Thursday, 5 August 2021

The Medals on His Chest

The customer who ordered this anniversary card for her husband also wanted a birthday card for her dad. She sent me a photo of the smartly dressed gentleman and asked me to base the card on that picture. The medals dad is wearing all mean something, she told me. I needed to get them just right! In addition, dark chocolate and weights were requested in the background.
I have shown her 87 year old dad wearing his black army beret and proudly displaying his war medals. I carefully cut out photos of each medal for accuracy and then added the relevant colour ribbon. Above his medal is a red poppy, the enduring symbol of remembrance of the First World War. Poppies are worn as a show of support for Britain's Armed Forces community and are sold in honour of Remembrance Day. The flowers were a common sight on the Western Front and grew on the battlefields of Flanders, flourishing in the soil churned up by the fighting and shelling.
My customer was thrilled with her dad's card. "The card is fantastic. Absolutely amazing!" she wrote to me. I have made many cards for young men and women about to enter the Israel Defence Forces, but this was, I think, my first for an old soldier.

Monday, 2 August 2021

The Hula Nature Reserve and Rosh Pina

We made a return visit to the Hula Nature Reserve back in May. We were last there in 2015 and the site was just as beautiful as I remembered it to be. The reserve is a site of world-wide importance for water birds and is an important wet habitat in the Middle East. From March to mid-April hundreds of millions of exhausted birds land in Israel, after several days of crossing the Sahara Desert and the Sinai Peninsula. Though May was perhaps a little late for the spring migration, we spotted quite a few birds and some other local wildlife too.
The Hula Nature Reserve was declared in 1964. It was the first nature reserve established in Israel and is the last remnant of the Hula lake and marshes. It was drained in the 1950s because the lake and the marshland surrounding it were a breeding ground for mosquitoes carrying malaria. The land was converted into cultivated fields. A small section of the valley was later re-flooded in an attempt to revive a nearly extinct ecosystem. Today the reserve is home to a broad range of waterfowl and other animals, some of them endemic to the reserve (in particular the Hula painted frog, which was thought to have become extinct, but was rediscovered in 2011 and is now considered to be one of the rarest animals in the entire world).
We started the kilometre-and-a-half long trail through the reserve at the Hula Valley lookout point. There we enjoyed a wonderful view of the reserve and its immediate vicinity - the Hula Valley, Ramot Naftali and the slopes of the Golan and Mount Hermon. Continuing on we passed a marsh area where papyrus and common reed were growing in profusion, before reaching the floating bridge, a 600 metre long covered platform which acts as a concealed hide over the lake.
The Hula Nature Reserve is identified especially with both migratory and wintering birds, the most prominent among them being pelicans and cranes, who spend the winter months in Israel. The nests of other water birds have been found within the boundaries of the reserve, including nesting colonies of five species of egrets and herons, and other bird species. Some of these are endangered species, both in Israel and all over the world, while other species in the reserve are regular nesters.
Besides the water fowl, an assortment of mammals live in the reserve, including the wild boar, otters, the swamp lynx and the invasive rodent nutria, also known as the coypu, which threaten the local inhabitants. There is also a variety of insect-eating bats in the reserve and water buffalo graze in certain areas to preserve the open meadows.
After quite some time, we left the floating bridge and continued our walk towards the observation tower, a three-storey tower which gave us a terrific view of the marsh and the lake. We were able to sit and observe the birds, including a beautiful bright blue Kingfisher which flew to and fro across the water. 
Though only a very limited part of the reserve has been made accessible for visitors, we still thoroughly enjoyed our visit but soon it was time to move on. I wanted to show the friends we were with the nearby town of Rosh Pina. Mister Handmade in Israel and I stayed there back in 2015 and I made a more recent return visit in 2019, but it is one of those places that is always lovely to go back to again and again.
Rosh Pina, which means "cornerstone" (from Psalms 118:22), is one of the earliest Jewish agricultural settlements. It was first founded in 1878, when 18 religious Jews from Safed walked 90 minutes to this area, hoping to start farming with the help of three natural springs, and live off the land as farmers rather than off handouts from European Jewish communities. They knew little about farming, however, and the experiment, which was called Gei Oni ("Valley of My Strength"), failed.
A second, more successful effort to develop a settlement began in 1882, with the arrival of a group of mostly new immigrants from Romania and Russia. The newcomers purchased land from local Arabs  and, although they too had to overcome massive hardship and depend for some time on the financial support of the Rothschilds, they eventually became independent and created the town that exists today.
Our first stop in Rosh Pina was at Nimrod Lookout, a gorgeous observation point which is part of the memorial site to Nimrod Segev, who was born in Rosh Pina in 1977 and fell in 2006 in the Second Lebanon War while on reserve duty. The beautiful views seen from the high Nimrod Lookout are the sights Nimrod viewed throughout his life: the Hula Valley, the Golan Heights and Israel's tallest peak, Mount Hermon
Next, we strolled into the centre of the old town, stopping to check out the various ceramic studios and art galleries. We looked through the windows of the small synagogue, Rosh Pina's first public building, and then at the various historical houses, including the home of Gideon Mer, an Israeli scientist whose work was mostly concerned with the eradication of malaria around the swampy Hula Valley. Thanks to his research, the malaria epidemic among settlers in the region and beyond was contained.
We walked back to the car through the Baron's Park, a small wooded area with stone steps reportedly modelled on the grand gardens at Versailles, though it is a little hard to imagine! Our next stop was Safed, one of Israel's holiest cities and also the highest city in Israel. I will tell you all about it in another post.

Thursday, 29 July 2021

Making Music

Last year Benji and Daniel were obsessed with Fireman Sam, or Sami HaKabai as he is known in Hebrew, and in fact a fireman was mum's first request for their 5th birthday cards this year too. I reminded her that it had been last year's theme, so mum put her thinking cap on and decided that I should show the twin boys with the musical instruments they had recently received as gifts from their grandparents.
I showed Benji with his toy accordion. Apparently it isn't too hard to learn the accordion. With daily practice, you should start to get comfortable in about 3 or 4 months. Maybe Benji is well on the way to being an accomplished accordionist by now 😉
Daniel received a toy guitar from his grandparents. I hope he has been practising too! His card also showed him with his new instrument. I added a big number 5 to mark their age on both cards and some balloons and notes too, to continue with the musical theme.
Mum sent me these lovely photos, top and below. Both boys look pretty happy with their cards!