Sunday, December 16, 2012

And that's Chanuka


בארץ קום והתהלך
בתרמיל ובמקל
וודאי תפגוש בדרך 
שוב את ארץ ישראל. 

Arise and walk throughout the Land
With a knapsack and a walking stick
We will certainly meet on the way
In the Land of Israel
Israeli folk song (not the best translation)

Many years, perhaps it was on Israel’s 50th Independence Day, there was a contest for kids to send in their reasons why Israel was a terrific place to live. My reason was that there is only one seder on Pesach, but I'm not a kid. One child decided that having two birthdays (Secular and Jewish) and hence two birthday cakes was the best reason. But one of my boys came up with one of the most wonderful reasons I ever heard. “Israel,” he said, “is such a small country that you can go to lots of places and see lots of things in one day.”

Indeed, we are commanded to see and know the Land. “Arise, walk through the Land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for unto thee will I give it”, says G-d to Abraham (Genesis 13;17).

Our family tries to keep this commandment as much as we can. We try and visit different parts of the country whenever an opportunity presents itself, and certainly during the holidays. “Let’s go on a tiyul!”

A tiyul (pl tiyulim) is a Hebrew word that is very difficult to translate. Loosely, it’s a trip for pleasure, but can be done by foot, bike, or scooter. It can be carefully planned or spontaneous. It can even happen unintentionally. (“We got lost going to the wedding, so we had a little tiyul in the neighborhoods of Givatayim”.) Many places provide maps for tiyulim – with easy to follow directions to places of interest.

We have gone, as a family, on hundreds of tiyulim all over the country, both major ones and minor. Of course, as the kids get older, the amount of children going on tiyulim gets smaller, as they go with friends on their own, often more adventurous, tiyulim. (They still come with us on the expensive tiyulim….) And so, my husband and I found ourselves with just the youngest child going on a tiyul to the ancient city of Jaffa. 
  
We started our tiyul with a visit to the Etzel Museum, just outside of Jaffa. The Etzel (Ergun TZva Leumi - The National Military Organization - also known as the Irgun) was an underground militia during the British Mandate in Palestine (1931-1948), which fought, not only against Arab fedayeen, but against the British army and its ‘White Paper’, which limited Jewish immigration to Palestine, leaving the Jews of Europe to the fate of the Nazis. The Etzel played a significant role in the War of Liberation (1948-49) and it was an Etzel Brigade that liberated Jaffa, then an Arab stronghold. Situated in a rebuilt building of the era, the museum tells the story of the battle for Jaffa, and some of the Etzel’s ‘disputes’ with the more politically-correct (but not necessary more effective) Haganah.


Etzel Museum, built atop the remains of a 19th century home
     
The highlight of our visit to the museum was meeting a member of the Etzel. Now 82 years old, Yoska Nachmias told the story of how he had joined the British Army during World War 2, at the age of 14, but remained a member of the Etzel. He described breaking out of the Acre Jail (made famous in the novel Exodus), the events of the ship Altelena, and his reunion – about 60 years later – with one of the volunteers on that ship. For info about the tragedy of the Altelena, that has repercussions lasting until today see here or here
It is always heart-stopping for me to meet a real hero of Israel, and I am blessed to live in a Land where there are so many heroes.

A hero of Israel with the family

After the museum, we walked about 15 minutes, along the beach, into Jaffa. Though today Jaffa is a poor suburb of the city of Tel Aviv, it boasts a history of approximately 4000 years, is mentioned several times in the Bible, and has one of the oldest ports in the world, which is still in use. In the last several years, the city of Tel Aviv has revitalized the port area and the streets surrounding it, making into a beautiful maze of cobblestone alleys, filled with small art galleries, cafes, and parks.


A view of Tel Aviv and the beach from Jaffa

Our first stop was the port. Made famous by the prophet Yonah who set sail from there before being swallowed by a fish, it is now used only for as a marina for private sailing. Still colorful and busy, my daughter was awed thinking that she was standing in the same spot that poor Yonah has once stood attempting to flee from his divine task.



Boats in the port

Leaving the port, we climbed up a steep set of stairs into the heart of the ancient city. We admired the various crafts on display, the rebuilt churches (one was full of bats, which was pretty cool) and mosques, and examined excavations of ancient civilizations. Private homes were marked with signs on their doors “Please be quiet! People live here!” Parks dotted the area, complete with sculptures, ice cream shops, and bathrooms.



An alleyway in the city

Jaffa has been conquered, in its long history, 46 times, the last of which was by the Etzel in 1948. But 250 years previously, it had been conquered by Napoleon’s troops. As we walked down one of the small alleys, a sign told us of the horses that had galloped through after breaking the wall that had surrounded the city. We stood for a minute or two, thinking of the French horses running where we stood, of the terror they must have inflicted, and the beauty and serenity that reign today.



One of Napoleon's troops and his helper 

One of the more famous spots in Jaffa is its flea market. This market is famous for selling everything; furniture, artwork, antiques, even street signs. We got there at about 3:30 in the afternoon, and many of the stalls were already closing up.

Phone token from the last century



Nonetheless, we wandered around the area for over an hour, explaining to the 11-year old daughter what a typewriter (that didn’t even plug in!!) was, describing the role phone tokens had played in our lives (and the use of the hole in them), and trying on jewelry and clothes from 50 years ago.You can find just about anything in the Jaffa flea market!

Anything is possible in the Flea Market



 We emerged from the flea market in the “Clock Square”. Built in the early 1900s by the Ottomans, and redone in 1965, Clock Square is the meeting point for anyone who comes into Jaffa.
Clock Square

On the corner of the square is the Ottoman built Governor’s House – today a restaurant.

It is the Governor’s House/restaurant that personifies what is best about Jaffa. A blend of ancient, old, and modern, the city commemorates its unparalleled history yet exults in its contemporary culture and art. Three religions peacefully co-exist with a tolerance – indeed a celebration – thought not to exist in the Middle East.   


Governor's House/Restaurant

We did not go into the more ‘modern’ areas of the city – those built in the 19th and 20th centuries. We saw the spires of the churches from across the street, but didn’t go to explore. These are mostly poorer areas. I am aware of the strains between the different populations of the area, the accusations made by both sides. Nevertheless, Jaffa seems to be an example of what is possible when intentions are good, when differences are set aside yet identities are acknowledged and respected.

The Gate of Faith
Chanuka is ending, yet the miracles we commemorate never do. Our Land is a daily miracle; may we remain worthy to be blessed to continue building, and celebrating, and living in awe every day.

Now, I need to think of a tiyul for the next holiday – Election Day!!



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