Sunday, March 30, 2008

Continuing along the Dead Sea

Continuing our hike through the hills over the Dead Sea, we reached the edge of the cliffs and got a fantastic view of the northern shore.

Looking over the Dead Sea and Arava Valley

The coast looked a bit like the California Coastline near Big Sur, with the cliffs of the coastal range diving into the Pacific Ocean. Of course, those cliffs are alive with grass and flowers, whereas these cliffs are rocky and dead. But if you backlight them with the sun, they become profiled, and you can almost picture the California Coast.

The Dead Sea Coast
Lazy Non-Hikers in their All-Terrain Vehicles

And went away just as fast.
Herds of Bedouin camels.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Qumron 2: Hiking up the Wadi

Looks like I forgot to continue my posts on the Qumron hike with MOSAIC, so onward and upward we go.

Looking back at the visitor's center.

Hiking up the cliffside was a bit steep. Really steep. Good to get the blood pumping.

Yitzchak the hindmost, herding the stragglers.

Yours truly, Qumron behind me.

Qumron from afar.

Taking a rest, our guide reviews the geology of the region. The Dead Sea is actually located in a rift valley which stretches all the way through Africa, and has been plunged by techtonic forces to a kilometer or so below sea level.

Looking in the direction of Yericho (Jericho) and Ein Hogla.
Using the macro lens on some of the local flora.
Looking back through the wadi at the northern shore of the Dead Sea.
And now we're out of the wadi, hiking over the rolling hills.
Dead Sea at a distance.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Onward to Yavniel

Continuing our trip north, we exited the Jordan Valley and arrived in Bet She'an. Bet She'an was actually an ancient Phillistine city, which shows just how far inland the Phillistines, originally a sea people, were able to penetrate during periods of Jewish disunity and weakness. King Shaul (Saul,) the first Jewish king, was killed by an expeditionary Phillistine force launched from Bet She'an.

A. is engaged now, so he needs to keep a constant stream of communication with his intended.

Continuing north, we arrived at the southern tip of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee.)

Here we see the Kinneret, and across the sea, the Golan Heights.
And at last, we've arrived in our destination, Yavniel.
In the distance, we see the city of Tiberius (Tveryah) growing slowly over the hillside.

It's all villages and farms and green, green, green here. My allergies are killing me just looking at this photo. But it was really beautiful.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Cruisin' the Jordan Valley

A. and I recently had the opportunity to escape Jerusalem for the Galil, having been invited by a family in Yavniel. We went by way of the stunning Jordan Valley. During the summer, which is already in the air, the valley becomes violently hot and almost unbearable without air conditioning. But this time of year, it's still green and alive with flowers.

Looking over some of the smaller agricultural Jewish settlements in the mid-Valley area.
Looking west, towards Elon Moreh.
Whenever driving route 90, the road which takes you from the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) to Yam Hamelach (The Dead Sea,) I always pass this massive monument and am curious to get out and take a look. My understanding, based on a tour I took of the Jordan valley a while ago, is that this is a monument to seven fallen soldiers. During the late 60's/early 70's, the PLO under Arafat was based in Jordan, over the river. Instead of being able to launch their ghastly attacks from their headquarters in Ramallah or from United Nations facilities, as they do today, they were forced to set up bases and launch less successful cross-border raids. During one of the raids, the Israel Defence Forces discovered and pursued them, and they holed up in a cave. In the cave was a Bedouin family, and when the soldiers came to kill the terrorists, the terrorists held the Bedouin women and children in front of them at the entrance of the cave. This threw off the soldiers for just a split second, as they didn't know whether to fire and inevitably kill the civilians. In the confusion, the terrorists managed to fire from behind the women and kill seven of the soldiers. The Israeli army determined that they did the right thing and erected a settlement nearby which is an acronym of the slain soldiers. This lauding of surrendering their own lives (and the lives of the innocents the terrorists might have killed) is, I believe, an immoral action, and indicative of some of the problems faced by a country surrounded by enemies who have no concept of the rules of war, one of the basic building blocks of true civilization.

Yours truly, ascending the monument.

The view from the top.

I believe this is the cave where the incident occurred. Not sure about that though.

A., at the top.

Looking southeast, over the date orchards, and the Jordan River, with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on the other side.

Laying out that plastic stuff that they put out when they grow vegetables (sorry I can't be more scientific.)

And we continued on to the Galilee. More photos soon...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Book Review: Rich Dad Poor Dad

I've been working like a slave lately, racing to finish up design jobs and equipment submittals, burning the midnight oil, sometimes finally getting to sleep at 1AM. I get these bumps in workload sometimes, usually when a couple of projects come due at a time. It makes normal life hard. I have to make an effort to focus in my Talmud shuir when I haven't really slept much. It hurts to go jogging when I still haven't recovered from yesterday. And I have to set aside the joy of blogging for a few days at a stretch. Of course, after the rush is over, I can usually take a few days off to go hiking, visit relatives, or just chill out. During the rush, I'm so focused on meeting deadlines and pushing everything out the door that I'm not even foucused on the hours I'm working. Only at the end of the month do I put my billing together and realize that I've generated a modest pile of change.

Usually I just stick it in the bank to save for buying a home here some day. But then I was listening to the economic news and realized that, as interest rates are cut, the interest made on my savings is declining, while at the same time inflation is increasing, so that any money in the bank is effectively evaporating in value. I started researching somewhere safer to invest the savings. After listening to a lot of books on tape, radio programs, and the like, I began to consider some form of U.S. Real Estate. After all, the dollar is low, so it doesn't make sense to bring anything to Israel right now, markets are going down, and Real Estate tends to preserve its value and increase over the long term.

I've lately been trying to learn up on the whole subject of finance in general. After listening to various CDs, podcasts, and the like, and reviewing books, I stumbled on an audio version of Robert Kiyosaki's "Rich Dad Poor Dad."

In the book, he compares his "Poor Dad," his biological father who worked all his life in a high-paying but still middle-class job, to his "Rich Dad," his best friend's father who dropped out of high school but later became a multi-millionaire by following sound financial principles.

The basic premise of the book is to buy assets and limit liabilities. Kiyosaki defines anything that sucks up cashflow, be it a car or mortgage, as a liability, and anything that gives cashflow, like real estate or businesses, as an asset. He recommends starting one's own business because this allows you to lower what is by far your greatest liability, taxes, by deducting expenses.

He devised a "Cashflow Quadrant" system of four different styles of income, the employee, self-employed, business owner, and investor. The goal, Kiyosaki tells us, is to move from the employee and self-employed to business owner and investor categories.

The previous two paragraphs are all you will need. The rest of his book is simply repetition ad nauseum, illustrated with poorly-written stories. My first response is: duh. Of course you want to limit your liabilities and increase your assets. That's what "investing" means.

Still, I continued with the whole Kiyosaki brand, listening to some of his lectures and public speaking, some of which I found on you tube, and other stuff that I found in other places, and some of what he was saying began to set off alarm bells.

First off, while he talks about how rich people tend to be decent, the entire book is basically a slap in the face to his biological father. So much for, "Honor your father." Also, while he talks about the importance of being mathematically literate and understanding numbers, he gives absolutely no details. In some of his lectures, he talks about how he picked up a house on a tax lien sale (that's where you pay the back taxes for someone who is delinquent, and if they don't pay you back at interest, you get the house.) All the research I've done has indicated that this almost never happens, and when it does, it's on a property that you wish you had never set eyes on. On the "limiting your liabilities," side of his philosophy, you've got to wonder why he's always wearing expensive watches and fast cars. And if he's such a wealthy multimillionaire and now just wants to each us his secrets for the benevolent reasons he claims in his book, why is he flying all around the world giving $2,500 per head lectures? I could go on and on.

Fortunately, John Treed, another real estate advice writer, has done extensive fact-checking:

1. His rich dad does not exist. He gives certain hints about the rich dad, including that he was the father of his best friend next door, and gives certain dates and times they met. Research has proved that such dates and times would be mathematically impossible.

2. Most of his tax strategies would land anyone who actually tried them in a prison cell. You can't deduct your Porche as a transportation expense or your family "board meeting" in Hawaii as a business expense.

3. He constantly refers with pride back to serving his country during the Vietnam War in the Marine Corps. Of course, in his previous book, "If You Want to Be Rich and Happy, Don’t Go To School?" he claims to have been a conscientious objector who went AWOL.

4. Most of the gurus he refers to, including Robert Allen, who wrote the book, "Nothing Down," are currently either bankrupt, fugutives, or in prison. Birds of a feather flock together.

5. Many of the sweet deals he claims to have made in his book, if you actually sit down with a calculator and analyze them, actually generate a significant financial loss.

6. Forming a corporation often results in double-taxation, as both corporate profits and shares are taxed. Whether I deduct my computer and software I use for work as a contract worker, or I start a company and have the company pay for them pre-tax, it really doesn’t make a difference.

Reed has compiled pages and pages of Kiyosaki-related misinformation and swindles:

I remember a few years ago, when Kiyosaki-mania was at its peak, friends would come to me telling me how important it was to read his book. They always had that sort of smiley-vacant expression that you see in Jews for Jesus zombies. They don't want to help you, they want you to know that they are such geniuses for having realized something that us mundane unbelievers haven't. From the beginning, I understood Robert Kiyosaki's lack of detail to be the sign of a motivational speaker, a Jews for Jesus-type emotionalist, rather than any sort of rationalist. But on deeper analysis, Robert Kiyosaki appears to be more of a criminal confidence-trickster whose advice can ruin the life of anyone who is suckered by him. Sometimes you have to wonder how someone who utters vacant platitudes with conviction could get so far, but then again just look at a certain leading presidential candidate. The best money you will make from the "techniques" of Rich Dad Poor Dad is to limit your liabilities and save $10 by not buying it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Har Hamoreh

A prelimninary: anyone interested in taking a Tanach tiyul should contact Ezra Rosenfeld at He runs great tiyulim all the time, and I've really enjoyed the four that I've gone on so far.

A few months ago, I was on one of my Tanach Tours in the Galil (Galilee.) We were learning the story of Gidon (Gideon) the Shofet. A Shofet in modern Hebrew is a Judge, but in Tanachic Hebrew it meant more an inspired leader. Every few generations, the Jews would fall into idolatry and their commitment to God would lapse.
"And I have also said, 'I will not drive them out before you; they will
become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you." Judges

God would then remove his protection from the Jews, and they would fall under the oppressive domination of one of the surrounding peoples. The Jewish people, now afflicted, would repent and cry out to God for mercy. God would then send a Shofet to inspire the people and rally them against the enemy, leading to the enemy's defeat. The Jews, now free, would then lapse again into sin. Repeat ad infinitum. The period of the Shoftim lasted for 400 years, from the end of the Exodus from Egypt as Joshua crossed over the Jordan into Eretz Israel in the year 2488 (aka 1272 BCE) until the rise of King Shaul (Saul) in the year (879 BCE.)

For his own epic struggle against the invaders from Midian (in present day Saudi Arabia,) Gidon gathered his forces at Ein Harod (the spring of Harod.) Although thirty two thousand assembled for battle, Gideon began to whittle down his forces. First, he instructed those frightened of battle to go home, and twenty two thousand left. Next, he ordered them to drink from the spring. Those who knelt to drink were sent home, and those who lapped up water were kept. Our sages tell us that those who got on their knees indicated through their action that they were used to worshipping idols. By this time, he had only 300, but needless to say, with divine assistance, they smashed the Midianite forces gathered to the north on Mount Moreh. Or, more accurately, they surrounded them and blew shofars and smashed jugs, which caused such confusion in the Midianite ranks that they began slaughtering one another. Halleluyah.

Anyway, one of the stops on the Tanach tour was to see Har Hamoreah, where the Midianites had gathered. Today it's home to a national forest.

Looking south towards Emek Yizrael (The Jezreel Valley.)

Yours truly.
The city of Afula through the trees.
The big hill there is Har Tavor (Mount Tabor,) where, a generation later, Devorah (Deborah) the prophetess gathered her forces for the final battle against the Canaanites.
The green fields of the Yizrael.

After defeating the Midianites, Gidon was offered national leadership, but instead he returned to his home village of Ofra, which is nearer the coast and further south. There he built a massive monument in honor of God for having saved the Jews yet again. But, of course, the people began to slip, and pretty soon the monument itself became a "snare" to the people, and they worshipped it as if it were an idol. It can be surprizing how much the Tanach mirrors modern life in many ways. The more tings change, the more they stay the same I suppose.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mosaic Hike: Starting in Qumron

Howdy! My deepest apologies for the berevity of blog posts over the past week, but sometimes life just gets the best of me. In this case, I have two project deadlines coming up, which really cramps my laid-back style. BUt, without further adu (or is it ado?) I attach photos of my recent hike with MOSAIC, an Anglophonic hiking group, to Qumron. You may remember I was at Qumron a couple of weeks ago on a Tanach tour, but this time, it was more of a sweaty, dirty hike.

The ruins.
One of the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

I guess a refrectory is where you eat stuff.
What's left of the refrectory.

This is the aqueduct leading into town. Runoff water was only captured a couple of times per year, but the system was so efficient it could fill dozens of mikvahs and cisterns to last through the long summer months.

This is pretty clearly a mikvah due to the steps. Cisterns are basically just giant holes, and the bucket would be thrown down into the hole to retrieve water. You'll notice that there is one particularly wide step. In fact, there would typically be four normal steps and then one very wide one, in a repeating series. This was due to the gradually lowering water level. As the water level dropped over the summer, so the bather would have to walk down further and further to reach the water. These regularly-spaced extra-long steps provided a place where the bather could lay out and immerse completely, regardless of the water level.
Okay, NOW we can get started. To the left is the reconstructed aqueduct.
Hiking up the cliff, looking back at Qumron.
More to come!