Saturday, 6 February 2016
Sunday, 31 January 2016
The 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
“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 .
The 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.
As 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’.
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.
This piece first appeared in the February 2016 edition of Live Encounters magazine as ‘Renew This Town’s Life – As in Days of Old’ (http://liveencounters.net/2016/01/18/live-encounters-magazine-february-2016/) edited by Mark Ulyseas, a faithful supporter of Israel and all matters Jewish.
© Natalie Wood (18 January 2016)
Wednesday, 13 January 2016
Sunday, 10 January 2016
*** 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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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,
“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.
“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
Almost 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.
US-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: email@example.com.
*** 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)