On High Ground

The Hills of Yodfat are Alive with the Sound of Hebrew

By David E. Kaplan

It is a Kaplan family Bar Mitzvah in the quant intimate shul (synagogue) at Yodfat, a moshav in northern Israel in the picturesque high mountains of the Lower Galilee. The shul is packed – mostly with animated children of all ages. Following my brother Sidney  as both a Cohen and grandfather to the Barmitzvah boy Yoav being called up first for an Aliyah  – I followed.

The Children are our Future. The children of Yodfat singing a song to the Bar Mitzvah boy – Yoav Kaplan. His grandsfather, Sidney Kaplan (right) was a founding member of the nearby South African moshav – Manof.

I made my way, maneuvering the short joyful journey between children sitting on bunk benches in the isle, I ascend the Bimah and before reciting the blessing for the reading of the Torah, I look up and to the right of the ark out a wide window and saw the green valley leading to the mountain-top fortresses of Yodfat.

It is no ordinary vista that this shul looks out on!

Embedded into the physical landscape of modern Israel, it is in the psychological landscape that this ancient Jewish fortress  stands as a stark and dark reminder of those enemies that may come to try erase Jewish life from this land. It happened 2000 years ago and began the process of exile until 1948, but the same battle persists. “Rome” has other names today.

I recite the prayer; the Barmitzvah boy reads from the Torah and I smile as I look at all the children who are armed to their teeth with sweets to later throw at Yoav when he has completed his Haftarah, to wish him a “sweet” life as he makes the transition to adulthood. I then momentarily reflect on who was armed to the teeth at this very same spot 2000 years earlier – ROMANS – and not with sweets!

War and Peace. Looking out from where the Roman legions were positioned 2000 years ago to modern day moshav Yodfat in the background where the synagogue is perched on the crest of the hill.

What bloodily played out on these ochre hilltops created a narrative that continues to caution and inspire ensuing generations of Israelis.

Walking to the shul earlier, I breathed in the fresh country air and feasted my eyes on the valley with its vineyards and orchards, olive trees, and goats roaming in the distance tended by a young shepherd. The scene was pastoral and peaceful – a far cry from the cataclysmic clash of arms that occurred at this exact spot in 67 CE when heroic Jewish fighters took on the might of the Roman Empire.

Time to Rejoice. Grandfather Sydney Kaplan speaking in Hebrew to his grandson Yoav at the Bar Mizvah reception in a garden overlooking the site of the tragic Roman siege 2000 years earlier.

In early June of that year, a force of 1,000 Roman cavalrymen arrived at Yodfat to seal off the town, defended by Jewish forces commanded by Yosef Ben Matityahu (the future Flavius Josephus). Prior to the Roman assault, Ben Matityahu had fortified nineteen of the most important towns of the region, including Yodfat.After a failed attempt to confront the Roman army at Tzipori, he retired to Tiberias, but soon thereafter established himself at Yodfat, drawing the Roman legions to the town. A day later at the foothills not far from the shul where we were proudly celebrating Yoav’s Barmitzvah, stood the amassed Roman legions of the Fifth, Tenth and Fifteenth as well as auxiliaries consisting of Arabian archers and Syrian slingers led by General Vespasian and supported by his son Titus, who would both emerge as future emperors of Rome.

These Roman “occupiers” meant business. Literally ‘Dressed to kill’, they aspired to crush an uprising that would become known in history as “The Great Jewish revolt” or “The Jewish War”. This was 2000 years ago and long before anyone ever heard of Palestinians!

Hill of Hereos. The ancient town of Yodfat was positioned on this isolated hill hidden between high peaks, surrounded on three sides by steep ravines.  During the “Great Revolt” in year 67 CE – Yodfat, the last stronghold of Jewish resistance after the fall of Zippori – was besieged by three Roman legions and resisted for 47 days before the city fell.  

I return from the Bimah to take my seat next to my brother. We exchange comments about the lively atmosphere with loving parents battling to keep some decorum amongst their animated kids – mostly friends of the Barmitzvah boy. It’s a sheer Shabbos delight. And then I contrast this image of an imagined one of Jewish kids 2000 years earlier looking down at the Roman legions with their frightening coloured attire and menacing siege machines. It was laughter today; it was fear then. It should never again be the other way around – ever!

Romans came Prepared. A typical Roman siege machine that the defenders at Yodfat would have faced.

Vespasian had pitched his own camp north of the town, facing  the only accessible side, while his forces surrounded the city. An assault against the wall on the second day of the siege failed, and after several days in which the Jewish defenders made a number of successful sorties against his forces, Vespasian changed tactics.  He instructed for the building of a siege ramp against the city walls, and when these works were disrupted by the Jews, Vespasian set 160 engines, catapults and ballistas  – backed by lightly armed troops, slingers and archers – to dislodge the defiant defenders from the walls. These were in turn met with repeated sallies by the besieged, but work on the ramp continued, raising it to the height of the battlements and forcing Ben Matityahu to have the walls themselves raised.  Roman measure was met with Jewish countermeasure and the battle ebbed and flowed…..

Peace and Tranquility. The only connection today of Yodfat to the times of conquering Rome is that its pastoral beauty is often described as “Shades of Tuscany”.

As always with such sieges, water was an issue for the defenders on top of a high hill so Ben Matityahu had Yodfat’s limited supply of water rationed before the siege began. The Romans had heard of this and began to use their artillery to target any efforts to draw water, hoping to exacerbate an already difficult situation and bring a swift end to the siege. The defenders, in a far-in-the-future future Mossad type of maneuver, cunningly confounded the Romans by wringing out their clothes over the battlements until the walls were running with water, leading the Romans to believe the Jews had some hidden supply of water.

According to Ben Matityahu, later writing as Josephus, this taunting had a twin effect – one negative and one positive. It strengthened Roman resolve but it also steeled the mettle of the defenders to fight, preferring to die by the sword than from thirst or starvation.

Man with Menace. A statue of Emperor Vespasian who in 66 AD was appointed to suppress the Jewish revolt underway in Judea.

There was of course an atmosphere of inevitability where this was ultimately heading. “Proportionality” was never a consideration in Vespasian’s battle plans to expunge a Jewish presence at Yodfat.

With the completion of the assault ramp, Vespasian ordered a battering ram  brought up against the wall. The defenders responded with ingenuity.  They lowered sacks filled with chaff to absorb the blows, they set fire to the ram and as chronicled by Josephus, one of the defenders, renowned for his strength, cast a huge stone on the ram from above, breaking off its head.

This infuriated the Romans. A physical act but it was also symbolic – decapitating the “head” of a war machine. This shortly took on a new meaning when the “head” – the future Emperor Vespasian himself was wounded by a defender’s dart. The Romans were so incensed driving their assault to a fever pitch but still were beaten back.

Eventually, on July 20, 67, a band of Romans reportedly led by Titus himself, stealthily scaled the walls, cut the throats of the watch and opened the gates, letting in the entire Roman army.

What followed was a slaughter. While the descendants today of some of Rome’s conquered like in modern day Britton may cherish the famed Roman baths, Yodfat records only a Roman blood bath!

According to Josephus, 40,000 were slain or committed suicide and 1,200 women and infants were taken into slavery. Vespasian ordered the town demolished and its walls torn down and prohibited burial of the fallen. It was only a year or more later when Jews were allowed to return to bury the remains in caves and cisterns.

Yodfat Today.  Enjoy the fun of Yodfat today by visiting “Boacha Yodfat” (literally, “As you approach Yodfat”) – a recreation and shopping center, located in a grove of oaks, providing stunning views. Here you will find stores, a gallery, a jewelry studio, a delicatessen, a dairy café, a bakery and a nearby “Monkey Forest”.

So even on this day 2000 years later, the sound of innocent chatter and laughter soliciting reprimands from the rabbi, were to me like music to the ears.

If the few surviving children of ancient Yodfat were cruelly sold off into slavery never to return, Jews did RETURN and today’s young children in the shul of modern Yodfat on this Shabbat were sending a strong message – this was our home 2000 years ago and is our home today.

Nothing more audibly conveys this message than that Latin  – the language of Rome –  is today a dead language while the hills of Yodfat are alive with the sound of Hebrew!


L’Chaim – “to Life”. Two thousand years later, there is much to toast about at Yodfaf as seen by these visitors enjoying the good life at “Boacha Yodfat”






While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Message from Megiddo – A Wrong Righted

Celebrating the centenary of Isaac Ochberg’s 1921 daring rescue of orphan children from war-torn Eastern Europe

By David E. Kaplan

Chairman of the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee (Israel)

Motorists in the Megiddo region could once have been excused when driving past signs marked “EVEN YITZCHAK”, designating a picturesque plateau of rolling green hills in Israel’s Lower Galilee,  and wondering:

 “Which Yitzchak?”  

Is it the Isaac from the Bible or the late Prime Minister, war hero and pursuer of peace – Yitzchak Rabin? Apart from local residents, few would have known it honoured the South Africa businessman, philanthropist, saviour of Jewish children and Zionist visionary – Isaac Ochberg.

No more …..

Man with a Mission. Isaac Ochberg (1878-1937) Ukrainian-born South African businessman, Jewish community leader, saviour of Jewish orphans in Eastern Europe and passionate supporter of  a Jewish State in Palestine.

Finally, one of South Africa’s greatest Jews, Isaac Ochberg (1878-1937), received the recognition he deserves when an estimated 13,000 people across the world linked on through Zoom and YouTube on the 14 March 2021 to participate in  the South African Jewish Report webinar marking the centenary of his heroic rescue of Jewish orphan children from Eastern Europe in 1921.  

“Daddy Ochberg”. Isaac Ochberg  (centre) wearing a hat with the selected orphans before leaving Eastern Europe for the UK on route to Cape Town, South Africa in 1921.

It did not matter that it was 4.00am in Sydney, 2.00am in Perth, 5.00pm in the UK, 7.00 pm in South Africa and Israel or 12.00 pm noon in New York City, the descendants of those rescued children joined a global viewership, enthralled by the wonders of a man that to this day, impacts the lives of so many thus embodying the dictum from the Talmud:

He who has saved one life is as if he has saved the entire world

Ochberg Centenary. Ochberg orphan descendants and members of the South African community  in Israel join representatives from JNF-KKL, Knesset, Telfed, the Megiddo Regional Council and members of the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee at an Ochberg  centenary ceremony at the Ochberg Park, Megiddo on the March 2021.  Covered by the national Hebrew daily, Yedioth Ahranot, the writer together with Hertzel Katz  (front left) hold up a portrait of Isaac Ochberg. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)
 

With the Covid pandemic preventing a planned centenary celebration at the Ochberg Park – inaugurated at the 90th anniversary in 2011 with visitors attending from all over the world – the Centenary instead was brought into the homes of thousands across the world. Initiated and organized by the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee, the Megiddo Regional Council and supported by the JNF-KKL that had originally sponsored the creation of the Ochberg Park, the Centenary webinar was hosted by the SA Jewish Report with Howard Sackstein moderating a panel of speakers ranging from historians, members of the Ochberg family to descendants of the Ochberg orphans. This was followed by a ceremony from the Ochberg Park filmed by Dr. Les Glassman in Megiddo with addresses from the State President in Israel, Reuven Rivlin, the Chairman of the Jewish Agency, Isaac Herzog, Chairman of KKL, Avraham Duvdevani, the Mayor of the Megiddo Regional Council, Itzik Kholawsky, Megiddo Planning & Development, Ayal Rom, Member of the Knesset, Ruth Wasserman Lande, the Chair of Telfed, Batya Shmukler and the Chairman of the Isaac Ochberg Committee, David Kaplan. These  addresses were interspersed with singing from youth choirs from Megiddo and the event concluded with the national anthems of Israel and South Africa, signifying the bridge built by Ochberg between his two pursuits – helping South Africa and helping the creation and development of a future State of Israel.

Member of Knesset, Ruth Wasserman Lande addresses the gathering in front of the memorial to Isaac Ochberg  Megiddo at the centenary event. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

Apart from the daring rescue of 187 Jewish orphans and bringing them safely to South Africa, and whose names are embedded on plaques on the ‘Hill of Names’ at Megiddo’s Ochberg Park,  what was largely forgotten was his substantial support for a Jewish state, in the days when it was still a farfetched dream. The bequest he left in 1937 through Keren Hayesod to KKL- JNF  – the largest to date ever made by an individual – was used to acquire the land that became two large kibbutzim in this area, Dalia and Gal’ed, both established before Israel’s independence and by Jewish youth movements, and both absorbed survivors from the Holocaust – precisely fulfilling Ochberg’s legacy of Jewish salvation.  If Ochberg personally saved lives of children in 1921, his legacy ensured that next generations of Jews were saved in the turbulent  years that followed. Is it little wonder as Megiddo Mayor Kholawsky  reminds us  why huge swathes of this region was called ‘Even Yitzchak’ – Hebrew for the ‘Stone of Isaac”. How appropriate that the Ochberg saga is solidly  embedded in the topography of Megiddo.

Past Preserved. Erin Kumin, points to the plaque of her great-grandmother, Janie Odes, one of the orphans saved by Isaac Ochberg in 1921 at centenary event at the Ochberg Park on the 12 March 2021. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

The Megiddo Regional Council and the Ochberg Committee are planning an expansion of the park  with a promenade and facilities to perpetuate the Ochberg legacy and attract tourism – a message that Ochberg himself conveyed way back in 1926. In an interview with South Africa’s The Zionist Record following his visit to Palestine with his beloved wife Polly that year, Ochberg urged all South Africans to spend their holidays in Eretz Yisrael, saying:

Even outside of political and national reasons it is well worth while. The glorious scenery, the fine climate, and its many historic places make a visit to this land a most enjoyable and certainly an unforgettable experience.”

Field of Dreams. Ochberg dreamt of a green fertile Israel such as this field with youngsters cycling at the Ochberg Park, Megiddo.(Courtesy Megiddo Regional Council)

What is quite fascinating is the entrepreneur and visionary characteristics of Ochberg’s personality being revealed in this same 1926 interview when he says:

I came away with a feeling of confidence that the Jewish problem can and will be solved ultimately in Eretz Yisrael and in Eretz Yisrael only.”

Alive Because of One Man. Descendants of Ochberg orphans from all over the world attend the inauguration of the Ochberg Park, Megiddo in 2011 are seen here at nearby Kibbutz Gal’ed, founded in 1945 by members of Habonim from Germany. The kibbutz was built on land purchased by the JNF-KKL from the Isaac Ochberg bequest.  (Photo D.E. Kaplan)
 

He then continues:

As a commercial man, I could not help but be genuinely impressed by the fine progress of industrial development in so young a country. There is every prospect of most important industrial development in Palestine as the country grows.”

For 1926, prophetic words indeed!

Always a man of action, Ochberg puts his words into action following his visit to Palestine, where he was deeply moved  by the new Hebrew University taking shape on Mount Scopus,  and set about financially supporting practical education in Palestine by sponsoring Chairs of Agriculture – which he felt was essential for an emerging Jewish state – at the new Hebrew University and the Weizmann Institute.

Educating about Ochberg. Award winners of a 2019 Ochberg Essay Competition at Alon Shool, Ramat Hasharon Israel organized by Hertzel Katz and the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee and judged by Steve Linde, editor of the Jerusalem Report. The Ochberg Saga was the cover story of the Jerusalem Report, copies of which the winners are holding up. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

Still on education, it was most revealing to note that in his will, the £10,000 bequest he left to the University of Cape Town for a trust in which the income was  to provide scholarships, there was a condition that “there be no differentiation between the students by reason of colour, creed or race”. Clearly reflecting his  character and his values, Ochberg specified that “should this policy ever be changed, the £10,000 would then devolve upon the Isaac Ochberg Palestine Fund.”

Forgotten Man Remembered

If my first article 20 years ago on Ochberg which was titled  ‘Righting a Wrong’, today I can safely title an article on the same subject – ‘A Wrong Righted’.

Set Out To Save. Poster to the 2005 documentary about Isaac Ochberg’s rescue of Jewish orphans by Oscar award-winning director, Jon Blair.

Books, articles, a documentary “Ochberg’s Orphans” submitted for an Oscar, essay competitions, addressing conferences, lecturing students at schools in South Africa and Israel and the opening of an Isaac Ochberg Park in Megiddo that emblazons in plaques along its ‘Hill of Names’ the names of all the children Ochberg saved, have all contributed to ensure that “The man from Africa” as he was called before he arrived to save them and “Daddy Ochberg” ever after, is known to future generations.

All in the Family.  Three generations of Ochberg Orphans at the Ochberg Park, Megiddo – Leon Segal, Benny Penzik , (both parents were Ochberg orphans), descendants of Archie Ruch and Cecil Migdal on the 12 March 2021. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)
 

The Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee apart from the writer of Bennie Penzik, Hertzel Katz, Ian Rogow, Peter Bailey and Joel Klotnik (both on the advisory board to the Megiddo Regional Council), Leon Segal, Rob Hyde and Lauren Snitcher (Cape Town) and Lyanne Kopenhager (Johannesburg) are committed to preserving the legacy with the take away message that:

One good deed today can impact on the lives of many tomorrow

Celebrating Ochberg. Members of the Ochberg Committee, (l-r) Hertzel Katz, Ian Rogow and Bennie Penzik (whose both parents were Ochberg orphans)  together with family  descendants of Isaac Ochberg, Tessa Webber and Cynthia Zukas at the 90th reunion in 2011 at Kibbutz Dalia, which was build on land purchased by the JNF-KKL through funding from Isaac Ochberg.(Photo D.E.Kaplan)

You have only to ask the over 4000 descendants of the orphans Ochberg rescued in 1921 or heard what some of them said on the SA Jewish Report webinar. Many with tears in their eyes, like Lauren Snitcher, Paula Slier and Andi Saitowitz said:

If it weren’t for this one man, I would not be here today.”

Honouring Ochberg. Granddaughter of an Ochberg orphan, Lauren Snitcher (right) and daughter, Machala at the Ochberg memorial, Ochberg Park, Megiddo in 2011. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

With his ‘family’ having expanded into the thousands,  with Palestine being a Jewish State of Israel absorbing Jews from all over the world, its universities in the vanguard for superlative education, and thriving kibbutzim in Megiddo due to his vision and generosity, Isaac Ochberg can look down from his celestial perch and smile.

His legacy will always be identified with:

He who has saved one life is as if he has saved the entire world







While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)

Israel’s Earth Shot

Tiny in size – giant in efforts to protect the environment, Israel is leading by example

By Rolene Marks

Israel is this extraordinary geographical dichotomy of sprawling desert beauty and snow-capped mountains, with forests and coastline and so much more packed into a tiny piece of land barely the size of New Jersey. Whether you are looking to snorkel or ski, the Israeli landscape has everything you want.

Israelis are imbued with a great love of the land and a sense of responsibility for it.

Fertile Future. Under the stewardship of the JNF (Jewish National Fund), Israel’s landscape had been transformed from parched earth to carpets of green forests.

Saving the planet and what we all can contribute to this effort has been the subject of a lot of discussion and coverage over the last few weeks. Global treasure, Sir David Attenborough, he of the dulcet narrative tones and exceptional commitment to conservation, released his documentary “A Life on this Planet” which is currently on streaming giant, Netflix. Described as his witness testament to the state of our planet, Attenborough not only shares the alarming truth of the destruction wreaked on our natural world but offers practical solutions to what can be done to fix the problems.  HRH, Prince William, released his documentary, “A Planet for Us All” which echoes the call for everyone to be involved in helping to heal Mother Earth and followed this up with his Earthshot Prize. The Earthshot Prize, aims to find solutions from around the world to help – and comes with hefty financial prizes for those who find solutions in the stated categories. The categories are:

protect and restore nature, clean our air, revive our oceans, build a waste free world and fix our climate.

Modelled on JFK’s Moonshot which aimed (and achieved!) putting a man on the moon, this necessary and ambitious endeavor, aims to inspire the same dedication and ingenuity

What is seldom discussed is how Israel is a leader in the fields of conservation and environment protection. With signature start-up prowess coupled with understanding of our limited resources and a deep love for our environment, Israel has made extraordinary strides in these fields.  Below are a few small snapshots of some Israel’s projects and achievements.

Greening the Desert

Did you know that today Israel has the rare honour of being one of the only countries (if not the only one) that has more trees today than when the country was founded in 1948? By the early 20th century, Israel’s indigenous forests had been almost totally destroyed by centuries of continuous grazing and cutting of trees. When Israel was established in 1948, there were fewer than 5 million trees in the entire area. Today, over 200 million trees have been planted in an active reforestation programme spearheaded by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). Many of us remember putting money in the ubiquitous “Blue Box” that helped raise the funds to plant these forests.

 Field of Dreams. While farming is not an easy task, Israel offers creative techniques to make the task easier and the desert bloom.

Evergreens have been planted in the hillier parts of the country and eucalyptus in the south.  Today there is more species diversification and forests feature a wide variety of species: oaks and carobs, terebinths and cypresses, eucalyptus, Judas trees, acacias, olive, almond, and many more. Many of these species harken back to biblical references.

Preserving Species

Rhinoceros are not a species that you would associate with Israel. More suited to the vast savannahs of Africa, these almost prehistoric looking beasts are finding a new lease on life in the Holy Land. Rhinos are on the list of endangered species because they are being mercilessly poached for their horns. Israel is successfully breeding rhinos in captivity. The Ramat Gan Safari Park just outside Tel Aviv, started their rhino conservation programme in 1974 and to date, an estimated 31 calves have been born in captivity. The first baby rhino, born in September 1978 was a girl named “Shalom”. The birth of this little calf coincided with the signing of the Camp David Accords – the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

Africa in the Heart of Israel. Rhinos basking “safe and secure” under the Israeli sun at the Ramat Gan Safari Park outside of Tel Aviv.

In recent years, the park has celebrated the birth of baby Terkel, Tupak, Tashi and Timor, all rare white rhinos born to their South African immigrant mother, Tanda.  Calves have also been born to Keren Peles, another rhino who was named after Israel’s singer-songwriter.

Celebrations have also been conducted for babies Rami, Kipenzi and many more!

This rhino breeding programme is part of a global conservation effort to increase rhino populations and world renowned South African conservationist, Braam Malherbe, lauded the efforts being made by the Park and believes it is a model that should be implemented globally. In the quite sanctity of the Ramat Gan Safari Park, they are assured that the only place a horn belongs – is on a rhino!

A Birder’s Paradise

Israel is a birder’s paradise. Every year, thousands of tourists “flock” (pun intended) to Israel’s north to watch the millions of birds migrating. Like a magnificent feathered, sky born ballet, it a feast for the eyes for anyone who wants to observe the different species and flight patterns. As much as Israel is engaged in protecting animals or the endangered species list, this also extends to birds, and specifically raptors. Although fully protected by the law, Israel’s raptor population has severely declined in the last 50 years, because of poaching, continued use of pesticides, and extensive loss of habitat. 

Israel for the Birds. Tens of Thousands of cranes seen in the Hula Valley, northern Israel on February 28, 2014, Tens of thousands of cranes stay in the reserve on their way to Northern Europe. photo by Edi Israel/Flash90.

There is a concerted effort by conservationists to protect Israel’s birds of prey and this entails preserving nesting and foraging habitats, increasing wild populations of endangered raptors by breeding and releasing, establishing supplementary feeding stations for scavenger species like vultures where food is more scarce and increasing awareness and education with the citizens of the country.

Israel has successfully managed to increase the populations of Griffon Vultures, Lesser Kestrels and is making great strides with the Spotted Eagle, the Imperial Eagle and the Black Vulture.

On the ground and in the sky, Israel is answering the call of the wild.

Genetic Conservation of Plants

Feed the world! It is not just Israel’s animal and bird species that are being preserved but agricultural plants as well.

Israel’s location in the Mideast heartland of genetic diversity for many major agricultural crops and its geographical and climatic diversity has created a particularly rich ensemble of habitats and plant species. Tiny but mighty, Israel includes one of the largest and most accessible collections of wild wheat, barley, oat, and legumes in the world, as well as a smorgasbord of wild fruits and other important crops.

The importance of preserving Israel’s exceptionally rich plant genetic resources for the improvement of growth, yield, nutrition and disease, pest, drought and salt tolerance of major crop varieties has long been recognized. As early as 1909, Aaron Aaronson of the Jewish Agricultural Experiment Station in Haifa, who discovered wild emmer wheat in the Galilee, began collaborating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on research for plants, particularly wheat varieties that could be introduced into the United States. Israel’s landmark studies on conservation in wild wheat populations have continued to draw considerable international attention.

The collected plant species that are indigenous to Israel are largely concentrated in the Israeli Gene Bank for Agricultural Crops which was set up in 1979. Scientists from government, academia and Israel’s seed industry have joined forces in the gene bank to ensure that Israel’s native varieties – its genetic heritage – are not lost to future generations. Could this be a possible solution to challenges posed by lack of food security?

Saluting the Sun

Israel’s sunny climate is not just great for beach sports and being outdoors but our greatest natural resource, the sun, is proving invaluable in helping the country to become more reliant on solar energy thus reducing costs and promoting renewable energy. Some experts estimate that by 2030, Israel could be fully reliant on renewable energy. In 2019, the largest solar powered energy field was inaugurated in the Negev Desert.

Israel is a Powerhouse. The Tower of Power energy project in Ashalim in Israel’s Negev Desert.. (courtesy of BrightSource Energy)

Environmental Minister at the time, Yuval Steinitz said:

Since I assumed office, I have used every possible means to increase the scope of renewable energy production, and by doing so, I expect to meet the government goal of 10% by the end of 2020. I believe that alongside natural gas, renewable energy is of paramount importance in reducing air pollution for the benefit of the health of all of us, and this policy is reflected in the “Plan 2030” that we are leading in order to stop the dependence of Israel on polluting fuels. The breakthrough in this field enables us, in addition to stopping the use of coal, to significantly promote the renewability goal for 2030.”

A Country of the Future

There is hardly a day that goes by without newspaper articles sharing the latest innovations from Israeli super brains. Whether it is meat grown in a lab that tastes exactly like the most mouth-watering steak which helps in the decrease of cattle consumption or piloting rechargeable roads to reduce carbon emissions, saving wildlife, reducing dependency on fossil fuels, reforestation, de-salination and recycling sewage for clean water, creating water from air and a myriad of other daily inventions, Israel is a country firmly focused on the future.

The examples above are just a fraction of the work that Israelis are doing in various fields. As the global conversation centres more and more on what we can be doing to help repair the planet, Israel is in the vanguard to ensure that future generations inherit a healthier environment. The opportunity presented by the Earthshot Prize for the global community to share their ingenuity is audacious and remarkable. This is like catnip to Israeli innovators! Challenges are what drive Israelis to achieve.  This, coupled with the most noble mission, to repair our planet is where we thrive.

I think that Sir David Attenborough and Prince William will approve.

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet | Official Trailer | Netflix In this unique feature documentary, titled David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet, the celebrated naturalist reflects upon both the defining moments of his lifetime and the devastating changes he has seen.

Tel Aviv on Track

Tracking history, City launches new railway park

By David E. Kaplan

While the city of Tel Aviv-Yafo (Jaffa) is never boring – known as “the city that never sleeps” – boring is exactly what is happening in Tel Aviv these days as the city works on constructing its underground railway.  They even roped in the spirit of Israel’s fourth Prime Minister, Golda Meir, for the formidable task by officially naming one of the Tunnel Boring Machines (TBM) – “GOLDA”. While the endearing characteristics of  the “strong-willed, straight-talking grey-bunned grandmother of the Jewish people” takes on all that stands in her subterranean way, on the surface, the city’s landscape is being enriched with a special park memorialising  its colourful railway legacy.

Railtrack to Footpath. Park Hamesila (“Train Track Park”) meanders through downtown Tel Aviv with Jaffa in the background.

Located in the southwestern part of the city between the trendy Neve Tzedek quarter and Eilat Street in the vicinity of the historic German Templer neighbourhood of Valhalla, stands the new Park Hamesila. In Hebrew, the “Train Track Park”, it is named for the first railway between Jaffa and Jerusalem, which was inaugurated in 1892.

Past and Present. A train powered by a steam locomotive on the railroad tracks in Tel Aviv in 1945 (left). Park Hamesila (the tracks park) in Tel Aviv, seen from the air in 2020.(Zoltan Kluger and Tomer Applebaum)

Due to the current Corona virus lockdown, the first stretch of the park has not been formally dedicated, although many members of the public have flocked there in recent weeks.

Taking a walk in this park is a stroll down memory lane as one recalls its fascinating history.

Off the Beaten track

Buried by urbanisation and long forgotten by modern day Tel Avivians, the past has now come alive on a revived track that once steam locomotives, transported merchants, tourists, pilgrims and visiting dignitaries and statesmen from the ancient port of Jaffa to the ancient city of Jerusalem. Today, this same stretch is abuzz with joggers, cyclists, parents pushing prams and the most common site of Tel Aviv, the dog and its beloved owner.

Early Days. Constructing the original railway line in Jaffa in the late nineteenth century.

In 1913, some 180,000 passengers passed on this stretch of track on route to Jerusalem. An illuminating thought is that of inflation. A beer or ice-cream today would cost more than a first-class ticket back then – that is, 50 grush (cents) for a special cabin and 30 grush for a second-class ticket.

Not all however, were impressed with the service!

Hemda Ben-Yehuda writing in the ‘HaZvi’ newspaper in 1907 was one unhappy traveler accusing the developers of “scrimping”:

The really terrible thing, is that the railway is lacking a number of truly necessary things. Where, for example, is the drinking water in the railcars… ashtrays for cigarette ash? And last but not least, where, I respectfully inquire, is the lavatory?”

A far more intellectually elevated assessment of the railway was that of another Ben-Yehuda – the esteemed  Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858-1922) – the celebrated reviver of Hebrew as a modern language.

During its initial construction, Ben-Yehuda, who saw the laying of the track as a symbol of the victory of enlightenment, and who coined the Hebrew word for train, “rakevet’, wrote in his newspaper Ha’or the following:

The roar of the engine is the roar of the victory of education over ignorance, work over sloth, wisdom over vanity, progress over backwardness, the mind over foolishness, a victory of the pure and health-giving spirit over the spirit of polarization and bitterness, a victory of the educated over the foolish. Let those who are enlightened rejoice, the educated of Jerusalem!”

Not too far from this new park, is HaTachana, the city’s first train station. Hidden from the public eye for well over half a century, HaTachana, was reopened in 2010 to the public. Situated between the fashionable Neve Tzedek neighbourhood and the alluring Mediterranean Sea, the historic train station complex is again bustling – a main junction no more for travelers but for revelers, out for a good time at HaTachana’s pubs, restaurants and boutique shops.

Trip Down Memory Lane. Nineteenth century Jaffa railway station and tracks restored.

The idea to lay railway tracks in Palestine was initially proposed by the Jewish British financier, banker and philanthropist, Sir Moses Montefiore back in 1839, after the first public railway was constructed in England. In order to develop modern industry, Montefiore was well aware that a major hurdle was the lack of suitable transport for machinery and raw materials – hence a modern railway was the obvious solution. However, negotiating with the Ottoman Turks for a license proved a bureaucratic nightmare and took a further 51 years for the first track to be laid on the 82-km long route from Jaffa to Jerusalem. Montefiore, for whom Israel is so indebted for his contribution to much of its development in the 19th century, would not live to see the fruits of his vision. The license to build was finally awarded in 1888 by the Turkish Sultan, Abel el-Hamid to Yossef Navon who was able to raise the necessary capital from Europe in order to lay the tracks and build the stations. It was close to a four-hour ride and when that first train rolled into Jerusalem to the welcoming applause of local residents, it heralded a new age of modern transportation.

Staying on Track. The path for pedestrians follows  the nineteenth century tracks  that  connected the ancient port of Jaffa with the ancient city of Jerusalem.

It operated continuously until 1948, and then started up again in 1952 under the ownership of Israel Railways, which inaugurated its first ride with a sack of cement, a bag of flour and a Torah scroll, symbolizing physical and spiritual sustenance as well as industry.

A Walk in the Park

An Appeal that Fell on Deaf Ears. Theodore Herzl meets Kaiser Willem II in Jerusalem.

Well, on the day I visited the new park, I felt that my fellow strollers, needed very much that “physical and spiritual sustenance” feeling the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown. It was invigorating being out and stretching the limbs.  It was no less invigorating letting the mind too “wander” and I wandered back to the late 19th century, reflecting on two particular passengers on the train on the very track I was now walking – the visionary of the State of the State of Israel, Theodor Hertzl and the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II. Within days of each they both travelled on the train in 1898 from Jaffa to Jerusalem.

Each had their own reasons to visit Jerusalem.

In the autumn of 1898, the Kaiser announced his intention to journey to the Holy Land. The declared reason for this grand state visit was to dedicate Jerusalem’s Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, scheduled to open on October 31, the German holiday of Reformation Day. Undeclared however, was the Kaiser’s desire to strengthen the German presence in the Holy Land, and forge closer ties with the Ottoman Empire against England, France and Russia.

Serene Setting. Ottoman-era railway becomes Tel Aviv’s newest park.

Political manoeuvering was no less the intention of Herzl!

The father of modern political Zionism secretly left Vienna to travel to the Holy Land to meet with one man –  the Kaiser, who had taken the earlier train with his wife and entourage from Jaffa to Jerusalem.

The reason Herzl wanted to meet the German Kaiser was to request  if he would ask the sultan – with whom he was in good terms with –  to consider granting to the Jews a chartered company in Palestine under German protection. Herzl had a persuasive argument that would be of interests to all parties. Most important – it would have laid the ‘TRACK’ towards a future Jewish state.

History records the Kaiser made no such promises to Herzl!

A Golda Moment. The Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM), “Golda”, getting ready to go to work. (Photo: Motti Kimchi)

Maybe it would have been better for Germany if he had. Instead of  supporting Jewish statehood, the Kaiser tied his country’s destiny with that of the Ottoman empire that would lead to both their defeat in the Great War (1914 –1918) and the path to the British Mandate and eventual state of Israel in 1948.

History has interesting twists and turns as I followed the park’s no less twisting and turning track.

With no thoughts of the distant past, some very animated kids passed me on scooters careering happily into the future.

Under the Surface. At the ceremony marking the start of work on Tel Aviv’s Metro Red Line (Photo: Motti Kimchi)





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

The Call Of The Wild

Cries from Australia’s wildlife heard in Jerusalem

By David E. Kaplan

Turn on the news on TV these days and the screen flares up in shades of bright orange, with men in protective fighter-fighting garb trying to douse roaring flames.

Australia is in the grip of one of its worst wildfire seasons on record with the human death toll standing at 27 and over 2,000 homes destroyed across more than 10 million hectares of land — an area larger than Portugal.

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A kangaroo rushes past a burning house in the NSW town of Lake Conjola on New Year’s Eve. This fire season has been one of the worst in Australia’s history

Caught in this nationwide inferno are Australia’s endearing but vulnerable wildlife, and it is estimated that already 1 billion wild mammals, birds and reptiles have perished. Blessed with a unique eco-system, many species however are now threatened with extinction.

Pictures of koalas with charred feet and kangaroos hugging their human rescuers have through social media and television brought tears to the eyes of people the world over. Many are responding.

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This baby is very young now, but it already can express its feelings (© The Kangaroo Sanctuary Alice Springs/facebook)

The ‘cries’ of these animals were heard in the Israeli capital’s internationally renowned Jerusalem Biblical Zoo that is responding by donating veterinary medical supplies to be used in Victoria’s East Gippsland region.

The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo understands only too well the danger of animals facing extinction, which explains why the zoo’s primary focus is on  species from the land of Israel mentioned in the Bible but roam no more!

The zoo projects this history revealing the animals that roamed this region at the time of the forefathers of the Jewish People.

While so many of the world-renowned archeological sites around Jerusalem are a reminder of what life was like in the ancient city, the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo – officially known as the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens – is a ‘living’ reminder of what animals roamed this region in biblical times.

One of the many in Israel watching the human and animal tragedy unfold on her TV was the Biblical Zoo’s International Manager, Rachael Risby Raz, who grew up in Melbourne, and who still has family living there.

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Rachael Risby-Raz is International Relations Manager at the Tisch Family Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem.

Understanding with professional clarity the devastation befalling the flora and fauna of her native Australia, coupled with her position at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo meant that Raz was well placed for her response to be meaningful and effective.

She knew instinctively what the animals most urgently required and quickly put together “a wish list” of veterinary supplies that included: burn creams, milk formulas, teats for bottles, wound sprays, hydration concentrates, syringes, disinfectant, feeding bottles and more. She then followed up by launching a fundraising campaign to raise money to purchase the equipment online and have it sent directly to the rescuers on the ground. Within 24 hours of launching her appeal, she raised thousands of dollars as more and more heart-wrenching reports of the plight  resonated globally.

It went viral,” she told local media. “Even though we’re so far away – more than 6,000 miles – people are  nevertheless so moved and stressed by what’s happening in Australia.”

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A teenage boy gives water to a half burnt kangaroo in NSW’s south coast after out-of-control bushfires devastated homes and wildlife.

According to the Biblical Zoo’s press statement, “The supplies will be purchased in Australia and sent directly to the volunteers on the ground,” notably the volunteers working with the East Gippsland Fire Wildlife Support Team.

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A horse tries to flee bushfires near the NSW town of Nowra on New Year’s Eve. Over a billion animals are believed to have died in the fires.

Down Under

Although over “6,000 miles” away, The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo felt what was unfolding was close to home  as the zoo  has a special section dedicated to animals from Australia. “We have a colony of kangaroos who, at the moment, are experiencing a baby boom,” said Raz, “as well as fruit bats which came from Sydney.” They had been rescued after they were injured “and we had a whole group of them come and they live here at our zoo.” The area dedicated to the Down Under also includes a cheeky kookaburra, a bettong, bearded dragons, blue tongue lizards and cockatoos. “This is why it’s probably extra distressing. I look out the window of my office and see kangaroos we know by name and love and then see pictures of their peers in Australia burned –  it’s heartbreaking!”

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Toni Doherty is seen using the shirt off her own back to save a koala from the Long Flat bushfire near Port Macquarie in November. But the koala, called Lewis, was later put down after suffering extensive burns.

While Raz understands that it’s going to be an uphill struggle and that “the situation is just beginning and going to have consequences that can go on for months, even years,” she sees hope in the overwhelming  response from people so far removed geographically from the disaster.  After all, these are people who have never even visited Australia and may never visit, but their hearts pour out for these defenseless animals.

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Safe & Sound. Over 6000 miles away from the fires of Australia, a kangaroo at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo’s Australia Yard. (Photo by Rachael Risby Raz)

In a profound sense, the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo was a ‘natural’ to respond.

Viewing the situation through a  biblical prism,  Raz asks “What is the role of the zoo?” and then answers herself that “the zoo is like a modern Noah’s Ark. The animals that we have here at the zoo are basically being looked after for the next generation.”

This sentiment is all too evident in the many animals that roamed in the region in the time of the Bible and today no longer do.

This is not something that should be allowed to befall the animals of Australia.

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The Noah’s Ark Visitor Center at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.

Model Behaviour

Elsewhere in Israel, Tel Aviv too is galvanizing support for Australia. Fashion model Abbiemay Doré, is one of thousands of Australian ex-pats residing in Israel. Originally from Wodoga, Victoria, the model  is helping organize an Australian-themed trivia night at a bar in Tel Aviv  to help raise awareness and funds.

While she reveals that she has “never really organized something like this before,”  these are extraordinary times in Australia.
Armageddon Is Here” have read headlines in Australia giving an indication how bad the situation is and how much worse it can still be!

While humanitarian groups like the Tel Aviv-based IsraAid are watching developments closely and considering  about different ways in which they can be of assistance, on Instagram, Israel’s ‘Wonder Woman’, Gal Gadot asked her 34 million followers to donate to relief efforts down under. “Nature is so beautiful and powerful and fragile all at the same time,” she wrote. “I’m so devastated.”

“Devastated” is the operative word!

For Israelis the devastation is brought all the more home when one realizes that the area so far devastated is more than double the size of Israel.

From Wonder Woman to the wonderful people of Israel and around the world, may the collective support bring this tragedy to a speedy end and that the animals Down Under don’t themselves go down under.

 

 

 

Feature picture:https://www.surfer.com/features/australias-coastlines-are-engulfed-in-flames/

Cleansing Experience

Two Young Israeli engineers introduce clean water to Ugandan community

By David E. Kaplan

 

Israelis have their eyes on Africa, not to exploit but to enrich.

Such was the motivation for two 26-year-old water engineering graduates Selda Edris and Mayes Morad, both from the Galilee who as students were shocked on discovering the level of poverty in rural Uganda.

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Dirty Water. A major cause of children’s illness and death in Uganda.

“We were amazed by the living condition of the children,” said Morad. “We were exposed to horrible poverty and were shaken to see children shivering when it got cold, barefoot or with torn shoes.”

It was one thing to be “shocked”, but both asked the question:

Can we do something about it? Can we make a difference?”

Following their graduation it was not the exotic beaches of the far east that attracted these idealistic engineers. Armed with their education, they wanted to volunteer and knew exactly where. The calling was clear;  they wanted to help provide a specific Ugandan community with clean drinking water.

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“Clean Water”. Young Israel engineering graduates Selda Edris (left) and Mayes Morad providing water solutions in Uganda (Photo: Gali Margalit)

So, soon after graduating, Edris, from the Circassian village of Rehaniya, and Mayes from the Druze village of Beit Jann on Mount Meron in northern Israel, joined the HELPAPP organization and set off for a community in Uganda that pulled at their heartstrings. “There were 900 school children from the region that drank water  from a nearby swamp that filled up in winter,” said Edris.

Although the three schools in the community boiled the swamp water before drinking, “this was  hardly a safe solution” to the young Israelis.

Finding “a solution” proved challenging to the enterprising and innovative young engineers. However, Edris and Morad were finally able to install sinks and taps in the schools and connect them to a proper purification facility. When complete, 900 children had running clean water.

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Normal Life. Extracting dirty water from swamp in rural Uganda.

The reality of what they achieved struck home.

When I saw how happy they were when they just turned on the tap and water came out, I thought to myself,” says Morad, “what in the world would make me, or my nieces and nephews who are the same age as these schools kids, feel so happy?”

The joy in the children’s eyes when they opened a tap to wash their hands and water came out stayed with her. “It’s difficult to imagine that there are children in this world who don’t have the most basic commodity – drinking water – only because they weren’t fortunate enough to be born in the right place.”

For Edris and Morad “Clean water is a basic right for every person in this world – regardless of where you were born.”

After providing a solution to supplying the schools with running water, the two Israelis initiated a Facebook fundraising campaign to buy shoes for many the children who ran around barefoot on the hard-arid African terrain.

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“I feel beautiful for the first time”. Every day Helen had to choose how to use the little water she had. Now that she has a steady source, she says she feels beautiful for the first time.

We Shall Return

“We’ve helped hundreds of children, but we know there are so many others in other parts of Uganda, who don’t consider drinking water a given,” says Edris. “We want to come back to Uganda and initiate a larger scale operation.”

Ask a young teenager in Israel, the USA or Europe what they most want? The answers would not be even close to the answer a 13-year-old girl gave Edris. “All she wanted was clean water, clothes and an electrical light at home to light up the house when it gets dark. What we take for granted isn’t taken for granted in so many places around the world, and that’s sad. She broke my heart.”

It also broke Israel’s Foreign Minister Golda Meir in the 1950s. When the future Prime Minister was appointed Israel’s second Foreign Minister in 1956, Golda announced that a cornerstone of her foreign policy was to reach out to the African states emerging from colonial rule. The rationale for this was lost to many at the ministry. After all, the new countries were often poorer than Israel and facing greater security, environmental and other problems; what could they possibly help Israel with?

She explained:

Independence had come to us, as it came  to Africa, not served up on a silver platter, but after years of struggle. Like them, we had shaken off foreign rule; like them, we had to learn for ourselves how to reclaim the land, how to increase the yields of our crops, how to irrigate, how to raise poultry, how to live together and how to defend ourselves…. The main reason for our ‘African Adventure’ was that we had something we wanted to pass on to nations that were even younger and less experienced than ourselves.”

That “African adventure” continues today inspiring young and talented Israelis like Selda Edris and Mayes Morad who could not stand idly by in the face of suffering.

 

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A refugee camp in Uganda, 2018 (Photo: AP)

 

50 Shades Of Gray

Rhino conservation is sexy

By Rolene Marks

The noble rhinoceros once roamed the plains of Africa in great numbers. South Africa once prided itself on great numbers of these creatures who attracted many around the world who visited the southern African state to see them as part of their safari experience. Sadly today, these modern-day unicorns are targeted and hunted for their horns; their killers believing the horns have medicinal or aphrodisiacal properties!

Poachers are predominantly from the Far East and as a result of their killing these “Big 5” animals, populations are dwindling at alarming levels and if nothing is done to protect and save endangered rhino populations, they could become extinct.

I cannot imagine a world devoid of these magnificent beasts!

South Africa has the largest remaining population of rhino in the world and is at the forefront of rhino conservation. There are a lot of concerted efforts of the ground to protect rhino populations as well as capture and punish poachers but there is an unlikely hero in this story – Israel.

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Safe & Secure. Ramat Gan Safari Park, Tel Aviv

Born Free

Rhinos are not indigenous to the Holy Land so how come they are finding a new lease on life and thriving?

The Ramat Gan Safari Park on the outskirts of Tel Aviv has successfully brought rhinos from South Africa.

These horny South Africans are thriving in their adopted country and are managing to breed successfully.

The Ramat Gan Safari Park started their rhino conservation programme in 1974 and to date an estimated 31 calves have been born in captivity. The first baby rhino, born in September 1978 was a girl named “Shalom”.  The birth of this little calf coincided with the signing of the Camp David Accords – the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

This rhino breeding programme is part of a global conservation effort to increase rhino populations. The white rhinoceros, also known as the square-lipped rhinoceros, is in the greatest danger. Some 78 zoos are taking part in a European breeding project that so far numbers over 300 rhinos. The Ramat Gan Safari has a larger herd than any in Europe! In October 2018, it was noted that the crash of rhinos at the Ramat Gan Safari currently numbers fourteen.

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Israel Provides Lifeline For Rhinos. A three-week-old White Rhinoceros stands next to her mother Tanda, 25, at the Ramat Gan Safari near Tel Aviv. (Photo: Jack Guez / AFP/Getty Images)

World renowned South African conservationist, Braam Malherbe, lauded the efforts being made by the Park and believes it is a model that should be implemented globally. As a commitment to breeding this highly endangered species, two young females were imported from Pretoria Zoo in 2012.

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Out Of Africa. His passport stamped, a new immigrant from South Africa arrives in Israel in 2012

In recent years, the park has celebrated the birth of baby Terkel, Tupak, Tashi and Timor, all rare white rhinos born to their South African immigrant mother, Tanda.  Calves have also been born to Keren Peles, one as recently as the 30th of December. The baby girl’s name is still unknown, but she made her entrance with a lot of energy and curiosity and decided to venture out of the maternity ward on her own. This was the second calf born to 31-year-old mother, Keren Peles, who was named after Israel’s singer-songwriter.

Celebrations have also been conducted for babies Rami, Kipenzi and many more!

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Rihanna Begat Rami. Israel’s zoo in Ramat Gan welcomed a baby rhinoceros in February 2017 named Rami, born to a rhino named Rihanna. Read more: https://forward.com/fast-forward/362544/meet-israels-super-cute-newborn-baby-white-rhino-his-moms-named-rihanna/

In fact, life for rhinos is so good in Israel that a few have tried to explore the sites for themselves. Rhinos have escaped their enclosures at the Safari Park and have sauntered out into the park or the street – much to the absolute astonishment of passers-by!

These horned South African “olim” (immigrants) do not have to worry about dealing with the challenges that others have to deal with like bureaucracy, language and navigating day-to-day life.

In the quite sanctity of the Ramat Gan Safari Park they are assured that the only place a horn belongs is on a rhino.

A Donkey Named Hope

By Rolene Marks

Jester loves to greet people.

Jester
Look Who’s Talking. “Hee-haw,” says Jester, the self-appointed spokesdonkey for Safe Haven.

If donkeys had a public relations spokesman, Jester would be it. A nuzzle of the nose is all the payment he requires.  Gali is the beauty queen with her grey coat and elegant black markings. She is also a bit of a maternal figure. Sooty has the longest ears and wiggles them proudly and Chicco has a long memory for kindness. Yalon steals your heart with his large foal eyes and gangly legs and Hope is a movie star with a penchant for a little something sweet. She is also in for a surprise because on Christmas day she will turn one year old and there is a party planned in her honour.

These are just some of the 250 cast of characters that call Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land their home.

Nestled in the serene moshav of Gan Yoshiya close to the seaside city of Netanya in Israel, Safe haven for Donkey’s in the Holy Land is more than just a sanctuary for these rescued animals – it is a real community of caregivers and their equine charges, and the healing that they receive.

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Dinnertime For Donkeys. Open air restaurant for rescued donkeys at the ‘Safe Haven for Donkeys’ on moshav Gan Yoshiya in central Israel

The gentle and noble donkey is an iconic image that had long been associated with the Holy Land. Since the time of the Bible, donkeys symbolise peace, conciliation and humility and are ingrained into the imagery of all three of the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Kings David and Solomon revered donkeys; Kind David kept a royal she-mule and King Solomon chose to be anointed on one instead of a grander animal like a thoroughbred horse or elephant. Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey as a symbol of peace. In Islam it is believed that a donkey who had the power of speech, told Muhammad that it was the last in a line of donkeys ridden by prophets and was a descendant of the donkey ridden by Jesus in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which was also called Ya`fūr.

Sadly today, in a region that is often volatile and mired in conflict and conflagration, these humble, gentle creatures are often a casualty.

Donkeys have often been referred to as a workhorse, not because of their shared equine features but because of their ability and patience to bear heavy loads. This ability is sometimes exploited by some who use these sweet creatures as construction workers, over-burdening them with weight and materials.

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Rustic Royalty. Gali the beauty queen.

Safe Sanctuary

In this region that can sometimes be a tinderbox waiting to explode, donkeys have been brutally abused by terrorists who have exploited them to make a political point. During the second intifada (Palestinian uprising) it was not uncommon for terror entities to pack these sweet creatures with explosives and direct them towards soldiers at checkpoints. In the last few months, as Hamas encourages rioters along the border between Israel and Gaza, so too have donkeys been used as weapons.  One of the first weeks of protest saw donkeys draped in Israeli flags and set on fire. This outrageous act of animal cruelty and depravity has barely registered in the media. Donkeys are just not “sexy” enough a story.

Thankfully, there is an organization that is dedicated to the well-being and upkeep of these humble and noble beasts.

Founded in 2000, Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land is a not-for-profit organization that helps thousands of working donkeys in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

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The Lucky Ones. These donkeys are all praise for their loving care.

The sanctuary provides life-long care to over 200 unwanted and abused donkeys of all ages, but the work does not stop at the sanctuary gates. Safe Haven for Donkeys operates a mobile clinic that treats around 500 working donkeys, mules and horses across the Palestinian Territories as well as a permanent clinic in the city of Nablus.  The mobile vet treats injuries such as those from poor harnessing, overgrown hooves and bad teeth are easily treatable and this goes a long way in helping to improve the lives of the animals who work so hard for so little.

Safe Haven for Donkeys has realized that education is just as important and help teach children and adults how to treat these animals with humanity and kindness and through the work with the owners of these animals, the team has made many friends and is treated with trust and respect.

Our vets circulate and go to a different village every day to ensure that as many are treated as possible” says Abed, a caregiver whose dedication and love for his charges is evident.

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Making ‘Hay’ While The Sun Shines. Safe Haven donkeys enjoying a snack before a snooze.

The work done by this organization is evident in the happy, braying donkeys who despite all that they have endured, are friendly to the visitors who come to either volunteer or check out the sanctuary. The donkeys just love a cuddle and a scratch – and maybe a good old roll in the sand. After enduring so much abuse, Safe Haven’s over 200 personalities who proudly carry their names on their harnesses, get to live out their lives in peace and serenity in the gorgeous heart of Israel.

For a donkey called Hope and all the cast of characters, Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land is more than just a sanctuary, it is home. It is a veritable heaven for donkeys – and that is worth braying about.

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Rise & Shine. Nothing like an early morning stretch before breakfast.

For more information about the sanctuary and to contribute, visit their website:

https://www.safehaven4donkeys.org/

 

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Love Is In The Air. Writer Rolene Marks snuggles up close to Jester.

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