Old City, new accessibilityBy: C4i

 
Jerusalem’s Old City is a historical wonder. The 3000-year-old city is considered the very heart of Jerusalem, and many would say Israel. It is a living, breathing connection to the past, a place that teems with life and excitement, yet can also look frozen in time. Home to the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Sepulcher, and the Dome of the Rock, it is hard to imagine a more densely packed area of cultural importance. It’s a place everyone should try and see at least once in their life.

But, it hasn’t always been a place that allows that.

For as every bit as important and enriching as the Old City is, it has been equally inconvenient and dangerous. The architects of three millennia ago who built the foundations of the city were not as concerned with safety standards as we are today, and to this day, the Old City is plagued with narrow streets, uneven cobblestone, and downright treacherous inclines making it a hostile place for those with mobility and health issues. For anyone with a weak heart, respiratory issues, or who depends on a cane or walker, trying to explore the area has always been risky. And for those who rely on a wheelchair, the journey has been so difficult as to almost be impossible. 
Until now.

In March, Jerusalem completed a 10-year project overseeing more than 11 million dollars of renovations and adjustments to the Old City. Chief among these overhauls is the work that has been done on the New Gate entrance into the Old City, which is now specifically designed to accommodate the disabled and mobility impaired.

Jerusalem Mayor, Moshe Lion, declared "The Jerusalem Municipality has put accessibility in the Old City at the top of its priorities, and we will continue to make many more sites in the capital accessible to achieve this goal,” and he wasn’t kidding. The renovations to the New Gate and Old City have been extensive, with a direct mind to not only providing ramp access to key spots, but to improving the flow of travel to the entire area.
Specific infrastructure improvements were also made to local businesses and their facades to prevent sprawl and limit the number of obstacles from things like patio furniture and signage. Lighting has been improved across the entire area to provide additional illumination and help prevent accidental slips and falls.

Of course, improvements to ramp accessibility and stemming the worst of the Old Cities inclines was a major focus for the project. The "new” Old City now includes enhanced shuttle service for the disabled. These free shuttles accommodate wheelchair and mobility peripherals and run on an hourly rotation, taking visitors in and out of the city area. Steep inclines have been tapered with ramped plateaus, which also feature handrails for those who might need help balancing and wider throughways to help prevent pedestrian bottlenecks. 

Many of the improvements to the city are not as obvious. Enhancements to the plumping and sewage infrastructure and electrical grid may not be seem as immediately helpful as ramps and shuttles, but they contribute to a safer and healthier Old City. It has always been a nightmare to get road crews and repairmen into those narrow streets, and with improvements to the underlying infrastructure, those disruptions should be far less common in the future.

It’s all part of making a more welcoming and inviting Old City for all people. To support the completion of these renovations, the Jerusalem municipality has even released free guided audio tours of the accessible routes in key areas of the city. Just the thing for anyone who has long dreamt of visiting, but was kept at bay by fears of inaccessibility!

[Comment]

The Passover in IsraelBy: C4i

 
While we celebrate Easter in North America, Israel will also be celebrating by honouring the Passover. The Passover, of course, commemorates the events described in the book of Exodus when, through God, Moses liberated the Jews of Egypt and led them to the promised land. 

But how do modern Israelis celebrate this holiday and what does it mean to them today? 

A week of celebration

In Israel, the Passover lasts seven days, starting on the 15th day of the Hebrew month Nissan. In some communities in different parts of the world it is actually celebrated for eight days, but in Israel proper it is an even one week. While it is an incredibly important holiday, the nation doesn’t shut down for the entire duration. To the contrary, Israeli cities are extremely lively during the holiday!

While some businesses close and many people take time off, just as many people kick it into high gear for the week. For many it is a chance to unwind and celebrate, or to help people celebrate by entertaining them! In downtown Jerusalem for example, street buskers can be observed on any given street throughout the entire week, as well as semi-organized performances by musicians and artists throwing up defacto galleries to display what they have to offer. Many restaurants change their menu for the week, offering kosher treats and potato bread for the occasion. 

While it might not be the first thing you think of when you reflect on the Passover, it is also the perfect time to hit the beach! Passover represents the start of spring in Israel as the country moves out of its rainy winter season but isn’t quite into the heat of the summer. Plenty of native Israelis use the holiday as a chance to get back to the beach, and if you happen to be visiting from a colder climate, an Israeli spring should feel just about perfect for soaking up the sun in comfort!

Passover might be a holiday with its origins in a sombre event, but it is still treated as a celebration in Israel! If you want to get a taste of what life is like in the Holy Land, Passover would be a good way to witness the multi-faceted nature of the Israeli experience. 

The Seder feast

What if Christmas dinner was six hours long and included a mandatory four cups of wine? Well, it might look something like the Seder! The Seder is a feast traditionally held by families and close friends that involves a number of customary traditions and foods. There is wine, reading, a very specific menu, and of course singing. It’s an entire evening of celebration that kicks off the Passover week, held on the first night of Passover in Israel (and interestingly enough, the second night for those outside of the country).

What is on the menu? Well, a traditional Seder platter for starters. This dish could be comparable to a meat and cheese plate at a party, only with a very different flavour. The Seder platter includes lots of matzah (consumed in a ritual manner resembling how a slave would break and ration matzot while reciting a blessing), roasted shankbone (often from a lamb, and just as often for display instead of consumption), herbs, eggs, charoset, and karpas.

But that’s not all, many families also break out other favourite traditional dishes. Some common ones include chicken soup and gefilte fish, but families tend to make whatever they like the most. And of course, we can’t forget those four cups of wine. The intention behind the cups is symbolic, they represent four expressions of freedom that the slaves in Egypt maintained despite their bondage. These are their Hebrew names, their language, their own sense of morality, and their communal bonds and loyalty. The cups are drank in joy and celebration of these values.

A communal and personal experience

At its core, The Passover is a celebration of faith, endurance, and triumph against the unlikeliest of odds. It is fundamentally about the origin of Israel as a nation and the Jewish people’s willingness to bind together to support each other and persevere in the face of hardship.

It’s a lesson you can see reverberate in the history of the Jewish people. From struggling against the horrors of the Holocaust and coming out the other side to rebuild their own nation, to the formation of social structures like the kibbutz.  

At the same time, many Israelis also experience the Passover on a deeply personal level. The Passover is the story of how much suffering and hardship the Jewish people had to overcome to find a home they could call their own. The modern Israeli stands on that ground today. It can be a humbling experience to place yourself in the context of that history and contemplate what is to come, especially for those who have made Aliyah. For this reason, the Passover is a celebration, but one that also encourages a reflective look at one’s self.  

The Passover in modern Israel represents both a recognition of its history and the struggle of its people, but also a path forward. A reminder that no matter how bleak things may look, or how desperate a situation is, faith and endurance can see us through to a better tomorrow.  
[Comment]

Follow in His footsteps: The Jesus TrailBy: C4i

 
One of the most important things about Israel is its direct connection to Christ. It was where He lived while he was on Earth. As Jesus traveled and preached, His sandals got dusty with Israeli soil. The fish he and his disciples ate were pulled out of Israeli streams, the bread milled with Israeli stone. It was His land. 

It is this direct connection that makes the Jesus Trail so powerful for Christians visiting the Holy Land. 

The Jesus Trail is a new kind of tour. While there have always been important sites in Israel for Christians to visit, and many of them directly referenced in the Bible, The Jesus Trail isn’t about seeing one specific spot or location, but about a journey. A journey that recreates the path Jesus Himself traveled as he grew, preached, performed miracles, and finally died for our sins.

Created by Maoz Inon, an Israeli native, and David Landis, an American Christian, the Jesus Trail is an open experience that is free to all. It isn’t locked off to the public, or only accessible on certain days. The Jesus Trail is made up of a series of trail markers and small plaques that denote which path to follow and provide background and context for a few of the locations along the way. While there are tour groups that are happy to provide support and detailed information about different legs of the journey and stops, it is entirely possible (and encouraged) for believers to follow the trail on their own and experience it at their own pace and in their own way. 

The trail begins, appropriately enough, in Nazareth, home to a young Jesus. From there, it winds its way North and East towards Capernaum and parts beyond. The reconstruction of the path is based largely on the Book of Mathew, following the events as closely as possible in modern Israel. Capernaum was the base of Jesus’ ministry, making it an important stop for any believer. 

From there it visits a laundry list of notable locations and important moments in the life of Christ. From Jesus’ humble roots as a carpenter’s apprentice in Zippori, to the Old City where he preached, the Mount of Olives where Jesus wept over Jerusalem and many more. It is an incredible journey, one that allows you to see what the Lord saw with your own eyes, feel the same breeze He felt, and flatten the same Earth as His feet did. 
All told, the trail is just over 60km long. If you’re walking it at a fairly average pace, it takes about four or five days to complete. Thankfully, it is not a particularly strenuous route, much of it is flat and the paths being well appointed with rest stops and access to food, water, and shelter. By the standards of enthusiast hikers, it is considered a very easy hike, but for those of us who are not used to long distance hiking it can still be demanding (especially in a climate that can get as hot as Israel’s). There are options for driving it if health or safety issues make walking difficult.

There are plenty of accommodations available on the trail. There are of course commercial hotels, but thrifty and adventurous hikers may consider making use of some of the hostels and Bed and Breakfast’s along the way. These down to earth options are quite affordable and will introduce you to rural Israeli life, allowing you to experience more of the country and culture without straining your wallet. And of course, for experienced hikers, there is always the option to simply pitch a tent and camp for the night. 

Whichever way you choose to experience the trail, you are promised an unforgettable spiritual uplifting. Whether you’ve visited Israel before, or are thinking about going for the first time, the Jesus Trail can be an incredible way to experience the Holy Land and connect with the real life experiences of our Saviour. 
[Comment]

Israel is shooting for the moon with BeresheetBy: C4i

 
When they say that space is the final frontier, that isn’t just a saying from a TV show, it’s the truth for nations here on Earth. Despite Neil Armstrong touching down on the lunar surface nearly 50 years ago, only two other countries in the world have ever made it to the moon, the USSR, and China.

Now, Israel is poised to join that exclusive club.

SpaceIL is an Israeli non-profit that has been driving the nation towards the stars since 2011. Founded with the intention of promoting scientific and technological education in Israel, the team immediately declared an ambitious goal; To take Israel to the moon. At the time, many considered the idea "optimistic,” a goal to work towards, but not necessarily something to hold your breath for. But in only 8 short years, SpaceIL has secured a launch pad and space on a rocket, has designed a spacecraft/lander capable of making it to the moon’s surface, and are looking forward to launching the project this February.

Beresheet, or Genesis in Hebrew, is a combination spacecraft and lunar lander which will be making the actual trip. In a feat of mathematical precision, Beresheet will be taking a roundabout route to the moon starting at Cape Canaveral, hitching a ride on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket as part of its payload of satellites and observation equipment. Unlike those satellites which will remain in the Earth’s atmosphere, Beresheet won’t be sticking around. After detaching from Falcon 9, the lander will orbit around the planet several times, building speed until performing what is known as an "orbital rising,” basically using a combination of momentum and thrusters to escape its current orbit and slingshot towards the moon. When it arrives, it will perform essentially the opposite maneuver, gently joining the moon’s orbit, decreasing its speed and lowering its altitude for a period of up to two weeks before slowing and guiding itself to the surface for a "soft” landing.

All told, the journey will take upwards of three months. But don’t worry about its crew, Beresheet is an unmanned spacecraft and will be depending on on-board guidance systems and remote commands from ground control to make the trip successfully. But, don’t think that just because it is unmanned Beresheet won’t be brining anything from home with it to the moon.

Similar to the famous Voyager Golden Records, Beresheet will be carrying a time capsule of sorts made up of three separate disks carrying digital files. This trove of information is designed to embody everything that is near and dear to the history and spirit of the Israeli people. Among the items being sent is The Bible, symbolic of the faith of the Israeli people and the blessings God has provided them to be capable of such an ambitious feat. Beresheet will also contain a copy of Israel’s Declaration of Independence along with its flag and anthem - symbols of pride sent to live in the stars. 

The capsule will also be bringing the creative and academic spirit of the Israeli people to the lunar surface.  Hundreds of children’s drawings, short recordings, art and science textbooks will be held in its files to be preserved. The children’s drawings were sourced from an open call to the children of Israel to contribute to the project, to which thousands enthusiastically responded. The Space Race might be old news in the West, but the Israeli imagination still has an appetite for the stars. 

The lander and capsule will remain on the moon’s surface with the hopes that it will one day be retrieved, perhaps by future generations. Maybe that’s what will happen. Maybe someday in the future we’ll be advanced enough to send more people to the moon, find the lander, and retrieve those items. But, even if we don’t, it is still a beautiful thing. 

When Israel accomplishes this national milestone, it won’t just be a technological accomplishment, but one of the human spirit as well. With the capsule in Beresheet, there will always be a piece of Israeli, and more fundamentally, human culture in space. No matter what happens here, that piece of history will always remain, perhaps even after the day the Lord calls us home. 

[Comment]

Hero of the Holocaust: Frank Foley (Part 2)By: C4i

After recovering from his wound, Frank Foley, former student turned confidence man/soldier put his talents to use in the SIS, Britain’s intelligence service and the great-grandfather to today’s MI6. And what did Frank do for those first few years as World War 1 ended? We don’t know.

Even all these years later his early work is still shrouded in secrecy. The intelligence world is loath to give up its secrets, even when they are nearly a century old (keep this in mind when you think about what Britain finally did disclose about his future deeds – it takes a special case to make MI6 open up their files). What we know though is that by the 1920’s, Foley was back in Germany. Not as a soldier, or a captive, but working as a station officer out of Berlin. 

Being a station officer is not the flashiest job in the espionage world, but don’t discount it. Being a station officer is a lot like living in the jaws of a lion. They are a necessary facet of the intelligence world, but also one of the most visible and obvious targets. Unlike nameless agents who conduct dangerous fieldwork but always have the option of slinking back into the shadows under another identity, or an analyst stationed back home, dispassionately assessing information and assigning orders, station officers live among their enemies. They are as visible as any element of an intelligence apparatus is, the people they’re spying on know their faces and addresses. 

This is a risky position for someone to hold in a nation that just a few short years earlier were trading artillery fire and mustard gas with your homeland. Sign all the peace treaties you like, they’ll go up in flames as soon as a single spark sets things off. Of course, it’s even more risky working as an intelligence officer during the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism.

Foley was a smart man, and while he was a man of compassion and morals himself, he harbored no illusions about his fellow man. When Hitler took power in 1933, he could read the writing on the wall as easily as a neon sign. 

He saw the increasing demonization of the Jewish population. He kept detailed notes as more and more security hoops were made for Jews to jump through, more bureaucracy, more ghettoization. He took his wife Kay on a drive one day to the woods, supposedly "looking for a picnic spot.” But all the while he was paying careful attention to the no trespass signs, the building equipment and materials being moved into obscure and isolated spots far from prying eyes. He knew a concentration camp being built when he saw one. 

The gears started turning in his mind even then. He wasn’t going to sit on his hands and watch innocent people be slaughtered if (and when) it came to it.
When the holocaust began, Foley subtly bent, flaunted, or broke the rules to get as many Jews out of Nazi Germany as he could. His actions cannot be undersold. While heroes like Oskar Schindler saved 1,200 Jews from death, and Irena Sendler saved as many as 2,500 children, the exact number of people saved from torture, murder and death by Foley isn’t even known. Estimates place the total number above 10,000, with many estimating even more than that.

How did he do it? Through forgery, working with shadowy resistance networks, lying to his own people, and sheer utter gall.

As a superior at the British consulate, Foley understood every nuance of the emigration and passport process for accepting refugees to Britain, and more importantly, British controlled Palestine. He had authority in his station so long as he could plausibly be seen to be doing the job by his British superiors. So, he employed every dirty trick he could to rush the process time for Jews and push passports into their hands. 

One of the major obstacles for fleeing Jews was exorbitant fees for visas. For example, a Palestine visa cost over 1,000 British pounds, a sum impossible for most working-class Jews to suddenly provide (especially considering most had their accounts frozen and assets stolen by Nazi controlled banks). But Foley arranged a system where he would accept 10 pound "down payments” with the assurance that the other 990 pounds would be paid in Palestine (*wink, wink*). For those who couldn’t afford even that, he’d ask about their recent correspondence, including any with a relative who promised to give them the full 1000 in the near future. You’d be surprised how many people suddenly remembered their generous old aunt in Palestine who was waiting for them.

But why the need for such chicanery in the first place? Why couldn’t he just help people without all the winking and nodding and fudging of paperwork? Simply put, not everybody back home wanted him to.

We have to remember that, sadly, not every British politician or bureaucrat was as interested in helping the Jewish people as Foley was. While the evil of the Nazis is obvious to us now, plenty of Parliamentary members at the time were aghast at the prospect of welcoming thousands of Jewish refugees to Britain. While antisemitism in Britain wasn’t anywhere near as toxic as it was in Germany, it did exist. These ministers didn’t even like the idea of sending Jews to Palestine, considering it an erosion of their interests in the area at the time and a needless provocation to the Germans (British appeasement was more popular than many would care to admit today). So, men of conscious like Foley were caught between two sets of jaws, the Nazi wolves ready to pounce on any sign of sabotage, and incompetent and spineless jackals back home who were more than happy to allow evil to go unchallenged so long as it meant less hassle for them.

Foley was playing a dangerous game. If found out by the Germans he would be imprisoned and likely executed, no question. No diplomatic immunity would save a foreign agent actively undermining Hitler’s government in such a direct way. If his own people caught on to exactly what he was doing, he’d be recalled, fired, and maybe even tried for treason (governments take the actions of their operatives very seriously and can’t just abide station chiefs doing whatever they please, no matter how morally right they may be). Foley was in as much danger behind his desk in Berlin as he ever was in the trenches.
If the man had simply used his pen and a series of winks and nods to save more than 10,000 Jews, he would more than qualify as a hero. But Foley took an even more hands-on approach than that. With a courage we may never understand, Foley has the confidence to walk into concentration camps waving around stacks of papers, claiming the names of prisoners who’s "visas had been approved” but had been accidentally shipped off to the camps before they were properly issued. 

Of course, many of these prisoners had never even applied and certainly none of them had been miraculously approved. Working with resistance networks, he’d acquire the names and details of recently captured Jews (particularly those active in resistance efforts), draw up fake paper work, and then "interview” them in the camps. Apologizing for the mix-up, Foley would walk them out of the gates himself and see them safely transported away from the camp and onto a boat heading for Palestine. 

He played his part to a T, ever the consummate professional. Many of the people he saved never even knew what happened, believing themselves to be the beneficiary of a miraculous, but legitimate, clerical error. But it was no mistake, Foley walked into camp after camp and left with the lives of hundreds of Jews saved from certain, torturous death. 

Foley’s devotion to what was right knew no end. He kept his superiors in the dark about the underground Zionist organizations he worked with, carefully managing information to ensure he was never connected to their actions and could continue to support them in his role. He even took wanted Jews into his own apartment, sheltering them for a night or two before having them spirited away under false papers and new identities. 
Very few people knew about any of this. A few sympathetic fellow SIS members, some members of the Jewish resistance and Zionist underground, maybe a few of the men and women he pulled out of the concentration camps had an inkling about the frumpy old bureaucrat with kind eyes, but that’s it. It would be nearly 50 years after his death, when SIS files and his personal records would be unsealed before the public began to realize the full scope of his deeds. During his life Foley sought no recognition or gratitude for what he did.

Frank Foley was a true hero. He was a man who saved an unbelievable number of lives at extreme personal risk to himself for no reward, no accolades, and no praise – only the knowledge that he did the right thing. He might not have gone on to be the missionary he thought he would be when he was a child, but he exemplified the grace and courage of a true servant of Christ.

[Comment]

Hero of the Holocaust: Frank Foley (Part 1)By: C4i

 
When we think of spies, we tend to picture tuxedos and martinis. We think about daring rooftop escapes, obscure card games, number stations and scratch pads, a revolver hidden in the false wall of a briefcase. Frank Foley trafficked in none of these things. If you were to look at him, with his retracting hairline, thick glasses, and charcoal jackets, you’d be forgiven for assuming he was an accountant or a lawyer of some kind. 

But Frank Foley was a spy, one who worked in conditions every bit as dangerous as any James Bond film. Even more rare than that though, Frank was a spy with a heart. For years he waged a secret battle deep inside the heart of the Nazi death machine. A heroic battle the world would not know about until after his death. 

Even compassionate spies take their secrets to the grave.

The intelligence world wasn’t always in the cards for Foley. Born in 1884, the son of an engine fitter, a young Foley grew up in a humble, devoted home. His parents, both observant Catholics’ fostered a spiritual hunger in their son at a young age. As a child, Foley always assumed his future rested somewhere with the church, either as a missionary or a priest. In fact, at the age of 14, he was sent to a Jesuit seminary in France.

But life takes strange turns, and God’s plan for good men isn’t always obvious. Despite his enthusiasm for the church, Foley was also an intellectually curious teenager, devouring different subjects and classes. He proved an able polyglot with a gift for picking up languages (a skill that would later serve him well) that paired well with his observant and detailed focused personality. He never claimed to have a photographic memory, but you could say he had a mental Xerox machine. It was this zeal for knowledge that led to Foley being stranded on the wrong side of the boarder when World War 1 broke out.

Foley had the distinct misfortune of studying philosophy in Hamburg when war was officially declared. Needless to say, British citizens were suddenly very unwelcome indeed in German cities, with every foreign worker, tourist, and student being rounded up for imprisonment in an internment center. 

Foley wasn’t staying around to sample the hospitality of the German military police. Quickly hatching a scheme, Foley stole a military uniform, bluffed and blustered his way past security posts, and stowed away on a train by posing as an enthusiastic young Prussian office on his way to the front lines. Changing his identity and story with every stop, Foley managed to sneak all the way home to Britain with his freedom and life intact.

You would have thought such an obvious display of aptitude would make Foley a natural fit for the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), and so did Foley himself. Sadly, his application was rejected by the office, the logic of the day being that the need for young fighting men on the frontline superseded the need for intelligence work. And so, Foley was tossed into the intractable trench warfare of the frontlines. It would take a near fatal bullet to the lung to make the SIS reconsider if they were making the best use of his talents.

And thank God they did. Without Frank Foley working as a spy for the British, more than 10,000 Jews would have perished in the horrors of the Holocaust, and the world would have been denied one of its greatest heroes. 

Stayed tuned for part 2 later this week to find out exactly why Frank Foley is considered one of the most Righteous Among the Nations. 
[Comment]

Tu B'Shevat, the Israeli Arbor Day!By: C4i

In the West, we celebrate the New Year as a day of personal affirmations. We celebrate our successes of the past year, put our failures behind us, and set out our goals for the future. In Israel however, there are several different New Year celebrations, and Tu B’Shevat is all about rebirth and renewal!

Also known as "Rosh HaShanah La'Ilanot", literally "New Year of the Trees,” Tu B’Shevat is an annual holiday in Israel that takes place on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. This generally places it near the end of January, falling on the 20th this year. 
Tu B'Shevat is a holiday with a slightly confusing history. While some holidays can be traced back to historical events or were clearly created by a State power, the origin of the New Year of the Trees stretches back to the Middle Ages where, believe it or not, it had more to do with annual taxation and tithing regulations than any kind of celebration. 
You see, back in the 14th and 15th century, the new year was marked by a "harvest.” Not a harvest of the fields, but of the wallets. This was the time of year when tax collectors went around and made sure everyone handed over their coin for the year (not exactly the most celebratory of events for the common man). 

Over time however this changed, and the day began to take on another meaning. How this began is unclear, but we know that in the 16th century, the day was officially turned into a holiday, one that in many ways mimicked the Passover celebration. While the taxation schedule changed, the new year kept the harvest theme, but in the form of gathering for a meal instead of handing over cash. In particular, the meal partaking of delicious fruits while also planting trees to prepare for next year’s cycle.

This is where the modern incarnation of the holiday took form. Today, Tu B'Shevat is a minor, but happy, holiday that draws on both history and scripture to give it structure. On Tu B'Shevat, it is customary to eat snacks of dried and fresh fruit native to the Holy Land. These are typically selected from the "Seven Species” (shivat haminim) described in Deuteronomy (8:8), including wheat, barley, grapes (vines), figs, pomegranates, olives and dates (as well as honey as a by-product). With the inclusion of vines, wine is a popular dinner accompaniment for the holiday and a way of marking the day as a celebration.

It is also a day where nature and the cycle of renewal is celebrated. As people dine on the bounty of nature, they are expected to also contribute to it. This is done with a ceremonial planting of trees and other plants. This custom is particularly popular with schools and children, often becoming a major event where children raise money several weeks prior to the day to purchase saplings and seeds for planting and then take part in the planting process as an educational field trip. It is also an event embraced by many Israeli non-profits as an opportunity for growth. The Jewish National Fund famously used the holiday to plant thousands of eucalyptus trees to help stop the plague of malaria in the Hula Valley and continue to use the holiday to promote various projects and efforts.
Interestingly, while nature is the theme of the day, certain interpretations of the Tu B’Shevat stress the beginning for any kind of long-term commitment that is designed to grow. For this reason, the holiday is often used for the inauguration of new foundations, businesses, and groups. There are even some architects who still use the day to lay cornerstones for new buildings, a symbolic planting of another kind.

Tu B'Shevat might not be the biggest holiday on the Israeli calendar, but it is one worth remembering. It is a chance to connect with the land of Israel, to appreciate the beauty and abundance of the land and the blessings the Lord has given to the people of Israel. That’s an attitude well worth carrying into the new year.

[Comment]

6 foods you have to try in the Holy LandBy: C4i

If you have travel plans in Israel (perhaps with one of our upcoming tours!) you owe it to yourself to experience the real flavor of the country. Yes, Israel is a modern industrialized country, so there are plenty of familiar chains such as McDonalds and Dominos if you just want something predictable. And if you’re not feeling adventurous, you can always rely on the humble bagel for breakfast or a quick snack. But why limit yourself to the standard fare when there is so much more to experience!?

Don’t come back from the Holy Land without sampling these delicious treats!


Falafel

C’mon, this wouldn’t be a real list of Israeli food if it didn’t start with falafel. Perhaps the most well-known Israeli dish in the world, it’s likely you’ve had falafel before -- but you’ve never had it like they make it in the country it was born in!

Falafel is a mix of chickpeas, beans, and spices packed together tightly into balls and then deep fried. It’s a simple enough dish, but the key is in the spices used. Every falafel chef in Israel has their own special blend of spices, their own personal take on what makes the perfect falafel, so be sure to sample the dish at a few different spots to get the full experience!

Don’t worry about running up a bill either. Falafel is a street food staple you can find in every market and nearly every corner, with vendors cooking it up nice and cheap. Think of it as Israel’s answer to a New York foot long – omnipresent, affordable, and oh so very satisfying.


Botz

There is nothing like a fresh cup of coffee in the morning! Even in the arid and hot lands of Israel, lots of people can’t start their day without a steaming cup of coffee to get them going. Don’t go thinking this will be your typical double-double though. In Israel, the preferred drink is what they call botz, or translated to English, "mud.”

Botz is a richer, more aromatic blend then you may be used to. Made up of dark Turkish grinds typically served without cream and garnished with a dash of cardamom, a cup of botz is a high-octane boost to any morning. Intimidated? Don’t feel like you need to gulp it down in one go! Take the time to savor it and get used to the taste. Israel has a thriving café culture where you can relax and enjoy a drink at your own pace and maybe meet some new friends. Make some time for a break in your busy schedule so you can enjoy this Israeli treat.

By the way, if a cup of mud really doesn’t sound like your thing, you can always get a mug of what we’d consider normal coffee in the West. Instead of ordering a "coffee,” ask your barista for a "Nescafe” with whatever cream and sweetener you usually take. Don’t ask why they call it that, it’s just the name that stuck in the area for the typical American cup.


Hummus

Another Israeli staple, hummus is a tasty spread made from crushed chickpeas and tehina sauce seasoned with garlic, olive oil, salt, and a dash of lemon for zing. Just like falafel, there is an endless number of ways to make hummus by playing with the ratio of the ingredients or tossing in a little something extra, so don’t be afraid to give a few different versions a try!

Hummus is an interesting dish in that it can either be served as a side, a snack, or as the main entrée of a meal! It can be spread on pitas, hardboiled eggs, and nearly anything else. You can get it served fresh at a restaurant, prepared in front of you at the market, or off the shelf in the grocery store; it’s just that popular.

Really, if you’re dining in Israel for any period of time, the question isn’t if you’re going to eat some hummus, but how much you’re going to eat!


Jachnun

Jachnun might not look like much, but don’t be fooled, this tasty treat is a labour of love that you shouldn’t pass up! You might have a little more difficulty finding a sample though as jachnun is frequently only sold on Saturday mornings depending on where you go (bigger hotels might have it available on other days). This is because jachnun takes a ridiculous 10-12 hours to bake!

Made of buttery rolled dough, jachnun is kind of like a croissant on steroids. You can enjoy it as is, but most will recommend you garnish it with some schug, a Yemenite hot sauce. In the spirt of trying new things, by all means give it a shot, but go easy on it your first time though. While most of the stereotypes of Israeli food being overly spicy are exaggerations, schug is the food equivalent of molten lava!

Paired up with some bread and a hard boiled egg or two alongside it, jachnun is the perfect, luxurious way to start your weekend. Provided you don’t feel like immediately taking a nap afterwards at least.


Atayef

Looking for something less rich? Atayef is just the dessert for you! These pancakes stuffed with walnuts offer a sweet and subtle way to finish a meal. You can order these for yourself, but they’re often served to the table as a pallet cleanser.

With a hints of vanilla, sugar, and cinnamon, these fluffy cakes are perfect if you want something sweet, but not overpowering. Don’t worry though, if you’re the type that has a sweet tooth, atayef is typically served with a dish of warmed syrup or honey for dipping (try mixing it with a cup of botz for a nice balance of sweet and bitter!)


Shakshooka

Lastly, don’t come home without trying an order of shakshooka! This meal that eats like a feast is a regular crowd pleaser in Israel combining a rich variety of flavors. It’s almost reminiscent of Italian or Mexican cuisine with its abundant helping of tomatoes and tomato sauce, generous use of garlic and onions, and mix of herbs. But then just when you think you have it figured out, there is a dash of paprika in there turning the whole dish on its head, and its finished with eggs poached right in the pan with the tomato sauce! Talk about going from typical to extraordinary!

Be prepared to make a scene with this dish. Shakshooka is served right in the pan it’s made in, delivered to the table sizzling hot. Get out your bread and start dipping – it might look like a lot right now, but once your travel mates get a taste, that pan is sure to go down fast!

[Comment]

The surprising story of Albert Goering By: C4i


When we think about the villains of the third Reich, we’re all familiar with the worst of them. Hitler and his raving fanatism and lunatic hatred. Gobbles, slithering his way into the highest offices of the Nazi government, peddling his lies and propaganda on a gullible German populace. And then there is Hermann Goering, an oaf who could be written off as a cartoon character if he wasn’t so vile and evil. 

With his ridiculous chest full of medals, ostentations sashes, and moon pie face, Goering, who helped organize the thugs of the SA in a fighting force and held the rank of Reichsmarschall during the war, became emblematic of the Nazi mindset. A vain, insecure man who blamed others for his failings and committed barbarous acts of horror to compensate for them. He was an unrepentant thief who personally enjoyed the spoils of looted Jewish homes and then had the gall to pretend he didn’t know anything about the "final solution” he helped orchestrate when brought to stand for his crimes at Nuremberg. It should have come as no surprise when he cheated the hangman the day before his execution by committing suicide, it was his last chance to steal something from the Jewish people so of course he would.

Hermann Goering was a monster. A depraved man with an inverted soul who brought nothing but misery to the world. But, he wasn’t the only Goering. While Hermann will always suffer the infamy of being of the largest villains of the century, he had a brother, one that history has almost forgotten.

Albert Goering was in many ways his brother’s polar opposite. Hermann was a physically built athlete in his army days, and later a rotund thug at the height of Nazi power, while Albert always enjoyed a lanky profile. While Hermann possessed sharp blue eyes always searching for weakness, the kind his party valued so highly, Albert’s were brown and softer, pools of mirth and empathy.  

Their personalities also differed. Hermann created a name for himself in WW1 as a pilot and afterwards tried his hand at being a stunt pilot. He was obsessed with displays of bravado to compensate for the shame of being on the losing side of the war. While Hermann stewed under the conditions of the treaty of Versailles and became a bitter agitator for a delusional "return to greatness” for Germany, Albert made the best of life, eager to put the horrors of war behind him. He was a casual man known for his affable nature and quick wits. He was a promising film maker exploring the relatively new medium. 

Despite all these differences, the two brothers were still fond of each other. It was this bond that would ultimately both save and doom Albert.

As Hermann and the Nazis ascended, Albert became more and more concerned for both his country, and the Jewish population of Europe. He had nothing but disdain for the Nazis’ race supremist philosophy and saw the persecution of Jews, Poles, and the disabled for exactly the kind of evil it was. He could not understand the man his brother had become and would have no part of the Nazis’ madness despite how easy it would have been for him to secure a position of prestige in the party (talented film makers were always in demand for creating propaganda, and the brother of the Reichsmarschall would not need anything more than an introduction to be given a position and comfortable salary).

Albert did not keep these concerns to himself either. As the Nazi party grew in power, Albert openly opposed its rule. He confronted injustice, using his privileged position as brother to one of the highest members of government to openly flout the law and force Nazi foot soldiers into releasing or turning a blind eye to Jews. One story illustrative of this was a time he saw a line of Jewish women being publicly humiliated by SS officers, forced to scrub the street on their hands and knees. Albert got down on his and joined them. The SS officers, not wanting to have to explain to Hermann why his brother was humiliated or get into a lengthy public debate on the street about it, quietly dismissed the Jewish women.

These small acts of defiance would embolden Albert to greater and greater acts of heroism and risk. He tried to save as many Jews as he could using an alternating strategy of flattering his brother and appealing to their shared bond for "one more favour” and throwing the weight of his family name around to bully Nazi soldiers and bureaucrats into submission. He personally secured Visas for an untold number of Jews by manipulating his brother Hermann (who enjoyed demonstrating his power for his little brother and appearing magnanimous). 

In one anecdote, he pressured SS chief Heydrich to release a group of Czech resistance fighters rounded up by the Gestapo from their custody. You have to understand how unbelievable this was. The Czech’s were active war resisters, enemies of the state. The Gestapo were a merciless fascist force that existed to purge any and all threats to the Nazis’ power. Whatever Albert told them must have been a whopper because there is no way the Gestapo let them go easily.

As the war and persecution escalated, Albert moved out of Berlin but did not let that stop him from fighting the Nazi state. As the Export Director at a Skoda Works factory in Czechoslovakia, Albert committed small and large acts of defiance. From covertly encouraging his workers to "lose” important documents, drag their heels on crucial products, and commit small acts of sabotage to out going products, Albert joined a rich tradition of industrial war resistors. Anything that made the supply chain feeding the Nazi war machine less efficient, Albert and his workers did it.

If that was it, Albert would be an interesting character. A minor resistor compared against his monstrous brother. But thankfully, he went much further. On multiple occasions, Albert out and out forged his brother’s signature and sent false orders to nearby SS offices and concentration camps. He secured the safe release of hundreds of dissidents, resistance fighters, and concentration camp prisoners. Aside from forging his brother’s hand, Albert made sport of Germanic bureaucracy, constantly requesting "new labourers” from concentration camp prisoners and then releasing entire truckloads of Jewish captives when they arrived. Nobody ever seemed to check the books on how many labourers his factory actually needed.

Sadly, while Albert was responsible for many noble acts of resistance, his secret efforts paled in comparison to his famous name. When the Reich came crashing down, Albert was arrested and tried at Nuremberg just like his brother. Allied interrogators understandably thought his claims of resistance and opposition against the Nazi regime were pure fantasy. After all, many former Nazis magically became resistance fighters once Germany lost the war, it wasn’t the most believable story.

Albert was spared from imprisonment by the testimony of witnesses and people whom he saved, but the stain of his family association never left him. Despite his heroic actions, Albert was forced to flee to Argentina for his own safety. He descended into alcoholism, his life never quite recovering, and died in 1966. His deeds would go unknown in the public conscious while he was alive.

Recent evidence and the distance of time has allowed historians to view Albert as the hero he was, but there is still some resistance to his legacy. Notably, Yad Vashem has not inducted him into the Righteous Among the Nations, perhaps understandably. It is hard to reconcile the idea that the brother to one of the most monstrous figures of the holocaust could have been a decent man.

But there is also something inspiring about Albert’s tale. No matter the situation, no matter your associations, your position in life, or all the other odds stacked against you, you still have the choice to do the right thing. Albert could have easily gone with the program. He could have grit his teeth and gone with the flow like so many other Germans of the time who didn’t support the Nazis, but lacked the courage to stand against them. He could have enjoyed the prestige and luxury of his brother’s office and wormed his way into a cushy position in the Nazis ranks. But he didn’t. He did the right thing and he did it for no reward and no recognition, good for the sake of good. 

As anti-Semitism rears its ugly head again in our society, it is important that we remember the courage of men like Albert who had the moral clarity to see evil for what it was and took a stand against it, no matter the cost.  
[Comment]

A treasure found under CaesareaBy: C4i

 - Photo: Yaniv Berman, via the Caesarea Development Corporation

Every Sunday, my family tunes into The Curse of Oak Island, a reality show where a group of archeologists and oddballs try and uncover a massive treasure supposedly secreted away on a Nova Scotian island. Every week the crew invests ridiculous amounts of money into sophisticated imaging equipment, massive drills, and expert opinions about the scraps and nails they dig up. 

If I had to give them some advice, I’d say save all that money and buy a plane ticket to Israel, a country where treasure really is waiting to be uncovered.

At the beginning of the month, Israeli archeologists’ workings in the ancient city of Caesarea on a routine excavation and conservation effort found something that is anything but routine. The team unearthed a wonderous cache of ancient gold coins and jewelry over 900 years old -- a discovery that is sure to shed light on the history of Caesarea and result in expanded excavations in the area.

The star of this little treasure hoard is a bronze pot that was used to conceal a small fortune in mixed currency. In total, the pot contained 18 pieces of the local Muslim coinage and 6 shiny gold Byzantine imperial coins. This would have represented a fortune from the time frame the coins are believed to originate. Imperial coins were not locally traded and the possession of several of them would indicate the person they belonged to was a merchant of some ability, one who did a lot of long distance trading.

But what might be just as interesting as the treasure itself is the circumstances surrounding it. These coins aren’t some cast off that someone forgot centuries ago. It wasn’t a mere accident that the pot was lost to the sands of time. No, the location of the pot and the time frame of the coinage inside suggest a very different, and tragic, story.

The city of Caesarea was built by King Herod the Great over 2000 years ago. As a port city with connections to neighbouring trade routes, the city had an important role – and great strategic value – over its many years of existence. This was true when King Herod founded the city, and it was true a millennium later when the Crusaders came to conquer the city.

It is from this period in the late 1000’s range where the coins originate. That would be enough to date the discovery, but what is more interesting is where the pot was found. It wasn’t just underground, or in the remains of some old lockbox or drawer. No, the pot wedged between two stones in the side of a well, a kind of hidden dead drop out of a spy movie. 

This wasn’t an accident. Over 900 years ago, someone intentionally hid a fortune in coins inside a well. And we have to ask "why?”

Well, we know that the Crusades lead by King Baldwin the first ravaged the city of Caesarea in 1101. So we have a stash of hidden money right from the time an invading army would have been storming into town ready to plunder everything of value. While there is no way to know for certain, this specific time period and event combined with the deliberate placement of the pot tells a pretty convincing story. Archeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority researching the site believe the small treasure stash belonged to a citizen of Caesarea who tried to hide their valuables in a way where they would be secure, yet still be able to reclaim them later. Sadly, it seems they never got the chance. 

You might be thinking this is a lot of effort to go through for a handful of coins. While 6 gold coins might not seem like much to us, it would have been a fortune at the time. A single imperial gold coin could represent the entire annual salary of a typical farmer. This isn’t the modern equivalent of a handful of $20 bills, this was a serious amount of money. Whoever hid the pot must have been desperate to safeguard their belongings and did not have much hope of avoiding capture or plunder by the encroaching Crusaders. Hiding it in a public place must have been an act of desperation, one we can assume did not pay off.

Also found in the pot was a piece of ancient jewelry, a single gold earing. This would have been a lavish piece of ornamentation at the time, so it makes sense it was hidden alongside the other treasures. It does beg the question though, where is its pair? Did whoever was fleeing take one earring with them and hide the other? Or are there more caches of treasure to be found in Caesarea?

That’s what the archeologists are hoping as they continue their excavation of the area. Of course, before you get the wrong idea, this is not a profit seeking venture. Israel, a nation rich with history, has a surprisingly egalitarian approach to historical finds. Every piece has been turned over to the Israel Antiquities Authority for the purposes of research and preservation. Many of the coins are already on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. 

With every artifact found, the full history of the Holy Land reveals itself, it should be a source of pride to the nation that such invaluable pieces are not hoarded by collectors or antique dealers, but instead shared and celebrated openly for the public good. 

[Comment]

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The PURPOSE of C4i is to call Christians to express love in action to the people of Israel.

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