Work Part II

Not too many posts lately because we’ve tried to get some work done!  Here is a quick update.

Marty: Marty’s time in Israel has not been all play; a lot of play, but not all play. He continues to edit the Journal of Inorganic and Organometallic Polymers and Materials and has put together several issues from Jerusalem. With little to no distractions here, his productivity has increased five-fold. He’s processed more than 100 manuscripts just since Aug 28th! The internet is a wonderful thing.

Carol: Carol is furiously trying to figure out how to apply Ab Initio Valence Bond Theory to the benzynes; in particular using it to gauge the importance of sigma and pi bonding and the coupling between the two.The benzynes are pretty big molecules for this method (14 covalent structures and 1450 ionic structures), but it might be possible to incorporate much of the ionic effects using Coulson-Fisher orbitals. Anyhow, she has a pretty good understanding of the mechanics of the approach and is hoping to soon move into production mode, i.e. cranking out results. In the meantime, she just submitted a paper to the Journal of Physical Chemistry A, detailing a quantum mechanical investigation of the reaction between heteroaromatic molecules and excited state singlet oxygen. This work was done with her post-doctoral fellow Xinli Song and two undergraduates Haseeb Ahmed and Furong Bai.  There is a lot of interest in the reactivity of these  molecules because they are contained in asphaltenes, the petroleum component of alternative fuel sources such as oil shale and oil sand. The molecular graphic below shows that molecular oxygen adds to the 2,5-thiophene positions, breaks the planarity and aromaticity of the ring, and forms a bicyclic endoperoxide product. If you want more of the quantitative details, she’ll send you a preprint (but be forewarned, if you do so, she’ll also likely add you as a suggested reviewer on her next submission dealing with the radical recombination reaction between heteroaromatic and HO2 radicals (in progress)!)


Jeep Ride through the Negev Desert!

As part of the Fulbright excursion, we took a jeep ride through the Negev desert, guided by Bedouins.  We will never again look at a desert landscape and think that it is barren. The Bedouins make use of EVERYTHING in the desert.  They can find water in the most inhospitable environment and they make use of every plant and animal. They even use animal scat as fuel for fires (it is so dry in the desert that the poop is dehydrated and has no odor.)  Our driver’s name was Jabber. He did not speak any English, but he was so passionate about the desert and the Bedouin way of life, that he had no difficulty communicating with us (it also helped that we had someone to translate his Hebrew.) Even if we hadn’t had a translator we would have understood most of what he was saying because he was so animated (while he was driving!)  The photos below pretty much say it all.

View from a mountain top overlooking the Dead Sea.  Just a few minutes ago we were driving on that road down there.  Now we are on top getting ready to head into the desert.

Another view from the top, about to enter the Negev desert.  Below you can see I-90, a major N/S road through Israel and the West Bank.

Getting ready to head into the desert.  One jeep was open-air, two were covered and one was air-conditioned.  We rode in one of the covered jeeps – the best choice in our opinion. Riding in the open would have been too hot and sunny, and riding in an air-conditioned jeep would have prevented us from hearing and smelling the desert.

Our driver.  He was very smart and a lot of fun.  The more we egged him on the more he gave us some thrill rides, i.e. up a steep mountain and stopping just before we headed down the other side!

Desert landscape – early morning sun.

More of the Negev.  A few hours later.  Early afternoon lighting.

The Fulbright group.

Some of the driving was not for the faint of heart. But the views were amazing – unlike anything we had ever seen before. A small number of folks were afraid of heights or had motion-sickness and I don’t think they had as good a time as the rest of us.

Water cisterns built by the Bedouin.  The hole under the cistern taps into a natural spring and the trough on the top traps rainwater for herds of goats and sheep.

Lunch stop!

The black ridge that runs through the middle of this photo is a shale deposit.  We saw many shale fields in the Negev.  Likely oil underneath the ground.

One of our guides showing us how you can use a plant to wash your hands.

On the way out of the desert and back down to the Dead Sea, we saw this wild male Ibex goat.

A Dead Sea sink hole.  There are thousands of them along the banks and they are very dangerous. The sink holes have formed because Israel and Jordan are diverting water that used to flow into the Dead Sea from the Jordan river. As the Dead Sea recedes, rainwater washes down from the surrounding mountains and dissolves the age-old salt and mineral deposits that line the banks. This opens up large underground caves which are dangerous because in many places the earth still looks normal on top until some unsuspecting hiker steps on it or drives over it.

Fulbright Meeting

Tues, Oct 16th.  We attended a Fulbright orientation meeting at the United States – Israel Education Foundation (USIEF) office in Tel Aviv were we met the United States Ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro.  Ambassadors can be either career foreign service officers (FSO) or political appointees. Shapiro is the later; appointed by Obama.  He was impressive – he spoke at length extemporaneously, graciously acknowledged the Fulbright staff by name, and spoke passionately about the U.S. need for a Jewish, democratic, secure, State of Israel.  I was so impressed that I’m going to put his picture in our blog:

U.S. Ambassador to Israel.  His actual title is “Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary.”  Check it out at

After the Ambassador, we heard security briefings, travel warnings, etc. from State Department Security Officers.  After a nice lunch, we headed out on a Fulbright-sponsored excursion with approximately 20 other Fulbrighters and Judy Stavsky, the Fulbright Deputy Director.  The group was a mix of faculty (~5), post-docs (~10) and graduate students.  We visited the Ein Gedi Botantical Garden and had a jeep ride through the Negev desert with Bedouins!  More on that in the next post.

Israel Guide Dog School

Sunday, Oct 14th. Today we visited the Israel Guide Dog school. As some of you know, we are pretty passionate about our volunteer work raising puppies for Guiding Eyes for the Blind in New York so it was only natural for us to visit the guide dog school outside Tel Aviv.  The school was founded in 1991 by Noach Braun to help blind people in Israel achieve independence and mobility through the use of guide dogs.  They provide dogs free of charge to those who need them.

They have a lovely, well-organized, peaceful campus.  We spent time talking with Noach, and his wife Orna. They are very passionate about helping the blind and visually impaired in Israel and clearly love their dogs.

They breed and train mostly Labrador retrievers, and a small number of German Shepherds and lab/Golden Retriever crosses.

Their kennels are spotless! They keep 2-3 dogs to a run because dogs are happier if they have a kennel mate to play and sleep with!

This is the training course where they train the dogs to help people avoid obstacles high and low!

This is another training area and also where they let the dogs out to play and run.

This is the community run that connects all of the kennels together. This is where the dogs are let out numerous times a day to interact with other dogs and people.  It’s pretty warm year round near Tel Aviv, so they have a tarp over the top to filter out the sunlight.

All of the dogs were happy and relaxed.

A view of the kennels from the outside.

The entrance to their on-site veterinary clinic.

This is me and Marty with Orna Braun, co/founder, Puppy, Breeding and Kennel Manager.  And that is “Daria” a yellow lab brood from Guiding Eyes for the Blind in NY (Guide dog schools often trade breeding dogs to enrich and improve their gene pools.)

Todd visited us!

Marty’s son Todd, visited us from Thursday, Oct 4th until Friday Oct 12th.  We had a GREAT time with him. We didn’t take as many pictures as we usually do, but here is the rundown on all that we did:

Thurs 10/4 – Todd arrived mid-day and in the evening we had dinner at the Jerusalem Botanical Garden followed by a concert by the Jerusalem Symphony orchestra.

Fri 10/5 – wine tasting (at 9AM!), followed by breakfast in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, right across from the Cardo (old, excavated Roman road from the first century CE).  We all had Shakshouka, a delicious dish of poached eggs and cheese cooked over spiced tomatoes and peppers.  Then we walked all through the Old City, visited the Artist Colony and had dinner at Adom on Feingold Street.

Sat 10/6 – Todd and Marty went to morning services, then we all went to Nataf, an Isreali settlement in the Judean Hills for brunch at Rama’s Kitchen, followed by a concert at the Abu Ghosh music festival.

Sun 10/7 – we had a lovely day, capped off by a very nice dinner with Todd’s friend, Itzik’s family.  The food was delicious and the family was so very warm and gracious.  They have a beautiful home and we ate outside on their terrace in their spacious and lovely sukkah!

During the week, Marty and Todd visited Ein Karem (where John the Baptist was born and lived).  They also visited Ben Gurion University, the Air Force Museum, the Bedouin suk and the Negev Independence Memorial in Beer Sheba, rode the bikes up to Mount Herzl and around Jerusalem.

Todd is fluent in Hebrew, having spent at least two years living in Israel in his younger days. Among many things, he told us about Thursday night Challah/bakery tours, taught us how to prevent the shopkeepers from pushing us around, and showed us how to figure out the difference between cottage cheese, yogurt, sour creme and Bulgarian cheese in the dairy case at the grocery store!

Marty and Todd at the kotel (Western Wall)

Abu Ghosh concert (we didn’t know Todd didn’t like Opera!)

Odem Mount Winery and Sfat

Sunday, Sept 30th.  We loved the wine (Odem Mountain Winery Volcanic Cabernet Sauvignon 2008)  so much at dinner last night that today we drove to the Golan Heights to visit Odem Mountain Winery. The owner was a very nice guy and who knew a lot about wine. We bought another case of wine!  I hope we can bring some of it back with us.

Marty with Yishay Alfasi. Yishay owns Odem Mountain Winery along with his father and brother. Their flagship wine carries the Alfasi label.)

After driving around the Golan Heights, we also drove to a Druze village (Majdal Shams).  The city is right near the Syrian border and the inhabitants are considered Syrian citizens by the Syrian authorities. Syrian universities are open to them free of charge.  They are also considered permanent residents by Israel and could elect to become citizens although only ~10% have done so, but all can travel freely through the county and study at Israeli universities. Israeli state services are freely available to them such as the Kupat Holim health insurance.

After Majdal Shams, we drove back to Sfat in the Galilee where we briefly checked out the artist colony high on the mountain.  We didn’t have much time as everything was closing for Sukkot so we’ll have to go back.  You can check out more details on Sfat here.  As with most phonetic translations of Hebrew names, there are various spellings of Sfat, i.e. Safed, Tzfat, Safat, etc.

Rosh Pina

Saturday, Sept 29th.  Today we visited Rosh Pina, a small town and artist colony in the north of Israel, in the Upper Galilee on the eastern slopes of Mount Kna’anin.  Rosh Pina was settled in 1882 by Romanian Jews.  At the time, the area was part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Rosh Pina is one of the oldest Zionist settlements in Israel and literally means “cornerstone.”  The early Romanians, determined to build a village from which they could eek out a living, named the village from Psalms 118:22 “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”  The original 30 families derived their livelihood from the production of silkworms using mulberry trees donated by the philanthropist Baron Edmond de Rothschild.  However, lacking a source of edible agriculture, the community did not survive and was abandoned for many years.  Recently it has become a thriving tourist town with lovely, extensive, terraced gardens containing the original mulberry trees.
We stayed overnight at Ahuzat Hameiri, a lovely mansion that has been in the Hameiri family since it was built in the late 1880s (photos below).  We had a lovely dinner at Auberge Shulamit. The food was delicious and the wine (Odem Mountain Winery) that the next day we drove to the Golan Heights to visit the winery!

Hamerei Mansion where we stayed overnight at Rosh Pina

Entrance to our room at Hamerei

The jacuzzi in our room!

Our room!  Check out all of the stained glass!

The private terrace outside our room – all for us!

Rosh Pina is filled with paving stones and buildings made out of stone, similar to the “Jerusalem” stone found in Jerusalem.  For my geo friends, Jerusalem stone is limestone but with a very characteristic pale color.  I’m not sure if the stone in Rosh Pina is also a form of limestone, but I’ll bet it is.

Breakfast was on a lovely terrace overlooking the valley.

Nir David Kibbutz

Friday, Sept 28th. We visited Ari and Racheli (friends of friends) at Nir David kibbutz. In the early Zionist days of Israel, young Jews immigrated to Israel and established communal farms all over the country.  People worked together, raised children together and shared in whatever profits their activities yielded.  It seems that much of what is modern Israel was built on this pioneering, cooperative spirit.  With increasing modernity and the rise of capitalism, this way of life is diminishing.  But as one 70 year old kibbutz-nick (on a different kibbutz) said to me:  “This was OUR dream – our children need to follow their own dreams.”

Nir David is the northeastern part of Israel in the Beit She’an valley in the shadow of the Gilboa Mountain (mentioned in the bible). Racheli was born on the kibbutz and Ari moved there as a young man in the early 70s. The main products of the kibbutz are agriculture (fish farming, orchards and grains).  They also have a paper and adhesives company.  Because their location is so beautiful, recently tourism has become a major source of income and they have lovely guest cabins that lie along the Asi River that flows through the kibbutz.

Dinner with Ari and Racheli

Ari gave us a nice tour of the kibbutz on Friday evening and then we went to dinner at a hilltop restaurant on the side of Gilboa Mountain.  On Saturday, he showed us Sachne Springs, a hot spring (28 degrees C) and the source of the river Asi which flows through the kibbutz.  The spring feeds a series of limestone-lined pools and a small waterfall.  In the early days the waterfall powered a grain mill.  The water is a very unusual turquoise green color.

Sachne Springs – the source of the Asi River that flows through the kibbutz

Sachne Springs

Roman Ruins Bet Sha’an

Friday, Sept 28th. Today we visited the Roman/Byzantine Ruins at the Bet Sha’an National Park, just outside the city of Bet Sha’an, which is about 200 km north of Jerusalem at the northern tip of the West Bank. I was a two-hour drive through the desert.

Bet Sha’an is another busy, relatively modern city. The ruins at the national park were amazing.  It was a very, very hot day – over 40 (that’s degrees Celsius); i.e., over 100 F, so we rented a golf cart to more easily see everything.

The park is over 400 acres of an archeologists’ dream. At the center is a Tell (a mound of earth several hundred meters high, which contains within the remnant of ancient cities yet to be unearthed) that they estimate contains evidence of civilizations from the late Neolithic period, i.e. as early as 6000-5000 BCE).  Archeological evidence indicates that the Tell was occupied continuously until the late Early Bronze Age and then resumed in the early Bronze Age III.  The Tell was there when the Romans occupied the area in ~ 500 BCE  and they put their temple on the top of the hill and designed their city around it. The city and the temple on top of the Tell were excavated initially in the 1920s by archeologists from Penn State and then a new dig began in the 80s by archeologists from Hebrew University. It is an active dig today. Mount Gilboa is not too far from here and was the site of a great battle between the Philistines and Israelites (under King Saul). The Israelites lost and King Saul was killed. His body was displayed on Bet Sha’an walls. King David eventually took the location. Each new reign destroyed the old city and built a new one on top of the ruins. We went through the park and took some terrific photos, a few of which are given below.

Entrance to the park

View of the Roman Cardo

View from the entrance

Remnents of a Roman Bath house

View of the Tell from a shady vantage point (Carol just doused herself with water from a fountain).

Roman amphitheater (top: note the box seats – cave-like at the top)

Note the stage (left). Concerts are held here during the summer.

Carol cooling off in the shade and pondering the ruins

Despite the heat we thoroughly enjoyed this place. It is amazing to ponder the way people lived here over the millennia.

German Colony

A few weeks ago we visited the German Colony neighborhood of Jerusalem. On the way we checked out the famous King David Hotel and the Jerusalem YMCA. The YMCA is particularly impressive. It was built in the late 1920s and designed by Arthur Louis Harmon, the same architect who designed the Empire State Building. Its mission is to foster international peace and unity for people of all faiths and ethnicities. The façade is stately with an impressive front which bears an inscription in three languages (Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic, representing the three Abrahamic religions). The lobby is very elegant. To the right is a grand sitting room. On the walls are painting from local artists. At the top of the building there is a tower with four balconies, each facing a different direction. The views from the tower are simply amazing. The photo below is just one – of the Old City’s southern wall.  On the way down from the tower we passed the Tower Bells, which chime periodically.

Jerusalem YMCA front

Reception area ceiling

YMCA tower in the front of the building

One view from the tower

Tower bells – gift from the UK

We then crossed the street to the King David Hotel, another grand building. We took a quick walk through the reception area and onto the veranda, which is an elegant outdoor restaurant with a view of the Hotel’s pool.

Rear view of the King David from the veranda

View of the King David pool

Just behind the hotel down several flights of stairs one comes upon a beautiful community called Yemen Mose (pronounced mosha). Before 1967, this area, which is within a stone’s throw of the Old City Wall, was under heavy gunfire from the Jordanians who controlled the Old City during the war.  The area became a wasteland of dilapidated houses — a slum. After the six-day war, the government gave permission to people and artisans to occupy the area providing that they rebuild the homes and revitalize the area. That they did with artist studios, a music institute and art galleries. To walk these streets and alleys is to walk in a wonderland.

Our walk through Yemen Mose