The Ayalon Institute: A museum for a secretBy: C4i

What’s the strangest museum you’ve ever been to?  Was it one of those fun science museums where you can interact with all the experiments and equipment? Was it a modern art exhibit that had you squinting at abstract shapes and bizarre sculptures? Wherever you’ve been, it probably isn’t as strange as the Ayalon Institute, a museum dedicated to illegal ammunition production!

Don’t worry, this isn’t a blog celebrating crime or war. There is a good reason this museum has been preserved and curated for generations. The Ayalon Institute represents the proud Israeli tradition of determination and courage in the face of oppression and hostility.
The origin of the clandestine operation goes all the way back to the 1930s, back when Israel was fighting for independence and still part of the British mandate. The relationship between Israel and Britain wasn’t always so rosy and the political situation was such that Britain was acting as a governing body over both Israel and Palestine at the time. While they interceded to prevent conflict between the two groups, they also did not want Israel to gain too much independent power at the time. There were laws put in place regarding the formation of Israeli militias, armies, and the production or stockpiling of arms designed to undermine and prevent Israeli independence.

This left the young nation in a tight spot. Jewish immigration was exploding due to the rise of Nazism and anti-Semitism in Europe. As Jews fled oppression in one land, they were coming to a new home under a different thumb. One with hostile neighbours and frequent attacks. No nation that longs for self-determination and independence can allow themselves to depend on another for protection. While the British were content to say "if you have a problem, come to us and sort it out” this was cold comfort to the families who lived under real threat of attack. This wasn’t a school yard where you could go running to the teacher when a bully hit you, real lives were on the line. 

The solution was to set up an underground arms smuggling operation, one that was tremendously successful. The Haaganah (the paramilitary Jewish organization that would later become the IDF) were able to create a pipeline of imported and locally produced weapons. Particularly the Sten submachine gun (which the British themselves would use in the millions over World War 2). Despite the British Provisional forces’ best effort, the Haaganah had more than enough weapons to protect themselves. There was just one catch.

They didn’t have any bullets.

It’s one thing to be able to import or produce a simple machine stamped firearm like the Sten. When you get right down to it, it’s a very simple item that can be produced by almost any metal shop. But ammunition on the other hand is a different story. One that involves volatile materials, precise measurements, and tricky to obtain materials. And that’s where the location codenamed "the Ayalon Institute” fits in.

Located in Rehov, this underground munitions factory was built right under the nose of the British military, neatly disguised as a kibbutz for new settlers. It was pitched as a place for new immigrants to get their feet wet when it came to kibbutz life and get used to their new normal. This was a clever way of explaining away a constant stream of new faces and shipments coming in and out of the community. And it was at least partially sincere, only a certain segment of the population knew what was really going on underground. There were some kibbutz members who never had a clue what was going on just below the surface.
All of this secrecy was conducted with good reason. Because near Rehov, barely a stone’s throw away was a British base. One that made it their business to randomly inspect trucks and businesses for anything suspicious. One that contained armed troops with equipment and resources that far outstripped the small little kibbutz. The slightest mistake would have given the Haaganah members away, and the punishment for their crime would have been death. No wonder they were careful.

Piece by piece, the factory parts needed to assemble the ammunition were brought in, often by Jews who served with the British (sometimes using British transportation!)  Of course, concealing an operation like that is a huge undertaking. The factory was built 13 feet underground with extra thick walls and ceiling to help limit the noise generated by the machines. Overtop, a seemingly normal looking kibbutz took shape. Looking around you wouldn’t notice anything different, they had houses, common gathering halls, barns and livestock, even a laundry service.
That laundry was key to the operation, providing cover in more ways than one. First, the heavy machinery of the laundry allowed the team to smuggle in more factory parts when needed. Secondly, the ventilation and steam of the laundry allowed them to conceal ventilation pipes to the factory underneath. And lastly, it provided a kind of social cover, the laundry was frequently used to clean the uniforms and personal clothes of the British officers of the nearby base!

So how do you keep an operation like this hidden? Flattery and trickery.

Copper was a vital component for the manufacturing process, and one that was monitored and controlled at the time. Why would some settler kibbutz need to import so much copper? To answer this, the team came up with a little side business – lipstick. Premium Kosher lipstick, handmade, and packaged in gorgeous copper tubes. And they were so generous with them! British officials visiting the Kibbutz were often given cases to give as gifts to their wives and daughters. Of course, the British gladly accepted these gifts and never questioned why so many shipments of copper seemed to be coming through the area.

But how to avoid those pesky random inspections and drop-ins from the British? One soldier or officer coming through at the wrong time, who saw the wrong thing, could spell doom for everyone involved. How could it be prevented? Good old fashioned hospitality. When a group of British soldiers came to the kibbutz they were given beer. Warm beer. Naturally, the soldiers were grateful but remarked how much nicer it would be out in the hot sun if those beers were cold.

"No problem” said the kibbutz members "just give us a shout before you come next time and we’ll make sure we have some chilling in the fridge!”

Can you believe this worked? Soon they were getting regular calls that some troops would be coming over and it sure would be nice if there were some cold ones waiting. The inspectors reliably told on themselves! 

This is the legacy that the museum today celebrates. Not the war or the conflict of the time, but the resourcefulness and spirit of the Jewish people. The fierce demand for independence and self-determination. The charming mix of brilliance and humor that allowed them to not only create an underground munitions factory, but keep it secure by being unfailingly kind and hospitable to their occupiers. 


What the battle of Jericho can teach us about faithBy: C4i

You’re probably familiar with the story of Jericho. In a time of strife, Joshua led the Israelites against Canaan, but they were stymied by the fortified city of Jericho. The city was a hardened bunker, with towering walls surrounding the entirety of the city and thick securely held gates barred any entry. Breaching the walls or gates was not an option and scaling them would have been a torturous bloody affair. Normally in this kind of situation, the solution would be a siege. A brutal war of attrition where the city and its people would be slowly starved into surrender after months of blockading by the attacking army. It is a horrible kind of war that maximizes suffering for all involved while drawing out an inevitable ending.

But the Lord spoke to Joshua and told him of another strategy, one that could only be accomplished through the grace of God. Joshua relayed the orders he received from God to his men. They were to march around the walls of the city once a day for six days straight, playing trumpets and carrying the Ark of the Covenant the entire time. On the seventh day, the soldiers were to march again, this time making seven circles around the walls and at the end of the march blast their horns and cry out in a loud roar. As soon as they did, the great walls of the city fell, reduced to rubble in an instant. Fully exposed, the Israelites easily stormed the city and emerged victorious.

Like I said, this is a familiar story, and like most familiar things it’s easy to take the story of Jericho for granted. On it’s face, it’s an impressive miracle and a testament to God’s ability to make anything happen. But if you look closer, it is also a story about the importance of faith and obedience.
Try to imagine it from a less familiar point of view. Put yourselves in the shoes of one of the soldiers serving Jericho. Once you do, it becomes a much different story.

A Different Point of View

You’re a footman soldier in a brutal time. You’re one of the lowest ranked members of the Israelite army, armed with a simple spear and a flimsy shield made of layered leather and wood. War is not pretty and survival is the exception not the rule for someone in your position. Even at the start of this campaign your thoughts turn to home and what you’ve left behind. Hopefully, this can all be settled quickly and with God’s mercy you’ll be able to return home healthy and maybe with a bit of coin in your pocket to bring home to your family. 

But then marching into Canaan territory a hush falls over the assembly of armed men as soon as the towering walls of Jericho come into view. Over 11 feet high, 14 feet wide, capped with an even taller stone slope. These are impenetrable, unscalable, massive walls, and everyone knows what that means - a siege. 

Your heart sinks as the men begin to mutter amongst themselves about the task ahead of them. Maybe you’ve already been a part of a siege, or maybe you just know other soldiers who have been through them. What they are telling you about them is not good. As soon as you see those walls you know you’re going to be here for months, and that’s if you’re lucky. Sometimes a siege could stretch into years if the city were prepared with enough supplies. 

That’s a year of misery. A year of baking in the sun, waiting. A year of foraging for food and firewood in a sparse and increasingly picked over desert. A year of throwing things over the walls and dodging rocks and arrows coming back. A year of looking over your shoulder, ready for the day an ally army of Jericho tries to ambush you from behind.  

You settle in, the experienced captains are already giving some basic orders. Dig a trench here, start setting up a barricade there, take an inventory of supplies and a headcount of the men. Everyone has to report in now so they can keep track of the inevitable deserters and casualties of attrition that are sure to add up in the coming months. 

But then you get word that Joshua, the commander, has different orders for everyone. Drop the shovel, stop what you’re doing, and line up. You’re part of the advanced guard, get up to where the Ark and priests with trumpets are, we’re going to march around the city. Oh yeah, and no shouting or chanting, unless you have a horn in your hand keep quiet. 

What is this? A show of force?  A declaration of some kind? But hey, fine, I’d rather march than dig I guess.

Then the next day the same orders are repeated. And the next day. And the day after that.

What is going on? We should be fortifying the perimeter, making sure they can’t get any spies out. We should be harassing them with slings and arrows, not shuffling our feet and babysitting priests.

Maybe you start to grumble to the other men. It isn’t exactly unreasonable to have some questions in this situation, but one doesn’t ask such questions too loudly either. Most of the other troops don’t understand what’s going on either, but then you hear it from an older captain – Joshua is getting his orders from God. You ask around, Joshua is well respected. They say he went up with Moses on Mount Sinai when he made the first tablets with the commandments. They say God talks to him directly. 

As a footman soldier with little education and maybe not many hours in temple, what do you do with this information? You have two choices, you can either believe in Joshua and follow his orders, or start looking for an exit opportunity, a chance to desert.

On the seventh day things get even more strange. Today you’re told you won’t just be marching once around the city, but seven entire times. And at the end, everyone is going to yell. It seems like a cruel joke. Walking around the city seven times will take the entire day, no breaks. You’ll eat and drink while keeping pace. You’ll shiver in the early morning as the first light of dawn creeps across the cool sands, and scorch in the heat of the sun in the afternoon as your sandals bake to your feet. 

But finally, the seventh cycle is complete. A cheer erupts from the exhausted army, the trumpets sound, brighter and crisper than ever before. There seems to be an extra force with them, those old priests summoning up something deep from within themselves, stronger, bigger than they themselves are. 
Like a bolt of lighting, you hear a sharp, loud crack. Then it all happens at once. The walls tumble down, reduced to bricks, then stones, then rubble as they collapse. Those thick proud gates fold in on themselves and splinter like matchsticks. Over the din you hear Joshua himself, "charge!” and in that moment you know the city is yours. It is yours because God wanted it that way and no other reason.

Imagine how it would feel in that moment, to go from frustration and confusion to utter jubilation so quickly. To emerge from uncertainty and doubt to complete success. We can have it in our lives too.

The Lesson of Jericho

The lesson from the battle of Jericho is that faith is difficult. That it is impossible to understand God’s plan. Like the footman told to march around the city, we simply don’t have the perspective to see God’s will in motion. What may seem arbitrary or pointless to us in the moment could be the most important thing in our lives, the very path to our success and joy.

It also teaches us that we must put in the work ourselves. It’s not enough to say, "I trust in God” and then do whatever you feel is the best way forward. We need to listen for God in our lives, whether that voice comes through scripture, your pastor, or His will working through you, and then obey His instructions to the letter. 

What would this story look like if Joshua hedged his bets? What if Joshua heard God say "take all your men and march around the city” and thought "sounds good, but just in case I’ll spare a few men for guard duty. And maybe a few to dig some fortifications. And well we should probably reserve our best men, so they are ready in case of an attack. How bout I just have half the men march around the city?” Do you think God would have thought that was following his will? No. Those walls would be standing today if Joshua waivered liked that.

Jericho teaches us that obedience to God is not something you can do in degrees. You must place your faith fully in Him, even when it’s hard to do. Even when conventional wisdom rails against it, or when the people around you begin to grumble or doubt. Faith can work miracles, but it must be true and complete.


Tikkun olam in 2021: Repairing the worldBy: C4i

This past year of COVID has been difficult for many of us. Sure, some of us probably did something productive with all the extra time in-doors. Maybe some of us learned to bake bread, paint, or finally built that home gym and have spent the past ten months or so working out and getting fit. Probably. But for many of us, this has been one long grim year of disappointment. We’ve burned through everything half-way decent on Netflix and developed a first-name relationship with far too many pizza delivery men.  Suffice to say, we haven’t been at our best.

Thankfully, the new year is a time to change that. With a vaccine on the horizon and the promise of a return to normalcy, 2021 should be a year about appreciating what we have and making the world a better place. It should be about tikkun olam.

What is tikkun olam? 

Tikkun olam is a term that dates back thousands of years to what is called the Mishnaic period in Jewish studies which means to "repair the world.” In its earliest incarnations, this repair referred to legal amendments, updating the laws of the land to make things more fair and just, specifically to try and protect the vulnerable in society. But the term has taken on a variety of meanings in modern times, morphing into an active responsibility to improve the world God has given us. It’s the difference between a duty to not cause harm to the planet or to another person, and the duty to heal harms that have been committed, address them, and improve the world going forward to prevent those harms from happening again.

It can sound a little hippy-ish, and there are definitely those out there who chant "tikkun olam” without truly considering their actions, but the core idea is very affirming for Jews and Christians alike. God has given us this world and we are all brothers and sisters in his eyes. What kind of family let’s their home run to wreck and ruin? What would God think of us if we ignored a brother or sister in need? Repairing the world starts at home and it starts with all of us.

How do you practice tikkun olam?

There is a Jewish concept called "mitzvot” which roughly translates into "good deeds.” These good deeds can be religious (such as observing the sabbath) but can also be ethical actions of any sort. Feeding the hungry would be a clear mitzvot, as would holding the door open for someone with their arms full. Great and small, any kind of good deed contributes to a more whole and perfect world.

Obviously, this is a very broad interpretation, which is why tikkun olam can sometimes be the subject of debate. One person’s idea of what is best for the world may differ from another’s. So, it’s difficult to draw a roadmap that says "this is how you practice tikkun olam.” That answer is going to be a little different for everybody.

But while the specifics may be hard to pin down, the overriding principals are not. Do good wherever you can at whatever scale you’re capable of. If everyone does their own small part, we can make the world a better place, a place that treats the gifts God has given us with the respect and reverence they deserve.

Best of all, it’s good for you! Practicing tikkun olam isn’t just about helping others, it’s also about helping yourself. When you approach every day looking for ways to make the world a better place you gain a sense of accomplishment and purpose. There is a drive behind every day that guides and sustains you, replacing apathy and fear with caring and excitement. We don’t have to take the world as it is, every single one of us has the power to make some small change!

Could there be a better answer to the cloud of negativity and uncertainty that has hung over us through all of 2020? Let’s escape the shadow of COVID and strife and fill 2021 with a renewed (and distinctly Israeli) sense of optimism and purpose. Look for mitzvot opportunities in your life and commit to repairing the world in this new and better year.


Celebrating the holidays under COVIDBy: C4i

There is no denying it, 2020 has been a bummer year. For the last ten months we’ve all lived our lives holding our breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sanitizing after every interaction, wearing a mask everywhere you go, home schooling the kids, dealing with workplace disruptions, we’ve been through the wringer! But by and large, we’ve handled it well! By and large, we’ve come together as a community and a society and have done the unpleasant but necessary things to protect ourselves. 

But now it’s Christmas and it’s getting harder.

It’s one thing to adapt to a new normal of masks and disinfectant in April, we dealt with it like champs. Having to avoid the beach and campgrounds during the summer to stay safe was no fun, but we all understood that you must have the right priorities during a pandemic. But now, after almost an entire year of playing it safe and doing what was necessary, we face a Christmas that barely resembles Christmas. A holiday season with no major gatherings, no sharing a meal with old friends, no getting together with the extended family, and a vastly different church experience than we’re used to. Even the most stoic among us beginning to feel the strain.

I heard someone describe COVID as not just a virus of the body, but a virus of loneliness, and I think that is absolutely true. It’s hard to comprehend the full emotional and spiritual damage this year of isolation and fear has done to us and now we face our greatest challenge yet. For so many of us, the Christmas season is a much-needed restart button, a chance to refresh, recover, and focus on the year ahead. But under COVID, Christmas isn’t bringing joy and peace, it’s bringing fear and uncertainty.

Don’t let the virus ruin the season for you. While things are definitely different this year, there are still ways to find comfort and joy at the end of this crazy mixed up year.

Connect as best as possible with your loved ones

I get it, after ten months of this mess, nobody wants to hear "maybe you can connect with the family on a zoom call!” Being able to talk and see family and friends over the net is a blessing, but it’s no substitute for the real thing. God made us as social creatures, and there is no way a conversation with a computer screen is going to fill in for what we’re missing. That said, there are ways to bring the virtual connection a little closer to home!

Instead of just getting together for a chat, try watching a movie together. Services like Netflix Party let you synchronize a Netflix viewing session and chat together in real time. It’s not the same as being in the same room together, but it’s something! There are also a wide variety of party and social games out there that can be played by people of all skill and comfort levels with technology, from the 12-year old mega gamer in the family, to the recently retired Grandma. Try the mystery guessing game Among Us for some laughs or go old-school and play charades over Zoom. There are plenty of ways to make a Zoom call more fun!

Focus on the people close to you. Those of us living with family should take extra care to appreciate each other over the holidays. Take the time to do something extra special for your spouse. Give the kids an extra squeeze in the morning and ask what they want to get up to over the break. Take the dog for an extra long walk in the snowbanks and give your cat some extra ear scritches. In the absence of others, it’s more important than ever to foster close, deep, affectionate relationships with the people closest to you.

Create new traditions to fill the void

There is no replacing some traditions. Many of us will miss the Christmas Eve and day services at church this year depending on what your personal church is doing and comfort level. Across the country, families will be going without their traditional "everyone’s invited” dinners. No getting together with the grandparents and all the aunts, uncles, and relatives this year. No ice skating over the break, no visits to the mall Santa for the little ones, no Christmas plays or presentations, nothing. There are things we are going to miss this year and there is no way to dress that up as a positive. 

But that doesn’t mean we have to mope through the season. Instead of giving in to sadness and disappointment, we can accept the reality of this year and start new traditions in the family.

First, focus on the traditions and yearly treats you can still enjoy. Things like baking Christmas cookies with the kids, putting up the decorations, watching your favorite holiday movies, you can still do these things so go big! Bake that extra batch of cookies, watch some baking videos online and get inspired to try some new ideas! After putting up the tree, deck the halls of your home with all the Christmas cheer you can muster. Make the good popcorn with extra butter and settle in for a double feature of It’s a Wonderful Life and Jingle All the Way (ok, fine, maybe not Jingle All the Way, but some fun Christmas movie).

Then think of what else you can do. If you have kids that need an outlet for extra energy, get them outside to make a snowman family. Use this homebound time to try out some new board games with the family, see what they enjoy. Nobody will be caroling this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have an impromptu living-room karaoke night with your spouse! Make a 2020 Christmas stocking and fill it with "coal” made out of balled up pieces of paper on which you’ve written everything lousy and disappointing about this rotten year. Send it off with better hopes for 2021!

Put some extra love into the season. If you don’t normally send out Christmas cards, or only send out short cards with little more than "Merry Christmas!” and a signature, consider going deeper this year. Take the time to tell the people in your life how important they are, how much you miss them, and what you’re looking forward to in the future. These could be Christmas cards, but they could also be New Years wishes. After all, we could all stand to start 2021 with a little boost.

Refocus your celebrations

Most of all, the best thing you can do to make Christmas meaningful and invigorating this year is to turn your focus to God and the true meaning of the season. As Christians this is something we should be doing every year, but it’s all the more important in this challenging and unprecedented time. 

In a time when it’s easy to feel discouraged and alone, when you can see chaos just outside your door, and it’s all too easy to question God’s plan.  Christmas is a wonderful reminder that we are never alone. God loves us and cherishes us so much that he sent us his own Son to live among us and ultimately die for us and then rose triumphantly, so we can have eternal life with Him. The birth of Jesus and his sacrifice was the greatest gift ever bestowed on humanity and is proof that God is always with us, even in the darkest times. Reflect on that in this difficult season and hold that thought as we enter into a new year.

Bring your family into it. If you can’t safely attend any services this year, be sure to hold your own. Have the family read the Christmas story together (make it fun by trading off readers every couple of verses), take the time on Christmas Eve to sing some hymns together. Make sure you all have a chance to reflect on the true meaning of the season.

Even when everything seems hopeless and we don’t know what tomorrow is, we know we can depend on the redemptive power of Christ. While things may be very different this year, that fundamental truth hasn’t changed a bit. Make God the focus of your Christmas and you’ll have a wonderful and enriching holiday no matter how weird this year may be.  


The beauty of the Ein Gedi Nature ReserveBy: C4i

The oasis in the desert is an enduring image. The serene beauty of clear running water, green plants, and lush shade in the middle of a harsh, arid climate is something dreams are made of. But in the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, it’s no dream - it’s reality.
Translated as "the spring of the kid” Ein Gedi is made up of two parallel canyons near the Dead Sea in the Judean Desert. The surrounding area is every bit as dry and sandy as you would expect with vast stretches of empty desert extending in every direction. It’s a landscape where it’s hard to believe anything could survive - all of which just makes the vibrant plant and animal life in the reserve all the more entrancing! The canyons are fed by two separate springs which create waterfalls and streams running along the canyon floors. The water from these streams allows for one of the most beautiful and captivating micro ecologies in the world! 

The first spring, Wadi David, is considered the main spring and is one of the most popular hiking spots in the country. As soon as you arrive prepare to be struck with the contrast between the spring and the desert around it. Along the length of the stream are lush green plants growing freely along the banks and walls of the canyon. The breeze is cooled by the water and the tall canyon walls and vegetation provide plenty of shade. It’s truly a respite from the desert surrounding it.

Suitable for people of all hiking skill levels and health (the first section of the trail is even wheelchair accessible), Wadi David provides everyone the chance to witness an oasis in real life. Along the main path (a circular hike that can be completed in about an hour) you’ll come across the beautiful David’s Waterfall and crystal-clear natural pools that you can swim in and enjoy.
For those who are more adventurous and don’t mind some climbing, you can explore the upper section. This is a longer more challenging hike, about three or four hours depending on your pace. Hard work in the heat for sure, but well worth it! This path will take you from David’s Waterfall out into the larger reserve area and along some rocky climbing routes. Along the way you’ll have the change to see even more incredible sights, including Dodim’s cave. This spot has a special reputation with hikers, from the alabaster stone that makes up the entry way to the cave, to the aquamarine pools that form in it, to the waterfall inside, the cave a certain magical quality to it. No doubt this is helped by the relative distance and isolation. While the main trail of the Wadi David is always bustling with visitors, few make it out to Dodim’s cave, making it the perfect spot to relax and take THE picture of your trip to Israel.

The second stream, Wadi Arugot, is also beautiful but features a more challenging path for intermediate hikers. There are two separate paths leading to the hidden waterfall and each offer their own sights. The easier option is the path through the riverbed, so be sure to bring waterproof shoes! Reward your long hike with a swim in the pool of the waterfall and cool off!

The wildlife of Ein Gedi is something to behold. As one of the few permanent sources of drinking water in the area, the streams support an entire localized eco-system. Wild Ibex dot the surrounding area, resting in the sun and preserving their strength. Cute little Hyrax or "rock rabbits” make their home in small tunnels and crevasses in the area, careful to hide away from the foxes, wolves and occasional leopard that also live in the area (don’t worry, those animals are nocturnal and the trails are closed before sundown). An untold variety of frogs, crabs, and birds also call the Reserve home, making it an ideal place for bird watchers and photography enthusiasts looking for something unique. 
The Ein Gedi Nature Reserve is an incredible natural wonder. There is no better place to explore to understand the true beauty and splendor of what Israel has to offer.  


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