Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ring in the new year


Bells of the Greek Orthodox within the Holy Sepulchre

I will be glad to ring out the old year, so stained with blood, destruction, and plagues. 
Let's ring in the new year and strive for a more humane and just 2015. 
January 1 is World Day of Peace.  Make it so! 
Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "Ring Out, Wild Bells" was written in 1850.
See how timely it still is.
City Daily Photo bloggers are today posting their favorite photos of 2014.
Take a look.
Most are from cities outside the Middle East so I reckon they will be happy pictures. 
Best wishes for a good year to you all! 

Monday, December 29, 2014



What's the story here?
Looks to me like the truck lost something,  :)
(Linking to OurWorld Tuesday.)

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Feast of the Holy Innocents & an angelic violinist


To flee Herod's wrath and escape the king's slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem, Joseph fled with his new little family southward to Egypt.
Caravaggio's painting Rest on the Flight into Egypt, c. 1597, is a favorite of mine.

An angel playing violin for the baby, Joseph holding the notes -- how did the artist dream up such a scene?!
Click a few times to see the big picture.

Historically, this massacre may or may not have happened.
But we do know that Herod never hesitated to kill,  even his own family members.

More about the story, and another old painting, in my earlier post
More about the Caravaggio painting at Wikipedia.
Wiki explains the Feast of the Holy Innocents here.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Two turtles, two ways


While walking in the desert today I crossed paths with two turtles.
The first was on a rocky road.
The second could lie down in green pastures.

(Linking to Camera-Critters.)

Thursday, December 25, 2014

My most unique Christmas ever!

"Today the virgin gives birth to the transcendent one,
  and the earth offers a cave to the unapproachable one"

    --from the Byzantine Kontakion on the Nativity

Tell me, what were the chances of me being led to a hidden ancient grotto in the desert davka on Christmas day?!

I woke up feeling sad that this would be my first Christmas far away from Jerusalem and from the smells and bells of  her old churches, far from any Christian friends, far from my nun-friends' Christmas roast chicken and panettone.
Because now I live in the Negev desert, in the middle of nowhere, alone.
(Yes, even we Jews enjoy the drama and mystery surrounding Dec. 25, once a year.)

Over morning coffee, a new video episode from the inimitable Sr. Dr. Vassa popped up on Facebook.
She spoke of loneliness being more acute on Christmas and how we can turn things around by focusing on certain things that can liberate us from the rut of self-pity.
(Try this brilliant young  Orthodox nun's on-going video series, you'll love it.)

So I left the cold apartment and walked into the warm sun.
Two short blocks brought me to the end of Meitar, to the edge of the desert.
I vacillated -- nu, which direction to take, -- east, west, or north?
Finally I said "OK God, it's your call.  Lead on."
He did;  we turned  to the East.

In the photo above, if you click on it a few times, you'll be able to see a strange bit of whiteness inside the fold of that hill.

I traversed afar over zillions of sharp dark flint stones scattered on the earth and suddenly, above that whiteness, I came upon a cave!
To enter?  Of course Dina, throw caution to the winds!

That's it! I was inside, looking out.
Nothing or no one attacked me, this is, except for a great feeling of awe and excitement! 

There was no ox or ass, but other animals had been there.
Like a porcupine!

Small animal tracks dotted the thick layer of loess.

I hated to disturb the layer of dust of the ages by trodding on it.
No one had been in this cave for a very long time.

I made just a few footprints.

A ball of chalk on the floor!
You could crumble it with your hands.

The stuff clings to you, were you to kneel.
Well, I was just doing a tiny bit of archaeology down there, honest.

After surveying the floor, the niches, the walls and ceiling of the very ancient place,  I knew the time had come to finally sit down on a rock and be quiet and attentive.
To reflect on the pathos of the nativity.
To imagine how Miriam-Mary felt,  having to give birth in just such a cave. 
 As Orthodox Christians sing in today's Kontakion,
"Today the virgin gives birth to the transcendent one,
  and the earth offers a cave to the unapproachable one . . ."

Christmas greetings


Mazal tov to Miriam-Mary and happy birth-day to her son.

Merry Christmas to all the Christian friends!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Final night of Chanuka


Happy 8th and last night of Chanuka! 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Swiss Youth Center in Beer Sheva


Here is another building with Swiss funding.
The Keren Hayesod Switzerland Youth Center.
This public building is in Beer Sheva's Old City.
(Linking to Whimsical Windows, Delirious Doors.)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A SWISS institute for DRYLAND research??


 If you liked the architecture of the building in my previous post, you will love today's.
It too is on Sde Boker campus of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

The Swiss Institute for Dryland Environmental and Energy Research was dedicated in May 2013.

At the ceremony  Prof. Daniel Guggenheim, President of the Bona Terra Foundation, said 

There is a parallel between Switzerland and Israel. Both had to face difficult land conditions. Both made a success of these existential conditions. Let us hope that other countries will be able to overcome their challenges through the Swiss Institute.

You can see a short video about it.

SIDEER's webpages are here.

Or you can read a pdf brochure about the exciting research going on there.
Wish them luck for good discoveries!
(Linking to Our World Tuesday and  Whimsical Windows, Delirious Doors.)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Animals, wait outside


Midreshet Sde Boker or Midreshet Ben-Gurion is a wonderful place down south in the Negev desert.
There is a high school, desert research institutes, a campus of Ben-Gurion University, and lots more.
I get the impression it is a pretty laid-back place.
People come there to live or teach or study or do research because they care about nature and ecology, animals and people.

And that's why I smiled when I saw this sign on a campus classroom building --  I guess people there  have to be reminded not to come in with their pets.
Actually, the Hebrew version says "No entry to animals."
(Linking to Camera Critters,  even though there is no critter in the photo.)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Arabic Language Day


Today is UN Arabic Language Day.
December 18 was chosen as the date for the Arabic language as it is the day in 1973 when the General Assembly approved Arabic as an official UN language.

This long stone exhibited at the Israel Museum carries a dedication inscription from the year 1212 in the beautiful Naskhi script.

By the 11th century CE the Naskhi script appeared and gradually replaced the Kufic script as the most popular script for copying the Quran as well as secular and personal writings.
 It is from the Naskhi script that modern Arabic script style developed. 

The reused Herodian limestone block was found near the Zion Gate in Jerusalem.

Click on the sign to read the strange story of the building up and the tearing down of the city walls -- by the same man!
On a more personal note, you're welcome to see pictures of my 5-day immersion course in spoken Arabic in a Bedouin village in the Negev.
Hebrew and Arabic are the two official languages of Israel.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Happy birthday, Papa Francesco!


(No, it's not Chanuka gelt, even though it is now Chanuka.)

This nice medallion was made by the Franciscans to honor Pope Francis's visit to the Holy Land.
It shows  Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Pope meeting at the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Here is a little video of a big moment, the two leaders kneeling at the tomb itself (at minute 2.31).
It is nice to watch again those heady days in May.
Here "the brothers of Galilee, Peter and Andrew" meet at Viri Galilaei on the Mt. of Olives.

Today, December 17, is Pope Francis's birthday!  He is 78.

Monday, December 15, 2014

End of innocence

Sydney through the ferry window

As Ambassador Dan Shapiro so well said, "We share the pain of Australians for those they tragically lost today, and send condolences to the families. May they know no more sorrow."

My family in Sydney thought they live far away from such Mideast-type madness. 
This morning I'm afraid they are waking up to a new reality. 

I wish for a return of safety, confidence, and good life for the fair city of Sydney. 
The Sydney Morning Herald has been live-blogging the events. 
(Linking to Our World Tuesday.)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

In candles' glow


To the (Western) Christian friends--a blessed 3rd Sunday of Advent.
Gaudete,  rejoice!

Not easy to find an Advent wreath down here in the Negev desert.
Instead I give you pilgrims' candles from up on Calvary,  in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
They illumine a beautiful capital atop an ancient column.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Dead bird falls from heaven


Dead animals are often the only animals I find to contribute to Sunday's Camera Critters meme.

This pretty bird  was freshly-dead  when I walked through the eucalyptus grove in the wadi.
Over the last few days the media has been buzzing about what some people thought was a hint from Pope Francis that animals die and maybe go to heaven.
It turns out that one paper ran an article about Francis but with a headline that actually quoted Pope Paul VI who once in the 1960s or 70s told a boy grieving for his pet, "Heaven is open to all creatures."
But at a recent audience Francis only said, while speaking of the afterlife, "Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us."

You can read the explanation in this CNN article or in the wide-reaching article in the New York Times, which today made the corrections.
My own Jewish religion hardly knows what to say about what happens to people after death.
But sometimes the rabbis refer to "the next world" or "the world-to-come" as Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden, and that certainly can conjure up images of animals roaming around, no?
Do you ever ponder this question?
UPDATE Dec. 15:  Catholic News Service today tries to clarify this and gives more ideas about animal heaven.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Fun in the cactus garden


Happy from y'all's enthusiastic response to my cactus posts earlier this week, I revisited the cactus garden on the side of Meitar's central hill.
I gingerly walked around each plant looking for unusual, photo-worthy phenomena.

Like this all-natural bowl of fruit!

They had fallen from the top and the pad caught them.

A single drop of liquid!

Here is the back of that same big plant.

I never realized cacti and succulents could be so much fun.
An interesting fact from Wikipedia's article on  Opuntia cactus:

In the fall of 1961, Cuba had its troops plant an 8-mile (13 km) barrier of Opuntia cactus along the northeastern section of the 28-kilometre (17 mi) fence surrounding the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base to stop Cubans from escaping Cuba to take refuge in the United States. This was dubbed the "Cactus Curtain", an allusion to Europe's Iron Curtain and the Bamboo Curtain in East Asia.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Greeks and Jews in mock battle


Meitar is used to hearing the deafening sound of Air Force jets overhead many times a day.
But these two fighter jets were so high I didn't even hear them.
I think they were part of the joint IDF-Hellenic Air Force drill week that took place down here in the Negev (Israel's southern desert).

This article says the Greek and Israeli squadrons "practiced different complex air-to-air scenarios, with a combination of aerial refueling, protecting strategic assets and dealing with unexpected threats in the sky in order to learn from one another."

Bonus: a sharp close-up of one of our F-16s taking off during the joint exercise.

International Mountain Day

Today is International Mountain Day .
This year's theme is Mountain Farming about which the FAO says, "Here we have an opportunity to raise awareness about how mountain agriculture, which is predominantly family farming, has been a model for sustainable development for centuries."

I like to remember my years in Switzerland, where mountains are mountains and farms are farms!
The slopes of the Jura Mountains, near the French border,  are covered with vineyards.
Lots of wine-making there.

In the Alps most of the mountain farming that I saw was for hay-making.
In the brief summers, green meadows are heaven for  cows, sheep and goats, and even deer.
And of course for hikers too! 
(Linking to SkyWatch Friday.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

More funny cactus


Continuing yesterday's post, here are some more strange cactus plants on Meitar's little mountain.

After the first rains they seem to be bursting forth in growth.
Hopefully José of Lisbon and the Sunny Coast blog will drop by and teach me the proper terms for what we are seeing, since he grows cacti and knows all about them.

You can click two separate times and enlarge the photos.

The same plant seen from above.
Yellow cups as if for catching the rainwater after seven months of dry season with no rain!
(For ABC Wednesday, V is for varied varieties of vertical cactuses.)
UPDATE: Jose, of Lisbon and the Sunny Coast blog, has indeed given us lots of information on the plants!  Do see his comment on this post and on yesterday's post!    Thanks, Jose!