Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Farewell to Shwarmas

I'm keeping up with my exercises. In fact, I can usually get in a good hours' run every day. It' snot quite a real run, more of a run... stop... run... stop... run. Over the last few weeks, I've noticed that my knees and ankles are hurting a bit more than usual, and it doesn't go away. Usually I can just sit down for 20 minutes or so after a jog, and then get back to my normal routine, but lately I've been feeling wiped for the rest of the day after I come back. I thought maybe I'm coming down with something, or maybe now that I'm in the last ten months of my twenties, maybe my body has decided to prematurely give out.

Last shabbat I was in Yavniel, a small farming town in the Galillee, and, trying to hike up a modest hill, I felt that every step required a massive effort. My shabbat clothes felt a bit tight, and when I got back home I looked through some of the photos...

Uh oh, the symptoms are all there. I've got the puffy face and I look like I'm in my first trimester. I jumped on the scale as soon as I got home, and sure enough, I had just hit 235 pounds! My ideal weight is usually around 215. How could this have happened? I must not have been watching myself carefully enough. I haven't been this heavy since , well, according to my records, January 28, 2004, when I was in the middle of my crash weight loss when I lost 50 pounds.
It's time for the big W, the dreaded "Weight Watchers." I figure that by announcing it to the world here on my blog, I maybe I can shame myself into sticking with it all the way. So we're off! The first three days of Weight Watchers are absolute hell. I suffer from a constant state of gnawing hunger, and have the nasty metallic aftertaste of all the vegetables I've been eating following me around. No more white bread or pasta, only whole wheat pitas. Gotta write every last little bite that goes into my mouth down into that obnoxious spiral notebook. I bought some measuring cups, stocked up on vegetables, and got rid of my n0n-whole-wheat pitas.
If I can keep on the big W for three days, then I'm home free. My stomach shrinks, my fridge is cleared of unhealthy temptation, and I'm pretty much on a roll. But the first three days are brutal. After that, it should take me about two to three months to clear 20 pounds, if I stick to it. Wish me luck!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

On the Map?

As Google's information empire continues to spread its tentacles across the globe, I've been more than happy to take advantage their mapping service from time to time while in the states. Google's satellite maps are so accurate that there was a big story a few months ago where Google had, in fact, displayed the locations of secret Israeli military facilities on their maps, in violation of American law. Considering that Google is happy to map to such treasonous detail, I was wasting time looking around Israel on Google maps, and noticed something peculiar.

(Click for a larger version)

Do you see it? Notice how all of Israel's neighbors; Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, all have the major highways and cities marked, but Israel.... well, there's nothing. Not even Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Based on this map, the third-world Syrians would seem to be racing ahead.

Even the tribal regions of Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, where government forces have never dared enter, still seem to have roads and towns marked out, in case you wanted to take a Sunday afternoon drive through the Tora Bora highlands.

And it's not as if there aren't already existent GPS maps of Israeli road networks. I've been looking at installing a GPS system in my car. Veeery interesting.

Also, if you look carefully, there's another glitch.

What is that, LAKES? In the Negev? I think I'll with Mapquest.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


I'm posting all of my previous posts of Yaffo here in one giant post.

Our journey to Yaffo began at night. Driving from the Jerusalem hills, descending to the coastal plain, the warm ocean air is a nice change of pace from chilly Jerusalem.

Yaffo, known as Jaffa in English, is one of the handful of settlements in the Land of Israel which was inhabited for centuries prior to the Zionist revival of the land. at which it was a largely Turkish and Arab city.

An old postcard from Turkish Yaffo

In biblical times the region of Jaffa, being on the coastline which was always on the fringes of Jewish control. The Philistines, a Greek seafaring people, settled the rim of the Mediterranean sea, and with their mastery of blacksmithing were able to keep the Jews most concentrated in the mountain regions of what is today Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank.)

A map displaying Philistia in relation to the areas of Jewish settlement in the times of King David.

As can be seen in the map above, the yellow coastal strip controlled by the Philistines including Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ashdod stretched north to the area Jaffa area. When the Land of Israel was divided amongst the twelve tribes upon entering the Land of Israel, this region was assigned to the tribe of Dan. To this day, the cities of Tel Aviv-Yaffo and its surrounding suburbs are known as "Gush Dan."

As a matter of fact, as is detailed in the book of Shoftim (Judges,) Dan never actually made it here because of the Philistine presence. Instead, they wandered far, far to the north to find open land. Their inability and lack of determination to conquer their portion of the Land of Israel, as did several other tribes, is considered one of the major lapse by many religious commentators.

The area allotted to Dan in the map above is labelled "Original Land Given to Dan." We can see where they actually ended up, in the far, far north of the land, in what is today Lebanon/Syria.

Jutting out from the Coast, the topography formed a natural harbor, and Yaffo became the port of entry to the Land of Israel for the first pioneers.

The night view of Tel Aviv, standing in Yaffo.

Yaffo, aka "Jaffa," on a map of greater Tel Aviv, lower left.

Like most of the older cities of Eretz Yisrael, Yaffo was designed before the advent of city planning and building codes. With walls built of solid stone, doorways had to be arched to support the weight.

An alleyway in the old city of Yaffo, slow exposure.

Yours truly in that same alleyway.The old city is on a Tel (mound,) with layers of previous civilizations buried beneath. The tel slopes steeply down toward the sea.

Looking back at Tel Aviv from Yaffo.

Even in the previous century, in the days when Yaffo was the chief port of entry to the land of Israel, "port of entry" was a relative term. The harbor was never dredged, so the truly large ships had to remain out at sea. Pilgrims and immigrants coming to the Holy Land disembarked from their large passenger cruisers onto smallboats rowed by laborers, which took people the rest of the way ashore.

Night fishing behind the jetty.

Today, the harbor is used as a small marina. The larger port cities of Haifa, Ashdod, and Eilat have been dredged to accommodate the larger vessels of today. Meanwhile, the Yaffo harbor has been left behind and is in a state of disrepair. There is talk of refurbishing the harbor and turning it into a major tourist attraction, like the Old City of Jerusalem, but so far they remain just plans, not action.

Yaffo also happens to be the site of a major battle. Well, actually, it was the site of many battles over the millenia, most of them long forgotten. But by far the most famous of those remembered was Napoleon's march through the holy land. On March 4th, 1799, having swung through Egypt and now making his way north, Napoleon's forces besieged Yaffo. Within two days, he had already breached the walls, and his men stormed the city, looting its goods and slaughtering over 2,000 of its defenders.

Yours truly with Napoleon. Talk about a "Little Man's Complex."

Napoleon was eventually able to get a handle on his troops, but the damage was done. With 2,000 rotting corpses came disease. Soon, a plague broke out amongst Napoleons troops. Napoleon then, as the story goes, ordered his doctor to administer poison to his infected troops to prevent the disease from spreading. The doctor refused, and word spread quickly that Napoleon had tried to have them killed. These rumors sparked the first tremors of a mutiny among the ranks. To quell such rumors, Napoleon visited his sick soldiers in the hospital, going to great lengths to touch and come close to them, proving he was unafraid of the disease. He then commissioned a famous painting of himself visiting the sick. Entitled, "Napoleon at Jaffa," it what was probably the closest thing to a photo op they had at the time.

"Boneparte Visiting the Plague Victims of Jaffa"

Our tour group gathering in the plaza with the little Napoleon guy.

Walking through the alleyways, past the shops and art galleries of today.

Yaffo has actually been settled since ancient times. Beneath the tel (archaeological mound) on which the contemporary city is built is layer upon layer of ancient civilization.

A current dig is exposing an Egyptian fortress from the late bronze age, around the year 2500, or 1300 BCE on the secular calendar. This date would put it at almost the same time as the Jewish exodus from Egypt. Wonder how long it took them to get word of the 10 plagues.

More excavated Egyptian ruins.

Coming to the top of the tell, we see a fantastic view of Tel Aviv. Roughly 20% of Israelis live here.

Foreground, the flora and older buildings of Yaffo. Background, Tel Aviv.

By the late 1870s the walled city of Yaffo became too cramped and could no longer accomodate the growing population, and the first suburb beyond, Neve Tzedek, "Abode of Justice," sprouted up beyond the city walls.

Rachel, our Nefesh B'Nefesh event organizer, shepherds her lost tourist-sheep into Neve Tzedek.

Our tour guide takes us to the original well.

Neve Tzedek is also the site of some of the first orange groves planted by Jews in Israel, as the ideology behind the Zionist revolution was beginning to take shape. It would be another nine years before Theodore Hertzl would publish Der Judenstadt, which would initiate the era of the organized return of Jews to Eretz Israel.

The first well and orange groves outside the Yaffo city walls. The orange trees are painted white to prevent evaporation.

With he light welling up from the inside, it looks sort of like a direct elevator to hell.

Looking at one of the first houses built in Neve Tzetek.

Finally out of the city walls, Neve Tzedek was built with the more modern construction for the time period, including running water and toilets. These amenities induced many of the great early names of Zionist thought to settle in the area, including the Nobel Prize laurete author Shmuel Yosef (Shay) Agnon, artist Hachum Gutman.

Shay Agnon

Neve Tzedek also became the home of the great Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, whose mystical and nationalist writings, as expanded upon by his son Tzvi Yehudah Kook, formed the theological basis of the National Religious movement.

Rabbi Avraham Yistchak Kook.

Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook

As the building in Neve Tzedek continued, a group of pioneering individuals purchased a few acres of empty dunes north of Yaffo. Of course, there were disagreements between the settlers over who got which piece of land, so they cast lots to select parcels (reminiscent of Joshua's division of the land in Sefer Yehoshua, the Book of Joshua.)

Casting lots.

Their new town would be called "Tel Aviv," the Hill of Spring. It's a reference to the book of Yehezkel (Ezikiel) 3:15, "Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel Aviv, that lived by the river Chebar, and to where they lived; and I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days."

Early Tel Aviv.

The name was taken by Theodore Hertzl in his book, Altneuland, "Old-New Land," to describe his vision of the first Jewish city in the resurrected Land of Israel. The term "Tel" is an archaeological mound, the word "Aviv" means "Spring," so the name was symbolic of the rebirth of Jewish sovereignty on the ruins of the ancient destroyed Jewish state.

The main street of the new city became, appropriately, Hertzl Street.

On Hertzl Street. One of our tourists holds up an old photo of the street. Today the street is not what it used to be.

This espresso bar is actually one of the first structures built in Tel Aviv. At the time, it was an ice cream parlor. Anyone who's ever experienced Tel Aviv's miserable summer humidity, and then imagines the days before air conditioning, can understand why this was a priority.

In one of the ironies of history, many of the early Zionists fleeing persecution in the German-speaking countries were architects and artists, who brought with them the Bauhaus architecture of their birth lands, with its simple, open design, focused on functionality. Later, when the Nazis came to power, they opposed the style as being to decadent and reminiscent of the failed Weimar Republic. After Germany was bombed to rubble after world War II, Tel Aviv became one of the only places where original Bauhaus architecture still existed, and in 2003 Tel Aviv was declared a United Nations World Heritage Site.
Some of the Bauhuas architecture. It was a bit tough to do it justice at night.

The house of Tel Aviv's first mayor, Meyer Dizengoff (which I thought was amusing, you know, Meyer is the Mayor, ha ha,) anyway, his house was used for Israel's declaration of Independence.

It didn't typify the Bauhaus architecture for which Tel Aviv was famous. In fact, is was quite an ugly building. So why was it used?

As is so often the case in Jewish history, great achievment against impossible odds was spurred by the lack of any other option. In an attempt to strangle Jewish freedom in the grave, the Arabs had already besieged Jerusalem and the Egyptians were marching north. Israel had no choice but to declare independence and fight the odds.

Meir Dizengoff's house was selected for the Declaration of Independence not for any historic reasons, but because it had small windows and a large basement, where they could be protected. The Egyptian air force was already in the air, ready to begin the areal bombardment of Tel Aviv.

David Ben Gurion declares independence in Tel Aviv on May 14, 1948. 11 minutes later, the United States was the first country to recognize the reborn State of Israel, and Egypt was the first nation to attack.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Negev Tour 1: Off to Tel Lachish

'Twas the fifth night of Hanukkah, and all through the yeshiva, not a bochur was stirring, not even a... Danni with a megaphone to drag everyone from their beds at 4 AM.

You see, when one wakes up in the morning, it isn't permissible to do anything like, say, eat breakfast or go for long bus ride, before davening Shacharit (morning prayers.) If you want to get an early start, the solution is to wake up before the crack of dawn, which is still technically the night before.

Introducing the cast of characters....

Daniel W. The sleeping bag says it all.
Michael H. Too early for pictures.

Yours truly. I don't sleep on buses. And I don't daven well with 4 hours' sleep. Yes, the tefillin is a bit crooked.

Seth, after breakfast, loading up on a couple of extra breakfasts for the road.

Ephraim F., all smiles and sunshine.

And, of course, there were a bunch more guys, too. After stopping in a small village of re-settled refugees from the former Gaza settlements for Shacharit , we continued south and reached Tel Lachish.

The sign doesn't mention, but being this far south, Lachish was one of the last settlements destroyed by the Romans in their attempt at ethnically cleansing the Holy Land of Jews and at last eradicating the Jewish people from the Earth.

Of course, look who'se flag flies over Lachish now, heh heh heh....

After emptying from our four-bus caravan, we were herded down to the vineyards in the shadow of the tel. I actually came here once before, but that was with a bunch of German students when I was at Ben Gurion University, so I didn't understand anything on that tour. My Hebrew isn't perfect, but it's better than my German, so I thought maybe I'd get the full tour this time.
But in the vineyard, the tourguide began regaling us with tales of his family's aliyah;. The stories went on. And on. And on and on and on and on.
Meanwhile, I wandered through the vineyards to play with the macro mode on my camera.
With the stories still going on, some of the guys went back to sleep.

And then, we were instructed to get back into the bus. What? WHAT!??? We had just arrived at one of the best preserved archaeological sites in Israel, a place which appears again and again in the Tanach, and we were going to leave after just sitting there and listening to stories for an hour? No way!

While everyone else loaded onto the bus, Daniel and I sprinted to the top of the tel.

Made it!

Looking East, we saw a fantastic view of the foothills of the Hebron mountains.
The tel was covered with ruins. Wish we had made it up here to get an actual explanation of what we were looking at. Maybe next time.

Looking back at the tower, at the gates of the city.

And so, we were off to our next destination, a canyon near Sde Boqer. Stay tuned!