Israel's Good Name

Archive for the ‘Tel Aviv’ Category

Rabin Centre & Ben Gurion House

In Israel, Tel Aviv on October 11, 2015 at 4:25 AM

To finish off my quartet of Tel Avivian blog posts is this two-part trip to two sites lauding past prime ministers. The first one being Rabin Centre, just outside of Tel Aviv University’s train station, which I took the opportunity to visit on my to the Yarkon Park.

The Yitzhak Rabin Centre

The Yitzhak Rabin Centre

Inside the large centre filled with libraries, conference centres and more is a museum dedicated to the life and death of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Starting off with sombre video footage from the night of his assassination, poignantly portrayed in a large dark room, the exhibition then opened up to a chronological timeline of Rabin’s life.

Timeline of Rabin's life

Timeline of Rabin’s life

From childhood to his role in the Palmach, from his appointment of Chief of Staff in 1964 to his inauguration as prime minister in 1974 – the exhibit showed it all. Complete with numerous videos scattered throughout the timeline replaying historical footage, I will admit finding frustration keeping my sensor-triggered headset playing the right audio at the right time. A nice assortment of personal items were on display at increments, including various forms of identification, military paraphernalia and even the blood-stain paper he had in his pocket when he was assassinated, after a rally supporting the Oslo Accords. His living room, left exactly as it was the night of his death, was transferred to the museum, replaying the same soccer match he watched.

Rabin's living room

Rabin’s living room

After the lengthy timeline there was a whole slew of pictures, both family- and career-oriented. At the very end of the exhibition is a memorial room with electric candles and then a graffiti wall for guests to write on, sharing their sentiments. Looking into the whole matter of Rabin’s assassination, there seems to be quite a large number of irregularities and suspicious moments, particularly in the lone video recording of the event – known as the Kempler Video (see HERE on YouTube). I tend to take both official statements and conspiracy theories with a grain of salt, so I’ll let you be the judge for yourself. Outside the museum I found another exhibition dedicated to Operation Entebbe, the rescue mission of 106 hostages held in the Entebbe Airport in Uganda performed by Israeli commandos in 1976. Showcased are the behind-the-scenes of the top secret operation, formulated in the course of one day, as well as other thematic presentations. What I found most interesting was the short film about the hijacking of Air France Flight 139 and the subsequent rescue operation, as narrated by one of the mission’s commandos – the point man to enter the hostage room. The film is called Cohen on the Bridge: Rescue at Entebbe and the animation style reminded me a lot of a French film called Renaissance, I highly recommend it.

Cohen on the Bridge film

Cohen on the Bridge film

Outside the exhibit, parked on a balcony of sorts, is the black Mercedes Benz used in the operation to mimic a visit by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

Not Idi Amin's Mercedes

Not Idi Amin’s Mercedes

When I was done with those two museums, and after looking at a small photographic art gallery upstairs, I was ready to leave. I took some quick photograph of the view of Tel Aviv and the Yarkon Park in the foreground and then made my way to the port area to walk the length of the park.

Tel Aviv skyline

Tel Aviv skyline

The next day, after completing my exams, I headed over to a kosher branch of Aldo, eager to at last taste one of Israel’s premier ice creams. That particular day was unworldly dusty and turned into a sandstorm that lasted several days, even obscuring Israel from NASA’s satellites. All of the photos from that day have a weird orange-yellow tint to them due to the heavy saturation of sand in the air.

Aldo ice cream

Aldo ice cream

Of the three ice creams that I chose, only the Ferrero Rocher chocolate one impressed me – and just to justifiably complain, my ice cream was heavily melted by the time I paid and sat down to eat it. I then continued walking down Ibn Gabirol and then cut across to Ben Gurion to visit my next site: the Ben Gurion House. Just look at how strange it looked outside in this photo taken on the corner of Ben Gurion and Dizengoff.

Dusty street scene

Dusty street scene

I arrived at the house sweating profusely (just like everybody else walking about in the orange gloom) and began my tour of the old house which offered both air conditioning and free admission. This humble house was the Tel Aviv residence for Israel’s first prime minister, and it was between here and his desert home in Sde Boker that he divided his time.

Ben Gurion House

Ben Gurion House

Built in 1930 with renovations done in 1946, the house is preserved and filled with original furniture but with decor set as it was in the later years. There was a huge amount of awards, gifts and the like from personages and institutions the world over, as well as a collection of photographs featuring David Ben Gurion and various heads of state. But what impressed me most was his personal library upstairs which boasts an astonishing 20,000 books in eleven languages.

Ben Gurion's library

Ben Gurion’s library

I gathered a lot of these facts and numbers from a very helpful docent whose name I forgot, if he in fact gave it to me at all. I found it interesting to see how many Judaica books he owned, and wonder how often he opened them. Finished with the museum I headed back over to Ibn Gabirol to visit a liquor store I had passed earlier and purchased some very interesting craft beers which I haven’t seen anywhere else in Israel (including a Noctus 100 and St Bernardus Abt 12, for those interested in details). With my precious liquid cargo safely double-bagged, I boarded a bus to the Independence Hall area just north of Florentin where I found an interesting Turkish restaurant called Turk Lahmajun to eat late lunch at.

Döner

Döner

I enjoyed a very tasty lamb döner in a laffa, very similar to the classic Israeli schwarma, and then took a bus to the train for the long journey home.

Yarkon Park

In Israel, Tel Aviv on September 20, 2015 at 4:08 AM

After my trip to Tel Aviv a few weeks prior, I had to make the journey once again to complete some exams before applying to university. With the tests in the morning, I had the previous day to travel and sight-see – which I did! Getting off the southbound train at the Tel Aviv University stop I visited the Rabin Centre, but this post isn’t about that. Because this trip was book-ended by visits to historically-oriented places, I am relating my travels slightly out of order. So, after the Rabin Centre I took a meandering bus all the way back to Reading, a bus depot across the Yarkon River from the Tel Aviv Port, up against the Mediterranean Sea. I was embarking on a nice hike from one end of Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park to the other, in Ramat Gan where I was to be spending the night.

Yarkon Park snaking across Tel Aviv

Yarkon Park snaking across Tel Aviv

Somewhat comparable to New York City’s Central Park, the Yarkon Park is Tel Aviv’s greenbelt and attracts a healthy amount of both people and wildlife. And so I started walking the trail, passing a rowing club and noticing all sorts of birds all over the place almost immediately. Due to the large number of bird species, and their relative acceptance of human presence, the Yarkon Park has become one of Israel’s best places for birdwatching and bird photography. At any given moment I could turn 360° and see at least five species around me, be them in the air, on the ground or in the water. At first I saw common birds seen all over Israel such as hooded crows and mynas, an invasive species from India, but then I spotted a spur-winged lapwing and a grey heron.

Grey heron wading in the shallows

Grey heron wading in the shallows

Moving along, I saw a hoopoe (Israel’s national bird) pecking about in the grass and a whole flock of monk parakeets causing a disturbance on the other side of the path – I got a video of it HERE. I stuck to the trail on the northern side of the river (which is actually part of the Israel National Trail), passing gardens and sports facilities, and, even with the myriad of people and their dogs and/or bicycles, there was still a healthy amount of wildlife mostly undisturbed.

Night heron

Night heron

Ever-accompanied by the shrieking of the ring-necked parakeets high up in the date and willow trees, I then witnessed something really cool. I spotted a white-throated kingfisher perched on a fence of sorts a ways away (I even had to use digital zoom). Suddenly, he dropped into the grass and came up with something in his beak. I can’t tell what it is but I watched him eat it and he seemed to like it. Throughout the day I merited to see all three of Israel’s kingfishers, each oddly in a different scientific family – the white-throated, pied and common kingfishers.

White-throated kingfisher with prey

White-throated kingfisher with prey

One thing that’s photographically cool about the Yarkon Park is the stark contrast between the idyllic riverbanks lined with robust trees and then the ultra urban background with Tel Aviv’s skyscrapers appearing over the treeline.

Yarkon Park

Yarkon Park

I continued to beat the pavement with my shoes, watching the herons and egrets wading calmly through the murky green shallows while the pied kingfisher hovers ten-twenty feet over the water’s surface, plunging in to catch an unwary fish. To help us humans enjoy the nature in ease and comfort, the park has benches and wooden platforms intermittently along the water’s edge – it’s a rather nice touch. It’s absolutely marvelous having this convenient window into nature’s circle of life, just feast your eyes om this photo of a night heron with its prey:

Night heron with fish (photo: Tamar Ron)

Night heron with fish (photo: Tamar Ron)

Before long I was passing the fork where the Ayalon stream and Yarkon River meet, the train and vehicular traffic thundering along on the large bridge overhead. I wrote all about the source of the Yarkon River and its initial tributary streams in my post about the Yarkon National Park – the Ayalon is the last of these to join the decantation into the sea. Continuing along the banks of the Yarkon, I then came across a small zoo with axis deer, emu, ostrich and several other birds and mammals. Just around the corner from the zoo and a closed aviary, I found one of Israel’s greatest birdwatching sites: Sheva Tachanot (or Seven Mills). The daylight was beginning to fade, and as it had been a rather overcast day, the poor lighting made photography rather difficult, no matter how hard I tried. Despite all that, I was amazed at just how close one can get to the many types of birds frequenting the old Ottoman flour mill ruins with its pools and lush overgrowth. A talented Tel Avivian photographer by the name of Tamar Ron graciously offered me the use of her photos to properly display the beautiful birds of Seven Mills, of which you see on either ends of this paragraph.

Common kingfisher (photo: Tamar Ron)

Common kingfisher (photo: Tamar Ron)

As night began to fall I found myself tracking a few jackal cubs that were frolicking not far from the trail. Having migrated from the hills of the Shomron several years ago, jackals are now a permanent fixture of the Yarkon Park – and especially at Seven Mills, where jackals can even be seen during normal daylight hours. As I crept up to the jackal cubs I heard a bone-chilling growl in the bushes mere metres behind me which sent shivers down my spine and adrenaline pumping through my veins. With that untimely distraction, the young jackals made their escape and so I continued on, sadly jackal-less, with my hike of the Yarkon.

Dusk settling over the park

Dusk settling over the park

Nightfall shrouded the tall trees and I could occasionally hear or see jackals in the distance as I walked, and shortly thereafter I think I heard the calls of a tree frog. The path kept going and going, often poorly lit with cyclists whizzing by almost dangerously.

Urban Ramat Gan

Urban Ramat Gan

I passed the Meymadion water park and then the Ramat Gan Stadium before reaching the Maccabiah Bridge. A name born from tragedy, the current bridge’s predecessor had a deadly collapse in 1997 – four Australian athletes were killed and another sixty injured.

Crossing the Maccabiah Bridge at the Ayalon Mall

Crossing the Maccabiah Bridge at the Ayalon Mall

Thankfully, the bridge took me safely across the Yarkon River where I made a bee-line for the Ayalon Mall. There I had a rather filling falafel and headed to my host’s place in Ramat Gan for a good night’s sleep in preparation for the following day’s exams.

Tel Aviv II

In Israel, Tel Aviv on September 13, 2015 at 9:41 AM

Continuing with my trip the other week to Israel’s coastal metropolis, Tel Aviv, I started my morning off bright and early. I made it to the exams building and did what needed to be done. On the way back to my host’s place, I stopped off at the Krinizi House, a museum on the history of Ramat Gan (a city in the Tel Aviv district).

Krinizi House

Krinizi House

Located in the old house of Avraham Krinizi, the first mayor of Ramat Gan, the museum retells the city’s rise from a small satellite town to a booming commercial city. After returning and subsequently saying goodbye to my host I took a bus back into Tel Aviv, getting off on King George street at Metzudat Ze’ev, a large Brutalist-style building also known as Jabotinsky House.

Metzudat Ze'ev

Metzudat Ze’ev

My first visit was to the Etzel Museum where I learned more about the paramilitary organisation’s activities over the years leading up to Israeli independence. One thing that really impressed me were the many detailed models that portrayed in miniature scale how and where the group’s violent activities took place – like the attack on the British headquarters in the King David Hotel in 1946.

Memorial to the fallen Etzel members

Memorial to the fallen Etzel members

After browsing through the two floors of Etzel exhibits and having watched the video, I purchased a cheap book about “the Irgun” (another name for Etzel) and headed upstairs to visit the Jabotinsky Centre.

Ze'ev Jabotinsky sitting in prison

Ze’ev Jabotinsky sitting in prison

There I was treated to a rather interesting video about the life of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, told over by actors playing Ze’ev and his son, Eri. When I was done looking around l discovered the centre’s archives with an extraordinary amount of filed documents, photographs and more.

Perusing the Jabotinsky Centre archives

Perusing the Jabotinsky Centre archives

Leaving the fancy building I boarded a bus heading for the even fancier Rothschild Boulevard and Independence Hall. My bus dropped me off a few blocks south of Rothschild and so I found myself walking through the streets, with the alternate Bauhaus and modern buildings of steel and glass casting their shadows over me.

Upscale Tel Aviv

Upscale Tel Aviv

I then encountered the Herzlilienblum Museum of banking history on the corner of Herzl and Lilienblum, but unfortunately the museum is only open to groups with an advance reservation. With the guard not yielding to my cajoling, I turned the corner and found Independence Hall, originally known as Dizengoff House. After paying the rather steep entrance fee I watched a short film about the house and the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which, when aired on public broadcast to the world, sparked the War for Independence.

Inside Independence Hall

Inside Independence Hall

I thought the restored room which hosted the monumental moment was rather nice but that they should lower the cost of visiting – after all, it is a national heritage site and the museum is basically just that room. I walked around the area a bit, sight-seeing, and then headed to a restaurant I had passed a few blocks away for late lunch. After having their burger, which was considerably less interesting than the other more ethic choices in the area, I headed for Allenby street. Somewhat notorious for being rather seedy, at least by Israeli standards, Allenby does have one redeeming site – the Great Synagogue of Tel Aviv. Built in the 1920’s and renovated in the 1970’s, the Great Synagogue is a rather impressive building with its large arches and stained glass windows.

Inside Tel Aviv's Great Synagogue

Inside Tel Aviv’s Great Synagogue

When it was built, the synagogue was in the centre of old Tel Aviv, but now the surrounding areas have become commercial and the building has lost some of its practical importance. I found the great doors unlocked and was overjoyed to finally step inside for the first time in many unsuccessful visits. I had chanced upon preparations for an important event – the Great Synagogue was celebrating 90 years and, in honour, four new sifrei torah (torah scrolls) were being dedicated. Unfortunately, the event was late in the evening and it would be problematic coinciding with the public transportation I was using to get back home. And so I took my pictures, prayed mincha (evening prayer) and bid the grand synagogue farewell. Continuing down Allenby I popped into the Carmel Shuk in search for the Beer Bazaar, a craft beer place with a great stock.

Carmel Shuk of Tel Aviv

Carmel Shuk of Tel Aviv

The man behind the counter was pleasantly knowledgeable and helped me pick out six new stouts and porters to try, all Israeli made. After having tasted them all and enjoying them to various degrees, I still prefer my favourite beer, Salara Smoked Stout from Kibbutz Ginegar (which I had the opportunity of visiting the following week). With the beers safely wrapped up I took a bus to the train and the train back to the north, wrapping up my two-day trip to Tel Aviv. But I was to visit again shortly after…

Tel Aviv I

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

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

IDF History Museum

IDF History Museum

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

Guns galore!

Guns galore!

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

Tank pavilion

Tank pavilion

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

"Kitchens are important too"

“Kitchens are important too”

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

Neve Tzedek street scene

Neve Tzedek street scene

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

Tunisian shakshuka

Tunisian shakshuka

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

Egyptian geese preening on the banks of the Yarkon

Egyptian geese preening on the banks of the Yarkon

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

Reading power plant

Reading power plant

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

Sunset at Tel Aviv Port

Sunset at Tel Aviv Port

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

Carousel at dusk

Carousel at dusk

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

Tel Aviv Port at night

Tel Aviv Port at night

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

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.

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: Lehi Museum & The Olympic Experience

In Israel, Tel Aviv on January 13, 2013 at 5:20 AM

Almost as soon as I returned to my base after Shabbat we were told that we were going on another trip – educational, mind you – with the destination being a secret. I wasn’t feeling my best on the morning of the trip but I tagged along nonetheless and in the end was glad to have done so. Still not knowing where we were headed, I finally overheard my commanding officer ask the bus driver if he knew how to get to the Lehi Museum in Tel Aviv, somewhere I’ve been wanting to go for a while now.

Lehi

Lehi

Whether the driver knew how to get there or not, approximately two hours later we were walking through the streets of Tel Aviv headed for the Lehi Museum, located in an obscure building in the Florentin neighbourhood. The fascinating part about the seemingly odd location of the museum is that it contains the apartment of Lehi’s founder and leader Avraham “Yair” Stern, his final home before he was murdered by undercover British policeman on February 12th 1942.

Avraham "Yair" Stern, founder of Lehi

Avraham “Yair” Stern, founder of Lehi

Stepping further back in time, Lehi was founded in 1940 as a resistance group against primarily the British Mandate government, which according to Lehi was the biggest hitch in the plans for a Jewish homeland. Far more radical than the other groups (such as Haganah and Etzel), Lehi was also known as the “Stern Gang” and carried out numerous attacks on both the British troops and international diplomats, earning themselves hefty bounties offered by the British government. At the museum I learned that, in the hands of the British, many of the captured members of Lehi were sent to various countries in Africa as expulsion, including Kenya and Sudan, once it became clear that local imprisonment wasn’t enough of a deterrent. One story that our guide told us was of two Lehi operatives who were captured and kept in a local prison. The two men decided that they would blow themselves up, along with as many British soldiers as possible, on the day of their execution. With copious amounts of ingenuity, they constructed a grenade inside of an orange, lining the inner walls of the peel with shrapnel. However, much to their dismay, a rabbi offered to be with them at the gallows so they had no choice but to scrap their plan lest they blow up the rabbi as well. So, the night before their would-be hanging, the two Lehi operatives stood together, orange grenade against their chests, and ended their lives.

Mock-up of the orange grenade

Mock-up of the orange grenade

On the top floor of the museum is the aforementioned apartment where Avraham Stern was killed. Kept exactly as it was some seventy years ago, the room’s only modern accessory is a flat-screen TV which depicts the story of his assassination in A/V form. I’ve always wondered when visiting cities with historical significance as to the previous “happenings” that may have occurred at that location fifty, a hundred, or even 2,000 years ago. I’m sure there are hundreds of people living in Tel Aviv who own apartments once used as safe houses and meeting rooms by the Palmach or Etzel, for example, who spend their whole lives never knowing what incredible stories the walls could tell should they be granted the power of speech. However, despite the Zionist glory and grandeur, Lehi was definitely not exempt from human losses and this remembrance room located beside Avraham Stern’s old room portrays the fallen from Lehi’s ranks:

Rememberance room for the fallen Lehi members

Rememberance room for the fallen Lehi members

As soon as our tour was over we were given a few minutes to poke about and then we were rushed out. From the museum we walked through the streets of Tel Aviv, in some of the strongest wind I’ve ever encountered, until we boarded our tour bus. I thought that our trip was over and that we were heading back to base but I was wrong… Next destination: The Olympic Experience:

The Olympic Experience

The Olympic Experience

Just to firmly announce my beliefs – something I tend not to get into on this blog, I am fundamentally against the Olympics. I don’t agree with the whole idea, especially its Hellenistic founding, and I think that every time Israel participates in the modern Olympics the outcome is more bad than good (ie BBC scandal of 2012, Munich Massacre of 1972, etc). That being said, I still must hand it to the designers of The Olympic Experience for creating a very interesting showcase – particularly the audio-visual presentation, which is state-of-the-art.

An interesting screen

An interesting screen

There were some notable parts, which I enjoyed, such as the video about the Munich Massacre which included an interview with Esther Roth-Shachamorov who was one of the female athletes representing Israel that year. Our guides were quite enthusiastic about the Olympics and several of us tried the hands-on activities, as if to compare oneself to the physically prepared bodies of the athletes that participate in the Olympics.

Learning about the early days of the Olympics

Learning about the early days of the Olympics

However, despite the glamour of the Olympics and the ultra-modern design of the “Experience”, the topic didn’t appeal to me much so I am at a loss as to what to write. If the Olympics does, in fact, interest you, then by all means, go check this place out. But if you share in my beliefs, perhaps you’d agree that the Lehi Museum was the highlight of the day.

Until next trip (which at this rate may be this week)!

Army Trip: IDF History Museum, Yad VaShem & Ammunition Hill

In Israel, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv on November 11, 2012 at 6:22 AM

During the course of the army, no matter how long one serves, he or she is going to be taken on a variety of trips around Israel. Many of these trips are to historical locations, others are culturally oriented and some are just random trips. This past week, still in basic training, we had the opportunity of visiting three interesting sites: the IDF History Museum in Tel Aviv, Yad VaShem Holocaust museum and Ammunition Hill both in Jerusalem. Due to the fact that I am in basic training, photography was difficult so I have culled most of the following photos from the Internet. The first of these trips was to the IDF History Museum in Tel Aviv, a museum I’ve been wanting to visit for some time now.

Armoured buses

We toured several exhibits of the large museum accompanied by a knowledgeable docent. Our platoon of 27 soldiers and four commanders/commanding officer was joined by similar numbers from two other army bases, the Central and Southern counterparts to our Northern base. We strolled through the museum’s grounds en masse, observing the numerous military artifacts.

Willys Jeep from the War of Independence

As we went from building to building, the docent relayed many interesting stories and historical tidbits which I found to be quite interesting. I would have gladly stayed much longer, to properly enjoy the museum but I was just a pawn on someone else’s schedule so I was limited to what was offered.

Museum display

We were rushed out of the museum prematurely and had to return to our respective bases but I plan on going back and catching up on what I’ve been remiss on seeing all these years that I’ve been here.

The next trip we took was to Jerusalem where we visited two sites, well really it was 1.5 due to time constrictions, and then headed back to the base. The most famous Holocaust museum, Yad VaShem, was first and there we had a great guide who zipped about from exhibit to exhibit pointing out the poignant details and shedding light on the great tragedy that many people don’t know much about. To clarify that last sentence, there are a few Bedouins and Druze sprinkled into our ranks, some of them volunteers and others conscripted along with the Jews. Here are two Muslim Bedouins from my platoon, the one on the left is quite the jester and told me after I took his photo that I can tell my parents I took a picture of an Arab. Speaking with a heavily accented Hebrew, that remark was quite humorous and we all laughed, some more awkwardly than others.

Two Muslim Bedouins in my platoon

Once inside the museum I was pleasantly surprised to see how much interest some of the Arab soldiers were taking in the sad tale of carnage and destruction. One particular Bedouin was quite engaged in the terrible stories the guide told us, but he wasn’t the only gentile in the building. Walking slightly behind us was an Italian admiral, his sidekick senior officer, an Italian non-com and the Israeli party of a naval captain, a lieutenant and a seaman taking pictures. This entourage was quite interesting to watch and I had to ask my commander which navy the foreigners were hailing from.

Yad VaShem memorial (Photo: Adam Jones, Flickr)

Despite the fact that this was my second time in Yad VaShem, I had an interesting experience. An American woman came over to us and seeked out an English speaker. Once I was her captive audience she began to tell me about how her father recently passed away and that after his death she found pictures and letters that pointed her past to the Holocaust, something she didn’t know beforehand. She showed me the photos of her family members and then ran off, not wanting to get too separated from her tour group.

Break time outside Yad VaShem

After the museum tour we went out and had lunch. During that time I took the liberty of getting a photo of me with my “dress” uniform on (there are two types of uniforms: dress and work):

Standing at Yad VaShem

After Yad VaShem we headed over to Ammunition Hill, an important battle site which helped secure the full re-capture of Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967. Due to time constraint we only got to see the interactive video about the war and the battle that took place below our feet. Having already seen the actual site (and not the video) when my Yeshiva here took us to Jerusalem, I was satisfied. However, I must say, the video presentation at Ammunition Hill is absolutely amazing, a work of art.

Ammunition Hill (Photo: Simnatic, Flickr)

As the video played lights and lasers danced on a large metal topographical display of 1967 Jerusalem. The fierce battles between the Israeli and Jordanian forces were shown out in full colour, the Israeli blue gradually conquering the Jordanian red. As we watched the light-created tanks climb up hills and enter the populated areas we looked up and saw actual footage from the battles for Jerusalem. The full excellence of the presentation is hard to put on paper, so to speak, so I strongly recommend a visit.

Tank from the battle (Photo: Simnatic, Flickr)

After quickly rushing back to our special white army bus, the non-com who brought us drove us back to our base for an early bedtime – something to look forward to in the army!