Thursday, 1 December 2022

A Flock of Flamingos in Atlit

I continued to look at Facebook after my son's death, even though many of my friends' posts irritated me. How could they be posting gleeful photos and writing such joyful things after what had happened? One by one I snoozed them but I remained on Facebook and took a little joy in the many wonderful photos I saw posted in the various nature groups I belong to.
In October I started to see photos of flamingos passing through Israel for the winter. Between moments of great sadness, I suggested to Mister Handmade in Israel that maybe we take a day off to go and see them for ourselves. It required an early get up - flamingos are more active in the morning and evening hours - and a good long drive to Atlit, a small town located on the northern coast, about 20 kilometers south of the city of Haifa. Though far from it being his ideal day out, he was willing to come with me.
Twice a year 500 million birds from 550 species including the flamingo, fly over Israel on their way back and forth from their nesting grounds in Europe and Asia. While a few hundred flamingos choose to stay here for the winter, most of the population passes through Israel and continues to Africa.
Israel has two places where the flamingos can find food. These are the saline pools in Eilat and Atlit. The saline pools in Atlit belong to the Salt of the Earth salt company. They were mined for the production of table salt.  The permission in principle "to produce table salt from seawater in Atlit" was given by the British as far back as October 1921. In a letter sent from Downing Street, Mr. Shuckburgh, Winston Churchill’s assistant, wrote: "From London's point of view, the matter is confirmed, and now permission is subject to the British High Commissioner, Sir Herbert Samuel."
The flamingos eat small shrimps, algae, small seeds, microscopic organisms, mollusks and other plants and animals that live in shallow waters. It sucks water through its sharp curved beak, which acts as a strainer and filters out the food. The saline pools in Atlit are large and shallow, which allows for the evaporation of salt water for the salt mineral industry. During this evaporation process, large amounts of pink species of algae and miniature crustaceans grow on the water. Flamingos love this pink delicacy and they get their pink colour from this food. The young flamingo is mostly grey in colour but while growing and feeding on pink crustaceans, its body metabolizes the pigments and turns the feathers pink. In fact, the name flamingo comes from the Portuguese or Spanish word flamengo, which means flame-coloured. 
The saline pools in Atlit and Eilat offer a unique ecological habitat for many species of waterfowl. Executives at Salt of the Earth noticed that many migratory birds were using their pools as nesting areas as they pass through the region, though the flamingo itself does not nest in Israel. Natural predators such as jackals, foxes and dogs were threatening these birds with extinction, so a program was launched to fence off islands in the saline pools to deter the predators.
As a side benefit, the protected islands also solved serious flooding problems caused by rising water levels in the saline pools, which took a severe toll upon the population of the little terns. Before these efforts, the terns' population had dwindled to a perilous low of just 300 pairs. Salt of the Earth has also installed observation cameras in nesting areas for continued research and monitoring.
While Atlit and Eilat are the main places in Israel to see flamingos, there have also been sightings at Kibbutz Nahsholim, Ein Afek and Agamon Hula.
After quite some time viewing the flamingos, we took a short walk on the beach to see the Crusader fortress Château Pèlerin, and then hiked at Khirbet Karta, to see the ruins of another Crusader fortress (all of which I will blog about in another post). On our way home we made a return visit to the Mishmar HaSharon Reservoir in the Hefer Valley to see the pelicans that come to spend time at the reservoir during the migration season.
The Mishmar HaSharon Reservoir is one of many water storage facilities built by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in the Hefer Valley. The Vickar Observation Point, a large shaded balcony that rises above the reservoir, offers a wonderful view of thousands of great white pelicans and other birds in the reservoir.
Members of staff at the reservoir feed the pelicans with six tonnes of fish three to four times a week, during the three months that the pelicans are flying over Israel, all funded by the Ministry of Agriculture. Large flocks of pelicans used to cause immeasurable damage to local fish farms and were chased from one pond to the next, without being provided with an alternative food source. This exhausted some of the pelicans to the point of death. This "refueling station" at Mishmar HaSharon has been placed at the pelicans' disposal to provide them with enough food to allow them to continue their migration.
As with previous visits, it was a wonderful thing to see. Our day out in nature allowed us a little relief from what has been a horrendous few months.
* This post has been shared on Little Things Thursday

Monday, 8 August 2022

Gadi Isaacs 2003-2022

This is an incredibly hard post to write.
On 21st May 2022 Richard and I lost our much loved 19 year old son, Gadi. Nadav lost his younger brother. Gadi made the decision to end his life after an evening with friends, an evening that began very peacefully with candle lighting and Shabbat dinner with Richard and Nadav. I was in the UK at the time, enjoying a break with my dad. Dad was due to travel back to Israel with me to see the boys, whom he hadn’t seen since before Covid began. We had many plans for the month ahead and Gadi was supposed to have a regila (one week off from the army) for the first time in 9 months. We know that he was looking forward to seeing Grandpa, with whom he was very close.
Gadi was home for the weekend from the army, having being on his base for 21 days previously. Since returning home, he had gone out for something to eat with Richard and then gone shopping with friends to buy a new shirt and aftershave. On the Thursday evening Gadi spoke at Kosher Kravi, the pre-army training course he had attended before his enlistment and shared his experiences in his usual talented way. He then spent the night in Tel Aviv with another friend who was in Israel for the year and was shortly due to return to the UK. They wanted to spend one more evening together, hitting the bars in Tel Aviv.
On Friday afternoon, he bought a large quantity of meat for a barbeque to celebrate his best friend’s birthday, planned for Saturday evening.
Everything was normal.
On Friday evening, after dinner, Gadi went out to the park opposite our home with a friend. It seems that he, unwisely, decided to smoke a joint with a friend. Marijuana is in the process of being legalised in Israel but is illegal for soldiers. We are almost sure that he had not smoked since he went into the army 9 months previously and have no idea why he made the decision to start again that evening. But he did. After just five minutes a policeman arrived and took Gadi and his friend to the local police station. Gadi’s friend was released because she is not yet in the army. Gadi was kept there, alone.
We have no idea what happened to him there, though Gadi later that evening told his friend that the police were aggressive and mean. We do know that they called the army and Gadi was issued with a doch (report), calling him to a meeting the following Sunday morning.
Gadi knew he was in trouble.
Afterwards he went to join his friends at one of their homes. It was now late and they were all very tired. They talked about Gadi’s problem and started checking online about the punishments he was going to receive. Google is not always the best place to go for accurate answers and it is clear that Gadi thought his punishments were going to be far greater than they really were. He and his friends then tried to watch a film but were soon falling asleep.
We know that Gadi walked straight home. He collected his army issued rifle from his bedroom and walked to our local beauty spot, Titora Hill or Giv'at ha-Titura, a 10 minute walk away. After some time he called a helpline, but they clearly failed to help him. He messaged his friend, who was asleep. At 3:30am a report was made from a member of the public who had heard a gunshot.
My youngest son – my artistic, creative, bookworm son - was gone.
Everyone who knew and loved Gadi knows how special he was. He did not enjoy school but, despite the fact that he did not work hard there, he still graduated with a relatively high bagrut (Israel's high school matriculation examination). He was accepted into the mechunanim program for gifted kids when he was younger. The program enabled him to study one day a week outside of the school framework and Gadi loved it. In High School Gadi participated and shone in the school’s MUN (Model United Nations program). He was the star pupil in Dovrei Anglit (the special English class for children who already speak/know English), simply because he was such a keen reader. His vocabulary was incredible.
This is a guest post he wrote on my blog when he was just 11 years old.
As well as a writer, Gadi was also a wonderful illustrator. I have files full of the many drawings he created. He also enjoyed taking photographs. Gadi loved dogs and took his dog walking responsibilities seriously. When he was younger, he was an active member of a youth organisation and had many good friends from there. He loved watching football and had a passion for travel. For many years he had a map of the world on the wall above his bed. It is still there. He had great plans to see the world after the army.
Gadi was also a very typical teenager and, when home and not busy with his many friends, he spent a lot of time in his room with the door shut. I didn’t love it but believed – and still believe - that it was quite normal.
Why am I sharing this? Since his passing I have sadly heard many rumours that Gadi had been depressed and had been smoking marijuana for years.
We are as certain as we can be that Gadi was not depressed. He had been accepted into an elite unit in the army and, though it was hard, was doing well. The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) does not accept soldiers into elite units – or into the army at all – if there is any sign of mental health problems or depression. He passed many tests and interviews to reach the position he was in.
As part of his training, he underwent shavua milchama (war week). 4 soldiers in a very confined space do not leave the tank at all for 5 days. There is no way that anyone who has mental health issues would be able to hide it. We, his family, never saw any signs at all of mental health problems. Neither did any of his many friends. In other words, we are convinced that Gadi's death was due to an incredibly unlikely sequence of events on that one catastrophic evening.
Yes he had smoked marijuana with friends on and off in recent years. We did not like it or approve of it and he was not allowed to smoke at home. But so many people – both young and old – do it. It is a common sight – and smell – here. Gadi was no different to any other young person who was smoking in the parks of Modi’in that night.
We miss Gadi every moment of the day. We think of him and remember the joy - and sometimes chaos - he brought to our lives. If you knew Gadi, we would love to receive stories from you. If you didn’t know him and perhaps like to hear a little gossip, please for Gadi’s sake, think before you repeat it. Our talented youngest son has been taken from us in the absolute worst way and all we can do now is tell people what happened that horrific night and make them aware of just how amazing Gadi really was.

* This post has been shared on Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday).

Sunday, 15 May 2022

Doing a Lunge

A new customer saw one of my cards that a mutual friend posted on Facebook. She messaged me to say that she loves the cards I make, could I create one for her husbands upcoming 50th birthday too? She sent me some photos of her husband and asked me to show him wearing the blue sweatshirt with the logo of the company he works for. Other things to add to the card were a basketball, a Torah (he is a baal kore - the person who reads the weekly excerpt from the Torah during synagogue services) and numbers (her husband works in analytics). Finally, she asked me if it would be possible to draw him doing a lunge.
I showed the bespectacled birthday boy in his blue sweatshirt, doing the requested lunge. I even asked his wife which trainers he wears and copied the design on them as well! Behind him is a basketball and a net and to his right is a Sefer Torah or Torah scroll, which is a long scroll containing the entire text of the Five Books of Moses, hand-written by a scribe in the original Hebrew. It is rolled up around two ornate wooden shafts, attached to either end of the scroll.
I added a big number 50 to mark his age. Below that is a little bar chart, a graph and a magnifying glass which represent his career in analytics. I thought that was better than random numbers!
My customer loved the card.

Thursday, 12 May 2022

The Jerusalem Botanical Gardens

The Jerusalem Botanical Gardens are located in the neighbourhood of Nayot in Jerusalem, on the southeastern edge of the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The gardens were originally planned as the successor to the National Botanic Garden of Israel on Mount Scopus, which was established in 1931 and still exists to this day. In 1948, during Israel's War of Independence, access to Mount Scopus and the university campus was cut off from the rest of Israel. It was decided to create new botanical gardens on the new campus of the Hebrew University in Givat Ram in western Jerusalem. The new gardens were opened in 1954, soon after the establishment of the Givat Ram campus. 
At around 30 acres, the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens are the largest in Israel. They hold over 6,000 species and varieties of plants from around the world, which are displayed geographically. The 6 phytogeographical sections cover Southern Africa, Europe, North America, Australia, South-West and Central Asia and the Mediterranean. The sections simulate the landscapes of these areas. The gardens' Japanese section contains over 150 bonsai trees, the largest concentrated collection of bonsai trees in the world. The 500 metre long "Bible Path" is planted with most of the 70 species that scientists have identified as some of the 400 types of plants mentioned in the Bible.
The reason for our visit to the gardens was to see the augmented reality contemporary art exhibition "Seeing the Invisible", above.  It is the first exhibition of its kind to be developed in collaboration with botanical gardens around the world and is on view simultaneously at twelve different gardens. The participating gardens all present the same exhibition, but as the works are augmented into the unique surroundings and context of each garden, the exhibition is experienced differently against the backdrop of each location. 
The exhibition can only be viewed by visiting the participating gardens and through the "Seeing the Invisible" app on your phone. It features thirteen augmented reality works by established artists from various countries. By setting these digital experiences inside botanical gardens - without disturbing the environment and keeping the carbon footprint to a minimum - the exhibition explores the boundaries and connections between art, technology and nature.
We explored the botanical gardens, locating the artworks scattered throughout them. Several friends had told me that I needed to see the exhibition, so I was hopeful! However, I must admit that Mister Handmade in Israel and I both felt that we were missing out on the real beauty of the gardens because we were so busy focusing on our phones!
We were far more enamoured by the gardens Tropical Conservatory, which was first built in 1985 and reopened to the public in 2019 after a $2 million transformation that took a year and a half. The conservatory boasts approximately 300 kinds of plants - endangered plants, exotic banana trees, coffee plants, orchids and cacti - all differing in shape and colour. It is divided into two regions, the tropical region and the desert region. In the tropical region, the visitor enters a rainforest, complete with tall plants growing on even taller trees. In the desert region, the visitor is exposed to some of the world’s most unique plants and their adaptation to dry conditions. The Tropical Conservatory also houses a stream with aquatic plants growing in it and the remains of an ancient columbarium carved into the rock, dating back to the Second Temple period. The columbarium was exposed at the site during construction. Today its pigeon niches serve as natural beds for Stapelia, small succulent plants.
The Jerusalem Botanical Gardens also serve as an education, learning and research centre. They focus on nature conservation, education, and community.
The gardens serve as a safe haven for many endangered plants and contain more than three hundred other species of local plants that are endangered or are already extinct in Israel. In addition, the botanical gardens have a large seed collection, which is used for breeding plants in the garden plots and for distribution to botanical gardens around the world.
Cultural events and recreational activities are held at the gardens throughout the year. The Jerusalem Botanical Gardens run a gardening and landscape school, which operates in the botanical gardens. It trains professional gardeners and holds various courses for the general public as well.
The botanical gardens also offer a variety of social and community programs such as therapeutic gardening sessions, occupational rehabilitation, volunteer opportunities, botanical gardeners scholarship programs, guided tours, activities for senior citizens, farming and more.