Feeling the stones, experiencing their story

Shuk Machane Yehuda

This week we’re going to take a short break from our run through Israel history, and instead let’s go visit Shuk Machane Yehuda, Jerusalem’s wonderful food market. It finally reopened last week, after being closed since March due to the coronavirus.

It all started back in the 1880’s when the local Arab residents started selling their fruits & vegetables to the Jewish residents in the area, who had recently build their new neighborhoods outside the walls of the Old City. This was done completely out in the open while sitting on the ground. By the 1930’s people starting buying stall space in the Shuk, and this will lead to the first streets that we can today see there- Agas & Tapuach streets. From then until today the Shuk has evolved quite a bit. My childhood memories from there, in the 80’s, is the strong smell of fish in a big dirty market. Wow has it changed since then!

The Shuk, today, is a thriving center in Jerusalem which combines a few things. A food market where the locals come to buy their groceries. A central area where a lot of small delicious restaurants are located with a great variety of food. And last but not least it’s the main night life attraction for Jerusalemites & visitors from out of town & from abroad, who come to enjoy the bars, drinks & music.

A colorful & culinary experience through the Shuk can go through many places. Let’s start at the Tehini King and enjoy the fresh Tehini that’s oozing out of the crushing stones in the store. Something sweet for anyone? Across the way is the Halva King with 100 different types of Halva, just choose which taste you want most. Getting a little tired? Let’s pop in for coffee at Roasters, the best coffee shop in Jerusalem. Now we’re ready for a delicious Knaffe at the Knaffe Bar, yummy sweet cheese with sugary water & orange noodles on top. We can watch Yaki the expert Knaffe guy frying & preparing it so that we can eat it fresh and hot. Don’t forget to pop some falafel balls into your mouth along the way, as they are draped in Humus. We will finish our calorie rich walk by indulging in some chocolate rogalach at Marzipan. These are the legendary rogalach that sell like hot cakes every Friday as the masses rush in from near and far to buy this delicacy for a sweet Shabbat.

So what are you waiting for? The Shuk is open, and hopefully there will be flights to Israel again soon. Once you are able to the Shuk (and myself..) are looking forward to seeing you here 🙂

Operation Moked

The morning of June 5th, 1967, changed the course of history in the Middle East. The balance of power between Israel and the Arab countries changed dramatically as the Israeli Air Force destroyed the Egyptian Air Force in a matter of 3 hours! What led to this fateful morning, how did Israel pull it off and in what way did it affect the Middle East balance of power?

On May 15th, 1967, the Egyptian army started marching towards the Sinai peninsula. This was a large area of land in which UN bases & soldiers sat. It was a buffer area between Israel & Egypt, into which the Egyptian army was not allowed to enter. On May 18th the Egyptians entered Sinai and by the following day the UN left the area. On May 22nd the Egyptians closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships (this action blocked Israeli shipping from /to the port of Eilat) and was an act of war. Israel tried to end the crisis via diplomatic channels, but to no avail. The Egyptians threatened to smash the young State of Israel. As a result of this, on May 19th Israel called up its entire reserve force to the Army. At this point the ‘waiting period’ began. This was a nerve wracking 3 weeks in which the Israeli population & army tensely waited & prepared for what increasingly seemed like an inevitable war. All this led to ‘Operation Moked’ on the dramatic morning of June 5th.

Between 7:10 to 7:30 am almost the entire Israeli Air force took off towards Egypt. This included 200 fighter jets, leaving only 12 fighter jets behind to protect the skies of Israel (a kind of hail marry pass). All of these jets were supposed to be above their targets, 11 Egyptian bases, at the same time, 7:45. They all arrived at their targets undetected. How did they manage to pull this off? There were 3 reasons for this-

*On the same morning between 7-8 am Abdel Hakim Amer, Egyptian Deputy President & War Minister, flew over the Sinai Peninsula along with the Iraqi Prime Minister, in order to visit an army base. He gave a command in which he forbade any anti aircraft shooting without his explicit permission. This led to the anti aircraft gunners holding their fire as the Israeli planes were attacking their bases.

*Every morning 4 Egyptian fighter jets went on patrol 4 times between 4:30-8:30 am in order to detect Israeli fighter planes. On this morning the 7:30 patrol never took off due to the pilots waking up late. During the previous night a large party had been held at their base, organized by general Sidki Mahmoud, commander in chief of the air force (!). Due to the pilots partying into the small hours of the night they had a hard time waking up in the morning. They missed the patrol flight that would have discovered the Israeli planes as they were on their way.

*The Jordanian radar system picked up on the Israeli planes. They immediately alerted the Egyptians who ignored them. The reason- the code had been changed the previous evening & the Jordanians were using the old code!

The Israeli jets flew 60 feet above the ocean & ground level, in radio silence, until they reached their destination. They then swooped up to 9000 feet, and then dove down towards theire target. They then made 3 or 4 runs. First run was to bomb the runways, the second run to bomb the planes that had the ability of bomb Israeli cities, the third run to target the fighter jets, and the fourth run to hit the anti aircraft missiles and other installations on base. During this attack Israel destroyed 200 Egyptian planes, all on the ground. The Israeli planes returned home, refueled, and took off for another round at 9:45. Within the next hour they destroyed another 100 Egyptian planes, almost all on the ground. By 10:45, three hours after the beginning of the attack the Egyptian air force did not exist any more. Israel lost 8 planes & 5 pilots in these attacks.

‘Operation Moked’ gave Israel full air supremacy from the beginning of the war (after quickly destroying the Jordanian, Syrian & Iraqi air forces too). This was key in the conquering of Sinai from the Egyptians, East Jerusalem & the West Bank from the Jordanians & the Golan Heights from the Syrians. In essence, Israel tripled its geographical territory over a 6 day period, June 5th-10th.

The hot political debates that rage until today  as a result of this is a conversation for a different time.

Independence Hall

“Next year in Jerusalem” takes on a whole new meaning starting May 14th, 1948 (5th day if Iyar). It’s on this day that David Ben Gurion, our first Prime Minister, declares independence.

The events surrounding the declaration were quite dramatic.  6 months earlier, on November 29th, the UN voted for partition, meaning a Jewish state & Arab state side by side. The plan was never implemented due to the Arab countries refusal to accept this plan. This led to a civil war within the land of Israel until the British departure on May 15th. Over the first 4 months (December 47′-March 48′) the Arabs attacked Jewish movement on the roads all over the country. It was only in April that Ben Gurion decides to take the initiative and starts going on the offensive against the Arab irregulars (Arab fighters who came from abroad to fight) and Arab towns. This will lead us into May.

The British are scheduled to leave on May 15th, which is a Shabbat. Realizing that the provisional government can’t declare a Jewish state on Shabbat, and that it’s not a good idea to leave a vacuum situation once the British leave, BG makes the decision. The declaration will be made on Friday, May 14th, at 4 o’clock. The momentous event will take place in a modest building in Tel Aviv. Since Jerusalem is under siege it can’t take place there, so Tel Aviv was the second choice. The chosen building was the former home of late mayor Mayer Dizengoff, then an art museum. It was relatively protected from the outside which was important due to potential aerial bombing.

350 people were invited to the historic event. BG started the meeting on time, at 4 o’clock, and it lasted 32 minutes during which he read the declaration of Independence. The main sentence, which gave this country its name, was “..hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel”. This was followed by the signing of the document, after which BG declared the ceremony over.

This was a defining moment in Jewish history. It brought 3 Jewish aspects back to the place where it had begun millennia ago. The Jewish religion- Judaism, originated in the ancient land of Canaan, was now returning. The Hebrew language- born in the era when the Hebrew tribes were wandering the land, was now being modernized and used as the official modern tongue in the land that it had originated from. And last but not least, the connection of the Jewish people to the land itself. After yearning in prayers for 2000 years saying “next year in Jerusalem”, it was finally happening.

Unfortunately, the second phase of the Independence War started the following day with the invasion of the 5 neighboring Arab armies. It was only by March 1949 that the dust settled, the war ended, and the State of Israel could get busy building itself a new Jewish state.

Nathan Alterman, describing the heartache of the loss of life due to war, yet the excitement of the new country, put it best in his famous poem ‘The Silver Platter’ –

And the land grows still, the red eye of the sky  slowly dimming over smoking frontiers

As the nation arises, Torn at heart but breathing, To receive its miracle, the only miracle

As the ceremony draws near,  it will rise, standing erect in the moonlight in terror and joy

When across from it will step out a youth and a lass and slowly march toward the nation

Dressed in battle gear, dirty, Shoes heavy with grime, they ascend the path quietly

To change garb, to wipe their brow
They have not yet found time. Still bone weary from days and from nights in the field

Full of endless fatigue and unrested,
Yet the dew of their youth. Is still seen on their head

Thus they stand at attention, giving no sign of life or death 

Then a nation in tears and amazement
will ask: “Who are you?” And they will answer quietly, “We Are the silver platter on which the Jewish state was given.”

Thus they will say and fall back in shadows
And the rest will be told In the chronicles of Israel

Herzl & First Aliya

When talking today about modern day Zionism and what got the wheels of history rolling that eventually led to the creation of the State of Israel, the year we choose to start the story in is 1882.

In this year the 1st Aliya begins. As a result of antisemitism, the rise of nationalism & the eternal “next year in Jerusalem” yearning, Jews from Eastern Europe, Russia & Yemen will begin emigrating to the land of Israel which at this time is under Turkish rule. Upon their arrival they buy land from absentee landowners and start settling the land.

What are the characteristics of the members of the 1st Aliya? They are mostly families, religious, with little to no agricultural experience. Their goal though, is to create new towns and work the land. Most of the land that they bought was not good for settling in at the beginning. They were strewn with rocks, or covered in swamps. Despite these hardships, the first pioneers cleared out the rocks and dried the swamps. Many times these came at a horrible price of the loss of life due to disease. The agricultural work was trial by error, or sometimes the local Arab population helped to teach the inexperienced Jews how to work the land.

Some of the first towns that were built in the 1880’s and 90’s have turned into well known cities or towns in Israel today. Reshon Letzion, Holon, Rehovot, Zichron Yaakov, Petach Tikva, Rosh Pina and many more. 32 towns were built during the 1st Aliya years of 1882-1904.

A lot of the financial support for all of this was done by the Baron Edmond Benjamin Rothschild. He supported the infrostructure for many of these towns, and built factories. Wine & silk were just some of the factories that he created in order to support these new towns.

The number of Jews who made Aliya to the land of Israel in this wave of immigration numbered 25,000-35,000. Their work on the ground was what got the things rolling, at the begining, that will eventualy lead to Israel’s independence in 1948.

On the political level, Theodore Herzl, a journalist in Vienna, will start talking about creating a Jewish State. In 1895 he was witness to the French yelling “death to the Jews” in the streets of Paris when Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jewish officer, was wrongly accused of spying. Within the next few months he writes a pamphlet called “The Jewish State”, in which he describes his vision of a future Jewish state. Herzl will organize the first Jewish Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897. Over the next few years he will turn to various world leaders in order to get support for the creation of his vision. The leaders of Turkey, Russia, Germany & Great Britain were who he turned to, but all disappointed him by not helping his cause.

Herzl died in 1904 before he could see his dream come true. Herzl’s political activities will compliment the members of the 1st Aliya’s activities in turning their dream into a reality.

Layers of History

The metaphor of a multi layered sandwich is my favorite way of describing the multi layered history of Jerusalem. From within these layers, though, let’s choose 4 stories with a Jewish connection. They will span over an era of 1,000 plus years, from the 7th century (1,300 years ago) to the 18th century (300 years ago).

*638- The Muslim conquest of Jerusalem. Omer Ibn Hattab, the Muslim caliph, will enter Jerusalem victorious at the head of his Muslim army, thus ending the 700 year Roman Byzantine rule of the city. Omer will request to go and see the sanctuary of David. He will be taken up to the Temple Mount which he finds contaminated by ‘ a dungheap which the Christians had put there to offend the Jews’. At this point Omer asks to be shown the Holy of Holies. One of the men who was accompanying him, a Jewish convert named Kaab el Ahbar, points to the foundation stone, which was also covered in debris. As Muslim soldiers are clearing the debris Kaab el Ahbar turns to Omer and suggests that he make 2 praying areas, one on the foundation stone for Moses, and the other north of that spot for Muhammed. To this he responds to Kaab “you are still leaning towards the Jews”. Omer then built a prayer house on the southern end of the Temple Mount, facing Mecca, in the general area where today’s El Aksa Mosque stands.

*1165- Maimonides (Rambam) visits the land of Israel. Escaping from Spain, he will arrive at the port city of Akko. From there he will set out “On Tuesday, the 4th day of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan (October)…we left Akko to travel to Jerusalem under danger, and I entered the big and Holy House (Temple Mount) and prayed there on Thursday, on the 6th day of Cheshvan. On Sunday, the 9th of the month, I left Jerusalem towards Hebron in order to kiss the grave of my forefathers (The Cave of the Patriarchs, burial site of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Rivka & Lea)”. This is the era of Crusader rule in Israel (1099-1187) in which Jews were banned from living in Jerusalem. Maimonides found only 4 Jewish dyers living in the city under royal protection.

*1267- Nachmanides (Ramban) builds a synagogue in Jerusalem. After defending Barcelona’s Jews against Dominican claims of blasphemy, the Dominican’s then tried to have him killed. King James of Aragon was so impressed with him that he gave him 300 golden pieces to help him on his journey escaping those who wanted to take his life. The Ramban, aged 73, will travel to Jerusalem. Upon arrival he will see a city in ruins and will write the following to his son “What shall I tell you about the land, it lays in great waste, the rule is the more holy the site is so too it lays very much in ruins, and Jerusalem is the most ruined of all”. He then comes to Mt Zion (right outside today’s walls of the Old City) and found a “broken down house built with marble columns and a handsome dome. We took it for a prayer house because the city is a shambles and whoever wants to appropriate ruins does so”. The Ramban built a synagogue in Jerusalem at that time, despite the fact that when arriving he discovered only 2 Jewish brothers, dyers, living in the city. Roughly 100 years later (circa 1400) Jews moved into the area that is today known as the Jewish Quarter. They turned a structure with marble columns into a synagogue which today is named the Ramban synagogue (no connection to the original one on Mt Zion).

*1700- Yehuda the Hassid arrives with 1,000 followers in Jerusalem. Starting his journey in eastern Europe 3 years earlier with 1,500 followers, this group goes from town to town & village to village. Each place that they arrive at evokes excitement as people give them prayers and promise to give donations to help them build their community upon arrival in Jerusalem. By the time they arrive in the holy city they number 1,000 members. The group will hit a snag, though, when their leader, Yehuda the Hassid, dies within 5 days of their arrival. Donations that were promised fall through and the community is left penniless. They will then borrow money from the local Muslim community for their synagogue. Unfortunately, they don’t have the ability to return this loan and as a result the Muslims will destroy their synagogue in 1721. This is the first version of what is today known as the Hurva Synagogue, which stands 80 feet high in the middle of the Jewish Quarter and can be seen from many lookout points around Jerusalem.

Mishnah Days

“Give me Yavne and it’s sages” said the 1st century Jerusalem sage to Vespasian, the Roman Chief of Staff (later emperor), as he layed the siege on Jerusalem that eventually led to the destruction of the 2nd Temple.

This will lead to the evolution of the Oral Torah over the next several centuries. The sages, members of the Sanhedrin (Jewish religious leadership) will break down the commandments of the Torah to small minute details for implementation in daily life.

The man that will finish compiling all the books of the Mishnah is Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi. He lived in the second century, and when you visit Israel next I would love to show you where he learned, lived & was later buried. It’s fascinating to walk through these sites. Next to the modern day town of Kiryat Tiv’on (not far from the port city of Haifa) we can visit the study center (Bet Midrash) that he studied in. Next we travel to Tzipori National Park (in the Lower Galilee). There we can visit what may have been the beautiful home that Rabbi (that’s his nickname, I’m serious..) lived in. That’s only one of the many points that we can experience in Tzipori, though. This site has so much to offer. My favorite is to show off its many colorful mosaics, the most beautiful in Israel, in my opinion. One of the central mosaics in Tzipori is its 1,500 year old mosaic that’s in the middle of its synagogue. We’ll get back to synagogues, though, in a little bit. From here we’ll go to Bet She’arim National Park (next to our above mentioned Bet Midrash), with its burial caves that hold many sarcophagus inside of them. This is where Rabbi and his wife were buried upon their passing circa 200 CE.

During these centuries, from the time of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi and over the next several centuries, 3rd-7th centuries, is the golden age of the Jews in the northern areas of Israel. The Galilee & Golan Heights. Roughly 100 synagogues have been found in these regions, showing a rich & meaningful life for Jews in these areas. The synagogues are adorned with many artistic motifs, amongst them the 7 branched menorah which adorns our synagogues today. All synagogues faced the direction of Jerusalem, in the spirit of “If I forget Jerusalem may my right hand whither..”.

Some of these synagogues have been rebuilt. They are very impressive physically, not to mention that visiting them can be a very meaningful experience.

Unfortunately, the Jewish golden age in the Galilee came to an end 1,300 years ago (8th century) with the Muslim conquest of the land of Israel. From this point on there will always be a small population of Jews in the land, but not until the 20th century will they constitute a majority once again.

Rome vs Jerusalem

“If someone tells you that Caesarea & Jerusalem are destroyed don’t believe them, Caesarea & Jerusalem are standing don’t believe them. Caesarea is destroyed & Jerusaelem is standing or Caesarea is standing & Jerusalem is destroyed- believe them!” (Tractate Megilla, Babylonian Talmud).

You could cut the air with a knife regarding the tensions between the Jews and the Romans during the first century before the common era and through the first two centuries of the common era. The above quote describes this in polarizing the cities in which the leaderships of both sides sit in the land of Israel, Jerusalem and Caesarea.

The Romans, led by Pompey, conqure Judea in 63 BCE. This is the end of Jewish rule until our modern times. In the year 40 BCE the Roman senate appoints King Herod as their client king ruler in Judea, who after having to conquer Jerusalem from rebelling Jews, rules with an iron fist for over 30 years until his death. The tensions between the Jews & Herod reached boiling points many times. One of the main reasons for this is he was seen as the man who ended the beloved Hasmonean/Macabbee dynasty (from the Chanukah story).

After Herod’s death the tensions between the Jewish population and Roman leadership, especially the prefects (local Roman rulers) intensifies. What are the variables that eventually lead to an all out Jewish rebellion against the Romans in the year 66? There are several-

-Increased burden of taxation & corrupt exploitation by the Roman prefects of their Jewish subjects. Things got so bad that many Jews who owned land for generations, had to give it up to the Romans.

-Ever increasing affronts to the Jews religious sensitivities. Josuphus Flavious, who describes the events of the time in his book ‘War of the Jews’, describes a Roman soldier stationed near the Temple lifting up his robe, exposing his buttocks to the crowd of Jewish celebrants, and emitting a rude sound. This is just one example of many malicious Roman insults towards the Jews during these difficult years.

-The Romans riling up the other non-Jews in Judea against the Jews. A well documented incident is of local pagans, in Caesarea, Purposely sacrificing birds to an idol outside a synagogue during prayer time on Shabbat. This in order to spite the Jews, leading to all out riots and the death of thousands of Jews (according to Josephus’s’ description).

-Inner turmoil within the Jewish population. Different lines of belief and ideology led to the creation of many Jewish sects. The biggest & most known are the Sadducee, Pharisees, Sicaree & Essene sects. They differed in their way of observing Judaism, messianic expectations & outlook on combative activism. Some believed in ‘My way or the highway’/sum game zero even among their fellow Jews, conflicts which eventually led to the crumbling of daily life within Jewish society.

All of the above led to the Jews rebelling against the Roman occupation of Judeah in 66 CE. This horrible rebellion lasted for 4 years until the Romans, led by Titus, conquered Jerusalem and burned down the 2nd Temple on the 9th day of Av (July/August) in the year 70. There are a tremendous amount of fascinating archaeological finds, bringing to life these dramatic & horrible events and eventual destruction.

I would love to guide you through these sites in the near future.

Unfortunately, at that point Caesarea was standing and Jerusalem was destroyed. Today, though, in the 21st century, the opposite is true. Jerusalem is flourishing and Caesarea is a gorgeous archaeological site that I’m looking forward to guiding you through, although it’s definitely destroyed since it’s glory days in ancient times.

The video was taken a couple of months ago (as right now we can’t walk more then a few hundred feet outside of our home). You can join me on my explaining the dramatic events that take place on Mt Nitai in the Galilee. Battles between the hated Herod and the Jews take place there in the first century BCE. It’s in that same place, too, that battles between the Jews and the Romans will take place once again 100 years later.

Independent Judea!

We can all get so confused between a Menorah and a Chanukiya. What’s the difference? When are there 7 branches, and when are there 8? How does all this connect to Chanukah and Jewish independence in Judea? Here is the fascinating story!

With the Greeks ruling Judea 2,100 years ago, their King Antiochus announced that Jews can’t keep their Jewish ways anymore (no Shabbat, circumcision etc..). In addition, the Greeks shocked the Jewish people by defiling the Second Temple. They stole the various artifacts from there, and then did something that was totally taboo- placing an idol on the sacrificial alter (that’s only a little worse then wearing a NY Yankees cap in Boston, or the opposite). These Hellenistic believers then brought a sacrifice to this idol on the 25th day of Kislev (December). The exact year is 167 BCE. There was much meaning to this Hebrew date, as the Jews had inaugurated the Second Temple on this exact date 350 years earlier.

The Jews stood up and fought back, though.. Led by Judah the Maccabee and his 4 brothers, they led Jewish fighters in 8 battles against the Greeks over a 7 year period (167-160 BCE). After the 4th battle, they entered Jerusalem and arrived at the desecrated Temple. This was sometime at the end of October/beginning of November 164 BCE. The Jews immediately set about restoring the lost glory of the Temple. They cleaned it, and then rebuilt the desecrated sacrificial alter from new stones. The famous golden menorah had been stolen, so they put 7 swords together, covered them with wood & created cups on top, and then lit them on the 25th day of Kislev.

They chose to reinaugerate the Second Temple on this date because that’s the original date the Jews inaugurated the 2nd Temple 350 years earlier. It’s also the date that the Greeks sacrificed to the idol 3 years earlier. This is the date that we start celebrating Chanukah every year!

The story tells us the the 7 branched menorah was lit with fire for 8 days. There are a few reasons for the 8 days. One reason is because the Jews were unable to celebrate the 8 days Succot in the Temple back in October, due to the fighting going on at the time. They were now making up for those 8 days 2 months later. Another reason is because when the Jews entered the Temple to purify it, they needed to wait 7 days. They were considered impure (Tameh) from their fighting, and needed to wait 7 days in order to be considered pure (Tahor). On the 8th day they created the necessary oil to light the Menorah (their 7 swords quickly strung together..). Of course there is the most famous reason that was written in the Talmud several hundred years later. That is regarding the Jews finding a small can of oil, enough to last for 1 day, which miraculously lasted for 8 days.

There was no 8 (plus 1) branched Chanukiya in the Temple. There was the 7 branched Menorah which was lit for 8 days. Today, we at home light our Chanukiya on Chanukah!

After all of these difficult battles the Jews earned their independence in Judea and beyond. This lasted for 80 years until the Romans arrived in 63 BCE. The Jews won’t have independence again in Judea until 1948.