Thursday, May 31, 2012

A spinning marathon underway

Just inside the Jaffa Gate today I saw over a dozen exercise bikes sitting on the sidewalk.
One or two guys were trying to wheel them out through the gate, a hard task over the uneven old paving stones (and since those stationary bikes have only tiny wheels).

Later, when I left the Old City and walked near the city wall, I found the bikes--all one thousand of them!

I guessed it might be connected with Jerusalem's Light Festival which is being set up now; like riders could pedal and produce some electricity to power the lights.

But tonight's TV news showed over 800 people pedaling away fast as they could, and to music, in the cool darkness of evening!
They called it a spinning marathon.
Something about a World Sports Week.

Jerusalem's ancient Old City walls have seen many things over the centuries--but nothing like this.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A big apple

Apple Core by Claes Oldenburg
and his wife, Coosje van Bruggen, 1992
Israel Museum

The boy relaxing inside the apple proves what the museum writes--"an endearing ... piece, inviting tactile exploration."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


A tête-à-tête between two priests in the tent of the Armenians.
Talking about what (or whom), do you think?

Their peaked hats recall Mt. Ararat, where Noah's ark came to rest after the flood.
Today it is in Turkey but once it was in the ancient Armenian kingdom.

More pictures from the Ascension Day worship by the Orthodox Christians on the Mount of Olives are in my recent posts.
(Today's post is for ABC Wednesday's T-day.)
P.S. - LOL, I just enlarged the photo and found a surprise I had not seen before!
UPDATE: Sorry, exactly now when I wanted you to enlarge and find the cell phone the priests are looking at, Blogger is having a problem.
Known Issues for Blogger writes that

"Images uploaded in HTML mode may display smaller than the original size for some users. We're working on a fix to the problem, but in the meantime you can still upload images without issue via Compose mode."

That does not seem to be true however. I tried uploading again and the photo still comes out small.
sigh . . .

Monday, May 28, 2012

Head west, feet east

Welcome to the Russian Orthodox Convent on the Mount of Olives.

Thursday, Ascension Day, was my first time to visit this welcoming place, also known as the Russian Monastery of the Ascension.
Now that I am one of Julie's many Taphophile Tragics taphophiles, I paid special attention to the graves.
You can click on the photos to have a closer look.

A few tombs of VIPs were inside, or next to, the church, but there were more graves in the courtyard.

And some not far from the well.

The monastery was built between 1870 and 1887.
I think the old Made in Czechoslovakia Sigma pump is from those early days.
There are many underground cisterns in the big compound and it looks like some are still being used for the garden watering.

LinkMany nuns were buried in a fenced graveyard.

I noticed some of the gravestones were "backwards," I mean facing the cross, facing eastward.

Now I knew that this monastery in the Arab village of A-Tur is the highest point on the Mount of Olives at 818 meters (2,683 ft) and the ridge is the watershed, its eastern side being the beginning of the Judean Desert.
But I rather doubted that the spectacular view toward the Dead Sea, the mountains of Moab, and Jordan was the reason the dead were looking in that direction.

Back home, I googled.
One source said that Orthodox Christians bury the body facing east [i.e. the person's head on the west] because when Jesus was born the guiding star was in the East.

An older source, a William Tyler Olcott, writing in 1914, explained the custom thus:
The funeral rites of all people reveal the universal belief that the east is the source of all that men hold dear, light, life, warmth, and happiness, while the west, on the contrary, is said to be the abode of darkness, death, cold, and sorrow. The worship of the Sun cultivated and strengthened this idea, and down through the ages the influence of this belief has swept, retaining even to-day much of its ancient force and vigour. . . .
It is said that the body of Christ was laid with the head toward the west, that the risen Lord might face the eastern realm of eternal life and glory, and the Christian custom that sprang from this belief led to the usage of digging graves east and west, which prevailed through mediæval times, and is common with us to-day.
In the twenty-fourth chapter of St. Matthew's gospel we read: "For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." From the literal interpretation of these words there arose the belief that Jesus would, at the resurrection, appear from the east, and hence that those buried with their faces upward and their heads to the west, would be in readiness to stand up with their faces toward their Judge.
(This cemetery mini-tour also joins Our World Tuesday.)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Cheese with soul

Chag sameach--happy Shavuot holiday!

I already told you the story of how I discovered the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments in a Swiss lake.
I've posted about Ruth and Naomi and Boaz, and about the customs of Shavuot, about reinventing ritual with art, and about hearing the thunder of Mt. Sinai.

So what else is there to tell about Shavuot?
About the custom of eating dairy foods on that holiday, of course!
Cheesecake, blintzes, soft cheese, hard cheese . . .

So recently I made a "pilgrimage" up to Har Eitan, to the goat farm hidden in a wild and wildly beautiful landscape in the Jerusalem Hills.

Goat cheese at its very best!
Many different varieties of prize-winning artisan cheeses.
And yogurt, too, to drink cold from the bottle.

The cheese tasting and selling is done in this cave next to one of the goat pens.
Resistance is futile.

Sit under a tree and soak up the mountain air as you enjoy some wine and cheese.

These terraced hills where the herd grazes are ancient.
See the pretty goats at my previous post about the farm, as well as how to get there.

Ta-da! Here is the master cheesemaker himself, my old friend Shai Seltzer.

Learn more about Shai, his goats, cheesemaking, and the farm at his nice website.
UPDATE: There is a nice new article, "Israeli Cheese Goes Artisanal," that tells about Shai and other "boutique cheesemakers."
UPDATE 2018: Here is a 2017 article about Shai:
and also
this about fancy cheeses in Israel:

"Aiming words like arrows"

Happy Shavuot and happy Pentecost!
The holiday posts will be coming, but first here is our weekly contribution to Robert's Psalm Challenge.

Psalm 64
For the leader. A psalm. Of David.

1 Hear my voice, O God, as I plead; from terror of the enemy, guard my life.

2 Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,
from the scheming of evildoers,
3 who whet their tongues like swords,
who aim bitter words like arrows,
4 shooting from ambush at the blameless;
they shoot suddenly and without fear.

5 They hold fast to their evil purpose;
they talk of laying snares secretly,
thinking, ‘Who can see us?
6 Who can search out our crimes?
We have thought out a cunningly conceived plot.’
For the human heart and mind are deep.

7 But God will shoot his arrow at them;
they will be wounded suddenly.
8 Because of their tongue he will bring them to ruin;
all who see them will shake with horror.
9 Then everyone will fear;
they will tell what God has brought about,
and ponder what he has done.

10 Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord
and take refuge in him.
Let all the upright in heart glory.


1. There are official plaques all over Jerusalem, at the sites of terrorist attacks, naming the victims.
This one is an unofficial plaque, in the German Colony.
2. Ancient arrow heads and a sword. Israel Museum.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A white donkey waiting on the Mt. of Olives

A white donkey!!
A friend and I were on the Mount of Olives for Ascension Day and we just happened to happen upon a white donkey!

Jewish tradition says that when the messiah comes, he will enter the Old City through the Gate of Mercy (the Golden Gate), mounted on a WHITE DONKEY.
(See some surprising things about that in Wikipedia.)

But getting back to the donkey in the photo . . . he was standing within the big and beautiful olive-tree planted area of Viri Galilei that overlooks new and old Jerusalem.
You can see the Greek Orthodox church in back of the donkey.

The name of the church is taken from Acts1:11 which quotes the two angels who said to the apostles "Men of Galilee [viri galilei in Latin], why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."

(A post for Camera-Critters meme.)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Ascension Day at Christendom's 2nd holiest site

As I started telling you yesterday, Thursday was Ascension Day for the Orthodox churches.
It was my first time to see the very old Chapel of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives and to experience four different liturgies going on at once, each in a different language.

Photo opportunities were so plentiful, I don't know where to start!
Maybe we start with pictures of the processions, so you can have a better look at the interesting faces and vestments.

From time to time the Greeks or Armenians or Syrians or Copts would leave their area of the courtyard and walk in procession into the chapel.
(You remember, they are allowed to pray here but once a year by the Muslim owners, and each group sets up an awning or kind of tent for their hours-long liturgy.)

You always knew when a group was exiting the chapel by the rhythmic tapping of the kawas' ceremonial staff.
Since Ottoman Turk times, they lead the way and clear the way for the Christian clergy.
The Arab kaswassim will get a separate post in the coming days.
They are sort of like the Holy Land version of the Vatican's Swiss Guard.

Here come the Greek Orthodox.

(Click on any photo, and then again on the photo that opens, to enlarge it. Enjoy the rich detail.)

This Armenian was leading the choir of the seminary students.
There seems to be almost no spoken word in the Orthodox liturgies, only singing/chanting.

These star-shaped things with little bells were also beautiful to hear.

The very old Syrian Orthodox church still uses Aramaic (mixed with some Arabic) for their prayers.

Indeed, if you closed your eyes to the lay people in modern dress yesterday and just focused on the look and sound of the clergy, you could imagine you were far back in the earliest Christian centuries in Jerusalem.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Happy Ascension Day

It was a day of much incense on the Mount of Olives this morning!
Greek Orthodox, Russian, Armenian, Coptic, and Syrian clergymen were all swinging incense in the smallish walled area surrounding the Chapel of the Ascension.
For this one day of Ascension Day the Muslim owners of the chapel let these historical Christian communities erect altars and tents in order to conduct their separate Divine Liturgies concurrently, side by side.

It was all very colorful and when I've made order in my hundreds of photos I'll be showing you the clergy in their best vestments.

The present chapel is about 800 years old, although the first Byzantine rotunda was there already in the 4th century.

As you see in the "wall" painting on the wall of one of the tents, the apostles were sky-watching on this very spot almost 2,000 years ago as the right foot of Jesus took his last step of earth.

The New Testament book of Acts (1:9-11) says
He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."

And inside the Chapel of the Ascension the faithful kneel and kiss the stone that (tradition says) bears the footprint of his right foot.
(Linking to inSPIREd Sunday.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The bee's knees

On the long (almost two hour) train ride from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, I used the time to take pictures.
Even some stealth shots under the table.

I was glad the young man sitting facing me had his rifle pointing NOT in my direction.
It didn't seem to bother the couple across the aisle.

But when I got home that night and examined the photos, I was puzzled by those two things on the front of the gun.
I kept saying, you're not in Arkansas anymore, Dina, stop thinking "double-barreled shotgun."

My son, who knows almost everything, had the answer.
It is a bipod that you can fold down to support the weapon when firing.

Look here for photos of American Harris BiPods for sale.
I know, readers are going to ask. So here are some possible answers I gleaned from the Wikipedia article titled "Gun politics" :

Soldiers are allowed to carry their personal weapons and ammunition while on furlough during active service, uniformed or in civilian clothing. ...
Residents of Israeli settlements in the West Bank are issued assault rifles and ammunition by the army, and are given civil defense training. However, the rifles and munitions are property of the army, and may be confiscated at any time. ...
Self-defense firearms may be carried in public, concealed or openly. Israel is notable for being a country with few places where firearms are off limits to licensed individuals (private premises, some government offices and institutions, courts). ...
Gun ownership in Israel is considered a privilege and not a right.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

S is for a spinning shpanyer

Bet you don't know what this is.
I had never even heard of it before I saw a man spinning it in a video demonstration at the Israel Museum.

OK! This contraption is called a shpanyer and what it does is shpanyer arbet.

This craft was a technique using gold or silver thread to create a complex design with geometric or plant motifs, woven at a special workshop.
The workers were called shpanyer machers.

Here's what the museum says about this metal-thread lacework:

Shpanyer is a kind of lacework made by winding metal thread around cotton or linen thread to create interlacing patterns. Though its origins are unclear, this technique is believed to have been exclusively practiced by Jews, who used it to embellish items of clothing--particularly ornamental neckbands for prayer shawls.
In the 19th century, shpanyer work was mainly practiced in Sassov, Galicia [now the Ukraine], and the products were sold all over eastern Europe and the United States.
In the 1930s shpanyer was brought to the Land of Israel; today the craft is practiced by a Belzer Hasid who continues it in its traditional form.

In fact, the one on display is an anonymous loan, "arranged with the help of a Belzer Hasid."

The heyday of the production of shpanyer arbet was from the late 19th century to the 1930s.

Several YIVO articles have interesting information and photos of the machine and its products:
1. Shpanyer Arbet
2. Dress of Jews in Eastern Europe
3. Ceremonial and Decorative Art

One of them explains thus (I know gar nichts about sewing so it is over my head, but I hope you get it):

Shpanyer arbet was created on a table that held a rotating drum and a wooden framework from which hung four bobbins. The bobbins were threaded with cotton or linen, which was woven to produce a cord. Metal thread on shuttles was woven across the cotton or linen. The resulting cord was coiled, following a paper pattern resting on the drum, and secured to itself.
The pieces were used to decorate articles of clothing.
(A post for ABC Wednesday meme.)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Written on stone

Yesterday the nation celebrated Jerusalem Day.
Forty-five years already since the Six Day War ended, allowing Jerusalem to be put back together.
The photo is from June 2010 when the Jerusalem Light Festival lit up Damascus Gate in many grand ways.
Yes, it's true, We love Jerusalem.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

"A parched land, weary, without water"

The beautiful Psalm 63 today, joining PsalmChallenge in Athens.

1. A psalm. Of David, when he was in the Wilderness of Judah.

2. God, You are my Deity; I seek You—my soul thirsts for You, my body yearns for You, in a parched land, weary, without water.

3. Yes, I envision You in the sanctuary, beholding Your might and Your glory.
4. For Your loving-kindness is better than life. My lips glorify You.
5. Yes, I will bless You all my life; invoking Your name, I lift up my hands.
6. My soul is sated as with rich food, with lips of joy my mouth praises.
7. When I recall You, upon my bedding, I meditate upon You through the watches of the night.
8. For You are my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I will sing with joy;
9. my soul pursues You; it is I whom Your right hand supports.

10. And as for them, those who seek my soul for ruin—may they end up in the depths of the earth.
11. May they be spilled by the sword; may they be repast for jackals.

12. And as for the king, may he rejoice in God. All who swear by Him shall merit praise, for the mouth of liars will be muzzled.

1. The Judean Wilderness. The sign on the fence warns "DANGER -- MINES!"
2. A jackal in my neighborhood. Photo by friend Kristine Schnarr.
Translation by Rabbi Benjamin Segal. See his Psalm blog for ideas about the Psalm and for the Hebrew original.
Especially interesting and appropriate for Taphophile Tragics is Rabbi Segal's note that
Jackals (v. 11) are scavengers (and therefore “foxes,” found in some translations, is inappropriate). The implication is non-burial, a cursed fate in both the Bible and the surrounding cultures (stretching to ancient Greece).

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Happy birthday to Kai!

My grandson in Los Angeles is 8 today.


For years already Kai has excelled in karate, skateboarding, swimming, hiking, and now roller hockey.

AND he is a good student and a fine boy.
Savta Dina's pride and joy.

Friday, May 18, 2012

"Made in Europe" tractors

Get a load of this modern tractor!

It was a big hit at the AgriTech exhibition last week in Tel Aviv.

The guys were drooling over it.

I don't blame them; I wanted to have a turn sitting up there in the plush cabin too!

The sales rep had the powerful (and beautiful) engine running, which added to the excitement.
He was showing off, effortlessly turning the big front wheels with only one hand on the steering wheel.

All the tractors were so new and shiny clean that they were fertile ground for reflections for James' Weekend Reflections meme.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Benedictus bread wheat


Blessed be the Christians who celebrate Ascension Day today, whether on the Mt. of Olives or around the world.

I never know how to illustrate Jesus' ascension into heaven 40 days after Easter (except for this one post).
But when I saw the wonderful name of this new kind of bread wheat yesterday at the 3-day AgriTech exhibition, I knew it was perfect for the blog!

The improved wheat was one of the many plants the Agricultural Research Organization, Volcani Center, was showing off.
It was developed to be resistant to leaf rust, one of the major diseases of wheat.
The new bread wheat cultivar cv. Benedictus-16 has already been released and is doing very well in the field.

Cv. stands for cultivar which comes from combining the words cultivated variety.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

These guys don't give up

These guys were trying so hard but they just couldn't get it up.

"Degania Sprayers, SO EFFICIANT, SO FRIENDLY" the inflated thing wants to stand up and announce.

Uh oh, another spelling mistake on a sign.
Can't Israelis ever get an English proofreader BEFORE they print the sign?
It would be more efficient.

They pushed, they pulled, while others shouted advice.

Pushing and advice-giving are what Israelis do.

In the end, strong winds had the upper hand in Tel Aviv today.

I took the train there to visit the huge AgriTech exhibition at the fair grounds.
Over the coming days you will be seeing pictures of my favorite things.
(Actually, there is a Signs, signs meme and maybe I'll drop this inflated sign there.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Rounded rollers

R is for really really old ROLLERS, right outside Jerusalem on the road to Jericho.
Like around 2,000 years old!

The sign at the Inn of the Good Samaritan explains them:
Rollers for compressing plaster on roofs and floors
From the Hellenistic Period
Found at Mount Gerizim
(For ABC Wednesday R-day.)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Etruscans resting in peace

This old bone box at the Bible Lands Museum touched my heart.

The deceased couple is depicted on the lid of the ossuary.

The panels show winged genii leading the dead away.

(Click on the photo and then again on the enlarged photo to see it up close.)

This is an Etruscan ossuary from Etruria, central Italy, dated 400-300 B.C.E.

This is the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem with a modern statue of the tower of Babel in front.

It is located on "museum row," across the street from the Israel Museum and just up the hill from the science museum.
Just to the BLMJ's left I was excited to see the progress of the National Campus for the Archaeology of Israel.
I posted about it two years ago when they were just putting up the sign about its future construction.
I hope the folks at Our World Tuesday enjoy this tour and that the taphophiles at Taphophile Tragics appreciate the bone box.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

"Mother Mary" nursing her baby

You know this old Jewish joke?

"How do we know Jesus was Jewish?
1. He lived at home until he was 30
2. He went into his father's business
3. His mother thought he was God."

Every Jewish Mother thinks her son is like unto God, but Mary took it seriously.

I was so surprised to go down to the old crypt of St. Gerasimus Monastery a few days ago and to see this image on the wall!

Since then I have learned that the Milk-giver icon first appeared in the 6th century and the Greek Orthodox call it Mlekopitatelnitsa, the Milk-giving Virgin Mary.
Although rare, it also entered Western religious art, but maybe 800 years later, where it is known as Maria Lactans.

Mary wears the crown of the Queen of Heaven.

Although this monastery near Jericho is not on the route, a certain Christian tradition has it that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus overnighted here on their flight into Egypt and that in the crypt Jesus learned to take his first steps.
One of my favorite old paintings is this amazing scene by Caravaggio called "Rest on the Flight Into Egypt."
BTW, the carved wooden chest with the slot on top invites visitors to donate money or valuables to the monastery.
I am sure many of the Eastern Orthodox pilgrims are so moved that they contribute generously.
To those of you mothers in countries where today is Mother's Day (not in Israel), I wish you all the blessings of this Sunday.