Monday, 31 January 2022


Remember last year, when my youngest son turned 18 and celebrated the day at home with his mum and dad because we were in lockdown? Well, this year he turned 19 and spent the day - and the rest of the week - in the company of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), where he is currently doing his compulsory service. He came home at the weekend though and we were able to spoil him a little bit then.
My youngest son enlisted back in August and is now a tank driver. The army is pretty much his life for the moment. I wanted to make his birthday card different to his Giyus Kal ("Have an easy call-up") card. This time I showed him with short hair. The army requires him to keep his curls short and even length, without layering. He is holding his rifle and there is a tank behind him. I also included the club badge of our local football team, Ironi Modi'in F.C. Even though he is somewhat preoccupied these days, my son still manages to keep an eye on what they are doing and even managed to get to a game recently. Finally, I showed my son against a stunning orange sunset. He's got a good eye for photography and has sent us a few great shots of tanks in the desert since his service began.
My son loved his card and squirrelled it off to his room to place it on the shelf next to his Giyus Kal card. He did point out, in the nicest way possible, that I had given him an M4 rifle whilst he actually has an M16. Now, I am completely out of my comfort zone when it comes to guns! I know nothing about them. In order to make the birthday card as accurate as possible, I whatsapped Mister Handmade in Israel to check which gun our son has. I blame him!
I now know that the M16 has a different length barrel to an M4 and the carrying handle is a different shape too. Will I remember this for another time? Probably not. I was rather proud of my efforts anyway!
My next mistake was with the tank. Apparently I cut out an artillery tank and not the type of tank my son drives. My tank was actually a great improvement on the one I had put on his Giyus Kal card but, once again I was educated on things I have no desire to know more about. An artillery tank has light armour and a bigger gun in a turret to fire at far away targets. Tanks have heavy armour and a shorter gun in a turret to fight other tanks.
My son loved his card anyway and the sherry cake, made by Mister Handmade in Israel, which is his favourite...
Sticky Mud and Belly Laughs
My Random Musings
JENerally Informed

Thursday, 27 January 2022

Mrar Hills National Park

The Mrar Hills are situated in the Shfela (Judaean foothills), south of the city of Rehovot and north of Gedera. The hills are the fourth and last ridge among the kurkar (calcareous sandstone) ridges on the southern coastal plain. Open kurkar areas in Israel are in decline and their rich world of flora and fauna, some of which are unique to them, are disappearing. Part of the kurkar ridge in the southern part of the Mrar Hills has been declared a national park and is maintained by the Nature and Parks Authority. 
The Mrar hills rise 94 meters above sea level. In the Book of Joshua they are defined as a mountain, "Mount Baalah", on the border of the lands of Dan and Judah. Potsherds from the Chalcolithic period and burial caves from the Middle Bronze Age and the Roman and Byzantine periods, above, have been found in the hills, showing that people have lived in Mrar for many generations. 
Some of the caves may have been turned into dwellings or storerooms during the Ottoman period, when there was a Muslim cave village here. The name Mrar ("caves" in Arabic) shows us the importance of caves to the village.
At the end of the Ottoman period - and to this day - orchards were planted in the fertile soil that collected in the valleys between the kurkar ridges. The inhabitants of Mrar Hills had a few water sources, the most important and dependable of which was the Sorek Stream, which flows from the south. During the Ottoman period the village had a well and a cistern. The village also had a controlling view of its surroundings, which gave it a strategic advantage, an important element in pre-modern times for the development of a settlement. On the west was the ancient international road connecting Egypt and Syria (the "Via Maris" or "Way of the Sea"). Another road linked the settlements that developed to the east. In certain periods an east-west road passed south of the village, connecting the coastal plain with the Judaean lowlands and the Jerusalem Mountains.
At the top of the hill are water storage pools built by the Mekorot company as part of the Yarkon-Negev water line that was established between 1952 and 1955, before construction of the National Water Carrier. Their purpose was to channel water from the Yarkon Springs to agricultural communities in the northern Negev.
A statue of a horseman stands nearby as a reminder of the many battles that have taken place in these hills, before the establishment of the State of Israel. On 13th November 1917, as part of the battles of the First World War in Israel, the Battle of the Mrar Hills took place on the ridge. British forces launched a combined assault, when English cavalry (Yeomanry) and Scottish infantry fought against 3,000 Ottoman troops and defeated them. The British forces on their way to Ramle encountered the Ottoman forces occupying positions in the ridge and nearby villages. At the end of the battle, the British took control of the main railway junction, with railway lines leading to the south of Israel, and opened the way to the Jerusalem-Jaffa road. The retreating Ottoman forces lost hundreds of troops and about a thousand were captured by the British. The British lost about 500 soldiers.
The Yeomanry charge at these hills, known as El Mughar Ridge, is considered one of the last cavalry charges in military history.
The agave shrub can be found in several locations on the hills, above. Agave grows for about 10 years before it blooms, which it only does once in its lifetime. Before the agave blooms, it produces a long, thick trunk from which a cluster of thousands of fragrant yellow flowers emerges, which are pollinated by birds. Arabs customarily plant the agave in cemeteries. Agave was once grown in Israel to produce fibre and medication, but today it is used for ornamental purposes only. Other species of agave elsewhere in the world are cultivated to make sugar and tequila.
On the southeastern fringe of the ridge lay an Arab village called Al-Ma'ar ("The caves"), from which the name of the hills full of kurkar caves was derived. With the construction of RAF Aqir, which served as the main Royal Air Force station in Palestine during the Second World War, the importance of the village increased. At the beginning of the War of Independence, in May 1948, the village was captured by the IDF. After the war, the newly named Tel Nof Airbase became a central base for training the Paratroopers Brigade. A monument to the fallen paratroopers in Israel's wars, which we saw at the start of our visit, is located at Tel Nof, near a site that was once a major paratroopers base.
In 2020, the The Mrar Hills National Park was upgraded. Stairs were built, paths were paved and signs were set up explaining the landscape, the vegetation and the battle of the cavalry that took place there. The metal horseman found his place high up on the ridge.
From the top of the hill there is a spectacular view of the surrounding settlements: to the southwest you can see Gedera, to the southeast is Moshav Beit Elazari, established in 1948 by Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe. You can also see the runway and hangars of the Tel Nof Air Force Base.
Before returning to our car parked at the paratroopers monument, we stopped for a rest on the grass in front of the monument, above. The towering pillar of the monument, with parachute wings, is carved with the words of the poet and Special Operations Executive, Hannah Szenes, "A voice called to me - and I went, I went because the voice called." The monument's long stone wall is inscribed with the biblical verse: "They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions." (2 Samuel 1:23). On the wall the names of the paratroopers who fell from 1949 onward. The monument was built at the initiative of the paratroopers force and the bereaved families. It was unveiled on 29th October 1960.


Monday, 24 January 2022

A Singing Savta

This special savta (savta or safta is the Hebrew word for grandmother) was turning 70 and her daughter asked me to make her a card. It actually turned out that this card was pretty meaningful for me. Savta's 70th birthday was on the exact same date that my mum would have turned 80. I couldn't make my own mum a special card, so it was my pleasure to be able to make one for another much loved mum...
Mum's prominent features are her glasses, her smile and dangly earrings, her daughter told me. I suspect that I may have made her earrings a little bit too dangly actually, but they made me smile, so it seemed a shame to trim them! Themes on the card should cover swimming, walking and (lots of) grandchildren, her daughter wrote, adding "if you want one more, music/singing" too.
I have shown Savta happily singing, with outstretched arms. Some music notes surround her. To her right are some walking boots, a swimming costume, swim cap and goggles. On Savta's left I added a sparkly silver number 70, to mark her special birthday. My customer told me that Savta has 11 grandchildren, which is of course wonderful but too many to fit on one card! Instead I created three little faces and added the word "savta" on a banner in front of them. The heart shows how much they all love her!
Sticky Mud and Belly Laughs

Thursday, 20 January 2022

Shalva's Album

Shalva recently celebrated her Bat Mitzvah. Her parents asked me to make her an album that could be displayed at her party for all her friends to sign. They told me that she likes Harry Potter, baking, anime and maths. They requested an album that opens the Hebrew way (Hebrew books open from right-to-left).
I decided to show brown-haired Shalva wearing a black Harry Potter cloak and holding a wand. In her other hand she has a plate of cupcakes to represent her interest in baking. Behind her are some maths symbols and the number 12 to mark her age. There is also an anime picture behind her and in front of her is a mixing bowl and another cupcake. The background box is blue since that is her favourite colour.
Shalva's name appears at the top and the Hebrew date of her Bat Mitzvah celebration is at the bottom of the album's cover. Hebrew dates are written right-to-left with the day of the month, followed by the month name, then the Hebrew year. The Gregorian calendar date is below the Hebrew one.
I decorated five pages inside Shalva's album. The first page has a Harry Potter theme. I cut out a tiny broomstick, similar to the one Harry was given when he joined the Gryffindor Quidditch team. I added the black Sorting Hat and a cauldron for brewing and holding potions, below.
The next page has a baking theme, above. I added some tiny cupcakes, a mixing bowl, wooden spoon and a spatula. Shalva's mum mentioned that Shalva goes horse riding too, so I cut out a brown horse for the following page, below.
The last two illustrated pages in Shalva's album show various maths symbols, representing her interest in the subject, and some anime characters too. The word anime - pronounced "ah-knee-may" - is an abbreviation of the word animation. In Japan, the word is used to refer to all animation. However, outside of Japan, it has become the catch-all term for animation from Japan.
Shalva's mum was very pleased with the album and decided that she would like to use my cover illustration for other things at the Bat Mitzvah celebration. (I offer this as a package. Please discuss it with me if you are interested in doing something similar). I scanned the cover for her and she made these cute laminated labels which were placed on top of the napkin of each place setting at the party. The labels were also stuck on each party bag that Shalva's friends took home, above.