Tag Archives: Daily life

Tutoring Ethiopian Students

(Although all names in this Blog are common girls’ names in the Ethiopian community, they are not the students’ actual names, but were changed to protect their anonymity)

Ethiopian students in the Ma'ayan program at Midreshet Nishmat, Jerusalem, and the English tutors at the Chanukah party, December 2018
Ethiopian students in the Ma’ayan program at Midreshet Nishmat, Jerusalem, and the English tutors at the Chanukah party, December 2018

I tink he will not be happy.” Yerus reads slowly and carefully.

As for most Israelis, the English “th” eludes her. I correct her pronunciation. “Think.”

She tries again. T-hink.”

“Not quite.” I stick my tongue out between my teeth. “Th…Think.”

She tries to imitate me. “Sth-ink.”

“Better. Try again. THink.”


“Perfect!” I cry, smiling broadly.

She and Mazal, her learning partner, give each other high fives. When Mazal manages the “th” correctly on her second try, they exchange another high five.

The Ma’ayan program for Ethiopian Women

Yerus and Mazal are two of the students I have tutored in English at Midreshet Nishmat, in Jerusalem.  Both girls were participants in Ma’ayan, a special program for young Ethiopian women. Every year, the program admits about 15 students who have graduated high school, passing the required number of bogrut exams. They have also completed national service or service in the IDF. All come from low-socioeconomic backgrounds and large families (generally 7-13 family members). 

The school provides them with room and board, educational counseling, guidance in managing time and finances, as well as a financial stipend. The educational arm of Ma’ayan includes classes in Limudei Kodesh (Bible, Jewish religion, ethics). The students receive tutoring in English, mathematics, and computer skills. They also have a special class to prepare them for the dreaded Psychometrics test, the Israeli equivalent of College Boards. The teachers and staff of Ma’ayan, under the direction of Dr. Estie Barel, are professionals. All the tutors are all volunteers. Those of us who tutor English are native speakers, educated primarily in English-speaking countries.

My students

All the students I have worked with are eager to learn, and they work hard to do so. If I forget to give them an assignment for the next week, they ask for homework. They smile easily and often, especially when they master something they have had difficulty with. Because of centuries of deprivation, most of them are short and slender. In a group of Ethiopian women, at 5 feet 3 inches I am often the tallest person.

I am now completing my sixth year tutoring English at Nishmat. This year I have three students: Felagush, Anguach, and Noga, who is thinking of becoming a nurse. I sit with Noga, discussing parts of the human body. Although she took biology in high school, as an Israeli she learned it all in Hebrew. But in nursing school she will need to know the vocabulary in English as well. The lectures will, of course, be in Hebrew, but the textbooks are in English.

I point to something in the middle of the chest of my crudely drawn person. “Do you know what this is?”

She answers confidently. “לב.”

I write “h-e-a-r-t” next to an arrow pointing to the organ in question.


“It’s pronounced ‘hart,” I say.

“But that doesn’t make sense!”

I write three words on another piece of paper: ear, hear, heart. After reading them out loud, I tell her I agree it doesn’t make sense. English spelling often doesn’t. She stops complaining when I tell her my son had the same problem with “heart” when he was learning to read.

Program history

Rabbanit Chana Henkin
Rabbanit Chana Henkin

Rabbanit Chana Henkin founded Midreshet Nishmat with her husband Rabbi Yehuda Henkin in 1990. Their first class consisted of two American students in a room she describes as being about the size of “a closet.” The school grew rapidly. They added a program for young Israeli women to the program for foreign students.

Ten years later, the Rabbanit decided they needed to do more. “We were bringing a large aliyah of Ethiopians to the country, but as a society we were not doing enough to help them.” She asked herself what she could do about it. Her answer was to educate the women so they can integrate into mainstream Israeli society. The ultimate goal of the program is to create Ethiopian leaders who are role models for other girls in their community in Israel.

Why this program is needed

In the United States, children who are the first in their families to attend college often have problems navigating the system. Among the Ethiopians in Israel, the current younger generation is the first to attend, not only college, but also high school. Even today, twenty years after the major Ethiopian aliyah started, most of the older generation lack high school education. As a result, about 90% of Ethiopians remain employed as house cleaners and janitors.

That is changing as people in their 40’s have started attending continuing education courses. They are studying for the bogrut exams to earn high school diplomas. A few members of the Ethiopian community have advanced farther than the majority. Israel now has Ethiopian lawyers, judges, army officers, nurses, and Knesset members. The economic situation of the community is slowly changing.

Nishmat’s program is an integral part of that change. There is no doubt that it works. More than 90% of its students attend college or university after completing the one-year program. Students who do not succeed in the program are not abandoned at the end of their year. One of my students, who had made aliyah only a few years earlier, did poorly on her Psychometrics exam. She received additional tutoring for a year while she worked. She now attends Efrata College, and plans to teach when she graduates.

Ma’ayan hemshech — continuation program

Following completion of the Ma’ayan program, some students continue in Ma’ayan Hemshech, which supports them in college or university. Students in this continuation program are provided with housing, a stipend, and any needed tutoring. I have tutored several Ethiopian students in English while they attended Machon Tal, a small women’s college near my house. Dr. Barel also has called on my professional skills to help several nursing students. I’ve worked on anatomy and physiology with one student, pulling information out of some back corner of my brain. Several more advanced students needed help with literature searches and analyzing research.

All this attention works—more than 90% of Ma’ayan participants graduate college or university.

Ma’ayan outcomes

My own contribution has achieved a mixed measure of success. At the end of the year, the young women read English with more proficiency and their vocabularies are larger. They speak with more confidence. But pronunciation and spelling? I don’t seem to have mastered the art of teaching those. Last year Yerus and Mazal gave me a hand washing cup on which they had written “Tank you.”

Graduates of the Ma’ayan program have become teachers, social workers, nurses, occupational therapists, lawyers. One is attending medical school. Amawayesh, who I worked with in my first year as a tutor, got married while a student at Herzog College. She now has a lovely baby. Since graduation, she has taught language at a religious high school in Beit Shemesh. In addition, she coordinates the leadership program for high school girls.

Riste, a nursing student I taught, passed her final English test. B’H she will graduate Shaare Zedek Nursing School this summer. She will join several hundred other young Ethiopians  who have been helped by Nishmat to move from the social margins to the mainstream of Israeli society.

To see Ma’ayan in action , including interviews with some students, click on this link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8beC1zBdPN0

Visiting the Gaza Border Area

Esther Marcus holding arson kite at Kibbutz Alumim
Esther Marcus holding an arson kite that landed at Kibbutz Alumim

Nogo Gulst fondly remembers the years when she could go to the nearest large city to do her shopping or to catch a bus to Tel Aviv. Noga, who lives in Kibbutz Mefalsim, Danny Rachamim from Kibbutz Nahal Oz, and Esther Marcus from Kibbutz Alumim, all say the same thing. From 1967 until the signing of the Oslo Accords, Gaza City was the place to go.

Noga said, “We did everything in Gaza.” They shopped there and ate in its restaurants. “It was the best hummous I ever eat,” Danny reported. The fastest to route to Tel Aviv was through Gaza City. They were friends with Arabs. Danny reports having hosted several families from Gaza at the wedding of one of his children. Long time residents of Sderot have happy memories of walking less than a kilometer to the beach on Shabbat during those years.

Touring with Honest Reporting

The Asaf Siboni overlook. Gaza City, less than a mile away, is on the horizon The black patches are fields that were burned in arson attacks by Hamas.
The Asaf Siboni overlook. Gaza City, less than a mile away, is on the horizon The black patches are fields that were burned in arson attacks by Hamas.

On August 7, my husband and I spent the day with Honest Reporting on a briefing tour of the Gaza border areas. The places we went, Asaf Siboni, Kibutz Nahal Oz, and Kibbutz Alumim, are all in areas allotted to Israel by the 1947 UN Partition PlanThey have been part of Israel since the founding of the state in May 1948. Elliot Chodoff, a military and political analyst spoke about the background of the current situation.

At each stop, we met several long-time residents, and toured their towns and farms. Today, the situation is different from what it was in the 1970s and 80s, when travel between Israel and Gaza was easy and safe. No Israelis go to Gaza City. The only exceptions are soldiers, and they only go armed, under military orders. In many Arab areas, in the Shomron as well as Gaza, Israeli soldiers are the only Jews anyone under the age of 25 has ever seen.

Hamas demonstrations at the Gaza border fence

Hamas has been trying to destroy Israel, ever since the founding of organization in 1987. But this summer has been particularly difficult for the residents of the south, especially for those living in the area closest to Gaza.

Since April, Hamas has directed weekly demonstrations along the border with Israel. Although billed as peaceful, the demonstrations are neither peaceful in intent, nor in actuality. Hamas leaders have encouraged demonstrators to come armed with knives slingshots, guns, and Molotov cocktails. They have urged Gaza residents to break down the border fence, and attack Israeli soldiers, and civilians. Hamas has distributed maps of Israeli towns near the border. With the map, any Gazan who gets through the fence can easily find Israelis and kill them.

Arson attacks against Israeli farms

This year’s summer unrest has unveiled a new weapon, which may have been more effective than Hamas originally envisioned: kites. The kites and balloons from Gaza may have started out as innocent children’s toys, but now they are weapons of war. They carry fire. Some are set on fire before being sent aloft, others carry Molotov cocktails or incendiary devices on timers. Their purpose is to destroy Israeli agriculture.

The kites have been remarkably successful. They are hard to detect when in the air, and when they land, the small fires they set spread quickly. Standing at Asaf Siboni, a high point overlooking the border with Gaza, Noga pointed out several fields that were recently burned by Hamas. Six months ago, she told us, from this spot all you could see was wheat. Half of it was burned by kite-triggered fires. Grass grows fast, and some of the fields and forests in the area burned more than once. She laughed when she said “forests,” because as she said, “Fifty trees is a forest in Israel.” But in an area where every tree was planted by hand and carefully irrigated, the loss of a stand of fifty trees hits hard.

At Nahal Oz, Danny pointed out a large wheat field, now scorched black from a fire. He reported that five thousand dunams of their land (about 1235 acres) is planted in wheat. This year Hamas burned a fifth of their crop, causing a loss of about 700,000 shekels from kibbutz income (a little more than $190,000). Their fields of sunflowers are almost ready for harvest. Because the fields are very dry,  they worry an arson kite or balloon will land in the field and destroy that crop as well.

Less than two kilometers away, Kibbutz Alumim lost a field of chickpeas to a fire two weeks ago and earlier this week a fire burned their corn. Although the government provides compensation for destroyed crops and lost income, it can not provide a sense of security for the residents.

Hamas rockets attack Israel

Kibbutzim, farms, and cities all over the Negev have been under sporadic attack by Hamas for almost twenty years. This area has been farmed by Jews since 1946, when the first kibbutzim in the Negev were founded. Be’er Sheva, about 50 km (30 miles) from Gaza, has been hit by rockets and a few arson kites which have drifted inland. The first

Esther shows remnants or some of the rockets that have landed at Alumim in the last ten years
Esther shows remnants or some of the rockets that have landed at Alumim in the last ten years

Kassam rockets were first launched in 2001. Noga says her youngest son was five years old then; he cannot remember a time when there was no terror. The  reinforced concrete protective rooms in every house and public building, and the squat shelters in parks and playgrounds, offer physical protection. Older schools and public buildings have been adapted by constructing thick reinforced concrete roofs above their original roofs. But these structures also constantly remind people of the rockets that necessitate their presence.

Kibbutz Alumim, when they recently erected a new children’s building, they made the whole building bomb proof. They needed the new center because, despite the constant danger, the kibbutz is growing. In the last three weeks alone, nine babies were born, including one set of twins.

Tzeva Adom: Warnings of rocket attacks

Even during quiet periods, everyone has with one ear listening for the warning “Tzeva Adom” warning, the woman’s voice announcing “Color red, color red.” They know when they hear that announcement they have fifteen seconds, sometimes less, to get into the shelter. To make sure they hear any announcement, they always keep a window open wherever they are, even if it is a hundred degrees outside and the air conditioner is struggling to keep the inside temperature down to 85.

When in places where there is no chance of a rocket warning, they are nevertheless on alert. Noga mentioned being in a foreign airport and hearing the little “tick” a loudspeaker makes as it turns on just before an announcement. Her whole family tensed, ready to run to shelter. “You can never 100% concentrate because you are always listening for the alarm.”

Hamas also occasionally fires mortars from Gaza at the Israeli farms. Mortars are small, with flatter trajectories. There’s no way to protect yourself from mortar, and there’s no warning. Four years ago, a mortar killed a young child in his own front yard, in the area we were touring.

Child care workers and teachers spend time working with children, teaching them what to do in case of an alarm. They also try to decrease the stress of rocket attacks. A teacher in the South wrote a song for the children to sing during an alert, that has body and hand motions to go with it.

Children have Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Nonetheless, there is a very high rate of PTSD among children in the areas within the 30 second warning area. Children have stopped using the color red in their art projects because of its association with rocket attacks.

To destigmatize the color, Esther Marcus wrote a children’s book called, Tzeva Adom. It is the story of about how all the colors gathered to choose the color of the year. Each color, starting with purple, explained all the things it can found in and why it should be chosen. But when it came to red’s turn it sat in the corner because people are afraid of it. All the other colors comfort red. It’s the life-saving color of warnings. They elect red as color of the year, and then all join together in a rainbow.

Esther talked about trying to “raise children not to have hate in their hearts, not to want revenge.” Noga talked about the electricity made by solar panels in nearby fields. The owners want to send the excess  electricity to Gaza, instead of selling it to the Israel Electric Company, as required.   Doing so would could give the people might have five or six hours hours of electricity a day, instead of four hours. They feel that “Making it better for them will make it better for us.”

Early August escalation of attacks

Wednesday night, August 8, into Thursday morning, Hamas fired hundreds of rockets into Israel. When I awoke Thursday morning, my phone alerts showed screen after screen full of Tzeva Adom notifications. The alert system has been so refined that only the area projected to be the target of a specific barrage is notified. The rest of us find out from the radio or notifications on our phones.

One of the painted public bomb shelters at Kibbutz Nahal Oz. Inside, the walls are bare unpainted concrete.
One of the public bomb shelters at Kibbutz Nahal Oz. Inside, the walls are bare unpainted concrete.

So, while we were sleeping peacefully, thousands of residents of southern Israel dozed fitfully or sat up all night in their bomb shelters. About twenty people were wounded in the attacks, and many more suffered psychological trauma.

When I saw all the notifications, I thought of Noga, spending the night sitting or lying on the floor in her son’s bedroom, which is their family’s bomb-proof room. I think of all the children crowded into one room for the night, and then not being allowed out of the house to run around and get rid of their tension during the day, because there could be a Tzeva Adom at any second.

I think of those people walking outside when they hear the alarm and running to the nearest public shelter, a small windowless concrete box on the side of the street or in the middle of the park. In many places, the shelters are painted with cheerful designs, but inside there’s nothing but the bare concrete walls and other people standing there, all of you worried about your families and whether or not they were able to get to a shelter within 15 seconds of the Tzeva Adom.

All the people we met want to restore peaceful relationships with our neighbors. To Noga winning means staying where they have always lived; Winning is peace. They want to the Arabs to came to Israel in peace to work and to shop. They want to go to Gaza to shop, to swim, to have their cars repaired.

And Danny Rachamim wants a plate of Gaza’s best hummous.

Where we were.

Nahal Oz and Alumim are about eight kilometers south west of  The observation point

Frequently Heard Hebrew Phrases

Both physically and psychologically, Israel is a very small country. We all feel connected. I told my class coordinator I would miss a scheduled tour because I was traveling to the US for a family wedding. His reply? “מזל טוב” –Mazal Tov, the Hebrew phrase extending congratulations. When I told the chair of a committee I was sick and couldn’t get to a meeting, she wrote back, “Refuah shlaimah!” transliterating the Hebrew phrase that means “May you have a complete healing.”

We’ve been hearing “Refuah shlaimah” often. My husband just completed radiation treatment for prostate cancer. We went to Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem five times a week for a month. At the entrance to Machon Sharett, the

At the entrance to Machon Sharett, the oncology institute at Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem: A Hebrew sign wishes everyone a complete healing
At the entrance to Machon Sharett, Hadassah Medical Center: A Hebrew sign wishes everyone a complete healing

oncology building, a little sign proclaims Refuah Shlaimah. The cab driver wishes us Refuah Shlaimah as we exit his vehicle, and people walking out of the building say it to people walking in. Even the young woman in hijab, who speaks to her mother only in Arabic, says the Hebrew phrase to those still waiting for treatment as she and her mother leave the room.

The connectedness and concern is expressed in other ways as well. A neighbor says to me in the parking lot that he hasn’t seen my husband in a while—is everything all right? When I tell him Allen is having trouble walking because of knee pain, he offers to pick up groceries for me when he goes to the store. I give his wife a short list of items, most of which are too heavy for me to carry. I write it in my most careful Hebrew lettering. My fourth grade Hebrew teacher would be proud of it.

The next afternoon I get a call from him—I requested two bottles of Coke Zero, but it’s on sale. Would I prefer four bottles? We’ll drink four bottles by the end of the summer I answer. He laughs and then asks if I want grape juice for kiddush or grape juice for children. I assume that by “grape juice for children” he means sugary grape drink, and tell him it’s for kiddush.

Later, I answer a knock on the door, and his wife and one of his pre-teen sons bring in three bags of groceries. After putting them on the kitchen counter, she returns my list and credit card.

Tizku l’mitzvot,” I tell them.

May you perform more good deeds

Tizku l’mitzvot is another frequently used phrase. It means “May you merit to do more mitzvot.” Although in its most restrictive sense the Hebrew word mitzvot refers to the 613 commandments given by God, it is often used to mean a good deed. If you lend your phone to a stranger at the bus stop, when he returns it, he’ll say “Tizku l’mitzvot.” The teenagers who go door to door collecting cans of food for poor families, thank you for a contribution with “Tizku l’mitzvot.” The beggars on the street, collecting money for food for Shabbat, sometimes reply to a coin dropped into their hand or cup with “tizku l’mitzvot.”

Brachot are blessings

Some of the collectors on the street respond to a contribution with a bracha, a blessing. The blessings can range from the all-inclusive “May you know no sorrow,” to the specific. “May Hashem heal you from all afflictions” seems to fit most occasions. One man blessed me that my children all marry. I replied, “Thank you, my children are all married.” He quickly changed my bracha to “Your grandchildren. May your grandsons find virtuous brides and may your granddaughters merit good husbands.”

Giving and receiving brachot (blessings) is an almost daily occurrence. Brides and grooms, because of their state of elevated holiness, give individual blessings to guests . The bride blesses her friends that they should soon find their own shidduch (partner) soon. Her married friends receive brachot for healthy children. During our first year in Israel, two brides blessed me that Allen and I should have a rapid and easy absorption into Israeli life.
It is also common to ask elderly people for brachot. At a wedding, I saw a line of girls and young women near .a ninety year-old great grandmother waiting for brachot. One friend said that when she was a child, her mother dragged her all over the country to receive blessings. They visited friends’ grandmothers and elderly Rebbetzins.
I was with a young woman one day when she asked a 94 year old man for a bracha. He started by blessing her with good health, and that she should find her partner and marry this year. She and I answered, “Amen,” but he wasn’t finished. He continued that she should have many sons and daughters, and raise them in health, to learning, marriage, and good deeds. “Amen,” we said. He went on that she should know no sorrow, and her whole family should prosper with good living, and be preserved from illness, and injury, and bad news, and war, and catastrophe. “Amen!” we exclaimed as he finished.

So tizku l’mitzvot, and may Hashem shower you with only good things.

Understanding Water and Water Bills

One of the secondary water clarifiers at the Shafdan water reclamation plant near Ashkelon, Israel.
One of the secondary water clarifiers at the Shafdan water reclamation plant near Ashkelon.

Our first water bill was a complete mystery. With the help of a dictionary, I managed to translate it, but knowing what the words meant didn’t help. On one page the amount we used was classified according to “Apartment” (16) and “Main” (305). Below that, it listed the sum of all the water we used in the two month billing period: 17.167. It was broken down as Private: 16 m3), Joint: 1.167 m3. I understood that “Apartment” equaled “Private,” but “Main” (305) certainly did not equal “Joint.” But at least now I knew what measurement I was dealing with–mare cubic meters.

After a few questions, I learned that “Joint” was our share of water used for the grass & trees in the courtyard and washing the stairs and hallways.

But on the next page of the bill, I found a different story. Although the total amount we used was the same, it was divided differently. Price 1: 13.81, Price 2: 3.36. The only things I understood about the bill were that the tax was 17% and that I had to pay 147.15 NIS within three weeks.

I’m not the only new oleh (immigrant) to find my bill confusing. When my ulpan teacher asked the class if we would like her to explain our utility bills, everyone in the class said, “Yes!”

That’s when I found out that pricing is one part of the country’s program to manage the water supply.

We are a desert country. The lack of rain in the land of Israel is an ancient problem. The Bible describes it dozens of times. The book of Genesis describes how Abraham lived here only a short time before a drought caused him to move temporarily to Egypt. In Deuteronomy, God threatens to withhold rain as a punishment if the Israelites did not obey his laws. Elijah the prophet declared a drought in Kings I that lasted three years.

The passage of millennia did not solve problem. Lack of drinking water caused the Crusaders to lose the Holy Land to the armies of Saladin at the Horns of Hattin in 1187. The Christians took what should have been a good defensive position at the top of a hill. They neglected to check one thing in advance. They had no water source. It was summer. Although Muslim history declares the battle of the Horns of Hattin a great victory, they did not have to fight very hard. The Crusaders were defeated by the heat, sun, and dehydration.

During the mandate period, the British were so worried about water, they commissioned a special study of the situation. The report concluded that the land would never be able to support more than 1,000,000 people. The aquifers were too small and the rainfall was too unreliable.

Today, rain is still unreliable. The level in the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), the main source of fresh water for over 50 years, is frequently so low, an emergency is declared. So much water has been pumped from the coastal aquifer, sea water has infiltrated. What remains is undrinkable. Yet Israel now has enough water to support a population of 8,000,000. If you include Gaza, as the British did, more than ten million people, live in a land that the British said could not support a tenth of that number. Additionally, Israel has a thriving agricultural economy and exports water to Jordan.

How is all this possible?

The first measure was a national emphasis of saving water. Every child in Gan learns the slogan “Kol tipa khashuv” (Every drop is important). A friend told me that on a family visit to Niagara Falls, the adults stood amazed at the power of all the water. Their five year old stared at the falls only a moment before declaring ”Azeh bizbuz mayim!” (What a waste of water).

After our aliyah, we soon learned how to wash our hands and take showers: Turn on water, get wet, turn off water, apply soap, turn on water, rinse, turn off water, dry. I even learned to wash dishes in a water-saving manner, with the help of Maya’s blog post, “How to wash dishes like an Israeli.” 

The pricing of water plays a large part in water-saving. You can use as much as you want, as long as you are willing to pay for it. The key is the graduated cost. As my ulpan teacher explained, each person is assumed to need a certain amount of water per month, for which you pay “Price 1.” Given the evidence of my bill, I assume my personal allotment is about 6.9 m3/month (a little more than 1800 gallons). To make sure that each dwelling unit is charged appropriately, the water company requires a copy of the official ID of every resident. One of the first things new parents do is send notice of the birth of a baby to the water company.

If you exceed the basic allotted amount, as almost everyone does, larger amounts of usage are charged a higher price. At this time, Price 1 is 6.546 NIS/m3 and Price 2 is 10.536 NIS/m3. If you use more than you are allotted at this second level, there is a third level of pricing. In her explanation of the water bill, my teacher only said Price 3 was extremely high. Although we still don’t know how much “extremely high” is, we hope we never are so profligate with water that we find out.

Another way Israel lessens its dependence on rain is by recycling. As I learned when I toured the Shafdan water reclamation plant, Israel reclaims 85% of its wastewater. Spain, the country with the second highest reclamation record, recycles about 19%. At Shafdan, the tour guide said their output meets drinking water standards. However, the water from Shafdan remains separate from the drinking water stream. Drinking water flows throughout the country in white pipes; reclaimed water flows in pink or purple pipes.

Pink color of drip irrigation hose signifies it carries reclaimed (recycled) water to garden.
Pink color of drip irrigation hose signifies it carries reclaimed (recycled) water to garden.

Reclaimed water is used only for agriculture and gardens. To eliminate any danger from effluent contamination, it is not used for crops that water touches directly, such as strawberries and cucumbers. Rather, the pink and purple drip irrigation pipes carry water to fruit trees and other crops that do not touch the ground.

The third factor that has increased the country’s supply is desalination. We have five desalination plants which together supply 55% of our drinking water. Israel is the world leader in desalination technology. IDE, our largest builder of desalination plants, has installed plants in forty countries, including several in China. The Israeli-designed Carlsbad Desalination Plant near San Diego produces 190,000 m3 of water daily, supplying 10% of that city’s needs. And here in Israel, five desalination plants discharge about 600 million m3 per year.    

This sign was the only thing inside the desalination plant that we were allowed to photograph.
This sign was the only thing inside the desalination plant that we were allowed to photograph.

Fresh water production is so important, each plant observes strict security procedures. On a recent tour of the Sorek desalination plant in Ashkelon, we were instructed not to take any photographs. And in case we forgot that instruction, signs in several languages remind visitors that no photography is allowed.

Thus, our reliance on the limited rainfall is nil. Because of these factors, we have enough water to meet the needs of the whole country. Additionally, Israel supplies Jordan with one hundred million cubic meters of water yearly.

But despite our abundant supply, newspapers still regularly report the Kinneret level. Every two months our bill reminds us that we live in a desert country, where water is so precious we must pay for every drop. And, God forbid, if we use more than is deemed appropriate, we’ll pay “Price 3” for those excess drops.

Yakov’s First Tefillin

Daniel & Yakov saying the orning prayers the first day Yakov put on tefillin
Daniel & Yakov saying the morning prayers the first day Yakov put on tefillin

When Yakov, our older grandson, turns thirteen later this week, he will be considered an adult in for purposes of religious observance. Among other mitzvot, he will then be obligated to put on tefillin every day. Tefillin, the small black boxes tied to the head and arm by long black straps, are worn by religious men when saying the morning prayers. Because laying tefillin is a positive commandment performed at a specific time, women are exempt from it; their family duties take precedence.

Each of the tefillin contains the four passages from the Torah. These specific passages command Jews to bind God’s words to their arm and put them as a sign between their eyes. Each passage must be written by hand on parchment. The words must be written in order. If the sofer, the scribe, later notices he has made a mistake, he cannot go back and fix it—he must write the whole small scroll over from the beginning.

Rabbi Rav Menachem Goldberg, the sofer who made Yakov’s tefillin, explained all this to us when he came to Daniel and Aliza’s house one evening in May. Rav Menachem had already written the parchments and made the boxes to contain them. Now he was teaching us all about the tefillin as he assembled them. Daniel and Allen would do some of the work.  Because only those obligated to perform the mitzvah can participate in fabricating tefillin,  the rest of us could not help. Yakov and Moshe were too young; Aliza and I are women. Sara was disqualified on both counts.

We each received a small piece of parchment to feel and examine. One side was smooth and the other side was slightly fuzzy, like closely shaved velvet. Only the smooth side is written on.

“Tear it,” instructed Rav Menachem. Only Yakov and Moshe were successful.

The rabbi then unrolled the small piece of parchment designated for the arm tefillin. Because the four passages were written as four distinct paragraphs next to each other, this small scroll was about one inch in height and about fifteen inches long.  He then pulled out of his plastic box four smaller scrolls, folded to about one inch square. Each of these scrolls contained one of the four passages. They would go into separate compartments in the head tefillin.

Every part of the tefillin comes from an animal source. What does the sofer write with? Sara eagerly volunteered the answer. “A feather!”

Rav Menachem pulled a long feather from his tool box. Its tip had been sharpened to a point. He also pulled out a slender piece of wood, whose stained black point had been similarly sharpened. “Moses,” he explained, “used a stick of wood to write the first tefillin. Today we also have ceramic pens to write with. The important thing is the tip—it can’t come to a point like a pen. It has to be wide. The width of the line changes, depending on its direction.”

He demonstrated by writing a few letters with the quill. Without changing his grip or twisting his arm, the wide point enabled him to write letters whose vertical lines were thinner than their horizontal lines. He handed the quill to Yakov to write with. As Yakov slowly wrote, we saw that writing with a quill pen is a skill that needs to be practiced to be done well.

Tefillin shel rosh (for the head) showing the slots for the four parchments.
Tefillin shel rosh (for the head) showing the slots for the four parchments.

Rav Menachem then placed the two black tefillin boxes on the table, open so we could see the single chamber in the arm tefillin and the small four slots in the head tefillin which would hold the parchments.

Next he pulled out two large misshapen off white pieces of what looked like plastic. “This  is what the boxes are made from. Anybody know what it is?” he asked, rapping one of them on the table. It made a sound like something hitting wood.

“Wood?” I volunteered.

He shook his head. “No, every part of the tefillin comes from an animal source.”

“So there’s no such thing as vegetarian tefillin?” Aliza asked.

“No,” said Rav Menachem. He looked around the table. We all were stumped. “It’s skin, just like the parchment. But it comes from a different place on the animal. Parchment is made from thin skin. This is from the back of the neck or the cheek.” He rubbed the back of his neck up onto his skull as he spoke. “Each box is made from one piece of the leather, carefully folded.”

Now it was time to assemble the tefillin. The rabbi held the head box open so Daniel could insert the small folded parchments in their designated slots. They were a tight fit and didn’t slide in easily, but Daniel managed the job. Despite going in a bigger hole, the parchment for the arm also required a firm touch to insert.

Now it was time to sew the boxes closed. Rav Menachem held up a card around which was wrapped thin beige cord. “And this is…?” he asked.

Allen said “Gid” in Hebrew at the same time as I said “Tendon.” We were both right.

Rav Menachem picked up the head box and held the bottom and top together with a vise. He threaded a needle with the tendon and handed it to Daniel to sew. The holes in the edges of the box were predrilled, but nonetheless it was difficult to pull the needle through. Daniel had to use a small needle-nosed pliers to do the job.

“Perhaps Saba would like to help sew the tefillin?” Rav Menachem asked. 

Sewing the tefillin box
Allen sewing the tefillin box

Allen nodded, took off his glasses to see the small holes better, and finished sewing the last side of the box.

But the job wasn’t done yet. To be kosher, the box must be closed completely, which meant sewing the edges again. This time the needle went through each hole in the opposite direction so that there was an unbroken line of stitches around the entire perimeter. The second time around was more difficult because the holes already had some tendon in them. Daniel and Allen needed to use the pliers to grip the needle on almost every stitch.

The process was repeated with the box for the arm.

The last step in making tefillin is attaching the straps that bind them to the arm and the head. The arm straps are easy. The wearer simply wraps them as tightly as he needs every day.

The strap for the head has to be measured to fit the wearer’s head. After threading the strap through the slot in the head tefillin, Rav Menachem placed it in the correct spot on Yakov’s head. He then carefully measured the strap and marked it. Placing it on the table, he explained the knot as he tied it. The knot has mystical significance, because, looked at in the right way, it shows the letters of the word “Shad-dai,” one of the names of God. When Moses begged to see God’s face on Mount Sinai, God replied that no one could see His face and live. But He granted Moses the sight of His back. This knot was what Moses saw when God passed by him.

What could be done at the house was completed. Rav Menachem carefully put Yakov’s tefillin in a plastic box, which he packed in his tool box along with all his supplies. He would take it all back to his workshop in northern Shomron to do the finishing work: sealing the edges, polishing the straps, checking that everything is perfect.    

Two weeks ago Yakov wore his tefillin for the first time. By the time he is required to put them on daily, he will be able to put them on quickly and, more important, correctly.

The first time Yakov put on tefillin, his teacher checks to make sure he has done so correctly
The first time Yakov put on tefillin, his teacher checked to make sure he did so correctly. Like many religious men, Yakov will not wear a large tallit (prayer shawl) until after he marries.

These tefillin were constructed as described in the Gemara. Of course, the Gemara’s description, having been edited in 600 CE, may not have been exactly correct in all its details. When two thousand year-oldtefillin were found at Qumran, the Essene settlement near the Dead Sea, they attracted much interest and excitement. If the find was authenticated, they  were the oldest ever tefillin found. Finally, the scholars thought, we will learn how tefillin are really supposed to be made. Imagine their surprise when, after thorough examination, the tefillin were found to be almost exactly the same way as tefillin have been constructed for centuries.

Just like the ones Yakov has recently started to put on to say the morning prayers.

Touring Sha’are Hesed with the First Grade

Etrog School first grade girls in front of Agam sculpture in Sha'are Hesed, Jerusalem.
Etrog School first grade girls in front of Agam sculpture in Sha’are Hesed, Jerusalem. Marah Chanah is the one who isn’t eating a red popsicle.

This year is the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Reunification of Jerusalem. Every organization and institution in the country seems to be recognizing the event. Special tours, concerts, lectures, and conferences are being held. Those who don’t support the reunification have planned protests and threaten violence.

Last week the Etrog Public Religious Elementary School in Givat Ze’ev, attended by three of my granddaughters, held “Jerusalem Day.” The whole school came to Jerusalem. Since each child needed to have an accompanying adult, I was enlisted to be the adult for one granddaughter. The teacher gave me permission to join them at the Kotel, so I didn’t have to take a 6:30 AM bus from Jerusalem to Givat Ze’ev in order to join them for the bus trip to Jerusalem.

Taking a whole school for an outing requires excellent planning, superior organizational skills, and a large measure of good luck. Etrog was a little deficient in all three. The schedule was too tight. They were supposed  to leave the school at 7:30 “exactly.” Prayers at the Kotel would be at 8:00 “exactly.” This timing was unrealistic. Just unloading 17 buses at the Dung Gate and getting everyone through security would take half an hour. When I arrived at the Kotel Plaza, a little after 8, they had not yet arrived. I sat down and read some Psalms as I waited.

Over the next half hour clusters of children wearing bright blue Etrog School t-shirts with accompanying adults filtered through security into the plaza. Adina had claimed me as escort, so I just hugged her sisters and then followed Morah (Teacher) Chana and the rest of the first grade.

Our first stop, of course, was the bathroom. Like other public restrooms in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, it was spotlessly clean. I don’t know how the city does it, but no matter what time of day, the bathrooms are always clean and usually well stocked.

And then we went to the women’s section of the plaza.

The girls classes did not have an organized prayer service. Small clusters of girls sat together on the ground or pulled white plastic chairs into a circle to say the morning prayers. Other girls asked for paper on which to write a private message to God. They then inserted their plea into already-stuffed cracks between stones of the wall.

I intended to complete my prayers at the Kotel, but I was too distracted to give them the attention they require. I was busy keeping one eye on Adina, who is good at disappearing in a crowd, and one eye on her teacher. Morah Chana is short and thin, but I quickly learned to recognize her black vest and the comb holding her long brown hair.

After about a half hour at the Kotel, the teachers started gathering their classes to leave. Outside the Dung Gate, a long line of buses waited for us. Each class had its own bus to its assigned neighborhood, which the children had already learned about. The children would describe events that had occurred there. Yocheved and Sara went to Har Homa, the farthest southern part of the city. Yael and Danny went to Bayit veGan, just a little west of where we live. Adina and I headed for Sha’are Hesed, located between center city and the Mahane Yehuda shuk. During the bus ride, Adina took out her speech and read it twice. That was in addition to the three times she had read it before leaving home in the morning and the three times she had read it at the Kotel. Her part was three sentences long. She probably had it memorized by the time it was her turn to speak.

Our first stop, however, was the plaza in front of a theater/school complex. There  the girls ate their snacks and ran around. There were plenty of low walls and stairs—a perfect place for six-year-olds to expend some of their excessive energy.


The original 1909 gate to Sha'are Hesed.
The original 1909 gate to Sha’are Hesed.

Sha’are Hesed (Gates of Loving Kindness) was one of the early neighborhoods built outside the walls of the Jerusalem, which was still dangerous and unsettled. At the time, new neighborhoods were built so the walls of the  houses formed a wall around them. A gate was closed and locked at night for security, to protect residents from bandits as well as from wild animals. The original 1909 gate to Sha’are Hesed still stands, even though it is no longer closed at night.

After Morah Chanah said a few words, the first girl read her piece. I was only a few feet away but barely heard her. That didn’t matter. I wasn’t on this tour to learn about Jerusalem; I was there to spend time with my granddaughter.

Sha’are Hesed was built as a neighborhood for religious Jews, and remains so today. We passed many small synagogues and yeshivot as we walked, winding our way past as many significant sights as possible. The teacher pointed out the former home of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, one of the great Rabbis of the last generation.

One of the girls read a famous story about Rabbi Auerbach. A student asked for permission to take a few days off to go to the Galil to pray at the graves of Tzaddikim, holy ones. Rabbi Auerbach replied that whenever he wanted to pray at the grave of a Tzaddik, he took the bus to the military cemetery at Har Herzl, about twenty minutes away. All the people buried there died fighting for our holy land—they are all Tzaddikim.

On the wall of one synagogue is a sundial, placed there so the men would know the correct time for prayers. It was made by Moshe Shapira, who also built other sundials in Jerusalem. This sundial, however, is only correct until around noon because of the angle of the wall.

Now it was Adina’s turn to speak. She must be shy in class, because her teacher asked if she really wanted to read. Adina hadn’t practiced her part all morning to be skipped over.

Adina reads about Moshe Shapira under a sundial he constructed.
Adina reads about Moshe Shapira under a sundial he constructed.

She nodded yes, and then, standing next to Morah Chana, and without looking up at the rest of us, she read about Moshe Shapira the clock maker, in a loud clear voice.

“Kol hakavod!” said the father standing next to me.

“You read that so beautifully!” I said to her. She smiled at us.

Two blocks later we stopped at a makollet and all the girls got popsicles. We then walked to the nearby Wolfson Towers, five buildings, 14 to 17 stories high. The buildings unfortunately block the view of the Knesset and the Valley of the Cross that residents of Sha’are Hesed had enjoyed before the towers were built.

Because of the steepness of the hill, the entrance to building at the end of KKL street is on its seventh story. The roof of the sixth floor meets the street in a large plaza which features a pool and Beating Heart, a sculpture by Yaacov Agam. The girls sat by the pool to finish their popsicles.

By now it was noon, the scheduled end of the trip to Jerusalem. At this point, Danny was still wandering around Bayit veGan with the third grade, and Sara was stuck in Har Homa with the fifth grade. Since a six year old could not be left at the school by herself, I told the teacher I would accompany her. Several parents objected. I had apparently already done more than a Savta’s duty by touring Jerusalem with them. One of the fathers insisted he could take Adina to his house to play with his daughter until Sara or Danny returned.

So I walked back up the hill to one of my regular bus stops. Later in the day Sara reported that Adina, normally a perpetual motion machine, was passed out on the couch.

While I learned about Sha’are Hesed with the first grade, I also know that I did not see or learn enough about the neighborhood. I plan to go back to see it all again.

Parc Adoulam Not Yet Open

Shulie Mishkin next to Roman milestone at Parc Adulam
Shulie Mishkin next to Roman milestone at Parc Adulam

We were on a tour related to the Bar Kochba revolt. On Route 38, southwest of Jerusalem, Shulie Mishkin asked the bus driver to stop by the side of the road. She wanted us to see three Roman milestones. Route 38 follows the route of an important two thousand year old commercial Roman road. She stressed the milestones were not in their original locations; they had been put in this spot so tourists would be able to find them easily.

 However, we didn’t see milestones. All we saw were two small skinny saplings and three holes in the ground. The milestones had been dug up since the last rainstorm.

Milestones are very heavy, being about three to five feet high and two feet across. Why would anyone go to the trouble of digging up three of them?

Someone with sharper eyes than mine pointed to a park across the road. ”Doesn’t it look like there are stones over there?” she asked.

Shulie agreed; it would be worth checking what was across the road. . She had the bus driver take us up the road and then talked some workers into opening a gate to let the bus enter..

Which is how our group from Pardes ended up visiting the new archeological park near Beit Shemesh—a park so new, it has not opened yet.

Parc du France Adoulam stretches for several kilometers, and the new archeological park is a small part of it. The three Roman milestones were just moved here two weeks ago, the man in charge explained. Now they stand proudly on the edge of the parking lot.

The park was still in the construction stage. Unconnected pipes lay on the ground, signs leaned against the buildings, construction trucks were parked in random places. Yet much of it is completed. Many artifacts are arranged in a display area, with explanatory signs in the standard three languages. Several stacks of white plastic chairs stood in the open pavilion on the other side of the parking lot. And a dedicatory grove had been planted, with stone monoliths among the young trees.

The display area behind the milestones attracted my attention. Some stone artifacts found in the area were installed to show how they had been used two thousand years ago. A long wooden beam ran through a heavy stone wheel which sat in a round stone base. In early winter, olives would

A beit bad--ancient olive press--that has been reconstructed from the original stones at Parc Adoulam in Israel
A beit bad–ancient olive press–that has been reconstructed from the original stones at Parc Adoulam in Israel

have been poured onto the base stone to be crushed for oil. As Mort Rosenblum explains in his book Olives, most of the oil is in the seeds of the olives, not in the fruits. That is why such heavy stones are used to crush them. The mashed olives would then be spread on woven mats and taken to the beit bad, the press which would squeeze all the oil out of the mash, just as it is at small presses today. I recognized the olive press at once. The long heavy beam on its fulcrum could have been attached that way only in order to exert heavy pressure on the crushed olives. As part of the reconstruction, the park management had even stacked some mats in the press.

As I walked around to snap a picture of it, I saw a different style olive press. This second one used a large wooden screw to press the oil out of the crushed olives.

The gat--ancient wine press--which was discovered built into the ground at the KKL/JNF Parc Adoulam
The gat–ancient wine press–which was discovered built into the ground at the KKL/JNF Parc Adoulam

A grape press is different. Grapes are so tender when ripe, the juice runs out if you simply put a few clusters of them in a pile. The four foot square stone gat or wine press, just beyond the olive presses, clearly reflects the difference between grapes and olives. Its sides are a few inches high, and in two places carved channels would have allowed the grape juice to run out of the pressing area into the deep stone pits on one end.

Shulie explained the role of milestones in the Roman Empire. But first she apologized to us for not knowing where the stones were. They had been moved from next to the road to the park only two weeks ago. Indeed, one of the milestones had several small pieces of wood holding it in place on its base as the cement finished drying.

Roads held the Roman Empire together, Shulie explained. The Romans built good roads wherever they went, roads being necessary for communication as well as for travel and commerce. With good roads, they could quickly move troops wherever they needed them. A good network of roads also requires signs to make sure travelers know exactly where they are and how far they have yet to travel.

Thus, milestones.

The stones are inscribed with the distance a specific spot in to the nearest city, as measured in Roman mil. A mil was 1,000 standard paces, 0.92 of today’s miles. This part of the inscription was in Greek, the lingua franca of the time. To make sure everyone who passed by understands who was responsible for the road, the name of the Caesar was inscribed in Latin. In addition to his name, the Caesar might be described in terms of one of his major accomplishments. The inscription on the milestone we saw at Parc Adoulam described the Caesar as “conqueror of the Arabs.”

After admiring the milestones we wandered around the park to see what else was there. Several picnic tables stood in a grove of trees closer to the entrance. It would be a lovely place to bring the family for an outing, to eat lunch in a shady place and learn about the production of wine and olive oil.

Several of us walked in the other direction, toward a plaza, with what looked like a fountain in the middle. As we approached, we saw it is not a fountain but a large colorful abstract painting on a round platform, elevated about two feet. In three spots, blue paint extended from the multi-colored central design to the edge. The shape of the central design looked vaguely familiar. And then it hit me. “It’s a map of France!” I said.

But I couldn’t figure out its orientation.

 “That’s north,” said a young man in our group, orienting us. pointing at one side of the map. And pointing to an island on the other side, he added, “and that’s Corsica.”

Of course. Parc du France, map of France.

The stone monoliths in the grove ringed the map, giving it a semblance to Stonehenge. There was a small hill in the middle, which blocked sight lines across the grove. I wondered if the hill had been built there to disrupt the likeness to Stonehenge and its accompanying aura of idol worship.

The monoliths held the dedication plaques. This is a Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (KKL, Jewish National Fund) park, and the KKL, like the Roman emperors, wants everyone to know who constructed it. The plaques were in only two languages: Hebrew and French. Although the monoliths were were all the same size, the size of the dedications varied, no doubt reflecting the size of donations.

I walked around, reading the inscriptions on the plaques. Although I did not recognize any of the names, I knew the feeling, the need to publicly recognize beloved parents and grandparents no longer among the living.

Plaque dedicated to the memory of French victims of terror
Plaque dedicated to the memory of French victims of terror

The plaque next to the path closest to the entry to the grove brought me up short. The language was stark. It was dedicated to “the Memory of THOSE WHO WERE MURDERED IN ACTS OF TERROR ON ROSH CHODESH KISLEV 5776 in PARIS.”

I stood there a moment reflecting. Other plaques had been dedicated to the memory of loved ones who died at the hands of the Nazis during the Shoah. But this plaque, memorializing people killed so recently had a sharper impact. It brought to mind the line in the Passover Hagadah, “In every generation, One rises up to destroy us.” The reminder seemed antithetical to the purpose of a lovely park, but in Israel, surrounded by countries that seek to destroy us, it is a fact we cannot forget.

Jerusalem’s Hauma Station in Progress


Architect's depiction of the Jerusalem station for Tel Aviv-Jerusalem fast rail
Architect’s depiction of the Hauma Station in Jerusalem, for Tel Aviv-Jerusalem fast rail

For the last five years, we have watched the new high speed railway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem being constructed. Major sections of it in the Mountains of Judea are visible from Road 1, the major highway between the two biggest cities in the country. From one week to the next we’ve witnessed bridges gradually working their way over valleys and seen evidence of the tunnels being bored through mountains.

When the high speed rail line is finished, in 2018, the trip between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem will be 26 minutes long. Today the journey takes about an hour and a half by car, if you are lucky. With the train, people will be able to live in one city and work in the other, without sitting forever in traffic jams.

We’ve also watched the new train station being constructed. It will be called Hauma Station, because it is located across the street from Binyanei HaUma, the International Convention Center. The sheet metal wall around the building site has kept us from monitoring its progress closely. Additionally, most of the station building will be underground, so even without the temporary wall , we wouldn’t be able to observe the construction process.

In late September, however, the secrecy was broken during Open House Jerusalem. Someone, perhaps in the Ministry of Transportation or perhaps in the contractor’s office, decided that the new train station would be open for public tours. Like all the other events during the Open House, tours of the uncompleted building were free. We just  had to register in advance. 

The tours were led by workers at the site, wearing their bright yellow work vests. 

Shimshon, our guide to the train station
Shimshon, our guide to the train station

Our guide, Shimshon, a project manager proudly stated that the project is being brought in on budget, at seven billion NIS. The Hauma station is now estimated to be completed by Pesach 2018. However, like most Israelis, I am skeptical as to whether or not it will be completed on schedule. After all, the original estimated completion date was 2008.

Constructing this rail line, the largest and most challenging building project in the country’s history, has required solving many problems in innovative ways. For example, to allow animals living in the Jerusalem Forest to cross the tracks safely, several wide “green bridges” are being built over the tracks. Teams of civil engineers, consulting with geographers and geologists were able to work through many issues. But they also faced issues unique to building in the Holy Land, and needed to consult with archeologists and Rabbis. And, obviously, environmentalists had their say as well.

One major design problem was the change in elevation. Tel Aviv is at sea level, while Jerusalem is 786 meters (2578 feet) above sea level. The rise is almost imperceptible for the first half of the trip, The halfway point is only 103 meters above sea level. However, the terrain from here to the Jerusalem terminus does not permit a uniform grade

In some places the grade is too steep for a fast train. In others, the tracks would have to follow sharp curves around the sides of the mountains, which is not acceptable from an engineering standpoint. The route problem was solved by using tunnels and bridges. From Modi’in, in the foothills of the Judean Mountains, to Jerusalem, in the heart of range, the trains will never travel on the earth’s surface.

Additionally, they decided to place the train platforms in the Jerusalem station far underground– 80 meters (262 feet) below street level. It will be one of the five deepest train stations in the world.

Shimshon easily recited numbers and statistics. The railroad line goes through five tunnels totaling 37 km, including the longest tunnel in Israel, 11.6 km (7.2 miles). It also crosses ten bridges, totaling 6 km., including the highest bridge in the country, over the Yitlah Stream. You can see it from Road 1. It is scary high, 97 meters (318 feet). When I ride the train, I may decide to bury my head in a book when crossing that bridge.

Most of the escalators are not completed yet,but this one was actually working
Most of the escalators are not completed yet,but this one was actually working

Most passengers will travel between the station entrance to the train platform on an escalator. An escalator that descends 80 meters is too frightening for most people, Shimshon said. I silently agreed with him. The escalator in the Dupont Circle metro station in Washington D. C. is 57 meters long, and it scared me. Passengers here will therefore travel on a series of three escalators, each 40 meters long, transiting one level each. After we had viewed the train platform, we ascended on an escalator. It was about as long as I care to travel on a moving stairway.

Small children, travelers with heavy luggage, and people using wheelchairs need a different way to move between levels. So the escalators will be supplemented by elevators with a capacity of 33 people. These will whisk passengers down from the entrance to the platform in about 20 seconds. Although the elevators travel at a high speed, the ride is designed so there is no sensation of speed. Indeed, when we rode the elevator down, I could barely feel it stop or start. The doors closed, and a few seconds later they opened dozens of meters below the starting point.

The station tunnels can be used as bomb shelters for 5000 people.
The Hauma station tunnels can be used as bomb shelters for 5000 people.

The lowest level we went to was the one above the train platforms. Shimshon pointed out a large rectangular sliding door at the entrance to a tunnel. “You see that door?” he asked. Doors like those are on all the tunnels. The Hauma station will be the largest public bomb shelter in the country—it can hold five thousand people. There are arrangements for air and water. All services are under the control of Homeland Security.

Two piers in the middle of the open area rise above the roof. They contain ventilators that bring fresh air in. If there is a fire, they automatically increase the air flow to remove the smoke.

One of the men in our small group asked, “What about earthquakes?”

Shimshon laughed.”Here you are inside the earth itself!”

I’m not sure he realized that was what we were all worried about—being trapped inside the quivering shaking earth during a temblor.

He went on, “The walls are half a meter of concrete. You are protected.”

He’s an engineer. He should know. I just hope I won’t be down there when the “big one” hits.

We walked to the end of the level. Whereas upstairs some of the walls were finished, covered with ceramic or glass tile, on this level all was still dark gray concrete. We looked over a chest-high wall topped by a railing at the train platforms below. They seemed far below us. Shimshon started spouting numbers again. “Those are two platforms. Beyond that wall,” he pointed to our right, ”are two more platforms, the same. There will be a train every 15 minutes. Each train can bring a thousand people. The escalators will run only one direction, timed to train arrivals to take people up from the platforms. Trains will make two stops—Ben Gurion airport and the Haganah Station in Tel Aviv. Behind you, will be a shuttle to Modi’in, also every 15 minutes.”

The whole building was very impressive. I’m sure when it is completed, with shiny tile walls and floors instead of concrete covered with heavy protective paper or construction debris, it will be even more impressive.

I, and probably most other Israelis, hope the estimated opening date is accurate. And we look forward to a quiet half hour trip to Tel Aviv at that time.

Rosh HaShanah: Counting Guests

Symbolic foods for Rosh HaShanah Photo by Susie Lubell via Flickr Creative Commons
Symbolic foods for Rosh HaShanah: apples, honey, carrots, beets, pomegranate, leeks, dates, head (usually fish or sheep head, here head of cabbage) Photo by Susie Lubell via Flickr Creative Commons

I once read about a tribe somewhere on an island in the Pacific, or maybe it was in Africa, that had such a primitive culture that they counted “one, two, many.” I felt like I had suddenly joined them on Rosh HaShanah this year.

As on almost every Shabbat that we are home, we invite some of the students at Machon Meir to have a meal with us. Sometimes, Allen (known to them by his Hebrew name Baruch) says to someone in his Gemara class, “If you don’t have other plans, would you like to join us for dinner Erev Shabbat?”

Most weeks the invitations are second hand. Baruch tells the madrich  (dorm counselor) that we have room for two or four guests, and the madrich sends us students who have signed that week’s “Hospitality Needed” list.

Almost every week we also end up with last minute guests. Somebody forgot to sign the list, or suddenly couldn’t face a noisy dinner with a hundred other students, eating institutional food and singing Shabbat songs through the meal. Sometimes a young man, still unfamiliar with our Jerusalem neighborhood, forgets where his host for the evening lives. Or perhaps he was supposed to meet his host at evening services, and the host didn’t show.  


Baruch returns from synagogue bringing an unexpected guest or two.

I’ve learned to cope with it. I cook generously for Shabbat. We always have what to feed hungry students. We have plenty of chairs—we have a stack of plastic chairs we bought to use outside in the Succah. The problem can be finding room at the table. Which brings me back to Rosh HaShanah.

I thought I knew how many guests I was feeding at each meal. I had made menus and cooked, complaining about the lack of a big freezer as I did so. Back in the US, I cooked during the summer for the holidays. By the end of August, the freezer was filled with gallons of chicken soup and vegetable soup, lasagne and chicken casseroles, apple and peach pies, and pumpkin, chocolate chip, and chocolate cakes. Maybe I’d made some round challahs, studded with raisins, for the holidays and frozen them as well.

But my Israeli top-of-the-refrigerator freezer won’t hold all that. So I started cooking the week before Rosh HaShanah. After squeezing the chocolate chip cakes in, I could barely close the freezer door. To accommodate liters of chicken soup, I moved two chickens and the brisket into the refrigerator, where they could defrost slowly before being cooked. The lasagne would stay in the refrigerator from Thursday until Tuesday. Friday morning and Sunday then became marathon days of cooking and cleaning.

By candle lighting time, I was ready for Rosh Hashanah. I walked to our son’s house for dinner. I felt secure in the knowledge that all I would have to do on Monday and Tuesday would be to warm up the main courses and chop some parsley to add to a salad.

And that’s where it all began to go crazy. I had planned a dairy meal for lunch on the second day of the festival. Four meat meals in three days is too heavy for me, so I prefer to have at least one dairy meal. The second day Daniel and Aliza were coming for lunch, and I knew they like lasagna. Except, as Aliza reminded me, two of the children don’t eat lasagna and would probably refuse to even taste the corn pudding. Rather than serve them plain pasta for the festive meal, I mentally changed the menu to pot roast and chicken. There were sure to be enough of both left over from the previous two meals

Baruch set the table for eight people for lunch before he left for synagogue Monday morning. The pot roast had cooked on the plata (warming tray) all night; when I got home I put the cooked potatoes and salmon on the plata to warm up.

Since none of our guests from the Yeshiva had ever been here before, Baruch stopped there before coming home. Although most of the students were new this year, they were not strangers. I had met them all during the English department’s Shabbaton in Tekoa, just two days earlier. One of the expected young men was a no-show, so I quickly removed one place setting from the table.

Monday evening everyone arrived at once. It seemed like a large crowd. By the time Baruch came in, at the end of the line, I didn’t need him to tell me we had three extra guests. That made eleven people to fit around our table, a table made to seat eight people comfortably when the extra leaf is in place, and ten if they don’t mind a little crowding.

 While Baruch, with the help of several guests, added three place settings and chairs to the table, the sister of one of the students came into the kitchen to help me. She is spending this year working as an intern at a high-tech company in Tel Aviv, and had stayed overnight with us during the summer. That weekend, as now, she helped with last minute preparations for the meal. While she washed three wine glasses, I put six or seven chicken schnitzels on the plata,  and got the salads out of the refrigerator.

I moved the symbolic foods for the holiday to the table: apples, to dip in honey so we have a sweet year and pomegranate, so our merits increase to the number of seeds in a pomegranate. Some of the foods are eaten because their Hebrew or Yiddish name lends itself to a fortuitous play on words. Thus, we also eat carrots and black-eyed peas to increase our merits, beets so our enemies will be removed, dates so that our enemies will come to their ends, and pumpkin or another gourd so that decrees against us will be torn up.

Everybody had enough to eat. If Rosh HaShanah is a sign for the rest of the year, this was going to be a year of good food and stimulating conversations with good friends.

Lunch the second day was Daniel, Aliza, and their four children. Two friends our age also came from the Yeshiva, one of whom was expected. But we had enough leftover pot roast and roast chicken, plus another package of store-bought chicken schnitzel for the main courses, enough salads, and enough cake and apple pie for dessert to make sure no one went away hungry.

Later I reflected on  the holiday. We served meals to 22 guests, plus Baruch and me at each meal. Five states and eight different countries–Switzerland, Poland, Germany, India, Namibia, South Africa, the US, and Israel (native born)– were represented at the table. We all spoke English, with an occasional smattering of Hebrew thrown in for good measure.

Thank G-d for the stores that sell disposable dishes and flatware. If not for them, I’d have spent half the holiday washing dishes and silver. As it was, I had to wash all our silver kiddush cups, the wine glasses, and every serving spoon, bowl, and plaltter that we own, twice. 

Hachnasat orchim, hospitality to guests, is considered an important mitzvah. In the morning prayers every day, we include this in the list of mitzvot whose “fruits a person enjoys in this world but whose principal remains intact for him in the World to Come.” We have been in the habit of inviting friends, Yeshiva students, and Birthright participants to fulfill the mitzva. And it’s always fun to see what we have in common with people from all over the world, and to learn how people manage in places where there are few Jews.

Of course, I’m not the only one who cooks for an unknown number of people on Shabbat and holidays. I was discussing the situation last week with Ruth, who lives in the Old City. Her late husband frequently brought tourists who were at the Kotel home for Shabbat dinner, so she was always prepared for extra guests. She said, “But of course, you always know in advance the number of people who will be at your table—many!”

So I’m not the only woman in Jerusalem who counts, ”one, two, many!”

Earth Shaking Events–Literally

IsraAID search and rescue team at work in Katmandu in wake of 2015 earthquake photo: IsraAID/Mickey Noam-Alon
IsraAID search and rescue team at work in Katmandu in wake of 2015 earthquake photo: IsraAID/Mickey Noam-Alon

The first foreign aid to reach the site of the earthquake in Italy last week was an Israeli team of relief workers. Within two days of the tremors, IsraAID volunteer search and rescue teams were busy looking for trapped survivors and casualties. Other members of the team set up shelters and a feeding station.

You might think it is no big deal. Italy is just a two hour flight from Ben Gurion airport. A quick international flight and then a slow ride up to the a spot close to the epicenter. Of course, the closer they got to where they were needed, the worse the roads. Some roads probably were totally destroyed. Still, the disaster was in Israel’s neighborhood.

Sending aid to places hit by serious disasters is part of the Israeli culture. If local disaster relief services are overwhelmed, or likely to be overwhelmed, Israel will be there. Quickly.

After an earthquake rocked Haiti in 2010, Israel sent two large airplanes of medical supplies and personnel. Within two days of the temblor, Israeli doctors were performing complex surgery in a state-of-the-art operating room in the military field hospital they had set up. A Zaka search and rescue team worked with Haitian teams to find trapped survivors while they were still alive. By the time they left Haiti, the Israelis had treated more 1100 patients. This included performing 319 successful surgeries, and delivering 16 babies. The first baby born there was named Israel by his grateful parents.

Israel’s response to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan was similar. Members of the IDF medical corps and the Homefront Command set up and operated a field hospital. ,The hospital included maternity and pediatrics wards, ICU, medical laboratory, and pharmacy. Volunteers from IsraAID and Zaka performed search and rescue operations. Israel even sent water experts to assist in rebuilding destroyed infrastructure.

One of the reasons Israel responds so quickly, with such advanced support, is that its emergency response teams are always training and always on alert. As in the US, simulated emergency drills are regularly held. These may involve just one institution, such as a school, or they may be nation-wide. A simulation drill can teach you what to do and where to go, but often it is not taken seriously. Everyone knows it’s not for real.

However, when you send a group out to an unknown place to deal with unknown injuries and dangers, there is an additional layer of anxiety. Putting a splint on an uninjured child’s leg in an intact school hallway is one thing. Putting that splint on the broken leg of a dirty terrified child in a pile of rubble which yesterday was his school is very different. People’s lives, including your own, are at stake.

Israel understands on a fundamental level the importance of constantly training and using emergency skills. We sit on one of the most active faults in the world; we know that a disastrous earthquake is coming. It may be tomorrow, it may be next year, it may in 200 years. The rock under our feet will shift. Geologists monitoring the Syrian/African rift say that Israel experiences around 300 tremors every year. Most of them are too weak to be felt. However, about every 90 years, a severe upheaval occurs. We’re about due.

Remains of the Winter Palace Hotel in Jericho after devastating 1927 earthquake Photo: Matson Collection, US Library of Congress
Remains of the Winter Palace Hotel in Jericho after devastating 1927 earthquake Photo: Matson Collection, US Library of Congress

The last big earthquake to hit the country, measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale, was in 1927 north of the Dead Sea. It destroyed numerous buildings throughout the country and caused many deaths. I’ve seen estimates as low as 192 casualties and as high as 900—no one seems to know for sure. That is out of a total population of less than 800,000.


The 1927 earthquake also caused much damage in Jericho, Nablus, Tiberius, and Jerusalem. Rebuilding and repairs were undertaken fairly quickly, except in the Church of Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Six major Christian groups had jurisdiction over holy sites within the church. Turf wars among them delayed repairs to some areas for more than thirty years.

When we bought home insurance just after our aliyah, I told the agent we wanted earthquake insurance. “That’s included in the coverage,” he told us. “It’s required. If you don’t want it, you have to sign a special form.”

He seemed happy he would not have to explain the need for earthquake coverage to one of his clients that day.

But I sometimes do need to explain. When we have guests and the talk turns to natural disasters, someone might say something about us not having to worry about earthquakes. Knowing the seismic history of the country, I have to control my urge to laugh. Instead, I mention some of the more famous quakes in our history.

We have reports and evidence of numerous major earthquakes. Some scholars say that an earthquake was responsible for the stoppage of the flow of the Jordan River when Joshua led the Tribes of Israel into the Land of Canaan. The Jordan River has been blocked by other earthquakes. Following  an earthquake in 1546, the Jordan stopped for  up to three days. The contemporary reports sound like the Bible’s description of what happened more than three thousand years earlier.

Josephus reported that an earthquake in 31 BCE caused serious damage and killed 30,000 people “and many animals.” The tremors affected an area in the Galilee south through Judea. He mentions Jericho, Qumran, and Masada.

An earthquake in Beit S749 CE destroyed Beit Shean and Capernaum  and damaged cities as far apart as Jerusalem and Tiberius. Additionally, this quake produced a tsunami in the Mediterranean and large waves in the Dead Sea.

Tsfat (Safed) seems to be especially vulnerable to earthquake damage. Although the city itself dates to ancient times,  almost no building there is more than two hundred years old. The 7.0 Richter Scale temblor in 1837 devastated the city and caused 4,000 deaths. Less than twenty years later, another quake destroyed Tiberius, only twelve miles away.

Every time there is a bad earthquake anywhere in the world, our newspapers remind us of our own vulnerability. Although there are earthquake-proofing requirements in the building codes, the codes are much newer than many of our buildings. And we always wonder—how strictly did the builder adhere to the requirements? Did he take shortcuts that are unnoticeable until the building collapses under the stress of a shift in the nearest fault line?

From a contractor's publicity explaining Tama 38 (MyKablan)
From a contractor’s publicity explaining Tama 38 (MyKablan)

A government program gives a financial incentive for strengthening older buildings to make them better able to withstand  earthquake damage. Under “Tama 38″contractors strengthen the buildings. Additionally, they add safe rooms and install elevators. They perform all the work at no cost to the apartment owners. Instead of payment, the contractors are given the right to build two or three additional floors on the building. They can then sell the new apartments, thus making a profit on the work. So far, only a few thousand buildings have participated in the program.

Children practice earthquake drills in school almost as often as we had school fire drills growing up in the US. Some public buildings post notices of what to do in case of an earthquake, usually right next to the notices of what to do in case of rocket attack. Many of the rules differ, of course. In an earthquake you  go to an open area outside, during a rocket attack you go to an underground shelter. But one guideline is the same in both instances—get as far away from glass windows as you can.

So we sit here on the Syrian/African  rift, waiting for the “Big One” to literally rock our world. We hope that when it does come, the epicenter will be in the desert. There, it will cause almost no damage, and be noticed by only a few gazelles and maybe some hikers.

Photo ,complete Bibliographic information:
American Colony . Photo Dept, photographer. (1927) Palestine events. The earthquake of July 11, 1927. Wreckage of the Winter Palace Hotel, Jericho. A complete collapse. July. [Image] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/mpc2004004967/PP/.