Sunday, August 1, 2010

Exploring Israel - Ashdod

Come on along for a day near the ocean. Let's go!
There are so many things to do in Ashdod, I have to admit, we didn't have time to catch them all. I'd like to go back again to see the rest of the city.
As we drove into Ashdod, we were greeted by a giant figure of Jonah the prophet and the whale that swallowed him. You see, Ashdod is the site of Jonah's tomb, high on a hill above the sea.
The site is even indicated on the Medba map, a famous sixth century Greek map. It reads, "The holy Jonah." On the top of the 53-meter high hill, there is a lighthouse facing the port of Ashdod that the Ashdod Municipality said, sends a beam of light out for a distance of 27 km. During the British Mandate, British officers used this point as the perfect look out to prevent "illegal Jewish immigrants" from entering British Mandate Palestine.
By the Sea
Jonah's Hill towers right over the port of Ashdod, Israel's busiest cargo port. Ships were lined up all along the docks, and cargo crates and equipment were everywhere.
Ashdod was always a sea city. From the time that we hear about it, even before it was a Philistine town, back in Bible days, sea people traded there.
In my blog about Lachish, I reminded everyone that Ashdod was one of the five Philistine cities. It was part of the territory of Yehuda, which Sargon II destroyed. When Ezra and Nechemia returned from Babylonia, it was rebuilt as part of the kingdom of Judea.
It was later surrendered to Alexander the Great. And then was liberated again by the Hasmonean kingdom. It was destroyed again by the Romans. It was rebuilt by the Turks as Isdod. And the British Mandate turned it into an important maritime city once again. During the War of Independence in 1948, the Jewish forces pushed the Egyptian Army away from Ashdod by the Ad Halom bridge explosion.
The Israeli government's master plan for Ashdod was launched in 1954 with the decision to create a modern deep-water port and a power station there. In fact,t he entire city was carefully planned before the first settler moved in. But it didn't begin in a big way - in 1956, only 22 North African families became the first pioneers.
It's come a long way since then. Ashdod, Israel's fifth largest city, has 17 neighborhoods and 250,000 residents today. Wow.
Immigrants constitute about 32% of its population, and half of its population is under 40.

Park and Walk
We parked the car and walked around. The buildings are beautiful, very Miami Florida-ish. The boulevards are wide and full of palm trees. There are bicycle routes and plenty of love walks for a vacation stroll. There are both high-risers and private homes, loads of shopping centers and cafes. And of course, it has a beautiful marina and a seaside promenade that just goes on and on.
When you go to Ashdod, make sure you go on a Wednesday! That's when all the action happens in Ashdod. First of all, the Russian residents bring out their wares for a street sale. You can pick up everything from those Russian babushka dolls that sit in one another (made in China, :) ) to Russian clothing (I got a Russian costume for my granddaughters to play dress up) to Russian books and videos.
I also bought a pin for my pin collection. I could have gotten a pin of Stalin or the communist party, but I opted for a pin of Moscow. We also bought some old coins. The collection of stuff varies every week, but it's always interesting, and I think these folks could probably use the business, so it's probably a mitzvah too.
Wednesday is also the day for the sea-side shuk. Hundreds of vendors are lined up by the ocean, right near the famous Ashdod Sundial Tower. In the shade of the sundial, which still works, if you know how to read it, vendors sell everything you can think of.
It's a giant flea market, and they've got Mincha at 1 PM in the toy store.
One of the most memorable moments in Ashdod was our walk through the flea market. Suddenly a young man arrived, carrying a sefer Torah. He walked through the market, and said hello to everyone, and people just kept walking over to him to kiss the Torah. He was a very smiley guy, and he said he just came to give people the opportunity to kiss the Torah and get a bracha. That was really very nice.
After we shopped around the flea market, we stopped in the Sundial Tower rest rooms. I'm mentioning this, because you have to pay the lady sitting there 2 NIS to use the facilities. For that sum, she gives you a piece of toilet tissue. Quaint.
Then we picnicked on the promenade by the beach. There were quite a few ships at sea, and quite a few kids surfing. The day was gorgeous, the wind off the water felt terrific.
A Bit of Culture
We stopped to see the beautiful Municipality Building, the Municipal Cultural Center, the Palace of Culture, Yad Lebanim, and the Memorial Center. The architecture is just stunning. It screams, "Take my picture," and so I obliged.
There are also two malls back to back (Culture? Well, everyone likes malls).
We did not make it to Ashdod's two museums - the Ashdod Museum of Art Monart Center (8 Derech HaAretz) and the Ashdod Museum (16 Hashayatim St.) - so we'd like to return to see them one of these days.
And if we're lucky, perhaps we'll be in Ashdod when they host their yearly International Festival of Ballroom Dancing, or the Mediterranean Festival or perhaps the Internationa Chess Festival. Ashdod is an exciting place, and we hope to return to take advantage of more of Ashdod's fun points. Perhaps you will too.

1 comment:

  1. We are making Aliyah to Israel---to Ashdod--this winter. I came across your BLOG post when I googled "flea markets in Ashdod" for my wife. Your article answered her questions and more! Also like the Miami,Florida reference---that's where we grew up.