Saturday, May 30, 2009

Dairy goats and a cheesemaker, for Shavuot!

Yesterday we celebrated the Jewish holiday of Shavuot on which it is traditional to eat dairy food, and LOTS of it.
In the past week Israelis purchased THREE times the normal amount of cheeses and dairy products.

Nothing can beat goat and sheep cheese--in taste, texture, and appearance.
These are the young bucks which will sire the does which will produce the milk which will be transformed into cheese.

But this is the master cheesemaker and only he knows how to create the delicious prize-winning artisan cheeses of many varieties!
Shai Seltzer learned to make cheese thirty years ago and ever since, to quote the farm's lovely website, "Shai has won acclaim worldwide as an instructor and mentor of dairy goat farming and cheese making."
Learn about the cheese in the cave and the specially-bred herd, about the hills that have known agriculture for 6,000 years, and about Shai--all at the website (linked above).
Or, take a hike or a drive up the mountain and meet this fascinating man in person.
Follow the sign with the doe that says goat cheese.
You might want to click and enlarge this photo.
Even zoomed in, it looks far away. It is the view across the valley, from my hill in the Jerusalem Hills, looking toward Har Eitan mountain.
You see the little white dots in the center, in the middle of nowhere?
That is where Shai lives and works.
He built it all from scratch years ago. A real pioneer.
Besides being Shavuot, today is also the day for our bloggers' weekly animal meme, Camera-Critters Sunday.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Double celebration

Happy Shavuot holiday and Shabbat shalom, Sabbath peace, to you tonight.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A blessed Shavuot

"On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled. Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God. They took their stand at the foot of the mountain." -- Exodus 19:16-17
This is just the view from one side of my village. But when it looks all dramatic in the sky I like to imagine that the next ridge is Mount Sinai and that God is answering Moses in the thunder and that I am there to witness the moments of fear and trembling!
You see?! Moses did receive the tablets of the Ten Commandments!
Today is not only SkyWatch Friday but also the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.
The Feast of Weeks is also called the Time of the Giving of the Torah, the Festival of the First Fruits, and the Harvest Festival. Shavuot commemorates the people's pilgrimage to Jerusalem to bring first crops to the Temple. Tomorrow the Ten Commandments will be read in synagogues and also the Book of Ruth, telling the story of Ruth the Moabitess who followed Naomi and became Jewish.
On Shavuot it is the tradition to eat dairy foods, wear white, and study Torah throughout the night. Happy holiday!
P.S. To see how I discovered the tablets of the Covenant in a Swiss lake, please click here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A street of a different stripe

ABC Wednesday post. See if you can guess which letter the group is on today. ;-)

Silly stripes on this girl's pants and top! Was she in pyjamas? Was she a jailbird?
She was perched on a stone wall together with her laptop, at the end of a shaded side street in one of Jerusalem's old neighborhoods near the shuk.
Such was her street! Wouldn't YOU too prefer to sit in the sun and savor some privacy out on the stone wall, instead of sitting behind the shutters in one of these little apartments?
So why the tin on several of the old buildings, you say? It is the old way of keeping some of the cold and rain at a distance in Jerusalem's chilly winters. Simple and cheap.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A window of peace

While exploring Jerusalem together, my visiting grandsons and I discovered this by chance!
We just happened to wander into the library of the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University.

Measuring 16 x 6 meters/yards, this creation is among the largest stained glass windows ever made.
Mordechai Ardon was one of the great painters of Israel. Towards the end of his life the message of peace became his focus, and he addressed his work to war-weary Israel. The theme of his window, executed in 1980-84 for the National Library of Israel, is the prophet Isaiah's vision (Isaiah 2:2-4) of eternal peace at the End of Days.

In the photo above, broken modern weapons and shells are turned into spades. "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."

"And many peoples shall come and say: 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.' " The left panel depicts the roads taken by the nations on their way up to Jerusalem. Each road is marked by the verse, "Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord…" in several different languages and alphabets including Latin, Greek, and Arabic.
The red middle panel is my favorite.
At the bottom is Jerusalem's city wall as mentioned in Isaiah. But look carefully! The wall is not of stone; it is a spiritual wall, the Scroll of Isaiah itself, which was discovered at Qumran among the Dead Sea Scrolls!
The parchment floating above the "wall" reads "And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares."
The network of blue circles and lines is the Kabbalistic Tree of Sefirot, a symbol of the mystical Divine Presence (Shechinah) over the city. The composition of Sefirot made of concentric circles is also derived from the Book of Zohar.

On the east side of the National Library, facing the rising sun, the stained glass window covers the entire wall of the mezzanine lobby to the General Reading Room.
The building houses the National Library of Israel, the National Library of the Jewish People,
and the main research-level Humanities Library of the Hebrew University.
As the Philately Service wrote when it issued stamps of Ardon's windows,
"The close connection between the subject of the windows - Jerusalem - and their position in the library, the hall of the eternal spirit of Jewishness and Humanism, is obvious. It was the artist himself who chose this place for his creation and it was the place itself which gave him inspiration."
Here is the entire stained glass window in a photo from the Library website.
The assembling was carried out by master-craftsman Charles Marc at the "Atelier Simon" in Rheims, France. It took two years to complete.
Although nearly 90, Mordechai Ardon participated actively in the execution of his great work.

UPDATE: See Ardon and about Ardon and his window in this 1990 video.
Other guided tours of beautiful places in the world will be available from tonight at the friendly meme That's My World Tuesday. You're welcome to join or visit.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Safety dungeon, confession

As a former translator I had to laugh at this rendering of the Hebrew term bor bitachon! Normally it is translated "safety pit." (You find them at every public place in Israel. It is a barrel buried in the ground, with a lid, in which to put a found suspicious object , e.g. a bomb, until the police sapper arrives. )
But Safety Dungeon???

This sign was there for the Pontifical Mass which was celebrated on Franciscan property in Jerusalem's Kidron Valley.
Click to enlarge and you can see their emblem, the crossed arms of Jesus and St. Francis.
So what did I find amusing? Well, in a moment of (Jewish) collective memory I imagined dungeons of the Inquisition; I wondered if the sign's translator-friar had unconsciously been influenced by the vocabulary of his inquisitor brothers from the Middle Ages, like, in a moment of (Catholic) collective memory.

Thank God, nothing and no one was put down in the dungeon during Mass on May 14.
I do have a confession, however. I erred.
When reporting to you about Pope Benedict's Mass (here, here, here, and here) I assumed, since there were no statistics afterward in the media, that the place built specially for the event (to hold 6,000 people) was pretty much full.
A few days ago the newspapers suddenly announced that Church officials were "perplexed" about the low turnout for the Jerusalem Mass.
 It seems that only 3,000 (or 3,500 according to the Franciscan website) of us got through the gate.
Sorry about that. I must remember the old rule: Assume nothing.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The color of summer

Two village cats visited my yard.
What's with the tail? Does this belong to the courting ritual?
See other animals this weekend at Camera-Critters Sunday.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The party's over . . .

Jerusalemites, joined by another 100,000 who came up to the capital yesterday, walked in the Jerusalem Day flag parade through the downtown streets and/or attended national memorial services for soldiers who died defending Jerusalem and/or prayed and then danced and sang at the Western Wall Plaza into the night.
Jerusalem Day is over. The temporary stages and seating were dismantled.
Flags have been trucked away.
Who knows what our situation will be next year at this time.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Shabbat shalom, Sabbath peace to you.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

With Ethiopian-Israelis on Jerusalem Day

Jerusalem Day today, a national holiday, marking what is called the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War.
There were many events in town, many different ways to celebrate and to remember.

My choice was to be at a moving ceremony with these kesim.
A kes is a religious leader of Ethiopian Jewry. Here they are singing the prayers in their holy language, Gez.

I sat among these Ethiopian-Israelis.

Their story is written on the wall of a new monument at Mount Herzl.
Please click to enlarge and read.
Part One is above,

and Part Two is here.

So many memorial candles were lit.
Today's relatively new yearly ceremony is called "The National Ceremony for Ethiopian Jews who perished on their way to Israel."

President Peres had praise for an isolated community that managed to survive 3,000 years of The Exile in the mountains of Ethiopia, unlike the Jews of Nineveh, China, and some parts of India who disappeared.
He lauded their unending dream to return to Israel, which they called "Eretz Jerusalem," the Land of Jerusalem.
There were several big operations to bring masses of Ethiopian Jews home.
One place you can learn about it, as told by the immigrants themselves, is here.
And if you have four minutes please watch a video about the 1991 Operation Solomon in which 14,000 were rescued in 36 hours of continuous airlifts. If your eyes stay dry, let me know.
Peres talked mostly about Operation Moses, 1984-5.
One out of every three Ethiopian Jews who started the trek, on foot, over the mountains and then through the desert of Sudan to the temporary refugee camps, in other words 4,000 of those people, died before they could be air-lifted to Israel.

This kes came to the podium, opened his ceremonial umbrella, and spoke from the heart, without a written speech, in the spoken language Amharic. His whole family died on the long way to Israel.
The new Minister of Immigrant Absorption also spoke (Hebrew with a Russian accent).
I learned that Israel now has 120,000 Ethiopians and a third of them are Sabras (native-born).

These Scouts sang a happy song.
But earlier a man had sung a song in Amharic.
I could only understand the muffled sobs of the women next to me and a groan and a sigh from the men sitting behind me.

There was the religious part--a reading of Psalms, the recital of Kaddish, the cantor singing El Maleh Rachamim.
Then came the laying of wreaths by the VIPs, including the Ambassador of Ethiopia.
I wonder how he felt about all this.

At the end, we all stood to sing our national anthem, Hatikva, The Hope.
Israel has always been built on hope.

As we filed out through a narrow passage, I with the Ethiopian women, my imagination had a few seconds to pretend we were trudging through Sudan together.
Would I have been strong and brave and determined enough to do what they did?

A feast for the eyes

Shalom skywatchers at SkyWatch Friday meme.
Today is Ascension Day for many Christians in the world. It's even a public holiday in some countries.
Jerusalem's sky looked like this today: a beam from the heavens and a hole (or even a face) in the clouds!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Made in Jerusalem

Remember the Roman antiquities in the basement that we posted about yesterday?
Preserved under and behind glass are two kilns used by the Roman Tenth Legion 1,900 years ago.
If you wouldn't mind, click and enlarge this and the other photos of signs. They tell the whole story.
Stamped on the tiles are the symbols of the Legio X Frentensis--a warship and a wild boar.
I read elsewhere that the Romans added the unclean, traif, unkosher boar/pig just to anger the Judean subjects of Caesar. Maybe . . .
Here is how the tiles were hung on a slanting roof.
Here's how the tiles were manufactured.
Much like the sauna in today's Northern countries, the Roman bathhouses served as a social meeting place. The Legionaries built, used, and maintained them.
Pillars of round or square bricks supported the floor of the caldarium, the room with a hot plunge bath.
Hot air from a furnace circulated under the floor and in hollow bricks in the wall, heating the caldarium.

Trapezoidal bricks were designed especially for arches and vaulted ceilings.
Each segment fit snugly into the other, forming pipes to carry either water or sewage. The pipes could stretch for miles.
Thankfully, the Roman soldiers in Jerusalem knew how to build as well as do battle. And thankfully, the Israel Antiquities Authority had the good sense and the vision to preserve part of this site right here in the middle of modern Jerusalem.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Roman Tenth Legion

Guess what's under Jerusalem's International Convention Center!
Hint: today's post is for R Day at ABC Wednesday.
R is for Roman kilns from over 1,900 years ago!
Click on the photos to enlarge them.

The Roman Tenth Legion was stationed in Jerusalem for over 200 years. When they were not busy quelling Jewish rebellions (The Great Revolt, 66-70 CE, and the Bar-Kochba Rebellion, 132-135 CE), destroying the Temple and Jerusalem and killing her citizens, the Legionnaires were busy building infrastructure and army camps, public buildings, and bathhouses.
When foundations for the convention center were dug, the Roman factory was discovered.
For the full story, click on the photo above.
Two of the kilns were left in place and put on display under the blue glass.
Once, while at the Book Fair, I walked slowly on the glass floor, looking down in wonder. A woman sitting on the stool drinking coffee called to me, "Did you lose something?" Then I realized that many visitors don't even know the antiquities are there.
The kilns and some of the earthenware products are enclosed in a glass room. The door is more often than not locked.
Upstairs, glass cases on the wall show the roof tiles, pipe sections, and bricks that the Roman soldiers produced at the factory. Maybe tomorrow I can show you them.
But my favorite is the story (described in the sign above) of the hobnail sandal (cleats protruding from the bottom of the sole), called caliga.
Some of the square bricks had sandal-prints in them. Apparently while the bricks were drying, before they were fired, a soldier stepped on them by mistake! So, beside the prestigious Tenth Legion stamp of LXFRE, Legio X Frentensis, there is a footprint of a simple Roman soldier.
This is so very human! I almost cried.
Sometimes archaeology does that, lets you feel a bond with one individual, one in whose footsteps we now walk.