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).

Sweet Surrender

Israelis get their just desserts

By David E. Kaplan

Anguishing over the news on TV from Afghanistan to Covid,  this writer needed a trip to the kitchen on a quest for a sweet diversion.  It inspired this article.

It is a universally acknowledged truth that however full after the main course there is always room for a dessert. Of course, the more prudent might dispute this and feel the need to either eat less or dispense with one course altogether.

Admittedly these are tough choices!

Will one skip the hors d’oeuvre or soup to make room for a dessert?

Interestingly, the ‘last course’ or what should be cuisine’s curtain call, its place in history was little more of an ‘afterthought’.

Ask Le French  – the folk who first transformed sweets into an elaborate post-meal extravaganza and remain today’s undisputed world title holders of cuisine. The word “dessert” is derived from the French infinitive desservir, meaning “to clear away” as from a table.

Puddings from the Past

In Israel, desserts or “sweets” as some refer to it, have come a long way since Hannah Barnett-Trager, an English visitor to Palestine in the 19th century observed how families in Jerusalem would bring their pre-baked traditional cakes to a large communal oven usually not far from a synagogue. “Each family sends cakes in its own tins to be baked in it. Generally, about half a dozen tins are carried by each boy. Nothing I have seen before can be compared with the many kinds of delicious cakes and “stuffed monkeys” (English Jewish almond pastries) that are seen here. My mouth waters even when I think of the delicious strudels filled with sesames and plenty of raisins!”

Palestinian Palette. In writing ‘Pioneers in Palestine’ during the early 20th century,  Hannah Barnett-Trager had plenty of opportunity to ‘tuck in’ and get a ‘taste’ of local cuisine.

In writing her ‘Pioneers in Palestine’  – a memoir covering the foundation of the city of Petah Tikva, and other aspects of the period including a description of young women campaigning in 1886 for the right to vote, Barnett-Trager had plenty of opportunity to ‘tuck in’ and get a real ‘taste’ of the Palestinian palette.

Following independence in 1948, the situation in the new State of Israel was tough. In just three and a half years, the Jewish population had doubled, and Israel’s first government was compelled to introduce rationing. During this period known as the Tzena (Hebrew for austerity), Israelis – still without personal ovens, and compounded by the scarcity of ingredients – would exercise ingenuity in creating desserts. They would concoct sweets like aknacknick (salami) of cocoa, crushed vanilla wafers, wine, and nuts rolled together, refrigerated, and then cut into slices.

Another culinary trick was to substitute peanuts for the costlier walnuts and almonds in their tortes (multi-layered cakes), with powdered eggs replacing fresh eggs in delicacies like cream puffs.

Since those austere days, desserts have emerged as an Israeli meal’s ‘Jewel in the Crown’ – works of culinary art where pastry or dessert chefs are free to run wild and express themselves with an abundance of creativity tantalising the eye as much as satiating the tongue.

A Load of Waffle

When I emigrated to Israel well over three decades ago, one of the desserts I missed most was the – the waffle. Totally at variance with its other meaning of – “to talk or write a lot without saying anything important or interesting”, the waffle, on the contrary, for ‘sweet-toothers’ like myself, is most “important” and much more than simply “interesting”, so I welcomed with most Israelis its Aliyah (Hebrew: immigration to Israel) and its increased popularity.  One food critic described this trend as such:

 “It is a lesser known fact but the Belgian waffle has become a classic comfort food in Israel.”

All Tantalising. There is nothing typical about a waffle in Israel – there are so many variations with the one common thread – they are all delicious.

In Jerusalem alone there are several eateries that specialize in waffles, such as the Waffle Bar, Barbette and Waffle Factory.

Today, the toppings for waffles in Israel are vast and various. For me the waffle at ‘Shenkin Bar’ in Ra’anana is sheer magic. It is large – a very good start; it has an abundance of delicious soft serve and cream – totally on the right track; and topped with Israel’s best yummy fruit!

While Israelis enjoy most the traditional overseas desserts like waffles and another favorite import like Crème brûlée, the prevailing palette has evolved with variations reflecting the local culture.

Tel Aviv Temptations. An array of baklava at a market in Tel Aviv.

Bite into Baklava

There is a strong tradition of home baking in Israel arising from the years when there were very few bakeries to meet demand. Many professional bakers came to Israel from Central Europe and founded local pastry shops and bakeries, often called konditoria, thus shaping local tastes and preferences. There is now a local style with a wide selection of cakes and pastries that includes influences from other cuisines and combines traditional European ingredients with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern ingredients, such as halva, phyllo pastry, dates, and rose water.

Most popular is Baklava, a nut-filled phyllo pastry sweetened with syrup and served in Jewish communities who originated in the Middle East. It is often served in restaurants as dessert along with small cups of Turkish coffee.

Cuisine Consensus. Aboulafia bakery in Jaffa  is a Mecca for those with a sweet tooth.

Dozens of Israeli bakeries boast the best baklava, however Zalatimo’s Bakery in the Old City of Jerusalem, which opened in 1860 is believed to be the oldest operating baklava bakery in the world. According to freelance journalist Viva Sarah Press, it is hailed by everyone from the man-on-the-street to culinary cognoscenti as “the place to bite into a warm, hand-thrown wad of phyllo pastry soaked in sugar syrup.” The head baker, Abu Samir Zalatimo, relies on a secret family recipe to prepare the dish for which his place is famous, a deliciously sweet Palestinian phyllo pastry known as mutabak.

Marvelous Malabi. Enjoy the flavours of rose and pistachio in this light Israeli Malabi, common at many Israeli weddings as a dessert.

The Proof is in the Pudding

As with many Middle Eastern foods, Israelis have taken the dessert “muhalllabia” and made it their own, even changing the name to “malabi”. Probably hailing from Turkey, malabi is a milky pudding thickened with rice – or more commonly in Israel, cornstarch – flavoured with vanilla and rosewater and topped with sugary syrup – often containing more rosewater.

Most wedding receptions in Israel include Malibi amongst its desserts but it is also sold as a street food from stalls in disposable cups with thick sweet syrup and various crunchy toppings such as chopped pistachios or coconut.

Its popularity has resulted in supermarkets selling it in plastic packages and restaurants serving richer and more sophisticated versions using various toppings and garnishes such as berries and fruit. 

Love or hate it, every Israeli is familiar with malabi.

Heavenly Halva

For those in search of a unique dairy dessert, Halva parfait is an Israeli dessert of halva suspended in cream and egg yolk. So embedded today in the local cuisine culture, the recipe even appears on the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. It is justifiably part of Israel’s global outreach.

Visitor’s Delight. A halva vendor in Tel Aviv’s Shuk HaNamal (The port). Made from tehina and sugar, halva is used to make original desserts like halva parfait (Photo by Chameleon’s Eye/Shutterstock.com)

The creation of Israeli chefs Tsachi and Linda Buchester, it has been widely copied both in Israel and abroad. It is like an ice scream, cold and creamy with a distinct flavour of sesame. If you enjoy halvah and tahini, you will enjoy this dessert. Even if you are not a halvah fan, you will more than likely delight in the cold creameries of this unusually-flavoured frozen confection. In the words of the Foreign Ministry:

Just call it ‘Israeli Frozen Parfait’ and serve it with a few bright-colored berries and some whipped cream and it will be a big hit.”

How’s this for sweet soothing Israeli diplomacy?

Cream of the Crop

A popular dessert in Israel as an alternative to ice cream is Krembo.

The Krembo has gained a cultural standing and has been referenced in literature, film, and popular music as a quintessential Israeli snack food.

Back in November 2015, Israel took a sweet approach to International Relations when its officials handed out Krembo marshmallow treats to passengers on a  Royal Jordanian  Dubai flight that made an emergency landing at Ben-Gurion Airport.

Soft Landing. Setting the scene for a future peace accord, seen here in November 2015, Israeli security officers holding boxes of Krembo ( chocolate-covered marshmallow candy) and striding towards a Royal Jordanian flight on the tarmac of the Ben-Gurion Airport that was forced to make an emergency landing in Israel.

Who knows, this might have sweetened the deal that was to follow – The Abraham Accords.

It has a biscuit base, marshmallow center and thin chocolate shell and comes in two flavours, each with its own wrapping: blue for vanilla-flavoured marshmallow and brown for mocha-flavoured marshmallow.

In Hebrew, the word krembo is a combination of krem (cream) and bo (in it). According to a study funded by Strauss, Israel’s leading krembo producer, 69% of Israelis prefer to eat krembos from the top down (starting with the cream), and only 10% start with the biscuit at the bottom; the rest had no preference. From whichever direction Israelis assault their krembos, the result is always the same – their hands reflexively reaching out for next one!

Sweetie Pies. For sweet lovers, Israel’s Beloved Chocolate-Coated krembo.

Sweet Dreams

No meal is complete at any Arab restaurant in Israel without Knafeh made from mild white cheese topped with a crispy layer of shredded wheat, and covered with sugar syrup. Though knafeh is widely regarded as an Arab dish, it is today also part of Israel’s culinary DNA and a popular dessert at Jewish as much as Arab weddings.  One of Israeli-songwriter Ehud Banai’s classic songs is called “Ha-knafeh metuka”, meaning “the knafeh is sweet.” The song waxes nostalgic about Jerusalem’s Old City, where you can easily stumble upon giant copper trays serving bright-orange knafeh, which is served warm with the cheese half-melted, accompanied by a tiny cup of strong Turkish coffee.

Craving for Knafeh. Originating from the Palestinian streets of Nablus in the early part of the last century, Knafeh today is a staple for all good occasions Jews and Arabs alike.
 

The Milky Way

There is not a child in Israel that is not familiar with the dairy pudding Milky. Produced by Strauss, Israel’s largest food and beverage company, Milky is claimed to be the most successful dairy product on the Israeli market since its debut in 1980 and is sold in small containers with chocolate pudding on the bottom and whipped cream on the top.

Its early TV commercials in the late 1980s, it featured a young kid, Bar Refaeli, who would emerge an international model, film star and more recently, host on The X Factor Israel. Both Bar and Milky made it to the top.

Creamy Combination. Despite its long history, Milky’s secret and magic have not diminished remaining the perfect combination of chocolate and whipped cream

Love at first Bite

For Israeli culinary guide Judith S. Goldstein, “A great meal doesn’t feel complete without dessert.” Poetically, she elaborates:

Skipping dessert after an amazing meal is like going on a perfect date and not getting a kiss at the end of the night to seal the deal.”

So, to our overseas visitors in a post Covid world, we have some “dates” lined up for you!

Israel is a passionate country and when it comes to desserts, resistance is futile!





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

On High Ground

The Hills of Yodfat are Alive with the Sound of Hebrew

By David E. Kaplan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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






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

Jerusalem!

By  Gill Katz

Jerusalem!

The news will depict the old city as a place of war. Conflict. Bloodshed.

A place where cultures clash, and old and new don’t tolerate one another.

A place of political turmoil. Of suicide bombers. Of death.

But there is another Jerusalem.

A city old and rich in culture, steeped in the golden light of God’s eye as He watches with a fierce love, and I know that His city will for all times be a very special place.

From Hillel Street and it’s quaint coffee bars to the Holy sites where Jew, Christian and Moslem seek and find their roots, to the Mount of Olives where one can stand and look out over the peach coloured Jerusalem stone buildings, the city is incomparable.

A trip to the Old City, and a delightful barter with Arab stall sellers, and the joy of walking back to ones residence carrying a basket of fragrant smelling fruit and succulent vegetables from the shuk.. ahh.

What can compare?

I bump shoulders with Haredi Jews, bearded Greek Orthodox Priests and bare bellied tattooed American teenage girls. There are old and young, firm and infirm – all on their own private mission.

The presence of soldiers is but a comfort to me.

I contemplate their absense.

I know in time they will be, but for now I see them as warriors of Biblical times, fierce in their desire to protect God’s chosen city.

It’s all good…

God chose well.

Jerusalem – City of Gold.








About the writer:

Gill Katz. Former children’s book author, journalist, member of Media Team (South Africa and International) and television scriptwriter, now retired in Florida USA.







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

Tea in Tel Aviv

Israel’s tea pots are filling up again

By David E. kaplan

It was not written in the tea leaves that indicated the future was changing, it was in the people drinking it – or more precisely, the number of people!

Where for the past year it has been “Tea for Two” my wife and I   recently sat down with a group of friends that until recently could have been described as an “illegal gathering”, a connotation repugnant to this former South African.

Tea for Two. The satisfied look of these two tea drinkers by Israeli artist Itzchak Tarkay’s “Nothing Left to Say” (2006).

So what could be read into this tea – proverbial as some referred coffee –  with friends was that all had been vaccinated against Covid and we were at last enjoying a taste of the “old normal”.

Instead of over the cell or ZOOM, we met face-to-face, shifted conversational gears opening with “So when did we ACTUALLY see you last?” to discussions on Israel’s unpredictable futurepolitical landscape following the predictable past election result to issues around Corona.

There were divergent views, voices were raised for this was again – real, animated social engagement – Israeli style.

It was REAL and a long time coming…..

Had the life we have been living this past year been the plot of an earlier book or movie , we would have scoffed at it being farfetched – the literary imaginings a of a Ray Bradbury, George Orwell or Aldous Huxley. This sudden ‘Brave New World’ was a reality and still is for most the world as it awaits a speedier rollout of the vaccines.

And here is the rub as the goal of “herd immunity” has to be global not parochial. Confronting a pandemic, we are all in this together. These thoughts were on our minds as we enjoyed our tea, thankful that our country of Israel is the world leader in getting shots in arms at a pace that is far ahead of any other nation. If in January only 10% of Israel’s population had been vaccinated,  by mid-March it was over 50%! Now in April, we look to the economy picking up as more and more businesses open up  as we recommence our lives of engagement.

Systematic Rollout. Israelis receive a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from medical professionals at a coronavirus vaccination center set up on a shopping mall parking lot in Givataim, Israel.

Since none of the vaccines were developed in Israel, an intriguing question is how did the country manage in record time to acquire so many vaccinations? It lies in the county’s DNA – its ingenuity, foresight, quick bold action – not without risk – by our political leadership, and our unique medical system that provides superlative cover to all its citizens. While some ignorant critics abroad might stupidly scream ‘”socialism”, Israel’s unique medical aid Kupat Holim –  is  our pride and saviour as has proved during this Corona crisis. I recall when interviewing the previous Coronavirus Tzar, Professor Ronnie Gamsu for Hilton Israel Magazine  in 2016,  he described Israel’s medical system as in keeping with the “fundamental egalitarian philosophy of our founding fathers.”

Arm Down, Thumb Up. Seen here as Israel kicks off mass coronavirus vaccine drive to stamp out COVID-19 pandemic, Ronni Gamzu, CEO of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and former virus czar receiving the Pfizer vaccine at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov) on December 20, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

To my question of what he meant by this, Prof. Gamsu replied:

 “Well, Israel can be truly proud of not only its superlative cutting edge medical services but of how we provide this quality service to all our citizens at affordable costs to the recipient. For this, we need to thank the founding fathers of the modern State of Israel. The Zionist Movement in pre-state Israel, which combined the traditional Jewish concern for all people with an emphasis on societal needs that regarded Public Health as a top social, political and economic priority.”

Emphasizing these priorities, Gamsu pointed out that by the time Israel declared its independence in 1948, “we already had a national health infrastructure in place. There was Tipat Halav (Mother-and-child care centers) administering vaccinations to new-born babies and counseling parents on proper care for their infants, and Kupot Holim (Health insurance funds) offering day-to-day consultations with doctors and specialists, and insured members for hospitalization.”

Israel’s Vaccine Rollout is Record-breaking, but is it a Surprise? This historic photograph captures Israelis in the early days of the state getting vaccinated.

Even as Israel transformed in the twilight decades of the twentieth century from a socialist to capitalist economy, Gamsu explained, “some of our most cherished values of concern for the collective remained entrenched – they are part of our ethos and are ingrained in our culture.”

As future needs arise, he cautioned, “we need to be on guard and adhere to our founding principles.”

Clearly, this philosophy has carried Israel through with aplomb through the global Corona crisis.

As a country used to living on the edge with little room for error or miscalculation, the Israeli mindset – although totally inept at  dealing with elections –  is more than adept at situations when lives are at stake and ready to confront monumental challenges.

Southern Comfort. Covid-19 rapidly on the decline in Israel as vaccinations kick-in. A testing place in the middle of Israel’s arid desert south of the Dead Sea..

Compare Israel’s situation with other countries or regions.

Never mind my native South Africa, where Corona is spreading at unclear but feared alarming rates and with little certainty as to when it will receive a vaccine, ‘mighty’ Europe is faring not much better.

As there are currently dire warnings by health experts of a “fourth wave”, one looks with bewilderment at Continental Europe and wonder, “What went wrong?” as France and Italy enter  ‘another’ full lockdown with a vaccine rollout in total chaos. Their systems, bureaucracy and political leadership has failed and people are suffering.

While Israel’s enemies are quick to point out its imperfections – Israelis do it far better themselves –  there is a growing shift of more and more countries and its people to look to Israel as to “how they do it?”

Opening Up. Young Tel Avivians at Cafe Zurik in Tel Aviv on the first day that restaurants were allowed to open after the coronavirus, May 27, 2020. (Simona Weinglass/Times of Israel)

Living up to its reputation as the ‘Start-Up Nation’, its handling of the most monumental health challenge in a century, Israel is showing a way forward.

It’s why I can enjoy a cup of tea in Tel Aviv with a group of friends. And now its back to the old concerns as my wife raises an eyebrow noticing me salivating over an inviting creamy chocolate eclair in inviting proximity and saying:

 “You don’t need it!” 

Stopped in my tracks from committing a gross culinary felony, Covid took a back seat to  the old health and more ‘weighty’ issues!



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

Message from Megiddo – A Wrong Righted

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

By David E. Kaplan

Chairman of the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee (Israel)

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

 “Which Yitzchak?”  

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

No more …..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He then continues:

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

For 1926, prophetic words indeed!

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

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

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

Forgotten Man Remembered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His legacy will always be identified with:

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







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

Tel Aviv is Alive, Well and Pedaling

By Stephen Schulman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



About the writer:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Stephen-Schulman1.png

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





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