Wednesday 24 February 2010

Miqveh Yisrael. Old but still attractive

As you race along the Ayalon Highway, Route 1, between Ganot and Kibbutz Galuyot interchanges, try to cast your eyes (safely, of course) south towards Holon. Here you will find one of Israel's hidden gems, now the Mikveh Yisrael - Vinik College of Agricultural Technology, but originally just Mikveh Yisrael. This was the very first modern Jewish agricultural settlement in the country, set up in 1870 by Karl Netter, an Alsatian Jew, on behalf of the Alliance Israelite Universelle, broadly the French equivalent of the Board of Deputies. Not surprisingly there was early friction between Netter and the Zionist leadership as the school insisted on French as the language of instruction, but these little local difficulties were overcome in time and it is sobering to think that on this spot in 1898, Theodore Herzl met Kaiser Wilhelm II! Much later on, during the War of Independence, the 'Davidka' mortar was manufactured here in great secrecy. In reality it was just a large pipe and made more noise than the size of shell it fired deserved, but it seemed to have the required effect nonetheless. 

Some of the specimen trees are as old as the settlement itself, especially the Bengali Sycamore, with its hanging roots and multiple trunks, all actually one single tree. The highlight of any visit will be the botanical garden to the east of the site, originally planted in 1930. Now, with nearly fifteen hundred species and genera of foliage, medicinal, climbing and hedging trees and plants, this backwater in the heart of bustling Holon is just amazing. You reach Mikveh Yisrael by turning south at Tzomet Holon on Route 44, onto Levi Eshkol Avenue. Turn left at Kikar HaLochamim and follow Qugel Avenue to the traffic lights at the southern entrance to the site. The museum, like a few others in Israel, is only open by request (weird, but true). I suggest you call 00972-3-5030489 first, but from Israel just dial 03-5030489.

To view a Google map of this site, please click here

Sunday 21 February 2010

The Valley of Elah. Who's Looking for a fight?

The Valley of Elah is best known as the scene of the Biblical battle between David and Goliath (Elah means terebinth, the turpentine tree, commonly found in this area). The Brook of Elah, which lies in the heart of the valley, is a seasonal creek, more of a wadi really, which runs dry in the summer months. Most probably the brook from which David chose five smooth stones in preparation for battle, it is the ideal place to recreate in your mind's eye what is arguably perhaps the most famous story from the Tanach. Budding amateur archaeologists should not to get their hopes up over the possibility of discovering a stray piece of Goliaths armour, as the only thing remaining from this three-thousand year battle is the beautiful scenery. Nonetheless, the story takes on a whole new dimension when you read it whilst standing at the site of the action. So take a Tanach , bookmark 1 Samuel 17, make sure that you have adequate water and sun protection and set off on an easy drive from both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. 

Turn off Route 1 on to Route 38 in the direction of Bet Shemesh and you find yourself passing through the geographic transition area between the coastal plain and the Judean hills. Just before reaching the petrol station at the junction of Routes 38 and 375, at Elah Junction, you will pass over a concrete bridge - beneath it is the Brook of Elah. Stop, park safely, walk back to the brook side and start reading. You will not be disappointed that you made the journey.

To view a Google map of this site, please click here

Thursday 4 February 2010

Avraham woz ere - Tel Beer Sheva

There are many archaeological sites in Israel and many with links to the Patriarchs, but the unique feature of Tel Be'er Sheva, which is located to the east of the present city, is that it has been virtually completely restored, with the archaeological ruins represented by everything below a white line. OK, so most of the remains are from the 8th century BCE, from the rule of king Hezekiah, far too late for a sign to be found saying 'Avraham woz ere’, but there are some carved rock dwellings which seem to have belonged to the earliest Israelite period (12th century). It appears that the town was home to some 400 people mainly military troops and proto civil servants who administered the kingdom. The peasantry would have lived in villages and farms outside the town.

Next to the main gate is the well, some 80 meters deep, dug in about the 10th century BCE, but there is a tamarisk tree planted next to it and it isn’t hard to imagine it (or its ancestor) being there in the days of Avraham. Just like at Hazor,,the water was brought up from a very efficient water system, with steps leading down to the water level and a separate flight coming up. Shades of Tevye!
The large (ish) governor's palace, has three main reception rooms, but smaller four-room houses, typical Israelite dwellings of that period, are found in other places, built against the wall - well it seemed such a waste of effort to build another one, I suppose. Opposite the four-room houses is a cellar building, which goes down to the bedrock, probably explained by the destruction by king Hezekiah when he broke down the heathen temple. You can read the whole story in II Kings 18. 

However, to me, the most amazing site is that of standing at the tel and seeing the train to Dimona wend its way slowly past the foot of the mound, with the city's sewage works close at hand, as is the modern Arab town of Tel Sheva. What would Avraham have said?
Tel Beer Sheva is just off Route 60, about 5km east of the new city. If you take the eastern bypass road - and you should – it is less than 1km from the junction with route 60.
To view a Google map of this location, please click here. 

Wednesday 3 February 2010

The amazing Art of Glass Exhibition, Arad.Not just for looking at

If you think that you have seen all the craft glass works you can take, then this amazing exhibition / museum will have you thinking again. After watching a fascinating video about the artist, his philosophy and his technique, Gidon Fridman, the artist, guides you personally through his life’s work, as he explains with passion and excitement how he has developed a completely original way of working in glass. Not for him the cute mezuzah covers or challah plates. His installations appear, for example, as holograms, with faces of girls which seem to move as you walk around them. The chess pieces (like the king and queen below) are delightful, but his coloured glass ‘bodies’ are both artistically and technically superb – and it’s good to see that the male models for them appear to be Jewish!

His method of producing the works (I can’t think of another word to describe them) is unique as, unlike other glass artists, he uses window glass, which he colours in vibrant hues and drapes it, at very high temperatures, over mould ‘negatives’ he designs himself. Each piece tells a story and is a treat for the eyes and ‘neshama’ (as he says) but nothing prepares you for the final piece, his Holocaust memorial, which took over three months of concentrated work to produce. You will leave the museum stunned by the technical wizardry, artistic feeling and sheer passion of the artist.

The Art of Glass Museum is at the end of Sadan Street street in Arad, in the ‘Artists Quarter’. You access it directly from Route 31 (east of Be'er Sheva), turning right at the first roundabout and following the signs. There are other artists at work in the area, too and you should make time to see them all.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Independence Hall, Tel Aviv. Go where Israel was born

On April 11th,1909, sixty six families gathered on the sand dunes by the sea just north of Jaffa, to take part in a lottery for plots of land for Ahuzat Bayit, a new Jewish neighbourhood. Meir Dizengoff and his wife Zina won lot 43 and built their home on it. He served as head of the new neighbourhood committee, eventually becoming the first mayor of Tel Aviv.
In 1910, at a general meeting of the Ahuzat Bayit residents, the name of the neighbourhood was changed by majority vote to Tel Aviv, inspired by Herzl’s book “Altneuland,” .The title given by Nahum Sokolow to his Hebrew translation was Tel Aviv, which means “Hill of Spring.” Following the death of his wife in 1930, Meir Dizengoff donated his house to the city and asked that it be turned into a museum. Expanded and renovated, in 1936 it became the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

Friday, May 14th, 1948, at 4 p.m. – eight hours before the end of the British Mandate in Palestine and shortly before shabbat – the members of the People’s Council and Executive together with invited leaders gathered there and listened as David Ben-Gurion, head of the People’s Council, the Zionist Executive and the Jewish Agency, declared the creation of the State of Israel.
After the reading of the declaration of independence, Rabbi Fishman-Maimon recited a Sheheheyanu and members of the People’s Council and Executive signed the scroll. The ceremony concluded with the singing of “Hatikva”.
Today you can visit the historic hall where most of the exhibits are original, while others have been reconstructed in precise detail. transporting the visitor back to that incredible event. Most of the pictures displayed at the time, part of the Tel Aviv Museum’s collection from the day the state was declared, remain on the walls. You can listen to the original recording of the ceremony and view a 16-minute film describing the events of the period and the history of the building.
Check out the different chairs and find out why they didn’t match.

Independence Hall is at 16 Rothschild Boulevard, in the heart of the city.

To view a Google map of this site, please click here.