Sunday, 29 September 2013

Russian Economics

Lest you think that I haven't been creating cards lately, here are a couple of designs to prove otherwise! Actually these were made in the summer but happily I have a bit of a backlog of stuff to show you.
The first card was made for my customer's brother who was a professor of Economics at Amsterdam University and specialized in Soviet and Russian economics. Even in retirement he's still busy writing books and attending conferences, and he still lives in Amsterdam.
Not the easiest interests to portray but I had a go!
I have shown the professor dressed in his academic garb, with a pile of books nearby. The chart, coins and flag of Russia represent his specialized subject and the shield from the coat of arms of Amsterdam show the country he chose to make his home.
I noticed in the photograph my customer sent me that this gentleman was wearing some large glasses. I made sure to copy them as accurately as possible. You can see these teeny tiny black and white glasses below.
The second request from my customer was a card for a couple who live in Ireland. The gentleman is an author and has written many books, whilst his partner is a dance teacher. My customer wanted to show them with the Old City of Jerusalem in the background. I crafted the arches and stone walls of "Jerusalem of Gold" and added a little Montefiore Windmill. Some books represent his writing, whilst the black dance shoes and music notes symbolize her passion for dance.
After my customer collected her cards she was kind enough to write and tell me that she recognised her brother immediately. She later told me that her friends in Ireland and her brother were delighted with the cards.

Friday, 20 September 2013

The Golan Heights

We really love visiting northern Israel but have found ourselves stopping in the Galilee area more often than not. This summer we purposely travelled a little further and spent a fabulous few days exploring the glorious Golan Heights.
The Golan Heights rises up to the east of the Sea of Galilee in the far north east of Israel and is home to some of Israel's most spectacular landscape: volcanic hills, cattle ranches, boutique wineries, olive groves and orchards. About 40 miles from north to south, it is a relatively small but important region, supplying Israel with over one third of its water and historically being the site of many important battles.
We stayed at Kibbutz Ein Zivan and enjoyed the wonderful cool Golan weather. Air-conditioning in the summer? Not at Kibbutz Ein Zivan! 
Our first stop was at The Golan Magic Visitor Centre, located in the Israeli town of Katzrin, to try and give the kids - and us - an understanding of the geography and history of the area. Then we began exploring.
The settlement of Gamla (above), which dates back 5,000 years, is known as the "Masada of the North". It is where some 9,000 Jews revolted against Roman rule in 67 CE. At the national park we saw from a distance the ruins of the original settlement, which is now lorded over by a colony of vultures that breed in the surrounding hills. It was deemed too hot for the longer hike down to the ruins, but we did make it to the beautiful Gamla waterfall, passing ancient dolmens – stone structures which are shaped like tables, but nobody is sure of why - and the remains of a Byzantine village along the way. At 170 feet, the waterfall is the tallest flowing waterfall in Israel.
We kayaked down the River Jordan, admittedly with seemingly half the population of Israel who were on holiday at the same time as us. A relaxing ride down the river it was not, but the day was redeemed by an afternoon spent at Kibbutz Kfar Blum's "Top-Rope" adventure park. The boys climbed the high rope course, practised their archery skills and zip-lined into the waters of the Jordan River.
A tour of the apple packing house of Beresheet allowed us a break from the outdoor activities typical of the Golan. The tour took us through the path followed by the apples after they have been picked in the nearby orchards, all the way to the packages we find at our local supermarket. We learned about the cutting edge technologies Beresheet use to preserve, select and pack the fruit and, best of all, we now know which apples to look out for after choosing our favourites in Ein Zivan's own orchards.
The same day we made a return visit to Mount Bental and listened to Syrian gunfire in the background. It was incredibly strange to be standing in such a beautiful spot, on a gorgeous summer's day, yet being reminded that such atrocities are being carried out not so very far away.
A very informative audio guide on Mount Bental suggested a visit to Kibbutz Elrom, near the Valley of Tears (Emek HaBacha). There, inside a cinema, a fascinating film is screened which tells the story of the battle of the Valley of Tears, when the Syrian Army tried to penetrate the Israeli frontline during the Yom Kippur War and was stopped by the Israeli Armored Corps’ 77th "Oz” Regiment of the 7th Armor Brigade, together with soldiers from the 188th Armor Brigade. Afterwards we paid a visit to the "Oz 77" memorial to remember the young people who died. This time we stared straight in to south-western Syria, in to the ghost town of Quneitra, a town evacuated during the 1967 war and left in no man's land ever since (above).
At Kibbutz Odem we picked (and ate!) delicious figs, peaches, plums and blueberries, just some of the unique fruits that only grow in the Golan Heights' altitude and weather, and we went horseback-riding at Kibbutz Merom Golan. The kids participated in a basic chocolate-making workshop at the De Karina Chocolate Factory and Visitor Centre. I preferred to simply taste the gourmet chocolate.
Who would want to go home after almost a full week of activities such as these? Certainly not us! But we know for sure that we will go back to the Golan for more someday soon.

Monday, 16 September 2013

The Hermon

Okay, so Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) have been and gone, and we are soon going into Sukkot and the fun week of Chol HaMoed ("weekdays of the festival" - the secular, non-holy part of Sukkot). I figure that it is never too late to post pictures from the summer though. After all, it is still pretty hot over here!
We headed north again this summer, this time to the Golan Heights, Israel's mountainous northern region and one of the most beautiful parts of the country. We've all fallen in love with this area and, though we did a lot during our few days there, there is still a lot more to see. We're definitely going back.
One of our best days out was spent at Mount Hermon, the highest point in Israel. The kids have been dying to go there for ages, and I still owe them a trip there when it is snowing, but this time we visited on a beautiful summer's day and the weather was just perfect. The views of the mountains of the Galilee and the Golan, Syria and southern Lebanon were superb, and our tour guide from the Nature Reserves Authority did a terrific job explaining the geography, flora and fauna of the region, along with an explanation of the battle on Mount Hermon.
Mount Hermon is important because of its strategic advantage. On a clear day Israel can see deep in to Syrian territory. Part of  the mountain is a military zone and is home to the sophisticated radar and tracking systems of the IDF (Israel Defence Forces - the Israeli army). 
When the State of Israel was established in 1948 the Syrians turned Mount Hermon into a military platform for continual attacks against Israel's northern villages. Syria attacked Israel in the Six Day War of June 1967 and was defeated. Israel took over the area from the hands of the Syrians. On Yom Kippur, October 6th 1973, Syrian commandos attacked and captured the IDF outpost on Mount Hermon. Two days later the Syrians repelled an Israeli counterattack, but the Hermon was eventually recaptured by Israel, along with the pre-Yom Kippur War Syrian controlled sector, on October 21st. It has remained in Israel's hands ever since. (The pre-Yom Kippur War Syrian controlled sector was returned to Syria after the war).
The Golan Heights comprises less than 1% of the entire territory of Syria and is approximately 10 miles wide, but to Israel its strategic importance is beyond measure. Indeed, it is also called "the eyes of the nation" in Israel because its elevation makes it Israel's primary strategic warning system.
Mount Hermon is actually a cluster of mountains with three distinct summits, each about the same in height. It's highest peak rises to about 2,040 metres above sea level. Additionally the mountain forms one of the greatest geographic resources of the area and is the source of over one third of Israel’s fresh water supply.
During the winter the slopes of the Hermon host the only ski resort in Israel. In the summer the site offers a variety of activities including rides in the ski lift to the summit and the guided tour which we took.
After we had enjoyed the tour and incredible scenery, we strolled over to the "Extreme" mountain slide located at the site. With a route of 950 metres through the Hermon hills, the sleds reach a speed of 45 kph, though with Mum in control we were, ahem, a little slower! We went up and down and spun around. And guess what? With all the history and beauty surrounding us, the extreme slide was declared the best part of the day!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Aviva's Album

I really do apologise for my sporadic blogging at the moment. Those of you who know me personally realise that my eldest son's Bar Mitzvah is coming up quite soon and that is what is occupying my time at the moment. There are still plenty of papercut creations being made - many of course on a Bar Mitzvah theme - and I promise to show all as soon a possible!
In my last post I showed you the artwork I created for Aviva's Bat Mitzvah invitation. ('Bat' Mitzvah is the religious ceremony and party for a girl. 'Bar' Mitzvah is the coming of age ceremony for a boy.) Aviva's parents asked me to make a guest book for the celebrations too.
The big thing in Aviva's life is music. She is a talented violinist and so Mum was keen for me to feature that in the design. She is also a big reader, studious and very artistic. All these star qualities were brought together on the cover of her book.
I wonder how many of her guests recognised her?
I decorated several pages of the book with a Star of David (known in Hebrew as the Magen David or Shield of David), along with a small illustration featuring Aviva's various hobbies. Above, you can see the page devoted to her violin, then, clockwise from top left, her love of drawing and painting, reading, music and playing the piano.
Even though Aviva and her family live in the UK, I was fortunate to be able to deliver this to the young lady herself when the family were here on a recent visit. I packed the book up well so that it would travel safely back home, though it seems that the Bat Mitzvah girl and her Mum couldn't wait to see it! Arriving back home, I received a fabulous text message telling me how excited they were and just how much they loved what I had created!