boats in the harbor

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sometimes in a line, or side by side
we give the semblance of order, the hint of pride
in early summer when the weather is fine
and new paint is added, and rot cut away
lines are repaired and wood is well varnished
there are flashes of pride, and adventure before us
and the water needs only, to keep us afloat
as songs from the radio fill the air with romance
leisurely, after the work of sanding and cutting,
when relaxing on a deck chair in the long afternoon,
there might be a beer or two, or a tug at the bottle,
a wisp of smoke in the air for relaxation
as if there was nothing to do
rubbing shoulders all the while with reliance

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out here, don’t you know, we’re an adjunct of the city
we’re the homes of those who can get away
instead of green gardens and seasonal flowers
we’ve got the sea as our backyard, to bring joy to the day.
the power company provides our electric connection
the cell phone rings with cheery calls from friends
apparently well connected, all our needs supplied
dinners may be served in scenic surroundings
or eaten in privacy while we’re seated inside

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there’s some of us here, who’ll never go out to sea
they’ll find consolation in the sights and the smells,
the purr of the motors, the songs of the wind…
the groans of the swell, the roars of the waves
the wimpers of the wood, the salt in the air
and the security of being moored to the wharf
just a step from the land, tethered as always
out of harms way

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but those of us who’ll venture out…
setting sail with intention to return
but well aware that there’s no fair retreat
knowing in the depth of our souls
that life starts with the first centimeter
of release from the moorings
as we slip away from the fetters
and the garbage of idleness
putting our faith on the body of the water,
the solitude of the deep blue sea

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our trust in the stars above
even when they remain unperceived
behind clouds in the black of night.
they are there as they were
yesterday and a thousand years ago
the presence of the sea too, is constant and won’t be tamed
arm wrestling playfully, then she’ll shake, rattle and roll
till even the most practiced sailor will heave
and clench the rail with all his might
no flattery will subdue her, no love will overcome…
alone on the water, we’ll navigate our course
no promise, no assurance, no insurance will deliver us
as we rely on judgment and experience night and day

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metal will buckle and planks will decay
paint will bubble over unforgiving rust
a single mistake may never be forgiven
and a blink in the night, might never be forgotten.
there are fewer fish in the sea, and they remain unseen
and the moods that seemed casual at first
could be later acknowledged with a scream

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good times for sure, the highs intoxicate
but happiness, you know isn’t forever after
no maps or charts to guarantee the temper of mood
or the luck of a voyage between here and the horizon
the personality of the sea knows no surety
the crew relies on one another, the captain on god
and when the captain sails alone
his face etched with resolution…
is one of his eyes waiting for a nod?

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you land lovers above
have the choice, just as we do here
whether to stick with the crowd,
in an ever lasting hug
or live this life the best that you can
on your own, despite the fear

all photos from the Jaffa harbor

my kind of town

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walls of the old city and David’s Tower

In an ancient city, such as Jerusalem, a study of history leads one to an ironic perspective. Some of the finest neighborhoods of the past are overcrowded and burdened by poverty, while other neighborhoods which were once occupied by the helpless and poor now feature the most expensive housing available. In the west, this phenomenon is known as ‘gentrification’. Yesterday, while walking from Mamilla through Yemin Moshe, opposite the walls of the old city, and marveling at the beauty of the place, I couldn’t help but remember its history.

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a glimpse into the old city through one of the gates

Yemin Moshe was built as the first neighborhood outside of the walls. And in 1860, only the poor and desperate were willing to live there because it seemed exposed to danger. But the over crowding in the old city was difficult to bear, and little by little more streets and homes were built outside the walls. Today, the old city only holds a fraction of the city’s population, with most people enjoying a more comfortable life in what is now called the western part of the city.

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And those first neighborhoods, outside of the walls, which were once filled with small apartments, most of them having only 1½ rooms of living space, after having been repeatedly damaged by two wars and numerous acts of aggression by our neighbors, have since been rebuilt, and are now the most beautiful and luxurious areas of town. The poor, of course, were given minimal compensation for their property. And some of them still harbor resentment when seeing what has become of the area where they used to live.

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The Teddy Park, named after our legendary and longest reigning mayor ever, is a recent addition, hosting children during the day, and tourists in the evening and night. Slightly behind it, is the first row of houses built in this neighborhood, which was turned into guest housing in the 70s for visiting men and women of letters, artists and musicians. The environment is considered ideal for the creative process. There is also a music center there which was inaugurated by Pablo Casals.

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Within easy walking distance, one can visit a concert stadium, or the Jerusalem Cinematheque which moved to this location, close to the city walls, in the early 80s. My walk in the neighborhood yesterday concentrated on the little lanes and foot paths of the neighborhood, where cars have no access. Though overlooking the main highway which circles the walls and then continues by the Cinematheque, the inner neighborhood is very calm and quiet, decorated by a never ending assortment of attractive plant life and cultivated gardens.

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I went all the way, past the windmill erected by Moses Montefiore at the end of the 19th century in order to provide jobs and inexpensive bread to the population, and reached the Lions’ Fountain, which is in itself a public landmark. Perhaps I’ll post a number of pictures of that, one of these days, together with some thoughts about sculpture and the Jewish people. It’s an interesting subject.

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Similar homes to these can be seen in many other neighborhoods of the city, but they seem to have reached an ideal of balance and aesthetics here. For they were renovated in the last forty years, and many of the residents have a leaning towards the arts. Because space is at a premium, most of the houses are modest in size. Some of the gardens are tiny. But there is impressive scenery all around, and public gardens which serve all.

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There’s a foot bridge which stretches over the cross-town highway, from this neighborhood to the Cinematheque, and the view of the city walls and the Hinnom valley from that bridge is so impressive that I have gone there many times just to photograph the scenery. It invites panoramic photography. I’m very fond of the panoramic format, but have been reluctant to share those photos on the blog because they are far less impressive when viewed on the computer screen.

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you can see a glimpse of the windmill there in the background

Which brings to mind a tension I have felt at times, when writing my blog. If a picture is, in fact, worth a thousand words, just how many photos dare I use as illustrations between the lines of my text, without overwhelming the blog post? Some time back, I planned to link certain blog posts to collections of photos on the same subject. But that takes quite a bit of time. And because I wanted the immediacy of telling my story shortly after having lived the experience, I haven’t yet explored this possibility. For instance, if I were to provide such a link some weeks or months after publishing this blog post, it would have much less exposure than the original article. Ah, I just got an idea…

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this wonderful water fountain has been built to offer its water to everyone. for all sizes. it offers a comfortable drinking height to grownups and children. the bowl at the bottom gives drink to pets and birds as well

for the love of books

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Around this time, towards the beginning of summer, we celebrate books. It’s called book week, or the book fair. And it’s a long standing tradition here. But this year has been a little different. There’s been a lot of discussion about books and the way they’re sold for some time now. And because I’m one of many who feel a personal connection to books, I’ve been following the public discussions and debate. Books are very important in Israel. I believe there are more books published and translated from other languages here, per capita, than anywhere else in the world. And I would guess that Jerusalem houses more books than anywhere else in the country.

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When I was young and traveling abroad, I remember learning what mattered to other peoples just by noticing the proliferation of certain types of shops or stores in a particular city. There was this one town in the far west, where I saw filling stations on every street corner. Well, at the time, it was hard to find a petrol station in our town, but there was a bookstore on almost every street.

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you can still see the rails in the old train station

In recent years though, there’s been a change in the way books are sold. For one thing, instead of the many Mom & Pop bookstores, each one with a certain expertise and interest, catering to a specific customer base, we saw the rise of chain book stores. It was a bit like MacDonald’s. Steimatzky, one of the major booksellers in our city, and known for its wide collection of English language volumes, first sprouted a few offspring, in different neighborhoods of our city. Following that, they spread across the country. Then publishers started selling their books retail, setting up chains of bookstores countrywide. They would sell all kinds of books, but pushed the volumes that they’d published themselves. As the competition increased, you could hear advertisements on the radio. Books were offered to consumers in the same commercial way that they had sold us movies in the past.

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It’s commonly thought that competition improves the market place. But what started out as playful sport between people of like pursuits and tastes, eventually turned into the fierce competitive spirit of commercial giants. By the time stores were selling 4 books for a hundred shekels, people started wondering if this was really advantageous. True, books used to cost between 70 and a 100 shekels. But what if you’re only interested in buying one particular book? Of course, you can always buy one for a friend… Still, that’s only two, and you had to buy 4 to meet the provisions of the deal. In your mind you’d already reduced the price to 25 shekels… it was a nuisance. And then we started hearing what the authors of these books were earning per book.

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Needless to say that the store owners were recompensed for their trouble. And so were the publishers. But the authors couldn’t even buy a pack of cigarettes for what they got from the sale of a book. I know what you’re saying; the author should stop smoking. But I’m just bringing this up as an example.

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Last year, parliament passed a law which insured that the author would receive a decent part of the income derived from the sale of his or her books. It prohibited the bundling of new books in sales campaigns. But the results weren’t that gratifying. It turns out that during the last year, less books were sold than in previous years. And it’s harder than ever for a new writer to break into the business. Aside from that, one has to keep in mind that there are not that many people in this world who’re looking to read a good book in Hebrew. Not to speak of the fact that there’s always more reading material available on the internet. Newspapers are going out of business. We wonder… are books the next to go?

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blues for women

The book fair this year was a great celebration, despite the controversy over sales methods. All the stores and publishers set up booths in the old railroad station, and most of the books were available at discount. Local bars and restaurants set up shop on the perimeter of the fair. A big tent top was erected pretty much in the middle of the area, and all comers were invited to listen to some of our finest native talent. At seven we heard blues for women. And by nine, we were listening to a wide variety of musical offerings played by some of our favorite musicians. The sound was great. We were entertained by some really excellent local versions of blues, hard rock, psychedelic rock, folk and jazz. It was wonderful.

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In fact, it was close to what I imagine as heaven. In the old days, I used to go to nightclubs to listen to fine jazz, while eating a light repast and having a couple of drinks. But since they outlawed smoking, I just don’t enjoy it as much, and hardly go out anymore. In this fine arrangement, smoking was allowed. Because most of the places were outdoor affairs, on balconies or patios. Even the music was considered outdoors, with just the tent top to give us some protection. And here I was, surrounded by books and friends, listening to music that just swept me away, drinking beer and smoking as much as I wanted. Just like heaven, don’t you think?

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Shimon in heaven by Chana

an ecological park

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Ariel Sharon… we called him Arik, was a legend in his own lifetime. He was born in the village of Malal, here in Israel, in 1928. He became a central figure in the army when the modern state of Israel came into being, and proved himself a fearless hero and a leader of men. His father was an agronomist. He was a farmer. He had a big farm, and put a lot of work into it, but was always willing to ‘serve the people’. During the 1973 war, after we were attacked on the day of atonement, he went back to the army, though at the time he was already successfully involved in politics. He turned the tide of the war by crossing the Suez Canal and breaching the Egyptian forces on their side.

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He retired from the army with the rank of Major General. Though successful in politics and a hero too, he wasn’t liked by all. He was often involved in controversy. The first real protest movement here against government policy occurred while he was Minister of Defense. In his long career, he served as Minister of Industry and Trade, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Minister of Defense. In 2001 he was elected Prime Minister and held the office till 2006. While Prime Minister, he visited the garbage disposal site at Hiriah, near Tel Aviv, and decided to turn one of the ugliest sites in the country into a park.

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When he proposed the project, there were scoffers. But the park did come into being. Not only is it the largest park in the middle east, but its unique ecological character stands as an example to the young. The project demonstrates our ability to change a contaminated site into a place of beauty, relying completely on natural means.

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In 2005, he visited the mountain of garbage in Hiriah, just outside of Tel Aviv, where garbage had piled up for years, and suggested that the mountain be turned into a park. The original garbage pit had become a mountain of garbage. It’s still a mountain. But a pleasant one now. The emphasis is on the use of natural processes to improve the environment.

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There is a pond in middle of the park. It is the visible part of a complex underground water storage pool. A system of four more underground pools is located at the top of the mountain and these pools collect rainwater. Water overflows from the upper pools into the pond at the heart of the mountain.

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The depth of the pond varies and reaches eight feet at its deepest point. Around the pond is constructed wetland. This method helps maintain water quality by flushing the water through a system that uses both filters and water plants to purify the water. Schools of fish were also introduced to the pond to feed on mosquito larvae and other bugs, thus maintaining biological pest control. The pond is an ecological water project which serves as a natural habitat for a variety of wildlife species, including water fowl, amphibians and water insects.

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School children come to visit the park, and are given guided tours in which they learn about nature’s ways of cleaning itself, and how plants and fish and other life forms help purify the water. There are lawns and flower beds, and little rivers that cross the park making it a very pleasant place to visit. The man whose name was tied to bloody battles and fierce controversy is remembered today as a lover of nature. The park is now called the Ariel Sharon Park.

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thinking of tolerance

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A newly found blog friend of mine, Corina, posts a regular sort of weekly post, in which she says, “If we were having coffee”, and then shares what’s been happening in her life, or some ideas she’s been thinking about. Turns out there are a lot of people who post their Weekend Coffee Share as a regular feature. Last week, when I was writing about the walk along the promenade opposite the old city in Jerusalem, I mentioned the monument to tolerance, and I thought I’d use this template to discuss tolerance this week.

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The monument was built by Aleksander Gudzowaty. And he carved his thoughts on the subject into stone, next to the sculpture, in Hebrew, Arabic, and English so that everyone might think about his inspiration for building this piece. When considering publishing the photo of the shrine, I couldn’t help thinking of how such righteous messages are received on the internet. There are so many fine posts regarding improved human relations, sensitivity to our fellow man, and peace. So how is it that within most societies, we see countless examples of needless cruelty, prejudice, and unfair treatment?

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What is the true measure of tolerance? Does it mean that when working alongside of a man or woman whose skin is of a different color than ours, we should treat him or her as an equal? Well to tell you the truth, I believe that a person who judges others by the color of their skin, is so unaware or stupid, that he might be a danger to himself. When I hear jokes about dumb blondes I have to make a quick exit to get a breath of fresh air. And on the other hand, someone who insists and preaches to us that blacks deserve equal rights to whites sounds much the same as someone who gets on a podium somewhere and announces to us that the world isn’t flat. So just maybe, tolerance demands that we listen to those who declare the obvious with respect and patience.

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It might mean that one who is a vegetarian or vegan have patience with those who eat cows and chickens, insects or frogs… for if we travel around the world, we find that there are those that eat horses, and those who eat dogs and cats. Tolerance is accepting the habits and customs of those unlike ourselves… as long as they don’t attack us or murder or kidnap our children. But at what point do we put an end to tolerance? There was a museum exhibit in New York, a number of years ago. As it happened, I was visiting there at the time, and heard the controversy first hand. It seemed that an artist of some sort was granted the opportunity to exhibit a little figurine of Christ on the cross in a bottle of piss. I don’t have to explain to you what this provocation did to those people who see Christ as a physical manifestation of god himself. There were those who felt the exhibit should be removed from the museum. Others felt that removing it would be a deathblow to freedom of speech, and the cultural enrichment of the American people.

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Sometimes it’s hard to know just how tolerant we should be if it is peace we truly desire. When one thinks of tolerance, one remembers all those circumstances in which we were bothered by the behavior of another, and overcame our immediate desire to make light of the taste or behavior of another. Perhaps some of us are too quick to take offense. Maybe we are insensitive to others, and don’t give them enough space… don’t respect their need to express themselves, or to follow their own intuition or beliefs. But is it possible to tolerate any and every affront… or attack. How do we design the borders of social behavior? I would like to ask you, my reader. Is there a point at which tolerance must stop? And what is that point?

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Where I’m staying as I write this post, I am about half a kilometer from a Moslem neighborhood. On schedule, a number of times a day, the local mosque broadcasts prayer calls at full volume, with powerful loudspeakers aimed in my direction. Even listening to the music, with the windows closed, the prayer is heard, disrupting all other sound. I do believe in the freedom to worship. But I find such practices disturbing.

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poster composed of paintings by children on the subject of ‘different but together’

Here in our country, we have neighbors who opposed our laws and believed that we had abused the rights of their co-religionists. They started shooting rockets at us. To insure that we wouldn’t strike back, they surrounded themselves with their own children while they were shooting at us. They would shoot at us and run away, leaving their children surrounding the rocket launcher. And when there was return fire, they held a press conference, waving the body parts of their children to show just how cruel we were.

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The monument found in Jerusalem is the work of an artist who appeals for sympathy regarding the beliefs and practices of others. But let me tell you how the concept of tolerance is used in mechanics or in building. When a part is made that has to configure within a machine or a physical system of any sort, it’s dimensions are cited by the engineer or designer. However, since an exact measure is often unobtainable, the tolerance describes the allowable deviation from a standard. For example, the range of variation permitted in attaining a specified dimension in machining a piece.

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sculpture by Ran Morin

Is it not necessary then, that we delineate our objectives in codifying human behavior within a social system before we speak of tolerance? Otherwise, we may find ourselves looking out at the world from behind the teeth of predator who is about to swallow us up and devour us, about to leave this world behind forever…

on the promenade

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alternate symbol of Jerusalem by Uriel Raz

There are many variations of the Lion of Judah to be found in Jerusalem. You can see them on manhole covers and on park benches, and on mysterious junction boxes with cables running in and out. That lion is found on many documents and announcements too, and is sported on flags which adorn the city on holidays and special occasions. There’s a promenade on the south side of town, the Haas Promenade, which I visit now and then to raise my spirits if I’m down. I used to take students there to do quick sketches or photograph, because it has a great view of the temple mount.

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In fact, I’ve photographed it so often, that my collection of photos from that particular place represents all seasons and all moods, and this morning I looked through some past posts, just to check if I’d already published that old lion, and to my amazement, it seemed as if I’d never devoted a post to that wonderful place, though there have been a few photos from there that did find their way to this blog in different contexts. For instance, here: http://tinyurl.com/peffs8l

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carved on a trash can

The last time I was walking there, I noticed a small trash can, made of stone, which had the lion carved into its side, and I thought I’d share it with you. But then, how could I show you that, without showing the classic illustration by Uriel Raz, who really brings it all together by depicting the lion of Judah as one of our city’s alley cats.

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a kiss between cats

There are more to come… for I have a collection of the many different versions of that particular lion, who reflects all the different moods of Jerusalem. But today, I was going to continue from that trash can to an eastern extension of the promenade that was added on just a few years ago.

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There are many birds who make their home in the trees that line this path… and wild flowers that find their place among the cultivated cultured ones. If you have the time to extend your exploration after walking the promenade, you can step out of the park and walk back to your car, or to the local shops, by way of the highway, where you’ll encounter the monument to tolerance, which is still another sight in this area that is well worth visiting.

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The amazing thing about this promenade, is that as you walk along, you can get a good look at parts of the city, and the ancient wall that surrounds the old city, as well as the temple mount from almost every step along the walk. Yet the area of the promenade itself is very beautiful too. And so there’s an exquisite balance between what is close and what is relatively far.

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What I most love, are the green lawns on the western side. But if I start looking for photos I like… and this happens often when I’m blogging… I find too many photos, and then agonize about what to put in and what to leave out. So this morning, not being in the mood to pick and choose, I’ll just pull out a few at random from along the path. But I do intend to organize a post that will concentrate on the many facets of this breath of fresh air in the midst of the urban environment.

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the flowers and the olive tress remind me of temporal pleasures and history

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poppies need not be planted in Jerusalem. They invite themselves in this season

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retama is native to the southern parts of our country, and usually blooms with white flowers

the romantic trail

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caution, frog crossing

Yesterday, the third day of the first heat wave of spring, Chana and I drove north to the ‘source of the Yarkon’, a national park neighboring the city of Rosh Ha’ayin, called Afek in distant history. It wasn’t all that hot in Jerusalem. But we knew that most places outside of the city might be too hot for a day trip, and this seemed to us a fine place for adventure. We packed a picnic, took cameras and maps, a folding chair for me, and we were on our way.

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Usually I like to take the back roads and the slow roads to all destinations. But since we knew we would have a lot to see once we got there, we made an exception this time, and took Highway 6, arriving there in just a little more than an hour. Though there were a few groups of children around… and in one area we did encounter the grating sound of an enthusiastic nature counselor urging some of those children on to a demonstration of physical prowess, with the help of some electronic amplifying equipment, most of the park was peaceful and calm. We chose to follow the example of the ducks on the pond, and avoid the youthful noise, taking comfort in the natural beauty of old trees and calm waters. It was a beautiful day.

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The sun wasn’t always out. At times, cloud banks covered the sky. But the weather was in movement, and there were ample opportunities to capture the full color spectrum when the sun did show itself. The natural scene was rich and inviting. Trees supplied ample shade. And there were a number of adults enjoying the advantages of the park.

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There is a small Baptist village just outside the park, and there was a couple, two middle aged Baptists dressed in comfortable walking attire, that we kept running into, though we traversed the park from one end to the other. Along the way we discovered the ‘romantic trail’, adorned as it was with a magnificent array of beautiful flowers.

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the two Baptists

From prehistoric times, the land of Israel served as a pathway between Africa and Europe. And from earliest history the city of Rosh Ha’Ayin, which translates into English as ‘the fountainhead’, was a focal point of that passageway.

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The city is mentioned in the old testament and in Egyptian documents from eighteen centuries before the common era. Seemingly, it became an important city in historic times because of the springs found there, which provide plentiful water. The Yarkon river which flows to Tel Aviv and through it, originates there. And the national park we visited is located right next to the city.

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I have to admit that the ducks were very cautious and we never did get close enough to get a good picture. Nor did we find a single frog willing to pose for the camera. But we did hear them when we approached the larger bodies of water. I have a very beautiful frog portrait from a previous visit to the same park, but decided to share with you only those shots captured yesterday. And it was only after returning to Jerusalem, that I realized that I hadn’t gotten a single duck photo, and felt a certain measure of sorrow. Because ducks are rather rare in our country. I should have tried harder.

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Still, there was a bit of comfort knowing that I had captured my dear friend Chana, actually hugging a tree, evidence that even here, in the backward middle east, one can find enlightened people who know how to express their love for nature in the most up to date manner.

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There was no need for my folding chair. We found plenty of picnic tables and benches to sit upon, and our picnic was all the more delicious, in the shade of an old eucalyptus tree, having the local birds serenade us as we ate both humus and soft cheese with pita bread and tasty spices, and quenched our thirst with local beer.

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We will be celebrating Pentecost this coming Sunday, and I imagine that the park will be filled to overflowing with visitors on the holiday. How lucky we were to visit just before the big rush, enjoying the serenity of this natural treasure at its best. And how good it was to conclude such a pleasurable adventure, knowing that we were about to return to our beloved home town, Jerusalem.

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not a duck, but it was a pleasure meeting this bird…