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“I recommend seeing the entire country”

Its small, but deeper and broader than any other.

Every corner is a blessing and a miracle.

Modern miracles and ancient roots intertwine in the world’s most dynamic land.

Do you want to experience the Bible and prophesy coming alive all around you?

Do you want to connect to your spiritual roots?

There is so much to do and see and every person, group and situation is different and so are my tours customized for the occasion.

Contact me and I will be pleased to talk about your trip and goals.

You may visit the Ministry of Tourism Website to browse for ideas.

O’ Temple Mount

I know that most  of our readers have heard much about the dismal situation on our holiest site – the Temple Mount but today when I was there it really came home.
I went  to the mikva and wore non leather shoes as halacha prescribes. Then there were the humiliating preparations. I was told by our guide that since we are a Jewish group, we will be closely scrutinized by the Israeli police at the entrance. Any sign of Jewish identity would be reason to detain us yell at us, demand our ID and ban us from entering. And so, no kipa,no tzitit and certainly no dangerous contraband as a siddur or Tihilim. A magan david  design on ones  hat is also forbidden.

We were  the only Jews waitng on  the line. I saw a  non Jewish person have his Bible confiscated. Nothing but Muslim religious articles allowed on the site of the Holy Temple.
It seems that there is one particular loud, bossy and rude police office who runs the place and sets the ugly tone. He does his job just as his bosses like. He  ordered  a map of the Bet  Hamikdash confiscated and began yelling threatening us ..claiming that we were planning to make trouble. Our guide just lowered his head  and absorbed the abuse as the other  Gentile tourist looked on at the spectacle of Jews beng humiliated by Jewish police  at our holiest site.
. I could not help but think how far we have come from the moment of grace God gave us in 1967 when Am Yisroel were thrilled  as “The Temple Mount is in our hands!!”

Not long  ago, a religious Jew who made the mistake of not disguising himself as a Gentile, had his bottle of water confiscated because the police claimed… he  might make  a bracha on the Mount…

Well, we were finally on the Mount  and were the only  Jews there. The area is huge  – seventeen foot ball fields!.
There  were a number of tourist groups and lots of Muslims. Some of them were having classes , some were strolling. Others were playing soccer. They were all at home. The Muslim authorities (Waqf) eyed us suspiciously. They  knew when they smelled Jew. They were on their walky talkies and signaled to each other all over the mount. Were  we going to move our lips in prayer, bow in the direction of the holy  of Holies or do some other Jewish thing.?.
We continued our walk around the perimeter of the Mount – in the areas that halacha allows one to tread witnessing the places where our people have come up to for many centuries when Am Yisroel were indeed home  and acted like it.
There was panic  for  a brief moment in our group when I took off my hat to wipe my brow – and kipppa was visible! Imagine. In the very heart of Yerushalayim.
What  have we done to ourselves?!

In the year 2000 , Prime minister  Ehud Barak agreed to  the Waqf’s  request to make an emergency exit for  the Al Aksa mosque. They brought up bull dozers, mack trucks and guted  the belly of the southern part of the mountain. That was some emergency exit. When the dust settled a few years later they had built under ground, the  largest mosque in Israel. Done.
The had extracted tons of dirt and rock, destroying precious  remains of the Temple and  then threw the whole lot in a garbage dump.Those remains are now being sifted to salvage what can  be saved from the destruction.

During the brutal  and unsurpevised  earth moving, the very walls of the mount began to buckle. This is when the Isaeli authorities woke up and insisted that  the ancient southern support wall be attened to and strengthened. The Waqf insisted that no impure Infidel will touch any thing on their holy site,  and so a Jordanian team is doing the job, in a rather unasthetic manner I might add.

What can I say? Rabbi Akiva and his fellow rabbis saw the Mount and Temple in its ruins with foxes running about He laughed. His colleagues asked, “what are you laughing at”. He answered ,” Just as the prophet said there will be a destruction, he also said there will be  a rebuilding and redemption.”

I saw the foxes today. I would have liked to  laugh but it wasn’t  the Romans who were responsible for the desecration  and destruction. It was our own. We gave the keys back to our enemies  and tormentors  only moments after he greatest miracle since the Exodus.
Yes, we are in the midst of the time of redemption.
Yes, we have indeed come a long way.
Yes, the prophets have foreseen it all.

Rabbi Akiva you have comforted me.

Candles and flowers

Kneeling on a Paris street, right next to the place where hundreds of people have placed flowers and candles to commemorate the victims of Friday’s atrocious terror attacks, a French reporter interviews a little boy, maybe four or five years old. Do you understand why these people did what they did, the reporter wants to know.

Yes, because they’re very, very, evil. They’re not very nice, these bad guys,” the boy replies. “You have to be very careful and you have to switch houses,” he adds. “Don’t worry,” his dad interrupts, gently stroking the boy’s head. France is our home, he declares, and we’re not going anywhere.

But, the young boy argues, “they have guns and they can shoot at us, because they’re very evil.” True, but we have flowers, the father retorts, pointing at the sea of people showing their respect to the victims. “Look, everybody is putting down flowers. That’s to fight the guns.” At first the boy is skeptical — “flowers don’t do anything,” he says — but his father reassures him that the flowers, together with the candles, protect us from the evildoers. The boy looks relieved. “I feel better now,” he says, as his father gives a satisfying smile to the reporter.

The above, is part of an article I read today and fits perfectly with the experience that I had yesterday, as I guided a very pleasant group of pastors from Holland.

The theme of the tour was the topographic /strategic and demographic influences on Jerusalem today and tomorrow. Just my cup of tea.

I was able to demonstrate some of the very basic but essential facts that are vital in order to even discuss political and inter communal issues of the city.

We began on Ammunition Hill, the main battle for Jerusalem in 1967.

I think that some of my guests were surprised to hear that all the neighborhoods that can be seen from the strategic, former Jordanian hill fortress, were Jewish and most built after 1967. I explained that 280,000 Jews of Jerusalem live beyond the “green line” in areas that their Dutch ambassador would not visit because it was “occupied territory”. They seemed riveted as they were exposed to this information. I was certain that this did not jive with their conceptions of an “occupied East Jerusalem.”

I knew that the expected questions would be asked sooner or later as we began to feel a bit more familiar with each other..

“So” , I was asked, what about the illegal and immoral occupation of other’s lands”?

I was not surprised that they needed a basic history lesson of the Arab – Israel conflict. I explained how there never was a “Palestinian state or even people”; how Jordan was an artificial creation on land that was designated for a Jewish state and how Jordan illegally occupied the “West bank” when she attacked Israel in 1948 and then lost it to Israel when Jordan again attacked in 1967.

“Why then are their claims to the territories any better than ours”, I asked.

There was no response but one man in particular did not look very convinced. I asked him, “you seem unhappy with my historical and legal presentation”. He agreed that he was not. He said, do you think it is correct to occupy people’s private lands? I explained that every Jewish town and village (about 400,000 people today) was built on government land; land that was once controlled by the Turks, the British, the Jordanians (never “Palestinians”) and now by Israel.

I asked again, “why are our claims inferior to any one else’s? Again, he could not answer me but still something was bothering him. I asked him what it was?

He just about blurted, “so what about the Arab rights, what about their state? What is your solution.

Ah, I was waiting for that, the $60,000 question.

I knew I would absolutely shock these liberal, politically correct ladies and gentlemen and I loved it.

I told them, “They must go”.

They asked me to repeat that as if they could not believe their ears.

I said yes, they will not live in peace with us. They indoctrinate their children to hate us and kill us, so they must go, and we will help them. In fact if the world was honestly concerned about solving the “Palestinian problem” they would contribute land and resources to resettle them. It could be done rather easily.

This really got my Dutch guest going. He said, “why don’t the Jews find some place to go, like North Dakota.” ( I would have prefered southern California..)

I explained to him that if the entire reason for a Jewish state was physical safety and human comforts, yes that would be a theoretical solution. But, I informed him that I did not leave the USA because I sought security or creature comforts. I am here because this is the only land that God commanded me to live in..

How simple an argument, especially to a group of pastors who claim to take their Bible seriously. You should have seen the looks on their faces. I don’t think they ever heard that one before.

They have finally met a real live Israeli extremist, and without horns.

On the way back to the bus, I asked one of them for his assessment of the Muslim problem inundating Europe. He agreed that there was a real problem. And how to solve it? He said ,” we have to hope that the next generation will be better educated and see there are better ways of living together. We must reach out to them and show them a better way. That is all we can do, that is all…”

And if that does not work..there are always flowers and candles.

Such nice people. Pity

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Return to Jericho

I finally returned  to Jericho after ten years. The last  time  I was there, guiding tourists, was  just before the Oslo War broke out in October 2000.

I have been to  the “City of Palms” or ‘The back door of Jerusalem” many times  – when it was safe – before the Oslo “peace”.  Since those  Accords of 1993, when Israel rolled out the red carpet  for Yasser Arafat and the PLO., we  guides did not feel  very comfortable  guiding in Jericho and  most scratched it  off the touring map.
True, armed Arabs and  posters of  Arafat were  not encouraging but I did  continue to visit,

The charming ”Peace  unto Israel” synagogue with  it’s beautiful mosaic floor  from the times of the Talmud, and the  little  yeshiva  above where  a handful of students “held down the fort” studying Torah were a must visit.

We  would   dance with the young idealist scholars encouraging them and they encouraged us. It was a bizarre situation. “Palestinian police” with assault rifles on the outer perimeter and nonuniform   armed Israeli guards sitting on the porch eying each other suspiciously.
It was  clear that this situation would not last. And so in October  2000 when Prime Minister Barak offered Arafat 97% of his  demands including half of Jerusalem, the old terror chief  gave the signal for a terror wave that eventually took thousands of Israeli lives. “Palestinian police” opened fire on their Israeli counterparts  on their joint “peace” patrols. The weapons we gave them came in handy. Turns out it wasn’t about land after all.

Another causality of the Oslo war  was the closing of the doors of the Oasis casino. Arafat, and it  turns out, his Israeli partners ( the   same  person who was negotiating with Arafat about the future of the Land of Israel!)  had to now manage with out the million dollars  that  bused in Israeli gamblers  spent daily.

Since  then Jericho is closed to Jewish visitors. Well, almost.
Every Rosh Chodesh (first of the month), a handful of  dedicated Jews  try to scrap together  a minyan (quorum)  for the  joyous once a month prayers in the ancient, now forlorn little synagogue.

Leaving  Jerusalem very early, we  travel east through the Jude an Desert liberated in the 1967 Six  Day War.  This  was to be  a  bitter sweet experience.
Twelve  men  and  three women answered the call.
The plain mosaic  stones, dusty and  worn after 1500 years  seemed to shine for us that early  morning.
As I said, I have   viewed these stones  many times  before, but this was different. Today I came to pray and  keep them company  – for a fleeting stolen moments.  The little chipped  red hearts on the floor  seemed to burst  with joy and achieve a color I  had never noticed before. Our hearts beat together  with  the living stones  on the floor. that Rosh  Chodesh.

Before entering Jericho in our armored bus, we  waited for our IDF escort. Five military vehicles accompanied the strange group of Jews who insist on not abandoning Jericho. They would  simply  not let go! The commander briefed us  on how  we  must behave in the alien territory. “Operation Joshua”as he named it was about to be launched.
Operation? Were we behind enemy lines on some daring raid? It would seem so. What was  a natural, simple  activity  years  ago  has  become a complicated, risky military operation requiring special military and political preparations and  permission.
Oy. What  have we done to ourselves? This was  the  first city that Joshua conquered 3500 years ago. I wanted to apologize  to the soil under my feet. I felt ashamed   before  Eretz Yisroel ( the Land of Israel), abandoned by her children for another.
Jewish presence was  in self imposed exile  Jericho welcomed  her  sons  home  again in 1967 but  they chose to trade  her  away. Trade? No, Give her  away. to strangers. Strangers? No, enemies – cruel enemies. The  City of Palms, the City of Joshua   is an Arab city. King David  vanquished the Philistines and Israel’s leaders brought  them back.

As I compare the city with the one I knew  before the “peace process”, I see  a new creation  Large bill boards announcing foreign aid from the world over, especially the USA. Everyone is busy erasing any trace of Jewish life or sign in our Jericho, making sure it remains an orphan of Jewish History. . Ishmael and Esau have found their common goal.

We  were escorted out of the city after the prayers and  cleaning up the area as the little  shul returned to its month of isolation  and longing for her children.
I thought of the words of that Jericho native, Rachav, as she told Joshua’s two spies,.” We  have all heard  of the miracles of the Exodus and your victories. Our hearts have melted for your God is with you”(Joshua 2:10)

Would  our leaders today only believe the words of that Jericho lady.

Mount Tabor– sentinel of the Valleys.

Mount Tabor– sentinel of the Valleys.

It stands very high like a solitary faithful guardian where the beautiful Jezreal Valley and the lower Galilee meet. Its distinct perfect round form demands our attention. mt tabor
Mount Tabor is an ancient Horst (a geological term for a mountain that pushed its way up above the cooling earth’s crust when the surface was first forming) that has determined the fate of empires in this area.

We read about this mountain in the Book of Joshua ( 19:22) as he leads the twelve tribesin the conquest of the Promised Land three thousand five hundred yearsago. This was determined to be the border between three tribes; Zebulen, Issachar and Naphtali.

We know that Joshua’s conquests were not complete, impressive though they were. The Bible tells us that Pagan peoples were allowed to remain in the land after submitting to Israelite rule and taxation. This concession is critiqued by the Bible. We can assume that they were not allowed to practice idol worship in public, though we know that some f hundred years later, the expulsion of the ten tribes from this northern part of the land, was partly because they sometimes did ape their heathen neighbors.. It was just this that the prophets beseeched the Jews to forfeit.

Mount tabor was supposed to witness the sound defeat of the northern tribes under the wheels of Cicero’s nine hundred iron chariots. Armed with farm implements, the Jews asked Devorah the judge to lead them. She summoned Barak ben Avinoam and instructed him to lead the Jewish force of irregulars and farmers against the Canaanite military machine. Mt Tabor was of Cesaro’s plan to squash the ragged Jewish resistance. But as the Psalms say, “Some with chariots and some with horses, but we, with the name of God”
And so it was.
The nine hundred chariots stormed down the mountain – but their wheels were abruptly stopped by the winter mud in the Kishon stream. Now the chariots were death traps.
It was a complete rout.

Cicero fled alone and sought refuge in the tent of Yael of the Kenizy tribe, an ally of the Canaanites . She beckoned him and promised to protect him from his pursuers. He asked for water . She gave him milk and when he was asleep she finished the tyrant off.

And the Jews enjoyed peace for another forty years.

In the waning years of the Maccabean dynasty, when  it  was   Rome  that was really calling the shots, Alexander the Macabee, a great grand son of those that defeated the Greeks, made one last attempt to secure independence. He gathered an army of 31,000 and fought a series of battles on and the foot of Mt Tabor. He lost 10,000 of his men, was captured and executed. There would be yet  another two giant revolts against Rome before the Jews were sent into exile, to return only in the last century.

Meanwhile empires rose and fell at the foot of the lone round mountain.
The crusaders slugged it out with the Mamluks,The Mamlukswith the Mongols and Napoleon with the Ottoman Turks.

In 1799 Napoleon invaded Egypt. He wanted to cut off British shipping in the Mediterranean and win lots of glory. Was  he less than Alexander or Caesar?

Shrewd politician that he was, he  allowed a rumor to spread that he was interested in converting to Islam. All the dignitaries and military leaders of Egypt were invited to a banquet and there   they were beheaded. The rest was easy.

He continued his conquests up the Sinai coast to Jafa ,and then Acco. There he was stopped by the British  Turkish combined forces. However to secure  his rear he sent his   trusty general Kleber to head off Turkish reinforcements  coming  fast from Damascus. At the foot of Mount Tabor, fifteen hundred French troops formed two tight squares and  fended off thirty five thousand Turks. The results were staggering. The French  lost two dead and sixty wounded. The Turks lost six  thousand and five hundred were captured. Sounds like the Six Day  War!

When the Jewish Renaissance finally  shrugged off the dust of   exile,  some  of her children settled at the foot of the biblical mountain.. In 1901 Kfar Tabor was established by these determined pioneers. The few , cleared the way for  the rest of the nation.

At first, they hired Arab  Bedouins to guard their property from  other Bedouin thieves but it was  like having  the cat guard the milk.
Finally for the first  time since the Bar Kochba revolt nineteen hundred years earlier, these young revolutionaries founded the “Hashomer” –  the “watch  men”. Jews actually  arned to protect Jews. They planted the seeds of the Israel Defense Forces of  two generations  later.
The  Jewish reawakening had begun  – and the solitary mountain was there to welcome them home.

In 1799, Napoleon conquered Egypt. Shrewd politician that he was, he spread a rumor that he was interested in converting to Islam. He honored the local political and military leadership for a banquet –  and proceeded to   beheaded them. The rest was simple.

Advancing along the Sinai coast he stormed the city of Jaffa and  was finally stopped  at he walls of Acco by a combined Turkish – British force. To protect his   back from a large Turkish force bearing down from Damascus, he  sent his trusted general Kleeber to meet the Turks at the foot of Mt  Tabor. There his 1.500 men formed two tight squares and held of 35,000 Turks. The Turks retreated after losing 6,000 men  and five hundred captured. The  French lost   two dead and  sixty wounded. Sounds like the Six Day war!

In the First world  war  the British defeated  the combined Turkish – German forces and put an end to Four hundred years of Ottoman rule in the land of Israel.

In 1901 a handful of young Zionist pioneers  left the long exile and put down roots at the foot of the biblical mountain. At first they  hired Bedouin Arabs to guard the fruits of their hard labor. However it was like having the cat  guard the milk.Thus the first Jewish armed group since Bar Cochba, was formed. Hashomer – the  watch men. They planted  the seeds of the IDE for a   later  generation

Kfar Tabor struggled fought and prospered under the watchful gaze of the mountain of Deborah and Barak  who  would have been  proud of them.

Herodion – The mountain built around a tomb

Herodion – The mountain built around a tomb

After a thirty five year(!) search Professor Ehud Netzer felt he was able to announce to the world that he finally found what he was looking for – the Royal tomb of King Herod the Great ( or Harasha – the evil one, 73 BCE – 4 CE).
He spent the last thirty years unearthing the areas at the base of the partially man made volcano like mountain just between Jerusalem and Bethlehem skirting the Judean Desert.

He unearthed magnificent swimming pools , bath houses palaces parade grounds – but no tomb.
It was not on top of the fortress palace . That area was extensively excavated and though it did indeed reveal very impressive remains – no tomb. So, it was not on the top and it was not on the bottom. But Josephus Flavius, the prominent historian of Herod, clearly states that he was buried in Herodion . He just did not bother to say where.
In steps Prof. Netzer. Where else is there left to look? He did not suspect that Josephus was having a laugh with archaeologists of the future so he did not give up on Herodion in desperation he began to poke at the most unlikely spots – the hidden sides of the mountain. BINGO!.

The only similar monumental marble casks set in an ornate mausoleum belonged to Queen Helena( from what is south Russia today) who converted to Judaism in the time of the Maccabees and moved to Jerusalem where she is buried. Her ornate royal tomb was discovered about a century ago in Jerusalem.

The similarity helped convince him that he had indeed finally found Herod’s tomb. Beside the main reddish marble tomb he found two smaller white marble sarcophagi which probably belongs to family members. Near by, an entire mini Roman theater was also unearthed with a raised private viewing porch decorated in multi colored frescoes of the finest art. And all this cut into the side of the mountain!

Apparently at one point Herod gave the order to cover up all the magnificent designs with dirt to recreate the perfect volcano form. Did we mention that he was mad?

Herod ion is similar to another even more famous structure designed by Herod , Masada along the Dead Sea. Both were built on isolated flat mountains and converted into very powerful fortresses and at the same time opulent palaces. Both symbolized Herod’s reputation as the greatest builder of the ancient world. The Talmud says , “If you have not seen the Temple that Herod built you have not seen the most beautiful structure in the world.”

Both wonders were eventually used by Jewish rebels against Rome, in the Great Rebellion which ended with the destruction of the Second Temple and sixty years later by the followers of Bar Cochba and Rabbi Akive . The synagogues and ritual baths built by the temporary but desperate and determined Jewish occupants attest to the very different agendas of Herod and of these practicing Jews.

Unlike Masada , on Herodion there was no dramatic last stand – just careful preparations for one. When visiting Herodion one can see and feel the stage being set for the battle which apparantly never did take place In the nineteen sixties professor Yigal Yadin discovered in the caves of the Judean desert, letters sent to the Jewish fighters on Herod ion by their commander, Simon Bar Cochran. The letter instructed that the fighters to be supplied with lulavs and etros for the Sukkot holiday. Now thats a Jewish army! Imagine standing in the synagogue where these men prayed!

Amongst the very impressive phenomenon on Herodion is the vast water system Herod carved into the belly of the mountain. He built an aqueduct to bring water to the desert fortress form ten miles away!.

Herod was indeed the greatest of builders and knew how to live a life of luxury and to be buried in an unmatched way – but he had a difficult personality.. In fact the Roman Emperor said it was safer to be his pig than his friend. Indeed he did kill many of his children, his brother ,close friends and drove one of his wives to suicide. But he id not neglct to build great edifices named in honor of some of his victims..

He was not accepted by the rabbis as an authentic Jew because his father Antipater the Edomite converted under the duress of the Maccabbean king Yochanan Hurceanus
To make a very long story of intrigue and violence short, his father and he managed to have Rome appoint them as rulers of Judea

The Talmud tels us that when he became king he was very unhappy with the peculiar Jewish laws that did not recognize kings as gods and that a Jewish king had limited powers granted in the Torah etc..

He summoned the rabbis to him to be sure that indeed they were teaching the people that he . did not have absolute power. When this was confirmed, he ordered all the rabbis killed. He decided to leave one alive, Rabba Bar Buta, and had him blinded

The Talmud tells us that he later approached the blind rabbi and tried to learn of plans to topple the king. At first he did not reveal who he was but when the rabbi convinced him that he was not a potential rebel leader and simply accepted the fate as it is, Herod revealed himself and begged the rabbi to tell him how he might repent for being so rash.
The blind rabbi told him, “You have put out the lights of the world by murdering the rabbis. Try toin some way rekindle the lights by tending to the Temple.”
Herod then decided to embark upon the greatest construction of the ancient world The Western Wall is a tiny bit of only the outer support walls of that wonder.

Lest you think that Herod was a changed man, listen to what he planned for the day he would die. Herod was on his death bed in his winter palace in Jericho, deteriorating from a social disease . He knew that he was hated for the tyrant he was and so his last order on earth was ; “Gather all the rabbis to the room next to me. Announce, that the moment I die so do the rabbis. Thus, the day I die will not be a happy one. I n fact all will pray for my health” This last order was not executed but such was the the very end

Herod was a very evil king but the greatest of builders . Herodion will no doubt be one of the top tourist destinations in the coming years. A new road has just opened from Jerusalem cutting down travel to less than twenty five minutes. With the completed excavations of the tomb and theater areas along with the the base of the mountain with its swimming pools, palaces and largest bath house yet found in the country. it will be a must see. Add to that, the dramatic spirit of the Jewish rebels that hovers in every part of the mountain and Herodion is where you will be on your next visit. Oh ,and did I mention the view from the top?

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I love Israel! I have so much to say even after over 20 years of guiding tours I never get tired of it nor do the sites become unexciting. Even for me there is always something new to discover.

Gush Etzion then and now

Gush Etzion

Gush Etzion

Honestly, it would be hard to choose the one place or area that can be win the title of the  most dramatic  site in the Land of Israel over the thousands of years.  Not an easy choice.  However one strong candidate has to be Gush Etzion. Gush Etzion

Between Jerusalem and Hevron in the middle of  of Judea, is a hilly area crisscrossed by  colorful  fertile valleys and gorges. This is the heart land of the Holy Land .

Today the greater Gush Etzion area is home to about 60,000 Jews and growing. This area has not seen this number  of its sons and daughters since the great revolts against Rome when they were expelled. But they are back and making up for lost time!

In this area  David and before him Benjamin, son of Rachel were born.  Yes, its been a Jewish neighborhood for some time.

After Ezra and Nehemiah  led the Jews  back from Babylonian exile  2,4000 years ago, they rebuilt their homes in the heart land.
It was here that the great show down with the Greek empire occurred. The rulers of  ancient Greece declared that it was going to  be  their way or no way. They would not tolerate anti social , dangerous ideas like   the belief in just one god, a day of rest – even for slaves and cattle! Not putting old parents out to die.. Judaism was dangerous!. It must end in favor of modernity. Loyal Jews felt otherwise.

And so the family of the Maccabees raised the banner of revolt.
“Those who are for God – come to me!” And an irregular band of farmers and patriots set off to defeat Greece. They did. That is the story of Chanukah.
During one of the more crucial battles in the heart of what is today Gush Etzion, Elazar the Maccabee noted that the lead enemy elephant was carrying the general. Breaking ranks, he rushed the elephant and speared him from his soft under belly. The general was killed along with our hero – and blunted the Greek attack.
Jerusalem was saved.

Yes, it was all about Jerusalem. Gush Etzion lies on the “Road of the Patriachs” between Jerusalem and Hevron. Jerusalem can not  be taken from the south as long as the Gush Etzion area holds.

Which brings us to the modern era.
As the in gathering of the exiles began to trickle in from the four corners of the world as the prophets promised, the ancient, craggy soil began to respond to the love and care of her  long lost sons and daughters. The land blossomed once again.

In 1922, the village of Migdal Eder was established by Yemenite Jews who made the three month journey home  by foot. from the end of the southern Arabian peninsula. The holy soil responded – but the Arabs  were not happy about the return of the rightful heirs and  forced them out during the bloody 1929 country wide riots.

The Jews were not discouraged. They returned in 1935. Mr Holtzman bought land in the area and rebuilt.  In Yiddish Holtz means wood which is Etz in Hebrew. Thus the word Etzion (wood) for the modern settlements

Things were going great – until the next wave of Arab pogroms and the Jews were forced out  –   again

They did  not despair.

In 1942 as their Jewish brothers in Europe were being butchered, other young Jews were preparing for a Jewish future in the Jewish home land. Kibutz Kfar Etzion ws established by a group of  Jewish youth on land purchased by the Jewish Ntional fund. Then in 1945, Mauot Yitzchok was established. In 1946, Ein Tzurim and in 1947 young Zionist / socialist pioneers joined their religious brothers and sisters in near by Kibbutz Ravadim The hills were coming alive again. Nothing could stop these young starry eyed idealist now. They were building a country for the holocaust survivors. and for  the returning exiles the world over.

The British had just called it quits. They could not quell the  resolute revolt of the Irgun and Lechi Jewish underground groups that waged war against the 100,000 British occupation army.  Finally  the British buckled and announced the end of their occupation of Palestine ( Eretz Yisroel)

On November 29, 1947 the UN voted to partition western Eretz Yisroel into two states. Another Arab one (The Britissh had already established  what became Jordan in 1922 ) The Jews accepted the offer .

The Arabs were not interested in borders. There could not be a Jewish state .Period.

And so the four fledgling Gush Etzion settlements found themselves cut off and threatened by both the local Arab mobs and the British led Jordanian army.

They took a vote. It was decided that despite the slim chances of survival they would stay and fight.  The children and mothers were evacuated and they dug in.
It was about Jrusalem

The Arabs cut  off all the roads.  Convoys were attacked and  casualties mounted.
In one famous battle, a convoy of 51 vehicles made it to the Gush with supplies but were delayed leaving due to a stubborn prize breeding bull who would not get onto the truck.

The Arabs were waiting on the road just out side Bethlehem in the way to Jerusalem. The lead truck was stopped by a road block and the men and women took refuge in a small stone building off the road. For 30 hours the Arabs kept up their attack. The “neuteral” British would not intervene as the number of Jewish dead and wounded mounted. Finally the Jews had to agree to hand over all their vehicles and weapons to the Arabs in return for a British safe escort.

For years I have traveled that road and stopped to explain to visitors about the famous stone house with the memorial plaque out side.

That was before the Oslo “peace “ accords, before this area was given to our “peace partners”. After that I noticed that he sign disappeared . Then the building was gone. What battle? What history ? Were the Jews  ever there at all..?
Finally I noticed near the former battle site, a 30 foot high granite stone map of the Land of Israel from the river to the sea – draped in PLO flag colors. So much for the two state solution…)

In a desperate attempt to supply the beleaguered, valiant villages. Thirty five students volunteered to carry supplies walking all night through the Judean hills. Towards morning, within site of Gush Etzion, they were observed by an Arab shepherd but took no action against him.

A fatal mistake.

He alerted the villages in the area and hundreds of shrieking armed Arabs descended on the tiny band. They fought to the last man atop a small hill. When it was over their bodies were beyond any recognition.

Out of ammunition and short on supplies the Arabs swarmed the settlements. The British led, Jordan army joined the attack assuring an Arab victory

Five hundred and thirty five men and women held off a  very  well armed force ten times their size. One hundred and fifty seven were killed . 128 of them massacred after surrender.

Gush Etzion fell for the third time.

Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister said,If there is  Jewish  Jerusalem today  we  owe it to the defenders of Gush  Etzion” They bought the valuable time needed

In the ensuing years the orphans and survivors would look longingly at the lone
oak tree seen from far.  A symbol of what was. Who dreamed that it could be again?

But it was not over yet.  Many  are  the thoughts of me  but  God’s will shall prevail” _ Proverbs.

In 1967, the Arabs launched attacks on Israel and in the miraculous six day war her sons returned to Gush Etzion – for a fourth time.

Today the “Gush “ has expanded twenty times and from four tiny settlement hugging the land for dear life, there are fifteen towns and villages – 60,000 strong and growing.
Today there is tons to do and see there. From history, archeology, wine tasting nature hikes, fruit picking and
Do not miss the dramatic audio visual presentation of the 1947 –48 events.

Will these “west bank settlements” today  withstand the multiple onslaughts of Arab terror threats, Israeli “land for peace” fanatics , Obama’s diktats..? The prophets promised that we would return for good. And that is as good as it gets.

Gamla- The Masada of the North

Gamla Israel

Gamla Israel

Josephus  Flavius ( or Yosef ben  Matityahu –  his  Hebrew name), the  famous historian has made  us  familiar with the dramatic  last stand of the  Jewish  rebels  on Masada against the  Roman  Legions  after the  destruction of the  Second Temple.

But according to the  same historian, a  very similar drama  took place on  another isolated mountain in the very  north of the  country.

Gamla  stands perched on  the southern  end  of the  Golan  Heights. It’s humb  back shape  gave it is’s  name as Gamal means Camel in Hebrew. Surrounded by  protective deep  ravines on all sides. Gamla  was  a  Jewish district  town  when the great revolt against Rome broke out in 66 CE.

One thousand  four hundred  years  earlier, Moses conquered this land  from Og the giant of Bashan. Two and  a half tribes requested the lands  to the east of the Jordan river  for their inheritance and so a part of the tribe of Menashe  settled on what is today the Golan heights or  the Biblical  Bashan.

When Joshua divided up the Promised  Land amongst the tribes, cities of refuge used by people guilty of man slaughter, were established on either side of the Jordan.
Gamla may have been  one of these biblical cities of refuge.

Fast  forwarding  again to the time of the Great Revolt we find Gamla as a crucial strategic position. Not only  was it an isolated walled town that  welcomed  rebels and refugees fleeing  the  advancing Roman Legions, it became a symbol  as the Jews defied the Roman Empire.
In addition, it was geographically on the north east  frontier, closest to two possible threats to Rome. First the  powerful and ever threatening Parathion empire was  not  far  from this frontier. The Parthians would  certainly  grab an opportunity  to  weaken  Roman rule on the international frontier by aiding the Jewish rebels.

Secondly, there was the possibility that the   very large and influential Jewish  communities  within the Parthian  borders would organize  expeditionary armies in aid of their brothers in Eretz Yisroel
For these  reasons it was  deemed necessary to make a convincing  example of Gamla  a the very outset.

As  expected, Gamla  held well against he Romans. Roman assaults were repulsed as the Jews rained  death down on the attackers . In a bold  move the Romans  led by their commander managed to tunnel under one of the watch towers and undermined it so  that it  crumbled down into the ravine.
The Romans  then rushed into the gap with  the Jewish fighters pulling  their families up the slope on the roofs towards the hump of the mountain.
Josephus describes how the Romans hotly  pursued them on the roofs and then, suddenly,  due  to the  extreme weight of the soldiers bunching together charging up, the roofs buckled and the soldiers fell into the buildings and  down the slope.
Panic  broke out. In the  thick of the night and  clouds  of  dust the stunned Romans   hacked at each other as they  beat  a hasty retreat out the  walls .

But this was just a tactical victory for the  defenders of Gamla.
The Romans filled in the ravine and brought up the entire army to the walls careful not to  repeat  their earlier mistakes.
What happened  next was inevitable. The Romans slowly made their way up  the slope forcing the defenders to the summit as the  defenders  formed a  protective ring  around their families at  the very top.  Rather than fall into the  hands of the sadistic Romans, they took their  families  by their   hands  and leaped  to the depths  of  the ravine. One can guess  only  imagine the mass hysteria and their final  cries as the ravine  floor rushed up towards  them   towards  certain death. .. Shema yisroel…

Thus Gamla  fell. Four years later the  Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and three years  after that the last strong hold, Masada was the scene of the  famous  last   stand.

For  almost two thousand years Gamla  lie in ruins. Her stones sharing the  story with  no one
It was only  after the miraculous Six Day War of 1967 that  her sons returned to her. When Israeli forces liberated the Golan from  the Syrian attackers above,  Israeli archaeologists  were thrilled at  the opportunity to  explore and uncover that part of the home land. And uncover they did! Dozens of Jewish towns with synagogues, ritual baths,  Hebrew inscriptions… even  one adorning  the study hall of one of the  authors of the Talmud! Rabbi Ekiezer  Hakapar’s !
In  Gamla was   found the oldest  synagogue in the world!
The story  of the  first brave Jewish  stand against the Roman Empire was revealed by Prof Shmirayu Gutman  who I had the honor of speaking with as he uncovered the  site in 1979.  When  he held up a coin found in Gamla which displays   the word “redemption” and a vessel from the Temple, tears came to his eyes as he exclaimed, “now I understand what  all this sacrifice was for.  It was not for Gamla alone  but rather it was for the “redemption” The redemption of Jerusalem and the Jewish People. It was for this they gave their lives.”

And today , Gamala  and the Golan is  back  where it  belongs. No longer forlorn, an orphan occupied by conquerors. Today there are dozens of modern Jewish towns on the Golan and Gamla is visited by throngs of visitors who pay their  respect and learn   from the stones that  have been redeemed from the dust  by returning sons and daughters
No wonder , the  residents of the Golan Heights chose to list   the names of  their sons who fell in the modern wars of Israel on a  dramatic perch over looking Gamla.
Each village and town today has  its name engraved in the stones over looking the  former Jewish strong hold.   Inscribed in the  stones is in  bold letters is:  GAMLA SHALL FALL NO  MORE”

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