Connect with us
Seder Passover
Israel Bonds RRSP
JNF Canada


This Israeli village on the Lebanon border was isolated for decades. Now it’s a tourist hotspot.

GHAJAR, Israel (JTA) – A group of 40 tourists filed into Khateb Sweets on a recent Sunday afternoon, bringing chatter — and their cash and credit cards — to what had been a quiet cafe in this equally sedate village in the Golan Heights.

They left after consuming pastries and hot tea spiced with ginger, anise and cinnamon, whereupon an Israeli Jewish couple came in, then an Israeli Arab family and three Canadians.

The steady foot traffic typifies the wave of tourists that since last fall has hit this community of 2,900 people, nearly all Alawites, an Islamic sect.

Ghajar (pronounced RA-zhar) had for decades been unusually cut off from the rest of Israel. Residents could come and go, but outsiders could visit only through prior arrangement with the Israel Defense Forces, which considered the village within a closed military area where Lebanon and Israel’s Galilee and Golan Heights regions intersect.

The IDF’s lifting of the restriction without explanation on Sept. 8 led to an immediate rush of visitors eager to explore Ghajar.

How immediate? Ahmad Khateb, a pastry chef who owns the eponymous cafe, was working that day at his consultancy job at a hotel in the Galilee town of Tzfat, when his employee called to report an unusual stream of tourists entering the shop. The following morning, Khateb resigned to work at his café full time.

People enjoy a food truck in a plaza in Ghajar, Oct. 14, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Approximately 4,000 people visited Ghajar the day the town opened, he said. Another 6,000 visited the following day — briefly tripling the number of people in town. For day three, a Saturday, Ghajar turned a soccer field into a parking lot.

“It’s like a gift that fell from the sky,” Khateb said of the village’s opening and his subsequent increase in sales. He’s now considering expansion to other locations.

Ghajar possesses a Forbidden City-like attraction for Israelis, who travel extensively inside their own country because it requires a flight to visit others.

“You know why we came here? Because there aren’t a lot of places [in Israel] we haven’t been,” said Shmuel Browns, a Jerusalem-based tour guide accompanying his brother and sister-in-law visiting from his native Toronto. “We wanted to get a sense of what makes this village unique.”

It is also notable as the only Israeli community of Alawites, a Syria-based ethnic minority best known as the group that the country’s dictatorial rulers for the past 52 years — current president Bashar al-Assad and his late father, Hafez — are descended from. Bilal Khatib, who is Ghajar’s accountant and spokesman, said Alawites tend to be secular people who value a person’s character and are respectful of other Muslim sects and different religions. Ghajar contains no mosques, since, except on holy days, people pray individually at home.

People gather in front of a shop in Ghajar, Oct. 14, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

“It’s a way of life,” Khatib said. “We respect people as people. Our religion is to be a good person, love everyone and hold no hatred against anyone, be they Druze, Jew, Christian or Circassian.”

But most unusual is Ghajar’s provenance, on which outsiders tend to stumble. “Ghajar was part of Lebanon, right?” the Israeli couple at the cafe asked Khateb.

No, he responded.

So began a short primer that residents are wont to recite to visitors — a timeline of a village of just one-fifth of a square mile. (The fields on Ghajar’s outskirts constitute an additional five square miles, on which the village plans to expand.)

Israel captured the Golan Heights, including Ghajar, from Syria during 1967’s Six-Day War and officially annexed it in 1981. After Israel ended its 18-year war in Lebanon in 2000, the United Nations certified the IDF’s withdrawal and established the two countries’ border going through, rather than around, Ghajar. Israel later announced plans to withdraw below the U.N. line. That would have split the village into northern and southern sections. Residents protested, preferring to remain under Israeli sovereignty rather than be divided. Ultimately, Israel didn’t erect a barrier inside the village.

A man drives a golf kart in Ghajar, Sept. 7, 2022. (Jalaa Marey/AFP via Getty Images)

“It’s a headache,” Jamal Khatib, a physical education teacher at the village’s lone high school, said of the chronology.

Orna Mizrahi, an analyst at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, agrees with that characterization. As a member of the National Security Council, she briefed then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Ghajar at what proved to be his last Cabinet meeting hours before he suffered a debilitating and ultimately fatal stroke in 2006.

As to why the IDF recently opened the town, Mizrahi cited the completion of a security fence around Ghajar, along with the lessened threat of cross-border attacks by the Hezbollah terrorist organization, due in large part to the recent maritime border agreement between Israel and Lebanon that incentivizes the government in Beirut to restrain Hezbollah.

“The security considerations are different. The situation in Lebanon is different,” she said.

Exactly why the United Nations associated the town with Lebanon, even though most of its residents are from a Syrian sect, is a point of confusion for many who visit. A 1965 Syrian map that Bilal Khatib printed offers an explanation: It shows Ghajar as an enclave completely inside Lebanon except for a narrow sliver connecting it to Syria proper.

Bilal Khatib (he, Jamal Khatib and Ahmad Khateb are unrelated) lives in the northern section and said he would not want his sister, who lives south of the U.N.’s 2000 demarcation, to be inaccessible.

The U.N.’s dividing point, known as the Blue Line, would be “splitting families,” he said. “We have to be united.” In practice, this line exists only on maps and has no impact on the life of Ghajar residents, who are fully under Israeli rule.

Ghajar residents tend to see themselves as Syrians holding Israeli citizenship. It’s a high-achieving population: According to Jamal Khatib, 400 Ghajar residents hold a college degree, making the town far more educated, on average, than Israeli Arabs overall. He said there are 50 physicians, 30 lawyers, 27 dentists and two professors, most commuting to jobs in the Galilee. Until Syria’s civil war began in 2011, Ghajar residents legally crossed at nearby Kuneitra to attend Syrian universities, he said.

An Israeli soldier secures a checkpoint at the entrance of Ghajar, Sept. 7, 2022. (Jalaa Marey/AFP via Getty Images)

“There’s no profession in Israel that’s not represented here,” he said.

Politically, Ghajar stands out for supporting mostly Jewish-majority parties. In the recent election, Benny Gantz’s centrist party got 24% of the 555 citizens who went to the polls in the village. The Arab party Raam got only 14% of the votes and the rest went to other Jewish lists, including the haredi Orthodox Shas party.

Ghajar puts a premium on livability. Fountains, parks and outdoor sculptures abound, landscaping and building façades are colorful and nary a speck of litter is evident. Homes are large and well-kept, on par with other upscale areas in Israel. Motorcycles and the honking of vehicles’ horns are prohibited. Visitors may not enter between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m., Jamal Khatib said, adding that Ghajar has long banned hotels and bed-and-breakfast inns and does not plan to change the rules in response to the flood of visitors.

Some visitors have littered and urinated in public, even entered residents’ homes without knocking, he said.

“A year ago, you wouldn’t have seen that,” said his son, Ryad, who works as Ghajar’s coordinator of volunteers, including handling traffic control on days when tourists abound.

Unlike many small towns in Israel, Ghajar operates its own sanitation service rather than linking up with other municipalities through a regional council. Doing so is an unusual expenditure, but it’s one that means visitors to the town may see Ghajar’s name on a garbage truck — a potentially powerful symbol.

Tourists explore the streets of Ghajar, Oct. 14, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

“We’re doing it not for you, but for ourselves,” Jamal Khatib said of the village’s quality-of-life values. “I like that people come, but they should respect the rules, respect our privacy.”

For its part, Ghajar projects respect for the wider society. Street signs and storefronts appear in Hebrew and Arabic. The Park of Peace includes a statue of the Virgin Mary, a sculpture of an open Koran, an Alawite sword symbol and a menorah.

“You and I believe in one God,” Jamal Khatib said. “Your deeds speak as to who you are.”

From his back porch a few moments later, a donkey’s braying could be clearly heard, hundreds of sheep observed and calls to prayer drifted over from a mosque – all in Aarab el Louaizeh, a village in Lebanon perhaps 100 yards away.

In a ravine below, soldiers of the United Nations and the Lebanese army in their separate posts walked outside. The U.N. soldiers entered two vehicles and began their twice-daily patrol of the border. Alongside the border road is the Hatzbani River, where Khatib fished as a young man. At his property line, a separate fence on Ghajar’s northern perimeter is nearly complete.

But the fence wasn’t erected to divide people or demarcate boundaries: It’s to keep boars, jackals and porcupines from scaling the slope and entering the village, Khatib said. He soon received an alert on his phone.

“The notification says there are cows on the road,” he explained. “It’s dark. Be careful.”

The post This Israeli village on the Lebanon border was isolated for decades. Now it’s a tourist hotspot. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply


Canada’s economic growth projected to be about 1% in the first half of 2024

Canada is a country with a thriving Jewish community and has traditionally offered the security of a strong economy for residents. The national economic outlook is naturally something that everyone in Canada’s Jewish community keeps track of – especially those involved in business in the various provinces.

With this in mind, the July 2023 Monetary Policy Report from the Bank of Canada made for interesting reading, projecting a moderate economic growth figure of around 1% for the first half of 2024. This is in line with growth figures that had been forecast for the second half of 2023, and sees the country’s economy remain on a stable footing.

Steady projected growth for first half of 2024

Although projected economic growth of around 1% in early 2024 is not as impressive as figures of around 3.4% in 2022 and 1.8% in 2023, it is certainly no cause for alarm. But what might be behind it?

Higher interest rates are one major factor to consider and have had a negative impact on household spending nationally. This has effectively seen people with less spending power and businesses in Canada generating less revenue as a result.

Interest rate rises have also hit business investments nationally, and less money is being channelled into this area to fuel Canada’s economic growth. When you also factor in how the weak foreign demand for Canadian goods and services has hit export growth lately, the projected GDP growth figure for early 2024 is understandable.

Growth in second half of 2024 expected

Although the above may make for interesting reading for early 2024, the Bank of Canada’s report does show that economic growth is expected to pick up in the second half of the year. This is projected to be due to the decreasing effect of high interest rates on the Canadian economy and a stronger foreign demand for the country’s exports.

Moving forward from this period, it is predicted that inflation will remain at around 3% as we head into 2025, and hit the Bank of Canada’s inflation target of 2% come the middle of 2025. All of this should help the country’s financial status remain stable and prove encouraging for business leaders in the Jewish community.

Canada’s economic growth mirrors iGaming’s rise

When you take a look at the previous growth figures Canada has seen and also consider the growth predicted for 2024 (especially in the second half of the year), it is clear that the country has a vibrant, thriving economy.

This economic growth is something that can be compared with iGaming’s recent rise as an industry around the country. In the same way as Canada has steadily built a strong economy over time, iGaming has transformed itself into a powerful, flourishing sector.

This becomes even clearer when you consider that Canadian iGaming has been a major contributor to the sustained growth seen in the country’s arts, entertainment and recreation industry, which rose by around 1.9% in Q2 of 2023. The healthy state of online casino play in Canada is also evidenced by how many customers the most popular casino platforms attract and how the user experience these operators offer has enabled iGaming in the country to take off.

This, of course, is also something that translates to the world stage, where global iGaming revenues in 2023 hit an estimated $95 billion. iGaming’s global market volume is also pegged to rise to around $130 billion by 2027. These kinds of figures represent a sharp jump for iGaming worldwide and show how the sector is on the ascent.

Future economic outlook for Canada in line with global expectations

When considering the Canadian economic outlook for 2024, it is often useful to look at how this compares with global financial predictions. In addition to the rude health of iGaming in Canada being reflected in global online casino gaming, the positive economic outlook for the country is also broadly in line with expectations for many global economies.

Global growth is also predicted to rise steadily in the second half of 2024 before becoming stronger in 2025. This should be driven by the weakening effects of high interest rates on worldwide economic prosperity. With rate cuts in Canada already expected after Feb 2024’s inflation report, this could happen in the near future.

The performance of the US economy is always of interest in Canada, as this is the country’s biggest trading partner. Positive US Q2 performances in 2023, powered by a strong labor market, good consumer spending levels and robust business investments, were therefore a cause for optimism. As a US economy that continues to grow is something that Canadian businesses welcome, this can only be a healthy sign.

Canada set for further growth in 2024

Local news around Canada can cover many topics but the economy is arguably one of the most popular. A projected GDP growth figure of around 1% for Canada’s economy shows that the financial state of the country is heading in the right direction. An improved financial outlook heading into the latter half of 2024/2025 would make for even better reading, and the national economy should become even stronger.

Continue Reading


The Legal Landscape of Online Gambling in Canada

Online gambling has grown in popularity around the globe in recent years. While many jurisdictions have legalized land-based gambling, it hasn’t applied to online platforms. Nonetheless, Canada is one nation that has legalized online gambling with their provinces’ licensing and regulating sites.

Nonetheless, Canadians of legal age can enjoy playing their favourite online games where available. So many games like slots, blackjack, and roulette still maintain their popularity even in the digital sense.  Want to learn about what’s legal in Canada for online gambling? Let’s take a look.

What is legal for online gambling in Canada?

What is the best online casino in Canada? The list we provide you here should be a good start. It’s also important to note that most Canadian provinces do not have laws that prohibit offshore online casinos.

Many provinces provide licensing to online casinos. They even regulate them as well. For example, Alberta and British Columbia have sites regulated by their respective governing bodies. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) allows legal online gambling and oversees the services it offers to Maritime provinces such as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, there are some caveats to address. In Newfoundland and Labrador, online gambling that is not offered by the ALC is considered illegal. Therefore, it is the only Canadian province as of 2024 that prohibits offshore options.

In terms of the legal age, there are three provinces where the legal age is 18: Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec. The remaining provinces establish 19 as the legal age for gambling including online.

Who are the regulatory bodies for gambling in Canada?

At the Federal level, the Canadian Gaming Association is the regulatory body for gambling in Canada. Thus, they cover both land-based and online gambling in the country. There are also provincial and regional regulatory bodies such as the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) – which covers the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador.  

The Western Canada Lottery Corporation covers Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon Territory. A handful of provinces also have their regulatory bodies covering lottery and gaming.

Canada requires online casinos that wish to accept players from the country to adhere to regulations and licensing. These licenses are provided by provincial regulatory bodies. When licensed, online casinos must follow the regulations and security standards.

However, there is the belief that many of the laws about gambling in Canada may be outdated. This could be because these laws were created long before the advent of the Internet. Therefore, such laws may need to be modernized. Nonetheless, online gambling for the most part is legal, just dependent on the province.

Are there any legal grey areas to discuss?

The grey area that is considered a concern pertains to the use of offshore sites. As mentioned earlier, Newfoundland and Labrador is believed to be the only province that prohibits it. Even online casinos with no licensing by Canadian or provincial authorities accept residents of the country.

On the players’ end, many Canadians are allowed to play at online casinos. However, they may be restricted from certain platforms. This is to ensure that the players themselves are protected from unknowingly playing on platforms that may be illegal. 

What are the other laws and regulations about online gambling in Canada?

Online casinos have implemented measures for responsible gambling. This includes providing support and resources to problem gamblers on their site. They are also restricted regarding the marketing and advertising aspects of promoting their platform. 

One restriction of note is that marketing that is targeted at minors is prohibited. Another prohibits professional athletes from appearing in online casino ads in Ontario.

Even offshore casinos must adhere to these laws and regulations. Especially if they have obtained a license from the provincial bodies that allow them to operate.

Canada’s online gambling is legal – but will things change

As it stands right now, the legality of online gambling in Canada seems to fall under the purview of provincial laws and regulations. Canadian citizens must perform their due diligence further to see which online casinos are allowed by their respective provinces. Just because it may be legal in one province, it may not be the same in others.

Nonetheless, the question is: will any laws relax certain restrictions? Will Newfoundland and Labrador change their tune regarding offshore casinos? It’s unclear what the future holds – but watch this space for any changes about online gambling in Canada.  

Continue Reading



Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

Continue Reading

Copyright © 2017 - 2023 Jewish Post & News