Monday, 17 June 2019

Douze Pointe and Tea for Two

Netta Barzilai, also known mononymously as Netta, is an Israeli singer, recording artist and looping artist who won the fifth season of Israel's HaKokhav HaBa, "The Next Star". This earned her the right to represent her country at the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest. On 12th May 2018, she won the contest, held in Lisbon, Portugal, with her song "Toy", marking Israel's fourth win in the Eurovision Song Contest after wins in 1978, 1979, and 1998.
After Netta's grand victory in Lisbon, the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest took place here in Tel Aviv a few weeks ago. When I read about this fabulous sculpture of Netta that had been installed in the Eurovision Village in Tel Aviv, I knew that I had to pop over to see it. It was created by Nirit Levav Packer, whose extraordinary exhibition of life-size statues of pregnant women I saw back in 2017. The Netta sculpture has since been moved to the Israel Children's Museum in Holon after the Eurovision Village's closure.
Inspired by Netta and her song 'Toy', Nirit Levav Packer composed the massive recycled sculpture of the singer, crafted entirely from tens of thousands of used toys collected from kindergartens around Tel Aviv, including stuffed animals, Legos, balls, rattles, puzzle pieces and more. The sculpture is 4 metres tall, 6 metres wide, 2 metres deep and weighs 2 tons. It has been created with so much imagination, creativity, humour and sensitivity. I was thrilled to see it!
The day before the Grand Final of the Song Contest happened to be my birthday! Mister Handmade in Israel and I spent the day in Tel Aviv, first watching Izhar Cohen perform A-Ba-Ni-Bi in the Dizengoff Centre, before joining friends at the Eurovision Village for a cold beer and an afternoon of dancing. The boys didn't want to join us but there was time for cake before we left!
My birthday surprise, saved for another day, was afternoon tea at the Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem. Opened in 2014 and located only minutes away from the Jaffa Gate and Jerusalem's Old City, I had never even been inside the hotel, being more used to an ice cream or Diet Coca Cola for my afternoon's refreshments!
Afternoon tea was first introduced by Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford, in 1840. Under Queen Victoria's reign in Great Britain it became a formal event and ceremony of great cultural significance. Our British Afternoon Tea (a Middle Eastern Afternoon Tea is also available) was served in the King's Court restaurant. We dined on small cucumber and cheese sandwiches, savoury pastries filled with smoked salmon and egg salad, alongside scones with cream and jam (okay, the cream was not clotted), sweet pastries and cakes. This was all served in Villeroy and Boch tableware with a silver butter knife, dessert forks, strainers and teaspoons. We chose from a dozen Ronnefeldt loose leaf teas, including Darjeeling, Assam Bari, Peach, Bora Bora and more.
I can't honestly remember ever having had afternoon tea in the UK but it was great to experience it here in Jerusalem. Somehow the atmosphere was charming and intimate, whilst outside the Jerusalem traffic crawled by and a hamsin wind blew.
The property that originally stood where the Waldorf Astoria now stands was built in 1929 by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin El Huseini, as the first luxury hotel in the Middle East, named the Palace Hotel. The Palace offered luxuries that were unheard of at that time: elevators, en suite bathrooms and modern plumbing, bedside telephones and heating. What is basic today in every youth hostel, was in 1929 the epitome of luxury and Haj Amin El Huseini hosted many monarchs and heads of state in great magnificence and splendour. The Palace hotel closed in 1935.
In 1948 with the establishment of the State of Israel, the government of Israel took over the deserted building for offices and the Ministry of Commerce and Trade occupied the building for over 50 years.
In 2006 the property was bought and converted back to its original purpose - a renowned luxury hotel. The renovation works took nearly eight years to complete. As a heritage landmark, the façade of the building was never demolished and instead, a team of architects worked for three years to restore the 1929 architecture, and even the original main entrance has remained. Many Jerusalemites viewed this venture with trepidation, as The Palace was known as one of Jerusalem's most beautiful buildings and they feared it would not return to its previous glory. The hotel blends Greco-Roman, Gothic and Ottoman architecture, together with classic style and, thankfully, its design is acknowledged to be a spectacular success.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Husbands

A new customer contacted me and asked me to make a birthday card for her husband. "He likes taking our dog for a walk while listening to various podcasts", she told me. He also likes going on bike rides with their 3 older kids. She also mentioned that he is Argentinian and asked if there was a way to include the flag of Argentina somewhere on the card.
I have shown the birthday boy (who has a birthday the same day as me!) wearing his blue headphones and his dark sunglasses. Their dog, Churro, is next to him and there is a bicycle in the background. He is proudly waving the Argentinian flag.
My customer was kind enough to leave a wonderful review on my Facebook business page:
"Lisa made the perfect birthday card for my husband! She took my long brief and knew exactly which ideas would work best. The card was made quickly, professionally and best of all she's lovely to work with! Thank you so much 😊"
Another customer asked me for a card for her husband too. Her husband is a baal kore (the person who reads the weekly excerpt from the Torah during synagogue services) and loves to learn. She suggested that I show him with a Torah, which is a long scroll containing the entire text of the Five Books of Moses - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. She also requested a Megillat Esther, the Scroll of Esther, which tells the story of how two Jews, Mordechai and Esther, managed to save the Jews of Persia from genocide by the evil prime minister Haman.
I have shown her husband wearing his tallit as he reads from the Torah. The tallit is worn by the reader during the Torah reading. He has a yad (a pointer used by the reader to follow the text during the reading from the parchment Torah scrolls, ensuring that the parchment is not touched) in his hand. Next to him is a Megillat Esther and Magen David, or Star of David.
The Hebrew part of the greeting on the card says "Happy Birthday to my 39 year old husband".

Monday, 10 June 2019

Mickey Mouse and Elephants

One of my regular customers came back to me once again with a request for birthday cards for her twin boys. The boys were turning 3, mum told me. They are blond and love Mickey Mouse and elephants. They were soon to have their upsherin (a haircutting ceremony held when a Jewish boy turns three years old) but she suggested that the boys could be shown with long hair, as it was before it was cut.
Though the boys have the same favourites, mum asked me to make the cards slightly different. Benjamin likes reds, greens, oranges and yellow. Daniel favours blue. I made sure to create 'Mickey' in two different ways and added two very different elephants.
Balloons and stars added a birthday touch and a big yellow number 3 marks the boys' age.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Tel Aviv Graffiti to the Beach

Passover and the intermediate days of the holiday, Chol HaMoed (the non-holy part of the festival when we are permitted to do many activities but should still try to avoid work), was way back in April but I have had a busy few weeks and not had the chance to blog about it. Better late than never, right? The boys didn't join us for any days out at all this year and my dad didn't visit either, but I am not one to rest on my laurels. Mister Handmade in Israel went out anyway!
We had some errands to run in Tel Aviv one day and spent some time walking around the southern area of the city, an area which is considered less affluent than northern Tel Aviv. In recent years Tel Aviv has received many non-Jewish migrants from African countries, primarily Eritrea and Sudan. They live in southern Tel Aviv, near to the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, along with foreign workers and students. Since the 1980s major restoration and gentrification projects has been implemented in the area and some of the older buildings have been renovated. However, many of the buildings in southern Tel Aviv are still covered in bright, colourful graffiti and, excited by what I saw, I decided to photograph some of it.
Graffiti in Israel was boosted in the early 2000s largely due to the British artist Banksy, who visited Israel and the Palestinian Territories, causing a stir in the local art scene. Some pieces of Tel Aviv street art are just well executed art works representing the artistic flair of the city, while others address political issues and can be served as a crash course on Israeli society. Although drawing on walls is actually illegal here, municipal authorities turn a blind eye. The graffiti is in fact so widespread in this area of the city, you actually wonder if is still illegal at all!
Another day of the holiday, the one day that the weather wasn't so good, Mister Handmade in Israel and I decided to visit the Middle East's largest natural history museum, the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, which recently opened in Tel Aviv.
The ark-shaped museum houses 5.5 million specimens from around the world, from early human skulls to rare taxidermy pieces. Items on display include the collection of German zoologist and Catholic priest Ernst Johann Schmitz, who lived in Israel a century ago. In the "Treasures of Biodiversity" exhibit, Schmitz's taxidermy pieces include the last bear from 1916, an Asiatic cheetah from 1911, and the last crocodile from the Taninim River, all species that have become extinct in Israel.
In another exhibit, a 20-foot-long interactive map of Israel showcases current environmental problems including the depletion of Israel's only freshwater source, the Kinneret or Sea of Galilee, and the shrinking of the Dead Sea by three feet every year.
Other exhibits include "Bugs and Beyond", which includes live creatures and teaches visitors about the world of arthropods; "Life in the Dark", which offers a glance at animals from Israel and around the world that live without daylight; "Urban Nature", which reveals the city life of wild animals, and "What Makes Us Human?", which surveys the biological and cultural evolution of the human species.
Israel attracts millions of visitors from around the world every year who are eager to discover the country's cultural and religious artifacts. The museum, expected to host 150,000 visitors per year, will be now able to offer visitors to the Holy Land an in-depth look at the region's unique natural history, both ancient and modern.
An interesting aside, the museum's ark-shaped wooden exterior was originally designed to look like a treasure chest. Only after construction did the building take on new meanings, the main one being Noah's Ark, preserving nature's treasures for future generations.
After our visit to the museum we decided to take a walk along Tel Aviv's tayelet, or promenade, and we soon spotted David Ben-Gurion on the beach 😉. Ben-Gurion, besides being the first Prime Minister of Israel, was one of the key people to establish the state of Israel in 1948. He was a Polish Zionist who moved to the area from his native country with the aim of creating a nation for the Jews.
Apart from being a great thinker, residents of the area of ​​what is now known as the Ben Gurion Boulevard in Tel Aviv, said it was very common to see him doing exercise or yoga in front of his house or at the beach.
Considered a quack by some people and a miracle worker by others, Russian-born Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984) was an engineer, a physicist and an expert in judo who suffered from debilitating pain in one of his knees. After experimenting on himself, and utilising everything he could learn about human movement and brain activity, he came up with a revolutionary system of treating pain.
Sometime in the early 1950s, Feldenkrais began working as a scientist for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). At about the same time, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion began suffering from back pain so severe that he was hospitalised several times. Finally, when his doctors couldn’t help him, the prime minister turned to Feldenkrais for relief.
As part of his treatment, which actually cured the prime minister's agonising pain, Ben-Gurion was told to stand on his head for a few minutes each day to get his blood pumping. Sometimes, he did it at home. More often, he would stand on his head at the beach.
In 1957, photographer Paul Goldman portrayed the moment Ben Gurion did a handstand at the beach. On that same spot, today there is a statue depicting the iconic image. The statue was made by the German company Artilink Productions, and was placed by the company Zebra Sets. The statue has two purposes: to encourage the public to visit Ben-Gurion's house that is not far from there and to market the City of Tel Aviv-Yafo on social media through tourists who stand on their heads and post the photos online.
Photo from the Paul Goldman Collection at the Eretz Israel Museum, Tel-Aviv.

There was time for one more trip before the end of the holiday. We last went to Habonim Beach, or Hof Habonim, in 2015 and I was ready to go back. Habonim Beach is a nature reserve and beach with clear water inlets, cliffs, caves and incredible vegetation and wildlife. There are two well-marked nature trails along the beach - a shorter circular trail, and a longer 4.5 km trail along the cliffs to Tel Dor, where you can find the remains of an ancient city and harbour. Since we only had one car with us on the day we visited, we had to take the circular route, the green route, which led us back to the car park. As is usual with me, our shorter route took us about 2.5 hours anyway, with many stops for a picnic and to look at the shells and colourful sea glass and take photos.
The rugged coastline at Habonim Beach is made of sandstone ridges or kurkar in Hebrew and Arabic. This particular part of Israel's coastline is in fact one of the last places along the coast of Israel where you can get a view of these sandstone ridges, which are fast disappearing.
The walking trail took us by rocky inlets and through sandy coves to the top of the sandstone ridge. It passes by a number of attractions that are unique to Habonim Beach, such as the "Blue Cave" - a cave formed over the course of many years by processes of erosion, dissolution and collapse, which acquired its name thanks to its shades of blue; "Shell Bay" - an inlet lined with a thick layer of shells that have found their way to the shore; and the "Shipwreck" - the remains of a ship that was carrying cement and went aground near to the shore. Evidence of human activity can also be found in the chain of ancient wells that were dug here in order to reach the groundwater, which is very close to the surface. The wells provided the inhabitants with drinking water, and were also used for irrigation - alongside them you can see the remains of stone troughs for watering animals. 
We climbed up a small hill which afforded a stunning 360° view of the whole area - not only of the beaches but also of the Carmel Mountains behind us. At "Flower Hill" the trail split into two. We reluctantly turned around to follow the green markers for about a kilometre to get back to the car park, though there was still a lot to see before then. The vivid yellow Spring Groundsel and purple Cut-Leaf Sea-Lavender became more abundant as we moved inland. Towards the end of the route we stopped by a well and were delighted to see a family of turtles sunbathing on a tree trunk and happily swimming in the murky water.
My return visit to Habonim Beach had been as much fun as the previous one. I had seen the sea, soft white sand, shells, flowers and some wildlife too! I know there will be plenty more visits in the future.

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