Sunday, 30 August 2015

Hula Nature Reserve

Day 3 of our stay in Rosh Pina saw us visiting the nearby Hula Nature Reserve. We have visited the area before, in 2010 and 2013, but on those occasions we rented bikes and cycled around the 8.5 km route at Agamon HaHula, the Hula Lake. This time Mister Handmade in Israel decided to go to the Hula Nature Reserve, a swamp that was drained and re-flooded to conserve part of the lake and wetlands of the Hula Valley, stopping first at the Dubrovin Farm, one of the first farms in the area.
Situated right in the centre of the Hula Valley, at Yesud Hama'ala, the Dubrovin Farm was built at the turn of the 20th century and was the home of a family of Russian Christians who converted to Judaism and turned this section of the Hula swamp into a farm. They dug a well, began farming the land and were quite successful, despite the hardships and the fact that most of their children succumbed to malaria from the nearby Hula swamps. Dubrovin eventually moved most of his family to Rosh Pina, leaving behind his eldest son, Yitzhak, to manage the buildings, fruit orchards, and gardens.
In 1968 Yitzhak bequeathed the Dubrovin Estate to the Jewish National Fund and the farm was converted into a museum that commemorates the early pioneers. It contains personal possessions and furniture from 19th century Russia, as well as old documents from local archives. Though small, the reconstructed farm is a nice place to visit.
The Hula Valley is one of the most important resting place for birds migrating from Europe to Africa and back, with tens of thousands of birds, along with many species of rare plants and fish, making their homes in the lake and swamps. 
Shortly after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the government decided to drain the Hula swamp and lake and convert them into cultivated fields. The project began in 1951 and was the largest engineering project to be launched by the young state. Scientists and nature-lovers in Israel were, however, disturbed by the whole operation and worked hard to preserve at least part of the Hula waterscape. Although the idea of conserving a swamp sounded rather bizarre in 1951, the Jewish National Fund was convinced of its merit and agreed to set aside 800 acres, which became the foundation for the first nature reserve in Israel, the Hula Nature Reserve.
Tens of thousands of birds of over 200 species, including cranes, storks, pelicans, cormorants and herons, stay in the reserve, knowing they can find plenty of food there. The reserve also shelters rare aquatic plants, such as yellow flagpaper reed and white waterlily. Water buffalos graze in certain areas to preserve the open meadows. Species that have become extinct in the wild, such as the white-tailed eagle, have also been reintroduced in the reserve, though many species that lived here before the area was drained have sadly become extinct. In 1996, after four decades of failed searches, the Hula painted frog became the first amphibian to be declared extinct by an international body, though it seems that reports of the creature’s death had been greatly exaggerated. In October 2011, a living individual was found in the Hula Nature Reserve, and a number of others have since been spotted. 
We visited the Hula Nature Reserve on a very hot day but were happy to find that the reserve has clearly marked paths to follow, as well as a ‘floating bridge’ over the swamp, and an observation tower from which to observe the birds. It was an easy walk.
Our visit began at the newest attraction in the reserve, the "Oforia Visitors Centre", where we saw an excellent 40-minute 3D film on bird migration, complete with fun special effects. The air conditioning in the centre was good too! This new visitors centre also includes a model that explains the story of the reserve, an exhibition of taxidermy animals, and a trivia game. The film can be seen in many languages, but the other three things are presented only in Hebrew and, perhaps because we were speaking English amongst ourselves, the guide neglected to even mention them to us! I guess we'll just have to go back.
The kilometre-and-a-half long trail through the reserve leaves from the visitors centre and returns there. We walked over a small bridge where we spotted masses of large African catfish, the dominant fish in the reserve, and several swamp turtles, before continuing on the trail along one of the dikes of the reserve. We found the observation tower, where we were able to sit and enjoy a stunning view of the reserve from above, whilst watching a bright blue Kingfisher fly to and fro across the water. We then turned onto a long wooden bridge to follow the Swamp Trail, a lovely path over water which is surrounded by papyrus thicket, home for a large nesting colony of herons in the summer. The Egyptians manufactured their famous papyrus paper from this plant. Halfway along the trail is the Hideaway, a blind from which visitors can observe the birds in the lake without disturbing them. Some birds could be spotted easily, while others were a little shy.
Unlike the rest of Israel, the Hula is at its greenest in the summer and, despite the temperatures and the fact that we were not there during the migration times, there was plenty of wildlife to see.
If you are a nature lover visiting the north of the country, definitely put this on your itinerary.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Lior, Ariella and Guy

Lior's Mum felt that I had captured her son's look so accurately on his birthday card that she suggested that I show a photo of him next to the card for you all to see for yourselves.
Lior, who turned 15, is into cars, computers, chocolate milk and keys! I have shown him holding up a key in one hand, with a glass of his favourite drink in the other. A laptop and red sports car are also featured.
Ariella visited several of Israel's National Parks as a pre-Bat Mitzvah project. My customer asked me to make a card for her with a date palm on it, to match the necklace that she had made for the Bat Mitzvah girl. She also requested the stylised ibex, the logo of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, on the card, along with a map of Israel. I created the card in shades of green and added a portrait of the pony-tailed Bat Mitzvah girl in the centre. When my customer delivered the Bat Mitzvah card, apparently Ariella's reaction was "It looks just like me!"
Guy celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel, or the Western Wall. The Western Wall in Jerusalem is the holiest of Jewish sites, sacred because it is a remnant of the Herodian retaining wall that once enclosed and supported the Second Temple. It has also been called the "Wailing Wall" because for centuries Jews have gathered there to mourn the loss of their temple. My customer asked me to include something connected to the Kotel on the card. She also wanted me to show some tefillin, the set of small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah, which are worn by observant Jews during weekday morning prayers. Jewish men start wearing tefillin just before their Bar Mitzvah.
I have shown Guy wearing a black and white striped tallit (prayer shawl) and tefillin. In the background is the Kotel. I also added a gold Magen David, or Star of David, and the number 13, the age that Jewish boys become Bar Mitzvah.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Saul, Josh and Jack

Saul recently turned 50. His wife asked me to create a birthday card showing him with two black basketball players; one wearing a red vest, and one wearing green. Saul, she said, should have a white polo shirt with his company's logo on it, oh, and a basketball would be great too!
I think I got everything on there.
I made a birthday card for Josh back in 2012. His wife contacted me again and asked me for another card. "Things that are new since I last bought a card from you are that we have a yellow lab and a baby daughter" she said. "Can you do a picture of him with the dog and baby?" she asked.
Lastly, Jack was turning 16 and was going to be here in Israel on his birthday. His auntie asked me to create a card with the flag of Israel on it, and with a summer tour theme. I added the logo of his tour group (he was on Tour 7), plus sunglasses, a cap and a snorkel.
I think that probably covered his summer.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Rosh Pina

The kids recently went off to camp for 12 days. Yes, 12 days! 12 whole days of peace and quiet, and time to go off and do the things that they would possibly declare "booooring!". Mister Handmade in Israel and I decided to take a couple of days off work and chose the lovely Galilee town of Rosh Pina as our destination. En route we visited Metzudat Koach, a mandate-era British fortress (known also as the Nabi Yusha fortress) in the Upper Galilee. The fortress overlooks the beautiful Hula Valley and is used these days by the Israeli Border Police. Next door is the Reut Museum, a memorial site which commemorates 28 soldiers who fell during the conquest of the fortress during the War of Independence. In Hebrew the word koach means strength, which describes the Israeli soldiers who fought, and died, to secure the fortress and the surrounding civilian population in 1948. But there is a deeper meaning in the name. In Hebrew, letters and words have numerical values. The numerical value of the Hebrew word koach is 28 – the number of soldiers who gave their lives in the battle to control this important fort.
We left the museum with rather heavy hearts. Metzudat Koach is one of many places in Israel that inspires these conflicting emotions: the pain of the price we have paid for independence, and the beauty of that which we have created in the 67 years since. Shvil Ami, the Jordan River Promenade, a lovely paved promenade located above and along the flowing waters of the Jordan River, was the perfect way to relax and bring back that holiday feeling. Mister Handmade in Israel and I took a leisurely stroll along the promenade, enjoying the well-kept lawns, vine covered pergolas, and the sight of kayaks moving noisily through the river. The walkway is studded with biblical quotes, all connected to crossing the Jordan River.
We drove on to Rosh Pina, to our delightful zimmer (the Israeli B&B is known as a zimmer - German for room), Pina Barosh.  'Pina Barosh' is located on Hachalutzim Street (halutzim is a Hebrew word meaning "Pioneers"), right in the old town of Rosh Pina. The stone building was established in 1876 by Josef Friedman, the family's great-grandfather, and its upper floor is still occupied today by the sixth generation of the original settlers. The ground level of the unique building was once used as the farm livestock yard, and was restored in 1991. Our guest room was in the refet, the "cowshed", though only the beautiful arches and stone walls bear any reference to that nowadays.
Rosh Pina was founded in 1878. A group of young religious people left Safed, the neighbouring city, in order to start an agricultural village. They bought land from the Arab natives and called it "Gei Oni", but after three years of hardships and hunger most of them left, leaving a few who were great believers in the place and who were stubborn enough to hold on to the land. In 1882 a group arrived from Romania. They managed to stay in the place, with financial assistance from Baron Edmond de Rothschild, who decided to lend a helping hand. They renamed it Rosh Pina, 'cornerstone', taking the name from Psalms 117:22: "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone."
In recent years Rosh Pina has become a sought-after tourist spot. Ceramic studios, art galleries, good restaurants, and lovingly preserved old buildings make it the kind of place I love to wander through. We passed Beit Hapekidut (House of the Clerks) where the clerks sent by Baron Rothschild lived and worked, and the house of Simha Haim Vilkomich, the principal of Rosh Pina's school, the second modern Hebrew school built in Israel. The beautiful synagogue, with its amazing ceiling filled with fluffy clouds, was the first public building erected in Rosh Pina. Before descending through Gan Ha Baron, a small wooded area planted in 1884 and meant to look something like the famous garden in Versailles, France (it doesn't), we stopped off at HaChocolatte ('The Chocolate Box') gallery and café for the yummiest chocolate drink I have ever tasted!
At the uppermost part of Rosh Pina there is the Nimrod Lookout, a magnificent observation point which is part of the memorial site to Nimrod Segev, who was born in Rosh Pina in 1977 and fell in 2006 in the Second Lebanon War while on reserve duty. The beautiful views seen from the high Nimrod Lookout are the sights viewed by Nimrod throughout his life: the Hula Valley, the Golan Heights and Mount Hermon, Israel’s tallest peak at 2,236 meters (7,336 feet), and the slopes of Mount Caanan on which the lookout is built.
We visited the the Nimrod Lookout on the 15th of Av, the Hebrew Valentine's Day, the date on which Nimrod was killed. Mister Handmade in Israel noticed a poster advertising a memorial evening in Nimrod's name and we were pleased to join it that evening, to hear Nimrod's parents speak about their son and to listen to a sing-along (erev shel shirim) with his friends. It was emotional, poignant yet enjoyable all at once.
Staying in Rosh Pina was a real treat. Although it was hot, we loved strolling around the small town. The cobbled streets and numerous steps brought us to many picturesque galleries and hidden corners. The dilapidated wooden doors and stonework of some still-abandoned premises are part of the charm. Many visitors come to Rosh Pina for the restaurants and, though not great "foodies", we especially enjoyed our breakfasts at 'Pina Barosh'. It was lovely to sit in the sunshine, with time to spare, just enjoying the magnificent views and open landscapes. The sleepy little town of about 2,500 people really was our perfect getaway destination.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Aron's Album

Aron's brother Sam celebrated his Bar Mitzvah back in 2013. His Aunty ordered a Bar Mitzvah album for him back then, and this year she asked me to create another one, this time for Aron.
Aron plays the bass guitar, enjoys playing rugby, and watching the Premier League football club Chelsea F. C.. He is a keen Scout, likes camping, and he also enjoys woodworking.
I have shown him with his bass guitar on the cover of his album. There is a saw and some wood to his left. On the right is the Chelsea F.C. crest, a rugby ball and posts, the Scouts logo, and a green tent. The background is blue, Aron's preferred colour.
I took the album to the UK myself when we travelled there for our nephew's Bar Mitzvah. I happened to be around shortly after Aron received his gift and he seemed thrilled with it! He couldn't believe that I had branded his bass guitar correctly (I had requested a photo of it) and loved all the details that I had included. It was delightful to see someone enjoying my work first-hand.
I embellished several pages inside the album. Each page, like the cover, has a black and white striped tallit (Jewish prayer shawl) on it since many boys begin to wear a tallit from the age of Bar Mitzvah, 13. In addition to the tallit, each embellished page took on a theme. The first page featured Aron's black bass guitar once again. Next I added a rugby ball and some goal posts, then Chelsea F.C.'s crest, followed by a woodworking themed page. Finally, I created a page devoted to the Scouts and Aron's love of camping.
This album was a lot of fun to work on, and the way it was received made all my obsession with detail effort worthwhile. If you would like to order a customised album / guest book for your own celebration, you can do so right here.