While traveling together through biblical era sites, people often ask me the excellent question “Ami, how do we know that these are the same sites that the Bible (Old Testament) is describing?” In order to answer this fascinating question we need to look at 3 variables:
-Preservation of the name. We know that the name Shilo has been used continually as the name of this site for over 3,000 years. There is a wonderful mosaic, dating back to 1,700 years ago, with the inscription “Have mercy on the people of Shilo”. The local residents have preserved the name “Seilon” throught the centuries. And there is a traveler named Eshtori Haparchi who described this site 600 years ago.
-Geographical description. One of my favorite things is to read the Geo description from the Bible & then show it in reality. In the Book of Judges (Bible) it’s written “…There is the annual feast of G-d in Shiloh, which is north of Beth-El, on the east side of the highway that goes from Beth-El to Shechem, south of Levona”. On your upcoming trip to Israel I will show you exactly how this plays out in reality, and we’ll see this with our 21st century eyes.
-Archaeological findings- The findings at our site work perfectly regarding who lived there & when. What do I mean? There were ancient Hebrews that lived there. We know this because of the shape of jugs & style of homes that we can see there today. The biblical story of Samuel & the Tabernacle (Mishkan) takes place 3,100 years ago. Fittingly, there are remains of charred olives & dates that thanks to Carbon 14 testing are dating back to exactly then! The clincher, though, are the remains of the huge stone frame at the site. It fits PERFECTLY with the size of the Tabernacle described in the Torah (80 by 160 feet).
Now that we understand that the site of Shilo that we’re talking about today is the important ancient town of Shilo, we’re ready experience it together in your upcoming trip to Israel.
There are obviously so many more interesting topics to touch upon as we experience Shilo together. The figures who walked here- such as Hanna, Samuel the Prophet & Eli the High Priest. How the actions that they took here in ancient times impact our lives even TODAY!! In what way do these ancient stones lay out the drama of the tensions between the beginnings of Judaism & the already present Paganism, and so much more..
I try to imagine what Jews were feeling in Jerusalem, or in Shushan, Persia, roughly 2,500 years ago. The feeling of dread when Haman came out with his announcement of genocide to the Jews all around the world.
Just to put the Purim story into historical perspective. Whether it really happened or not is up to you to believe, but it is our tradition. And within a historical time frame we have Cyrus, King of Persia, who allowed the Jews to build the 2nd Temple a little over 2,500 years ago. Roughly 50 years later we have the Persian king, Xerses. He is Achashverosh of the Purim story (or the king who beat the Spartans in the movie ‘300’). Living as a Jew at this point will be daunting as Haman’s diabolical plan is hanging over your head. Living in Jerusalem at this time is no picnic either, as the locals non Jews are giving the Jews who returned from Persia a run for their money. These feelings of dread are embodied in the famous words in the Esther Megillah “And the city of Shushan was confused/perplexed”.
At the most difficult point, though, events change dramatically. The fortunes of the Jews take a sharp turn for the better, and they are saved from Haman’s horrible plan. A generation later 2 key Jewish figures, Ezra & Nechamia, come to Jerusalem and help bring the city back to life.
In what seemed like natural events in a roller coaster ride in history, the presence of a force above us (Hashem, G-d, the almighty or karma, call it as you may) steered the historical events in our favor. By the end of the Purim Megillah reading it says “and the city of Shushan rejoiced”.
Jumping forward to the 21st century. Our society, the world as we know it today, is being rocked by the Coronavirus. Humanity is confused/perplexed. There probably isn’t a single person in the world who hasn’t been affected one way or another at this point. I have to say that for me this has been a very humbling experience. Watching in awe the effect that this horrible virus has on our daily 21st century lives, literally bringing the powerful economy that I live in to the eve of a standstill, wreaking havoc on the health of lives of people around the world, and so much more..I can only humbly stand by and pray that this too shall pass and that we shall come out of this much stronger. With all of my academic (and sometimes cynical) way of looking at religion, I feel like G-d is putting me in my place a little bit, and teaching me a lesson of humility.
Just as we rose stronger in our story of Purim with the help of G-d, so too do I pray that we’ll come out of this crazy time stronger, with the help of G-d, בעזרת ה’.
When people ask me “What is your favorite place to travel in Israel?” My answer is more connected to my ‘favorite time of year’ then ‘favorite place’.
By the time February/March have arrived in Israel, we have experienced much of the rainy season. This will bring about stunning colors throught Israel. Not only do we travel through green hills (otherwise yellow brown), but they are dotted with colorful flowers that are in full bloom. Nestled amongst Israel’s terrain, are specific areas where we can feast our eyes on fields of flowers that naturally cover hills. Anemone, cyclamen, lupine, daffodil, iris are just a few of the types of flowers that turn our hills into a blanket of flower heaven.
In southern Israel, we can visit the Shokeda forest and walk among the anemone flowers. Make sure to experience this in February, otherwise you may find an empty hill. Outside Jerusalem, in the Ella Valley, we have Lupine hill (yes, that’s its name, literally). Spend 15 minutes climbing this particular hill, and then feast your eyes on the majestic blue/purple lupines. Oh, please make sure to specifically visit this hill in March. If you are visiting the Golan Heights in February, wear your boots and pants that you don’t mind getting muddy in order to walk through a small local marsh and enjoy the daffodil flowers.
So the next time that you want to know where I most enjoy traveling in Israel, here you have it. My favorite places during my favorite season. In my eyes, these sites are truly heaven on earth.
The State of Israel has experienced 12 different Prime Ministers during it’s 71 years of existence. Some PM’s are more well known, while others are less. A few have been colorful & theatrical while others more grey and reserved.
David Ben Gurion, the founding father of the state, has some interesting nuances to his personality. He refused to use the word את, which means ‘the’ in a sentence. Due to this, when one listens to a recording of him today (or reads his writings) it sounds as if the sentences are a little stiff/lacking a connecting word at times. BG was also known for his extraordinary memory. When later on in his life he felt like he was developing memory issues, he would practice Yoga by standing on his head. One can still see him doing this while walking by his ‘head standing’ statue on the beach in Tel Aviv.
Golda Meir used to sit in her kitchen with her closest confidants and brainstorm regarding critical issues in Israel. A kitchen in Hebrew is called a ‘mitbach’. As a result of this, when the security cabinet meets today for critical decisions, they are called the ‘mitbachon’ (I guarantee you that they don’t meet in the PM’s kitchen any more..).
And then there is Menachem Begin, arguably the best & wittiest orater that Israel has ever had. When elected to be PM in 1977, a reporter asked Begin what kind of Prime Minister he was going to be. Begin answered without hesitation “Good Jewish style”. In the heated atmosphere leading up to the elections in 1981, a well known cultural figure named Dudu Topaz blasted Begin’s Sephardi voter base by calling them ‘Chachchachim’, which means ‘riffraff’. The following day, Begin stood in front of a crowd of hundreds of thousands and brilliantly turned this around to his advantage. He said that this ‘riffraff’ are all Jewish brothers with all Jews from all nationalities, fighting and living together. Many say that this turned the polls around to his advantage.
We’ll finish with Levi Eshkol, Israel’s 3rd PM, from 1963-69. Eshkol was one of the countries main architects for building Israel’s water system, including the National Water Carrier. Born & raised in the Ukrain, Eshkol was fluent in Yiddish and was known to flavor many of his sentences with that fading language. Can you imagine a world leader constantly using Yiddish expressions today?
We’ll stop here for now. You are welcome to view the link, in it I’m sitting in Levi Eshkol’s seat located in the decision room of what used to be the PM’s official residence (until 1974). Glad that I was sitting there talking to you on a video, definitely would not want to be the one making critical decisions during critical times.
Stalemate! Those have been the headlines in the news over the last several months, regarding the Israeli elections. Since March, 9 months ago, we have gone through 2 elections. That’s not all, though, as there is a good chance that in a couple of weeks time new elections will be called for the third time, sending us yet again to the polls, this time in March 2020.
How did this crazy situation come to be?
Israel has a parliamentary system, which includes a dozen political parties. When elections take place (ideally every 4 years), the person who heads the largest party will receive the right to create a coalition. This person will then turn to the other political parties in order to cobble together common denominators that will create the desired coalition. Since the Knesset (parliament) consists of 120 seats, the coalition naturally needs the minimum of 61 seats. Since 2009, Benjamin Netanyahu has been the chairman of the Likud party. The Likud party has usually received the most votes, and as such has headed the coalitions, and Netanyahu has been our Prime Minister.
After the elections last March, the Likud party and Netanyahu won again. The difference this time was, they didn’t succeed in creating a coalition. Netanyahu didn’t succeed in getting a minimum of 61 Members of Parliament. This let to a second round of elections last September. The results of the September elections were similar to the March elections. Again, Netanyahu did not succeed in creating a coalition. This time, the political party called ‘Blue & White’, led by Benny Gantz, actually finished slightly ahead of Bibi’s Likud. When Gantz was given the opportunity to create a coalition, he also failed. We are now in ‘Hail Mary’ time. This basically means that any member of parliament that succeeds in getting 61 Members of Parliament to give him a vote of confidence, can create a coalition.
To add onto all of this, last week the Attorney General announced his intent to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud & breach of trust. According to the law, a sitting Prime Minister can remain in office until a court of law finds him guilty. Despite this, the indictment puts the whole political sphere in Israel into that much more of a mess right now.
So what’s next? Chances are that in a couple of weeks our government is going to call for yet another round of elections. In addition, it seems like the Likud party will have inner elections within a few weeks (for the first time since 2014). This will bring about challengers to Netanyahu’s reign in the Likud. His main challenger is Gideon Sa’ar, a veteran politician and former Minister of Education. What will happen from there? Who will win? How will this stalemate end? Well, that’s anyone’s guess..
When I was a child, there was an expression that we used, the “olden days”. We would ask “did this happen in the olden days” or ” is this from the olden days”?
What are these olden days? Obviously, it all depends on your perspective. Prior to 2016, my beloved Cubbies last won the World Series before WW1, in 1908. That seems like a long time ago. The US Decleration of Independence took place over 240 years ago in 1776, that’s even longer ago. The walls of Jerusalem were built almost 500 yeras ago, in 1540. That much longer ago.
So when we talk about the ancient gate of Ashkelon dating back to 3850 (!!!) years ago, that can really blow your mind. This gate, mostly made of mud brick, is 50 feet long, 14 feet high & 7 feet wide. It’s part of the fortified wall of the ancient port city of Ashkelon, which resides in the southern area of the coastal plains. Pretty amazing to think about the busy daily life of the many people who were walking in and out of this gate in those ancient times. By the way, this gates claim to fame is that it’s the oldest gate in the world!
A gate can also be a metaphor to entering something new in life. We are now entering the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana. May our gate into the Jewish year 5880 lead us into a year of health, happiness & fulfillment.
Viewing physical changes, in real time, as they are taking place along a countries border, can always be fascinating. Especially if it’s taking place along a fascinating border like the Israeli Syrian border in the Golan Heights.
A tremendous amount has been said and written regarding the Civil War in Syria, over the last several years. What started it, who is against who, Israel’s response out of self defense, the IDF’s medical humanitarian aid and Israel’s initiated attacks in an attempt to stop Iran from gaining a foothold in the region.
In this video we see another angle of this potentially volatile border. Tractors, on the Israeli side, are creating a rampart made out of dirt. it runs parallel to the already existing border fence. The rampart is west of the fence, on the Israeli side. The purpose of this new development is twofold.
1- Protecting Israeli Army patrols that are driving along the border. This is very important with the recent developments of Iranian backed attempts, through their Hizbullah proxies, to gain a foothold on this border. Back in the summer of 2006, an Israeli Army patrol was attacked by a Hizbullah ambush on the Lebanese border. Soldiers were then killed & kidnapped, sparking the second Lebanon war.
2- Stopping attempts of a mass of people from managing to break through the border. Large earth ramparts have been built outside of the Gaza Strip for this purpose. Breaching the Syrian border and having terrorists make their way into the Golan Heights, would be an imminent danger to both Israeli soldiers & civilians.
The fact that I was there and saw this change taking place with my own two eyes, was fascinating.
Former Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, hosted a US Senator about 30 years ago. They flew together, via helicopter, over the West Bank (who’s biblical name is Judea & Samaria). PM Begin was arguing the case of the strategic value of this area for Israel. Upon landing, Begin turned to the Senator and asked him regarding his thoughts. His response was “you absolutely belong in Judea & Samaria, but you absolutely need to leave the West Bank”. Welcome to politics in the Middle East.
When traveling through Israel, we meander our way through so many political issues, without even realizing sometimes. Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, West Bank, East Jerusalem, Settlements, different citizen statuses & rights, and so much more..So come check it out in the place where it’s happening..
It’s fascinating for anyone who can stand and read an original ancient manuscript. Now, when you talk about reading a 2000 year old Hebrew message on parchment, that can really blow your mind.
That’s how I feel when standing inside the Shrine of the Book with the Dead Sea Scrolls, in the Israel Museum. People often ask me where I enjoy guiding most in Israel. My answer is that it’s not ‘where’, but ‘what’ I enjoy guiding most. The answer is texts. Bringing ancient texts to life in the place where it happened. So for me, reading the original texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls (true, in an artificial Museum..Ok) can really give me chills.
Talking about ancient events, Passover/Pesach is around the corner. I can just imagine one of the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls writing the story of Exodus 2000 years ago and saying “Wow, now that’s old news, the Jews left Egypt over 1000 years ago..”
Wishing you an enjoyable Pesach
Have you ever enjoyed a good sandwich with many layers inside? I’m sure that you have. Jerusalem too has many layers. We naturally tend to walk along the upper layer of Jerusalem and experience it. There are many layers, though, that seek to be explored right underneath our feet.
The 2000 year old drainage channel in the City of David is one of these places. Situated in the site where the story of Jerusalem began 4000 years ago, this drainage channel is relatively new to some of its older neighboring finds. One of the breathtaking findings inside here is a Western Wall stone that fell into it while the Western Wall was being constructed 2000 years ago. This means that we actually walk under a massive multi ton stone, hanging above our heads, that got stuck in the top of this drainage channel.
Come check it out, just saying..