Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Ella and Shulamit

Ella recently turned 16. Her Mum, who tells me that they cannot celebrate a birthday in their family without one of my cards, this time requested a picture of her daughter in front of the New York skyline. She also mentioned some other New York symbols - the Statue of Liberty and Times Square - and I added "The Big Apple", which was actually quite tiny, for good measure! A big red number 16 marks Ella's age. 
A new customer discovered my cards and wrote to me to see if I could make one for her friend who was soon to be celebrating her 27th birthday. She loves swimming and even swam the Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) twice, my customer wrote. She also loves hiking, especially at Sachne (a national park in Israel which has naturally warm water where visitors can swim all year round). Could I put a sign pointing to Sachne on the card? The birthday girl also really loves make-up and is currently doing a make-up course. Though her interests are all extremely varied, my customer was keen to include everything since she felt that they really characterise her friend. 
I showed Shulamit in the green tshirt she was wearing in the photos her friend sent me. She has swimming goggles on her head and a make-brush and a compact blusher in her hands. Behind her is a photo of the Kinneret, and next to her some walking boots, lipstick and nail polish. The requested sign pointing to her favourite place, Sachne, is behind her.
Since Shulamit comes from a British family my customer thought that the birthday greeting should be in English. "I gave it to her and she loved it so much!" she later wrote to me.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Jerusalem Model

My Dad and I, along with a rather reluctant youngest son who declared upfront that our plans were boring, recently enjoyed a day out in Jerusalem. I had heard about the model of modern Jerusalem, which is hosted at Jerusalem's City Hall, and knew that it was something that both my Dad and I would enjoy seeing.
The model can be found in Building 1 of the City Hall. We took the lift down to floor 0 and buzzed to get into the room where the model is located. We were greeting by Nataly Ostrovsky, the construction engineer today responsible for the project, who I had spoken to on the phone prior to our visit. Nataly was happy to show us around and point out the different areas of the city. The model is so realistic that it was easy to locate a particular street or even a specific building. We were amazed by what we saw.
Initially created with basic materials such as cardboard, wood, paint and glue (today's additions are laser cut from Plexiglas), we found a huge model which allowed us a fantastic bird’s eye view of Jerusalem. The large 1:500 scaled model represents approximately 6 square kilometres of space, 15% of the city, from the city centre, across downtown Jerusalem, through Meah Shearim, Rehavia and other neighbourhoods in west Jerusalem, through the Old City and into parts of east Jerusalem. It is worked on on a regular basis and will apparently soon include the rest of the Old City, the Hebrew University campus at Givat Ram, the Valley of the Cross and two major museums - The Israel Museum and the Bible Lands Museum.
The model was originally built by American-born Richard Harvey with the help of students of architecture at the Technion in Haifa. He was hired to design and build it in 1978, during a time of intense development in Jerusalem. In 1985 the project was moved to Jerusalem. Now retired, Harvey continued to be involved in construction and additions through 2003.
Architects and city developers with specific projects in mind can try out their ideas on the model. The model provides visual feedback that would normally take weeks or months of abstract discussion. It is modular in construction, each of its current 48 units is on wheels and can be moved, taken apart, and thus continually updated. Visitors include both local and international planners and designers, and during the International Mayors' Conference, which meets each year in Jerusalem, there is always one session to view and discuss the model and its application to the participants' own local realities. The model also functions as an educational tool. Creative workshops for schoolchildren are held there to teach students about issues in town planning, from traffic gridlock to aesthetics.
Dad and I do not fit in to any of these categories but still found the model of great interest. Even the youngest son was quite taken with it, though I doubt he'd admit it!
After a yummy lunch of hummus and chopped Israeli salad at a nearby eatery, our next stop was the Cable Car Museum on Mount Zion. The museum is located in the northern wing of the Mount Zion Hotel, a boutique hotel well known for its fabulous views of the Old City and the Hinnom Valley. It started out as an eye hospital in the 1880's, when the Duke of Kent, who was a member of the British Order of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, decided together with his colleagues to set up a hospital to serve Muslims, Jews, and Christians from all over the Middle East.
During the First World War, the Turks took over the building, turned it into an arms warehouse and destroyed parts of it. This damage, coupled with the results of an earthquake in the 1920's, made repairs necessary. The British were the ones who acknowledged the building's special location and decided to renovate it in the 1930's. The compound served as a hospital until 1948.
During Israel's War of Independence there was a problem of accessibility between the western part of the city and Mount Zion. At first the connection was maintained through a tunnel crossing the Hinnom Valley. The tunnel made it possible to transfer supplies to the mountain and evacuate the injured, although in a limited manner. However, it was very narrow and an alternative method was needed to evacuate the wounded and bring supplies to the soldiers on Mount Zion. The solution was formulated by engineer Uriel Hefetz in December 1948. A 200-metre (656-foot) steel cable was stretched over the valley every night - from the hospital to a post on Mount Zion - and medicine and arms were ferried by means of a cable car from Jewish-controlled west Jerusalem to fighters battling Jordanian troops up on Mount Zion. The wounded were brought from Mount Zion over to the hospital. During the day the cable was lowered to the ground so as not to be seen by the enemy.
The cable reached a height of about 50 metres (164 feet) above the valley, and the cable car could carry a maximal weight of about half a tonne. Three soldiers on each side were responsible for operating it, and the ride lasted about two minutes in each direction. While it was only in use for half a year the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) maintained it in working order from 1948 until 1967, should the need for it ever arise. The cable car was eventually retired, but kept secret by the IDF until 1972.
In the Cable Car Museum you can see the authentic cable car and its mechanism (although the cable has been restored) and look at photographs of officers and soldiers who shared the secret, including the Israeli military leader and politician Moshe Dayan. Uriel Hefetz was awarded the Israel Security Prize and received a number of the IDF’s highest commendations for his participation in the Yom Kippur War and the terrorist siege at Ma'alot in May 1974. In recent years Jerusalem commemorated his work with a street called Netiv Harakevel ("the car cable route").
Our final stop of the day was at the beautiful 9/11 Living Memorial Plaza located on a hill in Arazim Valley (arazim means cedars), just north of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway. The plaza, built on 5 acres of hillside, remembers and honours the victims of the September 11 attacks. The cenotaph measures 30 feet and is made of granite, bronze and aluminium. It takes the form of an American flag, waving and transforming into a flame at the tip, while the folded part of the flag is reminiscent of the collapse of the towers in a cloud of dust. A piece of melted metal from the ruins of the Twin Towers forms part of the base on which the cenotaph rests. It is inscribed with these words in English and Hebrew: "This metal piece, like the entire monument, is a manifestation of the special relationship between New York and Jerusalem."
The names of every single victim of 9/11, including five Israeli citizens, are embedded on metal plates and placed on a circular wall around the plaza. This cenotaph was the first cenotaph outside of the United States which lists the names of the nearly 3,000 victims of the 9/11 attacks. The cenotaph is strategically located within view of Jerusalem's main cemetery, Har HaMenuchot.
The cenotaph was designed by award-winning artist Eliezer Weishoff, who is also well known for his artistic posters, stamps, medals, coins and banknotes. It was commissioned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF/KKL) and dedicated in November 2009.
The 9/11 Living Memorial Plaza is a circular plaza surrounding the bronze sculpture. The space is large enough to comfortably hold 300 people and was designed to echo the shape of The Pentagon. It also has an indentation in the floor of the plaza that represents the rut created in the land where one of the planes crashed in rural Pennsylvania. Each year on the anniversary of 9/11, a ceremony is held there with diplomats, dignitaries and local politicians remembering the terrorist attacks. During the year the handicapped-accessible site is open to tourists and locals. Israeli school children often visit on school trips to learn more about the terrorist tragedy that took place on American soil.

* This post has been shared on image-in-ingTravel Tuesday, Wordless WednesdayWednesday Around the WorldWednesday Waters, Share Your Cup ThursdayLife Thru the Lens and Little Things Thursday.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Running and Swimming

Twins Amitai and Gavriel are another couple of kids who receive customised cards for their birthdays every year. Last year they were into tennis and basketball, and prior to that they were both playing the cello and doing gymnastics. This year, when they turned 10, they (yes, they put in their own requests!) Mum had new ideas for their cards.
Amitai's favourite colour is yellow. He likes to go running and, while doing so, enjoys listening to music using his Marley in-ear headphones with their colourful braided cable. Mum was quite specific about the clothes he prefers to run in. I have shown Amitai wearing his black NIKE shorts and his striped adidas trainers. He also recently joined the Sayarut youth movement which is run by The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, so I added the logo of the youth movement and some trees to his card.
Gavriel favours the colour red. One of his favourite things is his swimming class and he also loves to play with Lego. I have shown him playing in the water, with a pair of orange and blue goggles on his head.
Both boys look pretty pleased with their cards, don't you think?

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

"PAW Patrol is on a roll!"

Young Benjamin recently turned 5. His Mum is diligent about ordering my cards for her children's birthdays, so Benjamin receives one of my customised birthday cards every year, just as his brothers do. Last year Benjamin was getting a trampoline for his birthday, so I showed him jumping on a trampoline on his card. This year Mum told me that he was receiving a new bicycle. I copied the photo she sent me of the bicycle as accurately as I could.
Benjamin is also a fan of the Canadian animated television series PAW Patrol. Honestly I'd never heard of it before (my own kids are way past the cartoons stage) but I soon found some cute images of the six PAW Patrol rescue dogs who work together to protect their community, then added a little white paw print for good measure.
Finally I popped a cycle helmet on Benjamin's head - important if he is going to go riding on his new bicycle - and added a big red number 5 to the card.
A customer asked me for a selection of cards with floral decoration on the front. Thankfully I am kept so busy making my larger customised cards that it has been some time since I made some of these designs on slightly smaller cards. They were fun to make.
Finally, one of my nephews in the UK had a birthday not so long ago. I made him a papercut card, cutting out his initial by hand from white stock then lining the card with a green paper inlay.
I hope he liked it.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Sixteen

Sixteen seems like an important age here in Israel. Now he is sixteen my eldest son can open his first bank account; will receive his Tzav Rishon, or the "First Draft Notice," from the Israeli army which is used to set his physical profile and kaba (a general score which tells the army what you are fit to join, and is made up of the dapar, a score due to your education, and your personal interview). He can also learn to drive.
He'll begin the process by taking a medical and eye exam, followed by a theoretical test. Once those bases have been covered, my son will sign up for 28 driving lessons with an instructor before he can take his Mivchan Shlita, the practical driving test. Fingers crossed that he'll pass because it's an expensive process! 
My son asked for driving lessons for his birthday, so this year's birthday card simply had to reflect that. I have shown him waving from the driver's seat of my new white car (he won't really be learning to drive in it - phew!). I am sitting next to him with my hands covering my eyes! There is an Israeli L-plate on the front of the car. The plate shares the general design of Israeli information signs in its square form and blue background. On the blue background is a white triangle pointing upwards, with the black Hebrew letter "ל" in it, from the Hebrew למידה‎ - "Learning".
It seems that birthday celebrations as the kids get older are not the 'palava' they once were. Once upon a time I would prepare party games and write invitations, assemble party bags and ice cupcakes with their friends names on them. Of course all of that is no longer needed. Mister Handmade in Israel and I did help with the shopping and preparations, and I did cut up a big Israeli salad and a few pitot, but then we went out and left my son happily barbecuing with his friends. And when we came home, they had even tidied up and bagged up all the rubbish!
I did make cake though. Two of them to be exact. One for the barbecue and one for his big day.
You can never have too much cake.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Making the Desert Bloom

In the last few weeks we've celebrated Rosh Hashanah, then Yom Kippur, closely followed by the festival of Sukkot. Sukkot commemorates the years that the Jews spent in the desert on their way to the Promised Land. The six days between the festivals of Sukkot and Simchat Torah are referred to as Chol Hamoed, or "weekdays [of] the festival". My Dad came over from the UK for a long visit and together we explored more of this wonderful little country, mostly without the kids who had their own plans. First we headed south into the Negev desert.
The first lookout point established in the Negev in modern times, Mitzpe Gvulot (the Gvulot Observation Point), was founded in May 1943. It was built entirely of mud and straw bricks by twelve young people who intended to watch over and guard the land purchased by the Jewish National Fund, and also to study the climate and conditions on the ground before future settlement and agricultural development. The settlers in fact found the soil was very suitable, but the lack of water was a major difficulty, as it is today. In contrast to other such reconstructions, which are usually in the heart of flourishing agricultural areas, the first buildings of Mitzpe Gvulot are still surrounded by desert. Trees planted over the years by the JNF are visible in the distance, but one can still feel the loneliness that must have surrounded those first settlers.
Among the various exhibits displayed at Mitzpe Gvulot (meaning "Borders") is a reconstruction of a unique water collecting system which was built to supply water for agriculture and for the settlers' daily needs, Mekorot’s first water pipe, and a bakery which was built during the War of Independence which served as a regional bakery during the siege. Yeast supplies were dropped onto the outpost grounds by a light plane each day.
We walked through the JNF (Jewish National Fund) Room which served as the living quarters of JNF officials involved in purchasing lands in the Negev, and looked at the dusty remains of the diamond polishing plant that formerly operated at the site. Another thing to see is the room in which residents hosted local Bedouin. This room served also as a clinic, where the local physician, Dr. Diamant, who lived among the settlers, would treat the local Bedouin. They would seek his services and even summon him to their tents to treat urgent cases. To this day there is a peg where a skirt would hang, so the women living at Mitzpe Gvulot, who normally wore shorts, could greet the Bedouin in more modest clothing. The largest building at Mitzpe Gvulot, built of solid bricks, was the security headquarters and watch tower.
In 1949 Kibbutz Gvulot moved 1 km north of its present location, and the buildings of the post were abandoned until their reconstruction in 1996 as part of an initiative by the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, the JNF and the Eshkol Regional Council. A visitor centre was set up and the site was declared a national heritage site.
Thanks to the JNF and Jewish Agency leaders who foresaw the importance of the Negev desert for the future of the State of Israel, three mitzpim (observation points) were established in 1943: Mitzpe Gvulot, Revivim and Beit Eshel. A dense network of settlements in the northwestern Negev was subsequently established and their extensive agriculture contributes greatly to Israel's economy today.
After visiting Mitzpe Gvulot we moved onto nearby Moshav Talmei Yosef, a remote moshav close to the Egyptian border, to visit the Salad Trail, an organic farm where you can see how it is possible to take a desert and make it bloom.
Shvil HaSalat, or the Salad Trail, was set up by Uri Alon, a farmer and adviser to those looking for farming knowledge on how to grow produce in difficult terrain, both in Israel and abroad. Uri ran a commercial farm at Talmei Yosef before converting it into an educational facility where you can roam the fields, pick, touch, taste and learn about the crops you eat. We stopped by the greenhouse where 15 varieties of cherry tomatoes are grown, pulled three different colours of carrots from a field (did you know carrots weren't always orange?), tasted cucumbers, edible flowers and herbs, and observed some of the most up to date agricultural technologies. At every stop of our tour we received an explanation - why the tomatoes grow upwards and why there were enormous bees in the greenhouse - followed by some picking and eating. Yum!
We baked pitot on the saj (a saj is a cooking grill used in the Middle East made of metal and shaped like a dome, with a heat source underneath it) and dipped them in za'atar and olive oil. Afterwards we visited the herbal greenhouse where we learnt about medicinal herbs. We touched, we smelt and we learnt about their essential oils.
A flock of homing pigeons ("the e-mail of the ancient world") is also a fixture on the trail. The Israel Defence Forces (and the Haganah before Israel was founded in 1948) used homing pigeons in the defence of Israel when it was first founded, and in the defence of the Jewish community before Israeli independence. On our tour each family released a pigeon and watched it fly. Aside from expertise in agriculture, Uri Alon is one of Israel's champion racing pigeon trainers. It was his aunt who brought a flock of homing pigeons from Tel Aviv to the Negev during the 1948 war to help the fighters down south communicate with their commanders. This aunt was the inspiration for the female character in author Meir Shalev's well-known novel, "A Pigeon and a Boy."
The Salad Trail was much more than a pick-your-own produce farm. Being in the middle of the desert and then discovering fields of vegetables and greenhouses full of juicy red, yellow and even striped tomatoes was a fascinating and delicious experience. Uri Alon is most certainly living his - and Ben Gurion's - dream of making the desert bloom.
Our final stop of the day was at the San Pedro Cactus Farm, also on Moshav Talmei Yosef. The farm supplies cactus and succulent plants to many of the nurseries in Israel, from Nahariya in the north, to Eilat in the south. Collectors, nursery owners, garden landscapers, and cactus lovers come from all over Israel to find rare plants that are not sold in regular nurseries. The farm sells thousands of species of cacti and succulents in all sizes, shapes and colours; they even sell the 'magic' Hoodia plant used by the San (formerly Bushmen) of the Kalahari. They also have their own private collection for viewing which we unfortunately did not see on the day we visited.
San Pedro also offers accommodation in a "Khan" (the Turkish word for travellers lodge) which is suitable for couples and for a family or group of friends seeking the quiet and relaxation of the desert. It is equipped with mattresses and pillows, and there are showers and bathrooms for your convenience, as well as a spacious lawn and of course a garden of giant cacti.
The beautiful cacti and succulents of all colours and sizes at San Pedro were truly a sight to see. Far from the noise of the city, surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of the desert, a visit to the nursery was the perfect way to end a great day out.
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