The Death of Sundays

I confess.  I do miss Trader Joe’s and Costco.  But I’ve learned to live without them quite well, and it’s okay.  But Sundays – – well, that’s another matter.

In America, there is generally a five-day work week, with Saturday and Sunday being the days off.  When you’re a shomer Shabbat Jew, Saturdays are Shabbat, and while they are wonderful, it only leaves Sunday for leisure and catch-up time.

In Israel, there is also generally a five-day work week, but the “weekend” is  Friday and Saturday.  This has serious implications for those of us who keep the Sabbath, especially in winter when the Sabbath arrives at 4 pm on Friday.  You can forget doing many errands on your list since many government offices are closed on Fridays.  Ditto for our bank.  Israel is a small enough country with lots to see so theoretically you can plan a half-day excursion, but you’re always under pressure to allow enough time to return in time for Shabbat.  And it assumes you’ve done all your cooking for the bountiful Sabbath meals well before Friday.

I start my Shabbat preparations on Tuesday.  In the morning I make challah dough.  While it’s rising I go into town for my weekly shopping excursion.  I try not to go more than once a week, since gas is $7 to $8 per gallon and each trip costs me a minimum of $25.  (Consequently many people where I live order their food from town and have it delivered. Even paying a delivery charge is cheaper than driving into town yourself, unless you have multiple errands to run.  But I like to choose things myself.)

I finish the challah and stick it in the freezer.  Then I start cooking things that will hold up well in the fridge, such as grains or hummus.  The next day I cook soup and chicken.  We eat more simply here – – no more cholent or kugels like we ate in the US – – but we do eat a lot of different kinds of vegetable dishes and salads.  Since these are pretty labor intensive and must be eaten fresh, I do save these for the last minute.

Now that Spring is upon us, we’ve been very diligent about our Friday morning excursions.  I love the fact that we are in the Galil, near so many incredible nature sites, and most are anywhere between 15 – 90 minutes away by car (the latter takes us to the upper Galil and the Golan Heights).  After some nice winter rains, the Galil is bursting with rich emerald green grasses and bushes, pink almond blossoms, red poppies and cyclamen.  The rivers, streams and waterfalls are at full throttle – – these will either disappear completely or deplete to a pitiful trickle in summer – – yet the hordes of tourists have not yet descended and we generally have the National Parks mostly to ourselves (we bought an annual pass with a Senior discount).

While every site we’ve visited has been gorgeous, it’s about more than just beauty.  It’s knowing that nearly every square inch has meaning.  It might have been the site of an important village, or an event from the Torah, a momentous battle, a ancient city  or synagogue, a past civilization, the site of a Biblical prophecy or a miracle, the tomb of a holy rabbi, a Crusader fortress or a sheikh’s palace.  We are remembering our history while making history just by our very presence in the Land, and that is thrilling and emotional and spiritually uplifting.  Objectively speaking, Mt. Hermon (on the Syrian border) may not be as majestic as the Rockies or the Alps.  The Negev’s Machtesh Ramon (Ramon Crater) may not be as grandiose as the Grand Canyon.  The waterfalls of Metulla (on the Lebanese border)  are hardly Niagara Falls.  But they belong to us because they were given to us by HaShem, duly recorded in our Torah, and they were acquired with blood, sweat, tears and great sacrifice then and now.  There is a deep connection to our Land that perhaps defies logic, but it is the sense that this is home, and this is ours, and somehow through HaShem’s grace we merited to be part of a generation of reclamation, settlement, presence and blessing.

I guess that’s worth the death of Sundays.

 

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Truman: Ambassador of Peace

In the month before Passover, I walked the hills of the Galilee.  The entire month of March they are filled with wildflowers, including red poppies called kalaniyot in Hebrew, as well as cyclamen, rakafot.

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Once Pesach arrives, so do Israelis in droves on holiday, plus the beginning of tourist season, and – much to my dismay – the end of rain until November and the beginning of tortuously hot, hazy days in the seemingly never-ending summer that starts in April and ends at the end of October. Most of the streams and riverbeds dry out and lose their mojo.

Just outside the town of Yokneam, where my husband works in the hi-tech park (denizen of many Israeli start-ups and now big-name players who are at the forefront of  internationally acclaimed innovation – – this is just one of dozens of similar hi-tech parks popping up all over the country), is a beautiful nature spot called Nahal HaShofet.  It’s more stroll than hike, with its carefully graded boardwalks that descend along a stream-bed and cave amid the heavy vegetation.  I figured I’d spend a quick couple of hours there before returning to the relentless Spring Cleaning that was part of my Pesach preparations.

I thought I’d beat the Pesach rush.  Little did I know that the week before Pesach, when Israeli Jewish school children start their Spring vacation, all youth groups around Israel use this time to walk the Land on organized overnight backpack and trekking trips.   Throughout the Galilee, especially in Keren Kayemet/JNF forests where camping is permitted and generally free, backpackers’ tents spread like colorful umbrella tops dotted the landscape against the lush green  woodlands of pistachio, olive groves, cypress, carob, Aleppo pine trees and thorny grasses.

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The night before it had rained, and as I approached my destination I stopped at a gully that was covered by rainwater runoff that was at least 6″ – 8″ deep.  I normally would have driven my Hyundai station wagon through without concern, but I was alone and was in no mood to get stranded without help in immediate sight.  So I parked the car at the bottom of this gully and walked the extra kilometer up a steep hillside to reach the starting point of Nahal HaShofet.

What a happy accident! Other than a few scraggly campers, the area was mostly empty and the vistas in wildflower-covered groves were among the most beautiful I have ever seen to date in the Galilee.  I was glued to the spot, soaking it all in, truly grateful to be there just then.  It was magical.

 

As I approached Nachal Shofet, I was alarmed to see at least 30 giant tour buses and an ice cream truck parked at the entrance.  There was Arab music blaring, and the voices of many excited schoolchildren.  Just how many excited children enjoying nature would become apparent as I made my way down Nachal HaShofet.

I had picked an Arab town’s school district’s annual field trip day.  At least 1000 (!) Arab Muslim kids and their teachers were there enjoying themselves.  Which would have been fine, except I had my Standard Poodle Truman with me, and generally, religious Muslims find dogs repugnant at best and are terrified of them at worst.  Every time I would turn a corner along the trail and meet up with yet another class of kids, I’d be greeted by 25 – 50 voices screaming with fear at the top of their very healthy lungs when they would see Truman.  My dog looked at me questioningly like a wizened Yoda.  “Seriously?” he seemed to say, because he is possibly the worlds most passive, quiet, non-aggressive and innocuous Standard Poodle that ever lived. And besides, he was on a leash.

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As I waited silently along the side of the trail for yet the next group of children to pass us so we could continue on ahead, a young boy of about 8 asked me in Arabic if he could touch the dog.  I was surprised by his “courage” but was happy to have Truman oblige.  He immediately received the unspoken admiration of  his still-terrified classmates who were convinced there was little difference between petting a poodle and putting one’s head into the mouth of a lion.  They were even more amazed when Truman did not react (in truth, Truman was feeling rather bored).  And then, another boy found the courage to approach, and another, and another.  Soon I had a line of 100 excited, happy and nervous children waiting to pet Truman, and even more amazing – – their stern, grumpy chador-clad teacher wanted to be part of the action too.  Many of them called out “huruf!” (which means “sheep” in Arabic, and indeed, Truman’s coat resembles that of a lamb). Of course I had to photograph the event for posterity – – with the now-smiling teacher included. So now I call my dog “Truman, Ambassador of Peace.”

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No Fear

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“No Fear” is a popular clothing  and energy drink brand in the U.S. with an even more popular logo. I’ve seen its decal on surfboards and car windows.   I thought of it quite a bit this week.

Recently there has been ominous activity on the Syrian border with Israel by Iranian-funded troops.  Israeli intelligence sent alarming reports to expect troubles in the Golan Heights, and silently and with determination, despite getting on with our daily routine, we were alert to the possibility of war.  We were told to prepare our “safe rooms” – – emptying out any collected junk (many safe rooms and shelters are used as catch-alls in peacetime) and ensuring that we had flashlights, basic first aid, some food and water supplies, and diapers and toys for those who have kids.  We subscribed to the Home Front Command app on our smartphones, which calculates the amount of time we have to get to our shelters based on our location.  Here at Moreshet we have 30 – 60 seconds.

And then at 2:45 a.m in the pre-dawn of Thursday, I was awakened by the sound of fighter jets.  I can’t describe it, but it really felt and sounded very different than the usual blast of fighter jets practicing overhead, which is a common occurrence.

These jets weren’t circling.  They were headed in one direction:  North.  There were many of them; they were flying lower than usual, and they were loud.  There was a certain gravity; it felt ominous.  I didn’t feel in danger, or anxious, but I did feel very concerned for the safety of the young men entrusted to pilot them.  I had recently attended the graduation of the newest crop of pilots from the Air Force Academy, and the boy who graduated at the top of his  2018 class lives in a yishuv just up the road.  I thought how strange this young pilot must have felt, flying directly over his home on the way to bomb Iranian bases in Syria, and the euphoria and relief he must have experienced on his way back.

We were supposed to go on an organized hiking trip in the Golan less than 48 hours later.  I emailed the organizers of the trip and asked if it was still on.  The Home Front Command (the ultimate authority in these situations) said that any previous precautions were no longer active.  The trip was happening!

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Ironically, just two days after Israeli jets bombed Syria following some dangerous and suspicious Iranian troop movement on the Israeli-Syrian border, we found ourselves at Kibbutz Al-Magor.  The name “Al-Magor” which is found in Jeremiah, Book of Prophets , translates to “No Fear.” At this spot, a horrific loss of life occurred in a battle between Jews and Syrians in 1951, with more than 40 Jewish soldiers killed. Ten years later at this site, a kibbutz by the name of Al-Magor was founded.  “No Fear.”

After visiting Al-Magor, which is on the Galilee-Golan border in Israel, we continued a few miles up the road into the Golan to a water hike.  A tributary of the Jordan River, this is part of Israel’s National Park system and it’s called Madjarsa. The water is very clean (it’s a runoff from Mt. Hermon and underground springs) and several spots are wider and deeper than the rest, making for perfect swimming holes.

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There was a diverse group of people of all ages swimming there:  Israeli Jews, olim (recent immigrants to Israel), and Arabs.  Everyone was there to enjoy the refreshing waters on a beautiful warm Spring day before Shabbat.  No Fear.  Making the most of a moment. It was a snippet of everyday life in Israel, despite the headlines abroad.

And this is the Israeli way.  We cannot afford to cower.  The best revenge against our enemies is to keep on living life according to our regular routine, and to continually celebrate life – – something Israelis do with astounding success and with my greatest admiration and awe.  We are duty-bound to spread light throughout the world.

On Saturday night, with the end of Shabbat, the Eurovision finals contest was broadcast on TV.  The Israeli entry, Netta Barzilai, won.  Netta’s song “Toy” was completely outrageous; it was written in response to sexual harassment and bullying.  Netta herself is atypical of the other lithe entertainers that performed at the festival in Lisbon.  She is big.  She is bold.  She is not ashamed of her unusual looks or her size and she sends a message that we must feel beautiful despite imperfect body types, and that we must accept others for their differences.  During part of the song, she clucks like a chicken, to mock fear.

I have to say that despite the inner meaning and catchy tune, the song baffled me.  The presentation and showmanship is totally insane.  I am not sure I feel comfortable with it in its role as Israel’s representative song for the Eurovision contest.

Then I remembered.   As they say, G-d works in strange ways, with even stranger messengers, but at least He has a sense of humor.  In October 2014, an unnamed senior official in the Obama administration was reported to have called Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu a “chickensh**”, adding that Netanyahu “has got no guts”.

As a result of the win, Israel gets to host the contest next year, in Jerusalem.  Netta was warned by the producers not to mention “Jerusalem” when she accepted the award, lest she “offend” politically sensitive Europe.   Instead, her heart filled with love, she said,

Thank you so much for accepting differences between us. Thank you for celebrating diversity. Thank you. I love my country. Next time in Jerusalem.   

No Fear.

In the wake of the successful bombing to stop Iran; the dedication of the US Embassy in Jerusalem today, 51 years after its liberation in 1967; with Netta’s clucking response to win the Eurovision contest; and our trip to the Golan during tremulous times, there can be only one response.

No Fear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down Under

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On Friday I visited two attractions just outside the town of Beit Shean.  I almost didn’t get there, as unbeknownst to me, there was a marathon race going on and many of the roads were closed to traffic.  Waze (the traffic and map navigation app) took me a roundabout way, telling me to go on dirt “security roads” that bordered kibbutz agricultural fields and Arab villages.  Instead of taking an hour from my home, it took nearly 2.5 hours’ travel time and I got lost repeatedly! I finally passed a concrete bus stop where a soldier was waiting for a bus to take him home in time for Shabbat.  I gave him a ride which he gratefully accepted all the way to his home on Kibbutz Nir David (where his mother anxiously and proudly awaited his return with all sorts of special treats and foods for Shabbat; I think every Israeli mother gives her son a hero’s welcome when he comes home on weekly leave).  He had come all the way from south of Eilat, so this final leg of his long journey was a big relief to him, and he was of course a big help to me in finding my way.

The first place I stopped is called Gan Garoo (which is next to the aforementioned kibbutz).  It’s an immaculately kept zoo that is dedicated to Australian-Israeli friendship, and all the animals within are those found in Australia.  There are many different unusual birds large and small, but the real highlight is the “mob” of different varieties of kangaroos of all ages and sizes – some 53 in all – who roam freely in a large enclosure where humans can not only interact with them, but oblige the ‘roos with a much-appreciated back scratch or neck massage.

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What a delightful experience!  The kangaroos were as tame as one’s pet dog, and each one had its own look and personality.  The joeys (baby kangaroos) were adorable, but my favorite was actually the oldest and largest, a red kangaroo with the expressive face of a donkey (others had faces that looked like rabbits, hares, deer and goats).  They reacted equally well to being petted by a 3-year-old little girl as they did an adult human.  It was truly thrilling, and I hated to leave, but on a short winter Friday, I wanted to leave time for a swim at the three spring-fed natural pools of Sachne (also known as Gan HaShlosha).

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Sachne’s waters are a crystal-clear turquoise blue and maintain their 84 degree F temperature year round.  The swimming there is fantastic.  The springs, part of Israel’s national park system, are visited year round by an extremely diverse group of people: Israeli Jews (Sephardi, Ashkenazi, religious and secular, and lots of Russian, French, and Anglo immigrants) and Arabs (Christian and Muslim) families, along with a sprinkling of tourists, who are seeking an enjoyable, relaxing and beautiful way to spend the day.  There is plenty of picnicking alongside the water in park-like grassy areas, and this is just one of many places where tolerance and cooperation between peoples defies the anti-Israel propaganda promoted by world media.

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As the sun started to get lower, I regretfully said goodbye and continued on another 5 or 10 minutes by car to the town of Beit Shean, where I would be attending a special Shabbat weekend with other Anglo immigrants to Israel who are associated with Nefesh B’Nefesh, the organization that facilitates aliyah to Israel from North America, and provides many helpful services to help olim navigate the bureaucracy that challenges every newcomer.  This annual gathering is specifically for olim (immigrants) who’ve chosen to make their permanent home in northern Israel (the Galilee and the Golan Heights).  We stayed in a government-run youth hostel that was newly remodeled and expanded, with attractive if simple dorm-like rooms and a general dining hall where the dozens of Anglo immigrant families shared meals together.  It was a great opportunity to meet and make new friends, and encourage one another with a deep understanding and empathy about the joys and challenges of living in Israel.  Everyone was nice, but I was especially excited to meet some new potential friends and we have already made plans to get together next week.

On Saturday afternoon, the entire group meandered over to the Beit Shean archeological dig, which is located about a block away from the youth hostel.  I was wondering why I had never visited the remnants of old Beit Shean and the subsequent Roman city of Scythopolis, which at one time housed a staggering 40,000 residents, when I lived in Israel many years ago!  The beautiful amphitheater, which has been partially restored, had seats for 7,000 Roman citizens.  You can wander down the Cardo (the shopping lane, lined with many stores), visit the arena where gladiator games were held; you can see the remains of a fountain, a temple, a brothel, and several restored mosaic floors.  Perhaps most amazing, Scythopolis had only been aggressively excavated in the 1980s and 90s – – before that is was mostly unexcavated and buried completely under the ground (the city was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 749 AD) and the extent of its size until then was unknown – – which also explains why I hadn’t known about it when I lived in Israel in the early 80s and it was not yet open to the public.

Overlooking the ancient city, which was a half-way point for trade between Damascus and Caesarea, is a huge tel (mound) which was first excavated by archeologists from the University of Pennsylvania in the 1930s.  Eighteen different civilizations were uncovered from the different strata, including Crusader, Muslim, Roman, Greek, Philistine, Israelite and Canaanite periods.  The relics were shipped mostly to Philadelphia, where the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology was constructed especially to house the extensive finds (and is still in operation today).  A small portion of the finds were donated to the Israel Museum where they can been viewed.

But for me the most meaningful events of Beit Shean occurred years before the Roman conquest.  For it was at nearby Mt. Gilboa that King Shaul fought his final battle against the Philistine king.  Three of Shaul’s sons were killed in that battle, and King Shaul himself was gravely injured. Rather than face capture alive, he threw himself upon his own sword, ending his own life.  The Philistine king would not permit the corpses of Shaul nor his sons to be buried, and instead decapitated them and took their bodies to the gates of the city of Beit Shean, where they hung on those walls as a final humiliation.

It never fails to amaze me that I am walking on the very ground where my forefathers walked, lived, loved, prayed, fought, and died.  Everywhere – everywhere! – in Israel, the ground is rich with the holy blood, sweat and tears of the Jewish people.  I am not only reliving that history, I am part of it and it is part of me.  The connection to the past is palpable, and the realization that I am part of its future fills me with humility and awe.

Only in Israel could I go from a modern Australian zoo to a natural oasis to an ancient city where Biblical battles were fought, all within a few minutes of one another.

Not a day goes by without me pinching myself that I merit living here on a daily basis, something my great-grandparents could only dream about in the most surreal of fantasies from their pogrom-ridden shtetls.

This new life of ours is very good indeed.

(I do not use a camera on Shabbat, which is why I didn’t take pictures of Beit Shean, the youth hostel, and the archeological park.  Please feel free to click on the highlighted links for pictures taken by others.)

 

The Best Things in Life are Free

We knew it was going to be 18 months to 2 years before we’d be moving into the house we are building, due to permits bureaucracy and construction process in Israel being so slow.  With that in mind, and the realization that most of our American furniture was either too large for the smaller room sizes in Israel; that the furniture we had was worn out after 40 years of heavy family use; and that much of our furniture was collected over the years from yard sales and dumpster diving and the shipping costs were too high to justify moving what was essentially junk:  we knew we’d be buying our furniture in Israel.  We also didn’t know what type of apartment we’d be renting while waiting for the house to be built.  So the only furniture we ended up bringing was an antique armoire I wasn’t successful in selling beforehand;  a well-worn futon couch for last-minute guests; a circa 1955 dresser that we had been given many years ago for free; and the one piece of furniture I really wanted to bring all along:  a hand-made pine dining room table we had gotten at a farmer’s yard sale in Maine for $75.  The table was beautifully made but the farmer’s Labrador retriever puppy had chewed the corners, leaving lots of teeth marks; plus their kids hadn’t been careful about putting hot things or cups of liquid on the wood, so it was pretty scratched, stained and banged up.  I figured that only added to its charm and the price was right.  Unfortunately, however, when we stacked hundreds of pounds of boxes on the sturdy table top when we shipped our stuff to Israel, the soft pine wood could only take so much weight, and the cartons of books left deep gouges from the impressions of the boxes on the tabletop.  Our table no longer looked so charming by the time it was delivered to us in Israel.

Meanwhile I hadn’t brought my bedroom set or mattress from America.  We bought a $40 blow-up air mattress on sale from Target a week before our flight, and slipped it easily into our suitcase.  We figured we’d buy a real mattress the first week after we arrived, and the air mattress would tide us over until then. It has:  it’s so comfortable my husband is in no rush to replace it, 3 1/2 months later. We are still sleeping on it.

But one day while browsing on a Facebook group that is dedicated to the sale of second-hand furniture in the Karmiel region, I noticed a picture of a bed being given away that looked to be in good condition.  I contacted the owner who explained the bed was 17 years old but in great shape.  They were moving that week to a new house and wanted to get a new bed.  So without telling my husband, I hopped into the car and drove to Karmiel to take a look.

It was a very sturdy platform bed, and with its built-in lift mechanism, there was a huge amount of storage that one could easily access under the mattress.  It looked like the frame’s side and head rails would come apart easily enough with a screwdriver, so I told the owner we’d take it.  My one worry was the mattress support, which was a single piece of mason board.  There was no way it would fit in our car.

When I got home I told my husband that we needed to go into Karmiel the next day, because – surprise! –  we were now the owners of a real bed and that we needed to take it apart before we could bring it home (thankfully my long-suffering husband is an awfully good sport).  But I knew I’d need to get a mover for that mason board, so I posted on one of the gazillion WhatsApp groups in our village to see if anyone could recommend a mover.

I instantly got a reply:  someone knew someone who was a carpenter in Karmiel; surely he’d have a truck.  I contacted the fellow and he was a bit reluctant, since he’s a carpenter by trade and not a mover, but yes, he had a large van and for a pretty sum he was willing to deliver the mason board.  The carpenter was an oleh chadash (new immigrant to Israel) who made aliyah with his wife and kids eighteen months ago.  He was a third-generation carpenter and woodworker from North Carolina. and his specialty was custom kitchen cabinets.   Hmm, I thought.  It would certainly pay to get an estimate for a kitchen for my new house while he’s around.

That’s when I remembered my beat-up table.  I asked him if he had a belt sander, and if so, would be interested in sanding down the table top when he delivers the bed?  So for another pretty sum we arranged that he’d do just that.

When my husband and I got to the owner’s house the next day, we tried to take apart the bed, but it wasn’t as simple as I originally thought.  It turned out the base was one big piece that you couldn’t unscrew, so we took the headboard and side rails and left the rest, telling the owner that the carpenter would be there the next day, assisted by my husband, to move the rest of the bed out of her house.

The next day my husband met the carpenter in Karmiel.  No one was home, but the landlady let us in to the apartment with her extra key and so they loaded the truck.  The bed was delivered and the carpenter spent two full hours outside our apartment on a very hot day sanding down the table top.  It looked like a new table when he was done and I was thrilled.  I wanted to put oil on it to make the wood more resistant to stains, but wasn’t sure where to buy it, so I asked the carpenter.  He suggested a store in Kiryat Bialik, a suburb of Haifa.  He wasn’t sure of the name, but he knew the name of another store that was nearby.

Re-assembling the bed would have to wait.

The next day I plugged the name of the store into Waze, but Waze didn’t recognize it.  I found an alternate spelling and it took me to a mall.  There was no such store in the mall, so I called the carpenter.  He told me the store was near a supermarket, so I found the supermarket, but not the store I needed for the oil.  I called the carpenter back and he tried to explain how to get to the store.  I finally found the store it was supposedly near, and that store owner directed me to another store and then the second store directed me to a third store.  Eureka!  It was a wholesale factory that produced finishes for wood products.

The secretary couldn’t believe I wanted shemen pishtan (linseed oil).  So she called a young man from the warehouse to the reception area.  He was sure I wanted a water-based polyurethane.  But when I repeated that I wanted linseed oil, he called his father, who came from the back of the warehouse.  The father thought I wanted an oil-based polyurethane.  When I repeated that I wanted linseed oil, he called his father from the warehouse.  The grandfather proudly explained that he was the founder of their varnish “empire,”  and it now supported and was staffed by 3 generations of his family.  He felt it curious that I wanted such an “old-fashioned” finish for my table, and wanted to know where I was from.  America!!!  He couldn’t believe it!  He was so proud that someone would come all the way from America to his varnish factory in the decrepit industrial zone of Kiryat Bialik just to buy his products!  He was beaming; he was kvelling.  His grandchildren were amazed.  Now, he insisted, I had to sit and tell him why I wanted linseed oil for my table, and tell him why I wanted to make aliyah; am I married? Do I have children? Why did I want to live in Moreshet? But no, he repeated, I didn’t want linseed oil, I wanted something called “dek” which is a blend of linseed oil and pine resin which would create a hard finish on  the surface of my table. He insisted on calling the carpenter because surely I was mistaken and the carpenter would convince me to get dek , if not the polyurethane.  The carpenter told him to give me linseed oil.  He glanced my way.

No, I insisted, I didn’t want dek, I wanted linseed oil.  The factory owner thought we Americans were a strange and confused lot.

“Fine!” he sighed dramatically, and told his secretary to ring it up.  “How much?” I asked.  He told me a price but his secretary quickly interrupted.  “Give her a 20 shekel discount,” she insisted.  “How often do you get customers from America?!?!

Light-headed from the combination of my newfound celebrity status and the fumes from the varnish factory, I made my way home. I got a call from the original owner of the bed.

“You forgot the mason board!” she said.  “It’s sitting here in my living room waiting for you to take it away!”  The well-meaning lady had moved the mason board from the bedroom, away from the bed, into the living room; and my husband hadn’t thought to look for it when they moved the bed out of the owner’s bedroom.

The carpenter and his truck were long gone, his pocket newly cushioned by a check written by my husband for services rendered.  I sighed.  I needed that mason board, but I had no interest in paying twice to get it moved.  With a friend, I  made my way to Karmiel and put the mason board on the roof of the car, tying it down with some rope I happened to have in the car.  I felt like a Girl Scout, prepared and capable! And of course I said a little prayer, so it wouldn’t fly off the roof of the car while driving on the twisty mountain highway that would take me home.

How ironic, I thought.  The very reason we originally hired the carpenter was to move only the mason board to our house.  In the process, we got a bed, our table was refinished, I had an adventure in an industrial zone in the middle of nowhere.  The mover-who-is-really-a-carpenter  is now giving me estimates for kitchen cabinets for our new house, and ironically, in the end, I moved the mason board on my own, anyway!

A Mystery (Finally) Solved in the Galilee

A generous donor funded the construction by the Jewish National Fund and the regional council of Misgav, of a beautiful bike and walking path which connects the communities of Manof and Shechaniya, two lovely yishuvim in the Galil.  The mostly level path is not long, but it affords panoramic views of the thorn-, carob- and pine-covered Western Galilee and on a clear day you can see Rosh HaNikra in the far north and Haifa Bay in the distance.  Just off the path is a somewhat challenging trail to a cave inhabited by bats.  It was in this cave that human skeletal remains were discovered, fifty-two years after the original murder was committed.

The sad and fascinating story is etched on some stone boulders, a memorial to the 33-year old husband, father, and seventh-generation Israeli Jewish pioneer who met an untimely end while in the service of the Jewish National Fund.  His name was Yisrael ben Ze’ev Loifer Hy”d.  He disappeared mysteriously in August 1938 and nothing was heard from him nor from the people who kidnapped him.  It was as though he’d fallen off the face of the earth.

What follows is my translation of the Hebrew inscription at the memorial site:

Yisrael was born in 1905 in a Jewish settlement in the Galil.  His parents, Ze’ev and Sara, were the sixth generation of his family to live in the Land of Israel.  They left their home in Tzfat to help settle the Galilee in a place called Yisod HaMaaleh.

Because of the difficult economic conditions, as well as severe malarial outbreaks in the area that sickened and killed many, Yisrael was forced to abandon the family settlement and left the Galil to work in the orchards of Petach Tikva.   There, he met the woman who would become his wife, Rivka Bergman, a sixth-generation Jew living in the Land of Israel.  They became parents to a boy, Ze’ev, and a girl, Shulamit.

In 1930 the Jewish National Fund appointed Yisrael as a property guard in the Zevulun Valley and his family moved to Akko.  In the 1920s and then again from 1936 – 1939, Israel experienced an ongoing Arab intifada which included strikes, riots, pograms, thefts and attacks against Jewish settlers throughout the Land.  Hundreds of Jews died.  (ed. note:  It was during this time that many German Jewish emigres living in Israel, traumatized by these attacks, actually returned to Germany where ironically and tragically they would perish in the Holocaust only a few years later.)  Because they were living in what was then considered a remote area subject to extreme danger, Yisrael moved his family to an area just outside of Haifa, in what is today known as Kiryat Bialik.

Meanwhile Yisrael continued his work guarding undeveloped Jewish land in the Galil.  He got to know his Arab neighbors and their way of life; he learned to speak Arabic fluently.  Many Arabs considered him a friend.  Yisrael wore a kaffiye (Arab cloth headdress) and dressed in an abbayya (long flowing white cotton robe); on his feet he wore leather boots and he rode upon a fine Arabian horse.  Only his pale skin identified him as a Jew.  According to Arab custom, Yisrael was called “Abu Ziv” – father of Ze’ev, his firstborn son.

Within the framework of his position as a guard, he prevented the theft and takeover of Jewish-owned land by the area’s Bedouin tribes. (ed. note:  it seems Yisrael Loifer was part Lawrence of Arabia and part Texas Ranger.)  He helped the Jewish National Fund  redeem parcels from the hands of Bedouins that lived in the Zevulun Valley.  Additionally, he secretly trained Jewish youth living in the area of Haifa Bay to handle and  fire weapons for their defense.  With great sensitivity he took tremendous responsibility for his very dangerous work, a task he fulfilled with tremendous passion and dedication.  Yisrael was known far and wide for his audaciousness and courage and his reputation extended all the way to Damascus.

In the beginning of August 1938, Yisrael loaned his beloved horse to a trusted friend, a Bedouin guard, who promised to return the horse to him the following day.  When he was late,  Yisrael took his wooden staff and hiked to the Bedouin guard’s village, Kfar Damon.

And then no trace remained of Yisrael Loifer.

After a long and exhaustive investigation by his son, Ze’ev,  and with the help of Giora Zaid (the son of the legendary guard, Alexander Zaid) and according to eyewitness accounts by Najiv Zaidan and Abu-Daouf, the mystery was finally solved.

It appears that Yisrael was tortured and murdered by three barbaric Bedouin men who chose to commit these horrific acts as part of an initiation rite to join a gang.

On the first of Nisan (March 27, 1990),  bones were found buried under a pile of stones in Shechaniya cave, a place in the area of Bir El Yahudi.

Forensic evidence confirmed that the bones were those of Yisrael Loifer, killed 52 years earlier.

On the 20 of Iyar, 5750 (May 15, 1990), Yisrael Loifer’s remains were brought to Jewish burial next to the grave of his faithful wife, in the Segula cemetery in Petach Tikva.

Rivka Bergman Loifer died without knowing whatever happened to him.

Hy”d.