Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Hill of Life

A few posts back I mentioned our overnight stay in the northern settlement of Tel Chai and promised to tell you more about it. Tel Chai, meaning "Hill of Life" in Hebrew, lies just a few kilometers south of the Lebanese border (the STOP - BORDER AHEAD! sign can be seen, above). It is home to a small community college, the 'Hatser' (courtyard) museum that reconstructs the life of Tel Chai’s founders (above, top row, on the left), a fantastic youth hostel which overlooks the scenic Hula Valley and Tel Chai Industrial Park. It was once however the site of an early battle in the Arab–Israeli conflict and was one of the first Jewish settlements of the far north in the early years of the 20th century.
The settlement was founded in 1916 by a group of Hashomer guards who built a fortress (now the museum) and began to cultivate the land (Hashomer was an organization that believed that only Jews should guard Jewish settlements). After the First World War, Tel Chai and other Galilee settlements were transferred to French rule and suffered in the Arab revolt against the French. In 1920 the settlement was attacked by hundreds of Arabs and and eight members were killed. Among the fallen was Yosef Trumpeldor, the guards’ young commander and a Russian Jewish military hero. Trumpledor's last words are famous in Israel until today. "It is good to die for one's country" he said, and some believe that he added "And it is good to have a country to die for".
The young fighters were buried in a communal grave at nearby Kfar Giladi which,  in 1926, was marked by a stone lion, the traditional symbol of independence and courage, (above, middle row, on the left), sculpted by Avraham Melinkov. It stands as a monument to the bravery of those who fell, determined at all cost to defend what they had built.
It is hard to imagine the drama that was played out in this spot. When we visited the courtyard museum the sun shone on it's well-tended lawns and the scenery around us was breathtaking. Yet this small yard witnessed one of the most dramatic moments in the life of the young Zionist community of Israel.
The exhibits in the museum explain the history of the settlement and the ideology which brought further groups of settlers to the area after the original settlers of Tel Chai were forced to leave. The nearby town of Kiryat Shmoneh, meaning "Town of Eight" is named after the settlers who died in 1920, and visitors are left with the understanding that Israel's existence today is due to them, and people like them, who put their own personal lives at risk for the ideal of a Jewish State.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Seasons Greetings from Israel

I haven't got any snow pictures to show you. In fact we are having a dry and unseasonably warm winter here in Israel. I live in an area that does not really acknowledge Christmas. I don't see any Christmas paraphernalia on the street nor watch the seasonal commercials on the television. Yet I must admit to wandering around the house singing 'Last Christmas'!  Why? Because listening to BBC Radio 2 on the internet allows me to enjoy from a distance the festivities I remember from my life back in the UK. You see, unlike my children, I didn't go to a Jewish school. There wasn't one in the city where I grew up. Therefore I learnt a lot about Christmas in the run up to the holiday, though of course we celebrated Chanukah in our own home. I am quite well versed in all my carols and so it's rather fun to sit here in the sunshine and remember the cold winters, Christmas carols and pop songs of my childhood.
Even though I do not celebrate Christmas I was of course happy to make some holiday cards and in fact have a regular customer here in Israel who orders some every year for his company's clients abroad. My cards also had their moment of glory when they recently appeared on the Etsy Greetings team blog (above).
As the year draws to a close I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have supported me and my blogging adventure throughout the year. I have enjoyed composing each and every one of my posts, and appreciate every comment and email that I receive. I wish you all happy holidays and a safe and exciting start to 2011.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Terrific Treasuries

Baby Blue Extra Lon...

Treasure Box

Sentimental sign

Sterling silver wir...

Gauloises Cendrier ...

vintage french empt...

10% SALE Woodland f...

sale Winter purple ...

Cobalt Blue Celtic ...

Earrings - Turquois...

Fused glass engrave...

Nuno Felted Silk Sa...

The White Bridge - ...

Crazy Quilt Patch R...

Blue Christmas Cat ...

I am fortunate to have my work quite regularly included in some fabulous Etsy Treasuries. Of course there are naturally some that I prefer more than others but I always appreciate the time and effort that people have put into them in order to give my art a little extra exposure.
I have often posted these treasuries here on my blog so that I can return the favour and showcase the work of other Etsy artists. With the onset of Christmas and the holiday season I have pretty much received an e-mail every day or two day telling me that my work has been included in one treasury or another and obviously I cannot post them all here without it getting boring! Therefore I decided to pick one of my recent favourites and try out the new Treasury HTML generator tool. Please feel free to click away and check out the gorgeous items in this stunning  blue and purple treasury and then check out some of the others where my work has been featured below.
Oh, and which is my piece in this particular treasury? The little blue Treasure Box, featured above, in the middle of the top row.

Under 20 Last Minute G I R L G I F T S !!!
Presents for women who celebrate life
Tag your gift
An Expats' Christmas... Where Will Your Heart Be?
Stalking the Mailman
Let's Hear It For Etsy Expats!
Looking Forward to 2011
and finally, another beautifully curated one and a particular favourite of mine, My first time

So, did you spot all my pieces?

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Agamon (Hula) Lake

Okay, so Chanukah week was very much a week of mixed emotions here in Israel. The terrible forest fires up in the north of the country knocked us for six and we were pretty much glued to the television and radio for several days. However, I have long ago learned that life goes on and that you just have to carry on with normal life whatever is happening, and carry on we did.
Before the holiday we had booked an overnight stay in Tel Chai, meaning "Hill of Life" in Hebrew, a town in northern Israel next to the border with Lebanon and the site of an early battle in the Arab–Israeli conflict. Given that it is already mid-December, we were taking a chance with the weather and as we drove north we experienced some rain but also saw some gorgeous scenery and a fabulous rainbow. The weather was going to be good to us. I will write about Tel Chai itself in another post but want to tell you now about our day at the Agamon Lake, a day which turned out to be a day that I expect to remember for a long time to come.
The Agamon Lake is in the Hula Valley (Emek HaHula) an agricultural area in northern Israel. The Hula is bordered on the east by the Golan Heights and to the west by the Naftali mountains, rising 400 to 900 meters above sea level. It is an important route for birds migrating between Africa, Europe and Asia and is home to millions of migrating cranes each winter.
The Hula Lake existed until the 1950s but between 1951 and 1958 draining operations were carried out by the Jewish National Fund in the belief that the country could gain additional arable land and at the same time the breeding ground of the malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquito would be destroyed. Unfortunately what originally seemed like a good idea over time created numerous agricultural and ecological problems and so, beginning in 1980, a programme for the Hula’s rehabilitation was inaugurated. In 1994 a small area in the southern part of the Hula Valley was reflooded to create Agamon HaHula (literally “Little Hula Lake”).
At least 390 different species of birds have been recorded in or around the lake including large flocks of migratory pelicans, storks, cranes and other birds en route between Europe and Africa. New nesting colonies of various species such as herons and plovers have been established, water buffalo and donkeys have been introduced and a small furry rodent called a coypu has made its home there. Native to South America it was brought to Israel in the 1950's by kibbutz workers who intended to breed it for it's fur. However, Israel's warm weather did not result in good quality fur and the animals were released.  They have since become pests in the area, destroying vegetation and irrigation systems, though we found them quite delightful to watch and very easy to photograph. I have many, many others photos of them aside from the one in the mosaic above, if anybody wishes to see them!
The length of the route around the park is 9 kilometres and we chose to ride the perimeter route along the waterside and through the fruit groves on mountain bikes. As usually happens, the kids rode ahead of their slow parents but continued to return and tell us about the kingfishers, coypu, a crab and other wildlife that they had spotted. We rented audio guides and, armed with our bird-watching book, we stopped regularly to listen, read and learn about this incredible area.
A fantastic day was had by all and I can totally understand why the nature reserve has been named one of the most outstanding sites in the world for nature observation and photography. For me it was an experience of a lifetime. The Agamon (Hula) Lake Park is certainly now one of my favorite places in Israel.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Chanukah Latkes

Today is the last day of Chanukah. We lit the eighth candle on our Chanukiah last night and now the kid's bags are being packed for school tomorrow. It's always a little sad to have the end of a holiday in sight but, no matter, we have once again had an amazing week travelling a little around Israel, opening presents after candle lighting each evening, eating delicious doughnuts and latkes and generally having lots of fun. Once the kids are back at school I intend to show you photos from our various trips. In the meantime, here are the courgette (or zucchini) latkes I made and the recipe too.
Bon appetit, or as we say in Hebrew, b'tayavon!

3 medium zucchini, shredded
1 teaspoon salt, divided
2 eggs, beaten
1 small onion, grated
1/4 cup matzo meal or dry bread crumbs
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Oil for frying
Sour cream, optional

In a large bowl, toss zucchini and 1/2 teaspoon salt; let stand for 10 minutes. Squeeze zucchini dry. Stir in the eggs, onion, matzo meal, pepper and remaining salt.
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Drop batter by tablespoonfuls into oil; press lightly to flatten. Fry for 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Serve with sour cream if desired. Yield: 16 latkes.
Of course, whilst I have been running around enjoying myself, others have been hard at work creating some gorgeous Etsy Treasuries. I am very pleased to see my cards and pictures popping up all over the place and my Jewish Boy's Treasure Box is no exception. Here it is, above, top row, second from the left, amongst a great collection of Chanukah goodies. I am sure that there was some very successful 'Chanukah Shopping' done on Etsy this year.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Festival of Lights

Tonight we light the first candle on our Chanukiah, the nine-branched candelabra which is used during the festival of Chanukah, and the eight-day holiday, the Festival of Lights, will begin. This last weekend I photographed these delightful street lights in Jerusalem and think that they are a perfect way to illustrate this popular holiday. The sun setting in the background reminds me of the burning candles on the Chanukiah.
Chanukah commemorates two miracles which occurred on behalf of the people of Israel. The first miracle was the military victory of a handful of Jewish warriors against the mighty armed forces of the Syrian-Greek army. The second miracle was that while going through the ruins of the destroyed holy temple only sufficient oil to light the menorah for one day was found, yet the oil miraculously burned for eight continuous days. That is why Chanukah lasts eight nights.
We are currently enjoying a very mild winter, though Israel really could do with some much needed rain. Taking advantage of the good weather we decided to meet some friends at the beautiful Wohl Rose Garden in Jerusalem and enjoy a relaxing outdoor picnic with them. Apparently the garden boasts of over 400 varieties of roses grown there. I certainly saw far fewer than that number, though I am sure that at this time of the year there are less flowers in bloom. In addition to the rose bushes, the park features an ornamental pond with waterfall, rockeries and sculptures. It was wonderful afternoon. What can beat lounging on a rug in the sunshine at this time of the year? It's almost hard to believe that Chanukah is upon us!
To those of you celebrating this fun festival, I wish you a very happy candle-lighting, dreidel-spinning, latke-eating Chanukah!