Israel's Good Name

Archive for July, 2013|Monthly archive page

Nachal Kziv

In Galilee, Israel on July 24, 2013 at 3:43 AM

Back on the Fourth of July, before I got bogged down with army and other work, I partook in a small hike in Nachal Kziv, a nature reserve at the outskirts of Ma’alot. Also in attendance, in our little expedition, were some family members and some family friends – including the talented photographer Mandy Detwiler. We drove to the Zeitim neighbourhood, parked our cars and began walking the long winding way down to the stream-bed, where the trail is.

The road going down to the stream

The road going down to the stream

Nachal Kziv actually starts near Mount Meron, but due to the fact that it is a perennial stream, that area dries up in the summer months. The area that we hiked, from Ma’alot towards the Mediterranean Sea, is rehabilitated by a pumping station which uses water from underground springs. The water in Nachal Kziv is really clean and just about every time I hike there, I take the opportunity to fill up my water bottle for the continuation of hydration on the walk.

The gentle Nachal Kziv

The gentle Nachal Kziv

So, in due time we were at the stream-bed and passing the pumping station, some old Crusader building and the beginning of the stream (as it looks above). One of the day’s objectives was to find some geodes, or tapuchai eliyahu. I have never found one, nor did I know what to look for, but our family friends knew the secrets. So, after we had crossed over some of the little bridges, crossing back and forth over the little stream, we found a good spot to search.

The trail and the stream

The trail and the stream

I followed the masters and eventually found my first geode. And then my second, and then my third. Before long I was finding geodes all over the rocky banks of the stream. If you too seek out geodes, be sure to scour the ground for ball-like rocks that have a brain-like surface. When you pick up the rock, it should feel heavy – to be sure, crack it open and you will see the crystal insides.

A geode

A geode

I cracked open one of the geodes I found but was unable to capture the inner beauty so I turned to Mandy for help. Here is the gorgeous crystal interior:

Inside of a geode (courtesy of Mandy Detwiler)

Inside of a geode (courtesy of Mandy Detwiler)

After pillaging the stream-bed for geodes, loading some choice ones into my backpack, we continued with our hike, occasionally stopping to photograph nature’s beauty.

Thistle (courtesy of Mandy Detwiler)

Thistle (courtesy of Mandy Detwiler)

Along the way we passed by the Ein Tamir cave, spring and pools complex – my favourite section of Nachal Kziv. I love squeezing into the slit of a cave, stooping and crawling my way down the long windy tunnel. With icy cold water covering the floor of the cave, the going is terribly fun and being submerged chest-deep in the cold water, with no outside light, is just too awesome to be put to words. This time, however, we passed the cave and the pools and continued on.

Ein Tamir cave tunnel entrance (courtesy of Mandy Detwiler)

Ein Tamir cave tunnel entrance (courtesy of Mandy Detwiler)

Shortly thereafter, after repeatedly crossing the stream back and forth at the whim of the trail markers, we made it to a cool spot where one of the banks was a rock wall. It was remarkably green there and the lighting was poor, thus the photo came out a tad greener than it really was, to the naked eye:

Nachal Kziv with rock wall

Nachal Kziv with rock wall

In that area, some members of our expedition had a run-in with the supernatural… Reports of tapping on the heads of fellow party members made our short melon-eating break all the more exciting. I didn’t have my head tapped, but there is a place just a bit further down that has a different energy about it. I can’t say I am too in-touch with energy detection but the world is much larger and much more complex than how we see it at face-value. At this point we decided to turn back, and not to continue on for what would be hours longer (we hadn’t even reached Montfort Castle). So we headed back, walking beneath the magnificent stone cliffs as seen here:

Cliff walls along Nachal Kziv

Cliff walls along Nachal Kziv

On the way back, kind of close to the pumping station, I stepped into the old Crusader inn that rests empty at the side of the trail:

A Crusader inn

A Crusader inn

And a look at the arched interior:

Inside the Crusader inn

Inside the Crusader inn

After that it was a quick walk to the pumping station and then a somewhat grueling hike back up the mountain, following the long windy road we took down. At last we made it to our cars, said our farewells and headed home – where I emptied the heavy geodes from my bag and placed them in the living room.

Until next trip!

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Beit Guvrin Amphitheatre

In Israel, Judea on July 7, 2013 at 4:43 AM

One day last week, while on the job, I took the liberty of re-visiting a place I had last seen in early 2008. I was on a senior year of high school trip to Israel and one of the places we visited was the Beit Guvrin National Park. One of my favourite sites that we saw on our trip was a Roman amphitheatre, the likes of which I had never seen in my life. Like something out of a movie –  on our trip we re-enacted scenes from Gladiator – the amphitheater left quite an impression on me and since moving to Israel I have been eager to revisit the place. It was only about a year ago that I actually confirmed exactly where we went back in 2008 (we were so tired on our trip that we slept everytime the bus took us places, making it hard to know exactly where we were for future reference). So, you can imagine my happiness getting the chance to explore the amphitheatre once again, this time in uniform, and with a gun.

My shadow over the railing

My shadow over the railing

I must say, I did feel this sensation while I was there, this sensation of Jewish pride. Built during the time of Bar Kochba’s rebellion, the amphitheatre was intended to keep the local Roman garrison entertained and content, with bloodsports and the like. So here I was, a Jewish soldier standing on the ruins of the mighty Roman Empire, watching not bloodsports but my own shadow, hearing not screams of tortured violence but the sound of peaceful traffic. I could have stayed there a lot longer.

Amphitheatre grounds

Amphitheatre grounds

A little history about the site, the Beit Guvrin – Maresha National Park contains a whole lot more than just a Roman amphitheatre. Some of the park’s sites include ancient cemeteries, a large columbarium (dovecote), caves and ruins of all sorts – all ranging from 2,400 to 1,800 years old. The amphitheatre is actually across the road from the main park area and may be visited free of charge. The park’s boundaries incorporate the ancient cities of Maresha and Beit Guvrin. A city that has been settled by many of the ancient kingdoms, Maresha was re-conquered from the Greeks by the Hasmoneans and was finally destroyed by the Parthian Army from Northeast Iran. After that, a new Jewish city – Beit Guvrin – rose from the ruins. Some 65 years after Bar Kochba’s rebellion against the Romans, Emperor Septimus Severus had the city renamed to Eleutheropolis (“City of the Free”) and built up the city, as the Romans did best. The Jewish population moved back and the city flourished. During the Byzantine era Beit Guvrin became important to the Christians and thus churched were built. Fast-forward to the Crusader times and the city was a small fortified hub. In recent times, the Egyptian Army controlled the area until the IDF took it back in 1948 and now it is a National Park.

Amphitheatre tunnel

Amphitheatre tunnel

This post, however, is just about the Roman amphitheatre as I did not have a chance to visit the full park. According to historical researchers, the amphitheatre was used to house fights between gladiators, slaves and wild animals – the beasts being contained under the amphitheatre until “showtime.” Built to house some 3,500 spectators, I can imagine a scene on a hot summer day where a relentless gladiator, wearing dented metal armour and swinging a heavy broadsword, slashes out at a confused lion or tiger – which actually lived in Israel back then – while the crowd of rowdy Roman soldiers cheered on, goading the combatants to fight… and fight some more.

Amphitheatre side 1

Amphitheatre side 1

Amphitheatre side 2

Amphitheatre side 2

As one can see in the above photos, there is a whole complex of ruins which sadly I didn’t have the time to explore (neither did I explore them back in 2008) as I was literally “on the job.” One such piece in the ruinous jumble is a large Roman bathhouse which contained several rooms and impressive arches. After the Romans, during the Byzantine era, the amphitheatre was supposed to have been used as a market. And when the Crusaders took over, a fortress was built atop it all. But, as history has shown us time and time again, each ancient superpowers fell one-by-one and all we have left is a fun archaeological site which I’d love to visit again, whenever I get the chance.

White Night in Tel Aviv

In Israel, Tel Aviv on July 4, 2013 at 9:07 AM

Thursday night, after the hike to Montfort Castle, I headed on down to Tel Aviv to partake in the annual “White Night” celebration. Held every year for the past nine years, “White Night” was established to commemorate the UNESCO decision to include Tel Aviv (“the White City”) as a World Heritage Site. Adding a play on words, “white night” is also an Israeli term for staying up all night long, which is dutifully carried out by both the residents of Tel Aviv and from people the world over joining in on the celebration. Traveling in uniform for the free public transportation, I arrived in Tel Aviv’s Arlozorov Station just after 8pm. I boarded a bus for Yafo (Jaffa) and got off just after the clock tower, a city landmark.

White Night

White Night

Entering the flea market area, I was immediately enveloped in the merry-making atmosphere. The streets were alive with music, lights and happy people. I stopped to watch the various street performers and small-time musicians as they entertained the people. Since I was in uniform and had an SLR camera hanging from my neck, many assumed I was a military photographer – always good when you want to get in close for a shot. I experimented plenty with the camera, trying to get the best photos in each setting, but without a manual shutter, nighttime photography is hard!

Musicians on the street

Musicians on the street

Rhythmic drumming

Rhythmic drumming

Mime

Mime

As I circled and criss-crossed the flea market I caught a glimpse of what looked to be a fireball hovering in the inky sky (there happened to be a great moon out as well). Later I discovered a little crowd watching a few people hold up a hot air balloon-like object. A bag of sorts, shaped like a heart, with a nice fire going on at the bottom – like a hot air balloon. Someone said something about how we should have peace and the heart balloon was released. Here it is, as it took flight:

Fire in the sky

Fire in the sky

Not wanting to miss all the evening’s concerts, I abandoned the flea market celebrations and was handed a new energy drink – great time to have promotional freebies! I made my way to Gan HaPisga (Park of the Peak, I suppose would be the best translation). There I caught the tail-end of a performance by The Bridgettes. I have never heard of them – they hail from France, nor was I really interested in their music but it was fun trying to photograph the show.

The Bridgettes

The Bridgettes

As the concert came to a close, and no more performances were to follow – why did they start so early?! – I headed into the Old City area of Yafo for some photos.

Jaffa Old City

Jaffa Old City

Jerusalem Gate, Jaffa Old City

Jerusalem Gate, Jaffa Old City

Eventually I found myself at Jaffa Port, a popular hangout. There I was treated to more musicians and mimes and even found a place to change my clothes. No longer in uniform, I popped into a bar that looked very much alive, The Container. There I ordered the new Goldstar Unfiltered beer and headed back out to continue my explorations. For a nighttime hangout, Jaffa Port is quite nice – I particularly enjoyed the fishy smell of the nets from the day’s fishing.

Inside The Container

Inside The Container

With so many people eating, I was dismayed to only find two places with kosher food. One place basically only served hummus so I chose the other, an interesting little joint seemingly family operated. There I ordered a simple falafel and sat down to eat my midnight snack. As I sat there, Israel’s seven Harley Davidson motorcycles drove by, followed by a police car whose driver must have been deaf. After my little meal I took to the boardwalk and experimented with the different camera settings, capturing Tel Aviv in various lights:

Tel Aviv 1

Tel Aviv 1

Tel Aviv 2

Tel Aviv 2

Continuing on along the boardwalk, I left Yafo and entered Tel Aviv proper. At first the boardwalk was filled with people of all ages but as I headed further and further north, the “old people” disappeared and I found myself in a vast sea of youth. Walking around in little clusters, thousands upon thousands of teens were crowding the boardwalk, calling out to one another like an immense flock of birds. The sheer quantity of young people – like I’ve never seen before – and the watchful presence of police officers were good signs of an adventure. Convinced that there must be some sort of White Night event nearby, I stopped and asked a loitering American what was going on. He was equally clueless but was eager to find the White Night events I was seeking so we paired up and hit the boardwalk, eventually heading to Rabin Square. Along the way I found out that this young man, Dan, was also from Seattle (where I was born) and that he just finished his Birthright trip. All we ended up finding on the boardwalk was some odd dance event so we headed into the city for Rabin Square. When we got there it felt like the aftermath of a storm. People milling about aimlessly, garbage strewn all over the place, event crews dismantling skeletal structures – all sure signs that we missed the party.

Post-apocalyptic Rabin Square

Post-apocalyptic Rabin Square

What we did in fact miss was something called a headphone concert (or something like that). Basically everybody with a smartphone can get a particular app and join in on the concert via headphones or earbuds. Sounds kinda odd but I’m sure it’s pretty funny watching a couple hundred people, standing together enjoying a concert with no music in the air, like something out of The Twilight Zone. Having missed the party at Rabin Square, Dan and I decided to loop back to the boardwalk, but via Dizengoff and Rothschild. We stopped off at a little pub for a little rest and I enjoyed a pint of Guinness – stouts are the best! But we never made it to the boardwalk. On some random street we bumped into some random Israelis and had a long chat. Turns out one of the events I thought could be found on the boardwalk was actually not even in Tel Aviv. Eventually 3:00 turned into 4:00 and then the sun came up. With the streets in a post-apocalyptic state, empty except for garbage and overly tired people trying to make their way home, we decided to call quits on our adventure. With my uniform back on I caught a really early bus and then an early train and was back home pretty tired and somewhat disappointed at how White Night ended.

Daybreak at a random street corner

Daybreak at a random street corner

Moral of the story: unless you want to wander around Tel Aviv aimlessly all night, I suggest that if you want to enjoy White Night, wrap it up shortly after midnight because after that it’s pretty dead. The end.