CamelYoni_123, Author at Yoni Tours

Wolf in Judean Desert

Wolf attacks in the Judean Desert

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In the past couple of years there have been a number of incidents of wolves attacking people in various camp sites and outdoor areas across the Judean Desert.

These have occurred in the areas around Massada and Ein Gedi which have are visited by thousands of tourists and Israelis every year.

The attacks have almost always been attempts to capture small children, generally in dark areas and only a small distance from adults.

This is alarming because it appears that two things have happened- the wolves have lost their fear of humans and they have begun to view humans as an optional food source.

researchers feel that there are a few things that may have lead to this happening.

It is possible that wolves have started identifying people with food as a result of food not being stored properly or being left in nature.

Another possibility is that these aren’t purebred wolves but a mix of wolves and dogs which would account for them not being scared of humans.

You’re probably asking; is it safe to go out to the desert? how do I protect myself?

It is safe to go out hiking in the Desert although you need to make sure to clean up after yourself and store food in away that animals can’t get to it.

Stay close to children!  Especially after dark.

If you see wolves getting close to people contact the parks authority.

The humble and majestic Pita

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In Israel, whether you’re sitting at home and getting a snack, going out for a falafel, making lunch for your kids or sitting in a high-class chef restaurant, there will always be one thing in common-

The humble and majestic pita.

The pita has a long history. It first originated in West Asia around the year 2500 BCE, in the time following it spread across the middle east and became a staple of the middle eastern diet.

There are a few  different techniques used to make pita. Traditionally they are baked in a stone oven although nomads cooked them over fires in the form of a laffa – a larger thinner flat bread without a pocket.

In modern times there are special mechanic ovens that bake the pitas from both sides ensuring that a beautiful pocket is formed.

The pita is a humble bread it is relatively cheap  and the most common bread in Israel and in the middle east.

At the same time it is frightfully versatile and the perfect side kick to many different styles of food. whether it be packed, used to scoop, to mix or any other form of use.

From labane to shakshuka, falafel to shwarma or the beautiful sabich- pita is the bread that you’re looking for!

Over the years i generally made pita at various campfires or tourist related gatherings- using a simple mixture of water and flour then tossing it over a large saj which was placed over a camp fire.

nothing too complicated- very straightforward.

One day I was at home and made shakshuka only to realise to my horror that I had no bread so I quickly made some pita before the food cooled down. It tasted just as good cooked on a stove top and not a fire.

Pita is a delicious bread and easy to make anywhere and everywhere. With this little and simple recipe you can bring some of Israel into your house wherever you are!!

This is a very basic pita recipe. They can be baked over a saj (upside down wok), in a dry frying pan (no oil) or the oven like you would any flatbread bake.

1 kg flour
1/4 cup oil
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
11/2 tsp yeast
Up to 3 cups water
Let raise for 1 hour
Split it to as many pitas as you want and rest for another hour.

Flatten them out into circles 1 cm thick and bake.

Bake until they are puffed up and slightly brown.

best eaten with zatar spice and olive oil!

Enjoy!!

Tisha B’Av and being a proud Jew

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On the Ninth day of the month of Av we have a day of mourning. On this day we fast, read the Megila of Eicha, and lamentations of different disasters that befell the Jewish people.

This day been observed for thousands of years. The date was picked due to the fact that both of the Jewish temples in Jerusalem were destroyed on this date.

The first Temple was destroyed in 586 BC by the Babylonian Empire, and the first Diaspora started. After 70 years, Jews were able to return to the land of Israel where they rebuilt the Temple and reinstated the Jewish Kingdom.

The second temple was Destroyed by the Roman Empire in the year 70 AD after 4 years of revolt by Jews against the Romans. This marked the beginning of the second Diaspora which we are still in today.

For thousands of years we have mourned the destruction of the Temple, and the dispersion of Jews from Israel.

Some people say that the Diaspora is over as most of the world’s Jews have returned to Israel and are in control of the land.

I believe that the Diaspora is a mindset that we are still stuck in.

This can be seen, for example, in many different policies that Israel adopts in regard to the Temple Mount.

Arabs can come and go as they please with no security checks. However, if someone Jewish wants to go up to the Temple Mount they can only at certain hours and only after a very thorough security check. Jews aren’t allowed to have anything or wear anything that ‘looks Jewish’ otherwise it will offend the Arabs. Israel doesn’t allow Jews to whisper prayers on the Temple Mount out of fear of how the Muslims would react.

After the terrorist attack on the Temple Mount last week in which Israeli Muslims smuggled guns onto the Temple Mount and killed two police officers, Israel placed metal detectors at the entrance and Muslims started to riot.

After a short period of time Israel gave in and removed the metal detectors, removing every form of Israeli control over what happens on the Temple Mount.

At the same time everyone has to go through metal detectors to get to the Kotel. The Kotel is not the holiest place for Jews, it just happens to be the closest that Jews can get to pray to the holiest place in Judaism which is the Temple mount.

I feel like all of this is result of the Diaspora mindset.

Every year I meet hundreds of young Jews from North America while guiding Birthright trips. Generally they come knowing that they are Jewish but little more than that.

After a week of learning about Judaism, Israel and Zionism they tell me that for the first time ever they are proud of being Jewish.  From many Israelis who join the trips I hear that they are proud of being Israeli but not very connected to the Jewish side.

Just like our ancestors had to spend 40 years in the desert to learn how to be a free people, I feel like we need to put work into being a people.

We need to build up on our Jewish pride and look for ways to bring all Jews together as opposed to separating into different sects.

When we can all exude pride in our heritage and religion and feel that we are unified, that will be a sign that the Diaspora is ending.

evacuation of allepo picture from AP

Syria and Israel- When your enemy is in need (How is the middle east such a mess?!)

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The Mess
The whole mess called the Middle East is exactly that- a mess. In order to understand the conflict we need to understand the root issues that led to the current situation.

 
In the Arab world a person’s loyalty is to their family and clan. They have little loyalty to their city and much less to their country. The idea of a country is a foreign one to Arab culture and this contributes to many of the problems in the Arab world.

 
The majority of Arabs are Muslims. There are two major groups of Muslims- Shi’ite and Sunni. The Shi’ites and Sunnis have been at war with each other since a disagreement in 632 C.E. over who would be the heir to the prophet Muhammad. This disagreement has been the basis for many bloody wars throughout the Muslim world.
There are many other ethnic groups spread around the Middle East – including the Alawite, Druze, Kurds and Yazidis among others.

 

Throughout history, until the fall of the Ottoman Empire, there was free movement of clans throughout the area. In the modern period borders were decided upon without taking peoples and clans into consideration. It ended up that there were many clans in one country and sometimes one ethnic group was split between many countries.
In each country there was one clan that ruled over the others. The ruling clan benefited from their power and the other clans were treated as second class citizens. Only a strong and sometimes ruthless leader was able to keep all of the clans and peoples in line and keep the country functioning. If the central power wavered the country would fell into anarchy with each clan fighting for its own.

These factors- loyalty to the clan, Shiite and Sunni dislike, and a combination of other ethnic groups are the basis of the instability in the Middle East.

This is what happened in Iraq. Liberia, and Syria.

Assad, the leader of Syria, is Alawite. Although the Alawites see themselves as Muslims, most Muslims see them as heretics. The largest ethnic group in Syria are the Shiite Muslims who started a revolt against Assad. As opposed to other countries that experienced the ‘Arab Spring’, in Syria many minorities in aligned with Assad fearing that they would be worse off under Shiite control.
As the rebel forces pushed away Assad’s control a vacuum of power was created. That created a situation where any person with charisma who felt that they could win could have conceivably created their own state. ISIS also noticed the opportunity and stepped in.

Iran supports many Shi’ite factions around the world including the Hezbollah in Lebanon. When Iran saw that there was a danger of the Sunni gaining power in Syria, they sent the Hezbollah in from Lebanon. As time went on and they saw that the regime of Assad was losing power.

In addition to their proxies they sent Iranian soldiers into Syria.

At the present time there are Muslims worldwide traveling to Syria to fight on either the Shi’ite side or the Sunni side.

To make matters worse- the non-committal Obama government stuttered and was unclear on where it stood in the conflict. Seeing the lack of leadership in America, Russia saw the possibility in growing their influence of power and swooped in to aid Assad.

Rather than get directly involved, America armed Kurds and used them as proxies against ISIS. Russia is currently bombing Kurds because the kurds are also fighting against Assad, meaning that on that front Russia is unintentionally helping ISIS….

In comes Turkey! Although Turkey is backed by America, as are the Kurds, Turkey has had an issue with the Kurds for well over a century. Turkey is not passing up this opportunity to pummel the Kurds.

Currently there are over 600 armed factions fighting against one another. It is estimated that close to half a million people have been killed and millions have been displaced.

The Israel Side

In the Middle East is the phrase ‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend’ does not hold true. All of the aforementioned clans, countries and others are, if not at a state of war with Israel, at the very least are anti-Israel. Any side that Israel attempts to help will be turned on by everyone else.
Syria has been in a state of war with Israel since 1948. The current border between Israel and Syria is not an agreed border. Rather it is a cease-fire line that has been a point of debate since 1967. Syrian civilians who are caught in the middle grew up knowing that Israelis are demons and have no love for Israel.

Due to these reasons, from the beginning Israel adopted a policy of not getting involved. For us in Israel the bottom line is that there is a huge armed conflict going taking place on Israel’s northern border.

So what is Israel doing? Where is the most humane country that sends aid to every disaster? Good question!
Relatively early in the conflict wounded Syrians were being smuggled to the Israeli border. Israel quietly, and under cover opened up field hospitals to treat the wounded by the border. Israeli doctors treated the wounded in the field and sent them back. Soon the severely wounded people were transferred to bigger hospitals in the north. Once the treatment was finished they went back into Syria. Some of these people who were treated praised Israel while others said that they wished Israel nothing but destruction!

Israel doesn’t ask how the person was wounded or whether the wounded person is a civilian or a combatant. To date

Israel has treated more than 2600 Syrians.

Recently there have been three positive developments in Israel’s involvement. These changes in policy towards Syria are on the humanitarian level and far away from anything military.

1. An Israeli civilian organisation called “Across the Border” is raising money and sending aid to civilians in Syria.

2. Israel started openly accepting wounded civilians, as compared to their previous undisclosed medical aid.

3. Israel recently announced that they would absorb a number of orphaned Syrian children.

I believe that there is more that we have to do to help the people suffering so close to us, but I am very proud of my country for taking these steps to help an enemy in need.

Foot print site in the Jordan valley

Archaeology, Altars, and our Footprints at Risk!

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Thousands of years ago Joshua lead the children of Israel across the Jordan river. According to the book of Joshua they crossed the Jordan River parallel to the city of Jericho at a place called Gilgal. When they completed the crossing they made a ceremony with twelve large stones symbolizing the twelve tribes. From there they began the conquest of the promised land.

In this week’s Torah portion (Ki Tavo) we read of a blessing and a curse which will be given to the twelve tribes once they are in the promised land. In the book of Joshua this same curse and blessing is recorded as having been given.

These shall stand upon mount Gerizim to bless the people, when ye are passed over the Jordan: Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Joseph, and Benjamin and. these shall stand upon mount Eval for the curse: Reuben, Gad, and Asher, and Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.; Devarim 27:12-13

Adam Zartal- an Israeli archaeologist found the site on mount Eval where this blessing was given.

In1989 a number of ancient archaeological sites were discovered in the Jordan valley. The most intriguing of them are the five ‘foot print sites’. These sites are dated to the 12-13th century B.C., which aligns itself with the period of the conquest.

foot print site

foot print site

Incredibly when viewed from above they have an uncanny resemblance to the sole of a shoe or a foot print. Hence being called ‘foot print sites’ (אתר כף הרגל )

The conquest of the land of Israel was completed over a period of many. It started with the city of Jericho followed by the Ai followed by other cities in the Jordan Valley.

Adam Zartal believed that these were ceremonial cites due to their shape and the presence of an alter at the center of each of them. He also drew a connection between these sites and ‘Gilgal’ ,which is mentioned multiple times in the bible, as they are made of conjoined circles.

He believed that the foot shape of the sites signifies that the children of Israel making a statement that they had taken ownership over the land.

The above-mentioned curse and blessing was given at one of these foot print sites which is located at mt. Eval which is close to the Palestinian city of Nablus (Shchem).

Shchem and Mt. Eival

Shchem and Mt. Eival

These incredible archaeological and historical sites are in the mountains of the Jordan valley, The majority of which is Palestinian controlled territories. This area has little supervision, legislation and/or enforcement over the well being of archaeological sites.

Many decisions pertaining to building of infrastructure made by the Israeli military administration in the areas of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan valley are influenced by strategic, or sometimes monetary decisions while failing to take into account possible damage to archaeological site. The decisions or making them less accessible to Israeli citizens.

Unfortunately the Israeli military administration recently made such a decision with regards to one of these foot print sites. They have given permission to the Palestinian authority to build a garbage dump beside this archaeological and historical treasure.

I highly recommend learning more about these sites and getting out to see them if you can.
Further more If you are concerned about the protection of these and other precious archaeological sites you can write to The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Unit (COGAT) at Cogatspokesman@gmail.com with your concerns about the foot print archaeological site located at Rimonim!

Meteor Shower in the Negev Desert

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With its dark skies, wide open spaces and deep valleys the Negev Desert is known as the place to go for stargazing. The desert brings two major factors to the table when it comes to dark skies;

The first factor is light pollution. The few and far between built up areas bring light pollution to a minimum.

The second and possibly the more important factor is the small amount of humidity in the air. The lack of humidity provides clearer skies. these two aspects make the Negev the optimum location for star gazing.

Over the years, hundreds of youth groups have hiked through the valleys of the Negev at night in order to spend time stargazing.

In and around the Ramon crater there are dozens of locations which are beckoning for stargazers and photographers alike.

At Khan HaShayarot and the Ramon Crater there are guided star gazing activities and they can be organized year round.

In the clarity and darkness of the night skies in the Negev, The naked eye can see a number of planets, the milky way, and a plethora of constellations.

In order to make the star gazing experience complete I suggest looking at a moon calendar, plan to be out on a night when the moon sets early and or is not a full moon.

All of this is true on a regular night. from time to time there are meteor showers!

Every year the Perseids Meteor Shower happens over the skies of Israel.

During the shower myriads of people head to the desert in order to see the meteors in all their glory!

This year the meteor shower will be on the dates of 11,12 and 13 of august. The shower will be at its strongest on the night of the 12th.

There are going to be organized star gazing events throughout the desert. But nothing beats going out to the desert as a family or with a guide!

Enjoy!!

Yom Yerushalayim- Jerusalem Day

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It is Jerusalem day!

One of the more interesting holidays of the Israeli calendar. You are probably asking yourself- Why does Jerusalem get a day which receives nationwide recognition? And what exactly is Jerusalem day commemorating?

It is a day which is the result of thousands of years Jewish yearning, along with a sprinkling of relatively recent trauma from the War of Independence.

For thousands of years Jews worldwide have always prayed towards Jerusalem. During the times of the Diasporas Jews have always yearned to return to the city of Jerusalem and more specifically to Mt. Moria, the location of the destroyed Jewish temples. It was only natural that when the Jewish State of Israel would be declared that Jerusalem would be its center and capital.

During the War of Independence the Jerusalem area saw some of the most fierce fighting. The old city of Jerusalem with all of its holy sites was held under siege for over six months!!

On may 28th 1948 the Jewish forces in the Jewish quarter of the old city were taken captive by the Jordanian Legion.

At the end of the war the new city of Jerusalem was in Israeli hands and the old city of Jerusalem was part of Jordan. The Jordanians destroyed all of the abandoned Synagogues in the old city and once again the Jewish holy sites were unreachable.

This remained the state of affairs until the six day war.

On the first morning of the war, June 5th 1967, Jordanian forces moved into the Israeli parts of Jerusalem. Israel retaliated with a massive counterattack and within three days the old city and eastern Jerusalem was in Israel’s hands.

These battles over a relatively small area cost Israel a quarter of all the casualties in the war.
The reunification of Jerusalem was on the Jewish date 28th of Iyar which is when Jerusalem day is celebrated.

The reunification of Jerusalem and freedom of movement to the holy places was, to many, the recognition of ancient prophecies promising a return to Jerusalem!

On this day there are a large number of festivals and ceremonies which include: a large parade, a dance with flags throughout the old city, concerts and much more!

Of Harvesting Barley, Counting, and a Bloody Revolt against the Romans

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The period of time between the holiday of Passover and Shavuot is known as ‘Sefirat haOmer’.
The Torah orders us to count the 49 days separating the two holidays, Passover, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, and Shavuot, commemorating receiving the An offering of barley was given in the Temple on each of the 49 days as this period coincides with the harvest of grains.

During the time of the Temple, the period of time between the holidays was an elongated celebration. This is very different from what happens now. Currently many traditions of mourning are kept for part of this period (from the first day until the 33rd of the 49 days).

Traditionally we learn that thousands of the students of Rabbi Akiva (circa 130 C.E.) perished from a divine plague during these 4 weeks as a punishment for acting disrespectfully towards each other.
How does this make sense? Rabbi Akiva is widely acclaimed for the statement, “ve’ahavta l’reacha kamocha” – love your neighbor as you would yourself. It doesn’t quite fit that specifically his students would disrespect each other to a point of receiving such a divine punishment.

Let’s take another look of what was going on at the time in the land of Israel and who the main players were.

60 years had passed since the great revolt against the Romans which had resulted in the destruction of the Temple and expulsion of Jews from Jerusalem. A widespread revolt had started. Lead by Shimon Bar Kochva, this revolt became known as the Bar Kochva revolt (132-136 C.E.). Rabbi Akiva was the main spiritual leader in Israel and supported the revolt.

A number of early successes against the Roman Empire lead to an independent Jewish territory in Judea for two years. This independence was eventually crushed by a force of more than six legions. The Roman Empire executed a swift and strong revenge against the Jews.

According to Cassius Dio (a Roman consul and historian), over 580,000 Jews were killed in the war. Those who survived were sold into slavery.

In addition to this widespread destruction, Hadrian took many steps to erase any chance of the Jews rising again. He executed many Jewish scholars, forbid the teaching and learning of Torah, and changed the name of the area of Judea and Samaria to Syria Palestina in an attempt to erase any memory of a Jewish homeland.

I suspect that the thousands of students who perished in such a short period of time where most likely fighting against the Roman legions.

Today we are still discovering secret hideouts that were used by Jewish fighters during the revolt! I recommend getting dirty and crawling/ climbing through the tunnels of the hideout in Hurvat Midras. This tunnel system in the area of Beit Guvrin shows one of the main Jewish tactics. Bar Kochva didn’t have the man-power or the weapons to take on a legion in a strait out battle. Instead, he used guerrilla tactics. After attacking Roman soldiers, the Jewish forces would escape into tunnel systems which were well hidden from sight. In the event that a Roman soldier did find the tunnel he would have to shed all of his weapons and armor to crawl in, rendering him defenseless.

As you travel to the ancient Jewish town, you can see the grains growing in the area and remember how those same grains were offered at the Temple during this period some two thousand years ago!

Grus Cranes enjoying the warmth of the Hula Valley

Birds, migration and the Hula Valley

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Birds, Migration and the Hula Valley

Every year millions of birds travel across the world in order to be in optimal breeding places at the right time. In general, birds enjoy spending the spring and summer months in the northern hemisphere and the winter months in the southern hemisphere where it is warm and where food is plentiful.

Some birds are known to travel as far as 14,000 km each migration. Birds can fly high enough to traverse the Himalayas and other high mountain ranges.

There are two main methods of migration. Smaller birds, such as quail and hummingbirds, “actively” travel the great distances. They fly overnight for long stretches and then spend a couple of days eating and recuperating before their next flight. Because they spend the entire flight flapping their wings, they are able to cross large bodies of water.

Larger birds such as storks and cranes use thermals and glide over large distances. This means that the large birds have to fly during the day and over land.

These factors together result in large numbers of birds at bottlenecks between the hemispheres, in places such as southern Mexico, Gibraltar, the Philippines, and surprisingly enough, Israel.

Now, if you take large numbers of birds and bring them to an area which is relatively warm, quiet and has food and water, the birds will feel as though they checked into a five star hotel. Some birds will stop for a quick bite and carry on, some will stay overnight, and some may decide to stay.

This is what happens at the Hula Valley, which is a paradise for birds and bird watchers alike!

The Hula valley, located in northern Israel, is a large valley between Upper Galilee and the Golan Heights. The valley was originally wetlands which were the perfect place for the birds.

These wetlands were dried up by Israel during the 1950’s to make room for agriculture. This devastated the ecological balance of the area and many of the birds stopped migrating over this area.

In the 1960’s, Israel recognised the depth of the mistake and part of the valley was reflooded. Over time, many of the birds which had stopped visiting started to come back, and only recently a frog which was thought extinct was rediscovered!

A standard shakshuka

Israels’ Ultimate Breakfast

Posted by | Food, Markets, oriental food, recipes, traditional food, Uncategorized | One Comment

If you could create the perfect breakfast- one that could also be served as a good lunch or dinner, what would it be?

I can hear you saying to yourselves ‘obviously hummus ‘ or ‘Yoni’s thinking about shawarma like he always does’ but no. I’m thinking of the true breakfast of champions- Shakshuka!

Shakshuka is a staple of many north African countries including Tunisian, Libya, Algeria and Morocco. It was introduced to Israel in the 1950’s when thousands of Tunisian and Maghrebi Jews immigrated. You may have seen it before- a frying pan filled with a red tomato sauce in which an egg or two have been cooked.

We Israelis have developed it past a simple food into a complete art form. Over time it has developed from a working class food to a well known and recognized national treasure.

The basics of Shakshuka are always the same although different traditions and different restaurants make Shakshuka in their own unique way. Some make the sauce based on red peppers, others add copious amounts of spinach. Some places give it a ‘balkan’ flavour by adding salty cheese and eggplant.

Regardless of the various changes it always makes a very filling and nourishing meal!

If you really want t understand what shakshuka is all about I recommend going to many small coffee shops and trying various types. I recommend Dr. Shakshuka in Jaffa, and I was very pleasantly surprised by the shakshuka served at the old train station in Jerusalem.

There are many restaurants which boast having the best one, and every Israeli will tell you that he can make the best one.
But to tell the truth, I make the best Shakshuka of all. For all of you at home who want to make your first Shakshuka here is my recipe:

Yoni’s Best Shakshuka

Ingredients:

2 large onions diced
1 red pepper diced
2 very ripe tomatoes diced
100 ml tomato paste
100 ml water
5 cloves garlic
4 cardamom pods
3 dashes of hot paprika
3 dashes of turmeric
3 dashes of cumin
salt
pepper
bunch of dried sweet basil
handful of diced parsley
tbsp. diced ginger root
copious amounts of olive oil
4 eggs

Directions:

Saute garlic, ginger, cardamom pods and onion in a wide frying pan. Once the onions are ‘clear’ add the cumin, turmeric and hot paprika. Mix it in until the spices are evenly spread and add the red pepper.
As the red pepper is sautéing add the basil and parsley.
When you smell the basil and parsley add the diced tomatoes and mix very well.
Add in the tomato paste and 100ml water and mix well.
Add salt and pepper.
Cook the mixture for two minutes at a low heat so that it doesn’t burn.
Add enough water to almost cover the vegetables, and bring the mixture to a simmer.
Dig 4 small indentations for the eggs. Pour each egg into each to its own indentation. Cover the pan and let cook for a couple of min until the whites cook but the eggs are still soft.

Serve with fresh pita and a nice fresh salad.

Enjoy!

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