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!

2. You use a LOT of garlic in your food.


3. You say 'yalla' instead of goodbye.

4. You switch so automatically between Hebrew and English that you sometimes have to stop for a second to think "Wait, in what language am I talking again?"

5. You love going to the vegetable markets to get inspired by the produce and fill up your shopping basket with fresh seasonal vegetables.


6. Your heart skips a beat when a car backfires or you hear a sound that reminds you of the missile warning sirens.

7. You get up early on a Friday morning to buy challah bread for Shabbat.

8. You not only wipe your hummus expertly with a broken off piece of pita, you also know all the best hummusiot in the neighbourhood.

9. You get used to having Fridays off and working on Sundays (this takes a VERY long time for a lot of people to get used to!).

10. You ran after a bus that just pulled away from from a bus stop and got the bus driver to stop for you.


11. You are often asked for directions because you do not have that "I am just as lost as you" look anymore.

12. You actually understand the bullshit speeches of politicians and other dignitaries and are playing games on your cellphone instead of trying to look as if you understand them.

13. You have a peculiar way that you like your affug (latte) to be served. I like mine extra-hot with as little foam as possible...:).

14. You either wear a lot of black clothes or are dressed extremely casual in a T-shirt, flip-flops and a pair of shorts.
15. You have developed a taste for Israeli beer.

16. You impatiently wave the barbecue coals with a piece of carton instead instead of just waiting for them to get ready by themselves.

17. You put tehina on everything.

18. You think eating watermelon on the beach is one of the most amazing things that one can do in life.

19. You give unsolicited advice to other people.

20. You are not worried when your children misbehave because everybody else's children are acting ten times worse.

21. You spend your Friday afternoons reading the weekend papers and enjoying the encroaching peace of Shabbat.

22. You allow yourself to be a little be late for meetings and appointments because you know that you will still arrive before everybody else.

23. You just accept that your borekas are going to crumble all over your front and just enjoy the crumble-ness of it. One can always just brush it away (or at least try..:)).

24. You have learned to always have a bottle of water with you.

25. At green traffic lights you keep an eye open for cars coming from the other side because some people think that a orange light changing to red means that you can still cross.

26. You have learned to crack sunflower seeds better than a parrot.

27. You know the lyrics to many Hebrew songs and often sing along with the radio.

28. You cannot talk if you do not use your hands.

29. You know that if you want to be taken seriously you have to either talk louder or longer than everybody else or pound on a table.

30. You get teary-eyed when you hear the Hatika (the Israeli anthem whose name means 'The Hope').


Anything else that I should add to the list?

Marina Shemesh,
Zichron Yaakov, 7 April 2016


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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.

It was too cold to hang out at the beach or Carmel market, I was not in a mall-shopping mood and did not feel either like exploring the old buildings of the newly-renovated Sarona complex. But also, I was WITHOUT my husband and children and the art lover in me quickly made the equation:


Free time + city - husband and children = Museum TIME!!


I love the Tel Aviv art museum, so I made my way over there, paid my entrance fee and started to explore. They have a couple of permanent exhibitions with paintings that I consider long-time friends but there are also these changing (shall I say ‘weird’ exhibitions) with more contemporary art works. I have always thought that these changing exhibitions are really cool and an important part of the creativity and inspiration of the museum.

This time however,  they did not impress me at all. The new stuff was not ‘cool weird’ at all, just ‘weird weird’. It was the type of stuff that makes my husband and children consider the art museum to be boring. They even had this entire interactive exhibition about selfies! Yes, eww, can you believe it  - selfies as art!! 

But okay, whatever, we do not all have the same taste in art. It is not fair of me to expect to like every single thing in the museum. I should also not project my winter blues on the artists’ work but rather open myself to what is on offer....
To calm my soul, I went to say hello to the Picassos, the van Goghs, the Degas and the Marc Chagalls. As always, they were totally brilliant. 

Just standing for a minute or so in front of one of these paintings I start to feel the pull of the artist who painted it. 


The same eyes that are staring at me standing in an art museum in Tel Aviv, Israel in the year 2016 on a winter’s day are the eyes that stared at Vincent van Gogh as he painted them in Saint-Rémy, France in 1889.
The amazing colours in these paintings, a slope of the neck, the play of shadows, a stance or a certain look all seem to send me a personal message from the artist itself. I  often do not ‘get’ the message, and usually it is enough for me to just realize that there IS a message. It is as if I enter into a type of time travel in tandem with the artist. I start from an art museum in Tel Aviv in 2016 and the artist go from France, Russia or wherever in the past and then we meet and make a connection.

Other times the message is like a virtual poem that you slowly solve the more you think about it and 'make' it your own.


I know this is all very obscure and weird and ‘arty-farty’ but hold on because this time I got a clear message from van Gogh!
I was so enchanted by the his Shepherdes painting that I wanted to take a photo to mull over its meaning a bit more later on. And because there are guards sprinkled throughout the museum I thought it best to ask if I can take a photo.
“Yes”, I got a laconic answer from the nearest guard and then as an afterthought “just don’t use a flash”.
Her yes was just so abrupt and yet seemed to say so much. It was a yes full of irony as well as sarcasm. Her tone implied that I can take all the photos that I want but there is just no way that I will ever decipher Van Gogh’s messages or ever be half the artist that he was. It is as if she knew about the messages and also that I will never ‘get’ it.

The van Gogh's painting that started the whole thing.
As often it is the case with us humans, the messenger seem to became to message. Because of HOW she said yes, I started to focus on ALL of the guards throughout the museum. Though they silently walked around every once in awhile, most of them would sit quietly in a chair in an unobtrusive corner.

Nearly all of them are female and Russian and they have a certain distant demeanor about them. 


They are not sullen but they do not invite a chat either. It is as though they have been made especially for this job. Your average Israeli would either be chatting loudly to everybody out of sheer boredom or argue to management about the placement of the paintings.

As fate would have it, the theme this week for my photo group’s weekly challenge is “ A Chair”. 


This, together with the fact that I just did not really connect with the temporary exhibitions and that I started to SEE the guards, made me skulk throughout the museum spying on the guards and taking photos of them on their chairs.
Stalking the watcher
I had to switch off the sound on my cellphone and a few times I was nearly caught photographing the sitting guards. Luckily the museum has tons of pillars and walls in the middle of open halls to take cover from. As I enjoyed my unexpected interactive tour throughout the art museum it suddenly popped into my mind what van Gogh was trying to tell me this time:
Art is often unusual and often found in unexpected places.
So the next time you are in a museum or any other odd place, have a look around. Maybe the art is boring this time but they have really beautiful bathrooms tiles, or there are some really cool stuff in the museum shop. And maybe you will not get to see inspiring art this time but you will meet some awesome people. Who knows, they might even be the security guards!

Art is often found in quiet and unusual places
Here is a link to the Tel-Aviv art museum, I promise that the exhibitions are usually great..okay, 90% of the time!

And here is a link to the Chair photo album that my photo group has created: 52Frames

Two more Chairs at the art museum photos, though this time without guards.


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March 2016, Zichron Yaakov

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!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Queen for a Day - Thoughts in the middle of the 2015 Gay Pride parade

I never thought that I would ever be part of a gay pride parade. I am on the shy side and also prefer to hang out in smaller groups.... not dance in the street with 100, 000 people!

Sometimes one has to wave a flag too.
And as my mom has taught me, everybody should be treated as a human being and be given a kind word. Isn't it better to treat people normal everyday instead of just partying with them once a year and waving a pretty flag around?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sahlab - An ethnic Middle-Eastern winter pudding

It seems strange to think that the winters here in Israel can be cold, sometimes even freezing.

We are so used to reading (and writing!) about the hot summer sun, camels, deserts and sand. And how one cannot survive the excruciating heat without drinking gallons of water or eating buckets of ice cream.

Israelis CAN and do basically eat ice cream throughout the winter months but there is a special warm, very local, very Middle-Eastern pudding called sahlab that should definitely be tasted.
A cup of warm sahlab topped with cinnamon on a cold winter's day