Israel's Good Name

Tel Aviv I

In Israel, Tel Aviv on August 30, 2015 at 4:47 AM

Last week I took a trip down to Tel Aviv to take some morning exams the following day in preparation for university. Leaving Ma’alot in the late morning, I arrived in bustling Tel Aviv by train and immediately headed towards my first destination, the IDF History Museum. Located just outside the newly renovated HaTachana (old train station) with its cafés, restaurants and boutique shops, the IDF museum has been on my map for quite some time. I had visited once before, while in basic training, but didn’t really get the chance to see everything (post HERE).

IDF History Museum

IDF History Museum

Inside the museum’s confines I started with the rifle and machine gun exhibit, a large collection of firearms from all over the world and spanning hundreds of years. Considering today’s political situation, I found irony in seeing an Israeli-made Uzi sub-machine gun displayed as a weapon used by the Iranian armed forces.

Guns galore!

Guns galore!

Next I browsed the captured anti-aircraft guns and the extensive armoured units collection, ranging from American Shermans and Pattons to British Centurions and Soviet T-54s/T-55s all the way to Israel’s first tank, the Merkava I.

Tank pavilion

Tank pavilion

Next was a large room filled with pistols from the last three hundred years or so and from all over the world, including a few “VIP” pistols owned by various Israeli generals. Moving along, I passed a collection of armoured vehicles and then entered a building dedicated towards the War for Independence in 1948. It was in this room that an elderly woman, a fellow visitor, stopped me and told me a story about a Jewish man who lived in Yafo (Jaffa) in 1947-1948 and was killed by his Arab neighbours when Israeli independence was announced. Leaving that room, I passed artillery guns and entered the exhibits of each of the successive Chiefs of General Staff. My museum visit continued on for another hour or so, giving me time to look at the many exhibitions including this one called the IDF Equipment Centre Pavilion:

"Kitchens are important too"

“Kitchens are important too”

My visit ended with a look at a number of vehicles that made history including official cars of Defence Ministers and some famous military vehicles. One, a Fargo pickup truck made in the US in 1942 boasted quite a rich history. This particular vehicle was used by three separate armies and had seen battle in four wars – quite the veteran! Leaving the museum at closing time I headed towards the chic neighbourhood of Neve Tzedek, not really sure where to go next as museums were all either closed or closing shortly.

Neve Tzedek street scene

Neve Tzedek street scene

As I walked through the well-kept streets I was surprised to mostly hear English and French being spoken. When I stopped into a Tunisian restaurant, the menu was in Hebrew and French only – no English. It was at this restaurant, Jasmine, that I had a late lunch of (off-menu) shakshuka with a variety of Tunisian salads and some beer.

Tunisian shakshuka

Tunisian shakshuka

Leaving Neve Tzedek I bused to the Tel Aviv Port to watch the sunset and explore the area for the first time. Crossing the Yarkon River, I walked along the water taking pictures of the various birds hanging about. I saw kingfishers, mynas, a spur-winged lapwing and more, but it was these colourful Egyptian geese that captivated me most:

Egyptian geese preening on the banks of the Yarkon

Egyptian geese preening on the banks of the Yarkon

Unfortunately, the water at the mouth of the Yarkon is heavily polluted by the Reading power plant among other industrial culprits. In the picture below you can see the river and the power plant beside it, with a tiny lighthouse on the left-hand  side. This lighthouse was built in the mid 1930’s by the British and the ruins of two Assyrian fortresses were found at the base of it, known today as Tel Kudadi. The power plant was originally built in the late 1930’s, which made the lighthouse superfluous with its bright lighted chimney, and has been added to over the subsequent decades. Today the plant is only in partial use and the exterior was renovated to recreate its original 1930’s appearance.

Reading power plant

Reading power plant

I crossed over the Wauchope bridge, dodging the multitudes of pedestrians, bikers and rollerbladers to take pictures of the beautiful sunset.

Sunset at Tel Aviv Port

Sunset at Tel Aviv Port

Looping around Reading Park as the sun disappeared over the horizon, I then headed back to the Tel Aviv Port area to take in the sights. Surprising packed with visitors and locals alike, I jostled my way along the wooden deck overlooking the crashing waves as I paused here and there to take pictures. I then stumbled upon a concert waiting to start, but even when I left an hour or so later, the singer Avraham Tal had yet to show his presence.

Carousel at dusk

Carousel at dusk

I passed a wedding and an older couple who, upon seeing me with a camera hanging from my neck, asked me to take their picture. I dodged salty waves, saltier waiters (I jest) and the ever-present mob of people as I walked all the way down to the northernmost Tel Aviv beach and then back up to the Yarkon river where I found the buses and headed over to Ramat Gan to stay the night.

Tel Aviv Port at night

Tel Aviv Port at night

The next day proved to be just as adventurous, chock-full of museum visits…

Bar’am

In Galilee, Israel on August 9, 2015 at 5:08 AM

The other week I went on a two-part trip, of two consecutive days, to Bar’am and the surrounding area, not far east of Ma’alot in the Galilee. The first trip was with my parents and my brother and we were only going with the purpose of visiting some graves (keverim) of sages and prophets of yore. We drove on the Old Northern Road and then turned onto Road 8967, passing the national park of Bar’am and pulling over at the signs denoting keverim.

Kever of Nachman Chatufa

Kever of Nachman Chatufa

The first kever was that of Nachman Chatufa, a boy wonder of sorts who was born some 1,500 years ago speaking words of Torah and prophesies upon birth. Shocked, his father muted him and it wasn’t until Nachman’s 12th birthday that he opened his mouth releasing a torrent of prophesies – then fell over and died. The second kever, about a hundred metres south, is that of Mar Zutra, an Amora who lived in Babylon some 1,400 years ago or so. When we were leaving Mar Zutra’s kever we noticed that there was an old archaeological dig between the kever and the old Christian cemetery of Bar’am (or as they’d say, Biram). Upon closer examination we found “abandoned” and unmarked wall sections still partially buried, a carved stone that looks like it might be an ornate lintel or something along those lines and, of course, loads of potsherds.

Unnamed archaeological dig

Unnamed archaeological dig

I’m very curious to learn more about this dig but haven’t found anything online and I’m waiting to hear back from the Antiquities Authority. A hundred and forty metres north of Nachman Chatufa’s kever is the grave of the prophet Ovadya (Obadiah), of Biblical fame. It was he who hid one hundred prophets from the wrath of the wicked king and queen of Israel at the time, Ahab and Jezebel, sustaining them in their cave hideouts until he depleted his great reserves. It was also he who was the “pawn” in arranging the meeting between King Ahab and Eliyahu (Elijah) the Prophet before the famous sacrificial showdown on Mount Carmel. I found his story and his kever location to be most interesting. We drove back home after that, and it was on the next day around noontime that I set out again to visit more sites in the area – this time alone.

Overgrown ruins of Bar'am

Overgrown ruins of Bar’am

I began with the Bar’am National Park, which we had visited as a family years ago before I started my blog, hosting one of the most beautiful ancient synagogues in the country. One of the smallest national parks I’ve ever been to, there are many unmarked ruins of houses around the parking lot and then pieces from the great synagogue on display.

Synagogue pieces on display

Synagogue pieces on display

The showcase of the park is, of course, the aforementioned synagogue from the Talmudic era. With excavations on the synagogue starting in 1905, the magnificent columned structure had been slowly uncovered and its architecture and layout have proven most interesting to researchers.

Bar'am's main synagogue

Bar’am’s main synagogue

There is another, smaller synagogue just a few hundred metres from the main synagogue that was discovered even earlier by a British survey team. The lintel, with an inscription by Yosef HaLevi – the stonemason who carved it, now resides at the Louvre Museum in Paris with a replica being held at the Bar-Dor Museum in Kibbutz Bar’am. Unfortunately, this smaller synagogue is unmarked so I cannot be sure if I saw it or not. Just after the main synagogue is an old church of the Maronite sect of Christianity, with the remains of their village Biram which was built on the remains of the ancient Jewish settlement.

Entrance to the Maronite church

Entrance to the Maronite church

After leaving the national park, I kept driving a bit further on the Old Northern Road until I reached a small access road to the peak of Mount Shifra (elevation: 730 metres) where KKL-JNF built an observation tower. When I reached the top I was disappointed to see the area blocked off due to construction – I can only hope that they are improving the Bar’am Tower. Abandoning the area I drove back west until I got to the Pa’ar Cave, parking at the roadside gravel lot. Getting out of my car I noticed something strange at the edge of the parking lot… What I found were two or three wild boar corpses being consumed by maggots, presumably the results of hunting/poisoning from the way they were laid out (just guesswork).

Fan-fingered gecko

Fan-fingered gecko

What I found next, in the grass nearby, brought me great joy – a clean skull! Unfortunately, the impressive tusks are on the lower jaw which becomes separated from the skull after decomposing, but there are still smaller tusks on the upper jaw – this image is the best I can find to illustrate the layout of boar jaws. Grabbing some newspaper I claimed my prize and the skull is now in my backyard getting sun-bleached everyday until it is fit for displaying. With the skull safely locked in the car I headed on over to the cave, just about a hundred metres from the road via a dirt trail. When I reached the cave I could hear the sounds of humanity emanating from the chasm, as a group of merry-makers had also chosen this hour to visit the cave.

Visitors in the Pa'ar Cave

Visitors in the Pa’ar Cave

And so I shared my brief spelunking experience with these fine individuals, enjoying the light of their flashlights as I had forgotten to pack one. I intend to return one day and properly explore this karstic sinkhole as I’ve heard the cave goes very deep/far and I’d like to verify that myself.

Pa'ar Cave from the outside

Pa’ar Cave from the outside

Continuing on to my trip’s final destination, I drove up the nearby Mount Adir (elevation: 1,008 metres) to hike the brief summit trail. Just as I was reaching the peak I saw what I believe was an eagle of sorts taking flight from a fence post; I’d love to have gotten a picture. At the new top I parked and continued on foot headed along the trail with the green marker to the Mount Adir lookout. Dedicated in 2012 to the soldiers who died in battle during the Second Lebanon War (2006), the wooden balcony provides a great view overlooking Lebanon, including many of the battle sites where Israeli lives were tragically lost. One thing that piqued my interest was looking down on the Tegart fort on Mount Metat (interestingly enough, the gematria of Metat in Hebrew is 840 and the mountain’s elevation is 840 metres above sea level).

Mount Adir lookout over the border

Mount Adir lookout over the border

Having read that there was an ancient fortress discovered and partially uncovered from the 1960’s, I set out on the green trail to find it. Continuing onward and onward along the flat peak, I circumvented a military installation and discovered that I was actually heading down the mountain back towards the Pa’ar Cave. Unable to ascertain whether or not the green trail was circular I turned back and it was when I was passing a rusted piece of army bunker, along the northen edge of the summit, that I noticed a wall partially uncovered. I believe that this must be the ancient fortress, which is thousands of years old and is believed to have been built by the Phoenicians. With that I headed back to the car, pausing briefly to examine the remains of a kestrel in the grass, and drove back down the mountain to home.

Tiberias: Holy Tombs

In Galilee, Israel on July 27, 2015 at 8:58 AM

Continuing on with the trip my father and I took to the city of Tiberias in August of last year, we left the Old City and drove up the hillside in search for a number of keverim – holy tombs of Jewish sages. Being that Tiberias is one of Judaism’s four holy cities (the others being Jerusalem, Hevron and Tzfat), the Jewish presence was strong in the lakeside town for thousands of years. Many great rabbis called Tiberias and the surrounding villages their home, and thus many were buried throughout the city over the generations.

The Maimonides Heritage Center

The Maimonides Heritage Center

Our first stop was to the kever of the Rambam (Maimonides), a great scholar, philosopher, author and physician who lived in Spain and North Africa in the 1100’s. Interestingly enough, the Rambam was appointed physician to Saladin (of Crusader fame) and it is believed that through his position in the Ayyubid sultan’s court he was able to ransom Jewish captives from the hands of the Crusaders. The Rambam passed away in Egypt and his body was taken to Tiberias for burial, where today it is a city landmark.

Jews of all sorts praying at the kever of the Rambam

Jews of all sorts praying at the kever of the Rambam

We spent a few minutes at the kever, pausing at neighbouring keverim of earlier sages such as the Tannaim R’ Elazar ben Arach and R’ Yehoshua ben Chananya (who was the Rosh HaYeshiva in Peki’in). Among the many other great sages buried there include Rav Ami and Rav Asi – both Amoraim – as well as R’ Eliezer ben Hyrcanus of Mishnaic fame. One really strange burial site was simply named “collection of bones”- I wonder whose bones and from what era…

Conjoined keverim of early sages

Conjoined keverim of early sages

Overlooking the kever of the Rambam is the Maimonides Heritage Center which has a small museum on the Rambam as well as hosting various activities and events for groups. Chronicling the life, the works and the legacy of the Rambam, there is much to be learned for all visitors of the centre. Rabbi Michael Schachter was gracious enough to give us the full guided tour – which we found rather informative.

Rabbi Michael Schachter

Rabbi Michael Schachter

Taking leave of the Maimonides Heritage Center we drove up the hill to the kever of R’ Akiva, one of the greatest Jewish sages of all time, who was martyred by the Romans. Of humble beginnings, R’ Akiva married the daughter of the wealthy Kalba Savua of Jerusalem and then, after being ostracised by his father-in-law, left to study – through great self-sacrifice for both him and his new bride, Rachel. Beginning in the yeshiva of the aforementioned R’ Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, R’ Akiva rose to lofty spiritual heights and amassed 24,000 students in the course of twelve years. After the failed revolt of Bar Kochba, R’ Akiva was sentenced to death by the Romans and was buried on the hillside above ancient Tiberias.

Inside the kever of Rabbi Akiva

Inside the kever of Rabbi Akiva

Beside the kever of R’ Akiva is the kever of the Ramchal (or R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzatto), a rabbi, kabbalist and philosopher from the 1700’s. Born in Italy and having spent time in Amsterdam, the Ramchal’s teachings were often rejected by the local rabbinate and his books were even burned. Frustrated, the Ramchal moved to the Holy Land and settled in port city of Akko. Tragically, he and his family perished in a plague but his teachings live on as a staple for self-improvement and piety. From the stone plaza just outside these two keverim, the most magnificent view of Tiberias and the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) is to behold.

Looking down at Tiberias and the Kinneret

Looking down at Tiberias and the Kinneret

Stopping off briefly at a supermarket for lunch supplies, we continued south until we reached the kever of Rachel, the wife of R’ Akiva – a saint in her own right. Overlooking a waterpark and the ancient Jewish cemetery, we stopped to both pray and take pictures.

Remains of the ancient Jewish cemetery

Remains of the ancient Jewish cemetery

Back on the road, we drove along the water passing two sites I intend to visit on a later trip: Berko Archaeological Park and Hamat Tiberias (hot springs held in great value since antiquity). Our final destination was the kever of R’ Meir Ba’al HaNes (who name translates to R’ Meir the Miracle Maker), another great sage from the period of the Tannaim. A student of R’ Akiva – one of the only five to survive the terrible plague, R’ Meir requested to be buried in the Holy Land in a place where the water would lap at his grave. And so, when he passed away, his body was brought to rest at the foot of the low mountains along the banks of the Kinneret.

The R' Meir Ba'al HaNes complex

The R’ Meir Ba’al HaNes complex

We had lunch at the tables outside the complex and then entered to visit and pray. Afterwards, we called it a day and headed back home, missing yet a few of the important keverim that we didn’t know about at the time. Another trip is now most certainly in order…

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