Thursday, 16 May 2019

30 Years and in the Spotlight

A lady contacted me with a request for a pearl wedding card to mark her daughter and son-in-law's 30th wedding anniversary. She gave me a little background information about the couple. Her daughter is a lawyer but also a singer. Apparently she sings in classical choirs both in Israel and abroad. Her husband is a psychologist. She asked me to include some music notes and a microphone on the card, and a book and newspaper design for the psychologist. I included a law book for the lawyer as well.
The Hebrew greeting on the card wishes the couple Mazal Tov - literally meaning "good luck", though the phrase is used to express "congratulations" - on their special anniversary.
A few weeks ago I was contacted by Sarah Sussman of the 'Judaica in the Spotlight' online art magazine to see if I would like to be interviewed for the arts section. I was delighted to be asked and was happy to answer the questions she subsequently sent me.
Sarah wanted to know what inspired me to become an artist and what my speciality is. She wanted to know how and where I work, what the most indispensable item in my studio is, and from where I take my inspiration. She asked me about my favourite items in my current collection and about the first artwork I ever sold.
The interview went live on 'Judaica in the Spotlight' in March. For those of you who may not have seen the feature yet, please do pop by and "read all about it" here. I hope that you enjoy learning a little bit more about me, my work and my inspirations.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Shuk Dash

Remember the Yemin Moshe Windmill Dash and the Jerusalem, Gush Etzion and Nachalot Scavenger Hunts that I have participated in over the years? Well, Tali Kaplinsky Tarlow, the driving force behind Israel ScaVentures, once again invited me, along with an awesome group of bloggers and social media influencers, to try out the new ScaVentures Shuk Dash app (shuk is the Hebrew word for market) at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem.
The app, which you can either download or use ScaVentures pre-loaded tablets, gives you the opportunity to explore the shuk as part of a team. Each team competes to buy and sell something, pose with a fish and find someone from Morocco, among many other missions, within a set time. The dash is not a history lesson. We didn't have a guide nor was there even that much time to stop and look around, never mind take photos (thanks to my teammates for allowing me to use some of their shots). This was a morning of competitive fun! After a brief explanation about the Shuk Dash from Tali, we were tasked with getting to know the people of the market - vendors and shoppers alike - and to hear their stories. It was a full on morning of entertainment, definitely suited to the more outgoing among us. We looked for signs, asked questions, tasted food and generally had a good time together! 
Photo credit: Israel ScaVentures
Photo credit: Ingrid Muller Photography
Photo credit: Robin Epstein, Around the Island Photography

Now, since I am a bit of a history buff, I am going to include a little bit about the market in this post. The Mahane Yehuda market is the largest market in Jerusalem with over 250 vendors selling everything from fruit and vegetables to speciality foods, and clothing to Judaica. The market is a great way to experience a traditional Middle Eastern style shuk, with its fascinating array of sounds, sights and smells.
Mahane Yehuda, which is open every day apart from Shabbat and is particularly busy on Thursdays and Friday mornings, is set between two streets, with two main aisles and then many further small walkways once inside. Just a ten minute walk from the centre of Jerusalem, the market is a fascinating place to stroll whether you are interested just in observing the magnificent sculpted displays of spices and mouthwatering array of foods, or if you want to get involved in real-market buying, negotiating and tasting. In recent years, the shuk has emerged a centre for Jerusalem nightlife, with restaurants, bars and live music. After the Shuk Dash I went with a couple of friends to eat a delicious lunch at Crave, one of the newest culinary fixtures in the market.
Photo credit: Robin Epstein, Around the Island Photography
Photo credit: Robin Epstein, Around the Island Photography

The neighbourhood of Mahane Yehuda was established in 1887 by three business partners - Johannes Frutiger (a German Protestant and owner of the largest bank in Palestine), Shalom Konstrum, and Joseph Navon. It was named after Navon's brother, Yehuda. The newly established neighbourhood of Beit Ya'akov stood nearby. At the end of the 19th century a marketplace known as Shuk Beit Ya'akov was established on an empty lot to the east of the neighbourhood. Here Arab merchants and fellaheen sold their goods to the residents who lived outside the Old City. As the new neighbourhoods outside the Old City grew, the Beit Ya'akov market grew apace with more stalls, tents and pavilions.
Under Ottoman rule, the market expanded haphazardly and sanitary conditions worsened. In the late 1920s, the British Mandate authorities cleared out all the merchants and built permanent stalls and roofing. Afterwards the market began to be known as the Mahane Yehuda market, after the larger of the two neighbourhoods.
In 1931 a new section was built to the west of the market by 20 traders who previously had only temporary wooden stalls in the area. It was later named the Iraqi Market, as many traders of Iraqi Jewish descent acquired shops there.
In the 2000s major renovations were made to the Mahane Yehuda market. A number of trendy shops and cafés began appearing among the market's retail stalls. Non-Middle Eastern restaurants currently include eateries such as "Pasta Basta," specialising in Italian pasta dishes, "Fish and Chips," one, if not the only fish and chips bar in Jerusalem, and "Ha'Agas 1," a vegetarian restaurant.
The shuk also hosts special events like the "Ba LaBasta" happening in 2011, which brought in huge crowds. Guided shopping and cooking tours are aimed at attracting culinary tourists. Also in 2011, the city-sponsored project "Tabula Rasa" (Blank Slate) saw artists being recruited from schools of art and photography in the city to decorate the walls, metal shutters, concrete surfaces and even the rubbish bins of the market.
The market's mixture of shops and restaurants, which includes both kosher and halal establishments, attract residents and tourists, Israelis from Jerusalem and other parts of the country, rich and poor, young and old, religious and secular, Jews and non-Jews, including members of the Arab community. An estimated 200,000 people visit the shuk weekly.
Before each Jewish festivals thousands of shoppers shop in the market for foods based on different holiday traditions: everything from pomegranates, dates, lulavs and etrogs, and assorted honey to fish heads.
Sadly Mahane Yehuda was a target for terrorist attacks during the Second Intifada. On 30th July 1997, 16 people were killed and 178 wounded in two consecutive suicide bombings, then in 
2002 a female suicide bomber detonated at the entrance to the market, killing 6 and injuring 104. The market was heavily guarded for years afterwards.
Back to the Shuk Dash. Israel ScaVentures have Scavenger Hunts all around the country, including Jaffa, Safed, Zikhron Ya'akov and more. The Shuk Dash, whilst definitely being more interactive than educational, was great fun and was a terrific way to see and get to know the market.
Tali runs ScaVentures throughout the year. If you want to get in touch with her and join in for yourselves, you can contact her here.

* This post has been shared on All Seasons, The Good. The Random. The Fun., Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday), Our World Tuesday, Tuesday's Treasures, Travel Tuesday, The Wednesday Link Up and My Corner of the World.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

The Southern Hills

One recent weekend Mister Handmade in Israel and I decided to take a walk in the hills south of the Buchman neighbourhood of Modi'in. (Actually, I decided we were going out for a walk and he was, somewhat reluctantly, dragged along!). The hills contain ruins of ancient settlements and provide beautiful nature hikes in the winter and spring. The decent amount of rain that we have had this winter meant that the spring flowers were blooming in force and, thanks to an unusually large migration from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait this year, there were butterflies galore, crossing Israel on their way to Europe.
The southern hills run along the south of the city of Modi'in, 300 metres above sea level. The hills are part of the Mediterranean ecological corridor that connects the Ramot Menashe region with the Jerusalem Hills and the Judean Foothills. What makes this area special is the link between the humid Mediterranean region in Israel's north with the arid Mediterranean region in Israel's south. The corridor enables the passage of animals, plants and pollinating insects, thus playing a critical role in conserving the biological diversity.
The hills provide several breathtaking lookout points over the Ayalon Valley, Park Canada and the Jerusalem Hills. There are also many archaeological artifacts - wine presses, oil presses, ritual baths, cisterns, caves, terraces and agricultural facilities that are proof of extensive agricultural and human activity in ancient times.
In 2014, students of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) exploration clubs conducted a survey of cisterns on the southern hills. The survey mapped 18 ritual baths, caves, and cisterns.
The remains of the village of Hadat, with findings from the Chalcolithic period and throughout most periods of history up to the early Islamic period, are perched on the top of one hill. At its centre is a Byzantine church, including fragments of columns and a round apse on the eastern side of the church. On the slopes there are cisterns, burial caves and hewn wine presses. A mosaic floor with a verse from Psalms was exposed in the church, but the mosaic is covered today.
The French explorer and archaeologist Clermont-Ganneau visited here in 1874 and told of ancient stone carvings engraved with crosses. These ancient lintels, which Clermont-Ganneau dated to the Byzantine period, were lost over the years and were probably plundered by antiquities robbers.
Be'erit, named for the well located at the foot of the hill, was named after the Arabic place name Al-Bawira or Bawiri. The well is extremely deep and allowed water to be drawn from the groundwater level. This well is the only one known throughout all of Modi'in's hills, as opposed to the many cisterns throughout the region where rain water was collected. Today the walls of the well are covered with concrete, which indicates that the reinforcement was done within the last century, probably during the British Mandate Period.
The remains of the village of Kanubah, a small Arab village conquered during the War of Independence, indicate that it was once a Byzantine-era farm. There is a burial cave and not far from it are the remains of a large building, a courtyard and cisterns. A giant palm tree rises up besides the stones, a trough hewn out of stone and a water channel. On the rocks are small round niches or cupmarks which were used to make olive oil by crushing the olives in them. This work was reserved for the elderly and the infirm during the harvest period.
Hikers can also, if they are lucky, observe a variety of wild animals for whom the hills serve as a habitat. Mountain gazelles, hyenas, jackals, porcupines, foxes, mongooses, badgers and various rodents live on the hills. Reptiles observed include fan-fingered geckos, stellagamas, Greek tortoises and Günther's cylindrical skinks (the last two being endangered species). A variety of birds of prey, as well as migratory birds such as storks and pelicans, and a host of songbirds can also be spotted.
As I previously mentioned, when we visited there was an influx of the painted lady, or Vannesa Cardui, species of butterfly, a type of migratory butterfly that travels in groups for distances of thousands of kilometres in the search for food. The large amounts of rain that fell in January and February not only in Israel but also in the Arabian Peninsula, turned the desert turned into fertile land. With their food sources drying up in the Arabian desert, the large numbers of butterflies migrated in search of food. The butterflies continue northward, crossing Cyprus and on to southern Europe to create their next generation.
There are hundreds of species of plant life on the southern hills. In January and February the almond tree blossoms in the orchards of Be'erit and Kanubah, and red anemones can be seen in the valley between Hadat and Be'erit. In the winter and spring the undergrowth is in full bloom with pink cyclamen, winter crocus, Tuberous Hawkbit, Asphodelus ramosus, Syrian Iris and more. At the start of spring the Persian buttercup, cornflower, hairy pink flax, garland chrysanthemum, Jerusalem sage and purple clover bloom. In August and September, Sea Squill blossoms along the route.
Trees that can be found on the hill include carob and birch, alongside a range of orchard trees and large pine trees. The pine trees are estimated to be some 130 years old!
In addition to the area's landscape qualities and its importance in providing open spaces for Modi'in residents, this area, as mentioned above, is of critical importance on a national scale. The sequence of natural open spaces allows for biological diversity and the passage of wildlife between various habitats. In Modi'in's current master plan the southern hills are zoned as land for construction, but due to pressure exerted by the SPNI and local residents, and thanks to demonstrations in support of conserving the hills, there is now hope that the decision makers will rethink the future of the hills.
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