Intelligent Crossing

“I see humanity now as one vast plant, needing for its highest fulfillment only love, the natural blessings of the great outdoors, and intelligent crossing and selection.”

Luther Burbank

Today my Places in Your Neighborhood tour took me to guide at one of my favorite sites – Qesr al-Yehud on the Jordan.  I have been fascinated by this place ever since qesr-dadmy first visit as part of the tour guide course.  During that time, the site was closed to the general public, and only with consultation with the army, could a group enter.  As you drive along the road which leads you to the site, an eerie combination of run-down  Christian compounds and barbed-wire fences warning of mine fields accompanies you on both sides.  As you approach the site, in the near distance you can see brand new churches, their gold domes and spires glistening.

But it isn’t the modern military history or the site’s place in the Christian mythos that attracts me to Qesr al-Yehud.  What draws me here over and over again is the ability to access the Jordan, and the thought that very near to this spot, the Children of Israel crossed into the Land of Israel and started their journey to nationhood.

Today, we reached Qesr al-Yehud after exploring part of Nahal Prat and beginning an encounter with wilderness and water.   The soothing noise of the Jordan flowing by their feet started lulling some people into a short snooze.  I started to tell the story of the Children of Israel crossing the Jordan, when David O.  asked how I could be sure that this was the spot.  I explained about how this is one of the natural places along the Jordan where it is easier to cross and so it makes sense that they would have chosen this location.  But, he countered, the crossing of the Jordan was miraculous, so wouldn’t it have been even more of a miracle to stand somewhere where it wasn’t so easy to cross?  Maybe somewhere randomly along the Jordan?

I heard his argument.  G-d did magnify the miracles performed during the exodus from Egypt to prove his might in front of the world and the Jewish people.  Interesting point.  But something didn’t sit right.  Whether Qesr means Castle or Breaking through, this site is connected to the Jewish people (al-Yehud).  The Eshtorei HaParchi who was one of the early travelers to Israel in the Medieval period, tells us that the probably the most
accurate factor in determining the location of a Biblical place is the current Arabic name, so there must be some Jewish connection preserved here throughout the ages.  Why not the crossing?

As we continued on our visit to the site, David O. just would not let it rest.  He kept after me for evidence that this was the site of the crossing.   Maybe some pottery shards, some ancient buildings marking the spot?  I explained that there would not have been much material culture from a nomadic people.  But he still didn’t let it rest.

In case you think I am complaining, let me assure you, I am not.  These challenges push me to think deeper, research more, and put things in order.  This is one of the experiences which makes me happy to be a tour educator and not just a tour guide.  I don’t have all the answers and thrive on input from others.  If people don’t let up, then I know they are engaging with the subject matter, and that is a total win for me.

And then, after another comeback, it hit me.  Something which made sense of my intuitions; something more concrete.

Maybe we were looking at the story from the wrong angle?  Maybe the perspective of 3500 years of history had colored our view of the events?

I asked David O. to put himself in the position of Joshua.  He had just taken over from the greatest leader/prophet of all time, Moses.  Joshua needed to complete a task – lead the children of Israel over the Jordan and into Israel.  How was this going to happen?  At the beginning, the mechanics were not clear.  It was not clear to Joshua that the people would merit a miraculous crossing; it is not even on his radar scope as a possibility.  So, Joshua takes the people to a place where it would make sense to cross, Qesr al-Yehud.  Only after he arrives there and sets up camp for a week or so is Joshua let in on G-d’s plan to bring the Children of Israel over the Jordan in a miraculous fashion.

It isn’t that Joshua doesn’t have faith in G-d, it is just that he is making a sensible plan.  It is Joshua’s Intelligent Crossing here at Qesr al-Yehud and G-d’s Selection of the Jewish people which forged the nation .  And while I am still not sure that David O. is convinced, I think that both he and I learned something today.  Fabulous!


Let It Flow

“If you have a good idea, use it so that you will not only accomplish something, but so that you can make room for new ones to flow into you.”                                                   Deng Min-Dao, Everyday Tao:  Living with Balance and Harmony

Next week, I will be offering a Places in Your Neighborhood trip to two water sources:  Nahal Prat and the Jordan, so it is time to complete last week’s discussion of water.

Nahar, Nachal, and HaYarden have one common factor – they are vectors. That
just means that they have a path which they follow to take water from one place to another.  Israel is a hilly country and water seeks the lowest level, so this type of feature is very prevalent.

A Nahar is a large, flowing body of water.  There are two main naharot mentioned in the Bible – Nahar Prat (Euphrates River) and Nahar Mitzrayim (Nile River). The main purposes of naharot in the Bible are for denoting borders (people cross over the nahar to get to another land), drinking, and irrigation.  There are no naharot in the land of Israel.  The lack of a nahar in the Land of Israel means that there are no “borders” between the people who live in the land.
In contrast to nahar is nachal.  A nachal refers not to water, but to a place which, at a minimum, has a potential for water.  These stream beds may always flow, or only for a few hours a year during flash floods.   Eight different specific nechalim in Israel are mentioned in the Bible.

This difference, between a nahar and a nachal is crucial in understanding the mission of the Jewish people in the land of Israel.  Before entering the land of Israel, the children of Israel ask G-d what it’s like there.  I think of this as kind of a consultation with the
tour guide.    In Deuteronomy 11:10 we get to the core of this description.  Israel is not Egypt;  it is supplied with water by rain (not by a nahar – the Nile).  G-d’s eyes are always on Israel (to provide sufficient water) which also means that G-d’s eyes are also
on the land’s inhabitants to determine how much rainfall will be provided.  The Children of Israel must be aware of their actions and how they affect their survival.  They can walk around the land and see  the potential for water through the dry nechalim.  This is the complete dependence on G-d and a continual striving to do good deeds, mitzvot.  G-d sees Israel’s potential.  That’s awesome!

Now maybe you noticed at the beginning that I put The Jordan (HaYarden) in its own category.  Most English translations of the Biblical text translate HaYarden as the Jordan River.  In the Bible, however, never once is HaYarden referred to as anything other than HaYarden.  This body of water, which flows continually and fluctuates in depth and course, is mentioned 181 times in the Bible.  (The next runner up within the land of Israel, Nahal Kishon, is mentioned only 11 times.)  The Jordan figures prominently in 3 stories.

#1:  Children of Israel enter the Land of Israel crossing The Jordan.  This story is a replay of the crossing of Yam Suf (mentioned only 23 times) but forms the basis of the Jewish people in the Land of Egypt.  During the crossing, they take 12 stones from The Jordan to make one monument.  The Jordan makes us one people.

#2:  Elijah the prophet leaves the people of Israel by ascending into the sky near The Jordan.  Elijah leaves his leadership role and his life when he crosses The Jordan.  The
Children of Israel, the country of Israel, need a new face, Elisha, one which will connect more strongly with the struggles of the people.  The role of The Jordan here is to cement the leader, Elisha, with the national experience. Leaders who can no longer be effective, such as Elijah, are destined to die on the other side of The Jordan, symbolizing their distance from the Jewish people.

#3:  The Jordan provides healing for the Aramite king, Naaman who is afflicted by leprosy.  He comes for a cure to Elisha and Elisha tells him to go and wash in the waters of The Jordan.  The Jordan is muddy and Naaman becomes angry.  “Are not the waters of the rivers of Damascus,  better than all the waters of Israel?”  But sometimes being a Mighty River is not the best medicine.  Leprosy, associated in the Bible with speaking improperly, can be cured by a bit of humility.   Dunking 7 times in the murky waters of The Jordan takes one down a notch, and works wonders (literally for Naaman).  This reminds us that this important body of water is not meant to build up and glorify Israel.

What can we learn from these three stories about The Jordan?  The Jordan is unifying, clarifying and humbling.  This is no ordinary River, meant to be crossed, drank and siphoned off to fields.  This is no mere creek or wash, waiting for us to pray for it to be filled.  The Jordan is a symbol of the Children of Israel as a nation, and as such, the most important body of water that exists. The Jewish people ebbs and wanes, we meander in our path, we are surrounded by thick brush amidst arid land, but we continue to flow.

So next time you are at Qesr al-Yehud, Gesher Bnot Yaacov, or Kayaking in the north, remember you are not encountering a river, rather you are experiencing The Jordan, and it is Mighty indeed.

Olim L’Har Hertzl

As we go through the season of the counting of the Omer, there are  several Holidays/Remembrance days that are celebrated.  We feel the depths of Yom HaShoah; we feel the heights of Yom HaAtzmaut.  However, as Olim (new immigrants), it seems to me that we have the hardest time  relating to Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Remembrance Day dedicated to Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror.  Most of us did not serve in the army, nor did our fellow Olim.  We only meet the face of the army when our children are drafted.    We are, thankfully, missing the personal connection that unfortunately many native-born Israelis have with the day.

And with the place.  Our children may visit Har Hertzl, site of the National Military Cemetery, with their high school in preparation for their Poland trip, as part of their youth group, with their army unit, but we do not share those experiences.  Perhaps, when someone comes to visit, we may take them on their second or third visit to the Hertzl Museum, but we do not spend time wandering around the cemetery itself.

Here’s your chance.  Why should you dedicate a morning to a cemetery?  Because cemeteries tell stories of people’s lives and a National Cemetery tells the story of a Nation’s developing life. This month I would like to share with you some of the life stories of people who are buried in Har Hertzl military cemetery, with a special eye towards our experiences and realities as Olim.har hertzl - yom hazikaron

Tour date:  Sunday, April 21, Iyar 11
Tour start: 9:30 a.m. at entrance to Har Hertzl
Tour end:  approx. 12:30 p.m.
Approximate travel time: 40 minutes, participants are responsible  for their own transportation (I can help organize carpools).

No entrance fees.  Guiding fee is 50 NIS per person.

You need to wear good walking shoes, a hat and bring water.   This is a walking tour – we will be walking all morning.

If you are interested, please  e-mail me to let me know.  This tour will only run with a minimum of 8 people so tell your friends to contact me!

Life and Death of Yehuda Maccabee

Before Hanukkah vacation, time for another Places in Your Neighborhood tour.

Our second trip this year takes us to the nearby Maccabee sites. The place names of the modern communities in the area were taken from the connection to the Home Town of the Maccabees – Modiin.  We will explore the area as seen through the eyes of someone living more than 2100 years ago during the time of the original  Chashmonaim.

First stop will be an overlook in Park Ayalon.  We will talk about the battles and triumphs of the Maccabees.  What makes our area a great area for a battle?  How did the few overcome the many?

We will continue to the town of the Maccabees,  the ancient synagogue and city center of the Modiin of 2100 years ago (or is it Modiin?).  Modern archaeology in an ancient city.

We will end in the so-called Maccabean graves by Shilat.  Are these really the Maccabean graves?  

Tour date:  Sunday, November 25, Kislev 11 OR Tuesday, November 27, Kislev 13
Tour start: 9:15 a.m. in Park Ayalon
Tour end:  approx. 1:00 p.m.  in Shilat
Approximate travel time: 15 minutes to Park Ayalon.

All the sites are free open sites.  Guiding fee is 50 NIS per person.

You need to wear good walking shoes, a hat and bring water.

If you are interested, please contact me to let me know.  This tour will only run with a minimum of 8 people so tell your friends to come along.

A Castle of Wonderous Beauty

Last week’s Places in Your Neighborhood trip took me (again) to the Rosh HaAyin area.  The sites are fabulous and I don’t get tired of exploring them and showing off the interesting corners in the Land of Israel again and again.  Every group is different and brings their own questions and points of view to the tour so I am always challenged to make that unique encounter between the group and the site.

We got to discussing Crusaders.  (Logical, since we were standing in a fortress – Migdal Tzedek –  first built during Crusader times – Mirabel.)  Crusaders came to the Holy Land in 1099 C.E. There seems to be several details missing from many people’s vision of what it meant to be a Crusader.  The Crusaders as an entity were in the Holy Land for almost 200 YEARS.  Think about it.  If the Crusader period were to be ending in the United States now, the first  Crusaders would have arrived during the 1812 war against Great  Britain.  The Crusaders were as  firmly entrenched in the Holy Land as the vast majority of Americans are entrenched in America.  They never even remembered a  different life.

Going along with that, Crusaders had families,  wives, children.  These family members were often from European  stock – so it is not just the male knights who are coming as part of the various crusades, but they are bringing the whole  family. Their sons and daughters marry each other and we have  developing a sub-culture of European Christians in a Middle Eastern, Muslim world. This pattern can be seen in immigrant neighborhoods today. Cultural groups tend to marry from within not only because of familiarity, but also because of shared  norms.

One such “intermarriage” influenced the ownership in the Crusader castle above Rosh HaAyin.  As the Crusaders were a normal community in all respects, they did not always interact in a positive way; Crusaders also had internal fights.  One of these conflicts came up over the castle which sat on the site of Migdal Tzedek.  Two brothers-in-law, Heribrand II and Baldwin II came to Israel  during the first crusade.  Heribrand and his wife, Hodierna (sister to Baldwin II) have a son named Manasses.  Manasses’s cousin (Baldwin II’s daughter) is Melisende – the famous one who married Fulk deAnjou, ruled herself and renovated Jerusalem.   Manasses comes to  Israel in 1140, and because of his relationship with Melisende, is  appointed Constable of Jerusalem in 1143 after Fulk’s death.  This is a political appointeeship, apparently, as he is a terrible general and launches 2 failed military campaigns in Edessa and Damascus.

Migdal Tzedek – taken by Ira Gidon

In  1150 he marries Helvis of Ramle (the daughter of Baldwin I of Ramle and the widow of Barisan of Iblelin, one of the founders of  the wealthy Ibelin family).  With his marriage to her comes the territory of Ramle and the area of present day Rosh HaAyin.  He       builds a castle on the hill overlooking the headwaters of the Yarkon Stream.  A large beautiful castle with two churches governing the surrounding farm land, springs, and most  importantly, the road.  This castle is named Mirabel – of wonderous beauty.

You would think that he would be content with what he had.  He, however, is described by William of Tyre, a contemporary chronicler, as haughty and disrespectful of his elders.  And maybe they would have put up with his bad attitude if he hadn’t started up with his cousin Melisende and her family.  He put a wedge between Melisende and her   son, Baldwin III (why are they all named Baldwin?) by encouraging Melisende not to abdicate power to Baldwin III when he came of age.

Baldwin III had himself crowned and, under duress, Melisende agreed to split the kingdom with him.  This was a temporary situation and when Baldwin III finally decides to take the reigns of power for himself, Manasses found himself on the losing team, his beautiful castle of Mirabel taken by his cousin’s son.

This was not only the end of Manasses’s stay in the castle, but the end of his stay in the Holy Land as Baldwin III had him exiled permanently, his title Constable of Jerusalem stripped from him.
So, Manasses, having arrived in the Holy Land in 1140, only stays until 1162 – 22 years.  The Ibelin family, which he married into, and his family – the Baldwin/Melisende family continued to have long runs in the Holy Land.  He, however, did not find fame and fortune in the Holy Land and was even run out of the country.

Mirabel continues to be a Crusader castle under Baldwin III for another 25 years until it is captured by Salahadin’s younger brother.  In 1240 the Crusaders retake the fortress under Richard, Henry III and Frederick II.  The castle, Mirabel, is captured finally in 1260 by Baybars, who levels it to the foundations.  It remains in ruins for almost 600 years until the modern period and is rebuilt in 1852.

Today the ruins of Mirabel, renamed Migdal Tzedek after the sheik who resided there in the 19th century, stand forboding over the road to Rosh HaAyin.

Despite the long run of Crusaders in the Holy Land, the vision of Crusader knights and ladies gracing Mirabel’s halls, noble families vying over her control, exists only in the imaginations of her visitors.

Home is Where the Heart Is

They say that Home is Where the Heart Is.  It is amazing what one can learn about a communty and its residents from the homes contained therewithin.

One of my latest Places in Your Neighborhood trips took me to Izbet  Sartah.  Located on the edge of a nondescript neighborhood of Rosh HaAyin, Izbet Sartah offers a little with a lot behind it.  If you venture to the site yourself with no preparation, you may         be disappointed.  Like many ancient sites in Israel, you will see low stone walls – clearly the outline of a building.  Around the perimeter of the site, if you have a good sense of imagination, you will see the faint suggestion of a city wall.

If you have the back story, though, the site comes to life. There are three main stories to be told at Izbet Sartah:  the  first has to do with Izbet Sartah in the geographic sense, the second fleshing out the site’s religious significance, and the third as an example par excellance of the development of  domestic architecture in ancient times.

Until man settled in cities, we have little evidence of domiciles in archaeology.  Here, at Izbet Sartah we have a unique glimpse of the archaeology of homes from the time period of the entry of the Children of Israel to the Land of Israel.  Prof. Finkelstein and Prof. Cochavi excavated the site in the 1980’s and discovered at Izbet Sartah 3 layers.  In archaeology, the upper layer is designated as Layer I and is the most recent, since at the beginning of the excavation there is not always a clear idea of how many layers are present.  At Izbet  Sartah, Layer I is from the 10th century B.C.E.  That means that       the most recent residents of this town lived there 3000 years ago; and so, preserved beautifully ancient housing styles and architectures.  Layer II is from the 10th and 11th century B.C.E. (separated from Layer I by only a few decades).  Layer III, the oldest layer, dates from the 13th century B.C.E. and corresponds roughly to the time period of the Children of Israel’s arrival to the land of Israel.

Let’s start with the oldest layer – Layer III.  The homes found in  this layer were very simple.  They are built using the settlement’s outer ovoid wall as their back walls as well.  The settlement follows the contours of the hilltop and the homes hug this wall.   One is reminded of wagon trains that went to settle the West in the United States which circled in on themselves to protect the pioneers from any outside danger.  The center of the settlement is left open.  The homes are very small (5×7 m), only large enough for sleeping.  What this means is that almost  all of daily life happens in the public sphere.  Sense of community would be very high in such settlements, similar to what the Children of Israel must have experienced in the desert.  And it was probably precisely this familiarity which led Izbet  Sartah to be initially built along this plan.

Layer II – 200 years after Layer III – shows vastly different home architecture.  In this time period, the time of the Judges, Israelites lived in what is known as the 4-roomed house.  This house has an entry into a series of 3 parallel rooms, divided one from the next by either pillars or walls.  The central room was usually an open courtyard, with the two side rooms being used for animals or other household industries, such as spinning, grinding, etc.  The last room is the most interior space and runs at the base of the other three rooms.  This room was used for the sleeping quarters and the personal space of the family.  At Izbet Sartah, this layer was built by a systematic clearing of the  underlayer (Layer III), indicating that there was some centralized city planning.

The overall settlement from Layer I is much less developed and shows that the population waned at this time.  The large house discovered  belonging to this layer, however, shows how domestic architecture has changed.  The largest 4-roomed house from this time period is much larger than the other homes from this layer, showing a large disparity in the socioeconomic/social status of the towns residents.  The basic 4-room layout in this large central dwelling has been altered so that several of the basic rooms have been  divided.  We have evidence of this in both the parallel rooms as       well as the private familial space.  Several “additions” of  storage areas have also been added to the outside of the home,  showing the accumulation of goods, possibly.

If the clothes make the man, then maybe homes make the community.  It is amazing how much you can learn about a place and its residents by examining the architecture of its dwellings!

What’s it 444?

Now that the holidays of Tishrei are behind us, time for another season of Places in Your Neighborhood.  This year,  our trips will include places like Tel Beit Shemesh, the new excavations at Tel Azeka and Tel es-Safi (Biblical Gat), Qesr el-Yehud,  Tel Gezer, the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, Park Ayalon sites, and  Ashkelon.

Our first trip this year takes us to the Rt. 444 sites.  Rt.  444 and it’s counterpart Rt. 6 lie on the ancient superhighway through Israel connecting Egypt and Mesopotamia.  As such, many important settlements in antiquity were located along its length.

Izbet Sarta (our first stop) has been excavated to the late Bronze/early Iron age.  Never heard of Izbet Sarta?  Maybe you know it by its Hebrew name – Even HaEzer – site of the (in)famous battle against the Philistines.  Here we can see how the early Israelites  constructed their towns.

We will continue to the fortress on the hill above Rosh HaAyin-  Migdal Tzedek.  We will have a chance to explore the building which most only see during their morning commute.

Last stop is the town Herod named after his father – Antipatris – and see remnants of the Roman road paved 2000 years ago, as well as foundations of buildings almost twice that old! and British water installations.

Tour date:  Sunday, October 21, Heshvan 5
Tour start: 9:15 a.m. in Rosh HaAyin
Tour end:  approx. 1:00 p.m.  in Antipatris
Approximate travel time:  30 minutes each direction.

There is a cost to enter Antipatris National Park (27 NIS per person).  For those with a Matmon card, entrance is free.  Guiding fee is 50 NIS per person.

You need to wear good walking shoes, a hat and bring water. Bathrooms are located at the entrance to Kibbutz Einat (gas station), and in the National Park.

If you are interested, please  e-mail me to let me know.  This tour will only run with a minimum of 8 people so tell your friends to come along.

The Buck Stops Here

My most recent Places in Your Neighborhood trip took me to Ashdod.  Ashdod has a few really nice sites from several periods of history but is not oft visited.  People in my groups had been there to the port to pick up their lifts, or to swim at the beach, but had not visited to learn about the place.

Despite it not being on many tourist itineraries, Ashdod is mentioned many times in the Bible.  It is one of the cities which is allotted to the tribe of Judah but not captured from the Philistines. (I have included a picture of me hanging out with the Philistines from the Museum in Ashdod.)  It is one of the five cities in the Philistine pentopolis.  Interestingly, the Philistine conquest of the southern  coastal plain had ramifications of the settlement pattern. at Philistine Museum-Ashdod Philistine influence came along with the emptying out of rural areas and concentration of population in cities.  Although researches do not know exactly why this happened, we can look at the changes the Industrial Revolution had on the rural life in America to make a reasonable guess.  Could it be that the introduction of technology in the form of metallurgy caused people to flock to the cities for available jobs?  We just don’t know.

The famous story of the Philistines stealing the Ark of the Covenant and taking it to the temple of the god Dagon takes place in the town of Ashdod.
The prophet Amos predicts the destruction of Ashdod – this destruction does come in 722 B.C.E.  at the hands of Sargon of Assyria as recorded in II Chronicles.
Population leaks back into the city after that only to be exiled and the city destroyed in 586 B.C.E as prophesied by Zephania, Zecharia and Jeremiah.
Nechemia speaks of the Jewish population of Ashdod marrying Ashdodian wives – a sign that Ashdod was again settled during the return from Zion – this time by Jews as well as non-Jews.

The oldest settlements we have in the Ashdod area are actually outside of the municipal boundaries of current Ashdod (which is a totally modern planned city).  Tel Ashdod to the south was probably the site where all the stories from the Bible took place.  Tel Mor, located near the grain silos on the banks of Nahal Lachish, was the home to industry during ancient time – the industry of making dye – and was active even before the Philistines arrived on the scene.  During the Byzantine era, a new settlement, Ashdod-on-the-Sea, was founded and during the Fatimid era a massive sandstone fortress was built with its front gate open to the sea.

My tour of Ashdod included Givat Yonah with its beautiful overlook of the modern port and city of Ashdod, the Fatimid fortress at Ashdod-on-the-Sea, and finally a visit to a very unassuming bridge now called “Ad Halom” = “Until Here”.

The bridge sits on foundations of a Roman bridge which spanned Nachal Lachish and was part of the super-highway which connected Egypt to Mesopotamia.  Bridges were very important in ancient times, as they are today.  They smooth out the trip and facilitate crossing muddy, lush passages.  Not so important for foot travel, once the carriage, the horse, the cart, the train, or the car became the primary means of moving goods and people, bridges were indispensable.  Armies, with their heavy loads of supplies and fighters, are totally dependent on crossing such points easily.  At the eve of war in 1948,  Nahal Lachish was crossed by 3 main bridges:  An Ottoman bridge for carts and foot traffic; a railroad bridge; and a modern British bridge for cars.  It was protected by a pillbox which was built by the British during the Arab revolt of 1936-39.

During the Independence war, the Egyptian army made its way north, seemingly on their way to Tel Aviv.  Intelligence from the Israeli side ordered the blowing up of the bridges over Nahal Lachish in order to slow the anticipated advance.  The story goes that 300 kg of explosives set out with Shimon Margolin and 9 Kibbutz Beer Tuvia volunteers on the backs of two donkeys.  Almost immediately, the first donkey collapsed and died.  Shimon put all 300 kg of explosives on the back of the second donkey.  That donkey trudged through the night until, only 2 km from its destination, he, too, fell and died.  Then the troop of 10 soldiers each took 30 kg of explosives on their backs and carried it to these bridges.  The Jewish fighters (the bridge was blown up on May 12, 1948 before the state was declared) succeeded in their mission and the battle which ensued upon arrival of the Egyptians 2 weeks later was won at least partially because the Egyptians could not cross the nahal easily.
Ad Halom was the site of the Israeli Air Forces first battle.  The nascent state had but 4 fighter planes in its possession.  After the battle, only 2 remained, one crashing after being hit and killing its pilot – the only son of a South African family – Edward (Shlomo) Cohen.  Fifty other soldiers in the Israeli army lost their lives in the battle at Ad Halom.

It is hard to imagine what the State of Israel would look like today if the Egyptians had taken Tel Aviv, or if there would even be a Jewish state here at all.  I encourage you the next time you are in the area, to take in a bit of Israeli history with a stop at Ad Halom.  “Until Here”, or in modern Amerian parlance “The Buck Stops Here” – stop and see the nahal and the bridge (the Ottoman bridge has been restored as a foot bridge) that represents  how thin the thread was by which this country was won.

Iyyar in Ashdod

I hope you all had a relaxing Pesach and were able to do a bit of touring.

This month, Iyar, I want to focus on modern settlement (pre-Nefesh B’Nefesh ) as a tribute to Yom HaZikaron/HaAtzmaut.  In that spirit, we will be visiting …….  ASHDOD!


Ashdod has some terrific sites.  We will have a lookout of the Most Modern port in the country (and possibly in the entire Mediterranean) – the only port in the world that is Shomer Shabbat.  We will also stop at the Ad HaLom memorial and talk about the miracles which occurred here during the Independence War.

This month:  2 dates for your convenience.

Tour date: Sunday, May 6, Iyyar 14 AND Tuesday, May 8, Iyyar 16.
Sites will include:  Lookout of Port of Ashdod, Ashdod-by-the-Sea, Ad HaLom Memorial


Today, I had  another Places in Your Neighborhood trip  – this month, to Ramle.  We all met by the Interior Ministry local office in the mall and headed to our first stop – the Great Mosque of Ramle.
When I went to do my research in anticipation of this trip, I barely squeaked inside to see this magnificent building.  I had gotten there at 10:25 a.m. and despite the sign, the mosque is only open until 10:30.  But after repeatedly ringing the doorbell, and calling the number on the sign posted at the entrance, an elderly gentleman let me inside.  My friend and I quickly removed our shoes at the entrance to the mosque and went into the cavernous building promising to be quick and out in 5 minutes.  As we exited, I asked the caretaker what was necessary to come and visit the mosque with a group.  He replied that I needed to get there on time and then I should just ring the bell and someone would let me in.
So, today, at 9:25 I arrived with my group.  As I rang the bell and patiently waited, I started to ask them if they had ever been to a mosque before and explained that we just needed to wait for the caretaker to open.  After ringing the bell twice more, I called the number listed on the entry sign.  When someone finally answered, I was told that the caretaker is ill today and not coming to open up.  The telephone answerer was at a doctor’s appointment and couldn’t make it there for another half-hour or so (if at all).  Thus started my day in Ramle.
Ramle doesn’t run at the same pace as other places.  Yes, there is just one person to open the mosque, one person who sits at the White Tower, and a few more who work at the Pool of Arches.  If they are sick, have a doctor’s appointment, or for whatever reason can’t come to work, the sites are closed.  Calling ahead and making a reservation increases your odds of actually being able to get into the sites, but there is no guarantee.
An interesting phenomenon happened within the group after being denied access to the mosque.  They accepted Ramle for what it has become – an interesting place with a lot of history, but left in a different time.  And every site we arrived at after the mosque, and had someone there to let us in, was seen as a fortuitous event.
Downtown Ramle today is not a streamlined, modern city, but a kind of ramshackle of buildings from across the centuries.  Some of the old buildings are really decrepit, falling apart, and in some instances falling down.  We saw a building which collapsed only 2 weeks ago.  Obviously renovated in the 1950’s on a more ancient foundation, we saw how they used clay jars to fill in the spaces between the first floor arch and the second story.  Antique cars filled the streets alongside more modern buildings like the courthouse.  There are even a few buildings in the International (Bauhaus) style.
But back to the Mosque.   The Great Mosque in Ramle started as a Crusader Church.  It is one of 3 Crusader churches still standing in its entirety today in Israel (the other two being in Abu Ghosh and  in the Moslem Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City).  The style is typical Crusader Basilica architecture with a long central nave flanked by two side aisles.  Small, latticed windows, combed stones with some mason’s marks designate this building as a Crusader structure.  The Crusaders captured Ramle (without a battle) on June 2, 1099 on their way to Jerusalem.  Thinking that Ramle was the site of Ramatayim Tzofim or perhaps Rama (two towns associated with King Saul), they stationed a bishop here.  The church was constructed in the first half of the 12th century to commemorate another personality, Joseph of Aramathea (apparently Ramatayim Tzofim was equated with Aramathea) who requested that Jesus be buried in his personal burial plot.
The Mameluke Baybars conquered the area in 1266 and  in the late 13th century the church was rededicated as a mosque.  The transition from church to mosque necessitated a few changed to the interior and exterior structure.  The entrance to the church was from the short end of the rectangular building in the west, as direction of prayer in early churches was almost without exception to the east.  In contrast, entrance to mosques is from the long side with prayer being directed towards Mecca (in Israel this is to the south).  The Crusader doorway was filled in and new doors were opened in the north wall.  A prayer niche (michrab) was added to the southern wall of the church, as well as adding a minbar (raised platform from which the imam  gives his sermon on Fridays).  A women’s balcony was added, pews were removed and carpets cover the floor.  The bell tower was converted to a minaret.  Recently, green metal beams were added to shore up the building. The actual stones, the capitals, the arches, and the stark Gothic interior remain  and can be seen until today.

That is, if the caretaker comes to work.