Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

A holiday is born, or, Parting is such sweet joy

April 22, 2019

Five days before Passover, minds and bodies bend to the approaching festival: ritual cleaning, massive food shopping, gargantuan feats of cooking. In Israel, this seven-day holiday is followed in quick succession by the Mimouna (a North African Jewish holiday that has been adopted by nearly all the country’s ethnic groups), Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day, Memorial Day for Israel’s Fallen and Victims of Terror, and Independence Day. Hardly a shortage of festivals and days of national solidarity.

But for some, these are just not enough. Last week, a visitor to the West Bank could witness a Jewish-nationalist holiday in the making. The site is Qasr al-Yahud, the part of the Jordan River near Jericho where tradition says Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist (Matthew: 3:13-17). At this very site to which Jewish tradition also lays claim, several miraculous events took place. On the tenth day of Nisan, that is, five days before Passover Eve, the waters of the Jordan parted miraculously to allow the Children of Israel to enter the Promised Land (Joshua 3: 14–17). And it was here that the waters parted so that the prophets Elijah and Elisha could cross on dry land, before Elijah ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot (2 Kings 2: 6–10).

Like so many religious sites in the Holy Land, this one belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church, but monasteries and churches of various denominations dot the landscape. Israel administers the site under its Parks and Nature Authority, with a shop that sells bottled Jordan water and white gowns for those who want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and be baptized in the river.

The border between the Israeli-controlled West Bank and Jordan runs through the middle of the river; Israeli soldiers provide security on the western side while their Jordanian counterparts patrol the eastern side, and on both sides busloads of pilgrims arrive in a steady stream. Israeli sources say there were 750,000 visitors last year on the Israeli-controlled side and that they look forward to having 2 million visitors annually in the future.

According to one source, the name of the site, Qasr al-Yahud (in Arabic, Palace of the Jews) derives from a name given to the Church of John the Baptist there because of its splendor. Another explanation is that this name is a corruption of the Arabic Kasser, meaning “breaking,” a reference to the parting of the waters for the crossing of the Children of Israel.

Maj.-Gen. (res) Uzi Dayan, now a Likud member of Knesset, and his like-minded friends take credit for organizing the celebration of a Jewish/national holiday at Qasr al-Yahud. This year they brought in 17 busloads of Jews from all over the country to mark the tenth of Nisan, with an emphasis (repeated many times) on the land that God gave the Children of Israel, repeated especially by the keynote speaker, former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, Israel Meir Lau. Next year Dayan’s group plans to bring more. There was no explanation of where the money for the buses came from.

The busloads also visited nearby Jericho—which Israel has closed to its citizens except for this one day a year—to see the mosaic floor of a seventh–eighth-century CE synagogue and to see the walls that came tumbling down (accompanied by an ingenious explanation of the location of those walls—which most archaeologists agree have never been found).

Jericho is considered a “quiet” West Bank town, but this incursion did not sit well with all the residents. As we were leaving, a few children flung stones at our armored bus, hard enough to damage one of the windows.

Perhaps that was proof, if any more was needed for this audience, that Israel should annex the West Bank.

My visit to Qasr al-Yahud and Jericho was provided by the Government Press Office.

Text copyright 2019 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.


Last-minute Reprieve for Endangered Music in Jerusalem

June 20, 2017

Jerusalem’s Etnachta series of chamber music concerts concluded its season on a high note: Yesterday’s concert was the first to be broadcast by Kan, Israel’s new public broadcasting corporation. The previous concert, on May 22, which was not broadcast, had ended with the announcement that the series’ continuation was in doubt. The popular free series was produced under the Israel Broadcasting Authority, Kan’s predecessor, and no provision had yet been made for the concerts’ survival.

Yesterday’s offering was full of verve, perfectly matching the upbeat news. Pianist Gila Goldstein and pianist, composer, and arranger Tal Zilber premiered one of Zilber’s works “Out of Order,” a lively piece for two pianos. Even livelier was Zilber’s arrangement of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 (based on a czardas) with a salsa beat. The program also included Bach, Arensky, and Poulenc, as well as Zilber’s arrangements of three Israeli songs.

Hayuta Dvir, who has produced and presented the concerts since 1989, introducing each performer and work with knowledge and passion, also announced that she would be presenting the series when it resumes in the fall.

If you visit Jerusalem, save Monday afternoon at 5 for the concerts, at the Jerusalem Theater’s Henry Crown Auditorium. Arrive at least 15 minutes early to pick up a free ticket.

Text copyright 2017 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author

End Looms for Musical Jewel in the Crown

May 28, 2017

One of Jerusalem’s best offerings—the free Monday afternoon Ethnachta series of chamber music concerts—is yet again in danger of being axed. The series was born in 1983 when the Israel Broadcasting Authority established Kol Hamusika (the voice of music), Israel’s classical music station that broadcast the concerts live. The featured artists include promising young Israeli musicians and older Israelis who have already established vigorous careers in Israel and abroad as well as artists from other countries. And the music is not all Beethoven and Brahms. Etnachta also features works by Israeli composers. Since 1989 the concerts have been produced and presented by Hayuta Dvir, who introduces each musician and each work with both passion and erudition.

On Monday afternoons, even in stormy weather, hundreds of local residents and visitors can be seen streaming to the Henry Crown Symphony Hall at the Jerusalem Theater, often filling the venue to the rafters. Last Monday, although there was no listing or announcement of the concert and though it wasn’t at all certain that it would be possible to get past the roadblocks set up for the visit of President Donald Trump (Dvir came to the concert hall on foot while the roads were still closed off), the loyal audience turned out en masse to hear the Israel Haydn Quartet. The group—Eyal Kless (piano), Svetlana Simanovsky (violin), Tali Kravitz (viola), and Shira Mani (cello)—played a lush program of Puccini, Mozart, and Brahms and was joined by clarinetist Eli Even for one of the works. I sat close enough to watch Mani’s often facial expressions as she wielded her bow. She seemed enraptured, and that added to the pleasure of the sublime music.

But whereas previously listeners at home could have tuned in to their radios or streamed the concert on their computers, this time—ominously—the music was not broadcast live (though Dvir managed to organize a recording). And when the final applause came to an end, Dvir told the audience that the next concert, scheduled for June 19, would be the last…unless the public used its power to influence the new broadcasting corporation, which has already wreaked havoc in the lives of so many journalists and technicians.
So please let the corporation know that the public wants the Etnachta concerts to continue. And I would add that I would like them to continue with Hayuta Dvir, who is their heart and soul. Here is an e-mail address:, and here is a phone number: 072-390-5555.

Text copyright 2017 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.

Journey to the Old City and Back

February 13, 2016

No matter what the political situation, there’s only so long we can go without humous (hummus) from Lina’s and knafeh from al-Jafar. Lured by a benevolent sky, today my husband and I decided on an excursion to the Old City. It’s a drive of about ten minutes on a Saturday when most Israelis are out of town, trampling each other in their search for wildflowers. We even found a decent parking space.

As we drove up to the parking lot, we already saw signs of revival after this miserable winter. Bus after bus came our way, after dropping off pilgrims and tourists eager to see the holy sites. At Zion Gate we stopped to chat with some Assyrian Christian shopkeepers we know. They sounded a tad more hopeful than on our previous visit, about a month ago.

And indeed, the atmosphere everywhere seemed more relaxed, but perhaps what we noticed was simply resignation to the roller-coaster existence in the Middle East. We did see tourists, and at the eighth station of the cross we saw a woman carrying a heavy wooden cross that was taller than herself, with a group of Polish pilgrims.

At our favorite humous restaurant, Lina’s, where in normal times there is a line of Israelis out the door at lunchtime on Saturday, we were among just a few diners. A pity, because the food is excellent and inexpensive. The humous is smooth and creamy, and the falafel, thanks to the rich addition of chopped parsley, is flavorful and grease-free. Once when we were there for lunch I asked who Lina is. There is no Lina, I was told. Previously, the restaurant was call Linda and was owned by two partners. When the partners split up, one of them reopened the restaurant but had to change the name. He simply dropped the “d.” (And no, they didn’t tell me who the original Linda was.)

The last time we were in the Old City I was a little nervous about going near Damascus Gate, where some attacks had taken place, so we skipped dessert at al-Jafar (“the eagle”). This time, however, we couldn’t resist the call of the knafeh, a pastry with a cheese base and a shredded semolina topping, all of it steeped in syrup. We were already full, so we split a portion–a plateful so big you have to be hungry to eat a whole one.I overheard the Muslim woman sitting next to me say “Mish ader” (I just can’t) to her husband as she pushed the uneaten portion of her knafeh toward him.

On the way back through the covered bazaar we bought a jar of al-Jemal tehina (tahini), the best you can get here, and freshly ground coffee at Sandouka, where the proprietor recognized my husband and greeted him with a big smile.

At least for one sunny day in February, it felt good to be in Jerusalem.

Text copyright 2016 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.



Under our very feet: Digging up trouble

February 10, 2016

Besides all of Israel’s troubles stemming from its geopolitical situation, the country has a sackful of home-grown problems. Cynically, Israelis sometimes refer to the latter as the “J. vs. J. wars”—the wars of Jews against Jews. This internal strife, especially as it pertains to archaeology, was the inspiration for Ilana Berner’s debut novel Cover Up in the Holy Land.
These wars include the never-ending skirmishes over graves uncovered in excavations: Some members of the ultra-Orthodox community insist that the digs be halted and all the remains receive Jewish burial, even when it is obvious that the bones are of people who were not Jews. Other conflicts concern the monarchy of the biblical King David: when the historical monarchy existed and whether it was as large and powerful as the biblical account portrays it. And some disputes are simply the tension between developers and the Israel Antiquities Authority, because whenever antiquities are uncovered in a construction site (and in Jerusalem, especially, this happens very often), by law work must stop until the archaeologists have carried out what is called a “salvage excavation.”
But some of these battles are over finds that have ramifications that extend far beyond the internal concerns of the Jews—particularly discoveries touching on the family, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus. Jerusalem already has two tombs of Jesus: one in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is actually a complex of churches of many denominations inside the Old City, and the other known as the Garden Tomb, revered by Protestants, outside the Old City walls. New theories about the burial site arise periodically.
The novel opens with the inadvertent discovery of a burial cave during excavation work for the construction of a parking lot in East Jerusalem. Many burial caves have been found in the area; the Church of the Holy Sepulcher itself is built over caves that were part of a vast Jewish cemetery in antiquity.
Then we learn that Dana Lotan, a professor of archaeology in Beersheba, is passed over for a promotion because of her controversial theories about the size and dating of David’s kingdom and because of rumors that she is a lesbian, though she has been careful to conceal her sexual orientation at a time when Israel had little awareness of, and no tolerance for, same-sex love. To Lotan’s chagrin, her protégé, who is an even more closeted homosexual than she is, gets the appointment.
The plot is set in motion when Lotan is asked to perform a salvage excavation at the newly discovered burial cave. There she finds a burial box with a Hebrew inscription that she deciphers as “Joseph of Arimatea.” According to the New Testament Gospel of Matthew, this disciple of Jesus begged Pontius Pilate to let him have the body of the crucified Jesus and buried it in his own tomb. This cave, she realizes, could be the original burial place of Jesus. And that, she also realizes, means that the government will seal the cave in an attempt to avoid a run-in with the Church. Lotan, however, is determined to let the truth out.
The author is a licensed and experienced tour guide, who has studied history and archaeology, as all Israeli guides do, but who has also participated in excavations. This knowledge and experience enables her to bring alive the excitement of digs, which also involve much tedious, dusty, and boring work. Her training as a tour guide also comes through in set pieces, like her explanation of the Western Wall as a retaining wall built by King Herod to support the Temple Mount (and not, as some people mistakenly believe, a part of the Temple itself).
It is not by chance that same-sex love is an important theme in the novel. The author came out as a lesbian long before others did in Israel.
The novel is set in 1970, partly in the desert town of Beersheba, which was then a sleepy town with a university just beginning to take shape. I remember this period well because I taught at the university in a temporary bungalow from 1970 to 1973. Today, Beersheba—the capital of southern Israel—is a city of nearly 200,000 with a buzz of development (about which I wrote recently).
Cover Up in the Holy Land is available through Amazon. A sequel is under way.


Opera at Masada: This Year It’s a Double-Header

February 4, 2015
The underwater scene from Carmina Burana to be staged at Masada in June. (Photo courtesy of the Israeli Opera)

The underwater scene from Carmina Burana to be staged at Masada in June. (Photo courtesy of the Israeli Opera)

For the first time in its five-year history, the Opera Festival at Masada will include two fully staged works: Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. The performance schedule, in the first two weeks of June, will enable audiences to attend performances of both works in a single weekend. An added attraction will be sunset tours on Masada before the performances. And the pre-performance reception area will be designed to look like the streets of Rome, complete with a fountain.
Tosca and Carmina Burana are among the most popular operatic works, according to Michael Ajzenstadt, the Israeli Opera’s artistic director. Set in Rome, “Tosca includes a murder, an execution, and a suicide,” Ajzenstadt said Tuesday at a launch of the festival at the Israeli Opera House in Tel Aviv.
“One of the heroes is a chief of police who wants sexual favors in exchange for changing a verdict,” he added, alluding to Israel’s police force, which has been wracked by recurrent sexual-harassment scandals. “Carmina Burana, written originally as a staged work, celebrates life, love, nature, and rebirth, and will be fully staged at Masada,” he said.
This work is actually not an opera, because it doesn’t have a story, director Michal Znaniecki said in a videotaped interview. His challenge as the director was to create a story that would tie together the discrete parts in which the lyrics are bawdy and irreverent medieval poems. The solution was a story of growing up, death, conflict, wars, “all of this in spectacular moments like in Spielberg movies”—including an underwater scene, Znaniecki said.
What he did not mention is that performances of Carmina Burana in Israel have had a whiff of controversy about them, because the work, composed in Germany by Carl Orff in 1935 and 1936, was embraced by the Nazis. Moreover, there are conflicting claims regarding Orff’s relationship with the Nazi regime.
Tosca will be conducted by Daniel Oren, and Carmina Burana by James Judd.
Producing one operatic work at Masada is a gargantuan undertaking that requires building a stage three times the size of a regular opera stage, trucking in dozens of tons of equipment, and constructing a backstage opera “city” to house the hundreds of performers and extras.
“This year it is even more complicated because of the alternating productions,” said Hanna Munitz, general director of the Israeli Opera and the prime mover behind the festival.
On the other hand, some things have become easier, she said, thanks to advances in technology. Masada is the backdrop to performances, and whereas for the performance of Aïda in 2011 expert rappellers had to be recruited to attach lights to the sheer face of the mountain, now the lighting effects can be projected onto the mountain face.
The opera festival will also have extensions in Jerusalem—Donizetti’s operatic comedy L’elisir d’amore (The elixir of love)—and in Acco.
Eshet Tours and Amiel Tours are handling packages for overseas tourists.

Photo courtesy of the Israeli Opera. Text copyright 2015 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.

How our eyes deceive us

June 12, 2013

(Sorry. I couldn’t ge this image to load) Eran Reshef: Gates 2003–2007, oil on panel (courtesy of the Israel Museum)

All art is illusion. But many artists use illusion to undermine the idea that there is a single Truth. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem,  has kicked off its summer season with an exhibition in the Ruth Youth Wing called ArTricks.

Despite the location of the exhibition and the fact that it can be appreciated by children (probably from age five or six), “there is nothing childish about it,” said curator Daniella Shalev.  In all the works shown, “the illusion is a means, not an end.”

The 80 works predictably include an abundance of familiar pieces by Escher: birds that turn into fish, two hands sketching each other, impossible sets of stairs. But there is much more. Many of the works are by Israeli artists, including a painting of a dilapidated bathroom that is so realistic it seems one could walk right in (Eran Reshef); a gigantic cauliflower made of polystyrene foam (Michael Sperer); an English landscape made of wool on plywood (Gal Weinstein); and a tire swing in which a link is missing in each of the chains (Orly Hummel).

One room contains a work by Israeli artist Buky Schwartz consisting of an upright black chair and a red chair and a yellow chair painted on the floor. When this combination is projected on the wall, it looks as though all three chairs are standing. Children sit on or “jump off” the painted chairs, and in the projection it all appears to be happening in three dimensions.

In the courtyard of the youth wing, children can choose from among a variety of activities, including cutting Moebius strips, seeing multiple reflections of themselves in paired mirrors, and peeking into an Ames room in which the tilted floor distorts the apparent size of people inside it.

My young companions enjoyed the show. So did I.

Through February 15, 2014.

Text copyright 2013 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author, or, in the case of the image, written permission of the IsraelMuseum.

A city for all seasons and all people

December 16, 2012
The Baha'i shrine and gardens are said to be the most-visited site in Israel.

The Baha’i shrine and gardens are said to be the most-visited site in Israel.

Haifa is not just Israel’s prettiest city. It also has a major human asset: inhabitants of diverse faiths living side by side. The city’s month-long Holiday of Holidays in December celebrates this diversity through art, theater, dance, music, and food, in a grand mix of both high and low culture.

The festival began nineteen years ago, a year in which Christmas, Chanukah, and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan were said to have coincided.  (In fact, if several on-line calendars are to be believed, Ramadan fell in March that year).It is a joint venture of the municipality and Beit Hagefen, the Arab Jewish Culture Center.

Beit Hagefen uses culture to bridge differences between the city's diverse groups.

Beit Hagefen uses the arts to bridge the differences between the city’s diverse populations.

Concerts, art exhibitions, street theater, and an outdoor market with jewelry, crafts, and ethnic food take place mainly in two adjacent neighborhoods—Wadi Nisnas (Mongoose Gully) and the German Colony—where the population is mostly Arab (Christian and Muslim). An enormous plastic Christmas tree, flanked by large Chanukah menorahs, stands at the foot of Hacarmel Street, the broad main thoroughfare of the German Colony. Oddly missing are Muslim symbols; a lone representative—a crescent—can be found on the walls of Beit Hagefen, in a work of art representing the houses of worship of the three religions.

Each year, some artistic installations remain, so that visitors and residents can continue to enjoy them in subsequent years. Among the most striking works are those by Haya Touma, a Kishinev-born Jewish ceramicist whose art reflects the agony of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The artist was married to the historian Emil Touma, a Christian Arab who was among the proponents of coexistence between Arabs and Jews. One of her works, on an abandoned house, consists of a sculpted door topped by a photograph of a bride and groom, perhaps from the 1930s; to the side of the door is a plaque with the hand-written inscription: “Somebody lived here until 1948.” This is a reference to events in Israel’s War of Independence.

Haya Touma's installation in Wadi Nisnas: "Somebody Lived Here until 1948"

Haya Touma’s installation in Wadi Nisnas: “Somebody Lived Here until 1948”

On the eve of the war, the city had 130,000 residents, half of them Jews and half Arabs. When the British left suddenly, on the night of April 21-22, 1948, fierce fighting ensued. The Haganah captured the Arab quarters and took over the city; all but 3,000 of the terrified Arab residents fled. That summer, by order of the then prime minister David Ben-Gurion, Haifa’s Ottoman-era walled Old City, where many of the Arabs had lived, was razed. Today, 30,000 of Haifa’s 300,000 residents are Arabs.

Oddly, the city’s biggest attractions for tourists were built by neither Arabs nor Jews. The German Colony was a settlement of Templers, Christian visionaries who first came to Palestine in the 1860s and whose Haifa village was to be one of seven in the country.

The German Colony was built by Christian visionaries.

The German Colony was built by Christian visionaries.

Throughout Palestine, the Templers (not to be confused with the Knights Templar) built roads, founded modern industries, and introduced new farming methods, which made them a welcome presence. Until World War II, that is, when some became Nazi sympathizers, giving the British an excuse to deport many of them; some were exchanged for Jews held in Nazi Germany.

The Templers built houses of smoothly finished stone, with thick walls to keep out the heat and humidity of this port city. Today their buildings house restaurants, cafes, boutiques, a museum, and the offices of Arab lawyers, accountants, and physiotherapists.

One building, originally the Templers’ Appinger Hotel, is today the 40-room boutique Colony Hotel, which has retained the colorfully patterned floor tiles and furnishings reminiscent of the period.


Just above the German Colony rise the magnificent Baha’i gardens and shrine, which city representatives say is the most-visited site in Israel. The golden-domed shrine is one of the two holiest sites for the five million members of the faith. It contains the remains of the Bab, the forerunner of the founder, Baha’ullah. It is this shrine, of a faith that preaches the unity of all humanity, that is a beacon to visitors approaching Haifa by sea.

And to add to the mix, Haifa has some 2,000 Ahmedis, members of an Islamic reformist movement that originated in India in 1889 and today has several million members in 200 countries. Ahmedis say they aim to purify the term jihad, claiming that in the Quran it never appears in a context suggesting war. They believe in disseminating their religion by peaceful means and have translated the Quran into 120 languages, including Yiddish. In Haifa they live in Kababir, a neighborhood that community head Muhammad Sharif says is “truly mixed.”

Of course, not all is idyllic in Haifa. It is still recovering from tensions and unrest that accompanied the second intifada, that began in September 2000. But it is a place where it seems that serious attempts are being made to heal the rift.

And Haifa is not just a place to experience multiculturalism. It is a gateway to the north of the country, where visitors can easily spend several nights and take day tours to Tiberias, Nazareth,  Acco, Rosh Hanikra, and Caesarea. New hotels of all kinds are going up, and plans are afoot to move the port to the north, freeing the old port to be developed for tourism and entertainment, as something similar to the Tel Aviv and Jaffa port areas.

Text and photos copyright 2012 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text or photos may be used without written permission of the author.

It’s not a cry of joy; it’s a scream of pain

November 30, 2012
Expressions numbered 1,4,6 show tennis player’s face on losing a point; expressions numbered 2,3,5 show a player after winning a point).                                                                             (Credit: Reuters: used with permission)

Expressions numbered 1,4,6 show tennis player’s face on losing a point; expressions numbered 2,3,5 show a player after winning a point).
(Credit: Reuters: used with permission)

We’re not as good at interpreting facial expressions as we think we are. In a series of studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, researchers presented test groups with photos of highly intense facial expressions in a variety of real-life emotional situations. In one study, subjects saw photos of professional tennis players who had just lost or won a point.

The subjects could easily tell whether a player had won or lost the point when they saw photos of the player’s face and body, or even just the body (with the face removed). But when they were shown the face alone, their ratings were no better than chance. Nevertheless, the subjects who rated photos of the face and body were certain that it was the face and not the body that held the emotional clues.

In another study using photos of faces in intense positive and negative situations (for example orgasm or victory as opposed to grief or pain), subjects were unable to correctly identify the situation after viewing only the face. When the faces were “planted” on bodies expressing either positive or negative emotion, the subjects identified the emotions correctly, on the basis of the body.

Haifa-Acco cruise line to start operations in March 2013

Haifa, with the Baha’i Gardens and golden-domed temple in its center, is Israel’s prettiest city. Just 16 miles to the north, Acco, which has fascinating archaeological finds from the Crusader and other periods, is a gem that is often left out of crowded tourist itineraries. Now the two cities are to become more accessible to visitors thanks to a new cruise line, scheduled to begin operations on March 15, 2013.

The current plan is for two sailings a day in each direction. The ship can carry up to 220 passengers on the 30-minute trip. Both cities plan to offer combination tickets for the cruise and attractions.

Wake up and smell the … white?

There’s white light and there’s white noise. But white smells?
Weizmann Institute researchers have discovered that there really is such a thing as a white smell—that is, a combination of scents that is “neutral.” That is, it is neither pleasant nor unpleasant and is indistinguishable from another, totally different, combination of scents.

Researchers in the institute’s neurobiology department experimented with 86 scents to create a map of our range of perception and then blended the scents in various combinations. For the combinations to be indistinguishable, the components of each had to span the range of human perception and be of exactly the same intensity.

The researchers presented two scent combinations at a time to subjects and asked them to rate the similarity between them. When more scents were included in the blends, subjects tended to rate different blends as identical, even when the blends had no components in common.

The findings contravene the accepted wisdom about smell, and especially the view that our sense of smell is like a machine that detects odor molecules. The findings suggest that we perceive odors as a whole, rather than as the individual scents they comprise.

Text copyright 2012 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.

Bringing Venice to Jerusalem

November 27, 2012

“My dear Ninette, I know you have a garden and I would love to delve in it,” the gondolier sang to his beloved. Making delicate circles with his fingers in imitation of historical Venetian singers, countertenor Doron Schleifer poured forth his desire to the accompaniment of a harpsichord and a Venetian mandolin (like a soprano lute, but played with a pick).

The song opened a program of secular Venetian music from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, performed in costume yesterday afternoon at the Henry Crown Symphony Hall (part of the Jerusalem Theater complex). The concert was part of the Etnachta chamber music series that features outstanding musicians, most of them young Israelis.

Cara La mia Ninetta” opened the first act of this staged concert, in which the music and lyrics expressed the excitement and comic side of falling in love, as Etnachta producer and announcer Hayuta Devir explained.

In Act Two, which reflected the conflicts and surprises of love, Schleifer appeared again alongside soprano Ye’ela Avital in the Monteverdi duet “Bel pastor.” The shepherdess coyly pestered the shepherd with her repeated questions: “Do you love me?” “How do you love me?” “But how much?” “How much?” The scene was particularly amusing because the shepherdess, decked out in long blond curls but with a stubbly beard, was none other than Schleifer; Avital played the shepherd.

Avital has a lovely, clear soprano voice, and Schleifer showed that he, like Avital, was fully capable of producing the difficult trills and flourishes of Baroque music.

The group’s musical director, Yizhar Karshon, who played the harpsichord; Amit Tiefenbrunn, who played the viola da gamba; and Avi Avital, who played the mandolin (and who has the distinction of being the first mandolin player every nominated for a classical-music Grammy), were all decked out in knee breeches and white stockings. They put me in mind of the married men of Toldos Aharon, a strict hassidic sect headquartered in Jerusalem, who wear striped gray coats, black knee breeches, and white stockings, though I doubt these Hassidim would ever be caught warbling about the pangs of earthly love.

The Etnachta series is immensely popular—yesterday’s concert filled the 750-seat hall—but it is an endangered species that producer Devir has fought vigorously to keep alive. The programs, Mondays at 5, often include works by Israeli composers, sometimes even premieres. This free series is one of Jerusalem’s best bargains.

Text copyright 2012 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.