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Monday, December 21, 2015

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Beautiful blue skies and bright sunshine greeted us as we entered the Old City this morning. As we emerged from the Jaffa Gate we spied Santa Claus distributing free Jerusalem pine tree cuttings to the city's Christian population as part of a Jerusalem Municipal service.

As he rang his bell, people gathered around collecting their Christmas trees and taking pictures. For the first day of winter and shortest day of the year it was simply a perfect day.

 Santa inside Jaffa Gate
 Come and get your tree!
 
I wish everyone a happy and peaceful holiday and a new year filled with light and joy
 

 Candles at the Holy Sepulchre
 

 


Friday, November 13, 2015

Just Another Day at Work

I love Jerusalem. I have lived in this city for over 32 years experiencing the events that influence our daily lives.  Times of joy and hope; times of despair and frustration. In the past few weeks I have spent many hours touring the Old City and am pleased to see tourist groups out and about enjoying the sites.

As I walked around I decided to photograph some holy sites from different perspectives. I met with Christians, Muslims and Jews who are struggling to make a living and hoping for a better future for their families. I am sharing with you the results of my week of touring

Light through a window - Church of All Nations, Gethsemane
Designed by Antonio Barluzzi in the 1920's, the alabaster windows only allow diffuse light to enter the church to create the gloomy night of Jesus' arrest
 

Byzantine Floor - Gethsemane - under the modern mosaic
 

Haram-eSharif with Dome of the Rock viewed from 1st Station of the Cross
The view from the Ommaryah School is something special. The school sits on the site of the Antonia Fortress which housed the Roman garrison 2,000 years ago. Every Friday afternoon the Franciscans start their walk of the Via Dolorosa from here.
 
 
Dove nesting in Western Wall
 
During the year a variety of birds nest in the Wall. Its deep crevices provide a perfect place to rest while the worshippers place notes in the cracks below.
 
 Ethiopian Jews Celebrating the Sigad Festival - Western Wall
 
Last week, Ethiopian Jews celebrated Sigad, on the 29th day of the Jewish month of Heshvan, commemorating the renewal of the covenant between the people of Israel and the Almighty, when Ezra and Nehemiah read out the Torah to the exiles who returned to Jerusalem.       
      
In Ethiopia, the priests, kesim, would read Torah chapters in the ancient Gez language, translated into Amharic, and deliver sermons in which they exhorted the people to observe the commandments and pray to be found worthy of returning to Zion.   Now an official day of celebration in Israel, Ethiopian Jews still celebrate Sigad despite having fulfilled their dream of reaching Israel.
  
Candles in the Holy Sepulchre
 
Armenian Crosses
For centuries Armenian pilgrims would engrave their crosses on the walls of their chapel after their long and arduous journey to Jerusalem


At the end of the day I sat in the Citadel at Jaffa Gate watching the sun set on the city
 
 
 
 
Beautiful City!
 





Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Fine Caper

Summer is already here and it's the turn of the caper to flower. I love seeing it growing out of the Old City walls as I walk along the ramparts. Best known for its edible flower buds (capers), often used as a seasoning, and the fruit (caper berries), both of which are usually consumed pickled.  Other parts of Capparis plants are used in the manufacture of medicines and cosmetics.
 
The most common species of caper in the Jerusalem area, and throughout the Mediterranean region of Israel, is the common caper (Capparis spinosa). In the desert, it is replaced by the Egyptian caper (Capparis  aegyptia).  Because of finely curved thorns they can only be picked by hand and as such are considered a delicacy.

Capers are a distinctive ingredient in Italian cuisine and are commonly used in salads,  meat dishes and pasta sauces. Capers are known for being one of the ingredients of tartar sauce. They are often served with cold smoked salmon or fish dishes.
 
The leaves of the caper are round and drop off in the winter. The beautiful flowers have four white petals and masses of stamens. The flowers give off an exquisite fragrance at night and in the early morning, wilting as the morning heats up. They open in the evening to attract moths, which enjoy nectar that is held in a pocket right in the middle of the flower. The two lower petals are attached to one another and to the nectary, creating this pocket and preventing small insects from stealing the nectar. After the flower has been fertilized, a long fruit develops.

The preparation of capers for food was already well-known in ancient times. A caper collector was known in Hebrew as a 'kapar'. Indeed, this word appears on the lintel of the entrance to an ancient synagogue in modern-day Katzrin. The inscription says:  "This is the house of study of Elazar the kapar."

On a final note, the caper – which reappears, flowers, and provides food every year, without any care - has been used as a metaphor for the Jewish people's determination to survive in the harshest of conditions.  Perhaps it's no coincidence that they are found growing out of the Western Wall!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Gazelle Valley Jerusalem - Israel's First Urban Park

I just returned from a visit to the newly-opened Gazelle Valley across the road from my home. I have lived in the neighborhood for 25 years and was excited to see this new project which will benefit all the city's residents.
 
 Gazelle Valley - saved from developers
the controversial Holyland project in the background
(photo - Amir Balaban)
 
Following a 15-year struggle to save the green space from residential developers, March 30 saw the opening of Gazelle Valley, Israel’s first urban wildlife reserve which features five ponds, two streams, bird-watching areas, a man-made island accessible by wooden bridges and wild gazelles roaming free.
 
 Looking for Gazelles

Planned by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which also supports the nearby Jerusalem Bird Observatory, local experts were also advised by people  responsible for a much larger urban project -  New York's Central Park.  Funds were provided via the Jerualem Foundation and the Jerusalem Municipality. Signs in Hebrew, Arabic and English describe the flora and fauna, and an information center assisted by volunteers offers workshops and guided tours.
 Gazelle Workshop
 
The Passover holiday has seen thousands of visitors, of all backgrounds, enjoying the nature workshops, the ponds, the blue and white striped deckchairs and the large open space just a stone's throw from the busy Patt Junction - one of the city's major intersections.

 Israeli Mountain Gazelles in the Valley
(photo - Amir Balaban)

The Israeli mountain gazelle “is the archetype of all gazelles,” says Amir Balaban, a champion of Israeli wildlife who is the urban nature coordinator at the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and a force behind the valley renovation. “It’s the biblical gazelle, the one mentioned in Psalms and the Song of Songs; it has beauty and strength. Jerusalem and gazelles always went together.”

I wish the project great success. The public supported the new development which will provide a much-needed green space in a heavily-built up area.

I didn't see any gazelles today but look forward to them returning to the neighborhood.
Taking a break
 
The park will remain open to the public free of charge, seven days a week, from 7 a.m. until sunset. 






Friday, February 20, 2015

Jerusalem Snow 2015

We awoke to a foot of snow this morning and low temperatures.  Before it begins to melt people are out building snowmen and enjoying the winter scenery.

Snow also made a rare appearance in Haifa, Beersheva and the Negev region. The last time that happened was in 1992!

The city is even more beautiful in the snow.

I wanted to share this picture of Gethsemane from the Reuters news agency:

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Desert Embroidery - Empowering Bedouin Women in the Negev

Camels, tents and women in black embroidered dresses swaying over the desert sand: visitors to the Negev desert in Israel can still catch glimpses of this romantic picture from the past.  But today most of Israeli’s 177,700 Bedouin live in towns and unrecognized villages. The transition from nomadic lifestyle to permanent settlement has brought many changes, particularly for women.

The nomadic Bedouin woman enjoyed a central position in Bedouin Society. She herded the family goats and sheep, drew water from the well, raised vegetables in the family plot, educated her children in the traditions of her tribe and her Moslem religion, prepared food on an open fire, wove and embroidered her family’s clothing, among her many tasks. She enjoyed meeting her neighbors at the well and carried on an extensive social life despite the distances in the desert.
With the move to permanent settlement, the Bedouin woman moved from the open horizons of the desert to the four walls of her own house. Her traditional tasks were replaced by those of a housewife. Her economic contribution to her family vanished, as did her opportunities for a social life.


In 1996 the Association for Advancement of the Status of Women, Lakia, was established with the goal of improving the status of women in Bedouin society and Israeli society as a whole. Run and operated by Bedouin women, it is sensitive to the needs of their community.

The flagship project is the Desert Embroidery and Visitors' Center which provides alternative sources of income for the women through the creation of an industry based on traditional skills.
 

Today I had the chance to visit the centre and enjoy the colourful display of embroidered products on sale. I also met Na'ama Elsana'a, the dynamic force behind the establishment of the project which began with 15 women and has trained over 160 women from Lakia and surrounding Bedouin communities.

In addition, the association educates the women and raises awareness about essential issues for the community.

 Na'ama with Amy Kronish, who uses the Lakia embroidery in her coexistence quilts.

It's well worth visiting Desert Embroidery in Lakia but call in advance: Na'ama - 054-6734621 or rikma@lakia2.org

My favourite piece: