Wednesday, April 30, 2008

O is for oud

(For newcomers to the blog, I should explain that for the week of Passover vacation I joined a dozen other Jewish Israelis at a special summer school program in the Arab village of Darajat in the Negev desert. We studied Arabic and enjoyed home hospitality of the gracious host families.)

Our group of Arabic learners was invited to Darajat's community center (what in former years would have been a big welcome tent made from goat hair [hence a tent's name, "hair house"]).
This oud player explained about his instrument and the songs and told about his family and their history. Together with his son on the drum, they made the real Middle Eastern oud music.

Notice the beautiful dress embroidered in the village and the traditional strong black coffee serving set. For sale were more dresses and homemade olive oil and jars of labineh.
Off to the side these girls broke into dance to the inviting music of the oud. When they noticed we were watching, they giggled and did the shy thing, running off.

For more ABC Wednesday contributors visit Mrs. Nesbitt's Place.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


The debka is a lively Arab folk dance with lots of bouncing and stomping. Darajat has its own debka troupe. Here their teacher leads them through the steps in the school yard.

The next day the youngsters performed for us.

Males and females may dance the debka but traditionally, they do so in separate groups.
Here they are not only dancing together but also holding hands! Well, Darajat is a very progressive village in many ways.
The small boy in front is the raas, the head of the group, a good leader.

You'd never know it was a chamsin, with 100 degree heat. The young people went on jumping with boundless energy, enjoying themselves.

The pride of the dance troupe and of the villagers watching them was very moving in itself.
I tried hard to restrain my happy-tears. BRAVO!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Learning Arabic

Arabic script is beautiful. Literary Arabic is different from spoken Arabic.
 Spoken Arabic is not a written language, so in our 5-day course in Darajat village we did not learn the letters.

Our gifted and patient teacher, Dr. Hassan Abu Sa'ad, would write our Arabic vocabulary on the board phonetically, using Hebrew letters.
Hebrew and Arabic are Semitic languages, often quite similar. We also had a textbook.

The computer room of the village school became our classroom for the week. The first "summer school" for Jewish Israelis happened last August. Our own Pesach vacation class was the second such course. Hopefully there will be more. I wish everyone in the country could come for this experience.

Here the eleven students get ready for a group photo. Hassan is the man standing.
 We studied together for six hours a day, learning over 300 of the most useful words.

Most of the week was a chamsin, a desert heat wave, 40 degrees C., over 100 F.
 Luckily, this computer room was air conditioned.

Camel herd

We hiked way up on the hill above Darajat. A dozen camels were grazing peacefully. And even one baby camel!

Lots of other animals to see at the Camera Critters Sunday meme.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Ahalan wasahalan--welcome!

The several generations of women who graciously welcomed me into their house in Darajat.
Dahab, Amina, Zohara, Aisha, and Nahed fed and watered me, took care of my every need and then some, and patiently helped me try to understand and speak Arabic.
In the top picture are the two wives of the father of the present-day village leader and school principal, Ishak Abu Chamad. They proudly show the photo of the original founding father. The whole village and family started with him some 150 years ago when he left the South Hebron Hills and came further south to the Negev.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Darajat--the village I called home from last Monday to Friday. Located in the south, in the Negev desert near Arad. A dozen Jewish Israelis and one American lady pastor came together from all over the country to study spoken Arabic for six hours a day. After class we had cultural activities and hikes. Each of us lived in the home of a different host family, enjoying the famous Bedouin-style hospitality.
I come back to Jerusalem filled with great affection and admiration for the kind and wonderul people of Darajat, the hard-working women and men and all the beautiful children.
In the coming posts I'll happily share these good and blessed times.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Sky Watch Friday in the desert

The end of an extremely hot and dusty day in Israel's southern desert, the Negev.
Shabbat shalom everybody!

And for more skies visit bloggers at Sky Watch Friday.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Passover seder

Pesach (Passover) is the holiday when families sit together at their table and before, during, and after the meal read the Hagaddah, the book of the "telling" of our deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
My kids and grandsons are scattered around the world in the Diaspora. So a kind old friend brought me to his family's seder in Jerusalem. The wife's side is of Turkish origin. It was a first for me to hear their melodies for the Hebrew and Aramaic songs in the Hagaddah, some quite different from the Ashkenazi tradition. Some they even sang in Ladino, which is a nearly extinct Romance language, descended from medieval Spanish, spoken by Sephardic Jews especially in the Balkans, Turkey, and the Near East, also called Judeo-Spanish. Beautiful!
Here you see the famous matza ball soup. These matza balls were so fluffy, like clouds floating in the chicken soup. If made with a heavy hand, knaidlach sink like cannonballs (both in the soup and in your stomach).
Dear friends, I am leaving at dawn tomorrow for five days of a special adventure down in the Negev desert. Please come back on Saturday for, God willing, exciting photos and stories. See you then. Shalom shalom!

Double holiday

Happy Pesach! We just now had our festive seder meal, launching the Passover week holiday.
Today Orthodox Christians celebrate their Palm Sunday. And today is also Camera-Critters Sunday. So of course the animal of choice can only be the donkey.
This nice man is often in the Old City of Jerusalem or on the Mount of Olives, ready to give pilgrims the meaningful experience of sitting on a donkey in the Holy City.
Visit other bloggers sharing animal pictures every Sunday at Camera-Critters.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sky Watch Friday

On the Hebrew lunar calendar Passover Eve is always on the night of the full moon, on the 14th of the month of Nissan. Tomorrow night when the Sabbath ends, Pesach begins.
Here the moon is rising over Jerusalem, as seen from my place in the Jerusalem Hills.
Shabbat shalom to all Sky Watchers!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A full market

The shuk (market)was so lively today, only two days before Passover (Pesach) begins.
In the foreground here you see holiday cookies made with wine, peanut flour, or coconut. For the whole week of Pesach we are not to eat anything that has chametz. Chametz is any substance that contains leavening from any of the cereal grains wheat, barley, oats, spelt, or rye. The Ashkenazi Jews even extend this prohibition to anything which MIGHT have touched chametz, like rice and lentils. Sefardic Jews traditionally do eat rice, however.
Anyway, the fruit and vegetable sellers took this opportunity to almost double their prices today. I decided to stock up on photos instead of food. Prices will return to normal,i.e. quite low, after the holiday.

These live carp will probably be ground up by the Jewish housewives and cooked as gefilte fish for the seder table.

Two ultra-orthodox boys wait for the parents to come and fill the cart. They both have long peyot, sidecurls, but one has them tucked up under his kippa. Kids are out of school for Pesach vacation, and there were many in the shuk today.
Jerusalem's Shuk Machaneh Yehuda is a marvelous place. I love it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

M is for matza, mountains of matza

Why, you ask, do we Jews have to eat matzot and not eat bread on Passover?
Because . . . well, God said so! Verses 14-20 of Exodus 12 are all about what the Lord said to Moses concerning matza. Ex.12:17 says, "You shall observe the feast of unleavened bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt: therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as an ordinance for ever."
The Israelites, to escape Pharaoh's slavery, had to make such a quick get-away that the bread they prepared for the journey had no time to rise.
The main difference between fluffy bread and brittle matza, really, is hot air.
The moral of the story is that we should strive to be like the humble matza and not be puffed up with arrogance.
When the Talmud says "the yeast in the dough" it means the yetser hara, the "evil impulse" in people which is responsible for "all ferment in the human heart," causing us to sometimes act in not the right way.

To read "To Be a Matza" by good Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo, see here.

In the shuk today a man was selling these expensive special handmade 18-minute matzot shmurot, one kind hard and the other soft.
A soft matza? Is that not an oxymoron?
According to the Talmud the leavening process begins after water and flour have been in contact for 18 minutes, so the entire process of making matza, from the moment the water is added to the flour until the matza is taken out of the oven, must be completed in 18 minutes.
For the interesting inside story of matza baking, see here.

Oh, and for you Christians--if these round matzas look a lot like your Eucharistic host, they are!
If the Last Supper was really a Pesach seder meal, then when Jesus said "Eat this bread" what he was holding up was unleavened bread.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Goodbye to bread

Enjoy it while you can. From this Friday until the end of next week (most) Jews will not be tasting any bread at all.
Instead, during the whole week of Passover we will eat "the bread of affliction," matza.
Here you see the huge Angel Bakeries--the silos, flour mill, production lines.
Angel distributes its loaves and rolls all over the country and also supplies the prisons and the Israel Defense Force.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Today our President Shimon Peres, himself born in Poland, stood with Polish President Lech KaczyƄski at Treblinka. It was the first of several ceremonies to mark the 65th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which has been called "the first urban mass rebellion against the Nazi occupation of Europe."

I took these photos at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The first evokes the heroism of the 19-year-old who led the escape of roughly 80 fighter-survivors through the Warsaw sewers. They emerged in a nearby forest or in safe houses on the "Aryan side" of the ghetto walls. Most joined up with the Polish resistance partisans.

And lest we forget, or never knew, there WERE several thousand Poles who risked or sacrificed their life to save Polish Jews. They are some of the many Righteous Gentiles honored by this garden and with trees bearing their names at Yad Vashem.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Camera-Critter Sunday

Summer is coming and so are the snakes. Mama cat and her daughter showed guarded interest in this venomous baby. Back on the ground again the snake got up into strike position, tongue flicking, threatening the young cat. To my disbelief, the snake leaped away, "flying" through the air. It managed to escape down the hill. Visit other bloggers' animal photos today from

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Flowers everywhere

The wildflowers come (and go) so quickly now that it would take a month were I to publish just one per day. Here are three of the beauties discovered on my evening stroll.

Friday, April 11, 2008

First Sky Watch Friday

When the sun sets the Jewish "day" begins. Tonight, being Friday, the Sabbath begins.
Here is the sunset seen from my moshav (village) in the Jerusalem Hills. Peace--Shabbat shalom to everyone.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Fig fruit

Seems like just a few weeks ago these trees got fig leaves to cover their winter nakedness.
This particular one already has little figs growing.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Western Wall cleaning

Only ten days until Passover. Everyone is in a housecleaning frenzy.
Yesterday even the Western Wall was lovingly cleaned.
Two people were lifted up in a cherrypicker in order to reach the higher courses of stones.

The thousands of little notes of petition and thanks to God were taken out to make room for new ones. Would you folks outside of the Holy City also like to write a petek, via e-mail, and have someone print it and stick it into the Kotel, the Western Wall, for you?
It is possible via e-mail at

If, as I've heard Christians say, God answers knee-mail, I don't see why he wouldn't also answer e-mail, do you?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Be prepared

The air raid siren wailed today for a very long minute and a half. Bloodcurdling. I hate it.
It stirs up the worst memories.
We are in day three of a five-day national exercise to practice responding to emergency scenarios. During the Second Lebanon War in 2006 we suddenly learned that the civilian population in what used to be the hinterland had become the frontline. So now we have a newly formed Home Front Command.
When the alarm sounded this morning school kids had to go quickly to their shelters or get under their desks.
The picture shows the old bomb shelter dug into the hill across the street from my house.

Eitzah gebers [advice givers]

How many men does it take to open a manhole?

Monday, April 7, 2008


Charlton Heston has died. Cecile B. DeMille's epic movie "The Ten Commandments," with its cast of thousands, came out in 1956. For me, seeing the film as a child then, Heston did not just play the part of Moses. He WAS Moses.
If there really is a Heaven, just think what kind of welcome Charlton Heston must be getting round about now! He and God would have much to talk about.
Update: Old Picture of the Day has a wonderful personal encounter story about Heston at


Grrrr--the big bad bulldozer digging at the entrance to our moshav cut our telephone cable yesterday morning. A whole day and a half with no Internet, cut off from civilization and my beloved new-found blogosphere. Oi! Having no TV, I must watch Internet broadcasts of the nightly news, so now I'm 1 1/2 days behind the times. And, as one of the last Israelis without a cellphone, I was also without phoning capability until just now. Man, you might just as well try to talk on a banana.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

New moon, new month


The last Sabbath of each Hebrew month, like today, is called Shabbat Mevarchim HaChodesh, or the Sabbath which blesses the month.
So today liturgically-observant Jews said the special prayer which asks God to "renew it [the coming new month] . . . for life and for peace, for gladness and for joy, for deliverance and for consolation."
And tonight already is Rosh Chodesh, the first of the month of Nissan.
In fact, it began at exactly 9:34:23 p.m.
How do we know? Well, the Hebrew calendar revolves around the moon, so to speak.
Each month represents one lunar cycle, the time it takes the moon to make one orbit around the earth.
There is a point when the moon is exactly between the earth and the sun, and so, hidden to anyone here on earth.
The molad is the time of the moon’s "birth," when it emerges just enough that a thin crescent of its illuminated surface can first be observed from Jerusalem.
This exact moment signals the beginning of a new Jewish month.

(This photo is just for illustration of a "banana moon."
It actually shows a rare phenomenon called the occultation of Venus which occurred last June 18. But that’s a different story!)
Wishing you chodesh tov and shavua tov, a good month and a good week.

Hidden beauty

Shabbat shalom. Flowers, strange ones, for Shabbat. We discovered these in a secret corner of the forest. I've never seen an almost black flower. Anyone know its name?
Our woods are full of secrets and mystery and history.