Israel's Good Name

Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

Shavei Tzion

In Galilee, Israel on April 29, 2012 at 3:27 PM

Today’s adventures landed us in the small, old moshav of Shavei Tzion, just minutes from Nahariya. We were headed for Regba, a shopping centre where we usually find clothes, and decided to visit the Mediterranean Sea briefly. We drove through Shavei Tzion and got out of the car to walk along the beach, pretty sure this was all we were going to do there. But we were wrong, we ended up finding all sorts of interesting things! But first, the beach:

Interesting beach

Tiny shellfish

To find the reported mosaic excavation which we had read about some months back, we had to leave the beach and ask around. After questioning a bunch of people, and getting wildly conflicting answers, we finally were pointed in the right direction. It was to be found along the beach, 100 metres or so from the waterline and just a little further north than where we parked originally. Returning to the beach, we walked along a very nice path, the sandy area blossoming with wildflowers:

Wildflowers at the beach

At last we found the mosaic, a reconstruction of what once was a Byzantine church built some 1,500 years ago. The mosaics were uncovered and reconstructed in 1955 and to this day remain open and unguarded.

Restored mosaic part

Close-up of the restored mosaic

And there were other levels of the old church, apparently built in two stages, which were in a greater state of disrepair. Here is a photo, the weeds fighting for space among the tiny colourful stones:

Mosaic ruins

After we picked through the wildflowers and examined the stone mosaics, we got back into the car and headed out of the moshav. On the way we stopped so that I could take a picture of Shavei Tzion’s first building – a guard tower, which is now used for storing local archives:

The archives building

As I examined the building from the outside I saw an elderly man reading a piece of mail. I approached him and asked if the building was now a museum of sorts. He answered that the building now held the archives of the moshav and if I wanted, he could open it up and show me around. I had no idea what to expect but usually good things come to those inquisitive and patient so I waved the car over and introduced the old man, Uri Gefen, to my family. He opened one of the doors and showed us the old photographs and the old maps of the moshav. He explained to us that Shavei Tzion was founded by a group of Jews who fled from Rexingen, Germany during the turmoils of Europe in those days. The brave group established the collective moshav in 1938, just minutes away from another German settlement, that which is Nahariya. Uri Gefen went on to tell us how he came to Israel back in 1943. He was a child in Poland and when the Russians conquered his area, he and other children fled south to Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. They then made it to Tehran, Iran and were therefore known as the “Tehran Children.” Leaving Iran they travelled the Indian Ocean until the made their way up the Red Sea and to the Suez Canal. From there they took a train through Sinai and made it to the Holy Land, safe and sound. In today’s world, such a long and winding journey would be ridiculous – after all, Israel just a flight or two away from everywhere!

Uri Gefen, the local archiver

Uri Gefen told us something fascinating that I must share. As I mentioned earlier, the Jewish settlers of Shavei Tzion were from the German city of Rexingen, they lived there for hundreds of years, among the local Christian population. During one of the Crusades, many of Rexingen’s Christians headed south to the Holy Land to free it from the hands of the Muslims, as everybody knows. Not every Crusader came back, many fell in battle and many left marks wherever they went. Fast-forward to the 20th Century when the Jewish inhabitants of Rexingen headed south to the Holy Land, to settle it, they found themselves in the Galil, an area much influenced by the Crusaders so many years ago. During excavations, the Jews previously of Rexingen found Crusader ruins and remains, and those Crusaders were from none other than Rexingen as well! “The finger of G-d,” said Uri Gefen. I’m inclined to agree.

After much talk we bid the helpful archiver farewell, thanking him over and over for his interesting insights into the history of Shavei Tzion. But before we left, we stopped at the old Bet Knesset (Synagogue) – a building duplicated from the settlers’ counterpart back in Germany. Sadly the door was locked… but redemption came in the words of an Arab cleaning woman. She told us where to find the keys and then reminded us that we needed to return them when we were done. We assured her we would and opened the synagogue. Here is what we saw, definitely of Germanic design:

Bet Knesset (Synagogue)

It was an amazing little trip, from the raw beauty of the beach to the poignant stories from the archiver, but the clock was ticking and we had shopping to do. We got into our car and drove away… but as new people, with new thoughts and perspectives on the incredible miracles that have happened throughout the generations.

Namer Caves

In Galilee, Israel on April 24, 2012 at 2:22 PM

This morning my father and I took a trip to the Namer Caves, just a short distance from Keshet Cave (covered twice now in this blog). The Namer Caves and the Namer Stream are named “namer” (Hebrew for “tiger”) due to the numerous stories of tigers roaming the area back in the early 1900s. We parked at the lower parking area for the nearby Keshet Cave and slipped into the wooded hillside on the opposite side of the Namer Caves. The trail down was marked in green and it headed for the dry Namer Stream (also known as Wadi Namer). The walk down was pretty but we were walking in the wrong direction, the trail markings not guiding us the right way.

One of the caves, but not the one we were headed to

At some point walking downhill we noticed a strange white man-made structure off in the distance on the riverbed. I suggested it was a tent but when we finally hit rock-bottom and we walked along the river, still headed the wrong way but following the trail markers, we saw what it was. Scattered over the riverbed were crushed cars, a bunch of them, some in worse shape than others but all were old and abandoned. We didn’t, and still don’t, know why they are there or from whence they came, but here is one of them:

One of the crushed cars

Whilst walking we realised that we were heading further and further from where we wanted to be, so we took a left swing and started up the mountain. For some reason there was a trail marking indicating that we had stumbled into a valid trail but we soon lost the “official” trail and began to do our own trailblazing. The hike uphill wasn’t too bad – except when I grabbed a slim tree trunk and felt unseen thorns entering and exiting my skin. I gave a gasp and examined my hand, sure to find beads of crimson blood, but there was none. Eventually, we reached the ridge of the mountain alongside the one with the caves, opposite of where the car was parked.

Looking East from the mountain ridge

It was beautiful, breezy and fun walking along the ridge, making our way to the caves. My father repeated “Trails are overrated” several times and we just happened to see another, faded, trail marker. I’m not sure if they changed the trail’s route but where we were looked very unmarked. There were rustlings in the bushes and birds of prey, eagles and kestrels, wheeling both above us and below, predatory eyes hunting the riverbed.

Making our way through the rocks

At last we reached a place where we could see the caves, their wide mouths gaping open. We tried to map out a way to the caves, with little luck.

Trying to descend to the caves

We ended up turning back a bit and dropping down on the rocks, working carefully from rock to rock. Thankfully, the rock was of a volcanic nature and thus provided sharp edges but incredibly grippy surfaces. Finally, we reached one of the caves:

The cave with the bats

This cave contained fruit bats, lots of them, but historically it was rumoured to be used by Byzantine monks as a place of seclusion – we only saw bats. When we entered the cave the bats began to fly around and make loud noises (for echolocation and communication purposes, no doubt). Here is a short 14-second video of them flying about and “squeaking” (with some human audio thrown in as well):


Suddenly one of the baby bats plummeted downward and landed near us, his small furry body shivering and squeaking rapidly. We felt pity and assumed he was going to die where he fell… but he didn’t, and he won’t.

Fallen baby fruit bat

I seized the moment and got a plastic bag out of the backpack. I lifted him up, his wings and feet gathering in the bag (and my fingers) and attempted to release him on a rock overhang. It took some work and some encouragement but before long his little feet and wing claws were fastened to the rock and immediately, his future looked brighter. Here are some pictures of the rescue operation:

Putting the baby fruit bat back on a bat-surface

Baby fruit bat awaiting its mother

There was a flurry of wings and his mother, I presume, flew right past him. She was homing in on the baby’s squeaks and made repeated passes until she pinpointed his location. In a valiant swoop she found the baby and grabbed the wall below it. She hustled the baby onto her stomach and, once the baby was secure, took flight and returned to her roost at the cave ceiling. I saved a bat – does that make me Batman?

After more cave exploration and not finding anything else interesting, definitely not the stalagmites and stalactites that were supposed to be in the Namer Caves, we headed back down the mountain/cliff. We reached the river and began our tedious, rocking-hugging ascent to the road. Once we did that, and I finished the last of my water, we began the walk back to the car, having made a huge circle – going up and down mountains most of the time. We reached the car and helped a couple from Beit Shemesh figure their Keshet Cave trip out. But, before this blog post ends, here are two panoramics of the lovely scenery: The first is from the road looking at the bold cliff face that we walked over heading to the caves on the left side of the far mountain. The second was taking from the ridge right above/beside the bat cave, looking at the road and the lovely Western Galilee (click to enlarge).

Panoramic of the cliff face

Panoramic from the cave cliff

Next time I do hope I find the cave with the stalagmites and stalactites!

Pesach (Part 2)

In Galilee, Israel on April 16, 2012 at 9:30 AM

Continuing with the festivities of Passover (Pesach), here is a brief account of Wednesday – our last trip day:

The morning started pleasantly enough but then the clouds rolled in from the West and the rain began to pitter-patter. Our hopes of making it to the last day of the Ma’alot Stone in the Galilee Symposium were seemingly dashed. The much-anticipated Ehud Banai concert was also hanging in limbo… But then the rain stopped and the sun came back out. The concert was already rescheduled to be held at the Heichal Tarbut of Ma’alot – that same beautiful performance hall that hosted the Lahakat Droz and Dudu Tassa concerts that I wrote about some time back (here). We drove down to the lake and found that the festivities were somewhat closed down and although the sculptures were finished and standing erect for inspection and approval, the long line of boothes that wrapped partway around the lake were mostly closed and abandoned. So we examined the sculptures.

''Cyclic Growth'' by Annabella Claudia Hofman (Italy)

I cannot make up my mind as to which sculpture appealed to me the most – every year I seem to have the same problem. Some of them are downright dastardly, but there are always a few that I like, at least marginally. Here is another sculpture worth mentioning – this one was the topic of social commentary, the Chinese oppression of the Chinese people:

''Captured Stone'' by Liu Yang (China)

There were other nice sculptures which weren’t adequately captured by my camera including a pomegranate/grenade (the same word in Hebrew) and one resembling waterfalls. But there were other areas of the festival beckoning, including the peaceful garden area where picnickers flock:

The peaceful part of Lake Monfort

Of course the paddle-boats and kayaks were in operation, endlessly circling and criss-crossing the placid little lake. But it was in this peaceful section, away from the hum of commercialized vacationing, that we loitered in.

In the gardens area of Lake Monfort

Upon return to the house we ate and got ready for the free concert of Ehud Banai which was to start at 8:00 PM, he-who-comes-first-gets-in-until-capacity-style. We drove down at about 8:15, not thinking that it would be too full – there is the general lackadaisical approach to scheduled times and the fact of the venue-change that might not have been known to all – but we were wrong, very wrong. My sister and I stood outside in the chilly night air, waiting for the front doors to open. But they weren’t, and the clock was ticking. Eventually, after so many people lost heart and returned to their houses, the side door was opened and all who remained outside made their way indoors. It was some time later, after standing fruitlessly at the inside door, hearing the faint music inside, that the purge began. Security guards and officials began to tell everyone to leave, that the concert had already begun and that there was no chance they were getting in. I was standing at the door, wearing the exact clothes as the picture above this paragraph so one of the guards asked if I was guarding/working in the building. I nodded “no,” and then nodded “yes” very excitedly but he already saw me confirming my capacity as a guest/wannabe concert goer. During the purge we simply sat down on one of the many couches strewn about the room and waited it out. By then there were only some thirty-odd people still clinging on to the hope that they would be admitted. Eventually a benovelent guard opened one of the doorways and allowed people to stand in the doorway, barely seeing but indeed hearing the concert within. Here we were, looking like a lame group that couldn’t manage to get in:

Hearing the concert from the outer room

But eventually, some two and a half hours after we arrived at the building, one of the guards hand-selected us for admittance. The system they had was for every person that left, a person would be allowed in. There are only 495 seats in the auditorium and they claimed that nearly 800 people were crammed inside. The guard cleared a tiny path for us and we were semi-literally flung into the dark room. We were glad and made our way to a decent level where we were able to see the concert.

Ehud Banai Concert 1

But after some time, and some of the crowd thought the concert was over, we made our way closer to the stage. Ehud Banai came back out and began the longest encore I’ve ever heard.

Ehud Banai Concert 2

Now, just to give a brief explanation as to who this singer is, Ehud Banai is an Israeli legend. In 2005 Ynet had a poll asking Israelis who they thought were the greatest Israelis ever. Ehud Banai merited to be #28 on the list, beating out old Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Israel’s most decorated soldier (now turned Leftist saboteur) Ehud Barak. Beginning his musical career in the London Underground after his military service, Ehud Banai rose to become a music icon in Israeli society. Had I known his music beforehand I would have had a greater appreciation for his concert but I knew that despite my ignorance, there were millions who would have come in my place, so I’d better enjoy myself. Towards the very end of his show we made our way to the stage itself, and I reached out to touch it, just to say that I touched the stage at an Ehud Banai concert. Here he is, the man of the hour, Ehud Banai, up close and personal:

Ehud Banai

And that concert concluded the festivities of Chol HaMoed, Thursday was a day of cooking and preparation for the end day of Pesach, and the subsequent Shabbat.

Pesach (Part 1)

In Galilee, Haifa, Israel on April 15, 2012 at 11:00 AM

This is the first of two blog posts about the week of Passover (Pesach) that just passed us. Pesach started on Shabbat but the blog-related fun began during Chol HaMoed, starting with Sunday. Late Sunday morning we headed out to Keshet Cave, found along the Israel-Lebanon border and just a few minutes away from the Mediterranean Sea. I’ve already been to Keshet Cave, and even wrote a small post about it, but this time we went as a whole family. To reiterate, the Keshet Cave is actually a large natural arch over a shallow cave and dropping down cliff-like to the forested land below.

Keshet Cave's natural arch with the rappel rope dangling

Both times we saw Extreme Israel groups doing some sort of rappelling action. They have the easy drop to the cave floor and the scary swing under the arch rappelling which we did not get to see – had we gotten there some thirty minutes earlier we would have seen screaming people as they swung under the arch. Other than the great view and hiking trails down below, there is not much to do up on the arch, unless you are doing extreme sports – but there were tons of people. Here is a panoramic from the cliff edge – looking down on the lovely green forests:

Panoramic from the cliff edge

On Tuesday we took a longer and more extensive trip, to Haifa, with the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art as our first and foremost destination. Part of Bank HaPoalim’s subsidized Pesach trip plan, the Tikotin museum was just one of the many museums and attractions free for all to come and see. So, along with thousands of other Israelis, we took to the road and sought out free attractions. I didn’t think that the Tikotin museum would be very populated, mostly due to the fact that it is a specialized museum and isn’t a hotspot for children.

Inside the Tikotin Museum

But I was wrong, the museum was pretty full and there were even free tours being assembled (in Hebrew) for further explanation and description of the museum’s collection and history. In my opinion, the samurai sword collection was by far the most interesting exhibit in the museum, the paper fans, prints, paintings, ceramics and artwork were less interesting but displayed elegantly. The museum itself was partly designed by a Japanese architect with shoji screens as walls and doors leading to the outdoor garden courtyard. Interestingly enough, the Tikotin museum is the only Japanese museum in the entire Middle East, with a collection numbering over 7,000 pieces. There is also an extensive Japanese library but that wasn’t open during the time we were in Haifa. After our museum visit, we walked over to the Louis Promenade (just minutes from the museum) and basked in the glorious view. But our experience was hindered by a suspicious package that made the police shut the area down. We had to wait for the bomb-disposal team to come out and secure the suspicious package. It wasn’t long before the expert verified that the package was simply an abandoned backpack and the area was reopened to the public. Here are two pictures of the ordeal – just look at that view!

Police removing suspicious package

Bomb disposal one-man team

After we finished at the Louis Promenade we continued on over to the Haifa Zoo, another place I have already been to (and wrote about) but for the family it was new and special.

A coati in the Haifa Zoo

The zoo was far too populated to properly view the animals in their habitats but we tried and covered about 40% of the zoo, passing through the throngs of joyous people, some clutching children, some clutching lunches and some clutching the cages, trying to coax the animals into action. When I took my solo trip to the zoo back in January the zoo was nearly desolate but I had missed one area and that was the waterbirds:

Haifa Zoo waterbirds

As we tried to make our way to the exit, escaping the milling, exhausted crowd, we happened upon the Bank HaPoalim mascot. We saw another one at the Tikotin Museum but this individual was more willing when it came to photography.

Posing with Nissim and the Bank HaPoalim mascot

After the harrowing escape from the zoo we headed back to the car and enjoyed some lunch: rice cakes with cheese, honeydew, potato chips, Coca-cola and popcorn. That is a concise summary of our first two outing days. The next post will address Wednesday and the experiences had on that day.