Tag Archives: spring

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

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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…

skies and fields

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We were a little south of Jerusalem last week, looking at the flowers and the trees in a nature reserve. It occurred to me that in springtime the flowers are sometimes so plentiful that we don’t really examine them as individuals. Both flowers and trees can become pleasant backgrounds, taken for granted.

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In contrast to that scenery, let us take a look at the skies and fields a little to the north of Jerusalem, in the county of Benjamin. Often seen as a background to human activity, when focused upon for their own beauty, we can see the counterpoint of images, as if in conversation: the boulders at the edge of the field and the little clouds above, lighter, but still like individual rock clouds of heaven.

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I let my eyes wander across the sky, looking at the arrangement of the clouds. Usually I need the horizon to enjoy a picture… but just this once, I lose myself in the story of the clouds. The skies change dramatically, sometimes every few minutes. There are heavy cloud banks that hang on for a while, filtering the light differently… and then the scene changes again as time goes by.

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Down below, on solid ground, the rocks and boulders give way to a grove of olive trees. Between those rocks you’ll find soft greenery, tempting and luscious to the goats and sheep that graze there, and to the gazelle, a native life form on our land. The gazelles run over the rocks without hesitation… they know how to dance across the rough terrain.

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And the olive trees; they too are native to our land. The fruit of those trees have been part of our daily meal for generations and centuries. They’ve provided the oil for our lamps since the beginning of recorded history. They’re so common, so much part of the scenery, that they too often taken for granted.

seven days

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this concept is an accepted maxim in Jewish tradition. What starts out as a custom becomes law.

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The holiday of Passover, like the holiday of Tabernacles, lasts 7 days. The first and the last day of the holiday is similar to a Sabbath.

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During the intermediate days we are permitted to ride in a vehicle, use electric devices, and write as well as read. I can write my blog, for instance.

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Unlike the Sabbath, we are allowed to cook on the first and last days of the holiday. Unless one of them falls on the Sabbath. This year, the first day fell on the Sabbath. And so we had to prepare the food before the start of the holiday.

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So this is a holiday, when many of my countrymen and women go out to enjoy nature, and revel in the spring. I used to go out with the intention to photograph the beauty of nature… But I found that landscape photography was often difficult, because in this season it is often rainy or hazy.

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Still, there are some beautiful days…
And there are very special flowers that bloom at this time.

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Right now, as I write you, there is the wail of a strong wind blowing through the city. Yesterday was a better day, and together with two sweet friends we wandered off on dirt roads, southwest of Jerusalem.

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The intermediate days are more open to subjective celebration, personal taste, and individual pleasures.

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with Noga in the forest; photo by Chana

Many Israelis enjoy a barbeque, by which they celebrate the holiday. I attended one such barbeque this week, which was very enjoyable. My friends drank wine. I drank grapefruit juice with Vodka. Beer is forbidden on Passover and so is whisky, because fermented grain is not allowed.

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These amazing flowers are called the blood of the Maccabees in Hebrew, and the little beetle appreciating the flower, known as a ladybug in English, is called Moses’ red cow in Hebrew.

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This evening marks the beginning of the last day of the holiday. It is followed by the Sabbath, so in many ways we’re about to enjoy a two day Sabbath. That means an extra day without bread.

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We will continue eating matzot, unleavened bread until the conclusion of the Sabbath. And after that, back to normal.

in the holiday spirit

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three of my grandchildren eating matzot (unleavened bread)

I’ve no idea if this happens in any other country, but for a week here, everyone is off for a holiday. We visit friends and relatives, go off to commune with nature… and because all of the nature reserves, the beaches, and the usual holiday sites are full to overflowing… some take off and travel abroad. But wherever you go, you find your fellow countrymen enjoying the holiday.

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granddaughters

Walking down the main street of my new neighborhood, I saw a few stores that were exhibiting portable barbeques. It is quite common for families to go out to nature for a picnic. And in that context, we have been hearing good news this week. According to reports heard on the radio, campers and picnickers have been taking their garbage home with them, leaving the public camps and forests cleaner than they were in years gone by. In the past, at the end of the holiday we would always learn how many tons of garbage were gathered in recreation sites, left behind by lazy tourists.

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Hillel plays us a Passover song

All the major highways are filled with vacationers. Those with little children visit the amusement parks. And there are festivals, and musical get togethers. Only the restaurants suffer. Because of the restricted diet, many eateries close for the holiday. Others provide food that is fitting. But even so, there are less people who eat out… especially here in Jerusalem, where the dietary rules are very strictly observed. The bakeries offer special cookies prepared just for this holiday, which are made of peanuts and coconuts, and cakes made of potato flour, because flour made of grain is not used.

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cookies prepared especially for the holiday

Spring is in the air. All the fields are decorated with flowers. It brought me such joy to see large patches of wild mustard flowers in the nature preserve where we visited last week.

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wild mustard

When I was younger, I often planned a photography expedition for this particular time. But as it happens, the change of seasons usually brings with it a haze, or winds from the east or south which stir up sand and dust, resulting in poor visibility. I had many disappointments on that score, but learned to appreciate some of the unique possibilities even if landscape photography wasn’t always possible.

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Hagit and Tamar

I’ve been going to bed late this week. There is so much happening every day. But I do take a nap in the afternoon. And I’ve been reading a really fine book that I picked up at a bus stop. Yes, picked up… I didn’t buy it. In Chana’s village, they’ve started a program of voluntary book donations. And every bus stop has a couple of shelves filled with a wide selection of books. The passer by is encouraged to take some reading with him. I found one that was just to my taste, and have been reading it all week.

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playing cards

This Sabbath Passover will be a very special day, offering the special holiness of the Sabbath, and the joy that is characteristic of this holiday of freedom. My best wishes to all my friends and readers. It is my hope that you will be able taste something of the holiday spirit from the photos offered here.

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the grandchildren’s cat, jinjit

fermentation

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Each of our major holidays has a theme. The theme of Passover, which begins on Monday evening, is the emergence from slavery, and the journey to freedom. And strangely enough, the most impressive thing about this process, is the awareness that we have to be willing to sacrifice some of life’s pleasures in order to attain freedom. Usually, when people think of freedom, they think about the good things… the luxuries that are enjoyed by free people. And the bill of rights, so to speak. But our history tells of giving up some of the things we loved… meat and watermelon, for instance… And going out to the desert for forty years… having an entire generation die in transit so that their progeny could build a free society.

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The holiday starts with a great banquet which is probably our most famous meal. It has many courses, and entire families get together to celebrate the occasion, telling the story of our exodus from slavery in Egypt, and the process by which we became a unique people. We tell our children of the cultural foundations of our people, and how freedom demands responsibility, discipline, and caring for the weak and incapacitated within our society. But the characteristic most identified with the Passover tradition, is the prohibition of the use of fermented dough.

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For us, fermentation is a hint of spiritual awareness. We sanctify the Sabbath by blessing it before drinking wine or eating bread. Both wine and bread are what they are, thanks to the yeast that move in and add that certain something beyond our control. We don’t actually see the yeast… but we know its there… and it’s our allegory on spiritual awareness. There is something to be learned from those unseen microorganisms that live alongside of us in this world, interacting with us in many ways. Some even enable us to live richer lives. It is estimated that there are more than 100 million different species. But we have a special relationship to the Saccharomyces cerevisiae which convert carbohydrates to carbon dioxide used in baking, and alcohol which provides the magic in wine.

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Yet when we were led out of slavery in Egypt, Moses our teacher told us to move swiftly. To get out in one night. There was no time to let the bread rise, so we took unleavened bread with us to make sandwiches. And to this day, three and a half thousand years later, we remember that rule: to move decisively, by not eating leavened bread on Passover. We call the flatbread that is prepared without yeast, matzot. And that’s what we eat in the place of bread for the seven days of the holiday. The instruction regarding fermented grain is one of our most unyielding rules. And we are prohibited beer and whisky among many other grain products that usually embellish our lives. All the same, there is no need to worry about us. Over the years, we have developed countless recipes by which to enjoy both food and drink, without the use of fermented grain.

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Before the holiday, we clean our houses and our kitchens in order to remove any traces of fermentation. Each and every community provides ‘flour for the poor’. This is a very important part of the holiday, and those who do not have the means to prepare the banquet, are given all the components needed… flour, meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. Then we prepare the great banquet, in which all participants will be seated like royalty round the table. It is common to invite single people to join us in the feast. That first banquet is called the seder, because seder means order, And there is an order to our ceremony. Children are encouraged to ask questions. And we adults respond by telling them of our exodus from slavery. The children have a role to play at the end of the banquet too, and this keeps them involved and awake throughout the evening’s function.

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The holiday lasts a week. The first and the last days are like Sabbath. And on the Sabbath that falls on Passover, we read the portion in chapter 37 of Ezekiel that refers to the dry bones. For just as we had assimilated in Egypt, and were living the life there, and accepting values that were not our own, so we were brought back to life and led to salvation by our teacher and leader, Moses. And later, when we were dispersed among the peoples of the world, in exile from our beloved country, we prayed and hoped to return to Israel, to be a living nation once again. And this great miracle happened again in my very own lifetime.

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The holiday of matzot; this holiday of freedom… is also a celebration of spring. After the first day which is a full holy day, a Sabbath, the intermediate days are often celebrated by going out to nature, and appreciating the signs of spring around us. And it is with this in mind, that I chose to illustrate this holiday post with photos taken in the Begin forest, a short distance from Jerusalem.

out in the country

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One of the strange paradoxes of living in Israel, is that though ours is a very small country, there is such a great variety of landscapes here. Our first chief rabbi, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook taught us that the best way to celebrate independence day was to walk four paces in the country, where we have never walked before. There is something very charming about this modest ‘good deed’. Four paces is so little. And yet, we are in no way limited to just four paces, and each step we take after those first four is our own… our own initiative. And the four paces seem commensurate with the length and breadth of our small country.

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But despite the small area, we have snow capped mountains, and the lowest land point on the face of the earth. We have a length of sea shore, with warm water (in the summer) lapping on the beaches, and we have more than one desert… forests and meadows and fields of wild flowers and wild grasses. Birds of all sorts stop by and visit us, from Europe and Africa too, enjoying the plant life, the crops in the fields, and occasionally the fish in our ponds.

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Our forefathers walked great distances, from one landscape to another on foot, often with a donkey to carry their load. The ever changing landscape offered inspiration, especially of a religious nature. And so it seems very natural that our land should be seen as the source of three of the major monotheistic religions. I myself have experienced such inspiration in the desert. It is so quiet when one first encounters it, that there is a lot of room for thought and appreciation. But as we look closer, we discover plant and animal life of great variety. And while the sands might look parched, those who frequent the desert can reveal to us many sources of water, hidden from the unfamiliar eye. If we follow the wild animals, they too will reveal worlds unknown, filled with sustenance and color, and even drama, the likes of which we many not have dreamed of.

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To celebrate the onset of spring, Chana and I took the car a few kilometers north of Jerusalem, on a day filled with hints of rain. Though there wasn’t any real rain… there was drizzle from time to time, and occasional droplets, felt on our shoulders as we walked, or appearing on the windshield of the car. A mild haze thickened at times, and then retreated, allowing us to photograph the territory of Samaria.

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The hills and valleys, and the little communities to be found nestled between the hills or atop of them, could easily illustrate myriad stories. The many scenes we saw seemed to tease the imagination, stories and fantasies sprung from the hills, begging to be heard. The pictures in this post were all taken from that area on that same day. And there are many more, sulking in the background because they haven’t been chosen.

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Of course, it’s not just the physical nature of our country that exhibits such variety. One can see the diversity among the population, and in the many sub cultures, religious beliefs, and customs. From one city to another, there are worlds of difference, and between the cities there are so many towns, villages and hamlets, each with its own customs and personality. And as you might have heard, there’s the joke about the freedom of expression among our people… it is said, when two Jews get together, you can hear three opinions at least.

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