Weddings in Israel: What you need to knowBy: C4i

 
Weddings in Israel are… different. If you’re expecting something straight-laced and traditional, you might be in for a surprise. Israeli weddings are spectacles of love and life, but may leave you feeling like you just crawled out of your grave the next morning! 

Here’s what you need to know if you ever get invited to a wedding in the Holy Land!

The preparations

Remember your wedding? All the work finding the perfect bakery for your cake, assembling the bridal party and picking out dresses, and sending out invitations months and months in advance so you could nail down your RSVPs? Yeah, you can forget all of that for an Israeli wedding!

First of all, those invitations are going out maybe a few weeks before the event, not months. You’re also more likely to receive them in a plain card or even as a text message or social media event notice than any kind of fancy, embossed letter. Israeli weddings are huge affairs, but there is a certain degree of intentional casualness to the entire process. It’s much more like being invited to an elaborate party than anything else.

Typically, there are no bridesmaids or groomsmen at an Israeli wedding, so there is no need for anyone to feel snubbed! Sometimes, close friends or siblings will accompany the wedding couple at the chuppa (the little canopy arch the couple stands under during the ceremony), but this is more of an informal position that has only recently been adopted. If you get an invitation to an Israeli wedding, you don’t have to start budgeting out for a new bridesmaid dress you’ll only ever wear once or a color matching tie.

In fact, speaking of your tie, leave it at home. Unless the family is very traditional, what would be considered typical wedding garb in the West would be decidedly overdressed in the Holy Land. The bride will still likely be wearing a beautiful dress, but it’s not uncommon to see everyone else ranging from business casual to downright beach-bum style. Crocs have made more than a few appearances at Israeli weddings! Some may dress up, some might dress down, if you’re not sure what’s appropriate, just ask the wedding couple and let them set the tone! 

Be fashionably late

This is one those of us from the West really struggle with. We’re used to arrival times being solid and expected, that it’s just good manners to show up on time, not too early and not too late. If you show up to an Israeli wedding at the time it says on your invite though, you might find a locked door! 

It’s an odd thing, but it’s expected for guests to be late by an hour or even more. So fight against all those good manners your mother instilled in you about promptness and be prepared to arrive in style well after the time on the invitation.

Bring your appetite 
Guests from the West or new immigrants to Israel might be surprised to discover there’s no wedding cake at an Israeli wedding. While these stacked confectionary constructions are a mainstay here, you won’t find any plastic bride and groom toppers there.

What you will find is food. Lots and lots of FOOD.

Expect to see an entire buffet line of food out and ready when you arrive. Now it might seem unwise to fill up at the reception before the ceremony, but tuck in! This is often the best food served at the wedding, and it’s also the most convenient! There is generally a dinner after the service, but with the typically massive number of guests, it’s going to take awhile! Make sure to enjoy the early food to its fullest, it is a celebration after all! 

The flow of an Israeli wedding

Israeli weddings tend to have a long, luxurious, and relaxed reception period before the ceremony.  This is your chance to fill up on snacks (really, small meals they call "snacks”), shake hands, and even say hello to the bride and groom. That’s right, they’ll be mingling around the room (or more likely the outdoor area the reception is held at) along with everyone else, no traditions about seeing the bride before the wedding here (unless the family is orthodox and then it’s the entire other way around, where the couple won’t see each other for a week beforehand!)

The ceremony naturally segues out of the reception. Eventually the bride will leave to get into her formal wedding dress while the groom will have what is called a Tisch (or "table”), where he and his friends will get increasingly raucous and joyous, sharing songs and laughs and generally goofing off. 

Then there will be the contract ceremony where the groom signs a document affirming his financial, spiritual, and emotional responsibilities to his new wife. After the paper work is done, it’s time for the Bedeken, or the unveiling ceremony. The bride will come out dressed to the nines in her formal wedding dress to be unveiled by her new husband to be, then the two will be led by their respective parents to the chuppa for the wedding ceremony.

This ceremony is a pretty laid-back affair, even among more traditional families. It’s entirely possible that guests will remain standing during the event and even continue mingling. The rabbi or priest will say a few words, the couple will exchange vows (either traditional or personal), followed by a flurry of activity. Israeli weddings are very active, you’ll see singing, dancing, a short ceremony where the groom dances around the bride seven times, and of course, the part that everyone knows, the traditional glass breaking -- Mazel tov!

When the party starts 

And just as the glass breaks, the DJ will shatter your ear drums with (probably) a bizarre re-mix of a 90’s club song. As soon as the formalities are over, Israeli weddings kick into high gear and the party begins. Dinner is coming, but in all the pandemonium, don’t expect it any time soon!

Instead, expect a lot of fun. Israeli weddings don’t typically include as many formal "speeches” from friends and family members after the ceremony, but expect to hear many impromptu toasts, pre-made skits from friends celebrating/ribbing the bride and groom, and even video presentations. That’s right, people bust out the AV club skills for an Israeli wedding!

Did you remember to bring a gift? That’s okay, they’re not expected! What is expected though is cash. Wedding guests are expected to kick in to help pay for the big splashy party everyone is enjoying. You don’t even need a fancy card, they’re provided at the wedding! Just write a short message of your well wishes, stuff the card with some bills or a cheque, and drop it in the box – much nicer than finding out there was a mix up at the registry and you’re the fourth person to buy the couple a blender!

Limber up and get ready for the long haul because the dancing and celebration will go long into the night! You might be sore and tired the next day, but you’ll never forget the memories of an Israeli wedding!

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The long and storied history of the Montefiore windmill By: C4i

The Montefiore windmill was built as a statement. It represented more than just grain, it represented a future. As the first major permanent building erected in the first Jewish neighborhood built outside the walls of the old city, it sent a message "we are here to stay.” 

For nearly 140 years the Montefiore windmill has been a landmark to the locals of Yemin Moshe. Over that time the mill has served as a symbolic foundation, an outpost, target practice, and a tourist attraction -- it even occasionally made flour.

History of the mill

Moses Montefiore was an English Banker and philanthropist. Montefiore led an interesting life. He was a self-made man who, despite a lack of education, managed to earn a trader’s licence and enter the world of finance, only to be swindled by one of the major fraudsters of the 1800s. Undaunted, he returned to the world of business, rebuilt, and eventually teamed up with Nathan Rothschild to build a financial empire. Montefiore became active politically as an abolitionist (a fund Moses and Nathan helped put together was instrumental in leading to the abolition of slavery in Britain) and authority figure. He served as Sheriff of London for a time and then later as the Sheriff of Kent, was appointed president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews for 39 years and was knighted by Queen Victoria herself. 

But one of Montefiore’s most enduring and personal interests was in the Holy Land. A trip to Jerusalem in 1827 changed the course of Montefiore’s life providing him with a purpose and a drive that would guide him until he passed. Seeing Jerusalem firsthand have a profound effect on Moses and he described the trip to his ancestral homeland as a "spiritual awakening” and he dedicated himself to building safe, healthy Jewish communities in the area.

Using both his personal fortune and a grant left to him by a colleague by the name of Judah Touro, Montefiore launched a campaign of community building. Seeing the conditions inside the Old City as unhygienic and unsustainable, Montefiore purchased a large block of land that would become the community of Yemin Moshe. To provide a stable foundation for a town to grow, he commissioned the construction of a number of major amenities including a textile factory, a printing press, and a mill.

The mill was built in fine European style. Designed by the Messrs Holman Brothers of Canterbury, no expense was spared in the creation of the mill. While the stone to build the tower was mined locally, all of the parts and mechanical engineering for the mill had to be shipped from England all the way to a port in Jaffa (the nearest city with the facilities to handle heavy unloading) and taken by camel to Yemin Moshe. It was a Herculean undertaking, but one Montefiore saw as justified if it gave the Jewish settlers in the area a source of dependable, cheap flour.

Sadly, this wasn’t the case. Despite its fine engineering and design, use of the mill was troubled. Some reports state that the area simply never received enough wind to make it a dependable source of production. Others state that wind wasn’t the issue, but upkeep. Those expensive British parts were nearly irreplaceable, and a few breakdowns were all it took to render the mill functionally inoperable. There were also unforeseen problems with the grain supply. As the mill was designed in England, it was also designed for English wheat, a comparatively lighter grain to the dense, tough grain taken from Israeli soil. According to some reports, local grain never processed quite right in the mill. All in all, despite the expense and symbolic importance of the mill, it only operated for 18 years before being officially abandoned.

So, what became of the mill? Despite its disappointing performance, it was still too much of a local landmark to tear down, so it remained a fixture of the community. It wasn’t until the 1948 War of Independence that the mill found practical use again.  

During the blockade of Jerusalem, the Jewish fighters needed an observation post to survey enemy troop movements and the tower fit the bill nicely. They fortified the top of the tower and conducted surveillance from it, directing fighters to counter the aggressors. 

The tower became something of a sticky point and the British authorities in the area ordered it destroyed. "Operation: Don Quixote” was supposed to result in the destruction of the tower, but in a bizarre twist of fate, the British soldiers sent to do the deed recognized the name on the mill’s plaque. The commutation mentioned both Montefiore and the town of Ramsgate. The soldiers, hailing from Ramsgate themselves didn’t want to destroy a piece of their home and heritage in a far-off land, so instead they compromised. The soldiers blew up the top of the mill where the observation post was and left the rest standing. Tough but fair!

Reconstruction

In the late 2000’s, it was decided that enough was enough. The mill was an important piece of local history and it had sat disused for far too long. A restoration effort was started, but few realized exactly how much it would take to bring the mill back to its glory days. 

For one thing, the knowledge of how a mill like that was built is in scarce supply in this day of age. Expert from the (yes, still-existing) Holman company had to be brought in. They managed to track down the original over a century old design documents and recreate the damaged and missing part of the mill exactly as it would have looked when it was built.

Now the mill stands tall with white cupola topping the tower, four gorgeous sails, and a working grind stone. Of course, it also received some modern improvements such as an electric motor to power the mill when the wind is not being cooperative. 

The mill is now open to the public as a living museum. Visitors are taught both the history of mill, why it is significant to the community, and can view the milling process. After all of these years and strange twists, the mill has once again become the lynchpin in the community.  Montefiore would be proud.


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What to do when your Spiritual walk has slowed downBy: C4i

Do you ever feel like you’re not making enough time for God in your life? Or maybe that you make time, but what you’re doing doesn’t feel productive anymore? Maybe your prayers have become routine, something you mumble out or recite in your head before going to sleep or eating dinner. Maybe you haven’t cracked the spine on your Bible in months despite all good intentions to the contrary.

Sometimes our Spiritual Walk slows down, and it’s important to catch ourselves when that happens. You shouldn’t be ashamed when you hit a stumbling block in your spiritual life, but you should look for ways to overcome it. We should never stop growing as Christians, not until the day we meet the Lord ourselves. 

If you’ve found yourself less excited to pray or have had more trouble concentrating on God or thinking about your spiritual life, here are some things you can try to kick things back in gear. 

Get out of your rut

Ever notice how you have your best ideas in the shower? Sometimes I’ll be stuck on a problem for work and I’ll spend all day just smacking my head against the desk, frustrated and defeated. I’ll shuffle home feeling like a fraud, crawl into the shower to put the day behind me, and presto, IDEA TIME. The fact is, sometimes work just isn’t the best place to get real thinking done, there are too many distractions, pressures, and petty annoyances. 

Weird as it is to say, sometimes our homes can be like that too. We are creatures of our environment and we react to what’s around us. Home is a place of comfort, but also of labor (how many chores are waiting on your right now?) and frustration (who can concentrate on their spiritual life when they’re chasing their teenager down four times a night to stop playing games and get their homework done?) Sitting down to read the Bible or concentrate on prayer might seem easy in the abstract, but when you go to sit down and do it at the dinning room table, that isn’t always the case.

Sometimes finding concentration and focus means finding a different environment. Change your mental space by changing your physical space and try taking the bible to a nearby park or coffee shop and reading without the distractions and background noise of your home. Go on a light walk through a trail and dedicate your thoughts and attention to God. Find a spot where you can be at peace and concentrate on the spiritual. Heck, try the shower!

The important thing is to take action. If your relationship with God feels like it isn’t growing, then the worst thing you can do is to hope for a change while staying exactly the same. 

Try another medium 

If you’re having trouble concentrating when you go to read the Bible, or constantly promise yourself that you’ll read the Bible more but never get around to doing it, consider trying something else. Instead of reading the Bible, listen to it! There are hundreds of audio version of the Bible out there available on everything from apps and mp3s to good old cassette tapes. You can listen to it however you want, either starting at the beginning or by picking selected books. You can choose to listen to plain readings of the Bible, or ones with commentary and discussion points at the end.

The Bible should always be an important cornerstone of your walk with God, but don’t feel ashamed if sometimes it is hard to digest. Even versions of the Bible with modernized diction and spelling can often be confusing if you lack the historical or cultural context of the events in it. If you find reading or listening to the Bible on its own isn’t giving you a sense of spiritual fulfillment, then find a guide. Set aside time to listen to a recorded devotional, or to watch a program that explores the wonders of the Bible in an understandable and relatable way (like our very own Rev. Dr. Tweedie does on The Prophetic Connection!) 

Don’t be confined by ridged expectations of what spiritual development should or shouldn’t look like. There is no right or wrong path to God. Wherever you can find a connection to the Lord or something that excites you spiritually and encourages you to think about the world and your actions in it in a more spiritual perspective is unimpeachably good. 

Make some noise

This might seem contradictory since we’ve also talked about finding the peace and quiet to talk to God, but maybe silence isn’t your problem. If you’re not always comfortable with silence, then fill that space with worship!

This is something I knew as a child and had to learn again as an adult. If you can’t concentrate on Biblical study, or your thoughts are too scattered to concentrate on some lesson or devotional, then stop trying for force it and concentrate on what feels right – joyful, enthusiastic worship!

Pray out loud to the Lord like you were having a normal conversation. Lift up your voice and sing in praise to the Lord, whether it’s old hymns or gospels or whatever fills you with joy. Belt it out even if nobody else is listening, or rather I should say, if nobody is listening but God. Sing in praise and thanks to the Lord and you’ll feel the difference in your life and in your walk with God.

Again, there is no wrong way to come to the Lord. The only mistake is never taking a step.
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7 things you need to know before visiting Israel! By: C4i

Israel is a beautiful country, one that is extremely welcoming to tourists and visitors of all kinds. With a huge percentage of the population speaking multiple languages, a developed tourism industry that minimizes hassle, and a friendly population, a tourist in Israel never needs to feel lost or confused! 

However, there are a few things you need to be mindful of. Like every other country on the planet, Israel has its own ways of doing things that might seem a little surprising if you’re from another culture. Below are seven things you should be aware of when traveling to the Holy Land!

Sharing a plate is normal!

 
Israeli’s love their food! Dining in Israel isn’t just about getting enough calories in your system to sustain you through the day, it’s a total social experience. When you order in an Israeli restaurant, you’ll typically be ordering a main dish that will be shared by everyone at the table. Many foods are designed to be shared either by having members of the table dip slices of bread into them or portioned up and distributed to everyone evenly. If you’ve ever eaten at an Indian or Dim Sum restaurant the experience is very similar. 

So be mindful of what you pick off a menu and be aware that if you order a main dish just for yourself, you may get a few odd looks. This might sound intimidating, but really this is good news for you and your travel mates, as you’ll be able to sample multiple dishes every meal! Order a couple of dishes to split and you’ll enjoy a wider variety than you ever could alone!

Tipping is encouraged

Speaking of meal times, always be good to your waiters and hosts. It is common for waitstaff at Israeli restaurants to receive either no hourly wage or such a meager pittance it might as well be nothing. These workers rely on tips for almost all of their income, so stiffing someone in Israel isn’t just poor form, it hurts their ability to care for themselves and their families! A typical 15% gratuity should be enough to stay on everyone’s good side.

This also goes for cabbies, bagmen, room service, and any other service personnel. Israel has a rich tipping culture and these transactions are what makes the country go around. 

Smoking rules

Coming from a province or state where public smoking has been all but eliminated for decades now, a trip to Israel can seem like a trip back in time in some respects. Although the Knesset recently passed stronger anti-smoking laws to discourage public smoking, it is still fairly common to see someone taking a quick puff in a nightclub, bar, or in the outside seating area at a café. Technically these actions are prohibited, but enforcement is often lax (especially in night life hotspots such as Tel Aviv) and plenty of people still bend the rules.

One time you won’t see much smoking, however, is on Saturday. Smoking is prohibited on Shabbat and the social stigma surrounding it is stronger than police enforcement of no-smoking areas! It’s considered bad taste to be caught smoking on Shabbat so if you are a smoker, be aware of that and try to smoke in private on the weekend to avoid offending anyone!

Feel free to haggle (in the right places)

 
Something that may excite some (and petrify others) is the idea of haggling over prices. Those of us who enjoy making deals and scouting out bargains will be thrilled to know that with outdoor vendors and market stalls, haggling isn’t just accepted, it’s encouraged! When you go someplace like the Jaffa flea market, the sticker price is more of a "suggestion” than anything else and those with a gift for gab can find some amazing deals. If you’re not particularly fond of haggling, it’s recommended you team up with someone who is if you go shopping at a market, so you don’t wind up with an empty pocket book.

Of course, this only applies to markets where that behavior is expected. Try haggling in an Israeli supermarket, convenience store, or hotel, and you can expect it to go as well as trying to haggle down the price at your local Walmart. 

Different beaches for everyone

If you’re visiting during the hot months, a trip to the beach to cool off might be an excellent choice! Israel boasts a number of incredible, beautiful beaches, but it pays to do your homework before you head to one. Beaches in Israel tend to cater to specific groups of people. Some beaches are family friendly, while others attract a rowdier crowd. Some are popular with specific religions, while others are purely secular. 

If all of this sounds complicated or intimidating, don’t worry. Which beaches are for which crowds isn’t a big secret or anything. Ask any local which beach is right for you and you should have no problems finding one where you’ll have a great time!

Expect to see some security

As we discussed in a recent blog, security is something they take seriously in Israel. You can expect to see a slightly heavier (and more well armed) police and military presence on the streets while visiting. But remember, that doesn’t mean it isn’t safe or you have to worry about an incident sparking off at any moment. Military service is compulsory for all young adults so there is an abundance of fatigue clad young men and women putting in hours by guarding all kinds of places and establishing a presence. 

As long as you stay away from direct conflict zones and act with a modicum of common sense, your trip to Israel should be safe and pleasant. Just prepare for the culture shock of seeing the occasional uniformed 18-year-old carrying a rifle.  

Be respectful of different religions and observances

Israel is home to a diverse and beautiful population. While modern areas like Tel Aviv feel just like Toronto or any other major city, there are some cultural sensitivities you should keep in mind. For example, Orthodox Jews have major prohibitions regarding contact with members of the opposite sex. This can manifest in people from the opposite gender giving you a wide berth like there is an invisible wall around you. Don’t take offense, this is just them trying to avoid accidental touching. 

This is something you should also keep in mind as you visit historical and religious landmarks. If you are going to be visiting places like the Wailing Wall or the Birthplace of Jesus, be sure to dress appropriately for the occasion. You don’t need to be in a full suit or Sunday dress or anything. As long as you are dressed modestly and respectfully, you shouldn’t have any problems. 

Never be afraid to ask questions!

 
If you’re ever unsure about something, just ask! Israeli’s appreciate forthrightness, and it’s better to just ask about something than to try and suss out the answer yourself. Israel is a lively, friendly country and as long as you approach people with a smile and respect they’ll do everything they can to make sure you have a great time!

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Akhzivland, the micronation inside Israel you’ve never heard of before nowBy: C4i

 
The "micronation” is a stock cliché in sit-coms, cartoons, and comic books -- a two-bit "state” set up by some whack job with a landmass typically no larger than the average parking lot and a single digit population. It seems like something Kramer or Daffy Duck would get up to.

But, on the Northwest tip of Israel you can find Akhzivland. Akhivland is a for-real micronation, and one that might be stranger than fiction.

A nation built from scratch

The history of Akhzivland began in 1952 with a man named Eli Avivi. Following the Arab-Israeli wars when the nation was still young, Eli happened upon a coastal stretch that contained a ruined village formally named Akhziv. Eli quite liked the area -- it was off the beaten path, had a beautiful beach, and it was seemingly forgotten. He liked it so much, he decided to build a few huts. And then a house. And then he moved all his things into that house and started living there. Only problem is, construction in the area was illegal. Uh oh.

As you might imagine, Eli was quite the character in his own right. While the idea of some guy carving out a chunk of Israel and claiming it as his own might spark images of a provocateur or thief, Eli’s story isn’t so cut and dry. He spent his formative years fighting for the Israeli people and was a member of the Israeli underground navy, smuggling Jewish settlers into the land. While he is known now as a pot smoking bohemian who ruled his own quasi-nation, Eli would have been considered a patriot during the early days of Israel’s existence. It’s difficult to say why he flouted Israeli law so brazenly when he built his home. By all accounts he was a whimsical man, so maybe he just felt like the little slice of beach was the right place for him.

Everything was fine for twenty years. Eli lived in his home with his wife Rina beneath the notice of any serious authorities. But, in 1970, the law finally caught up with him when a planned highway cut right through his home. Authorities sent bulldozers to forcibly evict what they saw as a squatter, but Eli fought back. 

With a comical amount of self confidence, Eli declared the entire area the sovereign territory of the land of Akhzivland and the bulldozing of any of his property an illegal and hostile act. It was a crazy gambit, but the most bizarre part about it is that it worked.  Eli kicked up enough of a stink and fought hard enough that the government seemingly lost interest. The court ruled to lease Eli the area of 10,000 m² for 99 years as a sort of compromise. While the court never officially recognized the legitimacy of Akhzivland, it didn’t press the issue either. 

And so, in 1971, a "nation” was born. 

The important works of a micronation on the rise

Technically, Akhzivland is a democracy, but with an official permanent population of two, the point is kind of moot. Eli was nominated president of Akhzivland by a vote of 1-0 in its first and only election and the constitution (yes, they made a constitution) reads "The president is democratically elected by his own vote.”

Every bit as silly as a sit-com, Eli and Rina leaned into the nation building aspect of being a micronation. They created an official flag (three bars of blue and yellow with the image of a mermaid and the Avivi home), a national anthem, and even stamped passports for visitors – and the pair received many visitors. 

Ever since it’s inception, Akhzivland was a destination for the off-beat and unusual, as fitting a tiny pocket nation. Eli and his wife were hippy pacifists who dabbled in all kinds of psychedelic experimentation, making their home a hotspot for the young and rebellious. They were counter-culture symbols in their own right, a pair of regular people who dared to step out of line and make something for themselves.

They weren’t just popular with young hippies either. Over the years famous personalities such as Paul Newman, Sofia Loren, and Bar Refaeli have visited the tiny nation to pay their respects to it’s de facto president. The pair enjoyed a kind of ironic notoriety among the rich and famous, enough to make them frequent hosts to musicians and celebrities. 

Fun fact about Akhzivland, it is technically the most peaceful country in the Middle East. The micronation has never been involved in any sort of conflict – not that they’d fare too well if they were. Eli was also technically one of the longest serving rulers "in power” in the Middle East.

End of an era

Unfortunately, Eli passed away in May of this year at the age of 88. His death puts the long-term future of Akhzivland into question, with no one knowing what will happen to the lease the Israeli government signed. As of now though, Rina is still living on the land and accepting visitors.

Akhzivland is a strange curiosity that will likely fade into history soon, but it’s memory and spirit will live on with all self-styled iconoclasts who dream of building something of their own.

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Swim with the dolphins of the Red Sea!By: C4i

 
- Photo taken by Tony Malkevist for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism 
 
Swimming with the dolphins is a classic fantasy, a dream vacation that many hope to enjoy one day. But where would be the best place to do it? In the Gulf of Mexico? Maybe at a resort in the Dominican? How about on a Red Sea beach in Eilat?
The Dolphin Reef in Eilat might be the single best place on the planet to live out your aquatic dream!

With over 10,000 square meters of semi-enclosed waters with buoyed nets and an average depth of 12 meters, the Reef is a vast and spacious destination that encourages exploration. Established in 1990, the Reef has been home to generations of beautiful bottlenose dolphins who call the area home. 

What makes this attraction so unique is its commitment to respecting the freedom and dignity of the dolphins. Unlike other marine life attractions which disrupt the creature’s natural living arrangements and subject them to captivity and training to perform amusing tricks for ticket holders, the dolphins of the Reef are left to their own devices. There are no shows where they balance balls on their nose, no hoops they’re forced to jump through to earn their lunch.

Instead, the Reef offers something better. The chance to truly connect with these magnificent, intelligent creatures and marvel at their natural God-given splendor. Dolphins don’t need to be trained to do tricks to be entertaining – they are natural show offs! Dolphins are playful and observant all on their own. They have games they play with each other, relationships they build with other dolphins, and are endlessly curious about their human visitors.

At the Reef you can observe the dolphins in their natural habitat reveling in their natural behavior, a spectacle far more entertaining and enlightening than any scripted show. You can watch as the dolphins play, hunt, socialize, and care for their youth, all in the comfort of their own waters. The dolphins are given access to the open sea, free to come and go as they please, with intervention kept at a minimum (staff will only insert themselves in the interest of preserving and protecting the dolphins). 

Visitors can wander the network of suspended observation decks that allow for easy viewing of all the sea life in the area and are free to swim in the waters and mingle with the dolphins. But for those of us who really want the full experience, you can get an up-close view of all of this through the Reefs snorkeling and SCUBA tours. These tours are guided by professional divers and biologists who know the waters and the animals that call it home. A session consists of two parts, a safety class and exploration. During the class, visitors are fitted for their gear, asked relevant medical questions, and given directions on the use of their equipment and how to signal for help should they need it. After that, instructors take the class beneath the waves to explore the crystal-clear reef and the many wonders to be found in it! 

Aside from the dolphins, visitors can expect to see angelfish, butterflyfish, seahorses, cuttlefish, and both bluespotted and blackspotted stingrays among others in the water! On land, the attraction also includes rare birds from the area including magnificent peacocks!
After a day of diving, visitors can unwind at the site’s relaxation water pools. These pools are set inside a leafy botanical garden like a desert oasis. There are three separate soft-water heated pools to choose from including a sweet water pool, a sea water pool, and a sulphur pool. A sulphur water soak might not sound pleasant if you’re unfamiliar with the idea, but many claim that sulphur water has a variety of therapeutic benefits, particularly soothing to sore joints and backs (perfect after a long day walking all over and exploring).

If one really wants to get the most out of their visit, they can set up a spa appointment and be pampered in the pools. Nothing will work out those vacation sore spots like a relaxing soak in the pool followed by a professional massage.

Who would have thought a desert nation like Israel would be hiding one of the premier marine life experiences on the planet? Just another wonder from a nation that seems to contain an inexhaustible supply of them. 
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The memory of Elie WieselBy: C4i

 
When confronted with horror beyond the scope of imagination, the natural response is the look away. To shield yourself from the terror and madness. For those who have experienced such things, those memories are as sharp as knives and must be kept safely locked away to avoid further harm. It’s a natural, human reaction, but one that can have tragic consequences. When we don’t learn to recognize evil, we are bound to be taken by it again.

Elie Wiesel stared directly into the greatest atrocity of human history. He experienced the full horror of the Nazi’s "final solution” to the Jewish people and somehow managed to survive. But, he did not look away, he did not bury his memories down where they couldn’t reach him anymore. No, Elie Wiesel brought his harrowing account of the holocaust to the world, so nobody could ever forget the mistakes and sins of the past.

Wiesel’s early life was like many other children. He was born in 1928 in Sighet, a town in Romania. He lived there with his family in a small Hasidic community. It was a quiet life.  Both of Elie’s parents were community figures in their own way, devout and introspective. They encouraged Elie to pursue literature and study the Torah along with his three siblings. 

These days would soon turn dark. WWII was brewing and in Sighet, like so many places in Europe, it was becoming increasingly dangerous to be a Jew. In 1940, Sighet was annexed by Hungary, who’s government was allied with Nazi Germany, creating an uneasy situation. 

Tensions would boil over into terror though in 1944 when Germany officially occupied Hungary and removed all pre-tense of allowing the state autonomy or control. Immediately, every Jew in the nation became a target of Hitler’s mad regime and it wasn’t long before Wisel’s entire family were arrested, corralled into a cattle car, and sent to Auschwitz. 

Elie’s mother and youngest sister, Tzipora were executed on arrival. Brutally murdered after a casual inspection could prove "no useful utility” for an ailing mother and young child. The rest of the family were separated, with Elie’s surviving two sisters taken to the women’s camp while he and his father were sent to be used for hard labour until they were no longer of use.
And work they did. Elie and his father Shlomo were pressed into slave labour under the most brutal conditions imaginable. A number was burned into Elie’s arm that he would carry with him the rest of his life. They worked through starvation, beatings, torture, and an inescapable miasma of constant death and dehumanizing savagery. They kept each other alive. What gave Elie the strength to survive another day was the knowledge that his father would die without him, that he couldn’t take the heartache. 
It was this connection that kept them alive in the camp, but nothing could have prepared them for the death march to Buchenwald. With the allies moving in, the Nazis enacted a strategy of hiding of their war crimes and ensuring that camps would not be liberated by moving large masses of prisoners to other camps by foot. Soldiers would first cull the number of prisoners with summary executions and then march the remainder through freezing conditions to a new camp, anyone who could not keep pace would be killed and left on the road. The Wiesel men made the march, but the toll was too much for Shlomo and he died at the end of January 1945. In April, the camp would be liberated.

Freed from the camp and reunited with his two surviving sisters, Wiesel relocated to France to pick up the pieces of his life. He returned to school after having his teenage years so cruelly interrupted to study journalism and soon worked with several French and Israeli papers. With his lifelong love of literature and nascent career as a journalist, it would seem natural that he would write about his experiences, but he couldn’t do it. The pain was still too searing, the wounds too fresh to examine.
It would be years before Elie could confront what was done to him and his family. For a decade Wiesel wrote nothing about the holocaust. It was only after years of healing and the urging of some of his closest friends, including novelist Fancois Mauriac, before he would address the topic.

The result was Wiesel’s first book, Un di Velt Hot Geshvign, or, And the World Remained Silent. Better known by it’s shortened name – Night.

Night was Wiesel’s first-hand account of his experience of the holocaust, a harrowing tome that brought the true, raw, horror of the holocaust into the laps of readers across the world. An account stripped of clinical language or euphemisms of casualty rates or procedures, one that spoke plainly to the true brutality of hatred. Of what happened in the darkest corners of the darkest period of human history. Words that spoke to the deep pain of betrayal and disbelief among the inmates that the world could allow this to happen to them.

Over 10 million copies of Night have been sold. It is considered a monumental text and historical document. 
From that time onward, all of Wiesel’s work would spring from his experiences in the Holocaust. It was like a dam had broken and he needed to let the tears flow free. He was determined to make sure that everybody understood what had happened and how it had been allowed to happen. As he said himself:

"Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.”
We must remember 

Elie Wiesel died in 2016 at the age of 87, but his words still live on. We must never allow ourselves to forget what happened in the Holocaust. We must never avert our eyes again.
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When textbooks teach hate: Indoctrination in Palestine By: C4i

 
I remember my grade school text books, not always fondly, but I do remember them. I remember the frustration of math homework, the wonders of history, and learning about the scope of the world through geography. I remember how they introduced topics through the years, growing and changing with the students. The simple allegory of 3 baskets of 10 apples to teach early multiplication. The bizarre cartoons in the French textbooks where the punchline always got lost in translation. The puns and witticisms making Shakespeare and Bronte more approachable for modern teenagers. 

These simple, healthy images may be familiar to us, but they aren’t to other children. Under the Palestinian Authority’s watch, children in Palestine are learning very different lessons from their texts. Lessons in hate and fear designed to further racial and ideological divides in the troubled nation.

A report by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education examined the k-12 textbooks published for the Palestinian Authority’s curriculum since a major revamp in the year 2000. The results were disturbing. Basic educational texts for foundational studies such as math and grammar have been heavily politicized, often incorporating violent themes. They found that across all grades and subjects, these texts are "teaching Palestinian children that there can be no compromise”.
The report details many examples that cut across all grades and topics; subjects needlessly laced with poisonous commentary designed to indoctrinate young minds while they are trying to learn. For example, fourth graders learning their multiplication tables are walked through an example counting the number of martyrs killed by Israel; a blood-soaked example designed to inspire fear and distrust.

Another example the report details takes place in a high school physics text. In what might be considered grim humor if it wasn’t so tasteless, Newton’s Second Law of Motion, that the acceleration of an object as produced by a net force is directly proportional to the magnitude of the net force, is illustrated by way of a Palestinian firing a slingshot against IDF troops. This is a particularly irresponsible piece of flare for such a simple topic. Inspiring teens to confront armed soldiers with slingshots puts their own lives in danger, which will only feed the cycle of violence.

Most distressingly, according to the report, the texts frequently conflated "Jews” and "Zionists,” essentially using the terms interchangeably. This is notable since most racial bias against the Jewish people is cloaked under the cover of "Zionist” opposition. Conflating the two terms reveals the real target of the Palestinian Authority’s ire, the Jewish people.
While the report elaborates on a few bright spots such as the acknowledgement of Palestinian terror attacks against Israel, the overall summation is still distressing. A generation of children are growing up with a warped perspective of the world, and a specifically cultivated prejudice against the Jewish people.

This kind of hatred needs to be confronted and countered. Palestinian children deserve educational texts that do not predispose them towards the cycle of violence and aggression that has plagued the area for decades. And the Jewish people do not deserve to be slandered and scapegoated to an entire generation. 

Reconciliation can only happen when both sides decide to move forward. The Palestinian Authority can not hope to see peace while it uses its own children’s minds as a battleground.  
[Comment]

How safe is it to visit Israel?By: C4i

 
The Holy Land is a place every Christian should try to visit at least once in their lives. It’s a land steeped in history, culture, and biblical importance that simply must be experienced first hand. Unfortunately, it is also a land steeped in conflict. 

When you watch the news and see reports of Hezbollah rocket attacks, indiscriminate kite bombings, and continued skirmishes along border fences, it’s can seem like Israel is a land under siege. For as valuable as a trip to the Holy Land may be, it begs the question – is it safe to visit Israel?

The answer, despite what you may think, is yes.

Nobody is going to say that Israel is a nation without issues. Yes, there are numerous groups and neighbouring states that have sought to destabilize and intimidate the Israeli people for decades, and yes, this often takes the form of violence. But that is only a small part of Israel’s story, and one that should not prevent you from exploring and experiencing its many wonders.

It’s not preventing other people! 2017 was a record-breaking year for Israeli tourism, with more people coming from more quarters of the world than ever before. 3.6 million people safely enjoyed their time visiting the Holy Land last year with no notable incidents of violence or terrorism harming any of them. With 2018 shaping up to exceed 2017’s record numbers, you should be more worried about long lines to some of the most popular sites than anything Hamas is getting up to.

One thing you need to keep in mind is that while Israel has problems, those issues are concentrated in a few key areas. If you go to the Gaza strip for example, you run a higher risk of being involved in an attack because that is an active conflict zone (and has been for years). If you go to the Syrian border, you may be at a higher risk. But these are comparatively small portions of the country. In the vast majority of the country, things work like anywhere else. People go about their business, they travel, gather, go to night clubs, eat at restaurants, and live their lives.
Israel is a very security conscious state, it has to be considering what they’ve been up against historically. As a visitor from a comparatively more peaceful country such as Canada or the US, it may be jarring to see soldiers with rifles at the airport or heavily armed police in some of the larger metropolitans. But those soldiers and police are there not because they are responding to an immediate threat, but to establish a presence and deterrence in those areas -- and it’s been working. The security measures Israel has adopted have been widely successful at deterring large scale attacks, which is why the attacks you do see along the Gaza border, like those balloon bombs for example, are so random and hands-off. Malicious actors know they can’t operate anywhere else with impunity.

Israel is as safe to visit as any other modern, high-population state. There is no reason to deny yourself an incredible experience. Use common sense, check for any travel advisories before leaving for your trip, avoid the most conflict prone areas, and you can be 99.9% sure to enjoy Israel with no problems!
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What is Yom HaAliyah?By: LifeWEB Admin-NR

 
We’re all familiar with major Israeli holidays like Yom Kippur and Hanukkah, but when it comes to Yom HaAliyah, it’s entirely possible you’ve never even heard of it! That’s not surprising, Yom HaAliyah is a new addition to the Israeli calendar. However, despite being only a few years old, it is still a significant holiday and worth knowing about to have a deeper understanding of Israeli culture.

Yom HaAliyah, or Aliyah Day, is celebrated annually on the tenth of the Hebrew month of Nisan and observed in schools on the seventh of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan. This year, it was celebrated on April 5th and is being observed on Oct 15th. The days are set aside as a recognition and celebration of Aliyah (those of Jewish descent immigrating to Israel), recognizing immigration as a core value of Israel, and acknowledging the many contributions immigrants have made to the nation. 

The push to have a national day of recognition for Aliyah began in 2012. A grassroots campaign of regular citizens and non-profit groups began to push for a special day to celebrate a key aspect of Israeli life and culture. The message proved popular and gained support from other organizations and enjoyed bi-partisan support across party lines in the Knesset. In 2016, the holiday was officially formed.

The date for the holiday was specifically chosen due to its biblical significance. According to the Book of Joshua, the Israelites crossed the Jordan River at Gilgal into the Promised Land on that day. This would have been the first Aliyah by a large group of people.
The day of observation was also chosen due to biblical significance. The seventh of Cheshvan coincides with the date in which Abraham is told to leave his home to go to what is now Israel. The idea is to make a direct modern connection to the historical roots of the state of Israel.

On Aliya Day, schools set aside their regular lesson plans for special classes and presentations. They learn about the history of the nation, the cultural significance of Aliyah, and the contributions immigrants have made and continue to make to Israel. A ceremony is also preformed at the President’s Residence that is broadcast and shared throughout the nation.

It is a powerful message. Aliyah has always been a fundamental building block of the nation, there is no other country in the world where former residents and the descendants of former residents have returned to their land en masse and reclaimed it as their own. Almost half of all Israeli residents are immigrants, and that is significant. This is not a population that exists as an accident of birth and circumstance, but a population of conscious choice. Of men and women from across the world seeing something worth believing in and taking the chance to relocate to a new place and start a new life in their ancestral home. 

That is a truly daring action, one worth celebrating! When you consider the sheer magnitude of what immigration means to the individual and then think of an entire nation built on that impulse, the only mystery is why Israel didn’t have a holiday to celebrate it sooner!
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