Sunday, May 15, 2022

Review of ‘Raiders of the Hidden Ark’ by Graham Addison

The Ark of the Covenant, the sacred relic of the Israelites containing the tablets carved with the Ten Commandments, has been missing for 2,500 years. We don’t know if it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon; carried off by Titus to Rome; or brought to Ethiopia by the son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

Perhaps the Ark was hidden before the Babylonian invasion and is buried somewhere below the Temple Mount? This possibility has fascinated countless biblical scholars and archaeologists, but, spoiler alert, the Ark is still missing.

Raiders of the Hidden Ark by Graham Addison (Edgcumbe Press, August 2021) tells the largely unknown story of the Parker Expedition, a group of British aristocrats and army officers that carried out excavations in Jerusalem searching for Temple treasures between 1909 and 1911.

In this exhaustively researched work, we meet Montagu Brownlow Parker, 5th Earl of Morley, who, encouraged by the writings and explorations of other Christians, wanted to prove doubters of the Bible wrong and more importantly to bring about the End of Days. To organize his expedition, Parker enlisted “men similar to himself; young upper-class Englishmen connected by social background, school, military service and combat in the Boer War.”

But the group was motivated as much by business considerations. They bought shares in a syndicate that would benefit from the sale of any treasures discovered.

The author provides detailed backgrounds of the expedition members, but this slows down the narrative. Mentions of how novelist Joseph Conrad described steamships in the Congo; Second Boer War battles in South Africa; and an attempted assassination of Queen Victoria; may give readers a better understanding of the personalities involved, but they do not contribute to one’s understanding of the actual excavations in Jerusalem

The story of the archaeological dig, of the team’s exploration of the tunnels, shafts, and suspected hiding places of the treasures, only begins some 100 pages into the book. Cyphers in Biblical texts suggested that “the Ark of the Covenant could be found by working through underground passages from Gihon, which would lead … to the mosque.”

Parker and his band retrace the steps and digs of previous explorers and set off in new directions underground the city. Their work, approved by the Ottoman authorities but a thorn in the side for Palestinians whose homes were above the tunnels, failed to bring them the riches they sought. Instead, their story is just a historical footnote to the many archaeological digs conducted over the years in Jerusalem.

Overall, this book is more the story of the members of the expedition, than of the expedition itself. While details of the only dig ever sanctioned inside the Dome of the Rock itself are fascinating, less so are descriptions of the “misfortunes which befell former members of the expedition” in the following years.

The expedition’s story, which sounds stranger than fiction, was ultimately unsuccessful but may have served as inspiration for later archaeologists and for the creators of action-adventure film “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The mystery of the Ark of the Covenant’s location, as highlighted in this thoroughly researched book, will no doubt captivate future explorers as well.

GrahamAddison worked for many years in the Human Resources department of firms developing mobile communications, Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets, and search engines, and at Apple's European headquarters. He also ran his own software company, but his first love has always been history. After reading Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Jerusalem: The Biography, he was captivated by a brief expedition to Jerusalem of young Eton-educated men searching for the Ark of the Covenant, an expedition he describes as a “crazy combination of Downton Abbey meets Indiana Jones meets Dan Brown.” Raiders of the Hidden Ark is his first book.

 

Previously published on The Times of Israel.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

"Have a Nice Day" - short story

Hastings wakes up, shaves, showers, combs his hair. Puts on his suit, adjusts his tie. Picks up his briefcase on his way out and checks that he has locked his apartment behind him. Rides the elevator down to the lobby where he is greeted by Al, the building’s doorman.

“Good morning, Mr. Hastings!”

“Morning,” he replies with a wave.

“Busy day ahead?”

“Same as always.”

“Important court case, is it?”

“No, nothing important.”

“What is it then? Divorce settlement? Defending a tax evader?”

He shakes his head.

“You probably have clients lining up outside your door, you’re such a well-known attorney.”

Read the rest of the story on Written Tales.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Fifty Years in Israel

Shortly before 10 in the morning of May 2, 1972, a Greek cruise ship docked in Haifa port. Along with members of my family, I stepped foot in Israel for the first time. 

Fifty years in Israel and look how far I've come. I finished high school in Jerusalem; served in the Israeli army; was a founder of a new kibbutz in the Arava; married and raised a family; and I now live in a small community outside Jerusalem, along with my wife, daughters, and four granddaughters (my son lives in Tel Aviv). Fifty years after making aliya, I am still here.

During my fifty years in Israel I lived through a war, and many undeclared wars. I lived with the fear of terrorist attacks and Iraqi Scud missiles. I rejoiced when Maccabi Tel Aviv won its first European Championship, and with each of Israel's Eurovision wins. I cried when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, and renewed my hope in the Israeli political system after elections when Netanyahu was defeated.

Fifty years in Israel. I welcomed visitors to the country during years of employment in the hotel industry. I became part of the Startup Nation with my ongoing work in firms based on the Internet. I barbecued on Israeli Independence Day, and ate falafel and shwarma in the eateries of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I bathed in the Dead Sea, climbed Masada at sunrise. 

Fifty years in Israel and I wouldn't live anywhere else. I am still falling in love with my country - hiking through the deserts and mountains; running on the boardwalk in Tel Aviv; getting lost in the alleyways of the Old City; visiting Metula; and seeing Mt. Hermon in the distance.

On this occasion, marking fifty years in Israel, I repost an article I wrote ten years ago marking forty years in Israel. My memories of making aliya in 1972 are still strong. I wonder what wonders and challenges the next years in Israel will bring.

Aliya Circa 1972

Originally published August 10, 2012

Moving to Israel is not easy, and never was. Take it from an oleh vatik who is this year celebrating forty years in Israel. Looking back, one sometimes wonders how such a life-changing move like aliyah is even possible.

The Greek cruise ship Queen Anna Maria served as the Mayflower for many Americans making aliyah to Israel in the early 1970s. After a week-long crossing of the Atlantic and making port calls in Lisbon and Athens, the ship delivered its ambitious, idealistic passengers at the docks of their new homeland.

My first home in Israel was a third floor apartment on Bar Yochai Street in Jerusalem's Katamon Tet neighborhood. From inside the tiny, spartanly furnished rooms I could hear the calls of the watermelon merchant, “Avatiach!” as his horse-drawn wagon made its way down the street with huge, tantalizing melons. Children from the tenement buildings ran alongside to the parking lot, where a few shoppers approached, eager to taste the merchant's fresh produce.

Life at a Merkaz Klita


Little did my family realize, before moving to Israel in the spring of 1972, that the Katamon Tet Merkaz Klita, or Absorption Center, was located in one of Jerusalem's poorest neighborhoods. For us, the time spent in the slum area was a strange introduction into Israeli society. For the residents living on that street, immigrant families who were veterans of the waves of immigration from Arab countries in the 1950s, life was a never-ending struggle to remain above the poverty line. Katamon Tet was a place they were eager to escape.

Most of the families at the Merkaz Klita were from Russia or Georgia, with a small number from Argentina. There were few fellow American or English families to ease this transitional period. The staff of the center was willing to help, to offer advice and assistance. Teaching the adults the basics of the Hebrew language was top priority, while the children were assigned to ulpan classes in the city center. Like any normal teenager, skipping classes to go see movies in the downtown cinemas seemed a more important way to spend the summer.

A few times a week, fresh milk was delivered to our apartment door. The cream separated from the milk and we needed to shake the glass bottles before it could be poured. There was a shared television on the first floor and the American show “Hawaii Five-O” was very popular, if not that colorful when broadcast in black and white. On the streets, long-haired teenagers sported Beatles t-shirts, even though the well-known group had disbanded two years before. There was an asimon-swallowing payphone at the center; waiting to receive a private phone line could take months. The preferred method of communicating with loved ones back in the old country was by mailing paper-thin aerogrammes.

A loss of innocence

That year, Jerusalem was in the midst of a massive building boom, the result of the heady euphoria in the wake of Israel’s stunning victory in the Six Day War. New, high-class residential areas were being built in Ramat Eshkol and French Hill. The standard of living for Israelis was rising. Jews around the world were encouraged to make aliyah, to return to their roots in the Jewish State.

We were naïve about many things in our new homeland, an innocence that quickly faded when we faced the horrific news of a terrorist attack at Lod Airport at the end of May 1972. Even more powerful in establishing our connection to Israel was the massacre of our athletes at the Munich Olympics that September. The father of one of my high school classmates was one of the victims; I didn’t yet have a strong enough command of Hebrew to fully comprehend what sitting shiva meant.

In the early days of my life in Israel I took frequent walks in the open fields behind the Katamon Tet Absorption Center, watching the train pass by twice daily on its way to and from Tel Aviv. The hills in the distance were bare, while in the other direction it was possible to hike up to the Holyland Hotel to view the model of Second Temple Jerusalem.

Forty years later, those hills are covered with the suburban sprawl of Gilo, and the old train tracks are no longer visible due to the presence of the Malha Mall and Teddy Stadium. The red-bricked tenements of Katamon Tet circa 1972 are still in place, but their use as an absorption center for new olim struggling to establish a foothold in Israel has faded into rose-colored memories.

This image of an apartment building in the Katamon Tet neighborhood was taken by user Gilabrand and is used under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.


"Aliya Circa 1972" was originally published on The Times of Israel.

Monday, April 25, 2022

I didn’t recognize you without your mask

On the bus this morning in Tel Aviv, nearly half the passengers and the driver were wearing masks. The loudspeakers played a message stating there was no place for coronavirus. Earlier at the train station, masks hid the faces of foreign workers and the elderly, but also the faces of several soldiers and businessmen. I rubbed my exposed chin, wondering if I should have worn my mask after all.

Two years into the pandemic, we could be at the end of the pandemic, and it’s strange. Leaving home without a mask, I felt like I had forgotten something. I felt naked, unprotected. Yet, I also felt safe.

A few weeks ago, I tested positive for COVID-19, but it was an almost symptom-free case. While many of my coworkers reported fevers and that they could barely get out of bed, I experienced nothing more than one evening of chills. My wife also had a mild case, and luckily my children had just a day of discomfort. My granddaughters also tested positive and except for my son-in-law, every member of my immediate family has had coronavirus.

Maybe it was the two vaccinations and the two boosters that protected me. I had two bouts of persistent coughs over the past year that were more serious. Like most Israelis, I tested positive for the virus, but it wasn’t entirely a negative experience.

I remember back to the early days of the pandemic. We monitored reports of when people with coronavirus visited a supermarket, or traveled on a bus, fearing that we had been exposed. We wore masks everywhere, even outside. We were not allowed to go more than 100 meters from our homes. Police stopped my car on a traffic-free highway during a closure, and only let me continue driving when they learned I was on my way to a pharmacy.

Everything became part of our norm. Working from home; watching Netflix; ordering groceries and other products online; office meetings, family gatherings, and even Passover seders on Zoom. Washing our hands for at least 20 seconds and staying 2 meters apart. What about our children missing so much school and social interaction? Israel, along with the rest of the world, shut down. No air travel, no tourists, no restaurants or hotels. No normal life.

But, little by little, we began to reclaim our lives. Until the next variant arrived.

For the time being, we are mask-free. There are still reports of Israelis testing positive every day, but the number of serious and hospitalized cases remains manageable. Things are looking up and my wife and I are planning a trip overseas. We are very positive, and that's a good thing. Our biggest worry today is how crowded the airport will be when we leave for our vacation.

Masks are off and it's wonderful to see people's faces again, and their smiles. 

 

Originally posted on The Times of Israel.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

"The Muse" - short story

“Have you told your wife about us?”

“My wife? Why do I have to tell her anything?”

“She probably suspects that you’re cheating on her.”

“I’m not cheating!”

“A married man and a much younger woman meeting for coffee every evening? Some people would consider that cheating.”

“We’re not doing anything we’re not supposed to be doing. We’re just having fun.”

“You’re not being honest with her. She assumes you’re coming to this coffee shop after work with the intention of writing, when you’re actually spending time with me. If you haven’t told your wife about us, you’re cheating.”

“My wife trusts me. Totally. After you leave, I’ll start writing.”

“Why do you have coffee with me, anyway?”

“Because sitting here, drinking coffee, I get ideas that I can’t get at home. I use them in my writing.”

“What kind of writing?”

“Short stories, mostly.”

“Am I giving you these ideas? What am I, your muse?”

“You’re not!”

“Are you writing about me?”

“No, never.”

“Let me see one of your stories.”

“They’re not finished. I still have a lot of writing and editing to do.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“I really do write stories! My laptop is full of them, although none have ever been published.”

“I bet your characters are based on me.”

“They’re not.”

“I would think you’d be getting inspiration from your wife but apparently, I am the one motivating you to write.”

“You keep saying that, but it’s not true. I write fiction. Everything I write is made up, coming solely from my imagination.”

“Or from me.”

“Say, what’s that shiny thing on your blouse?”

“Just a brooch I really like. Stop changing the subject. Tell me now, seriously. Where do your ideas come from?”

“I’m sitting here in the coffee shop, talking to you, drinking my coffee, overhearing bits of conversation from the other tables, eavesdropping on the customers. Listening to the roar of the coffee grinder, smelling the smoky aroma of freshly poured roast coffee. Everything around me is the source of my inspiration.”

“Don’t you want something more?”

“What do you mean?”

“Come home with me now.”

“No, no. I’m here to write. I’m not cheating on my wife.”

“We’re not going through that again. I’m leaving.”

“Aren’t you going to finish your coffee?”

“I think we’re finished.”

“Will I see you tomorrow?”

“Yes. We may be finished today, but tomorrow would be alright. Same time, same place?”

“Okay.”

“I don’t know how you would accomplish any writing without me to inspire you. After all, I’m your muse!”

 

* * * * *

 

“Hi! Is dinner ready?”

“Very soon. I just got home myself.”

“Wonderful. I’m starving.”

“How was your writing?”

“I made a lot of progress on my story.”

“I look forward to reading it.”

“As soon as I finish...”

“Was she there?”

“Yes, she was.”

“And she gave you some ideas?”

“She always does, although I would never admit that to her face.”

“Great!”

“She said something today.”

“What did she say?”

“She suggested that I’m cheating on you.”

“Cheating?”

“Because I’m a married man—a happily married man—and she’s so much younger than me.”

“Should I be worried about something? Did you do anything more than drink coffee together?”

“No.”

“Have you ever gotten together with her outside the coffee shop? Have you gone home with her?”

“No, never! It’s not like I’m having an affair or something. You’re all I’ll ever need.”

“Good. I trust you.”

“I am always honest with you. Let me give you a hug.”

“A hug? You’re being affectionate all of a sudden. Should I leave dinner for later?”

“I’m just suggesting a hug.”

“Okay. Let me take this brooch off first so that it doesn’t get in the way.”

“That shiny thing? Come here.”

“Oh! Apparently, your writing session turned you on!”

“Well, that can wait.  Seeing you here, in your role of my wife making dinner, that’s what really turns me on. Let’s eat.”

“First, let me see what you’ve been writing.”

“I told you—I still have a lot of writing and editing to do.”

“Let me be the judge of that. You can put on the finishing touches later.”

“It’s a draft. Not the final version of the story. I’m still working out how to describe the story’s main female character. She’s a lot like you, actually.”

“Your characters are always good. Where do you get your ideas?”

“From you, only from you.”

“Let me see your story.”

 

* * * * *

 

“Have you told your wife about us?”

 

“My wife? Why do I have to tell her anything?”

 

“She probably suspects that you’re cheating on her.”

 

“I’m not cheating!”

 

“A married man and a single, much younger woman meeting for coffee every evening? Some people would consider that cheating.”

 

“We’re not doing anything we’re not supposed to be doing. We’re just having fun.”

 

 

# # #

Originally published on CommuterLit.com.

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Flowers After Fire


In August 2021, an enormous wildfire consumed some 25,000 dunams (6,200 acres) of forest. At the height of the blaze, it was feared that Hadassah hospital at Ein Kerem might need to be evacuated, the Times of Israel reported.

The Jerusalem Hills, with their sprawling pine tree forests, are prone to forest fires. According to another Times of Israel report, "Israel experiences a massive wildfire every few years, with especially large ones in 1989, 1995, 2010, 2016, 2019 and last month. Climate models show they’re getting more frequent and more fast-spreading, in part due to rising temperatures and a longer summer dry season."

I remember the 1995 fire well. I was working at the Neve Ilan Hotel and one July afternoon, we were preparing to host the wedding of Israeli President Yitzhak Navon's daughter. A fire raced up from Sha'ar Hagay, burning trees on on both sides of the main highway connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The fire reached the hotel grounds and skirted the main buildings, but causing the wedding to be canceled. The fire made its way into the moshav itself, burning five homes, including the house next door to my in-laws.

The 2016 fire came even closer to my home. We could see the flames in the forest below our moshav. I wrote at the time: "We also saw fire racing up a distant hill across the valley. Along with other residents of Neve Ilan, my wife Jodie and I stood watching the flames, worried that danger was quickly approaching."

Yesterday I hiked at Sataf with my sister, Judy, in forests burned last August. Although I could see the charred remains of burnt trees, and the dry, brown areas that had suffered, the area was also beautiful after the plentiful rains of this past winter. As we go into summer, the wildflowers covering the ground will dry out, It will take years until the forest regains its former green splendor. But yesterday I could really sense how beautiful this area of the Jerusalem was, and how beautiful it will again be in the future.


Related article

When a Wildfire Endangers Your Home 


Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Review of ‘Masada: Thou Shalt Not Kill’ by Shimon Avish

Who knows what really transpired at Masada, the desert fortress that today serves as a symbol of Jewish heroism and Israeli national pride? Did its residents listen to an impassioned speech by their Sicarii rebel leader, Eleazer Ben Yair, and choose to commit suicide rather than fall into Roman slavery? Or are there other explanations for their story?

These questions and possible answers are raised in Masada: Thou Shalt Not Kill by Shimon Avish (MarbleStone Press, January 2022), first in a planned fiction series themed around significant events in ancient Jewish history.

What little we know of the Roman assault on Masada and its aftermath comes from the writings of Jewish military commander turned historian Flavius Josephus, who was not present at Masada in the year 73. It is said that Josephus learned of the siege from the eyewitness account of two women and five children who survived the mass suicide. It is likely that Josephus, later a Roman citizen, embellished his story so that it would find favor in the eyes of his hosts.

The lack of convincing archaeological evidence to support the idea of mass suicide gives a novelist ample opportunity to create their own version of historical events. In this novel, while mostly following the accepted timeline of events, the author provides an alternative explanation to what happened on Masada during the Roman siege.

The narrative follows the story of 18-year-old Daniel, son of a Temple priest, who is abducted by Sicarii assassins and taken to the Masada fortress which they captured during the Jewish-Roman war that led to the destruction of the Second Temple. On Masada, Daniel is assigned menial tasks of clearing rocks and tending to crops, while at the same time falling in love with Judith, sister of one of the rebels stationed at the fortress.

Daniel grows into a leadership role, eventually challenging the authoritarian rule of Eleazer Ben Yair. After the Masada rebels attack and massacre the residents of nearby Ein Gedi, and because of a lack of enough food to support their community, Daniel decides to lead a large group of residents away from Masada and into exile.

As the Romans begin their siege, and Eleazer Ben Yair calls for mass suicide, Daniel must find the way to utilize his strength, character, and resolve to stay alive.

While the novel’s dialogue tends to sound as if it was spoken by modern day characters, the book will appeal to readers of historical novels, especially to those fascinated by the legend of the nearly unassailable Masada fortress.

Shimon Avish, a former soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces and a founder of a kibbutz in southern Israel, writes about significant events in ancient Jewish history. His work draws on his adventures in soldiering, farming, product design, cabinet making, political science, international business consulting, and living in the U.S., Canada, and Israel. He completed his doctoral degree in political science at Columbia University and was a Fulbright-Hays Fellow. Masada: Thou Shalt Not Kill is his first novel.

Originally published on The Times of Israel.

 

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Review of ‘The Other End of the Sea’ by Alison Glick

The first description of Israel in The Other End of the Sea by Alison Glick (Interlink Books, November 2021) is harsh. “A sandy yellow-colored structure, three stories tall, with a few high-placed windows. It was farther back from the road than nearby buildings. A whitewashed concrete wall, topped with a spiral of barbed wire surrounded it.”

“That is Ashkelon prison,” says Zayn Majdalawi. “Where I was held as a political prisoner.” He is speaking to Becky Klein, a “nice Jewish girl from the Midwest” who had previously studied in a six-month ulpan program on a kibbutz and returned to the region as a teacher at a Quaker-run school in Ramallah. After visiting Gaza, she crosses back into Israel in a 7-passenger taxi along with Zayn, a Palestinian “who had not let the devasting, scarring events of his life so far narrow his vision of the future.”

Descriptions of Israel do not get any better in the novel. While visitors feel the “warmth of Gaza” and Palestinian gardens are “verdant and intricate with bushes of fragrant basil, plain earthy potatoes, and showy trees of lemon and almond,” Israel is a land of “truncheon-wielding troops [crushing] the bones of victims,” during the first Intifada.

Although this novel’s background is the Israeli occupation, and exposure to the struggle for Palestinian rights gives Becky a “new view of the world,” it transcends political commentary and can be read as a cross-cultural love story. Becky’s first visit to Gaza “was like the blossoming of a romance,” but her real romance is with Zayn, the man she falls in love with and marries in a shotgun wedding.

Marriage to Zayn, Becky quickly learns, is not what she had originally imagined. A few days after the wedding, he resumes sleeping elsewhere. He continues to distance himself from his wife, but whether this is because of the cultural gap between a Muslim and a Jew, or because of his fear of being captured by the IDF, is not clear. "I love you," Zayn says into Becky's hair, in a rare moment of outward affection, but he quickly adds, "Take care of yourself," and departs.

With Zayn constantly on the run, Becky follows her husband to the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, to Tunisia, and then back to Gaza. “What would I do here without Zayn?” Becky asks herself. “I came to this land without knowing him, but he had become an anchor, an interlocutor, a translator of all things Gazan and more. Could I be here without him?”

The Other End of the Sea reads more like a memoir than a novel. Eloquently written, it is full of vivid, detail-filled recollections; tourist-oriented descriptions of places and customs; and brief mentions of “memorable instances.” Yet, more than anything else, it is a bittersweet love story which questions whether it is possible to follow one’s love across the most heartbreaking cultural divides.

Alison Glick lived for a short time on a kibbutz and in a town near Haifa. Her experiences opened her eyes to the realities of Palestinians living under Israeli control. After studying Middle East History at Temple University, she lived in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Yarmouk Camp in Syria for six years, working as a teacher, human rights researcher, and freelance writer. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, the Arab Studies Quarterly, and Mondoweiss. The Other End of the Sea is her first novel. She is based in Philadelphia.


Originally posted on The Times of Israel.