PLANE LIES

The heaven reveal Jordan’s concern for Palestinians is a lot of hot air

By David E. Kaplan

Anything that could ease the lives of West Bank Palestinians should be welcome. Or so one would think!

Apparently not so for Jordanians if Israel is doing the ‘easing’ and the Hashemite Kingdom  feels they are losing out economically.

Literally go figure, for this brouhaha is all about money not morality!

Jordan reveals its true colours as self-interest trumps any interests of the Palestinians.

Instead of West Bank travelers, when flying abroad, having to take the cumbersome, bureaucratic, time-consuming and costly route of going through the ever-crowded Allenby Crossing into neighbouring Jordan for international flights out of Amman, now have a much simpler and far less costly option.

Sparks Fly. A partial view of the international Ramon Airport located some 18 kilometers north of the southern Israeli Red Sea resort city of Eilat sparks crisis between Jordan and Palestinians.  (MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)

They can fly out from Israel!

Compounding the Allenby Crossing is that it is not open 24 hours a day thus forcing many travellers to pay to stay in a hotel nearby before their flight. There are also travel costs and crossing fees that make the journey via Jordan an added financial burden.

The alternative is Israel’s offer of its relatively new international Ramon Airport near Eilat. Opened in 2019, tourists from abroad holidaying at Israel’s all-year sunshine resort now fly directly to Ramon Airport. The first group of West Bank Palestinians flew last week from Ramon Airport to Cyprus aboard a plan belonging to the Arkia Israeli Airlines.

Hopefully it will not be the last, but it might be if Jordan gets its way.

So why is Jordan upset? According to Jordan’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, some 255,000 Palestinians enter Jordan every year with each passenger spending at least 350 Jordanian dinars during his or her visit to the kingdom. Here’s the revealing truth:

Jordanian travel and tourism agents say that 45% of their clients are Palestinians.

Easing the lives of the Palestinians is the last thing on Jordan mind.  First thing on its mind is not to lose out on this revenue. Hence Jordan is sadly in sabotage mode.

The rhetoric from Jordanians – across the board from government officials to activists on social media – has been threatening, frightening and scrapes away the false façade of caring for the wellbeing of Palestinians. The tone and tempo indicates also a callous disrespect towards Palestinians.

Several Jordanian activists launched a hashtag on Twitter titled “Palestinian normalization [with Israel] is treason”, #palestiniannormalizatioistreason, accusing the Palestinians of “stabbing Jordan in the back”. Ironically, many Palestinians feel it is Jordan that has stabbed them in the back, and have been reminding Jordanians on social media was it not their country that signed a peace treaty with Israel!

Where then is the “treason”?

This menacing reaction from Jordan permeates from the top. Chairman of the Tourism Committee in the Jordanian Parliament (National Assembly), Majed al-Rawashdeh, said that Israel’s decision to open Ramon Airport to the Palestinians posesto the kingdom:

“a great economic and social danger”.

Really? Israel offers a solution to ease Palestinian travel and Jordan seeing it causing “social danger”!

First Flight May Be Last. Making history, West Bank Palestinians fly to Cyprus from Ramon Airport Arkia flight to Cyprus from Ramon Airport, August 22, 2022. (photo credit: COGAT)

It gets even more vicious and libelous. Al-Rawashdeh added that the move was a “political decision par excellence” by the Israeli government to harm Jordan’s economy. The extent of this Jordanian parliamentarian’s lying was astounding when he claimed that the recent crisis of severe overcrowding at Allenby Bridge that saw thousands of Palestinian passengers stranded on the Jordanian side of the border crossing, was deliberately created by the Israeli government so that they could start flying from Ramon Airport.

In full throttle, Rawashdeh even castigated his own government for not taking any measures to thwart the Israeli move, and suggested that Jordan revoke the temporary (Jordanian) passports of Palestinians who travel through Ramon Airport.

Then steps in Jordan’s former Minister of Information, Samih al-Mayaita who accused the PA of collusion with Israel in opening the airport to Palestinian passengers. His Tweet read:

Yesterday, the first flight from the Israeli Ramon Airport arrived in Cyprus carrying Palestinians from the West Bank. Flights will continue to other countries at the expense of Queen Alia Airport and transit through Jordan. [This is] an Israeli move to serve its own interests in agreement with the Ramallah authority, which provided a service to Israel at the expense of Jordan.”

The Jordanian narrative is now of an Israeli plot in collusion with the PA to damage Jordan’s economy.  Can this hysteria get any more absurd? It can and does, and adding fuel to the fire is the Jordanian media.

Prominent Jordanian columnist Maher Abu Tair also accused the PA of being in cahoots with Israel to open Ramon Airport to the Palestinians. He writes:

The Ramallah Authority was complicit with the occupation. The rhetoric of the officials in Ramallah was soft and they did not prevent the Palestinians from using the airport.”

With venom creeping into the now offensive rhetoric, the Jordanian columnist referred to the PA as that “miserable Ramallah Authority” who would not “dare prevent travel and tourism agencies from promoting travel through Ramon Airport.”

Smooth Landing, Political Uproar. Palestinians at Larnaca International Airport after arriving aboard the first flight from Israel’s Ramon airport, in Cyprus on August 22, 2022 (Iakovos HATZISTAVROU / AFP)

He continues:

Most Palestinians travel by land to Jordan, and from Jordan they travel with the Jordanian airlines from Queen Alia Airport to Turkey and other countries. This means that opening Ramon Airport to them will negatively affect Jordan.”

This rhetoric was leading somewhere – a call for action.

That came from Jordanian parliament member Khalil Attieh who said that he would exert pressure on the Jordanian government to ban any Palestinian who uses Ramon Airport from entering the kingdom.

Long delays and Overcrowding. According to Palestinian sources, about 7,000 passengers cross daily from Jordan to the West Bank and from the West Bank through Jordan, reaching up to 10,000 passengers per day on holidays.

My message to the Palestinians is that anyone who uses this airport will not be permitted to enter Jordan. In addition, travel and tourism agencies that cooperate with this issue should be subjected to legal measures. The Palestinians need to know that they either chose Jordan that has always stood with them or the Zionists …….”

Where this will now lead for Palestinians travelling abroad is very much up in the air!





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).

PAST AND PRESENT MIX AT THE LOWEST POINT ON EARTH

By Motti Verses

(Photos credit: Merav Ayalon and Ein Gedi Hotel)

Traveling south along the shoreline of the Dead Sea from Lido Beach always brings back unforgettable childhood memories. Weeks after the 1967 Six Day War, I visited the Lido, a luxurious Jordanian hotel at the northern end of the sea. A road was paved to Ein Peshcha and it was possible to enjoy an immersion experience of the freshest spring water merging with the salty sea waters. The sweet salty connection etched my memory. The blue sea was then full and impressive. Great memories.

This is the Dead Sea, earth’s lowest point with an elevation of 430.5 meters below sea level. Due to the high salt content of the water, no living creature can live in the sea. 

Since then so many years have passed, and the sights of childhood are left only in mind. The sea is shrinking and drying at a frightening speed. In the northern section it can hardly be seen and only when approaching an oasis – Kibbutz Ein Gedi. The road winding up the ridge, a more optimistic picture is obtained. If the road had been paved in recent years, it certainly would not have had to be turned up. It was possible to continue south at a lower location aided by safety concrete piles. The tranquility, the wilderness, the colors of the blue sea with the drying salt are breathtaking, but so sad.

Desert Delight. Past and present fuse as the early morning sun rises above the mountain in Jordan illuminating a tranquil Dead Sea.

During my studies at the Hebrew University, when I lived in Jerusalem – my hometown, the escape east to the Dead Sea was frequent. The choices were either to Jericho to “wipe some hummus” and slide in the narrow concrete canal of the Uja Stream, or south to Ein Gedi for a hike in the Nahal David and Nahal Arugot streams. Today the first option does not even come to mind. The territory is in the hands of the Palestinian Authority and no one is willing to risk a trip experience turning into a question mark. Ein Gedi remains a popular option. Excursions to springs, streams, water ponds and tiny waterfalls in the heart of the arid wilderness were frequent and full of happiness. Later came the visits and stays in the Ein Gedi kibbutz hotel , which I always preferred over a stay in the Ein Bokek hotels.

Lovers in Paradise. Serene beauty, solitude and togetherness, a formula for fun.

I returned to Ein Gedi with my partner, who was born in Israel in the Sharon region, but it turns out that she is not familiar with this area. Full of excitement, I returned to walk in recognizable districts. The Nature Reserves Authority has made the visit to Nahal David an amazing experience, accessible to almost everyone and special in nature. The ibexes that used to hide away from sight, walk around with no fear and their quantity is quite large. A variety of small waterfalls await everyone to enjoy the cool and fresh water. This is compensation for the disappointing sign forbidding immersion in the pond of the rather powerful waterfall of David. Not many years ago, we used to bathe in the cool water enjoying the water falling on our shoulders.

Cool It. Nothing like a cold refreshing natural shower in the soaring heat of the desert.

After the ultimate Dead Sea mud experience all over our bodies, we found ourselves in our car – climbing on the winding road to the kibbutz on the way to the hotel. Same curvy road. Loud noise from the industrial chicken houses was a childhood memory. Years later, the chickens vanished but the rusty houses remained. This week the rusty structures had disappeared and only their concrete ramps remained. A strange sight.

My beloved hotel was still there, scattered over large areas dipped in greenery, with ancient baobab trees and desert flowers. A real oasis. The room where we stayed was clean and compact with an adjoining garden, overlooking the arid mountains. Meals in the hotel’s dining room remained as they were. Rich and basic. Who needs more? In the morning we enjoyed shakshuka, a salad and an outdoor coffee while the view of the powerful mountains left us speechless.

I was looking for the old bus painted blue to hop on leading the way to the hot springs and the beach; to enjoy the sea water and smear mud all over our bodies. The idea back then was to be photographed on camera using Agfa or Kodak film spools and wait a week for the prints. Today, with a state-of-the-art iPhone, the photos are instant, but the bus is no longer there. It’s been put out to pasture due to old age. Ein Gedi’s hot springs  are temporarily closed. 

Playing it Cool. While a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1980, the writer, Motti Verses (far left) with friends frolicking in Nahal David in the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve.

Challenges and improvisations in this unique area are endless. ”We had to close our famous hot springs facility next to the sea shores, as the water receded dramatically”, says Shahaf Homri, CEO of kibbutz  Ein Gedi. “Over recent years we have lost a staggering 50 meters and the waterfront that was part of the facility in 1982 when we opened, is now 5 kilometers away,” says Shahaf“No hospitality business faces a challenge like this globally. We are planning a totally different hot springs fascination to meet this new millennium, as the Dead Sea deserves a more modern attraction”, he says to me.

I was looking for Zalman’s cactus farm, an initiative of kibbutz member Zalman Dagmi. I loved enjoying the variety of plants in his compound. Unfortunately the farm is gone and the plants are now scattered all over the hotel and the kibbutz is now branded as a botanical garden. Nice, but for my money the older option was more desirable.

Road of Revelations. In contrast to the arid crust of the desert, the exotic flora along the coastal road provides a kaleidoscope of color.

The spacious swimming pool in the shade of the trees and at the foot of the mountains remains the attraction I really missed. On a sunbed overlooking the dying sea and the mountains of Moab, I was contemplating on my fortunate unforgettable vacation that connects past and present. 

Driving back home charged with energy with my partner at the wheel, I looked at my mobile phone, googling sadly about the Dead Sea, and a beacon shines via a surprising recent  announcement by Travel + Leisure, the prestigious American travel magazine with 4.8 million readers. It read:

The Dead Sea, Israel has been selected as the world’s number 1 healing spot around the world for 2022,  from hot springs to salt flats.

Besides being absolutely breathtaking, this landlocked salt lake has long been touted for its health-giving properties. From slathering the black mud over your skin for exfoliation and alleviating skin conditions like psoriasis, to its professed natural power to remedy asthma, arthritis, osteoporosis, and other issues, the body of water also boasts a low content of pollen and other allergens. At 400 meters below sea level, harmful UV rays are filtered through an evaporation layer above the Dead Sea, the ozone layer, and an extra atmospheric layer. This is said to mean that sunbathers can absorb the beneficial effects of vitamin D from the sun’s rays, without risk of sunburn and ensuing skin damage,” the leading travel iconic magazine highlights.

Looking at the great view with that new knowledge my optimism soars. I am indeed fortunate to have had such a unique experience.





About the writer:

Motti Verses is a Communications Executive, Video Presenter, Writer, Marketing and PR Expert. He was Head of Public Relations for Hilton Hotels Israel for more than 30 years. Now he is the publisher of Travel Flash Tips.

http://linkedin.com/in/motti-verses-a7369913





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).

BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HOTEL

Reflecting on a South African ‘dreamer’ and ‘doer’ at Rosh HaNikra – Israel’s rocky border outpost with Lebanon

By David E. Kaplan

I started the week with a visit to Rosh HaNikra, the scenic grotto with a cable car reputed to be one of “the steepest in the world”. It’s the most northern point in Israel’s Mediterranean coastline – next stop lies an historic enemy – Lebanon.

Poetry in Motion. A kaleidoscope of colours and sounds pervades the alluring grotto at Rosh HaNikra.

A turbulent past of thunderous shelling, this day I was happy to absorb the thunderous crash of the waves on the rocks which reminded me of those onomatopoeic lines of  W.H. Auden in his poem ‘On This Island’:

“…Oppose the pluck
And knock of the tide
….”

These words resonated as I listened to the “pluck” of the wave as it receded within the grotto back to sea and then returned with a crashing “knock” against the rocks. It was an endless noisy battle from time immemorial  – much of what transpired only metres above as armies ‘crossing’ from the ancient to the modern world physically crossed here on the coastal road. Among them were the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, the Crusaders up to and including the British who in the 1940s paved a rail line between Haifa and Tripoli in Lebanon. Bombed by Jewish fighters in June 1946 in the prelude to the War of Independence, it was at this rehabilitated relic of a railway line – today a historic site – that I was looking at when I noticed in the information plaque of the contribution of the South African engineers as part of the South African Engineering Corps. It was then that I remembered that this was the very spot that Norman Lourie, the founder of the South African Habonim youth movement in 1930, had come to cover as a war correspondent attached to a South African engineer unit.

Stopped in its Tracks.  The railway line at Rosh Hanikra from Haifa to Beirut and Tripoli in Lebanon that was inaugurated in 1942 but abandoned only three years later.

Was it fortuitous, I thought, that the Habonim movement reached its 90th in 2020 but due to COVID, will be celebrating this milestone event this coming October 2022 in Israel?

While studying at university in the UK in the late 1920s, Norman Lourie heard a young man like himself, Wellesley Aron, speak about starting a Jewish youth movement in the poor East End of London. So inspired, Norman returned to South Africa with his ‘dream’ and what emerged was to become the largest Jewish youth movement in Southern Africa. Initially modeled on the scout movement, it soon emerged into an ideological powerhouse, whose young bogrim (graduates), would settle in Israel making a superlative impact in every field of human endeavour.

Eye on the Future. Holding his camera, South African visionary Norman Lourie was a poet, war correspondent, pioneer film producer, successful hotelier in Israel and the founder of the Habonim Jewish youth movement in South Africa.

Some  would emerge recipients of the country’s highest civilian award –  the  Israel Prize – for reaching the pinnacle in their field. This year, on Independence Day, Prof. Ruth Berman who was born in Cape Town in 1935, and grew up in Sea Point and attended Habonim – which she says “influenced my decision in 1954 to make Aliyah” – was awarded the Israel Prize for her trailblazing work in linguistics.

In an interview with the SA. Jewish ReportProf. Berman (née Aronson)  expressed that she dedicated the award to her fellow South Africans:

 “who came to Israel in the 1940s and 1950s, who haven’t always received acknowledgement for their tremendous contribution to building Israel. This is especially in regard to those who came from the Zionist youth movements and went on to become leaders in their fields, from medicine to academia to the arts. This award isn’t only mine, but theirs.”

Riveting Ruth. A graduate of the Habonim movement in Sea Point, Cape Town, Ruth Berman is an Israeli linguist, Professor Emerita, Tel Aviv University and the 2022 Israel Prize laureate in linguistics.

One such individual from this early period deserving of recognition is Norman Lourie, whose dream of the youth movement was to influence the lives of so many.

But Norman himself had another dream. While Habonim means ‘the builders’, it was about building in Israel, that Norman’s next dream physically took shape and not too far from where I was standing at Rosh HaNikra.

The seed of that dream germinated during World War II, when Norman, as a war correspondent attached to a South African engineer unit tasked for maintaining the stretch of rail from Haifa to Beirut, found himself on a train that stopped at a sandy station “in the middle of nowhere.

Norman alighted.

Where are we?” he asked.

Shavei Zion,” someone told him. He quickly learnt it was a moshav on the coast started by German immigrants who fled Nazi Germany in 1938. He instantly fell in love with the place and pledged to return.

After the war, he returned and negotiated with two sisters for the purchase of their small hotel that in their advertisement, boasted “running water in each room.”

Norman’s dream was to transform it into a luxury hotel. He formed a syndicate of South African investors and over the next few years built a 5-star hotel, called Dolphin House (Beit Dolphin).

It became the summer home of Israel’s state presidents and a favourite resort for visiting dignitaries and celebrities.

Hollywood in Holy Land. Dolphin House , the meeting place for visiting celebrities to Israel, didn’t just bring Beverly Hills style living to Shavei Zion (Return to Zion), it raised the entire quality of life of the moshav.

Israel’s presidents of the fifties – Chaim Weizmann and Yitzhak Ben Zvi – mixed socially with the likes of Danny Kaye, Sophia Loren, Ralph Richardson, Israeli actress, singer and model Daliah Lavi who was born on Shavei Zion, and many others of the movie industry’s celebrities – most notably, the entire cast of the movie blockbuster – Exodus.

5-Star Hotel for the Stars. The famed Jewish film star Danny Kaye at Dolphin House in the 1950s was a “regular” at the hotel on moshav Shavei Zion.

Dining with the Stars

During the filming of Exodus, another South African fell in love with Shavei Zion and experienced a brush with stardom. In 1960, Ivor Wolf of Ra’anana was in Israel as a volunteer in Nachal. The movie’s director, Otto Preminger, had negotiated with the IDF, to hire some Israeli soldiers to play the part of British soldiers stationed in Acre during the famed breakout scene of the prison, where on May 4, 1947, 28 Irgun and Lehi prisoners were freed. “I was one of those British soldiers and was happy to let the Jews escape,” laughs Ivor. During shooting, Ivor would frequently share meal tables at Dolphin House with the likes of Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint, Peter Lawford, Lee J. Cobb, Sal Mineo, Hugh Griffith and Ralph Richardson.

All ‘Set’. Staying at Dolphin House, Paul Newman and director Otto Preminger on the set of the film Exodus (1960).

Shavei Zion had also a more direct connection to the movie’s plot. Following the breakout of the Acre prison, all the prisoners killed in the action, were carried by the escapees and buried on the moshav, the first refuge on route following the escape.

Well into the 1960s, Dolphin House was riding a crest of a wave, “actually a metaphor,” says Ivor, “because it still stands next to one of Israel’s finest beaches.” On Sundays, an orchestra used to play on a band-stand and people from all over the north came to enjoy open-air music “in this piece of paradise.”

The movies and the music however did not last. The ‘final curtain call’ on this era came when the property was acquired by Kupat Holim Klalit and turned a 5-star resort into a medical facility. Even this use of ‘Norman’s Dream’ had its time as the property fell into disuse until Ivor again stepped into ‘the picture’, this time not as a ‘walk-on-part’, but as a major actor in the on-going saga of Shavei Zion and Dolphin House.

Shifting Currents. The Prime Minister of Ghana at Dolphin House, the first African country to have diplomatic relations with the State of Israel.

Representing a group of investors, like Norman had done before, “we bought the premises comprising the old, desolate hotel and adjacent buildings and built 22 fully-equipped holiday bungalows called Dolphin Village.”  Norman’s vision was restored – from Dolphin House to Dolphin Village.

Ivor, who had been a leader in the Betar movement in South Africa before making aliyah, is proud of promoting a project that was the brainchild of the founder of Habonim. “After all,” says Ivor, “the bottom line is that our youth movements at the time were all about promoting and building a strong Jewish state. This is what we did, and this is what I feel I am still doing today.”

Shavei Zion is a far cry today from when its founders absorbed the illegal immigrants off the ships evading the British blockade, or when Norman Lurie alighted from a train at a stretch of dirt and saw a property that prided itself on offering “running water”.

‘Sign’ of the Times. Joshua Malka (right) watches as the Prime Minister of Burma (today Myanmar),  one of the first countries in Asia to recognise Israel, signs the guest book at Beit Dolphin (בית דולפין / Dolphin House.)

It is somewhat poignant that  Norman Lourie, who would go on to become as well a prizewinning filmmaker was born in South Africa in 1909 – the same year the first Tel Aviv dwellings were erected on empty Mediterranean sand dunes.  But there is another striking meaningful coincidence. When in 1935, Norman captained a team of South African athletes to the second World Maccabiah Games in Palestine, he met Lord Melchett (Sir Alfred Mond, Bt), a British industrialist and ardent Zionist, who wrote to Norman’s father on his behalf urging him to allow his son to remain in Palestine. Although it would take another decade for Norman to follow his dream and settle permanently in Palestine in 1946, Lord Melchett’s support was never forgotten and when in 2014, a luxury boutique hotel named after Norman Lourie called ‘The Norman’  opened in Tel Aviv, its location was none other than on the corner of –  Melchett Street!

The Norman Conquest. Drink a L’Chaim to Norman Lourie at Tel Aviv’s top boutique hotel ‘The Norman’ named after the visionary who founded the South African Habonim youth movement in 1930.

Tel Aviv today is not short of good bars and pubs but when the former members of South African Habonim  from all over the world gather in Israel this October to celebrate the long-awaited 90th anniversary, they may want to pop into the Champagne and Wine Bar  or the Library Bar at The Norman and toast a L’Chaim to their founder.

EPILOGUE

Staring at the long unused railway line at Rosh HaNikra – a casualty of war –  one can only add to the ‘dreams’ that one day in the not to distant future, that line that Norman came to film will be reopened as Lebanon gets on track in pursuing peace.

But that’s a script that still needs to be written by future dreamers and doers.





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).

CELEBRATING JERUSALEM EVERY DAY

By Jonathan Feldstein

This week, Israel and Jewish and Christian friends all over the world celebrated Jerusalem Day, 55 years on the Biblical calendar (the 28th of Iyar) corresponding to the day on the secular calendar in June of 1967 when Jerusalem was miraculously reunified during the Six Day War.  Indeed, the restoration of Jewish sovereignty to all of Jerusalem for the first time in 2000 years is yet another fulfillment of the many promises God made to the Jewish people, and many prophesies that continue to play out before our eyes right here in the Land.

For Jews and Christians, there is no place more central or significant to our faith than Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is the place that Kings built, prophets prophesied, where the Temples stood, where Jesus preached and was crucified, and much more.  Jerusalem is mentioned several hundred times in the Bible. It’s the only place by name that God specifically tells us to pray for, and to be guardians on the walls of. 

Sadly, not everyone understands that and the significance of Jerusalem to us today.  Not only doesn’t everyone understand that, but some people deny the significance of Jerusalem to Jews and Christians, deny that there was ever a Temple on the Temple Mount, and talk about Jerusalem being “defiled” by Jews and Christians, and “Judaized”.

David Rubinger’s iconic photo showing Israeli paratroopers (from left: Zion Karasenti, Yitzhak Yifat and Haim Oshri) standing in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem during the Six-Day War, June 7, 1967 .(Photo credit: David Rubinger/GPO)

This narrative is not only not Biblical, but it undermines the very foundation of Judaism and Christianity. It is the mother of all replacement theology, to erase actual Biblical history and our deep roots in Jerusalem as Jews and Christians to the Holy City. 

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre sacred to all the Christian faiths as the site of the Resurrection of Jesus following his Crucifixion. (CC-BY-SA Anton Croos)

This is all the more reason why we need to celebrate. Last year, Hamas and other terrorists used the occasion of Jerusalem Day to start an 11-day war, launching over 4000 rockets at Israeli communities.  As bad as that is and was, I prefer to look at the cup half full.  Yes, we have our challenges, but there are far more blessings. In fact, our cup runneth over.

While I am not a prophet, this year I felt a little bit like a prophet of doom, joking with friends that we should hold off plans until after the war starts.  My daughter, with a two-week-old baby, nervously told my son-in-law that if there is a war, he has to tell the army he can’t go and be among the first 5000 reservists called up as he was a year ago. Thankfully, no major war or conflict broke out and Jews were able to march and celebrate throughout the city.

Being a Jew in Jerusalem, I feel the blessings every day. From the balcony of my apartment, I can see the golden dome on the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount . I am overcome with joy and emotion that 17 years ago, my youngest son was born in Jerusalem. He is named for two relatives who were murdered in the Holocaust and no doubt prayed for the restoration of Jerusalem.  I suspect that they could never have imagined how that has become a reality today as a thriving diverse city that is the capitol of the State of Israel.  As overjoyed as they would be seeing a young man carrying their name, born in Jerusalem, who is finishing high school and preparing to go serve the country as a member of the IDF, they would be speechless to know that now, I also have three grandsons born in Jerusalem, representing another generation of Jewish life thriving in Jerusalem.

But don’t believe me. This month I had conversations with two dear Christian friends who live in Jerusalem and have been part of life here for decades.  We discussed modern and Biblical history, the blessings that they experience being here, and the significance of Jerusalem’s reunification and why we celebrate today.  Chris Mitchell is the veteran head of the CBN Jerusalem bureau for more than two decades.  He’s reported on thousands of aspects of life here and is well known to Christians around the world.  He’s a journalist with the highest of integrity who speaks about being at the intersection of history and prophesy. Hear his invaluable insight here.

Orthodox Christian worshippers take part in the Good Friday procession, along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem’s Old City, on 22 April 2022. (AFP)

John Enarson works on a theological basis to help Christians understand the significance of Jerusalem to them.  He has had the privilege of living and raising a family in Jerusalem and speaks with unwavering moral clarity rooted in Biblical tradition.  Together, Chris and John offer extraordinary personal testimony and insight about living in Jerusalem and the significance of how and why celebration of Jerusalem Day is so important.  

Yesterday, I was watching a TV talk show broadcasting from Jerusalem with the Old City as the backdrop.  The panel was discussing the significance of Jerusalem’s reunification, in light of current events including the annual “flag march”, as well as the threats from Hamas, Hezbollah, and others.  This is particularly relevant given that last year on the eve of Jerusalem Day, Hamas used this as an excuse to launch rockets at Jerusalem (to “protect” Jerusalem!), beginning an 11-day conflict during which terrorists fired more than 4000 rockets at Israeli communities.  I suppose that “protecting” Jerusalem means different things to different people.

Organized by the Elijah Interfaith Institute, Abrahamic Reunion, and the Tantur Institute for Ecumenical Studies, a multi-faith prayer in Jerusalem welcoming Jews, Christians and Muslims. (Courtesy Abrahamic Reunion)

One of the panelists talked passionately about the significance of Jerusalem’s reunification and our celebration. She spoke ardently, as a proud Israeli. Before my mind could ascribe any political association, she described herself growing up in a (left-wing) kibbutz environment and noted that even for her, celebrating Jerusalem and not caving in to Hamas threats was a priority. 

That’s when it hit me. 

The reunification is indeed a national thing. Jerusalem’s reunification is not something I take for granted.  Years ago, I was moved to hear from a friend’s father, Moshe, how that very year, hundreds of thousands of Israelis flocked to Jerusalem to celebrate its reunification.  For him, it was like a heart transplant, bringing a new pulse to the State and people of Israel, one for which we waited and prayed for nearly 2000 years. 

Cobbled street through the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, Jerusalem

Today, too many do take Jerusalem’s reunification for granted.  That’s wrong. Jerusalem is our heart.  Its reunification is fulfillment of a Divine promise on which we could bank, and is now fulfilled. Even if it took two millennia.

Not everyone looks at the significance of Jerusalem’s restoration from the same perspective. Some look at it as just part of modern history, some as fulfillment of a Divine promise, some as one of the greatest things to happen in the State of Israel, and some, a combination of all these.  But remembering Moshe’s moving words, along with the passionate comments of the “left-wing” woman on TV, things clicked in a way that haven’t before.  That’s part of the beauty of living here. It’s not just academic.  I live in my own Petrie dish.  I am part of the experiment and can observe the outcome all at the same time.

The Church of All Nations also known as the Basilica of the Agony  on the Mount of Olives next to the Garden of Gethsemane.

Our joy and celebration should be unbridled. No exceptions. This year, thank God, it was, more or less. But we don’t have to wait once a year to celebrate Jerusalem. Like our heart, it’s part of who we are, central to Judaism and Christianity. Let’s celebrate Jerusalem every day.



About the writer:

Jonathan Feldstein ­­­­- President of the US based non-profit Genesis123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians – is a freelance writer whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Townhall, NorthJersey.com, Algemeiner Jornal, The Jewish Press, major Christian websites and more.





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).

Can women across the world move freely in their cities?

A British study says no – an Israeli app now says yes

By Diana Grosz

Most people would say that life today is far safer compared to previous centuries. International agreements and treaties protect us from wars; innovative medicine saves millions of lives from diseases, and local and international laws provide security and a feeling of safety on the streets in a majority of Western countries.

However, despite these monumental developments, half the world’s population is not truly protected – even in highly developed states!

Even though politicians and the media constantly talk about equal rights of all citizens and the growing success in the fight against gender inequality in recent years, feeling safe and secure is still a privilege reserved mostly for men.

According to a research in 2019 bythe British international Internet-based market research and data analytics firm, YouGov, around half of all women feel unsafe in various routine situations. Men however, in the same context, feel relatively secure and safe.

50% of women say they always or often feel unsafe walking alone at night.

The insecurity and awareness of women in this study are related to them moving from one place to another; whether it’s a walk from work to their home or traveling to another country. For instance, the average man is able to easily travel by hitch-hiking, while among women this practice is considered high-risk. Such an evident polarity in opportunities leads to thoughts about the difference in men’s and women’s freedom, which are in the end validated and maintained by our own societies.

The situation seems even grimmer after realizing that the surveys from 2007 have very similar data as the same surveys from 2019, and the data hasn’t significantly changed during the last twelve years.

For instance, 62% of women that had to go out at night were afraid to go alone, and 66% of interviewed women were afraid to go through certain neighbourhoods.

Women are as insecure while using public transport, walking in the park, or going out alone as they were more than ten years ago. This is according to the data provided in 2007 by Stéphanie Condon, Marylène Lieber, Florence Maillochon in their research entitled:

FEELING UNSAFE IN PUBLIC PLACES

understanding women’s fears’ .

From the data, it appears that society is indifferent to the problem of women’s safety and hence makes little effort – if at all – to effect change. The statistics reveal that women’s freedom of movement is constantly violated and somehow it has become the norm, sadly even for women themselves.

As a consequence, women might not even try to move freely anymore, their mindset programmed to accepting this ‘reality’ as a normal part of life.

Regrettably, this constant sense of danger leads women, instead of availing themselves of various creative methods to protect themselves to instead succumb to their feared situation and restrict their lifestyle accordingly.

Six in ten women – fearing a sexual assault or street harassment – will avoid walking in certain areas or walking alone preferring instead to travel in their own vehicle or take a taxi.

Most women say they regularly take steps to avoid being sexually assaulted.

The point therefore is that women adapt their routines and daily activities to meet safety considerations, when safety should not even be an issue.

What do women need to do to feel and be safe?

The evident obstruction of women’s rights and freedom due to safety concerns has challenged people towards creating solutions to protect women in potentially dangerous situations.  The market already offers women and girls access to self-defense tools and techniques that might be useful for particular live situations.

On such is the Israeli app SafeUP, a social network for women that allows them to help each other in real time to feel safer and prevent incidents of harassment and sexual assault.

For those 50% of women who feel safer when accompanied, SafeUP is the perfect and simple solution to their day-to-day worries.

No neighbourhood will ever be too scary or dark when knowing that a community near you will have your back.  Just pull out your phone and within seconds our SafeUP guardians will be with you.

It was an incident as a girl that sowed the seed for 30-year-old Israeli Neta Schreiber Gamliel to made her first steps in the hi-tech world and cofound  SafeUP. The start-up’s CEO explains:

I went out with some friends to a party at the villa, when one of my friends disappeared from us. We went to look for her and after a few minutes we found her in one of the rooms with two men, half naked, half conscious. When they entered the room, the men ran away and we realized that we had saved her life. From that moment on, we created a system of internal laws between our friend group that was designed to protect each other.”

Co-Founder and CEO of SafeUP, Neta Schreiber Gamliel.

A decade and a half later, this event ignited the creation of SafeUP, which she launched with her partner Tal Zohar together with the Tel Aviv Municipality. Within three months, they had reached 11,000 users and six local authorities paying for the service. Breaking into the US market, the Israeli duo have created communities of female guardians in Boston, New York and Washington that protects women walking alone at night.

TIME TO CHANGE

But these solutions are for real-time situations. It is still imperative to change society and its vision on women’s safety. We should all be able to comprehend that actions such as catcalling, whistling, unwanted sexual comments, unwelcome sexual touching, or following girls as an attempt to demonstrate interest, joke or to get her phone number is not acceptable. 

Any of these inappropriate behaviours that are usually perpetrated by men, even if they think it’s funny or not, are the main reason why women do not feel safe while out on their own.

However, until the process of educating people on gender violence, its roots and how we can solve it,  women must have the right and opportunity to create communities and safe spaces in which they can share their experiences and perspectives on the subject. The idea of creating empathic and trustworthy communities, where its members could assist each other in dealing with difficult and even harmful situations – is one of the main goals of SafeUP.

We are trying to not only provide women with a useful and secure app but also to show them how important and meaningful the power of community can be. By joining SafeUP,  women are provided the means to connect with women willing to help and support them, and the chance to be the ones who provide this support and help.

Only by combining powers and aspirations to protect our right to feeling confident regardless of whether we are walking at night, during the day, wearing a mini or maxi dress, can women begin to change the reality we live in.

The greater our numbers, the greater our power. By joining SafeUP and becoming a guardian, you can easily take an active role in helping women feel safer wherever they are going.


Join a global solidarity of women, to belong, be free and be safe together



About the writer:

Diana Grosz  is a history teacher, Middle Eastern specialist, and a women’s rights advocate. Diana’s mission is to raise awareness about women’s issues and promote equality. She started her journey in South America and later immigrated to pursue her passion of helping women in the Middle East.






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).

The ‘Israel Open’  – Not Tennis but Tourism

Jewish state ready to warmly embrace the return of its tourists

By Jonathan Feldstein

A hopeful and dominant topic of conversation at this week’s National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) convention in Nashville has been the re-opening of tourism to Israel for all, vaccinated and unvaccinated alike. Two years ago, at the same event and location, the early impact of the COVID virus started to be felt with early reports of Israel’s national airline laying off the first 1000 employees. Ultimately, nearly all tourism would be shut down leading to millions of cancelations, tens of thousands of Israelis in tourism and tourism related industries losing their jobs, and deep economic hardships, the ripple effects of which are still being felt.

Two years later, the sense of returned opportunities to visit Israel and restored tourism are breeding hope and optimism. 

Restarting Tourism. After two years of closures and devastating losses, tourism is back in business.(photo credit: MICHAEL DIMENSTEIN)

Eyal Carlin, Israel’s Tourism Commissioner for North America, amplified the hope. 

We are already seeing tourists coming back, and bookings for peek seasons in the fall are near pre-pandemic levels. One of the important reasons to be at the NRB convention this week is because while Israel opened for all tourists as of March 1, many people do not know that yet. We want to get the word out that Israel is open for tourism again, so people can plan their trips that have been delayed because of the pandemic, or just the dream trip that people have been looking forward to.”

The sense of optimism was echoed by Robert Vander Maten, President of Noseworthy Travel which specializes in Christian tourism to Israel. The past two years have been devastating for many specializing in Christian tourism to Israel. Noseworthy has deferred dozens of groups tours, rescheduling some groups repeatedly, while waiting for tourism to reopen.

Tourists visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, on November 1, 2021, as Israel reopens to tourists vaccinated against Covid-19. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Vander Maten spoke very personally, noting that bringing Christians to Israel is more than a business, but a passion. He described his first trip to Israel in 1986 as “life changing”, and has been bringing Christians to Israel ever since. “Before I got to visit Israel that first time, I prayed to be able to do so for ten years. Then in 1986, God gave me the opportunity to go.” He gave voice to what many Christians feel about Israel, that despite the frustrations of not being able to come visit, there is only one Israel and there is always the desire for Christians to visit. 

Open Season. Happy travelers arriving at Ben-Gurion International Airport. Photo by Flash90.

Joel James, another specialist in Christian tourism to Israel, vice president of Inspiration Cruises and Tours, shared optimism while noting how much potential was lost. “We are thrilled to have groups going back to Israel.  Right now, we have 300 travelers from the US finishing a tour with pastor and author Max Lucado, and in two weeks we will have 650 Join Dr. David Jeremiah for his tour.  It’s very encouraging to be able to bring people back to Israel.  These numbers seem like a lot after two years of virtually no tourists entering the country, but the truth is that both of these would be double their size had it not been for the previous rules and mandates.  Unfortunately, several other tours canceled due to uncertainty.  Nevertheless, we are blessed to know that the mandates have been lifted and things will be easier for people to come to Israel in the future.”

At the NRB’s Israel Breakfast (about which there will be a parallel report), a related topic and new initiative was discussed regarding the phenomena of churches giving their pastors a trip to Israel, often on their retirement. Many have realized that such a gift should be made as an investment when a pastor is young, not retiring.  Carlin and others mentioned that it’s a trend that people are discussing how to change, because a trip to Israel is such a life changing spiritual experience.

Food for Thought. At a breakfast honoring Israel at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville 2022, there was intense discussion on the value of initiating new programmes to facilitate group visits to the Holy Land. (photo credit: All Israel News Staff)

Speaking of all possible tourists, Carlin said:

 “Now that tourism is back, people should plan to make that trip soon, not pushing it off as a bucket list item, but to change their lives forever.”

Looking ahead, Carlin believes that by 2024 at the latest, Israel’s tourism will fully return to the pre-pandemic record level.  Asked if they worried that another variant of the virus might set things back and shut tourism down again, Vander Maten observed that we’re now seeing a two-year pent-up demand being able to be realized.  “I really don’t see Israel shutting down again.”

Western Wall. As from March 1, Israel is welcoming all tourists, vaccinated and unvaccinated of all ages.

Carlin agreed. Israel has turned a corner.  He joked that he’s not a prophet, but if something unforeseen were to happen again, it wouldn’t be just in and about Israel and that the problem would be much greater.



Israel Is Open Again!




About the writer:

Jonathan Feldstein ­­­­- President of the US based non-profit Genesis123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians – is a freelance writer whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Townhall, NorthJersey.com, Algemeiner Jornal, The Jewish Press, major Christian websites and more.





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).

A BDS Black Eye from Black Eye Peas

By David E. Kaplan

It was music to our Israeli ears. What’s more it was LIVE music, something foreign to Israelis for nearly two years because of the pandemic.  And if Covid was the enemy  preventing international bands performing in Israel, BDS thought they would provide the perfect  ‘backup’ – just in case.

WRONG!

The Black Eyed Peas with will.i.am born William James Adams, Jr., apl.de.ap, Taboo, and new member J. Rey Soul, performed at Jerusalem’s Pais Arena on November 29, 2021, the first major international show in Israel since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. Ahead of the concert, the BDS-supporting Artists for Palestine UK released a statement calling on Black Eyed Peas to cancel the show. It was a call emphatically rejected by the  Grammy-winning group.

“Hello Mishpocha”. Taboo, will.i.am, J. Rey Soul and apl.de.ap of the Black Eyed Peas performing at Pais Arena in Jerusalem, on November 29, 2021. (Ethan Freedman/The Times of Israel)

At a press conference will.i.am explicitly responded to the call to boycott Israel saying:

I’m a musician and a tech enthusiast and people like our music. Do I turn my back on people that live here because of politics? No, that’s not the way we were built. So, you know, there’s beautiful people here as well as beautiful people in Palestine. And one day we want to go there too.”

Not only has the frontman for the Black Eyed Peas over the years

consistently resisted calls to boycott Israel, but will.i.am has strengthened his ties with the country through his “core passion” – technology. Back in 2016, his tech firm i.am + acquired an Israeli startup Sensiya and regularly visits the country “catching up” on Israel’s vibrant tech scene.

In fact, on the morning the Black Eyed Peas performed on the 29 November in Jerusalem, will.i.am participated in a panel discussion at an innovation conference organised by Improvate, an Israeli organisation that works to advance Israeli technology.

Introducing will.i.am as “Musician, producer and frontman for the supergroup, Black Eyed Peas that you can hear tonight,” the panel moderator then continued, “you can hear him now about his second career as a technology entrepreneur and futurist who is sought out by corporations to get insights how technologies, innovations behavior patterns could impact their business.”

Man of Many Talents. Advertising both the Black Eyed Peas concert in Jerusalem and band’s frontman will.i.am’s participation in the IMPROVATE innovation conference.

Before questioning wil.i.am on technology,  the moderator asked how he coped with the harassment from BDS about visiting Israel.

Every time we are asked to come to Israel, we come.” And the reason he says can be summed up in one word “Mishpocha” (Yiddish for “family”) 

He explained how one of his childhood friends inspired him to throw some other Hebrew words into one of the band’s most popular songs, “I Gotta Feeling” – a big hit at most Israeli weddings, where guests invariably go wild on the dance floor, familiar with all the words. In that song, will.i.am famously shouts out “mazel Tov”, explaining how so many Israelis refer to it fondly as the “Mazel Tov Song”.

How did this “mishpocha” develop?

Will.i.am explains:

I have friends and family here; my first girlfriend ever – when I was 16-years-old –  was from Israel. When you have friends and family you don’t follow the babble; you follow your heart. I remember her saying, “I am moving back to my homeland”  you will one day come to Israel. I said I’m from the Ghetto, be realistic, I’m never going to get to Israel. And I came… And when they [BDS] told us not to come, I said I’m going to see Orly and her family. I wanted Orly’s mom to see what we became. So every time I am asked the question, I think of family, I think of friends.“

When they started the group, “it was in my friend Benjamin’s bedroom; and sometimes it was late Friday’s and I ended up having Shabbat dinner with them…and when I said Mazeltov and LChaim,  Benjamin’s dad said, “We are so glad to have you here, you are Mishpocha.

So when I say mishpocha, I mean that dearly because I am connecting you to my upbringing, my friends, the people that encouraged me, and this place – ISRAEL- is magical to me.  And I wont let politics get in the way of where my heart is.”

Where there is a “will” there is a Way. “I always wanted to come to Israel growing up in Los Angeles, a lot of my friends are Israelis,” said will.i.am at technology conference.

Will.i.am also worked the word “mishpocha” into a music video for a song the Black Eyed Peas made with the Israeli pop duo Static and Ben-El in 2020. “What’s up, mishpocha?” he asks at the beginning of the music video.

In recent years, the musician cum innovator has created a series of wearable devices, including smartwatches and headphones, that have yet to be widely adopted. But he said he measured his success “not by sales, but rather by how much he learns from his experience.”

So, while BDS has had some success in influencing the likes of Lorde and Elvis Costello to cancel  concerts in Israel, it lost big time with the Black Eyed Peas.

You don’t mess with “mishpocha”!

Making it Work. American musician will.i.am, frontman for Black Eyed Peas (second left), speaks on a panel at an innovation conference held by Improvate, in Jerusalem, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

As a show of defiance on stage, will.i.am gave a shout-out to producer Yonatan Goldstein as an example of his “mishpocha”. Goldstein co-wrote or co-produced much of the Black Eyed Peas’ latest album, and produced their collaboration with Israeli musical duo Static & Ben El.

Crowning Glory

Unlike the rapturous reception to the  music of Black Eyed Peas,  the call for boycott by BDS fell on deaf ears.  Less than two weeks after the Black Eyed Peas concert in Jerusalem, the 2021 Miss Universe pageant took place in Eilat, Israel, which was won by Miss India. To ‘crown’ it all,  Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane, who bravely resisted pressure from her own government to withdraw from the competition was second runner up.

Bravo Miss SA! Defying her government and BDS, Miss South Africa participated  and was crowned as the second runner-up at the 2021 Miss Universe in Eilat, Israel on the 12 December {Photo: Creative Community for peace).

Responding to this good news, South African Friends of Israel penned the following in its press release:

Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane, has brought pride and honour to our nation by being crowned the second runner up at the 2021 Miss Universe pageant in Eilat, Israel.  South African Friends of Israel (SAFI) congratulates and celebrates Lalela’s stunning achievement. She has raised the status and visibility of South Africa across the globe. We are bubbling with joy to witness how she had the courage and conviction to stand up as a proud South African on the world stage, and against the anti-Israel bullies and hatemongers who tried to intimidate her for going to Israel, including the short-sightedness of the South African government. Lalela truly represents the millions of South Africans who are standing behind her and celebrating her achievements.”   

Not cowering to pressure and standing up for what they believe is right, that is the message from the Black Eyed Peas and  Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane  as we close out 2021. Taking to heart the emotive lyrics of the Black Eyed Peas,  let’s embrace 2022 in the spirit of “mishpocha” and remember:

I gotta feeling that its gonna be a good good night….”







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).

A South African Lunch at Israel’s Reichman University

It left much to chew on!

By David E. Kaplan

As one neared the wooded deck of the cafeteria at Reichman University – formerly IDC, Herzliya – the alluring aroma of the “boerewors” (special South African sausage)  directed this writer’s nostrils like a GPS. I was headed in the right direction and then the all too familiar South African accents assured me I was in the right place – a picturesque setting for the Hanukkah ‘braai’ (barbecue) for the over 100 South African students at the Raphael Recanati International School (RRIS).

Tomorrow’s Leaders. South African students at Reichman University enjoy a Hanukkah boerewors braai (barbecue) and send the message: “Life is Good.” (Photo Yaron Peretz)

If one needed any further affirmation  of – right place, right time – this was provided by the displayed bottles of superlative Western Cape wines on each table shaded by Eucalyptus trees.

If it was the aroma of the ‘boerewors’ directing me, there were far more profound reasons ‘directing’ and an ever-increasing number of Jewish school-leavers to leave South Africa and chose to come study in Israel. It was also a case of “right place, right time” – for the majority of these young South African Jews who the vast majority are opting for Reichman University where there are over 2000 overseas students from over 90 countries. All studying together in English, one third of the student body is American, one third from countries across Europe, and the rest from Latin America, Africa, Israel and Asia.

For most the students this is largely the attraction – to be in a top global academic environment, interacting and networking with their peers, exploring the present, preparing for the future. Located in the midst of Israel’s ‘Silicon Wadi’ – with the highest number of hi-tech companies per capita of any region in the country – “the Reichman University enjoys a very strong connection with these companies,” says Jonathan Davis, head of RRIS and Vice President, Reichman University. “They provide cooperative hands-on education as well as offering internships.”

Boerewors Bonanza. The boerewors (sponsored by Meatland, Ra’anana) was a treat for the South African students at Reichman University as well as this writer who addressed the students. ( Photo Yaron Peretz)

Cooperating with top universities in the US, notably the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, University of California, Berkley, Washington University in St. Louis, Syracuse University and Harvard, Reichman University  – Israel’s first and only private, non-profit university  – is ranked first of 66 Israeli academic institutions “in terms of student satisfaction” for four consecutive years.

As I arrived, I joined a group of students who were in deep animated conversation with Prof. Uriel Reichmann, the university’s founder and President. I thought to myself, at what university in the world, would undergraduate students – many of them first year –  not only have the opportunity to meet but to socially interact with the President of a university. Casually attired in blue jeans, Prof. Reichman was engaging the students, enquiring:

Where do you come from?”

What are you studying?”

How you managing, particularly during Covid?”  

The students were doing most the talking, Reichman was listening attentively.

When Reichman formally addressed this lunch, he revealed in anecdotes and insights much about himself and the university – but all with the emphasis on the students. “When I conceived the idea of this private non-profit university based on the ivy-league universities of the US, people thought I was crazy. It cannot in Israel be done. Well, look who is crazy and look what has been done.” As he said these words, I looked out  beyond and above the deck to a massive new construction going up – it will be the new ‘Building of Innovation’, sponsored by the Franco-Israeli businessman and telecommunications mogul Patrick Drahi, who also owns in Israel both HOT TV and i24NEWS.

If Israel today is so much about “INNOVATION” and aptly termed the “Start-Up Nation” for its outside-the-box entrepreneurship, then Reichman University feeds and fuels this national aspiration and direction. Reflecting on this trend, I noted that I had earlier parked my car outside the Adelson School of Entrepreneurship!

“Island of Opportunity”. President and Founder of Reichman University, Uriel Reichman (right) engages with South African students at the Hanukkah boerewors braai (barbeque) at Reichman University. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

Continuing, Reichman emphasized the care and welfare of the students that does not end on graduation. “We ensure you find your right place in the labour market. We are there for you always.”

The writer too had the honour in addressing the group and recounted how over the years the number of South African students at Reichman University had grown from  four to over 100 making it today the number one university in Israel with the most students from South Africa.

Soon it will have a competitive rugby team,” I quipped!

So what makes Reichman University so appealing to South Africans?

Commenting on how well the South African students do academically, Davis’ praises the educational system of the Jewish Day Schools in South Africa. He sites as an example that “Twenty-seven students were accepted to our prestigious Computer Science programme of which nine are from SA. This is impressive.”

Universal University. With students from over 90 countries around the world, Jonathan Davis, head of RRIS and Vice President, Reichman University addresses the South African students. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

Davis was happy to go on record saying that “the South African Jewish Day School education, particularly its matric mathematics  is of a much higher level than in the US.”

He further noted that the South African students “are rich in Zionist values and stand out, showing great leadership qualities.” Despite  the negative perception that Zionism is not as strong as it once was in South Africa, “That flame has not been extinguished. Far from it. The SA students here are a testament to this!”

 On this note, I set about to tear away some of the students from their boerewors and chicken kebabs to interview them.

First year Computer Science student Aaron Osrin from Cape Town, followed his sister who graduated the previous year in Communication. “I saw how much fun she had studying here and knew this is where I wanted to be.” Asked about the ‘uncomfortable’ atmosphere for Jews on South African campuses in recent years over anti-Israel activities, Aaron says, that “while thankfully I had never been exposed to it, many of my friends and cousins have; it’s scary and all it does is further force Jews in their bubble.” Here, on the other hand, “We are free but not in a bubble.”

The Global Connection. First year Computer Science student Aaron Osrin from Cape Town, praises the networking potential from connecting with fellow students from all over the world. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

I could not escape the though of how Ghettoization – the scourge once for the Jews of Europe – has found a nuanced presence on South African campuses!

In Israel only two months, Aaron has made friends from all over the world. “I have made connections that I would never have made had I studied in South Africa.”

Raising a glass of his Cape wine and toasting to his life in Israel and Reichman University, “It’s been a brilliant experience.”

Twenty-one year-old Melissa Moritz from Cape Town in her first year at the School of Psychology, first went to the Israeli army for two years.

It was unbelievable; it was tough in the beginning;  I did not really know Hebrew when I came to Israel; so firstly serving in the IDF gave me the confidence to be a leader; I now have the tools and feel prepared.”

Her parents back in Cape Town are extremely proud. “It was their dream as well and still is and will happen within the next few years.”

Marvelous Melissa. Thriving on challenges, 1st-year psychology student Melissa Moritz from Cape Town, first served in the Israeli army for two years. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

Melissa feels that by coming to Israel and “going to the army and then studying here, offered me a sense of challenge which was not the case if I stayed in South Africa where the pathway is predicable  ….. coming to Israel threw a spanner in the works;  made things more challenging but for the better. Also, there is a lot of meaning being here and doing what I am as a Jewish woman.”

Melissa then introduces me to her brother Dan Moritz, who says he was sold on the idea of studying at Reichman University when he visited the campus with his parents at the age of sixteen. “We were on holiday from Cape Town and we toured the campus. My Mom and Dad were already looking ahead for our education, and when I saw the Communications School, I was sold and here I am in my second year specialising in an intensive interactive track – designing websites and applications.” This reminded me of my tour around the School of Communication some years earlier when our guide told us of a student who had designed an app for a class project. A few months later an Israeli hi-tech company bought his app for a whopping $2 million!

Not bad – better than the usual student waiter jobs!

On Track. Studying at the School of Communication, Capetonian Dan Moritz is specialising in an intensive interactive track – designing websites and applications. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

Yaron Eisenberg made Aliyah six years ago also from Cape Town, has also served in the Israeli army and is a  second year psychology student. Raised within a very Zionistic family, in 2017, Yaron volunteered for Tzanchanim (parachute brigade), finishing his service in 2019. “I don’t regret a single second.” He says living in the campus dorms during corona was an eye-opener about the nature of Israeli society. “The way people genuinely care for you. People would come during quarantine an offer food and ask what they could do for us. It showed how Israel is like one big family. When the chips are down, people are there for you.”

Yaron presents his perspective on his Jewish peers in South Africa. On his return visits to Cape Town representing Reichman University, he has addressed pupils at Herzlia High School and students at the University of Cape Town (UCT), speaking about life in Israel.

Master of his Destiny. Having proudly served in Israel’s prestigious parachute brigade in the IDF, Yaron Eisenberg from Cape Town is a 2nd year psychology student. He already has his sights set on pursuing a Masters. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

Today, the Jewish community in SA is increasingly diverse. There is an alternate Jewish community who think differently to that their peers of 10-15 years ago. I have Jewish friends  who subscribe to the BDS narrative and there are others  who are looking forward and seeing South Africa is no more a place  for Jews and view Israel as an option.” Affirming this trend, Yaron’s twin sister has since made Aliyah and his younger brother is following, starting soon his service in the IDF. His parents are destined to follow.

I planted the flag.”

Even from the small towns in South Africa where there is hardly any Jewish life, young Jews are finding their way to Israel and Reichman University.

Josh Buchalter is from Knysna, a coastal resort town in South Africa’s famous Garden Route. Apart from Josh’s parents, “there may be another three Jewish families” living in this town of some 76,000 residents. In 2013, as a teenage student, Josh came on the Encounter programme that planted the seed.

After school, life’s journey took him to Miami where he worked for a number of years on cruise ships until the corona pandemic closed down the industry. Returning to Knysna to reassess  “my  future”, Josh thought back to his “ENCOUNTER” and decided to apply to Reichman University. The rest is history and the future. For someone like me, who did not grow up in a Jewish community, I could not think of a more lifechanging trip than Encounter; it really was lifechanging. If I had not come on that 2013  trip I would not have the friends I have today at Reichman and I would not have had such a strong connection to Israel.”

Imagining the different direction of his life had he instead  gone to a South African university, Josh believes:

 “I have gained diversity – the ceiling is a lot higher;   maybe there is no ceiling here – the sky is the limit.”

Chucking, Josh concludes:

I think getting on a plane with a one-way ticket to anywhere, the concept means you have booked a passage for opportunity, excitement, growth, learning and uncapped experiences. I believe I have gained this all here.”

Even though Tel Aviv was recently ranked as the most expensive city in the world, it  does not deter the likes of Josh. “For someone in their 20s and 30s, there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be. And if it’s so pricey, does that not indicate that everyone wants to be here?”

21-year-old Yaron Peretz from Johannesburg has a fascinating pedigree that includes Moroccan, Israeli, Greek, South African and Lithuania lineage. “This is what I love about being Jewish,” says Yaron. “It is not just one nationality. It does not matter where you come from in the world, you are Jewish…. And you are part of the Jewish nation and so I look forward to contributing to this society in spreading Israeli creativity.”

L’Chaim (“to health”). Toasting to a healthy, peaceful and enriching future are Communication students, Yaron Peretz (left) from Johannesburg and  Josh Buchalter from Knysna. (Photo D.E.Kaplan)

The official photographer at today’s lunch, Yaron is a visual communications student and is “into movie-making to scriptwriting and all that stuff….I am loving it so much.”

Yaron, who recently made Aliyah, says:

 “I was sold on studying here since I first visited the campus in 2016 on Habonim’s three weeks ‘Shorashim’  (”roots”) tour and then what clinched it, was listening to a student address us at King David School, Victory Park. What appealed to me  was the idea of being together with students from so many different countries and the potential for networking.”

He admits:

 “it’ was a leap of faith  but one that paid off. I feel a sense of belonging. This is where my heart feels at home.”

Fun in the Sun. Enjoying today and inspired about tomorrow are Rebecca Breger, who is studying Psychology and Skye Solomon studying Business and Economics, both from Johannesburg. (Photo Yaron Peretz)

I had a sense that this sentiment was shared by all the South African students I met who although were far from home geographically, felt at home spiritually. The boerewors and Cape wines were fine – it represented the pleasant past.

Far more exciting they now had a taste for the future full of opportunity and adventure in Israel.







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 Welcoming its Tourists Back

The day has dawned – Israel opens its borders to international tourists

By David E. Kaplan

For a city with a reputation as “THE CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS”, it seems that is exactly what Tel Aviv residents have been catching up on for the last two years. Maybe, with its traditional frenetic hummus to hedonistic pace, a ‘time out’ was not such a bad idea even if the reason was a global pandemic. However, as Israelis say in such situations that have long passed their level of patience:

ze maspik” – (“it’s enough”).

Now, with most of the country vaccinated with the booster; they are not only raring to revel but welcoming back tourists from abroad – provided of course they too are all ‘vaccinated’!

Unlike bears, hedgehogs, some snakes, bats and turtles, humans are not built to hibernate, particularly  in Tel Aviv. With 300 days of guaranteed sunshine a year and some of the best beaches along the entire Mediterranean coast, Tel Avivians are social creatures  feeling most at home when not at home.

Beach City. From 16 beaches to choose from, here is Tel Aviv’s Frishman Beach to soak in the good weather. (Photo via Shutterstock)

Anyway, all this changed on the 1st of November when Israel opened to individual tourists for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

Only the day before, as a journalist, I received this Press Release from the office of the Mayor of Tel Aviv-Jafa. In poetic prose it read:

The seabed has been cleaned, the cocktail served, the pastry warmed up and the cauliflower grilled – all reserved for our favorite customerTOURISTS! For the first time since March 2020, individual international tourists are welcomed back into the city, just in time to swap the cold weather for a sunny winter in the city that never sleeps.”

Clearly they want local journalists  to spread the word globally, as the Press Release continues:

The pandemic has given us a minute (or more) to focus on our city and perfecting the little details to ensure an easy landing and seamless travel experience for all those coming to discover the cultural center of Israel.”

Known for its award winning beaches, beautiful promenades, historic sites, mouthwatering restaurants, pavement cafes and bustling nightlife, Tel Aviv cannot wait to welcome back its greatly missed travelers. Most inviting of all, are its incomparable beaches –  16 to chose from!

Tel Aviv Twilight. Enjoying a late afternoon walk passing the lifeguard station on Tel Aviv’s Bograshov Beach at sunset. (Photo by Frank Fell Media, via Shutterstock)

The Israeli coastline may not conjure the majestic swells found off the beaches of Hawaii, Australia or this writer’s native South Africa. Nevertheless when the wind is right and the swell up, the allure of the crested curve invites surfers of all ages. A common sight in Tel Aviv’s ever-increasing traffic, are surf-boards on the side of mopeds as riders nips through the city traffic to the beach.

Anything Goes

To explore the newly opened city, the Municipality is offering free walking tours in English at some of the most iconic places. Whether one would want to discover the history of ancient but bustling Jaffa, the enriching culture of trendy Sarona in a 19th century Christian Templar setting, the world heritage sites of the architecturally unique “White City” or the quaint charm of Neve Tzedek where Tel Aviv began, “we have a tour to please everyone,” continues the Press Release. Coinciding with the opening of the skies to tourists, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art will open its Yayoi Kusama exhibition. There is a reason why the famed artist chose Tel Aviv as the next destination for the retrospective, and “we invite all to discover why!”

Sumptious Sarona. Tel Aviv’s version of iconic markets around the world, Sarona, in a 19th century setting, is ready to welcome back overseas tourists.

The exhibit is ranked as one of the biggest and most impressive art exhibitions opening in 2021 around the world, and will follow Kusama exhibits at Gropius Bau in Berlin and another retrospective of the artist’s work at the New York Botanical Gardens.

The Tel Aviv exhibit is a joint collaboration of Studio Kusama in Tokyo and the Gropius Bau in Berlin.

Her entire oeuvre is mesmerizingly powerful, impressive and pleasurable at the same time,” said Suzanne Landau, curator of the exhibition and the museum’s former director. “The presentation of her retrospective at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art is definitely a unique event of historic magnitude.”

Polka-Dot Lady. Considered an influence on Andy Warhol and a precursor to Pop art,  the art of Yayoi Kusama  can we seen at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Now 92, Kusama is easily recognisable by her red wigs, witches’ hats and robes, and a proliferation of polka dots on her clothing and other surfaces. She would feel quite at home in Tel Aviv where “anything goes”.

With Kusama’s art having crossed into commercial cooperative ventures with luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton making her work more familiar to fans of all ages, she has emerged the most tagged artist on social media. With a public thirsting for exciting quality experiences, “particularly now, in the post-COVID-19 period with all its difficulties,” said Tania Coen-Uzzielli, director of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, “the presentation of this monumental exhibition in Israel, in collaboration with other museums around the world, will allow the Israeli public to enjoy a unique international cultural event.”

Choice Pickings. The allure of the yellow and black polka dotted pumpkins at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art exhibition of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama on October 31, 2021 (Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

They will be hopefully joined  by an increase in foreign tourists.

For this writer however, the best of Tel Aviv, is homegrown Tel Aviv, exploring and discovering  its unique creative fruits. This occurred this week when with my nearly-4-year-old grandson Yali, we came upon this surprise art gallery in Neve Tzedek, ZYGO on quaint Shabazi Street. Yali was fascinated, running from one sculpture and painting to another, explaining to his clueless grandfather  the meaning of each piece. Many of the pieces were variations of clothespins, which Yali easily identified and yet the runaway imaginings that evolved thereupon were expressed by:

WOW Grandpa!

Waiting to Welcome. Tel Aviv’s artsy Neve Tzedek  – with its fashion boutiques, handicraft shops, restored 19th century railway station, trendy restaurants and bistros and live jazz bars at night – is now waiting the arrival of the tourists.

Our reactions to the art brought out more than our lively loud discourse, it also bought out none other than the artist himself, who stepped out from his back studio into his gallery to see what the commotion was all about. Going under the name of “Zygo Artist”, he found us and launched into explaining his work and his vision. “The clothespin represents love, the coming together in embrace of two halved souls – the man and the woman.” He points to the raised leg at the knee of the woman, in dance mode with her partner. The colour and the vitality of the art so represents the exuberance of Tel Aviv but I was intrigued where the name Zygo came from.

In the spirit of innovative Tel Aviv, the artist who coined the term  “Zygotism” is set on pioneering a new art movement. The term he explains, he adopted from the realm of biology, which expresses the first stage in the creation of a new organism – the moment when two genomes combine to create a completely new genome and start cell division. A “zygote” is a fertilized eukaryotic cell.

From Love of Art to Art of Love. The Gygo Art Gallery in Neve Zedek, Tel Aviv with clothespin sculptures in the foreground.

The two become one on a third and other plateau:

 “similar to a divine love which compel two individuals to separate from their former life, home, habits and views in order to devote themselves to one another and to create a new eternal whole, which is their joined loving bond.”

Eternal Embrace. Love in the form of a coupling clothespin at the Gygo Art Gallery in Neve Zedek, Tel Aviv.
 

Not sure how much a nearly 4-year-old understood all this but most certainly was entertained  by the art and sensed there was “a lot of love going around”.

It is that same love that the newly opened city of Tel Aviv- Jaffa is ready to welcome all with open arms, and hearts!



Closeup of Clothespin. Taking a closer look at a clothespin sculpture, the writer’s 3-year-old grandson, Yali (left) at the Gygo Art Gallery in Neve Zedek, Tel Aviv. Inspired, Yali moves onto the next work of art.






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 the Right Track

Building the Burma Road to Jerusalem in 1948 for a united Israel

By David E. Kaplan

September 14, 2021.

We were about to the exit Mahane Yeduda or in common parlance “The Shuk” at its  southern end onto Jerusalem’s Agripas Street, when there was sudden pandemonium. It began with a policeman running into the market, immediately followed by armed reinforcements. “There is someone armed,” we hear a shout followed by shoppers screaming “Mehabel “(terrorist). This fueled panic leading to people scurrying towards the exits. Police cars and motorbikes blocked off the streets and medics too; entered the market. Carrying our parcels, we stopped at a nearby corner with many other Jerusalemites and watched the drama play out.

Mayhem at the Market. Agripas Street outside the Mahanei Yehuda market in Jerusalem following a terror alert on the 14 September 2021. (Photo D.E. kaplan)
 

While people stood, stared and shouted adding to an animated soundtrack punctuated by sirens, there was too a mood of familiarity as a woman raising her eyebrows lamented publicly:

 “Ma Chadash (what’s new)!”

It wasn’t a question; it was a statement.

Only the day before, two ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students were stabbed  nearby inside the  Central Bus Station.

The most resonant observation came from my wife Hilary, who remarked:

 “It may be easier getting to Jerusalem these days, but nothing has changed within!”

Maybe cryptic to a stranger, her meaning was perfectly clear to me!

Only the day before, as a surprise for my 70th birthday, Hilary had organised a visit to Israel’s “Burma Road”. 

Yes, I had lazily observed those rusty old convoy trucks on the side of Highway 1 on the assent to Jerusalem – relics of the 1948 War of Independence –  and yes, I had seen back in the sixties, the Hollywood blockbuster “Cast a Giant Shadow” with Kirk Douglas on breaking through the siege of Jerusalem, but had to wait until my 70th to really get intimately close to this riveting saga.

Birth of a Nation. A poster of the 1966 blockbuster about the Burma Road with (right-left) Kirk Douglas, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra and Yul Brynner and which also stared Senta Berger and Chaim Topol.

It had been on my ‘bucket list’.

For those unfamiliar, Israel’s hurried Herculean road building up and through the high hills to Jerusalem was named after the Burma Road linking Burma with southwest China built to convey supplies to China during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Israel’s Burma Road proved no less existential – providing a lifeline that secured Jerusalem as part of the nascent Jewish state.  Approximately 100,000 Jews – around one-fifth of the Jewish population of the Yishuv at the time – lived in the besieged city of Jerusalem and its environs and they were all totally dependent on life-sustaining supplies being brought in from the coastal plain, as all other access roads to the city were under the control of Arab forces. Most significantly, the fort at Latrun which from mid-May 1948, was held by the British-trained Arab Legion from Transjordan, cutting off the main access route to Jerusalem. Unable to capture the fort – losing many soldiers in two major attempts – the only alternative to end the siege of Jerusalem was to bypass Latrun by a longer but safer detour route.

Despite advice from his military strategists to focus on the war elsewhere as the new state was attacked on multiple fronts by five Arab armies and forget besieged Jerusalem as “a lost cause”, David Ben Gurion was defiant, asserting:

Without Jerusalem, there is no Israel.”

Ben Gurion had the pulse of his people. Every year in the Diaspora, the final words at each year’s Passover is “Next year in Jerusalem” reinforcing the eternal connection of Jerusalem to the Jewish People. However, were it not for the Burma Road, “Jerusalem might have remained an allusive, unattainable dream,” says our good friend and licensed tour guide, Danny Gelley.

Saving Jerusalem. Tour guide Danny Gelley shows on the model the conveys taking the makeshift bypass road , known as the Burma Road, between kibbutz Hulda and Jerusalem  built in 1948 during the siege of Jerusalem. 

Reminding us of the cost in Israeli lives – many Holocaust survivors who only days before got off the ships  – in trying unsuccessfully to take Latrun which Israel only took back in 1967, Danny takes us  to a high point where we look down at Highway 1 with cars speeding in either direction between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. “The road was impassable back then being too narrow and with Arabs on either side shooting at any attempts at convoys trying to take supplies to Jerusalem.” He points to Sha’ar Hagai, “then a bottleneck and the weak point on the road. They were like sitting ducks.” Danny reads from the French explorer Victor Guérin, who described Sha’ar Hagai in 1868:

“…the track winds between walls of rocks, overgrown with brush and thickets….the passage is too narrow that a determined band of men could stop an army in it with little difficulty.”

Monumental Museum. The new heritage center at Sha’ar Hagai reveals the legacy of the battles and the story of the Palmach fighters who with the participants on the convoys broke through to besieged Jerusalem during the War of Independence. (photo by D.E. Kaplan)

Eight decades later, these words proved prophetically true.

The future of Jerusalem as part of the new Jewish State was literally and figuratively hanging at the edge of a precipice. The entrance to this menacing gorge was called Bab el-Wad by the Arabs. By the Jews it was known by several names, all frighteningly intimidating:

The Gate of Terror”, “Hell, the Gate of Blood”, the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” and more.

How well I understood the significance of these disturbing  epithets when later in the day, I would see the final resting place of the warriors who fell in the battles of the roads to Jerusalem who are  buried in the cemetery at kibbutz Kiryat Anavim. Over an eleven month period, 138 fighters were buried here. Walking down the rows of orderly graves meticulously maintained, under the long shadow cast by a tall obelisk-shaped monument built in coloured limestone rising to the heavens, I was reminded again by the NAME of the memorable movie: “Cast a Giant Shadow”. What struck me most was the ages of the soldiers – so young.  I gasped when I read on the tombstones 18, 17, 16 and even 15! I stared mesmerised at the grave of Yaacov Levy, aged 15 and wondered what thoughts were going through this teenager’s mind as he willingly sacrificed his life to open the road to Jerusalem.

Honouring our Heroes. Dedicated to the fallen soldiers from the Harel Brigade that opened the road to Jerusalem, the monument at the cemetery at Kiryat Anavim was designed by Menachem Shemi Schmidt whose son is buried here with his comrades at arms

A little higher from young Levy’s grave,  we stop at the grave of Aharon Jimmy Schmidt, a 22 year-old Palmach company commander who died toward the end of the war on a hilly ridge, near modern day Beit Shemesh. Danny explains that when “his Russian born father, Menachem Shemi Schmidt, who was an artist and sculptor heard from a close friend and fellow soldier of his fallen son that, when they had been at the Kiryat Anavim cemetery that Jimmy had commented that after the war he would ask his father to design a memorial to the fallen comrades, he acted upon his son’s wishes.”

Could Jimmy have foreseen he too would soon be one of whom his father would honour?

When he died in 1951, Menachem Shemi Schmidt, was buried in the same cemetery as his beloved son Jimmy which we later passed and noted how father and son both rested beneath the “giant shadow” cast by the father’s memorial on the hill.

Action Stations

The most momentous ‘milestone’ for this writer along the Burma Road was visiting the new heritage center called Khan Sha’ar HaGai.  Opened earlier this year before Passover, the museum is proving popular with schoolkids, as evident on the day we were there. It is easy to understand why. It’s an experiential museum ideal for all ages, drawing the visitors in to participate in a way that you feel you are “part of the action”.

Rabin brings Relief. Two days after being established in April  1948 and placed under the command of twenty-four-year-old Yitzhak Rabin, the Harel Brigade organised a convoy of supplies to be brought to Jerusalem under fire from Arab irregulars. The relief convoy led by Rabin himself, came four days after an Arab ambush of a medical convoy on its way to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus in which eighty Jews, mostly nurses and doctors, were ambushed and killed. 

Passing through five stations, the tour begins with recorded live testimonies by those who participated in those dangerous convoys describing how under fire they bulldozed and dug with spades and shovels in constructing the road; how bullets ripped through the lorries and fortified ambulances during the convoys and how at times in the mud and on steep assents, they had to get out the trucks under fire and PUSH. These were heroes – ordinary young people who were called upon to act quite extraordinary. One begins to understand how the country was built on the sheer WILL of its determined and defiant people. This struck home when one notices on some of their arms, the tattooed numbers – a reminder of their not too distant hellish residency at Nazi concentration camps. They needed little further motivation to fight – they knew the alternative.

Breakout Pass. Jubilation as a convoy with lifesaving supplies arrives in Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

At the next few stations, visitors participate with the use of a disc received on entry. From here on visitors face simulated life or death situations as a commander and have to make decisions by placing their disc at the small windows of their choice. So at a Road Station, your convoy comes under heavy fire and one of the trucks gets stuck. You have 30 seconds as a commander to decide – order the convoy to continue away from enemy fire or to delay and try save the troubled truck. These were real life situations and you then learn what decisions were actually made at the time and the consequences of those decisions.

At the Supply Station,  you are briefed of the dire situation in Jerusalem of Jews starving, dying from a lack of medicine and running low on ammunition. Faced with a reduced number of trucks having been destroyed by enemy fire, you, as a commander, have to make the decision to use the limited space left to pack in mostly  food, medical supplies or ammunition. What will you choose? Whatever you decide – it will result in life for some and death for others. Not knowing the “right” choice – I opted for ammunition!

At another station, you sit in an armoured truck being pierced by bullets as it struggles in a high gear up a long winding high hill, hearing the sound of gunfire, and looking out the  small windows seeing the raging battle outside.

Wayside Inn. The site of the museum today, the Khan ( a hostel for convoys of merchants traveling the roads to stop for the night without fear of bandits) at Sha’ar Hagai in 1910.

Determining Values

This is no ordinary museum for the passive observer. You see, feel and ask – what would I have done in such a situation?

As you exit, you are called upon to not simply return your disc but to hang your disc at a Value Board, where  you select the value that you consider to have been most important to those who endured this experience. Your choices range between camaraderie, just cause, unity, love of country, mutual responsibility, determination, faith, Jerusalem and more.

What to Do? On route from Hulda to Jerusalem when the convey faces a life-threatening crisis.

Still wondering if you made the most appropriate choice – it’s all very personal – you walk out the museum onto a stretch of the old Burma Road where you can climb aboard some of the original supply trucks and ambulances as they line up in a convoy. Cramped inside with all the supplies and only slits to see out and fire at the enemy, one’s mind travels faster than the speed these trucks ever travelled.

A Question of Values. School children at the Khan Sha’ar HaGai ,Bab el-Wad,  National Memorial Site placing their discs at the Value Board. (photo by D.E. Kaplan)
 

How did they do it?

Today, cars speed up and down between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in record time and in complete safety. In Jerusalem however, the danger remains with terror a constant menace.

Hence my wife’s observation outside a turbulent Mahanei Yehuda:

It may be easier getting to Jerusalem these days, but nothing has changed within!”




Israeli Private Tour Guide. Looking for an excellent Israeli tour guide schooled in history? Danny Gelley is certified in English, Hebrew and German. Contact danielgelley@gmail.com Cell: 054-4499227




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).