A newly acquired photograph of Albert Einstein, left, with his lifelong friend Michele Besso. (HU photo courtesy Ashernet)
One hundred and ten pages of Albert Einstein’s handwritten notes and other documents and photos have been added to the Albert Einstein Archives at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. This latest material (dating mainly from 1944 to 1948) was acquired by the university thanks to a donation by the Crown-Goodman Foundation, which bought it for an undisclosed sum from Gary Berger, a North Carolina doctor. After Einstein’s death in 1955, most of his more than 80,000 scientific and personal papers were left to the Hebrew University. Einstein, who was one of the founders of the university and a great supporter of the Jewish state, was invited to become president of Israel, but declined the offer, implying that he did not feel worthy of such honour.
An inscription (top of above photo and below), written in Greek, was translated by Prof. Leah Di Segni of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Dated to the early fifth century CE, it says, “Only God helps the beautiful property of Master Adios, amen.” (photos from IAA courtesy Ashernet)
New neighbourhood construction in the southern part of the Sharon Plain of central Israel has revealed an estate, some 1,600 years old, which was determined by Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologists to have been the property of a wealthy Samaritan. The discovery reinforced evidence that, at one time, the area was extensively populated by the Samaritans, who claim they are Israelite descendants of the northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. An inscription, written in Greek, was translated by Prof. Leah Di Segni of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Dated to the early fifth century CE, it says, “Only God helps the beautiful property of Master Adios, amen.” According to Dr. Hagit Torge, director of the excavation on behalf of the IAA, “The inscription was discovered in an impressive winepress [near the top of Tel Zur Natan, where remains of a Samaritan synagogue were found] that was apparently part of the agricultural estate of a wealthy individual named Adios. This is only the second such winepress discovered in Israel with a blessing inscription associated with the Samaritans. The first winepress was discovered a few years ago in Apollonia near Herzliya.” The Samaritans were originally brought to the region as part of Assyrian policy, and first settled on and around Mount Gerizim.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the Israel Aerospace Industries control room to witness the launch of Israel’s first attempt to put a lander on the moon. (photo from IAI courtesy Ashernet)
In the early hours of Feb. 22, Bereishit, which means Genesis, successfully lifted off on one of Elon Musk’s U.S.-based SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets. It is hoped that the 585-kilogram Israeli space vehicle will land on the moon in about six weeks’ time. “There are four countries that have launched a spacecraft to the moon, one of them is 800 times bigger than we are, one of them 500 times bigger, and one that is a little less than that,” said Netanyahu, referring to the United States, Russia and China. “We are a small country, but huge in achievements and in the capacity of our initiative. I hope that the spacecraft to Mars is already being planned.” He also said he hopes that, on April 11, “we will be able to celebrate the safe landing of Bereishit.”
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.