Waterfalls in the Golan Heights. (photo by Michael Davis courtesy Ashernet)
Water from the Golan Heights region’s streams, as well as melting snow from Mount Hermon, will eventually find their way into the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). Unfortunately, even though precipitation has been plentiful this year, it will not be enough to refill completely the underground water resources or the Kinneret. Presently, the lake level stands at 213.58 metres below sea level, which is below the red line, one of three level measurements. When the lake falls below 214.87 metres below sea level, the pipes extracting the water from the lake are lower than the entry point of the pipes feeding the main pumping station of Israel’s water authority. When the water level in the lake is somewhere between the upper red line and the lower red line, lake water can be pumped to the country’s main fresh water pumping station for distribution along the Israel National Water Carrier. Fresh water is also sourced from the many natural aquifers that are found all over the country.
Between 1948 and 1951, more than 121,000 Jews were smuggled out of Iraq in operations Ezra and Nehemia. Many of those who came to Israel settled in the town of Or Yehuda, some 10 kilometres southeast of Tel Aviv. In 1988, Or Yehuda’s mayor, Mordechai Ben-Porat, who was himself born in Iraq, was instrumental in creating in the town the Museum of Babylonian Jewry. Together with six other founding members, the museum was built to tell the story of the Jews in Iraq, up until the aliyah following the establishment of the state of Israel. The museum has become the largest centre in the world for documenting, researching, collecting and preserving the spiritual treasures of Babylonian Jewry. (photo by Ashernet)
Ever since the YMCA opened on King David Street in Jerusalem in 1933, the building, designed by Arthur Lewis Harman (of New York’s Empire State Building fame), has been a famous landmark; in particular, its iconic tower has been part of the city’s landscape. The tower contained a carillon of 35 bells made by the British bell foundry Gillett & Johnston in the early 1930s. It is the only carillon in the Middle East, but there was one note – in other words, a bell – missing from it. A recent anonymous donation made it possible for the YMCA to order the missing bell from the Royal Eijsbouts foundry in the Netherlands and, in a precisely managed operation earlier this week, a large crane raised and placed the new, 36th, bell into its place in the tower.
The displays at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History educate visitors on natural history, as well as current-day environmental issues. (photos by Ashernet)
Just over a year ago, the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History opened the doors of its purpose-built structure on the campus of Tel Aviv University. The 100,000-square-foot building contains more than five-and-a-half million specimens from every corner of the world, educating visitors in every aspect of natural history.
At the same time as the museum serves to educate visitors about specific specimens, the various exhibits and presentations are a reminder of the frailty of the planet and the responsibilities of all humankind to act responsibly to preserve all the species above and below the waves. It also calls on us to try and decrease the pollution that is degrading natural life and depleting the world’s oceans and natural habitats, such as its rain forests and rivers. Israel is not free from such degradation.
It is not just the quantity of exhibits and specimens at the museum that makes it special, it is also the presentation of the material. As well, there are dozens of friendly, informed museum staff who are only too happy to talk with visitors.
In one sense, the museum has depressing overtones. Many of the species of wildlife that once were found in the region can no longer be seen in their natural surroundings. Visitors are also reminded that fish stocks in the Mediterranean have been depleted over the past 20 years by some 50% due to pollution. In addition, the opening of the Suez Canal has meant that many species of marine life from the Red Sea have ventured into the Mediterranean, via the canal, and wreaked havoc on the Mediterranean’s natural balance.
The museum also shows the harm being caused to the environment by other human actions. For example, it highlights in various ways, including specially prepared film presentations, the danger posed by plastic waste.
The museum presents the history of a world that is unquestionably millions of years old. There are no huge prehistoric animal models exhibited, but there are clear references to the age of dinosaurs. Also, life-size models show the development of humans through the ages. Presumably not wanting to offend anyone’s religious sensibilities, the museum would nevertheless be remiss not to give some scientific explanation for the skeletal remains of both the people and animals that lived on these shores many millennia ago. It is also a sad fact that many animal species of more recent times have been eliminated – because of over-hunting or, in some cases, like the Golan vultures, being almost completely eliminated by farmers poisoning them to protect their flocks.
Throughout the museum there are many opportunities to interact with exhibits that demonstrate or define a particular aspect of nature; for example, comparing a monkey’s hand and its mobility with that of a human. All of the exhibits are clearly explained in Hebrew, Arabic and English.
In addition to the models of creatures and the animals that have been prepared by taxidermists, the museum has a definitive collection of live insects, which are featured in 17 terrariums, as well as almost three million insect samples. This is the largest collection in the museum and includes several types of insects new to science. This provides an interesting opportunity to learn about worlds to which most of us don’t have access.
Among the myriad items in the museum’s collection are those of a 19th-century German zoologist and Catholic priest, Ernst Johann Schmitz, who lived in what is now Israel. Included in the Schmitz collection is the last known bear in the region, from 1916; an Asiatic cheetah from 1911; and the last crocodile from the Taninim River in central Israel. All the species have become extinct in the country.
Nowadays, there is no active hunting of local mammals or birds – the local animals on display are animals that died in nature and have been collected by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
Dioramas and interactive displays are located across five floors that are connected by sloped ramps. The curators hope that the museum will increase understanding and knowledge of the natural world. Just as Israel displays its unique archeological treasures, the curators in this museum want to draw attention to Israel’s unique natural history. Despite its small area, Israel has both forests and deserts. The Dead Sea – the lowest point on earth – is within an hour-and-a-half’s drive from the Hula Valley and its collection of migrating birds.
The building of the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, the National Centre for Biodiversity Studies at Tel Aviv University – to use its full name – was possible mainly because of a donation of some $40 million by American philanthropists Judy and Michael Steinhardt.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin addresses a group of local residents in a protected space in the northern Negev city of Netivot on Nov. 13. (photo by Ashernet)
On a tour of the city, Netivot Mayor Yehiel Zohar told President Reuven Rivlin about how buildings there are protected and about the events of the previous 24 hours. Rivlin also heard details about the work of the psychological and mental support services in the city, and the help given to children and the population as a whole after Monday’s missile launches from Gaza. “We are all under attack, under fire, whose aim is to disrupt our daily life,” said Rivlin. “Your strength gives us all strength. I have said in the past and I will continue to say, the area around Gaza is part of Israel. When the sirens are screaming here, we hear them in our hearts in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and all over the country.” The president then visited one of the shelters in the town. In meeting local residents, he repeated appeals to follow the Israel Defence Forces’ orders.
Tanda, 25, with her as-yet-unnamed calf at Ramat Gan Safari Park. (photo from Ashernet)
Tanda’s new offspring – her fifth – weighed 50 kilograms at birth. The baby rhino’s horn will begin to grow in the coming weeks, but, in its first year, the horn will remain small and round. Due to poaching in other areas of the world – for the rhinos’ horns – several species of rhino have become endangered. In one case, the northern white rhino has been almost completely wiped out, with only five animals left in captivity. The safari park tries to encourage breeding programs, particularly of endangered species, and has seen some success.
Petach Tikvah’s Calatrava bridge. (photo from Ashernet)
Petach Tikvah’s Calatrava pedestrian bridge and glass walkway was designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, who also designed Chords Bridge at the western entrance to Jerusalem. The Petach Tikvah bridge, erected in 2005, connects the Beilinson hospital complex with a shopping mall and a central park. Situated some 11 kilometres east of Tel Aviv, Petach Tikvah continues to expand to accommodate its increasing population and its appeal to high-tech, pharmaceutical and distribution companies. Today, the city, with its population of more than 240,000 individuals, ranks as the fifth biggest city in Israel, and has one of the larger percentages of religious Jews in the country. However, while some 70,000 religious Jews are served by about 70 synagogues of various sizes, there are more than 300 schools in the city that serve children of all religious and non-religious affiliations.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu presents the nuclear secrets of Iran at a special press briefing in Jerusalem on April 30, 2018. (photo from IGPO courtesy Ashernet)
It has been a year of diplomatic success for Israel, as more countries upgraded their relations with the Jewish state. This took, in general, two forms: heads of government making an official visit to Israel or Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visiting other countries; and the establishment of the embassies of the United States, Guatemala and Panama in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital.
In April, at a special press conference hosted by Netanyahu, the world learned of the secret storage facilities in Iran that housed Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It is not known exactly how Israel managed to find out the location of the files, or how they were copied and brought back to Israel, but the revelations served Israel well, and the files were instrumental in making the United States renege on the nuclear agreement that President Barack Obama had made with the Iranian regime.
It was a long, hot summer in more ways than one. The latest form of terrorist aggravation was for Gazans to assemble in the thousands along the Gaza-Israel border and launch kites and balloons to which were attached flaming torches that set fire to forests and agricultural fields in Israel, causing uncountable damage and destruction. A variation of this procedure was for terrorists to attach flaming torches to lines attached to the legs of kestrels who managed to survive long enough to set trees alight in Israeli forests near the border.
In better news, this year Israel became the focus of the world’s cycling fraternity. Due to the generosity of Israeli-Canadian billionaire Sylvan Adams, one of the three most important annual cycling races in the world, the Giro d’Italia, started in Jerusalem with a time trial and then took the cyclists from Haifa to Tel Aviv, with a third stage from Be’er Sheva to Eilat. All this was made possible by an $80 million donation to the federation organizing the event. It was one of the biggest sporting events ever staged in Israel and was seen by tens of thousands on television around the world.
The Jewish year opened with the announcement that one of the most outstanding mosaics ever found in Israel, from the Roman era, was going to be incorporated in a new museum in the city of Lod, where it had been found during preparations for building works. This beautiful mosaic was one of many important archeological finds in Israel in the past 12 months.
Also at the start of the Jewish year, tourism in Israel hit a new high, with the three millionth tourist of 2017 arriving at Ben-Gurion International Airport in November. And, this summer, Prince William made an official visit to Israel, where he was received by President Reuven Rivlin and Netanyahu. Members of the British Royal family have been to Israel before, but never on an official visit.
As always, Israeli technology, universities and medical prowess was remarkable over the year. And, when natural disasters occurred around the world, such as earthquakes and floods, Israel was among the first to send aid.
Not all the news was good for Netanyahu, who, for a major part of the year, was being investigated and questioned by Israel Police for allegedly obtaining inappropriate large-scale benefits from businessmen – charges Netanyahu strenuously denied. Ari Harrow, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, signed a deal to become a state witness to testify against the prime minister.
The Jewish year also saw Netanyahu’s wife Sara receiving a lot of negative press. In the previous year, the Jerusalem Labour Court awarded an employee of Sara Netanyahu’s the sum of $46,000 as he claimed that she had been abusive towards him and withheld wages at times. While she appealed the ruling, it was turned down. She is now being investigated for allegedly ordering expensive meals at the prime minister’s official Jerusalem residence at government expense, despite the fact that the prime minister’s official residence employed a cook. She refutes the accusations.
Despite these problems, Binyamin Netanyahu maintains a high international profile – he has the ear of presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, for example.
As 5778 closes, Israel has the pleasurable problem of deciding how best to market the huge natural gas finds that are presently churning about below the waves of the Mediterranean Sea, well within Israel’s exclusive continental shelf.
Uri Geller holds a water or oil jug that was found during the construction of a new museum dedicated to his activities. (photo by Dilila Bar-Ratson courtesy Ashernet)
During the construction of a new museum in the Old City of Jaffa, dedicated to the activities of Uri Geller, an illusionist, magician, television personality and self-proclaimed psychic, a 19th-century Ottoman-era soap manufacturing factory was discovered. The museum will go ahead as planned, with the addition of the newly discovered factory.
The site was well-preserved and comprised troughs for mixing raw material, cauldrons, storage facilities and water cisterns. It was of particular interest because soap made from olive oil was recorded as having been produced in Israel for more than a thousand years. Making olive oil-based soap took just over a week to prepare in large vats. The contents would then be poured onto lime-covered trays to cool and solidify for about another week before being cut into bars. It would take another two months approximately for the soap to completely harden before being wrapped in paper and offered for sale.