Sunday, 1 May 2016

The Monument to the Negev Fighters Brigade

On the second day of our trip to Be'ersheva we visited the Monument to the Negev Fighters Brigade (Andartat Hativat HaNegev in Hebrew), known locally as the Andarta. It is a monument designed by Dani Karavan, one of Israel's most famous artists, in memory of the members of the Negev Brigade of the Palmach, the elite fighting force of the Haganah, the Jewish underground army, during the British Mandate in Israel. 324 of the brigade fighters fell in the campaign to capture the Negev during the 1948 War of Independence.
The monument, located on a small hill east of Be'ersheva, was built between 1963 and 1968 at a time when Israel was making many physical memorials, primarily nonfigurative, to those who fought and died in its wars. It is made of raw concrete consisting of eighteen separate elements that reflect the events and symbols of the War of Independence and the Palmach. The key element is the central tower at the peak of the hill, but set around it are smaller elements and a small domed structure which is split. This narrow split continues through some of the other structures.
Dani Karavan designed the monument to illustrate the story of the Negev Brigade and the besieged Negev settlements. The monument reduces the entire Negev campaign to its essentials: a water tower, shells, a concrete tent wall, a bunker, a well, a hill crisscrossed by communications trenches, a pipeline tunnel, and nine war maps engraved in the floor of the square.
The central tower of the monument represents the watch and water towers of the Negev kibbutzim that were under shelling during the war, whilst the pipeline tunnel is reminiscent of the channel of water in the Negev defended by the soldiers. The concrete sheet brings to mind the Palmach tent, and the trenches remind us of military communication trenches. Engraved in the concrete are the names of the soldiers who died in the war, the badge of the Palmach, diary passages from the soldiers, the battle registry, verses and songs. A serpent-shaped building symbolises the defeated Egyptian army.
In the centre of the monument is the memorial dome, where the names of the Brigade's fallen are recorded, and where the memorial light is located.
From the height of the monument we enjoyed a panoramic view of the city of Be'ersheva, the Hebron mountains and the Negev mountains. The feel of the whole place was stark but beautiful. Dani Karavan wanted to create a memorial that would not merely be a piece of sculpture, but would be a 'happening' in which the visitor could take part. You can climb all over and in between the structures, making it a place fun for kids. Nonetheless it remains a moving memorial site which offers room for contemplation.
An audio guide, provided in English and Hebrew at the foot of the hill, was totally worth listening to to understand the design aspects relevant to the history of the Negev Brigade. In addition, beside its historic meaning, the memorial is an important piece of art - one of the first environmental sculptures in Israel.
About the artist:
Daniel (Dani) Karavan was born in Tel Aviv in 1930, son of Abraham and Zehava Karavan, both pioneers who immigrated to Israel in 1920. Abraham was the chief landscape architect of Tel Aviv from the 1940's to the 1960's. At the age of 14, Karavan began studying painting. In 1943, he studied with Marcel Janco in Tel Aviv and from 1943 to 1949 at the Bezalel School of Art in Jerusalem. After living on a kibbutz from 1948 to 1955, he returned to art. From 1956 to 1957, he studied fresco technique at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence and drawing at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. From the early 60's Dani designed scenery for theatre, dance and opera. At the same time he created site-specific environmental sculptures in Israel. In 1976 he represented Israel in the Venice Biennial. Since then he has been commissioned to create environmental sculptures around the world, has exhibited in various acclaimed museums and has received numerable international awards. He lives and works in Tel-Aviv, Paris and Florence.

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Tuesday, 26 April 2016

To Our Wonderful Daughter and Fab Son

A new customer in the UK found one of my netball cards in Google Images and contacted me to see if she could order something like it for her daughter's birthday. She plays goal attack for a county team and lives and breathes netball, Mum told me. She also sent me the logo of her daughter's netball club which I added to the card. I included a netball post and a big red number 15 to mark her age as well.
Mum also wanted a card for her son Jack, who was turning 12. He loves his PlayStation 4, his favourite game being Destiny: The Taken King. I suggested showing him with a PS4 controller in his hand. His favourite game is next to him and the console behind him.
I was a little nervous that the cards might not make it in time for their birthdays, but Mum told me that they got there quickly. "They really are fabulous. Thank you again, I shall be recommending you to all" she said.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Yael's Album

I made a Bat Mitzvah album for Yael's sister, Noa, who lives in Singapore, back in 2014. It is always exciting to receive orders from "foreign lands", so I was delighted to hear from Mum once again when she contacted me to order an album for her second daughter. Mum wanted a book which opens the English way (Hebrew books open from right to left) but requested that her daughter's name be displayed in both English and Hebrew, and the date in Hebrew alone.
Yael does gymnastics, she loves candy and chocolate, she has an iPhone 5, and she also likes rollerblading. Mum requested a "portrait" of Yael on the album's cover, with the different topics surrounding her, like I did for Noa. She also suggested that I add the Marina Bay Sands hotel, a Singapore symbol and a big attraction, to represent Yael's current home.
I have shown brown haired Yael surrounded by a few of her favourite things. To her left are some sweets and jelly beans. To her right is the Marina Bay hotel, and her iPhone underneath. At the bottom is a pair of grey and purple roller blades. The background box is turquoise and Yael's t-shirt bright pink, to match the colour scheme of her party. These colours were chosen to echo the colours of the colourful Megillat Esther, "The Scroll of Esther", a firsthand account of the events of Purim, which were being used at Yael's celebration.
I decorated five pages inside the album. The first page had a flamingo on it (Yael likes them), followed by a page with the flags of the three places she has lived - Israel, Italy and Singapore. She of course likes playing on an iPad, so next I added a picture of that, along with her phone. Yael specifically requested a page showing her doing a cartwheel. I went with my usual obsessiveness eye for detail and especially asked Mum what colour leotard and leggings she wears for gymnastics. Finally, I created a page of full of candy (or sweets, as I call them!). Apparently Yael has quite a taste for them!
Yael's grandparents took the album to Singapore with them when they went to visit the family there. Mum seemed thrilled with it and wrote to say "I can't believe how much the picture of Yael looks like her. Thank you. It's beautiful. Yael really likes it."

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Robotics, football and more

Matan was turning 15.  His big interest at the moment is robotics, Mum told me, and he loves the organization FIRST that organizes all the robotics competitions. He is a mentor for a Lego robotics group this year and is in the robotics team TRIGON 5990, so Mum asked me to add the team's logo to his birthday card.
I have shown Matan with the important logos. He has a banner declaring that he is a mentor in front of him, and a gold medal in his hand with 1st on it. "We can dream!" Mum said.
He loved his card.
Max recently celebrated his 12th birthday. Themes should be any of the following, his aunt said: Manchester United, his mobile phone, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. I fitted all of the logos, plus a big birthday cake displaying his age, on the card. You can't go wrong with cake on a birthday card.
This card in Hebrew was for a young man called Ro'i who was soon to be celebrating his 11th birthday. He likes football and his bike, Mum said. A few beautifully wrapped presents gave it a birthday theme.

Friday, 8 April 2016


A couple of weeks ago both my boys were on their tiyul shnati (annual trip) with their school at the same time. On a whim I arranged an overnight trip for Mister Handmade in Israel and I to Be'ersheva, the largest city in southern Israel, often referred to as the "Capital of the Negev". I wasn't particularly looking to visit Be'ersheva, but decided to go there when I found a delightful place to stay - Home in the Old City. Our 24 hour visit was based around that. 
The guesthouse I found was absolutely beautiful, built into restored stone houses that were once part of the staff homes of Hadassah Hospital, and situated right in the heart of Be'ersheva's Old City. Behind the main entrance door we stepped into a pretty shared patio to which the rooms' doors are facing. Our room was ecologically built, with high ceilings and stone arches, and beautiful details in the painted tiles. Breakfast, served outside on the patio, was simple but delicious. It was a real gem of a place to stay!
Be'ersheva's Old City is beginning to enjoy a big boost of development and restoration and is on its way to becoming the jewel of the desert as it was in Abraham’s day (Be'ersheva was the first city in Israel that our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, settled in). We decided to explore the area by foot and, equipped with a map from our room, we walked from one beautiful building to the next.
Our first stop was at the "Saraya" building, below, a historic building built in 1906 that was used in the past as home to the Turkish governor, during the Ottoman reign in Israel. During the British Mandate the building was used as home to the appointed district officer, and later as a girls' school. These days it has been transformed in to The Negev Museum of Art, with three galleries displaying temporary exhibitions and a vast entrance yard.
Next door to the museum, and within the same compound, is the Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Studies, above. This museum, opened in 2014, is located in "el Gahma", the Big Mosque. The mosque, which was built diagonally to the street, in keeping with the direction of prayer to Mecca, has a towering minaret, white dome and intricate metal detailing on its many windows. Inside it now houses a collection of Muslim archaeological finds from Israel. The temporary exhibition we viewed, From Iznik to Jerusalem, presented the encounter between the Turkish ceramics and the Armenian ceramics of Jerusalem.
In Israel you will not see much figurative art in public places. "You shall not make for yourself a graven image" it says in the Bible, and fundamentalist Islam also forbids the depiction of human or animal form. This verse has been interpreted by some rabbis as a ban on statues, and municipal by-laws, particularly in Jerusalem, have always taken religious sensitivities into consideration. The monument to General Edmund Allenby, sitting on a block of stone in the middle of a small park opposite the museum compound, seems to conform with that idea.
Allenby was the British conqueror who marched into Palestine and put an end to four centuries of Turkish rule with a surprise attack on Be'ersheva. One might have anticipated some majestic statue of the man on a galloping steed. The park named after him, called Gan Allenby, was one of the first public parks in Palestine. The Turks planted it in 1906 and held public assemblies and ceremonies there. But park culture was not yet ingrained. Bedouin brought their flocks to graze and the trees were cut down for firewood. In 1915, the park was restored as a formal Islamic garden with four paths leading to a central column celebrating the victories of the Ottoman Empire. After the British conquest, a bust of General Allenby was mounted on this column, but the Arabs later tore it down. It has only recently been replaced with a modest bust and the simple inscription "Allenby, 1917-18".
Moving on, we passed the beautifully kept Be'ersheva War Cemetery, the final resting place of 1,239 British and Australian soldiers who died in the area during World War I. Nearby is The Train Yard - Engine 70414 Compound, the old Turkish Railway Station that was built in 1915 by the Ottomans. It has recently been preserved and restored, and in the complex is a small museum, a restaurant, and an original locomotive steam engine and train carriages, below. Be'ersheva was the only city built in what is now Israel during the 400 years of Ottoman rule. The train station was built to meet the Ottoman army's need for a main supply line running from Syria to the fighting front in Sinai, and remained in use until 1927. The line began in Damascus, Syria and ran to Al-Madina in Hejaz (today a part of Saudi Arabia). It was along this line that Lawrence of Arabia harassed Turkish trains and the soldiers guarding the line during World War I.
The water tower of the Turkish train station, now in the middle of a residential area, above, used to supply water to the steam engine of the trains which arrived at the nearby station. On the roof were two big water tanks and on the first floor was the pump. The water tower was a central building that served the Turks, the English, and the Jews. After the closure of the station, and during the Jewish settlement of the city, the tower was used to supply water to the residents of the city.
One final place we visited that I want to tell you about in this post (yes - there will be more!) is Abraham's Well International Visitors' Centre, located down by the banks of the biblical Be'ersheva River. This new Visitor Centre showcases the life of the Patriarch Abraham, the spiritual father of three monotheistic religions, and the well which, according to the local Bedouin, and based on the dating of stones and location, may be the one mentioned in the Bible.
It may have been here that Abraham watered his large flocks almost 4,000 years ago and settled a dispute with Abimelech over rights to the water. Scholars still cannot decide whether "Beer-Sheva" means "Well of the Covenant" or "Well of the Seven" for the seven ewe lambs that Abraham gave Abimelech as a peace offering.
The well may or may not be the one mentioned in the Bible, but the centre was definitely worth the visit. The architecture of the Visitor Centre was impressive and the 3D film informative, giving us a good understanding of Abraham's life and an explanation about why he chose Be'ersheva as the place to build his well. The well is... well, it's a well. If you are in Be'ersheva, take some time to visit it.
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