Sunday, 1 March 2015

Hirbet Midras

Adulam Park is a nature reserve in central Israel which spreads over 6,500 dunams and features rolling green hills, rich natural foliage and stunning views. It was here that Judah, the son of Jacob, met his first wife, and it is the place where King David sought refuge after being expelled from the city of Gath. Remnants of ancient settlements have been found on almost every hill in Adulam, and special sites within the park include the Midras Ruins, Atari Ruins and Burgin Ruins. We recently visited the Midras Ruins, after stopping by Kakadu in Moshav Tzafririm, which borders the Adulam Park.
Hirbet Midras (the Midras Ruins), are the remains of an agricultural village which dates back to the 10th century BCE until approximately the 4th century CE, when the village was deserted. The ruins of houses, a system of burial caves and a burial pyramid, hiding tunnels used during the Bar Kokhba revolt in 132-135 CE, and a columbarium cut in the rock for the housing of pigeons, have all been discovered at the site. We had visited Hirbet Midras previously in search of Kalaniyot (anemones) and Rakefot (Persian Cyclamen), but this time I was looking for the Pyramid, a large pyramid-shaped monument with several stairs, which was probably used as an impressive tombstone for a burial system located next to the pyramid. 10 metres long at its base, and reaching a height of 3.5 metres (the top layers of the pyramid are missing, and the original height of the pyramid is estimated at 5 metres), it is thought that there is no other monument like this in the whole of Israel. This type of monument is known in Hebrew as a nefesh (soul). In Arabic its name is al-mantar, the scout.
A little down the hill from the pyramid, past a hewn stonewall, probably from an ancient synagogue, a burial cave with a rolling stone to close the entrance to two burial rooms can be found. The inner burial room has decorated arches. Multiple niches for burial can be seen in both rooms. In the time of the Second Temple, burial customs were such that when somebody died their body would be laid out on a shelf in a cave which would be sealed with a heavy stone. A few months later, after the flesh had decayed, the bones would be transferred to a special bone box, whose size was determined by the femur, the longest bone in the human body. The cave once contained small ossuaries for collecting the bones of the decomposed bodies. Pottery found in the burial cave was used from the 1st century BCE until the Bar Kochba revolt in 132-135 CE.
We walked on until we reached the Columbarian Cave. The shape of the many concaved holes carved into the cave walls explains the name: columba in Greek is pigeon, and columbarium is dovecote. Researchers are unsure about the genuine use of the holes but it seems that one of the uses was for collecting dove-dung for organic fertiliser. The pigeons were kept as a source of food, were used for sacrifices, and also to deliver messages.
Hirbet Midras has an ancient tunnel system, said to have been dug by the Bar Kokhba Jewish rebels fighting against the Roman Empire. It is likely that those who dug the hidden tunnels took advantage of more ancient underground chambers. The system of interconnecting rooms - over fifty underground caves and cisterns - were used as shelter for the fighters, as well as for storage of food, oil and water. Most of the chambers allow for standing but in the connecting tunnels one must crawl on all fours. The Romans eventually defeated the Jewish rebels, and the agricultural village was destroyed after the revolt, but was rebuilt and used a few hundred years later by Christians during the Byzantine Period.
The tunnel system can be entered and navigated by crawling; arrows mark the direction to be followed. The trail between the tunnels and the caves is fascinating, and was especially loved by my youngest son who found them a great thrill to crawl through. There is a lot of turning and crawling, so you need a torch, a tight waistline and no fear of the dark in order to enjoy the experience! (Okay, I admit at his point that neither Mister Handmade in Israel nor I had the slightest inclination to crawl through the tunnels ourselves.) Your torch will illuminate niches where oil lamps once lay and other carvings in the rock.
The Pyramid, the burial rooms and the beautiful seasonal wild flowers spotted during our visit to Adulam Park were interesting enough, but it was the "Crawling Cave" which proved to be the most fun for my son. He tried the tunnels out when we first arrived at the park, and we finished off our tour with yet another visit.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Baby Baby

New baby cards are always fun to make, but this one was extra fun because the new baby is a redhead, or gingie, as they are known here in Israel. His big brother is one too (this is the card I made when he was born), so it was a cute thing to show the two of them, along with Mum, Dad and their brown-haired sister, in all their redness!

Eli Ronnie is the first child for this couple, though they already have a furbaby called Hugo, whom my customer was keen to include on the card. I have shown Mum and Dad with their baby son. Hugo is standing to the side, watching proudly.
Don't forget, if you too would like to order a customised card for a new baby or any other occasion, you can do so right here.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Beer, Brown Ale and... a Bar Mitzvah

Doug recently celebrated his 50th birthday. His many passions include the American Longhorns football team, Temple University in Philadelphia (he's an alumnus), New Orleans and beer! He was formerly in the US Navy, and is currently working in Japan. My customer also asked me to show him wearing dark sunglasses on his birthday card. Apparently they are his trademark look.
I think that I managed to pretty much cover everything on his birthday card.  I have shown him in his dark glasses, beer in hand. He is surrounded by the badges and flags of all the things that are important to him in his life. A big red 50 highlights his age.
I'm told that Doug loved the card, and my customer was kind enough to write and tell me that she thought it "divine."
Alan lives in Newcastle, North East England, so another customer asked me to prepare a card with some Newcastle Brown Ale on it! Newkie Brown, as it is known locally, is an ale that was originally produced in the city, though I was amazed to read that it is now brewed by Heineken in North Yorkshire.
Finally, this Bar Mitzvah card, created for a young man called Ohad, shows him wearing his new party outfit - a white shirt and purple tie - as specified by my customer. My customer also told me that Ohad loves to read books, and going on tiyulim (hikes) in nature. I added a background of green hills and trees to the card, and a small pile of books next to the young man. Ohad also likes the fantasy tabletop role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, as my own son once did. The black polyhedral dice that I embellished the card with are used to resolve random events in the game.
The Hebrew greeting on the card says "Ohad, Mazal Tov on the occasion of your Bar Mitzvah."

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Chai Negev

Chai Negev is an ecological village at Kibbutz Revivim, a kibbutz in the Southern District of Israel with a population of 800, of which nearly 370 are members. The kibbutz was established as an agricultural research station in 1943, on the site of a Turkish railway station and British army camp. Recording rainfall, and experimenting in various ways, the members of the kibbutz managed to find enough water to grow produce in the sand, and succeeded in transforming the research station into a kibbutz, a communal settlement, in 1948. Revivim played a huge part in the massive success Israel has had in making the desert bloom, and today it thrives on a large olive crop, irrigated with locally available brackish water, as well as a dairy, a chicken hatchery and a fish growing farm, and other non-agricultural industries. One of Kibbutz Revivim’s founding members was Golda Meir’s daughter, Sara, so Golda Meir, the fourth Prime Minister of Israel, spent a lot of time there, Revivim becoming her second home.
We were looking for inexpensive accommodation for a weekend away, and Chai Negev at Revivim, which opened in 2003, suited us perfectly. The site offers ecologically constructed accommodation, ranging from group tents and mud brick houses, to the more conventional guesthouses (our choice!), and it was all surrounded by a zoo!
At Chai Negev the goal is to bring children closer to the natural world around them in a way that is direct and enjoyable, in order to raise their awareness of their environment and heighten their sensitivity to what goes on in it. The site is home to a variety of desert animals raised in special breeding centres, in conditions resembling their natural habitat. Though I can't say that I particularly enjoy seeing animals in cages, coyotes, foxes and baboons were situated right next to our room and they seemed active and happy. My youngest son woke early in the morning and I saw him creep out to go and see the monkeys and say good morning the hens! A waterfowl lake, alpaca, sheep and more were also nearby.
What makes Chai Negev so unique is its buildings, which have been built with an ecological approach and with the most imaginative and creative use of local materials. Compressed hay bales, recycled tires and wood have all been used in the structures, whilst a nearby lookout tower, built from logs, enabled us to see the entire compound, with its view of the beautiful Negev desert and also the kibbutz scrapyard! Breakfast was Bedouin-style pita bread, rolled by the kids and baked in an outdoor oven while we waited, accompanied by olives, sliced raw vegetables, labneh with olive oil and za'atar (hyssop), and a hot drink. Delicious!

The cactus garden at Revivim was established in the 1990's on an area of land next to Chai Bar, at the side of the kibbutz. Most of the plants there were brought from different nurseries, while some were developed from seeds. The boys and I had a good time exploring the garden, looking at all the different cacti and succulent plants.
It certainly didn't have a five star rating, but Chai Negev was most definitely a quirky and unusual place to stay! It had a certain appeal to it, and frankly my youngest son, who loves animals and being outdoors, thought that he was in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden). I simply enjoyed being in a fun place. It always amazes me how close we live to the desert. It was wonderful to take advantage of it.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Skydiving and Studying

Maytal recently celebrated her 20th birthday. Her Mum asked me to make a card with skydiving as the main theme. Apparently that is what she chose to do for her birthday. Gulp!
Green-eyed Maytal works for an orthodontist, so I added the little smiley wearing braces. She loves to sing, hence the music notes surrounding her during her jump! Her precious dog, Button, also made an appearance.
Sivan turned 18 and her Mum requested a card that would show her transition from school life to the Israeli army. From the age of 18 every Israeli female is required to serve two years of compulsory military service, and Sivan is no different. Therefore she is currently preparing for her Bagrut exams (the Israeli high school system prepares students to take the Bagrut (matriculation) exams) and for army life. Sivan also recently passed her driving test, hence the little blue car. Mum asked me to add some hearts to make the card a little bit girlie and not too serious. The Hebrew greeting says "To Sivan, Happy 18th Birthday."

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Daphne's Album

I made a Bat Mitzvah album for Daphne's sister back in January 2013, and for her cousin in June of last year. In December 2014 it was Daphne's turn to celebrate her Bat Mitzvah and she too wanted an album for her party, for all her family and friends to write a greeting in.
Blue-eyed Daphne's interests include reading (she is a big Harry Potter fan), swimming, and arts and crafts. Oh, and Mum says that she is rarely seen without her cell phone too.
I have shown Daphne on the cover of her album with a book in one hand and some craft scissors in the other hand. She is sitting at a table which has a pile of books, some paper and pencils on it. Behind her is the Harry Potter Sorting Hat and wand, and also her precious phone in its blue cover. Her hair is tied up in a high ponytail and she is wearing swimming goggles! The album opens the Hebrew way, from right to left, and Daphne's name is in Hebrew, with the words Bat Mitzvah and the Hebrew date of her Bat Mitzvah celebration underneath.
Daphne made a special request that I show her swimming on one of the inside pages of her album. As well as being a big Harry Potter fan (her favourite book is the seventh Harry Potter), she also a big Percy Jackson and Hunger Games fan. Therefore those books went on to another page of the album, along with Harry Potter's magical wand, and the Trident used by Poseidon, the God of the Sea, in Percy Jackson.
The next page featured a few arts and crafts materials, including a tiny paintbox and brush, and after that, another page was filled with books, since Daphne is such a keen reader. Daphne likes to go on Facebook and was keen that I show her profile page inside the album. You can see the actual page on her phone screen if you look closely enough!
Daphne's loves leopard prints and her party invitation had a border of black and pink print. The leopard design was a little too busy for the front cover of the album, though I did give the whole thing a black and pink colour scheme, but I was able to incorporate it inside by adding some leopard print Magen Davids (Star of Davids). There is a first time for everything!
Daphne's Mum wrote to me after the Bat Mitzvah to tell me how pleased her daughter was with her album. "She absolutely loved it and all the details that went into it", she said.
If you would like to order a customised album / guest book for your own celebration, you can do so right here.
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