The Ramon Crater, a natural wonder that needs to be seen to be believed By: C4i

 
Makhtesh Ramon (commonly known as the Ramon Crater) is one of Israel’s greatest hidden treasures. You might wonder how an 839-meter-tall massive cliff face can be considered a "hidden” treasure, but you have to remember that this is Israel, a nation abundant in both historical and natural splendor. The Ramon Crater has stayed off the popular tourist radar only because of a sheer glut of other famous historic and natural locations.

But it won’t stay a secret for long. The town of Mitzpe Ramon is quickly becoming a popular tourist spot for those eager to see another side of Israel. From the majesty of the Makhtesh Ramon cliffside, to the many other natural attractions in the area, and the development of several intriguing dining options and comfortable lodgings, Mitzpe Ramon has a lot to offer anyone who is willing to step off the beaten path of the typical tourist spots.

Established in 1951, Mitzpe Ramon has humble origins. Originally designed as little more than a camp for workers laying down the road to Eilat, the small town became something of a pitstop as people made their way to the Southern point of Israel. Never a booming area by any stretch, but with just enough traffic and interest to support a small community. 

But that’s changed in recent years thanks to both positive developments inside the small town, and the changing demographics of Israel. Route 40, the road that winds through Mitzpe Ramon, has become a popular alternative to the busy and chaotic Road 90. This route has not only increased the number of people passing through and supporting local businesses, but also the number of eyes on the Ramon Crater, highlighting what a natural beauty it really is. Combine this with the election of a new mayor intent on expanding the town and establishing the Ramon Crater as one of Israel’s top tourist spots, and things have slowly turned around for the town.
Today, Mitzpe Ramon is home to a thriving community of artists, restaurateurs, and thrill seekers, eager to explore everything the area has to offer. If you’re visiting, the question isn’t "what can we do here?” but "what should we do first!?”

The easy answer to that is of course, "go see the crater!” The Visitor’s Center at the top of the Crater provides an absolutely perfect vantage point to witness the sheer scope and size of the crater. You can grab a few pictures and have a splendid time just touring the various perches and perspectives available here. If you want the full experience though, you’ll want to take a tour of the crater itself.

Multiple companies are currently running jeep and walking tours through the crater. Jeep is definitely the way to go here, allowing you to see more of the area (not to mention being a lot easier on the knees).  A tour won’t just show you the crater in detail, but also nearby locations like Zin Valley, an actual oasis featuring natural springs and vegetation concealed by walls of rock and desert sand! 

If you are feeling particularly daring, you might be interested in rappelling down the side of the crater. Definitely not for the faint of heart! Experienced guides can help outfit you with the gear and skills you need to safely step over the ledge and get a real sense for just how tall the crater truly is.

After a day of risking life and limb (or maybe, wisely, just watching experienced hands do it), come back into town and relax and unwind. Hit up the Spice Route Quarter for a variety of lovely restaurants and cafes featuring the local cuisine. There are some real gems here with menus you won’t find anywhere else in the country, so be sure to sample a few!

Rather than make the drive back to one of the big cities, stay the night. The luxury Beresheet Hotel in town offers an upscale relaxation option if you feel like cooling off in a pool or (if you maybe overdid it rappelling the crater earlier) ordering some room service. But of course, that’s just one option. Mitzpe Ramon also offers a number of smaller, more intimate hotels and B&Bs that will give you a taste of life in the area. There are options for all kinds of budgets and experiences, so be sure to ask around and find a place that suits your tastes!

Mitzpe Ramon is a bit out of the way, but if you’re looking for something unique and special to mark your trip to Israel, you won’t find a better spot. 

Join Rev. Dr. John Tweedie on the Encounter Israel tour, April 4-14, 2019 and see the Ramon Crater for yourself!
[Comment]

How Mossad used a fake resort to safely rescue Ethiopian JewsBy: C4i

Arous was a rare treat in the Sudanese desert. A top-quality resort with the finest of amenities. Fresh food and wine? Check. A beautiful sun-dappled beach? Check. SCUBA diving and sea wreck exploration and adventure? Check. A hidden Mossad intelligence agency working in their midst?

Check.
- Gad Shimron

Arous wasn’t just a unique resort due to its location and the clientele it served. The trapping of the luxury resort concealed a hidden secret. Arous was the base of operations for Israeli intelligence agents conducting a massive humanitarian mission. From the ground up, they planned, bank rolled, and re-opened the resort to support their mission. And for more than four years, they carried out a highly successful operation right under the noses of staff, tourists, and Sudanese forces. 

Between 1983 and 1985 Ethiopia was hit by the worst famine to ever ravage the desperate nation. Drought exacerbated by the totalitarian actions of Ethiopia’s government (done under the veil of crushing a nascent insurgent movement) led to the deaths of more than 400,000 individuals. The crisis kicked off an Ethiopian civil war that would last for a decade, throwing millions into chaos, homelessness, and desperation.

Both the international community and the public responded. The mega-concert Live Aid was created to both raise awareness of the plight of the Ethiopians and fundraise for relief. However, the international response was stilted. Despite numerous countries providing aid, little was done to address the structural causes and conflict that accelerated the famine, leaving millions in a precarious situation. 
Among them, thousands of Ethiopian Jews, who not only suffered from the famine like everyone else, but also became a specific target for their government, were prohibited from practicing their religion and barred from traveling. Seeing the writing on the wall, and knowing all too well what happens when a government starts singling out Jews as a specific threat, Ethiopian Jews started fleeing the area en masse. Many ended up traveling to neighbouring Sudan by foot, enduring some of the most miserable conditions on the planet just for a chance at freedom.

The Israeli government was determined to deliver them this freedom, and so "Operation Brothers” was conceived. A massive effort to locate, safeguard, and smuggle Ethiopian Jewish refugees to safety.  But Sudan was an avowed enemy of the state of Israel, a nation with its own prejudices against the Jewish people. Discretion was necessary, and the Mossad hatched a plan to hide its refugee operation in plain sight.
The Arous resort was originally the brain child of Italian developers in the 1970s. They had big ambitions for a tiny beach resort in an area of the world they saw as underserved and ripe for tourist opportunities. Unfortunately, the project was a boondoggle from day one. With no electricity or running water, and difficulties in attaining these basic utilities, the project never got off the ground. The Italian investors built a dozen bungalows and a kitchen out in the desert and abandoned them. Rough break for those businessmen, but just what the Mossad needed.

Engineering false passports and a series of phony shell companies that would allow them to pose as a Swiss investment group, Mossad agents rented the property for a paltry sum and began renovations.

The plan would have been too obvious if some weird "Swiss” guys simply rented out an abandoned resort and drove truckloads of unaccounted for materials out of it for years. No, if this was going to work, the resort had to be functional, it had to genuinely support tourism. The resort was renovated, utilities were brought online, and staff were poached from local restaurants and hotels by means of Mossad’s deep pockets (after scouting out professional and discreet staff members at local establishments, staff members were recruited by being offered double or even triple their normal pay). 

This is how windsurfing was introduced to Sudan, as one of the many new exotic European recreation options for the resort. Including diving, where bright faced "Swiss” instructors demonstrated how to safely dive and swim with SCUBA gear. 

In fact, this was the cover most of the Mossad agents in the resort used. Smoothing over any suspicions by playing up the role of young, eager European instructors, brought on to manage the more unique aspects of the resort. The diving supply room was kept "out of bounds” for guests and other staff, presumably because it housed expensive equipment. And it did. Expensive radio and communications equipment for organizing their real mission.
Refugees were never housed at the hotel, that would have been too risky. Instead, working in collaboration with local Israeli sympathisers, the group would organize daring rescues that would see trucks from the resort "touring” the area and discreetly picking up groups and depositing them into the waiting hands of Israeli military transport. First by boats, and later as that became too risky after a few close calls, Hercules cargo planes landed in the dead of night deep in the desert. 

The sheer scope and danger of this operation boggles the mind. The Sudanese government was a declared enemy of Israel. If any of the Mossad agents had been discovered, they wouldn’t have even received a trial, they would have been hung in a public execution. Any boats or planes caught operating in the area would have brought down the full force of the Sudanese military. Wars have been started over much smaller intelligence operations.

But the agents stayed committed. To operate in one location for years at a time while knowing that a single slip – a staff member who sticks his head where it didn’t belong, an overheard conversation, a too curious tourist asking the wrong questions – could bring the entire thing down on their heads doesn’t take just courage, it takes a true belief in the value of that mission.

The Mossad agents involved knew exactly how bad things in Ethiopia were, how desperate the plight of Ethiopian Jews must have been to compel them to flee to Sudan, a state hostile to their very existence. They knew that those people deserved to live real lives, lives free to practice their beliefs, free from hunger, and war, and persecution. And they risked everything to make it happen for them.

Operation Brothers rescued more than 6000 Ethiopian Jews from starvation and death. It’s an accomplishment that should be remembered and admired by anyone who believes in the triumph of mercy and kindness over brutality and conflict. 
[Comment]

Are these sci-fi pods the future of transportation in Israeli cities? By: C4i

Netanya, 2020: It’s the morning rush hour and the city teems with life and motion. All around the city, children make their way to school, young professionals fight through café lines for their morning jolt of caffeine, and workers start their day. Above all the chaos, a series of sleek silver pods blow past the street vendors and cars below. Suspended on an intricate network of rails, the pods reach dizzying speeds, in excess of 300 km/h, shuttling people across the entire downtown core in mere seconds.

Sounds like some sci-fi mumbo jumbo doesn’t it? The kind of image you’d see depicted in water colours on the cover of some prog-rock album or in the pages of some retro-future comic. But it’s not. This is the future Netanya’s Local Planning and Building committee and their partners at SkyTran are working to make a reality.

skyTran Overview from skyTran on Vimeo.

 
SkyTran, a US based company from California, is no stranger to comparisons to sci-fi fantasy. Their ambitious vision for revolutionizing public transport has been dismissed before as wild-eyed dreaming, but they insist the tech behind their pods is solid. Building on research conducted by NASA, SkyTran marries proven mag-lev technology (the kind that powers Japan’s famous bullet trains) to a condensed form factor that can work inside a city. The idea is to solve a common public transportation problem – where do you put it?
 
Subways are massive, horrendously disruptive projects that are notoriously prone to setbacks and delays. Elevated trains are much the same, but with the added flaws of being noisy and rattling nearby windows all day. Busses can only carry so many and introduce yet more traffic to the roads.

SkyTran uses the one piece of unoccupied real estate in the modern city – the sky. By building rails overhead and using smooth, quiet, non-disruptive mag-lev vehicles, the goal is to introduce a public transportation system that is fast, safe, and non-disruptive to the community. 

Where SkyTran differs from other forms of public transit is that it favors speed over capacity. Most public conveyances are based on maximizing seats and the total carrying capacity per unit on a route. SkyTran instead only offers two people a ride at a time in a single pod. However, the pods are continuously arriving and departing, ensuring no long lines for a ride.

It’s an ambitious plan, and one that has its fair share of detractors, but the city council of Netanya believes in it. They are planning for a network of these pod rails that will operate between the Sapir railway station to the coastal highway Route 2, covering more than 600 meters of the most densely populated and trafficked area of the city.

The goal is to relieve traffic congestion that has plagued the city for years and cut down on emissions. This is something of a test bed for the SkyTran model. If it works and the pod based network relieves pressure on the roads and helps to combat the rising levels of pollution in the city, it can be expected that other cities in the area will also adopt the program. Tel Aviv and Herzliya have already been in talks with SkyTran. While all of this may seem a little far-fetched today, it may be totally normal in just a few years. 

This is a trend with Israeli cities. Combine this ambitious approach to public transport to other modern initiatives such as the nation’s massive investments in solar energy, cyber infrastructure, and world leading water desalination technology, and it becomes clear that the cities of Israel are not content to merely house treasures of the past, they also want to define the future.  
[Comment]

Celebrating Israeli Icons: Joseph TrumpeldorBy: C4i

 
Russia in the late 1800s was not a place where the Jewish identity was permitted to thrive. The Czarist culture routinely discouraged Jewish practices and norms, and the nation’s press was rife with propaganda of Jewish "cowardice” and "weakness.” It was not exactly where one would expect to be the birthplace of a Zionist hero, but for Joseph Trumpeldor, it was home.

Born in Piatygorsk, Russia in 1880, Joseph’s early life was not an easy one. While a gifted student who won a scholarship into a private school, his family was not particularly wealthy or well off. His father, a lifelong conscript in the Czar’s army, tried to provide him with what he could though. The greatest gift he could give his son was a sense of pride in his Jewish heritage. In a culture that seemed to oppose Jews at every step, Joseph learned to hold his head up high from an early age and kick back against the insults and slander that met him in his day to day life. 

This sense of pride guided him through his life. In 1902, when drafted into the Russian army hostilities escalated in the Russo-Japanese War, Joseph wanted to show exactly what Jewish men were made of and volunteered for a station defending Port Arthur from Japanese attack. The fighting was fierce, and Joseph served with distinction.  
It was during this battle where Joseph would sustain a critical injury to his left arm, necessitating full amputation. For most, that would have been enough -- duty done. But Joseph, after receiving medical care and a 100 day leave, elected to return to his post. His doctors and superior officers couldn’t believe him, but when pressed, Joseph said "I still have another arm to give to the motherland.” 

Fighting again in the protracted battle, the Port was lost and Joseph, along with many other soldiers, was taken prisoner by the Japanese. He put his time in captivity to good use printing a newspaper on Jewish affairs and organized history, geography, and literature classes for other prisoners. It was during this time that he met fellow Jewish enlisted men who shared his dream of Aliyah and founding a communal farm in the Holy Land.

When eventually released as part of a peace agreement between the two nations, Joseph’s efforts were recognized and he was awarded with a promotion to non-commissioned officer status along with several commendations for bravery. This made him the most highly decorated Jewish soldier in the Russian army and the first to receive an officer's commission.

Having seen the worst of Europe and surviving, Joseph spent a few years studying law in St. Petersburg before deciding to make good on his dream and travel to the Holy Land. He gathered a small group of fellow Zionists he met in his academic pursuits and emigrated to Palestine to join an early Kibbutz known as Degania.
This was a prosperous time. The work was hard and the conditions at the Kibbutz were often precarious, but it was good work building the kind of Jewish community Joseph had always dreamed of when listening to his father. Good days, but not to last. This was 1914, and the world teetered on the brink of the first great tragedy of the century.

When World War I broke out the Ottoman authorities who were in control of the area at the time began rounding up and ejecting Jews. They were seen as a disruptive presence, one that couldn’t be trusted. It seemed like the dream was over. But, while in Egypt, Joseph met Ze’ev Jabotinsky, a fellow Russian Jew and Zionist activist. Together, they came up with the idea of a Jewish fighting force, a unit inside the British army that would help liberate their home, Israel, from Turkish control.

This was a radical idea. The war was more brutal than anyone had ever anticipated, and paranoia hung heavy in the air. The British were initially resistant to the idea of giving arms and support to some Jewish group they knew little about. But Joseph and Ze’ev were persistent, and a compromise was struck. The Jews could assist the war effort as their own unit, but not in a combat capacity. And so, the Zion Mule Corps was founded, a "transportation” unit designed to ferry supplies to needed destinations.
Don’t let the name or stated mission fool you, this was not some warehouse job where the men moved crates around. The very first deployment the Mule Corps was assigned to was the bloody killing fields of Gallipoli, a military disaster where allied forces met overwhelming opposition at every turn. The Zion Mule Corps were ordered to deliver ammunition and supplies to areas that were already pinned down by artillery and machine gun fire. They were being asked to march into a meat grinder with no weapons of their own, weighed down by hundreds of pounds of supplies, while managing live, terrified animals across uneven terrain.

And they did.

While Gallopoli was ultimately lost, the Mule Corps won praise and distinction from allied forces. Lieutenant-Colonel John Henry Patterson, commander of the attack, said of the unit "Many of the Zionists whom I thought somewhat lacking in courage showed themselves fearless to a degree when under heavy fire, while Captain Trumpeldor actually revelled in it, and the hotter it became the more he liked it ..." For his part, Joseph was wounded again in the battle, this time taking a bullet to the shoulder. Like before, he would not leave his duties and carried on despite the wound.

While the group was discharged after the end of the war, the legacy of the Zionist Mule Corps would reverberate throughout Israeli history. With the Mule Corps disbanded, Joseph and Ze’ev petitioned the British government to create the Jewish Legion and were successful doing so. Future first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion was a member, and the organization and fighting spirit of the Mule Corps/Jewish Legion would later be a direct inspiration for the formation of the IDF.  Without Joseph’s efforts, this key piece of Israeli identity might never have existed.
With the war over, Joseph returned to the British-ruled Mandatory Palestine. Rather than return to Degania, he stayed serving in a military capacity, working to defend Jewish settlements in the area. It was in this capacity that he would meet his fate.

On March 1, 1920, Joseph was dispatched to Tel Hai to respond to worries of an imminent Arab raid. These fears were validated. Joseph and a dozen fighting men soon found themselves surrounded by hundreds of Arabs. It was a tense situation, with the Arab forces operating under the mistaken idea that the fort was harbouring fleeing French officers. 

Words escalated to violence and a small handful of Jewish defenders were pitted against a far larger aggressive force. Joseph was grievously wounded in the assault. 

Those are the facts we know. This last part is somewhat more disputed, but accounts from the battle claim it to be true. When a doctor examined the horrifically wounded Trumpeldor, mere moments away from death, he asked how he was feeling. Joseph replied, "It does not matter, it is good to die for our country.”
Some say Joseph’s Hebrew was too stilted for him to make such a poetic final statement. Other argue that a man who received the kinds of wounds he did would be incapable of speech. It doesn’t matter. Actions speak louder than words, and Joseph Trumpeldor’s entire life was a series of actions that demonstrated duty, honour, and a commitment to his people. For that, he deserves to be remembered and celebrated as a true Israeli icon. 
[Comment]

Understanding Israel’s KibbutzBy: C4i

 
The Kibbutz is a uniquely Israeli type of community and a foundational piece of the nation’s culture. With the roots of the Kibbutz system stretching back to 1910, and more than 120,000 Israeli’s still living in modern Kibbutz’s today, it’s important to understand how these small communities have helped shape the nation of Israel.
So, what exactly is a Kibbutz and how does it differ from a normal neighbourhood? To answer that, we have to look back at the history of the Kibbutz, starting with the first one, Kibbutz Degania. 

If you were to go to Degania today, you’d never guess that it was originally built on swamp land. Settled by early Zionist pioneers at the Southern end of the Sea of Galilee, the land was a true labour of love. Building the community wasn’t a matter of staking together a few cabins, it required years of backbreaking work and toil to transform it into the habitable, fertile fields it is today. When the settlers arrived, the land was rocky, covered in marsh, and unsuitable for almost any kind of farming. To make matters worse, those early settlers had limited farming experience and were decidedly unwelcomed in the area. Early irrigation efforts were met with sabotage, and they were targeted for harassment.

Yet, they persevered. They survived by banding together and relying on each other. They founded their community on egalitarian principles forged out of this shared struggle. When translated, "Kibbutz” means "gathering” and that’s exactly what Degania was, a gathering of like-minded people. They organized the farm around the creed "give as much as you can and get as much as you need” a proclamation that they would stand together to face whatever might come. They would not allow the elements, the conditions, or any kind of outside hatred stop them from living their lives. Dagania became a role model for other communities facing similar challenges who quickly adopted the Kibbutz system.
There was something special about Dagania. Not only was it one of the earliest of the Zionist settlements in the area, and not only did it become a model for other communities to follow, but it was also the place that gave us some of Israel’s greatest minds and most striking figures. Some of the community’s members included David Ben Gurion, the man who would become the first Prime Minister of Israel, Moshe Dayan, a legendary military commander, and Joseph Trumpeldor, war hero and founder of the Zion Mule Corps, an organization some credit as the ideological starting point for the IDF.

Hundreds of Kibbutz sprung up across Israel in the following decades. Most of these were agricultural communities, focused on farming. These were essentially self-sustaining communities that operated under a flat structure where each member was accorded equal respect and share in the bounty of the community. But as time has passed and the economy of Israel matured, many have moved to other pursuits such as industry, commercial trade, and increasingly, tourism. 
While only about 4% of Israeli’s live on Kibbutzim today, the impact they have had on Israeli culture and the mindset of its people cannot be underestimated. That same spirit of civic duty lives on in modern Israel. From compulsorily duty in the IDF which is taken as a rite of passage for youths entering adulthood, to the way the nation responds to crisis. Take the 2016 wildfires, a series of blazes that pushed thousands out of their homes and into the streets. Israelis throughout the country opened their doors to those left homeless from the fires, relying on that same Kibbutz spirit of sharing what you have with those in need and supporting your neighbour through adversity.

While the modern Kibbutz might not function exactly the same as Degania and its immediate successors, the most important element of the Kibbutz spirit is alive and well throughout Israel. A devotion to one’s community and empathy for one’s neighbours. 
[Comment]

The Jerusalem Biblical ZooBy: C4i

 
Jerusalem has no shortage of famous historical attractions to visit and must-stop locations to see. While anyone visiting is sure to already have a packed itinerary, there is one more place you should put on your list – the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.

The zoo is one of Israel's biggest tourist attractions, beloved by families and people of all ages. If you're looking for information on the zoo, you should know that officially it is referred to as the "Tisch Family Zoological Gardens.” That said, if you were asking someone on the street for directions to it, it is known more commonly as the Biblical Zoo. Why? Because the zoo features animals found in the Bible! This blending of biblical education and fun is what has made the zoo such a beloved location for Jerusalem residents and tourists alike!

In fact, you can see our own Rev. Dr. John Tweedie at the Biblical Zoo during season 12 of Israel: The Prophetic Connection! Keep an eye out for it!

But, it wasn't always like this, in fact, the zoo has had quite an interesting history. Far from the institution it is today, there was a time when the zoo was considered a nuisance!

From humble beginnings

Established in 1940, the zoo was originally opened on Rabbi Kook Street in central Jerusalem. At this time, it was a tiny attraction called the "animal corner.” It was founded by a professor, Aharon Shulov, of the University of Jerusalem as a kind of passion project. He needed a place where his students could gather, study, and interact with animals, but he also was very mindful of class and privilege. Part of making the zoo publicly accessible was in the interest of breaking down the "invisible wall” between the general public and the intellectual cliques on Mount Scopus. He wanted university students and professors to rub elbows with the public and find common ground in the beauty of nature.

While his heart was in the right place, Shulov's first attempt with the zoo didn't exactly go as planned. The animal corner became a source of consternation with the locals. Neighbours complained of the loud noises the animals would make (especially at night) and the smell. Some even claimed they were worried about escaping animals (a little hyperbolic considering the zoo mostly held lizards and birds at the time). So the zoo was moved to another small lot on Shmuel HaNavi street where it again became a source of friction. Eventually, in 1947, the zoo was moved to Mount Scopus. At this point the zoo had grown in size and scope and was holding a variety of exotic animals. Sadly, this was just in time for the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the siege of Jerusalem.

The conflict forced the zoo to be moved again, to the neighbourhood of Givat Komuna where thankfully it would stay put for more than 40 years. Shulov still ran the zoo as a passion project. At this time the zoo had been ravaged by the conflict and the keepers where only able to save a few animals, a shadow of what it had grown into at Mount Scopus. Shulov never lost hope though and worked hard to rebuild the zoo, often forgoing his own salary in the interest of supporting the zoo. 

After his retirement, mayor Teddy Kollek, a long time supporter of Shulov and the zoo hatched a plan to move it one last time. The zoo would be moved to a larger location with the support of the city, commercial developments, and private foundations. It would be located in an area accessible to both Jewish and Arab families alike in the Malha valley.

The modern zoo 

Today, Aharon Shulov might not even recognize his animal kingdom! The modern location spans a massive 62 acres and is home to more than 170 species of animals! The vast majority of which are still connected to the Bible in some way. And that's not all, even the trees and plants of the landscaping are all biblically connected, drawing on flora found in the Bible. Even the Visitor's Centre is designed to resemble Noah's Ark. It's an incredible experience that is fun for the entire family.

Other attractions include the monkey islands. These are a series of habitats at the bottom of the waterfall at Moses' Rock. Between the locations and across the water are a series of ropes the monkeys use to swing across and explore! It is a sight that has to be seen to be believed. 

Then there are the aviaries for the Lesser Kestrels, designed to resemble the building from the Morasha district of the city. You might ask why an aviary would try to look more like a city, but there is a very good reason! The neighbourhood used to be a popular nesting ground for these birds and every year scores of baby Kestrels would hatch across its rooftops. So the design honours are part of the neighbourhood's past while also providing the Kestrels with a safe and healthy habitat.

Preservation and conservation is a huge theme at the zoo. Endangered local species are collected for the express purpose of persevering the species with a progressive breeding and reintroduction program that has seen great results. Even the construction of the zoo was done with the local environment in mind, with the goal of minimal impact on the existing landscape. Because of this, animal enclosures were dug directly into the rock face of the hills, rather than flattening these natural slopes and putting up artificial enclosures.

And of course, there is a petting zoo. The hands-on shows are only available during certain days of the week, but they are always a thrill for children (and their parents). If you're visiting Israel with the family, be sure to check the dates and plan accordingly!

If you're going to be in Jerusalem, you owe it to yourself to visit the Biblical Zoo! 
[Comment]

Finding more in lessBy: C4i

I recently had the good fortune to be offered an amazing opportunity, but it came with one big catch – my family would have to move. Moving is never fun, even under the best of circumstances. But having to find a new place in an entirely different city, far away from what has always been considered home, and under a tight two month time frame? Well, that's a different kind of "fun” all together! We made it work, but it did put certain things into perspective. Namely our possessions.

Nothing will make you more aware of how much stuff you own than a move. Having to suddenly account for every appliance, item, tchotchke, and bauble in your home - from the familiar mugs that you use everyday, to all the old fixtures and books in the basement you forgot you even had – will make you painfully aware of just how addicted to excess you've become.

I don't consider our family particularly materialistic. None of us would fit into the stereotypical image of a valley girl shopaholic, or a mid-life crisis disaster trying to reclaim his youth with expensive knick-knacks. But, we're still products of a materialistic culture. Of a market system that lionizes the cheap and disposable, that would rather see you replace something when it wears out than repair it. Every day we're bombarded by advertising, and the message is clear. "You need this.” "You'd be a better wife/husband/fan/person if you owned one of these.” "If you don't keep up with this year's model, you'll be left behind,” and so on. We live in a culture of excess, and none of us are excluded.

As much as you might want to believe that kind of messaging doesn't influence you, it does. Denying it is as ridiculous as a fish insisting that its indifferent to water. Our society places a value on more. We're all after a heavier pay cheque, a bigger lawn, a more hi-def television.

At a certain point, you have to wonder, when is it enough?

It's a question we need to grapple with because if we stack our priorities and behaviour up against what we find in the Bible, we'll see that we've gone sadly off course. Yes, there is nothing inherently wrong or sinful about buying things or pursuing bounty, but it isn't a virtue either. What's more though is that giving material goods such a high priority in our culture and our lives has squeezed out other, more worthy, pursuits from receiving the attention they deserve. The more material clutter in our lives, the more we put between ourselves and our faith.

So how do we moderate the effects of materialism and prevent it from damaging our faith?

Recognize the gifts that God has already given us

"Count your blessings” might be an old refrain, but it is a true one. One of the best ways to liberate yourself from empty desire is to take real stock of your life and look at all the ways God has already blessed you.

In a culture that is systematically engineered to create want and desire, it's all too easy to forget about what you have. But all of us have things to be thankful and grateful for, often an embarrassment of riches when you get right down to it. From the blessing of our living conditions in a nation free from violence and war, to the relative comfort of even the most humble of apartments, to the food that stocks our cupboards, we all have a lot to rejoice in already. When you sit down and take stock of what you have compared to so many others, it seems almost shameful to ask for more.

Trust that God will provide what you really need 

If you want to break the shackles of want, you're going to have to let go of the chains. This means you need to give up some control and trust that God will provide what is actually necessary in your life.

This doesn't mean you have to live like a monk, it's about finding a more healthy relationship with the things you own. Possessions are nice, luxuries are nice, but they shouldn't be what motivates you. When you start to place more importance on keeping up with the latest iPhone, or expanding your collection of vintage LPs than your relationships, your family, and your walk with the Lord, those possession become idols.

Ask what you can give

Instead of focusing on what you can get, focus on what you have to share with others. This doesn't mean you should be giving away all your possessions, or suddenly become an ATM for everyone in your life. It's about a state of mind. It's about asking what you can do rather than what you can take, and finding a deeper fulfillment in that than just collecting another bauble or product that will fail to live up to its promises. 

Giving is fundamental to Christian life. If we want to reflect God's goodness on Earth, we need to replicate His behaviour - and God is the ultimate giver. He gave us this world, our lives, and His very Son to pay for our sins. If we want to live in His image, than we need to adopt a similar attitude. Look for ways to give and do for others as an alternative to materialism.

There is nothing wrong with having nice things or buying items that make you happy, but there needs to be a balance. If your possessions are starting to get in the way of your connection to God, it is time to re-focus your priorities. Worldly objects are ephemeral, but your soul is eternal. Which one do you think is the better investment?
[Comment]

Ordering Coffee in the holy landBy: C4i

 
If you're going to Israel, you absolutely need to make some time to stop at a few cafés. Café culture is celebrated in the holy land, and patrons are encouraged to take their time and leisurely enjoy not only their brew, but conversations with other customers, and the constant spectacle of Israeli street life. There is a reason Tel Aviv is known as the café capital of the world!

But, if you're used to just running into a Tim Horton's and ordering a double double, you might be in for some culture shock. Ordering a cup of the good stuff is very different in Israel, and if you don't know the local lingo you're going to end up with a mystery cup of joe you probably won't like. Nobody wants that, so here is a cheat sheet on how to order the perfect cup while taking in all that the holy land has to offer.

The plain and simple

Drip fed coffee like we have in the west isn't very popular in Israel. If you go into a café and just order a "coffee” they're going to serve you "botz” or "mud.” This isn't an insult! This is the what the locals call their typical coffee, a rich black Turkish variation that is stronger and richer than what you'll likely be used to. It's brewed like an espresso, with near-boiling water forced through very potent grinds under high pressure. It might take a few sips to get used to, but give it a try. For many people, once they adjust this becomes their favourite coffee!

If you're not feeling adventurous though, there is still a way to get the coffee you're used to. Instead of asking for a "coffee,” ask for a "Nescafe.” I know, it sounds weird, but it has nothing to do with the Nestle's product we associate the name with here. Nescafe is just what baristas in Israel use to refer to the milkier, lighter coffee we enjoy in the west. Don't worry about not being able to get it the way you like it either, their cafés keep cream and sugar on hand just like anywhere else.

The most popular local flavor

Are you the type who wants to blend in as a tourist and see if you can pass as one of the locals? Then order a "hafuch.” This is the most popular non-botz coffee drink in Israel. The "upside down” is basically an Israeli macchiato, that's a cup filled about halfway with steamed milk with an espresso gently poured on top. The milk helps to take some of the bitterness down of the strong Israeli espresso while still allowing you to enjoy the rich flavour. 

Want to really look like you know what you're doing? When you get a cup of botz, top it with a dusting of "hawaij.” This is a mix of cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger that will give your cup a little extra zing. A very popular, very Israeli way of enjoying a drink.

Cooling it down

Okay, so maybe a steaming cup of coffee isn't what you're looking for after walking around all day in the hot sun. No problem, Israeli cafés specialize in a variety of cold coffee drinks – but you need to know what you're ordering.

The main difference is between "ice coffee” and "cold coffee.” An ice coffee is a rich, sugary treat. Very similar to something like a frappucino here, it features crushed and blended ice mixed with coffee, flavouring, and milk. You can get it in a variety of different flavours and it's the perfect thing for a late afternoon pick me up when you need a jolt to the nerves that will go down smooth.

Cold coffee, or "café kar,” by comparison, is less complicated. This is just strong coffee poured over ice. You can get it with milk or sugar, but the typical custom is just to drink it straight. This is the drink for people who can't get the caffeine in their system fast enough – sipping down two espresso shots like a glass of water is enough to wake anyone up!

Savour it

The tips above are just the basics. They're enough to make sure you get the cup you want, but the cafés of Israel have a lot more to offer! Once you've adjusted to the way things are done, experiment a little! Ask the waiter what they recommend, order what some other patron just ordered, live it up!

Café culture is one of the foundations of Israeli life. If you're in the area, make sure you don't miss the chance to experience it yourself!
[Comment]

The Hardaga Family – Righteous among the nations By: C4i

 
In April 1941, the Germans marched into Yugoslavia. The invasion was swift and decisive. The Yugoslavian forces crumbled nearly immediately under heavy German artillery bombardments and hostile air raids, attacks that didn't restrain themselves to military targets, but specifically hammered city centres an population dense urban areas. During this ruthless blitz, the city of Sarajevo was put directly in the crosshairs. Bombing runs destroyed buildings, businesses, and homes. 

Including the home of the Kavilio family.

The Kavilios were a Jewish family living in Sarajevo that, thanks to the bombings, suddenly found themselves destitute, homeless, and stuck on foot during a Nazi invasion. Ground forces were already quickly spreading throughout the country, capturing cities, taking over the local offices of power, and imposing the Fuehrer's twisted will. Their situation could not have possibly been more fraught. 

Not knowing what to do, Joseph, the father of the family, gathered his wife and children and set off towards the factory he owned for shelter. This was a desperate plan. As a piece of industrial infrastructure, there was a good chance the factory could be targeted by further bombing runs (he'd essentially be taking his family from one disaster to another), and as a business registered under a Jewish name, the Nazis would be pounding on its doors as soon as they took the city (which the Kavilio's knew would only be a matter of time). Joseph knew that taking his family to the factory would only delay the inevitable, one way or the other, but had no other alternatives.

Thankfully, Mustafa Hardaga came along.

Mustafa was the head of the Hardaga family. Well-to-do and traditionally Muslim, the Nazi invasion was threatening to them, but did not immediately spell doom as it did for the Kavilios. Mustafa knew Joseph, he owned the larger building complex the Kavilio's factory was located in, and by sheer, miraculous, chance he stumbled upon the family as they were walking to take shelter. He asked Joseph why he was walking with his entire family, why they were carrying what seemed to be a mishmash of luggage and belongings. When Joseph told him what had happened and what they planned to do, Mustafa immediately put his foot down.

The Kavilios would not take shelter in the factory, in a building he owned. No way. Not a chance. Instead, they would stay with his family.

Without hesitation, without flinching, Mustafa, a Muslim, took the Kavilios into his home. More than that, he took them into his heart. For observant Muslims there are many rules about modesty and appearance, for women in particular. Respectful women are supposed to wear a veil and cover themselves in the presence of strangers, which of course could pose a problem when all of a sudden an entire family of strangers has come to live with you. 

For Mustafa though, this wasn't an obstacle. He simply declared the Kavilios part of his own family. Problem solved.

These were not empty words either, they truly were embraced as family. The Kavilio's stayed with the Hardagas as the German invasion tore through Yugoslavia. They were sheltered from both Nazi soldiers and local sympathizers, but the situation was still precarious. When an opportunity presented itself, Joseph sent his family to Mostar, which was under Italian control at the time. It wasn't "safe” exactly, but it was far better than being in the jaws of the tiger. Joseph on the other hand stayed behind. He had to sell the business to ensure his family had some resources to draw on and tie up a few other loose ends. This proved to be a nearly fatal mistake.

Before being able to join his family in Mostar, Joseph was captured by the Nazis. And just as the Hardagas protected him, he protected them, never revealing the identity of those who sheltered him for so long. 

As an illegal Jew living in Sarajevo, Joseph's fate was clear, he was scheduled to be transferred to Jasenovac, the so-called "Croatian Auschwitz” which would have been the last anyone had ever heard of him. But God had other plans. Around the time of his capture and sentencing, Sarajevo was hit with a massive winter storm. Heavy snowfall and bitter cold prevented the widespread transport of prisoners. Instead, Joseph was pressed into a chain gang along with other Jews, Serbs, and Roma who had been rounded up, forced to clear the roads in preparation for their transport.

This was cruel, inhumane work. Joseph and his fellow prisoners worked in sub-zero temperatures in crude clogs and thin coats, totally unsuitable for the conditions. It was slave labour, with gruelling days of hard heavy work rewarded with nothing but starvation rations designed to wear the prisoners out and break their spirits. Joseph's fortune to post-pone a trip to Jasenovac could have been seen as a twisted mercy.

Think about where this left the Hardagas. They defied the law, endangered themselves, and successfully helped smuggle a Jewish family out from under the Germans. Joseph was caught, but miraculously was able to withstand interrogation and never uttered their names. They came so close to being caught and were able to do so much good. Anyone else would have walked away with a clear conscious, they had done their part. 

Not the Hardagas. Zejneba, Mustafa's wife, couldn't let it go. She couldn't stand the thought of Joseph and his fellow captives suffering like they did. She knew injustice when she saw it, and she knew that men and women taken away in chains just for the blood that ran in their veins was the height of inhumanity. So she took another risk. Zejneba, despite all warnings to the contrary, despite the death sentence the Nazis promised for those who would aid enemies of the state, would brave the snow, the guards, and the guns to smuggle food out to the workers on the chain gang. She chose justice.

Joseph's story took more strange turns. After being caught trying to escape, Joseph was punished with an even harsher work load repairing water and sewage lines in the freezing cold in a place called Pale. However, a few weeks into this sentence, a guard, one Captain Reichman, quietly informed the prisoners that he would be leaving the hut door open that night. Everyone understood, he was giving them a chance to escape – and Joseph took it. He ran into the night, travelled miles to get back home, and the Hardaga's took him back in again.

Joseph stayed with the Hardaga's for some time before eventually joining his own family in Mostar. When the war ended and they returned to Sarajevo, the Hardaga's were waiting with open arms, welcoming them into their home until they could get their feet under them. They were as close as families could be.

After many years, the Kavilio's felt the call to return to Israel. They petitioned Yad Vashem to recognize the Hardaga's bravery and add them to the righteous among the nations. They were added, and in 1085, Zejneba came to Israel to plant a symbolic tree for her family in Israeli soil.

In any other story, this would be the end. Good people recognized for their actions, happy decades at peace, grandchildren grown and healthy. But this isn't any other story, and the ending could have been tragic.

Fifty years after the inhumanity of the Holocaust, Sarajevo found itself gripped in another vice of hatred and murder. The Serbian army laid siege to the city, cutting it off from all resources, turning the streets into a deadly killing field of artillery bombardment and sniper fire. Zejneba and her youngest daughter Pecanac were stuck in the middle of it. This time, it was Muslims who were the target of racially based hatred, and with an iron ring tightening around the city with every passing day, the Hardagas seemed doomed.
And they would have been without the intervention of the Kavilios and the Israeli government. Coming full circle, the Kavilios worked with Israeli authorities to secure the entire Hardagas family safe passage out of the line of fire. They were taken out of the city and eventually flown to Israel where they resettled. The Kavilio's finally repaid the debt they owed for more than half a century. Two families, divided by faith but united by shared compassion and empathy were able to save each other in a world full of hate. 

When asked about what she thought of her family's story, Pecanac said, "When I was growing up, my mother Zejneba always said, ‘You can’t control how rich you will be, or how smart or successful you will be, but she said you can control how good you will be.” A lesson we can all stand to learn.
[Comment]

ISRAEL TO RUSSIA: ASSAD’S SAFE FROM US, BUT IRAN MUST QUIT SYRIA:By: Colin Wingfield

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu told Russia on Wed. 11 July 2018 that its ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would be safe from Israel, but Moscow must ensure that Iranian forces quit Syria, a senior Israeli official said. The message, which the official said Netanyahu conveyed in talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, came just hours after Israel shot down a Syrian drone that had penetrated its airspace, underscoring the frontier's volatility. Israel has been on high alert as Assad's forces advance on rebels in the vicinity of the Golan Heights, much of which Israel captured from Syria in 1967. Israel worries Assad could let his Iranian and Hezbollah reinforcements entrench near Israeli lines or that Syrian forces may defy a 1974 Golan demilitarization. "They (Russia) have an active interest in seeing a stable Assad regime and we in getting the Iranians out. These can clash or it can align," the Israeli official said. Israel’s willingness to leave Assad in power echoes the USA position. (Ynet) [Comment]

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The PURPOSE of C4i is to call Christians to express love in action to the people of Israel.

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