Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, left, and President Reuven Rivlin hold the agreement that allows Netanyhau another two weeks to try and form a coalition government. (photo from Ashernet)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with President Reuven Rivlin May 13 to formally request an extension on forming the government. If Netanyahu is not able to form a majority coalition, then Rivlin would call on the head of the political party with the next highest number of votes to try and form a viable coalition government.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu places a wreath at Yad Vashem on Yom Hashoah. (photo from IGPO via Ashernet)
On Yom Hashoah, Israel comes to a virtual standstill at 11 a.m., for two minutes, as sirens wail across the country – everyone stops what they are doing and stands at attention, in respect to the memory of the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.
Charleen Glaun, centre, receives her certificate of service from Sar-El from madrichot Inbar, left, and Carmel. Glaun hopes to volunteer with Sar-El annually from here on out. (photo from Charleen Glaun)
At last, I was on the plane to Israel. Was this really happening? I had waited so long for this day and, here I was, after 32 years, finally returning.
Arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport, I proceeded through the security check-in. The first question asked of me was, “What is the purpose of your trip?”
“I’m coming on Sar-El,” I replied.
“What is Sar-El?” the security person asked.
“Volunteers for Israel,” I said, a little surprised he did not know about Sar-El.
I waited for his reaction, but there was silence. I blurted out, “I’ve been away for 32 years and this is my first trip back.”
He looked up from examining my passport and said, “What took you so long? Welcome back!”
I smiled and said to myself, “This is going to be the best adventure of my life! Thank you, G-d, for getting me here safely.”
Once I had my luggage, I found the sunglass stand where volunteers typically meet, and found Sar-El’s facilitator, Pam Lazarus, an expat who made aliyah 17 years ago. Since its founding in 1987 by General Aharon Davidi, volunteers come from around the globe for one- to three-week stints on an army base. Qualifications include a love of Israel, being of sound mind, having a clean bill of health, being physically fit and able to carry your own luggage. You do not have to be Jewish. There is a registration fee and the volunteer is responsible for the cost of the flight to Israel. While on the base, each person is assigned a room, which they will typically share with one or more people, and is given three meals a day. Some bases will even organize a free day trip to somewhere of interest, but individuals must fill their own weekends.
I was assigned to a medical supply base near Tel Aviv. This base does not have soldiers on it but rather reservists and full-time employees.
When I arrived at the base, I was given my army uniform. The correct size is not high on the priority list, I discovered. I spent the next three weeks in a very roomy pair of pants, which I held up with a belt, a khaki T-shirt and shirt, and an army jacket. I felt so proud wearing this uniform!
Army-issue clothing in hand, it was time to see where I was going to live for the next while. I had a roommate for my first four days, but had the space to myself for the remainder of my stay. Women are housed on the upper level of a two-storey building. Both floors have a washing machine. (Apparently, this is quite a luxury and not the norm.) All rooms have an air-conditioning/heating system and basic storage units. Three shower stalls delivered hot water at all times. I was at the Hilton of army bases! (I found out from my representative in Toronto that the living quarters on the base were newly renovated.)
A typical day is as follows. Breakfast in the main dining room is at 7:15 a.m. At 7:45 a.m., we meet up with our 19-year-old madrichot (supervisors) in the courtyard for the raising of the flag and the singing of the national anthem, and we get news from within Israel and abroad. Then, it is off to work until midday, when we make our way to the dining hall for lunch.
This base is the main military medical base in Israel and also the primary depot. Every 18 months, medical military units drop off complete medical supplies. They then pick up new and replenished supplies for the next 18 months, which are divided between bases. Medical supplies with expiry dates between six and 18 months are used first in hospitals and emergency rooms, while supplies with a six-month expiry date are used for training purposes and donations to developing countries. Medical kits are made up for many applications, such as atomic and biological chemical kits, combat doctors, and combat medics.
I had a great boss, Israel, who patiently explained exactly how to do things. Israel is a Bukharian Jew, a first-generation Sabra. He never stopped thanking us for our service, as did many Israelis I met off the base. They are grateful for the volunteers’ service. This, in turn, was so gratifying for us, knowing we were making a difference by giving back just a little to the country. It was an even better feeling when medical backpacks were returned to us with medical supplies unused.
The workday ends at 4 p.m., when volunteers are free to do whatever they like within the confines of the base. They are not at liberty to leave it, other than at the end of the workweek. Dinners are eaten early. Thereafter, the madrichot hold discussion groups or show movies. By 9 p.m., most people are ready for bed.
Weekends, volunteers may go anywhere in Israel, as long as we are at Tel Aviv’s main train station on the Sunday morning at 9:30, when we are taken back to our base. At present, there is a hostel in Tel Aviv specifically for Sar-El volunteers’ weekend stays. Accommodation is free, with meals included. This is a great alternative for those who are on a tight budget. It is not fancy, but it is near Tel Aviv’s hub and the beach.
One tends to forget that one is in a country in a constant state of war. The zest for life is unbelievable, which I noticed on my weekends in Tel Aviv. The bustling traffic; people sitting at coffee shops and in restaurants, or shopping at the Carmel Market; youngsters speeding down busy main intersections on their electric scooters; hip-looking men and women walking along the beautiful promenade with their dogs; beachgoers laughing and listening to music; picnickers on lawns with little children frolicking nearby; buskers entertaining the passing throng. What a beautiful, perfect picture it painted in an imperfect world.
Three weeks went by in a flash and soon it was time to return to Toronto. I looked for any reason that would enable me to stay, but, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. But it doesn’t have to end permanently. I will return to Israel. In fact, I am already looking at calendar dates.
I would highly recommend Sar-El for anyone who loves Israel and wants to do something worthwhile. Israel will welcome you with open arms and she will thank you.
To learn more about how you can experience your own “do good, feel good” adventure of a lifetime, email [email protected].
Charleen Glaunis a receptionist/caterer for an oil company in Toronto. She made aliyah in 1975 and spent the next 13 years traveling between Israel and South Africa, where she was born. Though aware of Sar-El since 1986, she did not have an opportunity to return to Israel until her December 2018 trip with the organization. Her heart has always been in Israel so, for her, the 2018 trip was “going home,” and she plans on returning with Sar-El before the end of this year, and each year going forward.
An April 15 press tour took journalists to the Israeli side of the Jordan River. Joshua and the Israelites made their crossing here. (photo by Gil Zohar)
Seventeen bulletproof buses of pilgrims, plus one carrying journalists, spilled their contents April 15 at Qasr al-Yahud (Arabic for the Jews’ Castle) on the muddy banks of the not-so-mighty Jordan River, 10 kilometres east of Jericho. The buses were provided by the Government Press Office in Jerusalem.
The holy site is also called the Land of Monasteries because of the seven Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Ethiopian churches there. Until 2011, it was a fenced-off, closed military zone ringed by minefields. Qasr al-Yahud is revered by Christians as the place where John the Baptist immersed his second cousin, Jesus of Nazareth.
For Jews, the shrine marks where, on Nissan 10, circa 1290 BCE, Joshua bin Nun led the Children of Israel to ford the Jordan River and begin their conquest of the Promised Land. But, with the cold peace prevailing between Israel and Jordan, soldiers of the Hashemite Kingdom’s Arab Legion warily monitored the crowds, making sure that no brave souls crossed to the polluted stream’s east bank to reenact Joshua’s miraculous crossing on dry land.
As Joshua and the 12 tribes approached the river, they were met by the kohanim (priests) carrying the Ark of the Covenant. The Jordan then miraculously split for them – perhaps caused by a landslide in the earthquake-prone region that temporarily blocked the river’s flow – allowing them to cross. After fording the Jordan, Joshua erected 12 stones taken from the river at Gilgal, whose location today is disputed by historians and archeologists.
Symbolizing that the process of the Israelites conquering the Promised Land some 3,289 years ago is still underway, Palestinian teenagers in Jericho pelted the armoured bus in which the journalists were riding, smashing one of the shatterproof windows. No one was injured in the attack.
For this writer, the explosive sound of the thump of the rock on glass brought to mind Joshua’s advice when the Israelites marched on ancient Jericho to begin their conquest: “Be strong and of good courage.” (Joshua 1:9)
Qasr al-Yahud is a corruption of “the Jews’ break,” traditionally the place where the Israelites crossed over, that is, “broke” the Jordan River after their 40 years of wandering in the Sinai Desert: “When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, even the waters that come down from above, and they shall stand in one heap.” (Joshua 3:13)
It was here, too, that Elijah the Prophet ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot after he and Elisha crossed the Jordan: “And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters; and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground.” (2 Kings 2:8)
The strategic and diplomatic significance of the Jordan Valley were spoken about by retired Israel Defence Force (IDF) deputy chief-of-staff major general Uzi Dayan, who was elected to Israel’s Knesset (parliament) in the country’s April 9 general election.
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, and previously Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, spoke of the Land of Israel’s long centuries of foreign occupation, from the Romans to the British.
From 1948 until 1967, Qasr al-Yahud was under Jordanian control, and was a popular destination for tourists and pilgrims. In 1968, following the Six Day War, access to the site was prohibited by the IDF because of its location beyond the border fence in a closed military zone. In recent years, the Israeli Civil Administration – with the assistance of the tourism and regional development ministries – carried out infrastructure and development work at the site, including the clearing of mines. In 2011, the site was opened to visitors on a permanent basis without the need for prior security coordination.
Entering ancient Jericho, with its 8,000-year-old remains at Tel as-Sultan and two Byzantine-era synagogues, is another matter. Large signs at the entrance to the city proclaim in Hebrew and English that entry is prohibited to Israelis. In honour of the Nissan 10 celebration, however, Israelis were allowed to enter the city in Area A, the Palestinian self-rule section of the West Bank, which is off limits the rest of year.
And what of the minefields? One million square metres of land are currently being cleared of approximately 3,000 anti-personnel mines, antitank mines and other unexploded ordinance. The project is being carried out by Israel’s National Mine Action Authority under the direction of the Defence Ministry, together with HALO Trust, an international mine-clearance charity.
Christians preparing to be baptized in the Jordan River. (photo by Barry Kaplan)
A few days prior to Passover, the Israeli Government Press Office organized a special field trip to the Jordan River and Jericho. The bus with 40 journalists left the GPO office parking lot at 8:30 a.m. and traveled on Highway #1 to the southern part of the Jordan Valley with a guide. We passed Maale Adumim, now a city with 45,000 residents, and headed through the desert area.
We began the ascent to Jericho, passing the Inn of the Good Samaritan, the sea-level sign and the barren hills. A strip of restaurants and souvenir places seemed to appear out of nowhere. We heard about the history of Kibbutz Bet Arevo, situated in this area from 1939 to 1948, passed a veritable forest of palm trees and, by 9:20 a.m., we were at Qasr al-Yahud, where John the Baptist is said to have baptized Jesus. After it passed through the security fence, the bus parked and we walked down to the Jordan River.
Until 1967, this site was under Jordanian control and, in 1968, access was prohibited. In recent years, the tourism and regional development ministries have carried out various projects, including the clearing of mines, and, in 2011, the site was opened to visitors. The site and facilities are overseen by the Israeli Civil Administration and the Israeli Ministry of Tourism as part of a national park.
Running down the middle of the Jordan River is a metal divider. On the other side of it is Jordan. There were people standing around the river and, behind them, churches were visible on the Jordanian side. On the Israeli side, down more steps, people were wearing white cover-ups and going into the river, presumably to be baptized.
In addition to its significance to Christians, two Jewish events took place at this spot.
In the Book of Joshua, we read how the Israelites, after 40 years of wandering in the desert, led by Joshua, crossed the Jordan River as the river became a stream. Supposedly this happened on the 10th of Nissan, this year April 15. Our guide says this could have taken place 4,440 years ago.
The passage in the Book of Joshua reads: “When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, even the waters that come down from above, and they shall stand in one heap.” (Joshua 3:13)
At this point in our trip, we were joined by Uzi Dayan, former major general, national security adviser and Israel Defence Forces deputy chief of staff. According to Dayan, this passage from Joshua describes “the first aliyah to Israel.”
Another biblical text (2 Kings 2:1-2) says Elijah struck the Jordan River water with his cloak. The water parted so that he and Elisha could cross. After Elijah ascended, Elisha again parted the waters with Elijah’s cloak so he could return to Israel. This occurred before Elijah ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot.
Dayan noted that, on the day of our visit, there would be 17 other busloads of people coming to commemorate what has happened here, and that a ceremony would be held that afternoon. We would return for it, but not stay (as I will explain later).
* * *
At 11:10 a.m., we reboarded the bus and became part of a convoy, with IDF soldiers and jeeps leading us and several soldiers inside each bus. On one side of the road are mine fields, still being cleared.
Our next stop was the sixth- or seventh-century CE Shalom Al Yisrael Synagogue. Down some steps, we walked around the 10-by-13-metre mosaic floor that featured a menorah in its centre. It was identified as being the floor of a synagogue because of the images of the menorah, as well as an ark, shofar and lulav. The name stems from a mosaic inscription with the Hebrew words Shalom Al Yisrael.
The synagogue was probably used for hundreds of years, but then the Jericho Jewish community dissipated, and the synagogue was forgotten. It was revealed in excavations conducted in 1936 by Dimitri Baramki of the department of antiquities under the British Mandate.
After the 1967 Six Day War, the site came under Israeli military control and remained under the administrative responsibility of the Arab owners – the Shahwan family, who had built a house over the mosaic floor and charged admission to visit it. Tourists and Jews began visiting the site regularly for prayers. In 1987, the Israeli authorities confiscated the mosaic, the house and a small part of the farm around it. They offered compensation to the Shahwan family, but it was rejected.
After the 1995 Oslo Accords, control of the site was given to the Palestinian Authority. It was agreed that free access to it would continue, and that it would be adequately protected.
There have been some incidents. For example, on the night of Oct. 12, 2000, the synagogue was vandalized by Palestinians who torched and destroyed most of the building, burned holy books and relics, and damaged the mosaic. For more than eight years, no Jews were permitted in Shalom Al Yisrael Synagogue, but, during that time, it was restored by the Municipality of Jericho. Since 2007, prayer services have been allowed once a week.
* * *
By 12:15 p.m., we were at the tel (hill, or mound), which some journalists climbed. Opposite is a building with restaurants, snacks and a kind of enclosed mall. Israeli soldiers patrol the entire area. Outside, a man was giving rides to people atop a camel, and soldiers sat around and chatted.
The archeological site is about 2.5 kilometres north of modern-day Jericho, on the site of the ancient city, 258 metres below sea level. It was inhabited from the 10th century BCE. Excavations began in 1868 and settlements are known to date from 10000 BCE.
The story in the Book of Joshua relates that, when the Israelites were encamped in the Jordan Valley, ready to cross the river, Joshua, as a final preparation, sent out two spies to investigate the military strength of Jericho. The spies stayed in Rahab’s house, which was built into the city wall. The soldiers sent to capture the spies asked Rahab to bring out the spies; instead, she hid them.
After escaping, the spies promised to spare Rahab and her family after taking the city, if she would mark her house by hanging a red cord out the window. When Jericho fell, Rahab and her whole family were saved, becoming part of the Jewish people.
The biblical battle of Jericho was the first battle that was fought by the Israelites. According to Joshua 6:1-27, the walls of Jericho fell after Joshua’s army marched around the city and blew their trumpets.
* * *
Our second-last stop was Moshav Naama, which is about 45 minutes from the centre of Jerusalem and one-and-a-half hours from Tel Aviv. About 50 families live there. We arrived at 2 p.m.
On the moshav, they grow grapes, dates and organic vegetables. Inon, one of the farmers, grows herbs in greenhouses. In the warehouse, sweet basil and tarragon are packaged for shipping all over the world to supermarkets.
Inon said 95% of the dates grown there are Medjoul and 5% are other kinds. Medjoul dates originated in the Middle East and North Africa, and are one of the most famous varieties. They are well-known for their large size and delicious flavour. The dates from the moshav will be harvested in September and October.
* * *
At 4:30 p.m., above Qasr al-Yahud, the baptismal site, chairs have been set up for the approximately 900 people who will listen to speeches commemorating the Israelites arrival in the Promised Land. However, since most of the journalists do not understand the Hebrew, the GPO bus boards at 5:20 p.m. and travels back to the GPO offices, arriving just over an hour later. Even though we didn’t stay for the whole proceedings, I am still excited to have been a witness to the ceremony.
Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, lecturer, book reviewer and food writer in Jerusalem. She created and leads the weekly English-language Shuk Walks in Machane Yehuda, she has compiled and edited nine kosher cookbooks, and is the author of Witness to History: Ten Years as a Woman Journalist in Israel.
Susan-Zsuzsa and Lili Klein (photo from Yad Vashem via Ashernet)
On April 13, 1944, sisters Susan-Zsuzsa and Lili Klein (in photo) wrote their father Hugo a short letter: “Dear Daddy, We are well – goodbye.” Hugo had been drafted into a forced labour battalion in 1943; his wife Matild had stayed with their two daughters in their hometown of Hencida in the Bihar district of Hungary. Hugo survived the war, but Matild, Susan-Zsuzsa, 9, and Lili, 7, were deported to Auschwitz on May 24, 1944, and murdered shortly after their arrival.
Exactly 75 years later, Susan-Zsuzsa and Lili’s letter is among a dozen last letters included in Yad Vashem’s latest online exhibition, Last Letters from the Holocaust: 1944, presented to mark Israel’s Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day. Many of the documents included in the exhibition (yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/last-letters/1944/index.asp), as well as the photographs, were donated to Yad Vashem as part of its national Gathering the Fragments campaign. Together with the tens of thousands of Holocaust-era artifacts and artworks in Yad Vashem’s collections, these historical testimonies are due to be conserved and stored in the new Shoah Heritage Collections Centre, part of a new campus being built on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem.
A shot of espresso, a piece of chocolate or a headstand – all of these have been recommended before taking a big test. The best advice, however, could be to take a deep breath. According to research conducted in the lab of Prof. Noam Sobel of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s neurobiology department, people who inhaled when presented with a visuospatial task were better at completing it than those who exhaled in the same situation. The results of the study, which were published in Nature Human Behavior, suggest that the olfactory system may have shaped the evolution of brain function far beyond the basic function of smelling.
Dr. Ofer Perl, who led the research as a graduate student in Sobel’s lab, explained that smell is the most ancient sense. “Even plants and bacteria can ‘smell’ molecules in their environment and react,” said Perl. “But all terrestrial mammals smell by taking air in through their nasal passages and passing signals through nerves into the brain.”
Some theories suggest that this ancient sense set the pattern for the development of other parts of the brain. That is, each additional sense evolved using the template that had previously been set out by the earlier ones. From there, the idea arose that inhalation, in and of itself, might prepare the brain for taking in new information – in essence, synchronizing the two processes.
Indeed, studies from the 1940s on have found that the areas of the brain that are involved in processing smell – and thus in inhalation – are connected with those that create new memories. But the new study started with the hypothesis that parts of the brain involved in higher cognitive functioning may also have evolved along the same basic template, even if these have no ties whatsoever to the sense of smell.
“In other mammals, the sense of smell, inhalation and information processing go together,” said Sobel. “Our hypothesis stated that it is not just the olfactory system, but the entire brain that gets ready for processing new information upon inhalation. We think of this as the ‘sniffing brain.’”
To test their hypothesis, the researchers designed an experiment in which they could measure the airflow through the nostrils of subjects and, at the same time, present them with test problems to solve. These included math problems, spatial visualization problems (in which they had to decide if a drawing of a three-dimensional figure could exist in reality) and verbal tests (in which they had to decide whether the words presented on the screen were real). The subjects were asked to click on a button twice – once when they had answered a question and once when they were ready for the next question. The researchers noted that, as the subjects went through the problems, they took in air just before pressing the button for the question.
The experiment was designed so the researchers could ensure the subjects were not aware that their inhalations were being monitored, and they ruled out a scenario in which the button pushing itself was reason for inhaling, rather than preparation for the task.
Next, the researchers changed the format around, giving subjects only the spatial problems to solve, but half were presented as the test-takers inhaled, half as they exhaled. Inhalation turned out to be significantly tied to successful completion of the test problems. During the experiment, the researchers measured the subjects’ electric brain activity with EEG and here, too, they found differences between inhaling and exhaling, especially in connectivity between different parts of the brain. This was true during rest periods as well as in problem-solving, with greater connectivity linked to inhaling. Moreover, the larger the gap between the two levels of connectivity, the more inhaling appeared to help the subjects solve problems.
“One might think that the brain associates inhaling with oxygenation and thus prepares itself to better focus on test questions, but the time frame does not fit,” said Sobel. “It happens within 200 milliseconds – long before oxygen gets from the lungs to the brain. Our results show that it is not only the olfactory system that is sensitive to inhalation and exhalation – it is the entire brain. We think that we could generalize, and say that the brain works better with inhalation.”
The findings could help explain, among other things, why the world seems fuzzy when our noses are stuffed. Sobel points out that the very word “inspiration” means both to breathe in and to move the intellect or emotions. And those who practise meditation know that the breath is key to controlling emotions and thoughts. This, though, is important empirical support for these intuitions, and it shows that our sense of smell, in some way, most likely provided the prototype for the evolution of the rest of our brain.
The scientists think their findings may, among other things, lead to research into methods to help children and adults with attention and learning disorders improve their skills through controlled nasal breathing.
Sobel’s research is supported by the Azrieli National Institute for Human Brain Imaging and Research; the Norman and Helen Asher Centre for Human Brain Imaging; the Nadia Jaglom Laboratory for the Research in the Neurobiology of Olfaction; the Fondation Adelis; the Rob and Cheryl McEwen Fund for Brain Research; and the European Research Council. Sobel is the incumbent of the Sara and Michael Sela Professorial Chair of Neurobiology.
Crews from the office of the Rabbi of the Western Wall remove tens of thousands of written prayers from the Western Wall. (photo by Gil Zohar)
On April 10, equipped with long sticks, crews from the office of the Rabbi of the Western Wall removed tens of thousands of written prayers, which worshippers had wedged into crevices at the holy site over the previous half year. The painstaking work is done twice annually, in advance of Passover in April and Rosh Hashanah in September, to ensure space for new prayers. The notes that are removed are buried in Mount of Olives Cemetery.
The origin of the practice of placing small folded sheets of paper between the cracks of the 2,000-year-old ashlars is unclear. According to tradition, God’s female presence (Shechinah), has never left the holy site.
A retaining wall of the Temple Mount, built by King Solomon circa 960 BCE and destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, the Kotel Maaravi (Western Wall) stands today beneath a religious plaza known in Arabic to Muslims as al-Haram ash-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary). Jews believe the holy hill marks the navel of the world from where God began his creation 5779 years ago; the site also marks where Abraham brought his son Isaac to offer him up as a sacrifice. Muslims consider the Western Wall to be where Muhammad tethered his winged steed al-Burak when he ascended to the Seventh Heaven. And Christians believe Jesus was one of the millions of Jewish pilgrims in antiquity who came here during the festivals of Passover, Tabernacles and Pentecost.
From 1948 until 1967, when East Jerusalem was under the control of Jordan, Israelis were prohibited from visiting the site.
The writer at the bone marrow transplant ward at Ichilov Hospital in Israel. (photo from Ariella Stein)
Fashion is one of my many passions, as regular readers of the Jewish Independent will know by now. So, when I turned 50 this year, a milestone birthday, I decided to pursue a longtime dream – to create a fashion tract for bone marrow transplant survivors.
When I was 17 years old, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. At the time, I was in Grade 12, studying in Israel. My parents’ first reaction was for me to return to Vancouver, where they felt I should start my treatments. There was no time to waste, as it was at an aggressive stage. However, after much persuasion, I convinced my parents that I should stay in Israel. As part of the deal I made with them, I was to head back to Vancouver upon graduation and resume the next cycle of treatments.
I started chemotherapy. I had the most loving care from the staff at Tel Hashomer Hospital. I was on the road to recovery when I returned home.
After a few more bouts with chemo and some courses in radiation, however, we were given the devastating news that I had to undergo an autologous bone marrow transplant. The procedure had to start immediately. I lost the little hair I had left in just one day, couldn’t hold down any food or drink, and was separated from any ounce of humanity because I had no immunity. But I was getting better, thanks to the staff and doctors at the British Columbia Cancer Agency.
During the horrifying three-month stay in my isolated hospital room I was, paradoxically, injected with the poisonous chemo cocktail expected to cure me and the benevolent rays of light and love of my family. The support made me stronger and gave me courage. I had so much to look forward to. My two older sisters had countless discussions on having children for me if I couldn’t conceive, my father tried to grant me not just one star but the whole galaxy, my mother never left my side and my then-boyfriend-now-husband showered me with tenderness. The love in my room spread throughout the ward. Through the tears, we remembered to laugh and dream.
When it was time to go home, I was nervous about leaving my protected environment but full of excitement to start my new life. All I wanted was to feel and look healthy again. I bade farewell to my dull uniform of pajamas and welcomed my new outfit, especially chosen for me. On the door, it was waiting for me, as if knowing how I was craving to look like a girl again. I fondly remember stepping out in my blue leather mini skirt, black cashmere sweater and black knee-high boots, handpicked with care by my mom, a true fashionista. I looked fabulous and felt euphoric on the 10-minute ride home, the only place I was headed for the time being.
Fast forward some 30 years, and I am the mother of two miraculous children, Daniel and Natalie, who bring me the greatest happiness and naches, spoken like a true Yiddishe Mame. I am grateful every day for my blessed life. There have been bumps along my journey, of course. I have often wondered if other women had the transformational experience I did leaving the ward. I knew the day would come for me to help other survivors in my own way. Splitting my time between Israel and Canada, I chose to initiate a fashion project in Israel.
I reached out to the head of the bone marrow transplant unit in Ichilov Hospital (Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Centre) and, to my astonishment, within minutes was told they were on board. My dream was becoming a reality.
My mission is to offer patients, upon their release, an outfit of their wishes to raise their spirit, as my mother’s fashion choices had raised mine. I wrote letters to as many clothing stores as I could, looking to find sponsors, hoping they would donate new outfits to recipients. I received a few replies saying nice idea, good luck; some never replied. But some did reply with open hearts, willing to contribute to the project.
Getting started has been challenging, one step forward and a few back. Frustrating as it is, I understand that it will take time but, among the obstacles, I will not give up. As the writer Paulo Coelho said, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” I have named my project Lalas Wings. Lala is a nickname, dubbed by my niece and nephew 35 years ago.
I was taught to dream big by my mentor, my father, Karl Stein. Hopefully, by sharing my dream, I can make a significant contribution to many bone marrow transplant patients, starting in Israel and eventually reaching hospitals in more and more places. My experience leads me to believe that the seemingly externally focused gift of clothing is part of a perfect beginning to the complex healing process.
If anyone has any questions about Lalas Wings, I can be reached by email at [email protected].
Ariella Stein is a mother, wife and fashion maven. A Vancouverite, she has lived in both Turkey and Israel for the past 25 years.
Inside the Samaritan Museum. (photo by Barry Kaplan)
It was one of the worst winter days I could remember – freezing temperatures, high winds and streets turned into rivers from the rain. Our friend, the pastor of the Jerusalem Baptist Church, had invited us to come on their church trip to Judea-Samaria.
Judea-Samaria is the area on the west bank of the Jordan River, approximately 30 miles wide, 70 miles long, not quite 2,000 square miles in area. Judea was the southern kingdom of the country with Jerusalem as its capital, and Samaria was the capital of the northern kingdom. To call this area Judea-Samaria makes clear the Jewish biblical and historical connection, but it is contentious. However, the other term for this area, the West Bank, is also a matter of contention, as that description negates the Jewish connection.
In 1922, 80% of the area of Palestine, as defined by the League of Nations (predecessor to the United Nations), was removed and became Transjordan, which was occupied then by Bedouin. During the British Mandate (1922-1948), Judea-Samaria was an integral part of the Jewish homeland and described by the British as Judea-Samaria.
In 1946, the British granted independence to Transjordan and Abdullah bin Al-Hussein was crowned king.
Jordan occupied the west bank of the river until 1950, when it annexed it to the Hashemite Kingdom. King Abdullah named it the West Bank and ruled over the area from 1950 to 1967.
Our adventure begins
Our first stop was Jacob’s Well, which is in St. Photini Church in Nablus, or Shechem. Jewish, Samaritan, Christian and Muslim traditions all associate Jacob with a well, which lies within the monastery complex of the Greek Orthodox Church. The well is not specifically mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, but Genesis 33:18-20 states that, when Jacob returned to Shechem from Paddan Aram, he camped “before” the city, bought the land on which he pitched his tent and erected an altar. Biblical scholars contend that the plot of land is where the well was constructed.
Today, Jacob’s Well is about 250 feet from the archeological ruins of ancient Shechem, which has a long history in Jewish tradition and was the first capital of the northern kingdom of Israel.
The well has been venerated by Christian pilgrims since the early fourth century CE. In the Greek Orthodox tradition, a Samaritan woman’s story at Jacob’s Well with Jesus was so powerful that many listeners became followers of Jesus, including her five sisters and two sons. The disciples heard of her experience with Jesus and came to baptize her, giving her the name Photini, meaning, “Enlightened One.” Thus, the name of the church in Nablus.
Abuna Ioustinos, a Greek Orthodox priest in Nablus, spearheaded the reconstruction project that saw Jacob’s Well restored and a new church built within the grounds of the Bir Ya’qub monastery, modeled on the designs of the Crusader-era church. Visitors access the well by entering the church and descending the stairs to the crypt.
Joseph’s Tomb is located just north of Jacob’s Well in an Ottoman-era building marked by a white dome. We could go inside the gate but no further. The tomb lies inside Area A of the West Bank, which is officially under Palestinian Authority control and the Israel Defence Forces bars Israeli citizens from entering the area without prior authorization. The site is venerated by Jews, Christians and Muslims, and has often been a flashpoint for violence. Jewish pilgrims are usually only allowed to visit the tomb once a month under heavy armed guard.
There is one synagogue in downtown Nablus, two on Mount Gerizim and two in Holon.
Arriving on Mount Gerizim, our bus drove around Kiryat Luza, a village on the mountain ridge where Samaritans live. Mount Gerizim forms the southern side of the valley in which Shechem is located. On the northern side is Mount Ebal.
We stopped at the Samaritan Museum, where the grandson of the high priest and another young woman explained their history before the current high priest – the 137th generation – came to talk to us.
In 721 BCE, the Assyrians invaded, destroyed and exiled the population of the Northern Kingdom. Samaritans believe that those who remained are descendants of the original Israelites. However, when the Jews returned from exile in Babylon, they did not accept the Samaritans, so the Samaritans separated and settled near Mount Gerizim, which they believe G-d chose as his only holy place.
Samaritans say they are descendants of the Northern Kingdom’s tribes, while rabbinical sources regard them as descendants of the Assyrian colonizers who converted to Judaism. Either way, their name, Shomronim, comes from the Hebrew word shomrim, “keepers of the law.”
Today, Samaritans number about 800, half living in Kiryat Luza, half in the Neveh Marque neighbourhood of Holon, a suburb of Tel Aviv. All Samaritans are citizens of the state of Israel, and those in Holon serve in the IDF and speak Hebrew as their main language.
Shechem is mentioned in the Book of Genesis after Abraham arrives and offers a sacrifice to G-d at Alon Moreh. Jacob then came, pitched his tent and bought the land here, and Joshua made it a city of refuge. The bones of Joseph were brought here from Egypt for burial.
The three holiest places to Samaritans are where Abraham took Isaac to be sacrificed, where Joshua placed 12 stones when the Israelites entered Canaan and where the Israelites re-erected the Tabernacle. According to the Samaritans, these events all took place on Mount Gerizim.
Samaritans believe in G-d, Moses and the Torah, and base their traditions on the Torah. They speak ancient Hebrew; however, their mother tongue is Arabic. They practise ritual circumcision. They observe dietary laws. They can marry non-Samaritan women who convert, provided they are virgins when they marry. They observe biblical holidays but not post-biblical holidays, such as Purim or Chanukah. They await the Messiah.
Samaritans observe Passover, and I once attended one of their Passover celebrations. They keep alive the tradition of the Passover sacrifice, as described in the Hebrew Bible. Prior to 1967, the Jordanians only allowed them to ascend Mount Gerizim for the Passover celebration. Since the Six Day War in 1967, the Israelis have allowed them free access to the mountain.
Our trip winds up
Our adventure ended in a church in Taybeh for lunch, where we arrived cold and wet. Due to a power outage, caused by the rain, a long grill with burning charcoal was brought out so that we could warm our hands. Taybeh is the last all-Christian community in the West Bank and the home of Taybeh Brewery, one of the few breweries in Palestine.
We returned to Jerusalem around 6 p.m.
Hopefully, another trip to Shechem will take place in the spring, after the rains end.
Sybil Kaplanis a journalist, lecturer, book reviewer and food writer. She created and leads the weekly English-language Shuk Walks in Machane Yehuda, she has compiled and edited nine kosher cookbooks, and is the author of Witness to History: Ten Years as a Woman Journalist in Israel. She also writes stories about kosher restaurants on janglo.net for which her husband, Barry Kaplan photographs.