Lovers of the Hebrew Stage


Lovers of the Hebrew Stage was the first theater troupe established in the Land of Israel. Founded in Jaffa in the early twentieth century, the group produced works of classical and modern theater in Hebrew. The city’s Orthodox leadership tried to stop the performances. The rabbis were against the use of Hebrew for non-religious purposes; they also opposed women appearing on a stage and the interaction between men and women in the audience. The Lovers of the Hebrew Stage persevered anyway. The beginning of Hebrew theater is an important part of the development of Hebrew culture and the home it eventually found in Tel Aviv.

by Yadin Roman

The Jewish community in Jaffa established itself following the first aliyah in the 1880s. Jaffa, the largest town in the Land of Israel and its main port of entry, hummed with young Jewish immigrants as well as youngsters who had been born at the Jewish settlements around Jaffa and migrated to the big city. They spent their time seeking work, which was not abundant, and socializing in the khans and coffee houses that lined the main streets and markets. Here, in Jaffa, the young Jewish laborer could read the Hebrew newspapers and keep abreast of the latest news, job opportunities, and social events.
Hebrew as a living, spoken language developed in the circles affiliated with the Haskalah (Jewish enlightenment) movement in Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century. One popular method of propagating the Haskalah movement’s ideas and developing a national culture was forming theater clubs that produced plays with amateur actors. These troupes soon became the spearhead for advancing Hebrew culture in Jewish centers throughout Europe. In 1904, this concept reached the Land of Israel and the first theater club in Jaffa was founded: the Lovers of the Dramatic Art.
The members of the new theater group were passionate about Hebrew so their first two productions were in Hebrew. The first play, which debuted on Purim 1905, was Uriel Acosta, which tells the story of sixteenth-century Jewish philosopher and skeptic Uriel da Costa. The play was based on the biography of him that German author Karl Gutzkow wrote in 1846. The biography had been turned into a play and translated into Yiddish. The result became a staple of Yiddish theater. The Lovers of the Dramatic Art translated the play into Hebrew and gave their first performance in an Arab coffee house on Bustros Street, Jaffa’s main commercial thoroughfare (today David Raziel Street).

Yehudit Eisenberg Harari (left) in 1906 and Dr. Hayyim Harari (right) in 1907. (Courtesy of the Aviezer Yellin archive of Jewish education in Israel and the Diaspora at Tel Aviv University)

In an article titled, “The First Hebrew Play in the Land of Israel,” the Jerusalem-based Hebrew newspaper Hahashkafa reported: “Jews who had never before stepped into a coffee house came dressed in their finest clothes. They came from the Jewish settlements in carts, women and children sitting in the carts and men walking alongside them, to see the first Hebrew play ever produced in Jaffa. The crowd making its way to Jaffa included Menahem Gnessin, who played the lead role. Gnessin, a laborer at the Rishon Lezion winery, had taken leave for the performance and walked all the way to Jaffa…. Of the artistic value of the play nothing can be said, but the stupendous act of staging a play in Hebrew, which the audience could plainly understand, was the talk of the day.”
A play in Hebrew whose cast included actresses immediately incurred the wrath of the rabbis of the Old Yishuv, especially those in Jerusalem. When the group put on its second play, The Jews by Russian author A. Zerikov, the rabbis went on a rampage. The day the play was scheduled to open in Jerusalem, they sent messengers to all the synagogues in the city to announce that going to see the play was strictly banned. Posters also appeared in the Jewish neighborhoods denouncing the “theater where men and women appear together.”
The play encountered other difficulties, the main one being that a large part of the audience and some of the actors did not speak Hebrew. After a heated debate, the group decided to produce future plays in Yiddish since it was understood by most members of the Old Yishuv and the ultra-Orthodox population as well as immigrants from the first aliyah.
Some members of the group objected to the decision to perform in Yiddish; they withdrew from the Lovers of the Dramatic Art and created a new group, Lovers of the Hebrew Stage, to produce plays that were written in Hebrew or translated into Hebrew.

In 1909, the Lovers of the Hebrew Stage welcomed its first star: a young woman from Alexandria named Lisa Varon, who had appeared a few times with Yiddish theater troupes in Egypt. Even though she did not know Hebrew, the audience loved her acting, her voice, and her beauty.

“As the eyes of all the people are upon us, we cannot look down with disdain on our language and perform in a language that is just jargon,” the members of the new group announced.
The central figures in the Lovers of the Hebrew Stage were Dr. Hayyim Harari, a teacher and skilled amateur actor, and his wife, Yehudit Eisenberg. They were joined by Gnessin, from the winery in Rishon; Fania and Yehudah Leib Metman-Cohen, founders of the Herzliya Gymnasia in Jaffa; and Olga Hankin, the wife of Yehoshua Hankin, who would go on to buy huge tracts of land for the Jewish Agency.
Harari was born in Latvia. His father Dov Blumberg was one of the founders of the Hovevei Zion movement and instilled him with a love of Hebrew and a yearning for the rebirth of the Jewish nation in its homeland. From a young age, Harari wrote for the Hebrew press, signing his articles with the name of an ancient Talmudic sage, Ben Bg Bg. In 1896, at the age of 13, he made aliyah to study agriculture at the Mikveh Israel School near Jaffa. He joined the school’s drama club and participated in the production of plays in French, the main language used at the school. He graduated five years later, in 1901. Harari’s attempts to settle in Palestine as a farmer were thwarted when the Ottoman authorities enacted new ordinances barring Mikveh Israel’s international students from settling in the country upon graduation. Harari decided to dedicate his life to education and enrolled at the University of Geneva in Switzerland to study education, psychology, literature, and the dramatic arts. There, together with his new classmates, Chaim Weizmann and Zvi Averson, he engaged in promoting Zionism among the Swiss Jewish community.
In 1906, he returned to the Land of Israel and found employment teaching general and Hebrew literature at the Herzliya Gymnasia in Jaffa.
Yehudit Eisenberg, who would marry Harari in 1907, was born in Pinsk, Belarus. Her parents made aliyah in 1866, when she was just a few months old. During their first year in the country, the family lived in Jaffa. Then they bought a plot of land in Wadi Hanin, the future settlement of Ness Ziona. At first, the family lived in a tent among the Bedouins. After a few months, they moved to a cellar in the orchard of Reuven Lerrer, the founder of the Jewish settlement in Wadi Hanin. When the Bedouins told the family that the land of nearby Khirbet Duran was for sale, Eisenberg’s father teamed up with his friend Yehoshua Hankin to buy the land. In 1890, when Eisenberg was five, the family moved to Khirbet Duran, which grew into the town of Rehovot.
Eisenberg wrote about her experiences growing up during the first aliyah in an autobiographical Hebrew-language work, Among the Vineyards. (The character in her book modeled on herself is named Talia and her husband is named Ziv. )
“Talia grew up,” Eisenberg wrote, “amid vineyards and almond groves, between olive, sycamore, and carob trees, orange groves and eucalyptus woods, among Bedouin shepherds and farm laborers.”
From an early age, Talia was skilled in fieldwork, Eisenberg wrote, adding, “She was the best horseback rider in the village and could climb trees like a cat, swim faster in the water reservoirs than anyone else, milk cows, pick grapes, and ride a camel through the night to bring the grapes to the winery at Rishon Lezion. The other children in the village would gather to listen to her sing in the vineyard and beg her to dance the Bedouin sword dance around the fire.”

Herzliya Gymnasia founders and Hebrew actors Fania and Yehudah Leib Metman-Cohen with art teacher Abraham Aldema. (Zvi Oron)

Love blossomed early in these wild Hebrew settlements, Eisenberg wrote: “On lovers’ hill, the youngsters of the village would meet in the evening, light a bonfire, sing, and talk of the future of Jewish settlement and Jewish labor,” among other topics.
Eisenberg met Harari at the age of 13, while he was a student at Mikveh Israel. The two fell in love and when Harari left for Switzerland, she waited for him for six years, communicating via passionate letters.
A year after Harari’s return, in 1907, they married. Eisenberg gave up her job as a teacher at the Evelina de Rothschild school for girls in Jerusalem and moved to Jaffa to join her husband. A year later, she gave birth to their first and only son, Yizhar (who would become an influential member of Knesset). For an independent woman – a horse and camel rider who danced around bonfires at night – becoming a housewife and a mother was not simple.
“The summer holidays are over,” she wrote of that first year in Jaffa, “the school has opened, and Ziv is busy day and night at the school, usually returning home after midnight. Talia awaits his return and suffers from loneliness. It is a pity that she left teaching, work that she loved so much, devoting her time to the house and kitchen. She dreams of returning to the school to teach, but all the positions are taken. She is dissatisfied with her life. Why does marriage have to change a woman’s life and imprison her at home? Why do men continue to live their former lives after marriage while a woman must give up all that is precious to her?”
When she became pregnant, Talia was scared she would lose the new job she had found in Jaffa and tried to hide her pregnancy as much as possible. Her husband tried to help her with the household chores, but was busy with his public work and not always available. She was filled with despair and feelings of abandonment. The birth was difficult – a forceps birth, followed by fear of blood poisoning. Her life in danger, the doctors decided to move her to the Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem. While her husband was busy with his public activities, she was hospitalized far away, in Jerusalem, where she spent all her time “waiting for his visit.”
After she recovered, Talia returned to Jaffa to discover that the school had given her position to someone else.
“The gymnasium decided that it is better to hire a bachelor for the job instead of a married woman with a child. All Talia’s plans to continue working fell apart,” Eisenberg wrote.
The new mother did not despair. She began to give private lessons at home and filled her spare time by joining the Lovers of the Hebrew Stage, where she became one of the dominant figures in the group. Eventually, she would return to teaching at the school, but her love of Hebrew theater would accompany her for the rest of her life.

Above (right): Menahem Gnessin in 1912. (Avraham Soskin)
Above (left): Olga Hankin. (Tamar Eshel, from a family album)

Gnessin, the third founder of the theater troupe, was a scion of a rabbinic family and the brother of writer Uri Nissan Gnessin. He made aliyah in 1903 from Russia, finding work as a simple laborer in the Rishon Lezion winery. Gnessin was fluent in Hebrew and Hebrew culture, loved art, had a rare talent for acting, and had a few years of experience on the stage.
The Lovers of the Hebrew Stage’s first production was Zerubbabel, which premiered in 1907 in Rehovot. News of the play set off a storm in the settlement. A rabbi from Jaffa insisted that neither women nor men dressed as women appear on stage. The group rejected the rabbi’s adjurations so he informed the Ottoman authorities that an indecent performance was in the works. On the opening night, Ottoman soldiers arrived at the community hall where the play was about to begin and prevented the curtain from rising.
The second play that the Lovers of the Hebrew Stage produced, Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, met the same fate. The rabbi informed the authorities and soldiers prevented the show from opening. However, the group would not give up. Eventually, the authorities disregarded the constant rabbinical warnings and the group began to perform its Hebrew plays in Jewish settlements, Jerusalem, and Jaffa.
In 1909, the Lovers of the Hebrew Stage welcomed its first Hebrew star: a young Sephardic woman from Alexandria named Lisa Varon. The new actress had appeared a few times with Yiddish theater troupes in Egypt. Even though she did not speak Hebrew, she was invited to join the group. Varon was a star from her very first performance; the audience loved her acting, her voice, and her beauty.
“The primitive actress who had never seen a real theater in her life, had no education, and did not speak Hebrew amazed us with her gentle, soft performance,” Gnessin wrote in his autobiography. “She was endowed with all the virtues of a great actress. She walked the stage like a princess, enthralling the audience with each dramatic gesture, with her beauty, her voice, her face. She was the first actress on the Hebrew stage who showed real acting skills.”
The Lovers of the Hebrew Stage was a success.
“Hebrew theater,” reported Ithamar Ben-Avi, the son of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (the father of Modern Hebrew), in Hazevi in 1910, “has arrived. We have some talents in the country. Harari, Shlomi, Hararit, Gnessin, Lina, and a few others always will be remembered as the founders of Hebrew theater.”
Despite his enthusiastic praise, Ben-Avi complained that theater remained an amateur affair, opining, “Why is there money for so many unimportant things and no money for Hebrew theater?”
Author Joseph Hayyim Brenner reported from backstage: “When the candles went out in the hall and only the tired actors remained, I found out that Gnessin and Varon are planning to leave the country. Why are they playing with us? We have finally created a Hebrew theater and now they are planning to leave.”
Brenner had predicted that this would happen. Varon’s success on the Hebrew stage went to her head and friends advised her to seek her fortune in the capitals of Europe. She left and was never heard of again.
On February 15, 1912, Ben Eliakim reported for Hazevi on another performance in Tel Aviv: “Tel Aviv is humming with people. In the light of kerosene lamps, people make their way to the theater in couples and groups. It is a festive day in Jaffa. They all are on their way to the theater – the women dressed in their best clothes, high heels tapping the floor, some speaking fluent Hebrew, some Russian, and others a jargon of Yiddish and Hebrew. Thirty minutes before the beginning, the hall is already full, sold out. A large crowd was left standing outside the ticket booth.
“There were about 1,000 people, a crowd never seen before for a Hebrew performance. The show started three-quarters of an hour late. As the third gong chimed, people were told to sit down, even those who wanted to watch the performance while standing.”
Ben Eliakim, the first Hebrew theater critic, had much to say about the performance.
“The acting is a little weak, Gnessin and Titleman are sorely missed … and all the actors in the last act did not fulfill their roles with skill,” he complained, noting one exception, the heroine of the play, Eisenberg, “was excellent.”
Despite the first Hebrew critic’s harsh criticism, he also noted, “The audience loved the play and clapped for a long time, leaving the hall fully satisfied long after midnight.”
The Lovers of the Hebrew Stage continued to perform until 1914, even after the loss of its stars. When World War I broke out, Jewish residents of Jaffa who were not Ottoman citizens were expelled from the city and the troupe disbanded.
Gnessin, who already had left the land by then, was involved in Nahum David Zemach’s attempt to create a Hebrew theater called Habimah in Poland in 1913. In 1917, he, Zemach, and Hannah Rovina tried to establish Habimah in Moscow. In 1923, Gnessin returned to Palestine and founded the Eretz Israel theater together with Shimon Finkel. When Habimah made aliyah in 1928, Gnessin joined what would become the national theater of Israel. In 1923, he acted in the first Hebrew movie, Oded Hanoded.
Eisenberg and Harari, the Metman-Cohens, and the Hankins were not only key members of the Lovers of the Hebrew Stage, but also were among the founding families of Ahuzat Bayit in 1909, the year before it changed its name to Tel Aviv. 

Rite of Passage


Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav’s journey to the Land of Israel was much more than a dangerous trip to a remote part of the world. It was a rite of passage for the charismatic mystic who would admonish his followers to disregard all the teachings he made before the voyage

Dan Manor

During the eighteenth century, the belief that a voyage to the Holy Land has profound mystical implications motivated many Jews to undertake the dangerous journey to Ottoman Palestine. These attributes of the pilgrimage to the Holy Land, reinforced by actual immigration, played a significant role in the emergence of new ideas in the Jewish world, and especially in the development of the Hasidic Movement.
The cornerstone of the Hasidic engrossment in these voyages was the mysterious attempt of the Ba’al Shem Tov – Master of the Good Name – to travel to Eretz Yisrael in the 1740s. Israel ben Eliezer, the Ba’al Shem Tov, is traditionally accepted as the founder of the Hasidic Movement. However, his biography, as well as his trip to the Holy Land, is shrouded in legend. From Medziboz in Ukraine, the Besht, as the Ba’al Shem Tov is acronymically called, set out, with his daughter Adel and his attendant, Hirsh Sofer, to Istanbul, to take a ship to the Land of Israel.
The Besht arrived in Istanbul on Passover eve. However, when he planned to take a ship to Palestine, a mystical force held him back, warning him that he had to return to Ukraine for the good of his community. On the way back, this time by ship across the Black Sea, the vessel ran into stormy weather. Adel fell overboard; the Besht was imprisoned but managed to escape. These motives of storms, danger of enslavement, and evil forces that try to prevent the voyage all have mystical meanings that appear in many of the accounts of Hasidic journeys to the Land of Israel.

Objections for this deep spiritual ascending of the soul were considered meniyot – hindrances, sent by the forces of darkness

Even though the Besht failed to reach the Holy Land, he encouraged his relatives and close circle to settle in the Land of Israel. In 1747, probably a short time after the Besht’s attempt, his brother in law, Gershon of Kutov, led a small group of Hasidic families that settled in Hebron, and later Jerusalem. In 1764, Nahman of Horodenka, whose son married the Besht’s granddaughter, and Menahem Mendel of Premishlan settled in Safed, and later Tiberias. Thirteen years later, Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk and Abraham of Kalisk led the first Hasidic Aliyah, over 300 people, who settled in Safed, Tiberias, and Pekein in Upper Galilee.

Napoleon visiting his sick soldiers in Jaffa, 1799, Antoine-Jean Gros
The Ascent of the Tzadik

Half a century after the voyage of the Besht, his great-grandson, Nahman ben Simhah, known as Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav, decided to set out for the Holy Land. At the age of 26, he already had eight children and a small circle of followers.
On the eve of Passover 1798, the 26-year-old Nahman ben Simhah announced his plans to depart for Eretz Israel. The declared purpose of the journey was to commune with his grandfather, Nahman of Horodenka, buried in the cemetery of Tiberias.
Objections for this deep spiritual ascending of the soul were considered meniyot – hindrances, sent by the forces of darkness to prevent Nahman from fulfilling the spiritual mission that would hasten the days of redemption.
“As long as I breathe I will deliver my soul and ascend to the Land of Israel,” he explained to his protesting wife: “You can find work as a cook, the older girls as household servants and their younger sister can be taken into someone’s house out of pity. I shall sell everything in the house to cover expenses for the journey.”
The account of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav’s journey to the Land of Israel was recorded by his closest follower Nathan Nemirov, after Rabbi Nahman’s death, and is based on recollections shared with Nathan by Simeon, Rabbi Nahman’s companion on the trip.

Rabbi Nahman later explained that this was an essential part of the journey, part of the necessary descent of the Tzadik, to prepare for the ascent to the Holy Land

Rabbi Nahman’s announcement of his decision to travel was preceded by a mysterious journey, to the town Kamenets-Podolsk, known as a center of the much-hated Frankist Movement, an extreme Shabbatean offspring. As no Frankists still lived in the town, it seems that the visit had mystical connotations of purifying the souls of the long-gone Frankists. The idea of the Rebbe, the Tzadik, as a redeemer of souls is purely Sabbatean; an ascend to the most sacred levels must start with a descend to purify the most defiled of human space.
A month after his announcement, on May 4, 1798, Rabbi Nahman and Simeon set out from Medevedka, Ukraine. They traveled overland to Nikolayev 270 kilometers to the south and found passage on a barge carrying wheat down the Dnieper River to Odessa. From Odessa they took a ship to Istanbul on a stormy four-day voyage.
While waiting for the steamship to Jaffa, Rabbi Nahman started behaving strangely. “He went about barefoot, without a belt, and without a top hat. He would go about in his indoor clothing, running around the market like a child. There he would play war games, as children do.”
Rabbi Nahman later explained that this was an essential part of the journey, part of the necessary descent of the Tzadik, to prepare for the ascent to the Holy Land. When a group of Hassidim from Ukraine arrived in the city, led by Rabbi Zeev Wolf of Charny-Ostrog, a disciple of the Maggid of Miedzyrzec, Nahman warned his disciple not to reveal his identity to them.

Above left: The name of the Baal Shem Tov [emphasized] in the census of taxpayers in the city of Medz Yavuz, 1885 (Wikicommons). Above right: The tomb of Rabbi Chaim Ben Atar in Jerusalem. The Baal Shem Tov believed that if he met Ben Atar, they could bring the Messiah together (Wikicommons). Below right: The tomb of the Baal Shem Tov (Wikicommons)
A Stormy Arrival

In May 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte set sail from Toulouse to conquer the East and sever England’s hold on India. A large French fleet, carrying an invasion force of 35,000 soldiers, made its way across the Mediterranean to Alexandria, trying to dodge the English navy under the command of Horatio Nelson. As the battle in the Eastern Mediterranean raged, the Jewish community in Istanbul announced a ban on journeys to the land of Israel.
“Our master did not pay any attention to this,” writes Nemirov, “he wanted to risk his life. He said to the one who accompanied him: know that I want to place myself in danger, even great and terrible danger. However, I do not want to risk your life. Therefore, if you want, take money for expenses and return home in peace. I shall travel on alone, unbeknown to the people of Istanbul. For I risk my life come what may.” Simeon declined and stayed on.
Following the request of a well respected Sephardic sage from Jerusalem, the Istanbul Jewish community permitted one last ship to sail for Jaffa, taking Rabbi Nahman and Simeon to the Holy Land. As they approached Jaffa, the ship ran into a storm.

Making their way to the harbor, the two Hasids who spoke no Arabic or Turkish tried to find their ship. By mistake, they boarded a Turkish battleship

“Everyone cried out to God… but our master sat in silence… when the wife of the Rabbi of Khotin, a learned woman, who had been chanting and praying all night asked him why he was silent, he said: by this, you will be tested. If you are still, the waters of the sea will become still as well.” The passengers followed his counsel, the storm abated, and a fortuitous wind blew them into the port of Jaffa. Rabbi Nahman, in his strange clothes, was not allowed to disembark. The port officials were suspicious that he might be a French spy and refused to let him off the ship. He remained on board proceeding northward and disembarked at Haifa on Monday, September 10, 1798 – the eve of Rosh Hashana.
When the Hasids in Tiberias learned that the great-grandson of the Besht was in Haifa, they petitioned him to come to Tiberias and pray with the community during the High Holidays. Nahman refused. He wanted to spend the holy days of the beginning of the year by himself in contemplation.
After the festive Rosh Hashana dinner, Nahman sunk into a deep depression and announced his wish to depart immediately from Eretz Israel. During this time of deep melancholy, a strange incident developed. An Arab in Haifa took a liking to Rabbi Nahman and began visiting him regularly at his quarters. Failing to gain Rabbi Nahman’s affection, he challenged him to a duel. Rabbi Nahman and Simeon hid in the home of the Rabbi of Charny-Ostrog, who had arrived in Haifa with them. The Arab was appeased, and Rabbi Nahman began to feel better. After a month in Haifa, he left for Tiberias, where he was joyously received.
Rabbi Nahman spent the winter in Tiberias, studying Kabbalah and praying on the grave of his grandfather, and the graves of Rabbi Shimeon Bar Yohai in Meiron, Rabbi Ashkenazi Luria in Safed, and other sages in Galilee. The news that the great-grandson of the Besht was in the land soon spread to the Four Holy Cities and Hasids from around the country flocked to hear him teach.

Praying at Rabbi Nachman’s grave. Photography from the beginning of the 20th century (exact year and photographer unknown). Courtesy of jewua.or
Acre Under Siege

Napoleon’s forces arrived in Galilee in March 1799. After capturing Jaffa, at the beginning of March, Napoleon advanced along the coast, reaching Haifa ten days later. Rabbi Nahman understood that it would soon be impossible to leave, and he and Simeon headed for Acre, arriving in the city on Friday, March 15, three days before the first French troops appeared before the walls. He hoped to find a ship flying the flag of neutral Ragusa. In Acre, pandemonium ruled. The news of Napoleon’s massacre of the population of Jaffa, coupled with the announcement of the Turkish governor of Acre, Jazzar Pasha, that all civilians should leave the town by Sunday, resulted in a rush for the harbor. In the last possible moment, on Sunday, March 17, Rabbi Nahman and Simeon managed to book passage on a Turkish merchant vessel.
Making their way to the harbor, the two Hasids who spoke no Arabic or Turkish tried to find their ship. By mistake, they boarded a Turkish battleship, that as soon as it left the harbor, was engaged by a French warship. Rabbi Nahman and Simeon, on a ship embroiled in a raging battle, hid in a small cabin afraid to be discovered by the Turkish sailors and thrown into the sea. Their only help was the ship’s cook, who took pity on them and brought them coffee and biscuits twice a day.
Once away from the shore and out of range of the French warships, they ran into a storm. The ship began taking on water, and all excess cargo was thrown overboard. The small cabin where the two stowaways were hiding began to fill with water. To escape drowning, they climbed on top of a large cabinet and prayed in terror as the sailors fought to get control of the ship.
After four weeks at sea, on the eve of Passover, the ship sailed into the harbor of Rhodes. Rabbi Nahman and Simeon, now in the hands of the ship’s captain, were ransomed from slavery by the Jewish community. The ship’s captain, they found out, had a reputation of enslaving and murdering captives he could not sell.
The rabbis of Rhodes were honored to have the Besht’s descendant among them. After spending Passover in Rhodes, they were put on a fast vessel that took them to Istanbul in three days. In Istanbul, it turned out that their papers were not in order, and they had to bribe the officials to let them continue on their way. They took a ship to Galati, ran into a storm during which most of the passengers drowned. They arrived home after traveling overland from Galati via Jassy sometime in early summer, 1799.
Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav’s voyage was a rite of passage. A dangerous journey that would reveal hidden secrets and insights reserved for the true Tzadik. The trip was a turning point in his life. It was only after his return, at the age of 27, that he agreed to become a public figure proclaiming that any teachings of his before the voyage should be deleted and forgotten. “Where ever I go, I am going to Eretz Israel” became one of his most famous sayings.

Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav’s voyage was a rite of passage. A dangerous journey that would reveal hidden secrets and insights reserved for the true Tzadik

The tomb of Nathan Nemirov, Rabbi Nahman’s closest follower. (Wikicommons /Ishpashout)

Nathan Nemirov, in his account of the trip, details his Rabbi’s reasons for making the voyage; “The hope of receiving some revealed knowledge at the grave of his grandfather – and also some higher form of insight and illumination that can be had only through a journey to the Holy Land.” The dangers encountered along the way gave the voyage a higher spiritual meaning.
In 1802 at the age of 30, Rabbi Nahman settled in Bratslav, where he spent most of the remaining eight years of his life. In 1810, stricken with tuberculosis and ailing, he journeyed to Uman, where he had chosen to be buried. Despite his illness, he celebrated Rosh Hashanah with several hundred followers. During the first day of the festival, his situation deteriorated seriously, and he coughed large quantities of blood. Nevertheless, despite his great weakness, he gave his traditional teaching on the second evening, speaking for many hours. It was to be his last lesson. Eighteen days later, on October 16, 1810 – the fourth day of the festival of Succot – Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav passed away. He was buried in the old cemetery of Uman.
On the last Rosh Hashana of his life, Rabbi Nachman stressed to his followers the importance of being with him for that holiday in particular. After his death, an annual Rosh Hashana pilgrimage to the Rabbi’s gravesite was initiated. Until 1917, the pilgrimage, called the Rosh Hashana Kibbutz, drew thousands of Hasidim from Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, and even Poland. Following the Russian Revolution, the pilgrimage was outlawed, and only a few followers managed to clandestinely get to the grave on Rosh Hashana. Following the 1989 fall of the Soviet Union, the gates were reopened, and since then, over thirty thousand Hasids attend the Rosh Hashana Kibbutz every year.
This year, due to Covid-19, authorities in the Ukraine and Israel prohibited the gathering. The Hasids waited for a miracle. Still, none appeared to prevent what Rabbi Nahman would have considered a miniya.

Tel Armageddon


Josiah, the King of Judah, initiated a massive reform for return to the true worship of God. However, his piety was not enough to save him when he set out to meet the Pharaoh. The prophet Jeremiah’s Righteous King Josiah, died at Megiddo. The tragic death of the King transformed Megiddo into the site of the apocalyptical battle of good against evil, at the end of days when God will open the seven seals of the scroll in his right hand – the battle at Har Magedon – Armageddon.

Relief fragment from the Black Obelisk, British Museum. (Steven G. Johnson)

For nearly two centuries, the expansive Assyrian Empire ruled the ancient world. From Syria and Iraq, its armies reached down into Egypt and stretched up into Iran. For the first time in history, the entire Fertile Crescent was controlled by one empire.
After establishing control over the areas of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, modern Iraq, southern Turkey, and Iran, the new Assyrian King Shalmaneser III (858-824 BCE) took the world’s best trained and well-organized army, armed for the first time with iron weapons, chariots, and battering rams, to expand the empire to the west. Opposing him, and well prepared for the Assyrian attack, were 12 monarchs of the “Kingdoms of the Sea,” led by Hadadezer King of the Aramean kingdom of Damascus. One of the twelve was Ahab, King of Israel.
Shalmaneser claimed victory: “These twelve kings he brought to his support, to offer battle and fight, they came against me. Trusting in the exalted might which Assur, the lord, had given me, in the mighty weapons, which Nergal, who goes before me, had presented to me, I battled with them. From Karkar, as far as the city of Gilzau, I routed them. 14,000 of their warriors I slew with the sword. I rained destruction upon them. I scattered their corpses far and wide… I made their blood to flow down the rivers of the land. On their bodies I spanned the Orontes, as with a bridge. I took from them their chariots, their cavalry, their horses, broken to the yoke” (Stela of Shalmaneser III).
It was no victory. The Kings of the Sea managed to stop the Assyrians from completing their conquest of the west for another decade. In 841 BCE, following the rebellion against Hazael King of Damascus, and the military coup of Jehu against the House of Omri, the alliance of the Kings of the Sea fell apart and Shalmaneser managed to conquer many of the coastal kingdoms, including Israel and Judah, who were forced to pay tribute to the Assyrians.
Damascus held out. Only in the days of Tiglat-Pileser III (745-727 BCE) was the Assyrian conquest of the western Levant complete. Tiglat-Pileser initiated a policy of mass deportation of rebellious people, among them the leadership and upper classes of the Kingdom of Israel in 720 BCE.
When Shalmaneser V came to the throne, the empire was divided into local administrative areas, and rebellious kings were replaced with loyal Assyrian governors. When Hosea ben Ela King of Israel, together with the King of Damascus, and with the aid of the Egyptians tried to organize a rebellion, Shalmaneser besieged their capitals, and his successor, Sargon II, captured Samaria, the capital of the Kingdom of Israel, exiling most of the population to Mesopotamia. With the encouragement of Egypt, Sargon’s sudden death once again aroused the spirit of rebellion among the remaining kingdoms. In spite of the prophet Isiah’s warnings that Egypt was not to be trusted, Hezekiah King of Judah, joined the rebellion.
The new Assyrian King Sennacherib had to deal first with a Babylonian rebellion further to the east. However, in 701 BCE, once this was over, he returned to the west with a vengeance. The whole coastal plain from Sidon to Gaza was taken over by the Assyrian Army. The Egyptians sent an army to the south of the country however the army was quickly beaten back. All the cities of the Kingdom of Judah fell into the hands of the Assyrians and Jerusalem was placed under siege. Hezekiah managed to save himself by stripping all the treasures of the temple and all the riches of the kingdom, and handing them over to the Assyrians, as well as reinstating the Assyrian gods in the temple.
In the days of Esarhaddon, the Assyrian empire reached its zenith. His successor, Ashurbanipal was the last of the strong Assyrian kings. With his death, in 631 BCE, the empire was racked with succession struggles, and rebellion especially by the Babylonians and Medes. The Assyrian armies were recalled to the east, to protect the Assyrian heartland and suddenly, over a very short time, the powerful and fearsome Assyrian empire was no more. Egypt filled the vacuum left by the Assyrians, and even set out to help its former enemy against the Babylonians, so that Assyria would be a buffer between the Levant and the growing power of the Babylonians.

All the cities of the Kingdom of Judah fell into the hands of the Assyrians, and Jerusalem was placed under siege. Hezekiah managed to save himself by stripping all the treasures of the temple and all the riches of the kingdom

King Hezekiah. (Unknown author)

Good King Josiah
Hezekiah did not survive for long after the rebellion against Assyria. His religious reforms were well received by the prophets: “He removed the high places, and broke the pillars, and cut down the Asherah; and he broke in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made. for unto those days the children of Israel did offer to it” (II Kings 18:4), but, even with national repentance against the evil of the former kings, the rebellion against Assyria was a disaster that cost the kingdom all its treasures.
It was this penniless kingdom that Hezekiah left to his son, Menashe, who ascended the throne in 697 BCE at the age of 12. With astute diplomatic insight Menashe cultivated his relations with the Assyrians, and during his 55-year reign, the longest of any of the kings of Judah or Israel, the kingdom flourished. Following the exile of the Kingdom of Israel many refugees flocked to Jerusalem expanding the city’s population 10-fold. Menashe cancelled his father’s religious reform, promising freedom of worship to all and reinstated the gods and idols in the temple. Menashe’s son, Amon, ruled for only two years, until he was murdered by unknown elements. The murder was avenged by “Am ha’aretz” – “the people of the land”, a term that appears 14 times in the bible, referring to a special social group within the Kingdom of Judah. Amon’s eight-year old son, Josiah, was crowned in his stead (640 BCE).
Josiah initiated a far-reaching new reform in Judah centered around the “discovery” in the Temple of a book of the Bible, perhaps the book of Deuteronomy, which describes the golden age of the united kingdom of David and Solomon, when the people of Judah and Israel were one. Josiah dedicated his reforms to erasing the worship of foreign gods and focused religious practice on the temple in Jerusalem. The Bible gives a detailed description of the force of Josiah’s reform: “And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, and the priests of the second order, and the keepers of the door, to bring forth out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the Asherah, and for all the hosts of heaven; and he burned them in the fields of Kidron… And he put down the idolatrous priests… And he brought out the Asherah… and burned it… and stamped it small to powder…And he broke down the houses of the Sodomites… and he broke down the high places of the gates … And he defiled Topheth… And he broke in pieces the pillars… and he burned the high place… And he slew all the priests of the high places” (II Kings, 23). It was bloody, ruthless, and forceful – “And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him,” reports the book of Kings. But the biblical text adds, as if trying to explain what is about to happen: “Notwithstanding the LORD turned not from the fierceness of His great wrath, wherewith His anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations wherewith Manasseh had provoked Him.”
Could not Josiah’s repentance save Judah and Jerusalem? The King sent messengers to the prophetess Hulda to see if his actions could turn God away from his anger. Hulda’s message was that it was too late, however she added: “I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil which I will bring upon this place.” (II Kings 22: 20). It was a divine promise that was not kept.

Could Josiah’s repentance save Judah and Jerusalem? The King sent messengers to the prophetess Hulda to see if his actions could turn God away from his anger

King Hezekiah prays for forgiveness from God. (Adolf Hult)

The sudden disappearance of Assyria prompted Josiah to try and take control of the areas of the former kingdom of Israel. The extent of his success is not clear, but the attempt to take over territory that was controlled by Assyria was contrary to the intentions of the Egyptians.
As an aside… after the glowing description of Josiah’s reforms, the Bible adds two verses: “In his days, Pharaoh Necho, King of Egypt went up against the King of Assyria to the river Euphrates; and King Josiah went against him; and he slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him. And his servants carried him in a chariot dead from Megiddo, brought him to Jerusalem, and buried him in his own sepulcher.”
The narrative is unclear. Why did Josiah set out to do battle with the might of Egypt? He could have ignored the Egyptians at Megiddo and let them continue to the north. From Chronicles we learn that Necho announced that he had no intention of fighting Josiah in battle. Nevertheless, Josiah was killed, and Judah lost its independence.
The book of Kings is silent as to the reason for this. It appears that this was a tragedy of such magnitude, that the author prefers not to mention it. Even Jeremiah, who described Josiah as the Righteous King, does not talk about it.

The death of King Josiah. (Francesco Conti)

Did Josiah cultivate Hezekiah’s connections with the rising Babylonian kingdom? The book of Isiah reports that the King of Babylonia sent messengers to Hezekiah when he heard that the King was sick. Isiah warned Hezekiah not to ally himself with the Babylonians against the Assyrians, but the connection existed. Could it be that Josiah set out to Megiddo to stop the Pharaoh from coming to the aid of the Assyrians against the Babylonians?
The Book of Kings is silent about the battle between Necho and Josiah. But Chronicles, which was written at a much later date, presents a different version to the dramatic meeting. Josiah set out to battle Necho who asked him to refrain. Josiah positioned his army in the Valley of Megiddo and was then hit by an arrow. Wounded, he was taken to Jerusalem where he died. This is contrary to the description in the Book of Kings where Necho ordered Josiah to appear before him at Megiddo, and then “killed him when he saw him”.
The Bible testifies to Necho’s intentions to take control of the Land of Israel. After Josiah’s death, the people of Jerusalem placed his son Jehoahaz on the throne. He ruled for three months until Necho had him imprisoned, and also fined Judah for going against his wishes. Necho put Eliakim, Josiah’s second son, on the throne, changed his name to Jehoiakim and exiled his brother Jehoahaz to Egypt, where he died (II Kings, Chapter 23). So ends the biblical narrative of the most righteous of the kings of Judah, who reformed the temple and was put to death by the Pharaoh.

The death of Josiah at Megiddo will become the rallying cry for the final battle of Gog and Magog at Har Magedon, which in Greek translates “Armageddon”

Josiah kills idolatrous priests Josiah’s Reformation.

The Apocalypse
The death of the Righteous King was a shock. “…and Jeremiah wept over Josiah, and all the ministers wept over Josiah to this day” (II chronicles, 35). The sages of the Talmud identified Jeremiah’s lament with Chapter four of the Book of Lamentations. The prophet Zephania, son of Kushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amira the son of Hezekiah also lived in the days of Josiah. According to his genealogy depicted in his short three chapter book he was close related to Hezekiah, and thus also to Josiah. Zephania is the first to describe “the day of the Lord” when those that are not loyal to God will be punished. This motive of the final “scene”, the day of the end of time, is described in detail in the book of Zechariah when “on that day the lamentations in Jerusalem will exceed the lamentations of Hadadrimmon in the Valley of Megiddon.”
Ezekiel expands on this even more, “And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face against Gog, in the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him. And say, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal: And I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed with all sorts of armour, even a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords: Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya with them; all of them with shield and helmet: Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togramah of the north quarters, and all his bands: and many people with thee” (Ezekiel 38).
The final battle, against Gog of Magog and all his hordes appears again in John’s book of Revelations, where the forces of good shall gather at “the place that in Hebrew is called Har Magedon” (Revelations 16:16).
The death of Josiah at Megiddo will become the rallying cry for the final battle of Gog and Magog at Har Magedon which in Greek translates “Armageddon”.
Thus, we come full circle. Josiah’s death at Megiddo in 609 BCE is just the opening phase of the eschatological ultimate destiny of humanity, which will end in the Lord’s victory, after which a messiah from the House of David will reappear. The dramatic event in Megiddo, the killing of Josiah in the Assyrian palace, is rooted in Judeo-Christian belief to this day.

Since the Flood


Legend has it that Noah’s son Japheth founded Jaffa. While that cannot be proven, there is no doubt about the antiquity of this port city, which appears not only in the Bible, but also in the annals of the pharaohs of Egypt and Greek mythology. Hasmoneans, Romans, Crusaders, Turks, French, and British fought over it, each leaving their own mark on the city.

Early Christian pilgrimage literature describes Jaffa as the city that Noah’s son Japheth established after the flood and cite that as the source of its name and the name of its main thoroughfare (Yefet Street). Other sources claim the name stems from the Hebrew word for beautiful (yaffeh).
Long before the Christians arrived on the scene, pharaoh Thutmose III listed Jaffa among the cities he captured in his campaign against the Canaanite kings in 1478 BCE. He conquered the city with a ruse similar to the famous trick behind the fall of Troy. When the Egyptian army failed to force its way into Jaffa, it feigned a retreat and left 500 large wicker breadbaskets outside the city walls. The starving people of Jaffa carried the baskets into the city. When night fell, Egyptian soldiers who had hidden under the bread in the baskets emerged and opened the city gates to allow the rest of the army in.
The el-Amarna letters, the royal Egyptian archive from the time of Akhenaton, reveal that ties existed between Egypt and Jaffa in the fourteenth century BCE as well. The archive includes letters the king of Jaffa sent to the pharaoh.

Demolished street in Jaffa in the aftermath of the Arab Revolt in 1936 (Library of Congress, Matson Collection)

This connection continued in the following century, judging by the monumental city gate bearing the name and title of Ramses II that excavations of the ancient tell of Jaffa revealed. Another interesting source from the time of Ramses II is the Papyrus Anastasi I, an ancient parchment that the British Museum acquired from a Greek antique dealer named Giovanni Anastasi. It contains a detailed account of a high-ranking Egyptian official’s journey from Egypt to Lebanon. The official stopped in Jaffa on the way and provided a report about the city over thirty-three centuries ago.
Despite the legend, the first time Jaffa is mentioned in the Bible is not in relation to the flood, but much later as a border marker for the tribe of Dan (Joshua 19:46). Hiram, king of Tyre, demonstrated his loyalty to king Solomon by sending his contribution towards the construction of the First Temple in Jerusalem, the cedars of Lebanon, via the Jaffa port (Chronicles II 2:16). The Book of Ezra relates that the cedars for the Second Temple followed the same route (3:7). The prophet Jonah also set sail from Jaffa for his fateful meeting with the whale. Sennacherib, the king of Assyria mentioned in the Bible, lists Jaffa as one of the cities he conquered during his military campaign in the year 701 BCE.
It is unclear who resided in and ruled Jaffa during this time. It could have been Phoenicians from Sidon who controlled the coast as far south as Jaffa or perhaps Philistines, who arrived in the vicinity in the thirteenth century BCE. In the fifth century BCE, the archaeological record indicates that Eshmunezer, king of Sidon, ruled Jaffa, at least according to an inscription on his memorial stone. The city seems to have remained in Phoenician hands for some time as a Canaanite inscription found in Jaffa documents the building of a temple there dedicated to the Sidonite god Ashmun. The Roman historian Pliny, writing in the first century CE, described Jaffa as a city of the Phoenicians.

The “tranzila” train that led from the harbor to the railway station (Library of Congress, Matson Collection)

The conquests of Alexander the Great, in the fourth century BCE, rearranged the population and kingdoms along the coast. Alexander’s troops captured Jaffa in 333 BCE, on the way to conquering Egypt, and Greek colonists soon settled in the city, calling it Ioppe in honor of the mythological daughter of Aeolus, god of the winds. Also known as Cassiopeia, she was famous for her beauty and was the consort of Cepheus, king of Ethiopia. Jaffa and Cassiopeia are the central figures in one of the most famous of ancient Greek myths. Cassiopeia, according to one of the many versions, proclaimed her beauty to be greater than that of the Nereids, the daughters of the sea god, Nereus, and the consorts of the sea god, Poseidon. The Nereids’ complaint prompted Poseidon to send a sea monster to ravage the shores of Ethiopia. In desperation, Cepheus turned to the oracle of Delphi for help. The only way to placate the sea god, the oracle proclaimed, was to tie his and Cassiopeia’s beautiful daughter Andromeda to the rocks in front of the harbor of Jaffa as an offering to the monster.
Accepting this as her fate, Andromeda was chained, naked, to the rocks off the coast. Before any harm befell her, Perseus caught sight of her while flying, on his winged horse Pegasus, above the city on his return from slaughtering the gorgon Medusa. He quickly approached Cassiopeia and Cepheus and struck a deal with them: if he slayed the sea monster before it killed Andromeda, they would give him her hand in marriage. Perseus defeated the monster and returned to Ethiopia with Andromeda to plan the wedding. However, the princess had been betrothed to her uncle Phineus, who asserted his right to marry Andromeda.
A battle ensued. Cepheus and Cassiopeia sided with Phineus. Outnumbered, Perseus understood that he had no choice but to slay his challengers and used Medusa’s head to do so. Following their deaths, Poseidon placed Cepheus and Cassiopeia among the stars, hanging Cassiopeia upside down as punishment for her vanity.
Perseus then wed Andromeda. Their seven children became the rulers of Mycenae. One of their descendants was the Greek hero Hercules.
There are countless versions of this legend. It has inspired many works of art over the ages, and a number of movies, as well as speculation over which of the many large rocks at the entrance to Jaffa harbor was Andromeda’s rock.

Jaffa well-house, 1920s (Library of Congress, Matson Collection)

Peter’s Vision
After Alexander’s death, his generals split the huge empire he had created. Jaffa became part of the inheritance of Ptolemy and the Ptolemaic empire that he founded in Alexandria. The next two centuries were rife with battles between the Ptolemaic empire centered in Egypt and the Seleucid Empire based in Syria. The latter eventually gained control over Palestine. In the second century BCE, the Seleucids weakened and succumbed to the growing power of Rome, enabling the Jewish Hasmonean kingdom to develop as an independent entity. At the time, Jaffa was an affluent Greek port city and its people did not view these developments favorably. Both the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius and the Book of Maccabees recount that Jaffa’s Jewish population was massacred by its Greek neighbors. In retaliation, Judah Maccabee attacked the city in 160 BCE, but was not able to gain control of it. Thirteen years later, Judah’s brother Jonathan launched another attempt to capture the city. The frightened population opened the city gates to the Jewish forces, but again the Hasmoneans did not manage to remain in control of Jaffa. Finally in 143 BCE, Simon, the third of the Maccabee brothers, captured Jaffa and turned it into the Hasmonean kingdom’s outlet to the sea.
Jaffa remained in Jewish hands for 106 years, until 37 BCE, when Pompey and the legions of Rome conquered it. A large Jewish community of seafarers and merchants remained in the city after the conquest.
A Talmudic tale relates that during the reign of Herod the Great, in the first century BCE, Nicanor, a wealthy Jew from Alexandria, had two huge copper gates made in his hometown for the Second Temple in Jerusalem and sent them there via the Jaffa port. A storm broke out while the ship carrying the gates was at sea, leading the sailors to throw one of the gates into the ocean to lighten the ship’s load. They were about to cast the second gate overboard when Nicanor stepped between the sailors and the gate, insisting that they throw him into the water before the gate. Nicanor’s dedication was rewarded by the immediate abatement of the storm. Furthermore, when the ship docked in Jaffa, the discarded gate miraculously washed up on the shore.
This story, which inspired the name of Jaffa’s The Gates of Nicanor Street, may have some basis in reality. According to Josephus and the Talmud, the outer gate of the Second Temple was known as the Gate of Nicanor. In 1902, a sarcophagus was discovered in Jerusalem with the inscription: “The remains of the children of Nicanor of Alexandria who made the gates.”
Christian sources also mention Jaffa, assigning it a key role in the development of Christianity. The Book of Jonah inspired the concept of the “sign of Jonah,” a sign that Jesus gave in Jerusalem as testimony to his divine mission. Furthermore, just as the biblical prophet Jonah passed through Jaffa, the Christian apostle Simon, the son of Jonah who became known as Peter, visited Jaffa. The New Testament relates that the faithful invited Peter to Jaffa after Tabitha, a god-fearing young girl, died. Peter entered her chamber, asked the mourners gathered there to leave, and “kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive. And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:40-42).
Peter “tarried many days” (Acts 9:43) in Jaffa, staying at the home of another Simon, Simon the Tanner. There are a variety of traditions about where exactly in Jaffa Simon’s house was located; the Armenian church believes it was on the street in the Old City today known as Simon the Tanner Street, Catholics believe it was where St. Peter’s Church stands today, and the Russian-Orthodox church believes it was in the Orthodox church of Saint Peter near Jaffa in Abu Kabir.
While in Jaffa, messengers arrived from a Roman officer stationed at Caesarea, inviting Peter to visit him. The Roman officer, Cornelius, a god-fearing man, had a vision telling him to summon Peter. At that time, however, Jews did not stay in non-Jews’ homes because of the dietary laws, which created a dilemma for Peter over whether to accept the invitation. The Book of Acts describes the vision that shaped his decision: “Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending upon him, as if it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of four footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time. What God hath cleansed, call not common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven” (Acts 10:9-16). The message was clear and Peter made his way to Cornelius’ house. This opened the doors for non-Jews to join the church.
The Christian era came to an end in Jaffa in 638 CE, with the Muslim conquest. The new regime established a new regional capital in Ramle and Jaffa’s proximity to Ramle made it a significant port. However, when the power of the Muslim Umayyad dynasty waned and the Abbasid dynasty arose in its stead, the new rulers moved the main capital of the Islamic world from Damascus to Baghdad, turning Palestine and its surroundings into a remote province of the empire.

Jaffa orange orchards and packing houses, 1920s (Library of Congress, Matson Collection)

Crusaders, Mamelukes, and Turks
In the spring of 1099 CE, the knights of the First Crusade advanced along the coastal plain on their campaign to wrest Jerusalem and the holy land from the Muslims. After capturing Caesarea, the Crusaders turned inland and camped near Ramle, inspiring fear in the Muslim population. The residents of Ramle and Jaffa fled and a small Crusader garrison occupied the cities to control the route linking Jerusalem to the sea.
The first Crusader kingdom lasted for 88 years, until the fateful battle in 1187 at the Horns of Hattin, where Saladin defeated and destroyed the Crusader army.
A third crusade, led by Richard the Lionheart, king of England, and Philip II, king of France, set out from Europe to recapture Jerusalem from the Muslims. The Crusaders managed to regain a foothold along the coast and take Jaffa, but failed to gain control of Jerusalem. The capital of the new Crusader kingdom was set up in Acre instead.
Richard had left his brother John to rule in his stead while he led the Third Crusade. However, when word of his brother’s misconduct reached him, he prepared to return to England. He met with Saladin in Ramle to sign a peace treaty that delineated the borders of the second Crusader kingdom. Jaffa became the southernmost town of the new kingdom and was reinforced with massive walls and fortifications. Archaeologists have discovered inscriptions in Jaffa that report on the fortifications set up by German emperor Fredrick II. Louis IX of France also contributed fortifications, as well as churches and monasteries.
The days of the second Crusader kingdom were numbered. After Baybars led his fellow Mamelukes, a caste of Egyptian warrior slaves, to victory over the Mongol hordes in the Harod Valley in 1260, he became the new sultan of the Mamluke Empire. Baybars focused his attentions on eliminating the Crusader kingdom. Jaffa fell in 1268. The Christian population of the town was massacred and Jaffa was razed to the ground. All that remained was a small, sparsely populated village on the hill overlooking the small anchorage between the rocks.
The Mamelukes systematically destroyed the cities along the coast so that the Crusaders would not be able to use them as a beachhead. In 1516, when the Ottoman army passed through Jaffa on the way to capturing Egypt, it was reported that the city was unoccupied. The few Christian pilgrims who landed in Jaffa on their way to Jerusalem in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, described the place as a ruin with one or two guard towers and caves in which pilgrims used to huddle in fear, while waiting for a caravan to take them to Jerusalem.
In the eighteenth century, the number of pilgrims arriving in Jaffa grew steadily as did the frequency of Christian pirate raids on the coastal plain. The Ottoman authorities responded by fortifying some of the coastal settlements. In 1703, they built two large towers at the entrance of the Jaffa harbor and garrisoned Ottoman soldiers in it. The improved security measures brought an influx of new settlers to the area. By 1763, Jaffa could boast 400 houses. This growth attracted the attention of Galilee strongman, Daher el-Omar, who occupied the city in 1773. Two years later, the Ottoman governor of Egypt, Muhammad Bey Abu Dhahab, besieged Jaffa and massacred its population.

Jaffa street and harbor scenes, 1930s (Library of Congress, Matson Collection)

The Modern Era
In February 1799, after conquering Egypt, Napoleon Bonaparte set his sights on the holy land. His forces crossed the Sinai Peninsula, seized control of Ramle, and on March 3, 1799, set up camp in front of the walls of Jaffa. Three days later, the French army launched its attack on the city. At 4 p.m., Napoleon’s soldiers breached the wall and stormed into Jaffa, where the local garrison engaged them in a fierce battle. Fighting raged from house to house, claiming the lives of hundreds of Ottoman troops. After the battle ceased, the French massacred the surviving inhabitants.
The next day, an epidemic of Bubonic plague broke out in Jaffa, infecting some of the French troops. Napoleon left the wounded and sick soldiers behind in the Armenian monastery in Jaffa and continued his march northward to Acre. Even though Napoleon successfully fought some of his most dazzling battles in the following weeks, Jazzar Pasha, the octogenarian Ottoman governor of Acre, with the aid of the British fleet, stemmed Napoleon’s tide of success. Napoleon was forced to retreat to Egypt. When he passed through Jaffa in the midst of the retreat, he ordered that the wounded and sick soldiers there be poisoned. What happened next is unclear. The French military surgeon allegedly refused to follow his orders and so an Ottoman doctor who had been taken prisoner was entrusted with the gruesome task, which he probably did not carry out. British troops, fighting alongside the Ottoman Turks, who arrived in Jaffa a few days after Napoleon took flight, reported finding the wounded and sick still alive.
After Napoleon’s retreat, the new Turkish governor, Abu Marek, began rebuilding Jaffa. In 1807, Muhammud Abu Nabut was appointed to replace him. Cruel and ruthless, he not only rebuilt the city walls, but also added new wharfs to the harbor, a fort and fortifications, and Jaffa’s main mosque, the Mahmudiya, named in his honor. Nabut’s term in office lasted 11 years, until 1818, and he brought stability, security, and prosperity to Jaffa. The number of vessels calling at the harbor grew annually, together with the number of pilgrims and volume of cargo landing at the port.
In 1831, the ambitious governor of Egypt, Muhammad Ali, and his son, Ibrahim Pasha, seized control of Palestine. He settled families from Egypt in a series of agricultural communities around Jaffa and invited Jews from Turkey and North Africa to settle in Jaffa.
With English assistance, the Turks managed to evict the renegade governor in 1840. However, British aid came with a price; the Ottoman sultan was forced to open his territory to foreign influences. Jaffa subsequently became a center of activity for European powers, the main port of Palestine. With the discovery that the local thick-peeled orange has a long shelf life and can easily be exported, Jaffa turned into a booming center of expanding citrus groves, packing centers, and export warehouses dedicated to the world-famous Jaffa orange.
The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 brought about another surge in shipping traffic to the Jaffa Port. In 1892, the railroad between Jaffa and Jerusalem began operating. Jaffa became the economic heart of Palestine and home to an expanding business community and a modern intelligentsia.
Economic prosperity aided the development of new neighborhoods outside the Old City walls. Ajami and Jabaliya rose to the south, Manshiye to the north, and Nuzha and Salame to the east. In the 1870s and 1880s, the walls of the Old City were demolished to accommodate the expanding population and enable additional construction.
The growing prosperity of Jaffa attracted new populations to the town: Christians from Lebanon and Malta; Muslims from Syria and Egypt; Jews from Europe, who were part of the first wave of immigration inspired by modern Zionism, together with Jews from North Africa; and various Christian European organizations that established churches, hospitals, and schools.
In the early 1850s, several Christian families from Germany and the United States founded a small settlement northeast of Jaffa, naming it Mount Hope. An American group from Philadelphia, led by Clorinda Minor, joined them. The members included Johann Adolf Grosssteinbeck, the grandfather of author John Steinbeck. In 1858, Arabs attacked the settlement, murdering the men, raping the women, and burning the buildings. In 1866, another group of Christian Americans followed the charismatic preacher George Jones Adams to the holy land, purchased property near Jaffa, and attempted to establish an agricultural community. This attempt too was unsuccessful and the group sold its land to the Templers, a group of German Christians who founded a series of successful agricultural settlements across the country that flourished until the British expelled the Templers, at the outbreak of World War II.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Jaffa become the center of Zionist settlement activities in Palestine. Hovevei Zion, B’nai B’rith, and the Zionist Organization all opened offices in Jaffa. The first Hebrew secondary school, the Herzliya Gymnasium, was established in 1905, the same year that the future mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff, established the Geulah Company to purchase real estate. In 1908, Arthur Ruppin opened the Zionist Organization’s Palestine Office on Jaffa’s main street. Earlier, in 1887, Jews from Jaffa built the first Jewish neighborhood outside the walls of the Old City, Neve Tzedek. Dozens of new Jewish communities followed. In 1909, the neighborhood of Ahuzzat Bayit was established; it eventually became Tel Aviv.

Jamal Pasha Boulevard, 1920s (Library of Congress, Matson Collection)

The Twentieth Century
On the eve of World War I, the Ottoman authorities appointed Hassan Bek governor of Jaffa. He led the efforts to transform Jaffa into a modern western city. Old alleyways were expanded and new roads constructed. The Jamal Pasha Boulevard was built together with a new mosque in the Manshiye neighborhood. When the war began, Bek expelled all Jaffa residents who were citizens of enemy states, including many Russian Jews.
The British captured the city in 1917. Under their stewardship, Jaffa became the largest Arab city in Palestine and the center of the Palestinian national movement. Its population grew from 32,000 on the eve of World War I to over 100,000 on the eve of the Israeli War of Independence in 1948. Meanwhile, the development, side by side, of a Jewish and Arab national movement, both with aspirations to the twice promised land, caused relations between Arabs, Jews, and British to deteriorate. The Arab riots in 1921 and 1929, in which many Jews were killed, led many of Jaffa’s Jewish residents to move to the new Jewish community of Tel Aviv. The riots ultimately brought about an official separation of Tel Aviv from Jaffa and its recognition as an independent municipal entity.
Tensions escalated further into the Arab revolt that began in 1936 and changed the face of both Jaffa and Tel Aviv. Striking Arab workers temporarily shut down the Jaffa Port, inspiring the Jews of Tel Aviv to build a new port of their own. In an attempt to bring the revolt to an end, the British bulldozed wide corridors through the narrow, old alleys in the heart of Jaffa’s Old City, so armored cars could access the innermost hideaways of the leaders of the revolt.
In 1947, the British turned the issue of the Palestine Mandate over to the United Nations. On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly voted to accept the United Nations’ Partition Plan for Palestine, which recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states and a special international regime in the city of Jerusalem. Jaffa was to become an Arab enclave inside the Jewish state.
As hostilities between Jews and Arabs grew in late 1947, sniper attacks and gunfire intensified along the outskirts of the neighborhoods between Jaffa and Tel Aviv. The British tried to manage the conflict by erecting barricades manned with armed guards between the two cities, but to no avail.
In January 1948, the Lehi underground group, known in English as the Stern Gang, blew up the Saraya building, the Arab administrative headquarters in Jaffa. The blast claimed 21 lives. In April 1948, the Irgun (IZL), another Jewish underground group, set out to take over Manshiye, Jaffa’s northernmost neighborhood. The British intervened to prevent Jaffa from falling into Jewish hands. Even with British protection, Jaffa’s Arab residents feared for their safety. The ensuing weeks saw a mass exodus from Jaffa: by land to Ramle and Jerusalem, and by sea to Gaza and Lebanon.
On May 13, two days before the establishment of the State of Israel, the remaining leadership of Jaffa surrendered the city. The 3,600 remaining Arabs were concentrated in Ajami.
Following the establishment of the State of Israel, Jaffa filled with Jewish immigrants and its harbor became a major entry port for the hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants pouring into the country from Europe and the Arab world.

In 1950, Jaffa was officially reunited with Tel Aviv. A large part of the Old City was destroyed together with the entire Manshiye neighborhood. When a modern, new port opened in Ashdod, the old Jaffa port became redundant and only a handful of fishermen continued to use it.
In 1961, the Old Jaffa Development Corporation was established to renovate the Old City and turn it into an artists’ colony. Jaffa soon filled with galleries, nightclubs, restaurants, and souvenir shops. But as the years passed, the artists aged and demanded that the nightclubs close and the tourists stop disturbing the tranquility of the alleys under their studios. Entertainment moved to Tel Aviv, leaving Jaffa to deteriorate into poverty.
When Ron Huldai was elected mayor of Tel Aviv in 1998, he decided to make the development and restoration of Jaffa a priority, establishing the Governance of Jaffa to plan and implement the process.
In recent years, Jaffa has been changing. Like many old cities around the world, development of the inner core of the city attracts a more affluent population and causes real-estate prices to rise, making it difficult for the existing population to afford to live there. This process of gentrification is also happening, on a large scale, in Jaffa. Since the new affluent population is largely Jewish, while the existing population is predominantly Arab, political issues are added to the socioeconomic friction.
Jaffa remains one of the most fascinating places in Israel. Even though many of its ancient buildings have been destroyed, there is still much to be seen. The city has a long history, a myriad of architectural styles, and a wealth of trendy places to shop, eat, and barter while gaining new insight into the entwined history of the two peoples residing in this land.

תל מגידו

 המשלחות והחופרים

שער הברונזה


הארמון המזרחי

האורוות‭ ‬הדרומיות

עלייתו‭ ‬ונפילתו‭ ‬של‭ ‬המלך‭ ‬הצדיק

Body Language

Painting her mother’s Auschwitz tattooed identification number turned artist Rachel Nemesh’s work into a voyage of self-acceptance as a Second-Generation Holocaust survivor and an emotional deepening of relations between mother and daughter. The results of this voyage can be seen in the exhibition As One, at the Israeli Art Gallery in the Memorial Center in Kiryat Tivon

Assaf Kugler

Rachel Nemesh’s website contains all the usual categories: About; Pictures – with pictures of her work; Jewelry – displaying the results of years of her work before she became a painter; Contact us; and the Testimony of Katia Nemesh. This last category exhibits the photographed testimony with the photos that were transformed into drawings of Nemesh’s mother, Katia, a Holocaust survivor, recounting her experiences during the Holocaust. This surprising twining of professional site and personal family history, of testimony and memory, loss and regeneration, creativity, and mother and daughter relationship embedded in the website, come to their fulfillment in the exhibition “As One” recently opened in the Kiryat Tivon Israeli Art Gallery. The tattooed Auschwitz identification number on her mother’s hand appears again and again in the mother and daughter portraits.

I belong to the second generation of Holocaust survivors, and this defines me and has defined me for my entire life. It characterizes my behavior, my relations with others, with my mother, with my children—even my relation to art.

Rachel Nemesh was born to Katia and Dov, in Kiryat Tivon, a small town overlooking the Jezreel Valley. “I grew up on “the Hungarian Street,” where many of the olim from Transylvania and Hungary had settled. After finishing high school, I studied photography and took art classes at the Avni Institute of Art and Design in Tel Aviv, in plastic arts. Thirty years ago, I abandoned the field of plastic arts and opened a jewelry studio.
Eight years ago, Nemesh closed her studio and began to study painting with Eli Shamir. “From that day, I knew that I had to dedicate my life to painting.” Five years ago, she decided to paint a portrait of her mother. The painting would be the beginning of the current exhibition with profound realism in oil paintings portraying art that ties the two issues of Second-Generation Holocaust survivors, and the feminist look of the mother-daughter relationship.

The idea of turning the paintings into an exhibition about her mother was born after a visit by curator Michal Shachnai Ya’akobi. Shachnai was so impressed by the big oil paintings and immediately asked when a presentation could be ready.
The exhibition opened four years later, on March 5, 2020, and after just a week closed because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Nemesh’s mother, the central object of the exhibition, was locked down in her room in the old age home in Kiryat Tivon.

Katia Nemesh was born in Dej, (today in Romania). Her very religious parents owned a large textile shop. Most of the family, except Katia and one uncle, died in Auschwitz. She was released after the Death March from Bergen-Belsen, a very sick Musselman on the verge of death, and wandered about the streets begging for alms. Six months later, after recovering slightly, she decided to return to her hometown, Dej. There were no acquaintances left. The ransacked house of her well off family was full of holes and pits dug by the townsfolk looking for buried treasures. After meeting Dov, Rachel’s father, the two decided to make Aliyah. Their ship was caught by the British, and they landed in the Cyprus detention camps. Following the creation of the State of Israel, they settled with other olim from Transylvania in Kiryat Tivon.
In her youth, Katia had studied languages with a private teacher. She had been accepted for medical studies in the university, but the war put a stop to all that. In the camps in Cyprus, she began to study languages, and after making Aliyah finished her master’s degree in English and additional studies at Oxford University, England. Back in Kiryat Tivon, she became the town’s legendary English teacher.
“Through her room that appears in the paintings, we can learn about her,” says Nemesh. “The utensils, the Hungarian embroidered runners, the neatly organized furniture, the portrait of a rabbi hanging on the wall, the books she loves, and the dictionaries attesting to her love of languages. She is very well educated and loves to read. The place where a person lives, his room and surroundings, reveal much about his personality.”
The exhibition shows two different characteristics of Nemesh’s mother. One part of the display shows the burden of old age on a woman secluded in her room, the other part exhibits large paintings that have an almost majestic feel, with the commanding figure of the mother looking down at the viewer. “For me, she is larger than life; she is a heroine with a strong will to survive, and at the same time, a small woman in an old age home. It is the story of each one of us – in the end, we are alone.”

When I started to talk about this with others, I opened up, created a place for memories, a place to embed the stories of our parents, of my mother. Slowly I noticed that I began to remember things she told me

In many of the paintings, the tattooed number appears in its actual place on Katia’s hand. However, in some of the pictures, it appears on Rachel’s body, or on an eagle, hovering over her mother, as if it is the wandering symbol of the story that they both share.
“I belong to the second generation of Holocaust survivors, and this defines me and has defined me for my entire life. It characterizes my behavior, my relations with others, with my mother, with my children—even my relation to art. I have never documented anything, never made an effort to finish things – until I realized that this was a kind of survival technique; We always have to move on, to continue on our journey. Because we are constantly on the move, keeping things, memories, relations, is a kind of luxury.”
Creating the exhibition allowed Nemesh to feel more comfortable with herself. She even joined a support group of second-generation survivors – something that she had never wanted to do before.
“When I started to talk about this with others, I opened up, created a place for memories, a place to embed the stories of our parents, of my mother. Slowly I noticed that I began to remember things she told me. Where she was during the war, what she did. Small details. My mother also noticed that I suddenly began to remember.
The paintings opened an opportunity for intimate work with the mother, even nude photographs, as a base for a portrait.
“The nude photos were taken by my husband Sharon, on his cellphone. I sat my mother down on our striped living room striped sofa, but nothing was staged. Going over the photos later, I could recognize the history of art, famous scenes such as La Pieta, or the resurrection. During the session, I felt something intimate that was not there before, that I never had with her. Something real. I realized that all my mother ever wanted was another hug from her mother, whom she had last seen in the line at Auschwitz.”
The meeting of Katia with her exhibition images was not comfortable. “It seemed as if she had to come out of hiding. But, at the opening event, she was honored and respected, and this made her feel good.”

The exhibition has now reopened at the Israeli Art Gallery, in Kiryat Tivon.
Sunday, Tuesday, 09.00-12.00
Thursdays between 10.00-18.00
Tel. 04-9835506.
As One, Rachel Nemesh.
Curator Michal Shachnai Ya’akobi.
Israeli Art Gallery, Kiryat Tivon

My English Teacher

Above, from right: Emil Kohl, Katia Nemesh, Hanna Kohl, Lutsi Diamenstein – a whiff of Europe in the Jezreel Valley

The old photo of the three women and a man, sitting together in Kiryat Tivon, was taken during the years of austerity in the 1950s. Katia, Koti to her Hungarian friends, is on the right of my mother, Hanna Kohl, and Lutsi Diamenstein is to her left. The man on the far right is my late father, Emil Kohl.
Avgar Admati, a childhood friend of mine, describes how she loved Katia Nemesh, our English teacher, and how, at the same time, she was afraid of her. “She had a kind of respectful quiet that awed us. A powerful gaze and voice that motivated us to study. Katia, like my mother, loved languages – European languages that could take them to another place, away and over the sea.
They had gone through a lot, something that we will never be able to imagine. But, Katia, like my mother, needed to instill in us – the young generation growing up in the new country, a love for the things that they had left behind – far away from this harsh and dry land. They wanted to open for us that window on culture, art, and literature of a world that for them was gone forever.

Dita Kohl

Embroidered Life

The Ori Ansbacher chuppah at a wedding ceremony (Courtesy of Noa Ansbacher)

From the orchards of Hadera to Judaica in Naharia: artist Adina Gatt celebrates her eightieth birthday in these unusual times

Arbel Weinberg, Photos courtesy of Adina Gatt

You may have come across some of Adina Gatt’s unique work in your everyday Jewish life; at the “Young Israel” synagogue in century city, Los Angeles; in the “Adat Israel” synagogue in D.C., in the “Yamin Moshe” temple in Jerusalem, or the “Hovevei Tzion” synagogue, in Chicago. Perhaps you were married under one of her exquisite chuppas or prayed with an embroidered tallit. Now, nearing eighty, Adina Gatt decided to wrap up her life’s work, and close the Ephod Art Embroidery studio in Naharia, Israel.

Saying goodby to thirty-eight years of a labor of love is not easy. The current COVID-19 crisis makes it even harder. But in the Ephod studio in Naharia, it seems that Gatt is more concerned with finding the right color combination for a commissioned Torah mantle than pandemics. 

“It started after my father, Abraham Replanski, passed away,” she tells us. “I was already in the textile art business with my partner, Yael Shilo, but we were not creating Judaica. My mother wanted to commemorate my father by donating a new parochet – the curtain that covers the Torah Ark, to his synagogue. She was planning on ordering one from Bnei Bark. I asked her to let me make it in his honor. He was a wonderful father, an entrepreneur, a bit naïve, but a man of great compassion. My mother was surprised but happy. We embroidered the verse “Sing the Lord a new song,” from the book of Psalms on the curtain. I felt as if I was giving birth to something new. Later, my mother told me that she had gone ahead and ordered the one from Bnei Brak. She wasn’t sure we would make it on time.”

An Israeli Tapestry

Gatt was born in September 1940, in a tiny house in Hadera –at the time a small farming town, surrounded by citrus orchards. She had two older brothers and one younger one. Her parents – Fania and Abraham, had made Aliya in the early 1930s. The Replansky home was soaked with tradition and religion, intertwined with Zionism and influenced by the landscapes of a new homeland and the many different people around them. Abraham’s father, who lived with the family, was a Slonim Hassid. Synagogue liturgy and biblical verse, along with the pioneering agricultural spirit, created a new multicolored Israel tapestry. When she was almost 13, Gatt was sent to study at the Nahalal Agricultural School. At the age of 18, she joined a new semi-military Nahal agricultural settlement, and from there to Kibbutz Revivim in the Negev. It was a pioneering lifestyle, far from being religious or artistic. But the seeds sown in the fertile groves of Hadera bloomed in Revivim. “When you entered my home in the kibbutz, the first thing you saw was a portrait of Ben Gurion,” Gatt tells us. “His words, ‘Golden youth go to the Negev,’ were for us the eleventh commandment.” 

Adina married Alon Gatt (Weinberg) and had a boy and a girl – Carmel And Sharon – and then said goodby to the Kibbutz. “When Carmel was born, I put him in the Kibbutz children’s home. That was the norm. For me, it was a terrible year. After Sharon, I knew I could not do it again.” So the young family left the Negev and settled in Naharia, in Western Galilee, a peaceful resort town on the Mediterranean, not too far from the Lebanese border. “My father had worked in construction in the area and was familiar with the town. He bought a plot of land in one of the outlying neighborhoods, surrounded by agricultural fields and open spaces. Buying real estate was very cheap back then.”

Her two other children, Yarden and Hadar, were born in Naharia, and that is where she met the artist Yael Shilo, who introduced her to the world of textile art. “I used to host art exhibitions at our home,” she muses. “Naharia had no art gallery, and I brought artists like Inus, Nahum Guttman, Ester Peretz Arad, Mario Doretti, and others to exhibit in our house. Yael Shilo came to one of the exhibitions and asked me if I would arrange an exhibition for her. I saw her work, loved it, and we joined forces.” They worked together for two years before they created their first parochet. During those two years, Gatt and Alon parted ways. Shilo created intricate wall hangings, and the two branched out to other fields. “We created embroidered fashion; vests, shirts, and espadrilles. But the way that the first parochet was received made us concentrate our efforts on Judaica. For me, it was a calling.” 

A new Song

Ceremonial art was one of the first forms of art in Judaism. The bible dedicates seven chapters to the divine manual on how to build the tabernacle; structures, materials, tools, decorations. God even handpicked the artist to make it; “Then the Lord said to Moses, see, I have chosen Bezalel, son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills to make artistic designs in gold, silver, and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts” (Exodus 31). In the early days of Jewish resettlement in the land of Israel, the founding artists of the Bezalel Art Academy in Jerusalem immersed themselves in traditional Jewish art, adapting it to represent modern art forms. “But,” says Gatt, “When we founded our textile studio, Ephod, textile Judaica was not part of this new modern art movement. The novelty represented by metal, wood, and stone was not applied to textiles. Most of the textile artifacts were clichés, blue velvets, gold lions, tablets of the law, and a few biblical verses that had been used for decades. For me, the connection to Judaism was personal, a place where each person can find the one verse that has a special personal meaning. As a Judaica entrepreneur, my own special biblical verse was the instructions given in Exodus 28:15, for making the high Priest’s breastpiece: “Fashion a breastpiece for making decisions – the work of skilled hands. Make it like the Ephod: of gold, and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen.”

Word of the unique Jewish art being created in the studio in Naharia spread to Jewish communities around the world. Soon, Gatt found herself flying to Canada and the United States, sending art from the studio to Vienna and Australia, Sao Paulo, and more. “The world is small, the Jewish world – even smaller. One client led to another, each congregation to a new community. 

When Shilo left Ephod, Gatt moved the studio to her home, but it remained a hive of activity with women from around Israel taking part in the work; stitching, embroidering, ironing, and drawing. “It is very emotional creating these unique pieces, each one dedicated to a single person. To formulate the design, I search the bible to find the exact fitting verse.” One such piece, a chuppah, created not long ago, was made in honor of Ori Ansbacher, a 19-year-old girl who was murdered in Jerusalem. The brutality of the murder and the radiant personality of Ori resonated throughout the country. “Rabbi Bat-Sheva Sadan called for women around the world to embroider a square in Ori’s memory. We received around 5,000 embroidered squares, in a myriad of materials and colors, each one telling a unique story. We chose 144 of the squares and sewed them together to create a beautiful huppah embroidered with a verse from the book of Isiah: ‘Arise and shine (Ori), your light has come,’ with a poem Ori wrote embroidered on the rim.”

 Ephod’s creations are an integral part of many family and community events, sad and joyous. “A huppah I made for a certain family, a long time ago, has already seen three generations of children married under it. For each wedding, the names of the newlyweds are added on the fringes.” 

As she approaches eighty, Gatt is planning to close the studio. However, her work is here to stay with a new song every day.

White and Blue Beauties


Waterlilies blooming in pools and other sources of sweet water is one of the coolest and most beautiful summer sights, one that can be seen at decorative artificial pools throughout Israel today. Most of these flowers, however, are relatively new arrivals. The two waterlilies indigenous to the land of Israel – the white waterlily (nymphaea lavana in Hebrew and Nymphaea alba in Latin) and the blue waterlily (nymphaea tehola in Hebrew and Nymphaea caerulea in Latin) – only grow in a few places and are in danger of extinction.

The two waterlilies indigenous to the land of Israel – the white waterlily (nymphaea lavana in Hebrew and Nymphaea alba in Latin) and the blue waterlily (nymphaea tehola in Hebrew and Nymphaea caerulea in Latin) – only grow in a few places and are in danger of extinction. The blue waterlily can be seen in the nature reserves at En Afek and by the sources of the Yarkon River, while its white sister grows in the Hula Nature Reserve. They also are part of the collection at the botanical gardens at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University.

Waterlily is the common name used to refer to the spectacular flowers in the nymphaea genus, which includes 46 different species. The name nymphaea was inspired by the nymphs of Greek mythology: the beautiful, elusive creatures that lived among the trees and springs. In addition to its association with the divine, the waterlily was used for healing, decoration, and dye in the ancient world. Images of it appear in ancient decorations and mosaics.

The waterlily attaches to the floor of a pool or fresh water source that usually is not more than 1.5 meters deep. It grows upward, sending out branches with broad leaves that float on the surface of the water alongside beautiful flowers.

Many species from this stunning genus have been cultivated and have become popular adornments for artificial pools and fountains in gardens in cities throughout Israel, such as the pool on the eastern edge of Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. Yet the two species indigenous to Israel have basically disappeared from the Israeli landscape as coastal water sources and rivers succumb to pollution and development. Another difficulty is the coypu (nutria), which was brought to the Hula Valley in the 1950s in the hope of developing a fur industry. The effort to raise them commercially failed, but these large rodents succeeded to escape from the farms, adapt to their new surroundings, and multiply on their own. The coypu’s favorite foods include waterlily roots and branches and the growing coypu population quickly decimated the struggling waterlily population.

Luckily, some waterlilies had been collected for the botanical garden at Tel Aviv University and cultivated there. As part of efforts to develop nature reserves, waterlilies raised in the botanical garden were returned to the wild in the reserves at the Hula, En Afek, and source of the Yarkon River. Protective cages even were built around them to prevent coypus from devouring them.

One more indigenous plant worth mentioning is the yellow or brandy-bottle waterlily (hanofar hasahov in Hebrew and Nuphar lutea in Latin). It is not a member of the nymphaea genus, but of the closely related nuphar genus; both are part of the larger Nymphaeaceae family. Its yellow, ball-like flowers are much smaller than those of the nymphaea genus and like its cousins, the blue and white waterlily, it too is at risk of extinction due to the disappearance of natural water sources and pools. Both nymphaea and nuphar are competitive plants that do not let other plants flourish underneath their leaves. Yet they both also have great ecological significance: the shade that their leaves creates lowers the temperature in the water beneath them, enables the water to absorb more oxygen, and prevents different types of algae from growing. They also create a friendly habitat for a wealth of small fauna, which in turn attract larger animals and thus enrich the biological diversity of the aquatic environment. Owners of ornamental pools will be happy to know that these fauna include goldfish, which usually do not succeed to survive and reproduce in exposed pools, but often thrive under the canopy that waterlily leaves form.

The Grand Finale

Har Zefahot overlooking the Gulf of Eilat

There are many reasons to hike the Israel Trail from north to south. The most convincing may be the dramatic experience of concluding the hike with the segment of the trail that runs through the Nahal Netafim Riverbed and the Nahal Gishron Riverbed. Below is a two-day hike through this segment, with a few changes and additions that I hope even purists will appreciate

For those not hiking the entire Israel Trail at once and camping out alongside it, the first day of this two-day hike starts by traveling from Eilat to the Nahal Netafim Riverbed. A dirt road with black trail markings that is navigable for cars and buses leads toward the starting point. Drive along this road until the campsite at the point where the black trail meets the green trail that ascends Nahal Netafim. Ascend the green route until the large parking sign. Vehicles with front-wheel drive can continue for another 300 meters or so.

The hike itself begins here, where the riverbed starts carving into the black granite. Some lovely examples of the toothbrush tree (Salvadora persica in Latin and salvadora parsit in Hebrew) grow in the riverbed. Further along is a large concentration of fig capers (Capparis inermis Forssk or Capparis sinaica in Latin and zalaf sehusi in Hebrew) that managed to survive the floods that sweep down the riverbed from time to time. (Please note that this riverbed should not be entered when there is a flood warning.) The green trail advances along the riverbed, which becomes a narrow canyon flanked by upright walls. Metal handles were installed at several tricky spots to make them easier for hikers. After about an hour of walking in the riverbed, the green trail meets the Israel Trail, which descends into the riverbed via a broad, steep channel (that has both Israel Trail and black trail markings). The Israel Trail joins the green trail on the bank of Nahal Netafim at a point where the riverbed is still a canyon but is broadening. The trail advances toward the foot of a steep slope on the northern bank. The large acacia tree at the bottom of the slope is a great place to rest, refuel, and contemplate the next part of the hike.

One option is to continue from here by following the black-marked trail up the boulder-dotted riverbed. The black trail later exits the canyon via ladders and reconnects to the Israel Trail. The other option is to follow the Israel Trail, which ascends the bank in a swift, dramatic climb to a lookout point that offers an impressive view of the Eilat mountains. About a kilometer after the viewpoint, the trails reconnect and then turns sharply to enter Nahal Netafim again. Here the riverbed carved into gleaming sandstone/limestone and its floor is dotted with rocks of stunning shapes that collapsed into it in the process. After about two kilometers, the trail reaches Ein Netafim, a tiny spring emanating at the foot of an impressive waterfall. Its water drips into a man-made trough. Its Arabic name is Ein al-Katar, which means the spring of drops or the dripping spring. Its water was first harnessed for human use during the British Mandate period when the trough was built. The trough has been destroyed more than a few times since then. Guides from the Eilat field school rehabilitated it in the 1960s and Israel Nature and Parks Authority inspectors have done so several times as well. The riverbed is named after this tiny spring, which is the only constant water source in the mountains of Eilat and attracts herds of gazelles and rock hyraxes. About a decade ago, the water of the spring was fit for human consumption, but it has since become saline, though desert animals still consume it. A handsome concentration of southern maidenhair fern (sa’arot shulamit in Hebrew and Adiantum capillus-veneris in Latin) adorns the cliff above the spring.

The ascent from the bottom of the waterfall may be one of the best reasons to hike this segment of the Israel Trail: a narrow passage through a crevice in the rock with a few metal handles to help. Anyone carrying a large backpack will have to remove it since a hiker and a backpack cannot fit through this crevice together. The most challenging part is at the top, where hikers must maneuver nimbly over a large rock in the crevice to complete the ascent.

The Netafim campsite is above the waterfall. This is a great place for those who are hiking the entire trail at once to spend the night.

The route continues to ascend a dirt road leading from the campsite to Route 12, near the ascent to Mount Yo’ash. The Israel Trail continues on the other side of Route 12. Carefully cross the parking area south of the road to reach the sign declaring that the final segment of the Israel Trail begins there. This segment runs through the Nahal Gishron Riverbed.

The massive fence along the Israeli-Egyptian border was completed several years ago as was a road running alongside it. The route of the Israel Trail, particularly the segment that descends into Nahal Gishron, changed as a result. The new route is much more beautiful than the previous one, which ran directly along the riverbed.

Two hiking trails lead out of the campsite. The trail marked in black follows the route of Derab al-Haj, the pilgrims’ route to Mecca. Despite a few ancient leopard traps near that route, this hike chooses the second option: following the Israel Trail, which continues from here along with a route that has blue trail markings. This route bypasses Mount Yo’ash, proceeding along its dramatic hogbacks from the west, and then descends to a layer of shockingly red sandstone. The route continues at the same height as if the path were carved into the red stone. It is a short walk to the Gishron Ali viewpoint, which is located slightly above the trail on the black-marked trail mentioned earlier.

The Gishron Ali viewpoint offers one of the most dramatic views in the Eilat mountains. Deep below it is the Nahal Gishron Riverbed, with the border fence and the border road winding through the narrow, black canyon in an impressive example of engineering work. Beyond it, the Sinai and Gulf of Eilat can be seen.

There are two options for how to continue from the viewpoint, depending on how much time remains until sunset. If there are at least three more hours of daylight, continue along the new route of the Israel Trail that was marked after the border fence was completed. This route descends into the riverbed and includes several challenging descents along with metal ladders as well as descending the big waterfall in Nahal Gishron.

Shortly after the waterfall, the Israel Trail continues in one direction and a red-marked trail continues in a different direction. After a short walk, the red trail joins a green trail, ascends to the northwest, passes over a small shoulder, and reaches the upper Nahal Shelomo campsite, where the first day of this hike concludes.

The second option is shorter and more interesting. It involves descending along the black-marked trail that parts ways with the Israel Trail slightly before the ascent to the viewpoint. This path descends into the stunning sandstone expanses whose stripes of red and white resemble a hug layer cake. The path descends in a broad channel and makes its way toward Route 12. However, slightly before it seems to have reached the end, it instead reaches a waterfall and handsome hogbacks that actually are the southern edge of Mount Yo’ash. Hogbacks form on sharply inclined layers of rock. The angle creates expanses that are almost vertical so that the sediments along them peel away parts of layers in the form of triangles. Tomorrow’s route passes many hogbacks.

The path descends, with the help of a series of metal handles, along a layer of stone that is almost vertical. After this descent, the trail continues toward the big curve in Route 12. This is a good place to arrange to meet cars (there is a large parking lot next to the highway) to take tired hikers to a hotel in Eilat. Another option is to continue carefully alongside the highway for 1.5 kilometers to reach the upper Nahal Shelomo campsite and spend the night there.

Day Two – Dramatic End of Trail

The Israel Trail’s final segment, from the upper Nahal Shelomo campsite to Eilat, is without a doubt one of its most beautiful. There are two options for the start of the hike. The longer option is to return from the campsite along the green path to Zafra Pass. Then continue through the water conveyor/waterworks (once hikers had to crawl to get through the narrow crevice in the rock) to the Israel Trail, which descends into Nahal Gishron. The route includes climbing a three-meter waterfall and the steep Gishron ascent.

However, the steep climb is not mandatory. Another option is to descend from the campsite on the bank of Nahal Shelomo and then to turn onto the green-marked trail in the Nahal Yehoshafat Riverbed and follow it to the blue-marked trail, which ascends to the top of the Gishron ascent.

Another option is to drive down the bank of Nahal Shelomo on the red-marked trail to the Nahal Rehav’am Riverbed and then to drive along the blue-marked trail to the roadblock before the road paved alongside the border. Part from the car and driver there and begin the hike on foot. Those who did not sleep at the campsite or who simply wish to hike only this part can reach it by car on the road ascending from Eilat through Nahal Shelomo to the big campsite at Nahal Shelomo. The road passes a camel ranch and then can be followed to the campsite and beyond it to the turnoff into Nahal Rehav’am and the roadblock.

All of the options mentioned above lead to this path, which climbs an ascent dotted with large bulblike limestone masses to the top of the Gishron ascent. This is a great spot to gaze at Nahal Gishron in all its glory as it winds down the slope below as well as the Sinai landscape. After taking in the view, walk south on the Israel Trail along a handsome spur between Nahal Rehav’am and the cliffs that descend into Nahal Gishron, the Gishron cliffs. However, before continuing forward toward the end of the Israel Trail, take a slight detour to Hill 342. An unmarked path leads to its summit. The ascent is a bit steep but worth the effort. The summit offers a panoramic view of the entire area, mainly the Rehav’am Valley with Mount Rehav’am in the middle of it, to Mount Shelomo and its brothers, which are named after the kings of Judea. Descend from the hill and continue following the Israel Trail and the black-marked trail southward. This route leads past a huge bulblike flint mass that was split in two. The quartz masses, which the bulb formed around, glitter from what was its interior. A few meters after that, the trail reaches the security road along the border. The Israel Trail continues to the other side of the road. However, before following it, those who started on the shorter route can take the time to walk along the black trail that also starts on the other side of the road. This path ascends the Gishron cliffs to an amazing lookout point over the Sinai. The path no longer continues beyond there, so hikers must retrace their steps back to the beginning by the road, but the view is worth this slight deviation from the main route.

Return to the Israel Trail, which is marked in red at this point. The path descends into the valley and starts to climb Nahal Gishron’s northern bank above a huge cliff whose layers came to rest at 70-80 degree angles some 100 meters above the riverbed’s floor. This series of hogbacks is part of the sandstone ridge separating Nahal Gishron from Nahal Zefahot. The hogbacks, which look like they were designed by an artist, adorn the cliff, with a wall that is almost vertical descending from the path above it that leads into the riverbed.

The climb ends at a spot that offers a view of the Eilat mountains. The trail then continues toward Mount Zefahot. The short segment of the Israel Trail that remains has been nicknamed the Knife Ridge Trail because it runs along the crowns of the hogbacks – it is a narrow path with deep and steep abysses on either side. The crowns of the hogbacks offer a view of the Mountains of Edom, the Gulf of Eilat, the Jordanian city of Aqaba, and the mountains in Sinai.

Once, before the border was defined and fenced, the trail descended to Nahal Gishron and ascended in a small channel dotted with bulblike limestone masses. The upper edge of the ascent as well as dozens of the round masses still can be seen today to the right of the trail.

The path now continues toward the final challenge on the Israel Trail. After an easy walk in the wide, flat Nahal Zefahot, the black trail that the Israel Trail had been following meets a green-marked trail that began at the campsite in the lower part of Nahal Shelomo. The Israel Trail continues with the green trail, which now makes a sharp right and climbs through a schist channel to reach Mount Zefahot’s summit. It is a steep climb and towards the end there is another climb before the summit, but from the top, there suddenly is a view of Gulf of Eilat and the city of Eilat, which is directly below, as well as of Aqaba on the other side of the gulf. Four countries actually can be seen from the summit: Israel below, Jordan beyond the gulf and Saudi Arabia to its south, and Egypt on the other side. To the south, the coral formations can be seen opposite the shores of Sinai.

Several trails descend from Mount Zefahot to the beach in the Gulf of Eilat. The Israel Trail markings lead along a route of natural steps that descends toward the Eilat field school. After the first section of the descent, a black-marked trail leads southward. This is a beautiful, steep, difficult route toward the diving village on the Eilat beach. Another trail, with blue markings, descends along an easier route to the traffic circle and gas station on the main road. The trail is easier, but the conclusion, in an area with construction waste and industrial ruins, is not the right way to conclude a journey along the Israel Trail. The other trail that descends from the mountain is marked in red and turns southward. This handsome stretch of trail actually was the original conclusion of the Israel Trail. Today, however, it is forbidden to hike along this trail due to its proximity to the border fence.

The Israel Trail thus ends at the fence of the Eilat field school. A large stone on which the trail colors were painted indicates its end. The sign marking the end of the trail is a few hundred meters further on inside the field school’s grounds. It is a pity that the sign was not placed at the ending point or that a handsome new sign was not placed there to symbolize for hikers that they have completed the 940-kilometer hike from the Dan to Eilat.