Photo of the Week – Kalaniot in Negev

I am intrigued by the desert areas of Israel and find them fascinating places to photograph – I’d be happy to take you to explore and photograph. Rainy and cold all day yesterday in Jerusalem so I drove down to the western Negev to see the kalaniot (Anemone coronaria) in bloom one more time.


The technical details – the photo was taken with a Nikon 5300 digital SLR camera yesterday just before sunset (ISO 1600, 32mm, F9 at 1/250 sec). Clicking on the image will display it larger.

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Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in buying or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

In the Large Makhtesh

Unique to the Negev and Sinai deserts, a makhtesh has steep walls of resistant rock (limestone and dolomite) surrounding a deep closed valley that was created when the core of softer rock (in this case colored sandstone)  was eroded and carried away by a stream bed. Here are three photos that were taken in the Large Makhtesh, in an area that used to be called “Petrified Trees” but has been updated to the more scientific description “Quartz Arenite” rocks. Each photo was taken at the same time of year (in January), two on the same day. Photography is about capturing light – what I find so interesting is that the three scenes look so different and express such different moods.

Petrified tree, Large Makhtesh

The technical details – the photo was taken 10 years ago with a Nikon E4300 point and shoot camera in January (ISO 100, 8mm, F7.6 at 1/219 sec).

This month I did a photoshoot in the makhtesh with friend and photographer, Yehoshua HaLevi. We went to the same site and took photos. We had such a great time that we’re offering to take a small number of photographers there on a makhtesh workshop and tour.


This time a Nikon 5300 DSLR, ISO 400, 20mm, F11, 1/320 sec.


ISO 400, 28mm, F10 at 1/250 sec.

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Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in purchasing one of my photos or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

Great Makhtesh Photography Adventure


Great Makhtesh PAdvSunrise to sunset photography workshop and guided tour

Professional photographer Yehoshua Halevi and licensed tour guide Shmuel Browns host this full day adventure tour of the remarkable Makhtesh HaGadol, the Large Crater, in Israel’s Negev Desert. Next date is Feb 21, 2016.

Our journey begins before dawn in order to arrive at our first destination for sunrise and the golden hours of first light striking the magnificent Colored Sands region.

We’ll mount our cameras on tripods and sip coffee while marveling at the colorful landscape as it comes alive at the optimal moment. Shmuel and Yehoshua will offer insight into the history, geology, and current importance of this region as well as guided instruction for capturing dramatic photographic images.

Our adventure continues with visits to the quartz arenite rocks, where we will photograph 200 million year old fossilized rock formations and an additional stop at Ein Yorke’am for a short hike and exploration of this desert oasis.

We’ll stay to photograph sunset in the makhtesh and then drive back to Jerusalem.

Details and Cost

This workshop is appropriate for all skill levels. Photographic instruction will cover a broad range of topics and techniques for nature and landscape photography as well as visual skill development, recognizing good light and how to use it and composition.

A tripod is recommended for this tour, but not required.

The workshop is limited to 8 participants in order to guarantee individualized attention and includes feedback and follow-up critique via email.

Fee for this full-day, 12-hour workshop and tour is specially priced at 650 NIS (about US $165.).

A 150 NIS deposit is required to confirm a place in the workshop. The balance is due the day of the workshop.

Registration Details

For additional details, you can call Yehoshua at 054 637-2170.

Experiencing Israel

People sometimes contact me about the experience of visiting Israel, what is it like? Is it safe? Here is a post by a friend of a friend that I saw on Facebook. Farhana Rahman, who came to visit Israel (this was her second trip) from New York City shared her feelings about her time here. I asked her if I could share parts of it and she graciously agreed.

Israel is a tiny magical land that has everything. What do you want?

Snow capped mountains? ✔︎
Waterfalls? ✔︎
Big cities? ✔︎
Ancient sites? ✔︎
Ruins preceding biblical times? ✔︎
Historical landmarks? ✔︎
Nightlife? ✔︎
Booming enterprises? ✔︎
Organic farms? ✔︎
Vineyards? ✔︎
Wildlife? ✔︎
Ginormous shopping complexes? ✔︎
International restaurants? ✔︎
Scenic views of skies, greenery, and deserts? ✔︎
Acclaimed universities? Concerts? Beaches? ✔︎ ✔︎ ✔︎

It’s all there.

That’s what I do, share the Israel experience with you, like only a local can, whatever your interests. At the same time you get a professional, experienced and passionate guide.

And Orthodox Muslims enjoy  all that Israel has just fine alongside the Jews. THE ONLY DRAMA THAT HAPPENS THERE IS CAUSED BY EXTREMISTS. And when it happens, it happens. When it doesn’t, it doesn’t. It’s NOT a freaking constant war zone throughout Israel!

A good counterpoint to the present reality. A 38 year old woman, Dafna Meir, may her memory be a blessing, mother of 6 children was stabbed to death yesterday in her home in Otniel and a pregnant woman was stabbed in Tekoa, a Jewish community across Nahal Charitoun from Herodium where I’ve guided many times.

It’s almost crazy how many Muslim women I saw driving, shopping independently, studying, working, and enjoying life in Israel. Freedoms they couldn’t even dream of elsewhere in the Mideast. And yes, many of them were all burka’ed out to the nines. Also, it’s way safer to walk outside late at night in most parts of Israel, than in NY. Because the people are civil and good.

Life in Israel is not perfect but this is NOT apartheid. There is a young Muslim woman who wears a traditional hijab (head kerchief), who is a medical technician at the health clinic in our neighborhood. I saw her walking the other day on Emeq Refaim with an oud, I guess she is taking lessons on how to play this traditional stringed instrument. A couple of years ago while guiding in Tel Aviv I entered a branch of Bank Leumi, one of the major banks in Israel, and the teller was a Muslim woman, wearing a hijab, who was fluent in Hebrew and English, along with her native Arabic. There is an Israeli-Palestinian theater group, YTheater – in a region raw with conflict and pain,  Muslims, Jews, Christians and Druze  collaborate and rehearse for better life together.

Don’t listen to what the media, or what low-res overly shared graphics say against Israel or the IDF (may God bless them.) Take everything you hear as inspiration to try to figure out what the real story is for yourself by getting straight to the source. Believe me, the people of Israel are always open to talk about these things in depth from their firsthand accounts. Don’t blindly go by the ridiculous headlines and stories by the media.

Take what you hear with a grain of salt, and do your own digging by going straight to the source. And also pay attention to the other side of the story. Apply this with any issue you hear about in mainstream media. Your efforts will unearth all that isn’t covered by mainstream media. And that is a LOT.

The best way to “figure out what the real story is” is to come visit Israel. And when you’re planning your trip, drop me a line and I’ll help you sort it out. I’ll be waiting.

Two Tuviae, botanist and soldier

Iris Tuvia

Iris Tuvia

In 1947 Tuvia Kushnir, a brilliant young man, was a student at the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. He was studying and researching the plants of Palestine (under the British mandate, before the State of Israel was declared). Tuvia was one of the first iris researchers in Palestine and identified an iris that bears his name Iris tuvia (also known as the King Uzziae iris).

And Tuvia also identified a kind of crocus that grows only in the desert that was named after him, Colchicum tuviae.

But 1947-1948 was a time when a botanist was also a soldier. On January 15th, 1948 with Gush Etzion just south of Jerusalem under blockade by Arab forces Tuvia was part of a group of Haganah soldiers under the command of Danny Mass given the task of carrying supplies to the defenders on the 4 kibbutzim in the Gush. They set out at 11pm, later than planned, on foot from Har Tuv, each man carrying 100 pounds of supplies on his back. They had to make a detour past the British police station so as not to be detected (as it was a capital offense for Jews to carry arms) and keep their distance from hostile Arab villages.


Har Tuv

Three soldiers turned back when a soldier twisted his ankle and was unable to continue leaving 35 – the Lamed-Heh (ל’’ה, two Hebrew letters that have the value 35). With the breaking of dawn the group was still about 5 km from Kfar Etzion.


Battle site of Lamed-Heh

They were discovered near the Arab village of Tsurif, the alarm was raised and hundreds of Arabs from the neighboring villages attacked the convoy. The battle went on all day, the Israeli soldiers fought until they had no more ammunition. All 35 were killed, including Tuvia.

In memory of the Lamed-Heh: Daniel Mass Yisrael Aloni Chaim Engel Binyamin Bugoslavsky Yehuda Bitensky Oded Ben-Yamin Benzion Ben-Meir Yaakov Ben-Attar Yosef Baruch Eitan Gaon Sabo Goland Yitzhak Ginzburg Yitzhak Halevi Eliyahu Hershkovitz Yitzhak Zvuloni David Tish Alexander Yehuda Cohen Yaakov Cohen Yehiel Kelev Yaakov Caspi Alexander Avraham Lustig Yonah Levin Eliyahu Mizrahi Amnon Michaeli Shaul Pinueli Moshe Avigdor Perlstein Binyamin Parsitz Baruch Pat David Sabarna David Zwebner Yaakov Kotick Yosef Kofler Tuvia Kushnir Daniel Reich Yaakov Shmueli יהי זכרם ברוך May their memories be a blessing.

Seeing Red: Kalaniot in Negev

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die…   Ecclesiastes 3

AnemoneIn Israel the wildflowers follow a pattern. After the Jewish New Year, before the winter rains the squill and Sternbergia flower, then the Steven’s Meadow saffron, the Winter crocus followed by the kalaniot (anemones), the almond trees blossoming, narcissus, iris, lupine, wild tulips, poppies and many others. The red anemone (anemone coronaria from Greek Άνεμος ‘wind’, in Hebrew kalaniot) is a perennial in the buttercup (Ranunculaceae) family.

The season for anemones is January-February and one place to find them is in the south, the Western Negev near Kibbutz Ruhama and Shukeda. In fact, seeing the anemones in bloom has become so popular that there is a festival, called Adom Darom (two Hebrew words meaning the Red South) to celebrate the spectacle. This week we drove down there for a photo shoot and though it is still a little early we found some areas covered with anemones. It was a lovely day.


Carpet of red anemones, ShukedaThese red anemones may be the most common ones seen in Israel but last year while touring up on the Golan I came across  anemones in other colors under the old oak trees at Hurshat Tal.

Flowers are visual, there is color and texture, some have fragrance but the kalaniot also have a poem written by Natan Alterman in 1945, music composed by Moshe Wilensky, sung by legendary Israeli singer Shoshana (in Hebrew a rose) Damari.

The evening comes,
the sunset on the hill burns
I am dreaming and my eyes see:
To the valley a small girl descends
and it blazes with a fire of anemones.

. . .

Yes, generations come and pass without end
but each generation has an anemone in a tune.

Emperor Hadrian returns to Jerusalem

The Roman emperor Publius Aelius Hadrianus returns to Jerusalem after almost 2000 years as the Israel Museum brings together for the first time the only three bronze images of Hadrian that have been found. These portraits are in the Rollockenfrisur style, popular in the Roman provinces and characterized by nine curls which evenly frame the face and are rolled to the left.

Hadrianx3 photo by Eli Posner

Hadrian in bronze, photo by Eli Posner

The head on the left is from the Louvre, provenance unknown. The second head on loan from the British museum was found in 1834 in the River Thames below a bridge. The third on the right is from the Israel museum collection, actually a head and torso found at Tel Shalem, the camp of the Sixth Roman legion in the Bet Shean valley. Also check out the 6 fragments of a three-line inscription in Latin  (11 meters wide) also found at Tel Shalem on display in the Archaeology wing, presumably part of a monumental triumphal arch commemorating the suppression of the Bar Kochba Revolt.

Hadrian Torso

Approximately 160 portraits of Hadrian have survived, mostly in marble and you can find images on the Internet or see a good selection of them (73) at the Following Hadrian site.

So having met Hadrian, what can we understand about the man?
According to some “with his abundant energy, keen intellect, and wide-ranging interests, Hadrian is considered one of the Roman Empire’s more enlightened rulers.” When Jewish sources mention Hadrian it is always with the epitaph “may his bones be crushed” (שחיק עצמות or שחיק טמיא, the Aramaic equivalent), an expression never used even about Vespasian or Titus who destroyed the Second Temple.

There is a difference of opinion among scholars about the cause of the Bar Kochba Revolt and the exhibit leaves the debate undecided. Hadrian visited Jerusalem in 130 CE and found the city in need of rebuilding from its destruction in the Roman Jewish War (66-73 CE). One narrative suggests that at first Hadrian was sympathetic to the Jews and set out to rebuild the city and even the Jewish Temple. It is not clear whether building a foreign, Roman city with a pagan temple to Jupiter on the Temple Mount, the holiest site to Judaism, was the cause of the Bar Kochba Revolt or whether the Revolt pushed Hadrian to obliterate Jerusalem, in place and name, and build Aelia Capitolina.

Hadrian built temples to various Roman gods, a temple to Venus at the traditional site of Jesus’ burial, the holiest site to Christianity. He built a temple to the Hellenistic god Zeus Hypsistos on Mount Gerizim, the site holy to the Samaritans.

Whatever your politics, the exhibit reverberated for me as a commentary on contemporary Israel and the Palestinians.

Hadrian’s built a wall to protect empire Israel built a security/separation wall
Keys of Jews who fled their homes to desert , never to return Keys taken by Arab refugees who fled their homes in 1948
Jews revolt against Roman authority Arab intifada against Israeli authority
Bar Kochba writes that Jews of Tekoa who don’t follow his directives will have their homes destroyed Destruction of homes of Arab terrorists
Although a military man Hadrian actually withdrew from territory for peace Israel should withdraw from territories for peace

So once you have met Hadrian at the museum, in the flesh so to speak, what sites are there associated with Hadrian? As your guide, I can take you to these sites and explain the connection:

  • Roman gate under Damascus gate, Bab el Amud
  • Roman square with column and statue of emperor
  • Cardo and secondary cardo from Aelia Capitolina
  • aesclepion expanded into a large temple to Asclepius and Serapis
  • Ecce Homo arch, actually Roman gate to forum
  • Two vaults over Struthion pool to lay street
  • Lithostratus, Roman street
  • Holy Sepulcher site, Roman temple to Venus built by Hadrian
  • LEGIO X FRETENSIS stone outside Jaffa gate
  • quarry in Ir David excavated by Weill that was used for stones to build Aelia Capitolina
  • Caesarea, city and port rebuilt by Hadrian; second aqueduct from Taninim spring
  • Temple on Mount Gerizim