Gil Zohar Gil Zohar
Writer, Photographer, Sculptor and Tour Guide

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May, 2013

Train Spotting

The Israel Railways Museum in Haifa’s Ottoman–era train station waits for the Valley Railroad to be rebuilt and the crowds to return

JERUSALEM - Israel today is undergoing a public transit revolution. A half dozen new high-speed train lines are under construction or in advanced engineering planning, as is the Tel Aviv light rail and the expansion of Jerusalem’s two-year-old tram network.

By 2020 almost the entire country will be crisscrossed by electrified railroad lines including new routes linking Tel Aviv-Jerusalem via Ben Gurion Airport, Acre-Carmiel, Kfar Saba-Raanana-Herzliya, Beer Sheva-Eilat, and Ashkelon-Beer Sheva via Sderot, Netivot and Ofakim.

One new track – looping southeast from Haifa to Beit Shean through the Jezreel, Harod and Jordan Valleys and then on to Irbid, Jordan – closely follows the route of the legendary Hedjaz (also Hijaz, Hejaz, Hidjaz, Hicaz) Railway spur known as the Valley Railroad.

A century ago that slow, narrow gauge single track was the lifeline for the area’s halutzim (Zionist pioneers). Decades before roads were paved, the train served the settlers of Deganiya and Nahalal, respectively the first kibbutz and moshav, and the hydroelectric workers at the Naharayim power plant built by Pinhas Rothenberg at the confluence of the Jordan and Yarmuk Rivers.

Sabotaged in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence to prevent Arab reinforcements from arriving from Syria, the Valley Railway fell into disrepair hastened by metal thieves and government neglect.

Chen Melling

Chen Melling, the director of the Israel Railway Museum located in the Hedjaz Railway’s former Haifa terminus, hopes that the expansion of the railroad network and burgeoning number of daily train commuters will lead to a broader appreciation of Israel’s rich railroad heritage. Currently the museum attracts only 8,000 visitors per year and has no budget for advertising, notes the 34-year-old train enthusiast. Symbolizing that neglect, the last passenger disembarked at the Haifa East station in 1997. Ironically, he emphasizes, the only way to get to the railroad museum is by walking, taking a bus or driving.

“This is not only Israel Railways' museum,” says Melling, who served as a volunteer at the museum for 18 years before taking a full-time position almost four years ago. “It is Israel's national railway museum, revealing both the diverse history of Israel Railways and its predecessors and that of other railways, past and present.”

Wandering inside the restored century-old locomotive shed (known as an engine house in American parlance) and freight depot (or goods shed) are 40 historic locomotives and cars - each with a story about the development of the Jewish state and the role played by various European imperial powers.

One encounters Israel’s only surviving steam engine, manufactured in Germany in 1902; a luxurious “saloon coach,” which carried Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie and Israel’s founding Prime Minister David Ben Gurion; and a Belgian passenger car built in 1893 for service in Egypt, and converted to a mobile military field hospital by the British army during World War I.

Apart from these rolling relics, the museum’s extensive collection includes historic signaling equipment, photographs, tickets, time tables and even a clock from the British mandate era Palestine Railways.

Adjoining the museum is an impressive Ottoman monument commemorating the start of construction in 1903 of the Haifa-Damascus line, and a cemetery for those who lost their lives building the transportation project.

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Dear friends,

Anyone who appreciates travelling will love Israel. My tiny country offers an enormous amount of variety of every type - and summer nine months a year to enjoy it all. The Holy Land is a nexus of spirituality. And a political hotbed. I help you make sense of it all.

As a tour guide and journalist, I can take you to places off the proverbial beaten trail, to experience real life distant from tourist traps and luxury hotels. My tours include talking to settlers and Palestinians, and meeting scientists, artists and people behind the news.

As a contributor of some 100 pages off Fodor's Guide to Israel (7th editon, 2009), I'm familiar with Israel's best but not necessarilly most expensive restaurants, as well as B&Bs and inns.

What my many satisfied clients often tell me is how much they appreciate my passion. And my sense of adventure. Parents like how I make their children feel special. Believe me, when the kids are having fun, the parents are happy.

I invite you to my home in a historic stone building dating from 1889 in downtown Jerusalem, and promise you Israel will forever be an itch in your heart.

There's no charge for my preparing an itinerary. I work with major Israeli tourism operators including Diesenhaus Unitours Incoming Tourism Ltd. and www.amazingisrael.com.

Shalom from Jerusalem,

Gil

Click for more information about touring with Gil, including client raves and a sample itinerary..

All my work as a sculptor - whether working in granite, marble, alabaster, limestone, glass or iron - speaks to the questions, "How do we give form to absence?" and "How do we instill new meaning to objets trouvé?"

What I find so satisfying about sculpting is that it mirrors the creative process of writing. Sculpting involves removing material to reveal what is hidden; writing is about joining words and ideas in new juxtapositons and twists.

Both my scuptures and writing are imbued with my wry sense of humor and irony.


Gil beside his sculpture Ménage a Trois at the exhibition A Show of Faith at Toronto's Circa Gallery.

To continue this dialogue, or to commission a sculpture, contact me.

Click to see more of Gil's sculptures.

 

As a journalist, I've sold thousands of photos to accompany my articles. Some have made Page 1 of newspapers including The Toronto Star and The Jerusalem Post.

As an artist, my tours are akin to photo safaris. I continuously point out those "stop the car" vantages and perspectives which make for great photos and memories.

Click to see some of my favorite photos of people and places in Israel and the Middle East.

Looking for something specific? Click to view an alphabetized index of the photos displayed on this site.