Monday, August 31, 2009


The Israeli school year begins tomorrow (Sep 1). Our kids, at the American School, have been at school for two weeks already. After the school board meeting tonight, I was talking with one of the other Israeli board members about the depressing situation in the Israel school system. First we have the outrageous issue with the Ethiopian student's not being accepted to private religious schools in Petach Tikva. This is racism, pure and simple. The thing I found just as worrying and what got much less press is that this year only 39% of pupils in Israel are enrolled in "secular" public schools, 14% in religious public schools, 28% in Arab schools and a whopping 20% are enrolled in orthodox Haredi schools. This means that we are looking at close to half the children in Israel are getting an education that will probably not equip them to function in the modern world. You can read the article here. Both the Arab and orthodox educational system are way worse than the not very good public system. The Arab schools on the whole test 14% below the Israeli average while the Haredi schools don't even participate in the exams - they have no state wide curriculum. The levels of employment in these populations are way lower than the rest of the country, and what that means is more people for our social services to support in the future. The right thing to do is to improve the level of education in these sectors. I'm not holding my breath.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

It Only Happens To Us

Some things seem to happen only to us. There I was wondering what I was going to write about today, when there was a ring on the doorbell. In breezed Gal. She is a researcher for a TV production company that are putting together a new "reality/quiz" type show. She liked the look of our house and figured we might be an interesting family. Once we had established that she was legit she sat all 4+1 (Heli, our near other daughter was here too) of us down and checked us out to see if we are appropriate. It seems we, as a family, know a lot about many things, just not many Israeli things (music, sport, movies). The boy's rather sparse Hebrew was quite amusing, and overall I was proud of my guys. We'll know soon if we have been chosen to participate. Gal, the researcher was very good. She had that easy way that made everyone comfortable - she is excellent at her job. I explained my 80% theory and let her know she is at least 87% at what she does (I need to be nice if we are to get on the show). It was fun. I'll let you know how it goes and when to watch us on TV. Right! - that now would be something.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hurvat Itry

We set out early this morning as usual. The sun is rising later and so it was just light when we left home. I read about the Hurvat Itry (the Itri Ruins) in the local paper this week and decided we should pay it a visit. The article in the paper made it sound like it was quite difficult to find, but actually it is way better signposted than many of the more famous sites we have visited.

Itry was a wealthy Jewish settlement at the time of the Second Temple. It lies in the Adulam Caves Park park near of the Ella Valley Wineries. No one really knows the name of the original settlement, but during excavation an ostracon (a shard of pottery with writing used in the old days as a post-it note) with the name Itry was uncovered. It could be "Kfar Atra". which was destroyed by the Romans in 69 CE. It's definitely a Jewish settlement because there are three Mikvas (ritual baths).

The settlement was rebuilt after this initial destruction by the Romans. It appears that at the time of the Bar Kochba Rebellion (132 CE) a whole lot of hiding tunnels were dug and a cistern were dug. The village was obviously well involved in the wine trade as a large press was uncovered on the site.

It was nice to not have to travel too far. The Ella Valley is near Beit Shemesh, a mere hour way. The sun was still low when we arrived. We made our coffee and ate our breakfast (Juchnun for the boy a dry pita for me).
It's funny how these small sites, with no entrance fee, guards, Parks department or anything, have been nicely restored and are well signposted.
The hiding areas used during the revolt were cool. The boy likes to go underground. I, myself, prefer the open air, if you don't mind.
This is one of the store rooms it would seem.
Very nice walls. I think it would probably have been a good place to live.
This is one of the mikvas. I am not sure I would have wanted to bathe in there.
In the distance is the West Bank. There are views of the rolling hills from each side.
This is the famous wine press. They were able to produce between 3000-4000 liters of wine each filling of the press. That's a lot of juice. You can see the cyclists in the distance. The site was crawling with sweaty men shouting "Hey Achi" and congratulating each other on making it up the hill. This part of the country is bikers paradise it seems. They were everywhere. They looked at us like we were nuts. Who would want to actually look at these ruins when you can ride up and down mountains?
The boy found this tunnel that he crawled into. It went down a long and cramped way into the dark. He hear a hiss near his ear, and reversed out very quickly. He was impressed with all the tunnels. Rather him than me.

Nice place. It's free and not too far.

Oh The Horror (Rocky Horror)

Blackdaughtero and blacknephewo decided to go to the monthly Rocky Horror Midnight Show. It starts at 12:30am on the last Friday of each month. They were very disappointed, it was even less than 80%. It was some kind of open mike type affair. Maybe she's tell us more about it? Come on girl, now's your chance. And after she got all dressed up and all.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


The wife's very religious family left a week or so ago and they are happily back in Miami. Baruuch Hashem (tanks god). They left us something to remember them by - in our bathroom. It's called "The Garden Of Emuna - A practical guide to life" written by none other than Rabbi Shalom Arush. The flyleaf assures us "his books and recordings have given tens of thousands of people from around the globe spiritual strength and happier lives". Emuna, means belief. And if you believe this book, Hashem (god) has it all worked out for you. He has decided how healthy, wealthy and happy you will be, so we have that going for us, which is nice. Believe in him and all will work out. The book is chock full of pithy statements, that even the most naive and gullible must surely find cliched. Things like "the desire for quick money shows a lack of emuna" and "prayer, charity and tshuva are the only solution to financial difficulty" - and these are only from the page I randomly opened while on the toilet.

I discovered that Hashem is just not into gambling. So the question is asked, "Is it OK (good emuna) to buy a lottery ticket". Hmm, a serious dilemma. You see, while lottery winnings are permissible "because they're not the losses of another person", it seems the lottery is not 100% "congruent with the spirit of emuna". But there is a compromise (we are good at compromises us Jews). If a person needs to buy a lottery ticket, they must buy only one. For if Hashem wishes them to win the lottery, a single ticket is all that's needed. Buying multiple tickets shows a lack of emuna and a trust in statistics over belief in Hashem. I couldn't have made this up if I tried.

I wonder what it says about blogging. You can buy a copy here, I'd give you ours, but bwo is still reading it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Drum Set

The boy took all his hard earned cash from working over the holidays and blew it on a set of electronic drums. The joy. And the noise. He is very happy. They are well made and sound good. I just hope it doesn't drive us too crazy. I suppose he could have gone for a real drum kit, then we would really be suffering.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Siouxie and the Banshees

I have been driving a lot recently, what with the trips all over the country to see "a series of small walls". Often, while driving, the ultimate driving song comes to mind. I prefer this "Siouxsie and the Banshees" version over the original by Iggy Pop. Ladies and Gentlemen, "The Passenger":

Monday, August 24, 2009

Health Care

A lot Both of you that read this blog live in Israel. Now, I for one, am known to go off about all the issues in this country. I have ranted and raved about the lack of manners, the unopenable chip packets, the heat, the drivers, the government and the ants. Still every now and then one must give credit where it's due. I read my nephew, blackedwino's, blog this morning. He is the smart one in the family and is well on his way to becoming a world famous (at least to us) doctor. He is pissed off with politics and the loonies it attracts in the US. He is mad about their lack of vision that allows affordable health care to be held hostage by right wing fanatics that equate equal access to medical facilities with death camp like selection boards. Here in the holy land, while our health system has problems, we get to see doctors, have tests and check into hospitals. If you want specialized care, you can pay for it, but basic health care will ensure you have a doctor and a hospital bed should you be struck by the swine flu.

So even though there is much to complain about here, our health care system, while far from perfect at least strives for the 80%. I'm grateful for this.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Thursday night we went to a birthday party as we did Friday night (in Gedera). Saturday night we had the school's welcome for the staff and others. The one thing these parties had in common (besides the fact I wanted to go to none) was the heat. Now everyone here complains about the heat. Everyone says that August is the worst. And everyone says this is the worst August they remember. Each of those night's I was dripping sweat and it's not as if I did anything strenuous, just sitting around. The air is so thick and humid, even breathing is hard work. I hate this part of the summer.

All I have been doing is going to parties and dripping sweat, oh and studying. I am loving my course, although there is a lot of reading, some of which is rather repetitive - I am learning. So, apologies for the rather lame blog postings of late, but till I get into the swing of things with the studies, the blog will suffer. Soon I will be back at my full 80%.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


This morning we set off for Mamshit, a Nabataean city, just south of Dimona. I always liked the Nabataeans, whose capital was the impressive Petra (I will go there one day), and who built Shivta, Avadat and Mamshit in the Negev. Mamshit was built in the First Century CE, and was used by the Romans and the Byzantines. The Nabataeans were a resourceful lot. They built their cities on the Incense Road, and utilized the trade routes between Egypt and the Far East to become wealthy. Mamshit was originally built as a trade post between Petra and Gaza. During the Roman occupation, the Mamshitaeans (my word) reared horses, and so remained very wealthy. Their wealth is reflected in the exceptional architecture and housing seen in Mamshit.

You know you in the desert when you see signs like these.
This is the river bed of the Mamshit River. It only flows in winter when it rains (and then only for a few days). The rocks and cliffs surrounding the site are particularly picturesque.
This is one of the gates in the wall surrounding the city. There has been a lot of reconstruction done. But, it's tasteful and there is still a lot of rubble and rock. In 2005 Mamshit became a Unesco World Heritage Site. The honor is well deserved.
This is what an original Nabataean house's roof looked like. There are arches like this in most of the rooms, of course, the original wood is long gone.
The "Palatial House" Is a particularly grand building with many rooms and impressive architecture. These guys clearly had money. In it's heyday Mamshit only had about 1000 residents. The amount of building for that few people is interesting. The spice trade must have paid very well.
This is what a typical house looked like.
During the Byzantine period, two churches were built on the site. They both had impressive mosaic floors. One had a hidden crypt that contained the bones of some poor Christian martyr.
When the spice trade dried up (the Romans cornered the market), the residents took to horse raising. The stables are nicely restored, with feeding troughs intact.
This is a baptizing area. There are steps carved into the stone that lead down to the water at the bottom.
During the Byzantine Period, a bath house was built on the site, complete with a reservoir to catch and hold rainwater.

We noticed that the Parks Department have opened a camp ground in the park. It's very nice. There were only about 10 people camping and they had access to the ruins after the park closes at 5pm. Looks like a nice place to go and spend a night, maybe I can convince my family.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The No Response Team

The heat is taking it's toll. Not only have we had murders and deaths, but they have been more brutal than we usually see here. Some poor chap was beaten to death near Tel Baruch Beach by kids from Jaljuliya. It appears the case of the "dismembered mother and daughter", has been solved. A nutter who was "romantically involved" with the mother, needed some cash. It seems to go on and on. Today, Dudu Topaz (Israeli comic) committed suicide in his jail cell where he was being held for organizing "hits" on media executives who would not put his show back on the air. Well he is certainly getting attention now.

For the last week, while driving to work I have passed the graffiti you see above. It's on the corner not far from squint central. For the Hebrew impaired, the top picture boasts "Beitar Jerusalem - Emperia", some twisted soccer fan's idea of tasteful support. More worrying is the slogan that usually accompanies this, and can be seen in the top left hand corner - "Death to Arabs". Clearly the graffiti artist is not unifying the laws of physics any time soon. You can tell by the catchy "I'm kil for you beitar" written on the wall opposite.

It bothered me, that graffiti. Especially after listening to the "Tipping Point", where Malcolm Gladwell makes the point that in New York, cleaning up the graffiti in the subway went a long way to tipping the end of the crime spree and violence so rampant in the 70s and 80s. So I called the City of Herzliya's Moked (City Response Team) - the phone just rang and rang. I called four times during the day: No answer. Maybe they're all at the beach.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Who is Who Two?

The statue on the left is of an unknown women from Ancient Egypt (the new kingdom period 1550 BCE to 1050 BCE). Looks a lot like the picture on the right. It's currently on show in the Chicago Field Museum. The statue on the left, I mean, not the strange creation on the right. And there you thought archaeology was irrelevant in today's world.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


It's rare that one gets to combine two of their favorite things in one post. I have always loved DeVotchka's blend of gypsy/punk/folk/Eastern European music. I loved the word Devotchka from the first time I read it in Burgess' Clockwork Orange (means "young girl" in Russian I believe). The video below contains scenes from the movie "Everything is Illuminated", one of my favorite books, written by Jonathan Safran Foer. Alex, is played by Eugene Hutz from Gogol Bordello, and No I have not seen the movie. I'm afraid to.

I came upon this video while looking for a video of "Venus in Furs" by DeVotchka, but I could not find one better than this. I think the video below is excellent, better than the official song video. Here is "How it ends" by DeVotchka. I think I need to see this movie.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Unbelievable. At least 100%. 9.58sec. What can one say. Sorry about commentary.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


I got some nachos nachas today. After a many hours of work at squint central, our Hoot remote gaming app was released by Cellcom (an Israeli cell phone operator). You can read about it (in Hebrew) on Walla, The Marker, and Calcalist. But what I'm most proud of is that the boy, who worked on this during the summer, gave the interview to Walla. He just happened to be at work today when we found out the reporter was coming. He is also the only one who knows how to actually play the games in the demo, so the timing was great. From what I heard he did a good job. Nice work squints, I'm proud of you all.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Kohav HaYarden (Belvoir)

Kohav HaYarden (or Belvoir) is "modern" compared to many of the sites we visit on Saturdays. This impressive Crusader fortress was built in 1168 by the Hospitaller Knights. They purchased the land and build the fortress on the edge of a plateau in the eastern lower Galilee, overlooking the Jordan Valley, not far from Beit She'an. In the 1180s (CE) the Muslim forces led by Saladin defeated the Crusaders at the battle of Hittim (1187), and conquered Jerusalem and Acre. The Hospitaller Knights held out in Belvoir under siege for a year and a half before finally surrendering in 1189. In 1220, the ruler of Damascus sent men to destroy the fortress to prevent it falling once again into Crusader hands. The site was excavated and reconstructed by M. Ben Dov in the late sixties.

It's a very imposing site. The reconstruction is tastefully done and it is easy to pretend you are back in time of the Holy Grail, knocking two coconut shells together and speaking with an outrageous French accent.
This is the front entrance to the fortress. The doorway was made of limestone.
An impressive moat surrounds the fortress on three sides. The Muslims broke in from the Easten, non-moated side.
It was very hazy this morning, out there in the distance you can see Jordan and the Gilad mountains. The boy now knows what he was named after.
There are lots of very nice walls and passages left intact.
This is the kitchen.
This is the water cistern. They saved all the runoff during the rainy season. It seems it was enough to last at least one and a half years.
Does anyone know what kind of creature this is? We saw these running around the rocks below. They look cute and furry.

There is a raptor sanctuary on the north eastern side of the the fortress. These vultures are protected, neither can fly, but they attract other raptors and there are quite a few families living in cliff face.

From the time we arrived till we left we were, of course, the only visitors at the park. How does the Park Authority survive?

Friday Night at the Blacksmiths

The sad looking cake above epitomizes our Friday Night dinner. I know, according to recent tradition, I post a recipe or some cooking on a Friday. But, yesterday (it's now Saturday) I could not even face getting close to the kitchen. Friday night dinner was at blackwifeo's family. For the sake of argument lets call them the Blacksmiths. It was one of our Canadian visitors, Adena's 19th birthday. So the girls baked cakes. Above is a "cream cheese icing covered carrot cake", no it's not sweetcorn on toast. They also made a "pecan nut cheese cake" (the crust was the best part, I wonder who make that?). It's the thought that counts.

To give just a taste of the hell that was last night's dinner, here are some facts. The very, very religious uncle and aunt are in from Miami. Uncle Blacksmith fancies himself as a cantor, and kept bursting into loud prayer. The fake chopped liver had to sit out in the heat until Maariv, an extended vocal rendition of the Kiddush, a hand wash and the Motzi was completed. The air-conditioner in their apartment works as well as honesty in government (that is not at all). Due to the strictly kosher basis of the meal, cold meats and salads were the order of the day. The vegetarians were once again exposed to my mother-in-law's inability to cook simple pasta. It was overcooked, unpleasantly spicy and lacked salt. My hyperactive nephews drank two bottles of Coke and proceeded to bounce up and down, loudly. Our boy, was miserable, not feeling well, and walked around looking like Armageddon would be more fun than this. It would have been. They ran out of ice early. Even the cakes were below par.

The Blacksmiths are a kindly bunch. They look out for each other, cook for each other, care for each other, call each other at least ten times a day and love nothing more than getting together for a nice rowdy Friday Night Dinner. It's all very touching. Please next time can I just stay home.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Back to School

Its back to school time for me, blackpetero. I decided that it's time I followed a childhood dream and studied some archaeology. So I took the plunge and signed up for a part time MA from the University of Leicester by "distance learning" (what they call correspondence courses these days). First I have to pass two "bridging courses"; two undergraduate courses that will get me up to speed in archaeology so I don't completely embarrass myself in the MA. The first course (Aims and Methods) arrived today. I was amazed, they sent it by DHL yesterday at 10am UK time and I received it at 5pm today Israel time.

I glanced over the course notes and looked at the subjects for the paper that makes up 100% of the final grade. What a flashback. I got those long forgotten butterflies in my stomach. The last time I felt this sort of excited, anticipatory panic was back at Rice University. How am I ever going to learn all this stuff? Can I really write a reasonable paper and get a decent grade when they quite clearly state that no one ever gets more than 85% (they say "rarely"), 40% is a pass, and 70% is a first. I'm too old for all this. But, hey, you have to follow your dreams. This is a big risk for me people - I hope I can pull it off.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Shut-up, I'm Beautiful

I just got back from the Sinai, where I spent the week relaxing, re-birthing and finding myself. What is re-birthing you ask?
Good question.
Rebirthing (I did this in the sea) "reminds us of our original state in our mother's womb and is a primal connection to life." Honestly, it does sound like bobba meisers, but it was really really cool. You sort of breathe like you are in labor and I suppose the build up of oxygen causes you to go into some sort of very relaxed state. Nitza, who is a healer and very wise, held me in the water and did whatever it is that healers do.
Don't laugh, I felt awesome afterward, totally calm and happy.

The seminar was run by an incredible woman,
Maya Sela who is a past life therapist and metaksheret.
As it was Tu 'B Av (the Israeli version of Valentines day- minus the chocolates and commercialism) this was a LOVE seminar.
The main purpose was to learn to love ourselves first, before we can really love others. We did Moon Meditations (there was a perfectly full moon), communed with our love angel, learned about intimacy through touch and smell, wrote love letters to our bodies, and other wacky stuff. And I loved every single minute. Turns out that my soul mate is Ayelet- a young kibbutznikit who teaches yoga and fixed my back by doing Reiki. S'trues god.
It is incredible to me how much space self critical negative messages take up in our minds. So- angry, resentful and ugly Jo JUST HAD TO GO.

I hung out on the beach all day long, drinking diet cokes and chatting with the little Bedouin girls who try very hard to sell you their bracelets, scarves etc. The truth is that they all have exactly the same stuff, but me being me, had to buy one from each of them.
You all should know that I actually hate the beach. All that sand- Ugh. And the heat, usually not for me, but I cannot wait to go back down there. It was magical (and the Shakra Mikvah in the Red Sea was pretty cool too)

We stayed in a little stone cabin on the beach (private and air-conditioned I will have y'know)
The food was great. They actually bake their own bread, best I have ever had. Maya and the group go down there every month and so they know the staff really well. Hishem, (Edge) the kiosk guy/gopher/guy who knows everyt
hing, Prince (not sure what he does, but seems like everything, and Chef the manager run the place and smoke a shit load of Nargilla. They are really awesome guys.

I have to say, that this seminar was way more than 80%. Dana who organized it did an almost perfect job. My only issue is that coffee was only served at breakfast so the rest we had to buy from Edge (Now a buddy of mine on Facebook :-). Next time I will do what the old timers did and that is to borrow BPO/BSO's gazia- they will just have to deal with it. After the psychic wedding meditation, I realized that- Yes, I am beautiful. Inside and out. Oh, and I love myself too. Whew. I cannot wait to do it all again.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I only heard about these guys yesterday. I like this song, but its the video that caught my eye. It was put together by "light artists" UVA (United Visual Artists). You can see "a behind the scenes" look at the video production. So without further ado, Ladies and Gentlemen, check out Battles with Tonto

Sunday, August 9, 2009


We were sitting round the engineering lounge this morning waiting for Michael to tell us something funny (it's just not the same since his wife stopped arming him with jokes for us squints), when the subject turned to haircuts and hairdressers. We figured it would be a serious time saver if we could just get the hairdresser to cut our hair at work. Guy said that way he wouldn't even have to stop coding, the hairdresser could just move from cube to cube. Anyway it did not make sense to get the guy in right now, as Guy and I had our hair cut on Friday. We would have to all get synced up hair length wise, like dorm girls with their periods.

Then "Joch the always right" stated that it's a scientific fact that men never change their hairdresser. He had to travel from Tel Aviv to Netanya because his guy moved (there is no other reason in the world to go to Netanya). Michael drives to downtown Tel Aviv and even that has not helped him get over the trauma of leaving his Parisianne hair salon. Guy used to only get his hair cut in Arad, but moved local when Merav put her foot down after the kids were born. I used to go to Svetlana over at Herzl's place in downtown Raanana. After years of blackwifeo's insulting her art, I moved to Avi, who now cuts everyone in blackfamilyo's hair. So Joch is right, men do not change their hairdresser - until their wives tell them to.

I was horrified to find out that the going rate is 50NIS. I paid 60NIS on Friday (although Michael has to pay an additional 15NIS parking in TA). Oh Well, my current life philosophy is that one needs to be a frier (sucker) at least once a day. It's good for the soul.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Tel Yizreel

Everyone knows that King Solomon was a wise ol' soul. But, it seems that all those women (according to the bible 700 wives and 300 concubines) were his downfall. He eventually turned to idolatry to keep them off his back. According to the book, his sinning apparently caused the split of the kingdom, under his son Rehoboam, into Judah in the South and Israel in the North. Yizreel (there are a million ways to spell this) was one of the cities build in the Kingdom of Israel by the dynasties that followed (mainly during the Omride dynasty by Omri and Ahab, 882-852BCE). Tel Yizreel lies on high ground, slap bang in the middle of the Yizreel valley, between Beit Shean and Megiddo.

The site was dug between 1990-95 by David Ussishkin of Tel Aviv University (a nice clear report can be found here). The story of the horrid Jezebel took place here. Basically Jezebel and Ahab (the King and Queen) wanted to buy the vineyard of Naboth here in Yizreel. He refused. She "forged a libel" about the poor chap and he was stoned to death. According to 1 Kings they were eventually punished and Jezebel was thrown over the walls of Yizreel where she was eaten by dogs.

I like this picture. The eaely morning sun makes great shadows. See I'm wearing the hat. It makes me feel so Indiana Jonesish.
The whole Tel was surrounded by a vicious barbed wire fence that looked surprisingly new (the only new thing out there). The boy and I rolled underneath with no problem. Nothing stands in the way of the blacko family and their archaeology. We figured the Kibbutz (Kibbutz Yizreel is well known for it's ex-South-Africans and their rugby) has fenced this off. Based on the mounds of poop the Tel is now being used as a cow pasture.
The Tell is completely overgrown. Clearly not much work has happened here since the big dig in the 90's. There are a whole lot of open pits, just waiting for someone to fall in. You can see the various levels in the exposed side.
This was a large city. There are many remains of dwellings and city walls.
I think these are part of the very walls that Jezebel was tossed over.
The largest remains are what is left of the Crusader period church and small fort. The site was occupied from the Early Bronze Age (4K BCE) till today where it's just outside the Kibbutz. The fertile land and excellent view of the surrounding valley clearly makes this a desirable site.
We fought our way through the bush and cow patties. We climbed walls and jumped over pits and basically had a great time. There are no signs or explanations and my skills are not yet at the point where I can tell you what's from what period, but I will improve. We had fun.
We actually found some others out at the crack of dawn. It seems the cactus' that grow all over the site are packed with ripe sabras. There were a few locals slinking around with their sabra pickers (a long pole with a round metal cylinder on the end). They did not seem to want us to take their pictures. I guess that's possibly the real reason there is a barbed wire fence.