Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Kvittel into (and out of) the Kotel

A nun friend and I visited the Kotel this afternoon.
In Hebrew, Kotel refers to the Western Wall (formerly called the Wailing Wall).

Following Jewish tradition we each wrote a kvittel (the Yiddish word for a little note) to God,

folded them up, and pushed them into spaces between the ancient stones.

But I heard some strange sounds from over in the men's section.
Peeking through the divider, I saw men scooping out the thousands of prayer notes with wooden sticks, under the supervision of the Western Wall Rabbi.
Just before Passover and before Rosh Hashana, God's Kotel "mailbox" is emptied.
 The notes are buried, unread by human eyes, in the nearby ancient Mount of Olives cemetery, with much respect.
But what I did not know is that twice a year the huge stones are tested to make sure the Wall is not leaning.
Rabbi Ravinovitch today told an interviewer from Ladaat.net, “You can see the crane here now, engaged in those very tests, to make sure that no one will be endangered, Heaven forbid."
I did indeed see the crane and we were not in any danger, thank Heaven!
(ABC Wednesday today features, as you may have guessed, the letter K.)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Journey to the center of the world

In the Biblical book of Ezekiel (5:5) God says, "This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her."
In the Middle Ages, maps of the known world were often circular and had Jerusalem in the center.
In Christian tradition the exact center of the world came to be identified as located under the dome of the Catholicon, the dome on your left in this photo of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The Catholicon is the prayer hall of the Greek Orthodox, the largest Christian community in Israel.

The middle of the center was called in ancient Greek the omphalos, meaning the navel or bellybutton.
This large urn is supposed to mark the exact spot of the omphalos.

One of my favorite guidebooks to Jerusalem says that the Greek Orthodox today have somewhat modified their worldview and now state that the omphalos is actually the spiritual center of the world.
For those who can see PBS on television, mark your calendar! On Wednesday evening, April 1, a new 2-hour epic, "Jerusalem: Center of the World," will be broadcast. For more about it and a video preview, see PBS or the producer's website. Let me know how it was!
Over at That's My World Tuesday, other bloggers invite you to tour their side of the world.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Entering a rainbow

From the window of the early bus out of my village I watched the sun rise. I even needed sunglasses for a while. But very soon the sky turned gray and heavy. Then rain fell and for a few minutes even hail pounded the bus roof.
On the next bus, the express to Tel Aviv, we were just going down from gray Jerusalem when patches of bright sun lit up the countryside and this rainbow appeared.
Soon a second (!) rainbow arched before us. Its one end was right on the highway.
For the first time in my life I passed THROUGH a rainbow! The feeling was like magic!
Touching heaven, touching earth.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Bo! Shev!

Please click to enlarge the photo

I felt so fortunate to be able to see this van waiting at a red light in Jerusalem.

And as luck would have it, the next day an article about the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind appeared in the Jerusalem Post and I learned more.
The dedicated folks at the IGDC breed the dogs. They raise the puppies--Labradors, golden retrievers, or half-Lab, half-golden mixes--for the first eight weeks.
Then the pups are placed in foster homes for a year of socialization.
For example, some 25 students at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev are enthusiastic foster care givers.
The dogs then return to the Center for training.

It is funded by donations; government ministries pay only 10%.
Of the estimated 23,000 blind people in Israel only a relatively few will receive a free guide dog from the Center. The dogs understand Hebrew commands.
If a blind person goes abroad to get a guide dog, he must be proficient in English because his own training is in English and that is the only language the dogs know.

This photo is from the Israel Guide Dog Center's sweet blog, http://www.mitzvahdog.blogspot.com/.

It really is a mitzvah to enrich the lives of blind people with such canine companions!
For more information, the website of the IGDC is here.
P.S. To see a jackal with a pretty face please see my mid-week post.
Other animals from other bloggers will be appearing at the weekend Camera-Critters meme.

Friday, March 27, 2009

First kosher cheese in Portugal since the Inquisition

Shabbat shalom! I'm just back home after Kabbalat Shabbat, welcoming the Sabbath, at friends' house. The dark bread, olives, olive oil, and goat cheese on our table are the real taste of Israel.
It made me think of this recent article in Haaretz with a funny title:

For first time since Inquisition, Portuguese cheese gets kosher seal
Cnaan Liphshiz
For the first time since the Spanish Inquisition in Portugal, a dairy product has been given an official kosher certificate. The ground-breaking product is a hard, goat's milk cheese, manufactured by the descendant of Anusim (Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity).

Last year, Jose Braz, owner of the Queijos Braz factory, contacted Daniel Litwak, the chief rabbi of Portugal's second-largest city, Porto, and asked him to arrange a kashrut certificate for Serra da Estrela cheese, which Braz manufactures. Braz believes that his own family were members of Portugal's Jewish community in the 14th and 15th centuries, but like many others were forced to convert to escape persecution by the Inquisition.
"When I spoke to Jose, he told me he wanted to reconnect to his Jewish roots - this was the reason for contacting me," says Litwak, who was born in Argentina. "I was surprised because his brand was doing rather nicely all over Europe. He did not need the certificate to increase his turnover." New York-born Michael Freund, the chairman of Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based organization that helps people with Jewish roots become more involved in their Jewish community, who immigrated to Israel some 10 years ago, told Haaretz that Portugal "is seeing a Jewish revival over the past few years."
"Recently, the first kosher wine in Portugal since the Inquisition has become available, then the first olive oil and now the cheese," Freund says. "I see a definite connection between how many of the Anusim are rediscovering their roots and the increased interest."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sailboat in the sky

I take the bus in to Tel Aviv often these weeks while my little grandsons are visiting Israel. Dean and Eyal and I happened to walk into the marina just after a big mobile crane had set a boat down.
Today Tel Aviv had clear skies for sailing (or for anything else!) and warm 20 degrees C.
That's a lot warmer than higher-altitude inland Jerusalem.
It's SkyWatch Friday on hundreds of other blogs today. Sail around to visit a few!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Knee-deep in . . .

Knee-deep . . . in wet concrete.

The never-ending saga of building rails for the tram (light rail) which with any luck will someday start running in Jerusalem.
This section is on Mount Herzl, along the busy and congested Herzl Boulevard.
Hat-tip to the men who do this hard work, sloshing through wet concrete.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Our neighbors the jackals

Jackal! I finally got a good shot of a jackal!
Just in time for ABC Wednesday "J" day.
I was walking silently on the path in the woods, on the part that is covered with soft pine needles. Suddenly I saw a jackal standing on the path, looking out over the valley. He didn't notice me! I turned on the camera behind my back, trying to muffle the sound.
Then he saw me. I knew the minute I moved the camera he would run. So we both just stood and stared at each other. I was so enjoying being that close to a wild animal.
A second jackal came up behind the first and must have said, "What are you doing?! That's a human--let's get out of here!" Only then did I raise the camera and shoot.
Don't you love the look on his pretty face?! (even better when you enlarge the photo)
Jackal groups howling next to my house and in the woods can be heard on a short sound clip here. They are very funny.
To see a majestic jackal in the snow please see my post "In defense of jackals."
And to have a laugh, see "Danger lurking in the night" starring Shachar the Cat and a prowling jackal.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Conflict transformation

For full impact click on the photo and read the writing on the wall.

It's a good thing that the inscription on this building is safely hidden behind a tall stone wall, a sliding metal gate, and a security guard. An ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood is just a block away.

What the historical building plaque posted outside the wall says is rather tame and lackluster in comparison, pointedly.

The English Mission Hospital was completed in 1897 and the doctors served all the different peoples of Jerusalem. The rabbis were dead-set against any Jew entering the doors of a Christian hospital.

But since the early 1960s the Anglican International School Jerusalem is housed here.
The school cat who came right over for a cuddle shows just how friendly the atmosphere is.
The place is old and beautiful. For their 100th anniversary the stones were cleaned with sandblasting.

The school has grades K-12, all taught in English. The student body is made up of 20-25% Palestinians, a handful of Jews, and the rest from the consular corps.

Speaking of foreign diplomatic families . . . this is especially for blog-buddy Catherine Mark-Beasant who writes about her years at the Anglican School decades ago in this interesting and touching post.
The sundial quotes the Song of Songs in the Bible: "Until the day break and the shadows flee away."
And some shadows did flee away during the ten weeks I participated in a weekly Slim Peace group in this classroom behind the arch. All women. A few Arabs, a few Jews, a nun, a nutritionist, a facilitator, and a film-maker. Ostensibly coming together to discuss better nutrition and healthier living, but much more than that.
What's your world like? You too can share it every Monday night with the bloggers at That's My World , or just come for a visit. Shalom!

Fun at the beach

My grandsons just arrived from their new home-country, Australia, for a 5-week stay in Israel.
This is thanks to the scholarships their parents received in order to come and lecture at our universities and contribute to research projects at two university medical centers.
I took the bus westward to Tel Aviv to see the family. While his little brother was napping, Dean and I had fun on the Mediterranean seashore.
I realized my Jerusalemite eyes are no longer used to seeing so much unclothed skin. But for the more secular Tel Avivis and tourists, it's perfectly normal. (The bathing beauty is no relation. Just happened to be in the background.)
Dean was busy on the rowing machine.
It's a whole "playground" of free work-out machines! But the sign warns that you must be at least 14 years old. Actually, the Hebrew version warns about a lot more than that. But anyway, Dean is not old enough to read. . . .
There are also plenty of kids' playgrounds along the clean and lovely sandy beach.
But Dean preferred the challenge and novelty and resistance of the too-big-for-him exercise machines.
He dug up these rocks and carried them over to arrange on a big stone. With my archaeology mind-set, I was thinking how this looked like a little rogem (or in Arabic, rujm). Many of those mysterious ancient stone-heaps dot the countryside. And I was imagining Dean as the future archaeologist of the family. Who knows . . . ?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

World Water Day in the village

World Water Day never seemed so important as this year. Israel, like so many countries, is facing a huge water shortage due to continuing drought.

So I was happy to discover that a couple in our village, just two terraces down the hill, took matters into their own hands. Whenever it did rain, the water used to go streaming down the road above their little house. With a simple method and inexpensive materials they built a channel to divert much of the water down into a tank. Now they can water their vegetable garden for free and with the good feeling that they are harnessing nature's resources.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

First day of spring is many things

Happy Nowruz to bloggers Sara of Mashhad (Iran) Daily Photos and Meead of Portland (OR) Daily Photos and thanks to you for teaching us the lovely customs that go with this, your spring new year's day.
After Purim, Meead surprised us with amazing pictures of the tombs of Esther and Mordechai and of the Biblical prophets Daniel and Habakuk. Also of Cyrus the Great. All in Iran. I never knew this. Do yourself a favor and click here to see his wonderful post!

A spring warm-up

Happy spring to everyone in the northern hemisphere.
Right on cue, here in the hills around Jerusalem the sun is warmer today and the wildflowers are everywhere.
I couldn't resist going for a walk. On one uphill I suddenly heard panting. I turned to see a pre-army age young man, overweight, jogging with effort up the hill, probably trying to get in shape for what is ahead of him. He was puffing but not panting.
Soon the source of the panting came closer--an older dog, also quite plump, trying unsuccessfully to keep up with his jogging human. He spotted this container that had been used to mix concrete, jumped in, and lapped up the murky water while cooling his hot feet.
Camera-Critters Sunday meme is starting. Have a look at the world's animals.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Grandkids in the sky

Happy weekly SkyWatch to you. Guess what! My dear little grandsons, my daughter and my son-in-law are in a jet right now, winging their way northward and westward from Australia, via Korea, to Israel!
Imagine how jet-lagged little Dean and Eyal will be after crossing nine time zones.
They will be in Tel Aviv and then Jerusalem for a total of five weeks, including the holiday week of Passover. Yay!!
In just over three hours, at 10 p.m., they will touch down at Ben-Gurion Airport.
Happy landings!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

41st anniversary of aliyah

March 18 is always a beloved day for me. On that date in 1968 I first reached the shores of Israel, making aliyah. (More about why in my 40th aliyah day post from a year ago.)

Just out of college, I had almost no money and found the cheapest route: a standby flight from Chicago to New York, Icelandic Airlines via Reykjavik to Luxembourg, buses and a train down to Genoa, and a ship to Haifa. Phew!

Imagine my surprise when the ship left Genoa and headed west instead of south! We were going first for a stop at Marseille, it turned out. And then back to another Italian port. Then through the tight Straits of Corinth, docking in Piraeus (with several hours ashore to see Athens), over to Limassol in Cyprus. Finally, as the sun rose over Haifa, I reached the promised land!

Photo from Maritime Timetable Images, from the collection of Björn Larsson, with thanks.

This was my home on the Mediterranean Sea for seven days--the good ship Enotria!
A tiny cabin with bunkbeds in the nethermost part of the ship, with a porthole just above sea level. I remember one stormy night the three girls in the cabin were seasick. I stayed on deck, hanging on for dear life, letting the salty spray refresh me, loving every minute of the rocking and rolling.

Today I did some research, out of nostalgia and love.
The Enotria and the Messapia of the Adriatic Line were built in the early 1950s. This pair of small ships sailed around the Mediterranean out of Italy. In 1975 both ships were sold out of the fleet as Muslim pilgrim ships. The Enotria was lost in 1980 when she was driven against the Piraeus breakwater. Her sister followed her later to the wreckers.
Poor Enotria. God rest her soul. She brought me home.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day green?

I, I, what begins with I? That's our letter of the day at ABC Wednesday. If you thought I'd say Israel, incorrect. It's Irish instead! In honor of St. Patrick's Day. But in Israel just about no one knows of this special day. And Jerusalem has no holy (or otherwise) places connected with Ireland. We have no green beer today, no shamrocks. 
 Down in the Negev desert, however, is a Bedouin village that boasts something really really green.

"The wearing of the green" by a house!

This is the village where we studied Arabic and enjoyed home hospitality for five days.
We were told that the owner wanted a house the color of the buses he drives. He is a share-holding member of the Egged bus cooperative and he wants everybody to know it. Being a chaver Egged is a status symbol in Israel.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Wickerwork in Jerusalem

It's time for something lighter on this blog, eh? And what could be lighter than wicker?
Wicker furniture looks easy to transport.
The little shop is on Agrippas Street, right near Shuk Machaneh Yehuda outdoor market.
In case you still throw your wheat up in the air to let the chaff blow away, these are just what you need.
Loofa is great for gently washing pans or people. Just cut it to the size you need and start scrubbing. It is a plant seed pod. To see how loofa "sponge gourds" are harvested and peeled, visit the luffa.info website.

Please also pay a visit to some of the many bloggers showing off their world tonight on That's My World Tuesday.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

On the horns of a dilemma

It is 994 days that Gilad has been in captivity, the sign says.
In July 2006 he was kidnapped in a cross-border raid by terrorists. They took the young soldier, only 19 then, back into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. He has not been seen since.

I was in Jerusalem today and I saw the protest tent that his parents have been sitting in for the past eight days, just outside Prime Minister Olmert's residence. Noam and Aviva Schalit are quiet good people who have been pushing in a non-theatrical way for all those 994 days to have their son back home. My heart was with them. All my children have served their years of compulsory army service. When you are a soldier's mother, it is like you are mother to all the girls and boys in uniform.
A dozen young people were down the block at a busy intersection, waving posters and jumping up and down and chanting "Rotsim oto babayit!" meaning we want him home. Many passing drivers tooted their horn in support.
But across the street stood a few protesting parents whose children were killed by terrorists. They oppose Israel's freeing of hundreds of terrorists from our prisons, which is what Hamas is demanding in return for Schalit. They bring the chilling statistics that 180 people have been killed by terrorists who had been freed in past prisoner swaps.
Everyone feels that the window of opportunity is closing because our new government will be taking over in a matter of days or weeks. Before Prime Minister Olmert and his ministers leave office, they have to make a decision.
The IDF and the whole country has always prided itself on not leaving wounded soldiers behind on the battlefield.
We are on the horns of a moral dilemma.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat--in Jerusalem!

Exactly during the week of Purim (whose story takes place in the Persian Empire) we in Israel were treated to some [this time] good news items about our current Iranian connection.
First, the opening of a 24/7 radio station in the Persian language. Amir Shai, the station's manager, said, "The Persian radio is composed of Israelis like us that speak the language and would like to preserve our heritage, and give PR to the outside world, beyond Israel."
Their Ynet article about it is here, and the Radis IN website is here.

AND the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the discovery in Jerusalem of a rare inscription on 12th or 13th century pottery: part of Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat!
The whole story from the IAA website is copied below.

Finally, thanks to all of you who wrote good comments on my posts of March 3rd and 4th about gas masks and the first Gulf War. You may have missed the comments which came in later. I urge you to read the contribution by Meead, an Iranian blogger, who tells of his memories as a young boy in the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war. Please click here for his story.
UPDATE! -- Meead has just posted his own translation of the love poem written on the old jug. It is much better than the one below. He also shows us pages of art and calligraphy in his own sumptuous copy of the Rubaiyat. Don't miss it at his Portland Daily Photo blog!
Photo by Clara Amit
A press release from the Press Office of the Israel Antiquities Authority:
A Persian Love Poem (9/3/2009)

A jug inscribed with a Persian love poem was discovered in excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Old City of Jerusalem

A fragment of a pottery vessel of Persian provenance that dates to the Middle Ages (12th-13th centuries CE) was discovered in an archaeological excavation directed by Dr. Rina Avner, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in the Old City of Jerusalem, prior to construction by a private contractor.
The fragment is treated with a turquoise glaze and is adorned with floral patterns and a black inscription. While studying the artifact prior to publication, Rivka Cohen-Amin of the Israel Antiquities Authority discerned that the inscription on the neck of the vessel is written in Persian. The inscription consists of a line that was taken from a quatrain. The inscription, which was translated by Dr. Julia Rabanovich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, reads: “Was once the embrace of a lover that entreat”.
The inscription will be published by Dr. Nitsan Amitai-Preiss of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, within the framework of the final excavation report.
According to Rivka Cohen-Amin the words are from the Rubaiyat, by the poet Omar Khayyam. Omar Khayyam was an astronomer, mathematician and one of the most famous Persian poets of the Middle Ages (11th-12th centuries CE).
The following is the complete translation of the poem:
Rubaiyat, by Omar Khayyam
این کوزه چو من عاشق زاری بوده است
This clay pot like a lover once in heat
در بند سر زلف نگاری بوده‌ست
A lock of hair his senses did defeat
ایندسته که بر گردن او می‌بینی
The handle that has made the bottleneck its own seat

دستی‌ست که برگردن یاری بوده‌ست
Was once the embrace of a lover that entreat

The phenomenon of a Persian pottery vessel inscribed with a poem is known elsewhere in the world; however, this is the first occurrence of such a vessel in Israel.
The question of how the vessel came to be in Jerusalem is a mystery – was it brought here by merchants or could it possibly have been a gift someone presented to his Jerusalemite lover?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Wooden man

Shabbat shalom to you, Internet friends, blog-buddies.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Welcome to Jerusalem!

The Vatican flag flies under Jerusalem's sky.
And in May Pope Benedict XVI will be flying to the Holy Land! From Jordan he will arrive in Israel and visit Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth. He comes as a pilgrim and not as a head of state; he will try to make it a spiritual journey, not a political one.
We welcome His Holiness.
This big Vatican property is the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center. (More information at my earlier post.)
The building dates from the 1880s.
Here's the view of Mary and the baby from inside the pilgrim hostel, top floor.
I'll do my best to catch sight of Pope Baruch during his five days with us in the Holy City and, God willing, I'll bring you some once-in-a-lifetime photos.
Other skies await your visit at the weekly SkyWatch Friday. The blogger sky watchers invite you.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The gantze megilla

Yesterday was Purim for most of the Jews in Israel and the world.
Today is Jerusalem's turn to celebrate Purim.
Today is also when the Jewish community in Shushan, Iran marks the holiday.
Why? Well, it's a long story. If you really want to know, please see below.

I looked around for Purim costumes but then didn't have the nerve to photograph anyone from the front.
 All the ultra-Orthodox men were out in their finest clothes today, including the round fur streimel hat. The little boy made a good fireman.

The girl with halo and wings . . . a black angel?

This old character in the shuk reminded me of a Viking warrior.

OK, the answer (from Wikipedia, based on Chabad):
Shushan Purim (the 15th day of Adar) is the day on which Jews in Jerusalem and Shushan (in Iran) celebrate Purim. 
The Book of Esther explains that while the Jews in unwalled cities fought their enemies on the 13th of Adar and rested on the 14th, the Jews in the walled capital city of Shushan spent the 13th and 14th defeating their enemies, and rested on the 15th (Esther 9:20-22).

Although Mordecai and Esther decreed that only walled cities should celebrate Purim on the 15th, in commemoration of the battle in the walled city of Shushan, the Jewish sages noted that Jerusalem, the focus of Jewish life, lay in ruins during the events of the Book of Esther. 

To make sure that a Persian city was not honored more than Jerusalem, they made the determination of which cities were walled by referring to ancient cities walled during the time of Joshua. 
This allowed Jerusalem to be included on the basis of that criteria; paradoxically, they included Shushan as the exceptional case since the miracle occurred there, even though it did not have a wall in Joshua's time.

The Megillah is also read on the 15th in a number of other cities in Israel—such as Jaffa, Acre, Safed, Tiberias and Hebron—but only as a custom based on a doubt over whether these cities were walled or sufficiently walled during the time of Joshua. 

These cities therefore celebrate Purim on the 14th, and the additional Megillah reading on the 15th is a stringency. Jews in these cities do not recite the blessings over the reading of the Megillah on the 15th. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Haman harasha

H is today's letter over at ABC Wednesday and today and tomorrow is Purim in Israel, so . . .
H is for Haman. Boo, hiss!

(To enjoy the detail, please click on the image. )
"An adversary and an enemy, even this wicked Haman"

On Purim we celebrate the deliverance of the Jews of the Persian Empire from a total massacre more than 2,000 years ago. It's named for the lots (pur-im) cast by Haman, the King's vizier, to determine the date on which the Jews were to be killed in the capital city of Shushan.
Esther and Mordechai are the heroes of the story. You can open your Bible or your browser and read the fascinating Book of Esther in your own language. (It's only 7 pages!)
Yesterday was the Fast of Esther, but today we feast and drink wine, send gift baskets of food to friends, have costume parties and parades, and give lots of charity to the needy. The scroll of Esther is chanted in the synagogue; every time Haman's name is heard, all the kids and adults stamp their feet, whistle, pound the table, or spin noisemakers.
Happy Purim!