Monday, December 9, 2013

Rain Check?- A Nachal Og Chanukah Adventure

Surveying the Nahal at the beginning of the hike
The scenery looks beautiful, right? What could possibly go wrong?

Rain.  It has been the talk of the town here in Jerusalem.  Until last week many Rabbis from across the religious spectrum were calling for their constituents to pray for rain in what was being called an abnormally dry winter.

But on Tuesday night of Chanukah there were some students at Midreshet Emunah v'Omanut hoping the rain would hold out just a few hours longer.  Planned weeks before, I was set to guide these girls on a fun hike to Nahal Og on Wednesday during their Chanukah break.  We had our water bottles, hats, and sunscreen ready, the only obstacle was a possible rainy forecast.

Now don't get me wrong, these girls are not afraid of a little rain.  Check out the video below to see what happens when it rains in or near Nahal Og.  (Notice the video is taken in the same place as the picture above.)

As you can see in the clip, in a few short minutes, the entire river bed is filled with fast moving water.  You no longer wonder why this usually dry valley is called a Nahal, river, in Hebrew.  These sudden flash floods can be very dangerous, and it is not worth the risk of hiking in the Nahal.

So at 7am on Wednesday morning, when the girls received a text that the hike was on, there was definite excitement.  We took a bus from the central bus station in Jerusalem to Almog Junction, and from there it was about a 15 minute walk to our hike through the Nahal.

Mountain goats?
"Ain't no mountain high"

A quick hour and a bit later, after climbing both rocks and on rungs hammered into the side of the mountains, we were rewarded with this view on the other side.
View from the other side
Proud hikers at the end of the route.

Proud of what we accomplished, we set back towards the bus.  When we reached the junction, we stopped for a quick camel ride at the gas station-only in Israel!
Twins on a camel
The camel has the last laugh!
And with that, we were on our way back to Jerusalem.  What a great way to spend a Chanukah day, exploring the land  for which our ancestors fought so hard.

P.S Don't worry it has been raining pretty much ever since, and they are even predicting possible snow on Thursday!!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Rumor has it, Rumor has it...another great reason to bring along a tour guide.

This week we finished our study of First and Second Temple Jerusalem with a trip to various sites in both the Old and New City.  Many of the sites carry with them longstanding traditions of what happened there.
However, as is common with many sites in Israel, these traditions, as well as the names of the Sites can be very deceiving.
Lets check out some examples:

Absalom's (Avshalom Ben David) Tomb, Absalom's Pillar

Absalom's Pillar
While this monumental grave marker looks like a building, it is actually a sculpture carved directly from the mountain on which it is situated.  For hundreds of generations, the story was told that this is the burial place of King David's son, Absalom.  Killed in battle with his father David's forces as he tried to usurp the throne, Absalom is the picture a rebellious son.  In Samuel 2 18;18 it is written, "Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a pillar, which is in the king's dale: for he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance: and he called the Monument after his own name: and it is called unto this day, Absalom's Monument."  Throughout the years, fathers would bring their sons to this building as a reminder to them of what happens when sons rebel against their father.
However in the last decade, it has been proven that this building actually dates to around the 1st Century CE, an is a burial monument for adjacent Jehoshaphat's Cave.  Still  science cannot undo thousands of years, the site still bears the name of Absalom, ready to lead unsuspecting visitors astray.

Another interesting monument in the area is known as Zechariya's Tomb.

Zecharya's Tomb

Attributed as the burial place of Zecharia son of Jehoiada (Chronicles 2 Chapter 24), this monument is actually empty and was never used as a burial tomb.  Some modern archaelogists believe it may be the burial monument for the Hazir Tomb, a cave found nearby.

Hazir Tomb
Regardless, this spot became a tribute to Zecharyia and bravery, and many Jews were buried on top of the tomb for years.  When the area was excavated, layer upon layer of  Jewish grave markers were found and many can still be seen beside the site.  As such it is recommended that Kohanim not walk on the path along the tombs itself, but rather take the stair pathway and get a good look from above.
Jewish grave makers of people buried near or on Zechariya's tomb
Magnificent view from the stair path, helpful for Kohanim, also the way to the tombs from the City of David

At the end of the day, I can't tell you who started these rumors, who perpetuated them, or which is worse. But I can tell you that these incredible works of art, no matter what their original intentions, are spots rich with history and definitely worth a stop on your next trip to Jerusalem.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"Who wants to be a Maccabee?" A day in Second Temple Period Jerusalem

If you could pick to live in any period in history, when would you live?

I love asking people this question, and over the years, I've received some great answers.  One of the popular responses from my Jewish friends is the Hasmonean Period in Jerusalem to be able to experience the miracle of Chanukah.

How appropriate then, that as Chanuka approaches, I spent the day exploring 2nd Temple Jerusalem.
Its amazing how much there is to see from this period.

The period spans a little more than 400 years.  Starting with the return to Zion and the completion of the Second Temple in 350 BCE, it includes the times of the Persian Empire and the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty, and the Roman Empire, marked with King Herod's rule.  Shorty after Herod renovates the Temple and it's plaza, Jerusalem and the Temple are destroyed in the year 70 CE.

The most well know site from this era is the Western Wall, the Kotel.  Built toward the end of the Second Temple Period, the Western Wall is a retainer wall for the Temple Mount complex built by King Herod.  The Western Wall stands 40 meters high from the street level and is 488 meters long.  Built with stone hewed from quarries around the Jerusalem area, the largest stone in the Western Wall is 417 tons!!! For some comparison that is about 83 elephants worth of rock in one big stone, or 3 blue, that sure is heavy!

But there is a lessor know section of the Temple Mount retainer walls that can be visited via entrance at the Davidson Center.  This is the southern retainer wall, and today, I saw some pretty exciting remains from the Second Temple.

The original Shabbat Siren
A facsimile of an inscription found on street level.  Originally located at the top of the wall, this inscription marked the spot that a trumpeter would sound his instrument as the Shabbat descended.

Ancient Market
If you think Machne Yehuda market is packed, add some live animals, and then you have the craziness of this market found at the base of the staircase leading up to the Temple Mount.

Pilgrim's Ascent

Three times a year, people would come from all over the country to bring sacrifices at the Temple.  In order to control traffic, there was a separate staircase for people coming in and for people going out.  Today we can walk up the exact same stairs that the Temple visitors walked up more than 2,000 years ago.
The stairs leading away from the Temple Mount are larger than average.  One theory for why they were designed this way was to slow people down and to force them to leave the area with proper respect.  There is no way to run down these stairs!

I am sure some people reading this post have visited the Old City of Jerusalem, perhaps many times.  It amazes me that no matter how many times I am there, I can always see something I have never noticed before. Take this Hasmonean aqueduct.  Can you figure out where this is?

If you guessed the staircase to the Kotel from the Jewish Quarter, you are right!  Take a look below.

The engineers in Herod's employ were not the only brilliant workers.  Check out the mosaics found in the excavated Kohanim (Priests) homes open to the public at the Herodian Quarter Museum.  Notice that there are only geometric designs as Jews cannot make images of people.  These are the oldest mosaics that have been found in Israel.

For those of you that would not pick Second Temple as your favorite period in History, don't worry!  Check out these sites that have layers of different periods, one on top of the other.

City wall for added for protection

The square stones wall on top is from the Byzantine period.
The square section on the lower right corner is Hasmonean (2nd Temple)
On top of the smooth part is a pile of rough rocks at the top left, that is the begining of the Temple One wall.
Why reinvent the wheel?

Outer wall of the City

Can you identify the different where one wall ends and the next begins?

As the sunsets over the city I can't help but feel lucky to live when and where I do.  It is a city that mixes the ancient and contemporary with a beauty and a grace in a way that in uniquely Jerusalem.

Sunset from the top of the Tower of David.

When would you chose to live?  Let me know if the comments section!

Join me tomorrow as I hike Shvil HaMaayan in the Aminadav Forest.

Until then...


Monday, November 11, 2013

Ein Kerem

The weather was great as I led my students from Midreshet Emunah v'Omanut on a hike from Tzomet Ora to Ein Kerem today.  We took Egged (public transport) bus number 19 to the Tzomet Ora stop and that is where we began our trip.
 We followed a winding dirt road, and within a few turns, the beautiful view opened before us.
 While the hike was not too hard, we encountered a few spots that challenged us, giving our trek an added element of excitement.  The whole hike took us about an hour and a quarter, including a 20 minute sketching stop in the middle of the forest.

The path came to end on Rechov HaMaayan in Ein Kerem.  We made a brief stop at Mary's Spring to learn about the historical significance of Ein Kerem to both Jews and Christians before breaking up into smaller groups to explore the many small lanes filled with art galleries and interested buildings.

As the sun set, we regrouped at the spring to share our coolest find, and finish a conversation we began last week about the ethics of the tactics used by the Jews against British in pre-state Israel.

On our way up to Rechov Ein Kerem to meet the bus, we got a glimpse of some of the religious sites that make Ein Kerem a popular tourist stop.  With  time to enjoy nature, art, and have some great philosophical conversation, it could not have been a better Monday afternoon. 

Join me tomorrow as I explore Second Temple Jerusalem with renown guide, educator, and author Aharon Horowitz.

Until then...


Thursday, November 7, 2013


Welcome to my blog, IsraelWithRivi.  I know there are many people that wish they could travel to Israel, but time, money, and other commitments don't presently allow for it.  So that is why I started this blog; To give you the opportunity to travel the country with me from the comfort of you own home.  See and learn about the land, take note of the places you liked, and then when you are ready to plan your trip, I will be here, ready to make this your Israel, your way!  Please feel free to comment, I would love to hear your thoughts.
P.S. Stay tuned for my trip to Ein Kerem via hike from Tzomet Ora on Monday.

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