I have left this a few months since early in May to post as I wanted to reflect back on the warmth and exotic experience during the wet autumn months back in the UK. If you want to read more of my time in Israel take a look here.
My good friend Ofer Grunwald invited Enrico Savini and me to work with him to make the event more than an exhibition. Jerusalem Botanical Gardens is in the middle of the ‘New City’ in a Valley surrounded by offices and apartments. It is an oasis of green and calm in what is a rather drab coloured conurbation.
By European standards the show was quite compact, consisting of 13 native trees and the standard was very good. Israel is an ‘emerging’ nation of Bonsai enthusiasts and if this show is where they have come to in such a short time then the future looks bright. Ofer worked hard to include all ‘factions’ in the Israeli bonsai community and from my perspective he did a great job. One of the ‘highlights’ at the start of the conference was a very vocal bonsai protester An ‘apparently’ well known Israeli octogenarian conservationist stood up and voiced his displeasure at ‘interfering’ with nature. Ofer let him have his say, then the proceeding commenced with Enrico and Tommy styling a Pine, after half an hour and whilst they worked I presented a few items with the help of the digital projector. The remaining time was filled with an open forum whilst the guys continued and finished the tree.
The bonsai community of Israel is very fortunate to have such a young and enthusiastic organiser as Ofer and the support of the premier horticultural centre of the nation offering such solid support for the art, would it be such in our countries things would be very different.
As part of my tour of Israel we visited the Dead Sea the lowest place on Earth, its surface and shores are 423 metres below sea level, Earth’s lowest elevation on land… and it is everything that you have read about and seen on TV. IT IS VERY HOT! 40c when were stopped the car to go bathing. It is very large although not as large as 10 years ago as it is being drained by industrial processes for its mineral content, the bank showing ‘contour’ lines where it has dropped in level, with one ‘coastal’ town now almost a kilometer from the edge of the water! Prior to bathing Ofer invited us to smear ourselves with the Black Dead Sea Mud Black mud found along the shoreline is also rich in minerals and is often used in skin treatments although it did not reduce my tummy cellulite.
After the Dead Sea we made our way to a Bedouin Camp for an over night stay and meal around the fire. The camp was in The Negev, which extends over Israel’s southern region and accounts for over half of Israel’s land area. Due to its desert character, however, this region is sparsely populated.
The next day we visited Beit-Govrin Caves, located deep in the Negev Desert in Israel lies the dwellings of an ancient people who once populated the inhospitable locale. Approximately 6500 years ago the Negev received more rainfall than it does today making it more fertile and livable. In 1977 Shiqmim was discovered by a group of archaeologists revealing large underground tunnel systems and dwellings we took a look around these and they were quite amazing. BIG chambers, small tunnels and whole living areas built underground.
What an amazing week I had in Israel with Enrico Savini and his student Tommaso Triossi we were invited by Ofer Grunwald to do a demo at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens at the end of the week (this will be another post). We travelled to the north and the highest point in Israel, Mount Herman and to the lowest, The Dead Sea. the week has been filled with great conversation, food beer and of course bonsai.
Israel has been a revelation, far from being a radical Jewish state I found it to have a massive cultural mix that ‘get along’ well with the only ‘strange’ group being the Hasidic Jewish people. They are NOT liked by the majority of the population as they are, in terms of population in the minority yet hold a major political influence on the country… I have seen more Hasidic Jewish in Prestwich near where I live than in Tel Aviv! With their distinct dress, Hasidic Jews are pretty hard to miss, and that’s part of the point. They believe their faith separates them from the general population and that their style of dress should reflect this distinction. It’s also an expression of their commitment to tradition, as their dress today was typical for Ukrainian Jews 250 years ago. What they fail to get their heads around is that its mostly cold in Ukraine/Poland and HOT in Israel, it was 36c and I was roasting in shorts and T-Shirt these guys were dressed for 20c below!
Israel is a truly beautiful and I have kept an open mind to the troubles that continually seem to dog this tiny country. I have stayed overnight with the Bedouin and listened to their plight, talked to the Muslims in the old City and discussed at length with my host the complex makeup of Israel. My conclusion is that they all want to live in Peace, its just the radical factions on all sides that simply don’t.
On a visit to one of the Israeli Bonsai artists I came across these Wire bonsai! I know that there are a few guys who do this but Ami adds a special twist (sorry) to his wire sculptures. They are miniature bonsai ‘scenes’ that include people, animals and other features. Look out for the windswept tree and person… real nice!
We visited Mount Herman today and it was hot in the Valley 38c AGAIN but it was nice and cool on the top 22c! the whole of the mountain was alive with wild flowers, amazing colours in the bright sunlight. And there was snow… this is a Ski resort in winter.