_170718oil_destroys_azeri_heritage

 

Earlier, I mentioned our extended lunch break around Nizami Square – a pedestrian mall with elegant shops and cafes, lined with statues and offering a green lung in the heart of the city – one of many.

The following evening, I returned to Nizami Street, a popular evening promenade – to find a scene reminiscent of London’s Regent Street decorated for Christmas.

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

While most of our time was spent in Baku, we did travel outside the capital to visit the Gobustan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for its prehistoric petroglyphs, or rock paintings, depicting life in the region thousands of years ago, including pictures of hunting scenes, animals, and even people dancing the traditional Azerbaijani dance, the Yalli, which is still danced today.

The landscape of the site reminded us of Israel’s Arava region and the mountains around Eilat:

 

 

rsz_20180808_130448

 

rsz_p1030818

 

 

At the site there is also a small, but well-designed Visitors Centre, explaining how people lived in prehistoric times, with displays of articles in daily use, as well as three dimensional displays:

 

 

rsz_p1030804

 

 

 

P1030806JPG

 

 

 

On the way back to Baku, we stopped to visit the Bibi Heybat Mosque. The original mosque was built in the 13th century, over the tomb of a descendant of the Prophet Muhammed, who had the reputation of being a holy woman. That mosque was blown up in 1936 by the Communists, but was rebuilt in the 1990s, after Azerbaijan gained its independence, and dedicated in 1997.

 

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

The day before we were due to depart was given over to two very different places. First thing in the morning, we visited the Green Market –聽Yasil Bazar. This is a covered market where you can buy all kinds of fruits, vegetables,聽 caviar and honey,聽 locally-made cheeses and聽 confectionary, and spices such as saffron, at what – for the western visitor – are ridiculously low prices.

 

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

 

Our second port of call was completely different – the Heydar Aliyev Centre, which I already mentioned at the beginning of this post. An icon of contemporary architecture, to enter the museum, one had to pass security measures worthy of an airport – such as metal detectors at the entrance. Once inside, one is confronted with an equally avant garde聽interior, where straight lines are shunned and graceful curves are聽de rigueur. Even the views from the windows are futuristic.

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

In many ways, the centre is intended to serve as a shrine to Azerbaijan’s third president, Heydar Aliyev (father of the current president, Ilham Aliyev) – and contains a great many exhibits pertaining to his life, personal items such as his uniforms, his official cars and items gifted to him by visiting dignitaries and other celebrities. But the museum also serves as a temple to Azerbaijani culture, including an extensive display of traditional costumes from the different regions of Azerbaijan , a section devoted to the art of carpet weaving, and one of particular interest to me – a collection of traditional Azerbaijani musical instruments. You cannot touch them, of course – but before each instrument is a pad on which one steps to activate a recording of the sound of that instrument.

 

 

 

 

I think my favourite part of the museum was the Art of the Doll exhibit. I took as many pictures as possible, before being told by one of the custodians that photography was prohibited in this part of the museum. Why this part specifically, I have no idea – but I incorporated those photos I did manage to take into the following video:

 

 

 

 

That evening, we rounded up our tour with an evening of Azerbaijani food and folklore at the Shirvanshah Museum Restaurant, which really does look like a museum, with displays of Azerbaijani culture and costume on each floor and where the staff wear traditional Azerbaijani national dress:

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

As we dined, we were entertained by traditional Azeri dancers:

 

 

At some point in the evening, a young couple on the opposite side of the room announced their engagement, and more music and dancing ensued – in which most of the other diners had no hesitation in joining:

 

 

 

After supper, there was just time for a last look at Baku by night, before returning to our hotel.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

The following day,聽 after a leisurely breakfast, we made our way to the airport – another strikingly modern piece of architecture – and boarded a plane back to Israel, where we landed mid-afternoon. It was a Friday and I made it home just in time to shower and light my Shabbat candles.

I will leave you with a last view of Baku, the old-new city on the shores of the Caspian Sea.

 

rsz_p1030752

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Tourism, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Forgiveness and Remembrance

In a few hours, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, will begin. For the past few years, I have attended Kol Nidrei services on the eve of Yom Kippur, not at the synagogue where I usually pray, but at the local community centre where the service is always followed by an open discussion. The subject tonight is “What am I (not) prepared to forgive?”

I started thinking about that and I realised that it is not always easy to distinguish between forgiveness and forgetfulness. I think of聽 people who have injured me by word or deed over the years and even if I forgive them – or think I have – I have not forgotten what they did.聽 So – does that mean I have not truly forgiven them? That I still bear a grudge?
What, in fact, is the essence of forgiveness?聽 What does it mean?

One says: “Forgive and forget”. But not always. Sometimes we say: “Forgive – but do not forget.” In other cases, such as when we speak of the Holocaust, for example,聽 we say plainly: “We do not forgive. We do not forget.”
Those who tried to destroy us, we do not forget.

We are not a People who forgets. We remember – everything.聽 We are enjoined to remember Amalek.聽 And this was in the sense of taking revenge. King Saul was commanded by God to wipe out the very name of Amalek but disobeyed and spared their king, Agag, who was then executed by the Prophet Samuel.

We even institute festivals and fasts, for the purpose of remembering. On Tisha B’Av, we remember how our enemies (first the Babylonians, then the Romans) destroyed our holy Temple and crushed our nation. On Purim, we remember our deliverance from Haman who attempted to exterminate the entire Jewish nation. Coincidentally (or not), Haman was a descendant of the Amalekite king whom Saul spared. And we celebrate (there is no other word for it) his downfall. Or are we celebrating our deliverance, rather than the fact that our enemy got his just deserts?聽 I suppose it depends on your point of view.

So – is it possible to forgive and yet remember? Is it truly possible to wipe the slate clean of the wish for revenge, or at least restitution, while retaining the memory of the injury? Does the answer to this question depend on the degree of injury?

What do you think?

Gmar Hatima Tova聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 讙诪专 讞转讬诪讛 讟讜讘讛

 

 

Posted in Philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Goodbye 5778, Welcome 5779

Since Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) starts this evening,聽 I am taking a break from drafting a post about my summer vacation last month (which is taking longer to write than the vacation itself!) to wish all of my readers Shana Tova (砖谞讛 讟讜讘讛) – a Good Year.
May the year 5779 bring peace, prosperity, good health and happiness to us all.

See you all next year 馃槈

Shofar-Apple-Honey_LI (2)

Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments

A Concert All In Blue

Shabbat, the 21st of Tammuz, – Saturday, July 24th, 1943. The Kovno Ghetto.
In the building which had once housed the famous Slobodka Yeshiva and was now the home of the Jewish Ghetto Police, an amazing, clandestine concert was taking place.

The Police Orchestra, whose members were professional musicians who had been officially made policemen, so as to enable them to work and to afford them some protection after the targeting of Jewish “intellectuals” and professionals by the Nazi occupiers, was founded in the summer of 1942 and appeared not only before the Jewish residents of the Ghetto, but also before high ranking Nazi officers.聽 This too afforded them some protection, as later, when all the members of the Jewish Police were arrested in March 1944, an exception was made for the members of the orchestra.

On this particular occasion however, no Germans were present. This concert, which was described in the diary of Avraham Tory (the Secretary of the Ghetto’s Jewish Council of Elders) as “a concert all in blue”, took place on the anniversary of the death of Haim Nachman Bialik, considered to be the Father of modern Hebrew poetry and one day after the anniversary of the death of Theodor Herzl, the father of modern political Zionism. This concert, to which representatives of all the Zionist movements were invited, from the right-wing Beitar, to the left-wing Socialist Zionist youth movements, consisted entirely of Jewish and Hebrew music and was held in the utmost secrecy since, naturally, all Zionist activity was strictly forbidden by the Germans.

We know all this, because the following year, on the night between March 27 – 28, 1944, at the height of the聽Kinder Aktion, which targeted all the children still in the Ghetto as well as old people, members of the Jewish Underground made their way to the home of one of the Jewish police officers who had been arrested, tortured to extract information about the whereabouts of hidden Jewish children and then murdered by the Germans. There, they retrieved two tin boxes containing the Ghetto Archives, which they buried in the ground at a secret location.

Fast forward twenty years, to 1964. Workers digging the foundations for a new building discovered the hidden archives. However, Lithuania at that time was under Soviet control. Not until the fall of the Soviet Union did parts of the archive find their way to the West, where they came to the notice of Rami Neudorfer, at that time, a doctoral student of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University. Neudorfer began to study those parts of the archive relating to the Police Orchestra – research which led to a recreation of the “Concert All In Blue” earlier this week at Yad Vashem. In this concert, I had the honour to take part, together with other members of the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir (conducted by Dr. Avi Bar-Eitan),聽 the Ankor Choir (conducted by Dafna Ben-Yohanan, various soloists,聽 and the Ra’anana Symphonette Orchestra, conducted by Yonatan Canaan, who presided over the evening.

The Ghetto archives contained the full programme of the concert as well as some of the sheet music, but in many cases, it was necessary to prepare new arrangements of the songs. This was done by Yonatan Canaan.

As I said, Avraham Tory descibed the concert as “a concert all in blue”. Not, as you might well think, because it was sad, but because blue (together with white) was – and remains – the colour of the Zionist (later the Israeli) flag, and because the skies of Israel and the sea that laps at her shores are so blue. Or, to put it in the words of one of the songs (Shir HanamalSong of the Harbour, written by Leah Goldberg in 1936, in honour of the new Tel Aviv harbour and set to music by Rivka Levinson):聽Blue above and blue below…

Just as the participants at the original concert reflected the entire Zionist political spectrum, so too did the songs which were carefully chosen – from聽Kadima Beitar聽 (“Forward Beitar”) of the Revisionists, to聽Ba’a Menucha Layagea/Techezakna (“Peace Has Come to the Weary”/”Make Strong the Hands of Our Brothers”) of the Kibbutz Movement and the Socialist Zionists (featured below, with the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir and the soloist Anat Moshkovsky).

Obviously, I could not film or take pictures during the concert, but fortunately, the Oratorio Choir’s artistic producer, Dr. Tanya Sermer, was there and caught some of it on her mobile phone. The whole concert was filmed and will be broadcast on TV at a later date. In the meanwhile, here is a short clip from the concert, filmed by Tanya:

 

 

 

 

More than once, during that evening, as we listened to the stories of the original participants or sang the songs describing the beauty of the Land of Israel which, even quite soon after they were written, were already well known to the members of the Zionist Movement all around the world, I felt a lump in my throat at the thought of the Jews of Kovno, trapped in Hell yet dreaming of Paradise, singing the praises of the Promised Land which they had never seen and which most of them never would see.聽 Nor could I keep the tears from my eyes when the presenter invited the last remaining survivors of the Kovno Ghetto and their descendants, who were sitting in the front row, to end the evening by joining in the singing of聽Hatikva, once the hymn of the Zionist Movement, now the National Anthem of Israel, to the original words as it was sung in the Ghetto, and about which Avraham Tory wrote:

The sounds of 鈥楬atikva鈥 were powerful and were carried far away to the mountains of Judea and valleys of Sharon, to the Mediterranean, the shores of the Jordan, to Mount Scopus, the cities and villages, moshavim and kibbutzim in the Jezreel Valley and the Galilee. The sounds carried their greetings from Kovno to Israel and returned at the same time to the hall with the good tidings of the redemption that would arrive soon. Everyone鈥檚 heart was filled with rejoicing and tears poured from their eyes. From the depths of the soul flowed hope, courage and a cry out loud: 鈥榃e have not yet lost our hope!” … It was a glorious, festive moment …This was a great day for us today.

 

https://he-il.facebook.com/yonatancnaan/videos/10160889702605650/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in History, Music, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 6 Comments