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.
Everything is political in Israel; there’s no escaping it. Pick a corner, a street sign, a building, there’s potential for argument. So, you can imagine what it’s like to take a tour of an area as contentious as the West Bank, which, thankfully, was quiet with respect to violence when we visited. Not surprisingly, our guide almost took on the role of spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority.
Abraham Hostel, in the heart of Jerusalem, offers a three-day West Bank tour. The tours include Nablus (biblical Schechem), Jenin and the refugee camp that borders it, Jericho, Ramallah and Bethlehem.
It was eye-opening for me. For one, the media frequently portrays Palestinians in the West Bank as living in squalor, often involved in conflicts with the Israel Defence Forces. We saw bustling markets, shopping centres, corporate plazas, sports cars, and plenty of American restaurant franchises, such as KFC and Pizza Hut.
Our tour guide was a wannabe biblical scholar and archeologist. “Personally,” he told us, “there could never have been a Jewish Temple.” It’s impossible, apparently, to build on top of solid rock, he explained.
He gave a brief history of the term Palestine, correctly stating that Roman invaders, Vespasian and Titus, in the first century, renamed the region from Israel/Judah. But why, particularly, call it Palestine? “Hmm,” he said, taking a moment to think. “Because they liked the name.” Not, as many scholars believe, because the Romans sought to call the area after the Jews’ sworn enemy, Philistines, to rub salt in the wounds.
While at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, our guide gave his take on the Gospels, contending that it wasn’t the case that Jesus’s mother, Mary, couldn’t find a room at an inn – rather, the Jews forbade Mary to have a room because she was ritually unclean after childbirth. And that, he said, was the unwritten explanation of the manger/barn scenario.
He then proffered his views on Jews. “Since anyone can become a Jew,” he said, “they’re not really tied to the land.” Meaning that anyone who has converted, or was born to converts, has no connection to Israel.
And, he added, since the parcel of land called Judah, from which the name “Jew” was derived, was only a fraction of modern Israel, today’s Jews should only have rights to those ancient borders.
Quoting the Torah – “if you bless Israel, you are blessed; if you curse Israel, you will be cursed” (Genesis 12) – our guide insisted that the “Israel” referred to in this verse has never meant “the nation of Israel” (which it does), but only refers to the patriarch Jacob, who was later named Israel. The underlying message was that there was no concern about being cursed if you curse Jews.
For good measure, he asked, pointing toward the refugee camp, “Doesn’t it say ‘love your fellow’ in the Torah? That’s one of the top commandments.”
Almost no tour anywhere is complete without the commercial aspect – wandering through the souvenir shops and markets.
At the ice cream shop, our guide claimed, “Palestinian ice cream is made with real cream, not like the Israeli version!” At the spice store, he spoke about how Israelis use cheap ingredients in their Zaatar, but not Palestinians. And, he said, “Even Israelis agree that Palestinian beer is better than the sewer water in a can they make.”
The hero worship of Yasser Arafat was astounding. Virtually every street corner in Ramallah had a wall-sized poster of him. My trip was in November, so these displays were likely timed for the anniversary of his death. Schoolchildren took a field trip to his tomb in Ramallah for a commemoration and photo opportunities.
Our guide made every effort to politicize the tour, down to the free lunch. He said there wasn’t such thing as “Israeli couscous,” only co-opted “Arab-Palestinian couscous.” Scholars and culinary experts differ, saying that Israeli couscous was created in the 1950s in response to food rationing. Alas, more was still to come from our guide.
While he had our attention, he showed us illustrations of how Palestine in 1947 comprised modern Israel and the West Bank, while today, the Palestinians only have small, scattered autonomous dots in the Palestinian Authority. As for the Palestinian part in this development, he said, “just a couple of bus bombs” derailed the peace process, but only temporarily.
Dave Gordonis a Toronto-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in more than 100 publications around the world.
The stamp of “Ikar, son of Matanyahu.” (IAA photos courtesy Ashernet)
The 2,600-year-old stamp of “Ikar, son of Matanyahu” was among the artifacts uncovered in archeological excavations at the Givati Parking Lot, in City of David National Park in Jerusalem. The dig was conducted by archeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Tel Aviv University and, according to TAU’s Prof. Yuval Gadot and IAA’s Dr. Yiftah Shalev, the artifacts were found inside a large public building that was destroyed in the sixth century BCE, probably during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. Large stone debris, burnt wooden beams and numerous charred pottery shards were discovered, all indications that they had survived a fire.
The stamp and bulla (seal impressions), which are about one centimetre in size, were deciphered by Dr. Anat Mendel-Geberovich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Centre for the Study of Ancient Jerusalem. “The name Matanyahu appears both in the Bible and on additional stamps and bullae already unearthed. However, this is the first reference to the name Ikar, which was unknown until today,” said Mendel-Geberovich.
According to Gadot and Shalev, “These artifacts corroborate the highly developed system of administration in the Kingdom of Judah and add considerable information to our understanding of the economic status of Jerusalem and its administrative system during the First Temple period, as well as personal information about the king’s closest officials and administrators who lived and worked in the city.”
Running has become one of the most popular sports in Israel, with both the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem marathons attracting thousands of competitors. The Jerusalem Marathon on March 15 attracted some 40,000 runners, including 4,600 athletes from more than 80 different countries. Six different runs were offered, one of which was designed for competitors with special needs. The main event was won by Kenyan runner Ronald Kimeli, 33, who ran the 42.2 kilometres in two hours, 18 minutes and 47 seconds.
A newly acquired photograph of Albert Einstein, left, with his lifelong friend Michele Besso. (HU photo courtesy Ashernet)
One hundred and ten pages of Albert Einstein’s handwritten notes and other documents and photos have been added to the Albert Einstein Archives at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. This latest material (dating mainly from 1944 to 1948) was acquired by the university thanks to a donation by the Crown-Goodman Foundation, which bought it for an undisclosed sum from Gary Berger, a North Carolina doctor. After Einstein’s death in 1955, most of his more than 80,000 scientific and personal papers were left to the Hebrew University. Einstein, who was one of the founders of the university and a great supporter of the Jewish state, was invited to become president of Israel, but declined the offer, implying that he did not feel worthy of such honour.
An inscription (top of above photo and below), written in Greek, was translated by Prof. Leah Di Segni of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Dated to the early fifth century CE, it says, “Only God helps the beautiful property of Master Adios, amen.” (photos from IAA courtesy Ashernet)
New neighbourhood construction in the southern part of the Sharon Plain of central Israel has revealed an estate, some 1,600 years old, which was determined by Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologists to have been the property of a wealthy Samaritan. The discovery reinforced evidence that, at one time, the area was extensively populated by the Samaritans, who claim they are Israelite descendants of the northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. An inscription, written in Greek, was translated by Prof. Leah Di Segni of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Dated to the early fifth century CE, it says, “Only God helps the beautiful property of Master Adios, amen.” According to Dr. Hagit Torge, director of the excavation on behalf of the IAA, “The inscription was discovered in an impressive winepress [near the top of Tel Zur Natan, where remains of a Samaritan synagogue were found] that was apparently part of the agricultural estate of a wealthy individual named Adios. This is only the second such winepress discovered in Israel with a blessing inscription associated with the Samaritans. The first winepress was discovered a few years ago in Apollonia near Herzliya.” The Samaritans were originally brought to the region as part of Assyrian policy, and first settled on and around Mount Gerizim.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the Israel Aerospace Industries control room to witness the launch of Israel’s first attempt to put a lander on the moon. (photo from IAI courtesy Ashernet)
In the early hours of Feb. 22, Bereishit, which means Genesis, successfully lifted off on one of Elon Musk’s U.S.-based SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets. It is hoped that the 585-kilogram Israeli space vehicle will land on the moon in about six weeks’ time. “There are four countries that have launched a spacecraft to the moon, one of them is 800 times bigger than we are, one of them 500 times bigger, and one that is a little less than that,” said Netanyahu, referring to the United States, Russia and China. “We are a small country, but huge in achievements and in the capacity of our initiative. I hope that the spacecraft to Mars is already being planned.” He also said he hopes that, on April 11, “we will be able to celebrate the safe landing of Bereishit.”
Esther Edel (right) has participated in the Run 4 Afikim twice. (photo from Esther Edel)
The annual Run 4 Afikim supports Afikim, a nonprofit organization in Israel that addresses child poverty. One of the participants in the run – for two consecutive years now – has been former Vancouverite Esther Edel.
Jerusalem-based Afikim was founded in 2008 by Israeli educator and child services administrator Moshe Lefkowitz. At the moment, Afikim staff helps 528 impoverished children in 14 learning centres throughout Israel, mainly in Jerusalem.
Afikim’s approach is to help parents as well, providing family counseling, while the children receive hot meals, tutoring, life skills training and emotional support. Currently, Afikim cannot keep up with the demand for its services, and Lefkowitz would like to see the number of students Afikim accepts increase by 80 this year.
One of the ways Afikim raises funds is the Run 4 Afikim. The website describes the event as a non-competitive relay from Jerusalem to Eilat, totaling 370 kilometres in 36 hours. Participants run in groups of three. Each group completes one leg of nine to 14 kilometres at a time and each runner ends up running multiple legs over the 36 hours. Participants must raise a minimum of $2,000 each to take part.
This year, the Run 4 Afikim began on Jan. 9 and ended on Jan. 11. The event raised more than $265,000, exceeding its goal of $250,000. One of the participants was Edel, who made aliyah in 1997.
“I had a strong religious Zionist education, which contributed to my moving to Israel.… My parents and sister still live in Vancouver. Unfortunately, I do not visit them as often as I would like,” shared Edel in an email interview with the Independent.
While Edel first participated in Run 4 Afikim last year, it wasn’t her first long-distance run.
“I’ve always been active, since I was little. Non-competitive sports and any outdoor activity are parts of my day-to-day life. I’ve participated in numerous 10-kilometre runs over the years. Most of them have been in Jerusalem, as parts of the annual Jerusalem Marathon, generally as fundraisers for different organizations.”
She was introduced to Afikim, she said, “via a good friend, Ruchie Schwartz, who already participated in the run. She had posted on Facebook the recap/promo video of the previous year’s run. When I watched it, I was moved by the passion of the participants and, even more so, by the cause that was driving them to raise funds and awareness for the Afikim Family Enrichment programs.”
The weekly programs include music, sports and other extracurricular activities. “While these types of pursuits are easily available for children from more privileged backgrounds,” explains the website, “Afikim’s children would have no access to them without this program. Like all facets of Afikim, extracurricular activities help close the achievement gap between disadvantaged children and those from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.”
Edel wanted to participate in the Run 4 Afikim but had some doubts. “I was slightly hesitant, as I had taken a break from running for a bit and wasn’t sure if I would get back into it,” she said.
But those doubts were easily overcome. “I added a few runs to my weekly workout schedule, which I had not consistently been doing before I decided to participate,” she said.
To meet the $2,000 financial contribution requirement, she fundraised using email, connected with people on Facebook, contacted friends by other means and benefited from word of mouth.
“This year, there were eight groups and 32 segments divided between the groups,” she said about the run. “My team ran five segments, which approximately totaled 48 kilometres over 36 hours. Due to the timing of the segments, all the groups were functioning on very little sleep throughout the run. It’s mainly 36 hours where adrenaline and endurance get you through.”
Edel’s team schedule included, on the Wednesday evening, one run from the Jerusalem starting point, and three running segments on the Thursday, the first starting at 5:30 a.m., the second at 2:30 p.m. and the third at 10:45 p.m. “Friday morning, we started at 6 a.m. and most of the participants completed the final few kilometres to Eilat,” she said.
Edel added, “It’s important to note that it is purely volunteer-based, with the maximum effort to keep the overhead as low as possible.… Throughout the run, there are always one or two escorts, including trained paramedics, who also volunteer their time each year to drive the roadside escort.”
Edel also mentioned the lunch on the Thursday, which was “an organized activity, with all the runners and some of the Afikim children. This allowed us to connect with the Afikim kids and see firsthand how this run and fundraising affect these children.”
To learn more about Afikim’s work, visit afikim.org.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].