Israel's Good Name

Archive for January, 2012|Monthly archive page

A Hilulah

In Galilee, Israel on January 13, 2012 at 12:04 PM

This motzai Shabbat, and Sunday until sundown, is the hilulah of both Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira, the grandfather of the famed Baba Sali, and the Rambam (Maimonides). A hilulah is the Sephardi way of saying yartziet, the marking of the date of one’s passing from this world. So, 132 years ago (in 1880), Rabbi Yaacov Abuhatzeira, also known as the Abir Yaacov, passed away. To this date, congregations the world over celebrate his life and hold feasts in honour of his name. And yes, the bet knesset (synagogue) next to my house held a feast as well, but on Thursday night for convenience sake.

The set tables

Bet knesset Eli Cohen, the synagogue next to my house, was built in the late 60s by the Moroccan immigrants who founded Ma’alot in the 1950s. The name Eli Cohen is a famous one in Israel as he was a spy legend. Eli Cohen worked his way into the upper echelons of the Syrian government and military and gave them bad advice to provide an edge for the Israeli soldiers during wartime. One of the notable tricks he played on the Syrians was convincing them to plant trees next to every bunker they had in the Golan area and in Syria itself. By planting trees under the ruse of provide shade for the Syrian soldiers, Eli Cohen had marked the Syrian defence for every Israeli soldier. He ended up getting caught, quite accidently by the KGB, and was hanged by the Syrian government in 1965. More can be read here:

Eli Cohen

So it was in the large room that was added on to the original building that was the location of the feast. Photos and drawings of Rabbis from both the “old country” and of Israel itself line the walls and the mood is set for a glimpse back to the past. I had left the house, along with my little brother Nissim, thinking I was late, but I wasn’t. I stopped along the way to help my neighbor Guy bring speakers to the bet knesset and when we got there the event hadn’t even started. But when it did start, and the people – many of them new friends of mine – gathered in from the torrential rain outside to eat large triangles of lechem beit (“house bread” made at local bakeries and pizzerias) with salads from roasted eggplant to matboucha, this is what it looked like:

My table

Some of the other tables

It would be wrong to leave out two of the Moroccan staples that adorn every feast of festivity, the Moroccan fish and the bottle of arak. When the Moroccan fish was brought out I was eager to take a picture of it but, alas, mine wasn’t so aestetically pleasing so I snapped a shot of Yehuda Uzan’s fish across from me:

Moroccan fish

And of course, the numerous bottles of arak – an anise-flavoured liquor famous in the Middle East but virtually unknown to many Americans. I actually snatched this bottle of arak from a neighbouring table as our bottle’s label had gotten ripped:

Arak - the preferred drink of the Moroccan

And of course, no feast in honour or in memory of someone can be held without some words being said. At this particular event, HaRav Meir Sayag and Rav Gil Ben Shoshan, an previous neighbor of ours, graced our meal with stories about Rabbi Yaacov Abuhatzeira. After the speeches we continued the meal with rice, potatoes, meat, chicken and schnitzel, sipping down arak, beer, soda, water and cheap whiskey. As we ate, members of the bet knesset auctioned off various Judaica objects “in the merit of” the Baba Sali, Rabbi Yaacov Abuhatzeira and the Rambam. When that was finished, Shimon Cohen, one of the backbones of the bet knesset, handed out candles to all, for us to light in our own houses in merit of Rabbi Yaacov Abuhatzeira and the Rambam.

Rabbi Yaacov Abuhatzeira

While we listened to the mixture of ethnic Israeli music and Moroccan Arabic songs about the Baba Sali and hilulahs in general I felt saddened that sharing this experience will be sans audio so I switched my camera over to video mode and took a little 180 degree spin, capturing a fraction more of the event. And here it is, hosted by YouTube, for all to see and to be a part of:

Next year I look forward to attending this hilulah again, maybe in Nahariya where the Abir Yaacov’s illustrious descendants carry on the family heritage, but, until then, I have a candle to light this Motzai Shabbat.


In Haifa, Israel on January 10, 2012 at 10:31 PM

Today I had the obligation of being in Haifa, at the beckoning of the IDF. I left my house, travelled to Haifa via bus and train and attended my meeting. Afterwards, I decided to go on a little adventure… Here it is, a textual and pictorial account of my small journey down Mount Carmel. First, the bustling Haifa Port as seen from the Memorial Park next to the Iriya (City Hall) and the IDF Recruitment Centre:

The Port of Haifa

After snapping some shots of the park and the port down below I popped on over to the Iriya. There I was told to head West down the mountain if I wanted to see museums and such. I did so and on my way, walked by the old District Courthouse of Haifa established back in 1932:

The old District Courthouse of Haifa (1932)

From there I continued westward, slowing going down the the mountainside. After exploring a small “artists house” filled with modern-day small-time local artists’ work, most of them paintings, and then finding a historical house called the Gefen House, I found this unique act of nature:

A tree growing out of a wall at the Gefen House

Continuing on my way, I noticed a beautiful little garden with a bunch of small orange trees filled with bright oranges. I was wondering why there was a tiny little garden midst the large urban area and then, some twenty paces later, I saw the rest of the garden… the famous Baha’i Gardens. I figured I’d venture over and have a look so that’s exactly what I did. This marble fountain was quite peaceful and I knelt (oops) to take a picture of it:

Baha'i Gardens marble waterfall

As I went up to the next terrace I found a disappointingly tall metal fence with a locked gate. I waiting until one of the guards came up, with a tourist in tow, and unlocked the gate for her. I asked the guard if I too could explore the locked area and he said no, you are not a pilgrim. And no, I am not a pilgrim, so I left… but not without taking a picture of what the pilgrim what going to see:

Baha'i Gardens looking up from the lowest terrace

I then found the Tourist Information Centre and went inside, eager to learn more about the places available to a casual tourist like myself. There, a kind middle-aged woman helped me map out the next part of my journey and, after extensive talks, gifted me with an oldish map of the Coastal Region from Binyamina to Rosh HaNikra. The map was printed in 1990, the year I was born, and it reminds me of an old National Geographic in style and colour tone. After I had thanked the lady, having a definitive route penned out on another map, I headed down the long Allenby Street. After buying a water bottle, I passed by this interesting building, obviously quite a modern one:

Interesting building with Canadian and British flags waving outside

From that building onward there was not much to photograph, save the oddly placed red VW Karmen Ghia with the special licence plate and an “auto” sticker from Denver. Twenty to thirty minutes after I had left the Tourist Information Centre I reached my destination: Elijah’s Cave (the cave that Eliyahu HaNavi hid in and used during his “duel” with the worshippers of Ba’al). Unbeknownst to us at the time, we had been just minutes from the cave when we visited to wonderful National Maritime Museum sometime two years ago. Here is one of the welcome signs, this one situated on the road where a series of staircases takes one up to the cave:

Welcome to the Cave of Eliyahu Ha'Navi

When I had reached the complex of old stone buildings built in and around the cave I was greeted by a kind old man who blessed me. I then went into the cave where donors have turned the place into a special location for prayer:

A section of the cave

After exploring the cave I turned around to leave and this is what I saw, a wonderful view and even better in person:

Looking down from the cave to the Mediterranean Sea

And here is more of the complex, exactly what is in the buildings eludes me:

More of the Cave complex

Descending the mountain, the Clandestine Immigration and Navy Museum’s outdoor displays become more and more visible. Here is a small ship retired from the Israeli Navy (the ship is open for touring within the museum – admission free for olim in their first year):

An old Navy ship from the Clandestine Immigration and Navy Museum

I then headed for the water and walked along the Bat Galim Promenade enjoying the damp sea breeze and the hot Mediterranean sun. Of course, as have been evident in most of my recent blog posts, there was a feeling of need for some panoramic footage. Here are two panoramics, taken as I stood in one spot, looking from side to side of the visible Mediterranean Sea (click to enlarge):

Looking West

Looking East

On the rocks that form a mini-seawall stood fisherman with immense fishing rods. I had the pleasure of watching one of the fishermen catch a fish, the myriads of huge beach cats lounging around just waiting for a snack. Here is one of these fishermen, sadly he did not catch anything while I was there:

A man fishing with the huge cargo ships in the distance behind him

When I had left the Promenade I continued to hug the coastline, walking along the beautifully shaded streets, and came across the official land entrance to the Haifa Port. Here it is, in all of its humble importance as the main gateway to the Holy Land by sea, the Haifa Port entrance (where a guard carrying an automatic rifle whistled sharply at me to not take any further pictures):

Welcome to Haifa Port

When I had successfully snuck away, camera in hand, I tried to find the Bat Galim train station to get back home. I ended up going the wrong way, consulted a passing soldier as to the current route and was shown, with much enthusiasm, the right way to go. I made it to the train station where I sat and “bugged out”, waiting for the train. In my idleness, I decided to snap a picture of the train on the other side of the tracks, being boarded for a Southbound journey, and to claim this as my train that I took (creative licence being taken advantage of here):

Taking a train home

The ride was pleasant and before too long I was home. ‘Till next time!

Chanukah (Part 2)

In Galilee, Israel on January 2, 2012 at 1:01 PM

Continuing with Chanukah…

On Sunday night one of the local kollels was hosting an event at the Heichal HaOsher and I attended, along with my father (and we nabbed reserved seats). The celebration was being thrown to honour the several members of the kollel who recently took a huge test of Halacha (Jewish law) to become Rabbis. The test was administered by the Rav of Ma’alot, HaRav Yitzhak Vaknin shlita and I believe the son of the Rishon Lizion HaRav Ovadia Yosef shlita was involved as well. Local dignitaries were present and seated at the dias. The event was opened with the lighting of the chanukiah (menorah):

Getting ready to light the menorah on the dias

A short video was shown of the kollel and the various activities within including the work with the local youth and the local synagogues. After the video several speakers had their turn with the mic; the mayor, the rav of the Ma’alot Rabanut, a local synagogue rabbi who also serves as a judge on the Rabbinic Court in Haifa, and others.

HaRav Meir Sayag, head of the Maalot Rabanut

HaRav HaDayan Yagoda getting ready to speak

City official Arkady Pomeranets speaking

Of course, as with all events at the Heichal HaOsher, there was live music. This time a local singer by the last name of Peretz sang for us. I have seen and heard him before in an Andulusian concert also held in Ma’alot sometime in 2010.

A local singer

After the speeches the diplomas were given out. Many of those who bought the honour of delivering the diploma were family members of the particular avreich (young married man in kollel), as seen here, the Rosh Kollel, the avreich, his father and the Rav of the Ma’alot Rabanut:

A kollel member receiving his diploma from a sponsor

After the due honour was doled out and the hugs and handshakes were completed there was a bit of a fundraiser. Just a bit. I did not take many pictures of the fundraising and actually left early but here is a shot I took of the seated crowd, well, part of the crowd:

Partial view of the men's section

And that sums up Sunday.

Tuesday, the 7th day of Chanukah, we went to explore the vineyards of the Naftali area on the border of Lebanon. There we found a place called Adir Winery and Dairy. A clean-cut white building alongside several factory installments beckoned to us. Naturally, we went inside.

The winery side

There we found some wine. Lots of bottles of award-winning wine. A man behind the counter by the name of Yossi Rosenberg, who happens to be the managing director, explained to us what we needed and wanted to know. In the earlier years of Israel Yossi’s family from Europe and the Ashekenazi family from Turkey settled in Kerem Ben Zimra and raised their families there. In the 1980s and 1990s the families built up the Adir vineyards, a joint project. They also decided to raise goats and thereby led them to creating the Adir Dairy.

The dairy side

Here is Yossi Rosenberg talking to us about his and his family’s history with the vineyards and the various wines they produce:

Talking with Yossi Rosenberg

As with many visitor centres, this one had a short film about the production and founding of the winery and dairy. We went into the room that divides the winery and dairy sides and sat down, ready to watch the English version. This particular video, voiced over in English by Paul Gluck, is available on YouTube so that you can watch it as well in the comfort of your own home:

Getting ready to watch a short film about the wine and dairy productions

After the film we snuck over to the dairy side and sampled from the several goat cheeses on the counter.

Snacking on the goat cheeses

And here was my particular favourite, the Tzefatit cheese, the style originating from Tzfat (Safed) just a few miles away.

Tzefatit cheese

Even though I liked the Tzefatit cheese the most, we didn’t buy it. We got two hard cheeses and a feta. From the freezer of the dairy we selected two pints of goat milk ice cream, one chocolate and one cherry. The chocolate one was better but there was a goaty taste to the ice cream despite the chocolate additive. Before we left we bought a bottle of port, which we have yet to open.

While in the area we explored both the small village of Kerem Ben Zimra and the nearby historical areas. Here we drove by an old watchtower looking over the hill to Lebanon:

Old watch tower

Also found throughout the Galilee are graves, ancient tombs erected for important historical figures. Prophets from the Bible and Rabbis from the Roman times can be found buried side-by-side on the side of the road, in some village or perhaps in small caves, always distinguishable by bright blue “kabbalistic” paint. On this particular Tuesday we found 3 kevers (graves) in one small patch of land. Here is the grave of Rabbi Elazar ben Arach who lived in this area nearly 2,000 years ago:

The grave of R' Elazar ben Arach

And here, the grave of Rabbi Yossi HaKohen:

The grave of R' Yossi HaKohen

And the third of the trio, the grave of Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, who in his days was rather wealthy. Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria may sound familiar because he is, in fact, mentioned in the Pesach Hagada. He was sitting with Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon in Bnei Brak…:

The grave of R' Elazar ben Azaria

Of course, while in the area with my camera I could not help but take yet another panoramic picture. Here it is, the rolling hills of Northern Israel (click to enlarge):

Panoramic shot of the rolling hills

There it is, the eight days of Chanukah told in a tale of words and pictures. Next Chanukah is just 12 months away!

Chanukah (Part 1)

In Galilee, Golan, Israel on January 1, 2012 at 7:19 PM

Part of this past week and part of the week before it was the holiday of Chanukah, 8 days of joyous celebration over our salvation from the Greeks some 2,300 years ago. This year we did some stuff and took some trips. Here is a brief overview of what happened and where… And what we ate. Here are sufganiot (doughnuts) that my sister Esther made for us to eat the first night of Chanukah:


The first trip we took, on Thursday – the 2nd day of Chanukah, was to the Golan, in search for something known as dolmens,  an ancient stone structure built as either tombs or landmarks and found from Ireland to Israel to Korea. These dolmens are often huge and in large groups but the ones we saw were kind of isolated from the large group in Gamla National Park. Israel’s dolmens are made out of basalt and are covered in lichen.

Ancient dolmen

But before we found the dolmens we were driving out in the flat plains of the Golan looking for a large circular formation of low stone walls built thousands of years ago. Despite our relentless searches we were unable to locate the circles we wanted but we did find plenty of ancient low stone walls that told us we were in the right area.

Ancient walls that run through the open fields

But to say that we found only the ancient walls and dolmens would not be true, we also stumbled upon new structures, those belonging to the IDF. Here is a recently abandoned army base where dozens of empty, rusted ammunition cases were scattered about:

An army base recently abandoned

And here, on the side of the road, is a military bunker/trench of sorts with small rusted metal storage cabinets inside:

Army bunker and trench

Leaving the flat region of the Golan we found ourselves at the Bet Saida Vista overlooking the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and the Jordan River area north of it, including parts of Gamla. Here is a panoramic shot of the view (click to enlarge):

From the Kinneret to Gamla

That was Thursday.

Sunday, the 5th day of Chanukah, was another day full of adventure. We headed slightly south past Karmiel to the Johncolad chocolate factory. This particular chocolatier hails from New Zealand and now lives in the South African-founded Moshav Manof. His name is John Alford and this is a brief look at the chocolatey adventure we had.

Johncolad logo

When we first walked in John looked at us and told us that he recognises us. My father than explained to him that we had once come to buy chocolates and take the tour that is offered. In fact, my father even wrote a blog post that included our previous trip to Johncolad and here it is:

After we all figured out what’s what and where’s where we decided to buy some chocolates. I asked if we were getting a tour but he told us that we have already seen the tour so I decided not to pursue the issue. Here is John lining up the packs of chocolate:

John Alford selling us his chocolates

Even though we were not treated to a tour of the chocolate making I snuck back and snapped some shots of the resting machinery:

Chocolate making machine

Drums for nonpareils and powdered cocoa

As I peered inside the right drum I spotted a stray chocolate ball, all covered in nonpareils and looking down-right delicious:

A chocolate ball hidden on a bed of nonpareils

After we had purchased our chocolates and chatted enough with John we headed out the door. On the way, chest-high on the wall next to the door, I once again caught sight of one of my favourite features in the Johncolad establishment… A plaque from the Israeli Navy thanking John for his tour of the Johncolad factory:

Thank you plaque from the Israeli Navy

And, as a final touch of Manof, as we drove out, this was the view that greeted us. The stretch of land reaching the Haifa Bay, with the historic Mount Carmel as a long backdrop. Doesn’t get much better than this:

Panoramic shot of the land looking south toward Mt Carmel

And that was Sunday day. Sunday night and the rest of Chanukah will be presented in the next post.