Author Archives: Nicole Samuel Israel Guide

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

Theodor Herzl – The Moses of Modern Times.

 

Theodor Herzl

Theodor Herzl

Theodor Herzl – The Moses of Modern Times.

Theodor Herzl was born in 1860 in the Jewish quarter of Budapest, the capital of Hungary. He was the son of a bourgeois family of Germanic origin. His father was a reformist, practicing a “progressive” Judaism and supporter of the assimilation of Jews within their homelands.

Already being a doctor of law, Herzl became a journalist in Paris and correspondent of the Viennese newspaper “Neue Freie Presse”. But, eager as he was for knowledge, not being able to satisfy his curiosity, he also traveled the world.

In Berlin and Vienna, Herzl gained fame as a writer and as the author theater plays.  He was appointed to literary director of the newspaper he worked for.

Herzl was of tall stature and wore a long black beard. With his sparkling deep eyes, his vivacity  and eloquence, he magnetized people, from emperors to poor Jews, who would stop to touch the edge of his coat!

The Dreyfus affair and a crowed screaming “Death to the Jews” in Paris would change the course of his life.

It is said that, when he was young, he told his family doctor that the only way for the Jews was to go to Palestine. To the question who will lead them, the answer was “Me!”

In 1896 he wrote the book “The State of the Jew” (Der judenstaat) of which he said that he had never written anything in such a state of exaltation.

He went on a crusade to Germany, France and England to meet with financial sponsors, in order to raise money needed to realise his project.

Despite many difficulties, like doors that closed, and the denunciation of “false Messiah”, Herzl organized the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897. It was a large assembly of bearded Zionist brothers from all over the world, from all cultures united by their origin. His transcendent speech was acclaimed by these brothers, who were fascinated by the charism of this man. Unanimously they chanted Hebrew expression ”Yechi Hamelech” ”  Long live the King ”.

Herzl would preside over every Zionist Congress until his death in 1904.

Better than anyone, he understood the power of Germany over Turkey, and met the Emperor WilhelmII, who was just preparing for his trip to Palestine, stopping at Constantinople. Herzl also left for Constantinople, thinking to meet the Sultan and to solicit him the cession of Palestine against money!

”Here is Jesus Christ”! HabdulHamid cried out when he met Herzl.  However, nothing was signed because the Sultan wanted to be sure that the money was handed to him before making any commitment.

When the Emperor WilhelmII visited Palestine …He met Herzl there. They saluted each other majestically like two kings, although one of them had no crown!

Theodore Herzl was 44 years old when he died in 1904, leaving behind a wife and 3 children. After his death, the children were sent to foster homes as per their father’s request. They all  died later under tragic circumstances.

The paradox is great between the ideology of Herzl and the misery of his family. His wife was deprived of the care of her children by this man, who lacked any compassion for her, because she did not follow him in his dream. Her destiny would end as tragic as that of her children.

Theodore Herzl’s last wish was to be buried in Palestine, after the Jewish people would have found an independent state. He had expressed the wish to have his close family at his side.

On August 17, 1949, his body and that of his parents, Yaakov and Jeannette, and his sister  Pauline, were buried at Mount Herzl.

In Septembrer 2006 the remains of his children Hans and Pauline were transferred from Bordeaux. His youngest daughter, Trude Norman, died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, and her remains were never found. The body of Trude’s only son, Stephan Theodore Norman, who committed suicide by jumping off a bridge in 1946 in Washington, was also transferred to Mount Herzl on December 5, 2007.

Theodor Hertzl's children

Theodor Hertzl’s children

The Kabbala and the mystical City of Safed

 

Safed -Kabbalist drawing

Safed -Kabbalist drawing

The “Kabbalah” is a familiar name, whose meaning is not always understood. It is a speculative tradition, dealing with the mysteries of God and Creation.

The Kabbalah is an interpretation of the five books of the Bible, (“Torah” in Hebrew), namely Law, or Teaching, and which make up the Pentateuch, in particular from the text of the “Vision of Ezechiel”.

It is a tradition of Judaism that appears from the time of the Second Temple. It it is based on the Revelation. A gift concerning the Nature of man, his origin and his future, this covenant is created by God and the people of Israel, chosen by Him.

Kabbalists associate word and alphabet. The 22 letters of the alphabet were engraved by and in the divine breath.

The city of Tsfat, also called Safed, is located on Mount Canaan at over 900 meters above sea level, and is the city of Kabbalah. It is one of the four Holy Cities of Israel, together with Jerusalem, Hebron and Tiberias.

In 1492, during the Spanish Inquisition, the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella banned the practice of all religions other than Christianity, whereupon many Kabbalists and their followers fled to Safed.

It became a city renowned for its synagogues, with the names of Kabbalah scholars, some of whom lived in Safed. For example, Rabbi Isaac Louria, the Ari, who settled here in the 16th century. He developed a method how to study the Kabbalah, which is followed even today by all Kabbalists. His pupil Rabbi Joseph Karo wrote the book ” Choulhan Arouh ”, where the laws of Judaism are summarized by subject. Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz wrote the famous song with which the Shabbat begins: Leha Dodi.

To visit the Rabbi Abuhav’s Blue Synagogue is a delight. It is adorned with many symbols.

Inside a holy arch stands a sixteenth century Bible, which is taken out and read only on Yom Kippur, Shavuot and the Rosh Hashanah Holidays. The legend says, that if a person ignores this message, a misfortune will befall him within in the year.

The first letters of the three words: Kippur, Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah mean “Kasher” (kosher). It is also said, that in another holy arch, during the Ottoman period, the “Koran” was kept, a ploy that would have saved the synagogue from muslim attacks in times of tension ….

In this holy city, the mystical atmosphere is intertwined with many legends. Visitors enjoy the narrow passage in its alleys, surrounded by numerous colourful galleries of artists.

It is said that, when the Messiah will come from Meron, He will enter the Old City of Safed by “the path of the Messiah”, which has remained untouched until today.

Legend has it that the clean air of Safed allows a longevity of up to 120 years!

 

 

Safed - Abuhav street synagogue

Safed – Abuhav street synagogue

 

 

T

 

Berenice – the ”Little Cleopatra”

Berenice was born in Rome to Agrippa and Cyprus before Agrippa became king in 36 C.E.  She bore the Roman name of Julia.

She was Herods’ great-great-granddaughter and only thirteen years of age at the time she married Marcus, the son of Alexander, Head of the Jewish Community in Alexandria, and nephew of Philo the philosopher.

With the death of Marcus in 44 C.E, Berenice became a widow at only sixteen. She then married Herod -her father’s oldest brother- and became Queen of Chalcis, a tiny principality in the Lebanon Mountains. She would retain this title even after her husband’s death.

Berenice had two sons by Herod: Hyrcanus and Berenicianus. She was widowed for a second time in 48 C.E, being only twenty years of age.

After Herod’s death, the Kingdom of Chalcis was given to Berenice’s older brother, Agrippa II. Together with his brother and sister, he moved into the new Kingdom’s Residence into close quarters.

Many sources indicate that Agrippa II and Berenice were often found together in official capacities. They would appear in public together, as when Agrippa gave his peace address to the people of Jerusalem just before the outbreak of the revolt against Rome.

The New Testament mentions Berenice’s presence with her brother at Paul’s trial, and in rabbinic literature, she is mentioned as the Queen alongside her brother, the King. In two sources this constant companionship is interpreted as incest.

Josephus claimed that rumors of the siblings’ inappropriate relationship led Berenice to seek a third match.She decided to marry Polemo, King of Cilicia, who had to be circumcised and undertake a Jewish lifestyle. However, this was not a successful marriage. She, later on, left Polemo and returned to her kingdom.

Berenice was present in Palestine during the outbreak of the Jewish revolt against the Romans between 66–70 C.E.  Josephus Flavius described her as a solitary peacemaker, using all her strength in that difficult period of the preliminaries of the revolt. She had made a vow to be in Jerusalem at that time.As required by the vow, her hair was shorn and she walked barefoot.

She made her way to the Roman governor’s palace to ask Gessius Florus and demanded to desist from the violent activities he had undertaken against the Jewish population of Jerusalem. But her efforts were to no avail.

She finally joint venture with her brother to still the Jewish insurrection.

It was during this time that Berenice met Titus and fell in love. He was eleven years her junior.

After the revolt, Titus returned to Rome to assist his father in the government, while Berenice stayed behind in Judea.They would be reunited after four years when she and Agrippa came to Rome in 75.

She lived with Titus at the palace and reportedly acted as his wife in every aspect. This was the time she was at the height of her power and quite influential during this period.

However, being under public pressure, Titus had to restore his reputation for his people and sent her away. When he became Emperor in 79, Berenice returned to Rome but she was not welcome anymore. Titus died two years later.

Berenice was to be remembered as a ”little Cleopatra” in her aspiration to become the Empress of Rome.

 

Berenice the ''Little Cleopatra''

Berenice the ”Little Cleopatra”