Israel's Good Name

Archive for the ‘Tel Aviv’ Category

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!

Hummus & Diamonds

In Israel, Tel Aviv on September 4, 2012 at 12:35 PM

Here goes another tale of Tel Aviv, the home of hummus and diamonds, and the surrounding experiences as told with words and pictures. I was in Jerusalem already, on business, and grabbed a bagel from the Central Bus Station for breakfast as I headed towards Tel Aviv. I confirmed by phone the location of the IDC (Israel Diamond Centre) Diamond Museum, which I’ve been wanting to visit for a while now, and once in Tel Aviv grabbed another bus to Ramat Gan – just a few minutes away from the Savidor Mercaz train station. There, looming over me and scraping the sky, the tall buildings of the famed Diamond District greeted me, occasionally shading me from the late morning sun as I sought out the museum. As an interesting side point, the roundish building below, on the right side of the photo, is the tallest building in Israel.

Skyscrapers in the Diamond District

Beneath the immense buildings I found an array of jewelry shops and restaurants and asked some security guards for directions to the diamond museum, whatever the name was. It was easy to find and I stepped into the Harry Oppenheimer Diamond Museum operated/owner by either the IDC or the IDI, I keep seeing conflicting reports, unless they are both the same group. Regardless, I paid my entrance fee – which was reduced because I told them I am going to the army in less than two months – and had a personal guide instruct me on the correct uses of the little informational video stands.

Fake diamond on display

At first I examined the new special exhibition of silver Judaica, not really connected to diamonds but there are different special exhibitions and this was the current one. Moving along the rooms I started the diamond manufacturing self-activated tour and watched the first of three videos explaining the path a diamond takes from the creation to the gem we recognise. Along with the videos there were various tools, both historical and modern, which are used to work the rough diamond. At the end of the stages there is the finished product and so, as expected, there were showcases of loose diamonds and jewelry encrusted with diamonds:

Real tiny diamonds on display

One of the coolest diamond piece on display was the De Beers Hourglass, a 24-karat gold hourglass with over 2,000 tiny diamonds acting as sand flowing through the hourglass encased in some unidentifiable liquid. It was really cool, however not an accurate hourglass, but the photos I took didn’t come out too well (dark room and dark display behind glass). From there I went to the main video, activated it myself and sat by my lonesome in the viewing room, looking up at the three screens. The video took me through the final stage of the diamond transformation, the selling or brokering of the gem. In the course of the video I learned some rather interesting little tidbits about the diamond industry. One, half of the diamonds sold in the US pass through Tel Aviv at some point or another. Two, at nearly every diamond deal – regardless of the location – a handshake and the words “Mazal U’Bracha” compose the traditional mutual agreement. So, in the video (all performed by actors, I checked with the museum), when “the Chinese” are buying diamonds from the Israelis they all say “Mazal U’Bracha” as they seal the deal. Here is a snapshot just seconds before that glorious moment:

Closing the deal with the Chinese

When I finished the video, having learnt some trivia about the local diamond industry – including the fact that Tel Aviv is one of the biggest diamond centres in the world, following only Antwerp and New York (I believe) – I examined the rest of the museum, the collections of other gems and semi-precious stones all left in their rough state, and headed outside. From there I walked into the IDC showroom and examined the finished products up for sale. As an interesting note, none of the Tel Aviv diamonds are blood diamonds. I did “sneak into” a special showroom section and consequently was forced to leave that special room and continue my browsing on the general floor. When I had seen enough of the millions of dollars of diamonds I left and searched for some more diamond locations. After nagging some guards I was reassured that there was no more to be seen save the scatterings of diamond retail and jewelry stores – but those I’ve already seen. As I was leaving I saw several chasidim heading into one of the buildings – no doubt diamond cutters as the chasidim have that in their blood, and become fabulously wealthy from the diamond industry. So with that final flourish, seeing the workers and the trade, I hopped back on a bus and and headed for one of Israel’s best and/or most famous hummus joints, an ideal lunch for a traveler in Tel Aviv.

The hummus joint in my sights was Hummus Ashkara, recommended to me by several people and also featured on many of the “Best Hummus in Israel” lists that can be found online. Most, if not all, of the other famous/best hummus joints are owned by Arabs and do not have kosher certification, thus I cannot eat there. This one, to my joy, was 100% kosher and open for business. I headed for the Tel Aviv Port area and found the hummus I was looking for. Behind the counter, dishing the hummus, was a nice [Jewish] religious young man.

Hummus Ashkara

This particular hummus joint, unlike the famous Arab ones in Akko, Abu Gosh  and Jaffa, is open 24 hours a day. I heard somewhere that traditional Arab hummus joints are only open in the morning and close at about noon, this one apparently doesn’t follow the traditional Arab way. I sat down and the perky Middle Eastern waiter asked me what I’d like to eat. I told him I wanted the dish that makes this place famous so he asked me if I was hungry. I said sure and he pointed to the “Ashkara dish” on the menu with many words of recommendation spewing from his lips. I agreed and he came back in record time with a bowl of hummus and two fresh pitas in a wooden bowl. Here it is, the famous hummus from the famous hummus joint:

My bowl of hummus

Now it may look unfamiliar to some so let me break it down. The beige paste around the edges is the hummus, the brown soup-like ingredient is beans and those spheroids are chickpeas. Also on top is a dash of spice, olive oil and perhaps lemon juice. Partially hidden is a whole hardboiled egg split into quarters. As I apprehensively scooped some hummus+ up with my torn pita piece, I began my journey – my first time doing the pita and hummus meal at a restaurant. It was exciting at first but then I noticed that there was only about 40% hummus in the bowl, the rest of it bean puree and eggs. I think that next time I’ll go with the hummus and tehina plain, they can keep the bean puree and eggs and give them to another customer. When I was done, having needed to “order” a third pita, I had mixed feelings. I think it could have been better but by all means, if you (dear reader) have never had hummus in a famous hummus joint then do so.

After my hummus and pita lunch I decided to walk down Dizengoff Street and see some of Tel Aviv at a slow pace. I entered into some interesting shops, one selling really expensive pens (one costed ₪22,500 which is about $5,600) and other one that sold interesting tobaccos and cigars, from which I bought neither. Along with the interesting stores there are also scores of wedding dress shops and Dizengoff has become the place to go for brides looking for a dress.

Dizengoff

After walking at least halfway down the entire Dizengoff I came upon the famous Dizengoff Square and the landmark fountain up above, “Fire and Water” by Yaacov Agam built in 1986, having taken the artist ten years to build it. At night the fountain looks cooler and is supposed to shoot fire and water upwards but it has fallen into disrepair some and I do not know if the fire still erupts.

”Fire and Water” at Dizengoff Square

Beyond Dizengoff Square, going even further south, I came upon Dizengoff Centre. Basically it is just an extensive mall complex so I kept going, heading for Rothschild Boulevard. There, on one of the streets, I stopped and got myself a cool, refreshing drink at a fruit juice joint. I got a freshly squeezed lemon and mint drink blendered with ice to create a delicious beverage perfect for sipping on in the muggy Tel Aviv heat.

Lemon and mint drink

With cold, dripping beverage in hand I walked the length of Rothschild and then turned onto the charming Allenby Street where I nabbed a bus to the train station. On the way we passed by Rabin Square, where Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated the day after my 5th Gregorian birthday. From the bus to the train, then a layover in Akko and then another bus and I was home. I am eager to go back and continue my explorations of Israel’s second biggest city, Tel Aviv.

Exploring Tel Aviv-Yafo

In Israel, Tel Aviv on August 2, 2012 at 11:34 AM

Wednesday (Day #3) was dedicated to Tel Aviv and Yafo (Jaffa) so it was intended to be a somewhat relaxing day, free of transportation woes. What transpired was a long day of exploration and enjoyment, however there were transportation woes as well. I had in mind to join the free walking tour of Yafo at 10:00 AM but the bus that was supposed to take me there decided not to show… so my plans were changed. When I did make it to Yafo, my first notable stop was this marvelous antiques store, with so many things I wanted to buy (including a typewriter and a banker’s lamp):

Antiques for sale!

Beyond the store, heading for the Old City of Jaffa and the Mediterranean Sea, I came upon the Jaffa “flea market”. I don’t like that name – it was more like a “awesome old things market”. I did make a small purchase there, and received a cup of cold water as well.

The Jaffa ”flea market”

From the market I reached the famous clock tower, what used to be the centre of town, and took a few photos of it. It is interesting to note that there are a few of these clock towers all built by the Turks and scattered around Israel, one of them in Akko (which oddly never works no matter how often they try to fix it…).

Jaffa clock tower

Beyond the clock tower, on a little hill, is the Old City of Yafo. A picturesque little town, similar to Tzfat (Safed), offers extreme heat and humidty… and old buildings too, as indicated by this nice man:

Welcome to the Old City of Yafo

Having been in Be’er Sheva the previous day, the humidity levels were shockingly different. I was feeling assaulted by the harsh elements, as was, no doubt, everyone around me, so I took shelter in the visitor’s centre. This cannon, “parked” outside, is from the Ottoman Empire times, somewhere between 1515 and 1917:

Historical cannon

Here is a photograph of the peaceful side alleys of Yafo’s Old City, nearly identical to those of Tzfat:

Tzfat-like alleys in Yafo

After exploring the shaded alleys, I headed out to the port area and was greeted with more heat and humidity – but also great gusts of cool air coming in off the water. Here, taken beyond the port, rounding the corner of the “cape”, is Tel Aviv and the green-blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea:

The green sea and the buildings of Tel Aviv

Climbing back up towards the Old City, I found a place to do a short panoramic shot, which came out just a tad askew:

Short panoramic of the view from Yafo

Back on the road I came across something rather peculiar. It is a large abandoned building with arched ceilings and a large population of giant fruit bats. To add more peculiarity, these humanoid statues made from palm pieces… and weird sets of wings swinging from the ceiling. I was really curious, and wanted to go inside, but the gate was locked and the bats flapped and screeched out of my reach:

Mysterious…

As soon as I had seen just about everything there is to see in Yafo, I headed north and found the Etzel Museum. Dealing for the most part with the Jewish resistance and defence operations in the area in the late 1940s, the location of the museum directly ties into the stories and exhibits inside. The museum, built on ruins from a neighbourhood that was the site of the historical battle for control of Jaffa:

The Etzel Museum

Once inside, cool and refreshed, I indulged myself with historical data – the battles, the operations, the hierarchy and the strife with the other Jewish groups. Those times must have been quite trying!

An Etzel trainee

After the Etzel Museum, I found HaTachana, the really old train station that has been converted into a complex of restaurants, gift shops and exhibits – a popular place for tourists and locals alike. I prefer the historical aspects but they have been mostly redone and have lost some of their antique appeal. Built in 1892, the train station was the beginning of modern transportation in Israel.

HaTachana

After HaTachana I entered the chic Neve Tzedek neighbourhood and strolled around. I sat down on a bench and studied some maps, the sound of music emanating from a dance studio across the park. After a little while, duly exploring the area, I chanced upon this cute stencil graffitti. It reads, in English: “This is not you, it is me” spoken by the Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, with a sly grin on his face:

Street art

My next stop was the Shalom Tower where, according to one of the information pamphlets I picked up, I could watch the sun set from an observatory. The guard informed me that the observatory has been closed for some time now and that I would not be able to watch the sunset from way up high. So, in a seemingly mindless manner, I found a redeeming feature in the tower – a photographic collection of the area in the 1920s and 30s (my favourite era). Here is a old photograph of the photographer, whose name slipped my mind, sitting on the beach with Yafo in the background.

The olden days…

After seeing the collection, a gem hidden in an obsure building, I headed for the water to see the sun go down. I found a pleasant area with rocks breaking the surf, and settled in for the show. Here, in the middle stages of sunset, a wind surfer takes to the waves, giving me a pretty nice picture:

Wind surfing at sunset

With the sun gone and the full moon making its presence, I took my travels to the Allenby and Rothschild streets – getting one of the last buses back to my hosts’ quarters in Ramat Aviv. All in all, a long and eventful day of exploration, research and travel – a success story.