The Best of Israel – Travel Review

Rick Steve’s Europe Travel program goes to Israel.  In this 26 minute episode, produced with Oregon Public Television, you’ll be immersed into a visual whirlwind of much of what Israel has to offer.

Rick’s insightful commentary accompanies his travels with a generally favorable account of Israel’s main tourist attractions.  He meets up with locals at restaurants and on the streets to get a sense of the the cultural climate.

However, much of the commentary is shaded with the American brand of “political correctness” and the need to try and show the Palestinian side.  This is a highly simplistic accounting of what Israel has to offer.

So much is missing, that I’d be remiss to even mention a few of them. At least 1/2 of the episode focuses on religion.  Jewish, Moslem, and Christian holy places.  The author does, however,  succeed in only 26 minutes, to give enough of a sampling that viewers will want to see more.

The Price for Jews in Israel for Peace with Arabs

Peace Discussions Encourage Palestinian Arab Terrorism

The Western world is fixated on solving the Mideast Peace problem.  The “Mideast ” that the world is solely concerned about is the Palestinians and that tiny country called Israel standing in their way for their very own sovereign nation.   As the narative explains, all other problems,  would go away if these stubborn Jews would just let it.  (Or in the eyes of the American senior press corespondent, if those Jews would just go back to Poland).

The pressure on Israel’s leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to deal land and additional consolations has reached the pinnacle.  When the bar is raised, politicians make foolish decisions, usually for short term gains, or to make their own personal mark in history.  Here’s a small but very real example of just how dangerous this pressure can manifest itself into our lives.

Sukkot is the Jewish holiday of Tabernacles. In ancient Israel, on Sukkot, Jews brought sacrifices to the Temple in honor of the 70 nations of the world.  The priests would pray for the well-being of our neighbors and that G_d should protect them and shine His light onto all the nations.

In modern Israel, Sukkot also means vacation from school, and a great opportunity for families to go hiking, to visit relatives, and to go to Jerusalem to see our national history and to remember the days of ancient glory.

Mount of Olives – So close, yet so far

For a neighbor of mine, Sukkot this year was almost a period of mourning for his family, and his being around to tell me his eyewitness account of the following events is only by grace of the Almighty.  Mount of Olives cemetery just outside the Old City walls of Jerusalem.  While Mount of Olives is a famous and ancient cemetery where many sages and holy Jews have been buried for many centuries, it is also about 1KM (half mile) on the other side of some Arab buildings in Silwan (City of David – probably where King David would stand and look out to his kingdom).  In modern times, great rabbis and fallen soldiers are buried on Mount of Olives.

Yehuda drove on erev Sukkot with his wife and two nephews to a funeral there.  Not that this should matter in the least, Yehuda is not a “Settler”, nor was he traveling to any “provocative” areas.  Jerusalem’s Dung Gate,  next to the Western Wall, is clearly within plain view from the parking area of the Mount of Olives.

After the ceremony, they returned to their car to drive back home to Bet Shemesh.  They reached the first junction along with other cars driving back.  Suddenly, a mob of knife and club-wielding Arabs jumped out and engulfed them.  Cars were smashed to bits.  Frantically, people called from inside their cars to the Police to extricate them from this ensuing tragedy.  Minutes passed, no Police, no border control.  The Arab mob gained in strength and numbers, buoyed by the lack of Israeli force.

Yehuda’s wife was targeted by one of the angry Arab terrorists.  Yehuda quickly swung into action – although he is not a Settler and does not have a gun – he attempted to shield his wife.  The terrorists shifted their focus on him and stabbed him four times, including twice in his head, broke his arm, and left him battered and bruised all over his body.

45 Minutes passed, no police, no border patrol.  The police who are standing at Dung Gate could have walked uphill to the terrorist attack in 10 minutes.

Yehuda is now bleeding from his head and his chest.  He is battered, but there is noone there to help.  With his remaining ounces of strength, he drove to the nearest hospital, where he was treated and listed in serious condition (??? ?????? ?? ???).

When the police came to the hospital to investigate he asked why there was no response from their emergency calls.  The police told him that they were instructed from “above” not to go to this junction.  Clearly, political decisions stood in the way of the police coming to protect its citizens.

The East Jerusalem junction where the terrorist attack took place is not under Palestinian control.   Although at some point is may be given to the new Palestinian State, it is currently solely Israel’s responsibility to protect and ensure that rule of law is enforced there.

Someone in the police, or perhaps even the government, made a decision that the cost of a few Jewish lives was well worth the potential of public outcry of Israeli police going to a contested area to remove its citizens from imminent danger or even death.  Worse is knowing that the Palestinian terrorist leaders knew this and calculated the outcome, and orchestrated the entire event, knowing exactly how it would play out.  They also knew how far they could go – wound, mame, perhaps kill a few, then run back to your homes – so as not to get negative feedback from the world press.

Yehuda tells me that he identified the young terrorist who stabbed him, and with his description, the police were subsequently able to apprehend him.  However, 7 days later, the magistrate let this 17 year old killer wannabe free since the courts can’t try minors.

I have no words to properly wrap up this account of what happened and all the injustices that Jews suffer in Israel.  Maybe someone reading this can make better sense of it all.

Jerusalem Is Ours

Nadav Shragai does a good analysis in today’s Haaretz of how Jerusalem is the key to the entire Mid East peace process.

When it comes to Jerusalem, there is no need to mention either natural growth or natural development; what is at stake is nature itself, the nature of our connection to this city and the realization of the right that is rooted in our religion, our history, and 2,000 years of memory and longing, during which the Jewish presence in Jerusalem never ceased to exist.

I wonder how many of our political leaders adhere to this sentiment?

Gay Pride Coming to Jerusalem

Gay Pride Jerusalem - Source Jpost
Gay Pride Jerusalem - Source Jpost.com

On the heels of the Sabbath parking lot riots, the Jerusalem Mayor’s office and the ultra-orthodox haredi groups are set to square again in 2 weeks for the upcoming Gay Pride Parade.

Mayor Nir Barkat will have his hands full with trying to please all the factions in his city government and not allow the anger from last week’s riot spill over to the other hot issue.

Sukkot in Jerusalem is Electric

The crowds, the energy, the excitement.  Those of us who are fortunate to live in Israel and live in or close enough to Jerusalem, know that this coming week of Sukkot is perhaps the best time of the year.

Narrow Alleyways in Jerusalem's Old City

Just like in ancient times when the Temples stood, throngs of Israelis visit Jerusalem from all over the country, along with Jewish tourists from the Diaspora.  The electricity in the air is truly amazing.

Sukkot is one of the three Festivals which include Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot that Jews are commanded to literally go up with their feet (“aliyat regel”) to Jerusalem.  It is a positive commandment described in the Torah that all of Israel should rise up to Jerusalem and be seen by His Temple.  Today, we are not commanded to go Jerusalem on these three festivals as the Temple no longer stands, however, it is customary, particularly for observant Jews, to visit Jerusalem at least once during the 7 day Festival (the 8th day, Simchat Torah/Shemini Hag Ha’atzeret, is actually a different holiday that G_d gave to the Jews as an extra show of His appreciation for the Chosen People.

In this photo, throngs of visitors to Jerusalem’s Old City push their way to the Western Wall on the day of the renewed ceremony  “Birkat Kohanim”, where thousands of Kohanim bless the nation as was done in ancient times.

Blessing the four species at the Western Wall
Blessing the four species at the Western Wall

A central part of the Festival of Sukkot is to take four species from the land, an Etrog, Hadas, Arava, and Lulav (Citron, Myrtle, Willow, and Palm Branch) and to make a blessing on them.  The reason is not given in the Torah, however it is a positive commandment for all of Israel.

Large Lulav and Etrog

A Very Large Lulav and Etrog

Jews are commanded on Sukkot to live 7 days in a Sukkah, which reminds us of the Children of Israel who lived forty years in sukkot (temporary dwellings) ‘booths’ in the desert on their journey from Exodus of Egypt into conquering the Land of Israel.

Today, many strictly observant Jews still abide by this commandment and dwell in their sukkot for all seven days.  Others prefer to sleep in their houses.

One of the truly amazing sites in Israel during the Sukkot holiday is to see so many sukkot attached to homes, apartments, businesses, schools, shopping malls, restaraunts, and every where else (even on the beach!).  We wish all Israel a happy and enjoyable Sukkot Holiday!

Sukkah Decorations

Sukkah Decorations

Kefiyah / Keffiyeh – Arab Headress in many styles

The Arabs in Jerusalem can be seen wearing many different head dress styles. The keffiyeh means “kerchief” or scarf in English.

Many Palestinian men and women wear keffiyeh of cotton and wool mix, which lets them dry quickly and help keep the head warm in winter. The keffiyeh is usually folded in half, into a triangle, and the fold is worn across the forehead.

Palestinian Keffiyeh
Palestinian Keffiyeh

The black-and-white keffiyeh is a symbol of Palestinian heritage.

Simple White Scarf - unfolded
Simple White Scarf - unfolded

The red-and-white keffiyeh is worn throughout the Arab regions, but is most strongly associated with Jordan, where it is known as shmagh mhadab.

Red keffiyeh with black agal - rope circlet
Red keffiyeh with black agal - rope circlet

A kefiyeh can also signal a person’s status in society. It has been used by Bedouins throughout the centuries and was used as a symbol of honor and tribal identification.

Here are some different examples of keffiyeh worn by Arabs in Jerusalem.

At the suk
At the suk
Schoolchildren with keffiyeh
Schoolchildren with keffiyeh
Black modest dress
Black modest dress
White simple scarf
White simple scarf

Many Christian Arab women also cover their heads.  Their head coverings usually signify their religious order and are not worn as symbols of nationality.  In recent years, some Palestinian Christian Arab men and youths,  have begun to wear Palestinian national keffiyehs as scarves if not as head coverings.

Christian Arab headress
Christian Arab headress

Keffiyeh is often spelled kefiyah, kaffiyah, keffiya, kaffiya, and kufiya depending on dialect and region.

Yom Kippur – Day of Awe, Go Mobile

This is the Golden Age…Everyone’s gone mobile!

Is it Awe or the Atonement that gets us nervous?  Either way, this Thursday is the most special day of the year.  It’s the day above all others when G_d is listening and expecting you to fess up.  What better way to prepare for this day than with a visit to the holy sites in Jerusalem?

I visited the Kotel yesterday.  The Western Wall is on the top five list of the Jewish people’s holiest places.

This wall was built over 2,000 years ago towards the end of the 2nd Temple era.  It was one of the retaining walls that surrounded the Temple which sat atop what is today the Al-Aqsa Mosque (with the golden dome).

A well-known Jewish custom is to place notes to G_d in the cracks between the bricks. This man decided to go mobile and phone in his prayers 🙂

Western Wall - Jewish custom - notes to G_d are placed in the cracks.
Western Wall – Jewish custom – notes to G_d are placed in the cracks.
Mobile Prayers - phoning in to G_d
Mobile Prayers – phoning in to G_d

The Police, Mahane Yehuda, and Me

You may ask yourself, what do the police and the shuk Mahane Yehuda have in common with me?

A while back, I was at the Shuk in Jerusalem (Israelis refer to Mahane Yehuda simply as “The Shuk”) which means “shopping area” in Hebrew.  As I am accustomed to do, I had my camera with me on that fine day.   I photographed some of the stalls, and generally blended in to the atmosphere.

I took a photo of this Arab worker sitting on an empty stall.

Worker sitting on empty stall in Mahane Yehuda

Worker sitting on empty stall in Mahane Yehuda

Then, I panned my camera and took a photo of the shuk’s main road with my wide-angle lens.  Within 10 seconds, two policemen (whom you can see in the right corner of the photo) had confiscated my camera, asked to see my ID card, and were questioning me about my ‘suspicious’ activity.

I told them to relax and that I was doing an article for a newspaper in the USA.  Along with my strong American accented Hebrew, there was little to cause them further suspicion.  Then, they wanted to take the film in the camera since I had photographed them.   I then reasoned with them further that with such a wide-angle lens it would be hard to discern their faces, much less their identities.

After a few tense minutes, (the time it takes for a not-so-smart policeman in any country to understand an argument with logical reasoning), they returned my camera to me with the caveat that I could not photograph them anymore.  Once I had the camera back in hand along with my ID card, I jokingly told them that without some more photos of them, I wouldn’t be able to share with them the article I would be writing about the Shuk…  I never did get their names!

Enjoy the photo, i hope it was worth it…

Shuk Mahane Yehuda - The photo that caused a stir
The photo that caused a stir

Ben Yehuda Night Scene

Anyone out there who thought that Jerusalem was a sleepy town? All ultra-orthodox yeshiva students, no play? Well, have a look at this night scene in the center of Jerusalem, on the Midrachov (Ben Yehuda Street) at around 11pm.

Looks to me like folks are having fun!  No wonder you can’t get a seat on a flight to Israel for less than $1,800 these days (and that’s assuming you can find a flight with an empty seat)…

Mini Israel – Near Latrun

If you are looking for a great way to spend a couple hours with your family this summer, head on over to Mini Israel, an outdoor walking tour within an enclosed park that showcases all of Israel’s popular sites in miniature.  The park is located just off Highway #1 near the Latrun exit.  The current admission fees are 69 NIS per adult and 25 NIS per child (under 5).  If you have a Leumi Mastercard, you can get 1+1 admission, but that will only work for 2 tickets max.

In the summer, the site is nearly impossible to traverse without protection from the sun. Be sure to come prepared with sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, and plenty of water. The park overs free sun umbrellas that you return when you leave.  There are also water mists in several locations in the park, so you can cool off before going to the next venue.

Here are some photos of the sites at mini-israel:

Egged Haifa Israel Train Parking Lot Masada

Wind Turbines Golan  Kfar Nachum (Caparneum) Kineret Tnuva Truck Bahai Shrine - Haifa

El Al Ben Gurion Airport Construction in Israel Kvish 6 Warming up at Blumfield

Solar Panels Ma’rat Hamachpela Hebron Yad Kennedy Tel Aviv - Habima

Yad Eliyahu Ramat Gan Safari Tel Aviv - Kikar Rabin Western Wall - Hakotel

Dome of the Rock