A never forgotten place in Jerusalem -Zedekiah’s pool

Zedekiah became king of Judea at the age of 21. He reigned eleven years, from 597-586 BCE. 
Zedekiah was crowned by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, to become his vassal. However, weak and indecisive of character, and influenced by his entourage and false prophets, he was unable to resist the political intrigues which were then brewing in Jerusalem. He could not face the storm which was about to strike over to Judah, and which brought the defeat of Jerusalem.


The pool of Zedekiah is hidden in the Christian quarter of Jerusalem. For a small amount of money it is possible to get to the roof of a  neglected hotel and take a panoramic shot of the ‘pool or reservoir’, a shocking image of a rundown site, but which stayed intact  through time and was never forgotten!


Zedekiah’s Pool

HANOUKKAH – The real story

Colorido Janucá : Ilustración de stock

 

We are halfway through Hanukkah (dedication). Hanukkah is the feast celebrated by lighting a candle daily for the period of eight days, while tasting many delicious and caloric ‘souvganiot’ donuts.

This holiday is also called the Jewish festival of lights. It is a reminder of the rededication of the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem by the Maccabees, a group of Jewish warriors, in the 2nd century BCE.

The centerpiece of the Hanukkah celebration is the hanukkiah or menorah, a candelabra that contains nine candles. The legend tells us that only a small flask of oil was available and this miraculously lit the menorah for eight days. The ninth branch, the shamash, is a helper candle used to kindle the others.

Hanukkah is still practised today. It dates from the 5th century of the Christian era, the time of the Talmud (documents compiled about the period of the third to the sixth centuries of the Christian era), and updated at the end of the 19th century by Jewish Zionists, who wanted to re-establish themselves in Palestine.

The Hasidim (pious) wanted to set up this divine miracle of the little flask of oil, of which there is no evidence, rather than approving a re-conquest through devastating battles of the Hasmoneans. A religious holiday celebrated over military victories was inconceivable to Talmud scholars.

Maccabee means hammer in the Aramaic language. It has become the family name of a Jewish family in Jerusalem during the 2nd century BC. This family played an important role in safeguarding Judaism from Hellenism. The name Maccabee originally belonged only to the third son of the Jewish priest Mattathias, Judas, the first person to fight for religious freedom during the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes and all the defenders of the Jewish religion during the Greek period, were so called.

In -168, when the king of Syria, Antiochus Epiphanes, offered a sacrifice to Zeus on the very site of that of the holocausts of the temple of Jerusalem, followed by all kinds of laws,  imposed by force. Hellenization of Judaism, prohibition of circumcision and the sacrifice to the Greek gods were signs of upcoming revolt.

In the town of Modi’in, the priest Mattathias not only refused to offer the first sacrifice, but killed an apostate Jew and a Seleucid soldier. Many reprisals followed. Judas and his brothers went to war, fighting no less than eight battles. The small number of Maccabees did not weaken in the face of the organized armies of the Seleucids, led by glorious generals who had arrived to reinforce the troops. It took four battles by the Maccabees to take over the location of the Temple and repurify it.

During this entire period of hostilities, the Maccabees could no longer freely celebrate their tradition and had to hide themselves in caves. Their final victory was celebrated for eight days in memory of the Sukkot feasts two months earlier which they could not dedicate and it is for this reason that nowadays the Hanukkah feasts last eight days ….

 

 

 

 

A very special visitor to the Holy Land – MARK TWAIN

MARK TWAIN

MARK TWAIN

Mark Twain is a pseudonym for Samuel Langhorne Clemens, born on November 30, 1835, into an American catholic family.

He grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, a region famously known as the setting for Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. During his adolescence Mark Twain worked odd jobs, like a a printer’s apprentice, but he also contributed to the articles in the journal of his older brother, Orion Clemens. In addition, he worked as a miner, as well as a maritime pilot on the Mississippi River. Later he would joke about his lack of success in mining, eventually turning to journalism.

In June 1867 he joined a commission of journalists, which traveled with a group of passengers to Europe and the Holy Land on the steamer “Quaker City”. The purpose of this trip was to write an article for the magazine “Alta california” on “New Pilgrims and Tourism”, called “the Pleasure Trip to the Holy Land”.

In his book ”The journey of the Innocents”, Mark Twain talk about his traveling companions, whom he found difficult to sympathize with. They were too pious for his taste.

After Europe they arrived in the Middle East via Syria, Lebanon and, finally, to Palestine. Marc Twain was astonished at the small size of Lake Tiberias, being used to the huge American lakes. He continued to Nazareth, Mount Tabor and crossed Samaria. From Nablus he then left for the Jordan Valley in the middle od August at 40C!  He tells about the difficulty of finding a tree, a water point to cool off after hours of walking … that of the arid desert, an ultimate desolation.

At that time, the Bible was the sole resource to find and recognize the holy places, but these famous places seemed a lot less grand than he had anticipated!

Finally he saw he Jordan River, a river that can be crossed on foot! What a disappointment it was, compared with Missouri! He later would call the Jordan River “Mississipee!”

Upon arrival in Jerusalem however, he was very impressed by the walls ,examining them four hours. He found the Old City smelly, dirty, dilapidated and outdated. Another disappointment! He stayed at the “Mediterranean Hotel” in the Jewish Quarter of that time. This is the same building that Ariel Sharon would buy 150 years later in 1987. Since Sharon’s death the hotel has been transformed to a “yeshiva”, a Talmudic school.

Monks guided him through the old town, but Twain was upset by their lack of culture. At the Holy Sepulcher he saw Adam’s tomb. Finally, a member of his family and he is moved !!

Upon his return to the USA he was asked how this ‘journey of pleasure in the Holy Land’ had been. Since it had been far from a pleasent trip, the title did not suit anymore.

We should call the article:” A trip for the great burial of the Holy Land! “A country in mourning and cursed, which has lost all its grandeur, its beauty and has become a cursed land forgotten by God ”

The Israeli Prime Minister during a meeting with Barack Obama offered him Mark Twain’s book, telling him this is what the Jewish people had done in this cursed country …

Mark Twain met Theodore Herzl and wanted to perform the latter’s play ‘The New Ghetto’ on Broadway. Mark Twain believed that Jews should not return to Palestine because they could be more influential by staying in their respective countries.

He wrote his autobiography in 1910 and according to his request it was not to be published until 2010 on the 100th anniversary of Twain’s death.

His wit and satire, in prose and speech, earned praise from critics and his peers, he has been hailed as the “greatest comedian the United States has produced.”

Twain was born shortly after the appearance of Halley’s comet, and he predicted that he would “go out with” he died on April 21, 1910, one day after the comet approached Earth.

Le voyage des innocents (Petite bibliothèque payot) (French Edition): Twain, Mark: 9782228889506: Amazon.com: Books

The photographer and the History of the country – Rudi Weissenstein

 

MYRIAM WEISSENSTEIN

MYRIAM WEISSENSTEIN

Born in 1910 in Czechoslovakia, Shimon Rudolf, “Rudi” Weissenstein studied photography in Vienna.  He immigrated to Palestine in 1934. Upon his arrival, he photographed the daily life of Jewish immigrants at that time, from which he accumulated a vast collection of more than a million negatives.

The most famous are most certainly those of the Declaration of Independence of Israel by David Ben Gurion in 1948. Until Rudi’s death in 1992, he and his wife Myriam, a dancer, ran a photography store in Tel-Aviv, where all his collections were exposed.

The Allenby Street store was familiar to me, the black and white photos of the window reflected a bygone past that Israelis don’t like to be forgotten. I was particularly fascinated by this one photo of a very vital lady, leaping happily in the air and being snapped up in flight by a photographer, her husband.

I was also very touched by this unusual couple, Myriam and her grandson Ben Peter Weissenstein, who appeared in a documentary by Tamar Tal, called “ Life in Still.” They talked about their fears and difficulties to survive,  and about how they fought to preserve this heritage and their photography shop, which was in  danger to disappear permanently. The Tel Aviv City Hall wanted to renovate their building and offered them to move into a new building, in Chernichovsky Street.

Myriam Weissenstein died in 2011 at age 98, a few months after the store moved to its current location after years of fighting to save Allenby’s store. Her grandson manages the archives and photos of the store which is currently closed due to covid19 but available on the store’s website.

 

RUDI ET MYRIAM WEISSENSTEIN

RUDI ET MYRIAM WEISSENSTEIN

 

The Druzes community in the Golan Heights

The Druze religion is a schism of Ismaili Shia Islam. It was born in Egypt during the reign of the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim, recognized as “mad” for some and “genius” for others. During an official ceremony in 996, he established himself as the last imam and the incarnation of God on earth. It was during this period that the split between Druze and Ismailis occurred.

Three Ismaili characters are the instigators of this new Druze religion, Muhammad bin Ismail Nashtakin ad-Darazi, will give him his name, but later he will be removed from the group whose ideas are incompatible with the new doctrine.

The Druze doctrine is rooted in a desire to synthesize the three monotheisms with ideas from Manichaeism, ancient Egypt, India and the Greek world.

The Druze designate themselves as unitary. This term is doubly justified because the Druze affirm the strict oneness of God and because they aspire to unite with him.

Al-Hakim wants to unite by force the Sunni and Shiite cults to create a new Islam, largely inspired by Ismaili Shiism with only pilgrimage place in Cairo. The vast Sunni majority living in Egypt strongly contests this ideology. In 1020, Al-Hakim disappeared during one of his usual walks, near Cairo where he found peace and serenity. His body was never found, only his clothes tainted with blood.

The death of Fatimid Al-Hakim led to a wave of persecution against the Druze. Their doctrine is eradicated from Egypt. Followers of this new religion fled and took refuge in southern Syria, Lebanon and the Galilee, far from Cairo and the Fatimid Empire. A movement of proselytizing is created in these regions and part of the local Shiite population converts to this unitary Druze religion which is then enriched by contributions of Kurdish, Arab origin and becomes a community of multiple ethnic origin.

The divine hierarchy has five ministers considered by five colors. At the top, there is Divine Intelligence, Soul, Word, Previous and Next.

These are the five colors found in the Druze flag (green, red, yellow, blue and white).

The initiates are distinguished by their moral quality, their reputation and their spiritual elevation. They renounce earthly pleasure and their long mystical journey leads them towards the purification of the soul to the level of elevation which will unite them to God and the return of the Messiah Al-Hakim at the end of time.

Reincarnation is one of the core beliefs of the Druze community. After death, the deceased’s soul immediately enters a Druze newborn.

This religion is strongly influenced by Sufism which advocates the removal of material goods to stay closer to God. Jewish and Christian religions are better accepted in Druze writings than Islam. One of the Druze doctrines is Greek philosophy.

The Druze do not follow Islamic rules such as the pilgrimage to Mecca. They do not read the Koran but the books of wisdom, they do not pray in mosques but in prayer houses. There is no rite or prayer on Friday. On Thursday evenings the Druze wishing to get closer to religion meet to listen to the conference on the books of wisdom followed by recitation of the texts of Sufi poetry. The session leader then gives a signal and only the initiated can stay and participate in the real religious session.

For a long time, the disclosure of the Druze doctrine was worth its author’s death.

The only Muslim holiday celebrated by the Druze is Id of Al-Adha which celebrates the sacrifice of Abraham which will be celebrated on the same day by other Muslims. They do not practice fasting during the month of Ramadan but during the ten days before the Id of Al-Adha. The party lasts four days. The day of ‘Id symbolizes the day of the last judgment which represents the deliverance for the druze.

Proselytism is prohibited among the Druze. We are born Druze, we cannot become one. Marriages take place within the community only. A password allows members to recognize themselves. Polygamy is not tolerated and marital fidelity is one of the rules. The woman is equal to the man and can inherit the family patrimony if the parents establish a will, if this does not exist the brother will be the heir and if there is no male in the family the cousins will inherit.

There are approximately one million druzes living in the world, 143,000 Druze in Israel, including 20,000 on the Golan Heights. Following the six-day war the Golan Heights, until then Syrian, was taken by the Israelis, the Druze population became administered by the Israeli government. Some Druze accepted Israeli citizenship while others remained loyal to the Assad regime. Trade, especially that of apples which is an important production of the region passes in Syria. Some young Druze people go to Damascus to study in Syria, where education is free for them.

Young druze girls will be promised in marriage to young boys from Syria, the border crossing will then be open the time of their passage, thanks to the thousand efforts of the Red Cross, in order to join their future husband and will never be able to return to the despair of the family and the bride. A very beautiful film was made on this subject its title “The Syrian fiancée”.

Following the war in Syria, families are torn between pro and anti-Assad, people of the past united against the Israeli occupation no longer speak from house to house, and the “hill of screams” , where families once came to exchange news via megaphones on either side of the barbed wire border between Syria and Israel, is now deserted. The means of communication have improved significantly in recent years.

The height of the Golan Heights is between 500 and 1,000 meters above sea level, its length is 55 km long, a highly strategic crossroads by location, and geography. It overlooks the kinnereth lake with the city of Tiberias, the upper Galilee and the Syrian Damascus plain. Its main source of water flowing into the kinnereth Lake is the Jordan river. It is a perfect point of observation. It has become a military field filled with antennae and sophisticated military equipment.

 

Golan height druze leaders meeting with their syrian compatriotes

Golan height druze leaders meeting with their syrian compatriotes

The samaritan (Ha Shomronim)

The origin of the name Samaria (Shomron in Hebrew) is associated with a certain Shemer, to whom Omri, king of Israel (886-875 BC) bought a hill, which he fortified to build a city on it. 

He gave the city the name of Samaria. It became the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. Being a lush and very wealthy city, Damascus became its rival.

The name of Samaria was later dedicated to the entire center of the kingdom of Israel, and more particularly, the mountainous region which surrounded it.

The religion of the Samaritans ( Shomronim in Hebrew ) is based on the first five books of the Bible. Therefore, their only prophets are Moses and Joshua. Until today, the Samaritans are faithful to the Law of Moses. They practice circumcision on the eighth day of the birth of a baby boy and observe Shabbat scrupulously. They celebrate the pilgrimage festivals on Mount Garizim (which means ‘sacrifice’ in ancient Hebrew), where they sacrifice the Passover lambs.

The origin of the conflict between the Jews and the Samaritans dates back to 722 BCE (before the common era) Following the conquest of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians and the inevitable arrival of foreign settlers, who would mix with the jewish local population. This combination of different people would be born as the Samaritan people. To their traditional gods they will add the worship of YHWH (Yahweh = G-d). The Samaritans are since then considered heretics by the other Jews.

Over the course of history, relations between Jews and Samaritans would gradually deteriorate. The construction of a Temple in 323 BC on Mount Garizim, recognized by the Samaritans as the site of the sacrifice of Isaac would be the beginning of the conflict with Jerusalem.

The final break between Jews and Samaritans occurred in 107 BC .Jean Hyrcan, king of Jerusalem, destroyed the city of Sichem and the Temple of Garizim.

In the Christ era, the Jews regarded the Samaritans as strangers. They did not socialize. The Jews considered the objects, animals or crops that crossed Samaria, were unsuitable for worship.

According to the New Testament, some Samaritans rally to Jesus, who gave them as an example in the Acts of the Apostles, the Church opens without discrimination to the Samaritans and John the Baptist would have exerted an influence in Samaria.

In recent history, they have even managed to get in the good graces of Christians, eager to see in them the descendants of the “Good Samaritan”.

In 1907, a family of Samaritans from Nablus settled in Jaffa, on the Mediterranean coast, still in Palestine. In 1955, a few years after the creation of the State of Israel, other members of the community, eager to find work, obtained the right to settle in Holon and south of Tel Aviv.

One of the main rules of the samaritan is the prohibition of marriages outside the “family”. This consanguinity, preserved over the centuries, has caused a degeneration of the population.

Following the 1st intifada in 1987, to avoid any further conflict, the Samaritans left the city of Nablus. They settled at the foot of Mount Garizim. In 1990, they obtained an Israeli identity card, on which they are defined as “Samaritan”. This card allows them to freely travel the West Bank and Israel. This is an undeniable advantage compared to the local Palestinians, especially during periods of tension.

There are 820 Samaritans in 2019 living in Nablus or Holon.

 

 

Samaritans celebrating pessah

Samaritans celebrating pessah

The Empress Helena and the Holy Cross

Constantine and his mother Helena

Constantine and his mother Helena

Hélèna, mother of the Emperor Constantine, lived in the shadows until the advent of her son, Constantine the Great, in the year of 306. She had had doubtful life in the past because of her  work as being as an inn servant, and later, when her husband Constance Chlore (father of Constantine) became empereur, he rejected her.

The rise of her son Constantine, however, gave her power which allowed her to return to the public life. Like Constantine, she converted to Christianity and lived an active apostolate of the new faith to better establish the Christian empire, still fragile in the fall of 324.

Staying at the imperial court of Treve (city made capital by Constantine until 316) then in Rome, she became a true follower of the new religion. As his power grew, her son proclaimed his mother “Augusta” Empress in year of 324.

It was as an empress that she left Rome to settle in Palestine (326-328). But this journey, under the guise of a pilgrimage, was rather made as a political aim of recognition of Christianity, as established by her son. With his support she had planned to established Christianity iin the Holy Land by finding the holy places. She was guided by the scholar Eusebius of Caesarea. She built the  “Church of the Disciples”, today called the “Pater Noster”, and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The holy relics, including the cross of Christ were find on the site of Golgotha.

A temple at the site of the Golgotha (Calvary) was built, bearing the name of “Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher”, in which the relic has been preserved.

In the year 614, during the conquest of Jerusalem by the Persian king Chrosroës, the Holy Cross was stolen. The population was massacred, the prisoners were sold as slaves, churches were burnt. The Holy Cross (or True Cross) was taken to the heart of the Persian Empire and placed at the foot of the king’s throne, as a sign of disdain for Christianity.

This was to become the Grail of the Eastern Roman emperor Heraclius who, after 15 years of struggle, would achieve his ends. The True Cross was returned to Jerusalem on September 14, 628, carried by the emperor in person across the city of Jerusalem.

Therefore, this day is marked in liturgical calendars like that of the Exaltation of the Cross.

To avoid further theft, the Holy Cross was cut into several pieces. One was transported to Rome, one to Constantinople and the third one was placed in a silver chest in Jerusalem. Another piece was divided into very small pieces and distributed in churches around the world bearing the name of Veracruz (the real cross).

Eliezer Ben Yehuda and the revival of the Hebrew language

Eliezer Ben Yehuda and the revival of the Hebrew language.

“The success of Hebrew proves that an old language can adapt to a new reality” (Academy of the Hebrew language).

The Hebrew Language Committee was created by Eliezer Ben Yehuda in 1889 in Jerusalem. In 1953, the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) replace it  by “the Hebrew Language Academy”

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, was born on January 7, 1858 in the Belarusian village of Luzhki. His birth name was Eliezer Yitzhak Perelman.

Born into a Hassidic Jewish family, he studied Hebrew and the Bible at the “Cheder”. From the age of twelve he started studying  the Torah, Michna and Talmud as well.  He became a talmudic student at the local  “Yeshiva”.

His family had hoped that he would become a rabbi. However, his affinity with the Hebrew language was of more significance to him than religion.

Eliezer Ben Yéhuda was deeply convinced that the redemption of Israel would only be accomplished by the revival of Hebrew as a national language.

In 1877 he wrote:” A country cannot really become a living nation other than through their return to the land of the Fathers”. And again: “Hebrew is the only way to achieve the redemption of the Jewish nation. The revival of the Hebrew language in the Land of Israel could unite all Jews around the world “.

He left Russia in 1878 for Paris, where he undertook studies of History and Politics of the Middle East at the Sorbonne University. Unfortunately, his fragile health did not allow him to end these studies. In 1881 however, he arrived in Palestine with his plans to revive the Hebrew language.

He and his wife Dvora decided to adopt Hebrew as their mother tongue.

Ben Yehuda’s leitmotif was: “Hebrew at home, Hebrew at school, and words, words, words”.

Their first son, Ittamar Ben-Avi, born in 1882, was the first Hebrew-speaking child in modern history. The need to find Hebrew words, suitable for the ordinary activities of daily life, had become a necessity.  Eliezer Ben Yehuda therefore created new words and expressions in Hebrew. Four other children were to be born from this union, before his wife Dvora fell sick and died of tuberculosis.

In 1884 he founded the newspaper “HaTsVi” (“the deer “), in which articles were written in Hebrew and in which he urged the young pioneers and the future founders of the State of Israel to speak only in the Hebrew language. He instructed schools to study only in Hebrew. In his newspaper he wrote columns with new words he created to enrich the modern Hebrew language.

Having also become a teacher at the School of the Alliance Française Universelle, he constantly propagated Hebrew, despite the lack of textbooks in this language.

Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, who were opposed to Zionism and the revival of Hebrew language, denounced him to the Turkish government as revolutionary. He was arrested and was only released by the intervention of Baron de Rothschild.

He remarried Hemda, Dvora’s younger sister. Their home became the Hebrew Language Committee Center, a  meeting place for the whole community wishing to practice Hebrew.

He went into exile in 1914 in New York, fleeing the Ottoman persecution, and returned to Eretz Israel at the end of the First World War to pursue his ideology. He was delighted to see the City of Jerusalem had grown, and that the Hebrew language had caught on.

Despite all his work, the family lacked means. Living in permanent discomfort, Ben Eliezer fell ill again with tuberculosis. However, his bad health condition did not stop him from travelling to Europe, where he visited various universities to study works written in ancient Hebrew, so he could write a dictionary of modern Hebrew.

Eliezer Ben Yehuda died in peace in 1922. During his lifetime, Hebrew was recognized as an official language by the British Mandatory Administration. After he died, three days of mourning were declared for this Great Man. Thousands of people came to pay their respect at his grave.

Eliezer Ben Yehuda and his wife Hemda

Eliezer Ben Yehuda and his wife Hemda

 

The High Priest ‘Cohen Gadol’

The High priest 'Cohen Gadol'

The High priest ‘Cohen Gadol’

According to the Torah and the Hebrew Bible, ‘Cohen’ means ‘devoted, dedicated’. It was the title given to Aaron, the brother of Moses of the tribe of Levi, as well as to all his male descendants.

Those priests were devoted to the service of the Temple of Jerusalem. As members of the Hebrew clergy they carried out the sacrifices, the Blessing of the People of Israel, as well as the implementation of the Divine Law under the authority of The Cohen Gadol (High Priest).

For Yom Kippur, ‘the Day of Atonement’,  the Cohen gadol was the only one allowed to meet with God by entering the holy of holies of the Temple, adorned with chains and bells to make sure that in case of emergency, it would be possible to take him out of the holy sanctuary without breaking the law.

The robe of the High Priest ‘Cohen Gadol’ was of the color azure, lined with gold bells and pomegranates, a tiara and a scarf. On his breastplate he wore 12 precious stones – each representing one of the 12 sons of Jacob and the 12 tribes of Israel.

These stones were:

  • Ruben the ruby
  • Simeon the topaz
  • Levi the emerald
  • Judah the garnet
  • Issachar the sapphire
  • Zebulon the diamond
  • Dan the opal
  • Nephtali the turquoise
  • Gad the crystal
  • Asher The beryl
  • Joseph the onyx
  • Benjamin the jasper

Since the destruction of the Temple, the title has continued to be passed on from father to son. In Orthodox Communities, the Cohanim are subject to special rules and laws.

 

The 12 pectoral stones of the High Priest

The 12 pectoral stones of the High Priest