Tel Aviv’s Monstrous Bus Station

The central bus station in Tel Aviv is certainly the ugliest building in Israel, and probably one of the ugliest in the world. Planned in the 1960s by the architect Ram Karni, this horrible building occupies seven floors and almost 5 city blocks in southern Tel Aviv. The cavernous building was built to be the biggest bus station in the world (and is now the second biggest, after New Delhi); however, much of it is empty either by design (the air pollution is so bad that the authorities evacuated the first two floors) or by default (the shop owners went bankrupt because of the lack of traffic.

Karni designed the station as a maze and a city under a roof. He hoped that by getting lost in the maze, people would wander around and buy things. The building was planned for a half-million people a day, but even on the best days, only 70,000 people come to the building, and most of those try to exit as soon as possible because of the sheer monstrosity of the building.

We took a tour on a Saturday afternoon, when the building was almost empty. Surreal.

The top floor is very interesting, a long line of exciting and innovative graffitti.

Here we see the layout of the top floor, with the arms of the octopus coming in and out of the stores. As you walk around the seventh floor, look around you and you will see tentacles everywhere on the wall.

Foreign workers flock to the third floor where there are a variety of grocery stores for Filipino and African food, as well as restaurants serving the foreign worker clientele.

Food prep for the Filipino diners.

As you descend into the bowels of the building, it becomes spookier and spookier, darker and darker and the old abandoned stores become some strange galleries.

And we go further down to the forbidden first and second floor. The area is filled with abandoned stores where the owners still have to pay for the utilities (water and electricity). Many families have gone bankrupt. Surreal.

Once there was life here, people came and shopped, but now it’s just a ghost town

On the bottom level (now 4 floors underground), we find a nuclear bomb shelter.

And we reach the immense and ghostly parking lot, where if you’re lucky you can see the permanent residents of the building: bats.

The eerie and surreal Tel Aviv Central Bus Station

Going, going, gone

The Dead Sea is dying.

Already, in 2019 more than two thirds of the sea have disappeared, replaced by industrial pools. This human-caused ecological disaster is happening because of two primary reasons: the diversion of waters flowing into the sea by Jordan, Israel, and (what’s left of) Syria, and the increased industrialization in the sea by Israel and Jordan.

Human activity over the last 30 years has succeeded in destroying this natural treasure which began to be formed over two million years ago. It is just part of our continuing destruction of the planet.

Over the years, I’ve traveled the length of the western shore of the sea, from the Lido junction all the way to Neot HaKikar. I’ve seen the beauty from the mountains above, from the shore line, and now from the middle of the sea looking west and east.

I was luck to meet Jacky and Orit Ben Zaken, from the Mitzpe Shalem kibbutz. Jacky, an old sailor, is the only person licensed to sail on the Dead Sea. We set off, members of our 5046 photography club to observe the salt formations and learn about this impending catastrophe from Jacky.

Jacky brought us to areas of the shore which are inaccessible by land. The formations were breathtaking and almost psychedelic.

The layering of different color silt creates an almost surreal image.

This is really a breathtaking way to see the Dead Sea, and we are all anxious to go back with Jacky and visit other, less explored, parts of this amazing and surreal landscape.

Incidentally, I was thrilled to see an article about the disappearance of the Dead Sea, and about Jacky in the New York Times. If you want, you can read it, by clicking here.

Otherwise, you can make a reservation with Orit (Jacky’s wife) by calling her via their Facebook page – נופי מלח – Salty Landscapes.

Prayer, devotion, and community among the Samaritans

Not far from Nablus, in the west bank, we arrive at the small village of Kiryat Luza early in the morning during Succot (the Feast of the Tabernacles) and we join the early morning prayer of the Samaritans.

This small group are a small ethnoreligious group who date their ancestry to the Biblical tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Their roots are ancient, by some accounts beginning with the entry into Canaan, or by others beginning with the Babylonian exile. In any extent, this indigenous group broke off from mainstream Judaism during the time of the kingdom of Judah (between the ninth and the fourth century, BC).

Samaritans believe that theirs is the true religion of the Israelites, as mainstream Judiasm underwent changes during the Babylonian exile.

During morning prayers, sons, fathers, and grandfather commune and read an ancient text. The air of devotion is palatable in the synagogue.

The two Samaritan communities are very small, totaling about 800 people altogether. About 400 live in Kiryat Luza, and the rest live in the Israeli town of Holon. Despite being recognized as a religious entity, the religious monopoly in Israel (the Chief Rabbinate) requires that Samaritans undergo a conversion to Judaism in or to be considered as Jews. During the ceremony we witnessed we were amazed to see some visitors from the Ultra-Orthodox community as well as some discussions between the two groups.

Most Samaritans speak Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, or a mix and their prayers are in Samaritan Hebrew or Samaritan Aramaic, written in the Samaritan alphabet (which is related to ancient proto-Hebrew, and is undependable by Hebrew readers).

Following the indoor prayer session, all head out for the outdoor ceremony on the hillside of Mount Gerizim.

People Watching at the Market (Mahne Yehuda)

The open air vegetable market in West Jerusalem is called Shuk Machane Yehuda (שוק מחנה יהודה) and is so named because it is located in the old neighborhood of Machne Yehuda (Yehuda’s Camp). This part of West Jerusalem is composed of many small neighborhoods, each one with the designation of “machane” (מחנה). This particular neighborhood was built by three business partners: Johannes Frutiger, Shalom Konstrum, and Joseph Navon. Navon named the neighborhood after his brother, Yehuda.

Today, the Shuk is a giant produce and meat market, but also has lots to offer the visitor in terms of boutiques, cafés, and restaurants. I shop there early every Friday morning. Aside from the beautiful colors and rich variety, my favorite part of shopping in the shuk is watching the wonderful variety of people. I’m going to devote a few different pages about the shuk, but for now, I only want to focus on the clientele.

1/320 sec, f/3.2, 50mm

1/320 sec, f/3.2, 50mm


People come from all over the city to do their shopping and there is always something to see.

1/500 sec, f/3.2, 50mm

1/500 sec, f/3.2, 50mm

I’ve been shopping at the shuk for almost 35 years, and have seen many changes. Of course, I have my regular haunts where I shop.

1/125 sec, f/7.1, 50mm

1/125 sec, f/7.1, 50mm

Shopping always involves a bit of a conversation and a discussion of politics.

1/400 sec, f/3.2, 50mm

1/400 sec, f/3.2, 50mm

The market is situated almost exactly in the city center and is easily accessible by all sorts of public transportation and on any day you can see a multitude of different ethnic and cultural groups.

1/250 sec, f/3.2, 50mm

1/250 sec, f/3.2, 50mm

I don’t often shoot at the shuk, as I’m too busy pushing my cart around and trying to avoid the big crowds. These days, the shuk has become a major tourist attraction for foreigners as well as Israelis. The shopkeepers are happy, but we (the regulars) lament the crowds.

1/200 sec, f/3.2, 50mm

1/200 sec, f/3.2, 50mm

1/200 sec, f/3.2, 50mm

1/200 sec, f/3.2, 50mm