Morrissey of Smiths fame returning to Israel in August


Morrissey, the British singer-songwriter best known for his involvement in The Smiths, will perform two concerts in Israel this summer.

The 57-year-old solo musician will play Tel Aviv on Aug. 22 and Caesarea two days later, The Times of Israel reported Tuesday.

Morrissey sold out his most recent concerts in Israel, in 2012. His latest album, released in 2014, is “World Peace is None of Your Business.”

He is an outspoken advocate for animal rights and vegetarianism.

Divers discover huge hoard of gold coins off Israeli coast


Scuba divers have discovered a rare haul of gleaming 1,000-year-old gold coins inscribed in Arabic on the sea bed off Israel, a find archaeologists say may shed light on Muslim rule in that age.

Some 2,000 coins dated to the 11th century, a period when the Fatimid Islamic dynasty dominated the Middle East, have so far been raised from the depths.

The treasure, which was probably exposed during recent winter storms, is thought to have sunk in a shipwreck near the ancient Roman port of Caesarea in the eastern Mediterranean.

“(This is) a great treasure from a (vessel) that was probably taking the hoard, possibly tax revenue, to Cairo but sank in Caesarea harbour,” Jacob Sharvit of the Israel Antiquities Authority told Reuters during a visit to the site.

Sharvit said amateur divers chanced two weeks ago upon a number of coins. At first they thought they were a children's toy, but a subsequent underwater search by experts netted about 1,000 coins, he said.

A second dive on Tuesday in the same spot yielded another, similar amount of coins and the total find weighed in at between five and a half to six kilogrammes (12-13 lbs) of gold. The bullion value in current terms is around $240,000.

Such coins have been found before in the region, but this batch was the largest hoard ever found in Israel, Sharvit said.

He said the coins showed Caesarea was a wealthy area at the time and may give insight into the Fatimid trading practises.

“The Fatimids were the first Muslims to have had a navy and they traded with all the Mediterranean cities, also with the Byzantines and the Christians, even though they were at war with them,” Sharvit said.

The coins, all with Arabic script, were minted during the reigns Fatimid caliphs Al-kim (996-1021 AD) and his son, Al-hir (1021-1036), archaeologists said.

Three denominations were found: one dinar weighing some four grams, half a dinar and a quarter dinar, respectively weighing around two grams and one gram.

The wealth of the Fatimid kingdom, which originated in North Africa, was legendary, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority. It had reserves of 12 million gold dinars in the capital's coffers in Cairo.

NCIS Tel Aviv?


Every morning, at my kitchen counter, I leaf through two Israeli dailies, both of them in English.  The Hebrew papers I read in cafés, not every day.  I watch the TV news at 8 pm, on Channel 2.  I rarely watch the Israel Broadcasting Authority news in English, but you can see it – and everything else I just named – every day, on the Internet.  An engaged American Jew in Beverly Hills or Boston can read Ha’aretz or Yediot on his or her smartphone, the same way I do.  If you get into the habit, you can be no less well informed than a Jew in Jerusalem. 

But your experience of the information will be different.  Reading Israel in the Diaspora is not the same as reading it here.  I don’t mean that the experience is “lower” for Jews who have not made aliyah.  Certainly, aliyah is not a realistic option for every Jew.  And the choice of non-aliyah may also facilitate certain important Jewish values – religious pluralism comes to mind – as many of us who live here are well aware, sometimes ruefully. 

I’m drinking Italian coffee, turning pages in my hometown paper, the Jerusalem Post.  I sail past an op-ed about “self-hating” Jews and land on the back page at “Arts and Entertainment,” my favorite section.  A photo of four young, smiling tourists posing at the Western Wall, like a Birthright pic on Facebook.  Headline reads: “CSI stars ‘gather evidence’ in Israel.”  Subhead reads: “Four actors from the cluster of CBS-TV crime-scene investigation dramas visit Israel for the first time and declare it ‘close to a utopia.’”

Such an article cannot be skipped over.  The four guys in the picture seem different from the stressed-out characters they play.  They are on vacation, relaxed, having fun – “the actors Segwayed in Tel Aviv, floated in the Dead Sea” – and not solving gruesome murders in front of the camera, take after take.  The best line in the story belongs to Owen Benson Miller, who plays an African American cop in “CSI:Miami”:  “As a Christian, he says he ‘had very high hopes for Israel and it’s lived up to and surpassed what I had in mind,’ despite hurting his knee while horseback riding in the Galilee.”  In other words, not quite a utopia. But close enough.

The eight-day trip was arranged by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.  The Post article is credited to Israel 21c, a news service providing articles that engage the reader while stressing Israel’s brightest sides.  You may have read this story too, on a screen near you.

Al Buckley, who plays “Adam Ross” in the New York version of CSI, is “an Irish Catholic familiar with the Bible. “  Buckley says he “feels healthier from eating Israeli cuisine,” singling out the cucumbers and tomatoes for breakfast and the “unbelievable” hummus, possibly “the best I’ve ever had in my life.”  (Carmine Giovinazzo – “Danny Messer” of “CSI: NY” – is pictured but not quoted.)

On the Israel 21c website are two additional group photos, at Caesarea (Herodian grandeur   meets beachfront lifestyle), and at a medical technology firm that has developed an “exoskeleton” that can enable paraplegics to walk.  Summed up in the words of the one Jewish actor in the group, Ryan Wolfe of “CSI: Miami”:  “Israel is the finest combination of the ancient beginning of civilization and the most progressive, cutting-edge community of right now.” It is Wolfe who pronounces Israel “as close to a utopia as I’ve ever seen.”

The CSI article, judged in its own terms, is a home run of hasbara – variously translated as “explanation,”  “public diplomacy,” “PR,” or “propaganda.”  Indeed, it’s a Hollywood version of Israeli reality – idealized and prettified – and genuine, so far as it goes.  Once, Hollywood made movies like “Exodus” or” Cast a Giant Shadow,” warming the hearts of Zionists everywhere.  Now, they make “Munich” and “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” whose messages are less clear, perhaps subversive.  So the hasbara specialists in California and Jerusalem team up and take another tack, enlisting familiar TV faces as enthusiastic pitchmen for the Jewish State.

Is this a good and valuable thing?  Is it worth the money and effort?  Does it work – and on whom?  Breathes there a soul who believes that Israel is all peaches and cream?  At the end of the day, does it aid Israel’s cause to flood the information marketplace with stories that omit fundamental, omnipresent problems – or do such efforts often backfire?  Is the bright side disingenuous by definition?  But does every story have to include conflict and death, like an episode of “CSI”?  Isn’t it nice to be uplifted once in a while? 

Reading the 21c story against the Israel I live in, I am unavoidably put in mind of a poem called “Hollywood Elegies,” penned in Los Angeles around 1942 by the brilliant German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht.  He was not a Jew, but he was a Marxist, and fled the Nazis too.  He landed in California in 1941 and tried to work as a Hollywood screenwriter, but without much success.  Meanwhile, more adaptable émigrés, such as Billy Wilder, were thriving.  Brecht was not so much a refugee as an exile, and his acerbic view of Hollywood reflects it.  In the “village of Hollywood,” he wrote, people have

. . . come to the conclusion that God
Requiring a heaven and a hell, didn’t need to
Plan two establishments but
Just the one: heaven.  It
Serves the unprosperous, unsuccessful
As hell.
(Translation by John Willett)

I don’t mean to exaggerate, but you do get the point.  Imagining an Israel of omnipresent prosperity and leisure, cutting-edge science and heavenly beauty, is indeed utopian, in the undying spirit of Theodor Herzl’s fantasy novel of 1902, “Altneuland.”  But Israel has never been a utopia, and won’t be anytime soon.  Just ask Reform rabbis, Eritrean asylum seekers, Palestinians, frightened haredim, displaced Gush Katif settlers, underpaid workers, disgruntled students, and pretty much anyone else who lives here. 

Recently, Jews the world over re-read the weekly Torah portion “Shelach-Lecha,” which features the famous tale of the twelve spies sent by Moses to check out the Promised Land.  After 40 days of evidence-gathering, they return with sobering news.  In verses of close proximity, Israel is described as both “a land of milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27) and a “land that devours its inhabitants” (13:32). 

In the Bible story, the Israelite masses despair, and want to return to Egypt, for which they are punished.  They will die in the desert and not enter the Land.  But now that we, their distant heirs, have re-entered Israel, the spies’ candid prefiguration of Brecht seems both valid and necessary.  On the other hand, a Hollywood segue to a Segway in Tel Aviv sounds pretty good too.


Stuart Schoffman, a journalist and translator, is a fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute and a member of its Engaging Israel project.

First timer says: fly me to the Holy Land


Israel Launches First Underwater Museum


It was the largest, most impressive port in the Roman Empire when it was inaugurated in 10 B.C.E. And some 2,016 years later, the ancient port of Caesarea — along the Mediterranean coast of Israel — was inaugurated again last month, this time as the world’s first underwater museum.

Divers can now don their wetsuits and tour the sign-posted remains of the magnificent harbor built by King Herod to honor his Roman patron, Caesar Augustus. The site has been excavated over the last three decades by a team led by the late professor Avner Raban of the University of Haifa’s Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies.

It’s not your ordinary museum tour. Visitors float from one “exhibit” to the next, marveling in silence at the untouched remains of a once-glorious harbor: a Roman shipwreck, a ruined lighthouse, an ancient breakwater, the port’s original foundations, anchors, pedestals.

“It’s a truly unique site,” said Sarah Arenson, a University of Haifa maritime historian and participant in the project. “This port was built as the state-of-the-art port of the Roman Empire, and made the other ports of the time, including those of Rome, Alexandria and Piraeus, look small and out-of-date by comparison.”

Arenson notes that the port is also unique today: “There are no other ancient ports in the world that are accessible to ordinary divers,” she said.

Some such ports are restricted to authorized scientists. Others may be open to any diver, but would be meaningless to such visitors “because,” Arenson explained, “all you would see is a bunch of stones.”

At Caesarea, divers view some 28 different sign-posted sites along four marked trails in the sunken harbor covering an area of 87,000 square yards. Divers are given a waterproof map that describes in detail each of the numbered sites along the way (currently maps are in English and Hebrew; within a few months they will be available in six additional languages). One trail is also accessible to snorkelers; the others, less than eight yards below the surface, close to the beach, are appropriate for any beginner diver.

And what does the visitor see?

In a sense, an abrogated history of this once prominent port town — from its entrance at sea (about 100 meters from the current shoreline) to the Roman shipwreck that signaled the demise of the port — probably due to an earthquake — about a century after its construction, researchers believe. And, in between, divers can view the remnants of the original foundations that made this harbor one of the wonders of the Roman Empire.

“This port was built using the knowledge and technology of Roman engineers,” said University of Haifa maritime historian Nadav Kashtan, a member of the team that excavated the site.

The port was built with a type of hydraulic cement, invented by the Romans, known as pozzolana.

“The Romans found that when they take the volcanic powder found around Mount Vesuvius and mix it with lime and rubble, the substance hardens in water,” Kashtan said. “This hydraulic concrete was imported to Casearea and used to fill wooden frames which were then lowered into the water to lay the foundations for the port.”

Two such frames were found, one almost perfectly intact, and are on view today.

Kashtan noted that thousands of men were recruited — both from Rome and locally — to build the port in the course of 12 years. Among them were many divers, who descended simply holding their breath, or possibly in a diving bell.

The Roman city of Caesarea was built on the ruins of a decaying Phoenician town called Straton’s Tower. Its builder, Herod, who also built the Second Temple of Jerusalem, was considered one of the most magnificent builders of the Roman era, Kashtan notes.

The Jewish king built the town — given to him as a present by Augustus — into a grand, fortified city that served as the capital of the Roman province of Judea for about 600 years.

The underwater park was developed with the financial support of the Caesarea Development Corporation.

Israel has long been known as a diver’s mecca because of the rainbow of corals and exotic fish found off the coast of the Red Sea resort of Eilat. But the country has more than two-dozen other diving sites along the Mediterranean coast — from the unique maze of chalky white caves of Rosh Hanikra in the north, to a collection of shipwrecks dotting the coast as far south as Ashkelon.

The sunken port of Caesarea — with its ancient sites and modern explanations — is sure to become one of the top underwater attractions.

Leora Eren Frucht is an associate editor of Israel21c.

 

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