Snapshots of Israel

There are such moments, richly in bloom, to be gathered from the giving lands of Israel. Gifts proffered from the depths of time, certainty offered from within a cradle of mystery, hewn together by an enveloping sense of the Divine.

Jerusalem bathes in early-morning light, the lavishly golden Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount soaking in the clatter of early morning traders who are preparing to ply their trade in the age-old streets.

For most westerners, the concept is mythical. Here is the Garden of Gethsamane, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Al-Aksa Mosque. And yet if any place in the world will allow one to indulge one’s senses, it is this full and fragrant land, filled as it is with the vibrant folk whose movements are the pulse of its sun-lit soul.

Etched into the walls and consciousness of the city and its people is the absolute surity of being which can only come with having touched real issues, been touched by real things.

And in shadows draped across silent streets, there rests an ancient peace. The cool stone of Jerusalem’s Old City walls contrast with the tumultuous passion of its people who embrace its lyrical ways and fluently express its moods and reflections. A melodic call to mosque cuts through the hum of Hebrew on the street. In its wake the Hebrew flows mecurially, softly back into place.

Tour Guide for the Ministry of Tourism, Mr Moshe Nov encapsulates this inherent eloquence. In his care the myriad of spiritual significances to so many are held up into the light, history, archaeology and the scriptures are given one voice.

More than just expressing ideology or talking theology, Moshe shares and shows both the sensitivity and the great spirit of the people.
It is this which is so captivating. The enduring, insurmountable strength of family and community woven so deeply into the winding streets of absolute ages. One can touch it here, all of it.

At night, from the windows of the Dan Pearl Hotel, city lights burn into the thick dark like unspoken wishes held close within — a breathless fairyland within the holy lands.

The journey through these lands is as much an inner one as it is an outer one — and yet Jerusalem knows this even within its physical structure.

Beneath the city snake the western tunnels, a treasure of preserved civilisation. Walking them, in the belly of the city, one passes below the Moslem residential quarters, emerging from an innocuous hole in the wall into the bustling street beyond.

This place is all about layers.

The entry to these tunnels is perhaps significantly found beside the Wailing Wall. Here, seemingly sated through the absorption of the passage of time itself, the wailing wall weeps its own bushels of tears at the feet of its people.

Somehow one is fortified, having evoked a prayer, by placing it into the very fabric of such a place, to be held there long after one is gone.

And just as such thoughts are held in the land and stone itself, Yad Vashem holds Jerusalem’s memory of the heart. As Isreal’s holocaust museum, it is said to tell the story of the greatest tragedy in Jewish history.

It should be said that this was greatest tragedy of humankind.

The images live with me still. And I thought I’d seen it all before.

The tearing silence in the van on the way back to the hotel said what each of my travel companions and I could not. Yad Vashem breaks the heart wide open. And fills it in a way lost to words.

Dawn brings new hope, a new day.

On route to the Dead Sea through thirsting sands, the relentless desert sun releases the skin-warmed scent of Ahava, rich with minerals from the Dead Sea into the full air. This is Israel’s most coveted skin product, synonymous with the exotic beauty of the Israeli people.

“Ahava,” Moshe smiles. “It means love.”

At sea level we stop to ride a resplendently attired Camel. Our frivolity provides the Bedouin camel-owner some fare for his trouble before we rumble off in our van, leaving him contentedly ensconsed in his silence again.

The sun is blinding. The desert is an undulating dichotomy drunk on its own inner complexities, sprawling deathly and inviting as far as one can feel.

Outwardly parched, yet feeding, nourishing. The Beduoin live remarkably festive lives in its palm, shaded by the folds of its time. It is in terrain such as this that the Essenes lived out their days as scribes, rewriting the Bible in painstaking detail.

Qumran yielded many secrets held by the Essenes in the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947.

Seven ancient scrolls were found by Bedouin shepherds in a local cave. At the site there are a host of caves bored into the mountainside. Each shadowed opening seems to hold elusive promises of more scrolls to discover. I could stay for years, on that thought alone!

In the distance, shrouded by legacy, looms Mount Masada on the eastern slopes of the Judean desert, between Sdom and Ein Gedi. Smooth new-fangled cable-cars glide visitors to and fro, providing a spectacular view of the still-foreign dead sea in the distance, and the sprawling desert all around.

The event that Mount Masada is reknown for is the choice that faced 967 Jewish zealots who had fled the Romans in the year of 73CE, and holed up in Masada, faced capture.

It is compelling enough to draw people today. Faced with slavery or spiritual death, they chose suicide. Among them were women and children. Blowing through the ruins of what they fought for is the whispered question of what we, today, hold that sacred.

Somehow, it’s a question that needs to be asked from Masada.

Mr Moti Barness, another guide provided by the Ministry of Tourism, sweeps us from Masada on to one of the most phenominal outings of the whole trip. Moti is gentle and as generous with his time as he is passionate about the desert. We visited the border between Jordan and Israel, examined the crystalised formations along the shore of the dead sea, then roared along the desert sands.

We whirled through the winding slopes of Mount Carmel and thundered out into the flat open expanse. All the time our learning was accentuated by Moti’s trained eye. We’d stop, he’d leap from the van and show us the different stones and rocks, these are lime, those are flint, oh and that’s a wasp-eater bird with the tuft of yellow.

A precious memory is of standing in that shuddering quiet, the gorges of the desert engulfing us, dwarfed beneath a single acacia tree, lost in the deepest blue, open skies.

Moti read us like a favourite novel, providing a picnic and delectables to nourish our bodies while our souls feasted on the deep constrasts of his greatest love, the Judanean desert.

And then, he took us to the Flour Cave. Words are of little consequence here, this has to be experienced.

Suffice to say I had reason to wonder at the magificence of this area’s Dreamer. From an inconspicuous yawning hole in the ground, into the muffled white walls of the spectacular caves below and beyond. An underground place where all substance of sound is dissolved.

A sense of softening enfolds one, and everyone emerges strangely soothed. Rising like a phoenix from the edge of these surprising sands, is the Grand Nirvana hotel, home and luxury for a night!

In the depths of that evening while my travel companions slept off their mud-treatments and lavish dinner courteousy of the nearby Hyatt Hotel, I was seduced by the Dead Sea.
Lying down in that water was the most magical moment. Enveloped by the endless ink-blot of the water beneath me, warm even at night, I drifted into the dark beyond the hotel lights. Supported by this quiet marvel of nature I surrendered to the velvet sky and its vibrant dewdrop stars. I emerged with a sense that this must be what music feels like.

In Caesarea the next day the clouds split in a spectacular display of “God’s light”, another fleeting nuance that fills and shapes the whole essence of Israel’s many subtleties. It’s the sight movie producers pray for and add Angel’s song to.

Haifa is graced with a beauty akin to San Fransisco. The culmination of this must rest in the Bahai Temple and Gardens which host every imaginable delicacy of bloom and blossom in mid-growth.

Even after the delicious night of dancing in the Dan Panorama in Haifa, the Temple and gardens were a delight to be awake so early for. It is the diversity seen here that somehow represents the spiritual veins that course through Israel. Not only is it holy to the Jews, Christian and Islamic faiths, but it also hosts the Bahai and the Druze.

In Deliat El Carmel we feasted on authentic Druze fare and philosophy in the nurturing home of local Councillor Ramsay Hassom. We learnt there what facets make up the whole of the Druze community. In an eclectic mix of Hinduism, Bhuddism, and the three staple diet religions, the Druze eke out a calm living close to the earth and their maker, longing only for harmony among all mankind. Women are revered, past lives a given.

On the idylic Nof Ginosar Kibbutz further along in the journey, a humble man describes his life’s ultimate joy — the gift that the lake showed him and his brother. He is Yuval Lufan, and in 1986 he and his brother Moshe Lufan discovered the “Jesus Boat” — a 2000-year-old fishing boat now in display in the Yigal Alon Museum on the Kibbutz.

After all this time Yuval’s face still lights up at the memory of their find, and the double rainbow that enchanted them at the moment of their discovery.
“I always said that the lake would give us a gift. As children, we spent every single day in the lake. Our wish was granted,” he says, his whole being beaming. He is the epitome of kibbutz living.
Leaving behind the Sea of Galilee area, we wound up a scenic mountain road to the little town of Zefot. This is the home of artists and sages, the home of the study of Jewish mystisim, the Kabbalah. It has a nashoma (soul) all of its own.

But for telephone lines and cars, the village seems untouched by the last thousand years. The chill air and cobbled streets are so unreal I find myself instantly yearning to stay here for good, to draw into myself the lightness of this community. Something within me longed to take root there, perhaps knowing of an aspect of myself that would flourish in this soil.

This is where Kabbalah artist David Friedman lives. Seated at his kitchen table drinking coffee from stoneware mugs, we simultaenously drink in his story.

It’s the story of a man. His challenges. His choices. His survival of cancer. His rebirth into a deeper knowing. His fullness of living, his family, his courage and hope. It’s the story, in a microcosm, of the land of Israel.

I felt the universe inhale, exhale in this place. I have been touched by its love. I have learnt to honestly understand the salute – L’Chaim.

It means simply: “To life.”

Snapshots of Israel


Cape Town, South Africa

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Artist's Description

A travel piece I did some years back on a trip through Israel. It’s a captivating place quite beyond compare.

Artwork Comments

  • Eyal Nahmias
  • Karen01
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