Before you read my words of wisdom here are a few different views of Israel

Israel is a tiny country, the size of New Jersey or Wales, but the variety to be found here is enormous. Take a look at my picture gallery to see what I mean.

Bauhaus in Tel Aviv

Bauhaus in Tel Aviv
This picture was taken in Florentin - just one of many buildings that resulted in Tel Aviv being declared a World Heritage site

A tree blasted by a missile fired from Lebanon

A tree blasted by a missile fired from Lebanon
Millions of trees have been planted in Israel. the once malaria filled swamplands and arid deserts have bloomed again like in Bible times thanks to the dedication of the Jews who returned to our homeland. And we will continue to plant, even when our enemies try to bring us down.

Through a telescope

Through a telescope
Cranes dance in the Agamon

A winter pond -

A winter pond -
Only after an especially rainy winter can we enjoy this lovely sight.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Six-Day War! 40 years ago!

It's fantastic to think that it will soon be 40 years since we reunited Jerusalem. I just came across a new site about the Six-Day War that started me reminiscing!

(Check it out - I've posted the address in my Links under the heading - surprise, surprise - "Six-Day War"!)

I can still remember that euphoric period when the world loved us. David had defeated Goliath again and we naively thought that it would mean a more peaceful future for Israel and her neighbours.

Of course at that time I was a teenager in England and so it may well be that those who lived here in Israel were more realistic. I found my diary from that period and have decided to print the relevant excerpts here (untouched!). Not riveting stuff but authentic.

It should be noted that at the same time I was recording the highs and lows of my own life which included respectively the birth of my cousin Rhona’s baby and the death of my tortoise! And of course it was the age where the traumas of teenage love were the number one topic of conversation. Learning to drive also had its fair share of dramas – especially as it was my Dad who was teaching me! (He learnt to drive on a tank during WW2 so what could you expect?) So the diary entry “I was in tears” refers to an outing with him, not because of news from Israel.

Mon 5th June 1967 … I don’t need much time to write today’s happenings to me - nothing happened. However something has happened which may not concern me directly but never the less upsets me very much. There is now a war in Israel. Although it was obvious for days that one was impending, it still comes as a shock as one never completely gives up the hope that it won’t happen. I’ve included in my prayers each night “Please don’t let there be a war in Israel” and I suppose I’d come to believe that the miracle would take place. I can’t put down on paper how concerned I feel without sounding trite or stilted but I feel very deeply that Israel must not be destroyed. It makes me want to cry when I think how the sabras have slaved in their country to make it fertile and now a wretched Arab called Nasser wants to destroy it all. I only wish I were old enough to go out there to try and help but unfortunately the minimum age is 18. This is what makes it so much worse – my feeling of absolute helplessness. There must be something I can do.

Tues 6th June … Israel already seems to be defeating the Arabs.

Wed 7th June … In the evening I went to Habonim for a meeting. … I volunteered to baby-sit to raise money for Israel. It may not be much but at least I am doing something. … the war is practically over.

Israel has control of the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem – today Moshe Dayan (Minister of Defence) visited the Wailing Wall. There are talks of a cease-fire. Thank G-d!

Thurs 8th June … Jordan have now stopped fighting. Nasser will not let Egypt give in despite Russia’s having stopped supporting him, but it is only a matter of time before he is defeated. How many people will have died by then though? How many crops will be ruined because there is no-one to reap them? Moshe Dayan says that Israel will not give up Jerusalem again – they now have control of the Arab sector, most of which used to be Jewish anyway!

Sat 9th June … We got a circular from the Bnai Brith this morning saying that one of the executive will come round tomorrow to collect money for Israel.

Sun 10th June … There was a cease-fire this morning at last. Israel have had a resounding victory.

Mon 11th June … The official number of dead from the war was given today – 679 (Israellis) and 2,563 wounded. I got a letter from Shimon (Israelli pen-friend) on Saturday. He was already in the army but the war hadn’t started so I don’t know if he is allright yet. I have written to him so now all I can do is wait.

I am glad to say that my pen-friend did survive the war. But where he is today I do not know!

Here's a very incisive article written by a gentleman called Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Each of them will sit under his vine ... Micah 4:1

Days of wine and roses

As our tiny little country is attacked on all sides by the road and house builders, more and more it is the green of the vineyards that saves our precious land.

Israel's wine industry is going from strength to strength. People are often surprised to know that the Jewish farmers (who were then known as the Palestinians!) were winning international prizes way back at the beginning of the 20th century too, but today's success is on a far grander scale.

A fun thing to do is to plan a tour of a few wineries, not forgetting to take in a cheese-making place or two along the way! And order yourselves a driver as well as the guide so that you can happily drink without worrying about where you are going or where you have been!

New Year Cheer Different areas, different wines, different approaches.

From the (sometimes!) rain-swept Upper Galillee to the (always) sun-baked Negev; from the sophisticated Cabernet Sauvignon to the amusing pomegranate wine (actually surprisingly good. Point of interest: Rimon is the only real pomegranate wine in the world - the rest are just pomegranate juice plus alcohol); from the state-of-the-art of the famous Golan winery to a boutique winery (like Ben Zimra, a small, rustic intimate place).

What a great way to learn about the wine laws and lores!

Drinking Red Wine L'chaim

Saturday, June 03, 2006

That Easter Sunday tour ...

I certainly was amazed at how many people turned up. In fact in all the confusion I never did do a proper head count and what is certain is that I lost a few along the way. Even the rain that drizzled on and off did not seem to have deterred anyone from coming out on that Easter Sunday!

Jerusalem’s Old City was jam-packed with tourists and pilgrims and most of them seemed to be heading to the Holy Sepulchre with us. In fact when we arrived at the courtyard in front of the church, I couldn’t find a free space to address my group quietly. So, hoping I wasn’t offending any of the believers, I yelled out my explanations as best I could.

It took some time to push our way into the church and getting up the stairs to the heavily ornamented rooms that now envelope the once bare hill of Golgotha was no mean feat. As sightseers not worshippers we gave the long queue to touch the living rock a miss, contenting ourselves with watching from afar as the believers sang their hymns and jostled for a place at the rock. Everywhere was the smell of incense, every group seemed to have a different garb, clothes reflecting different cultures, eras and faiths. Faces of every colour and age were represented. Chants and bells and the hammers of the Armenians on wooden boards competed for our notice.

At my group’s request I put up my umbrella so that they could follow me through the jostling mass of people. It seemed a little incongruous to be twirling a child’s umbrella with a picture of Monet’s water-lilies and I hoped I wasn’t offending anyone’s sensibilities, but I guessed that no-one was really paying attention, wrapped up as they were in their own quest to fight through the crowds to reach their holiest places.

As we moved from area to area the crowds pressed in more and more. We found a respite down in the Chapel of St. Helena. For some reason very few pilgrims had made there way down these steps, perhaps because this area was not on the official route of the Stations of the Cross! We were able to regroup, and check out the crosses carved on the wall by pilgrims in the times of the Crusaders a thousand years ago. The beautiful mosaic floor also got our full attention!

From then on our passage became more and more difficult. It sounded like the Tower of Babel had risen again, or maybe people were speaking in tongues? One thing was certain, there was no sense of Christian brotherhood; it was every man for himself. The Church itself has been the setting for inter-faith rivalries, each group jealously guarding its own interests but neglecting that of others.

Since the Status Quo agreement of 1852 no part of what is designated as common territory in the Church may be so much as rearranged without consent from all communities. This has led to the refusal to allow badly needed repairs as the communities cannot come to an agreement among themselves about the final shape of a project. Worse, it prevents safety measures from being introduced.

I was grateful that we were not there for the Ceremony of the Holy Fire. In spite of the believers’ faith that fire will pass from hand to hand, candle to candle with no-one being burned, the truth is sadly different. There have been several tragic incidents when fire has broken out. As the churches’ rival factions refuse to allow new fire exits to be broken into the walls, it is only a matter of time before a tragedy of mammoth proportions happens. (And then no doubt they will blame the Israeli authorities, who have been pleading with them for years to deal with the matter!)

Retracing our steps, my stalwart group almost made it to the door and fresh air. But then a procession swirled by. It seemed as if the large sway of people following in the priest’s path simply could not force their way through the already packed crowds, but force their way through they did. As it was, we were in real danger of being crushed and it became imperative to get out.

Being at the head of the group I was lucky enough to exit unscathed but it was all of fifteen minutes till the last members of the group made it through, with tales of rescuing an old woman who was in danger of being trampled underfoot when she fell, and even of a near-violent incident when one of my group tangled with a sceptre-swinging priest.

The rest of our tour seemed tame in comparison, though my usually peaceful description of the view from the rooftops was punctuated by the pealing bells from one church after another, and when they finally stopped a sound like a chorus of mechanical frogs rent the air.

Only after what felt like excrutiating minutes, did it turn into the strident call of the muezzin to the faithful Moslems to come to prayer! (It seems that water from the rain had got into the p.a. system!)

Everyone who made it to the end of the tour agreed that it had been an experience well worth doing.

Would we do it again?

Probably not!!!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Spring in the air, and a spring in my step ...

Pesach is coming up and as is traditional the AACI (a non-profit organisation in Israel) is offering its usual chag (festival) Tourist Project Walking Tours of Jerusalem.

In the picture: smiling participants of a previous tour help out by holding up the sign. Thanks Liz, Adrienne and Sarah!

Cost NIS 35 for AACI members, NIS 45 for non-members; children aged 5 and under free; family discount price of NIS 120/150 for families of 4 or more. Responsibility for each tour is in the hands of the individual tour guide leading that tour. No reservations are required.

I am quite busy this year but couldn't resist signing up for one day - as there is something I have been wanting to try out for some time and this is the perfect opportunity.

As a Jewish guide obviously I always enjoy showing my “eternal capital city” to anyone who wants to see it, but the nature of things is that the Jewish tourist wants to see Jewish sites and the Christian tourist wants to see Christian sites – (it is rare to get Muslim tourists but of course they too want to see Muslim sites) - and naturally each perspective is different.

So here’s my idea! I hope it will attract people of every religious persuasion.

Sunday 16th April.

A Jewish perspective: Christian Jerusalem through Jewish eyes.
Meet outside Jaffa Gate at 10 o’clock.
The Holy Sepulchre – is this Jewish burial? The view from the rooftops – what is the connection between a Jewish soldier and the Church of the Redeemer? Where is the map that denies the Temple Mount? The Upper Room on Mount Zion, traditional place of the Last Supper - was this leyl haseder?

In passing, discover some hidden delights of Jewish History.

We will finish in the Rova at 12:30 in time for lunch!

As it happens this is Easter Sunday, so I think the atmosphere is going to be electric. It will probably also be very crowded – but we’ll cope!

And in contrast, here's my afternoon tour, which will show hidden nooks and crannies, and attempt to answer lots of questions!

Jewels of the Jewish Quarter - How they lived then … how we live now.
Meet at 2:00 am inside the Zion Gate.
Where can you see what happened on that fateful day we lost the Old City? Hurvah – a ruin no more? Four Sephardi synagogues & one that wasn’t but said it was. What connects Baron Rothschild to defenders of the Jewish Quarter in the War of Independence, and what’s a Roman column doing in Batey Machseh?
Who really built the Roman Cardo, and what does the map have to tell us?

I am looking forward to having a lovely day!

Chag same'ach and Happy Easter!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I have my very own blog! How to start? Should I say who I am?

Well, you can see me here - sitting on a door dating from about the 3rd century. Gosh, it's even older than I am!

Who am I hoping will read me? Am I doing this to fill an empty void - or is it a meaningful activity in its own right?

I guess all the answers to this and many more questions will come in time. So watch this space. (Who? Who am I talking to???? Have I finally lost it?)

I do already have a web site so you can visit that too - but HERE's the place to add your comments. Nice, positive ones please :)

Aretz yaffa v'gam porachat

Don't forget to click on the photos if you want to see them large!

A shepherd watches his flocks just as David did three thousand years ago. Lucky for this lad that he doesn't have to fight off the lions and the bears. (The Crusaders killed the last lion a thousand years ago, the last bear met it's end barely a century ago.)

Hard to believe - but all these trees were planted by the Jews in the last century ...

the flowers came back on their own!

although when General Avraham Yoffe deputised every child in Israel into his Army for the Protection of Wild Flowers with the words "Don't pick! Don't uproot! Don't buy! And don't sell!" their survival was assured.

What the train traveller saw ...

So near, and yet so far away

Just had to share …

This week I took the train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on my own, when I could just sit and enjoy the view.

It was heaven! I timed it so that I would arrive in Jerusalem as the sun was setting. I made sure to sit on the left of the train, window seat, facing forward.


The train leaves on the dot.

The first part of the journey takes me out of the built up areas of Tel Aviv to reveal intimate glimpses of people’s back yards. Within minutes I am seeing planted fields, sheep and even some domestic camels. I sweep by Lod, Ramle, and then I am away from human habitation. A look at the map will reveal that in this tiny country, these fields are an even tinier part – but somehow as you travel along you feel as if you are a thousand miles from civilization. The waving wheat is a rich green, the searing winds have not yet turned it golden. Then the track veers eastward and more fields are on the left, a Tel stands out upon the plain (Samson was here!), a forested slope is on the right, and the wild flowers are competing for my attention.

Bet Shemesh; the train empties and I know the best is yet to come. Towering cliffs on the right, the valley falling away below on the left, with glimpses of rushing water, the Sorek River. Yellow is the predominant colour, broom, acacia, wild chrysanthemums, mustard, with here and there a splash of red, anemones, red buttercups, poppies. The glorious redbud tree with its deep pink blossom, the cream flowers of the strawberry tree and the creamier flowers of the storax, all delight the eye.

I see kingfishers and jays, kestrels and eagles. A family of chukkars scuttle up the embankment (why do these birds never fly, I wonder). A jackal is hunting, following a well-worn path.

Ancient terraces, originally built by the returning Children of Israel 3000 years ago, straddle the hills. Today they encompass tiny plots planted with vegetables, vines, olive trees. I know I am approaching Jerusalem.

Whoever said this train is not fast enough has never travelled on it. The speed is perfect for watching nature as we pass it by – I find myself looking at my watch, wishing for the time to go slower.

Sadly the journey is at an end!

I'll be back!

To those who say the train takes too long … So you would “save” half an hour. But at what cost?

Here’s a poem I remembered from my childhood – says it more eloquently than I could. Though I have added my own verses at the end!


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

By Wm. Henry Davies.

No time to take a journey through the hills
To briefly escape from all life’s ills.
To watch from a window as delights unfold
Waiting to see what each view will hold.
A poor life this, if full of strain
We have no time to take the train!

By Pm. Joyce Levene

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Celebrating Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) at the Western Wall; the Kotel.

A small part of the western retaining wall built by Herod over 2000 years ago as support for the platform upon which stood his rebuilt and glorious Second Temple. After the Romans destoyed this wonder of the world, for almost 2000 years this fragment of wall was all the Jews had access to, and that only when the occupying rulers of the Land of Israel let them near.

At any opportunity the Jews of the Galil, the Jews of the Shphela, the Jews of the Golan, would journey to Jerusalem. Jews of the Diaspora would also consider it their sacred duty to visit. "If I forget thee, Oh Jerusalem, Let my right hand lose its cunning." Sometimes they would get close, sometimes they wouldn't. No wonder they wailed!

Now we don't call it the wailing wall anymore. It's the Kotel - an Aramiac word that simply means "wall" - but what a wall! A symbol far greater than its greatest stone.

Haim Guri: To Danny and Friends
View towards Kibbutz Lamed Hey from Har Soccho...
Behold, our bodies are laid in a long, long line; we do not breathe, But the wind is now on the hills, the wind breathes, Morning breaks, and the shining dew sings. We shall return again, we shall meet, shall return as scarlet flowers. You will know us at once, our silent "mountain platoon" - Then we shall blossom, when the last shot has been silenced in the hills. The 35 - "Lamed Hey" - died trying to save others, January 16th 1948