Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Fate of the Wandering Chandelier

Our story begins before WWII, with the wealthy Grunstein family in Oradea, Romania, the owners of a flourishing logging business in the Transylvanian forests. They helped their less wealthy relatives, either by employing them or in more original ways, like sending a few wagons of timber to the reputed French Notre Dame school to cover the tuition fee of my mother in law, a poor villager relative, who dreamed of attending this school, but could not afford it.

The Grunsteins lived in a beautiful home and this chandelier was hanging in their living room.  Then came the war with the Holocaust, where the Grunsteins perished with so many others. Gross Feri, one of their relatives and Holocaust survivor, returned (without his first wife and daughter) and collected some of the Grunstein belongings. He met Rose, another Holocaust survivor and married her. The chandelier was now in their living room, in the house where their daughter Marion was born. In the sixties, the family emigrated to the USA and the chandelier, one of Marion's childhood memories, was collected by my mother in law, the Grunstein relative who studied at the French school on their expense. At the end of the seventies, the family moved to Israel, but this time, the chandelier was not left behind. My husband disassembled it and meticulously numbered and packed each part. The chandelier, together with some other furniture and household items, was transported by ship to the port of Haifa and from there, by truck, to the nearby Jewish Agency storage in Tzur Shalom.

About a year later, my husband released the luggage, assembled the chandelier, and hanged it in the living room of their first rented apartment in Holon. Then in the second one. Then in the last one, where my mother in law lived till 2002. For five additional years, all her belongings remained untouched, until the apartment was sold and we had to empty it. My husband disassembled and packed the chandelier yet again, and the box waited patiently in our storage for its next journey.

Last month we repacked it, photographed the parts in their order of assembly and sent the box overseas by plane, to Marion in New York. The photos, arranged in a PowerPoint presentation, were sent by mail.

I don't know if and where it will be hanged again, but considering all the mileage and wandering, I can safely call it a Jewish chandelier.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

In the Crusaders' Footsteps

Two weeks ago, the weatherman announced it was the last chance to go on a trip before rains start. We took his advice, which proved to be both wise and true as this Saturday it's raining all day, and went on a trip with Dan (who else?) as our guide. At 5:30 AM we were on our way. The weather, and sunrise about an hour later, were no less than glorious.

It all started in ~1070 when Byzantine emperor Alexios I appealed to Pope Urban II for mercenaries to help him resist Muslim advances into the territory of the Byzantine Empire. The "Reply" email button was not yet invented at the time, but this did not bother Urban at all, as he had more important business to attend to, like figuring out what's in it for him. This took him a mere 25 years. In 1095, in one of the most influential speeches ever made, Pope Urban II launches the Crusades at the Council of Clermont.

Why did he do that? To restore Christian access to the holy places in and near Jerusalem. Why did he really do that? To improve his own status vis a vis his fellow Patriarchs (him being one of five equals before the East–West Schism) and vis a vis Europe's secular leaders (showing them his strong influence over their people), and to clear Europe from the many knights challenging the feudal landlords and fighting each other, by channeling their energy towards a 'just cause'. To ensure a high number of participants, he granted them plenary indulgence and promised feudal fiefdoms, land ownership, wealth, power, and prestige. These ingredients yielded the 200-year, fascinating historical chapter of the Crusaders in the Holy Land, where as a conquering minority, Crusaders were confined mainly to fortified cities and castles, such as Monfort and Belvoir (Kochav Hayarden), the two main sites of our trip.

As you can guess from this photo, the way between the parking lot and the fortress remnants is quite rocky and goes down- and then uphill. Once up, we visited the dungeon, refectorium and fortifications, and  indulged in the pretty sight of Kziv creek.

From there, we took scenic route 89 to the ancient synagogue in Korazinm National Park. The site is quite small, but the geometric, floral and faunal patterns carved in basalt are exquisite. During the short walk, we spotted lizards sunning themselves on the rocks and hyrax climbing the impressive Christ-thorn jujube trees.

Next, we cooled ourselves by taking the wet route in the Majrase, which means walking in the Daliot stream, amidst lush greenery and small school of fish swimming away from our footsteps. On the way out, we picked blackberries as the appetizer of our fish lunch with a view at Bet Gavriel.

Our last site was the concentric Belvoir fortress in the Belvoir National Park, the best-preserved Crusader fortress in the country. Our visit included the moat, glacis, double gates, water cistern, Jordan valley view, external barbican, warehouses, watchtowers, refectorium, church, and the neat secret passage called poterna, which for some reason appears here 90 degrees rotated counterclockwise.

From Belvoir, we continued south, following the Jordan valley and because it turned too late to visit Qasr el Yahud, we turned west and crossed the Samarian hills on the way home, with the sun setting in front of us.

What a great trip!
Check out the rest of the photos here.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Birthright Triggers Traffic Jam Preference

Dan accompanied two Hungarian Birthright (Taglit) tours and he just applied for a third one. It's a great idea to bring young Jews to visit Israel and meet Israelis. This is how he met P, his new Hungarian speaking Serb friend, who just stayed with us for a week, after a second tour to Israel, accompanying Holocaust survivors. Dan took him on trips to the North, South and [twice to] Jerusalem. They went to the beach, art exhibitions, Bauhaus architecture walk in Tel Aviv and Dan's favorite ice cream place. When Dan was at school, I showed P around the hi-tech area where I work, the promenade along the Yarkon, and then we walked around the Tel Aviv port, where he witnessed the season's first real rain and a wedding ceremony led by Rabbi Lau. After finishing his BA in Communications, P plans to make aliyah, learn Hebrew, enroll in the IDF and study for his MA at the Tel Aviv University. Zionism in motion. Israel needs young individuals like P, and P needs a place where he can build a happy, meaningful life.

What's the thing with traffic jams? Well, Dan needed my car for the trips and so I took the bus to work and to return home. I hated the bus rides. They were long, noisy and shaky, and brought back my old motion sickness. I sat near the same aging, religious woman, whom I saw on the same bus a couple of months ago, when I took the bus to work for a different reason. She reads the same prayer from the same overused book, for who knows how many years. But hey, at least I had a seat.

The next day I got my car back. On the way home, while crawling, as usual, in the heavy traffic on the Ayalon highway, I realized I much prefer the traffic jam in my car than the bus ride. A young Serb Jew decides to participate in a Birthright tour and I realize my preference for traffic jams. Butterfly effect.