Sunday, August 31, 2008

From carobs to teshuva, repentance

Please click on the photos to get the big picture.
The new moon set last night, ushering in Rosh Chodesh Elul.
 (To understand how the Hebrew lunar calendar works, please see my post New moon, new month.)

Elul is the month for intense spiritual preparation for the coming year and the High Holy Days (Rosh HaShana, New Year Day, falling on September 30 this year).
 Today Sephardi Jews (like in my village) already began their daily pre-dawn shofar-sounding and penitential prayers, Slichot, in the synagogue that will go on for the next forty days.
 It's all about confession, repentance, and both seeking and granting forgiveness.

I passed an old boxer tree near the spring, many of its carob pods already on the ground.
 And today "by chance" I came across this appropriate midrash in the wonderful book, Food at the Time of the Bible:

"A little known translation of Isaiah 1:19-20 brings us from carob as poor people's fare to carob as a symbol of privation.
The usual translation reads 'If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel you will be devoured by the sword.'
A more accurate reading of the verse results in the translation 'you will devour the carob.'
The words for 'sword' and 'carob' are almost identical in Hebrew, perhaps because of the scimitar-shape of the carob's seedpod.
The association between the carob and privation is also noted in an ancient Midrash, or homily, written in the wake of the Temple's destruction and the period of ensuing want in the land. 'A Jew has to suffer anguish and privation to the point of a menu exclusively of carobs, and only then does he accept the rule of God and repent...'"

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Like a bird on the wire

Numerous animals will be appearing today at the weekend meme at
(Photos can be enlarged by clicking.)

Leonard Cohen wrote "Bird on the Wire" in 1968, the year I flew away from America to make my home in Israel. Cohen came to sing in Israel in 1980 and made a nice variation in the first verse:

Like a bird on the wire,

Like a drunk in a midnight choir

I have tried in my way to be free.

Like a worm on a hook,

Like a monk bending (down) over the Book . . .

I have tried in my way to be free.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Shalom Abie, go in peace

Today, August 29, two deaths are being marked. For many Christians this is the day of The Beheading of St. John the Forerunner.

In Hebrew John is Yochanan HaMatbil, meaning John the baptiser. But, as I heard one professor say, he could also be called Yochanan HaMakbil, meaning John the parallel one. The lives of John and Jesus are woven together from birth to death and beyond, as this icon shows.
John said of himself, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord."

Today Israel buried Abie Nathan, dead at age 81. Parallels here also. His voice, too, was of one crying out in the wilderness. Before there was peace with Egypt and Jordan, before Israel had a peace movement, Abie was a peace seeker. Like John the Precursor, Abie followed his heart and did bold and daring new things. He flew a little plane solo to Cairo in 1966, he talked with Arafat when it was still against the law, and he served time in jail for it. He almost died from a hunger strike. As today's Ha'aretz article says, "He earned a reputation as a maverick peace activist who often took diplomacy into his own hands." Like John, he was prepared to put his head on a platter if need be.
Nathan launched a pirate radio station in 1973 with news in Hebrew and Arabic and good music and talk. For twenty years we listened to what came from the Peace Ship. Who doesn't remember the opening "From somewhere in the Mediterranean, this is the Voice of Peace. . ."
More about Abie and his humanitarian work around the world is here, in the Jerusalem Post.

When asked what he would want engraved on his tombstone, Abie Nathan said, "Nisiti." It means, "I tried."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Archaeologist in the sky

Way up on the scaffold, see the man with the camera?
That's our boss, fearless Zvi.
What won't an archaeologist do for a good photo of his excavation site!

Many other angles on the sky over at Sky Watch Friday.
Go over and crane your neck with us.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Number One Son

Birthday blessings to you, dear Edo, my firstborn, my beloved son!

A blogger has to brag from time to time and August 27 is one of those days. A mother could not ask for a finer son. Edo has a heart of gold for all--for his parents, his own wife and son, friends, and strangers too. An encourager, a helper, a blessing.

Edo began his compulsory service in the Israel Defense Force just as the first intifada was starting. Luckily, he was assigned to a unit in the southern desert, away from the violence. He lived in a big tent for most of his three years of service.
In 1991 the Gulf War hit Israel. Those were days of terror for us, our family living then near Tel Aviv, as we sat in our sealed room ("sealed" with masking tape), wearing those horrible gas masks, air raid sirens almost every night, feeling the apartment shake as Saddam Hussein's Scud missiles exploded around us, and we waited to know if the warheads really contained the threatened poison gas. Edo received his discharge from the army just then. I was relieved when he flew away to Los Angeles for a little respite from all the craziness, out of harm's way.

The war ended but, like so many Israelis, Edo got stuck in America. He started a little business of his own, met a wife, started a family, settled down. You know how it is. So no, he has not come back yet.

But Edo is great at sending me videos of little sweet Kai and tons of great pictures of his family. In fact, Edo has reinforced his natural artistic eye with college courses on photography and has become a professional photographer! Yay!

If you hear of someone in southern California needing a fine and friendly creative photographer please refer them to EdoPhotographer (website here). Thanks!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAR SON, from your proud Mom!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Femur, fibula, and frontal bones

Hope this won't make anyone freak out, but my F words for today are femur, fibula, frontal bones, and funerary practices. Of Canaanites who were buried here on the outskirts of Jerusalem some 4,000 years ago.

Last week, to the excitement of all, we uncovered a skeleton in the burial cave I and three others were digging in. Here you can see the skull, arm bones, and ribs.

Eventually four skulls were discovered.

Can you imagine holding a Canaanite child's head in your hands and poking at the earth that filled it?
At first the bones are left in situ to be photographed, measured and sketched. Then the bones go to the lab to be weighed, measured, photographed, documented, etc.

Funerary objects came next. After removing the fragile bones we could start digging to look for funerary objects like pottery or the person's personal possessions such as jewelry or weapons.
At the time of burial, the clay vessels would have been full of food, drink, and perfumes.
All these the Canaanites believed were necessary for the journey to the netherworld.

The 100+ participants in ABC Wednesday have dug up different F words for their photos. Check out a few here.

Monday, August 25, 2008

To your health

Wajdi, a very talented excavator at our dig, brought us this frozen bag of . . . of what??
In the heat it quickly melted and we were treated to glasses of CAROB juice.
My first time to drink carobs! A distinctive, special taste for sure.
Apparently the carob drink is traditional during the month of Ramadan which starts next week.

Today I took home some carob pods that had fallen from the tree on my street.
They are fun to play with as a rattle and fun to eat too.
You chew on the pod and discard the seeds.
Some use carob as a chocolate substitute. 

Last April the pods were pale green and soft.

The charuv (Hebrew name) or charub (in Arabic) tree is also know as Saint John's bread.
John the Baptist lived in caves right here in the Jerusalem Hills and was sustained by carobs, Christian tradition says.
The Talmud has a similar and amazing story about Shimon bar Yochai and his son which can be found here, at the second paragraph under Shabbat 33b.

Israeli bloggers Martha and ModraY have fascinating facts about the carob at their lovely blog "Flowers in Israel," if you still have strength to read more.
 By now you may be needing a sip of carob juice!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

As-salamu alaikum wa rahmatullah

Our schedule at the dig is Sunday through Thursday, 6:30-2:30. Meal time is 10:00-10:30 and then a 15-minute break at 1:00. About a third of my Muslim co-workers use the afternoon break as one of their five daily formal prayer times. They do the required washing (at a garden hose), then spread cardboard on the ground to kneel on, facing south, in the direction of Mecca. The haj in front of the line leads.

Thanks to my blogger friend at Abu Dhabi/UAE Daily Photo for inspiring me to post this through her amazing picture of signs of prayer. Don't miss it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Hills are alive with the sound of jackals

One jackal starts sounding off and soon all the families in the woods and up and down the valley join in the chorus. It is really something to hear! The first video is at my friends' place on the side of our mountain, in the woods.

The second sound clip features the young jackal pups learning how to yap and howl. They were right outside my window. It took several nights to capture the sound because every time I turned on the camera they would hear it and become silent. Finally I got smart and turned off the lights and opened the lens under a pillow. They are smart critters and the cubs are so funny!

My favorite picture of a jackal neighbor (in snow!) can be found here.

Lots more animal stories and pictures at the weekend Camera-Critters blog.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Not by bread alone

This week's Torah reading (parashat hashavua) contains the famous statement in Deuteronomy 8:3b that reminds us of the true source of human sustenance:

". . . man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that comes from the mouth of the Lord."

כִּי לֹא עַל-הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם--כִּי עַל-כָּל-מוֹצָא פִי-יְהוָה, יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם

Shabbat shalom, Sabbath peace, to you.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Moon over the vineyards

Last Friday I watched from my street how the full moon rose over our neighbors on top of the mountain. Those lights are an army base located in Moshav Ora. The moshav has grown since it was founded by new immigrants from Yemen in 1950. There must be a thousand inhabitants up there today.
The full moon signaled the beginning of Tu B'Av, the 15th day of the month of Av on our lunar calendar. Originally a post-biblical day of joy, it served as a matchmaking day for unmarried women in the second Temple period. The Mishnah says Tu B'Av was a very happy day for the people of Israel because "the daughters of Jerusalem go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards. What were they saying: Young man, consider whom you choose (to be your wife)."

After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. this minor festival went almost unnoticed for many centuries. But in the past few decades the non-religious in the State of Israel have brought Tu B'Av back to life as a time to celebrate love and enjoy music festivals. It is even becoming something like the Valentine's Day known to other countries, gifts and all.
Sorry, I have no picture of dancing virgins in white dresses. But here at least is a vineyard for you.
(The Jerusalem Hills have some good winemakers, e.g. Domaine du Castel.)

A blogger favorite--Sky Watch Friday--starts tonight at
Feast your eyes on their skies.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


E is for EYAL, my new grandson, born in Australia last November. My Sunshine and Light!
So far I know him only through the pictures and videos on his family blog. What would we do without the Internet?Other E words and photos from the bloggers at ABC Wednesday are here.

1st Jewish Bloggers Convention

The First International Jewish Bloggers Convention is taking place in Jerusalem this evening.
I'm not going.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Teahouse of the August Moon

As I climbed the hill to work this morning, the round August moon was just setting behind the minaret of Beit Tsafafa. With the bright sun on it, the moon was so pale I didn't even try to photograph it.

Instead, I went for documentation of "the teahouse of the August moon."
At every dig it is some kind of ritual first thing in the morning and many times throughout the workday to light the Primus, boil water, and make strong Turkish coffee.
Or sometimes it is sweet sweet tea with leaves of mint or merimiyeh or babonag to give the wonderful aroma and taste.
Each little work group seems to have their own portable "kitchen" set up somewhere on a rock in a corner or a niche.
You are welcome to drink, but bring your own glass.

The Bedouin (like the man on the left) have a nice blessing when they serve you coffee (in what used to be the hospitality tent).
The Arabic means literally "Coffee always," meaning something like May we always drink coffee together [in peace].

More about the Bedouin coffee drinking as a symbol of harmony and trust HERE.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday, back to work

As you may know, I am working at a salvage excavation in Jerusalem these days.
The present site has at least twenty shaft tombs in which the Canaanites buried their dead some 4,000 years ago, in the Middle Bronze Age.

Today's best find, to my eyes, was this unusual vessel.

It was down in the burial cave at the end of this shaft.
Here our one Bedouin worker is being pulled out, no ladder!
Behind him is Haj. I don't know his name because all the workers (Moslems) simply call him Haj. It is the title of respect given to a pilgrim after he has made the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Double-decker for felines!

While in Jerusalem Friday waiting for the camera store to print 90 prints of and for my co-workers at the dig, I wandered around the back streets of Kiryat Shaul. One little shop had all kinds of cheap-o merchandise inside and outside. I did a double-take when I passed this stroller and exclaimed in my head, "Yes! Camera-Critter fodder!"

Liked this one? Wait till you see the other animals
at our bloggers' weekend Camera-Critters meme!

A still-small soul

Yesterday's post was about the celebration of the dormition of Mary. The outside of the Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion looks like this.

A widely accepted Christian tradition has it that Mary fell into slumber on Jerusalem's Mount Zion.

When Kaiser Wilhelm II visited the Holy Land in 1898 the Turkish sultan presented him with this piece of land. The German Benedictines then built this church, finished in 1910.

The massive towers give it a look of a medieval fortress. And indeed, whenever I see it I start humming Martin Luther's famous hymn "Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott," "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."
Israelis come to concerts in the church for its fantastic acoustics and wonderful organ, one of the largest in the Middle East.

This centuries-old icon for the feast is called "The Dormition of the Theotokos" [Theotokos meaning "God-bearer" in Greek].

The image below is taken from the website of Balamand University and Monastery in Lebanon; the icon's full story can be found there.

Once, when searching for the meaning of the figures of the icon, I read something which struck me as an amazing idea:

"Who is the little baby being held by Jesus? It's a depiction of Mary's soul, small because it is only her first day in Heaven." - [Italics are mine!]


Friday, August 15, 2008

Feast at the Dormition Abbey

Today is a big feast-day. In some countries it is even a public holiday.
Catholics call it the Feast of the Assumption. According to their Catechism, Mary, "having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory."
Eastern Christians use another name. According to a good Greek Orthodox website, "The Feast of the Dormition of Our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary is celebrated on August 15 each year. The Feast commemorates the repose (dormition and in the Greek kimisis) or "falling-asleep" of the Mother of Jesus Christ, our Lord. The Feast also commemorates the translation or assumption into heaven of the body of the Theotokos."
 The Jerusalem Patriarchate is Old Calendar, as are the Orthodox monastic communities in the Holy Land. So they  celebrate  Dormition on August 28.

This post shows how I saw it celebrated in 2007 and 2006 in the Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion, in Jerusalem. I did not take pictures during the liturgy in the sanctuary. But when we went down to the crypt to continue the prayer, it was dark enough that I could discreetly shoot a few photos.

The Benedictine monks and priests and the people gathered around Mary.

German and Latin were the main languages.
Here above, a monk offers greens for a special blessing as part of the liturgy.

Afterwards, the faithful lingered to light candles or kneel in private prayer.
Wikipedia says,
"The Assumption is important to many Catholics as the Virgin Mary's heavenly birthday (the day that Mary was received into Heaven). Her acceptance into the glory of Heaven is seen by them as the symbol of the promise made by Jesus to all enduring Christians that they too will be received into paradise."
So it was appropriate for a "birthday" to continue the celebration with a reception in the courtyard.
As the monk said, his cowl is not just for prayer but also a good shield from the intense noonday sun.
Bon fete to Christians who mark this day!

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Dawn was dawning this morning at 5:55 as I waited for the first bus out of my moshav/village.
What a view (with a little bit of zoom) from the street near my house! Jerusalem on the horizon. And you can just see the mast of the new Calatrava Bridge of Strings.

See other bloggers' skies posted for Sky Watch Friday at

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Daughter at the deep Dead Sea

Today's ABC Wednesday has bloggers from all over the world presenting their letter D words.

The DEAD SEA SCROLLS were accidentally DISCOVERED in these caves near Qumran, in the DESERT called The Wilderness of Judea.

I have not been DOWN there for years, so I take the liberty of showing my DEAR DAUGHTER's photographs. She and her family were back in Israel for a visit in January 2007.

In Naomi's picture above you can see the shrinking Dead Sea, its surface now at minus 421 meters below sea level. Beyond it is the Kingdom of Jordan. The cable car carries tourists up to the top of Masada. The square below is one of the camps built by the Romans for the siege of Masada.
The super-salty Dead Sea water was too cool for floating on in January, Naomi's blog says, but this was the view of the beach from their hotel window.

Monday, August 11, 2008

When the bus breaks down

I finished my eight hours of digging at 2:30, quite ready to start the trip home. To my dismay some 25 people were standing in the sun at my bus stop next to their bus, which had just broken down. It was 32C in the shade, of which there was none.
When the next bus came it was already full, but somehow all the stranded passengers managed to squeeze inside. Except me. I preferred to hang around and watch as the Egged repair bus arrived and the two mechanics started working on the dead bus. They really wondered what this fool was doing taking pictures. I was secretly hoping the red bus would have to tow the green one. That would have been a dramatic photo.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Reading Lamentations of Jeremiah

Today is Tisha B'Av, the day of mourning for the destruction of Jerusalem and of the First and Second Temples, for the beginning of the first Crusade, for the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, and for other tragedies and pogroms that began on this 9th day of Av throughout our history.
It is customary to have a communal reading of the scroll of Lamentations, in Hebrew Eicha.
Instead of going to the local synagogue and sitting in the balcony behind a curtain in the women's section, I went alone to another place much prayed in, sat on the old stone floor, and read the Lamentations of Jeremiah by candlelight.
There, in silence and solitude, the words of the great prophet spoke to me as never before. So sad, so powerful, so moving!
Only in Jerusalem do the words come alive so much.

"How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she that was great among the nations! . . . She weeps bitterly in the night, tears on her cheeks. . . ."

I urge you to sample the language and the mood of this 5-chapter book of the Bible. It can be found here.


Saturday, August 9, 2008

Tisha B'Av today

Tonight and tomorrow is Tisha B'Av, the 9th of Av, the saddest of days in the Hebrew calendar, a day of fasting and mourning. Both the First Temple (833-423 B.C.E.) and the Second Temple (349 B.C.E.-69 C.E.) were destroyed on this date.
You can see how big and magnificent the Temple Mount was in the model below. Please click to enlarge the photo.
This famous model on a scale of 1:50 shows the Second Temple and the city of Jerusalem in the year 66 C.E. The Jewish Revolt against the Romans had not yet begun.
The model was recently moved from the former Holyland Hotel to the Israel Museum. The white dome at the top of the photo is the Shrine of the Book where the Dead Sea Scrolls are on view. The building on the far left is the Knesset.

More about the model here and here. A short and interesting summary of Tisha B'Av is here at the Chabad website. The Reform Jewish perspective can be found on the fine Velveteen Rabbi blog. Many other ideas about Tisha B'Av here, presented by the Orthodox Union.

I will post more tomorrow, God willing, here at Jerusalem Hills about tonight's reading of Lamentations. I myself do not fast on this day and am not in favor of building an actual Third Temple. I do observe the day in my own way.