For the first time in its history, Israel will go to the polls because the Knesset Israelis elected in April could not form a government.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu crowed after the election results came in that his Likud had defied critics and won a comparatively easy reelection. The number of small right-wing parties in the Knesset made it impossible for the opposition Blue and White bloc to assemble the 61 seats needed for a bare minimum majority coalition, leaving Netanyahu a free hand to form another government. Or so it seemed to everyone.
But there’s right-wing and then there’s right-wing. As in any country, a range of issues and interests combine to make up political parties and movements. While they may be in sync on a whole range of economic, social, internal and foreign policy issues, the one thing that unified Likud and its ostensible allies among the smaller right-wing parties was animosity toward the left, which Netanyahu demonized during the campaign – even accusing the veteran military figures who lead Blue and White of being too far left. The leftist bogeyman Netanyahu was conjuring is, at this point in Israeli history, largely fictitious. The Labour party, once the dominant force in the country, suffered its worst showing ever, finishing with less than 5% of the vote.
What divides the right-wing parties are a few issues of core principle. The ultra-Orthodox parties are right-wing and prefer Netanyahu as prime minister. But they want special considerations for religious institutions maintained and strengthened. Nationalist parties, like Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, are right-wing, but secular, and Lieberman would not budge on his assertion that there should be no compromise on a new law – promulgated under his watch as Netanyahu’s minister of defence – that yeshivah men not be automatically excused from conscription. The five seats Lieberman’s party won in April were the lynchpin for a fifth Netanyahu government – and the notoriously combustible Lieberman ultimately kiboshed the government and the 21st Knesset.
Some commentators suggest principle was less a factor in Lieberman’s choice than personal pique. The two men were once the closest of allies – and nothing is more bitter than a family fight. A number of policy issues have frayed the relationship. For example, as defence minister, Lieberman publicly excoriated his boss for what he characterized as letting Hamas off the hook too easily in the most recent flare-up of cross-border violence from Gaza. Lieberman, it appears, would have preferred a far more punishing response, though he has a history of making dire threats on which he does not follow up. He once brazenly gave Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh 48 hours to live if he did not return an Israeli hostage and the bodies of dead Israeli soldiers. The gambit failed. The millionaire Haniyah remains very much alive, luxuriating in a waterfront palace he built with a 20% tax on all goods traveling through the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. Lieberman meanwhile continues with similar bellicosity to stoke his base, primarily older Israelis with roots in the Soviet Union.
Whether Lieberman’s dashing of Netanyahu’s plans was an ego issue or a strategy to improve his party’s weak showing in April, or whether it was, in fact, a matter of principle, doesn’t matter much now that new elections have been slated for September.
Most of Israel’s 2019 will have been eaten up by election campaigns and, unless the electorate has a swift change of heart – or the criminal charges hanging over Netanyahu’s head shift the discourse – the results in September may be very similar to those of April. Then what?
Ehud Barak, a former prime minister who has been both ally and opponent to Netanyahu, posited last week that, whatever the outcome in September, Netanyahu is finished. While there are anonymous sources inside Likud suggesting the leader may be ousted after the next election, the fact is that Netanyahu’s career has been declared dead several times before, but he has defied prognosticators and triumphed. Not for nothing is his nickname “the Magician.”
Rabbi Uri Kroizer from the Ashkenazi track with his students. (photo by Itai Nadav)
Some 50 prayer leaders recently completed the first session of the inaugural Ashira program. The program’s goal is to train prayer leaders (schlichei tzibur) from across Israel to direct creative prayers in one of the following three tracks: Ashkenazi, Sephardi and contemporary liturgy.
This unique program, which is held at the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem, is a joint initiative of Rabbi Avi Novis Deutsch, dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, and Yair Kochav, one of the founders of the Tahrir cultural platform. Both are graduates of the New York Federation’s social leadership Cohesion Lab.
At one of the meetings at the Schechter campus in Jerusalem, Novis Deutsch explained, “Musical prayer is at the crux of the soul – it is clear that enabling people to study prayer touches their souls. We can discern true happiness in the classes. As the director of many programs at the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, I can sincerely say that when you teach Torah you sometimes see happiness, but when you teach prayer you constantly see happiness on the students’ faces.”
The Ashira program is comprised of 15 weekly five-hour meetings, where students study both theoretical and practical aspects of prayers and it is sponsored by donors from Vancouver and various parts of Israel.
From December 2018 to just after Passover 2019, when you walked down the hallways of the building, you would hear different styles of music from the classrooms.
“The students represent a broad variety of Israeli communities – some are studying in rabbinical programs, some are prayer leaders, and all have a love for Jewish liturgical music,” said Novis Deutsch. “The Ashira program furthers social cohesion; it is a collaborative project with the leaders of prayer renewal in Israel. Many of those who participate in the program never thought that they could be prayer leaders. Ashira allows them to imagine this possibility – it reduces their anxiety about leading prayers and gives them a voice.
The program’s premise is that, to find your voice as a prayer leader, you must acquire an in-depth knowledge of the tools, styles and procedures in this field.
“Before we embarked on the program, we assembled 12 leaders in the field of Israeli music and started a process, which gave birth to Ashira,” explained Yair Kochav. Of the three tracks, he said the Ashkenazi and Sephardi work with the existing liturgy, teaching it to the new prayer leaders, while the “contemporary liturgy track fuses the first two tracks with modern Israeli reality.”
According to Kochav, each track is divided into three sections: theoretical, musical and practical.
“This gives students a multifaceted experience of the essence of prayer and what motivates people to pray,” said Kochav. “Each identity and motivation must receive its own space. There is a certain apprehension that the traditional liturgy will disappear due to the growth of a popular modern Israeli liturgy. Therefore, students in all three tracks meet to discuss the similarities and differences of each liturgy.”
Rabbi Rani Yager, from the Shalom Hartman Institute, who heads the contemporary liturgy track together with Yair Harel, said, “The most important lesson that I learned in this program is that prayer is a need felt by people in all communities: it is not connected to one’s religious or ethnic background, nor to one’s gender. People are willing to discuss this need, to learn and to share their feelings. Singing together requires courage, and the enormous need for prayer engendered this courage.”
Rabbi Uri Kroizer and Dr. Naomi Cohn Zentner direct the Ashkenazi track and Hacham David Menachem and Drori Yehoshua direct the Sephardi track.
Students study the musical scales of each liturgical style; each student plays an instrument and/or sings during the classes. During the breaks, students meet in the hallway and eat dinner together (organized by different students each week) and discuss current events.
“Those of us in the Ashkenazic track, who come from different backgrounds, meet weekly and make space for the voices that we bring from our homes,” said Shira Levine, who received her master’s from the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies and is now a rabbinical student of the Hartman/Oranim program. “I have learned much from Rabbi Kroizer, who is an expert in Ashkenazic liturgy and a real mensch. I hope to study Sephardic liturgy in the next session.”
Osnat Ben Shoshan Pruz, a participant in the Sephardi track, said, “The program opened a door to a significant and immense world in which I have participated for many years. Ashira provided me with an opportunity to study, in depth, areas that I had not previously had a chance to examine. I have acquired numerous tools and knowledge in liturgy, Talmud and Jewish philosophy.”
“The program changed the manner in which I sing prayers, which goes beyond the pages of the siddur,” said David Arias, a Schechter Rabbinical Seminary student who participates in the contemporary liturgy track.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, in Jerusalem in May 2018. (photo from Ashernet)
Nechama Rivlin died June 4 at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva, at the age of 73. She had undergone a lung transplant operation three months ago because of pulmonary fibrosis. She received a lung from Yair Yehezkel Halabli, 19, of Ramat Gan, who drowned in Eilat. President Rivlin extended his family’s thanks to the Halabli family, “who donated their late son Yair’s lung, for their inspiring nobility and wonderful deed.”
Nechama Rivlin was born in 1945 in Moshav Herut in the Sharon region. She completed high school at the Emek Hefer Ruppin Regional School. In 1964, she began studying natural sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. After graduating, she worked at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as a researcher in the department of zoology, and other departments. In addition, she studied modern, classical and ancient art. In 1971, she married Reuven (Rubi) Rivlin and settled in Jerusalem. They have three children and many grandchildren; she was sister to Varda.
Rivlin’s fondness for Hebrew literature and art led her to write from time to time about writers and artists, who particularly appreciated the posts she published on the official Facebook page of the president. She generally began her posts with the words, “Hello everyone, Nechama here,” and signed them “Yours, Nechama.” In 2018, she established the President’s Award for Hebrew Poetry.
Nanopores taken from ancient pottery have allowed researchers to make beer following a 5,000-year-old recipe. (photo by Yaniv Berman IAA via Ashernet)
Research led by scholars at Hebrew University, the Israel Antiquities Authority, Tel Aviv University and Bar-Ilan University has revealed a way to isolate yeast from ancient pottery, from which beer was then produced. HU’s Dr. Ronen Hazan and IAA’s Dr. Yitzhak Paz, who are among the leaders of the research, noted that “we now know what Philistine and Egyptian beers tasted like.” The team examined the colonies of yeast that formed and settled in the pottery’s nanopores. Ultimately, they were able to use resurrected yeast to create a beer that’s approximately 5,000 years old.
“By the way, the beer isn’t bad,” said Hazan. “Aside from the gimmick of drinking beer from the time of King Pharaoh, this research is extremely important to the field of experimental archeology – a field that seeks to reconstruct the past. Our research offers new tools to examine ancient methods and enables us to taste the flavours of the past.”
Added Paz, “This is the first time we succeeded in producing ancient alcohol from ancient yeast. In other words, from the original substances from which alcohol was produced. This has never been done before.”
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.