History Archives - Yoni Tours

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.

Foot print site in the Jordan valley

Archaeology, Altars, and our Footprints at Risk!

Posted by | Archaeology, current events, History, Uncategorized | No Comments

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!

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

Posted by | Archaeology, History, Holidays, Jewish History | No Comments

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!

Holocaust survivors

Reflections on Holocaust Memorial Day

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The Siren has sounded.

It is Yom Hashoah. The day that we remember our six million brothers and sisters who were murdered for being Jewish. Across the country thousands of ceremonies are being held. most of them start with the siren that sounds across the country.

I’ve always found the sounding siren to be a strange dichotomy between a screaming loud sound that is inescapable and a complete and utter inner silence.

When the siren sounds everything comes to a stop. conversations, calls, work, traffic- everything. Time comes to a stop as we stand and remember.

As I stand in the loud silence and think of the huge dark inescapable hole left in our people as a result of the holocaust, a myriad of thoughts run through my mind.

• The stones at stones at the death camp of Treblinka. specifically the stone which is a memorial for the city of Bialystok in Poland. My great grandparents left the city before the Holocaust but almost all of their families where murdered.

• The concentration camps, extermination camps and killing sites that I saw on my trip to Poland in 2009

• The stories that I’ve read and heard

• The survivors that I knew who are no longer with us and those that I didn’t know.

• The same siren that a year ago sent me running for cover, is now telling me to stand still and remember

• The lessons that the world was supposed to learn and didn’t. Never again should apply to all nations and people. Why isn’t the world stopping the slaughters going on in Syria, Iraq, Rwanda and all of the other places where it is happening today.

• what does it mean for us. Does the fact that we are still here give us an additional task in life?

The siren stops.

Do I go back to reading the paper?

We remember. But what does that mean? Is it knowledge or a lesson?

Holocaust memorial day Israel 2015

Yoni Lightstone

Maccabees- Miracle or Strategic Brilliance

Posted by | History, Holidays, Jewish History, Uncategorized | One Comment

It’s Hannuka! As we sit spinning our driedels and eating latkes, let’s think about the miracle of this holiday, one of the two which were instituted by the Rabbis. In school, you probably learned that the Hannukah miracle was the oil lasting for eight days rather than one. But oddly enough, there is no mention of that miracle in the special prayers for the holiday.

In the prayers we say: ‘Thank you for delivering many into the hands of few’, which refers to God delivering the large Greek army into the hands of the Maccabees. But were the Hasmonian successes in battle a miracle, or the result of strategic brilliance?

The Seleucid Greek army of Antiochus IV was the largest, strongest and best trained military in the world. It isn’t possible that a couple hundred rag-tag farmers and priests managed to bring the largest force in the known world to its knees, or is it?

The power of the Seleucid army was in the phalanx, a strong formation of soldiers which was virtually unstoppable. Its only drawbacks were that it could only be utilized on level ground and it could only move forward. In that period all battles were fought at predetermined times and predetermined locations.
This was the brilliance of Judah the commander of the Maccabee forces: he was a master of guerilla warfare before it was even invented!

He understood that his forces were no match for the phalanx on an even playing field. Judah used his intimate knowledge of the mountainous land and the agility of light forces. In most of the battles he set up ambushes that caught the traveling Greek military strung out and unprepared.

As the multi-year conflict progressed, the Jewish forces preformed more intricate manoeuvres which succeeded in defeating the Seleucid army, which was already expecting ambushes. Out of the eight large battles between the sides, the Maccabees defeated the Greeks six times and won their religious and political independence, which is what we celebrate today.

Happy Hannuka!

Remembrance Day in Israel

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It is remembrance day in Israel now. The siren has just sounded throughout the country and I’d like to share a few thoughts

I grew up in Canada. Both of my grandfathers served in the Canadian Military as did other members of my family. That being said- Canadian Remembrance Day was important to me and had its place but for some reason Israeli Remembrance day always had a personal touch to me.

Since 2003, when I moved to Israel and joined the army my thoughts and emotions on this day have changed drastically

I served in the Nahal infantry unit and saw action in a number of areas.

During my training as an infantry soldier I began to feel a connection with every infantry soldier, a kinship with any soldier with the same beret colour, like family to everyone in my brigade and like a brother to everyone in my company.

Army training isn’t the safest thing in the world. Many mishaps occur. As months went by we were told of a few cases in which soldiers killed each other in training accidents. One evening my squad and I were talking about how we would feel if we killed one of our group by mistake. The overall conclusion was that we would feel a tremendous amount of guilt and grief strong enough to drive us to suicide.

That Friday, as is common on army bases, we got the newspapers and read of an accident that had occurred to the Golani infantry unit. A jeep had gotten stuck in mud and had then been driven over by an APC [armored personnel carrier], killing the two people in the jeep.

Having occurred so close to that conversation my squad had had, I understood the tremendous loss they must have been feeling in the unit and I felt a loss too. The feeling spread through the platoon and I realized that the whole army was mourning for those two soldiers. A few days later I visited some family in Rehovot and was told that my friend was at the funeral because he had done the commanders course with one of the soldiers in the jeep. I felt the loss from a different angle.

Time went on, our unit moved to Hevron, A few months later we moved to Gush Etzion/Bethlehem.
One day were sitting in our rec. room watching ‘Friends’ when our company commander ran into the room and yelled ‘everyone go pack your combat gear and your sleeping bags, there’s a 50/50 chance that we’ll be taken by helicopter into Gaza in the next few hours’.

In the chaos that ensued word spread that a mine had blown up an APC of the Givati Unit, killing 4. Rescue attempts had been launched resulting in a total toll of close to 13 soldiers. Terrorists had then stolen body parts from the wreckage. We were all shocked and outraged by this.
During the time I spent packing my stuff my anger changed into sorrow. Then I realized that the tragedy befell the platoon that my friend Yossi was in.
I was scared, was he still alive? I called he answered the phone, bawling his eyes out. He told me about the guys who had been killed. Once again I felt the loss from a different angle.

A few months passed, I got sick and spent two weeks in the hospital. I was then given sick leave. During that time my brigade moved from Bethlehem to Jenin. There we held three bases surrounding Jenin.

One day I was out at the beach with a friend when I got a call from my friend Ron. He said ‘Yoni, someone at one of the bases has been hit. Try to find something out!’ I called as many people as I could. No one knew anything. I called the officer who was in charge of all the wounded soldiers. She told me that she didn’t know anything. Half an hour later she called me back and told me that someone had been hit, their status wasn’t good, they were being air lifted to a hospital.

‘Who is it?’ I asked? She said that she couldn’t tell me as his parents hadn’t been notified. I was sick with worry, was it Hayim who had shared a tent with me during field week? Was it Ido who sat beside me for hours while I was in the hospital?

I called the last number I could, someone who would know and would tell me, my company commander. He told me that “It is Yair Tourjeman” “WHAT?! Tourjiman’s been hit?!” to us he had been a legend. He had done basic training with my commander, who had brought us up on stories about him.

With a sinking feeling in my stomach I called up my commander who had finished the army a few weeks earlier. He started to cry but at the same time he thanked me for telling him, and not letting him find out from the news. Then I called my sergeant who had been Tourjeman’s commander. He too started to cry.

30 days after the funeral I was standing by Tourjeman’s grave on Har Hertzel listening to his parents talk about how happy they were to have had such a good son who had helped so many people. Through misty eyes I looked around and saw the religious standing with the non religious, new immigrants standing with old Israelis Sphardim standing with Ashkenazim, all standing together untied around Tourjeman. I realized that it was due to thousands like Tourjiman that we have Israel today.

Even though I only knew of him and never actually met him, till today I feel like I lost a brother,

Two years later, during the second Lebanese war, I went out to Jaffa with a friend of mine.
That morning she had told me that her friend was in Lebanon and she was sure that he was going to die.
I spent the whole day trying to calm her down. As we were walking through the shuk (market) she got a phone call, I saw all the colour drain out of her face, and knew right away what had happened.

The funeral wasn’t going to be for a few days because Mikey was American and the army hadn’t managed to get hold of the parents. I was with all off Mikey’s friends for the days of mourning leading up to the funeral.

The funeral took place on Tisha Be’av. The Jewish day of mourning of the destruction of the Temples and every other tragedy that befell the Jewish people. Once again I was standing on Har Hertzel for a funeral.

Up until then I had been strong and not cried. But as I heard Mikey’s father saying Kaddish (a prayer that one says over a family member who dies), I imagined how it must feel to say Kaddish for the first time and the emotions just swept me away.

In the years that pass. I hear more and more stories. meet more people who have lost loved ones and the loss of Yair and Mikey grows.

On Yom Hazikaron we aren’t remembering an idea but thousands of brothers and sisters who gave everything so that we can be here today.

Bridge over Acbara valley

Bridge over the river Acbara

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It doesn’t happen often that I stop driving to look at a bridge. Now, I’ll admit that it is my job to show people interesting places and things- but a bridge, and in a country that barely has water?!

The Acbara bridge, which is one of the entrance points to the city of Tzfat, is truly majestic. It appears to be made out of matchsticks as it spans across the large and deep Acbara Valley.

With a height of 80 meters the bridge is the highest in Israel. It stretches to a span of 420 meters over the steep valley.

After the Yom Kippur war (1973) the government decided to build a road that went around Tzfat. The reasons behind this new highway were to ease access to the hospital in Tzfat from the north and to make it easier to transfer troops during a time of war.

There were complications in planning due to the impact of the road and bridge on the environment. Although the decision to build was made in 1973 construction didn’t begin until 2003 and the bridge was completed two years later.
The bridge is basically suspended. There are four pillars that span the eighty meters to the floor of the valley, and iron cords run through the bridge for additional support.

The bridge is designed to hold heavy weights and is used to transport tanks. At the same time the bridge is dynamic and has a bit of swing- it can withstand earthquakes of a magnitude of up to 8.9 on the Richter scale.

In addition to all that- the bridge spanning the beautiful Acbara valley is a breathtaking site. It is a must see to everyone who is visiting Tzfat.

Nabateans, Ashkelon and scallions

Posted by | Food, History | One Comment

The Nabatean people were a nomadic people who ran overland trade routes from Saudi-Arabia, Yemen and the far east (India, Thailand and China) during the Roman period.

They developed a system of wells and water cisterns in the desert which allowed them to travel the large distances with relative ease. In Israel the ruins of a number of their outposts can be seen today.

The Nabateans brought spices, incense and other riches from the east and Africa to the ports of the Mediterranean sea and from there exported the riches to the European world.

At some point in time the Nabateans stopped their nomadic life style and settled down. they built a number of cities in Israel which include Ovdat, Nitzana, Shivta and Mamshit. As a result of living in cities, their economy shifted from being based on spice trade to being based on agriculture.

With the rise of Christianity the Nabateans began to convert to christianity and grew grapes and made wine which was marketed to Europe. Over time the port of Gaza fell out of use and the port of Ashkelon rose in power and significance.

One of the many things which were exported from the port of Ashkelon were long thin green onions. In Europe these onions, which arrived from the port of ‘Ascalan’, were and to this day are called scallions.

Next time you go to the supermarket to buy scallions – consider the fact that you get them today due to an ancient port on the cost of the Mediterranean Sea called Ascalan.

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