Tag Archives: Daily life

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/.


Golan Synagogue: Majduliya

Archaeologist Michael Osband explains his findings at Majduliya in the Golan
Archaeologist Michael Osband explains his findings at Majduliya in the Golan

About thirty-five of us followed the archaeologist down a dirt track across the high plain of the Golan. In every direction, all we saw were dried yellow grasses and an occasional purple thorn flower. Here and there, a black basalt rock stuck up through the vegetation. In the distance, off to the northwest, the faint blue gray mountains reached up into the bright blue sky.

Mechael Osband PhD, the archeologist who had discovered this site, reached the seven wire cow fence. He opened the gate by lifting one post and peeling the wire back to let us through, asking one of the men in our group to close it after everyone had walked through. He was not about to let any cow wander through his site.

From a short distance you can't tell that this is the site of an ancient Golan synagogue
From a short distance you can’t tell that this is the site of an ancient synagogue in the Golan. Sign reads: Danger. Entrance forbidden. Archaeological excavation.

My class on the development of prayer and the synagogue carefully walked down the track. Neither Mechael (pronounced Mee-chah-el) nor Shulie Mishkin, our guide, felt the need to make sure we didn’t wander off on our own; the thorns on either side of the path were too numerous. They grabbed at our skirts and slacks. My classmates wearing sandals complained that they should have worn sneakers.

We passed through another gate in a wire fence, all but invisible a few feet away, and saw black earth, some black rocks, and lines of white sandbags. This was Majduliya, Mechael’s first archeological dig of his own, one he had discovered about a year and a half ago during his post-doctoral research. He was now preparing for the new season.

This part of the Golan was known as an area of Jewish settlement in Second Temple times. Not far from Majduliya are the remains of Gamla, a Jewish stronghold during the Great Revolt, which was captured and destroyed by the Romans in 68 C.E. Many other towns in the Golan are mentioned in the Talmud.

Thus, it has long been of interest to archaeologists. Gottlieb Schumacher, the German-American engineer who surveyed the route for the Damascus-Haifa railway and excavated at Megiddo, came by here in the late 19th century. In his survey of the Golan plateau, he mentioned Majduliya, saying that its original name is not known. He did find four ancient olive presses, but the area was already known to be an olive growing area. He concluded that there was “nothing of interest here.” Little did he know.

Mechael discovered the site while conducting a survey of Roman pottery in the Golan. A pool of water in the middle of the field attracted his attention. Then he found something man made, some dressed stones in a row—a portion of a wall. Inside wall or outside wall? That was yet to be determined.

When you find a wall, he told us, the first thing you want to do is find a corner. That will tell you the orientation of the building. Starting from the corner, you can then look for other corners and determine the size of the structure in question. Before he walked over to the first corner, he pointed out indentations in two stones, evidence that two doors had led into the structure.

He walked along the northern wall over to the eastern corner, pointing out benches built into all four walls. From the size of the building— about 50 by 75 feet—and the presence of the benches, he determined that this was obviously some type of public building. But he still needed to determine the ethnicity of the village in which it was found.

The presence of a mikveh is the generally accepted sign of a Jewish town. In most of the places where synagogues have been found, at least one mikveh has been found nearby. But almost no mikvaot have been found in the Golan. This site isn’t completely excavated yet, so the lack of a mikveh is not significant. However, the excavators also look for artifacts that are associated solely with Jewish habitation—stone vessels.

The Jews in earlier periods observed laws of ritual purity and impurity strictly. The advantage of vessels, such as cups and bowls, made of stone is that stone cannot contract impurity. The presence of stone vessels means that Jews lived in the area. Although stone vessels have been found at other sites in the Golan, none have been found yet at Majduliya. Finding them would show the archaeologists that this was a Jewish village, so they will continue to look for stone cups and dishes this season. Finding such vessels will confirm that building must have been a synagogue because the only large buildings found in Jewish villages of the Roman period were synagogues.

But more evidence was waiting to be discovered.

He turned the corner and walked along the southern wall of the building, the wall closest to Jerusalem, the direction of Jewish prayer. About halfway along its length, he knelt down, and leaning over, moved a few sandbags. “These things were found in the last week.”

During the month-long active archaeological season in midsummer, dozens of students and other volunteers will be busy here. They will carefully dig with small shovels and clear away soil and debris with brushes. But now, four weeks before the volunteers arrive, Mechael is the only one at the site. He’s getting ready for the busy time. Nonetheless, the lure of possible discovery is too strong. It may not be the season yet, but as he examines the site to see what has changed during the rainy winter, he is not averse to uncovering something that looks promising. Which is what he did on this southern side of the building.

As he hunched over, he pointed out that the area he was leaning over was lower than the rest of the building. A lower area on the side closest to Jerusalem is typical of synagogue architecture of the Roman period.

The sandbags he moved had been protecting two objects, which he now held up. They were red and looked like pottery. “Anyone know what these are?” he asked.

Most of us shook our heads. One brave person hazarded a guess. “Roof tiles?”

Mechael smiled. “These are tiles from the roof. Tiles came with the legions; they show that the synagogue was built in Roman times.”

From seeing excavations of earlier towns, I knew that roofs had been constructed either from stone beams or wood and mud. When the Romans ruled the land, they needed to provide year-round work for the soldiers. In the winter, the cold rainy period when fighting ceased, the legions were put to work making tiles. When digging the foundation for the Binyanei HaUma, the international convention center in Jerusalem, builders had discovered the Tenth Legion’s tile factory.

Carefully placing the roof tiles on the ground, Mechael moved two more sandbags and lifted the corner of a rubber mat. He peeled it back, and then brushed some of the dirt from the surface. Small white spots appeared through

When the black earth was removed, some white mosaic tiles were found.
When the black earth was removed, some white mosaic tiles were found.

the black dirt. He brushed some more dirt away and sat back on his heels, a pleased expression on his face.

The white spots looked to be the size of the small tiles used to make mosaics. And indeed that is what they are. Most Roman period synagogues found so far have mosaic floors, and Mechael believes he has found one here as well. Only time, and painstaking removal of the dirt covering the floor, will confirm his belief, or tell him he jumped to an erroneous conclusion based on too little evidence.

As he discussed the possibility that he has found a mosaic floor, he mentioned that finding it cleared up another mystery. Now that it is summer, the whole area is dry, but when he first saw this field in the winter, a pool of water filled this area. “Of course,” he said, as if the idea had just then occurred to him. “There’s no drainage here–there’s a floor under it!”

A small village once stood here, with a synagogue near its edge. The whole site is about seven and a half acres, and only a small part of it has been excavated–a few houses and the synagogue. Much work remains to be done, and will no doubt take several years to accomplish.

Mechael Osband is enthusiastic about the prospect of uncovering all of it.

Run-up to Pesach (Passover)

Advertisement for children's activities a week before Pesach: helping to make the biggest matza on record
Advertisement for children’s activities a week before Pesach: helping to make the biggest matza on record

In our old apartment, it was easy to tell Pesach (Passover) was imminent. The children in the day care across the street stopped singing about Purim and started singing parts of the Passover Haggadah. Instead of “It’s Adar, increase joy,” they sang the four questions.

But in our current apartment, there are no nearby day care facilities. So the musical cues of coming holidays are few. Although the sound of two dozen three or four year olds singing at full force isn’t exactly music.Two days ago, when I walked to the grocery store, I crossed paths with a man taking his young child home. As they walked, I could hear him helping her learn one of the four questions. As I type this, several children in the parking lot below my window are practicing the questions.

Passover is coming! Seder is Friday night.

Ad by young man looking for work cleaning for Passover
“A capable young man, known in the neighborhood, is interested in cleaning houses and courtyards” Ad posted on street

We’ve been cleaning the apartment for weeks. This year, we got smart. We hired a young man from the yeshiva to help us. He’s not some kid from the neighborhood. Although Til is from Germany, he studies full time in the English program at Machon Meir with Allen. He knows what is required in the way of Pesach cleaning, and is smart enough to follow through on instructions. Although he and Allen together moved the refrigerator and the bookcases in the salon,  he was strong enough to move the stove by himself to clean behind it. Nine hours of cleaning help from someone who knows what he’s doing makes a big difference.

Now we’re just about ready. The year-round dishes have been put in one cabinet, the pots moved to a box on the balcony, and the Passover utensils are sitting on new shelf paper in freshly cleaned cabinets. The stove is so clean, it looks new, and the inside of the refrigerator shines. Of course you can’t see that; the shelves are full of fresh vegetables for the week. The three dozen eggs I need for the holiday take up a good amount of space as well. Three dozen eggs may not sound like much for this egg-intensive holiday, but I’m not making seder. And we don’t eat sweets, so I’m not baking much either.

A month ago, around Purim time, the supermarket rearranged some displays, moving the flour and other baking supplies to where the peanut butter, jams, and condiments had been. The peanut butter and other spreads that were not strictly off limits on Passover were moved to the longer shelves where the baking supplies had been. As usual, this move drove half the customers crazy as they searched for that one last kilo of flour or package of baking powder that they will use up before the holiday. Schools are off for two weeks before the holiday and parents get desperate for activities for their children. Day camps proliferate. Many of them are run by preteen girls for neighborhood children. But Yakov and Moshe, Daniel and Aliza’s sons, are lucky; they attend a sports camp held in local park.

This is also a time when grandparents are very busy. Not only do we prepare our homes for the holiday, but we are on call for child care. This year Yocheved spent two days with us. Monday afternoon we participated in making the largest matza ever made. The activity was held at First Station, so named because it was the first Jerusalem terminus for the railroad from Jaffa. It was one of the few things built during the Ottoman period to bring the province of Southern Syria into the modern age, and opened in 1892. After many years of disuse, the station area was rehabilitated and modernized. It now houses several restaurants, stores, and amusements.

Before the actual matza baking, the children completed holiday-themed crafts projects. Yocheved colored a flat piece poster board that when folded up would be a matza box. She also decorated a bag for hiding the afikomen, the piece of matza saved for dessert at the seder.

Then it was matza baking time. One of the organizers mixed the flour and water and kneaded the dough, which he then parceled out. The children rolled out the dough and then carried it to where the big matza was being assembled. To be kosher for Passover, less than 18 minutes must elapse between pouring the water into the flour and the baking to be complete. This was not going to be a kosher-for-Passover matza. The organizers kept mixing batches of matza dough as someone else carefully pressed the small pieces of dough together.

They attached the big matza to a framework that looked like wire fencing. Another piece of metal was put on top after which they measured it: 344 centimeters, big enough to set a new record.      

Using blowtorches to cook the world's largest matza ,at First Station, Jerusalem, Israel
Using blowtorches to cook the world’s largest matza

But how do you cook a matza that is more than 11 feet across? Surely there was no nearby oven big enough. They used blow torches, of course. Two men cooked one side, and then the other side.

The matza looked all right, but we didn’t stay there to taste it. I knew none of the children had washed their hands before working with the dough and Yocheved mentioned she had seen people step on the dough as it was being assembled. Since it looked like matza, we just assumed that’s what it tasted like.

The public bulletin boards are covered with holiday related notices. Most of them are  advertisements for stores or activities. But one plain black print ad caught my attention. I have translated most of it here because I have never seen a poster like this one.

Forbidden because of fear of hametz!  

Warning against using cigarettes on Passover
Warning! Cigarettes contain hametz and are not suitable for use on Passover

Rabbi Elishav, of blessed memory:

“It is forbidden to use cigarettes without clarifying that they do not contain substances that are made from hametz.”

Rabbi Karlin:

“Using cigarettes violates the prohibition against getting pleasure from hametz during Pesach”

Rabbi Sternbuch:

“Most cigarettes are completely hametz!”

The  Rabbinical Council ofAmerica:

Philip Morris uses hametz.

Don’t smoke cigarettes during Pesach.

 I guess any reason not to smoke is a good one. I just find it a little odd that these rabbis are more worried about people violating the commandment to refrain from using hametz during this one week holiday than they are about people violating the commandment to guard their health during the rest of the year. But that opinion is just a result of my own experience taking care of critically ill people who destroyed their hearts or lungs by smoking. 

The penalty for eating Hametz on Passover is considered more severe than the penalty for not taking care of your health. I have a hard time, however, appreciating that anything can be more severe than struggling for every breath you take. 

I just hope the person in our building who smokes in the hallway sees the poster and decides not to smoke over the holiday. Then we’ll be able to keep that clean scent of freshly cleaned cabinets, floors and furniture hanging around a little longer.

Shopping at the Shuk

Profusion of colorful vegetablles for sale at Mahane Yehuda stand
The profusion of vegetables for sale at a Mahane Yehuda stand makes a colorful display

The Mahane Yehuda market, the shuk, this week is particularly appealing to a produce-lover like me. Huge perfectly white cauliflowers sit atop displays of rough dark green broccoli, shiny dark green cucumbers, dark red beets, black radishes and white ones, creamy white parsnips, orange carrots, pale green cabbages and purple ones, orangey red tomatoes, and eggplants such a shiny dark purple they look almost black. Next to the vegetable booth is a fruit seller who has on display baskets of pink strawberries, bright yellow lemons, pale yellow grapefruit, and orange oranges. Until the recent cold weather caused the skin of the citrus fruits to turn color, they were all Kelly-green.

On my way home from classes twice a week in Talpiyot, I have to change buses. I’ve developed the habit of doing so at the shuk. It’s so much fun to walk through and observe the changes through the seasons. Most produce here is grown within the country and the market is seasonal, the way it was when I was growing up. Strawberries in January? Well, if you were willing to fly to Florida, maybe. Asparagus in November? Don’t be ridiculous.

Pomegranates and melons on display at Mahane Yehuda
The pomegranates are big, the melons small, and they’re both delicious

I’m become accustomed to this seasonal cycle of produce. I no longer plan menus based on what I feel like cooking, but do so based on what is available. Three weeks ago I made an orange and olive salad for the first time in months, two weeks ago I served cauliflower, and last week I served strawberries. I’ll serve them frequently for the next few weeks, because their season is fairly short, although not as short as cherry season.

The Mahane Yehuda market is such an integral part of Jerusalem, it’s hard to remember that it is less than 150 years old. When Jerusalem started expanding beyond its walls in the late 1800s, people did not want to go all the way back to the city to shop. The Arab farmers in nearby villages realized it would be easy to bring their produce closer to these new customers. They came from Sheikh Bader, Deir Yassin, and Lifta to an open area between the Jewish settlements of Mahane Yehuda and Mazkeret Moshe. They spread blankets on the ground and displayed their wares.

That was fine in the dry season, but not in the four to six month season of cold wind and rain. The farmers started to build themselves stalls and shacks, rickety shelters with tin roofs. There was no plan.

This lack of organization disturbed the British when they took over administration of the area during the Mandate. They knew the market was vital to the character and well-being of the city. Charles Robert Ashby, the city planner, developed a design for the market with the help of an architect. Their design included sanitation, streets, running water, and a central square with a fountain, bordered by a row of trees. The British plan never came to fruition, probably because of budgetary issues.

Selling tea at Mahane Yehuda
Several shops sell their own mixtures of herbs and spices for tea

In the 1930s the British took responsibility for sanitation and street cleaning in the market. By this time the Etz Chaim Yeshiva had bought land extending south from Jaffa Road. The founders of the Yeshiva built a row of shops along its wall whose rent helped sustain the school.

The character of the market changed during the 1920s and 1930s, as Jewish merchants began to open shops. Some rented from Arabs and some bought land outright. A group of merchants convinced a local bank to extend six-year loans to those who wanted to establish permanent shops in the area. Today, if you look above the store sign at the corner of Hashaked and Mahane Yehuda Streets, you can see the plaque designating the area of 81 shops as Shuk Halva’ah V’Chisachon—Loan and Savings Market. Another permanent area of the shuk built around the same time was closer to Jaffa Road. Most of the shop owners were Iraqi Jews. Today, it is still known as Shuk HaIraqi, the Iraqi Market.

After Israeli independence, Jerusalem continued to grow, and so did the shuk. Today its two main streets extend from Jaffa Road south to Agrippas street, connected by smaller streets named for fruit and nut trees. Shops extend for two blocks on Jaffa Road as well as several blocks along Agrippas street. To the newcomer, it is a confusing mass of shops and alleys, which is no doubt why so many people offer walking tours. My friend Renee, who has been in Israel for almost twenty years, walked me up Mahane Yehuda street a few months after our aliyah. She told me about things to look for, pointing out valid kashrut certificates and certifications that appropriate tithes had been taken. Allen and I also took a tour that went through almost all the streets, while the guide explained both the history of the shuk and why she preferred certain olive, meat, spice, and produce shops. On one corner an olive merchant would sell as little as 50 grams of olives. A certain spice merchant knew the English names of spices, a skill I am still grateful for.

In the 1970s the city paved the streets and improved sanitation in the area. Additionally, it installed the first permanent roof over Mahane Yehuda street, leading people to start calling that area the “covered shuk,” as opposed to the “open shuk on the parallel Etz HaChaim street. This was later replaced by a translucent curved roof that covered many of the side streets as well. That roof, in its turn, was recently replaced by a better one.

Nuts and seeds for sale at Mahane Yehuda
Did I mention they sell a several varieties of nuts and seeds?

In some ways the shuk is what it always was. The clerks in food shops loudly try to attract customers. “Watermelons for Shabbat!” yells one, while across the narrow street, another screams out “Sweet red watermelons.” The halvah man, wearing a gilded paper crown, stands in the middle of the street in front of “The Halvah Kingdom” offering passersby a taste of coffee bean halvah. The spice shop clerks routinely give  tastes of their unique mixtures for rice and salads to anyone who stops. Shoppers pick up an olive to eat without breaking stride as they walk by. Women push baby buggies overflowing with groceries, the baby now being at school; men wear bulging backpacks with long skinny celery stalks peaking out the top. Soldiers walk through nibbling on a bourekas, a cup of coffee in one hand and a rifle on their back. Yeshiva students, in their black suits and white shirts hurry through, talking about their latest lesson as they go. And the beggars still sit at the entrances, asking for a coin or two to help pay for food for Shabbat, a kidney transplant, or to support a poor widow with eight children.

But nothing in the world remains static. Every week it seems like there is something different. The olive merchant on a corner is gone, replaced by a coffee bar. A fruit and nut stand near the entrance has replaced the spice seller who has moved halfway down the street. What the spice seller replaced is a mystery to me. Several clothing stores have opened in the covered shuk, as have two high end jewelry artisans. A new pottery cooperative sells lovely handmade dishes, cups and trays on one of the tiny short streets near Agrippas street. A couple of nice bars seem to be doing a brisk business. And now several

Fish and Chips at Mahane Yehuda
The Fish and Chips stand offers diners a place to sit outside

sit-down restaurants have opened. I hesitate to give a number, because every time I check my count, I find another one. These are in addition to the falafel stands, juice bars, and fish and chips place (yes, its sign written in Hebrew letters reads “Feesh and Cheeps”).

The shuk has a weekly rhythm. Sunday and Monday it is almost empty of shoppers but by Friday it is so crowded, you can barely squeeze through. Many tours bring visitors on Friday afternoon to get a feel for the “real Israel.” But harried storekeepers moving as fast as they can to weigh bags and make change for three different customers at the same time, no matter how fascinating to watch, are not the whole picture. Nor are the shoppers, pushing, cutting in line, and elbowing their way through to the last ripe avocado or nice melon. Friday’s pre-Shabbat frenzy of last minute shopping is only a small slice of the life of the shuk and of Israeli life. I much prefer the picture of Israel presented on Tuesday or Wednesday: the sheer variety of produce, the bright colors, the beggars who give you a blessing for health, long life, and learned children, and the storekeepers who let you taste their wares and will tell you why theis are the best.

            In the end it doesn’t really matter when you visit—the shuk is always fascinating. And stimulating to the appetite.

Map of Mahane Yehuda