Israel's Good Name

Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

University Trip: Southern Golan

In Golan, Israel on April 15, 2018 at 10:17 AM

Returning to the academic field trips offered by Bar Ilan University’s Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology department, I signed up for a fun trip focusing on geography to the southern half of the Golan. I was joined by my friend Adam Ota, a member of the class, and together we joined the other tour members and the guide, Mr Moty Rubinstein, at the entrance of the campus. Our minibus set off on its course, taking us along the long ride to our first stop, which happened to be in the Galilee.

Hod Lookout

We disembarked at the Hod Lookout, a site that I had visited during the department’s two-day trip around the Kinneret two years ago. There we looked out over the Kinneret (or Sea of Galilee) and the rise of the Golan’s plateau. From a geographical standpoint, it’s easy to understand the rift in tectonic plates between the Galilee and the Golan. But we weren’t just enthralled by slowly shifting land masses, a short-toed eagle soared right overhead, impressing us all with its size.

Lookout over the bridge

From there we made our way down to the Golan, taking the scenic route through the old settlements which I had seen on a previous field trip (HERE). We crossed over the Jordan River and made our way through the picturesque green and yellow slopes towards the Yarmouk River, the border between Israel and Jordan. Our destination was the El Hama Bridge Lookout with its view of the broken El Hama Bridge over the Yarmouk. The bridge was destroyed, along with nine others, in a nighttime sabotage operation by the Palmach in 1946.

The broken El Hama Bridge

The view from the lookout was incredible overall, with the old military trenches, nice birding (including my first woodchat shrike for the season) and impressive wildflowers. We could have spent the entire day there, but there was more to see so we climbed back into our minibus and continued along Road 98 until we reached the next destination, HaShalom Lookout.

Just a house sparrow…

With its view to the west, this lookout provided a different scene than the two previous ones, and at last we were seeing the high concentrations of volcanic basalt rock that the Golan is famous for. We looked out over the Kinneret and enjoyed the view, whilst keeping an eye on possible birds of prey soaring below. Adam’s sharp eyes picked up on a small flock of black storks spiraling in the heat thermals, joined by two buzzards.

View from HaShalom Lookout (photo Adam Ota)

We joined others in going down to the nearby spring, a ten minute hike downhill, seeing a few songbirds on the way. There were an abundance of wildflowers as well, such as mallow, wild mustard and the interestingly named musk deadnettle. The spring that we found was a rectangular concrete pool with a small amount of fresh mountain water trickling in.

Lupine blossom

Back up at the lookout we had lunch and prayed mincha (the afternoon prayer) with a group of Hasidic lads who were also enjoying the beauty of the Golan. Getting back into our bus, we took a short detour to a field where a sign declared it to be the Nov Grant-Duff’s Iris Nature Reserve. We didn’t find any irises, as we had hoped, but we did see some distinct-looking yellow asphodels as well as a handful of corn buntings singing their hearts out.

Mr Moty Rubenstein at the volcanic crater

Continuing on Road 98, we made our way eastward towards the Israel-Syria border. We were to see the natural volcanic crater of Mount Peres (or Tel Fares), one of the most southern extinct volcanoes in a line of sixteen that dot the eastern Golan. We passed the basalt khan (caravanserai) of Juchader, which I had visited at the end of my army service several years ago, and turned right onto the access road to the small mountain.

Volcanic rock

It was slightly surprising to see that part of the mountain was cut away, which we learned was actually the “harvesting” of tuff and scoria, types of volcanic ash rock used in construction, landscaping and more. Atop the mountain, we pulled over at the side of the road and got out to admire the grassy crater. Just across us was an IDF outpost, and together we enjoyed the view and the spring blossoms.

Golan iris

With that we were nearly done with the trip, there was just one more stop, and it was strictly for pleasure. We were going to see the Golan irises blooming at a random junction along Road 87, and this time we were not disappointed. The irises were in bloom and it made a lovely last stop in the beautiful Golan. Getting back into our minibus, we then began the long drive back to Givat Shmuel, bringing the end to yet another amazing field trip.

Advertisements

Nachal Soreq & Palmachim

In Central Israel, Israel on April 8, 2018 at 5:25 AM

Just over a month ago I went on a Friday adventure with my friends Adam and Efrat. We had four destinations planned, covering interests such as botany and archaeology. Adam and I set out from Givat Shmuel and were picked up by Efrat in Rishon L’Tzion, and together we began the trip. Our first destination was the wildflower-covered Chumra Hill located on Road 4311 just before reaching Road 4.

Tel Aviv stork’s bill (photo Efrat Guli)

We pulled onto the dirt access road and parked atop the hill, surrounded by the spring blossoms. Knowing that it was the height of iris season, we came to see the dark purple coastal irises, and we were not disappointed. Here and there we spotted clusters of dark iris flowers, looking quite distinct in the blanket of red, yellow and blue flowers. We briefly explored the graffitied ruins of what seems to be a British Mandate-era house and made a circular loop of the hill, admiring and photographing the many species of wildflowers.

Coastal iris (photo Efrat Guli)

Leaving Chumra Hill, we headed over to Nachal Soreq, just minutes away on the other side of Road 4. We first attempted to explore the northern side, but were informed by some official-looking folk that the site was undergoing an ecological renovation and is temporarily closed. Instead, we parked at the southern side and began our walk alongside the calm, murky-watered stream.

Syrian woodpecker (photo Adam Ota)

It had rained earlier in the week, so the trails were rather muddy, which provided tell-tale signs of the wildlife visiting the area in the form of footprints. Even the occasional frog provided entertainment, jumping into the trail puddles as we approached.

Walking the sandy trails (photo Efrat Guli)

We continued along the stream until the rushes blocked our view of the water and the trail morphed into a dry, sandy path set among plant-covered dunes. It was quite a drastic change of scenery but we stuck with it knowing that there are some interesting ruins to see further along the way. There wasn’t much nature to see, other than some stonechats and other regular birds for the time and place, but the location was interesting enough.

Old well (photo Adam Ota)

Before long we reached the first ruins, which appear to be Ottoman-era antilia wells, long since filled in with sand. These wells would have served to provide water for pilgrims to the nearby holy site, the tomb of Nabi Rubin. Even though I had researched the area a wee bit in advance and knew that there was this tomb, it wasn’t until I was staring at the building and the painted Hebrew name “Reuven ben Yaakov,” that I realised this was meant to be the grave of Reuben, the eldest of the Children of Israel.

Reverse side of the grave

We entered the rectangular complex from the northeast corner, and explored the interior. Having the appearance of a traditional Muslim maqam (shrine), with the courtyard, large trees, arched structures and mihrab (prayer niche), it makes sense that this complex was a Muslim holy site for many hundreds of years. In fact, it was only in 1991 that the minoret was torn down, and the site became a kever (grave) of Jewish importance. Looking for a nice place to eat lunch, we climbed up into the large tree that adorns the centre of the courtyard and pulled out our food.

Courtyard of the complex

Sated, we put our backpacks back on and left the Nabi Rubin complex, heading back toward the car, but taking a slightly different route through the dunes. This was a wise decision because it led to us seeing a very cool dung beetle racing over the sand ripples, a business of little flies resting on its back waiting for some dung to be found.

Dung beetle with hitchhikers

That excitement carried us over to the next destination, just a few minutes drive: the famous beach area of Palmachim.

Palmachim Beach (photo Efrat Guli)

We parked and got out to explore, starting with some ancient quarries (which sound more exciting than they were in person) and the incubation cage for sea turtle eggs. To add a touch of macabre to the story, we found a semi-decomposed sea turtle far up on the beach, a sad sight to say the least. Next we walked along the surf, heading southbound and pulling interesting shells and potsherds out from underfoot.

Part of a mosaic floor

Before long we reached the beginnings of the ruins of Yavne Yam, an ancient port city which was abandoned during the Crusader period some 900 years ago. Wall portions and even part of a mosaic floor are exposed to the elements and visitors. Signs warning people to stay away from the beach’s cliff edge due to the danger of falling stones, many of which belong to the ancient structures.

Fortress of Yavne Yam

We didn’t just enjoy the archaeological aspects; there were a few jellyfish to be admired as well as some great cormorants and some gulls, including lesser black-backed gulls and a Heuglin’s gull. Having fun in the sun, we eventually pulled ourselves away from the waves and headed back to the car to our very last destination, the fortress ruins of Yavne Yam, inaccessible from the beach due to its location on the craggy promontory. With only a little bit of time to spare before we had to get going (since Shabbat was approaching) we parked outside the ruins and took a quick tour of the site.

View from the ruins

Crossing into the ruins of the Early Arab fortress, built over a thousand years ago, we encountered the bathhouse, built in Roman style with the double floors and heat piping. The other ruins were unmarked, though interesting nonetheless, and the view afforded from the end of the promontory was rather enjoyable as well. Although we could have spent longer, time was running out and we called it a day, pleased with the fact that we managed to visit all four places on our list and already looking forward to exploring even more in the future.

Ein Bokek & Ami’az Plateau

In Israel, Negev on March 25, 2018 at 7:31 AM

Following our trip day with the schoolchildren to Ein Gedi, the new day began with sunrise at the Hazeva Field School. We prayed, ate and packed our belongings onto the bus, ready to continue the fun. Driving up Road 90 from the Arava, we reached the region of the Dead Sea and began seeing interesting things, such as the magnesium production plant with its mountains of harvested minerals and Mount Sodom, which is more of a ridge than a lone peak.

Entrance to Ein Bokek

The southern half of the Dead Sea is comprised of shallow pools that were divided by dirt banks and used in the harvesting of salts and minerals by means of evaporation. It was my first time seeing this part of the Dead Sea and I found it quite fascinating. Unfortunately, there was no time to be spent at the sea, and we continued on to our first destination of the day: Ein Bokek.

Nachal Bokek flowing gently

After a quick drive around the tourist area with the hotels and spas, our bus pulled up at the side of the road at the trailhead for the Ein Bokek hike. We disembarked and followed our tour guide as we walked along the vegetation-lined stream, the calm waters gurgling along peacefully. I was hoping to see some interesting birds, perhaps some interesting warblers in the shrubbery or some eagles over the cliffs that surround us, but I found nothing of the sort.

The waterfall

Before long we reached the first tiny waterfall, and stuck around for a few minutes to enjoy it before continuing on. A few more minutes of streamside walking brought us to the end of our trail, where a pool and waterfall awaited us. Several of the lads waded into the cold waters, but I sufficed by standing on a rock island and photographing the sight.

Bokek Fortress

Recalling the start of our trail, I had seen the ruins of an ancient fortress on a low peak overlooking the stream and I decided it was worth visiting on my own whilst the lads played. Checking with the tour guide and some rangers, I struck out on my own and reached the ruins after a short hike uphill. What I found was a Byzantine fortress dating to the 300s CE built to guard over the roads in the frontiers of the empire. According to the archaeological evidence, Bokek Fortress has four levels of construction, all dating to the Byzantine period. The fortress was abandoned in the Early Arab period and, in recent years, was cleaned up and partially restored. Unfortunately, several weeks after my visit, there was a news article about graffiti vandalism on its southern walls.

View from the fortress

I looped around the west side of the fortress, and entered it from the south, admiring the stonework. I found a burnt potsherd on the ground, perhaps part of an old oil lamp. Inside, the view of the cliff on one side and the view of the sea on the other added to the charm of the ancient ruins. One particular aspect that sparked my interest was a series of bone-dry wood sticks bridging the top of a doorway. I stopped for a minute and stared, wondering for how long they had been been lying there.

Desert landscape on the plateau

Leaving the fortress, I rejoined my group as they left Ein Bokek, and together we made our way to our bus. Our next location was just a few kilometres away and we were excited to get there. We were headed to the Ami’az Plateau while hired bicycles waited for us to take us on some off-road biking. Disembarking, we gathered around the guides and were briefed before setting out. I was given the guide’s bike, a yellow, black and grey GT Aggressor, and pedaled off at a comfortable 6th speed with the rest of the lads.

The bike I used

Within minutes the terrain went from a rather dull, rocky landscape to a really picturesque scene, with flat open stretches and interesting, wind-shaped hills. I kept my eyes out for birds, especially birds of prey which, when soaring above, are less likely to be disturbed by our group. I saw nothing interesting, but the location’s beauty kept me entertained.

The beauty of the desert

Along the way we passed several dry streambeds, including Wadi Hemar, Wadi Lot and Wadi Pratsim, and we kept pedaling after our guide. After nearly an hour we reached the end of our allotted trail, and turned around. I took the opportunity to ask some lads to take my photo, and then began the ride back.

Me

We all made it back safely to the starting place and returned our trusty metal steeds to the rightful owners. After praying mincha (afternoon prayer) we boarded our tour bus again and began the long drive back to Givat Shmuel, taking a short break in Arad for food and restrooms. Thus ended yet another fun trip with the school where I work.

Ein Gedi: Ancient Synagogue

In Israel, Judea on March 18, 2018 at 10:08 AM

About a month ago, I had the privilege of taking a trip to a popular site that has been missing from my blog for years: Ein Gedi. I was accompanying the tenth graders on their big annual trip, this time to the Dead Sea area. Being that I had an exam on the first day of their trip, I bused over the following morning to meet them at the Ein Gedi Field School.

View from the Ein Gedi Field School

Disembarking into the bright desert environment, I took out my camera to get started on morning birding. Within minutes I found satisfaction: a handful of fan-tailed ravens patrolled the cliffs and a pair of blue-cheeked bee-eaters entertained me from close by. In addition, I had nice bonding time with a few fearless Nubian ibexes. But it wasn’t just the animals – the view was incredible as well, the Dead Sea to the east and the arid cliffs to the west.

Nubian ibex

I explored the field school, admiring their collection of stuffed animals (of the taxidermy variety) and antiquities, while I waited for the schoolchildren to show up. At last they showed up and I was informed that unfortunately I had to remain behind, as there were two students who couldn’t do the hike for health reasons. Not to be discouraged, I decided that I would make the best of my day however it was destined to be. And so, while the mass of schoolchildren climbed Mount Yishai, I returned with the two lads and the buses to the Ein Gedi park entrance at Nachal David.

Schoolchildren on the trail

Visiting the ticket office, I procured some pamphlets and mapped out my next few hours. I could see the line of schoolchildren making their way up the nearby mountain while the sounds of birds filled the air, giving me a good start as to what to do. I began by leaving the parking lot area and walking along the scenic route near the base of the mountains in the direction of the ancient synagogue.

Blackstart

Along the way I birded and took many photographs of blackstarts, Tristam’s starlings, crag martins and, of course, large amounts of Nubian ibexes. It was a peaceful walk, and it wasn’t long before I reached the enclosure for the ancient synagogue. Inside, I explained who I was and was ushered in, free of charge.

Ibexes crossing the road

Shaded by short trees, a glass-covered model of the ancient village of Ein Gedi awaited me. It was fascinating to see a replica of the village life, complete with tiny people and animals going about their daily life. The highlight of the model was the replica of the fancy synagogue that had been uncovered in archaeological excavations beginning in 1965. Its mosaic floor was restored in the 1990s, also depicted in the model.

Ein Gedi’s ancient synagogue

To summarise the history of the ancient village as is displayed, the housing structures date to the 200-500s CE, the Late Roman and Byzantine periods. The synagogue itself was built in the 200s CE, and then renovated in the 300-400s CE, the fancy mosaic floor completed in the mid-400s CE. Unfortunately the village didn’t last very long, and was destroyed by the fires of persecution by the Byzantine emperor, Justinian I, sometime around the year 530 CE.

Mosaic floors

The site covered by the awning as seen above is mostly just the synagogue, with several attached structures as well. I began my tour at the Roman street, beside a ancient mikveh (ritual bath), where I continued alongside the ruins of unnamed buildings. Between the ruins of one structure I discovered a squatting man holding basalt grinding stones in his hands. Unsure of his identity, I inquired him if he worked at the park. He weighed the stones in his hands and replied that he was just a visitor. I was about to suggest that he not mess around in the fenced-off area but he added that he was a volunteer during the first season of renewed excavations in the 1990s, and together, we revelled in the joys of our digging experiences.

Rock hyrax

Continuing on my own, I entered the synagogue and noticed the expansive mosaic floor comprised of many sections. The first, a series of crudely-written Hebrew letters, was a composition of various religiously-oriented texts: early biblical ancestry, months of the year, rules and dedications to the many benefactors who contributed to the construction. The central mosaic interested me most: a geometric pattern with a centrepiece of curious looking birds.

Bird detailing

There was a total of twelve birds in the centrepiece, eight of them feasting on grape clusters. These fine feathered fellows were joined by other curious-looking tiled birds at the edges of the floor. Unfortunately, due to the simplistic artistic nature, the birds aren’t detailed enough to be interpreted as any particular species. I, of course, still attempted to make my guesses.

Ruins of Ein Gedi

Classic synagogue elements such as stone benches, a seat of honour, and a holy ark (for Torah scrolls) completed the look of the room. When I was done admiring, I headed out to see the rest of the excavated village. Somewhat hidden behind a fence, the continuation of excavated housing structures can be seen to the northeast.

Sodom apple

Beside the ruins I tracked a female Sardinian warbler in a bush and photographed the colourful flowers of a poisonous apple of Sodom plant. Sitting in the shade, I had a feast of pesto, cheese and tomato sandwiches and then began my walk back toward the buses, Eventually the schoolchildren trickled out from the trails, and I seized the opportunity to explore the little amount of Nachal David that I had time for.

Nachal David trail

Walking the paved path, I passed many birds and a couple of bold rock hyraxes which I photographed. Within minutes the lowest waterfall was beside me, and I climbed down to examine it. I waited for a few visitors to clear the little pool and then snapped a few pictures before heading back.

Lower waterfall

To my surprise, when I rejoined the group I was informed that we were going to head over to the ancient synagogue – the one I had just visited – to pray mincha (afternoon prayer). After the prayers we settled back into the bus and took a nice drive down to the Hazeva Field School where we were to spend the night. There, we got settled, had dinner and enjoyed the rest of the evening knowing that the next morning would begin another day of trips and adventure.

Jerusalem: Patches of Nature

In Israel, Jerusalem on March 11, 2018 at 10:15 AM

Continuing with a series of Friday trips, this post covers a trip to a number of nature parks within the city limits of Jerusalem. I was joined by two friends, both of whom have been featured numerous times in the blog: Adam and Itamar. Our plan was to start at the Wohl Rose Park, just outside the Knesset building, and then make our way south, visiting more sites along the way. Busing our way from Givat Shmuel, Adam and I took another bus within Jerusalem and began at the aforementioned rose garden.

Rose garden pond

Our mission first and foremost was to birdwatch. Although we knew that this garden is known for its birding opportunities, there were even more than expected, and birds such as starlings, Syrian woodpeckers and chaffinches filled our wide eyes. We were equipped with high-zoom digital cameras: myself with my 21x optical zoom and Adam rocking his hefty 40x optical zoom.

Song thrush

As we walked the park’s paved trails, we kept our birding focus and spotted birds everywhere around us. One bold specimen, a song thrush, perched itself on a branch right next to us and posed pleasantly. All in all, some fifteen or more species were sighted within the half hour or so that we spent there. Moving past the rose bushes, we found a small pond with a small waterfall, and behind it, a Japanese-themed garden. There we found Algerian irises blossoming and ornate Japanese pieces donated by a Japanese businessman that Adam met a few years ago whilst doing translation work.

Japanese garden

Moving onward, we saw groups of people practicing various arts in the grass, including one young man practicing Kenjutsu, one engaging in Japanese swordsmanship. Leaving the garden, we crossed a small street and entered the Jerusalem Bird Observatory. Having covered this place in a previous post, just a short summary of our actions there will suffice.

Chiffchaff in the hands of a ringer (photo Itamar Berko)

Bird ringing was being shown to a visiting group and we were greeted by the staff, which include a friend of mine from BIU named Nesia. They informed us that a water rail could be seen from the blind. So Adam and I took up spots in the dark wooden blind and watched the water rail walk along the water’s edge at the tiny pond, hunting for tasty things to eat. Out of the forty pictures I took of this water rail, here is the one I like best:

Water rail

Itamar met up with us while we watched the rail, and surprised us by pulling out from his bag a camera with a whopping 65x optical zoom. It was a delight to see the results on the screen and I feel tempted to get one for myself. Taking photographs of a perched European robin with both mine and his camera really gave me perspective on how much better my photographs can be.

European robin (photo Itamar Berko)

Leaving the observatory, we began our walk southward by way of Gan Sacher. Itamar pointed out what looks to be an ancient burial cave along the path just outside of the observatory, something that was either covered up or missed the last two times Adam and I were there. In addition, the spring blossoms provided a lovely distraction for us, as you can see here:

Almond blossoms

The next site on our list was historical rather than birding-oriented but since birds can be found everywhere, we kept our eyes open. We were to visit the Monastery of the Cross, a large heavily-built structure in the aptly-named Valley of the Cross. The name originates from the belief that the tree from which the cross of crucifixion was made grew there and thus, in the Byzantine period, a monastery was built at this very spot.

Monastery of the Cross

Following destruction in the Persian period, the monastery was rebuilt by a Georgian monk around the time of the Crusaders and the site flourished. Post-Crusader Muslim rule saw attempts to change the monastery into a mosque but with limited success. Eventually in the late 1600s, the ownership of the monastery was transferred to the Greek Orthodox church, to whom it remains to this very day. We approached the fortress-like building from the north, pausing to scan the valley for birds, and then examining the monastery from up close. Above the doorway of the complex we found a Greek inscription, which I tried my best to read. We peered into the inner courtyard where a solemn monk was washing the floors and then continued on to enjoy the view from the southern end. Inside the old monastery are all sorts of interesting things to see, including an ancient mosaic floor, but we continued onwards and enjoyed the company of a spur-thighed tortoise outside.

Photographing the blossoming almond tree

From there we took a bit of a convoluted route southward through the city until we reached a grocery store, where we shopped for nourishment. Revitalised delicious pastries, we made our way to the Gazelle Valley, an urban park famous for its local population of mountain gazelles. I had heard about the park for years, since it opened up in 2015, so it was nice to finally visit.

Gazelle Valley pond

Nearly immediately, we spotted a chukar and several gazelles far off on the opposite end of the park. Bordered by highways and houses, the park is a large triangle of green that provides refuge to a large variety of wildlife. Looking at the site’s map, we saw that there was a stream with a series of ponds that effectively filter the water of pollutants, a really cool method in curbing ecological damage.

Grazing gazelle (photo Itamar Berko)

We lingered around the first two ponds, watching a sparrowhawk fly overhead and a group of moorhens splash around in the water. Perhaps it’s the season, perhaps it’s the heat of the day, but we didn’t see too many species of birds so we prepared to move on.

Almond blossoms galore (photo Adam Ota)

Itamar had to head out, so Adam and I boarded a nearby bus to Malha Mall where we found a trail to Ein Yael, and other sites just outside of Jerusalem. There wasn’t much time so we made our way quickly, but realised when we passed the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo that we had gone too far.

Path to an upcoming adventure

Unfortunately we needed to get back to Givat Shmuel and had to catch a bus, or else we’d be stranded in Jerusalem for Shabbat. We reluctantly abandoned our plans to visit Ein Yael and made our way to the Central Bus Station area. Our adventure wasn’t over yet: our bus began smoking whilst on Road 1 and we pulled over in middle of nowhere where we waited for a replacement bus to scoop us all up. All in all, a very eventful Friday!

North Tel Aviv Coast II

In Central Israel, Israel on March 4, 2018 at 7:22 AM

Since our first birding trip to the North Tel Aviv Coast back in October last year, my friend Adam and I had planned to revisit the coastline again, but this time heading north towards Herziliya. Being that it’s still the tail-end of winter, and not the spring migration, we weren’t sure what we’d see in terms of birds, but it’s always worth a shot. To take advantage of the morning activity, we left at first light, taking buses to Tel Aviv and then up the coast to Glilot Junction, where we got off and walked towards the open stretches of land that were waking up from the chilly night.

Early morning light (photo Adam Ota)

The morning started off with a handful of juvenile gulls flying in from the sea, but we weren’t able to identify them successfully. Merging from the paved road to one of many dirt trails that crisscross the open land, we began to scour the area around us for interesting birds. We saw tons of the regulars, such as stonechats, sunbirds and more, but nothing exciting for the first twenty minutes or so. At last we spotted a small flock of Spanish sparrows, which always excite me.

Chiffchaff (photo Adam Ota)

Another twenty minutes of scouring, whilst walking slowly northward, until we saw our next fun bird: a male blackcap. Moments later a Sardinian warbler made an appearance, and then a male common kestrel. Turning east to examine a row of tall eucalyptus trees, we came across extensive caterpillar webs, covered with innumerable drops of dew.

Dewy webs

Entering the shade of the eucalyptus we found nothing but hooded crows — a lot of hooded crows, watching us with a collective suspicious eye. Swinging ever northeasterly, we watched a chiffchaff flit about in a bush, and then something surprising happened. I was casually looking over a flat area when a large bird emerged from the verdancy. At first I thought it must be a crow, and then I saw it was a common buzzard, so I got Adam’s attention and together we watched it fly off.

Adam in action

Deciding to start heading for the coastline, we walked along a trail and spotted a flock of cormorants flying over the Mediterranean. Seeing even this common aquatic bird filled us with hope that we’d see something interesting. When we reached the cliff overlook the beach, a common tern flew by, challenging us to photograph it while it dove in and out of the surf hunting tiny fish. This was my first time seeing a common tern, so I did my very best to capture a decent record shot.

Common tern in flight

Several more common terns joined in on the fun, and we were reluctant to keep walking. Unfortunately, it was a Friday and I intended on traveling up north to Ma’alot for Shabbat, so time was an issue. We pushed onward, heading for Tel Michal just outside the Herziliya marina. Nearly immediately we were greeted by a trio of kestrels and a few crows who thought it necessary to harass the poor kestrels. A blanket of yellow wildflowers paved the way for a small vernal pool, complete with a sign explaining the importance of these pools to the ecosystem.

Tel Michal’s vernal pool

While we were distracted by the pool, peering in to see if we could find anything curious, we noticed a long stone wall atop the nearby ridge, complete with a path leading up. Needless to say, we made a beeline for this old structure, which we identified as a Roman fortress shortly thereafter with the aid of a sign. A large stone building complete with a tower, constructed on the rough kurkar ridge, served the purpose of watchpost by day and lighthouse by night. From the Roman coins found on-site, the fortress was active during the first half of the 1st Century CE, shortly before the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. To date, this has been the only Roman fortress to be found on the coast.

Approaching the Roman fortress

We entered the fortress, examining what there was to be seen, and enjoying the view of the open land to the east and the marina to the west. After visiting, I read a short publication on the 1977 excavation of Tel Michal and learned that they had discovered a hoard of Ptolemaic coins, dating from the successions after the reign of Alexander the Great, as well as a grim Persian period burial featuring a child inside a ceramic jar.

Roman fortress and the modern-day marina

Overall, the tel saw occupation starting in the Middle Bronze Age, continuing into the Iron Age until being repopulated in the Persian period. Then began the Classical times, the Hellenistic and Roman period, ending off with the site being used as a military observation post during the Early Arab period.

View to the northeast

After spending a good twenty minutes or so in the fortress ruins we made our way back down the hill and headed for the closest bus stop to be taken back to civilisation as they call it, planning to go on more adventures as soon as possible.

Exploring Jerusalem

In Israel, Jerusalem on February 25, 2018 at 8:15 AM

At the end of January I began a currently-ongoing series of adventures with my friend Adam Ota. Being that we both like to explore, and that we are both on semester break, we decided to have some fun, starting with a Friday trip to Jerusalem. Having left early in the morning, we met up and boarded a bus under the rainbow-adorned skies of Bnei Brak. Disembarking in Jerusalem, we then boarded the light rail for the Old City of Jerusalem. Getting off near Damascus Gate, which we bypassed, we entered the walled Old City by way of the New Gate. I don’t recall ever using the New Gate so it was an experience in and of itself.

Within the Christian Quarter

Our goals were to simply explore, and we began right away. Keeping an eye out for interesting things, we passed the Latin Patriarchate and Santa’s House before making our way through the shuk (open market) of the Christian Quarter. Swinging north through the narrow stone alleys, we set out to find the site where the headquarters of the Crusader Hospitaller Order once stood. We passed a curious plaza of columns and arches, adorned with sculptures of white storks bearing fish instead of babies. Wandering around a bit, taking note of the various architectural intricacies, we found what we were looking for: a large white stone with an inscription about the medieval hospital that commanded the interior of a small fenced-off yard.

Commemoration of the Crusader Hospitaller Order

Continuing to explore, we stumbled upon the historical Aftimos Market and then the holiest Christian site in the world – the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Curious as to what there is to see, we ventured through the arched gateway to the plaza and were wowed at the amount of pilgrims and tourists who were waiting to enter the site. Looking about, Adam pointed out a small ladder leaning against the window frame on the second level of the structure, telling me that there’s a story about it.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

He was right – this ladder is called the Immovable Ladder and has been there nearly consecutively since the 1700s. Since the ownership and rights are a complicated issue, every little change to the site or its possessions must be agreed upon by all five church orders who jointly share guardianship of the holy site. This issue has basically enacted a status quo situation for the ladder that was left there, albeit unintentionally, forbidding its removal. In additional, due to this same concept, archaeological work done to the site take ages to get approved, but the results usually prove to be interesting to say the least.

Wall plaque of St George slaying a dragon

Heading out with a Turkish group, we made our way back out of the Old City via the New Gate, once again. The next site on our itinerary was the Museum of the Underground Prisoners in the Russian Compound, not far from City Hall. We entered and began to explore the quiet museum, a building restored to resemble the prison that it once was. Built in 1864 by the Russian Empire, the structure served as a hostel for Russian pilgrims to the Holy Land. Later, the site was converted into the Central Prison by the British in 1918. Used the hold both Arab and Jewish prisoners, the prison was well-guarded. However, escapes were attempted, often with help from the outside. Eventually, the prison served as a warehouse after being cleared out during the War for Independence and was transferred to the Ministry of Defense in 1991. The building was restored to how we see it today, a remembrance for the difficult formative years of the modern Jewish country.

Within the Museum of the Underground Prisoners

We began our tour of the building with the printing and wood workshops, working our way around in a counterclockwise manner from the central hallway. Next we viewed the showers and the kitchens, reflecting upon how life must have been for the prisoners here in the not-so distant past. Appropriate background noise played in the different workshop rooms which gave it a realistic ambiance.

Printing workshop

We moved on to Room 23, a group cell where an old escape tunnel still exists from the fateful day of February 20, 1948 when twelve members of both Lehi and Etzel groups attempted to escape via this tunnel. Another interesting feature of the room are floor stones carved with words, symbols, and illustrations by the prisoners as they idled away in their collective cell. From there we moved to the prayer room, making our way around the other courtyard. A visit to the solitary confinement cells and the local gallows, was certainly sobering and so we carried on.

The warden’s office

At the far end, just before the exit, we found the office of the prison warden which we found quite interesting. Beside the fireplace inside we noticed a vintage British fire extinguisher, an interesting antique. Outside, back in the cold winter air, we watched a pair of Syrian woodpeckers in a tree and then inspected the few outdoor exhibits before carrying on to the next site on our list.

The Ticho House

Up next was the Ticho House, just a few minutes away from the downtown area. Operated by the Israel Museum, the Ticho House is the restored house of Albert and Anna Ticho, who lived there in the early and mid-1900s. It was one of the first houses to be built outside the Old City walls way back in 1864, and had transferred hands several times in the past 150 years. Today it serves as a small gallery with a balcony café, perfect for dates or adventure seekers.

Hanukiyyah collection

Inside, we began with the room on contemporary art but, as that isn’t quite our cup of tea, we moved on to the next room where some of Albert Ticho’s hanukiyyah (or, menorah) collection, that he had amassed over the period of forty years, was on display. Those and a few other interesting items on display rounded off that room and we ventured back outside. Wandering about a little to examine neighbouring houses of similar age, we eventually headed for the Machane Yehuda shuk (open market) where we were to grab lunch before heading back.

Adventure is always calling

Choosing the cheap route, we got falafel and then popped over to the local taproom, Hatch, where I sampled some of the new brew offerings, and settled on a cold glass of oatmeal stout. We then headed for the bus and arrived back in Givat Shmuel with enough time to get ready for Shabbat and the feeling that more adventures were on the horizon.

University Trip: Wadi Qelt II

In Israel, Judea on February 12, 2018 at 8:26 AM

Continuing with our two-day hiking trip in the Wadi Qelt area with students and staff of Bar Ilan University’s Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology department, we awoke before dawn to begin another day. It was cold and dark but eventually we all stirred into action and were ready to embark on adventure. With our gear loaded we set out into the darkness. We followed a dirt road winding its way to the streambed far away as the sun slowly began to light up the sky.

The morning’s first stop

It was nearly sunrise when we reached our first stop, passing the most fascinating broken aqueduct bridge spanning two slopes. It was a series of stone structures built in the Ottoman period, surrounded by trees and noisy birds, now housing Bedouin families. We veered off to the side as not to disturb, and had a break to pray and eat a hearty breakfast (brought to us by Yehuda, the department’s patron).

Broken aqueduct bridge

When our souls were lifted, and our stomachs filled, we returned to the hike for it was Friday and we had a good twelve or so kilometres to go in order to reach our final destination. We paused beside the fascinating aqueduct bridge, with its tunnels drilled into the rocky slopes, and learned that it was built in several stages: The concrete base built by the Romans and the upper stone section constructed in later years.

Ein Qelt

Reluctantly leaving the grandeur of the bridge, we started along the wadi path heading towards Ein Qelt, the spring which feeds Nachal Prat. We passed curious bunkers that were built by either the British or Jordanians to guard over the water source, as we made our way alongside the sluggish waters. Before long, we reached Ein Qelt and spread out to explore. One interesting feature was this painted Arabic dedication which supposedly has to do with the Ottoman period buildings we had seen earlier.

Reading the dedication

Enjoying the smooth rocks and the shallow waters, we stayed for a short lecture and then headed back out the way we came, this time walking along the northern banks of the stream. We found the trail to be following a curious yet simple floor-level aqueduct made of concrete, channeling the water eastward. This waterworks was built by the Jordanians to supply water to Jericho, and as we walked, the extensive work that was put into the installation became apparent.

Following the aqueduct

We passed the buildings from earlier, the aqueduct continuing along peacefully as we walked and walked. Caves on the opposing mountainsides seized our attention but we remained faithful to the aqueduct, following its every whim as it dipped and turned here and there. We noticed as we walked how small bridges kept the aqueduct’s levels proper with the decline needed to transport the water. We continued on.

Following faithfully

Then we saw the first of many cross towers that dot the ridge of the wadi around the monastery, markers to pilgrims that they are on the right path. Suddenly, our aqueduct made a hard right turn and the slowly flowing water plunged down the mountainside to a bridge that was mostly broken, this more modern chute of water attached to the bulky ancient frame where an older aqueduct once stood. Continuing along on the other side of the wadi, at a much lower elevation, our faithful aqueduct brought us to the lookout over the monastery, marked by another of the aforementioned cross towers.

Wadi Qelt

Below us was the iconic Monastery of St George, an old building complex built onto the cliffside. We sat down and listened to Dr Kobi Cohen-Hattab explain about the use of this wadi by terrorists in the 1960s. Sayeret Haruv (“Carob”), a dismantled special forces unit, suffered a single casualty, its commander, Lt Col Tzvika Ofer, in a battle with terrorists in the area below us.

Our first glimpse of the Monastery of St George

We descended the trail via rock steps which flattened out alongside the wadi, approaching the monastery which now loomed before us. At the foot of the monastery, a small stone bridge spans the rocky gap of the streambed, providing easy access to the southern slope. We crossed this bridge and began the ascent up the slope on the winding road. Local Bedouins riding donkeys passed us every so often, asking if we’d like to pay for a donkey ride.

Monastery of St George

At last we reached the top and passed through the site’s three-arched gate, adorned by a large cross and a dedication in Greek. Continuing along a trail, we reached the lookout over the monastery, seeing the structure at its most flattering angle. From this vantage point we were able to make out small windows and doors in the cliff wall above and around the monastery structure. These rooms house monks who live in isolation, going their brethren at the monastery only on Sundays.

View from the other side

It was in a small cave like this that the monastery’s story began, harkening back to the Byzantine era in the 4th century when several monks created homes for themselves in small caves. Around the year 480 CE, a monk by the name of John of Thebes created a monastery for the monks in these caves to be a part of. It wasn’t until the end of the 6th century that George of Choziba came to join the ranks of monks at the monastery. However, the Persian conquest of the Holy Land brought about death and destruction to the monks and the monastery, and only George was left alive, the monastery subsequently being called in his name. In the Crusader era the monastery was rebuilt, by the Byzantines no less, but was destroyed once again by the Muslims. It wasn’t until 1901 that new life breathed into the monastery, having been restored by a Greek monk for the Greek Orthodox Church.

Mountain fortress of Kypros

When we had seen enough of the monastery it was time to hike to the final destination of this two-day trip: the mountain fortress of Kypros. Built on a distinct peak overlooking Jericho, we were literally ending our trip on a high.

Exploring Kypros

We made this final push for the mountain; our legs weary of hiking for two days straight. At last we reached the lower plateau of Kypros and the city of Jericho laid spread before us. Dr Dvir Raviv, the man leading our excursion, gave us a geographic overview and we were able to pinpoint sites of interest in the hazy city below us. Relatively close by, at the outskirts of Jericho, are the Hasmonean and Herodian palaces which have been excavated over the years. We had hopes to visit them but hadn’t received permission from the military, which left us with seeing them from afar.

Hazy Jericho

These palaces were largely built by the Hasmoneans, who had liberated the Holy Land from the Greeks. Constructed in the arid desert regions, these winter palaces were far more comfortable to live in during the cold winter months than the main palaces in cold, and sometimes snowy, Jerusalem. Herod used this same concept, and incorporated these palaces into his estate as well as building new ones. Unfortunately they were all razed during the Roman period, and due to the current political situation, the ruins are hard to access.

Piece of stucco plaster found on-site

Returning to Kypros, this mountain fortress was built by the Hasmoneans and then refortified by Herod several hundred years later to control the Jericho region. Being rather short-lived, the fortress was destroyed by the Romans during the Great Revolt and hasn’t been rebuilt since. We climbed up to the highest part of the mountain and examined the excavated ruins of the fortress whilst enjoying the view. It was a grand feeling to finally be done with these two exciting days of exploration, especially because I had never been to any of these sites before. To end off the trip, we heard from Prof Lilach Rosenberg-Friedman, our new department head, who is initiating all sorts of exciting new plans for the department.

Atop the world at Kypros

Hiking back down the mountain, we found our tour bus waiting for us at the arched gate of the monastery and began the drive back to Bar Ilan University. Ready to get back, have Shabbat and sleep, we couldn’t agree more that there needs to be more trips of this nature in our department. Blending academia with the great outdoors in a most excellent way of living life to its fullest, and we sure like to live.

University Trip: Wadi Qelt I

In Israel, Judea on February 4, 2018 at 8:15 AM

The week after our exclusive tour of the IAA warehouse and the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem we embarked on another exciting trip. Again with the Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology department of Bar Ilan University, this adventure was a two-day hike in the Judean Desert, predominantly in the area of Wadi Qelt.

Desert wilderness

The fun began at the BIU campus where we loaded up the bus with ourselves and our belongings, setting out and meeting up with the rest of the participants just outside a small yishuv by the name of Adam. There we had hot beverages and cookies brought by the department’s patron Yehuda (who joined us on the Tel Goded survey), who would follow us for the duration of the trip providing food and logistical support whenever needed.

Prof Aren Maeir reading biblical events

We received the first of many briefings at this starting point, mostly given to us by the fearless leader of the trip, Dr Dvir Raviv. Our plan was to hike down to the streambed of Wadi Michmas below us and then continue ever eastward until reaching Mitzpe Yericho, with several stops along the way.

Dr Dvir Raviv

With the fantastic mountainous desert view, and the beautiful blue skies striped with wispy cirriform clouds, we were ready to hike. A quick sighting of some active greenfinches started off the fauna aspect of the trip, and I was eager to see more.

Setting off on the trail

Already atop a ridge of hills, we followed a simple dirt road until we reached a tiny vineyard where we merged over to a tiny unmarked trail alongside the slopes. Several gazelles were spotted, as well as some pariah dogs in the algae-choked stream far below. We marveled at this unusual trail, even if it was awkward to walk on at times, and at last found ourselves descending to the rocky wadi, spotting several sand partridges making their way up the opposing slope.

An unusual trail

On level ground, we crossed the small stream and began walking the picturesque trail towards Ein Maboa. As we walked, I was greeted by a nice sight: my first long-legged buzzard. I got one good picture before it soared out of sight over the top of the cliff alongside us. A few blackstarts later and we were crossing the stream once again at the site of the old Roman aqueduct.

The moiré tunnel

From there it was a short walk to the local road and over to an even more picturesque stream-side trail, this one taking us to Ein Maboa. The crossings back and forth over the calm stream made for an interesting hike — a few unfortunate party members slipped into the cold water.

Beware the water

At last we reached Ein Maboa, a national park with a gift shop and restrooms, where we broke bread for lunch. A nice concrete structure holding the spring water provided entertainment for those wishing to swim, and the rest of us watched amused. Just beside the pool is the mosaic floor of a Byzantine church which was discovered in 2008. This church was part of a monastery, of which we’d learn more about the next day when encountering the famous St George Monastery at Wadi Qelt.

Ein Maboa

After finishing our lunches and learning more about the local monastery, we hiked out of Ein Maboa and climbed the mountainside directly south. It was an arduous hike; the steep incline of the hill seemed to go on forever and ever. Looking around we gained appreciation for the tough hiking streak we were on, the views always rewarding. At the top, alongside yet another road, we were enchanted by the sounds of a flute and a harmonica, while we gazed out at the view and watched foxes play far down below.

Making our way uphill

The hike was nowhere near done, and before we knew it we were back on a trail, plunging into some rocky area in the direction of Road 1. Our next stop was overlooking the road, and in true trailblazing fashion, we took the most direct route we could find. We passed a large amount of gnawed cow bones, a great grey shrike and an interesting geological formation of rusty-looking stone blocks.

Gazelle dung midden

Taking a quick breather at a dung midden belonging to mountain gazelles, we learned about the manners of communication and territory marking that some species employ. Getting back on our feet, we then hiked up another steep hill to our next stop, the location of historical Ma’ale Adumim.

Roman stucco

Overlooking Road 1 and neighbouring the Inn of the Good Samaritan, we found the remains of archaeological excavations at the top of the hill. An unknown Herodian palace was discovered in 2003, the structure suffering structural damage after the building stones were taken for later projects nearby. Remains of a stucco wall of the Roman villa, with its paint in green and red, left in situ to be enjoyed by the good folk who come to visit the obscure site. Another curious thing to catch my attention were some dried flowers of the toxic desert henbane found growing beside the Roman villa. Hearing that it also has hallucinogenic properties, I made sure to carry the flowers with me, just in case the lodgings that night proved unbearable. I jest, of course.

Desert henbane

After learning more about the site and the excavations that had taken place, we made our way to the neighbouring hilltop, crowned by the ruins of Castellum Rouge. A Crusader fortress built sometime around the year 1172 to protect Christian pilgrims travelling between Jerusalem and Jericho, it also served to safeguard the Inn of the Good Samaritan. Today not much remains of the fortress, but I was elated at the chance to tick yet another Crusader castle off my “to-visit” list.

Castellum Rouge

On our way we passed a lovely sight overlooking the mountainous desert view: a small table set up all fancy-like with wine, flowers and chocolates and a happy young couple who had just gotten engaged and were phoning their friends and family. Interestingly enough, I came across a “point of interest” marked on the AmudAnan map attesting to this moment in their lives. Not wanting to crash their special moment, we skirted around them and made our way to Yehuda who was waiting for us with more refreshments, but we certainly wish them a heart “mazal tov”.

Break beside Castellum Rouge

The sun was on its way westward and we had yet a long way to go, so we explored the ruined fortress rather speedily and then hit the trail again. This trail followed the old British road and we made good time walking to Mitzpe Yericho, where we were to spend the night. Along the way we had a little discussion about marinite oil shale which, found in the Judean desert region, is a possible fuel source that may or may not be worth mining. Nightfall came before we reached our destination and some quick navigation was made as we closed in on our lodgings.

Fancy corner of the lodgings

At last we found it, and we entered to find a curious rug and dried palm frond-accented “tent”, with couches and mattresses for us to sleep on. An unhealthy amount of pizzas were picked up, as well as more treats from Yehuda, and a hearty dinner was enjoyed by all. A quick trivia game ended the day, with exhausted bodies falling asleep here and there, bundled up in sleeping bags to fend off the intense desert chill. We needed to gather our strengths for part two of the trip, which was to begin well before first light the next morning…

University Trip: IAA Warehouse & Rockefeller Museum

In Israel, Jerusalem on January 28, 2018 at 8:19 AM

Several weeks ago, just after my trusty LG G3 phone kicked the bucket, I went on another university trip to two sites in the Jerusalem area. As part of my “Early Ceramics” class, taught by Dr Eran Arie, we were to visit both the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) warehouse in the Bet Shemesh area as well as the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem. Due to our status as students of archaeology, we were going to be taken to areas generally off-limits to the general public.

Some of the IAA’s outdoor collection

We boarded our minibus just outside the campus in the morning and drove directly to the warehouse, pulling up alongside the fenced-off compound. Very nondescript from the outside, we saw the first signs of IAA presence within. Huge outdoor shelves supporting large stone architectural elements on wooden pallets grabbed our attention, but we were assured that there were even more interesting antiquities to see inside.

Around the IAA table

Inside and upstairs, gathering around a large table, we were given a short talk about the history, techniques and struggles of the IAA’s endeavours in safeguarding the nation’s antiquities. The speaker, Dr Miki Saban, is the warehouse’s director and followed up his talk by taking us into the adjacent storage room, where thousands of articles are stored. From this side room we were taken back downstairs and into the cold main warehouse, where rows upon rows of large, sturdy metal shelving units awaited us. Divided by time periods, we instinctively wanted to explore unhindered, but we were visiting with a purpose. We were to be seeing early pottery vessels, from the various prehistoric periods as well as Early Bronze, and were ushered into the proper rows accordingly.

Filing card pulled at random

Eventually we were allowed to explore a bit, and I found many fascinating items, some of which are still unpublished. The problem with unpublished items is that the head excavator or archaeologist usually retains the rights to display said item to the world, and thus the item can remain in limbo until published. Regardless, we had a lovely time seeing the numerous ossuaries, vessels, columns, anchors, cannons and more from all the ages.

Fancy ossuary

Outside, when our visit came to an end, we left the compound and climbed back into our minibus. The drive to our next destination, the famed Rockefeller Museum, went by and before we knew it we were in East Jerusalem, in the shadows of the great walls of the Old City. We entered the museum’s complex and were taken aback by the beauty of the buildings architecture.

Rockefeller Museum

It wasn’t just the stone filled us with admiration; clusters of daffodils were freshly blooming in the front yard begging us for photographs. I took a bunch, but none of mine came close to the beauty of this photo taken by Orpaz, a fellow classmate of mine:

Blooming narcissus (photo Orpaz Horn)

Inside the museum, I felt swept away by the heavy stone architecture, an interesting blend of what looks to me as neo-Gothic and Islamic with Classical elements. We breezed past the temporary display in the foyer and the coat-check (a glorious reminder of a romanticised past), and made our way to the building’s central courtyard. There, Eran gave us an opening talk on the museum’s complicated history and its modern-day custodians, a joint effort by both the IAA and the Israel Museum.

Pooled courtyard

Just to summarise, the museum was built in 1938 by the British who controlled the Holy Land after WWI in order to house regional finds securely. It was built of white limestone of stately architecture, funded by American financier John D Rockefeller Jr. With the declaration of independence in 1948, Jerusalem found itself divided, with the Rockefeller Museum ending up in Jordanian hands. Eventually, in 1966, Jordan’s King Hussein decided that he wanted ownership of the museum and seized it as part of his nationalisation plan. This turned out to be a good thing for us Israelis, because East Jerusalem was reconquered in 1967 and Israel took control of the museum. Since then, the museum has been used to house a variety of important local finds, with everything kept just as it was back in British hands – a rather proper look.

Examining Seti I’s stela

Back into the arched corridors, we found the first of many very interesting items on display: the basalt stela of Seti I, an Egyptian pharaoh who ruled some 3,300 years ago. Another fascinating item was the partial skull of the “Galilee Man” from Nachal Amud, said to be the oldest human remains found in the Levant. Before long we met up with Allegra, who took us behind a closed door in the South Gallery. Inside the narrow, somewhat dusty room filled with old wood-and-glass display cases, we were introduced to even more early ceramic vessels and sherds that we didn’t have access to in class. Weak sunlight filtered in through the old windows (vestiges of the British) as we handled various pottery pieces.

Arched corridors

We had a good time in the narrow room, but there was much more to see. We were then guided through the museum’s different exhibits and galleries. We saw many fascinating items, yet I found difficulty trying to identify what I was seeing because everything is labelled with a simple number reference and laminated sheets located throughout the rooms hold the answers – not the easiest way to get answers when rushing through a fascinating museum.

Interesting character

One fascinating room contained a huge amount of decorative stone architectural elements from Hisham’s Palace in Jericho. I know so little about that site, but from the displayed remains, it must have been a very beautiful palace in its heyday. Another cool exhibit was the ancient wooden panels from al-Aqsa Mosque of the Temple Mount from its destruction by earthquake in the 700s CE. Then we were back behind closed doors, this time down a charming circular staircase. We gathered in the bunker-like underground storerooms, peeking about at the many interesting items on the shelves. One thing that particularly struck my fancy was the display of old tobacco jars and cigarette boxes from the British and Ottomans still being used to this very day to hold antique knick-knacks.

Rockefeller Library

One of the final stops in the museum was the rich IAA library, located in the northeast corner of the building. A charming room with huge neo-Gothic pillars (similar to those in the Column Hall in the Hospitaller Fortress in Akko) pockmarked by bullets from the Six Day War, I felt pangs of longing for the romantic days of heavy stone architecture and dusty, leather-bound books.

Timeline of ceramics

At last, we had just two small exhibitions to look at on our way out. The first was a showcase of potsherds as the ages go in an artistic long glass case–truly joyous to look at. The second, and final, was the temporary exhibition that we had skipped in the very beginning: a selection of curiosities from ancient Ashkelon. With that we left the fancy building and headed back to our minibus for the ride back to Givat Shmuel, ending yet another exciting trip provided by Bar Ilan University.