פארק פופולרי נוסף, הנמצא בעיר הסמוכה צפון ונקובר – הוא פארק קפילנו שמראה את הצד הפראי של האזור. האטרקציה המרכזית בו היא גשר תלוי שמורכב משבעה קטעים שונים (בגובה של כשבעים וחמישה מטר מעל פני האדמה). הגשר שכמאה וחמישים מטרים אורכו, נחשב לאחד הארוכים בעולם והוא מואר בלילה כך שניתן לטייל בו גם בחשכה. בפארק יש פעילויות למשפחה, מסעדה ושבילי יער יפים, כולל אחד שמדמה הליכה על צוק וכולל רצפת זכוכית שתגרום להולכים להרגיש באוויר כשמתחת זורם נהר קפילנו.
אם רוצים לראות את אזור ונקובר והאיים באוקיאנוס שלחופו היא שוכנת, יש להמשיך אל הר הגראוס שגם הוא ממוקם בעיר צפון ונקובר. בעזרת קרוניות גדולות של הרכבל שיכולות להכיל עשרות אנשים, עולים כאלף ומאתיים מטרים אל הפסגה ורואים נוף עוצר נשימה. חובבי הספורט והאקסטרים יוכלו לשלב בביקור מסלולי ריצה הרריים, שבילי אופניים מאתגרים וריחוף באומגה. במקום גם יש שגם מופעי חיטוב עצים, סיור לימודי על דובים ודורסי לילה וטיסת מסוק. ביקור בהר הוא מבחינת חובה ומומלץ להקדיש לו יום שלם. מי שרוצה לראות את האזור מלמעלה ללא טיפוס להר, יכול לטוס במעלית במסע של מאה ושבעים מטר אל מגדל התצפית שנמשך כארבעים שניות בלבד.
אם ניתן להשיג מכונית שכורה, מומלץ מאוד להמשיך ולגלות את סביבת האזור ונקובר ולנסוע בכביש “סי טו סקאי”. מדובר באחד הכבישים היפים בעולם, שמתפתל לאורך החופים ומספק מראות יפים בכל עיקול, כולל אתרים היסטוריים ונקודות עצירה מיוחדות לתצפית.
אחד המבנים המעניינים בוונקובר הוא “קנדה פלייס”, שממקום במפרץ בורארד הצר באזור קול הרבור. ומה יש בו: מרכז כנסים גדול, מלון, מסעדות, ברים, מועדוני לילה, גלריות, הופעות, פעילויות למשפחה, ספא, ומרכז סחר. וכן מזח לספינות שממנו יוצאים הקרוזים להפלגות באיים שלחופי האוקיאנוס. הקנדים אוהבים לבלות בו בחורפים הקרים יחסית. בקיץ האזור שוקק ומלא אנרגיות. אחת האטרקציות המהנות ביותר היא “פלי אובר קנדה” שבו יוצאים למסע קולנועי אינטרקטיבי מעל נופיה המרהיבים של קנדה.
ונקובר היא ביתם של מהגרים רבים ממזרח אסיה ונהנית מסצנה תרבותית וקולינרית מפותחת בהשראתם. מרכז העיר מספק שפע של מסעדות אסיאתיות. באזור צ’יינה טאון האטרקציה היפה בו היא הגן הסיני של ד”ר סאן יט-סן. זהו הגן הסיני הראשון בקנדה שלא כל כך מטופח. יש בו שילוב בן אסתטיקה לטבע. יש בגן בריכת דגים ועצים מיניאטורים. הגן הוקם בשנת אלף תשע מאות שמונים ושש מחומרים טבעיים בלבד. הביתנים מעוצבים לפי מיטב הארכיטקטורה הסינית, והרמוניה נושבת בין שבילי הגן הודות לשילוב בין הצמחייה, מספר סלעים ואדריכלות שבמקום.
גאסטון, השכונה הוותיקה ביותר בוונקובר, היא אזור מתאים לכניסה אטית אל הערב באחת מעשרות המסעדות, המועדונים ובתי הקפה שבה. השכונה מפורסמת לא רק בזכות מקומות הבילוי, אלא גם הודות לשעון הקיטור קטן והצנוע שהוצב ברחוב, כאנדרטה לימים שבהם עברו מתחת לעיר צינורות קיטור לחימום הבתים. מנגנון השעון נחשב למודרני והוא מוציא אדים ומדי שעה, תוך השמעת נעימת הווסטמיניסטר.
ונקובר היא עיר של טבע. העיר מוקפת אטרקציות פראיות בשילוב של הרים גבוהים ומי האוקיאנוס. האנשים בה נחשבים אולי? ידידותיים ומנומסים. יש בעיר מוזיאון וגלריה, פארקים גדולים, מסעדות ופינות שקטות. זאת לצד ספורט אקסטרים ופעילות ימית. ונקובר היא בסיס יציאה לטיולי טבע והפלגות במערב קנדה, ומהווה מארחת נחמדה לבילוי של מספר ימים.
Joseph’s Tomb, inside the gate. (photo by Gil Zohar)
“The bones of Joseph, which the Children of Israel brought up from Egypt, were buried in Shechem in the portion of the field that had been purchased by Jacob.” – Joshua 24:32
“‘And he bought the field where he pitched his tent.’ (Genesis 13:19) Said Rav Yudan bar Simon, ‘This is one of the three places regarding which the nations of the world cannot slander Israel and say, “You stole them!” The places are the Cave of Machpelah [in Hebron], the Temple [in Jerusalem] and the Tomb of Joseph [in Shechem/Nablus].” – Bereshit Rabba, 79:4
There’s little inspiration to be found in the unadorned tomb of Joseph, the favourite of Jacob’s 12 sons. The holy site, located in the gritty eastern outskirts of Nablus among parched olive groves and graveyards of wrecked cars, is today a flashpoint between those who revere the site – Israeli Jews, Palestinian Muslims, Christians of all stripes, and the 600-member Samaritan community living on Mount Gerizim overlooking this West Bank city of 160,000. The traditional anniversary of Joseph’s death on Tammuz 27 (which fell on July 31 this year) is considered an especially auspicious pilgrimage time.
The group of 1,200 pious Jews, armed with permits and prayer books, arrived at the shrine in a convoy of bulletproof buses protected by the Israel Defence Forces. Most were Bratslaver Chassidim, who set great store in their practice of praying at the graves of tzadikim (righteous ones).
The IDF-escorted pilgrimage on the first Tuesday of every month often leads to riots. IDF sappers neutralized a pipe bomb hidden at Joseph’s Tomb prior to the visit of the 1,200 pilgrims and 12 Palestinians were injured during clashes with the IDF. The list of security incidents, arson and terrorism is long and bloody.
In the secular West, the story of Joseph – whose 11 jealous brothers sold their 17-year-old sibling into slavery in Egypt – has been popularized by the rock opera Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Librettist Tim Rice and fellow Academy Award-winning composer Andrew Lloyd Weber, along with actor Donny Osmond as Joseph, captivated audiences from Broadway to the West End with their account of Joseph’s rise to become the vizier, second only to Pharaoh in the Egyptian empire.
But Joseph, the hero of Bible and Quran stories, has hardly been given the royal treatment by Middle East politics. Dotan, where Joseph was thrown into a pit, called Jubb Yussef (Joseph’s Well) today is a ruined caravanserai that collapsed in an earthquake in 1837. Joseph’s tomb, enshrining the bones brought back from Egypt by the Children of Israel some 3,300 years ago together with the remains of Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh, has fared better.
The plain one-storey is called Qabr an-Nabi Yúsuf (Tomb of the Prophet Yúsuf) in Arabic and is revered by Jews as Kever Yosef ha-Tzadik (Tomb of Yosef the Righteous). The whitewashed limestone building is capped with a cupula and protected by a massive black gate. Barbed wire crowns the looming walls. Signposts in Arabic and English indicate the nearby sites of Tel Balata and Jacob’s Well. None directs visitors to Joseph’s Tomb.
Tel Balata is the nondescript Canaanite/Israelite Iron Age stratified archeological mound that few tourists bother to visit. Jacob’s Well is covered by a 20th-century Greek Orthodox basilica marking where the patriarch camped when returning to Shechem (ancient Nablus) from Paddan Aram in today’s Iraq. In one of the Torah’s three real estate deals – along with Abraham’s purchase of the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron and David’s acquiring of Mount Moriah in Jerusalem – Jacob bought the plot of land from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem. There, Jacob pitched his tent and erected an altar (Genesis 33:18-20).
Some 1,500 years later, Jesus “came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the field which Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s Well was there.” (John 4:5-10) Drinking water, he chatted up a Samaritan woman, known in Greek as Photine (the luminous one; hence, the church’s name, St. Photini). Christian pilgrims flock to the site to reverently drink drafts of cool water from the deep well in the church’s vault.
Across the street is Balata Refugee Camp, administered by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Today the largest camp in the West Bank, it houses 27,000 people in a quarter-square-kilometre site that was designated for 5,000 refugees when it was established in 1950.
Even for an intrepid, multilingual tour guide like this writer, it is daunting to find the unmarked way to the holy site. The drab building is located next to the Qadari Tuqan School, along a dusty unnamed road where only recently were sidewalks laid. The easiest way to find the landmark is to look for the Palestinian Authority police vehicle parked outside the locked gate. Then, one must locate the pair of PA police officers loitering in the shade nearby, smoking cigarettes and nervously fidgeting with their rifles. Ask politely in Arabic and they’ll let you in, no questions asked, no baksheesh (tip or bribe) required – just don’t mention that you’re Jewish.
Inside the locked gate, you’ll find a simple barrel tomb and the stump of a column of indeterminate age. There’s no evidence of the repeated vandalism that has punctuated the tragic history of Joseph’s Tomb since 1995, when Israel withdrew from the West Bank city, ending the occupation that began in 1967 with the Six Day War.
A photo from 1900 shows the well-maintained compound around Joseph’s Tomb. A carriage road facilitated the pilgrimage of pious Jews from the Old Yishuv who regularly came to pray there. The holy site stood in isolation. Nearby was the Arab hamlet of Balata, with eight houses.
The name Nablus is a corruption of the Latin Colonia Julia Neapolis, which was founded by the Roman emperor Vespasian in 72 CE. In the old city, in 1906, Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II erected a clocktower to celebrate 30 years on the throne of the Sublime Porte.
In the Six Day War, Israel captured the territory, which had been occupied by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan since 1948. Once-somnolent Nablus experienced a burst of prosperity, though today, under PA self-rule, the Palestinian economy is floundering. Expanding from a population of 30,000, the city spread out to swallow the nearby villages, including Balata. Joseph’s Tomb became entangled in urban sprawl.
Jewish settlers began to frequent the mausoleum. By 1975, Muslims were prohibited from visiting the site, which some claimed was the tomb of Sheikh Yúsuf Dawiqat, an 18th-century Sufi saint. In 1982, St. Louis, Mo.-born kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh established the Od Yosef Chai (Joseph Still Lives) yeshivah at the site.
Conflict mounted following the Oslo Accords. Tensions boiled over in September 2000, in the wake of then-prime minister Ariel Sharon’s controversial visit to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. A full-scale battle broke out.
On Oct. 1, 2000, Border Police Cpl. Madhat Yusuf, 19, of Beit Jann in the Upper Galilee, was wounded in the neck in a clash with Palestinians at Joseph’s Tomb. Over the course of four hours, the Druze warrior bled to death because the IDF considered it too risky to evacuate him without a ceasefire.
A week later, on Oct. 7, 2000, the site was handed over to PA police. Within hours, Joseph’s Tomb was pillaged by Palestinian protesters. Using pickaxes, sledgehammers and their bare hands, they demolished the holy site. It was rebuilt by Italian stonemasons.
In the Bible, Joseph – the chaste and handsome prisoner – is wooed by an unnamed would-be lover only identified as Potiphar’s wife. Though many midrashim about Joseph are incorporated in the Quran’s 12th chapter, known as Surat Yusuf, the lady’s name is similarly omitted. However, within several centuries, various Islamic sources identified her as Zuleika. Among these medieval texts, the most popular was the epic Farsi poem “Yusuf and Zulaikha,” composed in 7,000 Persian couplets by 15th-century poet Jami.
The Sufi master regarded the story of Joseph’s temptations as an allegory for the mystical striving after divinity. In Nablus today, pilgrims continue to come to Joseph’s Tomb seeking that union. Alas, Israelis and Palestinians have not found a coat of many cultures to fit them both equally.
Gil Zohar is a writer and tour guide in Jerusalem, Israel.
אחד המקומות הפופולריים בה הוא סטנלי פארק, שהוא אתר היסטורי לאומי. (flickr)
ונקובר: העיר מספר אחת ביבשת אמריקה – חלק א’
במרץ שנה שעברה פרסמה חברת הייעוץ הבינלאומית מרסר את דירוג הערים הכי טובות לגור בהן בעולם ואף אחד בוונקובר לא הופתע. כבר ידוע זה שנים שוונקובר היא העיר שהכי טוב לגור בה ביבשת אמריקה. עיר איכותיתת, תחבורה לא רעה, די נקייה, חינוך טוב, אטרקציות טבעיות וביטחון אישי לא רע. אין כמעט תחום שהיא לא טובה בו. ובעיקר היא עיר יפה. מצד אחד מפרץ עצום וירוק שעוטף את חצי האי בו שוכן הדאון טאון. ומצד שני מי האוקיאנוס השקט. ומסביב הרים מיוערים בעלי אוויר נקי וצונן. בחורף ונקובר אפורה, שותקת ודי ישנה, אך בקיץ העיר פורחת ותוססת. ולא רק כיף וטוב לגור בה, אלא מומלץ מאוד לבקר ולטייל בה. ונקובר שוכנת בקצה המערבי של קנדה ומספיקים יומיים או שלושה לטייל בה כדי להבין מדוע תיירים כל כך אוהבים אותה.
לקנדה יש דימוי של ארץ ענקית וריקה שבה הטבע הפראי שולט והאנשים בה רגועים ואדיבים. ובכן זה באמת די נכון. מספיק כדי לטייל מדינה כמה ימים או מספר שבועות כדי להבין שמתרגלים לזה מהר ואם העולם היה טוב יותר, אז הוא היה כנראה עולם יותר קנדי. מטרו ונקובר היא מטרופולין של קרוב לשניים וחצי מיליון איש שלא מעט מתושביו הם מהגרים מרחבי העולם, היא עיר די שונה גם בקנדה, מיוחדת, ירוקה ואולי וסוערת בחודשי הקייץ שהולך ומתחמם כאן.
חברת המחקר מובהב שמספקת מידע עבור אלה שמעוניינים לעבור ולגור בחו”ל, מדרגת את העיר ונקובר כעיר עם חיי הלילה המסעירים ביותר בקנדה. האמת? בכלל לא! ונקובר נחשבת לעיר ישנה לחלוטין ובמספר חודשי הקייץ החמים היא מתעוררת. טורונטו ומונטריאול הן הנחשבות לערים התוססות ביום ובלילה.
ונקובר הצעירה שהוקמה בתקופת תור הבהלה לזהב באמצע המאה התשע עשרה על ידי מחפשים שהתיישבו בשפך נהר פיירזר, צמחה במהירות בשנות הארבעים והחמישים של המאה הקודמת בעקבות גלי הגירה, והפכה כאמור לעיר מספר אחת באמריקה.
אחד הדברים שבולטים בוונקובר הוא שהיא ירוקה כחולה, בזכות הטבע שעוטף אותה. אחד המקומות הפופולריים בה הוא סטנלי פארק, שהוא אתר היסטורי לאומי. מדובר בפארק גדול שנמצא בקצה הדאון טאון. יש בו מסלולי ריצה, רכיבה על אופניים, רכיבה על סוסים, חופי רחצה, מספר קטן של סעדות וציוני דרך היסטוריים בהתפתחותה של העיר. זה מקום טוב להתחיל להכיר בו את העיר, גם בגלל הנוף היפהפה הנשקף ממנו. בפארק יש גם כמה נקודות ציון חביבות כמו העץ החלול – גזע של עץ ארז כבן שמונה מאות שנה שנפגע בסופה בשנת אלפיים ושש. במקום לכרות אותו הוא הפך לסמל לשימור הטבע בעיני תושבי העיר. גן שייקספיר שהוקם בהשראת יצירתו של המחזאי ברוקטו והמפורסם ואזור עמודי הטוטם – תשעה עמודים צבעוניים בעלי עיטורים אינדיאניים מקומיים בנקודת ברוקטון. תמונה שלהם על רקע ההרים והמפרץ היא חלק מהזיכרונות שתספק לכם ונקובר. בפארק נמצא האקוואריום העירוני, שבו תוכלו להתרשם ממגוון עצום של דגים ויונקים ימיים. האקוואריום הוא אחת האטרקציות המפורסמות של העיר, וקיימים בו מינים נדירים של דולפינים ולווייתנים.
זהו לא המקום היחיד שבוונקובר מספקת לחובבי הטבע. בדאון טאון של העיר תמצאו את מרכז עולם המדע, שבו תערוכות משתנות וקבועות, כולל היכל החלל שבו תקבלו מענה או לפחות כיוון חשיבה לגבי חייזרים, אסטוראידים וכוכבי לכת אחרים, כולל טיול בתחנת חלל.
Queen Tamar’s Hall at Uplistsikhe. (photo by Deborah Rubin Fields)
I would venture to say not many people know about the ancient Jewish community of Georgia. Yet, Jews have lived there since at least the fourth century CE and, according to various legends from the Second Temple period, even earlier.
Although scant written information from prior to the end of the 18th century exists, stories have it that Georgian Jews have a long history. According to one oral tradition, the community goes back to the exile of the Ten Tribes by the Assyrians. Others place its origins to the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE. And yet others claim that, since there was a large Jewish community in neighbouring Armenia from the first through the fourth centuries CE, it is probable that Jewish traders likewise established themselves in Georgia. These are just some of the theories.
The earliest solid evidence comes from the archeological discovery of a fourth century CE Jewish tombstone. This tombstone was found in Mtskheta, an important early Christian city located on the River Aragvi. The tombstone is dedicated to a Jew named Yosef Chazon and it features an Aramaic inscription engraved in Hebrew letters. Today, it is on display at Tbilisi’s David Baazov Museum of History of the Jews of Georgia and Georgian-Jewish Relations. (An aside: Although the sacred object is nowhere to be seen, the town’s Svetitskhoveli Cathedral claims to have the robe that Jesus wore at the time of his crucifixion. As the story goes, this robe was brought from Jerusalem by two Georgian Jews: Elioz, or Elias, and Longinoz.)
Possibly because they were viewed as unpretentious craftsmen and pedlars, Jews faced relatively little antisemitism. Under the medieval feudal system, they were considered serfs. As serfs, they were never forced to convert, although there seemed to have been some incentive: one document states that Daniel Aranashbili, an apostate serf, received a total tax exemption. (See Gershon Ben-Oren’s essay, “The History of the Jews of Georgia Until the Communist Regime” in The Land of the Golden Fleece: The Jews of Georgia-History and Culture.)
Jumping ahead to the 19th-century rule of the Russian czar, there were a handful of blood libel cases that, while admittedly painful, did not end up in the massacres that occurred in other parts of Europe. Even during the repressive Soviet era, when Jewish institutions were closed, the Tbilisi Jewish community somehow succeeded in having their cemeteries left intact – unlike the local Muslims and Armenians, whose Georgian cemeteries were desecrated.
Internally, the Jewish community had its differences. For instance, at the end of the 19th century, there was significant resistance to Zionism. Rabbi David Baazov – who the czar appointed as the official rabbi of Oni – was one of the community’s first Zionist advocates. He faced such fierce opposition from wealthy community members that he was forced to appeal for funds from early Zionist leader Menachem Ussishkin. Unfortunately, when, in 1917, no financial assistance was offered, Baazov had to close his school. (Today, the Jewish museum in Tbilisi is named after Baazov.)
But here is something amazing about this quiet community. It was “carried away” by the achievements of the Israeli Defence Forces in the Six Day War. In 1969, knowing the risks in “making waves” during Soviet rule (Stalin, for example, who hailed from Georgia, had personally signed the death penalties of 3,600 countrymen), 18 Georgian Jewish families were the first people to publicly petition the United Nations Human Rights Committee with their request to move to Israel.
Most of the 80,000 Georgian Jews (figures from 1970s) made aliyah in two recent waves: in the 1970s and again in the 1990s, when the USSR collapsed. Reportedly, 3,000 to 5,000 still live in the European (because of the Caucasus Mountains, some would say Asian) country of Georgia. Significantly, only recently has Tbilisi become the main centre for the Jewish community. In fact, until the first big aliyah, the Georgian Jewish community lived in several other locations, including Kutaisi, Batumi, Oni, Akhaltsikhe, Akhalkalak, Sarami, Kareli and Gori.
Historically, Georgia’s Mizrahi and Ashkenazi communities have remained separate. In today’s Tbilisi, Shaarei Tefillah Synagogue stands in the Old Town area. This congregation is more than 100 years old. There is also a Chabad synagogue. A kosher restaurant is located near Shaarei Tefillah.
At present, you will hear different opinions about the vitality of the current Jewish community. Some insist that, unlike other former Soviet Union countries, there is vibrant Jewish life in Georgia, with little assimilation. Others contend that, with the dwindling population, life is bleak for some of the older members of the Jewish community and tenuous for the younger generation, who are at risk of losing their Jewish identity.
Georgian Jews have been proud of their heritage. For instance, one wealthy Armenian Jew living in Tbilisi, Ghazar Sarkisian, built his wife a stunning house with stained glass windows displaying the Star of David.
And, speaking of David, everywhere you go in Georgia, you will see paintings and statues of two Georgian leaders who had Old Testament names: King David the Builder (1089-1125) and his great-granddaughter Queen Tamar (1184-1213). These two rulers are recognized for their ability to unify the nation. But, in addition, there are stories that their Bagrationi ancestors descended from the biblical King David. Hence, some believe these rulers had Jewish roots. Whatever their true origin, in today’s Georgia, these names remain popular with the general population.
When in Georgia …
For the adventurous, there is cycling, and mountain and hill climbing. However, travelers should note that, because of severe weather conditions, a number of roads leading to the Caucasus Mountains close for months at a time.
Visit the cave city of Uplistsikhe. Although there is no evidence that she was ever there, you’ll find a large space called Queen Tamar’s Hall. Either way, the caves, which first housed pagan communities, make for an interesting stop.
Even if you don’t drink wine, it is worth going to a traditional winery to see the unique way Georgians have historically made wine.
Besides wine, bread is another big part of Georgian life. Check out a bakery that makes shoti puri, a flatbread resembling a canoe in shape. It is a simple, handmade mixture of flour, water, salt and yeast. The bread is baked in a strange oven called a tone (pronounced “tone-ay”). This oven is a circular, brick-lined oven dug into the floor with a gas or wood fire at the bottom. The bread is placed onto the side of the tone. For the bakers, it is hot and strenuous work, especially when trying to reach the spaces at the bottom of the oven. The bread is ready in a matter of minutes. It is then scrapped off the sides with a paddle.
For those who like to take in the local scene by walking, Tbilisi is the place to be. Walk slowly through the Old Town to see how grand this city once was. From the crumbling carved wooden porches to the faded hand-painted vestibules, you can still feel the city’s architectural beauty. There are a number of rehabilitation projects underway, but much needs to be done.
Another way to see a bit of times past is to go to Tbilisi’s Dry Bridge Market. This flea market specializes in nostalgia, selling silverware, china and glassware. You can get a shaggy shepherd’s hat, accordions, sewing machines, cameras, record albums, hand guns and knives (!) and, of course, Soviet memorabilia. It also has a large section of new, locally made paintings and shawls.
Though the exhibits are not posted in English, the State Museum of Georgian Folk Songs and Instruments has a small, but nice, collection of regional musical instruments (including a shofar). While I was visiting, the curator played a European street organ, an upright organ and operated some of the early musical recording devices.
Deborah Rubin Fields is an Israel-based features writer. She is also the author of Take a Peek Inside: A Child’s Guide to Radiology Exams, published in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
Children follow the new Independence Trail in Tel Aviv. (photo by Ricky Rachman)
In honour of Israel’s 70th Independence Day, the city of Tel Aviv has introduced a new interactive walking route that takes visitors past 10 of the city’s heritage sites. All of the sites are connected in some way with the Declaration of Independence and the beginnings of Tel Aviv itself.
The trail is just under a kilometre long and features a golden track that illuminates at night. The route begins at the first kiosk of Tel Aviv, at the intersection of Rothschild Boulevard and Herzl Street. The walking route brings two stories to life that are central to the story of modern Israel: the birth of Tel Aviv, the first Jewish, self-governed, Hebrew-speaking city, in 1909; and how, in 1948, Tel Aviv would make way for the birth of the state of Israel, fulfilling a millennia-old dream.
Visitors can follow the route with a mobile app, or can guide themselves using a map that features information in eight different languages.
The building of the trail demanded extensive infrastructure work, including the implementation of a unique lighting system that allows visitors to walk along the trail at night. The Independence Trail was inspired by the Freedom Trail in Boston, one of the most popular heritage sites in the United States.
The Independence Trail’s 10 sites are:
The first kiosk was established in 1910, and quickly became a central meeting place. During the 1920s, about 100 kiosks operated in the city under the Association of the Kiosk and Soft Drink Store Owners.
Nahum Gutman Fountain: Nahum Gutman was an Israeli artist who grew up in Tel Aviv along with the new city, and whose work reflected the simplicity of the early days of “the First Hebrew City.” An illustrator, photographer and writer, Gutman was awarded the Israel Prize in 1978. His mosaics around the fountain tell us the history of Jaffa, the ancient port city from which Tel Aviv was born.
Akiva Aryeh Weiss’s house: Weiss was the founder of the Ahuzat Bayit neighbourhood, which evolved into Tel Aviv. As president of the then newly established building society, Weiss presided over the 1909 lottery in which 66 Jewish families drew numbers written on seashells to determine the allocation of lots in the about-to-be established city.
Shalom Meir Tower: former site of the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, the first Hebrew-language high school. The building on Herzl Street was a major Tel Aviv landmark until 1962, when it was razed for the construction of the tower. Its destruction sparked widespread recognition of the importance of conserving historical landmarks. Today, Shalom Meir Tower is home to a visitors centre about the history of Tel Aviv, which is open, free to the public, on weekdays.
The Great Synagogue was the spiritual centre of Tel Aviv, located in the heart of the city’s business centre. The building features a huge dome, elaborate lighting fixtures and magnificent stained glass windows.
The Haganah Museum is located in what was the home of Eliyahu Golomb, the founder and de facto commander of the Haganah. From 1930 to 1945, the Haganah’s secret headquarters were located in this house. Golomb’s residential room, his office on the ground floor, as well as the exterior of the house, were fully preserved. The museum will be open to the public free of charge during 2018, to mark Israel’s 70th anniversary.
Bank of Israel’s Visitors Centre, at the historical headquarters of Israel’s national bank, presents the history of the financial system in Israel. It features an extensive exhibit of banknotes and coins issued from pre-state days to the present. The centre also will be open to the public free of charge until the end of the year.
Tel Aviv Founders Monument is dedicated to the men and women who established Tel Aviv in the first half of the 19th century. It is a quiet spot, dotted with benches and centred around a small pool and fountain.
Statue of Meir Dizengoff, honouring the first mayor of Tel Aviv, who was known for riding his horse from his home – which is now Independence Hall – to City Hall, which was then located on Bialik Street. The statue of Dizengoff on his horse was created by artist David Zondolovitz.
Independence Hall: Dizengoff dedicated his home for the establishment of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. In the home, on May 14, 1948, the ceremony of the Declaration of Independence took place.
In addition to the Independence Trail, visitors will be able to enjoy, until the end of December, the Israeli Democracy Pavilion, which features a presentation about the story of the Declaration of Independence. The project, which is a collaboration between the Israel Democracy Institute and the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, takes place in a majestic pavilion on Rothschild Boulevard, in which visitors are shown a film in 360 degrees, highlighting important moments of Israeli democracy. The pavilion is surrounded by arcades reflecting the diversity of Israeli society. Selected quotes from the Declaration of Independence are showcased on the pavilion’s arches and visitors are invited to sign a pledge to uphold the core values of the declaration. Entry to the film is free of charge, and the pavilion is expected to travel to other cities in Israel next year.
The trail crosses the Galilee from Beit She’arim to Tiberias. (photo by Israel Antiquities Authority from Ashernet)
This year in the Galilee, thousands of students have been excavating and organizing the first “smart trail,” in which dozens of stone relay stations along the path transmit information and activities to hikers’ mobile telephones. The trail comprises part of the celebration of Israel’s 70th year of independence, and just opened. It extends 70 kilometres and is divided into sections, tracing the movements of the country’s greatest figures, the Sanhedrin sages, who rehabilitated the Jewish people following the Bar Kokhba Revolt. As did the Sanhedrin, the trail crosses the Galilee from Beit She’arim to Tiberias, passing through magnificent landscape, such as Nahal Zippori, Yodfat, Mount Arbel and Mount Atzmon.
Itay Asaf, far left, with a group he led on a tour of Jaffa, where they visited the areas in which his dad grew up. This particular group was in Israel for eight days. (photo from Itay Asaf)
Esperanso is a recently established, socially responsible tourism company based in the United States that offers private tours to Israel. Created by Itay Asaf and his brother, Eyal, who are both are former kibbutzniks, the tours include a volunteering component.
“I led Birthright trips to Israel,” Itay Asaf told the Independent. “And I realized the trips are really nice and very fun for the students, but there was something missing for me, as an educator. I felt like the students are not really getting the true face of Israel, and they’re not really given the chance to give back.
“I wanted them to be very involved socially and to see sites they don’t usually get to see on trips. I found a social justice extension trip where I took the students, and I used tourism as a tool to empower local communities in south Tel Aviv, refugees and LGBTQ [for example]. And then I saw the impact and what it does for the students. Some even came back to Israel, and some are considering making aliyah.”
At that point, Eyal had a tourism company in Israel, so, together, the brothers built the concept for Esperanso. The name of the company reflects their family heritage – coming from Turkey and having a Spanish name – and it is a play on the word esperanza, meaning hope.
“One of the reasons I wanted to combine social work and social justice in everything I did, is my aunt,” said Itay. “She grew up in a village for people with special needs, Kfar Tikva. My brother and I wanted to take the experience we had with tourism and growing up with my aunt, and I saw the potential of the tourists that already come to Israel. We approach [them] and we say, ‘We welcome everyone. We accept groups. We accept youth. We invite people to celebrate bar mitzvahs.’ But, what we add is, ‘When you travel with us, you are actually empowering communities.’
“We took social organizations that we were personally connected to and we combined them into the itineraries with each of our trips,” he explained. “Not only do you support them by the activities during your trip, we also promise the organizations that five percent of the cost of your trip will go to one of them; that we will donate, based on your choice. This way, we ensure those organizations are empowered, socially and economically. We can take any trip you desire to do in Israel and make it into a socially responsible one.”
Esperanso connects with the various organizations ahead of time, with the goal of having participants get an inside view. The Asafs’ hope is that some visitors will make a deeper connection with the organizations and create partnerships, or set up longer-term volunteering with them.
“There are a variety of organizations just waiting for tourists to come and see what they do and support them,” said Itay. “That’s our pleasure – connecting and introducing you to those organizations.
“When I started,” he said, “I had a student who, two months after the trip, came to me and said she is going back to Israel to volunteer for a year. I almost cried I was so happy. This is what I wanted. It’s amazing to see. She was attached to it and she saw what she could do.”
The groups Esperanso leads vary in size, but, most important for Itay is connecting with interesting people and finding ways to create the trip they want together. So far, he has been on all the trips as the guide, but that might change. Depending on volume and availability, his brother might step in and guide some tours. As his brother lives in Israel, Eyal is the one taking care of everything on the ground until Itay lands with the group.
“We are very competitive cost-wise in the market,” said Itay. “We are aware that part of what we are making is going to these organizations, and we are completely, honestly, OK with that, happy with that.
“I’d say, if someone wants to go to Israel and do the journey with the hotels, the bus and everything, I think we are offering a very competitive package. They can just contact us, come to Israel and have everything ready for them in a socially responsible approach.”
The Asafs see Esperanso as something more than just a tourism company. For them, it is part of the future, of the new economy.
“I think we should support companies and organizations that care about the surroundings,” said Itay. “I think that, if everyone would care a little bit more, we could find ways to also profit the communities around us. If we make the right connections, we can change the world…. I urge everyone to look for ways to direct your money just a little bit to help people in need.”
Ramon International Airport in Eilat will begin service on Oct. 28. (photo by Gil Zohar)
With Ramon International Airport beginning service on Oct. 28, officials hope that the state-of-the-art facility will boost tourism to the once-sleepy Red Sea resort of Eilat. But will a gleaming airport bring the crowds?
Perched on the 50-metre-high control tower during a March 19 media tour of the site, airport manager Hanan Moscovitz explained that the facility will replace Eilat’s Yaakov Hozman Airport, named after the founder of Arkia Airlines. While the current airport’s location is convenient for prop planes from Tel Aviv, it causes noise pollution and cuts off the city from its hotel district.
The new airport is named after aviation heroes Ilan and Asaf Ramon. The former was Israel’s first astronaut; he perished in 2003, when the Columbia Space Shuttle exploded while reentering earth’s atmosphere. His son, Asaf, also an Israeli Air Force F-16 fighter pilot, was killed six years later in a jet crash.
The Israel Airport Authority hired 160 construction workers from Moldova to build Ramon Airport. The total cost of the facility will be NIS 1.7 billion (more than $614 million Cdn). That investment will be partly recouped by the sale of the municipal airport’s land for hotels, condominiums and a convention centre.
But why build an international airport for a city of only 60,000 people? “There’s no de-icing,” Moscovitz quipped. Blessed with 330 days of sunshine annually, Eilat makes an ideal winter holiday destination.
A popular tourist stop in the 1990s, the city foundered after the Second Intifada broke out in 2000. As well, Eilat’s 12,000 hotel rooms couldn’t compete with the 100,000 budget rooms in the nearby Sinai’s luxurious resorts. But foreign visitors to Eilat have been on an upswing in recent years, Moscovitz explained, thanks to the Open Skies agreement with the European Union that was ratified in 2013.
Boosting airplane arrivals to Eilat – which should reach 55 flights weekly this winter – will be nothing less than a revolution, according to Eilat Hotel Association director Shabi Shai. While only 60,000 foreign tourists arrived in 2015, that number more than doubled to 130,000 in 2016, and then rose to 210,000 last year. In 2017, Israel as a whole had a record year for tourism, with 3.6 million visitors.
Some 400,000 people, the majority from Russia, are expected in the 2018/19 winter season, said Shai. In the past, many of those sun worshippers had preferred Egypt. But, on Oct. 31, 2015, a bomb smuggled onboard a charter en route to Saint Petersburg from Sharm El Sheikh exploded over Sinai. All 224 passengers and crew were killed.
The 32,000-square-metre Ramon Airport terminal was designed by Tel Aviv’s Mann Shinar Architects, and Moshe Zur Architects. The building will initially handle up to two million passengers annually, and the airport’s control tower is equipped with an instrument landing system for the rare day the airport is fogged in. A drainage ditch will keep the runway dry, even in a once-in-70-years flash flood.
Because of security concerns, the 3,600-metre-long tarmac will accommodate the largest commercial jumbo jets. During the 2014 Gaza conflict, known as Operation Protective Edge, a rocket fired from a Hamas-controlled coastal enclave toward Tel Aviv landed in Yehud, five kilometres from Ben-Gurion Airport. In response, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration barred American carriers from landing at Ben-Gurion for nearly 48 hours. When foreign airlines followed suit, the Jewish state was effectively cut off because, with Ben-Gurion shuttered, Israel had no other airport with international capacity. To prevent this situation from happening again, Transportation Minister Israel Katz had Ramon Airport’s runway lengthened and increased the apron parking.
Located alongside the Jordanian border, Ramon Airport has special security needs of its own. The facility’s exposed eastern flank is girded with both a fence and a 30-metre-high, 4.5-kilometre-long electronic barrier. The high-tech hurdle features sensors and detection technology to protect incoming and departing planes from shoulder-launched RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) and other unnamed threats.
For Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Ramon Airport will support the continued revitalization of Israel’s southern city. “Incoming tourism to Eilat is breaking all records, and we are witnessing an extraordinary momentum of airlines opening new direct routes into the city,” he said.
Shai, however, acknowledged that tourists don’t go to an airport but a destination. All the carefully prepared tourism plans could unravel if war broke out, he cautioned. But everyone in Israel, including in Eilat, is hoping that doesn’t happen.
The Upper Galilee’s Mizpe Hayamim is a beautiful place. (photo by Karen Ginsberg)
Unless you are one of the lucky Canadians who lives in the Okanagan Valley or the Niagara Peninsula, chances are that most of the “fresh food” that you buy – particularly fruits and vegetables – travels some distance before it reaches your table. On a recent trip to Israel, my husband and I experienced how very splendid it would be to live adjacent to a 35-acre organic farm that produces everything from its own olive oil and soaps to bountiful dairy products, as well as every fruit, vegetable, grain and herb one could imagine. We enjoyed all of this at Mizpe Hayamim Spa Hotel, located on Mount Canaan, near the town of Rosh Pina, in Israel’s Upper Galilee.
The history of the 96-room hotel dates back to 1921, when a German internist, Dr. Erich Yaroslovsky (later shortened to Yaros), bought the acreage now known as Mizpe Hayamim. Yaros’ vision was to build a convalescent home based on a vegetarian diet and natural treatment methods, which he felt would best serve the rehabilitation needs of his patients. The doctor was particularly drawn to the quality of the air and the tranquility of the setting. The land was originally owned by Baron de Rothschild, who had also been captivated by the beauty and tranquility of the area.
Before realizing his dream, Yaros encountered a series of setbacks, including receiving only a modest water allotment from the town of Rosh Pina, which was developing rapidly; the need to return to Germany for several years to support aging parents; the failure of promised positions as a physician in nearby communities to materialize; and a stint in Tel Aviv serving as its only homeopathic doctor. There was also a construction prohibition order from the British army, which was then planning fortifications in the area to protect against possible Nazi invasion through Lebanon.
Notwithstanding the long series of delays, by 1968, Yaros had the building authorities, financing and his personal determination to develop Mizpe Hayamim, albeit on a more limited scale. He built his first home at the location where the current Mizpe Hayamim now stands. It included a dining room, kitchen, bedrooms for his family and 12 guest rooms for the first of his patients. In later years, he was able to expand.
In English, mizpe hayamim means a view between two bodies of water, in this case, the Sea of Galilee and the lakes of the Hula Valley. The view from the highest and most expansive terrace at the hotel includes the town of Rosh Pina just below and to the left, an Israeli military base in the middle and the tip of the Sea of Galilee to the right. Small Jordanian villages dot the horizon and were barely visible in the mist of an October morning. At the time of our visit, the “mizpe” was only partially green. We were told that, with each teef, toof (bit of winter rain), the surrounding lands would become greener and that, before long, the whole of the Upper Galilee would be lush and vibrant.
A year before he died, in 1984, Yaros sold Mizpe Hayamim to Sammy Chazzan, an Israeli who shared Yaros’s commitment to the healing powers of organic food and tranquil surroundings. For more than 35 years, Chazzan led every dimension of the development of Mizpe Hayamim – hotel and farm – until 2016, when he sold the hotel portion to the Israeli chain Isrotel. He retained stewardship of the farm.
The organic farm was the first-of-its-kind in Israel and employs nine workers. From the time he was 14, Chazzan has had an interest in organic farming – a rather unusual passion for a young man but a passion he has sustained. Until the recent sale to Isrotel, Chazzan’s daily schedule started at 4 a.m., when he would draft the day’s orders for the hotel staff and then walk over to the adjacent farm to work at whatever needed to be done there. At 8 a.m., he would return to manage the hotel and then finish the day with a few more hours spent on the farm.
The achievements of his 35 years of agricultural experimentation are truly remarkable. The farm now includes nine large vegetable, herb and flower gardens, a herd of dairy cows and goats whose milk helps create about 40 individual dairy products – milk, yogurts, ice cream and cheeses. The animals are cared for in the most pristine of settings, feeding on grasses and able to roam about freely. Should they fall ill, they are cared for by a holistic veterinarian practitioner.
Manure is recycled to fertilize the gardens, and the fruit and nut trees and flowers grow in abundance. Years of trial and error have helped establish which flowers or herbs planted alongside which vegetables reduce insect infestations, eliminating the need for pesticides of any kind. Several times a day, ripened produce is brought to the Mizpe Hayamim kitchen and finds its way to the dinner or breakfast buffets with the sort of haste that most Canadians can hardly fathom. Natural soaps are made on the farm for sale and for use in the hotel. In addition, there is a bakery and small retail outlet that sells some of the produce to guests and members of the public.
At the hotel, there is a full range of spa services for guests. Our casual conversations with other guests suggest that many Israelis come here, seeking a reprieve – nourishment and rest – from the tensions and high activity levels of city life. Guests can enjoy a coffee and tea bar all day long, with many of the farm’s fresh herbs – lemongrass, hyssop, chamomile, spearmint – available to enrich their beverages. Daily exercise classes, an art studio and evening entertainment are optional for guests and help sustain the goal of total relaxation and rejuvenation.
Isrotel plans to refurbish and update some of the hotel rooms but the essential philosophy underpinning this unique endeavour will remain the same. And Chazzan intends to continue his life’s work of building a knowledge base about organic farming and its impacts, through small-scale experimentation.
Long after their visit, guests fortunate enough to enjoy some time at Mizpe Hayamim will continue to benefit from the tranquility and beauty of the area, the organic vegetarian diet, as well as the various spa treatments on offer. For more information, contact Liad Nudelman, reception manager at Mizpe Hayamim, at [email protected], or visit isrotel.com.
Nidhe Israel Synagogue is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (photo by Tasha Nathanson)
One of the oldest synagogues in the Western Hemisphere is in Barbados. I was living in Barbados, working on a Canadian agricultural development project, when I tripped over this unexpected fact. I knew that the real estate agent who helped me find housing – and who, not coincidentally, became my neighbour – was Jewish, but I had assumed he was an anomaly here, in the most eastern island of the Caribbean. This was not the place I had anticipated a Jewish story to unfold.
The neighbour, Steven Altman, is reasonably well known in this small place where everyone seems to know most everyone. But many of the islanders I met inserted the comment, “he’s Jewish” into any mention of him, which reinforced my impression that being Jewish was unusual here. The Barbados I encountered in the seven months I lived there is a place that runs according to racial categories and everyone seems to be categorized according to skin colour and place of origin. Even though I’m half-Jewish, I was the white Canadian woman at work.
Curiosity prompted me to board a crazy ZR van headed into Bridgetown one day to find out more about Nidhe Israel Synagogue. ZR vans are semi-unregulated transport vehicles built to seat about 10 passengers, though I’ve been in them packed with more than 20 fellow travelers. People squish in, pressing up against each other with infinite stony-faced endurance. The soca music is generally blaring and often the driver has the flag of some neighbouring island pinned to the front, indicating where he lived before ending up in Barbados driving the public bus route in a private vehicle. The cost is always exactly two Barbadian dollars to ride and the experience is totally worth it.
The Synagogue Historic District is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Barbados capital city of Bridgetown. Originally built around 1654, it was destroyed by an 1831 hurricane, rebuilt in 1833 and restored from 1987 through 2017. Constructed by Sephardi Jews fleeing Recife, Brazil, after that colony passed from Dutch to Portuguese hands, these arrivals sought the relative safety of British-controled territory. The Jewish community was able to practise their faith openly here even before they regained that right in England.
The refugees settled into housing on Jew Street (now Swan Street) and brought with them knowledge and experience of the sugar cane industry. For this, I raise a glass of fine Barbadian rum, as this accident of history resulted in a terrific local finished product. By the mid-1700s, the Jewish community was 800 strong, which was the peak of Jewish settlement.
The hurricane in 1831 was a disaster that destroyed more than just the synagogue, resulting in an exodus to the United Kingdom and the United States. By the 1920s, only one Jewish resident, Edmund Baeza, remained, holding the keys to the building. When he, too, left, the synagogue was sold and deconsecrated.
By the 1980s, the building was dilapidated, in use as a warehouse and destined for demolition, when a renewed Jewish community stepped in to begin the process of restoration. The synagogue officially reopened in April 2017, and it is a gorgeous, tranquil and instructive space.
When my neighbour Steven boasted that it was his family that was responsible for the resurgent Jewish community in Barbados, I filed away his comment with a few of his other questionable statements, such as when he had appealed for my company on the basis of needing someone to wash his laundry. Steven wasn’t even aware that I might take offence. Standards of male expression and behaviour are one of the more dubious cultural differences for a Canadian woman living temporarily in Barbados.
Despite my skepticism, however, the Altmans were indeed a primary element of the reconstruction effort and are longstanding pillars of the community, according to the plaques at the synagogue. Steven, when asked, wistfully described the tight-knit community of his childhood, drawn together to play games, fundraise for charity and visit each other’s homes, in addition to worshipping together. I grew to enjoy hearing Steven’s voice trailing out the windows of his home and through the tropical evening heat when he practised the prayers for services; it became a pleasant part of my experience of Barbados.
The second wave of Jewish Barbadians was Ashkenazi, mainly fleeing Europe, starting to arrive shortly after Baeza’s departure. My tour guide at the synagogue museum, curator Celso H. Brewster, described desperately seasick travelers bound for South America with skeins of cloth and other mercantile goods to start anew, stumbling out onto the solid ground of Barbados and refusing to go any farther. They set up shop in Bridgetown instead of continuing their journey.
As for Celso himself, he informed me that he was Baha’i but that he did have some Jewish roots as well. Those roots travel through his family line via a version of what was once a Jewish name, bestowed on a born-out-of-wedlock ancestor via a certain plantation holder with, shall we say, quite liberal application of his affections. I’ve heard various versions of this story from other Barbadians. Jews were not only merchants, but there were some Jewish pirates and, sadly, Jewish slave owners.
Nidhe Israel Synagogue and its grounds – which include the original mikvah, which was uncovered in 2008 to reveal a still-flowing spring; an extensive cemetery, as well as a museum – is a beautiful oasis for thoughtful reflection and learning.
The Synagogue Historic District is located on Synagogue Lane, Bridgetown, Saint Michael’s, Barbados. The museum is open weekdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is free to enter the courtyard to look around; the entrance fee to the museum is $25 BDS (about $16 Cdn). To find out more, visit synagoguehistoricdistrict.com. Better yet, visit the synagogue.
Tasha Nathanson recently returned from a stint in the eastern Caribbean as gender equality and youth empowerment advisor on a World University Service of Canada project.