Archives for the month of: March, 2011

“Jerusalem stone” is ubiquitous in Israel as a construction material (see archway in masthead above). In Haifa, though, there are several buildings in blue. I don’t know if they were built intentionally as an homage to the sea and sky, but they fit Haifa where there are views of the sea at every turn and which rises to the sky as it climbs Mt. Carmel.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Can you feel it? That is Purim in the air!

We continued our celebration by attending the pre-megillah reading Maccabi Haifa soccer game against Hapoel Ashkelon. We arrived at the stadium early, so we killed some time at the playground a few yards away. There was a chutes-and-ladders game painted on the ground and a little numbered wheel to spin to indicate how many squares to move. We started out with Sarah & Noah competing & Roy as the number caller, but within minutes a swarm of kids had joined asking if they could play (?אני יכול לשחק):

How could we refuse? We were the Pied Pipers of Chutes & Ladders.

Once inside the stadium . . .

2 fan clubs kept the stadium rockin' with their cheers, drums, & flag-waving! We were across from the Green Apes and next to the Inferno Verde.

No popcorn or pretzels at these games. Stadium snack food is sunflower seeds. There is no other snack that requires this much attention.

Goooooooooaaaaaaaaallllllllllll!!!!!!!! Maccabi Haifa 3 - Hapoel Ashkelon 0

The cutest Maccabi Haifa fan I've ever seen.

Then we headed over to Kehilat Moriyah synagogue to meet our friends for the megillah reading.

Yay Sarah & Julia!!!! Boo Haman!!!!

Following the megillah reading (Jews 1 – Haman 0) was an excellent Purim carnival with Israeli dancing, a magic show, obstacle course, game booths, etc. Noah won a prize and got another mishloach manot.

Sunday morning we celebrated with another local tradition – an Adloyada or Purim parade. We headed to Holon, which is about 20 mins. SE of Tel Aviv, which we’d heard had the “greatest Adloyada in the country”. We completely lucked out. We didn’t really have any idea of where to park or where to stand, but we ended up with a 3 min. walk from our car to the parade route, right in front of the stage at the end where the performances were. This is what we got to watch while waiting for the floats to come by:

Many of the floats were handmade, often out of recyclables. Also marching were groups of schoolchildren playing instruments and troupes of Israeli dancers. It was very festive.

You know that Purim is in the air when your babysitter comes dressed in costume!

Christina & Noah showing off the Megillat Esther he made in school.

Sarah’s PT invited us to her moshav’s (agricultural community) Purim party Thurs. evening. We quickly pulled together a couple of costumes based on what we had lying around the house – which is mostly toys.

Roy's costume is: "I fell asleep & when I woke up, a spider had spun a web on me!" Sarah is the sea, replete with fishing boat.

The party took place in the moshav’s clubhouse and was primarily a costume party – bar, food, DJ, dancing – with the tradition of the Purim spiel. Several groups of moshav residents put on little skits on the theme of the children’s educational television shows that used to be on when we were little kids, when there was only one channel in Israel, but with references to current events. Of course, we did not understand most of it, but it was entertaining anyway. The most popular adult Purim costume is “Hey! Look at me, I’m crazy!” Wig required.

In addition to parties, during Purim many of the nature groups organize special events. On Fri. morning we went on a special tour of some of the burned areas of the Carmel forest with JNF/KKL. We learned about the decision-making process behind when/if to clear damaged sections, and how future rehabilitation will be decided.

some of the damaged area of Har Carmel

the guide told us that there are no "fall colors" on Mt. Carmel, so everything that was not green was damaged

a spontaneous memorial for the firefighter cadets who died in the fire

One of the most striking things we saw was the new life blooming alongside the damaged areas.

Corinthian columns are based on the acanthus plant

While we were on our tour, Noah’s class was having their Purim carnival and mishloach manot exchange.

But there was still more to come. Fridays are early days at school, so we still had the whole afternoon ahead of us before we went to Sarah’s friend Yaffa’s mom’s for dinner. Did you know that right behind our neighborhood is a marked hiking trail? We walked down to Ziv Sq. and fortified ourselves with falafel for the hike.

10 falafel balls for 8 shekels. Noah ate 8 1/2.

on the trail after hiking back up to just behind our development. we left the trail and took a shortcut home via those stairs.

more signs of the season

This weekend is the Jewish holiday of Purim, which celebrates the evil Haman’s downfall after his plot to kill the Jews of Shushan, Persia, is foiled by the beautiful, Jewish, Queen Esther. That’s it in a nutshell. I haven’t even gotten to the part about Esther’s brave uncle Mordechai or King Ahasuerus or the poor 1st Queen Vashti. We celebrate by dressing up in costumes, eating hamentaschen (oznei hamen in Hebrew), hearing the Megillat Esther (biblical book of Esther) read aloud, drinking alcohol until you’re too drunk to tell the difference between Haman & Mordechai, Purim carnivals, etc. We do all of this in the US also, but only for a day or two. In Israel, the celebrating starts much earlier and there are also big parades (Adloyodot), nature activities, and a day off of school.

Noah’s class has been reading the Megillat Esther for the last 2 weeks in preparation. They have had special Purim art projects to decorate the classroom and the entryway at the school. He’s already had 2 costume days at school this week and they are not even his official Purim costume (top secret).


Not shown: today’s costume of a Native American, complete with feathered headdress & face paint. All the children had to choose an Indiani name. Noah’s was Har haSusim (Mountain of the Horses). Baffling. Why Native American?

We went to a children’s concert by Noah’s preschool music teacher at the mall yesterday after school, complete with a poor guy in a dog costume, who she calls her best friend and four teenage dancing girls. Those of you who’ve gone to Hebrew school or Jewish camps will remember some of the numbers: Bashanah Haba’ah, Simi Yadech, Ha kova sheli shalosh pinot (an actual purim song, but fun the year round).  Some of the songs were live and acoustic, others she lip-synced from her own CD.  Just like real pop concerts! She said it was her dog Dodo’s birthday.  At jewish institutions in the US, we just sing “Happy Birthday” in Hebrew.  In Israel, they sing a different song.  If I were still a camp counselor, I’d introduce it next summer.

Other Purim activities this week included preparation for a mishloach manot exchange in Noah’s class. To make this manageable with a class of 35 kids, each child draws the name of one classmate & is responsible for bringing his basket. We baked our own batch of hamentaschen last week one day when Noah was home sick from school (but not too sick to eat hamentaschen) and delivered our first basket to our friends Anat & Menachem & their family when we had dinner with them last Friday. Noah’s class exchange goes down tomorrow.

master of the electric mixer

choice of traditional cherry filling or the more exotic raspberry/pomegranate

For weeks all of the bakeries and grocery stores have had displays of hamntaschen out. And not just a shelf or two, but shelves upon shelves.

Available flavors: poppy (trad.), halvah, double chocolate, amaretto, walnut, sugar-free poppy, date w/ cinnamon and star anise, and gianduia

stay tuned for more Purim updates . . .

I took a little walk around our neighborhood (Ramat Chen) this week to capture it in bloom. March 7, 2011.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After exploring our one little corner of Makhtesh Ramon, we drove west of town, to the Alpaca Farm and Guesthouse, which is as it sounds, an Alpaca farm with guest cabins, which turns out to be really lovely and very thoughtfully put together. We walked around and looked at the animals: in addition to the alpacas, they also have a smaller number of llamas, some geese, long-horned sheep, mules, horses, and many, many working dogs who take their herding duties seriously.  Most of the animals were in pens, but some of the alpacas, or maybe llamas, are allowed to roam around among the buildings.  Here’s the view from the porch on our cabin:

Noah was of course giddy with all the animals to visit.  The other Sarah tried to get a photo of an alpaca, or perhaps a llama, and then, all of a sudden, pfft, a big wad of spit right in her face.  She’s quite the sport, though, and kept walking around with us looking at the animals. When we got back to the room, we insisted that she take the first shower. While we were walking around, Noah befriended the camel:

We went out to dinner, and, after we returned and got Noah to bed, we went outside to hang out on our porch with the other Sarah. My Sarah and I were huddling together in a hammock, when we heard a loud sort of buzzing noise and a general commotion from the animals in the pen just below our cabin. The other Sarah said that some of the alpacas (llamas?) were chasing each other, and that maybe they were about to have sex.  And then, yes, they were! We got up in time to see that one of the males had mounted a female from behind, while two others stood nearby to watch.  After they finished, the chase began again.  Eventually one of them caught her, she got away, and then he got her again.  He made the same buzzing sound, but seemed, to my untrained eye, to be entirely in the wrong position.  This sort of thing went on for 15-20 minutes.  We knew we won’t be able to sleep until this event played itself out. Spending this much time traumatized by farm animals is a very good bonding experience: Sarah Brown is now family.  (If you are brave, you can find video of mating alpacas on youtube and hear the buzzing sound they make for yourself.  I just made the mistake of doing so, and got a much better view than I had a few nights ago.  I immediately regretted this decision, and will have nightmares tonight.)

The next morning was full of double entendres flying over Noah’s head. We went out to help feed the animals, one of the attractions of this B&B over all others we’ve visited. We’re in the middle of our umpteenth reading of Farmer Boy, so Noah was in heaven scooping silage into a plastic crate and riding in the trailer, as you can see in these two movies:

After that it was a quick and delicious breakfast and into the car, so that Sarah Brown could teach an afternoon class in Haifa after a lovely and interesting weekend.

After the camel ride, we headed to the town of Mitzpe Ramon, which is built right on the edge of Makhtesh Ramon, aka Israel’s Grand Canyon (makhtesh means crater). The makhtesh is huge (25 miles long x 5 miles wide), so we only saw a tiny bit of it, but what we saw was awesome — in the literal sense of the word. The pictures won’t do it justice, but we’ll try.

We started at the top of the crater, about 1000 ft. above the crater floor, at an observation spot called Har Gamal (camel hill). Its obvious why…

at the foot of Har Gamal, at the edge of Makhtesh Ramon

panoramic view from the edge of Makhtesh Ramon - another example of a surprising absence of barrier between hiker and cliff edge, to the right. Roy is at far left. Doesn't he look good?

We drove down a switchbacking road to the crater floor and went to an area known as The Carpentry.

the Carpentry is covered with quartzite prisms

Its called "The Carpentry" because the prisms look like they are made of wood

the hexagonal rocks were formed when molten lava caused the quartzite to crack

at the bottom of the hill was a vendor selling mahlabi from a cooler in the back of his van

Sarah enjoying a refreshing mahlabi

mahlabi is a creamy pudding topped with rosewater syrup, coconut, & peanuts

A paraphrased history of the creation of Makhtesh Ramon, according to Discovering Natural Israel, by Michal Strutin:

Although many people think that an asteroid has to hit earth to create something like this, Makhtesh Ramon is actually an erosional crater. This whole area used to be underwater (over 200 million years ago), which created layers of sandstone covered by layers of limestone & dolomite (harder stone) created from the remains of marine animals. Tectonic movement pushed the layers upward, breaking the limestone and then water wore away the soft sandstone on the inside–like eating a soft-boiled egg and leaving the shell.

hiking through the Makhtesh

celebrating our hike & the beauty of the makhtesh with some yoga poses

After the hike, we drove to a different part of the makhtesh with piles of different colored sandstone. Children played among the piles, collecting samples of the different colors for souvenirs or art projects.

piles of different colored sandstone

some of the wildlife at Makhtesh Ramon . . .

this might be a colchicum, or sand lily

agama lizard

an ibex! related to the goat

rotem, or broombrush

Our first night in the Negev, we stayed at Chan HaShayarot, just south of Sde Boker, in Bedouin tent lodging.

The Chan was set up as a compound of extra-large tents, divided by tarps into separate sleeping sections. Some people went full out camping and brought their own food & cookstoves. We didn’t bring anything but clothes with us (the Chan even provided light sleeping bags; we should have brought towels), but Sarah (friend, not Sarah “mommy”) brought matches. She didn’t know why she brought them, but she did. Moments later, one of our neighbors asked us if we had matches and then he shared his tea with us!

we slept in a colorful tent on stacks of mattresses

and had a scrumptious meal in the dining tent.

The stargazing was amazing because we were so isolated — no interference from city lights, plus a cloudless sky. People came out of their tents at night and sat around campfires, talking, drinking tea, playing guitar.

The Chan was also a camel farm in the tradition of ancient caravan stops along the spice route. Travelers would need a tent to keep them warm and a place for their camel to rest.

Getting ready for a trip.

In the morning, we took a ride.

view from camelback, beyond the Chan

the camels are gentle enough for riders of all ages

Noah befriended an elderly German woman, there with a tour group and got her to show him the journal she was keeping of her travels. He spoke to her in Hebrew, even though she spoke to him in German-accented English. We kept trying to explain that she didn’t speak Hebrew, but he’s stuck on the idea that he should speak Hebrew if he’s speaking to a non-native English speaker.

Did you know that one of Noah’s favorite activities is playing in the sandbox? If we ever wanted a quiet hour on a Sunday morning, we’d take him to the sandbox at our neighborhood playground in Brooklyn and he’d let us read the paper while he was completely content to play. Did you also know that the Negev is like a giant sandbox? It was almost impossible to keep this boy off of the ground.

the Negev is an important stop during migration. I tried to identify this bird, but couldn't find it. Anyone know?

On Friday morning, we left for a weekend trip to the Negev with our friend, Sarah Brown, who is another Haifa Fulbrighter, also visiting faculty at the University.

a good omen for the trip on Highway 40 south to the Negev

The Negev is only about 3 hrs. south of Haifa, but a whole ecosystem away.

canyons and dunes of the Negev

Our first stop was Ein Avdat National Park. Ein Avdat is a limestone canyon with a natural spring (ein).

at the entrance to the park grows a terebinth tree that is 100s of years old

during the rainy season, water pools on the canyon floor and forms a stream

always lift with your knees

seepweed, a plant that thrives in saline environments, green after the recent rains

layers of rock visible in the canyon wall where the water carved through

view of the canyon walls from inside

we climbed up a set of narrow & shallow stairs carved out of the cliff up to the source of the water & the upper level of the canyon

It was interesting how much responsibility for their own safety hikers are given here. In the US, I would expect railings to be installed at all of the cliff edges.

but here, we could get right to the edge and look down. if you dared...

the trail continued over the upper part of the stream, into a poplar grove

as a source of water, Ein Avdat is like an oasis in the Negev and supports wildlife