Most Jewish holidays are holidays of memory. The individual, the family and the community are called to remember and to re-enact ritually significant historical events that took place in our past.
The Jew is called upon to ask himself and to educate her children to ask: Where did I come from, what is my biography made up of? At Passover, Sukkot, and at Shavuot we ask: Where and when were we born? In Egypt as a slave, and I emerged free. I was at Mount Sinai. I wandered the desert towards the Promised Land, I settled and worked the land.
But on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur there is no history, no memory, no past, no story or drama. So neither time nor birth nor identity dictate their content. Not what happened in the past, but what might happen in the future… These two festivals ask: Where is your life headed? How have you chosen to live? Do you have a dream to fulfill? Do you have a picture of society? What is your vision for Israeli society? Your community? Your home and family? If you wish to create an alternative reality, more just, it depends on you alone. On your aspirations for change. On your desire for redeeming yourself and your society. It depends on your vows to yourself now, in the present, yet facing the future. In this sense Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are human and optimistic festivals that address the human being and an image of her future.
Arieh ben Gurion, Rosh Hashana
- What is the difference between the three Foot Festivals and Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur according to Ben Gurion?
- Do you agree with Ben Gurion’s approach to these High Holidays?
- How does this text speak to the following text?
Among the many things that religious tradition holds in store for us is a legacy of wonder. The surest way to suppress our ability to understand the meaning of God and the importance of worship is to take things for granted. Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of sin.
Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man 1955
- According to Heschel Why is “indifference to the sublime wonder of living considered the“root of sin”?
- How does the Jewish tradition of “Rosh Hashanah” enable us to not to take things for granted?
- In your view, is the existence of Israel a wonder? Why? Why not?
Visual Text #3:
Maurycy Gottlieb was a Polish-Jewish realist painter of the Romantic period. He was born in Drohobych to a wealthy, Yiddish-Polish-speaking orthodox Jewish family living in Galicia, then part of the Austrian sector of the Partitioned Poland, now Western Ukraine. Considered one of the most talented students of Jan Matejko he died at the age of 23.
“Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur” or “Jews Pray”, is the last painting by Maurycy Gottlieb of 1878, depicting Ashkenazi Jews praying in the synagogue on Yom Kippur. The artist has painted himself three times: as a young child standing on the left, as a young boy to the right of the seated rabbi, and as an adult in the center looking outwards.
Take a look at this picture for a few moments and think about the New Year we are heading towards, and what it may bring us:
- Next year, what would you like to approach with the naivety of a child?
- What do you hope to approach with the many doubts of an adolescent?
- When might you need the wisdom of an adult?
Before even beginning to talk about Israel, it’s worth checking some basic assumptions.
Here is an easy one.
If someone put a gun to your head and told you to hand over your iPhone or they’d shoot, we’re guessing you would rush to say goodbye to instagram.
We reckon you might not even put up a fight to save your car, if the fight meant risking your life.
How about your house?
Is there anything, or anyone, for whom you would risk your life?
Or in Tom Petty’s words:
Well I know what’s right,
I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
But I’ll stand my ground, and I won’t back down
Is there anything you “won’t back down” from?
It’s a question worth asking before condemning warfare out of hand:
Is there anything worth fighting for? To Full Post
The Talmud asks, “Why is she (the city) called Tzippori? Because she sits on top of the mountain, like a bird (tsippor)” (Talmud Megillah 6a).
Tzippori – Sepphoris in Greek – is located in the heart of the Lower Galilee about 6.5 KM. northwest of Nazareth, on a hill 285 meters above sea level. Excavations uncovered a rich legacy from the Judean, Roman and Byzantine periods; about 40 mosaics were found from very different character, some in a remarkable stage of preservation. To Full Post
Wandering through the lanes and alleyways of Tsfat today, you may be struck by the simple beauty of the place. It is this beauty which inspires the many artists who have settled here during the last decades and have turned Tsfat into a center of Israeli art. In every corner and on all sides you can see the galleries of the Tsfat artists. It is not hard to understand what draws them here. Beyond its beauty, the city holds a long and fascinating history, encompassing a wide variety of human activity. To Full Post
The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is a large inland lake 76 KM long, up to 18 KM wide and it is 400 meters deep at the deepest point. The name “Dead Sea” for the Hebrew “Yam Hamelach” (Salt Sea) was attributed by Christian Monks, astonished by the apparent absence of any form of life in the sea water. Recent scientific research however, discovered 11 types of bacteria in the water; but in wells sometimes only one meter from the Dead Sea shore – for example in Ein Zuqim (Ein Faskha) in the north Dead Sea area, live unique, indigenous small fish. This species evolved from big carp common in Lake Tiberias; these small fish have adapted to survival in these hard conditions. To Full Post
Tel Aviv – Independence Hall
Here in this hall, the members of the National Council, representatives of the Jewish settlements and the Zionist movement, gathered on Friday, 5th of Iyar 5708, 14th of May 1948 in the afternoon, to sign the Scroll of Independence. Behind the table, David Ben Gurion, the Chairman of the Zionist Movement, proclaimed the establishment of the Jewish State, Israel.
Independence Hall is located in the Rothschild Blvd. 16 in Tel Aviv, formerly the house of Zinna and Meir Dizengoff, Tel Aviv’s founding father and first mayor, who bequeathed his home to the city as an Art Exhibition.
With the declaration of the Jewish State, 52 years after publication of Theodor Herzl’s”Der Judenstat” (The Jewish State), the Jewish dream of about two thousand years became a reality. However, the people in Israel still had to fight for their independence, defending themselves against Arab irregulars and the regular armies of the Arab league that launched attacks on the young state from all sides within the next few days.
Israel’s Declaration of Independence was not a foregone conclusion.
Two days before the declaration, the situation for the National Council was very complex: the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Road was blockaded by Arab bands, and two members of the National Council were unable to arrive in Tel Aviv for the historical decision. Golda Meirson (Meir) reported the results of a secret night time meeting on 11th of May 1948 with Abdullah; King of Jordan, the King had decided to withdraw from former agreements for political arrangements to recognize the Jewish state, joining the Arabic league preparations to invade Palestine directly after termination of the British Mandate. Somber strategic estimates were provided by Israel Galili, the head of the Haganah; Yigal Sukenik (Yadin), head of the Haganah’s Operations Department, depicted the dangerous situation, such as weapon shortage and the very critical circumstances in Gush Ezion, which finally fell into the hands of Arab bands between 12-14 of May 1948. Moshe Shertok (Sharett), the future Minister for Foreign Affairs, gave a detailed report about American State Department policy, on the one hand, pressuring the Zionist Organization to postpone a declaration of independence, in order to prevent an Arab invasion, and on the pro Arab position of Great Britain. On the other hand, he reported the warm sympathy he found from Andre Gromyko,the Russian representative at the United Nation, who took a contrary position and opposed American policy, after the Russian frustration in negotiations for oil concessions in Moslem states, to such an extent, that USA officials were afraid that the Jewish state would be become a bridgehead for Russian influence in the Middle East.
After serious appraisal of the dangers in days of lengthy meetings before the Declaration, on the 12th of May the Jewish National Council finally decided to take advantage from the maybe unique opportunity provided by the termination of the English Mandate to establish the State of Israel. From now on, the State of Israel could set its own foreign policy and import weapons to defend its independence as a sovereign state. No borders of the state were mentioned in the declaration. When queried on this point, Ben Gurion asked, “When the United States declared independence, did it define its borders?”.
In the US, President Truman did not agree with the policy proposed by the State Department officials and his Secretary of State Marshall, who did not support independence. He sent his adviser, Clark Clifford secretly to Eliyahu Eilat, the Jewish Agency representative in the USA, to prepare a request for recognition of the Jewish State when declared, and Clifford even gave him the text requested by President Truman. A interesting fact is, that when Eliyahu Eilat presented the request for approval, he did not yet know name of the future Jewish State. On the 15th of May USA recognized Israel, Guatemala followed, and on the 17th of May Russia gave its official recognition.
Today, Dizengoff House serves as a Biblical Museum with rare editions, printings and illustration, where another section of the building serves as Museum of Zionism. Independence Hall, where the State of Israel was declared, is preserved as it was on that day.
Text and picture by: Pinhas Baraq z”l.
References: Jehoshua Ben Aryeh, The History of Eretz Israel, the War of Independence, Jerusalem 1983, (Hebrew).
Ben Zion Dinur (chief editor), History of The Haganah, Tel Aviv 1972 (Hebrew).
Zev Vilnay, The Guide to Israel, Jerusalem 1978.
Dave Winter, Fotoprint Israel Handbook, Bath 1999.
“From sand dunes to the biggest city in Israel in less than four decades” aptly describes the unparalleled development of Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
Tel Aviv itself, the “first all-Jewish city in modern times,” was founded in 1909; built on the sand dunes that stretched northward from the Arab city of Jaffa, it has developed since then into a kind of “megalopolis” (complex of cities) extending from Herzliya in the north to Rehovot in the south, and merging in the east with such towns as Givatayim, Ramat Gan, Bene Berak and Petah Tikvah.
In 1995 Tel Aviv-Jaffa contained close to 355,200 inhabitants and ever since the establishment of the State of Israel, has served as the finance, entertainment, press and publication center of the country. Like most large cities, Tel Aviv-Jaffa is a city of contrasts. In its southern districts, it embodies some of Israel’s worst slums, while in the north and east there are attractive suburbs such as Ramat Aviv, the location of Tel Aviv’s rapidly-expanding university.
These residential sections have a somewhat “Americanized” character. Tel Aviv’s commercial center is Dizengoff Street and the city’s bohemian center is Sheinkin Street. At the heart of the southern end of the city rises Migdal Shalom, the highest skyscraper in Israel, and along the coast, a whole chain of hotels has been built, most with their own beaches which serve as recreation and entertainment spots for tourists and residents alike.
Tel Aviv’s beginnings actually date back to the early 19th century, when a Jewish community was reestablished in the all-Arab city of Jaffa. Throughout the Middle Ages, Jaffa’s port had served as the “gateway to Zion” for Jewish pilgrims coming to Erez Israel, but no Jewish residents had been allowed to settle there. In 1820, however, a Jewish traveler from Constantinople named Yeshaya Adjima, bought a house there (it was called Dar al-Yahud, the house of the Jew, by the local Arabs) and laid the foundations for a revived Jewish community. Merchants and artisans from North Africa followed him as settlers in Jaffa, and in the latter part of the century European Jews began to arrive as well.
The First Aliyah swelled Jaffa’s Jewish population and in 1887 the building of Jaffa’s first Jewish quarter, Neveh Zedek, was initiated. This set the pattern for later Jewish settlements structured in tightly-knit, fraternal quarters within the midst of the Arab population. In the 1990s, Neve Zedek is experiencing a bit of an architectural revival as young and old Israeli artists of all types are renovating its turn of the century buildings and recapturing some of its lost magic.
The Second Aliyah further enlarged Jaffa’s Jewish population, increasing it to 8,000 out of a total population of 17,000 in 1906. In 1909 it was decided to create a new suburb outside of Jaffa’s boundaries which would constitute the “first all-Jewish city.” The result was the city of Tel Aviv, whose foundations were then laid.
Tel Aviv grew steadily until World War I when the Jews were expelled from both Jaffa and Tel Aviv by the Turks. When the British took over, the Jews returned and Tel Aviv continued to expand. On May 12, 1934, Tel Aviv was officially given municipal status. In the same year, the Philharmonic Orchestra was founded, the Tel Aviv Museum was opened in the home of the city’s long-time mayor, Meir Dizengoff, and the cornerstone was laid for the Habimah Theater building. After World War II, the city played a prominent role and suffered much in the struggle with the British authorities, for the Haganah and the Irgun had their headquarters there, and during the War of Independence, Tel Aviv was incessantly shelled from Jaffa’s Arab quarters. On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed in Tel Aviv’s museum building.
On April 24, 1949, Tel Aviv and Jaffa were united and the city’s official name became Tel Aviv-Jaffa; one of the world’s youngest cities had thus incorporated one of the oldest.
Tel Aviv Centenary Resources (100 תל אביב)
Reproduced with permission from “Junior Judaica, Encyclopedia Judaica for Youth” CD-ROM
(C) C.D.I. Systems 1992 (LTD) and Keter.
In 1966, a team led by Prof. Avraham Biran began to excavate Tel Dan (A tel is an ancient mound composed of the remains of successive settlements.) The impressive findings included sections of imposing walls and gates, as well as a ritual site which dates to the time of dramatic events recounted in the Bible. The earliest findings from a settlement on the tel belong to the Ceramical Neolithic Age (beginning of the fifth century B.C.E.). A city was first built there during the early Canaanite period. It was populated between 2700 and 2400 B.C.E. In the eighteenth century B.C.E., during the middle Canaanite period, a tremendous earth dike surrounded the city, protecting it for centuries. This is the city of Laish, which members of the tribe Dan captured for their homeland. Important remains were discovered in a Mycenaean grave from the late Canaanite period. The tribe of Dan found it difficult to deal with the pressures brought by the Philistines, and therefore decided to go North: “they proceeded to Laish, a people tranquil and unsuspecting, and they put them to the sword and burned down the town. There was none to come to the rescue, for it was distant from Sidon… They rebuilt the town and settled there, and they named the town Dan, after their ancestor Dan who was Israel’s son. Originally, however, the name of the town was Laish” (Judges 18:27-29).
One of the fascinating finds from Tel Dan is a piece of a fossilized tablet from the second half of the ninth century B.C.E. Carved onto it is an inscription of Hazael, King of Damascus, boasting of his victory over the King of Israel of the House of David. This is the first time that the name “House of David” was discovered outside of the Bible. Unfortunately, archaeologists have yet to find the inscription in its entirety. Dan was settled continuously until the Roman period, when the tel was abandoned and the center of settlement moved to Banias.
Tel Dan Nature Reserve
Entering the Tel Dan Reserve is like stepping into a wonderland: scores of bubbling brooks feed into a running river; tall treetops reach for the sky, completely blocking it from view; the ground is always shaded and refreshingly cool, even at noon on a hot summer day. It is no wonder that some 7,000 years ago people chose the small hill above the spring as the spot to make their homes. Of the three sources of the Jordan River, the Dan River is the largest and most important. Its springs provide up to 238 million cubic meters of water annually, equivalent to the water flowing from the Hermon (Banias) and Snir rivers combined. Some 7.5 cubic meters of water flow through Ein Dan every second, almost 365 days a year. The natural drainage basin of the Dan River is very small, which means that the springs are the source of all of the water which flows there. This is the reason for the water’s low stable temperature (about 14.5 centigrade) and high quality (only 10 milligrams of chlorine per liter) The springs are fed by the snow and rain which fall on Mount Hermon. The water seeps into the mountain, diving into hundreds of springs by the time it reaches the foot. Together, these springs form the largest karstic spring in the Middle East. Until the 1967 Six Day War, the Dan River was the only source of the Jordan in Israeli hands. The shortage of water in Israel and the use of the Dan to meet the needs of the population almost meant the end of the reserve. The need to use the Dan River water was not a matter of dispute; the question was only from where the water should be taken. In 1966, Israel’s water planners decided that it would be best to siphon the water from the source and use the force of gravity to carry it to the Hulah Valley. Nature lovers in Israel believed that the reserve should not be harmed and that the water should be taken from a lower level. This debate went on for three years, but in 1969 the conservation lobby won out and the Tel Dan Reserve became a reality.
The tiny Tel Dan Reserve covers only about 120 acres. Nonetheless, thanks to its location and unique environmental conditions, the Reserve contains plants and animals from a variety of worlds. The Cairo spiny mouse, a desert rodent, “climbed” along the Syrian-African Rift. The amphibious fire salamander is commonly found in Europe. Adult specimens have elongated black bodies with yellow or orange splotches. During the rainy season, the salamanders gather in the pools of water to spawn their offspring, and the rivulets of the reserve are teeming with them. Broad toothed mouse is a nocturnal Mediterranean rodent which feeds primarily on acorns. Tristram jird, a representative of the central Asian steppe, is a rodent which lives in burrows and eats seeds and foliage. The flora in the reserve are also endemic to a wide variety of places. Syrian ash, which grows between the rivulets, and Jerusalem thorn, a large, thorny, and thicket-like plant, are Euro-Siberian in origin. The very large Atlantic pistachio and the lotus jujube, with its crooked branches, are typical of steppe regions. Laurel and alaternus, generally found in the damp parts of the reserve, are Mediterranean trees, and jujube, whose fruit resembles tiny apples, is typically seen in East Africa. The water in the rivulets contains a world in itself. The islands in the river are home to marsh fern, a northern fern which disappeared from the Hulah Valley and can only be found in Israel along the Dan River. This is the southernmost distribution of the marsh fern in the world. Another rare plant is the St. John’s wort, which can be up to four meters tall. Typical riverbank vegetation can be seen close to the water, such as holy bramble, loosestrife, common hemp agrimony, galingale, bedstraw, cynanchum, and willow herb.
Many invertebrates live in the water flowing through the Tel Dan Reserve: melanopsis, a black-shelled snail, whose diet is primarily composed of algae it scrapes from rocks; amphipode, a delicate crab; and hydrometrid, a common water bug which can be up to 12 millimeters long. It lives in standing or slowly moving water and eats mainly mosquito larvae. The quiet waters typical of the part of the reserve dubbed the “Garden of Eden” contain a whole host of marine animals. The Reserve is also home to several species of fish. The Damascus barbel adapted to life in quickly flowing water,and can climb up meter-and-half-high waterfalls. The Levantine sicker, which can grow up to 14 centimeters long, is equipped with a special surface which enables it attach itself to rocks. Its source of nourishment is algae which it scrapes into its mouth. These two species live primarily in the deeper parts. In contrast, the 8-centimeter-long Jordan loach is found in all parts of the river. This fish can be identified by its pale yellow skin and large spots. It lives between the rocks on the riverbed or hides in the sand. Although is difficult to spot birds flying between the tangled branches, visitors can enjoy the chirping of the cetti warbler, a small songbird which hides and nests in the thicket. White wagtails sometimes nest on the “islands”. In recent years, many jays fly over the Reserve.
Our gratitude to the Authority for Nature and National Parks for their permission to use the text from their folder for our “Live” site.
Pictures by Pinhas Baraq
Tel Chai ( Getting Israel Together)
It’s hard to imagine the drama that was played out in this spot, next to Israel’s northern border. The sun shines on well-tended lawns, and in between neat wooden shacks lie agricultural implements, carefully placed as if they were pieces of sculpture at a modern art exhibition. It’s easy for the casual visitor to miss the significance of this place.
But this small yard witnessed one of the most dramatic moments in the life of the young Zionist community of Israel. Here took place a struggle which has become a legendary chapter in the story of Israel.
Tel Chai was settled in 1918 by a group associated with the Hashomer organization. It was a lonely spot, surrounded by open country, with only the small settlement of Kfar Giladi as a neighbor.
At the end of 1919, tension in the area increased, as the Arabs attacked French patrols and gained effective control of the region. The situation of the isolated Jewish settlements in the Galilee Finger was very bad. A fierce argument developed within the Jewish community over the future of the northern settlements. Some said that settlements must be abandoned, since the price of defending them would prove too high. But others believed that the settlements had to be defended whatever the cost. They believed that abandoning the threatened settlements of Tel Chai and Kfar Giladi would indicate weakness and a lack of determination to defend settlements and would be an open invitation to enemy forces to attack settlements anywhere in the land. The entire Zionist enterprise could be endangered.
The settlers in the northern outposts were determined not to give up. To do so would be treason. But as they surveyed the Arab forces in the area, and compared them to their own meager forces, they nearly des- paired. There were less than 20 defenders in Tel Chai and about the same number in Kfar Giladi; the Arab forces had put the French troops, with all their guns and canons, to flight.
Nevertheless, the settlers were determined to stay. “We will stay, no matter what. We won’t let the armed Arabs come near our home,” wrote one of the settlers in the communal diary of Tel Chai. “When the decisive moment comes, we’ll do whatever we can in an effort to raise the price of our lives as much as possible.”
The settlers of the north put out a desperate call to the Jews of Israel for volunteers to help defend the settlements. But only a few responded. One of the settlers in Tel Chai wrote:
“We felt ourselves to be in a continuous siege. We left all the work in the fields – and we didn’t even have enough people to do all the jobs in the yard. Our eyes longed to see volunteers coming to relieve us of our endless guarding, but we hoped in vain.”
The situation was desperate. The children of Kfar Giladi were evacuated to a settlement further south. In December 1919, the first blood was drawn in Tel Chai when a young worker was killed. A few reinforcements were now sent to the region, under the command of the Russian Jewish military hero Joseph Trumpeldor. Trumpeldor had recently returned after a visit to Russia during which he organized Jewish self-defense groups to stave off attacks after the Russian revolution and mobilized groups of pioneers for Israel. Now back in Israel, he quickly took command of Tel Chai.
There were more incidents – and more casualties. Trumpeldor called for reinforcements from the governing organizations of the Jewish community. On February 8, 1920, he implored: “Armed gangs are multiplying in the area, and they are drunk with the spirit of victory. You must hurry, or it will be too late.”
By the time more help was organized it was indeed too late. On March 1, as Trumpeldor sat in conference at Kfar Giladi, a cry went out. “They’ve attacked Tel Chai!” Tel Chai, was, in fact, surrounded by several hundred armed Arabs – but they had not yet attacked. Somehow Trumpeldor managed to get inside the yard at Tel Chai.
Several times in the past, the Arabs had demanded to search Tel Chai for French soldiers, and the settlers had allowed them to do so. This time the demand came again, and Trumpeldor agreed to let the com- mander of the Arabs and some of his men come in. Once they were inside, gunshots were fired – and what happened next is unclear. The yard rang with rifle shots in all directions. There was chaos. Trumpeldor himself was shot twice in the chest. Finally a cease-fire was established. When the smoke cleared, there were eight Jews dead or dying.
Two days later, the decision to evacuate all the settlements was taken. The dead of Tel Chai, including Trumpeldor, were buried in a communal grave at Kfar Giladi, and the retreat to the south began.
A year later, when the situation in the area improved, the Jews returned to Kfar Giladi. The communal grave was marked by a stone lion, the traditional symbol of independence and courage. It stands as a monument to the bravery of those who fell, determined at all cost to defend what they had built.
One of the most famous songs of the pre-statehood period is this one:
In the Galilee, in Tel-Chai, Trumpeldor fell, For our people, for our country, the hero Joseph fell, Over hills and mountains He ran, to save the name of Tel-Chai, Saying to the comrades there: “Follow in my footsteps. “
Picture by: Pinhas Baraq
Rosh Hanikra is a chalk cliff on the beach of Upper-Galilee on the border between Israel and Lebanon, chiselled out into labyrinthine grottoes filled with seawater formed by the geological and biological processes and by waves lapping on the soft rock.
Throughout human history, Rosh Hanikra served as point of passge for trading caravans and armies between Lebanon, Syria – the northern cultures – and Israel, Egypt, Africa – the southern cultures. The Book of Joshua (Ch. 13:6) mentions “Misraphot Mayim” South of Rosh Hanikra, as the border settlement of the Israelite tribes of that period. Jewish sources referred to the cliff as “The Ladder of Tyre” and, as such, it is mentioned for the first time in the Book of Maccabees I, 11:19, Josephus in his book “De Belli Judeorum” (II: 2, 188) mentioned the high ridge “100 stadia from Acre”, known by the people the ladder of Tyre. It was also the place (“Sulma deTzor”) where Rabban Gamliel descended from his donkey (Eruvin 60, page B).
After the Arab Conquest, the site was renamed A-Nawakir (the grottoes). The present name, Rosh Hanikra, is a hebraicized version of the later Arabic variation Ras-A-Nakura. In 701 B.C.E. the army of Sennacherib passed the way between Tyre and the land of Israel. Alexander of Macedonea (323 B.C.E.) is credited for having hewed a tunnel at Rosh Hanikra to create a passageway for his army after besieging Tyre; armies of the Seleucids and the Ptolemies in their wars in the third and second century B.C.E., made use of this road, as did the Crusaders in 1099 C.E. Documents and drawings of pilgrims show stairways carved into the rock, facilitating the passage of caravans.
The first road accessible to motor vehicles was cut by the British Army during World War One. At the time of the British Mandate in Palestine, a road was laid for commercial and private use. A border post and customs office were established at the site.
During the Second World War the British dug a railway tunnel 250 meters long and built a bridge, as part of the Haifa – Beirut – Tripoli railway track. This was done to connect the local and Lebanese rail networks and to establish a continuous rail route from Egypt via Sinai, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey to Europe for troops and supplies. The project was made possible in summer 1941, after the fall of the Vichy Government in France, who also held power in the Lebanon. There is a second tunnel whose entrance can be seen on the northern side. This tunnel enters Lebanon and leads to a third tunnel, entirely in Lebanon. The bridge and tunnels were all constructed by engineering units of the British Army from South Africa and New Zealand. The building of the system took about one year and it was opened for passengers and freight rail traffic on 24.8.1942. Part of the Ha’apala (Illegal immigration) fleeing from the Nazis made use of this tunnel to find haven in The Land of Israel. In 1947, the British decided to open a civilian passenger service on this line, but this decision was never implemented. At the end of 1947, the Israeli War of Independence broke out and the Western Galilee was cut off from the rest of the country. It was feared that Arab forces would use the railway route to bring volunteers and arms from Lebanon to aid their forces in Haifa. On the night of 14.3.1948, under cover of darkness and cloudy weather, a sabotage unit of the “Carmel Division” of the “Haganah” entered the tunnel and the grotto bridge under the nose of the British Police in their station (today the Youth Hostel at Rosh Hanikra) and blew up the western end of the Bridge. After the withdraw all of the British Police force, the area came under Israeli control.
These are cavernous tunnels formed by geological and biological processes, together with sea action on the soft chalk rock. The total length is some 200 meters. They branch off in various directions with some interconnecting segments.
In the past, the only access to them was from the sea and experienced divers were the only ones fortunate enough to visit. The grottoes have a unique aspect at different times of the day. At sunset, in particular, the sea and cavern walls take on a special hue. Seasonal changes also alter the grottoes’ appearance dramatically. The polished, silvery mirror-like appearance in summer, transformed into a churning, explosive scene in winter. This rare beauty became accessible to the general public in 1968, when, a tunnel was excavated to the natural grottoes, slightly above the sea surface. It is 400 meters long and took two years to complete.
The Rosh Hanikra landscape is unique in Israel. The cliff is at the foot of a chalk mountain range which dips into the sea, creating a steep, white pillar, 70 meters high. The land escarpment and sea bed of the nearby beach front were all formed in this manner. The mountain ridge has three distinct layers from the Kenoman period, each distinguished by their particular hardness: The top layer is hard chalk rock and dolomite. The middle layer is comprised of soft chalk. The bottom layer is hard chalk and for the most part, lies beneath the sea surface, providing underwater fauna and flora in a unique milieu. Over a period of thousands of years, the wear and tear of waves against the second layer created the caves and caverns known today as the “grottoes”.
But all this was possible only because geological breaks or small caves formed by seeping rainwater absorbed by the soft rock before the cliff encountered the sea. You can see the stalactites on the tunnel cave ceilings. Other factors that intiated and contributed to the process of erosion of the soft chalk were the duckweeds and the micro-organisms covering the rock and crumbling it. This primary erosion was continued by the waves that some times lashed the rock in time of storm, with an estimated power of 250 tonnes per square meter.
The cliff and the sea-shore are a natural reserve of unique fauna and flora. On the slopes of the cliff, amongst Charob and Pistacia Elastica, blown and started by the wind into Bonsai-like shrubs, blooms the Statice, endemic to this stretch of land. The scented white sea-shore Lilies, Narcissus and Squill, bloom in autumn and wintertime. Other colorful flowers bloom in early spring. Inside the Grottoes, groups of bats spend their day resting on the ceiling while swallows and rock pigeons nest in the protective darkness of the caves. flights of seagulls wing their way to their nesting island a mile to the west. There one can observe most of the local and European sea-shore and sea birds. The sea-shore pools offer plenty of food to winter-guest birds. The rocky depths of the sea offers a friendly environment to all kinds of Mediterranean fish and other marine animals. The most attractive guest to this shore is the loggerhead turtle, a huge maritime reptile that has chosen these rocky shores as a mating area, and the rough sand shores to dig his bottle shaped pits where the females lays eggs in early summer. A few weeks later hundreds of tiny turtles dig their way out of the pits and hurry to the sea guided by the beam of the full moon. Today the nesting areas are endangered by the changing environment and by tourism.
Services at the site
To facilitate the approach to the cavern entrance, a cable cars system, was installed. The ride takes about a minute in each direction and provides a panoramic view of the cliff and sea. The cable way operates year round, with exception of two or three days when weather conditions may necessitate a shutdown. “The Peace Train” media display is also shown on site. Above a Kosher restaurant constructed in the shape of a ship overlooks the cliff and sea.
Kibbutz Kfar Rosh Hanikra
At the foot of the mountain, on the right side of the road to the cliff, lies a kibbuts. It was founded in 1949 by disarmed members of the Yiftah division of the Palmach, together with additional groups of the pioneers youth movements. Its income is based on field agriculture, a banana plantation, flower nursery, poultry , dairy farming, cotton, a Guest House, the restaurant and the cable car at the Rosh Hanikra site.
We wish to acknowledge our gratitude to the marketing division of Rosh Hanikra for the permission to use text from their folder for this “Live” site page. Additional details are based on the “Guide Israel” and “Israel – Sites and Places”.
The pictures were taken by: Pinhas Baraq