Tu BiShvat is Coming

What a year it has been!

It’s report card time.

Yet there are children who have been in their schools for only one day so far this COVID-19 school year.

In Jerusalem, the Kotel, Western Wall, is nearly deserted of people praying and visiting, there are no tourists at least until the end of January with new coronavirus restrictions.

The Kotel Plaza, divided into sections, is filled with construction equipment stored at night and ripping up old stones by day.

What a world it has become!

As the US Capitol was the scene of the swearing-in ceremonies of a new president and vice president, socially distanced and surrounded by security,

I was also attending a corona wedding held in an Israeli backyard,

and relaxing with the sounds of the Jerusalem Symphony providing another free concert. The first time I saw Gil Shohat, he was not conducting an online performance, but playing piano in a cave – Zedekiah’s Cave.

dressing room in cave

And here he is sitting in his dressing room that night before the show!

The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra has an event called “Days of Light” planned to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27th. This year due to COVID-19 restrictions it is available online.

Last year the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz brought world leaders to Jerusalem, Israel for mega-events at Beit Hanasi and Yad Vashem.

The international media was invited to watch the VIP dinner held at Beit Hanasi from a screen in Zedekiah’s Cave. One year ago, I had forgotten!

Also on January 27, 2021, at sundown the holiday of Tu BiShvat begins.

I am still not sure the best spelling of ט”ו בשבט in English, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat, often called the ‘Jewish New Year for Trees’.

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The almond tree on our street still has black old almonds from last year.

But I went looking in a warmer Jerusalem neighborhood and not only found one blooming, but the sky clear enough to see the half-moon above.

Every year I try to find something new for Tu Bishvat.

Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem hosts Melida Tu Bishvat seder

Last year was the impressive and colorful evening at the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem – for Malida, a holiday celebration originating in India.

Tu Bishvat seder at Beit Hanasi Nechama Rivlin

In past years, President Rivlin hosted a Tu Bishvat Seder at Beit Hanasi, in the main hall of the Israeli President’s Residence.

Tu B'Shvat JNF awardees at Beit Hanasi with President Rivlin

Last year KKL-JNF held an event at Beit Hanasi for Tu Bishvat. Since then the Israeli President’s Residence has held very limited events due to COVID-19. President Rivlin’s last year of his seven-year term has not been like the others due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The carob trees are easy to identify with their fallen pods on the sidewalk. The old hard buksor was all we had in the US to celebrate Tu Bishvat.

Does anyone eat it now with all the fresh and dried Israeli fruit available?

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Trees are important, not just for Tu Bishvat. On King David Street, one of many trees near the street work is wrapped with a sign posted to protect the trees from damage during construction.

Last week was one wild weather week, not feeling like spring!

Three times in one day hail came down, plus so much rain.

However, neither hail, nor sleet or cold rain kept the protesters away.

Day after day, they occupy the street near the Prime Minister’s Residence.

When the sun came out, so did people to spend time in the sun and to browse in the free street library for some reading material before Shabbat.

Socially-distanced chairs were ready for Shabbat on Friday afternoon and the sounds of young children singing prayers on Shabbat morning. As I walked by the sounds of Shema Yisrael of very young voices could be heard across the street.

It is sad to see the closed sign on the gates of Hansen House and elsewhere due to the lockdown restrictions from the spreading novel coronavirus.

But, it was good to see the first signs of spring and new growth on the Jerusalem streets, as a year has passed and we move toward a new year.

For the full story of almond trees and Israeli flowers please visit Sara’s wonderful and helpful website ‘Wildflowers of Israel‘ – HERE.

Tu Bishvat is coming, time to get ready.

Tu Beshevat fruit platter

Take care, stay well, and hope to see you soon on the Jerusalem streets.

Rain or Shine All You Need in Jerusalem is Love

In Jerusalem, at the beginning of January, the weather was so warm, it was hard to remember previous years with snow and more snow.

But taking advantage of the sunshine and wandering a different route each day I was able to find something new.

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First I will start with a new photo of Martin Luther King Junior Street.

One of the RJS’s early posts – In Memory of MLK commemorated the US holiday which is celebrated on January 18 this year.

There is a lovely new park called Detroit Garden on Rachel Imenu Street.

The last time I was by, the park was surrounded by a construction fence of an archeological dig. The idea to have hundreds of tourists in this neighborhood and to go underground in limited numbers seems to have been nixed and a new outdoor area has been prepared instead.

The Light Rail Trains have been running through the COVID-19 lockdowns but on a reduced schedule. Posters have been added at stations with suggestions of games parents can play with their children to fill the time.

Having passed too many people walking with their heads down while looking at their phones, I hope this initiative gets people thinking and interacting.

Oh, the road work still seems to be everywhere. But here new street signs were going up off of Jaffa Road for Shaare Zedek Street.

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The original Shaare Zedek Hospital was recently the home for the Israel Broadcast Authority and now for building developers in the area.

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This “Coation Trucks Crossing” sign is in the midst of the major construction works of the Jerusalem International Convention Center and Gateway projects.

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Multiple huge cranes line the city skyline.

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But after months, or is it years already, work above ground is finally visible.

As mentioned before, building construction and road work have been allowed throughout corona lockdowns.

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However, travel for most people is limited in the new lockdown. Random police stops popped up in multiple locations, especially at entrances to city.

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This security stop on Derech Hevron was under a new sign to register for the new school year of 2021/2022. Planning for education continues even in a pandemic with students at home.

New signs went up by the Prime Minister’s Residence. Now it’s officially, France Square (not Paris Square) at Azza Street. Previously this small section of the street was called Ben Maimon Street, not Azza Street as would be assumed.

By whatever name, the fountain was being cleaned on Sunday morning, after another Saturday night of protesters partying around the fountain.

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Protesters set up shop one day this week on Balfour and Brenner Streets.

Plus their usual – every day – and not just Saturday night main location.

One thing they are is persistent, a new day and a new corner, and now in the colder and wet and windy weather.

For the first time, I saw this protest encampment being inspected today. Not what one would expect to see in Gan Ha’atzmaut, Independence Park, across from the United State Embassy building. Oh, well at least for this week it is called the US Embassy.

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After the rain, when the sky clears you can see the mountains of Jordan in the distance. The usually busy road filled with tour buses has been too empty too long.

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Takhana Rishona, First Station, had a few food places try to open, but new stricter regulations closed most of them down. Police were checking businesses as I walked through the sad scene.

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Oh but when those tourists come back, not only will they be surprised by the new skyline and roads, but also the new spots like this one near First Station.

After weeks of sun, the sky was grey on Friday over Har Hazeitim, the Mount of Olives.

As I approached the Old City, across the way on Har Hazeitim, I saw the funeral for Sheldon Adelson z”l. At the private ceremony, cars and motorcycles were parked well above the gravesite. Those specks of black in the middle are the photographers trying to get a glimpse of the funeral.

Trying to get a view of the burial site, one of the closest to the Old City walls.

It is not the big tent, but the small one on the left with men dressed in black and one in an orange United Hatzalah jacket.

In the Old City, security outnumbered the number of people allowed to pray at the Kotel, Western Wall.

Guards were at gates to exclude those who are more than one kilometer from home. More Facebook photos of Friday in Old City can be seen HERE

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While numbers of coronavirus patients are high, small businesses are shut.

But the vaccine program is racing along to over 2,000,000 inoculations. There are increased feelings of hope for the future, even as the number of coronavirus patients rises.

Even under grey clouds, windy and cold, with empty streets, there is always something new to see on the Jerusalem streets.

With a bit of music from Shalva, all we need is love and good health, and I will end with one of my favorite scenes of many this week.

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Friends of a groom were picking him up on the way to his wedding.

They saw my camera and smiling posed with a thumbs up.

I shouted “Mazel tov” to wish him well.

I love Jerusalem

All you need is love to brighten a grey day.

Take care and stay well.

Jerusalem Levels of Security

It was a very warm summer night and the line of large SUVs idling on the side of the street spewed off clouds of hot exhaust as their drivers sat waiting inside with the motors and air conditioning running.

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, was hosting US presidential candidate Barak Obama for dinner. I don’t remember where I was coming home from late at night, but I took the shortcut down Smolenskin Street past #9, walking past the Israeli Prime Minister’s official residence on the street corner of Balfour Street.

For over four years, I have wanted to write about how the levels of security have increased. With the events of the past week now is finally the time.

View of Old City walls in Jerusalem Israel at sunset

The walls around the Old City of Jerusalem were for security. The Tower of David was used for defense until 1918 when the British first used the Citadel for cultural, not military purposes.

These ‘dragon teeth,’ the bollards of yesteryear, were collected from various locations and placed across from Gan Haaztzmaut, Independence Park.

One remains on Agron Street, but this photo is from a post four years ago, shared when writing about security for a Presidential Trump visit.

Also four years ago, I was able to get one photo of the then new black curtain put up near the Israeli Prime Minister’s Residence.

Year by year in Jerusalem new levels of security have been put in place.

New security at Beit Hanasi Jerusalem

Not only near the Prime Minister’s Residence but four years ago at Beit Hanasi, the Israeli President’s Residence, a new security screen was added to block the view from the street.

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Today there are bollards and a new security entrance, and guards.

White security tent for Leningrad dedication in Jerusalem Sacher Park

It may seem like ages ago, but the security for the January 2020 visit of the 49 world leaders for the Holocaust Remembrance took weeks to assemble.

Security in Old city near Western Wall

The increased security near the Kotel, Western Wall is well known.

Western Wall Plaza clear for VP Pence visit

Two years ago, the security for the official visit of Vice-President Mike Pence was extraordinary!

Entrance to Jaffa Gate

More than once this past year, security was increased at the gates of Old City due to the coronavirus lockdowns and distance limitations.

Protest Rally in Jerusalem Israel near Prime Minister's residence

There have been antigovernmental protests for months. The Saturday night events are loud and large and go long past noise time restriction limits.

However, last Shabbat protesters crossed a new line.

The main protest area near the Prime Minister’s Residence is across the street from Paris Square. It has been occupied for months by day as well the Saturday night noisy mega-events.

They are near this entrance to the street of the Prime Minister’s Residence.

This was a view of Smolenskin Street on Friday January 8, 2021.

The next morning on Shabbat, a van like this one blocked the street. Multiple border police officers were positioned there to make sure the demonstrators did not break through and get close to the building again.

By Friday, a new layer of security was added on Balfour Street.

Anyone needing a minyan of ten men to say kaddish could have tried here, as there was at least ten security personnel on hand.

Sorry, no photos of Shabbat, still no Shabbat camera.

However, Sunday morning the gate was open enough to get a peak inside.

It’s been a while since these simple barriers were used for the Prime Minister’s official security.

Now that type is used to warn of a bad spot in the sidewalk.

These are the new security barriers found around the neighborhood.

Solid and heavy, more each week, I will not bore you with dozens of photos.

But to leave you today on a more positive note, these barriers were used at a new art installation being prepared off Safra Square.

These are on top of the new National Library. I am obsessed with work on the roof throughout the past COVID-19 shutdowns and slowdown of this year. In the future, I plan to share more on the amazing project.

In Jerusalem this week, the scene at the US capitol was a quiet one.

The windows were open for fresh air at the Dan Panorama Hotel where travelers have been quarantined after arriving from overseas.

Roses are still in bloom in the winter sunshine and warm weather.

A great time to get out and explore, within a kilometer of home of course, the real Jerusalem streets.