Planting the Seeds to City Survival

Is urban farming a solution for South Africa?

By  Kenneth Mokgatlhe

It is estimated that nearly half of the adult population of South African live in poverty.

It was reported in April this year, 2021, that of the 60 million South Africans, 10.2 million experienced hunger on a weekly basis according to the Nids-Cram and approximately 2.4 million faced perpetual hunger. One viable way to address this is by developing backyard and rooftop gardens that are inexpensive to maintain. 

The rising unemployment figures and effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have worsened the hunger situation in South Africa. It is evident that hunger threatens social stability as evidenced by increased criminal activity as a direct effect of poverty.

It is time to think out of the box. Recently, the Jewish National Fund of South Africa (JNF-SA) hosted an important webinar:

Survival in our cities, food and water security – A South African crisis, is urban farming a solution?

It is unacceptable and should be embarrassing that our country has such an alarming number of its people enduring hunger.

Food for Thought. Israel and South African experts provide fascinating insights on the problem of food security in South Africa.

The National Income Dynamics Study Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (Nids-Cram) has collected data on a broadly nationally representative sample of South African households covering the period from May 2020 to March 2021. This is the period wherein the country has been under lockdown regulations with vast number of people losing their jobs or having had to take salary cuts.

Stressing the importance of food security as well as the quality of the food, webinar panelist Dr. Naude Malan, a senior lecturer at the University of Johannesburg’s Development Studies, said:

Supermarket food is pretty expensive compared to the food which we produce for ourselves. A farmer can actually make a really good living by selling food at less than retail/market prices and still dominate the competition. You will capture the market and create a livelihood.”

Through ConvenesiZindaba Zokudla (Conversations about Food), Dr.Malan is working with the local communities around the province of Gauteng to create opportunities for urban agriculture in a sustainable food system. 

Urban Renewal. Dr. Naude Malan from the University of Johannesburg’s Development Studies is working with the local communities around Gauteng to create opportunities for urban agriculture.

One of the beneficiaries of this noble project is a family from Orange Farm, south of Johannesburg who own a state-sponsored house referred to as “RDP”  – a house that was built as part of a government-funded social housing project. The family have converted their parking space into a garden which they are using to feed themselves and sell the surplus to the community for profit.

Panelist Siyabonga Ndlangamandla, a BSc in Biological Science graduate, is one of the vibrant young South Africans who are using their knowledge to solve hunger problems in many struggling black communities. He is a board member of an enterprising and innovative organisation called Makers Valley whose priorities are food security and social matters.

Back to Basics. Through Makers Valley (above), SiyabongaNdlangamandla is encouraging the local inhabitants to develop small gardens in their backyard.

What is disturbing for me is the food waste that we are experiencing in our cities. While there is so much food coming to our cities so much is not being consumed. That is one of our biggest challenges in the food system,” said Ndlangamandla.

Through Makers Valley, Ndlangamandla, has encouraged the local inhabitants to develop small gardens in their backyard. “Low-income communities are more likely to install a shack to rent it out than start a garden.” Over and above the food problem, “There is also a water problem in South Africa,” reminded Ndlangamandla.

Orange Alert. A project underway at the Orange Farm community 40km South of Johannesburg where the township  – one of the largest informal settlements in South Africa, with most estimates giving a population of 1 million people – faces challenges of poverty, low levels of literacy, lack of basic services, lack of health care facilities, unemployment  and increasing crime.

Not only a scarce resource in South Africa, water is also expensive  – especially in cities. Most, if not all community protests regarding service delivery are mainly about shortage or lack of water. This makes gardening or agriculture challenging for the weaker sectors of society.

Contributing to the panel discussion from Israelwas Dorit Chassid, a Sustainability Manager at Dizengoff Center shopping mall in Tel Aviv. She illuminated a path forward by presenting a whole host of the work that they are doing on the rooftop of the mall named after the city’s famous and first mayor, Meir Dizengoff.

Today, Dizengoff Center houses a variety of activities in the field of urban sustainability like hosting school kids for planting trees activity, investing in energy saving systems, a center for hydroponic urban gardening on the Centre’s roof and more.

High Rise Solutions.  Roof top cultivation on Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv.

Not having access to land is no excuse for not starting a garden project; there is the option of doing it on top of the roof on tables, with or without soil. 

We have school children whom we teach about sustainability; we have lots of tools and we bring people to see the work that we are doing,” explains Chassid. “We have bats and we teach people about the importance of bats into our ecosystem. We also have beehives on the rooftop; we do them in a natural way. We do not harvest honey, we do not do anything to harm the bees; we just let them be there,” said Chassid

We bring about 1, 500 children each year to plant small trees on the rooftop of the mall which we sell when they are ready for planting, and the money is donated all over Israel,” Chassid added.

Leading Light. Panelist from Israel, Sustainability Manager at Dizengoff Center shopping mall in Tel Aviv, Dorit Chassid.

No less inspirational was the insights and suggestions from the founder of Green Roof Designs (a specialized environmental design company), Dr. Clive Greenstone, who works on various projects that deal with urban design, sustainable development, urban ecology, urban resilience and urban landscape activation designs.

Offering tailor-made greening solutions to enhance building functionality and design, Green Roof Designs provides a complete greening scheme including green roofs and ground level planting schemes.

Dr. Greenstone said that there are large, flat, and empty rooftops that are abundant throughout South African cities on institutional, private, residential, industrial, municipal, and commercial buildings.

These underutilized spaces are ideal locations to rethink urban spaces and create urban greening advancements. Very little research has been done in reimagining the socio-environmental benefits of developing these underutilized spaces to improve human-environmental relations within the cities.”

Going Green. Dr Clive Greenstone (right) with his Green Team Green Roof in Ixopo, KwaZulu-Natal in ‎2011.

Listening to these panelists on the JNF (SA) webinar, it was evident to this writer that one of the main ways to combat hunger in my country of South Africa is to develop backyard or rooftop gardens. Food that we buy from our supermarkets is not as cheap nor as healthy as the food we could and should grow ourselves in our backyards or rooftops. Every family should start a garden that will serve the family and the surplus could be sold to those who do not own a garden.

This is one of the sustainable ways to deal with the hunger and labour market challenges facing South Africa today.



About the writer:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Kenneth-Mokgatlhe1.png

Kenneth Mokgatlhe is a freelance writer and political commentator from Zeerust, North West Province, South Africa.








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).

Zzapping Malaria

One of the most dangerous creatures in the world is one of the smallest – the mosquito. Coming to the rescue is one of the smallest counties in the world – Israel.

By Kenneth Mokgatlhe

Who is not afraid of sharks but in 2019 they killed only two people, which is below the average of four. Yet malaria, carried by mosquitoes, kills more than 400,000 people per year, most of them babies and toddlers in sub-Saharan Africa. While much of the world is obsessed with the danger that which kills two a year, Israel, whose Jerusalem-based start-up, ZzappMalaria, aims to eliminate malaria – a mass killer – by applying Artificial Intelligence (AI). Towards this lifesaving goal – particularly for Africa where I am from – the company has grabbed the world’s biggest prize for innovation – the XPRIZE.

Meet the Team using AI to Eradicate Malaria. The ZzappMalaria team (left to right): Eugene Rozenberg, Lea Leiman, Michael Ben Aharon, Founder and CEO Arnon Houri-Yafin, Arbel Vigodny, Yonatan Fialkoff

For those unfamiliar, XPRIZE is a non-profit organization whose mission is to bring about “radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity” through incentivized competition.

Developing a mobile app and dashboard to help eliminate Malaria, ZzappMalaria, won first place in the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE Competition, as well as the People’s Choice Award for the Most Inspiring Team. As part of the award, the company received a $3 million prize to continue its efforts to eliminate malaria from the world.

Tiny Terrors. Image of mosquito larvae in stagnant water by James Gathany of the CDC in PLoS Biology, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. AI helps zap mosquito larvae before they become a problem.

The Zzapp team is deeply grateful to Xprize and IBM Watson for acknowledging the importance of the fight against malaria,” said Arnon Houri-Yafin, CEO and founder of ZzappMalaria. “We will dedicate the prize money to one ambitious goal: demonstrating that rapid malaria elimination is possible in Sub Saharan Africa.”

Making the World Safer. ZzappMalaria COO Arbel Vigodny speaks at IBM Watson AI XPRIZE at TED in the TED World Theater, February 12, 2020, New York, NY. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

So how does it work? Zzapp uses AI to provide specific malaria-control strategies depending on the needs of each village or neighborhood. Then, it breaks down those strategies into clear and manageable tasks. Tasks are allocated to fieldworkers via its mobile app designed for local needs, such as battery consumption, internet access, and more. To date, the app has been tested in six African countries and has succeeded in increasing the effectiveness of operations designed to tackle Malaria.

Brought to Task. The Zzapp app assigns tasks to field workers based on AI analysis of mosquito breeding conditions. (Photo courtesy of Zzapp Malaria)

Attracted by ZzappMalaria’s aim to eradicate malaria worldwide by developing a system to “plan, execute, and monitor large-scale and cost-affecting malaria elimination campaigns”, the 2016-founded company has won grants from the Gates Foundation and the Innovative Vector Control Consortium (IVCC) and has been conducting anti-malaria operations in Ghana, Zanzibar, Kenya, and Ethiopia.

It is very gratifying to know that our technology is saving lives on a daily basis. In fact, our pilot product currently protects more than 300,000 people,” said Houri-Yafin. “ZzappMalaria’s app – which is GPS-based and works offline – is suited to work in the harshest conditions.”

Scanning for Safety. A field worker uses ZzappMalaria to scan bodies of water set for treatment. (Courtesy)

“It simplifies our work considerably,” says Dr. Abebe Asale from the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, a research body in Ethiopia which specializes in malaria. “Despite the technology’s sophistication, the app and the dashboard are very intuitive and user-friendly. In an operation in the Amhara region in 2019, we located all of the water bodies, which is usually a great challenge. The technology saved us time and energy, and in prioritizing severely affected villages.”

Although malaria is not a major public health problem in South Africa as yet, the country needs to be better prepared in order to ensure that the disease does not burden our over-extended public health care sector. It can do so by adopting efficient measures such as the AI method developed by ZzappMalaria. The notion of “prevention is better than cure” should reign supreme in our heads to ensure that our public health is prepared.

The Beauty of the App. The Israeli app can be used without internet connectivity by workers in fields. (Photo: ZzappMalaria)

About 10% of South Africa’s population (4.9 million) is at risk of contracting malaria, largely in the provinces of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Kwazulu-Natal. This is a significant number that should be a concern to all of us in South Africa. Malaria is a curable and treatable disease as long as it is diagnosed as quickly as possible. However, it is fatal if not done so in the earlier stages. That is where this new app becomes so vital. So, while many countries of Africa are increasingly availing themselves of life-saving Israeli technology and expertise, South Africa should too for the health and future health of its people.  

Acting on Info. With the information provided, spraying mosquito larvae in Ghana. (Photo by Arbel Vigodny/ZZapp Malaria)
 

As the world is facing a life-threatening Covid-19 pandemic, we are able to see the importance of life-saving discoveries in reducing casualties. It is clear that failure to avail ourselves of new available technologies, the price to be paid would be higher than what we are paying presently

ZzappMalaria has inspired confidence in those who were in despair and had accepted malaria as part of their being. Now, thanks to this Israeli company, there is much greater hope that malaria would be eradicated in our lifetime.


About the writer:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Kenneth-Mokgatlhe1.png

Kenneth Mokgatlhe is a freelance writer and political commentator from Zeerust, North West Province, South Africa.







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).



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).

Tel Aviv is Alive, Well and Pedaling

By Stephen Schulman

These times are troubled and turbulent with the Covid-19 Virus taking its toll, reaping illnesses and deaths and like the rest of the planet, Israel has not been immune. There have been and still are lockdowns with businesses closed, people losing their livelihoods, being confined to homes, and much attendant suffering.

Nevertheless, in spite of restrictions on movement and being limited to a certain radius from their homes, Israeli citizens have been allowed a respite; to leave their domiciles for sporting activities and exercise provided that it is not done in groups. Throughout the length and breadth of the country many people have taken advantage of this proviso and with gusto, have filled the paths and trails from Kiryat Shmona in the north down to southerly Eilat.

North to South. The writer participating in the Israel Road Cycling Challenge that crosses the Golan, connecting over 850 miles (1400km) of single track and dirt tracks from the snowy peak of Mt. Hermon in the north to the sun-soaked Red Sea city of Eilat.

Alongside their pedestrian paths, many cities and local councils with a growing awareness and appreciation of this sport have also paved parallel cycle lanes and Tel Aviv and its metropolis is no exception to the rule. Moreover, possessing a cosmopolitan ambience with a round the clock activity, with its flat topography, large parks, seaside promenade, multitude of cycling lanes and many hire bike stations, the city has become a Mecca for cyclists. In this difficult period, there has been a two wheeled renaissance as many Israelis have discovered and rediscovered the joys of cycling. Bicycle shops are bustling, the demand is great and many disappointed customers have found that cycles are in short supply.

Two-Wheel Fun in the Sun. Ideal weather for most the year, Israelis  have taken to cycling in a huge way. (Photo via Shutterstock)

Tel Aviv boasts a great cycling path that runs alongside the sea. It starts from the Old City of Jaffa, continues along the Herbert Samuel beach promenade to the Old Port of Tel Aviv, then turning north via Reading power station stretches until the Tel Baruch beach and then goes even further, ending at the marina in Herzlia. This picturesque route is daily thronged with cyclists of all ages and all sizes riding a wide variety of bikes ranging from folding models with small 20 inch wheels and laid back balloon tired boulevard cruisers to expensive top range mountain and road bikes. It has become so popular that on Friday and Saturday mornings there is something akin to a traffic jam!

Coasting Along. Taking in the breeze off the Mediterranean, cycling on Tel Aviv beach promenade.

Tel Aviv off-road pedallers wishing to be closer to nature and get away ‘far from the madding crowd‘ do not lack for choice. The Yarkon River that runs through Tel Aviv with its effluence at the Old Port has single tracks aplenty. In many places, the path winds through bamboo growing along its banks and it is an inimitable experience speeding down tunnels created by their leaves and stems growing together over your head.

Cycling Comrades. The writer Stephen Schulman (right) with his cycling companion Adrian Wolff.

To their credit, the mayor and the city council identify with and encourage sport. In addition to the annual marathon, there is the Tel Aviv Rondo – the largest cycling event in the country. Every September, (except for lockdown 2020!) on an early Friday morning, well over 10,000 pre-registered cyclists assemble at the Exhibition Grounds to complete a well organized, closed off 20 km loop in the city. Experienced riders are permitted 3 circuits and even the young are well catered for with an 8km route. Nothing can compare to the experience of riding down the freeway with the wind at your back and before you, a colorful phalanx of thousands of joyful pedallers stretching far into the distance!

Sea Breeze. A group cycling tour of the coast seen here at Herzliya marina.

There are many other organized cycling events throughout the country ranging from off-road charity rides to pelotons for serious ‘roadies’. Even hilly Jerusalem has its devoted riders and hosts both off and on road events. Possibly the biggest and most traditional is the annual Ride around the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) where, on a November Saturday morning, with the sea on their right, thousands of cyclists, both young and old, from all over the country congregate to complete the more demanding 65 km circuit to then relax and picnic with family and friends on the large lawns beside the lake.

Peddling Pleasure. Seen here some years ago at the One-to-One Charity Ride Round the Sea of Galilee in aid of children who were victims of terror attacks, is the writer (left) together with former South Africans living in Israel.

Israel offers a great choice of well mapped and marked cycling routes, many of which have been planned and executed by the local and regional authorities together with a growing number of volunteer enthusiasts. A Trans-Israel cycling path is also under development.

 In the Holy Land, the range and variety of landscape is unparalleled. My cycling buddy and I have been on challenging descents on the Golan Heights, climbed single tracks in the verdant and wooded Galilee and bounced over rocks in the arid and dusty Negev Desert. But what gives us even greater pleasure is watching the growing number of keen cyclists. In our well over two decades of pedaling, we have been witnesses to how once limited to a relatively small number of groupies; the sport has mushroomed into a national pastime.

Tough at the Top. The writer participating in a grueling assent of the majestic Golan Heights.

Cycling has also become firmly ensconced within the national consciousness.  We now proudly possess a national cycling team – Israel Start-Up Nation – that has successfully competed in many prestigious international events including the Giro d’Italia  and the legendary and grueling Tour de France. About two years ago, the team, dressed in their blue and white jerseys – the color of the Israeli flag – rode in a peloton across Israel and was greeted by enthusiastic and cheering crowds along the way. How do I know? I was among them!

From Jerusalem to Rome. Elia Viviani of Italy wins the 2nd stage of the Giro d’Italia, in Tel Aviv on May 5, 2018. ( Roy Alima/FLASH90)

With the aid of mass vaccinations and some public cooperation, Israel is now slowly emerging from the lockdown and attempting to return to a normalcy.

Hopefully, the road to full recovery will not only lead upward but also be full of fellow cyclists!  

Hello from Israel. There has been a “cycling revolution” in Israel in recent years with Israel Start-Up Nation / Israel Cycling Academy competing in both the Giro d ’Italia and the Tour de France.
 



About the writer:

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Stephen Schulman is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist youth movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. He was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.





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

“Winter of Our Discontent”

By David E. Kaplan

Little did we think when we watched a year ago the final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ and joked that “Winter is Coming” that the show’s most memorable marketing metaphor of impending doom descending on the landscape would step out of our TVs into our very lives.

Portend Poster. Advertisement of the ‘Game of Thrones’ final season – ‘Winter is Coming’.

Corona affected everyone everywhere. And like in the award-winning mythical saga of demons, dragons and the demented, in our wonky world of 2020, people perished, much of our commerce suspended or died, and a powerful leader of the most powerful nation on earth – confounded by the science, fell – to the dismay of his mega-million followers.

“Winter” came with a vengeance and we wonder if our lives will ever be the same again.

No doubt when folk turn on their TVs to watch the countdown to midnight on the 31st December and observe the fireworks first in Sydney; and then illuminate across cities circumnavigating the globe, they will be praying for some semblance of “life as we knew it.”

Diminished social intimacy and wearing masks for fear of ‘the next virus’ is not something we want in our proverbial luggage as we travel into the future!

Still, we do have to marvel.

Colouring the Future. Fireworks in Sydney, usually the first country people watch on television  heralding the New Year.

With all the pain and discomfort,  we have to tip our hats to those brave souls who day in and day out returned to the terrifying trenches, helping the inflicted and preventing those from being inflicted at great risk to themselves and their families.

The death toll from Covid-19 has surpassed the number of Americans killed in World War I and the Vietnam War combined. And this December 2020, the number of daily Covid-19 deaths in the US now surpasses the number of people who died on 9/11.  How sadly ironic that so many of the first responders in 9/11 are falling victim to Covid-19!

New York’s Finest. Retired New York Fire Marshal John Knox in 2017 is among dozens of first responders who answered the call during of 9/11 only to die of Covid-19.

First, it was the horror of that tragic day as first responders ran into the fire as debris rained down. Then followed months of grueling work to remove the bodies and clear the pile as toxic dust inevitably filled their lungs. Then came the illnesses – asthma, cancers and COPD.

And in 2020, nearly two decades later, the coronavirus pandemic – which, in so many cases, feeds off the underlying conditions like the ones 9/11 survivors developed – has finally taken their toll and in many cases, their lives. For those with already weakened lungs and immune systems, this latest challenge has been too great to endure. Beset by Corona, the list of 9/11 victims continues to grow.

And as with the 9/11 first responders, so too have been the healthcare workers on the front lines of the global effort to care for patients with COVID-19 putting themselves at risk for infection. Thousands from a multitude of countries, professions, and specialties have died, and we honour them all.

Signs of Exhaustion. Overworked medical staff catch some sleep between shifts at Chinese hospital. (Image credits: Astroboys2019)

See the Light

As in the story of Hanukkah, which Jews around the world are presently celebrating where we are reminded of miracles   – a small quantity of oil to light the Temple’s menorah miraculously lasted eight days – even today’s cynics and skeptics have to marvel as to how humanity has miraculously responded to this pandemic with rapid resourcefulness.

Questions were raised as to how we might achieve the impossible.

It was said that “it usually takes 10 years to develop a vaccine”.

I recall endless opinions and comments in the news media along the lines of from “The grim truth is that a vaccine probably won’t arrive any time soon”  to  “Our record for developing an entirely new vaccine is at least four years — more time than the public or the economy can tolerate social-distancing orders”.

Breaking News.  The first batch of Pfizer vaccines arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport with the Prime Minister reassuring the Israeli public that he would be the first  to take the vaccine.

And yet, as we in Israel saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein attend the arrival of a DHL freight plane transporting the first batch of Pfizer vaccines at Ben Gurion Airport on December 9, 2020, we had to marvel how this vaccine has gone from the drawing board to imminent distribution in such a short period of time.

Hands On. Light at the end of the tunnel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu places his hand on the first batch of Pfizer coronavirus vaccines at Ben Gurion International Airport on Dec. 9, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/JINI via Xinhua)

No, it did not take years but months as people in Israel will start receiving their doses from the 27th December, four days before New Year 2020. Coronavirus czar, Nachman Ash, said he hopes Israelis will be able to celebrate Passover 2021 in an almost restriction-free manner.

I assume that in March-April we’ll already return to significant activity. My hope is that we can celebrate Passover in an almost free manner.”

Tides Turned. Israel signs agreement with Moderna for 6 million coronavirus vaccine doses.

How we in Israel recall that it was during Passover 2020 – falling during the initial outbreak of the pandemic – that the government ordered an overnight curfew, confining Israelis to their homes for the first night of the holiday.

A festivity all about celebrating FREEDOM, Passover 2021 may be the momentous milestone when we all return to FREEDOM.

Now that’s something to cheer about –  “L’chaim!”  (Hebrew “to life”) 

Israeli Foresight. “Israel was one of the first countries that believed in us,” said Chief Medical Officer at Moderna Therapeutics, Dr. Tal Zaks,  a graduate of Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Speaking to Globes,  Zaks revealed, that it was thanks to the advance agreement signed with Moderna that Israel will be among the first countries to receive doses of the company’s vaccine against Covid-19. The advance that Israel paid, said Zaks, “helped to build the company’s production lines.”
 





*Feature pictute credit: Illustration by Joseph McDermott


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 (O&EO).

A System for All Seasons

Plants having “A Field Day” in South Africa thanks to Israeli expertise

By David E. Kaplan

While South Africa poured cold water on the recent groundbreaking United Arab Emirate’s deal with Israel – expressing it was “regrettable” – Israeli companies are only too happy to provide water solutions to South Africa.

One such Israeli company is the startup SupPlant that develops a sensor-based system that autonomously waters crops according to gathered data, while optimising water consumption and alerting farmers of the status of their crops, the soil and the air.

SupPlant’s motto imbedded in its brand:  

More Produce, Less Water

One of the biggest problems in agriculture is weather.

While South Africa’s regional rainfall pattern for the 2020/21 agricultural season is encouraging as the bulk of southern Africa is expected to receive an adequate rainfall throughout the growing season, previous years of substantially less rainfall resulted in adverse impacts on agriculture, water resources and hydropower generation in much of the region.

Very hard hit were South African farmers.

The SupPlant system processes hyper-local weather forecasts and provides the farmer with irrigation recommendations for a week ahead. As an example, when a large heat wave is approaching, its system will alert the farmer and recommend the necessary steps needed to overcome this heat wave without suffering crop damage while maintaining a reasonable use of water. SupPlant has accumulated years of experience in dealing with extreme weather events around the world – including South Africa – and thus is well positioned to advise its farmers globally.

Back to the Roots

Founded in 2012 and headquartered in Afula in Israel’s picturesque Yezreel Valley, SupPlant has been active in the South African market since 2017. It started with two farms in the Western Cape that yielded impressive results in citrus and apples then subsequently expanded to the  county’s northernmost province of Limpopo.

Gamechanger. SupPlant changing the nature of agriculture.

SupPlant’s system assists farmers by providing the tools to maintain a correct irrigation regime all year long. It focuses on the needs of the crops and the changing conditions in the environment. “Using our system, farmers can manage their precious water resources correctly, prevent plant stress, reduce fruit loss, improve production, and maximize their crop potential year after year,” says Ori Ben Ner, the CEO of SupPlant.

In South Africa, “We have been able to decrease water usage by 37% in apple crops, increased lemon yield by 60% and Macadamia nuts have been increased by 21%. This is worth $4500 savings per hectare,” says Ori.

SupPlant CEO Ori Ben ner

Apple Does Not Fall Far From the Tree

CEO Ben Ner is following in the footsteps of his revered grandfather, Avner Ben Ner, who was born and raised to be a farmer in a small village in the northern part of Israel. It was  “Grandfather Ben Ner”  who came up with the original concept based on his experience – literally and figuratively –  “in the field”.

At 88, the elder Ben Ner is today still actively farming.

Very proudly CEO Ori reveals that “all of the experiments and R&D is done on grandfather’s original plot.”

All in the Family. (left-right) The farmer with ideas, “Grandfather Avner” Ben Ner, President & Founder Zohar Ben Ner and CEO Ori Ben Ner.

Today, with climates so unpredictable that can change so rapidly, “we have to rely on the available technologies to communicate with plants and prepare them for any scenario,” says Ori. “Our mission,” he asserts, “is to equip farmers and agri-businesses to manage their water challenges with the most relevant and potentially effective agronomic insights.” 

Today,  SupPlant is a world leading company in the field of “IOT” (“Internet of Things”) relating to agriculture. By shifting away from antiquated irrigation methodologies, SupPlant’s unique technology significantly saves water and improves productivity. 

How it works is that its artificial intelligence system analyses the data from the crops acquired through sensors which it then processes to provide irrigation commands.

Under Strict Surveillance. Strategically placed sensors monitor the growth of the fruit, the contractions of the stem or trunk and leaf temperature.

A lot of farmers talk about “sensing the needs of their plants” but what SupPlant has found is a way to scale the sensing: “We place sensors strategically which transmits data to the cloud on what the plant is sensing. It then translates that data through the use of artificial intelligence and big data to irrigation recommendations,” explains Ori. “We use all the data we have accumulated about 31 crops from 14 countries to create the best knowledge base.”

Look Who’s Talking. Farmers can now simply place sensors in the field and let the plants do the talking.
 

SupPlant has partnered in South Africa  with Nulandis  to service the country’s agricultural sector by assisting its farmers achieve  two goals:

– increasing crop yield

– reducing water usage 

Listening to the Plants

Farmers can now listen to their plants and hear directly how they are feeling or even likely to feel! SupPlant’s new mobile app will allow farmers to monitor plots and control their water budget from anywhere. The mobile app will  also send real-time alerts to the farmer in case the plants show a high stress level as it continuously monitors plants stress. In addition, it will alert when the soil is too moist, or a technical malfunction has occurred and will send advance notice  and recommendations  for dealing with extreme weather conditions.

A New Dawn. CEO Ori Ben-Ner at a SupPlant’s autonomous irrigation technology presentation at the UN in July 2019 says “a day where all growers in the world will be able to grow more produce and saving water – that day is now closer to reality more than ever.”  

This more intimate relationship between  man and his crops reminded me of in the 1969 musical western classic Paint Your Wagon with Clint Eastwood singing “I Talk To the Trees”.

Who would have thought that in 2020 the trees are now talking to the farmer!






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

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

‘Charging’ Down the Drag

Tel Aviv-Yafo is paving the way for electric roads of tomorrow

By David E. Kaplan

Electric vehicles can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it was previously tried in Israel and literally didn’t “get us far”. The challenges were daunting – high cost of batteries, charging stations were too few and far between, and recharging took far more time than a fill-up at the pump. Israelis are hardly endowed with much savlanut (Hebrew for “patience”), so the electric car ended up going down the proverbial cul de sac!

So it was back to the drawing board whereby reaching higher meant researching lower, resulting in an ‘electric road’ rather than the ‘electric car’.

Transport of Tomorrow.  A bus “charging” along a busy Tel Aviv street.
 

This is the idea of Israeli start-up ElectReon, which is to electrify the roads to recharge vehicles as they are driven.

An ‘electric road’, ‘eroad’, or ‘electric road system’ (ERS) is a road which supplies electric power to vehicles travelling on it but today, in 2020, it is far more than just an idea!

In partnership with the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality and Dan Bus Company, ElectReon have launched a pilot project to install wireless electric roads for charging public transportation in the city.

The initiative, which aims to reduce pollution and advance urban electric transportation uses wireless technology and requires no charging stations in public spaces.

The first of its kind in Israel, the pilot will be carried out between Tel Aviv University Railway Station and Klatzkin Terminal in Ramat Aviv – a two-kilometer route including 600 meters of electric road.

Revolutionary Road. A vehicle equipped with a charging receiver drives over copper coil charging strips at the Electreon test site in IsraelCredit(Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times)

The Chosen Path

Along this select road of the pilot project, specially-equipped electric buses will travel while being charged directly from an under-road electric infrastructure.

Down the road, following the tests expected to be completed within two months, a Dan Bus Company electric bus will commence regular journeys on the route, serving passengers traveling to Tel Aviv University.

This pilot project is integral in Tel Aviv-Yafo’s municipal policy of attaching monumental importance to electric vehicles and reducing air pollution in the city. Stated in a press release, the City will move forward on “constructing electric roads to encourage energy independent public transportation.”

To this end, Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality signed a recent collaboration agreement with Israeli company ElectReon – the developer and installer of electric road systems – for charging electric vehicles while traveling.

Testing Times. A charging receiver attached to the back of a car at the Electreon test site. (Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times)

Street smart

The construction of an electric road to charge public transportation vehicles will make,“Tel Aviv-Yafo the first city worldwide to roll out the technology for charging buses on a wide scale. In doing so, the city will evaluate the possibility of additional electric transportation, including public transportation, distribution trucks, and private and autonomous vehicles.” asserts the Municipality

Says Tel Aviv-Yafo’s upbeat Mayor, Ron Huldai:

We are constantly working to reduce air pollution in the city, and our strategic action plan to prepare for climate change has placed the fight against pollution at the top of the municipality’s environmental agenda. If the pilot is successful, we will evaluate – together with the Ministry of Transportation – its expansion to additional locations in the city.”

Black & White. An illustration of a bus being charged during travel.

Adds the City’s Deputy Mayor, Meital Lehavi:

We welcome that Tel Aviv-Yafo is a groundbreaking experimental laboratory for Israeli technologies, including electric roads. Transforming a road into an electrified surface and a means for charging, through advanced and effective infrastructure, will enable the acceleration of the transition to electric buses. Relying on direct charging of vehicles from the road itself will remove the need to establish charging stations or be operationally bound to terminals.

With electric transportation assisting municipal efforts to reduce air pollution and noise and assist the transition to green modes of transport, the trend will undoubtedly contribute to improving the quality of life and the environment for residents and visitors to the city. “We have no doubt,” continues Lehavi, “that, if the wide-scale experiment is successful, it will not only benefit the public, but also save resources, improve the operational efficiency of public transportation, and maybe even a new world-class method of electrification will emanate from Tel Aviv-Yafo. This is another milestone in advancing municipal policy on sustainable transportation.”

Behind the Wheel. “This project has the potential to move the electrification revolution to mass implementation,” says Noam Ilan, a co-founder and VP of Electreon. (Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times)

Electrifying News

ElectReon CEO and founding partner Oren Ezer, says “we are delighted” that the first electrified public route is being established in Tel Aviv – a global leader in the field of innovation and smart transportation.

The pilot will be a display window to the world, showcasing the ability to charge urban public transportation.”

And the world is watching.

Noting the challenges – technological and financial – Dan Becker, Director of the Safe Climate Campaign in Washington, says “If it works it could be a real game-changer for electric vehicles.” A strong advocate for lower emission vehicles, Becker  adds “It would free the vehicle from the plug. It would allow smaller batteries, the most expensive component of the vehicle. And it would reduce their weight so there would be less weight for the vehicle to schlep along.”

Going Global

Over time, ElectReon executives aim to go global and make “all-electric city transport” the wave of the future.

This project has the potential to move the electrification revolution to mass implementation,” said Noam Ilan, a company co-founder and vice president for business development.

While the ElectReon system will still require vehicles to carry batteries, these batteries however will be far smaller and lighter because the vehicles will constantly recharge and therefore will need minimal storage capacity.

Executives assure that roads can be easily retrofitted, and nearly two-thirds of a mile or one kilometre of road can be outfitted during a night construction shift.

The Road Ahead. Following the success of public transport, the aim is for private cars to follow the way of public buses.

An asphalt scraper machine can dig a shallow trench in the road, while a second vehicle installs the charging strips and covers them with fresh asphalt. Power is delivered to the road from the electricity grid by power inverters installed on the sides of the road.

Once the strips are deployed, “roads would rarely if ever need to be dug up for repairs,” says Ilan.

And on the question of economic sustainability, Ilan insists that ElectReon has an almost limitless potential revenue stream from tolls on its roads and systems to bill registered vehicle customers for the electricity they use. “Revenues would likely be shared with local utilities,” he said.

Today a pioneer in developing electric road technology, ElectReon has come a long way since it was founded in 2013 by a few engineers from Elbit Systems, a prominent Israeli aerospace company with global operations.

Going Green. A vehicle powered by ElectReon technology ‘charges’ ahead. (photo credit: ELECTREON WIRELESS)

With roughly 20 employees, their lab is “decidedly makeshift”, with the look, as Clifford Krauss of The New York Times described in an October 2019 article “of a high school electronics lab.” He noted amusingly that the charging apparatus for the test track was rigged to the back of a car using a Thule bike rack and metal rods, while “surf boards leaned against the walls for breaks” at a nearby Mediterranean beach.

Is this not typically Israeli and quintessential Tel Avivian – being super ‘charged’ while simultaneously casual in lifestyle? Assures company co-founder,  Noam Ilan, “such breaks SPARK creativity.” 

No doubt!

Whether from surfing waves today to the ‘wave of the future’ of electric roads of tomorrow, Israel’s city of Tel Aviv-Yafo ignites the way forward.

Let’s go for a ride“. ElectReon – Dynamic wireless charging



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

Back to School in Tel Aviv – of Sorts!

Tel Aviv to open classrooms in city’s leading public institutions

By David E. Kaplan

Parents in Israel are in Corona virus panic mode with their kids returning to shool on the 1 September.

“Are the schools ready?” “Does the government know what it’s doing?” “Will schools close again?”

There are far more sensible questions than credible answers and being a Jewish state, grandparents feel obliged to share in the panic. After all, when the domestic alarm bells sounds, Saba and Safta (grandfather and grandmother) are the ‘First Responders’!

Floating an Idea. Israel’s famed beach city which is fueled by ideas has come up with some new ideas to get kids safely back to school during the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, Israel’s “City of big ideas”, Tel Aviv-Yafo, has come up with some innovative ideas on meeting this challenge. Mayor, Ron Huldai, says “We have prepared for every scenario that we are expected to confront.”

What this means is that while it may be back to school, it might not be exactly the same school or the school as it once was.

What does this mean?

New and intriguing surroundings will welcome the schoolchildren, after the city’s education system adopted a series of creative solutions to enable in-class learning. To this end, the Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality has prepared for the return of almost 75,000 pupils to schools amid strict Health Ministry COVID-19 guidelines, including the opening of classrooms in a range of public buildings and spaces across the city.

It is a case of “and now for something completely different!”

Toasting Tel Aviv. Light at the end of the tunnel, Mayor Ron Huldai drinking at a bar in Tel Aviv (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
 

To enable classes to be split into smaller “capsules for safer and socially distanced learning”, additional spaces have been secured at sites including Tel Aviv’s Cameri Theater, the Charles Bronfman Auditorium (Heichal HaTarbut), the Israel Music Conservatory and Tel Aviv University. One ‘sure thing’ during these “unsure times” is the certainty of no rain. So, taking advantage of Israel’s guaranteed sunshine this time of year, classes will also be taught in parks and other green spaces located adjacent to schools.

Taking Centre Stage. The Cameri Theater Tel Aviv which will provide unique space to provide social distancing education for schoolkids.

Work of Art

Smaller classes means requiring more teachers, so the Municipality came up the idea of utilising local artists and performers who have been impacted by the coronavirus to provide the additional teaching staff for the supplementary classes. Not sitting idle in the sweltering summer vacations, they have been undergoing training as educational support workers and are ready for the big day.

Sounding like gearing up for a Normandy landing, Ron Huldai, Mayor of Tel Aviv-Yafo said in a press release:

 “The coronavirus outbreak hurled the entire world into a new reality and presented us with a challenge of an unprecedented nature. Given the experience of recent months, we have made special preparations for the opening of the new school year.

The schools of September 2020 will be unlike the schools that we have known to date. The coming year will bring new challenges, but there are also opportunities: to implement upgrades; to accelerate pedagogical and structural processes for which the time is now ripe; and to reexamine our educational premises. We have prepared for every scenario that we are expected to confront this year in the shadow of the coronavirus, and we are all hopeful that this year will advance us to unprecedented and different levels of ability.”

Inspiring stuff!!

Ready to Begin. All quite at present at an elementary school in the neighborhood of Kohav Hatsafon in Tel Aviv.

Such inspirational rhetoric during a global war against a disease, gives credence to the rumours that Tel Aviv Mayor, Ron Huldai, is mulling a run for Prime Minister. In a July 19 article in The Jerusalem Post, it was  reported that he was facing increasing calls to enter national politics after 22 years as the Mayor of Tel Aviv and earlier careers as an IAF combat pilot and high school principal.

 As a former “high school principal”, Mayor Huldai understands education at a grassroots level, which has helped him respond to the current pandemic crisis.

Sounds Sensible. The illustrious home of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) – the Charles Bronfman Auditorium – will now provide a venue for school kids during Corona.

Out in the Open

In addition to opening classrooms in public buildings  and institutions – all impressive landmark structures on the Tel Aviv landscape – infrastructure work has been carried out in 137 schoolyards across the city to enable or enhance outdoor learning, including greater provision of shade and artificial grass.

Tel Aviv has proved from its inception in 1909 to be a city that adjusts to change. Understanding that students returning to school might not be quite the same they were before the pandemic,  has led to finding new methodologies to navigate the uncertain road ahead.

According to the press release, “All educational institutions in the city will dedicate the first days of the school year to personal and group conversations with pupils, placing an emphasis on enhancing their emotional and social skills.”

Explains Shirley Rimon-Bracha, Head of Tel Aviv-Yafo’s Education Administration:

The past six months have presented educational teams in kindergartens and schools with management and educational challenges. We have translated all the lessons learnt and insights into optimal preparations for September.

Education in the city has undergone significant reform in recent years, and school principals are therefore relatively prepared to acclimatize to change, to adjust educational frameworks and to work with flexibility and creatively. I expect an interesting and educational year for us all, and I pay tribute to school and kindergarten heads for their exceptional effort to open the new school year.”

Orchestrating Creativity. The Israel Conservatory of Music, Tel Aviv founded in 1943 by musicians who had immigrated to Israel during this dark period  is today providing light as a center of creativity for future musicians.  It will further provide an added venue for general schooling practicing social distancing.

Warm Welcome

In addition to using public spaces, pupils arriving at over 70 elementary and middle schools on September 1, will be greeted by approximately 200 street performers at the school gates and adjacent public spaces.

The performances will fulfil two key municipal objectives: boosting the income of street performers and raising the morale of schoolchildren as they start an unfamiliar academic year.

That does not mean parents will still not worry.

Its embedded in Jewish DNA. As one writer once noted:

 “Forget Murphy’s Law. Chances are his real name was Murphosky and his family taught him: “If anything can go wrong, it will.”

On the other hand it might not – Tel Aviv is ready.

Green Light. The huge campus of Tel Aviv University will provide plenty of aesthetic space for schools to function adhering to Covid-19 guidelines.





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