Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mazal-tov to Spacedlaw

Sage burning in a friend's lair
(Easier to see the wafting smoke if you click on the photos)
I was reminded of these photographs by the good news just announced by my favorite poet-on-the-Web. Congratulations, Spacedlaw (Nathalie), on TWO of your poems being nominated for Best of the Net 2009. "The Sage's Secret" is beautiful [and was also nominated for the Pushcart Prize]!
Nathalie's short posts are a daily joy for me. You too can sample her blogs,
"A TITLE? What's in a title? I was never told there should be a TITLE!"
"Word of the day! Fresh! Fresh! Fresh!".

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Knights Palace

K-Day today at ABC Wednesday.

At the end of Freres Street, next to the Latin Patriarchate, near the New Gate, in the Christian Quarter, inside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, is a small hotel.

It's the Knights Palace!

Before the middle of the 19th century, Jerusalem had no hotels. Only after mid-century, when tourism per se began to the Holy Land, were hotels built.
Pilgrims who came on pilgrimage had hostels for their meagre needs, but wealthier tourists from abroad wanted more comfortable accommodation.
Knights Palace dates mostly to the 1880s.
Even the restrooms in the lobby go with the knightly motif.

Some of the 50 hotel rooms (on the right, not the left!).
The Knights Palace website is here.
For a time, the building served as a theological seminary.

As you might guess from the KHS Knight's photo on the wall, the building is also the base in Jerusalem of the Knights of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
AND . . . today is Michaelmas, the Feast Day of the Archangel St. Michael and All Angels!
As Nestor writes in his blog Every Day's A Holiday!, "Perhaps because of his position as the leader of the army of angels in Revelation, Michael became the patron saint of knights, whom fighters called upon in times of battle."
Happy Michaelmas to all Christians who are celebrating the feast day.

Post-Day of Atonement post

Yom Kippur ends with the Ne'ila (= locking, closing) prayer. You can feel the heightened intensity in the congregation in this last hour of a long day of prayer. We stand before the holy ark and plead

We beseech you, O God, forgive, pardon, condone; have pity and compassion, grant us atonement, and subdue our sin and iniquity."

Thank you all for your expressions of solidarity and blessing for this long day of fasting and introspection.
This morning I woke up to a surprise. Father Adam created a lovely post of Yom Kippur wishes for his Jewish friends, complete with a closing (or opening?) stained glass gate!
Thank you, FA. God bless you and all the new possibilities of interfaith learning that blogging opens for us.
FA is a Carmelite monk and priest in California and his Monastery Daily Photo is a welcome look behind the monastary walls. And he answers comment questions too!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sefer Torah

Welcome to That's My World Tuesday. For the past 26 hours my world has been the solemn Jewish holy day, Yom Kippur, complete with fasting and lots of ancient prayers.
You can see more about the Day of Atonement and a video of my grandson blowing the shofar in yesterday's post.
You may not take pictures in the synagogue on a day like today because "work" is forbidden on Yom Kippur. So in order to show you the beautiful Sephardic-style Torah cases, I took these photos in a store in Jerusalem a couple weeks ago.

The parchment of the Torah scroll would be attached to the two wooden rollers.
The first five books of Moses--Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy--are carefully written on the parchment (animal skin) by a special scribe.
In Ashkenazic congregations the Torah scroll is covered with a velvety mantel instead of being housed in the wooden case.
All the beautiful ornamentation is our way of honoring the Torah.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sound the shofar!

OK, in a few minutes we will enter into the Day of Atonement. I will be shutting down the computer until tomorrow night. Israel has closed the border crossings with Jordan and Egypt, the country's airspace is closed to all flights, a closure is imposed on the West Bank. No mode of transportation moves. Nothing is open except the synagogues. It is silent, in expectation of our entering the "gates of repentance" and hopefully being inscribed and sealed in God's Book of Life for the new year.

At the closing prayer service tomorrow night, a blast of the shofar will be heard and will enter the soul of every Jew.

Dean, my dear grandson who lives in Australia, made his very own shofar at a neighborhood Chabad workshop for kids. It is very hard even for an adult to get any sound out of a ram's horn. But Dean has a great gift for blowing the shofar. Listen!

Shalom and gmar chatima tova!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Crocs too comfy?

Our has characteristically taken an old and odd bit of religion news and blown it out of proportion. If you want to read the article, read the talkbacks too; they are the funniest part.
A young yeshiva student asked his elderly ultra-orthodox Jerusalem rabbi if Crocs were OK to wear on Yom Kippur. The rabbi reportedly decided: "It is permissible legalistically, but it is inadvisable."
To quote Ynet,
"The rabbi further explained his ruling saying that he ruled according to the halachic authorities who believe that the prohibition against 'wearing sandals' refers to not wearing leather shoes.
Despite this, the rabbi added, he took into consideration the interpretation of halachic rulers who see the prohibition against 'wearing sandals' as referring to creating a level of discomfort. As such, any shoe that is not from leather but is comfortable to wear is forbidden on Yom Kippur. "

Well, I have no Crocs and my sandals are of rubber and fabric. Will they be kosher enough for my village synagogue tomorrow night?
All it stipulates in the Bible (in Leviticus 16:29, 31; 23:26, 29, 32; and Numbers 29:7) is that on Yom Kippur "You shall afflict yourselves,* and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you: for on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you . . . ."
*Actually the Hebrew says וְעִנִּיתֶם, אֶת-נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם -- You shall afflict your souls.
The rabbis in ancient times then interpreted this to mean that on Yom Kippur eating and drinking, and washing (with water), and anointing (with oil), and putting on leather sandals, and marital intercourse are forbidden.
"In the Talmud's terms, for a brief time we elevate ourselves to the status of angels, who have no corporeal needs and whose sole role in the universe is to serve God. (The rabbis also explain that the things we abstain from are all those that make the soul comfortable in the body. By engaging in activities that make it uncomfortable, the soul is more likely to rise up from the body, taking us to a higher spiritual plane.)" -- This is how artist/writer Lesli Koppelman Ross expains it.
For interesting ideas on the footwear please see her article at
One thing for sure: Life in Israel and in Judaism is never boring!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Benching in the synagogue

Every Friday some of us meet at RuneE's Visual Norway to share our Bench of the Week. You are invited to do the same. Have a seat.

These simple benches are where I will most likely be sitting for parts of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which begins this Sunday afternoon and ends on Monday night.
The women's section (on the upper floor) is not very big.
Those semi-transparent curtains will be closed during the prayer service; but rest assured, the women in the front row will be peeking through this mechitsa to watch the men-folk and boys and Torah scrolls below.
What you can just see through the railing in this stealth photo is the top of the Torah ark.

Sometimes I think there is only one bench outside in front of our village synagogue in order not to tempt people to take a break from the hours and hours of Yom Kippur liturgy inside.
It is usually very hot on Yom Kippur, which makes the 26-hour fast (no water, no food) not so easy.
Last year I walked uphill in the hot sun for 45 minutes (NO cars, buses, or even planes run on the most holy day of the year) to Hadassah medical center for an Ashkenazi rite Yom Kippur. (The moshav where I live has only the Sephardic synagogue, whose nusach I am less familiar with.) The Hadassah synagogue has the famous twelve stained glass windows by Marc Chagall (the post is here).
Sadly, the rabbi of our village died several weeks ago. Rest in peace, Rav Avraham.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Head in the clouds

For SkyWatch Friday we can watch the changing clouds and sky through American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein's "Modern Head."

Made of brushed steel, the sculpture stands 31 feet (9 1/2 meters) tall.

In the previous post we saw the rock sculpture depicting Abraham's almost-sacrifice of Isaac, his beloved son. On one face of the stone was written in Hebrew pahad Yitzhak, meaning the fear of Isaac, or Yitzhak's terror.

From that "Binding of Isaac" sculpture you see the "Modern Head" as in the photo above. That close.
The two were assembled in close proximity in the garden of Safra Square (Jerusalem City Hall) for a reason.
Following Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's death, Roy Lichtenstein, James Goodman, and Jeffrey Loria donated "Modern Head" to the Israel Museum in honor of Rabin. The museum later lent it to the Jerusalem Municipality.
Together the two sculptures, even though made before the 1995 assassination, create a tacit memorial site to the late Yitzhak (Isaac) Rabin.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The akeda, the binding of Isaac

The Days of Awe, the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, are upon us.
On the second day of Rosh Hashana the Torah portion read in the synagogue is from Genesis 22. The binding of Isaac!

The sculpture portrays Abraham's hand covering the mouth of Isaac while his other hand grips the knife with which he was commanded to slay his beloved son.

One face of the rock has the altar on which Isaac was bound. But mercifully, there also appears the ram with the curved horns, caught in the thicket, which God sent as a substitute sacrifice.

Engraved in Hebrew on the back is pahad Yitzhak, meaning Isaac's fear.
And above the words, a dove.
The rock stands in the Municipal Garden, between the Jerusalem City Hall and Jaffa Road.
The artist is the same man who did the giant mural in the Post Office.
Like our patriarch whom God tested, the artist is also named Avraham. Avraham Ofek created this sculpture in 1987, after he had lost his own daughter, and just a few years before he died of a long and painful illness.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Of joy and Jews

Just some Jewish symbols here for ABC Wednesday J-Day.

I went to pick up a friend today at Ben-Gurion International Airport near the city of Lod and I picked up some J words too.
This 5-meter-high menorah welcomes people at the arrivals terminal.

It contains another Jewish symbol--the shield of David, magen David.
And written under the word SHALOM is the artist's signature: Salvador Dali.
The work is titled "Menorat Hashalom" (the Menorah of Peace).

Jillions of luggage trolleys were snaking their way toward the menorah.

Joy will soon light up the faces of these people when their loved ones emerge from the baggage claim and customs area.

Jews poured out of flights originating in cities such as Bratislava and Kiev. These Jewish men were returning from their annual Rosh Hashana pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav. Nachman from Uman is buried in Uman, a city in the Ukraine.
If you are curious about the Na-Nach Nachman meUman graffiti that sprouts up on almost every vertical surface in Jerusalem, please revisit my post about the miracle mantra.
The airport was fun, but it's good to be back home hearing the jackals in my beloved Jerusalem Hills.
Happy J-Day.

Monday, September 21, 2009

International Day of Peace

International Day of Peace is marked every year on September 21.
I saw it on several American blogs today, otherwise I would not have known.
More about it at IDP Vigil and at Wiki.

This dove of peace

sits atop a eucalyptus tree that was a hundred years old when a storm blew it over.
The Peace Tree was designed and sculpted by 25 Jewish and Arab teenagers.
It stands tall at the center of the 37-acre campus of Givat Haviva.
Located in a kibbutz by the same name, Givat Haviva, founded in 1949, is Israel's oldest and largest organization working for peace, pluralism, tolerance, democracy, and justice. Givat Haviva's Jewish-Arab Center for Peace in Israel won the 2001 UNESCO Prize for Peace Education for its "exceptional efforts in the areas of peace education, promotion of peace and non-violence" and work done for the resolution of conflicts through dialogue.

Artist Amir Baumfeld explains the Peace Tree's symbols:
The dove of peace -- always finds its home
Dolphin -- happiness, playfulness, intelligence
The sun shining on the dove's chicks
Hands that emerge from the roots and reach towards the golden-heart flower [perach lev hazahav] located in the center of the sun.
Let us all give a hand to support peace!
This is my contribution to That's My World Tuesday, in hopes that my world in and around Israel will one day be a peaceful world.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tashlich, 5770 anno mundi

On the afternoon of Rosh Hashana it is customary to do the Tashlich ceremony.
In the biblical book of Micah (7:18-19) it says:
"Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? . . . You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea."

So tashlich means "You will cast off."

Having no sea or river or lake, I am fortunate to live near a spring-fed fish pond.
I read the liturgy and then took the symbolic bread crumbs from my pocket. I named a personal sin and threw a crumb in the water, named a national sin and threw another, a private sin of omission and tossed more bread. On and on.
The fish gobbled them up.
Part of the symbolism is this: A fish has no eyelids and cannot close its eyes. So, too, may God always keep his eyes open watching over us.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hayoreh--the first rain

Rain already on Rosh Hashana?! Unheard of!

But this afternoon the sky quickly went from blue to gray.
Rain fell for the first time since last March!!

See the drops falling?!
I took shelter under a metal roof. What a sound, what a smell!

The ten-minute rainfall was enough to make a mud puddle.

Drops in a puddle never looked so good!
What a blessed way to start the new year. Let's pray for a rainy winter that will end our five-year drought.
More rain is predicted for tomorrow. Let's celebrate! Id mubarak to the Muslims ending Ramadan, shana tova to us Jews starting year 5770, and bon dimanche/good Sunday to the Christians.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A new year opens

Rosh Hashana began tonight, the first day of the new Jewish year 5770.

Pomegranates are traditionally eaten for the first time at the Rosh Hashana table.
They are said to have 613 seeds, just as the Torah contains 613 mitsvot/commandments.
My yard is graced with several rimon trees. I picked the big pomegranate, and the little one was stuck to it.
A blessed new year to you all. Shana tova!

Thursday, September 17, 2009


It is always a glorious moment when the first rays of sun break onto the terraced hill opposite our hill, across the Soreq Valley.

This photo came to life at 6:53 a.m.

The shadow line made by our hill quickly goes down down down and then the whole valley is in sunlight.
The SkyWatch Friday group offers sun, moon, clouds, and/or blue skies from all around the planet. Some 350 choices. Join us!

Safsal halimudim

I always hear of the David Yellin Teachers College (founded in 1913), but I had never seen it.

I found it, back in the winding streets of the Beit Hakerem neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Entering and exploring, I was seized by an urge to register for classes.

The Bench on Friday bloggers who gather every Friday at Visual Norway would like this campus.

Outside the student cafeteria, picnic tables with benches on all four sides.

Two benches peeking through the little aquatic garden.

In the winter, rain is collected from the roof, stored in these containers, and fed into the circuit of the little waterfall and pool-garden to make up for water lost to evaporation.

The benches at the adjacent school's playground were the typical sturdy metal type, meant for wear and tear.

I really enjoyed my first visit to David Yellin teachers seminary. Lots of learning going on!

The first stigmatic's secondary feast day

The painting "St. Francis receives the stigmata,"
in the monastery church

Today, September 17, Franciscans and Traditional Roman Catholics celebrate a feast called The Impression of the Stigmata of St. Francis, Confessor.

My neighbors the Franciscan brothers are still licking their wounds after Saturday's fire inside the monastery grounds (as reported in my previous posts). I hope they can relax a bit today and enjoy the feast day in honor of their founder.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mystery fruit

Jerusalem's huge outdoor fruit and vegetable market put on her pre-holiday finery today.
Jewish shoppers are ready to pay extra for fancy fruit for Rosh Hashana, the new year (beginning this Friday evening).

It is not everyday you see carambola and pineapples in Jerusalem.

And I have NEVER seen that exotic-looking red and green fruit. From the sign in Hebrew I figured out it was called pitaya.

Google led me to this little picture of the inside of a pitaya, also called dragon fruit. I also learned now that pineapples, carambola, and pitaya are grown in Israel, although in limited scope.
Oh, and now I remember seeing and eating slices of pitaya in a salad. It was on a London-to-Sydney flight, after the jet landed in Bangkok to refuel and load airplane food meals. Thailand is (another) one of the places where the pitaya cactus grows.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Idol, Indiana Jones

It is I-day at ABC Wednesday, and I am happy to hear the breaking news that a new Indiana Jones sequel is in the works.
Harrison Ford (already a grandfather) will continue to play his role. Yay!

"Throw me the idol. No time to argue. Throw me idol, I'll throw you the whip."
(Satipo to Indy, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Brother Fire

". . . Brother Fire . . . Full of power and strength."

Click on the photo to read St. Francis' Canticle of the Creatures.
There are only two things on our hill in the Jerusalem Hills: my village and a monastery.
If you have seen my posts lately, you know that a forest fire broke out on Saturday within the monastery property. Police thinks the cause was a carelessly thrown cigarette.

For That's My World Tuesday I promised to show four GOOD things from the scene of the fire, 22 hours after it was extinguished.

Not often you see this color inside a pine cone.

I'm hoping they burst open from the heat of the flames and spread new seeds for the future.

If you enlarge this picture you can see yellow bees.

The poor beekeeper monk lost at least a dozen hives (bee boxes).
Here the surviving bees returned to their former home to collect the last drops of honey.
I didn't want to get too close, but this was a somehow very touching and surprising scene.

How wonderfully green the tall cypress trees look in comparison.

The best thing about the fire was that it did not reach the monastery church or buildings, which are located down at the base of these two trees.

The Franciscan flag still waves!
Praise the merciful Lord for sparing the Brothers.