Ein Gedi Botanic Garden

Ein Gedi Botanic Garden
Seek the serenity of a Judean Desert sky in Autumn at the Ein Gedi Botanic Garden

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Israel Warns of Al-Qaeda Kidnap Threat in Northern Africa

Wednesday, December 23, 2009
The Israeli government issued a concrete travel warning to its citizens Wednesday afternoon that the international al-Qaeda terrorist organization is intent on carrying out abductions, including against Israelis, in the Sahel countries in northern Africa.

“Information has been received that the organization intends to perpetrate attacks, especially abduction attacks, including against Israelis, in the various Sahel countries in Africa,” read he warning from the National Security Council Counter-Terrorism Bureau.

“Given this concrete threat, the NSC Counter-Terrorism Bureau recommends that Israelis avoid visiting or staying in the following countries/areas: Ivory Coast, Togo, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali and northern Nigeria (about which there already is a valid travel warning).”

The NSC Counter-Terrorism Bureau also requested that Israelis maintain telephone contact with their friends and relatives currently in the above-mentioned countries/areas and update them on their status regularly.

In its warning, the Bureau also pointed out that in the past two years al-Qaeda gangs have kidnapped Austrian, German and Canadian nationals. The terrorists also attempted to snatch four U.S. citizens, but failed.

The Sahel is a geographical and climatic region of Africa that stretches in a swathe across the north of the continent between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea, south of the Sahara Desert and north of the Sudan.

Countries in the Sahel include Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Chad, Nigeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Seaweed Never Wrapped

Survival in the Seaweed Wrap

So it was my birthday, and my family organized the weekend to end all weekends for me. I was kidnapped, hijacked, spirited away to a fancy resort hotel at the Dead Sea, where my husband and I were treated to an all-expenses-paid Shabbat on the business-class floor of the Isrotel.

Really, it was stunning. The food was marvelous. The service, cordial. My daughter Cobi who works there, showed up Saturday night with her boyfriend Michoel and they took us out for dinner (think about the logic here, folks) in the hotel. The restaurant charged them a mere fortune-and-a-half for the steak dinners they absolutely insisted we eat. My husband of course obliged. I could not -- there was no room left. I forced down some chicken and called it a night.

But it was the gift of Sunday morning that really was the piece de resistance, the challenge to end all challenges. My family treated me to a Seaweed Wrap.

It had begun a week earlier, when Cobi artlessly inquired at the Shabbos table, "What do you think, would Olga (her friend) prefer mud, or seaweed?" I must have looked as confused as I felt, because she clarified -- "We are planning a surprise for her, and I was wondering what you thought she would prefer. Which is better? Which is more pleasant, more therapeutic? Mud, or seaweed?" I of course assured her that seaweed is a better bet -- after all, we who live in Arad can get Dead Sea mud whenever we want it!

Silly me. "You have a Seaweed Wrap at 9:30 am," she informed me when I checked in, in a daze on Friday. To my husband, she said, "And you have an anti-stress massage at the same hour. Now don't be late!" she admonished us both with a grin.

And now here I was, Sunday morning. "Today I am going to make for you a Seaweed Wrap" proclaimed the attendant, a sturdy blonde Russian woman of indeterminate age.

The massage table was covered in blue saran wrap. It looked a little odd.

"Take everything off," she directed, handing me two gauzy-looking fluff balls. "These are disposable underwear and a hair covering. Don't worry if the underwear don't fit -- anyway I will cover you." She then produced a bowl filled with green powder. "This," she announced, "is the seaweed wrap." Uh huh. "I am going to go prepare it while you get undressed."

Lovely. "When you are ready, please sit on the table." I began to wonder if she had had a past life as a gynecologist.

The room was not warm. At the Dead Sea, this is supposed to be an added benefit in the summer.

Returning, she began to slather the green goop, which was now wet, hot, and drippy, on to my back and the backs of my arms and neck. Once covered, she directed me to lie down, and then proceded to shmear the rest of it ALL over me. Everywhere. When it was all used up, she tucked my hands beside me at my sides, beneath my hips, and then wrapped the saran wrap sheet around me like a mummy. (hence the 'wrap' -- get it?)

She followed that by wrapping a sheet around the saran wrap. And then she wrapped a heavy blanket around the sheet that was wrapped around the saran wrap.

"You will stay here for 30 minutes," she instructed. "I am leaving."

Oh really?

"I will be back and forth, I will come in to the room, and check on you, and then leave. You will try to relax, and rest. Okay?"

Did I have a choice?

Almost as an afterthought, she added, "Oh, and my name is Shachaf." She peered at me. "How do you feel? Is everything okay?"

Oh yes. Dandy.

"Goodbye. Rest." She turned the lights down low and stalked out. Over the speakers set into the ceiling, I could hear the sounds of waves crashing softly against the surf, the Dead Sea version of the Pacific Ocean music bed.

And then the ultimate of ironies -- cool jazz, "I could have danced all night." I could not believe it. The sweat began to trickle down into my right ear. Squirming did not help. Resistance was useless.

"I can do this," I told myself. "My ancestors were Russian too. I am tough. I will survive." I resigned myself to suffer in silence. The music changed. More waves. A new selection, and drops of sweat began to tickle my waist. "Let my people go," softly wailed the clarinet.

A tap on my shoulder. It startled me. "Everything okay?"


More music. It took a long time. But 20 minutes more, and Shachaf flicked the brights into action as she started peeling layers away from my sweat-streaked body. "I will help you shower this off," she informed me.

Great. I can't remember the last time I soiled myself so badly that I had to have someone else clean me up. When I looked down, however, I understood: I was a bright, slimy kelly green, the kind of a color that even a lizard mother couldn't possibly love.

No more objections. I let her clean me up. I thanked her for the experience.

I even tipped her.

Isn't that what a birthday is all about?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Buses and Burnings in Arad

On the morning before the Passover seder -- after the momentous Blessing of the Sun -- the menfolk of the family stood around the pile of burning embers at the curb in front of our house in Arad.

Men and boys like to do this. They are enthralled with poking flames and watching the sparks fly up in dangerous masses, somehow.

My daughters had already abandoned the fire in which our chametz -- leavened items -- was being extinguished, bored and busy with other things.

But then we heard the roar of an Egged bus come trundling down the street. That made no sense, because we live at the mouth of a cul de sac. Big Green Buses do not come down to the end of our Dead End street. They turn politely at the corner.

Not today. "Hey, come on out here!" my husband bellowed out to me. Obediently (yeah, sure, OF COURSE) I trotted right out there. NOT. "HEY!!! COME OUT HERE!!"

Okay. The bellowing was rude so I went racing out to scold him. Instead I found a bunch of grinning males, with my husband pointing at the fire. A Big Green Bus was roaring off into the distance.

"Paki dropped off his chametz," he said with a huge smile.

Two nights later, on Friday night, my husband returned from synagogue to the Sabbath meal, chuckling and telling me, "I saw Paki tonight."

Turns out that Paki -- an Egged bus driver and esteemed member of the minyan at the nearby synagogue -- had to work the day of the Passover seder, hours before the holiday.

He told my husband that he had known he would not have a chance to fulfill the mitzvah of burning his chametz, thus eliminating that forbidden substance from his existence prior to Passover, so instead he brought it with him on the bus, figuring he would find a fire as he drove through town.

Once he hit the corner of our street, all he did was look toward our house, and he knew his problems were solved, he said. Other people on the bus forwarded their chametz as well, making Paki a sheliach mitzvah (mitzvah messenger) and my husband the Grand Passover Firebrand.

How could you go wrong?

Blessing the Sun at Masada 5769

Nearly two hundred men, women and children made their way to the top of the Judean desert fortress of Masada on Wednesday, April 8, 2009 in the grey light before dawn.

It was the morning preceding the Passover seder, and there was still much to be done before the holiday began.

What could have brought anyone out at that chilly hour?

Only a rare event, such as the Blessing of the Sun, could have inspired such a pilgrimage.

Once in every 28 years, the sun returns to the exact place in time and space in which it was first Created -- and for this event, Jews around the world rise to the occasion with a special blessing.

But this year in particular was special; the unique positioning of the sun at the vernal equinox is not expected to fall on the morning of the Passover seder again for another 500 years, or longer.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My Kid is Chased By a Goat

Friday nights after the Shabbat meal are my time to recharge the batteries and stock up on the sleep I have skimped on all week, and this time was no exception.

I had just snuggled down under the quilts with a glass of hot tea on the night table next to my bed. Eragon, the dragon-drenched fantasy novel written by a 15-year-old, waited for my attention.

And then I heard my dogs barking.

Not the "hello-how-are-you-hail-fellow-well-met" noise that greets every four-legged visitor who treads the sidewalk past our house – no, this was something more. All three of our canines were going ballistic.

The front door slammed, then silence.

The murmur of voices resumed as my husband conversed with our guests at the dining room table. I returned to my book, our cat Biscuit tucked in beside me under the covers.

Suddenly, screams split the night. I heard them from down the street, as if one of the neighbors was having an argument after a party. As the noise grew louder, however, it became harder to ignore.

Minutes later the front door burst open. Our son Zalmy raced in and grabbed my husband, urging him to hurry. "Come ON!" he cried.

The door slammed again.

Silence returned, except for muted chuckles around the Shabbat table as the guests wondered what could have inspired all the excitement.

Finally, the truth arrived in the form of my son running up the stairs to my room to drag me out.

"Abba wants you!" he urged. "Come on. You MUST come outside right away!" He wouldn't take no for an answer. Resigned, I donned a robe and a coat, prepared to freeze for the cause.

What greeted my astonished eyes made it all worthwhile, however.

There stood my 18-year-old wise guy daughter in the middle of the street, hysterical. Generally the epitome of arrogance, she was now reduced to tears and stamping her foot in what looked like nothing so much as the tantrum of a frightened three-year-old child.

Spotting me as I crossed the yard, she gesticulated wildly.

"I was chased by a GOAT!" she shrieked. "It FOLLOWED ME! I was trapped between Johnny and the Goat.

"But Avi saved me," she added. "Lilach (her friend) ran all the way to the Meshulash (The Triangle Shul), she was so scared." The Triangle Shul, mind you, is at least 10 blocks away.

The offending Goat, meanwhile, was placidly walking down the street with my grinning husband, who was leading it by a big blue leash that I recognized from walks with Avi and Lily's pit bull, Johnny. Avi soon followed.

"Aaaaaaaauuuuuughhhhhh!" My daughter took one look and fled into the house.

Avi explained, "I heard screaming outside my window, and I was already in bed. But Coby had run into my yard, and she was trapped between Johnny and the Goat. She claimed the Goat had chased her and her friend Lilach down the street. His eyes twinkled.

"I never heard of such a thing," he chuckled. "If it had been someone else, I might have believed it. But from a kid of yours? Impossible."

Avi went on to explain that he hurried into his pants and trotted outside to see what was wrong. What he found was Coby hopping up and down, hysterical, unable to move closer to the perceived safety of the house or farther out of the yard, for fear of being following by The Goat.

"It must be Tal's," he concluded. "She is the only one on the street who has a goat right now. Bring it down to her. Even if it's not, at least she will keep it." He smiled and went home. "You can give me back Johnny's leash tomorrow," he called back over his shoulder.

We asked Zalmy to check its plumbing to determine its gender, thinking that if indeed it were a stray, and if it were a female, and IF we were to keep it, we would at least be able to have milk and cheese.

It was indeed a female. We were pretty sure she belonged to our neighbor, Tal, who had acquired one when her baby was born, precisely for the health benefits of rich, fresh goat's milk.

I petted The Goat, who butted her head against me, clearly enjoying the caress. "I guess we have to take her over there to see if Tal is missing a goat, right?" my husband asked wistfully.

"Yes." I was firm. Having already hosted a lost donkey, I was unprepared to take on a lost goat on a Friday night without making very sure she was truly homeless.

Meanwhile, our guests were leaving. A Young Judea volunteer who had just acquired us as his new adoptive family was beside himself with joy. Clearly he had gotten far more than he had bargained for at this first Shabbat meal in Arad. Beaming, he assured us that he would share all the details with our other new adoptee, a girl who had been unable to come.

You could just see him mentally rubbing his hands in glee at having this exciting tale to tell.

My husband and son turned away and slowly led The Goat down the street.

Ten minutes later, they returned with the update.

"The goat belongs to Tal," I was informed. "But she is either sleeping soundly or is just not home. So we went to her boyfriend (who lives next door) to figure out what to do," my husband explained. "He tried to reach her, but to no avail, so instead he agreed to babysit The Goat until tomorrow."

"Where is she now?" I asked, curious.

"Who, Tal?"

"No, The Goat!"

"Oh. "In his living room."

My husband sighed, then smiled ruefully. "For a minute there, I thought we might have a new goat…"

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Gaza Rockets Bring a Changed Reality

I felt the first hint of a changed reality as the bus cruised its way toward Kiryat Gat last Tuesday evening. There had been a few rockets launched that way, and I wondered if perhaps I would finally be witness to the phenomenon. After all, there is a war on.

The bus was unusually empty, but I gave it little thought, and since I had not listened to the radio since ending my shift an hour earlier, I did not know that the first long-range missile had finally reached Be'er Sheva. In blissful ignorance I traveled to Jerusalem, had my meeting, and boarded the bus for the return ride at 11:00 pm none the wiser.

It wasn't until everyone was off the bus, and the driver was a few blocks from my house that he casually mentioned the attack on Be'er Sheva. He added that a rocket had also landed near Rahat, the largest Bedouin city in the nation.

I was stunned, but hid my shock. "So they finally did it, huh? NOTHING ever happens here in Arad. How BORING," I said with a grin. "Stupid, too. Suicidal, to hit the Bedouin. They don't forgive or forget, and revenge is for seven generations. These terrorists are going to end up BEGGING to enter our jails before it's over." Waving goodnight, I sauntered down the street.

In bed, I obsessed for hours trying to decide whether it had been an anomaly or if in fact it was the start of a new trend in rocket launches. Sleep eluded me, and after a two-hour nap, I faced the day with grainy eyes and a new cup of joe.

I dragged myself to the bus stop, since I had to go to the Tax Office – in Be'er Sheva. The latest news caught up with me as a fellow passenger tried to calm a friend down on the phone.

My questions didn't have long to wait. While I had struggled to rest, in the hour after dawn, the faceless terrorists who hated me so much had already gotten busy and fired another missile.

This time their aim was better; instead of hitting the schoolyard as they had the night before, the long-range Chinese-made Grad-type Katyusha missile had slammed into a ninth grade classroom.

Home Front Command had robbed the terrorists of their prey, however: the centrally-located Be'er Sheva high school was empty. The IDF had advised the city to cancel school and keep children home for the rest of the week.

The problem was that the siren wasn't working in most parts of the city – so people had no idea when or if there were rockets flying their way. Radio Darom (Southern Radio) ended up picking up the slack by becoming the platform for broadcasting the alert instead; but the 200,000 residents of the city were less than comforted.

The young lady sitting next to me on the bus was downright unhappy. Her boss, who lived in Jerusalem, had no idea what was going on and had insisted she open the store, which was located next to the Central Bus Station, a key target. She called him back and finally convinced him to turn on the news; once he heard that a school had been hit, he changed his tune quickly and told her to go home. She got off the bus long before we reached the city and headed back.

It was more than a little weird riding on the bus, in essence, a moving target. I became unnaturally aware of being exposed to the elements, completely at the mercy of any flying object. The bus driver seemed unperturbed, however. (I once heard that all the bus drivers in Israel were former IDF tank corps members – now I believe it.)

Since I began writing this post, former IDF tank corps members have since been called back to their vehicles and are now lined up and moving into Gaza.

I don't know if our bus driver is among them. But whoever they are, may G-d protect them from all harm and bring them all back safe to their families and to us here at home -- and yes, to their buses... sigh...