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Saturday, 6 February 2016

PerfectlyWritePoetry: Another Poet. But This One’s King!

PerfectlyWritePoetry: Another Poet. But This One’s King!: I’ve been astounded to discover that modern Israeli high school students know little or nothing of their country’s major poets. This surel...

Sunday, 31 January 2016

A Sky-High Family Saga

Shoot for the MoonThe death of a child may tear a family apart and it takes a strong one to weather the storms of  grief and recrimination that surely follow.

And so it is with the characters featured in Shoot for the Moon, a tightly packaged double family saga that traces the intertwined lives and fortunes of British and European immigrants to the United States and how their  dogged perseverance ensures they reach the top of their chosen professions despite the many obstacles they face.

The book is the creation of US-born writer Warren Sanford Lee, who is a fellow member of the Karmiel Writers’ Club in the Galilee, Israel and who, most sadly, writes from personal experience of parental bereavement.

The story’s main character is an unlikely – but we are assured physically possible -  pint-sized basketball star turned lawyer who  - height aside - is outrageously successful in everything he does.

As the  storyline includes two set piece courtroom dramas, deftly handled sex scenes and politicking in very high places, I guess this, Lee’s first novel. will gain a wide and warm readership.

** Shoot for the Moon: a Novel: The Charles Beasley Story is available from Amazon on Kindle ($4.99; £3.50; NIS 19.77) and paperback ($16.99; £11.93; NIS 67.30).

© Natalie Wood (31 January 2016)

Monday, 18 January 2016

Renew This Town’s Life - As in Days of Old

“Help us turn to You, and we shall return. Renew our lives as in days of old”

הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהֹוָה | אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה (כתיב וְנָשׁוּבָ)חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם:

(איכה - Lamentations 5:21)

No mountains, but soft, green-topped undulating hills. No grapes, but ancient trees still producing the finest ‘Roman’ olive oil.

And as our coach rolled past gentle fields of tropical fruits, citrus orchards and the pretty streams of the Beit Hakerem Valley in Lower Galilee, so began a remarkable trip back in time to the early years of the first century CE and the ancient ruin of Migdal .

MAGDALA.11_thumb16The modern chapters of the story related by our guide, Nurit Greenberg opened in 2004 when Father Juan Solana of the Mexico-based Order of Legionaries of Christ answered a spiritual call to build a pilgrim centre with a church and hotel where the faithful may enrich their lives.

Twelve months later he had bought 30 dunams (about 7.5 acres) of land on the site of ancient Migdal and by 2009, he had presented his plans to the Israel Antiquities Authority, whose archaeologists, Dina Avshalom-Gorni and Arfan Najar were sent to investigate the site before building permission could be granted.

Then most exceptionally, the pair’s intended three-month exploratory dig started to stretch as they found, first a narrow channel directing the run-off water from the nearby Mount Arbel stream into the Kinneret and then watched, amazed, as the remains of the first century city of Magdala gradually emerged, complete with evidence of fine housing, a priests’ quarter and a working synagogue that must have functioned fully at the same time as the Second Temple stood in Jerusalem.

MAGDALA.05_thumb3As we wandered round the grounds, Ms Greenberg elaborated on some of the secrets that the ongoing archaeological excavations continue to reveal. The chief discoveries, she said, have included a coin dated at 29 CE – now considered to be the most likely year of Jesus’s crucifixion – offering firm evidence that this was the period when Jesus preached and chose his disciples from among the local fishermen. This is also where he may have first met Mary Magdalene (‘Miriam from Magdala’) who lived in the town and was said to be the ‘apostle to the apostles’. Mary.Magdalena_thumb11

The implications of this revealed history are enormous for Jewish-Christian relations as it proves Jesus and his disciples were Galilean Jews who practised Judaism and Ms Greenberg several times urged us visitors to act as ‘ambassadors’ for the Jewish origins of the site.

Recent excavations have so far exposed only one layer of the town although it is believed to have been established during the Hellenistic period (circa third or fourth centuries BCE).

This initial layer has also unearthed a wealthy suburb of spacious residences founded during the first century BCE away from the smell of the landed fish by which the town earned its living. The fish were salted to preserve them and then sold on elsewhere in the area. That the local inhabitants were wealthy is demonstrated amply by the costly mosaic floors and plasterwork on the walls that survive.

This elegant quarter, destroyed in September 67 CE by the Roman Army following the Jewish Revolt against their Roman occupiers, was never resettled, but instead became covered slowly and inexorably by 1,942 years of neglect until the unprecedented events of 2009.

The synagogue remains are situated near the market and close to the Arbel stream which provided the water for the pools in which the landed fish were kept before salting. Market days were traditionally Monday and Thursday and they became the days, along with the Sabbath, when the Torah was read in public.

Until the synagogue at Magdala - one of two ’found’ synagogues in Galilee -was unearthed, archaeologists knew only of six others dating from the time when the Second Temple stood. It is likely that they were originally community centres rather than prayer houses as even the meaning of the Modern Hebrew term ‘Beit Knesset’ is similar and translates as ‘House of Assembly’.

Because of this, no special emphasis was placed on situating the Ark in the Jerusalem-facing wall of synagogues while the Temple stood. To the common people of Migdal, the synagogue would have appeared sumptuous with its plastered walls, imitation marble frescoes and costly mosaic flooring. We can therefore but imagine their horror whn during the Jewish Revolt against the Romans, the ornate building was dismantled stone by stone and the pieces used to block the entrances to the city. Pious Jews believed that God would grant them victory against the pagan Romans after which the synagogue would be rebuilt. But this was not to be.


But of particular fascination to historians, theologians and devout laity alike is that the recovered artefacts include a slab of white limestone that was decorated with Jewish symbols including a depiction of the menorah (seven branched candelabrum) and which stood in the Temple. It is believed that this was the lectern used in the reading of the Torah. A replica has been placed on-site while the original has been removed to the security of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Also uncovered were two mikva’ot (ritual immersion pools) which also surprised scholars as previously it was believed that the Kinneret had been used for Jewish ritual immersion.

Today, only a few yards from the archaeological site stands the magnificent modern church of Duc in Altum (‘Launch into the Deep’) which is named after a passage in the Gospel of St Luke telling the story of Jesus standing on the lake shore and preaching to a large crowd. The story relates how he asked Simon (later St Peter) to launch his boat and throw his nets into the water although he had just returned empty-handed from an over-night fishing trip. The nets came up so full of fish that they nearly sank the boat!

The alignment of the present church is precisely that of the town’s quayside in ancient times, since when the lake has shrunk markedly. The original main road of the town has been preserved and one enters the church along it. The ancient roadway remains inside and stone seats are arranged in a circle.

But it is the scene on the upper floor that provides a breathtaking, heart-stopping moment for all. Reaching it, one sees a massive plate glass window overlooking the Kinneret. In the centre stands an altar placed in a replica boat hewn from Cedar of Lebanon. This was modelled on the ancient vessel found at nearby Kibbutz Ginosar.



The whole stands on an Italian marble base with green-coloured ‘streams’ representing the boat’s wake while the mast symbolises the cross and its sails serve as the shroud in which Jesus’s body was wrapped. Beyond the plate glass window is a pool filled with water from the Sea of Galilee and as a low winter sun streams through the glass, the effect is almost overpowering.

As the Christian community has renewed its connection to the area with this superlative place of worship, I like to think that in the years ahead, appropriate facilities will be made available on the fully excavated site for Jewish visitors to reflect on its huge significance for them.

Mark.Ulyseas_thumb5This piece first appeared in the February 2016 edition of Live Encounters magazine as ‘Renew This Town’s Life – As in Days of Old’ ( edited by Mark Ulyseas, a faithful supporter of Israel and all matters Jewish.

© Natalie Wood (18 January 2016)

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

PerfectlyWritePoetry: Of Great Wisdom and Hot Wine!

PerfectlyWritePoetry: Of Great Wisdom and Hot Wine!: A public reading of favourite poems invariably says as much about the participants as the authors and the works they choose. Certainly, the...

Sunday, 10 January 2016

‘Tempest’ Blows in Fair Winds of Arab-Israel Dialogue

*** Theatre fans in the Karmiel/Misgav region of Lower Galilee, Israel please note: The opening matinée performance of The Tempest is at the Beit Nir Theatre, Zichron Yaacov on  Sunday 03 April at 4.00 pm. Tickets/car pooling arrangements are available from Brian Fink. Contact him via:


TEMPEST.ADG.ISRAELSo, even British Prime Minister, David Cameron is a Shakespeare fan!

An opinion piece penned by him and published in early January by Israel’s Ynet News, emphasises how this year’s celebrations marking the quadricentennial of Shakespeare’s death are a chance to celebrate his continuing influence on international modern society and culture.

Staff at the Israeli universitites of Haifa and Tel Aviv must have had this in mind when they decided that their 2016 spring term English Literature curriculum would include The Tempest – believed to be the last play that Shakespeare wrote alone.



An introduction by Grantly Marshall, Producer at the American Drama Group Europe:




Shakespeare’s last great masterpiece,
and the most magical story ever written.

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, our little lives are rounded with a sleep”. Shakespeare takes us on a dreamlike journey into the heart of the human condition.

”All life is here: love, revenge, power, lust, betrayal and forgiveness. Magical figures such as Ariel and Caliban rub shoulders with all too real politicians, kidnappers and murderers. Tragedy melts into comedy and music is everywhere on Prospero’s enchanted island. Shakespeare’s poetry is never finer than in this play but there is also the voice of drunken sailors and howling devils. This is Shakespeare’s final look at life, a life he portrayed with greater subtlety and depth than perhaps any other artist. To present the play without simplification or easy tricks is a great challenge, but Shakespeare’s theatrical skill matches his artistry and this is an accessible and popular masterpiece. You are supposed to laugh!

“Briefly the story centres on a magician, Prospero, exiled on a remote island with his daughter by his scheming brother. His old enemies are washed ashore in a storm (or tempest) that he conjures from the skies. Prospero has to choose between revenge and forgiveness. But his plans are undermined by the beast he civilised and then enslaved: Caliban. As Caliban mounts a murderous rebellion and Prospero’s daughter falls in love with the son of her father’s enemy, the play reaches a thrilling climax.

“TNT brings its unique style to bear on The Tempest. Mixing music with theatrical magic, dynamic physicality with a careful attention to text, clowning and poetry. The production is directed by Paul Stebbings whose Shakespeare productions have been seen around the globe over the last twelve years. The score by noted composer John Kenny will be performed live by the actors. Too often productions of Shakespeare’s greatest works are undermined by simplifications and directors or designers obscure interpretations. TNT seeks to illuminate the text rather than interpret it, to allow the audience into the play and tell its story with clarity - and theatricality. We hope you will join us for a this epic voyage iinto the heart of the greatest of all dramatic storms: The Tempest.”

The play is also among my personal favourites because, as ever, I am first seduced by the power of the poetry, that is at once majestic and mystical and then by the essential nobility of the chief characters, despite any hubristic flaws. To listen, for example, to the late British actor, John Gielgud reciting Prospero’s farewell speech is akin to drowning in honey!

Now as director Paul Stebbings and his talented team at ADG Europe-TNT Theatre Britain   return for another tour, Israeli audiences have an opportunity to see a cracking production of The Tempest at five different venues countrywide.

The tour  opens with a slightly curtailed matinée - to accommodate younger theatre fans – followed by an evening performance at Zichron Yaacov ‘s Beit Nir Theatre on Sunday 03 April.

What a shame that Mr Cameron is unaware that Israelis intend that this production of The Tempest should ‘blow in’ a strong dialogue between Jewish and Arab students. They saw this happen with previous  ADG-TNT shows and now, they add, “let's make it happen again with The Tempest!”

© Natalie Wood (10/12 January 2016) 

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Giving Israel Its Day in Court

Nitsana.Darshan-LeitnerAlmost exactly five years ago, former US President Jimmy Carter was sued for allegedly defamatory remarks he made about  Israel in his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.

The $5M claim was filed against Carter and his publishers, Simon and Schuster by American attorney David Schoen of  Alabama and Israeli lawyer, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner,  of Tel-Aviv.

The case got nowhere – as  had a 2010 action against the Al Jazeera media company for broadcasting locations of where Hezbollah rockets had hit Israel.

Darshan-Leitner now heads the Shurat HaDin Israel Law Centre and she and her team are all too accustomed to having their cases thrown out.

Indeed, her first major failure came as a student when she lost a case in the Israeli Supreme Court aimed at preventing the mastermind of the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship from entering the country.

It made her realise, she says “that I can come on behalf of terror victims, give them a voice, and get my day in a court. It doesn’t matter what the decision is”.


But persistence pays off and last year her law practice (its Hebrew title translates as ‘letter of the law’) both won multi-million dollar judgments and or filed suits against the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), The Islamic Republic of Iran, Facebook US and even North Korea.

Darshan-Leitner, the daughter of Iranians, gained her law degree at Bar Ilan University, Israel and an  M.B.A. from the University of Manchester, U.K. 

She founded Shurat HaDin in 2003 and maintains that she was influenced by the work of the “Southern Poverty Law Centre which had bankrupted several branches of the Ku Klux Klan and other neo-Nazi groups through civil litigation. In founding Shurat HaDin, she noted her goal was to ’go after terrorists in the same way that they (the SPLC) were going after racists’”.

Now members of ESRA Karmiel have a chance to hear a first-hand account of the achievements of Shurat HaDin at an event addressed by Alona Metz, its Director of Resource Development.

Alona.MetzUS-born Metz, who emigrated to Israel in 2014, has won several awards for legal ‎advocacy, published widely and has served on the board of directors ‎of several non-profit US organisations. She joined the Shurat ‎HaDin team in May 2015 and her role includes ‎fundraising, speaking engagements, donor relations and strategic partnerships.‎

Her talk is at the Kehilat Hakerem Synagogue on Thursday 21 January (7.00 p.m. for 7.30 p.m.). Full details from:

*** Since I first posted this item on Saturday night, 09 January 2016, the Arutz Sheva newsite has reported: “Facebook has agreed to pull a page that incited against Israelis, but only after the Shurat Hadin-Israel Law Center NGO exposed its double standard in removing inciting pages”.

© Natalie Wood (09 January 2016)

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Nahariya's Three Thousand Year Old Citadel

The remains of a 3,400-year-old Canaanite citadel unearthed in the beach resort of Nahariya, northern Israel will become part of a smart block of apartments! In fact the artefacts discovered there will be displayed in the basement of the building.

The Israel Antiquities Authority has announced that the large excavation – which it conducted with youth groups, including students from the town's Shchakim High School – was carried out as part of a project by the Kochav Company to build the high rise block.

“Given the extraordinary nature and quality of the finds, the Israel Antiquities Authority sought a solution that would allow the conservation of some of the remains for the benefit of the public", said the IAA.

“Thus, with the assistance of architect Alex Shpol, planner for the Interior Ministry’s Regional Committee for Planning and Construction, it was decided that part of the citadel would be preserved in the building’s basement, where it will be displayed for the enjoyment of the residents and visitors".

Those working on the dig say the citadel once served the needs of mariners who frequented the ancient port city. 

“It seems that the citadel which we uncovered was used as an administrative centre that served the mariners who sailed along the Mediterranean coast 3,400 years ago. There was probably a dock alongside the citadel".

Among artefacts discovered in the citadel’s rooms included ceramic figurines in the form of humans and animals, bronze weapons and imported pottery vessels that attest to the extensive commercial and cultural relations that existed at that time with Cyprus and the rest of the lands in the Mediterranean basin.

The fortress was destroyed at least four times by an intense conflagration, and each time it was rebuilt.

“An abundance of cereal, legumes and grape seeds were found in the burnt layers, which are indicative of the provisions the sailors would purchase", said the experts.

© Natalie Wood (06 January 2016)