Jordan Valley Spring

Just yesterday I drove from Jerusalem to the Sea of Galilee via the Jordan Valley. The southern part of the valley is desert, but even there the evidence of the winter rains were obvious.

Alongside the road

As we drove further north it became breath taking. The wild grasses were standing high and thick, and the flowers were coming out in their full glory.

I love this drive through the Jordan Valley at this time of the year, especially when we have had good winters, as we have had this year. And we are not finished. The day we drove there, was one of the brilliant pre-spring days, between heavy bouts of storm and rain. We were so lucky.

Of course we had to stop and enjoy the sight and take picture. And of course I have to share it with you.

 

 

 

 

 

Trees and Tu B’Shvat

The holiday of Tu B’Shvat begins this evening. It is also called the Holiday of the Trees, and in modern times is celebrated as such. It can in some ways be compared to Arbor Day, though it has deep roots in the Tanach (Hebrew bible) and Mishnah and Talmud.

Tu B’Shvat, the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month Shvat, was set in the Mishnah as the cut off date for the eating of fruits from new trees. For the first three years after planting, Jews are not supposed to eat the fruit from new trees.

Since the early 19th century it has become the holiday for planting new trees, any tree, not just fruit tree. In modern Israel it is customary for schools to arrange days of tree planting on Tu B’Shvat, in cooperation with the Keren Kayemet (Jewish National Fund), and local authorities.
In most years more than one million Israelis will participate in tree planting throughout the country.

As with any holiday, there are the traditional foods. Since Tu B’Shvat falls in the middle of winter, when few fresh fruits are available, the traditional foods are based on dried fruits, almonds, prunes, raisins, dried apricots and figs, among others.

 

 

Happy Tu B’Shvat

 

Related Story

Almonds Give the Sign

When the almonds blossom it is the sign we are all waiting for.

Winter can be cold in some parts of Israel, particularly in the mountains of Judea, Jerusalem, the Galilee and Golan Heights. When we have good winters, the rain comes, and interspersed with sunny days.

It is also the time when the country goes green. Finally the trees have been washed clean of the summer dust, and grasses and wild plants sprout. The fields are also sprouting, and there are sometimes so many different shades of green that I find it hard to name them all.

Many tree, especially the fruit trees, stand bare without leaves. Then comes February with its good tidings. The almond trees are the first trees to burst out in flowers, like pink or white cotton candy scattered over the country side.

This is what we have been waiting for. Now we know we have reached the peak of winter, and spring will soon come, with its new abundance of colors.

 

Nazi Mascot – Holocaust Day

Secrets of  A Nazi Mascot

It is International Holocaust Day, and a time to remember and reflect. This is a tribute to the will to live, and the memory of all those who did not. Alex survived, as a Nazi mascot.

There are events, days and stories that need to be remembered. Even though many would prefer to sweep them out of history. The Holocaust is one of those times.

But I so agree with Israel’s first Prime Minister, when he said: We must learn to forgive, but never forget. The story here is to me unforgettable, even though it’s the first time I hear it. But what a story. It includes the horrors of that time, but also the strange path life takes in such times. It includes the indomitable determination to live, as well as the strange ways the human brain will act in order to survive.

This is a tribute to all of this and more.

 

Christmas in Bethlehem

Christmas is a time of joy, of being together with family and loved ones, of giving and receiving.

Here in the land where Jesus was born, Christmas is not an official holiday, but is very much celebrated by the Christian communities, as well as visitors.

 

Manger Square Bethlehem

Manger Square at Christmas

The main mass takes place in St. Catherine’s Church Bethlehem, and in the Grotto of Nativity in the Church of the Nativity. The celebrations start long before the mass, with the arrival of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Click here for full details. [Read more...]

Haifa – From the Bahai Gardens to the Port

Haifa is spread on the northern slopes of the Carmel Mountain with the Mediterranean and the Bay of Haifa to the west and the north and is Israel’s third largest city.

Although the first settlement in the area has been dated to the 14th century BCE, it was and stayed a small village until the middle of the 19th century. The first push to growth and modernization came when members of the German Christian Templars settled there in 1868. They built and operated a steam based power station, opened factories and established a carriage service to Acco, Nazareth and Tiberias. The area they built is still known as The German Colony. The area has seen an almost complete restoration, and is today one of the “in” areas for good dining and living. [Read more...]

Israel vs West Bank

As a guide I constantly find myself in the position of having to explain the issues surrounding Israel and its neighbors, in particular the issues between Israel and the Palestinians. Not easy within the time limits of a tour.

The problem is also that the issues go much further back than most people realize, and involve decisions made by other nations as well as international organizations, specifically the United Nations.

There are historical facts that should be known, even though they are often overlooked or even denied, in particular by the Palestinians and the Arab world. Yes, sorry, I am biased, I am after all Israeli, and proud to be so.

The below video explains these historical facts in as simple terms as possible. But it does deal with the historical facts in a way that I usually also describe them. And in much shorter time than I can. Of course I have to do it all verbally, and it is said that a picture is worth a thousand words.

I do not say I agree with the conclusions, but at least here is an attempt to explain the background. But I do particularly like the explanation on the term West Bank. After you see this,there are so many other resources are available for further informtion, including tons of books and media coverage. It will now be up to each to decide how many more details.

A Guide to Ancient Stones

Courtyard of Citadel

There is a question I receive very often as a guide in Israel, in particular in the Old City of Jerusalem. It comes in various forms such as: “Are there any original buildings in the Old City?” “How old are these buildings?”

To talk about original buildings in Old Jerusalem is problematic. What is original? If we are talking about buildings dating to the first Jerusalem, the answer has to be an emphatic no. After all, Jerusalem has been built and destroyed innumerable times.

Dome of the Rock

 

If by original we talk about buildings that were built hundreds of years ago and are still standing, the answer must be yes. Examples of this are The Dome of the Rock and The El Aqsa Mosques on Temple Mount, built in the 7th and early 8th centuries, and still standing more or less as they were built. Another example is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built in the 12th century by the Crusaders, and incorporating even older building from the 4th century.
So these buildings are original, although not necessarily the first buildings on the site.

But often the questions relate to the ordinary buildings used as housing or other mundane purposes. Again, it’s hard to come with a direct answer.

Housing showing several stages of construction

Many years ago I lived in an old, restored house in the Jewish Quarter. It was an old house that had been renovated and modernized as part of the general renovation of the Jewish Quarter, following the Six-Day War in 1967.
I am not exaggerating when I say some of the walls were more than 5 ft. thick. At the time I did not question how that came about, but today I do understand the process.
A long time ago, a house was built there. With the passing of time, it may have been damaged through acts of war or natural causes. Instead of tearing it down, as is so often done today, new layers of stone were pasted on to the walls, thereby making it structurally sound again, but of course also adding depth to the walls. This probably happened many times, until it today has those amazing thick walls.

A friend of mine also lived in an old building. And one day they decided to scrape away the newer levels. When they reached Crusader columns, they decided they had gone deep enough. And from then on part of the decorations of their living room were these 12th century columns.

Stone in secondary use

Another thing to understand is that most common building material in Jerusalem, indeed in Israel, is stone. In Jerusalem it is referred to as Jerusalem stone. But quarrying stone is expensive and takes time. So it was normal to use stones from destroyed buildings to build the new buildings.
Examples of this can be seen especially in archaeological sites all through the country. But many buildings in the Old City show this feature as well.

City wall next to Dung Gate showing several layers of construction

There are also architectural features that can easily be seen as you walk the alleys of the Old City that show how a building has undergone changes. There are arches in walls, now blocked up. There are walls with stones from obvious different ages.

So the answer to those first questions on being original and age of buildings is that there are original buildings. But there are even more stones that may have been quarried two thousand or more years ago, that are now in secondary use in relatively modern buildings. These stones are the proof of the continuous life in Jerusalem for more than three millennium.

 

How many construction periods do you see? Southern Temple Mount wall

 

Knights in Jerusalem Festival

Nights in November may be cold, especially in Jerusalem and more specifically in the evenings. But that should not hold anyone back from enjoying something unique – The Knights Festival in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Royalty in Jerusalem? Not since the Crusader times. But they are inviting you to experience the medieval festivities taking place in Jerusalem during the month of November.

 

The royal family has put on spectacular festivities every Thursday night during November. They have invited  knights,  singers,  troubadours, magicians, dancers, soothsayers and court jesters and much more to entertain you, and to show you Jerusalem’s magic.

 

Your best access to the festivities is to enter the Old City through Jaffa Gate, and then wander through the Christian Quarter, particularly down to the Muristan Square. But keep your eyes and ears open for the entertainers are everywhere. This is truly a royal affair. All expenses for the entertainment has been paid for. You enjoy it all free of charge.

You may end up spending something, as some of the shop keepers will stay open late, as well as the eateries.

For more information: Jerusalem-Old City, Knights Festival

Mount Beatitudes

Mount Beatitudes

View of Sea of Galilee from inside the church

Mount Beatitudes is located on a low hill on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee. It offers a spectacular view over the Sea of Galilee, on clear days all the way to the south end, as well as the surrounding mountains of Galilee and Golan.

We can only call the site traditional, as more than four hundred years passed between the original event and the building of the first church there in the 4th century. Only very few ruins remain of this early church in the vicinity of the modern site.

The Sermon on the Mount [Read more...]