Sunday, 25 November 2018

From the Gadot Lookout to Mitzpe Shalom

Day 2 of our trip to the Golan started at the Gadot Lookout and Memorial. We had actually stopped there briefly on the way to our kibbutz accommodation, but it was getting dark and we preferred to see it in daylight so that we could enjoy the stunning views that we had read about.
Situated on the western edge of the Golan Heights overlooking the Hula Valley, the lookout served as a fortified Syrian military outpost complete with communication trenches and concrete bunkers surrounded by barbed wire and minefields. From this base the Syrians were able to fire down at Kibbutz Gadot just below the post and command the Bnot Yaakov Bridge (the name of the bridge is based on the belief that Jacob's daughters crossed the River Jordan at this point on their way to Israel). At the end of the Six Day War the Syrians fled from the onslaught of the IDF’s Golani Brigade and the site now serves as a memorial for the soldiers who fell conquering the Golan Heights.
A path from the car park lead us to a triangular monument naming the soldiers who fought here. The monument is built of concrete in the shape of a wing which faces east and symbolises the departure of the troops fighting in the Golan. Beyond the monument, there are a few decaying military vehicles left in place, along with a fence warning visitors to remain on the path. This area was heavily mined and is not safe to wander about beyond the fences.
At the crest of the hill we were treated to the panoramic view of Hula Valley we had waited for. The view was captivating and a clear reminder of the military importance of the location.
En route to the Gadot Lookout we made brief stops at two smaller war memorials. The Golan Heights is an area which has seen many battles between Israel and Syria, primarily during the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War.
Our first stop was at the Memorial to the 679th Reserve Armoured Brigade, below. The memorial features a black turret of a Syrian tank, surrounded by the names of the brigade's fallen soldiers. The turret has been placed on a sheet of metal supported by stones, with a Hebrew inscription which means "We will remember and not forget". The tank gun, to which metal wings have been fixed, juts high into the air.
We listened to a recorded account of the events surrounding the 679th's actions during the Yom Kippur War, their arrival in the Golan Heights and the battle that followed. I'll skip to the end and say that the 679th won, despite having to fight as unprepared crews in unprepared tanks.
Next we stopped to view the 212th Artillery Corps memorial, above. This monument was established in memory of the fallen soldiers of Artillery 212 who were killed in battles during the Yom Kippur War. The monument consists of a concrete base on which are resting metal boxes placed on top of each other to create a spiral. At the centre of the monument are several aluminium poles that rise to a height of six metres. It was designed by the artist Hillel Pesach of Mishmar Ha'emek, who was the commander of the artillery battalion during the war. The monument was erected in 1976 alongside Highway 91 on the road from the Jordan River to the Golan Heights.
Then it was time to move on from war memorials. Our next stop was at Mey Eden Springs, also known as Einot Salukia, in the centre of the Golan Heights. Eden Springs is a collection of springs named after an ancient settlement that existed during the Second Temple period. The name Salukia is probably named after the Seleucid Empire that ruled over many lands in the Middle East for hundreds of years, up until about 2500 years ago.
Eden Springs is a lovely park which encompasses the Salukia Spring, which was the initial source used by the Mey Eden (Eden Springs) mineral water company. The spring is still plentiful, clear and cool and the park includes lovely pools where the water flows, shady areas, and easy paths, as well as information about the animals in the surrounding area.
The park is sheltered under the shade of Eucalyptus trees and river vegetation typical to the area: raspberry, common reed, willow and Nerium oleander. Between the trees are the remains of the Syrian village houses of Katsaviya El-Jadidah (New Katsaviya), which were abandoned during Israel's conquest of  the Golan Heights during the Six Day War in June 1967. The name of the village is derived from the word "kasab", which in Arabic means Common reed. Between the houses of ancient Katsaviya, old relics of an ancient synagogue were found. It was believed to be one of dozens of Jewish settlements established in the Golan Heights after the forced exile of the Jews by the Romans from Judea to Galilee and the Golan Heights following the great revolt that ended in 70 AD.
Our next brief stop was at the 31 metre high Ayit waterfall (in Hebrew the word ayit means eagle) which unfortunately only flows after heavy winter rains. When we visited in September it was really just a trickle. In full flow the waterfall is one of the most impressive in the Golan. It falls into a deep canyon that stretches for 4 kilometres and flows into the Yehudiya River.
We followed a path from the car park for a few minutes, until the path forks. The left fork took us to a lookout where a sign explained the rock formations in the Golan. The basalt hexagonal pillars which we could see in the deep canyon are a unique geological phenomenon and can be seen on all the canyon walls of the Golan.
And then there was time to see just one more place before we headed home. Mister Handmade in Israel and I last visited Mitzpe Shalom back in 2014 but I knew that my dad would really appreciate the view from the lookout, so it was time for a return trip. Mitzpe Shalom, also known as the "Peace Lookout" or "Peace Vista", is situated on the high basalt cliffs of the Southern Golan Heights. The lookout offers what is hands-down the most spectacular view you’ll find in the area. Located next to Kibbutz Kfar Haruv, the members of Kfar Haruv designed the Peace Vista to signify their longing for permanent peace in the region. From the lookout you can readily spot the coastline of the entire Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). Across the Kinneret lies the city of Tiberias, easily viewed from Mitzpe Shalom. Up in the hills, it’s also possible to point to the city of TzfatMount Meron, Kibbutz Kinneret (where the songwriter and the "First Lady of Israeli song and poetry", Naomi Shemer, was born), Yavne'el, the Jordan Valley and Mount Tavor are all visible from the panoramic Mitzpe Shalom lookout point. It is quite a comprehensive view! (Please make sure you click on the photo above to appreciate just how incredible it is).

* This post has been shared on All Seasons, The Good. The Random. The Fun. and Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday).
Sunday Snap

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Ma'ayan and Avinoam

I have customers who contact me every time there is a birthday in their family and others who order on special occasions only. The customer who ordered this card often contacts me when she is going to a wedding. Recently she wrote to ask me to make a card for her own daughter's big day. "I really want them to have one" she wrote. "I realised that they might not get one of your cards if I don't get it for them. I couldn't have that."
I was thrilled to read that!
I decided to make a card showing the bride and groom under the chuppah, the canopy under which a Jewish couple stand during their wedding ceremony. The bride loves flowers and the colour purple, her mum told me, and the groom plays the saxophone. Wine is very important too, she said. The groom's father is the winemaker at Shiloh Winery, which is set in the stunning surroundings of the Judean Hills.
I created a card that opens in the Hebrew direction, from the right, because the Hebrew language is read from right to left instead of left to right like English. I have shown the young couple standing under the chuppah with their arms linked. (Don't be confused by the hand in the little paper portrait of the groom, above. It's the bride's hand of course 😏). The groom is holding his saxophone, whilst the bride has a bouquet of purple flowers. They are surrounded by little purple flowers and some wine bottles. I researched the name of the winery and added the appropriate labels to each tiny bottle!
My customer wrote "It's gorgeous! Thank you. They'll love it. I put my glasses on to read the labels on the bottles".
The Hebrew greeting on the card says "Mazal Tov Ma'ayan and Avinoam".

Tuesday, 13 November 2018


I've made many cards for eighteen year olds over the years and have always thought how grown up they are. Eighteen seemed such a long way off. But now my eldest son has just turned 18. He finished school last summer and is currently on a pre-army programme and living on a kibbutz in the south of Israel.
It all seems to happen in the blink of an eye.
My son has received a handmade card made by mum on his birthday ever since he turned 1 (I started blogging about them when he was 8). I think that his 1st birthday card, or maybe it was his 2nd, had the pinky purple Bleeper People on it, from his favourite pop-up book at the time Where, Oh Where, is Kipper's Bear?. I no longer decorate his birthday cards with favourite toys, characters or animals of course. In recent years I have shown him keeping fit and learning to drive.
My 18 year old is a big fan of the Premier League football club Arsenal. On this years birthday card I have shown him wearing the white T-shirt of his mechina (pre-army programme) and waving his Arsenal scarf to cheer on his team. He is going to London to see them play against Spurs in December - his very first time seeing them play in the Premier League!
Since my son was born here in Israel, he also supports a more local team. He has been to see Beitar Jerusalem play many times so I added their badge to his card as well. He also loves going out for a burger with his friends and of course he's 18 now, he can enjoy a beer with them too, though hopefully not too many!
My son will be going into the Israeli army next summer (conscription exists in Israel for all Israeli citizens over the age of 18 who are Jewish, Druze or Circassian; Arab citizens of Israel are not conscripted). I'm probably not going to be able to discuss his army service here but I have included the badge of the Israel Defence Forces on his card and have wished him "Good Luck" in Arabic. He learnt Arabic at school and chose it as one of his Bagrut (Israel's high school matriculation examination) subjects. It seems that he's pretty good at it.
Finally I added a pair of walking boots. He enjoys the outdoors and has done a fair bit of hiking and orienteering on his programme and seems to enjoy it. Those walking boots have been put to good use so far!
For the first time in his life my son was not home for his big day. I arranged for a friend to deliver his birthday card and was thrilled to receive this video of him opening it on the morning of his birthday.
Even at 18 it seems that he is very happy with his customised card handmade by Mum - and his friends seem impressed too!

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Back in the Golan Again

My dad has been back here for another visit and during his stay we took a trip to the Golan with him, an area of Israel which we all love to visit. The eldest son, who has now flown the nest and is living on a kibbutz whilst doing a pre-army course, was home for a few days as well, so off we went to explore. I would say that it was also an opportunity for some well-earned rest, but no one gets any rest on one of my trips!
I had booked guest rooms at Kibbutz Ortal, a kibbutz in the northern Golan Heights. The main source of income for the kibbutz is mostly through agriculture but it also has a vineyard which is affiliated with the Golan Heights Winery and produces several varieties of grapes for their own boutique winery. On the first morning of our visit we were lucky enough to get a short tour around the winery and a tasting too, before stopping off for a quick visit to Ortal's mini zoo, Hai-Tal, below.
Our next stop of the day was at the Banias Nature Reserve, which we last visited back in 2015. We had come to see the roaring Banias waterfall, the biggest waterfall in Israel, which we could view at the end of a suspended trail - a walk through a narrow basalt canyon above the rushing Hermon Stream. Nothing quite prepares you for the loveliness of the walk to the waterfall. It was hot for some of the way but, once you get down to the suspended trail, it becomes more pleasant in the shade and the sight of the rushing waters is just magnificent. Crystal clear and cold, it was tempting to stick our feet in! However, access to the Hermon Stream has been strictly forbidden since the early 1990s in order to preserve the delicate ecology. The 10-metre Banias waterfall (mapal in Hebrew) at the end of the trail is a wonderful sight and even in summer with lower water flow, it was well worth a visit.
We then drove on to the second part of the Banias Nature Reserve, the Banias Springs. It is possible to walk between the two sites along a trail which runs along the Hermon Stream, but you need two cars to accomplish this hike, unless you want to walk two hours back to the parking lot where you started!
According to the Gospels, it was in Banias that the disciple Simon informed Jesus that people believed Jesus to be the messiah. In response, Jesus renamed Simon "Peter," which means "rock" in Greek - the rock upon which his church would be founded.
At the Banias Springs we were greeted by the impressive ruins of the Temple of Pan, a grotto, courtyards and niches for rituals dedicated to the worship of Pan, developed in several phases during the Roman period. Banias was originally named "Panias" after the Greek god Pan, god of the forests and shepherds. Since there is no "p" sound in Arabic and the region was long under Syrian rule, the village that grew up around the spring came to be called Banias.
The Banias Springs site has ruins from the Roman period, when the village was called Caesarea Philippi after King Herod’s son Philip who inherited the area and made it his capital. The Palace of Agrippa the Second, grandson of Herod, is among the relics. Caesarea Philippi remained important during the Christian Byzantine period. It was later conquered by the Muslims and then the Crusaders, then went back under Islamic rule and fell from its heyday.
We had time for just one of the four trails offered at the Banias Springs. Our chosen trail took us past a Roman bridge and the remains of a Crusader tower that controlled the sole entrance to the city of Banias and could block the entrance when necessary. A few metres along we found a water-powered flour mill which once served the residents of the Golan Heights villages of Massadeh and Ein Kinya. The trail then led on to the Palace of Agrippa the Second, a public building constructed at the beginning on the first century CE. The site extends over more than 2000 square metres. During the Byzantine period many stones were taken from this building to build other structures, and part of the palace became a bathhouse. A structure apparently used as a synagogue and dating from the eleventh century CE was also discovered here.
Continuing on we passed the remains of the Cardo, below, the colonnaded street that crossed the city from north to south, which was constructed during the period of Philip and Agrippa the Second. Additional streets were constructed during the Byzantine period.
This was the end of the particular trail we had followed but the corner tower, also below, situated at the end of the trail, is worth noting. The lower walls of the tower were built in the late Roman and Byzantine periods. Above them is a part of a Crusader wall and above the wall are the remnants of an Ayyubid corner tower. Above the tower remnants are Ottoman structures built of small brown stones, and at the top are modern Syrian constructions. Amazing!
Our next stop was at Mitspe Golani, also known Tel Facher, below. I hadn't planned on stopping here on this visit but it is near to the Banias and I realised that it was the kind of place my dad gets a lot from.
Prior to the Six Day War of 1967, Tel Facher was the strongest and most important Syrian base in the northern Golan Heights. For several decades, Syrian guns on Tel Facher dominated and terrorized the entire region. During the Six Day War, however, Israeli troops fought one of the fiercest battles in Israel’s military history, determined to retake the base and thus end the Syrian stranglehold over Israeli citizens. Over the course of a five hour battle, every single Israeli soldier but one was either killed or wounded, but by the end of the day, the base was in Israeli hands.
Today, the site is known as Mitspe Golani or Golani Lookout, renamed for the Israeli Defence Force’s infantry brigade whose soldiers fought and died for this base. An impressive memorial has been built to honour the memories of the Golani soldiers who fell here. A low memorial wall lists the names of the fallen soldiers.
We were able to wander around the well-marked Syrian trench system and walk through the narrow, well-fortified bunkers. With the exception of adding the memorial, the military features of the site have not been reconstructed since the moment of capture in 1967. Since the base is located so high in the Golan, we also enjoyed magnificent views of the region and of the Hula Valley below.
Our final stop of the day was at the Sa’ar waterfalls located about 4 kilometres below the Nimrod Fortress, on the horizon above, another incredible place we have been to in the past. Located just a few steps from the road this is allegedly a gorgeous waterfall, with powerfully rushing streams and well-placed observation points to take it all in. However, the waterfalls are best visited in the winter or spring when the water and snow from Mount Hermon are still making their descent to the Sea of Galilee. In the summer and autumn there was simply nothing to see! We hadn't timed our visit to the waterfall well at all.
It was time to call it a day and return to Kibbutz Ortal. I had more planned for the following day...

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