Some 80,000 Flock to the Western Wall for Priestly Blessing

April 14, 2017
by: Ilse Posselt

Crowds gather at the Kotel during Passover
Friday, 14 April 2017 | The tradition is based on the instructions the Almighty gave to Moses in Numbers 6:22 – 27 to speak a very specific blessing over the children of Israel. Today, thousands of years later, the holidays of Passover and Sukkot see the children of Israel flock in their masses to the Western Wall, the only tangible remnant of the Second Temple and the most sacred spot in Judaism, for a special recital of this age-old blessing.

This year was no different. Yesterday morning, tens of thousands from Israel and around the world gathered at the Western Wall for the annual Passover priestly blessing or Birkat Hakohanim. As nearly 80,000 Jews stood below, wrapped in the white of their traditional prayer shawls (tallit), the biblical blessing, recited by a group of descendants of Aaron from an overlooking wall, echoed through the Old City of Jerusalem, “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Num. 6:24–26).

The blessing ceremony, which takes place twice a year during Passover and Sukkot, also included prayers for the State of Israel and for the safety of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and other security forces, TPS News reports.

Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef as well as the Rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch oversaw this year’s Passover ceremony.

“Everybody felt a terrific sense of unity today,” Rabinovich told TPS News. “Jews from around Israel and around the world participated… the pilgrimage (to Jerusalem) is an impressive testimony to the Jewish people’s connection to the ruins of our destroyed Temple.”

“When so many people come to lay their hands on the stones at this place; the inspiring sight of thousands of Jews filling every inch of the plaza reminds one of ancient times, when thousands of pilgrims would come to see and be seen, and of course it is more reminiscent of the Temple than of the destruction,” TPS News quoted Rabinovich as saying.

The modern version of the ancient blessing was instituted in 1971 by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Gafner. In the 46 years since, it has become a tradition that many look forward to over the holidays.

Despite the festive atmosphere, there was also a sense of heightened awareness and security around Jerusalem. According to The Times of Israel, Israeli police stationed a large number of additional officers throughout the city, particularly at “flashpoint” sites to maintain order and ensure “the safety and wellbeing of the public.”

Last week, Israeli police spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld, announced that security in the nation’s capital had been bolstered over the festive season as some 150,000 visitors from around the globe were expected to celebrate Passover and Easter in the city. This year, both these holidays coincide.

Describing security in Jerusalem as “at its highest level,” Rosenfeld vowed that “[p]olice will ensure the security and ease of travel for the tens of thousands of visitors entering and exiting the Old City.”

Last month, Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security agency) Director, Nadav Argaman, also warned that Hamas will without a doubt try to launch terror attacks on Israel during the Passover holidays. “Our goal, of course,” he assured, “is to ensure quiet holidays for every citizen of the State of Israel.” Over the past month, Israel has uncovered numerous Hamas terror cells operating in Israel. These cells were in various stages of planning terror attacks against the Jewish state.

Posted on April 14, 2017

Source: (Bridges for Peace, 14 April 2017)

Photo Credit: Robin Ubl-Orack/ Bridges for Peace

Israel Celebrates Tu BiShvat—the New Year for the Fruits of the Trees

February 10, 2017

by: Ilse Posselt

Almond tree in blossom on Tu BiShvat

Friday, 10 February 2017 | Sundown tonight signals the start of a special holiday tied uniquely to the Land of Israel. On Tu BiShvat, the people who call the Jewish state home celebrate the New Year for the fruits of the trees.

For most of us living in Western society, New Year celebrations come but once every 12 months—on December 31. Yet things are different in the Jewish state. In fact, the Hebrew calendar features a full four days to celebrate the “new year”, each day with its own distinctive purpose.

The first new year is known as Rosh HaShanah, literally “the head of the year,” and serves as the start of the civil calendar. The second falls in early spring during Pesach (Passover), and celebrates redemption from slavery in Egypt and the birth of the Jewish nation. The third occurs in late summer and is known as the “new year for animal tithes.”

But then there is a fourth holiday, called Tu BiShvat, on which the people of Israel mark the beginning of the “new year” for trees. This year, the holiday begins at sunset tonight and continues until dusk tomorrow.

This particular new year celebration has both practical and religious purposes. The Torah (Gen.–Deut.) instructs that fruit from trees may not be eaten during their first three years. During the fourth year, the fruit yield from any tree belongs to God. Yet in the fifth year and after, the fruit is for the enjoyment of the people.

Practically, Tu BiShvat is thus for the purpose of calculating the age of trees, as each tree in the land is considered to have aged one year on this day. And so we arrive at the playful saying that Tu BiShvat is the birthday for trees in Israel.

Tree planted on Tu BiShvat

Like all new years, Tu BiShvat comes with the promise of renewal, rebirth and growth in nature. Known in international media as Israeli Arbor Day, many across the country celebrate this day by planting trees or taking part in activities to raise environmental awareness.

This year marks a particularly poignant one for the people of Israel. Late in November 2016, a series of fires of reduced patches of Israel to a landscape of devastation and ruin. By the time the threat of flames was brought under control, the fires had destroyed 560 homes and ravaged some 130,000 dunams (32,124 acres) of natural forests, brush lands and protected parklands.

In the aftermath of the disaster, experts calculated that the rehabilitation and reconstruction of natural sites like forests and nature parks as well as infrastructure damaged in the blaze could take up to 30 years. According to the Jewish National Fund, the fire destroyed more than 11,000 dunams (2,718 acres) of forest land with 7,500 dunams (1,853 acres) incinerated in the Jerusalem hills alone.

In the face of calamity, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that the people of Israel would “rebuild the homes that were lost in the fire and replant the forests that were burned. In the place of every tree that was blackened, another ten green trees will bloom,” the prime minister said at the time. “That is what our predecessors did since the establishment of the Zionist enterprise, and that is what we will do as well: plant, build and deepen our roots.”

Tu BiShvat falls on the 15th day of Shvat, the 11th month in the Hebrew calendar which translates to either January or February in the Gregorian calendar. Traditionally, these are the coldest months in Israel when winter winds and rain continue to lash the Land of Promise. People and nature alike, it seems, are still inclined to hibernate until the sunny days of summer.

Yet Tu BiShvat is about a promise. It is the first whisper of the end of a dreary winter and the earliest hint of new life stirring—even if the signs remain yet unseen. This is the season during which the trees all over the Land of Israel will awaken from their winter sleep and bloom to new life—even though no buds are visible yet.

In Israel, the “new year” for the fruits of the trees is a joyous celebration. Families and friends gather around festive dinner tables groaning with the abundance of fruits native to the Jewish homeland. Dishes made from the seven species, namely wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates, described in Deuteronomy 8:8 as abundant in the Land are a firm holiday favorite.

As the winter winds and cold continue to lash the Land of Promise, on Tu BiShvat the Jewish people celebrate the promise that the dreary skies will give way to sunshine that the Land of Israel will continue to produce in lavish abundance and that destruction will be turned into a flowering harvest.

Seal impression of King Hezekiah discovered near Temple Mount


  Seal impression of King Hezekiah discovered near Temple Mount

Major archaelogcial discovery as first-ever seal impression of an Israelite or Judean king found in location of a scientific archaelogical excavation.

Itay Blumenthal

Published: 12.02.15, 18:20 / Israel Travel

A seal impression of King Hezekiah (698-727 BCE) was discovered at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount, the first time a seal of an Israelite or Judean king was ever exposed in situ in a scientific archaeological excavation.

The discovery was made at the Ophel excavations at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount being conducted by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology under the direction of Dr. Eilat Mazar.

Measuring 9.7 X 8.6 mm, the oval impression was imprinted on a 3 mm thick soft bulla (piece of inscribed clay) measuring 13 X 12 mm. Around the impression is the depression left by the frame of the ring in which the seal was set.
King Hezekiah’s seal impression discovered at foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount (Photo: Uriah Tadmor)

The impression which bears an inscription in ancient Hebrew script reads “Belonging to Hezekiah (son of) Ahaz king of Judah. There is also a two-winged sun, with wings turned downward with two ankh symbols (Egyptians hieroglyphic character symbolizing eternal life).

The bulla originally sealed a document written on a papyrus rolled and tied with thin cords. It was discovered in a refuse dump dated to the time of King Hezekiah or shortly after, and came from a Royal Building that stood next to it.

This building, one of a series of structures that also included a gatehouse and towers, was constructed in the second half of the 10th century BCE (the time of King Solomon) as part of the fortifications of the Ophel — the new governmental quarter that was built in the area that connects the City of David with the Temple Mount.

Dr. Eilat Mazar said that “although seal impressions bearing King Hezekiah’s name have already been known from the antiquities market since the middle of the 1990s, some with a winged scarab (dung beetle) symbol and others with a winged sun, this is the first time that a seal impression of an Israelite or Judean king has ever come to light in a scientific archaeological excavation.”

The historical impression was found by wet sifting layers of excavated soil, during a renewed excavation which began six years ago funded by Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman of New York, in cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority which performs the conservation work and preparation of the site for visitors. The excavations are being carried out in the Ophel Archaeological Park which is part of the natural park surrounding Jerusalem’s Old City walls.

Israel unveils 1,700-year-old mosaic


The Roman-era mosaic, discovered during the building of the visitor center in Lod, will be open for public viewing this week.


Published: 11.16.15, 23:10 / Israel Travel

A 1,700-year-old mosaic floor uncovered in Lod was opened for public viewing for the first time on Monday. The mosaic was discovered during the building of a visitor center meant to display another mosaic that had been found in the same place 20 years ago.

The discovery is part of a villa that was revealed during excavations undertaken by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) between June and November 2014. The dig took place in Lod’s Neve Yerek neighborhood which was originally, according to the IAA’s director of the excavation Dr. Amir Gorzalczany, “part of a neighborhood of affluent houses that stood here during the Roman and Byzantine periods.

“At that time Lod was called Diospolis and was the district capital, until it was replaced by Ramla after the Muslim conquest. The building was used for a very long time,” Dr. Gorzalczany continued.

The current excavations exposed the southern part of the complex that Dr. Gorzalczany is referring to. The finds include a large courtyard paved with a mosaic and surrounded by porticos, as well as portions of frescoes. According to Dr. Gorzalczany, “The quality of the images portrayed in the mosaic indicates a highly developed artistic ability.”

The 11×13 meter mosaic will be available to view on Tuesday and Wednesday from 8am until 4pm and on Friday from 8am until 1pm.

Prehistoric ‘Stonehenge’ monument in Golan Heights fuels mystery



One of the most mysterious structures in the Middle East went unnoticed for centuries in a field in northern Israel.


Published: 11.11.15, 22:39 / Israel Travel

Driving past it, one of the most mysterious structures in the Middle East is easy to miss. The prehistoric stone monument went unnoticed for centuries in a bare expanse of field on the Golan Heights.



After Israel captured the territory from Syria in 1967’s Six Day War, archaeologists studying an aerial survey spotted a pattern of stone circles not visible from the ground. Subsequent excavations revealed it was one of the oldest and largest structures in the region.


Known as Rujm el-Hiri in Arabic, meaning the “stone heap of the wild cat,” the complex has five concentric circles, the largest more than 152 meters wide, and a massive burial chamber in the middle. Its Hebrew name Gilgal Refaim, or “wheel of giants,” refers to an ancient race of giants mentioned in the Bible.


It is up to 5,000 years old, according to most estimates, making it a contemporary of England’s Stonehenge. Unlike the more famous monument built with about 100 huge stones topped by lintels, the Golan structure is made of piles of thousands of smaller basalt rocks that together weigh over 40,000 tons.

An aerial shot of the ‘Stonehenge’ structure in the Golan Heights.


“It’s an enigmatic site. We have bits of information, but not the whole picture,” said Uri Berger, an expert on megalithic tombs with the Israel Antiquities Authority.


“Scientists come and are amazed by the site and think up their own theories.”


No one knows who built it, he said. Some think it might have been a nomadic civilisation that settled the area, but it would have required a tremendous support network that itinerants might not have had.


There could be an astrological significance. On the shortest and longest days of the year – the June and December solstices – the sunrise lines up with openings in the rocks, he said.


Standing on the ground inside the complex, it looks like a labyrinth of crumbling stone walls overgrown with weeds. From on top of the five-meter-high burial mound, it is possible to make out a circular pattern. Only from the air does the impressive shape of a massive bull’s-eye clearly emerge.


Shards of pottery and flint tools were found in various excavations to help date the site, Berger said. Scholars generally agree that construction started as early as 3,500 BC and other parts may have been added to over the next two thousand years.


The complex is in an area now used for training by Israel’s military, but visitors can explore the walls and crawl into the 20-foot-long burial chamber on weekends and holidays.

Israeli archeologists find evidence of cereal cultivation 23,000 years ago

Israeli archeologists find evidence of cereal cultivation 23,000 years ago

Dig at Ohalo II prehistoric site on the shores of the Kinneret uncovers ‘proto-weeds’ indicating hunter-gatherers tried to cultivate wild cereals 11,000 years before the onset of agriculture.

Itay Blumenthal

Published: 07.23.15, 22:55 / Israel Travel

Israeli archeologists have found evidence indicating hunter-gatherers made a small-scale attempt to cultivate wild cereals 11,000 years before the onset of agriculture.The 23,000-years-old prehistoric site of Ohalo II on the shores of the Kinneret was discovered in 1989 when a severe drought caused a significant decline in the level of Lake Kinneret. Since, several archeological digs in the area found huts, a gravesite, a large collection of animal remains, edible plants and flints. 

According to Prof. Ehud Weiss, the head of the Archaeological Botany lab at the Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Ben-Gurion University, the findings at the site are exceptionally well preserved because they were burned, charred and sealed by the sedimentation of silts sealed in the low-oxygen conditions under the waters of the Kinneret. 

Prof. Ehud Weiss with the discovered seeds (Photo: Faith Baginsky)
Prof. Ehud Weiss with the discovered seeds (Photo: Faith Baginsky)


The Ohalo II prehistoric site, which over the years has become synonymous with characteristics of the hunter-gatherers, allows researchers to study the way cereals were sown, reaped and used. Researchers found the remains of 150,000 plants, including edible grains such as wild wheat, barley and oat. Remains of starch found on a grindstone at the site shows that bread was baked there.


“The grain seeds brought to the hut were processed and grinded to flour,” Prof. Weiss explained. “This flour was used to prepare dough that was baked in an oven made of flat rocks that stood outside one of the huts. Surprisingly, they worked the fields and sowed crops even at that prehistoric time, even though we have no evidence that this phenomenon continued in our area. For this reason, we consider our findings as indicative of small-scale trial cultivation rather than success which led to the beginning of farming. Furthermore, since weeds are defined by botanists as plants that developed as a result of the human cultivation, we called the plants we found at the site ‘proto-weeds.'”

A trip into Israel’s craters

A trip into Israel’s craters

Three friends venture out on an early morning trip to watch the sunrise in one of Israel’s most beautiful desert landscapes.

Eli Segal

Published: 07.20.15, 23:26 / Israel Travel

Many years after missing out on the traditional post-army trip due to unforeseen circumstances, my childhood friends and I decided to make up for it by taking a trip to the crater region in the Negev.



When we got there our instructor made us close our eyes while he walked us to the cliff edge. Only then could we open them. The sight that befell us was perfect.


Quite a few years have passed since that trip, but the magical sight remains burned into my memory. I decided to call up my hiking friends Itzik and Miki and head back out towards the craters.


צילום: אלי סגל

We left Itzik’s house at one AM, set our GPS for the south, and began driving. Before sunrise, we stopped in Dimona to freshen up, close to the famous Dvir’s Restaurant, which once was a meeting point for any traveler heading south towards Eilat. Now the restaurant stands closed and abandoned.


Photo : Eli Segal
Photo : Eli Segal


Photo : Eli Segal
Photo : Eli Segal


We reached the night parking at the little crater in the early morning hours. We were surrounded by darkness, and couldn’t see anything, not even the trail leading to the lookout. We were slightly anxious, because the walk to the lookout was quite long, and very unpleasant in the darkness. So we decided to head towards the Aqrabbim Ascent.


Photo : Eli Segal
Photo : Eli Segal


We took pictures of the starry horizon from the viewpoint while we waited for dawn. We climbed up a really tall mountain, and waited for the sun to finally rise. The fog that surrounded us made it difficult to see the sunrise, but the beautiful desert landscape made up for it, providing us with a stunning panoramic view.


Photo : Eli Segal
Photo : Eli Segal


Photo : Eli Segal
Photo : Eli Segal


Photo : Eli Segal
Photo : Eli Segal


After taking a few pictures on the mountain we walked back towards the night camp at the little crater, and heated up some coffee. After a short break, we loaded up the camera bag, grabbed a big water bottle and we were off towards the little crater. On the way there we took quite a few pictures of our desert surroundings.


Photo : Eli Segal
Photo : Eli Segal


We took pictures of the whole landscape, catching a glimpse of the Dead Sea which reflected the sun’s light back on to us, making sure we got the desert rocks and shrubs into the frame.


Photo : Eli Segal
Photo : Eli Segal


Photo : Eli Segal
Photo : Eli Segal


The blaring sun eventually forced us to end our trip, and we decided to head back towards Be’er Sheva through the big crater, a trip that is an experience of its own. The trip as a whole left us in awe. It was amazing, and left us wanting more, waiting for the next time.



Israel gets its ninth UNESCO World Heritage Site – BEIT SHEARIM

Catacomb 20

Catacomb 20

Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site.

Referring to the limestone catacomb-filled necropolis as “a landmark of Jewish renewal,” UNESCO committee members decided that the park fulfills two of 10 possible criteria as a World Heritage Site: it “exhibits an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology…” and it “bears a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared.”

Beit She’arim (House of Gates), southeast of Haifa in the Lower Galilee, was originally a granary and became the primary Jewish burial ground outside Jerusalem between the second and fourth centuries CE, following the failure of the second Jewish revolt against Roman rule.

According to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the site is the oldest and most densely populated cemetery in Israel, and is similar to the catacombs in Rome.

Many well-to-do Jews of the Roman era requested to be buried there, even many from neighboring countries in what are now Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The necropolis was so desirable because Rabbi Judah Hanasi (the Prince), credited with renewing Jewish life years after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 CE, was interred in Beit She’arim in 220 CE.

An ancient menorah sculpture found inside Catacomb 20. Photo by Tsvika Tsuk/Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Rabbi Judah lived in Beth She’arim when it was the seat of the Sanhedrin (formerly headquartered in Jerusalem), a congress of religious-social leaders he headed.

It was at Beth She’arim that Rabbi Judah oversaw the writing of the Mishnah, the first codification of Jewish Oral Law, at the beginning of the third century CE. Though he moved east to Sepphoris (Tzippori) 17 years before his death, he asked to be buried in Beit She’arim and eventually a cemetery grew up around his tomb. Most of the corpses were placed on shelves carved into the rock, or in stone and marble coffins (sarcophagi).

“Beit She’arim is a moving testimony to our ancestors which has almost no equal anywhere else in the world. When visiting Beit She’arim’s necropolis, one feels the beating heart of the Jewish people,” said Israel Nature and Parks Authority chief archeologist Tsvika Tsuk, noting that the UNESCO application for Beit She’arim was submitted in 2002.

A treasury of ancient artwork

When they were first excavated in the 1930s, the catacombs, mausoleums and sarcophagi of Beit She’arim were found to contain a treasury of artworks and inscriptions in Greek, Aramaic, Palmyrene and Hebrew documenting two centuries of historical and cultural achievement.

Carved on tomb walls or on the sarcophagi are many depictions of animals, seven-branched candelabras (the menorah lit daily in the two Holy Temples) and other Jewish ritual items, stone and marble statues, scenes from the pagan world, and ships.

Inside Catacomb 1. Photo by Tsvika Tsuk/Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Hundreds of inscriptions reveal the names of the deceased, their professions and places of residence, and curses upon those who would open the tombs, along with lamentations and prayers sending the dead on their way to the afterlife.

Catacomb 20 is the largest of all the caves, containing 125 stone coffins. Catacomb 14 contains about 30 burial niches, most of them carved into the floor. Inscriptions in this cave mention the sons of Rabbi Judah the Prince, Shim’on and Gamaliel, and it is believed that the rabbi himself was interred at the far end of this cave.

If you visit Beit She’arim, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority recommends exploring the ruins of the adjacent ancient village. “Near the remains of a basilica, apparently built during the lifetime of Rabbi Judah Hanasi, is a bronze statue of the pioneer Alexander Zayid astride his horse. Zayid, who established the defense organization called Hashomer, discovered a burial cave in 1926. Nearby on the hill, with its magnificent panorama of the Jezreel Valley and Mount Carmel, is the double-domed tomb of the Muslim Sheikh Abreik,” according to the INPA website.

An ancient engraving inside Catacomb 1. Photo by Tsvika Tsuk/Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Beit She’arim joins eight other Israeli UNESCO World Heritage Sites declared over the years since 1981 as places worthy of preservation and protection: The Old City of Jerusalem and its walls; Nahal Me’arot Nature Reserve; the Baha’i gardens in Haifa and Acre; the Old City of Acre; the Incense Route and its surrounding Nabatean towns; the biblical tels of Megiddo, Hazor and Beersheva; the “White City” of Tel Aviv; Masada; and “Land of a Thousand Caves” Beit Guvrin-Maresha.

econd temple era military outpost discoverd

“Of David. Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle; he is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.” (Psalm 144:1-2)

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 9.31.26 PM

Archaeological excavations in Netiv Haasarah have uncovered a Persian era military installation. Netiv Haasarah is a town in the “Gaza envelope” with a population of about 700. The dig, being headed by Dr. Yael Abadi Rice, found a fortified town and a military tower, from approximately 2,100 years ago. This time period was when the Second Temple was standing in Jerusalem.

“It seems this was a military outpost”, Dr. Rice told Tazpit News Agency. “Besides for the army stationed there, people were sent there to work the area on the road from Ashkelon to Gaza.”

The outpost had the military tower as well as residential buildings and warehouses. The tower, built of limestone and mud bricks, was found with a partially preserved staircase. Inside the warehouses, archeologists were surprised to find intact pottery and stone utensils, as well as oil and wine jars.