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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.

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!

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!

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!

Knafeh from the market

The search for the perfect Knafeh

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

Many years ago I heard a song about HaKnafeh Hametuka– the sweet Knafeh. This piqued my interest. If it was so good that songs were written about it then I had to have some!

After a while of asking at stores and coffee shops, I found out that it was a sweet pastry with cheese and that I was most likely to find it in the Arab shuk (market).

Sure enough it was there- a brilliant orange coloured pastry made of a bed what looked like shredded filo dough covered with goat cheese and then sandwiched with another layer of the brilliant orange pastry.
I noticed that when the merchants sold servings of the Knafeh they would pour a warm syrup over it.

Similar to the Sachlav which I wrote about earlier, Knafeh is a popular traditional dessert in all parts of the Arab world which were once part of the Ottoman empire; Jordan, Syria, Turkey as well as a host of other countries including Israel.

There are many variations. For instance the colour can vary- in Jerusalem it is usually coloured bright orange. The major differences have to do with the type of pastry or the type of cheese filling. In some places the filling is a mixture semolina and milk rather than goat cheese.

During the summer, Knafeh is hard to come by, it is traditionally made during the winter.

Where can you find it? It can be found in the ‘shuk’ -markets in Jerusalem, in the city of Abu Gosh, and at various markets in Tel Aviv and Jaffa. As of yet, the best that I found was sold by a Bedouin who runs a stand (which isn’t always open) in the mall at the Alonim intersection (highway 77 and 75).

Some other interesting facts:

The largest plate of Knafeh was made in 2009 in Nablus. Its dimensions were 75 by 2 meters, and it weighed 1,350 Kg.

In 2013 Google reported that Knafeh was the food that was searched for most by Muslims during the month of Ramadan.

 

Here is a recipe for those of you who want to try it at home.

 

Ingredients

200 g kadaif noodles
75-100 g melted butter/ margarine
130 g soft goat cheese
1 c water
1 c sugar
2 tsp rose water

Directions

First you need to make a rose water syrup. Boil the water, add in the sugar and make sure it
all dissolves. Remove the mixture from the heat let it cool a bit and add in the rose water. Set the syrup aside for later use.

Start by separating the kadaif noodles from each other and coating them with the melted butter/ margarine. each of the strands has to be lightly coated with the butter. Separate the noodles into two even sections (100g each).

Take one of the portions of the noodles and spread it out on a frying pan. It should make a layer no thicker than half a cm and not to thin either.

As the layer of noodles is cooking spread the cheese over it and then over the cheese layer the second batch of noodles. when the bottom layer of noodles caramelizes (turns golden) flip it over and let the other side caramelize.

Just before you turn off the heat pour half of the syrup over the Knafeh . Serve it Immediately while it’s still hot.

Naturally it is best served alongside Turkish coffee.

Enjoy

Sachlav at the market

Sachlav: The winter comfort food of Israel

Posted by | Food, Markets, oriental food, recipes, traditional food, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Everyone has a comfort food for cold winter days. I acquired mine soon after moving to Israel.

On one of my first winter trips to the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem I noticed large metallic urns from which merchants were serving a thick aromatic drink..

After pouring a cup of a mysterious steaming thick white liquid the merchant sprinkled some cinnamon. crushed walnuts and dried coconut over it and sent me on my way.

It was then that my love affair with the ever elusive sachlav started.

I have spent hours and hours over years trying to find the best cup of sachlav. Most places will serve you milk, thickened with cornstarch and flavoured with rose water and a few spices.

The traditional drink dates back to Roman times and was most popular and spread throughout the Ottoman empire.
Sachlav or sachleb in Arabic translates to orchid. The sweet white drink is traditionally made from ground orchid bulbs.

During the time that it was most popular orchids almost became extinct in the lands under Ottoman control. The rising prices of the orchid bulbs resulted in the cornstarch version that is so common today.

When it is cold and I find myself in the streets of Jerusalem I always feel an uncontrollable pull to ‘Nisans’ spice shop at the Mahane Yehuda Market where I always find a smile and a cup of real sachlav made from orchid bulbs.

Here is a recipe that you can use to make it at home:

Ingredients: 

4 cups of milk (not skim)
2 tbsp. cornstarch
2 tsp. rose water
sugar to taste
ground cinnamon to taste
chopped walnuts/ pistachios to taste
ground coconut to taste

Directions:

Heat the milk in a small saucepan. Once the milk is warm add the cornstarch and mix with a fork until an even texture is achieved.
Let the milk simmer at a low heat until it thickens. Stir constantly to avoid burning the milk.
Mix in the rose water and remove from heat. Add sugar to taste.
Pour into a cup and sprinkle the cinnamon, coconut and nuts on top.
Enjoy!

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!

Our unified Nation

Posted by | current events, Uncategorized | One Comment

There is an old joke which states the following: A man (let’s say Jim) is out sailing in the ocean when his ship starts to sink. He quickly jumps into the life raft and floats around for days. Suddenly he happens upon a tiny island and sees a few huts. Quickly he rows towards the island hoping that there will be fresh water and food in the village.
As he gets to the beach a skinny old man comes running yelling
‘You found me! I’m saved!’
Jim is taken aback and says to the man.’ I thought you were saving me- you’re from this village…’
The man looks back and says’ I’ve been stranded here alone for years.
‘Then what’s that village?’ Jim asked.
The old man replied ‘ I’m Jewish. The first thing that I did when I got here was build two synagogues’
‘Two synagogues?! Why two?’
The man replied ‘One that I go to, and one that I’ll never step foot in!

Israel in a colourful and complicated country. It has a very divided population. There are deep divisions in Israeli society as a result of politics, religion and numerous other reasons.

Every once in a while I find myself wondering what happened to the unity of our people and how we became so divided.
Unfortunately every couple of years there is a war. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had to change plans as a result of a war with Gaza or Lebanon. Of course these wars cause arguments as to whether or not they are justified and the politicians are divided between right and left wing.

Strangely at these times that you think would bring even more division the people are more united.
The other day I went to a hospital to visit a few of the soldiers who had been wounded. I was amazed by what I saw. There was a plethora of people who had come to visit soldiers and bring them gifts. There were right wing, left wing religious and non religious people.

All of them came with smiles and gifts in order to support our soldier. people brought bags with snacks, clothing, homemade cookies and even tablets to give out to our soldiers. A small thank you for protecting us and our country.
one of the moments that stood out the most was as I was waiting for a bus to get back home an old ultra-orthodox couple came over to me- The Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel are known for not serving in the military and not supporting soldiers – They were carrying gift packages and asked me ‘ where are the soldiers?’ I replied ‘Who are you looking for? Anyone in particular?’ The answer which warmed my heart was ‘The soldiers- it doesn’t matter who!’
I pointed out to them which building to go to.

As I got on the bus I smiled with the knowledge that the entire nation is a unified and a single family even if we don’t always show it.

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