Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Fast

The 25 hours of fasting (from Friday at 18 p.m. till Saturday 19 p.m.) are over. 
As I advance in age, the anual fast of Yom Kippur (the jewish day of atonement), becomes a bit easier for me. I suppose it's a matter of experience - making the right food choices for the day prior to fasting  that will ease the Fast, or, as some will say 'make the fast go faster.'

Especially important is the 'aruha mafseket' (the meal preceding the Fast). No big secret here: a light meal based on whole grain and lean protein with nothing too salty or spicy, to avoid hunger and thirst. I find it essential to seal the meal with a glass or two of water.

Somehow, I've come to look forward to this day.  I'm pleased to take a break from the major factor that dominates our life and determines our health, - food - and spend some hours on spiritual thoughts and prayers.. This day should be about introspection, repentance, asking forgiveness. 

 And then, at the end of the day , the 'break-the-fast' meal. It starts slowly with a sweetened drink and a slice of cake followed again by a light meal.

Here's to the Next Year!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Summer Treat

Summer is over, and with it are its various treats we've become used to.
Every year, in summer , the big municipalities of many places in the world ,tend to organize open-air cultural events for the whole family, in parks and/or central squares. These events include: book fairs, art exhibitions, flower shows, folk dances, various competitions.

art display

In the municipal City Garden of Sofia , I've incidentally come upon  a performance of a stand-up comic.. Everyone was laughing, but me. Because of language barrier I left the spot, and decided to tour the beautiful garden,  which lies in front of the imposing Ivan Vazov National Theater.

Ivan Vazov National Theater

It's a small, lovely garden in the city center, to which the residents of Sofia come for recreation and entertainment. It has fountains, statues, benches, grass, flowerbeds, childrens' playground, a newspaper kiosk, and even a tourist information office.

family stroll in the City Garden

People sit on the edge of the fountain, or on benches and have a chat, or listen to street musicians, engage in a game of chess with other amateur players, or watch a concert.

people on edge of fountai - female dancer statue in the middle

 elderly chess players

The next day, near the Nedelya orthodox church which is geographically the very center of the city, I had the chance to see dance groups from all over the world in traditional costumes. A stunning sight! 

Nedelya Church in the background

At first, I thought they were going to perform there, but it took me some time to understand that the place was too small and that it only served as their gathering point. The groups were headed to some other place to give their performance. I couldn't follow them as I was on my way to some appointment. My loss!

Friday, September 8, 2017

May Our Wish Come True !

In Israel, when visiting the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem, people insert a wish note addressed to God, in the cracks between the stones of the wall.  (Haven't been there for a long while, and I miss the site and all that goes along with it).

Western Wall - Jerusalem

women's  prayer section at the Wall (older photo)

women's  prayer section (a more recent photo)

Once a year, prior to the High Holidays (which start towards the end of this month), I visit the tombs of two spiritual figures, two righteous rabbis ;  one buried in the cemetery of the mystical city of Zfat (Safed), and the other in a cemetery of a town adjacent to Tel Aviv.

I'm not a religious person, but I do believe in God and in the power of prayer. People pray at the grave of the righteous (tzadik) asking him to intercede in heaven on their behalf. Before leaving the spot I place a slip of paper by the tombstone asking, as is the tradition, for a good, successful upcoming new year.

At Zfat (Safed) cemetery; rabbi's covered tomb in the background

Men and women praying on opposite sides of the rabbi's tomb (Givatayim cemetery)

Slip of paper?! Well, I've seen people at the charming russian church of St. Nicolai in Sofia, placing.....whole letters in a wooden box by the tomb of Bishop  Seraphim Sobolev, believed to be a miracle maker.

 the russian church of St. Nicolai in Sofia

The marble sarcophagus of bishop Seraphim is in a crypt by the side of the church. The crypt is equipped with tables , chairs, pens and paper. People write their wish on paper, place the letter in the box by the tomb, light candles, and pray.  Quite a sight!  (Photography inside - not allowed). If you happen to be in Sofia, don't miss it!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

When Harvey meets Rockport

We already know  by now that the climate is not going to have any mercy on us.  Actually, we've known that for at least two decades with natural disasters increasing in number and intensity.

We cannot control climate, but we can try control our actions and planning regarding the way  houses, roads, dems are built, and the way evacuation and rescue procedures are carried out.. There seems to be growing awareness in the world to the danger of earthquakes, fires, floodings, lava eruptions, and  all the other natural disasters. This awareness should be translated into some kind of action that doesn't leave us helpless in face of the elements.

Never heard of Rockport until now, so I looked it up on Google.There isn't much about it: a small city on the coast of Texas, with a beach , fishing piers, and a history of ship building, oil drilling and pirates. Now,after being hit by hurricane Harvey, people are returning heart- broken to ruins and debris. May God strenghten them and all the others in the state of Texas!

* web map

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

City Protectors - Lions and Saints

Lions have been for centuries a symbol of strength, security, protection, justice, good luck, you name it. The city center of Sofia (Bulgaria) as far as I could see on my visit there, has six lion statues: two  'guarding' the entrance to the Palace of Justice, and four flanking the bridge over the Vladaya river.

The Palace of Justice (the Court House) is a remarkable white building situated at the beginning of the main shopping street, Vitosha boulevard. It is considered by many an architectural masterpiece for its beautiful simplicity; it's made of white limestone and has four (4) floors, five (5)  gates and  twelve (12) columns.

Palace of Justice

the two lions at the entrance of the Jusice Court

Lions' Bridge (Lavov Most) in Sofia, has four bronze lion figures, one on each end of the bridge. Two of them are facing the heart of the city, the other two are facing the exit of the city ( the railway/bus terminals and the mountain seen behind them). Beautiful, just beautiful!

one of the four lion figures;  facing the city 

I stayed at a small hotel in the area near the bridge , it was part of my daily routine, so I'm going to elaborate on it

The Lions'  bridge

The lovely bridge over the Vladaya river (now, in summer, a pitiful stream) with its impressive lion statues, light fixtures, benches, flower beds (all well kept), is not just a city attraction, it's much more than that. It's a concept, a strategic crossing, mainly due to its location.  It is placed at the intersection of two major boulevards: Maria Luiza blvd. and Slivnitsa blvd., between the city center and the city exit.

Vladaya river (now stream)

Nearby,  a Metro station, A Billa discount supermarket store, the main entrance to the Ladies' Open Market. The bridge is close to the Mosque, the synagogue, the Central Hall  market. One metro stop or 15 minutes on foot lead to the center;  the distance to the transport bus /railway terminals is even shorter.

the intersection: 

Metro  station

The area is favoured by tourists; there's a middle range hotel named Lion Hotel just across the bridge;  A bit further, there are two expensive hotels Ramada and Raddison, and some budget little hotels. 

Hotel Lion

The welcoming statue of Saint Sofia (Sveta Sofia), the saint patron  of the city, is a fascinating piece of art. This bronze and copper made , tall statue, is centrally located, and at street level. So, it is visible a long way.

Sveta Sofia, in black and  gold color, both dominates and guards the city ; it has the power (crown) and wisdom (the owl in the hand) to do so. I was very impressed by its majestic presence.

statue of Sofia in the background

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

GUAM - Where To?


Guam , the recent hot news item, is a small, exotic island in the North Pacific Ocean, home to some 160 thousand citizens. Its indigenous people are called 'chamorro', and tourism is an important factor in its economy.

The island is mostly known as an american military base. This fact makes  it easy for North Korea to threaten Guam with missiles, as it knows that China and Japan (the other big players in the area), despite the mistrust and rivalry between the two, are not happy with the american military presence there.  

A lot in this crisis and in the crises to come, will depend  on the USA's ability to practice restraint. Its former presidents have done nothing serious to prevent Iran and North Korea from developing nuclear power. So,  the USA has to face now a very complex and volatile reality.

The option to use military force against North Korea is neither a good one, nor a desirable one.
It's a different world now, one which finds it hard to accept american military presence away from its own shores, and won't agree to USA use of nuclear weapons .

In the meantime, let's hope  restraint on both sides will prevail, and  Guam, this little Pacific pearl, is not going to be sacrificed .

*web map

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Hidden Rotunda Gem

Hidden gem - that's what they call the little reddish brick circular church St. George (Sveti Georgi) in Sofia. Hidden, because it's practically tucked away in the  backyard of the Presidency building and what used to be Sheraton Hotel (now Sofia Balkan Hotel). Although central, it's  a bit difficult to find, as it is not seen from the street. I went through an arch passage in the presidential building and then had to descend several stairs to get to it.

the church as seen from the arch passage way

The church , considered the oldest building in Sofia, is charming, both outside and inside. I visited it twice as I have a weak spot for round structures ,and this one is particularly attractive and interesting. Photography of the interior is forbidden; there's a tiny souvenir shop inside selling photos of the beautiful icons and frescoes seen on the church's walls /dome, and some religious artifacts.

entrance to the church

This little church definitely has it all: architecture( low and simple, in  contrast to the communist style tall buildings surrounding it),religion (orthodox,still in use as a place of worship), history(dates back to the 4th century), archeology (it stands amid ruins of the ancient Roman town Serdica).

Roman ruins in the church's garden

It is now bordered  on one side by a cafe-restaurant named Rotunda and on the other side, across the entrance, by a souvenir/art gallery shop - both intended for the many tourists and locals that visit the place.

the Rotunda restaurant

                              souvenir shop across the church's entrance

When inside or outside it, one feels a kind of serenity/peacefulness overcoming him/her, and  senses the presence of  Divinity all over the place. A 'must see' in Sofia.


Sunday, July 30, 2017

From Sofia with Love ...

While it may not have the charm of Paris or the energy of Rome - Sofia (Bulgaria's capital city) does have a few attractions worth experiencing.

For a start it has a welcoming statue, the statue of Sveta Sofia (holy wisdom), a monumental copper and brass work overlooking the city. I liked it a lot.

city center - Sofia statue in the background

The capital has a mountain "attached" to it - Vitosha mountain - lovely place for picnics and hiking in summer, ski in winter. The mountain can be seen from various locations in the city, and it's a beautiful sight. It can be reached by car, bus, cable car, chairlift.. I went there by metro+bus+ on foot 250 m to the station called Aleco Hut , which is under the mountain's highest peak ,Cherni Vrah.

on Vitosha mountain; panoramic views of Sofia in the distance

Vitosha is also the name of the main shopping boulevard and pedestrian zone,  the name of a metro line, and that of a district.

The bulgarians seem to respect their past royalty. Several streets in the capital are named after czars (tsar)  and kings (knyaz) : Tsar Simeon, Tsar Asen1, Knyaz Boris1, Knyaz Alexander, Knyagyna Maria Luiza.

They also seem to have respect for public property. Although everyone uses an i-phone, the phone half-booths are still in their place. I even checked a few of these pay phones and they  were in order; apparently no vandalism. However, I haven't seen anyone there making a phone call.

phone half booth

Speaking of booths, one of the three tourist information offices in town is in a.. booth located in the City Garden. Cute. It was closed when I approached it, but I didn;t mind as I had all the info I needed from the main office at the Serdika Metro station.

tourist info office in glass booth

Food is quite cheap, at least compared to where I come from. There's this  chain of discount supermarkets scattered everywhere in the city, called BILLA ,where one can get good food at a fraction of the price. People buy there some wonderful croissantes for their morning and evening coffee; they even buy lunch as there is a grill facility in the store which offers hot grilled meat patties and other such products.

Billa  store (yellow letters) at the central bus station

The main general market, the big open air one,  named the Ladies' Market ( Jensky Pazar) also sells food , besides selling fruit, veggies,clothes and kitchenware.

Ladies'  Marrket

To all the lovers of roses, Bulgaria is well-known for the quality of its rose perfume, rose oil, rose water, and rose - based cosmetics. Bulgaria is one of the top producers and exporters of the above products.

Sofia has a lot of  souvenir shops, 'rose' items being the major souvenir on demand. Prior to departure, I bought a few souvenirs at the Central Market Hall (Halite). This is a covered, compact market in an historical building on Maria Luiza boulevard, across the big Mosque, and not far from the little streets making up the Ladies' Market.


More on the bulgarian capital in my next posts (if my computer will let me, and won't give me any trouble).

Friday, July 7, 2017

Attention: Neighbours !


Qatar, an arab peninsular country in the Middle East, has recently become a Hot item in the news. Its neighbours: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrein,and the United Emirates ( a federation of seven emirates- Abu Dhabi and Dubai being the most known of them) have accused Qatar of supporting and funding terrorism. Qatar denies the allegation. 

The four neighbours have cut off  diplomatic relations with Qatar, closed their borders and issued  demands and ultimatums. Qatar has declared that it won't give in to any ultimatum, and that all demands are rejected as they're a trial to undermine the sovereignity of the nation.

Qatar, (with its capital city Doha) is a land rich in oil and gas, so naturally it is one that attracts great interest, and not only from its neighbours. It has also been chosen to host the 2022 World Cup tournament (Mondial 2022). Now, it seems this Mondial is under great uncertainty .

A stroll in the city  (Web image)

All sorts of factors (Kuweit, USA, Russia, Germany, the UN) are trying to moderate in the above diplomatic crisis so as  to avoid escalation and ensuing instability in the region.
It doesn't seem likely at  this point that there's going to be a joint military action of the four neighbouring countries against Qatar. However, the situation is very unpleasant, not to say explosive.

If indeed terrorism is financed by Qatar, this should immediately be stopped; supporting terrorism in any way is an act of war against humanity.  All the other issues (among them the neighbours' demand to close Al Jazeera TV net ,and  a turkish military base) - are internal affairs to be dealt with by Qatar's government.

In any case, Qatar largely depends on import (including food import). Closed borders, boycotts and this sort of thing, will have a disastrous impact on the country even though Iran and Turkey are behind  with "moral" support and food supply, helping her at the moment defy its neighbours.

Never a dull moment in the Middle East.

* web map

Friday, June 30, 2017

Cool and Soothing 'Green Lung'

The modest fountain in the above picture is not  placed, as most of the traditional ones, in the middle of a town square. This fountain with a circular basin , and straight, perpendicular falling water is located in a corner, a very strategic one - facing two long, busy roads, one of which (Ben-Gurion Rd. ) is dividing two cities (Bney- Brak and Ramat-Gan).

the  perpendicularly falling water

Even on hot days as our summer days are, it's quite cool near the fountain, and the sound of the falling water is very soothing. The whole spot is a little gem with grass, flowers, young trees and benches. It looks well kept - no litter, no mosquitos of any kind. There's no children's playground around, so the spot is usually quiet. It is a place mostly for young couples, teenagers, elderly people, passers by.

a cool, quiet little gem

Whenever I'm in the area I take the time to sit on a bench  and enjoy the serenity of the spot. Behind the fountain there's a coffee shop, one of the many coffee shops belonging to the fine chain called 'Aroma'. It's a pleasure to sit at a table outside the cafe with a cup of coffee and a sandwich and contemplate the fountain and its visitors. 

Aroma cafe with its red sign and people sitting outside

chairs and flowers outside the Aroma coffee shop

tiny birds found some food on a bench vis- a -vis the fountain

This spot is a blessed genuine 'green lung' in an urban area. It creates a much needed balance between Man and Nature, development and environment. We definitely need more of the kind.

*   *    *

Across the street there's an interesting high  statue exhibit named "the sky is the limit,"  composed of human figures in motion . Like the fountain, this outdoor colorful work of art  gives people not only visual pleasure, but also much food to thought.

'the sky is the limit' statue