Israel's Good Name

Mizgaga Museum

In Coastal Plain, Israel on February 19, 2015 at 6:00 AM

This past Sunday I had to attend a little meeting at my home base just south of Haifa and then I had the day off. My father drove me down and we planned a series of little trips for the day – but we ended up going places altogether unplanned. Our first stop was the Mizgaga Museum in Kibbutz Nahsholim between Atlit and Caesarea. I had already been to neighbouring Tel Dor but didn’t visit the distinct “glasshouse “museum, despite seeing it, simply because I didn’t know it was a museum. This time I was better prepared.

Mizgaga Museum

Mizgaga Museum

The Mizgaga Museum is located in the old bottle-making factory built by Baron Rothschild in 1891 to supply the fledgling wine business started in nearby Zichron Ya’akov and Rishon L’Tzion. With a handful of Jewish workers, a French glass specialist and Meir Dizengoff (Tel Aviv‘s first mayor) as manager, the factory set out to produce glass bottles made from the sand just metres away at Dor’s beach. Due to several complications, the largest being technical difficulties which was attributed to this particular sand not producing a clear enough glass, the factory was shut down and abandoned in 1895. Baron Rothschild had sunk some 50,000 francs into this factory not only in building costs (which included imported French roof tiles), but also payments to the Ottoman Empire officials and to the local sheikhs of Tantura as well as the hiring of guards and a salary for the boat captain to transport the finished bottles once filled with wine.

Baron Rothschild's investment

Baron Rothschild’s investment

But his money did not go completely to waste. The abandoned factory was fixed up and turned into a museum as it is today, showcasing the history of the factory, glassworks in general and a nice collection of historical artefacts found in the area – both on land and at sea. Parking just outside at a resort, we walked through the small garden to the museum entrance, pausing to examine various stone anchors, a Roman milestone marker and a sarcophagus outside. Once inside, we were led to a video about the museum and about the Baron’s dreams of creating a prosperous land for his Jewish brethren. In that very room is the sole remaining (verified) glass bottle produced by the factory which was found in wastewater not far away.

The only surviving bottle

The only surviving bottle

Due to the theme being glass, a brief history of glass and glassblowing was exhibited – I learned that glass was only mentioned once in the Bible (Job 28:17) due to its rarity and value.

Glassworks exhibit

Glassworks exhibit

As we left the impressive stone vaulted rooms dealing with glass, we entered the realm of history – we started with “Napoleon at Dor”. To briefly summarise the local history, Dor (now Tel Dor) was for a long time a very important coastal city until the need for deeper ports made the city defunct. The nearby port cities of Atlit and Caesarea, with their better natural harbors, became more important and eventually Dor was abandoned. With a rich history of Canaanites, Greeks, Romans, Sidonians and later Crusaders, the ancient city of Dor experienced many centuries of quiet until 1799 when Napoleon made camp there.

Mustachioed dolphins mosaic

Mustachioed dolphins mosaic

Local Arabs had created a fishing village just south of the ruins of Dor, under the name Tantura (which is believed to be an Arabic corruption of the Greek Dora), and they appeared sympathetic to the French army. Having battled his way up the coast from Egypt and conquering Gaza, Jaffa and Haifa, Napoleon reached failure at Akko after an ineffective siege of the strongly fortified coastal city held by the Turks and resupplied by the British. Fleeing south with his army, Napoleon made his final camp at Dor/Tantura before ditching cannons and muskets into the sea to lighten his army’s load on their final stretch back to Egypt. In the room dedicated to Dor’s Napoleonic period, there is a cannon, a mortar and light weaponry on display.

''Napoleon at Dor''

”Napoleon at Dor”

The cannon was Turkish in origin, captured at Jaffa and the mortar was Spanish, made in Seville in 1793 from Peruvian copper, captured from one of the wars with Spain. The next room we visited was “Christian Dor”, largely focusing on Dor’s Crusader period. Home to the Merle Castle, belonging at first to the noble French De Merle family, Dor was one of many Crusader strongholds along the coast. In the late 1100s, the castle was handed over to the Templar Knights after being briefly captured by Saladin and his army. Although there is no record of it, it’s assumed that the Crusaders evacuated Merle around the same time they evacuated Atlit, the last Frankish capital in the Holy Land. While Merle Castle has been reduced to a few broken stones, many artefacts from the Christian periods have been found including part of an ivory sceptre once belonging to a bishop, knights’ swords and more.

Cheery Crusader artwork

Cheery Crusader artwork

The next room was about underwater excavations and salvages, showcasing a dive operation in 1982 of a Byzantine shipwreck. With a video of underwater footage and some of the finds displayed in the room, it made this field of expertise quite fun looking. Being that this wooden ship was a mere 3.5 metres offshore and at only 2.5 metres deep, I wonder how many more similar shipwrecks there are to be found. I just saw in the news that the largest hoard of gold coins discovered in Israel was just found underwater near Caesarea – sign me up! Continuing on with the museum exhibitions, we came upon a room of excavated artefacts including a collection of clay vessels from a variety of locations: Chios, Athens, Kos, Cyprus and more.

Collection of Mediterranean pottery

Collection of Mediterranean pottery

What we saw next came to me as a bit of a surprise… a room dedicated to the famous Biblical colour of “techelet” – a specific shade of blue. Although there are Jews nowadays who wear “techelet” in their “tzitzit”, the secret production process was lost generations ago and the ancient colouring disappeared from the world markets.

Tzitzit and techelet

Tzitzit and techelet

Today it is generally agreed upon that the colour comes from the Murex trunculus snail, which produces a clear secretion with the addition of oxygen turns purple-red which can then be turned blue with sun exposure. I’ve also read that wool that has been treated with an alkaline substance can be dyed blue with the chemical bonding of the snail secretion and additional oxygenation. I’m sure that the workshops held there at the museum can shed further light on this most interesting topic, especially as the sea snail can be found just offshore. Heading out of the museum, we took a minute to peer up at the expansive factory’s untouched upper floor where the furnaces for glass-making were held. Just behind the building is an ancient burial cave, and, after seeing it, my father suggested we head over to the beach. With overcast weather nearly identical to the day I first visited Tel Dor, I was disappointed from a photographic aspect. We walked along low tide’s lapping waves, looking down at the shells and sea glass that had washed ashore. We climbed up on a rough outcropping and marveled at the unique physical makeup of the reef-like rock.

Intricate coastal stone

Intricate coastal stone

We looked around at the small fishing boats and the small islands, which are actually a protected “park” area, and then noticed an old arched structure further along the beach heading south.

Fishing boat off the coast

Fishing boat off the coast

What we found was the remains of the Arab khan (caravanserai) for travelers built several hundred years ago. With that we headed back to the car, leaving behind the modern Dor and Nahsholim with their Greek and Turkish Jewish immigrants and their industries of banana, avocado, cotton and fish farming. We were headed for Zichron Ya’akov, founded by the very same Baron Rothschild who built the Mizgaga.

Waterfalls of Nachal Iyun

In Galilee, Israel on January 25, 2015 at 4:40 AM

Last week my sister and I took a day trip to the tip of the Upper Galilee, to the nature reserve of Nachal Iyun. One of the streams to feed into the famed Jordan River, Nachal Iyun emanates from springs in the Marjaayoun Valley in Lebanon, just north of the town of Metula. The Lebanese town and valley Marjaayoun means “meadow of springs” in Arabic, making Nachal Iyun meaning “stream of springs” and so it is. The Israeli part of the stream, and its series of waterfalls, curls around Metula bordered by the Israel-Lebanon border (the “Blue Line”) before petering out near Kiryat Shmona.

Anemone with bee

Anemone with bee

On our drive up we passed by a sizable collection of police, military and firefighting crews who had blocked off the opposing side of Road 90. Later I learned that there were terrorists spotted in Lebanon trying to place mines along the border. Just another day in Israel… But that didn’t stop up from enjoying some homemade herb biscuits with butter and cheese en route. We found the park, parked and began our hike of the nature reserve.

The view to the Naftali Mountains

The view to the Naftali Mountains

But what’s a nature hike without a sprinkling of regional history? The area of Iyun, and even the stream itself, are mentioned several times in the Bible and subsequent books by the Sages. First, the retelling of scuffles between the divided Jewish kingdoms of Israel and Judah. King Asa of Judah, great-grandson of King Solomon, gave Iyun (as well as Dan and other Naftali cities) to King Ben Hadad of Aram Damascus as a bribe to turn the Aramaeans against the Kingdom of Israel under King Baasha. Later, it’s mentioned as the border of Galilee in regards to religious commandments applicable only to the Holy Land. In more modern times, the bridge over the stream connecting Israel and Lebanon was blown up by the Palmach, one of eleven bridges targeted in the “Night of the Bridges” operation. These days there remains a threat from the Hezbollah terrorists who have control over southern Lebanon; in 2005 they diverted the stream within Lebanon and today water is supplemented from the neighbouring Snir Stream.

Looking up through the chimney of HaTanur Waterfall

Looking up through the chimney of HaTanur Waterfall

After a short walk we reached the first of the four waterfalls: HaTanur Waterfall. A towering 30 metre (~100 foot) waterfall crashing into the soft limestone, the name HaTanur has three possible origins: a long Arab skirt, an chimney oven and a fast flowing current. We stood at the base and enjoyed the mist and the cold air, although it tended to make photography difficult.

It's me!

It’s me!

Taking the winding trail-steps up the side of the gorge far above the falls, we passed by Metula’s cemetery with some gravestones from the late 1800’s. Reaching HaTanur Waterfall Lookout, we walked onto a platform jutting out over the edge of the slope to see the falls below.

HaTanur Waterfall from above

HaTanur Waterfall from above

We continued on along the rim of the gorge until we reached very unusual steps leading down to the second waterfall: Cascade Falls. This two-stepped waterfall is on a much smaller scale, 9.5 and 5 metres (31 and 16.5 feet), with a bit of an unimpressive vantage point. In the winter months some 0.3-1.5 cubic millimetres of water flow through the stream each second but we visited not long after a pretty big storm so I’d imagine we were seeing a bit more. Just a few hundred metres further on the trail of the two-kilometre gorge we reached the beautiful Mill Falls, the third waterfall.

Mill Falls

Mill Falls

An impressive 21 metres (69 feet) tall, Mill Falls is named after the remains of an old mill of which a tall wall and an uncovered arched structure can be still seen, built against the rock wall. I haven’t found any information about this mill which is a bit strange. Walking up the trail-steps to the Mill Lookout we watched water from the adjacent Ein Sucra spring trickle down a trough parallel to the trail. With the noise of the crashing water slowly fading behind us, we climbed in elevation once again heading for the final waterfall. At one point fairly close to the border we spotted a Lebanese shepherd and his goats grazing on the far ridge. We discussed whether or not he might be a Hezbollah spy – a pretty realistic assumption. Last time I encountered a Lebanese herd was when I was up in the Gladiola Outpost at the top of nearby Mount Dov and a wayward Lebanese herd found its way into the outpost and panicked when they tried to get back out. Two goats fell down a small cliff and some got cut up on the razor wire – it was quite a mess. You can see a picture of it HERE.

Lebanese shepherd with his goats

Lebanese shepherd with his goats

Shortly thereafter we entered a different park of the reserve, the Founders Grove with its tall trees and bubbling brook atmosphere. We spotted European robins flitting in the bushes and turtles basking in the sunlight. We then came to the end of the trail and the fourth waterfall: Iyun Waterfall.

Iyun Waterfall

Iyun Waterfall

Although it doesn’t quite look it in the above photo, this waterfall is 9.2 metres (30 feet) tall and the water up top was used by the British in the 1940’s. With that we turned around to hike back to the car (there is no long circular path). Being as though we were now facing the opposite way this time, we saw things at a different angle. It was only on the way back that I noticed the Dove Cave between the Cascade Falls and HaTanur Waterfall. In addition, we spotted deep wild boar tracks in the mud. But best of all, the magnificent view – this is looking at HaTanur Waterfall Lookout with the Gafni Lookout below:

Looking out at the lookout

Looking out at the lookout

Finished with the hike we got into the car and stopped off at Rosh Pina for some super-thin authentic Sicilian pizza before driving home.

Joseph’s Pit

In Israel, Samaria on January 11, 2015 at 4:30 AM

After visiting the ancient capital city of Sebastia (also known as Shomron, or Samaria), we drove north headed towards Jenin in our armoured convoy. I was participating in an educational and recreational day out for sergeant commanders of Kfir’s “Netzach Yehuda” Battalion and we were headed for the second stop of the day, Joseph’s Pit. But along the way we had a bit of excitement – entering one Palestinian village we were attacked by handfuls of Arab youth throwing huge rocks, molotov cocktails, fireworks and even small explosive charges. It was a very intense experience and kind of thrilling, mostly because I was driving a large armoured truck weighing approximately 13,000 kgs (28,660 lbs) with bulletproof windows and all. In this picture that a soldier from the command jeep in front of me took, you can see a large rock hitting the metal grate at my front windshield during the onslaught:

Driving the Safaron through a Palestinian village

Driving the Safaron through a Palestinian village

I have uploaded footage from this experience, filmed by the lieutenant in the passenger seat, onto YouTube. It’s no high-definition GoPro video but here it is:¬†http://youtu.be/BFvL0v4XDtE (at 00:09 you can hear the explosion of the TNT charge that was thrown at my right rear tire area). After the excitement¬†in the village we continued north on Road 60 until we came to the turn-off for Tel Dotan and Joseph’s Pit, just past the village of Araba. Driving on the incredibly bumpy dirt road, we approached the hill that is Tel Dotan.

Tel Dotan

Tel Dotan

Unfortunately, we were slightly pressed for time and weren’t able to fully visit the site. So we started with Joseph’s Pit – or shall I say, one of three possible pits – directly beside the dirt road.

Deep inside the first pit

Deep inside the first pit

To review the Biblical story, Jacob and his family had moved to the Holy Land and continued in their shepherding lifestyle. Joseph was sent by Jacob to locate his brothers who had gone out grazing from Hevron to Shechem; he found them at Dotan some twenty kilometres north of Shechem. It was there that they cast him into a pit and then sold him to Ishmaelite traders who took Joseph down to Egypt where he eventually rose in power to become a viceroy. Now, I have heard but cannot verify that there were two pits in the story and that one was filled with snakes and scorpions – the pit that Joseph spent the night in. So here and now there are three pits to choose from, although it’s possible that these aren’t the pits in question at all.

The second pit

The second pit

We had all gathered around these two pits and it was announced that we were waiting from the battalion commander to swing by with his command jeep to give a few words. Seizing this opportunity, as I’m not really involved in their command pyramid, I decided to go check out the third pit alone. Located inside an old stone house of sorts, the third pit is a the furthest from the dirt road, not far from the base of the tel.

The house containing the third pit

The house containing the third pit

I entered the old structure, seeing traditional vaulted rooms, arched doorways and the lone stone staircase built on strong arches. I wonder about the site’s history, but haven’t found anything online about it, especially because according to the Muslims (and agreed upon by the Crusaders), the site of Joseph’s Pit is in the Galilee next to Kibbutz Amiad just a few kilometres north of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). The Muslim version is known as Jubb Yussef and a small kahn was built at the site somewhere between the 1200’s and the 1500’s to host pilgrims and passing travelers.

Inside the house

Inside the house

Inside the rooms, there were also more modern machinery – what looked like a pump of sorts; an assortment of pipes and a motor. I looked around for the pit, treading carefully, and then spotted light streaming in from a breach in the wall. Peering into the light, I looked down to see the third pit.

Peering into the third pit

Peering into the third pit

To recap, one of these pits are believed to have taken part in the famous Biblical story although it’s not certain to be any of them. After my look around I headed back to the group and we said goodbye to Jabo our tour guide as he got into the battalion commander’s jeep and headed out. We boarded and departed from the site in our convoy formation, heading back to the outpost of Mevo Dotan – a Jewish town built and named after the ancient region of Dotan – for a continuation of the day’s events. Hopefully one day I’ll have the opportunity to visit Tel Dotan, but as it is located in Palestinian controlled land, only time will tell.

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