Saturday, October 30, 2021

Hiking in Israel - the Chinese Hole

“Do one thing every day that scares you!”

The Chinese Hole is a deep, vertical cave set in a karst landscape in the settlement of Ofra, northeast of Jerusalem. When discovered by explorers from the Israel Cave Research Center in the 1980s, it wasn’t clear how deep the cave went, and they joked it must go all the way to China. Now it is known that it reaches a depth of 60 meters.

I joined a group of hikers and arrived at the site early Friday morning. We were outfitted with head lamps and helmets, prepared for our descent. The opening is about 1 meter x 1.5 meter, and entering the cave requires a bit of crawling. Hitting the low ceiling, I was glad I was wearing the helmet.

Amazingly, spelunkers from the Center have constructed a series of metal steps and ladders inside the cave, so no rappelling is involved. Still, parts of the descent, especially when hanging onto a rope ladder when passing through a narrow vertical crack in the rock, are quite challenging.

The final part of the descent is on iron ladders. The first ladder is about 20 meters high, and the second one is about 30 meters. In between the two there is a platform where you can observe a nearby crevice filled with stalactites.

At the bottom of the pit is a small, muddy area. There is one further pit a few meters deep, but it’s not equipped with a ladder. After a few minutes of rest, we began our climb back to the surface.

The ascent is done in the same manner. It requires time, effort, and patience, as you must wait for the person above you on the ladder to keep climbing.

I must admit, I hesitated about going into the Chinese Hole. It’s not that I’m claustrophobic or afraid of heights, but I didn’t know if I could handle the challenge. But, I entered the cave, descended to the bottom, and came back to the surface. I am happy that I did it!

Friday, October 22, 2021

"Nocturnal Animals" - short story

“They were here last night!”

“After all the work you’ve done. What did they do this time?”

“They dug up the grass! Again!”

I led my wife to the backyard where the damage was plain to see. Mounds of overturned soil, piles of kicked-up earth where a lawn of thick green grass used to be.

“It’s worse than last time,” she noted.

“Much worse.”

What more could I do? I had installed a chain-link fence around the perimeter, but this hadn’t served as a strong enough barrier. I had reinforced the fence, added additional metal stakes at regular intervals. This did not stop them. I weighted down the fencing and secured the stakes with solid bases.This effort had failed as well.

Boars. Wild boars determined to go on a rampage in my garden.

“Strange that they’re only trampling the grass. They never eat the flowers or the bushes.”

“They’re going for water,” I explained. The upturned earth ran in nearly parallel lines above the buried irrigation tubing. Grass destroyed in a surprisingly neat pattern.

“How many are there?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I have never actually seen them.”

Read the rest of the story on Across the Margin.

Stuffed boar as seen at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Hiking in Israel: Overlooking Jericho

I had never heard of the Dok Fortress until a few weeks ago. Dok (the name used in the Book of Maccabees, while Josephus called it Dagon) was the first Hasmonean fortress. According to tradition, Dok is where Simeon, the last of the Maccabean brothers, together with his wife and two sons, was murdered in 135 BCE by his son-in-law.

Centuries later, a Byzantine church was built inside the fortress, and much later, a medieval church. Nothing remains of that church except for an outline of its stone walls, and nothing at all remains of the fortress itself.

I joined a group including Ami, a good friend, for the hike. We travelled in a convoy of some 20 cars through a Border Police training base (everything we did was with IDF permission) and then several kilometers further into the desert. Finally, we parked and set off on foot for about 2 kilometers before climbing to a lookout point where we could see Dok. Then we made our way up to the fortress itself for an amazing view over the Palestinian city of Jericho – a very green oasis just north of the Dead Sea.

Coming down the mountain I was in for some unexpected surprises. First was seeing the Monastery of the Temptation built precariously on the opposite cliff walls. The temptation mentioned refers to Jesus spending forty days and forty nights fasting and meditating and fighting off the call of Satan. Qurantal, another name for the mountain, can be translated as 40, referring to those days and nights.

As we continued our descent, we reached a network of caves called ‘ma’arat ha’meraglim’ – Cave of the Spies. This is where traditionally Rahab from Jericho hid the two men sent to scout out the land before the arrival of the Israelites in the Book of Joshua. We walked through the caves including one where bats flew noisily over our heads.

We reached the bottom of the mountain and then followed the rocky path up a wadi until we reached the road where we had parked our cars.

Quite an amazing hike through unfamiliar territory, with many sites connected to Israel’s Biblical past.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

"Applesauce" - short story

My wife makes the best chocolate cake.

Moist. Rich. So chocolaty. I stood there daydreaming about the cake, my mouth watering, and then my phone buzzed.

“Where are you?”

“I’m in line.”

“At the front of the line, or at the back of the line?”

“Um, somewhere in the middle of the line.”

“Did you get applesauce?”


“I need it for the cake. You forgot! You’re always forgetting things!”

Chocolate cake—applesauce was one of the ingredients.

“Of course, I remember,” I said.

“Well, make sure to get it. I want to bake before dinner.”


I apologized to the others waiting in line at the cash register and spun my shopping cart around. With one hand holding down the toilet paper resting precariously atop a mountain of groceries, I set off in search of canned goods.


My tennis partner was lingering by the dairy refrigerators. Like me, Bill was pushing an overfilled cart. Like me, he didn’t seem pleased with the task.

“How are you?” I asked him. “We haven’t played in weeks.”

“My shoulder—it’s still bugging me. What’s up with you?”

“Oh, you know. The same.”

“We should get together, even if it’s not on the courts. Why don’t you come over on Saturday and we’ll watch the game? Have some beer?”

“Beer? Sounds good!” I said.

“You know what? Bring Janet as well. I can fire up the grill and we’ll make a meal out of it.”

“I don’t know what Janet’s planning,” I said. “If she’s up to it, what should we bring?”

“Why don’t you bring the beer?”

“Sure, I’ll bring the beer.”

“Well, I’ll see you then. Meanwhile, I need to find muesli. I won’t be allowed back in the house if I don’t buy muesli.”

“I hear you,” I said. I patted him on the shoulder and continued through the store.

Daily special! Marked-down prices. The red-bordered notices on the shelves drew my attention to discounted products, many of which I had missed on my first circuit. Onward through the store. Baking goods, dry goods, pet food. Frozen goods, fruits and vegetables. Finally, I arrived at the beverage aisle.

Beer, he said, but what kind? Pale amber, stout, or Belgian-style ale? Local beer, or the more expensive imported variety? If I get a cheap six-pack, I’ll appear to be stingy. But imported beer? I’m neither a regular drinker nor a beer connoisseur, but I didn’t want to be judged on what I would bring to Bill’s table. Okay, let’s just go with what’s on sale—American-style lager.

I waited at the checkout counter, smiling at the other customers. But wait! Janet had asked me to pick up something. What was it?

Applesauce for the chocolate cake!

“Excuse me,” I said, spinning my cart around to begin another trip around the store. Up one crowded aisle and down the next. Paper goods, cleaning supplies. I turned around the next corner and found myself back at the beverage aisle.

“Did you get the beer?”

“Bill! I thought you would be out of here by now.”

“I’m still looking for muesli. What is muesli anyway? Some kind of fancy granola? What’s wrong with good old cornflakes?”

“It’s probably with the other breakfast products,” I said, pointing toward the back of the store.

“Hmm. I see you got lager,” Michael said, regarding the pack balancing next to the toilet paper on top of my cart.

“You don’t like lager?”

“Oh, I do! I assumed you to be an ale guy. A pale ale guy,” he said with a laugh. I didn’t find his joke funny.

“Anything else you want me to get?” I asked, trying to humor him with a display of generosity.

“Let me see. We could use salted nuts to go with the beer. Cashews, almonds. I really like cashews, don’t you?”


“Listen, I’m just suggesting it. It’s not a problem if you can’t get any.”

“No, it’s fine. I’ll find something,” I assured him.

“Great! I really have to find that muesli and get the hell out of here. I hate grocery shopping!”

“Me, too!” I replied, but he had already wheeled his cart away.

I passed the bread and baked goods section, bypassed the coffees and tea, and headed to the candy and snack shelves. I hoped cashews were on sale.

Back in line at the cash register, I tried to think if there was anything else I was supposed to buy. Janet may have mentioned something, but it must not have been all that important. She would be pleased to hear we had been invited out. I knew she didn’t mind the occasional beer. We’d probably eat outside—the weather was certainly good enough. I wondered what Michael would be grilling. Hot dogs and burgers, or something more expensive?

“Will that be all, sir?” the cashier asked after the last of my goods had passed in front of her.

“Yes, that’s everything,” I said, pulling out my wallet. I handed her my credit card and arranged the shopping bags in the cart. “Thank you,” I said when she handed back the card along with my receipt.

 A short while later, I parked the car out front and made two trips carrying the groceries into the house. “I’m home,” I shouted, and Janet joined me in the kitchen.

“Did you get the applesauce?”


“For the cake. The chocolate cake you love so much!”

“Uh, no. I was at the supermarket, and...”

“You forgot, didn’t you?”

“I didn’t forget! They were all out! I even asked the stock clerk!”

She shook her head, not believing a word I said.

“What’s that smell? Is there something in the oven?”

“Yes. Devil’s Food Cake. I knew you’d forget the applesauce. You’re hopeless!”

My wife makes the best Devil’s Food Cake.

Originally published on Bright Flash Literary ReviewPhoto by pure julia on Unsplash