Sunday, May 19, 2013


Rushing to get to the Western Wall!
It's 4:15 in the morning and we hear the iphone alarm and sleepily roll out of bed. By 4:45 we are rushing to the Western Wall to participate in/observe the Shavuot Holiday along with thousands of others. Most of them have been up all night studying and if lucky enough to live in Jerusalem where they can get to the Wall at sunrise, they do! Hundreds of thousands of Israelis celebrate yearly all over the country. Not sure how long it takes them to recuperate as Marc and Batya's two eldest sons, Zalman and Alexander stayed up and seemed a bit sleepy at lunch! Of course, it was through our sleepy eyes!

Shavuot is not considered a major holiday but it is a holiday like shabbat. No driving, electronics,
phones, cameras, etc. However, many businesses and restaurants who cater to tourists and the non religious are open. Herbie tried to find Marc amongst the throngs but turned out to be just a bit behind him. I, on the other hand, chose to bring my camera and stay above the fray along with others, some with camera phones and cameras. I was very careful not to offend anyone as there were also people praying above, some in just about every nook and cranny, on rooftops and balconies. A young woman approached me and very nicely said, "I am not Jewish but I know you are not supposed to take pictures." I smiled and agreed but explained I was staying above and not bothering anyone. She told me she is from Paris and this is her 7th trip to Israel. She comes with her mother for the Catholic holidays and when there is a Jewish one, all the better. She first came at the age of 10 and is now 41!

I never saw so much black and white anywhere all at once! The white were the tallit that most of the men were wearing over their clothes and others were in black suits and hats. Over the divide, there were many women also appearing to be in dark clothes. Many people put notes into the stones in the Wall.

The holiday commemorates the giving of the Torah and Ten Commandments by G-d to the entire nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai. The Torah mandates the seven week Counting of the Omer, beginning on the second day of Passover and immediately followed by Shavuot.
Dome of the Rock behind Western Wall
The counting of days and weeks is supposed to express anticipation and desire for the Giving of the Torah. On Passover, the people of Israel were freed from their enslavement to Pharaoh; on Shavuot they were given the Torah and became a nation committed to serving G-d.

The word Shavuot (plural) means weeks as in Shavua Tov which we say on Saturday night after celebrating Shabbat.  It marks the completion of the seven-week counting period between Passover and Shavuot.It is also connected to the season of the grain harvest in Israel. In ancient times, the grain harvest lasted seven weeks and was a season of gladness. It began with a the harvesting of the barley during Passover and ended with the harvesting of the wheat at Shavuot. The eighth day of Sukkot was the last festival of the fruit harvest. I have no idea, however, why we eat dairy as well as grains on Shavuot.

Marc and Batya were right when they told us not to miss going to the Wall at the crack of dawn. I do not think we were ever here before for this particular holiday and it was indeed a celebration to remember!

Daniella, left, and friends show off their Teudat Zehuts!
On Yom Yerushalyim or Jerusalem Day, we gathered at the home of one of Daniella's 10th grade schoolmates for a very special celebration of a very mundane event. When Israeli kids become 16, they are eligible for their own Identity Card. Most of the time they go to their local City Hall, fill out the forms and receive their card. The principal of this school in Raanana, however, gathers the information from each student and personally takes it to the city,  gets the cards and presents them at a party for the families.

The choice of Yom Yerushalyim is purposeful in that Jerusalem belongs to everyone and is the symbol of pluralism whereas an identity card is the antithesis of pluralism! The occasion was festive as some of the students played musical instruments and everyone broke into groups to design a new logo for the Teudat.

Simone, at age 13, is learning how to make peace in the world. What better way to foster peace than
Simone's group's wall and iphone photo
through working together on projects with Arab kids her own age, face to face, to get to know one another? The mother of a 9th grade girl in Meitarim, the pluralistic school the girls attend, sent out an email inviting students in grades 8-10 to participate with teens from Q Schools, in Tira, an Arab village not too distant from Ra'anana.  Dr. Dalia Fadila, provost of Al-Qasemi Academy, an Arab college of education, established Q schools, private schools for teaching English to Arab students, a unique approach to learning/teaching English suited to Arab students to help them develop personally and professionally.

The 10-week program has a group of 20-25 students and a facilitator. There are 12 Jewish participants who could be sleeping in on Friday mornings (there is no school on Friday) who instead choose to carpool to this village. Most come from English speaking homes, primarily American. The fist two meetings concentrated on introducing themselves and then introducing each other and then their families. Another week the kids were divided into groups to paint the walls outside the school. Simone told me very animatedly who was in her group, the fun ideas they had and how the project progressed. Another week the Arab kids will come to Ra'anana to do projects in the city park.

Can anyone think of a better way?!

We spent a second few days in Raanana and one day went to Tel Aviv with Jennifer who was teaching there and took a walk through the Carmel Market or Shuk. It is a very old area and I understand it is about to be rebuilt.

Meanwhile there are already signs of gentrification nearby, in particular the Eden House, a delightful boutique hotel owned by two guys, with nearly everything  pink and flowers! We had coffee in the cafe as it was irresistible as you can see from the photos. The hotel is booked several weeks in advance and not inexpensive but if I were to stay in the city, I would definitely stay there. It will be interesting to return in a few years and see the area cleaned up and "gentrified",  just so they don't demolish the charm! 

View from cafe with owner to entry hall with painting

And the bill, please!



The stately Ottoman train station which opened in 1892 and served as Jerusalem's first and last stop between it and Jaffa/Tel Aviv until 1998, has recently been transformed into a marketplace, park, theatre, fairground and you name it! Because it opened the week we left, we were able to at least see the beginnings of what should be a wonderful addition to the city. The 3000 meter deck covers the train tracks and holds clothing designers, jewelers, ice cream, liqueur, flower, fruit and vegetable stands; a children's play area, a souvenir shop, a small museum telling the history of the station and bikes and Segways for rent, and most under large white tents. The restaurants will be both Kosher and non but the fact that the area is open on shabbat will certainly upset the religious of the city. The Kosher ones will not be open on shabbat or they will lose their Kosher license tho the center itself will be open 24/7.  Most interesting is that there are no guards, no bag checks, no security as everywhere else.

The one restaurant that had already opened when we were there was designed very cleverly using part of an old train car and signage from  the  station on the inside and a shaded patio on the outside. Some of the popular cafes in town are moving to this area or opening branches.

The renovation is similar to that in Tel Aviv that is now a big tourist attraction. It is filled with restaurants, shops, galleries and a train car serves as a museum.

How fortunate that I noticed a calendar item of a show, "Ethiopia, The Land of Wonders" a taxi ride from Tel Aviv to Ramat Aviv, a few kilometers away. Every exhibit we have ever seen at this gem of a museum has been first class and this was no exception! It is an archeological and historical museum and has a wonderful glass collection both ancient and contemporary as well as yearly contemporary glass shows.

Having visited Ethiopia last November, I put this high on our list of places to visit and we were not
disappointed. The exhibition which included art, artifacts, photography and many interesting panels to read only added to my fascination
The Ethiopian Parokhet/ornamental curtain
with the country and its people. The accompanying book by the same name is beautifully realized. I was particularly fascinated by the number of Ethiopians and one couple in particular. He was Ethiopian and she looked Caucasian and she had a baby on her chest. We happened to follow them and I think he read every word! There was also a school group of Ethiopians walking through totally attentive to their guide.

According to the curator's statement, "Ethiopia looks upon itself as an extension of the ancient 10th century BC Axum Empire, which is Sheba. According to the myth the Queen of Sheba went to Jerusalem to meet King Solomon, and returned pregnant with his son, Menelik. This is the source of the strong connections between the two countries. Ethiopia's cultural foundations originate in the Bible. Belief in the Solomonic dynasty continues through the 20th century, until the last emperor, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah. The history of Ethiopia from the Axum Empire to modern times ..." " providing a comprehensive history of all the geographical, religious, linguistic and social aspects."

The main point of the exhibit is the riveting story of the Beta Israel community - the Jews of Ethiopia - and their ties with Jerusalem, until they immigrated to Israel.

The exhibition closes June 10. Highly recommend!

An Arab Israeli village outside of Jerusalem and adjacent to the orthodox enclave of Tel Stone in the hills, Abu Gosh is often visited by Israelis. Having only been there once before for a Christmas music concert in the 80s, I had recalled it was quaint. However, it is a town filled with hummus restaurants, a yummy bakery of Arab sweets, a huge, partially built mosque and surrounded by some very nice homes and greenery.

Twice yearly, during Shavuot and Succoth (why I do not know as that leaves out many religious Jews
since it is on Shabbat as well as the holidays), there is a Choral Music Festival in two churches but it has survived during holidays since 1992. There is music at other times of the year as well and the acoustics in the two churches are spectacular. Taking the Jerusalem light rail and a public bus, we attended the opening concert at 11:30 in the morning the day before Shavuot. It was at the Kyriat Yearim church at the top of the hill overlooking the village. The program of Dvorak, DeFalla and Sweeping Spanish Renaissance was fabulous and it is difficult to say who was better; the soprano, the mezzo soprano, the guitarists or the not so young pianist who accompanied the mezzo! What a treat! We hope to go next year if the time is right.

We walked down to the village and had lunch in the Caravan restaurant along the way. There we discovered a framed holiday greeting poster on the entry wall from the Abraham Fund whose purpose is "building a shared future for Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens." The CEO of the fund is our former East Bay Jewish Federation Director Ami Nahshon. He was a bit surprised to receive my photo and told me he frequents this restaurant when he is working in his Israel office nearby. The owner was excited when we told him Ami is our friend!

When we went to get the return bus, we discovered the buses were no longer running due to the holiday when public transport stops running a few hours ahead. A young Israeli couple with their little girl told us as we emerged from the yummy Arab bakery together, and they did their mitzvah (good deed) for the day! They piled us into their tiny car and drove us in the opposite direction to where they were going to take us to a bigger town where we could take a taxi. Needless to say, we were most appreciative!

Re the mosque that is being built in the town, following is a current article from the newspaper Haaretz. There was quite a bit of news and concern while we were there over the support from Chechnya and the size of the mosque but according to the mayor, the Muslims are praying on the sidewalks for lack of room in the current mosque. I did not take a photo as I had no idea of the importance.

courtesy of The Times of Israel on line
The government of Chechnya is constructing one of the largest and most magnificent mosques in Israel in the village of Abu Ghosh, near Jerusalem, in a project that both the villagers and the Chechen president view as renewing ties severed 500 years ago.

Construction of the mosque, situated near the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, began four years ago, at the private initiative of residents who had raised funds. Work stopped however when those funds ran out.

Through the mediation of a Chechen-born Jew, the villagers established ties with the Chechen government, which agreed to contribute more than $2 million to build the mosque as well as another $1 million to upgrade the approach road, says Abu Ghosh local council head Salim Jaber.
Jaber and other village notables reached the deal during a visit to Chechnya two years ago.
Today the building, about 4,000 square meters in area, is all but complete. A recent decision calls for the erection of four minarets, as is customary in the Caucasus region. The road already has two symbolic turrets, built by experts from Chechnya.

The links between the predominantly Muslim village, located about 10 kilometers west of Jerusalem, and the Islamic republic are scheduled to expand, and will include student and delegation exchanges. Recently a delegation, including Chechnyan Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov, members of parliament and the wife of President Ramzan Kadyrov, visited Abu Ghosh.
The Chechnyan government, led by Kadyrov, has been looking for ways to enhance ties with Israel. Abu Ghosh is one of the only Arab villages outside Jerusalem to have emerged from the 1948 War of Independence unscathed, due mainly to the residents' cooperation with Jewish forces. Today, Jewish Israelis flock to the village on weekends to feast on Abu Ghosh's well-known hummus and other culinary offerings.

Traditionally it is believed that the residents of Abu Ghosh trace their ancestry to the Caucasus region. According to Palestinian-born historian Aref Al-Aref, the first villagers came from a region called Ingusha, located between Chechnya and Georgia. They arrived here as soldiers in the army of Ottoman Sultan Selim I, who conquered Palestine in 1516. The name Abu Gosh, according to geographer and place names expert Yehuda Ziv, is a corruption of the name Ingush.
“We always knew we had come from the Caucasian mountains," says council head Jaber. “We welcome the renewed connection." 

Rae at our front door.
The Langs drove from Raanana and we brought a delightful guest to join us for Friday night dinner at Marc and Batya's. Our friend Suzy Locke Cohen sent us her friend, 88 year old, perfectly dressed and coiffed, Rae Rothfield, from Melbourne who was on a group tour that ended that day. The rest of her group went on a cruise but this energetic, inveterate traveler was going on to the Venice Biennale and to visit friends there. Rae is an art collector which is how she met Suzy on the latter's trip to Australia many years ago and we plan to visit her on our trip in the Fall.
From left: Daniella, 16; Benjamion, nearly 20; Simone, nearly14

Shabbat dinner was lovely as always and of course we could not take our eyes off our beautiful great granddaughter Yael who, when she wasn't being held or played with by one of her aunts and uncles, sat on her mother's lap at the table and ate constantly! That girl can eat and eats nearly everything she tastes. Her parents have infinite patience and anticipate her every drool! And Rae enlivened the dinner as well with her interesting stories.

Benjamin with Zalman on a step!

Alexander with Zalman

Cousins Benjamin, nearly 20 and Alexander, 16 1/2 are trying to see who can end up the tallest! The former takes after Philippe, the latter after Batya's mother's side.  Zalman gave up a long time ago as he takes after us and Batya's father's side! (and yes, the pics are all from after Shabbat!)

Saturday it was just the family for lunch and the older kids and I played games while Herbie and Marc slept, and Philippe and Batya had an animated conversation before he and Jennifer walked back to our house to spend a quite day alone. This is what Shabbat is all about; spending quality time with family when possible and eating good food!

One of the amazing games Yael's parents and Uncle Alexander play with her is throwing her in the air either alone or between them. It wasn't easy to capture but I did get a few photos of this 14 month old child who cannot get enough of this "rough" play laughing with her sparse hair flying!

And then there is the computer...

Hey, that's me with Talia at the Ice Show a few weeks ago!

The final prize winning photo, however, is the Hebrew exclamation "oyvavoy" by the baby (actually she doesn't talk yet) while putting her hands to her head! It seems to mean something a kin to "woe is me" according to some expert on the internet! Whatever it means, this is one cute baby being held by one doting Zayda/grandfather.


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