Central Poland Synagogues and Yom Hashoa

Remah Synagogue, Poland
My son went to Poland. I told him I wanted him to take lots of photos. At first, he gave me the usual response about others taking photos or you can look them up on the internet. But in the end, he did take the photos, and I think his choice of subjects were telling. It’s a little like those Florida t-shirts: “My son went to Poland, and all I got were these photos.” I didn’t want photos of the other participants on this particular trip – in other cases, when it is a trip for fun, I enjoy looking at the others. But this was a trip about the story of Jews who had lived in Poland for many hundreds of years and were extinguished by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

The photo on the top is the synagogue of the Ramah (also spelled Remah) in Kraków. The Ramah, Rabbi Moshe Isserles, lived in Poland in the 16th century. He started a yeshiva and was a great halachic (Jewish law) authority. On his tombstone is inscribed: “From Moses (Maimonides) to Moses (Isserles) there was none like Moses”. (source: Wikipedia)

oldest shul in Krakow
In this post I decided to focus on the synagogues of Poland. In part, because they are beautiful. They tell the story of a beautiful civilization that existed in that part of the world for centuries. I like hearing about the positive. At the end, as a contrast, I will share a bit of the horrible.

The photo above is the oldest synagogue in Kraków. It was possibly built in 1407 or 1492. You can learn more on Wikipedia.

slomniki synagogue
This is the Slomniki synagogue. I saw a note from 2012 that the synagogue was supposed to be restored, but it looks like it could use some more restoration help.

Sephardi shul in Zamosc
This fancy interior is the inside of the Zamosc Sephardi synagogue. According to Wikipedia, it was built between 1610 and 1618 by sephardim (Jews who got kicked out of Spain) from the Ottoman Empire and Venice. A line from Wikipedia: “Today only 3 Jews live in Zamość. In 1939 there were over 12,000 who made up 45% of the city’s population. Of these only 5,000 managed to escape the Holocaust by crossing the Bug River, which in 1939 became the border with the Soviet Union. The Nazis imprisoned those remaining in a ghetto (the Zamość Ghetto), from which they were transported to the Bełżec death camp.”

interior painting synagogue Lancut
I really love the painted walls and ceilings of some of the Polish synagogues. This is the interior of the Łańcut synagogue. According to Wikipedia: “The Łańcut Synagogue is a rare surviving example of the four-pillar, vaulted synagogues that were built throughout the Polish lands in both wood and masonry from the sixteenth through the early nineteenth centuries.” There is a footnote that names a book: Synagogues of Europe: Architecture, History, Meaning, Carol Herselle Krinsky – sounds worth reading.

pillars in Lancut synagogue Poland
Look at those pillars (more of Łańcut Synagogue). They don’t build ’em like they used to.

artifacts Lancut synagogue
These artifacts are inside the Łańcut Synagogue. The open book in the middle looks like a chumash (one of the five first books of the Torah). I wonder what that stork with rings and possibly seals on its feet is supposed to represent. That metal kiddish cup looks battered.

These were not all the photos from my son’s trip – there were quite a few more. Maybe I will share some on a future post. As this coming Thursday is Yom HaShoa, the day in Israel to remember the Holocaust, I will share this shul in Auschwitz:

shul in Auschwitz ushpizin
Turns out the name of the town is Oświęcim (Polish) – it was also called Auschwitz (German) and Ushpitzin (Yiddish). The famous Auschwitz death camp is in a suburb of this town.

Krakow ghetto
My son wrote about this photo of a street scene in Kraków (photo is from World War II): “You can see the balcony on the corner of the street in the picture lines up with the one still there today (Kraków ghetto).”

Work Sets You Free sign
I conclude this post with “Work Sets You Free” – the famous horrible sign posted in the Auschwitz death camp (in German: Arbeit macht frei).

This is about all I can take for one day. My son took it all in his stride. What do you think? What’s your reaction?

Israeli Flowers in January

Tel Aviv daisy
One of the cool things about visiting Israel at the end of January was in all different sorts of places I found flowers! I am not used to flowers in January; I grew in the Boston area where what one found on the ground was usually snow. I photographed a variety of Israeli flowers in January. The yellow daisy above was somewhere near Tel Aviv.

daisy in Hakfar Hayarok
Here is a similar yellow flower – also north of Tel Aviv, in a different spot. We had visited my niece who is teaching English in an international high school. I am wondering if keen-eyed nature bloggers can suggest difference between these two daisy-like flowers.

Jerusalem pink flowers
These lovely dark pink flowers were growing in a garden in Jerusalem right behind Yemin Moshe.

Jerusalem pink flowers in front of the old city
This shot of the dark pink flowers focuses on the Old City of Jerusalem behind the garden. It was a lovely view.

thick leaves pink
This pink flower with thick leaves was in a location north of Tel Aviv. In Israel one can often find flowers and plants with thick leaves; the thick leaves store water, and almost no water falls in the summer, so the plants have to store it up to stay alive.

thick leaf vegetation
This is some kind of thick leaf vegetation by the Mediterranean sea north of Tel Aviv.

thistle in Hula Valley
I photographed this thistle in the Hula Valley. Contrast this green look of the thistle in a winter with abundant rain with the thistle I photographed back in 2008 in a drought.

wildflower in Israel, Har Adar
A tiny wildflower peaked out at me when I visited the backyard of a friend who lives in Har Adar, Israel, a beautiful village on top of a tall hill, the tallest hill in the west Jerusalem hills. Maybe it’s some kind of geranium? (See cranesbill that grows in front of my house, as a contrast). There was also abundant rosemary growing in the area. When I grow rosemary in New Jersey, it almost always dies in the winter. In the Jerusalem area, even the winters are cold, they are not as cold as in New Jersey, so the rosemary spreads and makes itself known. How nice to have rosemary naturally in your backyard!

yellow wildflower Tel Azeka
Enjoy some yellow wildflowers I found by Tel Azeka (a few minutes by car west of Beit Shemesh).

It’s been a while since I last posted. In the Nature Notes blogging world, something awful happened last month. I was hoping to get a comment on my last post from one of my favorite bloggers, EG Wow (real name: Tina Forrester). I learned to my horror that Tina and her husband had died in a terrible car accident. If you have never visited her blog, oh, sigh, you are in for a treat. But you will never really learn how warm and friendly her comments were when she commented on other blogs. May her family and friends know no more sorrow.

For more Nature Notes:
Nature Notes

Hula Birds: Gallinule, Lapwing, Egret

Hula Valley birds
Among the birds I saw at the Hula Valley in Israel: gallinule (moorhen), lapwing, egret, crane, pelican. My daughter saw a small blue bird fly by quickly twice – this may have been a kingfisher.

A bit of history about this magical (to me, at least) place in northern Israel:
Back in the 1950’s the malaria-ridden swamps of the Hula Valley were drained. However, this caused ecological damage. From the leaflet of the Hula Agamon Lake: “Over the years the peat earth that is typical of the Hula(organic earth the the remains of plants and animals) dried up, broke up, sunk, and even started to burn underground. The worst thing was that the phosphates and nitrates in the earth were washed into the Kinneret and polluted its waters.” In the 1990’s earth was restored; the project included digging canals that allowed the control of water in the area.

One of the major benefits of the 1990’s work was this ornithological spot, unique in the world. Over this area twice a year no less than 500 million birds migrate.

Learn more here: http://www.agamon-hula.co.il/?lang=en_US

This bird is a spur-winged lapwing or spur-winged plover.

Here is a gallinule – note that orange beak.

nesting box
Here my daughter is standing by a white nesting box. We didn’t see any birds near the box, but the box reminded me of the boxes we saw at Cape May. According to the literature we were handed when we entered, these are for white owls. It seems the white owls eat voles, and voles do damage agriculturally, so eliminating the voles is a good thing.

I got some good photos of the handsome egret.


egret in flight
I believe this is an egret in flight.

The most abundant bird species in the area are the cranes.

Those spoonbills sure have funny beaks. (see https://twitter.com/hulakkl/status/498657479324991488)

This furry-looking guy is a muskrat.

rainbow in hula lake
Ah, after rain on and off, it’s nice to be rewarded with a rainbow!

rainbow with birds
Even better, here is the rainbow with birds flying by.

Notes on visiting Hula Agamon Lake: don’t do what we did and try to walk the whole thing. We should have rented the golf cart. It’s a big area! There are also bikes available to rent. It would be great to visit during a migratory period, but I feel fortunate that I got there at all.

For more nature notes, visit:
Nature Notes

Park Britannia Flora: Cyclamen, Anemones, more

israel Park Britannia landscape
I have always wanted to see the spring flowers in bloom in Israel, and on my recent trip, I had that opportunity. Too bad my daughter thought the day too cold for an outdoor trip, but to me it felt like April in Boston.

There is a song in Hebrew for these beautiful red flowers that show up all over the landscape in February in Israel: kalaniyot. The English name for these flowers is anemones.

anemones in Park Britannia
The ones I saw were not yet open. I asked my son who is spending the year in Gush Etzion if he saw any red flowers, and he said, oh yeah, he did see a lot of red flowers. Probably wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t said anything.

cyclamen rakefet
This is rakefet – cyclamen in English. Turns out there is a song for rakefet as well!

almond blossom
This is an almond blossom. That one, too, comes with a song: Hashkedia porahat. In about one month parts of Israel will be full with these blossoms.

I saw this chicory flower as well. I think the Hebrew is olesh.

Tel Azeka
There is history in the park as well. Supposedly, somewhere in the plains David battled the Philistines.

Tel Azeka city scape
I’m not sure what city that is in the background, but when you reach the top of Tel Azeka on a clear day, you can see far in many directions. I think the general area is called Emek HaEla – Valley of Ela.

For more Nature Notes:
Nature Notes

Story: Rich Man Insults Unwanted Guest

Rich Man in Bar Kamtza story
Once upon a time there was a rich man (played by my daughter, see above photo). He was throwing a party. He told his servant to invite one particular guest. His servant messed up and invited the wrong guy. Ooops. Major oopsie doopsie. The rich man was super mad. In the end, a temple was destroyed, and the Jewish people scattered. Yes, to those who know, this is the Bar Kamtza story. Learn more here:

Or use the Wikipedia version:

And if you want a really long detailed discussion of the whole story (this is from the yeshiva where my son is, Yeshivat Har Etzion):

Rich Man Insults Unwanted Guest – Bar Kamtza Story in Photos

My daughter played the rich man. Here is the story (or some of it) in photos:
Invitation: "You are invited to Mr. Ashir's Birthday Bash! If your name is Bar-Kamtza, don't come."
The invitation says: You are invited to Mr. Ashir's Birthday Bash! If your name is Bar Kamtza, don't come.
TIME: Sunset – Sunrise
PLACE: Somewhere

servant instructions to invite Kamtza
Mr. Ashir the rich man instructs his servant to invite Kamtza to his party. Servant messes up (note the similar names between the friend and the enemy), and Bar Kamtza shows up the party instead.

Mr. Ashir screams at the top of his lungs at Bar Kamtza.
Mr. Ashir screams at the top of his lungs at Bar Kamtza. Now that is one unwanted guest!

Bar Kamtza takes his revenge by putting blemishes on these cows. Everyone including the Roman emperor gets upset. Disaster happens. Temple is destroyed. There are lots of morals of the story (you can look up those up if you are really interested).

Notes on Bar Kamtza Story

1) We never find out anything about Kamtza. He does not seem to be a part of the story. Just has a great name (probably a fake one, like Ploney Almoney).
2) What in the world did Bar Kamtza do that made Mr. Ashir dislike him so much?

Your Turn, Please

If the wrong person showed up at your party, what would you do? How would you treat him or her, especially if it were someone you didn’t really like? What if you were a guest, and a host starting yelling at an uninvited guest? What if you were hurt by someone – what do you do with the hurt?

Blue Jays: Are Blue Jays Blue?

blue jay visits backyard
For some reasons blue jays decided to visit my backyard last week. I’ve been more careful about filling my bird feeder. If I get outside with my camera at the same time that the birds visit, I get some nice photos.

blue jay in flight
I was rather excited to see blue jays visiting my tree. Here is a little about blue jays from Cornell Lab of Ornithography:

This common, large songbird is familiar to many people, with its perky crest; blue, white, and black plumage; and noisy calls. Blue Jays are known for their intelligence and complex social systems with tight family bonds. Their fondness for acorns is credited with helping spread oak trees after the last glacial period.

Seems like the blue color is a physics trick: “The pigment in Blue Jay feathers is melanin, which is brown. The blue color is caused by scattering light through modified cells on the surface of the feather barbs.”

More on the blue color on the Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine:

It’s the same science that explains why the sky is blue.

Feather colors are determined either by pigments, called pigmented colors, or by light refraction called structural colors. Feathers contain two types of pigments. The melanins are sharply outlined, microscopic particles we see as black, dull yellow, red and brown. The lipochrome pigments are diffused in fat droplets and produce brighter yellows, reds and oranges.

When light strikes a pigment, it absorbs all the other wavelengths of the color spectrum except the color we see, which is reflected back to our eyes. Black is produced when all color wavelengths are absorbed and no color is reflected.

Structural colors, produced by selective light reflection, are mostly the blues, greens and violets. Shimmering iridescent colors are produced when light bounces off the grooves and ridges on feathers. The distance between these surface irregularities influences which colors we see. These structural colors change with the angle of view. Most blue structural colors are produced when particles smaller than a light beam scatter light. These blues do not change hue when viewed from different angles.

John Tyndall, a British physicist of the late 1800s, first described how minute particles, usually less than 0.6 microns, absorb the longer red wavelengths of light but reflect or scatter the shorter blue wavelengths. This phenomenon became known as “Tyndall scattering” and accounts for the sky’s blue color that is sometimes called “Tyndall blue.”

In bluejays, the color-producing units are found in feather barbs. These barbs consist of three layers. A colorless, transparent horny outer layer covers box cells, which cover a dark layer of melanin-containing cells. The box cells contain irregularly shaped air-filled cavities that scatter light. When sunlight strikes a bluejay feather, the beam passes through the barb’s transparent outer layer to the air-filled cavities that scatter the blue light and absorb the longer red wavelengths. Any transmitted light that remains after passing through the box cells is completely absorbed by the melanin. The blue we perceive is actually enhanced in intensity by the underlying melanin-rich black layer.

Do you get blue jays where you live? Did you (like me) always think of blue jays as blue?


More bird posts on this blog:

For more Nature Notes:
Nature Notes