Israel's Good Name

Archive for March, 2013|Monthly archive page

Tel Dan

In Galilee, Israel on March 31, 2013 at 6:45 AM

On Wednesday, the first day of Pesach Chol HaMoed, we took a (partial) family trip to Tel Dan, an ancient city on a nature reserve way up in the Upper Golan. Belonging to the Tribe of Dan, this northern city was known under a variety of names throughout the generations: Laish, Leshem and Dan. Located beside Banias, the Dan River park is quite lush and green, coupling it nicely with the ancient ruins.

Excavated ruins of Tel Dan

Excavated ruins of Tel Dan

Melted ice flowing down from Mount Hermon, together with gushing cold water from underground springs, the Dan River joins two other small streams to form the Jordan River. Within the park itself one sees a trickling spring transform into a rushing stream, perfect for rafting and kayaking.

The Dan River

The Dan River

We took the long trail, which included stops at the Israelite Gate and the “High Place” where idol worship went on during the kingship of Jeroboam ben Navat, who ruled the first Israelite Kingdom of Israel for 22 years, following the split between Israel and Judah. Bringing along a new camera, this one featuring 21x optical zoom, I was keen on photographing plants and animals which come out great with a DSLR camera. Being that I was in a nature park, the opportunities were abound.

Close-up of a bee on a flower

Close-up of a bee on a flower

I also played with zoom and focus, using the great landscape to capture deep photographs. Here, a lichen-covered rock, belonging to an ancient wall in the Israelite Gate, and the rolling levels of trees in the background:

Lichen-covered rock and the green beyond

Lichen-covered rock and the green beyond

When we approached the High Place, a man came up to us and asked us if we knew the history. We chimed in as he began to tell over the despicable tale of the Israelite king introducing idols into the area, slaughtering animals to the idols just feet away from where we stood. He was royally miffed and was pleased to know that we too knew the tragic Biblical tale. Here is a cistern from beside the altar which may have been used to hold blood (from the sacrifices) or wine (from the libations):

Stone and plaster cistern

Stone and plaster cistern

In more modern times, the area was used by the IDF to secure the northern area of the Golan. Here is a shot of the nearby Lebanese town of Arab el-Luweize (I wonder whose cows those are…):

Lebanese town of Arab el-Luweize

Lebanese town of Arab el-Luweize

With the Lebanese to the north-west and the Syrians to the north-east, a bunker was built into the hill beside the “High Place”.  Here the trenches can be seen, with odd frame pieces every few feet. The peak in the distance is Mitzpe Ramta, with Mount Hermon on the far side (not visible):

Greenery, trenches and Mitzpe Ramta

Greenery, trenches and Mitzpe Ramta

And here, thanks to the 21x optical zoom, a rusted Syrian tank from the Six Day War in 1967 can be seen, way off in the distance:

A rusted Syrian tank

A rusted Syrian tank

Descending into the trench, I entered the bunker and crouched behind the mount for the .50-calibre machine gun, looking out at the lush green fields:

The view from the bunker

The view from the bunker

After a nice picnic beside the alter, we continued on with the hike, turning back to the Dan River. But first, a shot of the Israelite Gate area, not too far away from a stone throne:

Walls from the Israelite Gate area

Walls from the Israelite Gate area

Back at the parking lot, I found a large ant which became my model for macro-photography. This ant was very elusive and nary a good photo was taken of the minuscule beast. This is the best shot, I hope to capture better and more in upcoming adventures.

Elusive ant

Elusive ant

Day 2 of Chol HaMoed (next post): Castra and the Atlit “Illegal” Immigration Camp!

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Eretz Israel Museum

In Israel, Tel Aviv on March 28, 2013 at 10:44 AM

Continuing on with my museum spree, following the trips to the Diaspora Museum and the Palmach Museum, my next stop was the Eretz Israel Museum of Tel Aviv (not to be confused with the Israel Museum in Jerusalem – which happened to have been visited by Barack Obama and entourage on the very day I was at the Tel Aviv museums). The largest of the three museums, the Eretz Israel Museum showcases numerous different exhibitions, each somewhat related to the Holy Land. This was the first museum that charged me an entrance fee, but I was still impressed by how far I’d gone without spending money. In I went, to explore the numerous attractions. Having seen so much, and having so many great photographs to share, I’ll just breeze through the multitude of museum pieces.

The new coming out of the old - Tel Qasile ruins and the towers of Tel Aviv

The new coming out of the old – Tel Qasile ruins and the towers of Tel Aviv

First on the path I chose was the Planetarium. There was a chain blocking the entrance so I gave a holler. A man came out and told me it was closed, and not to worry because it was geared towards children anyway. I shrugged and continued on my way, finding a recreated olive press next. Coming from the home of the olive oil, the Galilee, olive presses – new and old – are not a foreign sight.

Olive press machine

Olive press machine

After passing a flour mill, powered by a mini-aqueduct, and a fancy building exhibiting large amounts of beautiful Judaica (officially known as the Ethnography and Folklore exhibition), I approached the dusty Tel Qasile ruins. An archaeological site on the Yarkon River, the ruins are said to be the remains of a Philistine port city. While I was trying to capture that snazzy shot up above, a giant insect caught my attention. It was a locust, a straggler from the huge swarm that invaded the country a few weeks ago. I was surprised at the size of it, and whilst attempting to photograph the behemoth, lost him to the wind.

Tel Qasile excavations

Tel Qasile excavations

After the ruins, I headed over to a exhibition called “Man and His Work”, presenting the tools and trades of mankind throughout the ages. Outside, a manifestation of human livelihood was arranged as if it were a marketplace. Rows of niches, each containing a different trade, displayed the many industries found in the olden days.

Workshops of man

Workshops of man

Entering into a building called the The Rothschild Center, I found several collections and mini-museums. The first was befitting for the building, an exhibit by the name of “The Land of the Baron”, following the life of Baron Edmond Benjamin James de Rothschild. Instrumental in the eventual restoration of the Holy Land, the Baron was avidly interested in buying land and starting settlements. One of these is the picturesque Rosh Pina; and here is the original property plan:

Plans for Rosh Pina

Plans for Rosh Pina

I had written about the Baron some months back when I covered an army trip I took to Ramat HaNadiv, where the Baron was finally laid to rest. Here is a photograph from that memorable day in April 1954:

Laying the Rothschild couple to rest at Ramat HaNadiv

Laying the Rothschild couple to rest at Ramat HaNadiv

After the immersion into the Rothschild family history and the mark they left on the Holy Land, I found an interesting photograph staring down at me from a wall – a photograph by Ethiopian-born Benny Vodo (or Woodoo):

Benny Vodo photograph

Benny Vodo photograph

In theme with the photograph, there was a large temporary exhibit called “Ethiopia, A Land of Wonders”. Within the walls I found a history colourful and rejoicing, the story of a people who returned to their roots. I have several Ethiopian friends and I must say, their stories can be quite interesting. Here is a photograph of an Ethiopian Jewish family finally arriving to the Holy Land:

Ethiopian olim coming off the plane

Ethiopian olim coming off the plane

On to the next couple of exhibitions, the Valero Bank and the history of currency was quite interesting. The first Jewish bank to open in recent times in the Holy Land, the Valero Bank was founded by Jakob Valero in 1848, just inside the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City. A family comparably, in a smaller scale, to the Rothschilds, the Valeros held power and authority in their environs and the bank thrived. Dealing with currency, here are two interesting pieces:

Turkish coin die, 1900s

Turkish coin die, 1900s

Tyrian shekels from the Ussfiyeh hoard

Tyrian shekels from the Ussfiyeh hoard

What came next was an exhibition that caused me great joy – The Alexander Museum of Postal History & Philately. I used to collect stamps when I was a kid, a collection less dear than my coin trove, but yet this tasteful, modern-looking revelation of the Israeli Postal Service (something most people don’t think twice about) could spark interest in anyone. One gem is the eyebrow-raising requirements for the position of postman in the Turkish Empire: one must be “a hero – tall and broad of shoulder – his weapon slung in his belt, and a steel rod in his hand, sow[ing] fear wherever he went…”. Another is a post office box which explicitly states that there shall be no mail headed for Kiryat Chaim (I cannot fathom the reason why Kiryat Chaim cannot get mail). And here, an early-age “Doar Yisrael” mail-truck, with yours truly, posing for the friendly guard who offered to take my photo:

The old postal truck and I

The old postal truck and I

And then, to finish off, a selection of wonderful old photographs, coming from two collections. First, a coloured photo from the “Images from the Land of the Bible”:

Camel caravans crossin the Yarkon River estuary, 1933

Camel caravans crossin the Yarkon River estuary, 1933

And now, some amazing photographs from the talented Zvi Oron-Orushkes, who upon being honourably discharged from the British military, was appointed by High Commissioner John Chancellor in 1929 to be the official photographer for the British government in Mandate Palestine. Despite being Jewish, and being involved in Zionism, Zvi was able to photograph from all sides of the diplomatic die, capturing a little bit of everything. Here are three of my favourite photographs from the collection (which opened the day I visited the museum):

A drippy day

A drippy day

A zeppelin above the King Daviv Hotel, Jerusalem, 1929

A zeppelin above the King Daviv Hotel, Jerusalem, 1929

Draining the swamps of Yagur, 1930s

Draining the swamps of Yagur, 1930s

Well, that just about covers it, if really briefly. Again, the Eretz Israel Museum is so vast, with such a large assortment of exhibitions and collections, as well as the permanent buildings and Tel Qasile ruins, that one blog post would just run on and on and on. So, let this be a wrap. More trips, and more posts, coming soon!

Palmach Museum

In Israel, Tel Aviv on March 25, 2013 at 9:14 AM

Heading to the Eretz Israel Museum, coming from the Diaspora Museum, I found myself asking directions from a friendly guard. A few steps later, I turned around and noticed that the guard was guarding the Palmach Museum entrance, a museum I have always wanted to visit. The Palmach was the fighting force of the Haganah, the lead Jewish organisation in the British Mandate during the 1920 – 1940 period, and was originally established in cahoots with the British Army to help defend the Holy Land against the expected Nazi invasion. When Erwin Rommel (the “Desert Fox”), and his Afrika Corps, were defeated at El Alamein, Egypt, the British decided that the Palmach was no longer needed and attempted to disarm them. Realising the great benefits of having an army, the Haganah kept the Palmach alive, working on the sly. In 1947, the Palmach’s brigades were instrumental in the War of Independence and became the backbone of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) once independence was declared.

The Palmach in training

The Palmach in training

Believing in early Zionist fundamentals, Palmach members engaged in both farm-work and military training, being extremely useful to the struggling Jews in those difficult times. Thus, the symbol of the Palmach is a sword framed by two stalks of wheat:

The Palmach logo

The Palmach logo

I entered the museum and requested admittance. The front desk informed me that, under most circumstances, admittance to the museum was done by reservation only. However, since I was in uniform (and people in uniform look like they know what they are doing and are often left to their own devices, which is pretty handy) and I was alone, they told me that I could join the next group that was starting in 25 minutes. What makes the Palmach Museum very unusual is that there aren’t any artefacts, it’s an experiential museum – a tour incorporating well-made sets and archived footage, linked together with a reenactment film taking the visitor on a journey through the seven years of the Palmach. Here’s a scene from the tour, a connecting path showing the training of the Palmach members in the rocky desert terrain.

''Palmach members training''

”Palmach members training”

My favourite set was the very first one, however I was unable to photographically capture it. A scene from early 1940s Tel Aviv, the set looked like a WWII-era Paris street corner, minus the Nazis. Even an “old-timey” bicycle was leaning against a metal guard rail, in front of a café’s large picture windows. The tour was given by a soldier girl and everybody had little translation machines that they held to their ears; most of the tour were Spanish speakers, with a handful of English speakers. I opted for the original Hebrew audio to accompany my visual experience, and was happy with my decision. The Palmach group on-screen, represented by modern-day actors and actresses, took us on a path that led to their eventual deployment in the War of Independence, after secret operations and capture by the British. Here is a sculptural depiction of Palmach soldiers using a radio during the war (with ammunition at a premium, desperate Palmach members had sometimes turned to rocks to help fend off the enemy):

''Palmach members in battle''

”Palmach members in battle”

The tour, which is 90-minutes long (including a 25-minute film), begins and ends at the memorial room, which commemorates all the Palmach fighters who lost their lives in the struggle for the Jewish State.

Palmach memorial

Palmach memorial

After the tour I asked the soldier who led the tour if there, by any chance, was more to see. She replied in the affirmative and took me to a room that houses drawers, hundreds of drawers. Inside each drawer is a binder with information on a Palmach member. Some drawers are larger than others, and upon opening, reveal more than just a binder. In one particular large drawer I flipped through a 1941 calender book and held an old pipe – memorabilia that once belonged to the Palmach member, presumably donated by the family. I found it very interesting and would have liked to spend a long time exploring the drawers, however, there was more to see. The next room the guide took me to was the photo collections room, dozens of photo albums divided by brigade, location and operation. I flipped through some and saw that the Palmach took far more photographs than I had ever imagined, even aerial footage. That particular room, the vast collection of photo albums, is not included in the museum’s admission fee; rather it is free to all. Who can pass up such an opportunity?

Great painting detailing a blockaded street in the 1940s

Great painting detailing a blockaded street in the 1940s

After flipping through some albums, I bid my thanks and farewell and headed out, walking in the direction of the next museum on my list – the Eretz Israel Museum.

Diaspora Museum

In Israel, Tel Aviv on March 24, 2013 at 6:38 AM

Last week I began something I had quite nearly forgotten about, vacation. Having passed my army truck driving course, I was able to secure some much desired vacation days and, to celebrate, I went to Tel Aviv to browse some museums. With two museums on my radar, I was psyched and departed early in the morning, taking the train down to Tel Aviv. In order to secure free transportation (one of my favourite things about the army), I wore my full “dress” uniform for the day. My first stop after disembarking from the train was the Diaspora Museum in the Tel Aviv University campus. Focusing on the saga of Jewish life throughout the Diaspora, the museum showcases important historical events as well as the day-to-day life of the exiled Jew.

The Diaspora Museum in the Tel Aviv University campus

The Diaspora Museum in the Tel Aviv University campus

I stepped up to the front desk and asked for an admission ticket, reaching into my pocket for some money. The kind people behind the desk told me that the museum was free to soldiers, and that it was the least they could do for “those who guard us while we sleep”. I confessed that I don’t really guard them, but yes, I do my fair share of guarding so I guess I’m entitled. I think it’s funny how there are some soldiers who barely do anything (I know one who serves a few hours a week) and then you have those in intense combat programs who go home once every 28 days, yet to most people a soldier is a soldier – at least I’m in the middle of the spectrum. Anyway, I waltzed on in without paying a agura and that pleased me. The first thing I saw as I began walking through the exhibitions was a recreation of the south panel of the Arch of Titus in Rome, the “spoils of war”:

Replica of the Arch of Titus

Replica of the Arch of Titus

The first interesting collection, that I really enjoyed, was a series of models of synagogues from around the world (from Cochin, India to Amsterdam, Holland and more). The craftsmanship is superb and many feature a cutout in the building which reveals the gorgeous interior. Some of the buildings, built so many years ago, are masterpieces and sadly, many have fallen to ruins. Here’s a really decadent one from Europe (Hungary, if I recall correctly):

Superb synagogue model

Superb synagogue model

After reveling in the minute accuracy of the models, I carried on and enjoyed more models of historic moments and places. The one drawback of the Diaspora Museum is that a lot of their displays are actually replicas, with the originals being in other museums. Due to the fact that the Diaspora is trying to convey a message, showing the trails of Jewish history whilst living in the Diaspora, the importance is in the appearance, not the value and uniqueness of each piece. So, to compensate, the museum has so many wonderfully done models, of all different materials. Here’s one of my favourite, a model of the final moments in the Spanish court before Ferdinand and Isabella signed the law that started the infamous Inquisition:

The final moments in the Spanish Court before the start of the Inquisition

The final moments in the Spanish Court before the start of the Inquisition

Another great model is of the Cairo Geniza (a geniza is where holy articles, scrolls and books are kept when they are worn out and no longer in use, often buried after some time). Built into the attic of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fostat (old Cairo) back in the year 882, the Geniza contained hundreds and hundreds of years of papers, books and scrolls. In the late 1800s, the contents of the Geniza began to appear around the world, now divided up to museums and collections. As there are estimated to be some 300,000 manuscripts, the Diaspora Museum does have a little handful of them on display. Here, the Geniza:

Model of the Cairo Geniza

Model of the Cairo Geniza

One particular model/recreation is full sized, the Rashi Chapel in Worms, Germany. Built in 1624, the Chapel was built onto the existing Worms Synagogue, where Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, a famous medieval French rabbi and scholar, pioneer of commentary on the Bible and Talmud) studied in his youth.

Replica of The Rashi Chapel in Worms, Germany

Replica of The Rashi Chapel in Worms, Germany

Another exhibit that I found to be interesting was a 12-part collection of the modern-day Israeli citizen. Each of them coming from a different land, and each a different trade, these twelve individuals are a slice of the life here in Israel – a rainbow of colours and background, a palette of traditions and legacies. Towards the end of the main museum house, at the end of the dark hallway, was a cutout of a menorah with an artsy image of Israel behind it – symbolism, I believe, of a paradisaical Land of Israel reached only by the use of the menorah, the symbol of the Temple, the ideal Jewish connection to religious life.

The Holy Land through the menorah cutout

The Holy Land through the menorah cutout

With that I walked out and found the temporary exhibition “Threads of Silk – The Story of Bukharan Jewry”, which was interesting and colourful. After that, I ran through an art gallery and then headed outside. Finding a kosher place to eat, I grabbed a grilled pizza sandwich and hurried through the vast campus, headed for the next museum – the Eretz Israel Museum.

Army Trip: Mount Herzl

In Israel, Jerusalem on March 3, 2013 at 5:18 AM

Sometime in the middle of this past week I was taken on a little trip to the holy city of Jerusalem. The objective of the trip was one of honour, to attend the memorial of a fallen soldier. This soldier, by the surname of Avner (I am reluctant to divulge his full name without permission from the family), was a truck driver from my Logistics base, Tirah (“Northern Knights” 6910 battalion). A reservist returning for duty during the First Lebanon War, Sergeant Avner left Tirah base driving a “Safari” truck. For those who know their history, there was an “incident” known as the “Safari Disaster” where twelve soldiers were killed and fourteen were injured. The story, featuring our Sgt. Avner as the truck’s driver, goes as follows.

The Safari Disaster Memorial in Metula

The Safari Disaster Memorial in Metula

It was Sunday afternoon, March 10, 1985, and Sgt. Avner began his day at the Tirah Logistics base, as his older brother told me before the memorial service. His mission was driving his “Safari” troop carrier truck, loaded with combat soldiers dressed for battle, from the border town of Metula to the Lebanese village of Marjayoun. Already over the border, the convoy he was in encountered a red Chevrolet pickup. The driver of the pickup waited as the convoy passed, looking mighty friendly until he blew his car up – just as Sgt. Avner’s “Safari” was driving by. The huge explosion sent the seated soldiers flying through the air, and even windows back in Metula were shattered from the shock wave. As mentioned above, the death toll was severe. Speaking of explosions, an aquaintance of mine who served in the Combat Engineering Corps, related to me stories about the unassuming force of an explosion’s shock wave. With plenty of experience with explosives, this particular soldier would be an authoritative figure, as would anyone after blowing up piles of old mines – after removing them cautiously from the ground.

''Safari'' truck

”Safari” truck (not my photo)

Oddly enough, I had never heard of the “Safari Disaster” and was thereby quite intrigued when hearing a brief overview of the story during the ride. Being a representative of the IDF, to pay respects to our fallen heroes, is an experience that should be cherished – in fact, my CO knew I’d be interested and thus sent me along. After the pleasant drive from the base to Jerusalem, we – a handful of soldiers and an officer – drove through neighbourhoods that I recognised yet, despite my frantic crowd-scanning, I did not see anyone I knew. At last we arrived at the Mt. Herzl military cemetery and disembarked from the vehicle. We buffed our boots to a mild gleam and put on our berets, waiting patiently for the family and friends to amass.

Military cemetery

Military cemetery

At last we entered the cemetery and headed for the plot belonging to Sergeant Avner. Standing a bit off to the side, the small group of us stood respectful and silent as the service began. A military man led the memorial, his deep voice lending to the somberness of the situation. As I looked around me, at the people – of wildly different appearances, at the gravestones, and at the peaceful surroundings, I wished I could whip out my camera and capture, somewhat, some of the experience. However, as a representative of the IDF, and, in particular, of my battalion, the photography would be breaking rank, and unprofessional. A few people said a few short words, a slightly choked kaddish was said and before long we were departing. But I had not had my fill. I happened to have noticed one of the attendees speaking Hebrew with an American accent (oh, how we stick out!) and so I approached her. After offering her a tissue, which she refused, I asked her about her connection to the family. She, as it turns out, is a sister-in-law of Sgt. Avner. I asked her about him and she told me that he was killed shortly after her wedding…

Mount Hertzl (photo by joshuapaquin, Flickr)

Mount Hertzl (photo by joshuapaquin, Flickr)

One thing that I found very interesting, and in fact took the time to mention it to a friend, is the sameness of the graves in a military cemetery. Soldiers, officers and even chiefs-of-staff are all buried in the same manner, all with the same headstone. Just a few plots over from Sgt. Avner was a Lieutenant Colonel – the rank of a battalion commander. We suggested that the ranks were only considered “important” for the living, because beneath the rank, beneath the uniform, lies an human – and a Jewish soul. Who’s to say who deserves more honour when all is said and done?

Herzl Memorial

Herzl Memorial (Flickr)

In the various sections of the cemetery, there were all sorts of memorials and such which I would have loved to have looked at. Who can resist such a intense glimpse into the past, into the blood-soaked history of modern-day Israel? Alas, such is the way of the free man – to gaze around at ease – however, I was on a “mission” and had to be on my way. Hopefully one day I shall return, on shall we say, a happier occasion.