From ERETZ magazine – issue no. 187 – December 2023
My mother was an avid fan of Aldous Huxley. A dozen of his novels in hardcover and matching jackets stood on a library shelf in my childhood home. My mother even corresponded with Huxley in the early 1940s. I had never read any of the books; however, one name on the book-backs drew my attention: “Eyeless in Gaza.” I wondered why this English author wrote about Gaza. Eventually, I learned that the book was not about Gaza but about a young English socialite who had lost his way in life. Huxley, who was half-blind in one eye, dwelled a lot on the blindness inflicted on society by the principles of mass production and Pavlovian conditioning. The book’s title was from a verse in the drama “Samson Agonistes,” written by John Milton in 1671. Milton depicts the biblical Samson, the once-mighty warrior, as blinded and a prisoner of the Philistines (“eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves”).
The same motive appears in a 1991 collection of essays by Shulamit Har-Even. In the title essay, “Blind in Gaza,” Har-Even tells of a visit to a family in the Rimal quarter in Gaza during the Israeli occupation.
Last winter, with my wife, I set out on a trip to Kibbutz Be’eri. It was a spontaneous last-minute decision, and my niece Yarden, who lives on the Kibbutz, was absent. However, we drove along the green fields surrounding the Kibbutz, descended to the “Concrete Road” built by the British in preparation for the Second World War, visited Nakhabir – the original site of Be’eri, and continued to the memorial to the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who had fought at Gaza during the First World War. The monument is just off the security barrier around Gaza, and I felt slightly uneasy as we climbed the steps to the top of the memorial.
On October 7, my niece, her three-year-old daughter Geffen, and her husband Alon were taken hostage at Be’eri. Five terrorists forced them into a car and sped toward Gaza along the same road we had taken a few months earlier. On the way, an Israeli tank appeared, and the terrorists halted for a minute. Yarden, with Geffen in her arms, and Alon, jumped out of the vehicle and ran. The terrorists opened fire and gave chase. After a few moments, Yarden handed Geffen to Alon. “Run for your life she told him.” Yarden took shelter from the bullets behind a tree and was captured and taken to Gaza. Alon and Geffen managed to escape.
Somehow, the tragedy of that day, with thousands killed and wounded and nearly 250 taken hostage, brought me back to thinking about Samson, eyeless and chained in the Philistine temple in Gaza. Why were we so blind, shorn of our ability and strength?
Huxley’s most famous work, “Brave New World” is an Orwellian dystopian novel. However, the time has come for us to create a different New World. A world that will bring us back to the ideals that were our country’s core: social justice, innovative agriculture, education and science, and a quest for peace.
I hope that we will manage to release all the hostages and overcome the Hamas and Hezbollah. Then, we can finally put ourselves to the difficult task of regaining our vision, rebuilding, and rejuvenating our country with the ideals that gave us our strength.
My niece Yarden, the daughter of my brother Jony, was taken hostage by Hamas from Kibbutz Be’eri to Gaza on Saturday, October 7, 2023. She was an avid rock climber from an early age, well known in the small community of Israeli rock־climbing adventurers. Together with the Israel Climbers’ Association, we have put together a photo gallery of some of the climbing adventures in Israel – waiting for the day she returns to climb again
From ERETZ magazine – issue no. 187 – December 2023
My niece, Yarden Roman־Gat, was kidnapped at Kibbutz Be’eri on Saturday morning, October 7, together with her three־year־old daughter Geffen and her husband Alon. They were bundled into a small car by four terrorists that sped towards the border fence with Gaza. Near the fence, the terrorists spotted an Israeli tank and stopped for a minute. With Geffen in her arms, Yarden and Alon, in a split־second decision, jumped out of the car and began to run up a small ravine. The terrorists fired after them with automatic weapons and gave chase. After running for about 200 yards, with bullets zipping around them, Yarden handed Geffen over to Alon and told him to run as quickly as he could. Yarden took off in a different direction and took refuge from the bullets behind a tree, directing the fire and the terrorists toward her.
Alon, with Geffen, found a niche in the ground and scrambled into it, concealing their whereabouts with branches and bushes. For 12 hours, Alon and Geffen hid in their makeshift shelter with terrorists all around searching for them. The following day, Alon, with Geffen in his hands, made his way to the Kibbutz, where fighting between the terrorists and the army was still going on. Circumventing the Kibbutz, he reached the main road and the Israeli forces. The next day, Gili, Yarden’s brother, went to where she had last been seen. He scoured the area for four days with volunteers from the armed forces, including Bedouin trackers. No trace of Yarden was found. She had been retaken by her captors and taken to Gaza.
Since she was a small child, Yarden loved the outdoors. Hiking and camping trips were her favorite pastime. Above all, she loved climbing. Rocks, cliffs, boulders, climbing walls, the lot. She was a member of her hometown climbing club, won a few trophies, and scaled many of the highest cliffs in the country. She met her future husband, Alon, at one of these climbing meets. Three months after they met, Yarden and Alon set out on a trip to the United States to reach some of the better־known sport־climbing sites. After Geffen was born, adventures had to be toned down a little, but the love for the sport remained. They planned to visit Australia and New Zealand to reach well-known rock climbing sites.
Rock climbing in Israel is a young sport. However, it is gaining in popularity. In 2019, the Israel Climbers’ Association was founded to serve the approximately 15,000 climbing enthusiasts in the country. Rotem Jacobs, one of the Association’s directors, knows Yarden well. Three decades ago, the small group of cliff lovers met repeatedly in competitions, events, and on the cliffs. “In a small country like Israel,” says Jacobs, “there aren’t many authorized climbing sites. The most challenging is at Ein Prat, in the Judean Desert. Others are at Beit Ariyeh, the Timna Park in the southern Arava Valley – where the management of the park is encouraging the development of this challenging sport – sites in the Judean Mountains, in the Ramim cliff overlooking Kiryat Shemona, in the Carmel and more. One of the tasks of the Association is to add more official climbing sites around Israel.”
Timna Park is one of Israel’s most adventurous and challenging climbing sites. The Timna Valley is a horseshoe־shaped basin surrounded by high Nubian Sandstone cliffs in the southern Arava Valley. The Valley is famous for its many copper veins, one of the first places in the world where copper was mined. Archaeological excavations in the Valley have ascertained that copper mining activities started during the 5th and 6th millennia BCE and have continued throughout the ages. Dozens of copper mines and mining tunnels have been located in the Valley, with remnants of mining sites initially attributed to the Edomites and King Solomon (hence the sandstone pillars known as Solomon’s Pillars).
In Timna Park, over 85 climbing sites have been marked, 10־50meters high, encompassing all the different styles of sport climbing. The majority scale the smooth, straight sandstone cliffs; a few others scramble up single־standing boulders along the edges of the cliff face. Climbers from around Israel volunteered to help with this article, sending us information and photographs of climbing events. The Climbers’ Association is planning a climbing event, open to the public, in honor of Yarden and as part of the efforts to keep the struggle to release all the hostages foremost in the public eye.
It is difficult to pinpoint when the Dead Sea and its historic sites were forgotten, but in the Middle Ages, major effort was required to visit the Dead Sea region, whose paths were unknown and its few places of settlement difficult to reach. In the early nineteenth century, when modern geographical research began, very few dared to travel to the Dead Sea. The Ottoman Empire, which had ruled this region since the sixteenth century, was in such disarray that, in 1831, the governor of Egypt, Muhammad Ali, gained control of the Land of Israel, holding it for nine years. The Bedouin tribes that roamed the deserts of the Middle East did not accept the overlordship of either the sultan in Istanbul or the Egyptian pasha in Cairo. Even if an adventurous explorer managed to obtain a permit from the sultan to visit a faraway corner of the empire such as the Dead Sea, the Bedouins showed no regard for this official sanction. At the very least, they demanded protection and passage money – each tribe in its own territory, according to the intertribal rivalries and wars over living space, grazing rights, and water sources.
It was impossible for a foreigner, especially a European, to just venture into the deserts of the Ottoman Empire. The first European travelers who attempted to navigate these routes learned to speak Arabic, versed themselves in Moslem customs, and dressed as Arabs, recording their impressions of this unknown world only when no prying eyes could watch. Some lost their lives in the attempt to explore these forbidden lands; they were murdered, died of unfamiliar diseases, lost their way, or dehydrated in the desert sun.
The first modern traveler to circumvent the Dead Sea was a German explorer, Ulrich Jasper Seetzen. Studying medicine in Gottingen, Germany (he became a doctor in 1789), Seetzen was exposed to a new approach in geography: employing travel observations and collections of flora, fauna, and artifacts to understand the world. It was one of his classmates, Alexander von Humboldt, the founder of modern geography, who developed the concept of travel in the field as the basis for the expansion of scientific knowledge. These new ideas profoundly influenced Seetzen; around 1799, he decided to devote himself to the discovery and research of the African continent. He lined up a few sponsors and contacted a few museums, promising to send them the specimens that he intended to collect during his travels. With the financial support for his mission secured, Seetzen set out for Africa, starting with Syria, which he reached in 1804. His first stop was Aleppo, where he improved his knowledge of Arabic and Moslem customs. In April 1805, he arrived in Damascus, from where he set out on a number of fact-finding trips to the Hauran and the Jordan Rift Valley. During his travels, he presented himself as a Moslem doctor by the name of Mousa al-Hakim (Mousa the doctor).
“I let my beard grow, dressed myself in a half-Turkish, half-Arab costume, took on an Arabic name, Mousa, and equipped myself with some medicines,” he reports.
The title of his second travel diary reveals the huge scope of his early travels: Travels from Aleppo to Damascus, and from there to the Hauran, the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon, the Leja, Hermon, Golan, al-Ghor, Jabel Ajlon, el Balaka, and around the Dead Sea to Mount Hermon and Jerusalem. Seetzen collected information obsessively. He wrote down the names of all the villages along his way that he did not manage to get to, made a list of all the riverbeds around the city of Kerak, copied over 150 Greek inscriptions that he encountered along the way, compiled a list of the types of Arabian race horses, meticulously recorded the mineral composition of rocks, mentioned the names of all the animals that he saw, and gathered countless samples of flora.
On April 9, 1807, Seetzen arrived at Saint Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai. He left behind a letter written in French, hanging it on the wall of the monastery’s guestroom: an amazing catalogue of unexplored sites that Seetzen was the first European to visit. Five years later, Swiss traveler John Lewis Burkhardt, the first European to reach Petra, copied it: “U. J. Seetzen, called Mousa, a German traveller, M.D. and recorder (Assesseur) of the College of H. M. the Emperor of all the Russias in the Seigneurie of Jever in Germany, came to visit the Convent of St. Catherine, the Mountains of Horeb, Moses and St. Catherine etc.; after having traversed all the ancient Eastern provinces of Palestine, namely: Batanea, Decapolis, Gileaditis, Ammonitis, Amorrhitis, and Moabitis, as far as the frontiers of Gebelene (Idumea) and after having twice made the tour of the Dead Sea, and having crossed the desert of Arabia Petraea, between the town of Hebron and Mt. Sinai, after a sojourn of ten days he continued his journey to the town of Suez” (Burkhardt, Travels in Syria and the Holy Land, 1822).
From Suez, Seetzen continued to Cairo. In March 1809, he sailed to Jidda in the Arabian Peninsula, bent on visiting the holy cities of Islam before continuing onward to the main area of his research: Africa. However, when he arrived in Mecca, he aroused the suspicions of the imam, who had him poisoned. Seetzen died in September 1811. His journals and notes were published 50 years later. When they finally were presented to the public, it turned out that they still were the most accurate descriptions of the areas he had visited. A sketch that Seetzen made of the Dead Sea area became the base for the first modern map of the Dead Sea.
Seetzen was not only the first modern explorer to circumvent the Dead Sea, but also the first to put Masada on the map, under the name “Szebby,” which was an Arabic distortion of the name “Saba,” that is, Masada.
A decade after Seetzen’s journey, two officers from the British Royal Navy, Charles Leonard Irby and James Mangles, set out on a brief tour of Europe and the Middle East. The tour that was planned to last for a few short months turned into a fascinating four-year adventure.
Following a comprehensive visit to the antiquities of Egypt, the two set out on camels to cross the Sinai desert to reach Jaffa. From there, they traveled north along the coast to Caesarea, Haifa, Acre, and Rosh Hanikra. They toured Lebanon; visited Tripoli, Homs, Aleppo, and Damascus; traveled through the Hauran and the Golan; descended to the Hula Valley; crossed the bridge of the Daughters of Jacob; visited Banias and the Hula Lake; ascended to Safed; passed through Tiberias, Zemah, Hamat Gader, and Beit She’an; and finally recrossed the Jordan to visit Jarash and Salt in Transjordan.
In May 1818, they planned to circumvent the Dead Sea and from there travel to Petra, in accordance with the wishes of their traveling companion and sponsor, Mr. Bankes. With typical English understatement, they explain the difficulties of undertaking this voyage: “as the only two Europeans who had ever been at… Petra [Seetzen and Burkhardt] are both dead…. performed this trip alone and in disguise… and made all their observations by stealth, which necessarily rendered their remarks very brief and cursory” (Charles Leonard Irby and James Mangles, Travels in Egypt and Nubia, Syria, and Asia Minor; During the Years 1817 & 1818). They decided to set out disguised as Moslems; Irby became Abdullah and Mangles, Hassan. After many difficulties, they finally made it to Petra. The return trip was around the southern edge of the Dead Sea, which resulted in a fascinating description of the vegetation and landscape of the Dead Sea shore and the fertile Zohar Valley.
While riding back to Jerusalem, they reported on a phenomena that baffled Dead Sea experts for many decades. As they descended from Kerak to the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, they encountered a small caravan of horses and mules on their way to Jerusalem. Irby and Mangles overtook the caravan and on reaching the shore of the Dead Sea, turned south in order to ride around the southern edge and come up again on the other (western) side. As they rode up the western side, they suddenly saw, in the distance, the small caravan walking in front of them. The caravan, they reported, had crossed the sea on a shallow ford in its center. This enigmatic ford never was seen again, but inspired much speculation. If it had existed, then it would have been one of the reasons for the location of Masada. This short cut across the Dead Sea is exactly opposite, and in full sight of, the fortress. It would have been the shortest route between the oasis of Ein Gedi along the western shores of the sea and the fertile plains around Kerak on the other side of the sea and the shortest route from Jerusalem to the Nabatean Kingdom.
Seventeen years passed before the next chapter in the rediscovery of the Dead Sea area: the sad sojourn on the sea of Christopher Costigan, who set out in a small boat with a Maltese servant to sail on the Dead Sea. The 25-year-old Irishman decided to sail down the Jordan River from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea and continue to sail around its coast. Costigan bought a boat in Beirut, transferred it to Acre, and then transported it on camelback to the Sea of Galilee. He arrived there at the height of summer, in July 1835, but the Jordan, then a mighty river, still had a strong, turbulent current that overturned Costigan’s small boat repeatedly. He did not give up and instead hired camels to carry the boat to Jericho and the Dead Sea. A few days after he and his servant arrived in Jericho, he sailed the boat on the waters of the Dead Sea. For the next eight days, Costigan circumvented the shores, measuring the depth of the waters at different points. At night, he slept on shore. At four points along the shores, the two sailors saw ancient ruins, one of which they identified as the ruins of Gomorrah. On the sixth day of their voyage, they ran out of water. The next day, Costigan started to drink Dead Sea water and on the eighth day, they barely managed to get back to the northern shore. The Maltese servant set out to seek help and left Costigan on the beach lying under the boat, where a group of Bedouins discovered him and took him and the boat to Jericho. The Maltese, in the meantime, made it to Jerusalem, where he recruited the aid of an European missionary, John Nicolayson. The missionary rushed to Jericho and found Costigan completely dehydrated. After harnessing a makeshift stretcher for Costigan to a horse, the missionary managed to transport him to Jerusalem, where a doctor eventually revived him. By then, however, he had contracted malaria, which claimed his life a few days later. He was buried in Jerusalem, in the Protestant cemetery on Mount Zion.
Two years after Costigan’s tragic attempt to sail the Dead Sea, two additional Englishmen, G. H. Moore and W. G. Beke, set out to make trigonometric measures on the Dead Sea. The two bought a boat in Beirut, shipped it to Jaffa, and transported it to Jericho via Jerusalem. They only managed to complete some of the tasks that they took upon themselves because their Bedouin guides were scared of entering the territory of the hostile tribes around the sea. Even so, they made some interesting discoveries, finding that the boiling point of water is much higher than normal at the Dead Sea. This led them to the conclusion that the Dead Sea is substantially lower than sea level. Barometers already had been invented by then, but they were too cumbersome to take along to the desert. It was only in 1841 that the real level of the Dead Sea finally was measured in a series of horizontal measurements taken with a level. An officer of the British Royal Engineers, J. F. A. Symonds, spent 10 weeks measuring the difference in elevation between the Mediterranean Sea at Jaffa and Jerusalem and then went on to measure the difference in elevation between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. His result – minus 1,311 feet, about 437 meters below sea level – was very close to the measurement that officers of the British Geographic Society obtained with a barometer a few decades later. Once that was solved, explorers moved on to the challenge of measuring the difference in height between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, which of course influenced the flow of the Jordan River, a topic which held their attention throughout the 1840s.
In 1847, Lt. Thomas Molyneux, of HMS Spartan, and three volunteers were sent to sail down the Jordan from the Sea of Galilee in order to measure the difference in elevation. None of the four had any experience with Bedouins or the desert. Molyneux set out at the end of August for Acre. From there, he transferred his boat on camelback to Tiberias, sailing from there into the Jordan River. Right from the beginning, Molyneux had trouble with the Bedouins. He refused to pay passage money and then insulted them by finally offering too meager a sum accompanied by a display of his arsenal of arms. Very soon, the four discovered that they could not continue on the serpentine river and so they continued on shore, where they discovered that they were amidst a large number of Bedouin encampments. Molyneux sent his companions to try to navigate the river again, but they were attacked by Bedouins who stole everything on board the boat. When the boat failed to arrive at the agreed-upon meeting point, Molyneux set out to look for his men, found the empty boat, and made a dash for Jericho and Jerusalem, where he put together a search party that was unable to find his crew.
Molyneux did not give up. He recruited a new crew: a guide from Tiberias and a young Greek from Jerusalem. As evening fell, he set sail on the Dead Sea. Molyneux’s boat was equipped with only two oars and his crew members did not have the faintest idea of how to maneuver the small vessel. After two stormy nights at sea, Molyneux realized that they would not make it to the peninsula in the middle of the eastern shore and decided to return to Jericho. After a night and a day of hard rowing, the three managed to return to the northern shore. Molyneux loaded the boat on camels and managed to return to the HMS Spartan, where he discovered his three original companions, safe and sound. They had managed to make their way back to the ship. Molyneux, like Costigan, came down with malaria, and died in November 1847, on board his ship in Tripoli or Beirut.
In April 1948, Gesher was the first settlement that had to face the attack of a regular army – the Jordanian Arab Legion. In May 1948, with Israel’s declaration of independence, the settlement was in the eye of the Iraqi invasion.
Following the siege, Gesher was totally destroyed, but its members held out until the withdrawal of the enemy. Upon the conclusion of the war, the settlement moved to a new site.
Today, a museum operates in the historic site. It illustrates life at Gesher in its early days through the old buildings, exhibits, and an audiovisual presentation.
The site also includes the recently inaugurated Gaon Hayarden Promenade, whose circular route overlooks the Jordan River and the Naharayim power station. In the heart of the promenade is the Bridges Lookout, with a view of the three historic bridges that used to cross the Jordan.
Also at the Gesher site: a model illustrating the method of operation of the Naharayim power station, the remains of a caravansary from the Mameluke period, and a British police fortress. One of the locomotives that was used in the construction of Naharayim was completely renovated and repainted, and can be operated for a short trip around the site. Directions: Kibbutz Gesher. Access from Road No. 90, opposite the entrance to the kibbutz.
Castel National Park, Mevasseret Zion
Castel National Park is located on the ruins of a Crusader castle and an Arab village. In the War of Independence, the site was an important army post, which overlooked the main road to Jerusalem, and bloody battles were fought for control of the Castel. Reconstructed bunkers and trenches can be seen at the site, complete with explanatory signs.
From the top of the hill there is a breathtaking view of the Judean Mountains.
Ben-Gurion House, Tel Aviv
This building was the home of David and Paula Ben-Gurion until they moved to Sde Boker. After their move, they would stay here on their visits to Tel Aviv. Ben-Gurion bequeathed the house to the State of Israel. The house contains the same furnishings, decorations, and household objects it had when the Ben-Gurions lived there, in addition to exhibits. It was opened to visitors in 1974.
In 1981, the building to the north, the home of labor leader Hillel Cohen, was made part of the museum compound, in accordance with Cohen’s will. This building houses a permanent display on Ben-Gurion and his heritage and classrooms that are used for lectures and seminars on the Jewish people, Zionism, and society.
The museum offers activities for children and youth and has a 20-minute film.
Ben-Gurion’s library is open to the public (by appointment).
Palmach Museum, Tel Aviv
This museum features a sophisticated presentation on the Palmach (an acronym for Plugot Hamahatz or Striking Force), the military branch of the Haganah underground organization.
It shows the Palmach’s heritage and role in the War of Independence and the establishment of the State of Israel.
Visitors join a group of young people from the time they enlist in the Palmach, shortly after its establishment, until the end of Israel’s War of Independence. Their fascinating personal story, a three-dimensional display, and special effects bring the documentary material about this period to life.
The tour of the museum begins and concludes in a memorial hall for fallen Palmach fighters.
The museum also hosts temporary exhibits. Additional educational activities, led by museum guides, are available if arranged in advance. The Palmach Museum is part of the Museums Unit of the Ministry of Defense.
Outpost Facing Gaza, Kibbutz Sa’ad
This museum is located in the only building that survived after Kibbutz Sa’ad came under heavy attack in Israel’s War of Independence.
The site is devoted to a depiction of the history of the three religious kibbutzim in the area. On the ground floor of the museum is an exhibit of photographs from Sa’ad’s experience in the War of Independence and telegrams describing events in the time of the war.
The exhibit shows the suffering of the fighters who had to spend day and night in the trenches.
On the second floor, an audiovisual presentation is screened; it deals with the atmosphere in the Land of Israel in the time of the war and other topics. The building’s roof affords a nice view of the entire Gaza Strip.
Yad L’Isha Halochemet, Old Nitzanim
The battle of Nitzanim, whose fallen included three female fighters, inspired the creation of Yad L’Isha Halochemet, a monument dedicated to the women who lost their lives in the battle and to female fighters in all of Israel’s wars.
The monument is part of the Old Nitzanim site, which features an audiovisual presentation on Nitzanim’s heroism in Israel’s War of Independence and on the female fighters.
Visitors can also see “The Palace” – an old Arab orchard house in which the defenders of Nitzanim bastioned themselves, reconstructed positions from 1948, and other monuments to fighters.
The site offers a variety of guided tours in the adjacent Dune Park.
The Open Museum, Kibbutz Negba
A bronze monument sculpted by Natan Rapaport depicts three Negev defenders. Beside it is the Open Museum, featuring the water tower that was a major lookout point in Israel’s War of Independence and was blown up by Egyptian planes. There are also an Egyptian tank, the first tractor on Kibbutz Negba, and Negba’s original tower and stockade site (the structures were put up overnight to create settlements before the British could stop them).
Givati Brigade House, Yoav Fortress, Lakhish
This site played an important role in Israel’s War of Independence. The museum focuses on the deeds of the brigade in 1948 and also on the new Givati Brigade.
It offers a selection of videotapes, and the memorial room has a wall with the names of the fallen of the brigade and a computerized system that provides information about them.
In addition, there is a room with Israeli and Egyptian weapons; exhibits of Israeli and Egyptian military vehicles; a lookout tower; an amphitheater for various gatherings; a library, and an instructional center.
The museum offers guided tours to Givati sites in the area.
Ben-Gurion’s Hut,Kibbutz Sde Boker
The hut that was the desert home of David Ben-Gurion, first prime minister of Israel, and his wife Paula has remained as Ben-Gurion left it when he died (1973), as he requested in his will.
The area around the hut is well tended. In addition, approach paths have been paved, and plazas for presenting explanations have been built. Sayings from David Ben-Gurion’s philosophy and pictures illustrating early life on Kibbutz Sde Boker have been incorporated in the area.
In the heart of the hut is Ben-Gurion’s workroom, containing part of his library. In this room, he wrote his many books and articles.
In the next hut, which was used by his bodyguards, is an exhibit showing David Ben-Gurion’s special attachment to the Negev.
Yad Mordechai Museum, Kibbutz Yad Mordechai
This museum is devoted to the Holocaust, the partisan battles in World War II, and the fighting in the area of Yad Mordechai during Israel’s War of Independence.
The section depicting the Holocaust chronicles the rise of the Nazis to power, the life of the Jews in the ghettos, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and the path to the crematoria of Auschwitz.
The museum narrates the resistance of companies of Jewish partisans in Nazi-occupied territory, the clandestine immigration to the Land of Israel, the establishment of 11 settlement points in the Negev (1946), the battles against the Egyptian invaders, and mainly the bitter fighting for Kibbutz Yad Mordechai.
Beside the museum is a monument to Mordechai Anilewicz, leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and the person after whom the kibbutz is named.
The scene of the battle for Yad Mordechai is re-created in the spot where it took place.
Thirty years after its inauguration and with some modifications, the nearly one thousand kilometer trail is an experience not to be missed. Yes, it’s a 45-day hike that some Israelis finish in one haul. Most people will do it in segments. Families set out to hike the trails 52 segments in a year of weekends (it has become very popular as a bar-bat mitzvah year project), others hike it in three-day segments over a long time (the last group that I led on the trail did it in 5 two day meetings a year over six years).
There is no better way to get to know the landscapes of Israel and its people than by hiking the trail. So the next time you’re here, take a few days on the trail. It is clearly marked, and you don’t have to be an expert hiker. But, once you finish, it is an experience that your grandchildren will talk about to their children, telling them stories of that time “when our parents hiked the Israel Trail.”
Israel is a land of varied landscapes and a bewildering assortment of historic, and ancient sites. But, it is no Italy, or Egypt. There are no towering cathedrals, no ostentatious palaces, no pillared temples. Israel is a land of soul and feeling. To really enjoy it you need an interpreter, to bring to life the astounding essence of this country.
These interpreters are the Israeli tour guides – the madrichim; the mentors who fill with meaning the ruins and sites.
For the past two-years the madrichim have been out of work – waiting for the day when tourism will resume. Hopefully we will find the way to preserve the profession, and not discover tomorrow that we cannot give our visitors the experience that is Israel.
I am looking forward to welcoming you back. Enjoy the intriguing mosaic of creeds, cultures, flavors, and scents that make up this country. We’d love to show you many new locations – Anu, the Jewish Museum, Innovation Centers, agriculture technology, artifacts discovered in archaeological digs.
I miss the sparkle in my tourists’ eyes at the end of a day in Jerusalem’s Old City, always an intense experience. No structure or edifice in Jerusalem will take your breath away, but the text that enlightens these sites is the biggest story ever told.
My dear friends. I miss you. The comradeship on the bus, your love of everything to be seen in this country. Miss our walking tours, hikes in the desert and mountains, and all that fills me with love and passion for helping you visit this country.
Waiting to have you back and show you around on a life-altering experience. Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, The Galilee, The Negev Desert, The Jordan River. Israel is a treasure trove of historical sites – with unique Arts and Fashions scenes, a trendsetting culinary haven, and a multi-cultural spectrum.
The most impressive of the ancient remains at Megiddo is the water system with its grand shaft and tunnel. The system was discovered by the Chicago Expedition in a complex dig that involved dozens of workers and the removal of massive amounts of earth. Once the system was cleared a concrete roof was built over the entrance to the shaft and steps were built to make it possible to descend to the tunnel.
Megiddo had two sources of water. Ein Megiddo (Ein el Kobi) in the east, and a second water source in the west. The second water source emanated from a cavern that over the years was deepened by the inhabitants of Megiddo to concentrate a larger flow of water. A series of steps was built leading down from the western side of the tel into the cavern and the water. Reaching the western water source from the tel entailed walking out of the gate in the north eastern part of the city and then around the northern walls to the spring. In the 9th century BCE, during the time of the Omrides, a stepped gallery which allowed access from the western side of the tel straight down to the entrance of the cavern was built.
The water system itself was built in the 8th century BCE during the time of Yoash and Jeroboam the Second. It involved digging an open pit through the ancient layers on the western side of the tel, all the way down to bedrock. Here a diagonal shaft was hewn in the rock, down what was presumed to be the water level – probably marked by a clay layer that caught the water seeping through the limestone rocks, the catchment area of the spring. Then a 52-meter long tunnel was hewn through the rock all the way to the spring. Finding the clay layer was a complex operation – but figuring out in what direction to dig was a more complex and difficult task.
Once the tunnel reached the spring a second stage was embarked upon. The tunnel was deepened and extended to the bottom of the outside pier, so that the water could flow from the spring along the tunnel to the area of the shaft, and from there it was drawn up into the city. Once this was completed the outside entrance to the spring was blocked so that the only access to the water was from inside the city.
The water level that collects in the pool of the spring fluctuates according to the amount of rainfall every year and during the rainy season. Even today after heavy rains the waters from the spring will flood the tunnel keeping it closed for weeks on end.
Use of the water system probably ceased with the Assyrian conquest. We don’t know exactly how this happened, but a gruesome find when the water system was unearthed may provide us with a clue. On the inside of the blocked up original entrance to the spring a skeleton was found – it may have been the soldier who was posted to guard the entrance and who died at his post.
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
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.
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.