One chick out and about whilst three siblings peek through the gap under the roof


The doors of the disused but well kept synagogue in the main – and only – street in Bat Shlomo on the Carmel Mountains are kept locked.

Come spring, however, an opening in the corner of the roof becomes a den of activity as out of town visitors take up residence in the gap between the wooden rafters and outer stone wall of the building.

The small hole-in-the-roof gang are birds of a feather who have come from South Africa for the Israeli dating and mating season, much to the delight of local and overseas birdwatchers.

Professional spotters and the just plain curious are flocking to the 1889 Baron Rothschild founded moshava to watch and photograph the endangered Red Falcons who, since their arrival, have seriously dated and mated and are presently hard at work feeding the ever hungry consequences!

The house of worship rafters are presently home to four rather large fluffy chicks who now and then leave home to take a mini-strut on the wild side, comprising a few inch bumpy stroll on the red tiles of the lower section of the roof before squeezing back inside their holy nest.

"There are only a few thousand pairs of Red Falcons left in the world today and around 500 can be found in Israel between February and June," explains Dudi Maiblum, an Israeli nature loving tour guide who began a project in l996 to help protect Red Falcons that came to the Carmel Mountain region.

In the nearby Alona area, three Jewish communities stand guard over one hundred nesting boxes that Maiblum and his colleagues have installed for the feathered couples on the wing which lay three to five eggs per couple.

"Around 25% of the chicks don't survive because they fall out of the nest or the parents aren't successful in bringing in enough food," says Maiblum.

"There were five chicks in the nest on the synagogue roof and now there are only four and we can find no evidence of a chick having fallen or died of hunger, so someone has taken the chick," he said sadly, before adding very seriously "we are investigating."

Apart from the synagogue-going pair of Red Falcons, others from their community are busily feeding their chicks in a dozen nesting boxes spread around Bat Shlomo, a place known for time having stood still.

A descendant of one of the few original families in Bat Shlomo, third generation Ziv Shwartzman, is battling to keep the atmosphere of yesteryear alive by milking the dairy herd by hand and producing cheeses using the same methods practiced by his grandfather when the Turks ruled Palestine.

Shwartzman is not only fighting to stop the development of a shopping mall at the entrance to Bat Shlomo from the main Wadi Milik highway but also external changes to the dozen existing and supposedly protected houses of the moshava.

"Ziv is probably seen as Public Enemy No. 1 in the Israeli ministries dealing with infrastructure and development," Dudi Maiblum tells me.

"Bat Shlomo was declared a national historical site mainly thanks to Ziv and his late mother, Martha, who also had to take on some of the locals who opposed the restrictions such recognition would impose," added Maiblum.

The courtyard outside the Shwartzman cheese and olive oil shop, which is actually a room in their house, is crammed full of old pieces of farming equipment and tools from golden olden days.

Somewhat out of place in the shady courtyard cum museum, a television sits on a low stool. Hot pita bread, cheese and olive munching guests gather around the TV to watch Ma Red Falcon on the opposite side of the road land on the red tiles, a squiggling something or other firmly held in her beak. Teatime at the Bat Shlomo synagogue!

Dudi Maiblum and Ziv Shwartzman want to encourage people to come and bask in the rich history of the moshava whilst also sharing in the wonders of Mother Nature on the other side of the road.

"Since the two just do not go together, we have rigged up a camera on the building next to the synagogue and everybody gets a piece of the action without paying heavy consequences as far as the breeding of the Red Falcons is concerned," said Dudi happily.

By the middle of June the chicks will already be leaving the family nest and will embark, together with Ma and Pa Falcon, on the long journey to South Africa.

Hopefully, our budding television stars of feathered soap opera have a return ticket and will be back next year.


Picture captions:-

1.One chick out and about whilst three siblings peek through the gap under the roof.

2.A Red Falcon chick takes a walk on the red tiles of the Bat Shlomo synagogue (upper left corner of picture)

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About the author

Lydia Aisenberg

Lydia Aisenberg is a journalist, informal educator and special study tour guide. Born in 1946, Lydia is originally from South Wales, Britain and came to live in Israel in 1967 and has been a member...

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