Thursday 25 March 2010

When Nazis lived in Tel Aviv - the Sarona Templars Colony

In 1871, the first group of Templars, a radical German protestant group, who had been removed from mainstream Protestantism by the authorities, established the colony of Sarona, which they pronounced ‘Sharona’. Expanding and prospering under the Ottomans, the Templers remained committed German nationalists and when, in July 1918, Allied troops occupied the German settlements in Palestine, its inhabitants were interned in Egypt. In the 1920s Sarona was still a small settlement, but it prospered because of a ready market for its excellent produce. The first community, outside of Germany, to have a Nazi party chapter,  the German Counsels' office in Tel Aviv flew the Nazi flag at full staff!
The Templars sold their produce, especially Jaffa oranges (there’s an irony!) back to Germany, but their Reichsmarks were valueless as they were not recognised in Mandate Palestine. They opted, in many instances, to barter their produce for imported goods. In Tel Aviv, a Mercedes could be acquired in exchange for 50 cases of oranges - a snip!
After the War broke out, the Mandate government turned Sarona into a large internment camp. In July 1941, with Rommel appearing likely to overrun Palestine and join up with this ‘Fifth Column’, 198 people from Sarona, together with almost 400 from the other internment camps were transported to Australia where they remained until 1947. After the war, Sarona became a British military and police base and was the site of the first ever frontal Haganah attack on a British installation.

During the War of independence, the base was dubbed HaKirya because it contained the provisional capital of Israel until Jerusalem was secured and declared the capital. The Haganah and then Israel Defence Forces also used the Templar buildings as their first headquarters. Over the years, the military base's land area shrank, due to the high land value and sale to private companies, although the government retains many of its offices in the Kirya Tower in the southern Kirya.

                                                                                                                                                                              Thanks to my friend Sue Young for this photo.
The houses are currently being restored with a view to creating a village under the gaze of the three massive towers that make up the Azrieli Centre, which you can see in the above photo. Many of the houses are still dilapidated but even so it is easy to image what life was once like. At the time of writing (March 2010) there are gardens with picnic areas and on the tables are images of life in the original days of Sarona. Eventually all the houses will be restored, additional facilities will be provided and new people will start to live in this almost forgotten community.
The site is at the corner of Da Vinci and Kaplan and the area is called both HaKiyra and Machane Rabin, in memory of the assassinated prime minister.
Parking is not great but buses are plentiful.
To view a Google map of this site, please click here.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

The Haganah Museum, Tel Aviv. Not perhaps, Britain's finest hour.

If you are interested in how the early settlers formed defence groups and how they developed into the Haganah, this must be the museum for you. The museum is located on the site of the former home of Eliyahu Golomb, one of the founders of the Haganah and the ground floor rooms have been restored to recreate a sense of how the family once lived with biographical exhibits on Golomb's life – if that’s the sort of thing you like.

The upper floors lead you along a winding passage, with some thirty displays, many with multimedia narratives tracing Israel’s defence history from 1878, when the first "shomrim" or watchmen were organised to protect the early settlers, through the Haganah’s establishment in June 1920, the quelling of disturbances in the 1920’s and 30’s, and the struggle against the Mandate authorities up to the War of Independence.
Although most of the labels are in Ivrit, explanatory information is provided in English and it is possible to select an English voice-over for the video presentations.

On the third floor, you see the various ways the Jewish fighters hid arms inside farm machinery to escape British detection, and how they secretly made hand grenades and Sten guns in clandestine kibbutz workshops.
The museum is often full of visiting groups of soldiers and school visits, but they are - usually – well behaved. An English accent is probably not your best asset, as the designers make it quite clear whose side they are on!

The Haganah Museum is at 23 Rothschild Boulevard
Tel Aviv, opposite Independence Hall, right in the centre of the older part of town. Parking is a challenge but buses are plentiful.
To view a Google map of this site, please click here

Sunday 14 March 2010

This way to the Temple - The Ophel Gardens, Jerusalem

Two thousand years ago - during the period of the Herodian Second Temple the lower Jerusalem market was located at the southern end of what we now call the Western Wall in the Ophel, an area bypassed by many tourists today. We believe that shops were located on both sides of the lower market road. selling souvenirs, silver amulets, and animals for the sacrifices. Moneychangers converted the coins of foreign pilgrims into the local currency, much like they still do today (and you probably still got a terrible exchange rate!).
Discovered at the base of the wall, one extremely large rock has been partially reconstructed. It contains a replica of an ancient inscription, the original of which is on view at the Israel Museum, saying "To the house of the trumpeting to procl. . . " Biblical scholars are quite certain that the sentence ended with "to proclaim the Sabbath". Our very first direction sign! Imagine the trumpeter standing directly above the hawkers and market stall holders, warning them to conclude their business and go home to prepare for Shabbat.

Climb the steps that lead to the Hulda Gates and be amazed at their size and irregularity, cleverly designed to force pilgrims to walk slowly - an early form of crowd control. During the Second Temple period visitors entered through the triple gate on the right, and departed the Temple complex through the double gates on the left. All, that is, except mourners, who would make the journey in reverse. Why? So that people would automatically know their status and make the appropriate greeting of consolation.

The amazing Ophel Gardens are adjacent to the bus stop entrance to the Western Wall Plaza.

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

Monday 8 March 2010

The Supreme Court, Jerusalem. Proving that no-one is above the law.

For many years after the founding of the State, the Supreme Court was housed in unsuitable premises, but in 1984, the Rothschild Foundation (called Yad Hanadiv in Hebrew) made a formal offer to the Government to donate a permanent building for the Supreme Court. As you can imagine, the offer was gratefully accepted and there was an architectural competition in 1986, attracting entrants from all over the world. The winners, from Israel, were the brother-and-sister team of Ram Karmi and Ada Karmi Melamede from Tel Aviv. Being built surprisingly quickly, the new Supreme Court building was dedicated on November 10, 1992. 

When you walk around the magnificent site today, you can only marvel at the ingenuity of the architects, who combined biblical and Talmudic legal references into the design. For example, The site of the building would be in Kiryat David Ben Gurion, adjacent to both the Knesset, the legislative branch of government and the executive branch of government but, because the law should always be above the government, the building was put on a site physically above the Knesset, so that the MKs should always be aware of their position (well the idea was good, ast least!) The building integrates post-modern architectural elements, too, reflecting Jerusalem’s rich architectural history and is truly an exciting element of anyone’s stay in Jerusalem.

Tours are held daily and English tours are usually at 1200, but check the details for the day you plan to visit, in case of unscheduled changes.

You can access the building from various directions, but I think it's easiest from Sderot Rothschild or Sderot Yitzchak Rabin.

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

A walk on the wet side - Hezekiah's Tunnel in Jerusalem

Hezekiah's Tunnel or, as some people call it, the Siloam Tunnel, was dug just before 701 BCE during the reign of King Hezekiah, underneath the Ophel area in Jerusalem and features in the story you can read in Tanach, in 2 Kings 20 and 2 Chronicles 32. When you walk through it – and I really hope you do – you have to keep reminding yourself that this is one of the few intact, 8th century BCE structures in the world that the authorities (whoever they are) will allow you to!
The tunnel, leading from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam, was designed to act as an aqueduct to provide Jerusalem with water during an impending siege by the Assyrians, led by Sennacherib. The curving tunnel is 533 m long (just under 1750 ft), and conveyed water along its length from the spring to the pool on a 0.6% gradient.
An inscription found in the tunnel says that it was excavated by two teams, one starting at each end of the tunnel and then meeting in the middle. I know this sounds like the joke about the navvy who bid to dig the Channel Tunnel with a mate for £100 each by starting at each end and digging towards each other, but it this case, it really happened! It is clear that several directional errors were made during its construction as the tunnel isn’t in the straight line it probably should have been. Once upon a time we were told that the tunnel may have been formed by widening a pre-existing natural cleft in the limestone, called a karst, but it seems that this idea has been rejected by scholars now.

The water reaches up to about 0.75 m (2.5 feet) even in the summer and the hike through the tunnel takes about 45 minutes, The tunnel gets very low (about 1.2 m, 4ft or so) and can be very narrow, so there is a health / width warning here.. The floor is fairly smooth, as are the walls, but there are a few rough rocks, so take care.
If you do decide to go, you should bring a torch, with spare batteries. You should also dress appropriately, with shorts and sandals, or shoes that you do not mind getting wet. Watch out for that low roof and it’s my advice that it’s probably best to go with a tour group.
You can get to the tunnel ends via Ma'alot Ir David or Derech HaShiloach, just south of the Old City.

Sunday 7 March 2010

Step back into Mishnaic times in Qatzrin (or Katzrin)

 After the 2nd century Bar Kochba rebellion against the Romans, Jews were banned from Jerusalem, the city was ploughed up and renamed and another great Jewish Dispersion began. Many of the exiled Jerusalemites headed north to the Galilee and settled in the Golan. Over the next two hundred years, they built nearly three dozen thriving, prosperous settlements in the region. One of them was Qatzrin (sometimes spelled Katzrin), now the capital and main administrative centre of the region. The area was first surveyed well over 100 years ago, initially by Sir Lawrence Oliphant (who I've written about in the section on the names behind the streets), who was trying to encourage Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe and then by the German engineer Gustave Schumacher, looking for the best route for a railway from Damascus to the Mediterranean Sea. 

Several buildings at Qatzrin have been restored, allowing visitors to step back to mishnaic times and actually experience village life from over 1500 years ago. 

Image courtesy of
 Ruins on view in the ancient city include typical 'three roomed houses', remains from the town's main synagogue and its impressive arched entrance, only rediscovered in 1968, engraved symbols of the Jewish inhabitants and inscriptions dedicated to well-known figures of the period. Rabbi Eliezer HaKappav established the synagogues of this region after the exile, and Qatzrin best exemplifies the workmanship of these houses of learning from around the period of the Talmud's completion. It appears that, at one time, the synagogue underwent expansion and a second storey was added, possibly to accommodate women. It seems that the Synagogue Building Committees may have an ancient and honourable lineage! The site is a fascinating one for all the family and being close to the famous Golan wineries doesn't hurt, either!

Access to the ancient site could not be easier. The carpark is directly off Route 9088 which runs between Routes 87 and 91, near the industrial area. 

Thursday 4 March 2010

Ein Gedi. It's worth the trek to the waterfall

It is difficult nowadays to imagine what it must have been like for the early tourists to Ein Gedi, before the easy road to the site was built. Trekking through the inhospitable Judean Desert for days must have been tough for even the hardiest traveller, but the journey was worth it, if only to experience the greenery, flowing waterfall, cool shade and magical ambience of Ein Gedi. Even the United Nations, not noted for hyperbolae, has singled this unique site out for special mention. The Nature Reserve is large and you would only really be sensible to take the extended tours with an experienced guide (and lots of water!) but almost everyone can take the two hour trip up Nahal David. Because of its unique microclimate, the reserve is the home to a very special blend of flora and fauna, including the tropical moringa tree, which reaches no further north than this anywhere in the world. You will almost certainly see ibex, hyrax (although they are VERY shy) and wild goats, now not so wild at all. The question is often asked about where the water comes from in such abundance, here in the middle of the desert.

We all seem to forget that the desert can experience rain - and even floods - in winter and the water permeates through the top surface, percolating down until it reaches a stratum of hard rock and finds a way out. (well, there's the geological bit out of the way). Happily for us this happens right here! There is such a lot of history here, from Stone Age settlers from well over 5000 years ago, via David pursued by Saul and the Essenes ( better know for their settlement at Qumran) to a site occupied by supporters of Bar Kochba. These days the reserve can be easily reached from Route 90, the Dead Sea road, between km 244 and 245. 

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

Tuesday 2 March 2010

The Hecht Museum, Haifa. A hidden gem in the North

Dr Reuben Hecht was one of the most influential people in the pre State and early years of Israel. Scholar, businessman, diplomat, academic, advisor to Prime ministers: he was surely one of the most modest and yet most powerful people in Israel.
Over sixty years he also amassed one of the most exceptional private collections of ancient archaeological artifacts and modern art. But far more than that, he bequeathed it all to the university he helped to found in Haifa.
The Reuben and Edith Hecht Museum, to give it its full name, is housed within the main university complex and has two distinct sections, those of the ancient archaeology of the region and of art, mainly of the Impressionist period and of Jewish artists who died in the Holocaust. The former demonstrates the connection between the Land and the People of Israel over thousands of years, with special reference to the fine artistic work of its inhabitants and the lives and times of the Phoenicians. 

The ability to walk amongst the reconstructed ruins of a Phoenician settlement, recreated in the museum, to see the remains of a ship nearly two and a half millennia old or to examine a wonderful ancient synagogue mosaic, should not be missed. But nor should the chance to see works by Monet, Manet, Pissaro, Van Gogh and Modigliani and a host of other Impressionist ‘greats’ - all tucked away in Haifa.

There is free admission and there are guides available in English. If ever a museum deserved the accolade 'hidden gem', this is surely it!

You can access the university main building on Route 672 on Sderot Abba Hushi, close to its junction with Route 705.  You can't miss the tower: it's visible from miles around.  It is also easily accessible by bus from the centre of Haifa and the railway station.

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

A hearty walk in old Jerusalem – The Cardo

Every Roman city was laid out to the same design and Jerusalem was no different. The 6th century church floor in Medeba, Jordan has a mosaic map of Israel with many place names in Greek. At its centre is a depiction of Jerusalem with walls, gates, churches (with red roofs – very mediterranean) - and the Cardo. It is depicted with two rows of colonnades running the length of the city from north to south.
Following the unification of Jerusalem in 1967, teams of Israeli archaeologists spent many years excavating the city. In the 1970’s, Nahman Avigad's team excavated the Cardo area for about 200 metres (220 yards), from the time of Emperor Justinian in the first half of the 6th century CE. An earlier section of the Cardo was constructed in the Roman period beginning at the modern Damascus Gate in the north, but it was not extended this far south until some centuries later.

The central street of the Cardo is 12 metres (39.5 feet) wide and was lined on both sides with columns. The total width of the street and shopping areas on either side was a staggering 22 metres, easily the equivalent of a 4-lane dual carriageway today. This street was the main thoroughfare of Byzantine Jerusalem and served both residents and the many pilgrims. Large churches flanked the Cardo in several places.

As can still be seen in modern Italy today, the columns supported a roof that covered the shopping area and protected the patrons from the sun and rain. Then, it was built of wood –today we just have to imagine it. Currently the Byzantine street is about 6 metres (18ft) below the present street level. The steps down are steep but quite safe.
I acknowledge the copyright of the owner of this photo

Today, the Cardo is home to souvenir shops, but it is well worth the short walk to transport yourself back to Roman times – and under cover too! It is in the heart of the old City of Jerusalem and is well signposted, just a brief walk from the main car park or you can access it from Rehov Chabad or Hayehudim.

The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. You may enter two by two, or even seven by seven!

The very first public zoo in Jerusalem was opened as a petting zoo for children in 1928 and was, to put not too fine a point on it, pretty grim. As the city grew and ideas about zoo management, developed, the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, as it is still unofficially known, moved and expanded. It now stretches across an area of 25 hectares (62 acres) in a delightful valley on the southern outskirts of Jerusalem, surrounded by green hills and new neighbourhoods. The zoo, now named for its munificent sponsors, the Tisch family of New York, is built around a small lake which is located near the entrance. The artificial lake relies on recycled water and is fed by several linked pools and waterfalls. It is artfully surrounded by spacious lawns and shady beauty spots, often the home to the zoos feathered inmates. 

The zoo is built on two main levels which house most of the animal exhibits. The main, circular route extends the length of both levels, connecting most of the sites on the zoo grounds. Several side paths connect the two levels, allowing you to decide on your own route and exhibits are cleverly situated along these paths as well.

Inevitably, the zoo’s main emphasis is placed on animals mentioned in the Bible. Sadly, the majority of these animals became extinct in Israel, mostly in the twentieth century and some within living memory, due to indiscriminate hunting, habitat destruction, and the feverish – and often uncontrolled, pace of construction and development. These animals include creatures like bears and lions, the Persian fallow deer and Arabian oryx, the cheetah and the Nile crocodile.

An additional emphasis in the zoological collection involves the preservation of endangered species from around the world. In this group the zoo is home to the Golden lion tamarin, the rarer of the macaws and cockatoos, the ibises, and the Asian elephant and there was great excitement in Israel when a baby elephant was born in December 2005. Of course, it's grown a bit since then, k'nein a horah!

Most of the animals in the zoo live in large enclosures, designed to resemble – as close as possible - their natural habitats..

A few of the animals were confiscated from smugglers, but the vast majority were born in captivity. The zoo management make it a matter of policy that none of the animals in the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo were collected directly from the wild. They firmly believe that the capture and removal of animals from the wild for the purpose of displaying them in captivity is unusually cruel, as well as illegal. Good for them!
Drive to the zoo from the Begin Route, past the Malcha Shopping Mall and the Jerusalem Technology Park to Derech Gan Hachayot, at the junction of Sholov and Moda'i. There are good bus links and, when it runs,  the Tel Aviv Jerusalem railway stops at the new Zoo station

Bon Giorno Jerusalem - the U. Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art.

It's hard to believe, but just a few steps from the bustle of Jerusalem's Ben Yehudah Street is a step back into the world of Italian Jewry in the U. Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art.

Founded in 1981, and housed in a former German Catholic Institution ( the architecture gives the game away!) it collects, preserves and displays objects from Jewish life in Italy over the last six hundred years..
The collection of Arks and religious objects from the Renaissance and Baroque period was dismantled and carefully brought from Italy to Israel in the 1960s by Dr. Umberto Nahon, in collaboration with the Jewish communities of Italy and Israel.

Many of these rare items were found in sadly deserted synagogues that belonged to defunct communities. Once in Israel they were stored close to the synagogue until 1982, when the Museum was officially opened to the public.
The museum also houses a functioning synagogue, transported in sections from Conegliano in northern Italy in the 1950s, but only after the authorities there were sure that there were no Jews left in the town.

Other gems include the oldest parochet ( Ark curtain) in the world, dated 1572, from Ferrara and a host of other beautifully made items, each one a work of art in itself. A sukkah from 18th century Venice, a fascinating parochet from Pesaro, celebrating the marriage in 1620 of Rachel Olliveti to Judah Montefiore, one of Sir Moses' ancestors and a Torah keter (crown) from Alessandria in 1849, decorated with cannons all have their stories to tell.

Your trip to Hillel Street, just up from its junction at the bottom of Joel Solomon St, will certainly be worth it.
I couldn't get a photo of the exhibits: they are very strict about it :-(

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