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.


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!


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.


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.


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 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.


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!)


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!


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.  

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. 


The struggles of AliyahBy: C4i

Remember the first time you moved? I don’t mean the first time you went off to school, or your first apartment after leaving home, I mean the first time you had to move an entire household. When you and your partner, your children, your pets, and everything you own had to be uprooted and transplanted to a new location.

Remember how difficult it was? How packing up took three times longer than you budgeted for? The logistical nightmare of securing time off, arranging for trucks, keeping all of your family in the loop. Maybe you’ve had the distinct challenge of moving from a larger home into a smaller one, and you had to work out the complicated arithmetic of what you should definitely keep and what could be safely donated, stowed away, or dumped.

It was hard wasn’t it? Even under the best of conditions, even with the best reasons and motivations, moving is always going to be a challenge. Now for most of us, moving might mean a new neighbourhood in the city. It might mean an entirely new city, perhaps one hours away from your original home. In extreme cases, you might even move to a new province or state. 

Now imagine you had to make the same move, but to an entirely new nation. One only accessible by air travel where every single pound of luggage carries a cost. One where you may or may not fully grasp the language. One where hopefully there is a demand for your skills, but one can never be too sure. 

That is the challenge facing those making Aliyah, of Jews who feel the call to return to their ancestral home. And it’s why they must receive support to make the transition successfully.

Making the leap

Aliyah is not something one can jump into without serious consideration. Even for those who have dreamed of returning for years, putting together the preparations for Aliyah can be daunting.

Most need to make concentrated plans for more than a year in advance to even have a hope of being successful. The eligibility and application process in itself is a bureaucratic nightmare involving stacks of forms and in-person interviews, with an Israeli Shaliach (a sort of liaison officer) who will do their best to take them through the process but also has many other cases to attend to. 

The larger your family, the more complicated the process. Children need to be accounted for, preparations need to be made for their continued education and the massive disruption the move will make to their lives. Pets need proper vaccinations up to Israeli air travel standards and all the documented proof, and on and on it goes.

This isn’t even getting into the personal preparation. Those hoping to make a successful transition need to learn at least a passable level of Hebrew so they won’t be stranded in a new land without knowing the local language. Learning a language, possibly from scratch, is difficult enough on its own. Trying to do it while also juggling dozens of other obligations and preparations is nearly impossible.

While there are government organizations that help with the process by offsetting some of the cost of the move and providing preparation materials and advice, it is still a challenging process – one that many Olim (immigrants) are surprised to discover is the easy part of the journey. 

Building a new home

Unfortunately, even with diligent preparation it can be difficult to assimilate into Israeli society. While every Olim’s journey will be different and some settle without a hitch, many report difficulties with finding affordable housing, satisfying and well paying work, and new social connections to replace what they gave up.

The real estate market in Israel is very tough. There is high demand and low supply for affordable, comfortable homes. This is only accentuated when Olim wish to settle in specific neighbourhoods or cities. Anglo settlers may find it much preferable to settle in an Anglo neighbourhood with a healthy population of fellow immigrants from Western countries to commiserate with, but that means they’re buying or renting in a seller’s market that knows they can get away with charging extra. 

Olim who lack the means to compete in that environment can settle in different areas, but that also exasperates the other major hurdles facing new immigrants, employment and assimilation. While a person’s University credentials may be impressive in Canada, employers in Israel have no idea what the value of a degree from U of T or McMaster is and might have little interest in finding out. That’s assuming the language barrier doesn’t automatically disqualify them. If an immigrant’s Hebrew isn’t up to the task it will be extremely difficult for them to find a job no matter what kind of experience or diploma they have backing them up. 

Then there are all the other difficulties of adjusting to a new culture. Make no mistake, Israel is a country of welcoming, friendly people, but they do things their own way. If you think it’s difficult to get a barista’s attention at a Star Bucks in Ontario, you are in for some culture shock in Israel. Transactions and interactions in Israel tend to be more aggressive and direct, with the squeaky wheel getting the grease while the more "polite” are pushed to the sidelines. If you’ve spent your entire life in a country where patience is a virtue and rudeness a cardinal sin it can be difficult to adjust!

The difficulties are even greater for the young and more mature. Children and teenagers give up their familiar routines and social circles for an entirely new way of life. Older Olim who experienced the call later in life may face difficulties adjusting to the pace of their new life in Israel, or in finding community bonds to engage in.

Support is crucial

Despite the challenges involved, the majority of Olim say it is worth it. For Jewish people returning to their homeland, no amount of struggle and difficulty can outweigh the spiritual and cultural fulfillment of living in the Holy Land and connecting to their heritage in such a direct and personal way. 

They don’t need warnings, they don’t need second guessers doubting their actions, what they need is support.

Many new immigrants need a helping hand to fully engage with their new life in Israel. Whether this is in the form of assistance with finding housing, direct financial or physical support to make ends meet, or finding a place in their new community and new friends, a little bit of kindness can go a long way.

At C4i, we’re doing everything we can to extend that kindness forward. Helping new immigrants is one of our foundational goals. We provide assistance for new families, after-school programs for their children where they are provided healthy meals, education, and social activities, and community institutions such as our Dine with Dignity restaurant in Dimona. Here, struggling Olim can enjoy a healthy, judgement free meal, make connections with fellow Olim and community members, and be connected with other assistance resources such as language training.

Making Aliyah is a heroic act, but one few can make completely on their own. A little support can go a long way in easing the transition and letting new families put down the kinds of roots that will help support their community in turn. 

Weddings in Israel: What you need to knowBy: C4i

Weddings in Israel are… different. If you’re expecting something straight-laced and traditional, you might be in for a surprise. Israeli weddings are spectacles of love and life, but may leave you feeling like you just crawled out of your grave the next morning! 

Here’s what you need to know if you ever get invited to a wedding in the Holy Land!

The preparations

Remember your wedding? All the work finding the perfect bakery for your cake, assembling the bridal party and picking out dresses, and sending out invitations months and months in advance so you could nail down your RSVPs? Yeah, you can forget all of that for an Israeli wedding!

First of all, those invitations are going out maybe a few weeks before the event, not months. You’re also more likely to receive them in a plain card or even as a text message or social media event notice than any kind of fancy, embossed letter. Israeli weddings are huge affairs, but there is a certain degree of intentional casualness to the entire process. It’s much more like being invited to an elaborate party than anything else.

Typically, there are no bridesmaids or groomsmen at an Israeli wedding, so there is no need for anyone to feel snubbed! Sometimes, close friends or siblings will accompany the wedding couple at the chuppa (the little canopy arch the couple stands under during the ceremony), but this is more of an informal position that has only recently been adopted. If you get an invitation to an Israeli wedding, you don’t have to start budgeting out for a new bridesmaid dress you’ll only ever wear once or a color matching tie.

In fact, speaking of your tie, leave it at home. Unless the family is very traditional, what would be considered typical wedding garb in the West would be decidedly overdressed in the Holy Land. The bride will still likely be wearing a beautiful dress, but it’s not uncommon to see everyone else ranging from business casual to downright beach-bum style. Crocs have made more than a few appearances at Israeli weddings! Some may dress up, some might dress down, if you’re not sure what’s appropriate, just ask the wedding couple and let them set the tone! 

Be fashionably late

This is one those of us from the West really struggle with. We’re used to arrival times being solid and expected, that it’s just good manners to show up on time, not too early and not too late. If you show up to an Israeli wedding at the time it says on your invite though, you might find a locked door! 

It’s an odd thing, but it’s expected for guests to be late by an hour or even more. So fight against all those good manners your mother instilled in you about promptness and be prepared to arrive in style well after the time on the invitation.

Bring your appetite 
Guests from the West or new immigrants to Israel might be surprised to discover there’s no wedding cake at an Israeli wedding. While these stacked confectionary constructions are a mainstay here, you won’t find any plastic bride and groom toppers there.

What you will find is food. Lots and lots of FOOD.

Expect to see an entire buffet line of food out and ready when you arrive. Now it might seem unwise to fill up at the reception before the ceremony, but tuck in! This is often the best food served at the wedding, and it’s also the most convenient! There is generally a dinner after the service, but with the typically massive number of guests, it’s going to take awhile! Make sure to enjoy the early food to its fullest, it is a celebration after all! 

The flow of an Israeli wedding

Israeli weddings tend to have a long, luxurious, and relaxed reception period before the ceremony.  This is your chance to fill up on snacks (really, small meals they call "snacks”), shake hands, and even say hello to the bride and groom. That’s right, they’ll be mingling around the room (or more likely the outdoor area the reception is held at) along with everyone else, no traditions about seeing the bride before the wedding here (unless the family is orthodox and then it’s the entire other way around, where the couple won’t see each other for a week beforehand!)

The ceremony naturally segues out of the reception. Eventually the bride will leave to get into her formal wedding dress while the groom will have what is called a Tisch (or "table”), where he and his friends will get increasingly raucous and joyous, sharing songs and laughs and generally goofing off. 

Then there will be the contract ceremony where the groom signs a document affirming his financial, spiritual, and emotional responsibilities to his new wife. After the paper work is done, it’s time for the Bedeken, or the unveiling ceremony. The bride will come out dressed to the nines in her formal wedding dress to be unveiled by her new husband to be, then the two will be led by their respective parents to the chuppa for the wedding ceremony.

This ceremony is a pretty laid-back affair, even among more traditional families. It’s entirely possible that guests will remain standing during the event and even continue mingling. The rabbi or priest will say a few words, the couple will exchange vows (either traditional or personal), followed by a flurry of activity. Israeli weddings are very active, you’ll see singing, dancing, a short ceremony where the groom dances around the bride seven times, and of course, the part that everyone knows, the traditional glass breaking -- Mazel tov!

When the party starts 

And just as the glass breaks, the DJ will shatter your ear drums with (probably) a bizarre re-mix of a 90’s club song. As soon as the formalities are over, Israeli weddings kick into high gear and the party begins. Dinner is coming, but in all the pandemonium, don’t expect it any time soon!

Instead, expect a lot of fun. Israeli weddings don’t typically include as many formal "speeches” from friends and family members after the ceremony, but expect to hear many impromptu toasts, pre-made skits from friends celebrating/ribbing the bride and groom, and even video presentations. That’s right, people bust out the AV club skills for an Israeli wedding!

Did you remember to bring a gift? That’s okay, they’re not expected! What is expected though is cash. Wedding guests are expected to kick in to help pay for the big splashy party everyone is enjoying. You don’t even need a fancy card, they’re provided at the wedding! Just write a short message of your well wishes, stuff the card with some bills or a cheque, and drop it in the box – much nicer than finding out there was a mix up at the registry and you’re the fourth person to buy the couple a blender!

Limber up and get ready for the long haul because the dancing and celebration will go long into the night! You might be sore and tired the next day, but you’ll never forget the memories of an Israeli wedding!


The long and storied history of the Montefiore windmill By: C4i

The Montefiore windmill was built as a statement. It represented more than just grain, it represented a future. As the first major permanent building erected in the first Jewish neighborhood built outside the walls of the old city, it sent a message "we are here to stay.” 

For nearly 140 years the Montefiore windmill has been a landmark to the locals of Yemin Moshe. Over that time the mill has served as a symbolic foundation, an outpost, target practice, and a tourist attraction -- it even occasionally made flour.

History of the mill

Moses Montefiore was an English Banker and philanthropist. Montefiore led an interesting life. He was a self-made man who, despite a lack of education, managed to earn a trader’s licence and enter the world of finance, only to be swindled by one of the major fraudsters of the 1800s. Undaunted, he returned to the world of business, rebuilt, and eventually teamed up with Nathan Rothschild to build a financial empire. Montefiore became active politically as an abolitionist (a fund Moses and Nathan helped put together was instrumental in leading to the abolition of slavery in Britain) and authority figure. He served as Sheriff of London for a time and then later as the Sheriff of Kent, was appointed president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews for 39 years and was knighted by Queen Victoria herself. 

But one of Montefiore’s most enduring and personal interests was in the Holy Land. A trip to Jerusalem in 1827 changed the course of Montefiore’s life providing him with a purpose and a drive that would guide him until he passed. Seeing Jerusalem firsthand have a profound effect on Moses and he described the trip to his ancestral homeland as a "spiritual awakening” and he dedicated himself to building safe, healthy Jewish communities in the area.

Using both his personal fortune and a grant left to him by a colleague by the name of Judah Touro, Montefiore launched a campaign of community building. Seeing the conditions inside the Old City as unhygienic and unsustainable, Montefiore purchased a large block of land that would become the community of Yemin Moshe. To provide a stable foundation for a town to grow, he commissioned the construction of a number of major amenities including a textile factory, a printing press, and a mill.

The mill was built in fine European style. Designed by the Messrs Holman Brothers of Canterbury, no expense was spared in the creation of the mill. While the stone to build the tower was mined locally, all of the parts and mechanical engineering for the mill had to be shipped from England all the way to a port in Jaffa (the nearest city with the facilities to handle heavy unloading) and taken by camel to Yemin Moshe. It was a Herculean undertaking, but one Montefiore saw as justified if it gave the Jewish settlers in the area a source of dependable, cheap flour.

Sadly, this wasn’t the case. Despite its fine engineering and design, use of the mill was troubled. Some reports state that the area simply never received enough wind to make it a dependable source of production. Others state that wind wasn’t the issue, but upkeep. Those expensive British parts were nearly irreplaceable, and a few breakdowns were all it took to render the mill functionally inoperable. There were also unforeseen problems with the grain supply. As the mill was designed in England, it was also designed for English wheat, a comparatively lighter grain to the dense, tough grain taken from Israeli soil. According to some reports, local grain never processed quite right in the mill. All in all, despite the expense and symbolic importance of the mill, it only operated for 18 years before being officially abandoned.

So, what became of the mill? Despite its disappointing performance, it was still too much of a local landmark to tear down, so it remained a fixture of the community. It wasn’t until the 1948 War of Independence that the mill found practical use again.  

During the blockade of Jerusalem, the Jewish fighters needed an observation post to survey enemy troop movements and the tower fit the bill nicely. They fortified the top of the tower and conducted surveillance from it, directing fighters to counter the aggressors. 

The tower became something of a sticky point and the British authorities in the area ordered it destroyed. "Operation: Don Quixote” was supposed to result in the destruction of the tower, but in a bizarre twist of fate, the British soldiers sent to do the deed recognized the name on the mill’s plaque. The commutation mentioned both Montefiore and the town of Ramsgate. The soldiers, hailing from Ramsgate themselves didn’t want to destroy a piece of their home and heritage in a far-off land, so instead they compromised. The soldiers blew up the top of the mill where the observation post was and left the rest standing. Tough but fair!


In the late 2000’s, it was decided that enough was enough. The mill was an important piece of local history and it had sat disused for far too long. A restoration effort was started, but few realized exactly how much it would take to bring the mill back to its glory days. 

For one thing, the knowledge of how a mill like that was built is in scarce supply in this day of age. Expert from the (yes, still-existing) Holman company had to be brought in. They managed to track down the original over a century old design documents and recreate the damaged and missing part of the mill exactly as it would have looked when it was built.

Now the mill stands tall with white cupola topping the tower, four gorgeous sails, and a working grind stone. Of course, it also received some modern improvements such as an electric motor to power the mill when the wind is not being cooperative. 

The mill is now open to the public as a living museum. Visitors are taught both the history of mill, why it is significant to the community, and can view the milling process. After all of these years and strange twists, the mill has once again become the lynchpin in the community.  Montefiore would be proud.


What to do when your Spiritual walk has slowed downBy: C4i

Do you ever feel like you’re not making enough time for God in your life? Or maybe that you make time, but what you’re doing doesn’t feel productive anymore? Maybe your prayers have become routine, something you mumble out or recite in your head before going to sleep or eating dinner. Maybe you haven’t cracked the spine on your Bible in months despite all good intentions to the contrary.

Sometimes our Spiritual Walk slows down, and it’s important to catch ourselves when that happens. You shouldn’t be ashamed when you hit a stumbling block in your spiritual life, but you should look for ways to overcome it. We should never stop growing as Christians, not until the day we meet the Lord ourselves. 

If you’ve found yourself less excited to pray or have had more trouble concentrating on God or thinking about your spiritual life, here are some things you can try to kick things back in gear. 

Get out of your rut

Ever notice how you have your best ideas in the shower? Sometimes I’ll be stuck on a problem for work and I’ll spend all day just smacking my head against the desk, frustrated and defeated. I’ll shuffle home feeling like a fraud, crawl into the shower to put the day behind me, and presto, IDEA TIME. The fact is, sometimes work just isn’t the best place to get real thinking done, there are too many distractions, pressures, and petty annoyances. 

Weird as it is to say, sometimes our homes can be like that too. We are creatures of our environment and we react to what’s around us. Home is a place of comfort, but also of labor (how many chores are waiting on your right now?) and frustration (who can concentrate on their spiritual life when they’re chasing their teenager down four times a night to stop playing games and get their homework done?) Sitting down to read the Bible or concentrate on prayer might seem easy in the abstract, but when you go to sit down and do it at the dinning room table, that isn’t always the case.

Sometimes finding concentration and focus means finding a different environment. Change your mental space by changing your physical space and try taking the bible to a nearby park or coffee shop and reading without the distractions and background noise of your home. Go on a light walk through a trail and dedicate your thoughts and attention to God. Find a spot where you can be at peace and concentrate on the spiritual. Heck, try the shower!

The important thing is to take action. If your relationship with God feels like it isn’t growing, then the worst thing you can do is to hope for a change while staying exactly the same. 

Try another medium 

If you’re having trouble concentrating when you go to read the Bible, or constantly promise yourself that you’ll read the Bible more but never get around to doing it, consider trying something else. Instead of reading the Bible, listen to it! There are hundreds of audio version of the Bible out there available on everything from apps and mp3s to good old cassette tapes. You can listen to it however you want, either starting at the beginning or by picking selected books. You can choose to listen to plain readings of the Bible, or ones with commentary and discussion points at the end.

The Bible should always be an important cornerstone of your walk with God, but don’t feel ashamed if sometimes it is hard to digest. Even versions of the Bible with modernized diction and spelling can often be confusing if you lack the historical or cultural context of the events in it. If you find reading or listening to the Bible on its own isn’t giving you a sense of spiritual fulfillment, then find a guide. Set aside time to listen to a recorded devotional, or to watch a program that explores the wonders of the Bible in an understandable and relatable way (like our very own Rev. Dr. Tweedie does on The Prophetic Connection!) 

Don’t be confined by ridged expectations of what spiritual development should or shouldn’t look like. There is no right or wrong path to God. Wherever you can find a connection to the Lord or something that excites you spiritually and encourages you to think about the world and your actions in it in a more spiritual perspective is unimpeachably good. 

Make some noise

This might seem contradictory since we’ve also talked about finding the peace and quiet to talk to God, but maybe silence isn’t your problem. If you’re not always comfortable with silence, then fill that space with worship!

This is something I knew as a child and had to learn again as an adult. If you can’t concentrate on Biblical study, or your thoughts are too scattered to concentrate on some lesson or devotional, then stop trying for force it and concentrate on what feels right – joyful, enthusiastic worship!

Pray out loud to the Lord like you were having a normal conversation. Lift up your voice and sing in praise to the Lord, whether it’s old hymns or gospels or whatever fills you with joy. Belt it out even if nobody else is listening, or rather I should say, if nobody is listening but God. Sing in praise and thanks to the Lord and you’ll feel the difference in your life and in your walk with God.

Again, there is no wrong way to come to the Lord. The only mistake is never taking a step.

7 things you need to know before visiting Israel! By: C4i

Israel is a beautiful country, one that is extremely welcoming to tourists and visitors of all kinds. With a huge percentage of the population speaking multiple languages, a developed tourism industry that minimizes hassle, and a friendly population, a tourist in Israel never needs to feel lost or confused! 

However, there are a few things you need to be mindful of. Like every other country on the planet, Israel has its own ways of doing things that might seem a little surprising if you’re from another culture. Below are seven things you should be aware of when traveling to the Holy Land!

Sharing a plate is normal!

Israeli’s love their food! Dining in Israel isn’t just about getting enough calories in your system to sustain you through the day, it’s a total social experience. When you order in an Israeli restaurant, you’ll typically be ordering a main dish that will be shared by everyone at the table. Many foods are designed to be shared either by having members of the table dip slices of bread into them or portioned up and distributed to everyone evenly. If you’ve ever eaten at an Indian or Dim Sum restaurant the experience is very similar. 

So be mindful of what you pick off a menu and be aware that if you order a main dish just for yourself, you may get a few odd looks. This might sound intimidating, but really this is good news for you and your travel mates, as you’ll be able to sample multiple dishes every meal! Order a couple of dishes to split and you’ll enjoy a wider variety than you ever could alone!

Tipping is encouraged

Speaking of meal times, always be good to your waiters and hosts. It is common for waitstaff at Israeli restaurants to receive either no hourly wage or such a meager pittance it might as well be nothing. These workers rely on tips for almost all of their income, so stiffing someone in Israel isn’t just poor form, it hurts their ability to care for themselves and their families! A typical 15% gratuity should be enough to stay on everyone’s good side.

This also goes for cabbies, bagmen, room service, and any other service personnel. Israel has a rich tipping culture and these transactions are what makes the country go around. 

Smoking rules

Coming from a province or state where public smoking has been all but eliminated for decades now, a trip to Israel can seem like a trip back in time in some respects. Although the Knesset recently passed stronger anti-smoking laws to discourage public smoking, it is still fairly common to see someone taking a quick puff in a nightclub, bar, or in the outside seating area at a café. Technically these actions are prohibited, but enforcement is often lax (especially in night life hotspots such as Tel Aviv) and plenty of people still bend the rules.

One time you won’t see much smoking, however, is on Saturday. Smoking is prohibited on Shabbat and the social stigma surrounding it is stronger than police enforcement of no-smoking areas! It’s considered bad taste to be caught smoking on Shabbat so if you are a smoker, be aware of that and try to smoke in private on the weekend to avoid offending anyone!

Feel free to haggle (in the right places)

Something that may excite some (and petrify others) is the idea of haggling over prices. Those of us who enjoy making deals and scouting out bargains will be thrilled to know that with outdoor vendors and market stalls, haggling isn’t just accepted, it’s encouraged! When you go someplace like the Jaffa flea market, the sticker price is more of a "suggestion” than anything else and those with a gift for gab can find some amazing deals. If you’re not particularly fond of haggling, it’s recommended you team up with someone who is if you go shopping at a market, so you don’t wind up with an empty pocket book.

Of course, this only applies to markets where that behavior is expected. Try haggling in an Israeli supermarket, convenience store, or hotel, and you can expect it to go as well as trying to haggle down the price at your local Walmart. 

Different beaches for everyone

If you’re visiting during the hot months, a trip to the beach to cool off might be an excellent choice! Israel boasts a number of incredible, beautiful beaches, but it pays to do your homework before you head to one. Beaches in Israel tend to cater to specific groups of people. Some beaches are family friendly, while others attract a rowdier crowd. Some are popular with specific religions, while others are purely secular. 

If all of this sounds complicated or intimidating, don’t worry. Which beaches are for which crowds isn’t a big secret or anything. Ask any local which beach is right for you and you should have no problems finding one where you’ll have a great time!

Expect to see some security

As we discussed in a recent blog, security is something they take seriously in Israel. You can expect to see a slightly heavier (and more well armed) police and military presence on the streets while visiting. But remember, that doesn’t mean it isn’t safe or you have to worry about an incident sparking off at any moment. Military service is compulsory for all young adults so there is an abundance of fatigue clad young men and women putting in hours by guarding all kinds of places and establishing a presence. 

As long as you stay away from direct conflict zones and act with a modicum of common sense, your trip to Israel should be safe and pleasant. Just prepare for the culture shock of seeing the occasional uniformed 18-year-old carrying a rifle.  

Be respectful of different religions and observances

Israel is home to a diverse and beautiful population. While modern areas like Tel Aviv feel just like Toronto or any other major city, there are some cultural sensitivities you should keep in mind. For example, Orthodox Jews have major prohibitions regarding contact with members of the opposite sex. This can manifest in people from the opposite gender giving you a wide berth like there is an invisible wall around you. Don’t take offense, this is just them trying to avoid accidental touching. 

This is something you should also keep in mind as you visit historical and religious landmarks. If you are going to be visiting places like the Wailing Wall or the Birthplace of Jesus, be sure to dress appropriately for the occasion. You don’t need to be in a full suit or Sunday dress or anything. As long as you are dressed modestly and respectfully, you shouldn’t have any problems. 

Never be afraid to ask questions!

If you’re ever unsure about something, just ask! Israeli’s appreciate forthrightness, and it’s better to just ask about something than to try and suss out the answer yourself. Israel is a lively, friendly country and as long as you approach people with a smile and respect they’ll do everything they can to make sure you have a great time!


Akhzivland, the micronation inside Israel you’ve never heard of before nowBy: C4i

The "micronation” is a stock cliché in sit-coms, cartoons, and comic books -- a two-bit "state” set up by some whack job with a landmass typically no larger than the average parking lot and a single digit population. It seems like something Kramer or Daffy Duck would get up to.

But, on the Northwest tip of Israel you can find Akhzivland. Akhivland is a for-real micronation, and one that might be stranger than fiction.

A nation built from scratch

The history of Akhzivland began in 1952 with a man named Eli Avivi. Following the Arab-Israeli wars when the nation was still young, Eli happened upon a coastal stretch that contained a ruined village formally named Akhziv. Eli quite liked the area -- it was off the beaten path, had a beautiful beach, and it was seemingly forgotten. He liked it so much, he decided to build a few huts. And then a house. And then he moved all his things into that house and started living there. Only problem is, construction in the area was illegal. Uh oh.

As you might imagine, Eli was quite the character in his own right. While the idea of some guy carving out a chunk of Israel and claiming it as his own might spark images of a provocateur or thief, Eli’s story isn’t so cut and dry. He spent his formative years fighting for the Israeli people and was a member of the Israeli underground navy, smuggling Jewish settlers into the land. While he is known now as a pot smoking bohemian who ruled his own quasi-nation, Eli would have been considered a patriot during the early days of Israel’s existence. It’s difficult to say why he flouted Israeli law so brazenly when he built his home. By all accounts he was a whimsical man, so maybe he just felt like the little slice of beach was the right place for him.

Everything was fine for twenty years. Eli lived in his home with his wife Rina beneath the notice of any serious authorities. But, in 1970, the law finally caught up with him when a planned highway cut right through his home. Authorities sent bulldozers to forcibly evict what they saw as a squatter, but Eli fought back. 

With a comical amount of self confidence, Eli declared the entire area the sovereign territory of the land of Akhzivland and the bulldozing of any of his property an illegal and hostile act. It was a crazy gambit, but the most bizarre part about it is that it worked.  Eli kicked up enough of a stink and fought hard enough that the government seemingly lost interest. The court ruled to lease Eli the area of 10,000 m² for 99 years as a sort of compromise. While the court never officially recognized the legitimacy of Akhzivland, it didn’t press the issue either. 

And so, in 1971, a "nation” was born. 

The important works of a micronation on the rise

Technically, Akhzivland is a democracy, but with an official permanent population of two, the point is kind of moot. Eli was nominated president of Akhzivland by a vote of 1-0 in its first and only election and the constitution (yes, they made a constitution) reads "The president is democratically elected by his own vote.”

Every bit as silly as a sit-com, Eli and Rina leaned into the nation building aspect of being a micronation. They created an official flag (three bars of blue and yellow with the image of a mermaid and the Avivi home), a national anthem, and even stamped passports for visitors – and the pair received many visitors. 

Ever since it’s inception, Akhzivland was a destination for the off-beat and unusual, as fitting a tiny pocket nation. Eli and his wife were hippy pacifists who dabbled in all kinds of psychedelic experimentation, making their home a hotspot for the young and rebellious. They were counter-culture symbols in their own right, a pair of regular people who dared to step out of line and make something for themselves.

They weren’t just popular with young hippies either. Over the years famous personalities such as Paul Newman, Sofia Loren, and Bar Refaeli have visited the tiny nation to pay their respects to it’s de facto president. The pair enjoyed a kind of ironic notoriety among the rich and famous, enough to make them frequent hosts to musicians and celebrities. 

Fun fact about Akhzivland, it is technically the most peaceful country in the Middle East. The micronation has never been involved in any sort of conflict – not that they’d fare too well if they were. Eli was also technically one of the longest serving rulers "in power” in the Middle East.

End of an era

Unfortunately, Eli passed away in May of this year at the age of 88. His death puts the long-term future of Akhzivland into question, with no one knowing what will happen to the lease the Israeli government signed. As of now though, Rina is still living on the land and accepting visitors.

Akhzivland is a strange curiosity that will likely fade into history soon, but it’s memory and spirit will live on with all self-styled iconoclasts who dream of building something of their own.


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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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