Saturday, March 25, 2017

Disembarking at the HaHagana train station

The HaHagana train station in Tel Aviv at night.

I recently started to commute to Tel Aviv with the train and has to get off at the last station called the Hahagana station. It means “the defense” in Hebrew and yes, I totally agree that it is a strange name for a train station.

Travelling from Benjamina (my home station) one has a quiet and fast 30 minute ride to the first stop at the university. Then the journey carries on to the central train station also known as Savidor, the third one that is called the Shalom train station and with then the last one is HaHagana.

If you come to the city to shop or see museums, you will embark at the Shalom station. And the other two will provide further connections inland or take you to the northern suburbs of Tel Aviv. But Hahagana station will be your gateway to the real heart of Tel Aviv. If you disembark there, your destination is down-town baby!

The first three stations all seem to have to the more upscale-y disembarkers. The first three stations are also closer to each. It is basically drop the passengers, get the passengers, ride for five minutes and then slow down again to get more passengers.

HaHagana station however is a bit further apart from the other three. When I just started my commute into the city I kept feeling that I have missed my stop somehow. The view from the windows show that we are leaving the city behind us and at first I often worried that somehow I left Tel Aviv and am on the way to the airport. Slowly, with every train ride however, I learned to start looking for the signs that I am still on the right track….

As soon as I started feeling that we are leaving the Tel Aviv sky scrapers too far behind, I look out for the graffiti drawn on the flood control channel running parallel to the railway tracks. The sentence “Why did I join the army?” written in huge Hebrew letters, is my first sign. At first I pondered this rhetorical question also and felt sad for the person who wrote it.

it is a rhetorical question because here in Israel the army is not voluntary. It is one’s strictly enforced duty to defend country and country people. Soon after the conscription question follow large drawings of black sewer rats. I guess that the huge graffiti rats are appropriate for the runoff channel and in a way ties in nicely with the sad rhetorical question. One still wonders however who would have gone to such an effort to draw so many large rats…

This is however not the most depressing road sign on my way to the HaHagana station. Not even close. Soon after the rats, the runoff channel is graffitied with a large amount of drawn coffins. Some are large and some are small, some are draped in the Palestinian flag and others in the Israeli flag.

Was it maybe the same person who joined the army and became so fed-up and disillusioned that he/she/they took the time and effort to mark the ride into haHagana with this depressing graffiti? The politics here in Israel often causes depression but to go and draw such a large amount of coffins seems a bit extreme to me.

I have tried to look out of the windows on the opposite side of the train but the endless rows of four- lane traffic are not much of a comfort either. They just make the graffiti rat race on the other side of the train a reality.

As I ponder the motives of the coffin artist I conclude that he or maybe even she is probably not even Jewish or Muslim. Both religions don’t really use coffins to bury their dead in. So maybe the coffin artist is a Christian then? But then again it is very unlikely that a Christian tourist on a pilgrimage to the holy land would have the time or even thought to climb into a large drain and decorate it with depressing graffiti…

Ah, I know now!! It must have been a Russian immigrant! Quite a few of them are Christians, they all go to the army AND all seem to have a creative gene.

Just as I congratulate myself on my superior conclusions the train driver announces our next stop in that TV-reality voice that they all seem to have:
 “Ladies and gentlemen, our next stop is…” and then pause an extra-long pause for extra dramatic effect.

It is this pause that makes me question my sanity all over again. WHY is he waiting so long? Are they going to surprise us with a different train station today? Did we somehow travel into a parallel universe and now are going to get the surprise of our lives? Or maybe aliens kidnapped the whole bunch of us..?

I quickly backtrack through my steps and assure myself that I am 99% certain that I am on the right train. (The other 1% is left for the parallel universe and the aliens because you never know!)  And I did indeed saw the sad graffiti again today.

And  then train driver completes his sentence:
”...HaHagana train station. Exiting the train station is only possible with a train ticket. Please do not leave any of your belongings behind on the train.”

I am ripped out of my thoughts of sad Russian artists, the real and metaphysical rat race, aliens and parallel worlds and scramble to gather my belongings. Out of the train and up the stairs I flow with the rest of the disembarkers but then I leave my group to make a quick stop at the WC. I have learned by now not to use the toilet in the first stall because the automatic flush is a bit premature. It tends to flush the toilet while one is still using it. (I promise this is truth and not just me being dramatic!)

On the way to the bathrooms I slow down a bit and have a quick listen at whoever is playing at the piano in the entrance hall. At the university train station there is also a piano and it only seems to attract serious pianists. One is usually greeted with a classic sonata or a lengthy polks whenever you pass through that entrance hall.

At the haHagana train station, the situation is a bit grittier. I have listened to young soldiers playing their own compositions, a gothic teen jazzing up something half-familiar, a cleaner practicing scales and a toddler softly tickling sounds from the patient piano.

But then it is time to leave the train station and to start the day. I click myself through the gate and then scurry away with the rest of the crowd like the good little rat that I am.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Hiking from Nachsolim beach to HaBonim beach

Although it is already nearly the end of October, the days are still very hot in here in Israel. The rains of autumn and that cool, clean feeling they bring are still just a wishful longing for the most of us.

But one gets tired of sitting in front of the perpetual-turning fan or the headache-inducing hum of the air con. No matter how hot it is going get, I promised myself, I am going on a HIKE already!!

So yesterday I consulted Google maps, packed water and other provisions,  asked my husband to drop me off at the Nachsolim beach (early in the morning to beat the heat) and made my way northwards. I have added the following photos and tips for your viewing pleasure and maybe also as an encouragement to do the hike yourselves.

Nacholim beach is actually part of Hof Dor, the most northern beach that is right in front of Kibbutz Nachsolim. Apart from it being my most favourite beach in the entire world, it it also adjuncts a real-life archeological site that delivered a TON of ancient goodies.

At end of the beach, just keep on going and follow the trails to Tel Dor - the excavation site.
Once you have climbed to the top of the hill, you are going to want to explore the site and take in the amazing views but stay strong and keep on walking because there are a lot to see and to explore.

You are however allowed one last backwards glance before you start heading towards HaBonim beach.
There are reminders everywhere that there used to be a large thriving harbour city in the very same spot. (PS. I think the bits of white paper are toilet paper left behind by the archeologists!)
The hike from Nachsolim beach to HaBonim beach is not that difficult but be prepared that the coastline here is quite craggy and that the most beautiful little hidden coves are separated by ragged and very pointy rocks. Good hiking boots (or thick-soled sport shoes) are highly recommended.

Secluded sandy coves are separated from each other by...
...large and spiky rocks.
The entire coastline from Nachsolim beach to HaBonim beach is part of the Hof Dor HaBonim nature reserve and though there are a few (very narrow) dirt roads, I would encourage you to stay closer to the coastline. The few times that I got lost a bit, I just kept my eyes out for these bicycle trail markers (..or maybe it is part of a hiking trail..?) and then I managed to find my way northwards again.
The marker that helped me find my way. Note that these marks only show up when you are closer to the HaBonim beach. I did not see them around the Nachsolim beach.
An amazing discovery that I have made on my hike was when I spotted the 'blue bridge' (a bridge-like rock formation). Maybe it already has another name but I did not manage to find any information on it. So if you know anything about it, please let me know and I will add it in this blog post.

I only found the blue bridge because I wanted to take a closer look at these interesting rock formations:
The rocks that lured me to the blue bridge.
As I got closer and closer, I heard a loud booming noise and then noticed that the noise are caused by the waves inside the bridge formation.


One can climb right to the top of bridge and (very carefully) peer through the chimney straight down into the sea.


(The blue bridge should not be confused with the blue cave that can be found near the HaBomin beach. But more about that later.)

The sun was starting to really beat down on me and I found this secluded spot to enjoy my packed breakfast:

I thought that I was all alone with the rocks and the sea but just as I totally found my zen-zone, a fisherman walked around the far rock and started to fish from the small  underwater platform.

Some of the rock pools are encrusted with sea salt but it is less charming to also see all the rubbish trapped in the pools.
The slogging through the soft sands of the small coves and the clambering over the rocky parts became a bit tiring but I was soon amused by these weird signs dotting along the coastline. I presume they are part of a nature walk (since we are in a nature reserve) and that one can stand in front of these posts and listen to lecture via earphones.

Behold! The abrasion platform! (I think they are referring to that half-submerged rock in the sea.)
The signs just seemed so odd in this wild environment without hearing what is said on the earphones. WHY is there a sign in front of a rock that says: "Sea rock"!!? But at least one of them helped me to find the blue cave. Much to my surprise I even found people right inside the cave itself:

The blue cave is probably not all that large compared to others in the world but it is very relaxing to rest a bit here and listen to the waves splashing against the cave walls.

Chillin' out at the blue cave
Once you have walked past the blue cave, your journey is nearly over. Soon you walk over the last ridge and then see haBonim beach! You will find bathrooms with cool tap water, shade and showers (usually used by the overnight campers). During the summer season and holidays the nature reserve operates a small kiosk selling water, coffee (!!) and snacks.

HaBonim beach is named after the haBomin moshav (a farm collective) nearby.
If you like hikes and the beach, I encourage you to try the hike from Nachsolim beach to HaBonim beach. It is quite beautiful and though a bit challenging, it is much shorter that you'd think. The app on my phone said that it only about 4 kilometers. The rough terrain and winding trail make it feel at bit longer though!

Please keep the following in mind:
1. Take enough water with you, this is a wild area with NO taps along the way.

2. Wear sturdy walking shoes.

3. Remember that you are in a nature reserve, so that means NO littering (anyway you should never leave your rubbish behind), no picking up shells, no picking flowers or making fires.

4. People often sleep overnight at haBomin beach but it is totally forbidden to camp out at any of the other coves along the way. Huge signs will also remind you of this at every single beach.

5. I do not recommend cycling the trail. I saw a group of cyclists struggling through the sand and I am sure the sharp rocks are not that kind on the bicycles' wheels either.

6. The entrance at Nacholim beach is free of charge but at the haBomin beach one has to pay something like 36 shekels per car (those showers do not come free!). There is however a designated spot outside the reserve where you can park your car. 

Remember to ONLY leave your foot prints behind.
Marina Shemesh
Zichron Yaakov, October 2016

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A diary of an administrator

A clerk: Raphael Kohn, and a cop : Joseph Kuperman

Not a yet a city  but not a village anymore..

I live in Zichron Yaakov, a small medium-sized town in the northern part of Israel. We have grown from a dusty village on a hill top in the middle of nowhere to a large vibrant nearly city. 

Though we still do not have any traffic lights, I am pretty sure that the Romanian founding fathers and mothers would not recognize the place anymore. They bought their land in 1882 but had no luck growing anything in the rocky soil. Also the nearby swamps were totally invested with malaria-carrying mosquitoes causing the death of far too many people, especially children.

Cue the (rich) hero.. the French Baron Edmond de Rothschild!

With the help of his money (lots of it!) and advice from the smartest agronomists of the day, the plight of the farmers slowly started to look better. Vineyards were planted in the rocky soil, kosher wine was made and the settlement slowly grew. Today the area of Zichron Yaakov is known as the 'wine country' of Israel and there are several wineries in the area.

To oversee the Baron's work and to keep the farmers in check, a bunch of clerks were appointed. The farmers were not happy about all their rules and regulations but in the end decided to shut up and take the money provided by the Baron and doled out meagerly by the clerks.

"Don't bother the workers." and   "You are not allowed to have overnight guests.
Were just some of the local laws enforced by the Baron's clerks.

A clerk but a 'good' one

Raphael Kohn was one of these clerks and though not perfect, he was a local and not scared to get his hands dirty. He tried to look out for the interests of the pioneers and was known as the "Good Clerk".

His work for the Baron took him all over Israel for nearly 40 years, creating and helping to build settlements with money provided by the Baron. Some of the major projects during his career were to plant orange grooves and to drain the Kabara swamps to put an final end to malaria in the area.

 On his retirement he was given a photo album by JCA (Jewish Colonization Association) filled with photos of his career.

An album of officials, ditch diggers and other administrative duties

This amazing, comprehensive album spanning the career of Raphael Kohn was recently donated to the First Aliyah museum in Zichron Yaakov by a family member. This in turn led to the creation of a new exhibit called:

"Dual Loyalties: The Builders, the Barons and the British" 

The exhibit curated by Avital Efrat and Yoram Fogel consists mainly of various blown up photos from the photo album and shows Kohn being dignified with the dignitaries, looking serious while inspecting new building sites and receiving important guests at his wedding.

Entertaining an Englishman

One of the important officials who visited the town was Arthur Balfour. He was the prime minister of Britain and the guy who wrote the Balfour Declaration.

In the exhibit one can see a blown up of the schedule for this visit. It goes something like this:

Hanging with Balfour:

9.00 am -   Welcome Arthur Balfour and ask about the weather on the trip
9.30 am -    Climb the water tower
9. 45 am -   Discuss the weather from the top of the tower
10.00 am -  Have a cup of Ceylon tea with a drop of milk
10.30 am -  Enquire about the weather in England

I am joking with this schedule but a copy of the real hand-written schedule (with a very nice penmanship I might add) exists and can be seen in the exhibit.

A bunch of Englishmen inspecting the water tower

Enter the fuzz

The fuzz in Raphael Kohn's case was KupermanJoseph Kuperman. He was not only the local policeman, but was also married to Raphael Kohn's daughter Rebecca. He was a loyal servant of the British empire from 1918 (when the Turks were thrown out of Israel) until 1948 when Israel finally gained its independence.

He slowly rose the ranks from the local cop in Zichron Yaakov to the highest ranking Jewish official in Israel during the British Mandate. Kuperman was even awarded an Honorary MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by King George the 6th.

The Locals vs. Rothschild vs. the British Empire

The dual loyalties mentioned  in the title of this exhibition refers to the friction between bosses of the father and son-in-law and their friends, family and fellow Jews. 

Raphael Kohn was loyal to the Baron and his vision to help Jews re-settle in Israel but he also tried to help the local settlers as best as he could. 

Kuperman was a British government official who often acted against the British policy to help fellow Jews. During the British Mandate period the Brits tried to curb Jewish immigration and land purchases in Israel and often clashed with Jewish underground groups such as the Lechi.

A career-long balancing act

Joseph Kuperman walked a fine balancing act between acting as a hard-working administrator for the British Mandate by day and helping the Jewish underground groups at night. Thousands of Jews fleeing the Holocaust in Europe had to be 'smuggled' into Israel under the noses of the British. Kuperman not only turned a blind eye to these smuggling activities but also wrote residence permits for the refugees.

A nod to the admins

In the history books one often reads about heroic generals and clever presidents but rarely about the people who did the actual work. The people who planned schedules and made sure that projects got completed. The ones who threw the baddies in the jail and organized housing for the destitute.

This exhibition not only shows a glimpse into the life of such administrators but also shows us how a small dusty hilltop in the middle of nowhere became the town where I live in today. 

Many thanks to my friend Sharon Ainspan who translated the text for this exhibition into English and who told me about it.

The exhibition runs until November 2016. The photo credits go to Yoram Fogel and the historical archive of the First Aliya museum in Zichron Yaakov.

28 April, 2016
Zichron Yaakov

Thursday, April 7, 2016

30 clues that show you are an Israeli

How long does it take for a new immigrant to become a bona fide Israeli? See if you have mastered any of these activities of the list. I personally cannot crack sunflowers like a pro..yet.

1. You do not allow anybody to wriggle in front of you in a queue.

We take our garlic VERY seriously in Israel!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Sitting around at the Tel Aviv art museum

My photo for the 52Frames Chair photo challenge

I recently had to go into the city for a meeting but just before my train reached my stop, the meeting was unexpectedly cancelled…! Of course I wrote about the entire incident and how miserable I felt that cloudy winter afternoon with ice-cold winds whipping through the tall buildings... (yes, I can be a bit of a drama queen sometimes). But let me rather tell you what I did with my unexpected free afternoon in Tel Aviv.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The yearly pilgrimage to Cyclamen mountain

Every year TONS of Israelis make the trek to this hill top to look at the flowering cyclamens
The news from Israel is often so depressing. Everybody always hears about the kidnappings, and stabbings and bombs exploding. People who live outside of Israel probably think that this place is a constant war zone...

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The curious case of the Shapira fakes

Any offers for my daughter's genuine clay penguin? 
For this blog post we are going back in time to the 1880's. Israel was still known as Palestine and was part of the Ottoman empire. 

The Jewish born Moses Wilhelm Shapira from Kamenets-Podolski, which is today part of the Ukraine, emigrated to this world in 1856. Somewhere along the way he converted to Christianity.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Happy Hanukka - or why you shouldn't be afraid to shine as bright as you can..

During Hanukka Jews all over the world remember that a tiny light can disperse a great darkness
I always enjoyed catching little unexpected snippets of Jews doing good deed:

In Angela's Ashes Frank McCourt wrote about their helpful Jewish neighbour.

And Sidney Poitier wrote in his biography that a grumpy Jewish waiter in the restaurant where he washed dishes, helped him to learn to read.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Another unhappy Jewish holiday

Pomegranates are now in season in Israel and are a prominent part of the Rosh haShana and Sukkot menu.
If you know any Jewish people, you have probably noticed that they have a LOT of holidays. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Stepping back in time in Ajami, Tel Aviv

In a not-so-recent photo walk I was privileged to explore the beautiful, yet shabby neighbourbood of Ajami.

This old neighbourhood in Tel Aviv is probably the best contender elegant shabby chic that I have ever seen. Various photo and tourists group often meet up to explore this old neighbourhood and if you are one of them, I highly recommend that you come equipped with a camera or even sketch book!