Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

A Treatise on Baby Calves and their Tendencies

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Today we received new baby calves.  They are about 3 days old.  One of them we got a few days ago was born too early and has problems with coordination (they all have problems with coordination, but this one has excessive problems). The good thing about new baby calves it they are very cute and cuddly. But like kittens, they grow up to become mangy bulls.

One of my jobs is to feed the calves baby-milk.  We give the milk to them in a bucket, and most of them drink from their bucket with no problem.  But some of the babies won’t drink nothing (I suppose they don’t know how yet).  So it’s part of my job to learn them. 

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True, I can feed the stubborn ones with a bottle (and do if worse comes to worse), but the problem with bottle-feeding calves is that it spoils them.  Then, from ever onwards, the cuddly critter expects a handfed bottle instead of drinking from their designated bucket (as good little cows should).  So first, we do everything in our power to make the little suckers drink from their pails.

For a stubborn one, I usually start with warm entreaties: swishing the milk around to make him curious.  As he comes up closer to me I’ll dip my fingers in the milk and let him suck my fingers.  As he gets the taste of the milk and wants more, I’ll start leading him toward the bucket, then put my hand in and – if all goes well, he begins lapping up breakfast (and continues to do so after I remove my hand).

Sometimes it doesn’t work so well.  Sometimes they don’t even suck my fingers, rather just loll their tongue from side to side and jerk their head as if they’re wholly insane (and they probably are).  This is bad news and means there will be a sore testing of my patience as hasn’t been seen since the days of Job. 

The best thing to do for this type of stubborn calf is to forcibly dunk its’ head into its’ milk pail so it can see what it’s missing (did I use all the its correctly?)

Today there was a little stubborn calf who was so lethargic he didn’t even want to open his mouth.  I thought it was hopeless, I cajoled him forever with middling results, finally resorting to a bottle, and even then he resisted mightily, baring his teeth at me as if I were the butcher himself, yet once getting a taste of the liquid sugar water began to drink like a parched camel from hades, downing several liters in record time.

Usually the calves are so excited to drink their milk they practically go insane loco.   I’ve seen them get so wound up they butt their heads against the gate and break it open and run out.  Then I get to run after them, tackle them, and drag them back to captivity, which is always great fun.

I saw one the other day so eagerly drinking he wasn’t paying attention to what his back end was doing, and that portion of his extremities ended up getting stuck in the poles on the side of his cage (how he managed this I’ll never know, and most likely, neither will he).  The calf ended up spread out long-ways with his head stuck in the milk bucket hanger and his back legs stuck outside the cage.  It was so funny I couldn’t stop laughing.  Finally I climbed in and helped him get un-entangled (which he was very thankful for and thanked me profusely, yet I still gave him a stern lecture on the risks of drinking while driving his back end).

When they get down to the last few drops of milk, they often lift their heads into the air (with the bucket on their snout) and walk around like that, hoping the final slurry will drain down their gullet.  This always ends up with them tossing their bucket into the mud (for me to clean up after later).

Speaking of cleaning up, I’ll say I’m mightily surprised at how routinely the calves poop in their food bucket (seems like that’s the wrong end of their body to be putting in the food bucket).  I would think this act is hardly necessary: Their food may be bland, but that spice can hardly help, I wouldn’t think.  As their hovering “mother,” I try telling them the food has enough salt in it already, yet they don’t listen, sneaking more poop in when I’m not watching.

I read in my cow book that cows have a keen sense of smell.  The book said they are exceedingly picky over their food, especially what it smells like.  But after seeing them indiscriminately poop in their food dish, I think that book must have been written by an enterprising Hindu.

Another thing they do, (cows, not Hindus) which can be infuriating is stepping into their water bucket.  Why…. oh Why?  I’ll be standing there filling up their bucket with a water hose of sweet-nectar-crystal-clear-spring-water coming straight from the bubbling fountains of the deep when they take a fancy to my muddy pants and step forward for a closer look (a closer lick is more like it) and in the process place a cloved hoof in their agua bucket – instantly turning it coal black.

My cow book says cows have a great memory.  I’ve observed their memory to be off by about 1/2 a second.  Behold, each morning when I give them their milk ration, they always put their head down into their “bucket hanger” right before I get the bucket lowered into their cage.  This results in them getting bopped on the head with their milk bucket (this I do with glee, admittedly), yet they never learn. 

So that’s all for now.  At least they’re cute, if nothing else.

Tel-Aviv Beach

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

I was in Tel-Aviv December 30th.  I walked along the Mediterranean beach down South to Jaffa.  The Tel-Aviv beach is quite nice, so far my favorite “hang-out” spot in Israel.

Here are a few pictures I took along the walk:

Tel-Aviv Beach Evening

(that sailboat out at Sea looked like fun)

 

Tel-Aviv Beach Sunset

(the waves didn’t look big enough for surfing, but then again, I’m no surfer)

 

Tel-Aviv Skyline at Night

(from Jaffa looking back at the Tel-Aviv skyline)

 

In the Old City of Jaffa at Night

(fishing gear on a pier in Jaffa)

 

The following morning (Saturday, New Years Eve) I again walked to Jaffa to attend a church there. 

Here’s what I looked like leaving the hostel (note I’m carrying all my luggage for the three day trip in that little backpack).

Nick on New Years Eve

Walking to church I took the following video (pretty boring) of the Tel-Aviv Mediterranean beach scene:

Give Me Liberty… or… “We’ll Kill Ourselves” ??!

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Masada is an ancient mountain fortress built by Herod the Great in the time before Christ.  It’s located up on a high, isolated plateau in the Judean desert.  Kind of like Israel’s version of Mancha Picchu (in Peru).

For a quick history: During the Jewish revolt against the Romans (in AD 70’s), Masada was the last outpost to fall after being besieged.  The twist to the story is this: as the fortress was about to be breached, the inhabitants (over nine hundred) committed mass suicide rather than lose their freedom to become slaves of Rome.

American patriot Patrick Henry famously said, “Give me liberty or give me death,” but I guess the slogan for these Jews was more, “Give me liberty or we’ll kill ourselves.”  I find the story rather sad. 

Anyhow, in the end… the Jews won regardless, because they outlasted the Romans!  Now Jews hold Masada once again.  And they vow it will never fall again.

I hiked up to the fortress this past weekend.  Here is proof the Jews hold it:

Israeli Flag Flying at Masada

The path I took up was called the Snake Path, it’s on the East side (the difficulty of the climb was about equal to hiking up Elk Mountain in Oklahoma for those who have done that). 

However, the East side was too hard for the Romans to attack from, and they came up the Western side instead, building a sloping siege ramp (apparently with slave labor). 

Here you can see the ramp.  You can even walk it if you want, but I went down the other side.

Seige Ramp Built by the Romans at Masada

Interestingly enough, their ramp didn’t reach to the VERY top, but instead, at the top they built a siege tower to reach up the wall.  Inside the top of the siege tower was a battering ram they used to break down the wall.  You can still see the gap in the wall where it was breached.  The rebels inside had reinforced the wall with wood and earth, but the Romans burnt that out with flaming torches.  Amazing to stand right there and imagine what it must have been like.  I had a similar feeling standing on the Little Big Top at Gettysburg.

At the bottom of the plateau, the Romans had built eight or so camps encircling the fortress (holding guard so no one could sneak down and get out).  Remains from these encampments are still visible and QUITE visible from the top.  It was eerie walking along the wall of Masada and imagining myself as one of the besieged, looking down below to companies of Roman soldiers guarding all chances of escape and slowly, methodically attacking my position.  Sort of like in Lord of the Rings when the Riders of Rohan retreat to Minas Tirith, only in this story the defenders lose.

I took the following video (from on top) of the encampments below.  I’m like 1300 feet above the desert floor.

Since Masada is in such a remote and arid location (and indeed, the location lost to human knowledge until the 1800s), much of it has been well preserved.

When I see ancient ruins it’s easy to think the place looked kind of like a dumpy rock place back then too, but that’s not true.  At Masada there were a few places where original plaster (from before Christ) covering the rocks remained.  This gave me a small glimpse of how amazing the place must have looked back in the day.

For example, notice in this next picture how some of the rocks are crumbling, some are still stacked straight, and at the bottom even the original plaster remains covering the wall and columns:

Roman Ruins (Palace) at Masada

This previous picture was taken at the North end of the fortress and was part of Herod’s palace.  The view from his palace of the desert and Dead sea is incredible.  In the next picture you can see part of that view and to the right, the rounded dais were the previous photo was snapped:

View Looking North from on Top of Masada (Dead Sea to the East on the Right)

Another cool thing at Masada are the ancient cisterns.  They were hewn from the rock (and indeed, doubled in purpose as on-site rock quarries).  I was able to go down in one.  There was graffiti on the walls, but I didn’t see any from ancient times, just recent (like 2004).

Water Aquifer at the Top of Masada

So that’s Masada.  It was amazing. 

Neve Shalom-More Historic Than the White House?

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

I was told of a 2 day Bible conference being held in Neve Shalom this weekend.  I’m planning on going, leaving tomorrow after work.

Neve Shalom is a small community about 25km West of Jerusalem. 

Do you know where Neve Shalom is?  Neither did I, but the history in the area is quite fascinating.

Located at the Bab el-Wad pass, a pass famous for being a choke point of the Tel-Aviv/Jerusalem road.  In the 1947 war the Arabs controlled the pass – occupying the Latrun Monastery located on top of the same hill Neve Shalom is on. From the Monastery they could shell the road and stop all relief traffic into Jerusalem.

After several failed attempts at taking the hill, Israel built a diversionary road around Latrun called the Burma Road, the beginning of which is close by Neve Shalom.

Going back in history a little, Neve Shalom is right by Emmaus Nicopolis, the presumed site where Jesus walked with his two disciples after resurrecting.  Luke records the three of them walked outside Jerusalem 160 stadia (about 27 kilometers), right by Neve Shalom!

I saw online there are ancient ruins of a church built over the presumed site of ancient Emmaus so I’m planning to try finding them tomorrow on the way.

Weird, right before I came to Israel I visited Emmaus Bible College, and now I’m visiting the ORIGINAL Emmaus for a Bible Retreat!  Going full circle.

But back even further, this is also the same place Joshua had a battle against the Amorites (Joshua 10) and the sun stood still for a day.

Of course, that’s not all.  This is also the site of a pivotal battle in the Maccabean Revolt – Not to mention the ruins of a 12th century Templar Temple are here – And let’s throw in a modern day Tank Museum, a War Memorial, and Park “Canda,” known for fresh springs…  Oh, there are also free concerts on Saturday’s in the Latrun Monastery, which is also open to the public.  The monastery is operated by French Trappist Monks.

If all that isn’t exotic enough, the name of Latrun is thought to have originated from the name of the good thief on the cross. That’s also the name of the Bus stop I have to get off at.

Anyways, that’s all tomorrow afternoon…  After I feed the cows beginning at 5am in the morning.  So good night.

Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, 2011

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Preamble

Checking out of my hostel the morning of Christmas Eve was a bit of an ordeal.  When I had arrived at the hostel the night before they didn’t honor my reservation.  He said my reservation was for a “mattress on the roof” (not what I reserved on the website) and since it was raining that night all those reservations were no longer good.

Not that the situation was SO bad, turns out I had the opposite problem of Mary and Joseph: instead of giving me the stables he put me up in a private room (which only cost four times the price).  Also turns out the private room was a complete dump so I decided to not stay there another night like I had planned.

Anyways, my friend Tomasz was all in favor of leaving without telling the owner we were doing so (on the grounds the hostel guy would try getting more money out of us) but I went ahead and checked out notwithstanding. 

Turns out Tomasz was right, the guy wasn’t happy and went off on me for “cancelling my reservation” and said now he wouldn’t be able to sell that room for the next night and I needed to pay more.  Of course this was all hogwash and I ended up just walking out of his office with a, “Thanks for your business.”

Anyways, with that unpleasant business done, we were off to Bethlehem!

Off to Bethlehem!

Three of us went: myself and two other volunteers from Nir Oz: Tomasz (a Pole) and Merle (a German).  The walk to Bethlehem was about six miles.

As we marched along, it was interesting to think of Mary and Joseph taking that same walk on the 8th day of Jesus’ life to dedicate their baby at the temple.

Halfway there, we passed a young shepherd by the side of the road watching a small flock of sheep on a hill.  We decided we needed a break so climbed the hill, said “Hi” to the shepherd, and sat down to eat some snacks. 

I think we all thought it was quite funny to actually see sheep and a shepherd in this otherwise developed area.  2,000 years and some things haven’t changed! 

The shepherd had a straight stick instead of one with a “crook” in the end (which I thought was regulation shepherd equipment) but Tomasz said this was because of animal rights concerns over inhumane treatment.  I think he was pulling my leg and theorized shepherds had just finally run out of crooked sticks.

Here are some pictures of the sheep and us resting:

Shepherd on a Hill Outside Jerusalem

MerleTomasz

After our rest…. onward we marched, finally reaching the checkpoint between Israel and the Palestinian controlled West Bank.  Here is a picture of the wall separating the two lands:

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The checkpoint was painless, we just walked through!  Not what I was expecting…  the pedestrian entrance was even practically deserted.  I think most people enter via taxi or bus, not walking.

Inside the West Bank the first thing that happened was we got assailed by taxi drivers wanting our business.  One guy was quite persistent and followed us about 100 yards heckling us the whole way, saying it was much too far to walk and we HAD to have a taxi.  Little did he underestimate our hearty constitutions. 

Finally we shook him off by repeatedly saying, “No!” 

The next thing I noticed (besides Israeli soldiers swarming the place) was all the graffiti on the dividing wall between Israel and the West Bank.  There is tons of it, as far as the eye can see.  It is quite sad… 

Here is a sampling of some graffiti:

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After asking a group soldiers for directions, we headed towards Bethlehem.  I knew we were getting close when I saw this sign:

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In Bethlehem

As we neared “Bethlehem Square,” (the focal point of festivities) the crowds moving down the street become dense.  At the worst part we were merely shuffling along in a tight sea of humanity.  This next picture was taken where the street widened out and wasn’t so crowded, but you can still see there were a lot of people (I was standing on a box):

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At the entrance to Old Town Bethlehem there is an arch we went under that is supposedly the same arch Mary and Joseph walked under.  It probably isn’t, but they would have likely walked on this same spot of ground anyways.

Old Gate Qoos Az Zarara Bethlehem

I did see the Bethlehem Inn.  No doubt the same one Mary and Joseph were turned away from:

Bethlehem Inn

Here’s a picture of a street leading up to the Church of the Nativity (it’s the Church with the high steeple):

Bethlehem Street

Inside the Church of the Nativity is the supposed spot where Jesus was born.  There are golden “baubles” all over and it seems anything but “humble,” which seems more descriptive of how Jesus came to earth. 

I didn’t actually see the Nativity Cave because the line there was enormously long and I figured I could always see the picture on Wikipedia later (which I did, and you can too here).

Inside of the Church of the Nativity

In the “trap-doors” in the picture above you can see mosaics below from the original floor.  This Church of the Nativity was commissioned back in the olde days by Constantine himself (or his mother or something) and finished in 333 AD.  It is about the oldest Christian church in the world still going. 

Here is a close-up of the mosaics from the original floor.  Weird to think of Constantine (and Crusaders like perhaps Richard the Lionhearted) walking on this very floor.

Original Mosaics

The church appeared to be non-Protestant.  I thought the nuns and monks were interesting.  The picture below of the Monk checking his cell-phone is a real sign of the times, methinks.

Nun

Monk Texting

The Church of the Nativity has seen a lot of violence, even recently.  Check out this headline from just yesterday:

“Clashes between holy men erupt inside Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. About 100 priests and monks from the Greek and Armenian churches, armed with brooms, came to blows whilst cleaning the church in preparation for Orthodox Christmas celebrations…” 

You can watch the video of them fighting here

This type of bickering seems to exhibit the typical attitude I see of “religion” here in Israel, more legalistic than “of the heart.”  This particular case of monks fighting with brooms gives Christianity a bad name.  Whatever happened to, “Turn the other cheek?”

There has been other recent fighting at this church as well.  I saw a Youtube video of Palestinians holed up in the church exchanging fire with Israeli troops this past August.  The monks were bringing out casualties on stretchers.  I guess they can be nice sometimes.

Anyways, after meandering around Bethlehem for awhile, eating our sack lunches in the square (and buying some local tea from a young Palestinian Boy), we decided to walk out to this place called, “Shepherds Fields.” 

While no one knows exactly which hill the Shepherds were on when the angels appeared to them, these hills are typical and in the near vicinity. 

We had a hard time finding the Shepherds fields.  On the edge of town we stopped at a street corner to consult our guide-book.  There was a small grocery store there and this lady was loading groceries into her car.  She asked us what we were looking for so we told her.  “Oh, I live right by them!”  After consulting her husband (who was in the drivers seat), she told us to pile in and they’d drive us.  They were the friendliest people, and after pointing out their house as we passed by they dropped us off at the “Shepherds Fields.”  I think the couple were Christians because 1) they had a sticker of a cross on their car and 2) they wished us Merry Christmas.

What we saw when we reached the Shepherds Fields was pretty exotic: a group of Japanese tourists.  This was entertaining, though not exactly what I was expecting.

Japanese Tourists

I did get this picture of the surrounding scenery:

Shepherds Fields Near Bethlehem

After reading the section of the angels appearing to the shepherds from Luke chapter 2, we headed back (walking) to Bethlehem.  Upon arriving we were wiped out so stopped to eat some food and take a break. 

Visiting Israel and historic spots is interesting because – while I’m trying to savor the history – I’m also having my own adventures in the present and dealing with mundane things like hunger and feet being so tired they feel as if they’re about to fall off.  Maybe Mary and Joseph were hungry and tired and rode into town on a rainy night too? 

Anyways, after a break we decided to head back to Manger Square to see what it looked like at night.

I noticed this (ironic) sign on our way back:

Welcome_to_Bethlehem

Manger Square was sort of a mad-house.  Here is a picture and video I took:

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Ambience Footage….

It started raining and we needed to get back to Jerusalem.  While walking out we passed a Lutheran church offering free “Glühwein.”  Not much of an attraction to me, but my German compatriot was excited as this is traditional Christmas beverage in Deutschland.

Turns out the Lutheran Church was also getting ready to start an evening Carol service, so we attended that as well!  This was quite nice and almost made me feel back at home.  A young group of Palestinian locals from that church sang carols they had practiced.  It wasn’t professional, but that made it seem more authentic (and like home).  All the songs were in Arabic (which was different) and a couple of the carols were even in an Arabic style.  The whole show was so pleasant I fell asleep at the end.

Next we headed back to “The Wall.”  It was raining in earnest now, and we were freezing.  A funny memory I have of that day is walking along in the rain in the dark along this graffiti-covered wall (on the Palestinian side) singing Christmas Carols with Merle (she singing in German while I in English).  A very random Christmas Eve!

At the checkpoint there was not a soul to be seen.  There were some eight entry lines and after some looking we found one manned by an Israeli soldier… who didn’t seem too attentive, we walked straight through.  I think we looked pretty touristy.  And wet.

Then we waited in the rain a long time to be picked up by a friend of a friend (super nice Israeli man – worked in the Department of Education of Jerusalem or something) who let us crash at his flat (they call apartments over here “flats”).  I can’t even remember his name now, but he was extremely hospitable giving us coffee, dessert, dry clothes, and had everything set up for our sleeping quarters – he even left us the key to his place when he left for work the next morning!  His apartment was so nice it was hard leaving.

So that was my Christmas Eve in a nutshell.  Or a 50-gallon drum.