Thursday, December 18, 2014

Arabic Language Day


Today is UN Arabic Language Day.
December 18 was chosen as the date for the Arabic language as it is the day in 1973 when the General Assembly approved Arabic as an official UN language.

This long stone exhibited at the Israel Museum carries a dedication inscription from the year 1212 in the beautiful Naskhi script.

By the 11th century CE the Naskhi script appeared and gradually replaced the Kufic script as the most popular script for copying the Qu'ran as well as secular and personal writings.
 It is from the Naskhi script that modern Arabic script style developed. 

The reused Herodian limestone block was found near the Zion Gate in Jerusalem.

Click on the sign to read the strange story of the building up and the tearing down of the city walls -- by the same man!
On a more personal note, you're welcome to see pictures of my 5-day immersion course in spoken Arabic in a Bedouin village in the Negev.
Hebrew and Arabic are the two official languages of Israel.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Happy birthday, Papa Francesco!


(No, it's not Chanuka gelt, even though it is now Chanuka.)

This nice medallion was made by the Franciscans to honor Pope Francis's visit to the Holy Land.
It shows  Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Pope meeting at the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Here is a little video of a big moment, the two leaders kneeling at the tomb itself (at minute 2.31).
It is nice to watch again those heady days in May.
Here "the brothers of Galilee, Peter and Andrew" meet at Viri Galilaei on the Mt. of Olives.

Today, December 17, is Pope Francis's birthday!  He is 78.

Monday, December 15, 2014

End of innocence

Sydney through the ferry window

As Ambassador Dan Shapiro so well said, "We share the pain of Australians for those they tragically lost today, and send condolences to the families. May they know no more sorrow."

My family in Sydney thought they live far away from such Mideast-type madness. 
This morning I'm afraid they are waking up to a new reality. 

I wish for a return of safety, confidence, and good life for the fair city of Sydney. 
The Sydney Morning Herald has been live-blogging the events. 
(Linking to Our World Tuesday.)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

In candles' glow


To the (Western) Christian friends--a blessed 3rd Sunday of Advent.
Gaudete,  rejoice!

Not easy to find an Advent wreath down here in the Negev desert.
Instead I give you pilgrims' candles from up on Calvary,  in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
They illumine a beautiful capital atop an ancient column.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Dead bird falls from heaven


Dead animals are often the only animals I find to contribute to Sunday's Camera Critters meme.

This pretty bird  was freshly-dead  when I walked through the eucalyptus grove in the wadi.
Over the last few days the media has been buzzing about what some people thought was a hint from Pope Francis that animals die and maybe go to heaven.
It turns out that one paper ran an article about Francis but with a headline that actually quoted Pope Paul VI who once in the 1960s or 70s told a boy grieving for his pet, "Heaven is open to all creatures."
But at a recent audience Francis only said, while speaking of the afterlife, "Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us."

You can read the explanation in this CNN article or in the wide-reaching article in the New York Times, which today made the corrections.
My own Jewish religion hardly knows what to say about what happens to people after death.
But sometimes the rabbis refer to "the next world" or "the world-to-come" as Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden, and that certainly can conjure up images of animals roaming around, no?
Do you ever ponder this question?
UPDATE Dec. 15:  Catholic News Service today tries to clarify this and gives more ideas about animal heaven.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Fun in the cactus garden


Happy from y'all's enthusiastic response to my cactus posts earlier this week, I revisited the cactus garden on the side of Meitar's central hill.
I gingerly walked around each plant looking for unusual, photo-worthy phenomena.

Like this all-natural bowl of fruit!

They had fallen from the top and the pad caught them.

A single drop of liquid!

Here is the back of that same big plant.

I never realized cacti and succulents could be so much fun.
An interesting fact from Wikipedia's article on  Opuntia cactus:

In the fall of 1961, Cuba had its troops plant an 8-mile (13 km) barrier of Opuntia cactus along the northeastern section of the 28-kilometre (17 mi) fence surrounding the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base to stop Cubans from escaping Cuba to take refuge in the United States. This was dubbed the "Cactus Curtain", an allusion to Europe's Iron Curtain and the Bamboo Curtain in East Asia.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Greeks and Jews in mock battle


Meitar is used to hearing the deafening sound of Air Force jets overhead many times a day.
But these two fighter jets were so high I didn't even hear them.
I think they were part of the joint IDF-Hellenic Air Force drill week that took place down here in the Negev (Israel's southern desert).

This article says the Greek and Israeli squadrons "practiced different complex air-to-air scenarios, with a combination of aerial refueling, protecting strategic assets and dealing with unexpected threats in the sky in order to learn from one another."

Bonus: a sharp close-up of one of our F-16s taking off during the joint exercise.

International Mountain Day

Today is International Mountain Day .
This year's theme is Mountain Farming about which the FAO says, "Here we have an opportunity to raise awareness about how mountain agriculture, which is predominantly family farming, has been a model for sustainable development for centuries."

I like to remember my years in Switzerland, where mountains are mountains and farms are farms!
The slopes of the Jura Mountains, near the French border,  are covered with vineyards.
Lots of wine-making there.

In the Alps most of the mountain farming that I saw was for hay-making.
In the brief summers, green meadows are heaven for  cows, sheep and goats, and even deer.
And of course for hikers too! 
(Linking to SkyWatch Friday.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

More funny cactus


Continuing yesterday's post, here are some more strange cactus plants on Meitar's little mountain.

After the first rains they seem to be bursting forth in growth.
Hopefully José of Lisbon and the Sunny Coast blog will drop by and teach me the proper terms for what we are seeing, since he grows cacti and knows all about them.

You can click two separate times and enlarge the photos.

The same plant seen from above.
Yellow cups as if for catching the rainwater after seven months of dry season with no rain!
(For ABC Wednesday, V is for varied varieties of vertical cactuses.)
UPDATE: Jose, of Lisbon and the Sunny Coast blog, has indeed given us lots of information on the plants!  Do see his comment on this post and on yesterday's post!    Thanks, Jose!

Monday, December 8, 2014

The good life of a cactus in Meitar

 In the center of Meitar is a little "mountain" where hardly anybody ever goes.
Yesterday I ventured up to check out the curious new growth on the cactus plants. 
You can enlarge the photos quite a lot with two separate clicks.

 They are all so different one from the other.

And so weird!

Tune in tomorrow for more cacti.
UPDATE: Cactus expert Jose of Lisbon and the Sunny Coast blog, has given us lots of information on the plants!  Do see his comments on this post and on the new post!    Thanks, Jose!
(Linking to Our World Tuesday.)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Recess on a sunny warm day


Recess time at Meitarim Middle School today.
Click the photo a few times to see the different activities going on.

I just happened to be on top of the "mountain" in the middle of Meitar, checking out the diverse cactus plants.
Come back tomorrow to see their growth spurts.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Late instar caterpillar on the road to metamorphosis


Why did the caterpillar cross the road (or here, the sidewalk)?
 Probably to look for a twig in the wadi on which to spin its chrysalis.
 It will emerge as a Swallowtail butterfly,  a Papilio machaon syriacus.

The photo, taken in November, can be enlarged 2x. -- Recommended!

Butterflies in Israel -- the facts behind the stamps
Linking to Camera Critters.
More butterfly posts:

Friday, December 5, 2014

Internatl. Volunteer Day, Heifer Ranch

Today being International Volunteer Day I am thinking back to my eleven straight years (1995-2006) of serving as a full-time residential volunteer in Arkansas, Switzerland, and Australia.

My Heifer Ranch years, 1996-2002,  were great, shared with the wonderful volunteers in these two photos, as well as new ones who came every year.
The pictures, not my own, are from the late 1990s.
(Here above, I'm at the bottom right, kneeling.)

We all lived in several volunteer houses on the Ranch's 1,200 acres in Arkansas, USA.
We worked, ate, and played together.
I worked hard caring for the livestock and sometimes in the organic gardens.

Wikipedia explains Heifer International:
Heifer International  is a nonprofit working to eradicate poverty and hunger through sustainable, values-based holistic community development. Heifer distributes animals, along with agricultural and values-based training, to families in need around the world as a means of providing self-sufficiency. Recipients must agree to “pass on the gift” by sharing animal offspring, as well as the skills and knowledge of animal husbandry and agricultural training with other impoverished families.
Based in Little Rock, Arkansas, Heifer International started with a shipment of 17 heifers to Puerto Rico in 1944. Since 1944, Heifer International has distributed livestock such as goats, bees, and water buffalo, along with training and other resources, to 20.7 million families, or more than 105.1 million people in more than 125 countries.  . . .
My earlier posts about the Ranch are here
See what visitors do at Heifer Ranch educational farm: many programs available.

Learn about the good Heifer International does in the world at the website, and while  there click on the Gift Catalog where you can do your holiday shopping!
One share of a goat costs only $10, for instance.  See the other ways you can honor family and friends by  "buying"  animals and stuff in their name.

Instead of money I donated six years of full-time labor.
You might want to apply for a volunteer position of a few months at Heifer Ranch.  Who knows . . .
(Linking to Camera Critters.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Sitting in the light of Merav


A sitting corner at the Sde Boker campus of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

A local stone is embedded right in the table.
The metal sign says "In memory of Merav Ziv, our student in the Desert Ecology Department."

She died in 1999 in the field, on a research trip, after falling from her bike. 

Her family funds a Merav Ziv Graduate Student Award for Excellence in Ecology and there is an annual symposium on her name.
(Linking to signs, signs.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sand fly threat


So, let's get back to discussing the intentional communities in Ramat Negev Regional Council that my group visited a few weeks ago. 

Everything looks nice and we heard about the advantages and good feeling of living together by choice in a communal settlement (yishuv kehilati).
 But we also noticed the lecturers kept rubbing their arms as they spoke.

And then our guide pointed out these fly traps hung all around (around the kindergarten, in this photo)  and the source of the itching became clear.
Traps not just for regular pesky flies but rather for dangerous little sand flies.

Sand flies of the genus Leishmania bite and cause leishmaniasis, known colloquially as the Rose of Jericho.  (Warning: that link shows ugly scars that can result from the bites.)
It has always been endemic in Jericho, but apparently in the last few years the disease has spread into Israel's Jordan Valley.
And now the sand fly has invaded certain parts of the Negev too.

Two years ago the Israel Ministry of Health designated  Sanford F. Kuvin Center for the Study of Infectious and Tropical Diseases of the Hebrew University as Israel’s National Laboratory for Leishmaniasis.
I just hope the various government authorities get their act together and decide who should be  responsible for controlling this threat in Israel.
 An estimated 12 million cases of leishmaniasis are reported worldwide, with 1.5-2 million new cases a year.

No one promised the early and the current pioneers in the Negev a rose garden, but they should not have to suffer from the Rose of Jericho.
(For ABC Wednesday, U is for ugly urticarial papules.)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Holy Sepulchre as workplace


How does it feel to be a floor washer of the holiest Christian site in the world?
I could imagine it as a big honor.

Coming very early one morning to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, before the hordes of tourists descended on it, I was almost alone in the cavernous church.
Only the cleaning man was busy, washing the ancient stones at the entrance. 

His buckets and mops were stashed behind the great door,  on the very steps which lead up to Calvary, to Golgotha.
For more about the Holy Sepulchre see Sacred Destinations or visit some of my previous posts.

Today city bloggers all over the world are posting People in Their Workplace for our City Daily Photo theme day.  You're invited.
(Also linking to OurWorld Tuesday and  Whimsical Windows, Delirious Doors.)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Bedouin girl and camel


A Bedouin girl brings in the family camel.
One of many small Bedouin settlements in the Negev,  Israel's southern desert.

Please enlarge the photo a few times to see them better (photo from a fast-moving bus).

Linking to Camera Critters.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A religious pioneering community in the Negev

This week the blog has been showing you some of the three different types of intentional communities that our group visited last Friday.
They all belong to the Ramat Negev Regional Council in southern Israel.

Here is the Council's "city hall" in the desert.

Our next stop was Kfar Retamim, a religious community/ yeshuv kehilati.
They started small in 2006 and today they are 180 adults and 280 children. 

A member (with his first-born holding his hand) explained to our group how it works.
But why not hear it from this 6-minute video. Enjoy the young woman's enthusiasm!

And more info and a map are here.

I'll be showing you two surprising things at Retamim in the coming posts.
Happy Thanksgiving to the friends in America.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

15 young families living together in the desert

As I was saying (in the cat selfie post), on Friday my Shishi Zioni group went down south of Beer Sheva to visit and learn about three different ways of living together in the Negev desert:
 1. a kibbutz mitchadesh, 2. a religious yeshuv kehilati (community settlement/planned community), and 3. a mixed religious + secular yeshuv kehilati.

Our bus slowly went up the dirt road to Sheizaf.
Half in jest our guide said not to fear the guard dogs because they were tired from having barked all night.

Our busload of older Israelis numbered just about the same as the current population of Sheizaf which is 15  young couples with 20 little kids.

Each family lives in a caravan, the portable pre-fab houses that were set on the ground in 2012.
Or maybe they are big enough to be considered caravillot.
(The Hebrew word caravilla is a portmanteau of the words caravan and villa.)

  Itai, who was a driving force in creating this yeshuv kehilati/community settlement, spoke with pride about the young people who were attracted from all over the country to come and establish a new place in the sparsely-populated Negev desert.
BTW, recruitment was done via e-mail and Internet. 

Our guide for the morning was Ofir, head of hityashvut/settlement for the Ramat Negev Local Council.
In addition to his help, Sheizaf got backing from Ayalim Association, a 21st century organization whose slogan is "Bringing young adults to live and volunteer in the toughest places in Israel to serve as its newest Pioneers."
This means the Negev and the Galilee. *

See a short video explaining Ayalim's altruistic aims.

Sheizaf is not enclosed within a fence.
At their website you can enjoy a slideshow of the houses and people of the community.

One of the fathers brought up his little son, to the delight of all the grandparents of our group.

Sheizaf is a rare example of a social experiment  deliberately mixing observant and non-observant Jews.
There vision is to grow to 250-400 families and when the kids are ready for school to have a mixed religious + secular education for them.
(The practice in Israel today is for a child to attend either religious school or secular school.)
Good luck to these brave and idealistic young people who chose a far-from-easy life!
*UPDATE: I see Ayalim does good work in central Israel as well.  This article and little video about their new project in Lod just appeared today.  A shipping container village is going up to house the enthusiastic students!