Al and Marsha's Journal
TEMPLE SHOLOM FAMILY TOUR TO ISRAEL 2005
Tour Leaders: Rabbi Philip and Cathy Bregman
The Tour Begins!
Day 1 - Tuesday, July 5th
We are in Jerusalem, at the Dan Panorama hotel where we arrived yesterday from Tel Aviv. We had spent the day getting here, and the evening with the Klimans and the Coblins at a wonderful Arab restaurant in East Jerusalem. The rest of the group arrived last night at about 11:00 pm from New York, and after greetings and hugs in the hotel lobby, we adjourned to bed because today was scheduled to start early.
The phone rang precisely at 6:00 am and after we had scraped ourselves from the ceiling, we quickly got ready to go for breakfast prior to the start of our first official day of the Temple Sholom Tour.
The breakfast was as usual an excellent combination of fresh fruit, salads, and some hot foods, as well as totally acceptable coffee. We joined the other 42 of the tour group in the dining room and enjoyed a fairly leisurely breakfast before getting on the bus at 7:30. The bus is very modern, well air conditioned and comfortable. The driver soon revealed himself to be very capable, handling the sharp corners narrow streets and mishugga fellow drivers very well. We found out later that many of the professional bus drivers are tank commanders in the reserve. I guess that's why everyone tried to get out of the way... no one wants to mess with a tank commander driving a huge bus!
We were each assigned a number to be used in future for a check that everyone who is supposed to be aboard is there. The Rabbi and Nicole, our professional guide, are going to have quite a time keeping 42 people organized and accounted for over the next two weeks.
The first place we visited, as you might expect, was a short bus ride away to the Old City. The tour leading tasks already were being shared by Nicole, and the Rabbi, From the very beginning we could see that Rabbi Bregman was in his element and already enjoying his role as leader and provider of valuable information. We were dropped at the bottom of the hill near the Jaffa Gate, and off we went.
We were headed for the Western Wall, via the Jewish Quarter, and so took the most direct route to get there. At the beginning of the Jewish Quarter the guide explained why the buildings looked so new. This was because between the War of Independence, and the Six Day War this quarter was in the hands of Jordan, who systematically destroyed everything, including all of the Synagogues. After the Six Day War Israel again had possession of the Jewish Quarter and rebuilt the whole place. As is everything else built in Israel, all of the public buildings are faced with Jerusalem stone. This is a beautiful material, with a unique colour and tone, which gives all of the buildings a particularly attractive, and Middle Eastern look.
We walked past the Cardo, the place where an ancient Roman street once was, and then descended the many steps to the security station, and then onto the large plaza leading to the Western Wall. We stopped for a short time so that the tour members could spend some time at the wall if they wished, which many did. After much dodging of fellows seeking donations and offering to bless us for money, we entered the start of the Western Wall tunnels. These tunnels lead Northward from the end of the visible part of the Western Wall, and continue along the wall for about four times the length of the visible part, but now under the houses, shops and streets of the Arab Quarter. At the end of the Six Day War, only a few meters of space existed between the visible portion of the Western Wall and the rubble of the Jewish Quarter and it was decided not to rebuild what had been destroyed, but to create the large area for prayer and the plaza.
The tunnel exposes some of the interesting structure of the wall, the ancient water collection system beside it and also contains the part of the wall which is the closest physical point to the where the actual Holy of Holy place was in the Second Temple.
During all of this Nicole told us about the history of the First and Second Temples and how and when they were built, and then destroyed by successive waves of conquerors.
After returning to the beginning of the tunnel, we walked to the Davidson Centre which is adjacent to the Old City and is where the archeological work done on the area is carried out and documented. There is an excellent video presentation which is a detailed rendering of what that corner of the Old City was like at its height. It is actually a computer representation projected onto a large screen and controlled by a guide who is able to control the visual picture and describe what he is showing as we see the scene from a bird's eye view. It was one of the most effective presentations of its type I have ever seen, and gave a visual cue to all of the drawings we had seen of this era. After this we walked out of the centre and along the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount and could see all of the areas which had been shown on the presentation, but now of course, two thousand years later.
After this, we left the Western Wall area and returned to the Jewish Quarter where we took a lunch break at one of the many little restaurants along the narrow streets. After this the group was to tour the Cardo. Marsha and Judy Growe left us there as they had a prearranged appointment for a private tour of the Israel National Library on the Campus of the Hebrew University. I left also as I had been to the Cardo a number of times and wanted to shop for a new Talus. I struck out on the Talus, and met the group at the appointed time at the Jaffa Gate to get back on our bus for the ride to our next stop.
We drove a short distance to a place where we were to take an "adventure ride" called the Time Elevator. This is very much like the rides at US theme parks where the seats you are in move in relation to an animated large screen visual presentation of some theme. In this case the theme was the history of Jerusalem. The narrator was a fictional character with the face and voice of Topol (the actor who played Tevya in the movie version of Fiddler on the Roof). It was kind of hokey, and as the Rabbi commented later, was designed not to offend anyone, including Israel's past and current enemies.
Following the adventure ride we rode to a new park on the edge of Jerusalem which is high on the top of a hill with a most outstanding view of the city from the South West. There we had a few minutes to look over the city, take some pictures and to learn some more of the city's history.
This ended the formal part of the day, and we returned to the hotel to rest. We joined the Klimans and the Coblins again in the lobby and began the hike to Ben Jehuda street to find a place for dinner, and to perhaps do some shopping. As we walked down the curving King George street toward our destination we could hear a demonstration taking place around the curve ahead of us. As we got closer we could see many police cars, and police partially blocking off the road, and the sound of chanting getting louder. A short block at a bus stop was the site of the demonstration where a group of people holding banners and chanting away were making their point. As it was all in Hebrew we had no idea what it was about. I thought it might be related to the Gaza pullout controversy, but a soldier told us that these were all gay folks and their friends who were protesting the fact that one of their number had been stabbed at this bus stop recently.
We skirted the demonstrators on the other side of the street and made our way to Ben Jehuda street a short distance away. We arrived at the top of the street in short order and wandered down to the bottom doing some window shopping and looking for a restaurant. We struck out on the restaurant as there were none in sight on Ben Jehuda. From our last trip to Israel I remembered a street very nearby which had contained much more interesting shops and a number of good restaurants, but couldn't find it. We finally settled on a little hole in the wall on a street just behind Ben Jehuda, and had an ok meal, after which we headed back to the hotel to collapse into bed and sleep.
Today started at 6:00 am as before, and we stumbled onto the bus at 7:30 just beginning to wake up. This is going to be a day on the road going to several places outside the city of Jerusalem. The first stop was at Beit Guvrin, which is an archeological dig location at the location of a large ancient city. This is a slightly unusual place because even though the city was a large centre, with over five thousand structures, there is virtually no sign of them on the surface. This is because, when they were about to be conquered they destroyed the surface dwellings and pushed all of the rubble and their possessions into their "basements". These basements were in fact very large underground rooms which had been excavated as quarries to provide the stone to build the houses above in the first place. The large rooms, some very complex contain very deep water cisterns and complicated channels for rain water to run down to be stored. Other rooms were used for storage of food, as places to raise and house doves for sacrifice, etc.
The first place we descended down a rickety ladder into was a mostly excavated residential basement where we played at being archeologists and dug up the dirt we were standing on in search of artifacts and shards of pottery. Most everyone found something, from small shards, to an almost complete small jar with a handle. After we dug for a while and filled up quite a few buckets we moved the buckets and ourselves up to the surface and sifted the dirt in search of smaller finds.
We had been warned that we would get dirty on this part of the day, and it turned out to be so.... we cleaned ourselves up as best we could, and then descended again into another structure which had been completely excavated over a ten year period. This was a very complex set of chambers and stairways, much of which was taken up with huge water storage areas. We followed these rooms for quite a distance before finding ourselves at the surface again, and a short walk to the bus for our next stop.
We then drove to an area called the "Burma Road" which has significance as an important part of the War of Independence. During the war the Jordanians were able to capture an important site (more about this site later) which gave them control over the road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, thereby cutting off supplies to Jerusalem. The Israeli army tried a number of times to recapture the spot, which we were to visit later in the day, but could not succeed.
As a result the army built a crude dirt road to bypass the control point, and dubbed it the Burma Road. This is the site of a new forest being planted by the JNF and where we were we went to plant trees. Marsha and I planted two each and everyone on the tour had an opportunity to plant a tree.
The next stop on our busy day was the Stalactite Cave at the Avshalom Reserve. When we got off the bus we descended a considerable distance to the cave entrance where we viewed a brief video presentation of the stalactites, and stalagmites, and their variations, their formation and chemistry. After this we were led into the cave to view the fantastic structures throughout the enormous cave. The guide took us along a path and explained the various structures and pointed out many which resembled characters in fiction and real life. It was an amazing place and very mystic.
We ascended the stairs from the cave to the bus, and drove to our next stop. This is a fairly new tourist attraction and is a large facility made up of miniature structures of many places in Israel. It was a rather mundane place, but it did have a great cafeteria so provided a good place for lunch and rest.
After an hour or so at Mini Israel, we had one more stop at the Latrun Military Reserve and Museum. This Reserve is the site of the key control point mentioned above which was controlled by Jordan during the War of Independence. The building on this site was originally built by the British as a military barracks and basically handed to Jordan on the eve of the War of Independence. It was an important example of British duplicity during the initial days of Israel's life.
This is mainly a military museum, and on the site are one hundred and fifty tanks on display. The inside of the building contains many exhibits of various military matters. Beside the building, on the edge of a large square is a long stainless steel memorial wall containing the names of all Israeli Armoured Division soldiers who have been killed in action since the birth of Israel. This is a very dramatic memorial, and seeing the names of the thousands of young Israelis who have died, in just this one part of the military structure is very chilling.
Today happened to be the graduation day of new soldiers in the Armoured Division and there were hundreds of young Israelis in uniform at the site preparing for the ceremony along with their families. We noticed that some of the girls were wearing skirts, both knee length, and full length. We later learned that this is a fairly recent concession to the more religious members of the military.
This visit was both very exciting, and very sad, and provided an appropriate end to the day.
After a rest at the hotel we joined a group of eight, which grew to nine, and headed off to Ben Jehuda street for dinner. This time we knew where the street was that we couldn't find last night. It was in fact just one block further than we had looked for last night. While looking for a restaurant I spotted a store specializing in Talit and associated stuff. I immediately spotted one which I liked. I soon found another good one and couldn't make up my mind so I put off deciding and we all headed off for dinner. We settled on an Italian/Jewish restaurant with an all dairy menu. They scrambled together a table for the nine of us and we had a great dinner, punctuated by visits from passersby from our tour group.
After dinner I went back to the Talis store, and after getting some good advice from a very earnest young man about what was right for me I ended up getting a different one altogether. It is in fact a variation on the second one I had found earlier in the evening. Marsha joined me shortly and off we went to look at the various jewelry stores along the street, followed by the twenty minute walk to our hotel, and to bed.
Once again we were up at 6:00 to start our day, but we are starting to get used to it. Of course, even so, both Marsha and I complain about it until we get some coffee into us. Last time we were in Israel we both remember that the coffee was universally awful.... either things have changed a lot, or we weren't going to the right hotels last time as the coffee we have been getting this trip is really quite good.
As usual we piled onto the bus at 7:30 for a short ride to the Knesset. The group first went to the small plaza across the entry road from the Knesset itself to see the menorah sculpture which was presented to Israel by the British Government in the early 1960's. Personally I thought it was kind of hypocritical of them to do that, and if it were my decision I might have told them (diplomatically of course, as I always do) where they could install it... however I wasn't asked for my opinion, so here it sits.
It is covered with many small panels of sculptured figures, which Nicole, in her usual erudite manner (tinged with her delightful mixture and French and Israeli accents) explained what many of them were, and what the symbolism might be.
At the appointed hour we trooped over the the entrance, and once again were put through intense security, as you might well imagine, before entering the main foyer of the Knesset. We waited there for a few minutes for the young guide to arrive, and then began with the gallery overlooking the Plenary Chamber itself. The guide explained the layout in some detail, including who sat in what chair, who some of the characters are, etc. Everyone who talks about the Knesset always mention the intense discussion, sometimes polite, but most times not, which take place here. The Rabbi has some colourful ways of describing the way democracy works in Israel, but always concludes with the thought that Israel is probably the most truly democratic country in the world.
At one point our young guide was telling us about the duties of the Speaker and said that one of his tasks is to give permission to MKs (Members of the Knesset) to speak. She said most of the time members will speak from their chairs whether they have permission or not.... It seems to me that the Speaker here has a very tough job.
After this we were taken through a corridor containing wonderful pictures of the various heads of state and major politicians throughout Israel's history, and then into an area where the MKs work, have lunch, etc. She mentioned that the MK's cafeteria is where most of the deals are negotiated over lunch... this sounds much like the similar dining room in Ottawa.
Following the Knesset tour we bussed to our next stop. During the ride Rabbi Bregman served notice that the fun part was over for a few days, and for then next day and one half the places we are going to see are going to be more serious.... He was as good as his word....
The next stop is a place called Beit Halochem. This is one of three existing facilities for this organization within Israel. While the organization is well known in Toronto and Montreal, it is not yet well known in Vancouver. Phillip and Kathy have taken it as a goal of theirs to change this.
It is hard to find the correct term to describe what this organization does as we have no equivalent in Canada. In Israel any citizen who serves the country in the military or police forces, and becomes injured, is looked after in a variety of ways by the State of Israel for the rest of his or her life, as is the family. Beit Halochem fulfills one part of this obligation by providing a place for recovery to take place, both physically and mentally. We would be tempted to compare it to a veterans' hospital, or to the GF Strong Rehabilitation Center in Vancouver, but it is not that. For one thing it is not a warehouse for the disabled as veterans' hospitals in both Canada and the US tend to be, and for another it is not a hospital.
The center itself is a modern, beautiful building on a very open and well landscaped campus. It provides two separate, but related services to disabled veterans. One is physical rehabilitation where the veterans receive assistance in learning how to adapt to their injuries. The staff are not trained therapists however, they are chosen for other abilities. As an example, in the enormous swimming pool was a girl with one leg working with a man who had one mangled leg and the other one missing from the knee down.
She explained that this man had been injured when he stepped on a land mine in the early 1970's. After he recovered from his injury, up till about six months ago he was deathly afraid of the water as he was convinced that he would drown due to his handicap. When he started coming to Beit Halochem she began working with him and helped him to overcome his fear and to learn to swim with what he had. He demonstrated his new skills by swimming the length of the pool and back using all of the different strokes. He was obviously very proud of his achievement. This was a good example of the work done by this part of the facility. The amazing thing to cap it all off was the fact that the young lady teaching herself has only one leg.
The other division is what they call the Cultural Division. When we first arrived we went into a room where the Director of the Cultural Division gave us an extensive and highly energetic explanation of what she and her staff do. Mostly they provide courses on everything from painting to computers, to writing, to English, etc. Once again, her staff are not therapists and they teach the veterans is if they are any other student. She explained to us that her goal is have the students achieve a level beyond what they believed they could do, whether or not they learned to do everything. The purpose of this is to instill confidence in them, and give them back the feeling of being useful and successful.
I could go on for hours on this, but you get the picture. This is a most extraordinary place, and is doing a very impressive job of helping those who put themselves on the line for Israel to achieve there potential.
As we drove to our next destination Rabbi Bregman explained that in September of this year eight members of Beit Halochem will be coming to Vancouver, partly under the auspices of JNF, and partly of Temple Sholom for a two week visit. The Temple is organizing tours, visits, dinners, etc for this group. It is intended that we will repeat this every two years.
next visit was to the Hadassah Hospital to view the Chagall stained glass
windows in the Synagogue there. We were herded into the room, and a recorded
message explained each of the windows, each representing one of the twelve
sons of Jacob (and each the founder of one of the twelve tribes of Israel.)
and the symbolism in them. The windows are extremely beautiful and quite a
sight to see first hand. We were not allowed to take pictures, so I bought a
set of cards of the windows. To see the windows which I scanned from the
cards, click here.
After this part we had about an hour to visit the museum in general. Most went to the large section where many displays of Judaica were located. It was indeed a large facility including many sections of various kinds of historical material, including two complete synagogue sanctuaries, one from England, and one from India.
After this we returned to the hotel, where Rabbi Bregman offered to lead a walking tour of Mea Shearim, the Hassidic neighborhood in Jerusalem. I opted out so that I could bring the journal up to date, but Marsha and a number of others went along. Marsha described the area as being as unreal as a movie set. The stores are filled with old dusty merchandise, dozens of stores selling kippot, and other religious artifacts, and generally being medieval in character. One of our group said that he went to "recharge his anger". By this he was referring to the generally destructive effect that these ultra-orthodox Jews have on Israel, and the danger they pose for its future. This is another subject which I could write about for a couple of hours, but I wont.
After a rest period a group of us went to the Rosemary Cafe around the corner for dinner. We had been told it was "fabulous". It wasn't. Early to bed.
Today we got to sleep in till 7:00 am, this was received with great acclaim and applause when announced yesterday afternoon. Little things sometimes mean a lot.
Today is going to be a rough day.... all of the things we are to do will be difficult.
First stop.. the Herzel grave and memorial. We spent a few minutes at this beautiful memorial and heard again from Nicole about the history of this great man, and what he did to help create Israel. After this visit, we walked a short distance to the graves, and memorials of many of Israel's past leaders, Rabin, Meir, etc. Rabbi Bregman filled us in on his take on these leaders, and also talked about Sharon.
We then walked a short distance to the military cemetery located on the same site. This is a very sad place, as so many of these graves are filled with very young soldiers who died while serving the country. The cemetery is extraordinarily beautiful, and in a beautiful setting looking out over the hills of Jerusalem. Every grave has a bed of green shrub covering it which produce small blue flowers. It was very moving, and Rabbi Bregman and the rest of us said Kaddish.
We then traveled to the new Yad Vashem memorial. The place was crowded to the gills with busses full of visitors, and it was very difficult to see all of the material there. The new gallery is very long and is arranged in a zig zag pattern which moves through time, from the beginning of the Nazi era, through the rise of Hitler, the increase in persecution of Jews, the war, the camps, the murders, through to the end of the war, and the struggle to create Israel.
Interestingly, as one progresses through the displays the crowd gets thinner and thinner as if the majority of people had just vanished into thin air. By the time we got to the last gallery, which has display shelves to hold binders holding information on all 6,000,000 who died. At the present time there is information on a little less than half of the victims, and the Yad Vashem organization is constantly seeking names of more victims and is committed to getting them all. Part of the reason for this is to give back their identities which were taken away by the Germans and replaced with numbers.
Kathy Bregman has a theory that the crowded, narrow corridor/path at the beginning, with small galleries at the end of each zig and zag gradually widen as one moves through, is designed to represent how the Jews would have felt being herded from their homes into trains and roads to march to camps, and the gradual widening of both the path and the galleries is to represent the way the Jews who survived dispersed around the world at the end of the war. This might explain why it seemed that most of the visitors had disappeared between the start and finish.
Needless to say, this was a very moving and troubling experience. Enough said.
We were told that no pictures where allowed, but others told me that it was ok as long as no flash pictures were taken. I took only a couple near the end, a view back along the path, and the last gallery.
After we left this section we moved on to the memorial to the victims, which is a very plain but moving place. Rabbi Bregman and the group again said Kaddish, after which we moved on to the children's memorial. One and one half million of the victims of the Nazis were children, and this very sad place is for them. As you walk through the memorial, in almost total darkness, just ghostly images of children on the walls, voices in the background are speaking the names of the children and their ages. Many of the group had a very hard time with this memorial.
That concluded our organized day as it is Friday, and the city is preparing for Shabbat.
We had a group dinner tonight at the hotel, a very sumptuous feast it was and we both ate too much. Rabbi Bregman then lead a group of twenty or so of us to walk to the Western Wall. We took a different route turning right at the bottom of the hill leading to the Jaffa Gate, and taking the road/path around the outside of the Old City wall to the Zion Gate. As we ascended the many stairs leading to the Zion Gate (the small plaza and stairway having been donated by JNF Canada) we ran into quite a number of groups of Birthright kids from all over the world, including one from Toronto. At the Zion gate were several groups going in (one speaking Spanish) and several groups coming out. It was a major crush of people at 9:00 Friday night. This is an amazing city.
After squeezing our way through the gate, and accounting for everyone in the group, we followed the road and various plazas and stairways to the security gate at the Western Wall. The scene was quite different than it had been when we were there on Monday, fully lit which gave it an even more inviting look, and quite busy given the time of day. As you would expect, there were gazillions of Black Hats there, with their wives, and even more gazillions of their children. It was quite the spectacle.
Rabbi Bregman gave us a half hour to do our thing at the wall or otherwise and then we met at the top of the Plaza for the walk back to our hotel. After gathering all of the stray sheep from the wall we hiked back up the way we had come, up hills, down hills, and back up again, until we collapsed in a heap or two in the hotel lobby for a cold drink and a cooling off period. Even though it was cool with a nice breeze, the hill climbing took it toll on us. Off to bed.
We had decided that, if things worked out in the morning, we would go with Rabbi Bregman to the Great Synagogue of Jerusalem to see part of the service, and to hear some of the world's best cantors, in Jerusalem for a concert, including Vancouver's Schara Tzedeck's cantor. Things didn't work out as, not only did we sleep well past the appointed time, we almost missed breakfast. We made it in time, and joined many others, including some from our group who were late risers and enjoyed the usual great breakfast.
For the first time since the start of the tour we were on our own. Not wanting to veg this early in the day we kitted up and walked to the Old City to experience the Shuk, perhaps to buy, and to visit some places we had missed. We walked down the main entry at the Jaffa Gate to the beginning of the Shuk, and it was busy and bustling with shops and shoppers. Marsha spotted a nice looking little jewelry store, so we went in. We came out one half hour later quite a bit poorer. This seemed to be a genuinely honest (or terrific salesman), who made necklaces and other jewelry himself out of semi-precious stones. Marsha acquired gifts for several family members here, plus herself, and off we went. We succumbed to a t-shirt store and there found a couple for our kids, and grandkids, and a great one for Mark White, Marsha's cousin and my best friend.
We then set off on a quest to get to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which we had seen on our last visit. Last time we happened upon it just before Lent, and there was a crush of people there attending all of the various services which were being conducted. We thought we would have a better visit this time. As we usually did, we went in a couple of circles before finding our goal via the back door. We entered a church on a back street which was Greek Orthodox, and for some reason, one of its enclosed courtyards which we stumbled upon had a small door leading to the chapel of the Queen of Sheba, which in turn led us into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This church was created by the mother of Constantine many centuries ago, because she decided that this is where Jesus died, and was buried. Whether it was such a site or not has never been proven, but it has been accepted as being so for centuries.
Another unique aspect of the church is that it is shared by six different Christian sects who put aside their differences and each has a portion of the church to be used for its own purposes. Very democratic, and strange seeing as how Christian sects are as fractious a group as Jewish ones are.
We walked around for a while watching the goings on, sat and rested, and then left in search of a sidewalk cafe for some cold refreshment. We wandered up one of the many side streets at random and soon found what we were looking for. After a nice rest and cool down, we again walked along the shuk. By accident we were on the street which led us right back to the Jaffa gate.
There we ran into Rabbi, Kathy, and Shira Bregman, along with a niece of theirs who is here for the Macabee games next week. We kibitzed for a few minutes, ran into the Klimans again and did more kibitzing.
After we finished kibitzing the Bregmans and ourselves started the hike back to the hotel using the same up and down hill (mostly up) which we had used last night. And, as we did last night, we collapsed in a heap in the lobby, got cold drinks, and kibitzed some more. Then we retired to our room for some rest, to pack for tomorrow's early morning departure, etc.
David Coblin had arranged for a group of us to return to the Arab restaurant, the Philadelphia where we had such a great meal on Monday night.. As there were so many of us, the restaurant sent taxis for us. Eighteen of us piled in right at the appointed time and headed off in caravan for dinner.
When we pulled up to the restaurant there was a large crowd of people outside obviously waiting with great enthusiasm for someone. It wasn't us of course. We already knew that they were expecting a visit tonight from a "superstar" from Dubai and two hundred of his closest friends. They were already there when we arrived and the terrace where we had dinner last time was packed with folks listening to a loud band and singer. Our superstar was busy posing for pictures with his fans.
We were seated at a table on the terrace above the hoopla, so were able to enjoy the entertainment, especially the breaks between sets, and enjoy the place. As he did last time Hashem the owner (third generation) brought us a large assortment of appetizer items, followed by the mixed grill and some whole cooked fish. The meal was outstanding as we expected, and we had a great time.
During the meal a few of our group got into the swing of the music and displayed heretofore hidden dancing talent. It we pretty funny, and we were all greatly entertained. To see a movie clip of this event, click here. Just close your media player when it finishes to return here.
A bit of sadness occurred when we enquired as to whether the superstar would sing for his friends (and therefore, us). We were told that he will not sing in Jerusalem because if he did his fans throughout the Arab world would desert him. Apparently it's ok for him to visit, but not to perform. Very sad, and displays an incredible stupidity of the folks in these countries.
After dinner we got dropped off at Ben Yehuda Street by the taxi, whose Arab driver didn't know where Ben Yehuda street is. We did some more window shipping, again ran into the Bregman family, and found the gallery of the designer who created the menorah Marsha bought yesterday so that I could see it. After we looked around the Saturday street market for a bit we headed back to the hotel to hit the sack.
After another early rise, and dutifully placing our bags outside our door, we went for our last breakfast at the Dan Panorama, and filled up our goodie bag for the last time with lunch, and boarded the bus at 8:00 for the beginning of the Wandering Jews section of the Tour. We headed for the Dead Sea and descended quickly down till we reached the lowest place on earth. Our first stop was at Qumran where the Dead Sea scrolls described above were found by that little Bedouin shepard boy in 1948.
We got the lowdown from Nicole once again, and gazed across the little valley to the steep escarpments and mountains. We could plainly see the cave where the first discoveries were made, and it was really hard to see how the shepard boy, and the villagers could even get to the cave opening. It seemed impossible to reach by mere mortals. Of course the jars containing the scrolls were placed there originally by mere mortals, so I guess it was possible after all.
After some walking around and looking at the incredibly stark landscape we climbed back on the bus and headed for Ein Ghedi where the plan was for us to have a lunch break... no luck, the restaurant had been permanently closed a couple of years ago... back aboard the bus and we headed for the restaurant nearby at the base of the Masada cable car station.... no luck, because even though the gate keeper told us the restaurant was open, it wasn't.....back on the bus where it was decided that enough was enough, and we headed for our hotel on the banks of the Dead Sea.
When we arrived, an omen, the place was a madhouse of people coming, going and butting into line (this is Israel after all). Even in all of the apparent chaos Nicole appeared in very short order with our keys, etc, and we grabbed our bags and hauled them to our rooms ourselves rather than wait for the porters. It was a very nice room with a great view of the pool below and the Dead Sea beaches. After doing some basic unpacking (we are to be here only one night) we changed and headed for the beach.
Quite of a few of our group had the same idea and soon a number of us were floating like leaves on top of the Dead Sea water. For anyone who has not done this, it is a very strange experience. Because the water is so incredibly super saturated with salt and many other chemicals, it makes you extremely buoyant and it is actually quite hard to move around in. It is so chemically active that you cannot actually swim, put your face in, or get any water in your mouth or eyes. Any tiny nicks on your body will announce their presence immediately after you enter the water. (remember the saying "like rubbing salt in a wound"?) It was fun to float around for a few minutes, and then it was time to get out, rinse off and get some rays by the pool.
After a suitable time of ray gathering we repaired to our room for a well deserved rest, followed by a trip down to the dining room for dinner. The chaos in the lobby when we arrived at the hotel was nothing compared to what was going on in the dining room
It was your worst nightmare of a buffet at a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. If anyone remembers the movie "Goodbye Columbus", this was it ten fold.... what a zoo!!!!
We managed to get close enough to the food tables to get enough dinner before escaping with what was left of our sanity to our room again. We had an early night
Some of our group... the youngest ones and the craziest ones, rose very early to be bussed to the base of Masada so that they could hike up the Snake Path to the top, and meet the rest of us when we got there. The rest got on the bus at 8:00 for the short ride to the cable car at Masada. During the bus ride Nicole got a cel phone call from the mountain that a number of the hikers were having trouble, and they cancelled the rest of the climb and instructed the hikers to head back down. We arrived at the ticket center before the hikers got back down, so we waited a few minutes for them. As it turned out no one was in serious trouble, so after a brief reunion we got on the cable car for the ride up.
The scenery as we climbed up the face of Masada was extraordinarily beautiful, and stark at the same time. All around for miles and miles is desert, punctuated here and there with small oases of civilization. Everything looks as it has for thousands of years. As we climbed we could see the stone outlines of the camps where the Roman soldiers laying siege to Masada were staying while the battle for the mountain took place over a three year period. It is believed that between 10,000 and 15,000 soldiers were camped here during the siege.
We got quickly to the top and walked through a stone doorway to see the sloping plain of Masada's summit spread out before us, spotted here and there with stone buildings, many of which are at least in part made up of the original structures. There were not yet a lot of people there so it was very moving to see this place in all of its harsh beauty.
As we had lost some time, the Rabbi led us directly to the old synagogue, which had a partial wooden roof over it, and stone benches, to conduct the service. I had been somewhat nervous about this moment because at the advanced age of sixty-six, fifty-three years late, I was to have my Bar Mitzvah today. Two ladies in the group, Joyce Gordon, and Charlotte Bell were having Bat Mitzvahs today as well.
Rabbi Bregman got right into the service and we got to the Torah service in quite short order. As I had signed on to have my Bar Mitzvah only two weeks before we left for the tour, I had a fairly small part to play. The Parshah this week is Balak, and my part in the service was twofold. I had the first Aliah, the blessing before and after the Torah reading sections, and also I read the English translation of the Torah readings conducted by my two Bnai Mitzvah ladies. For those who don't know, the part of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah is technically only the part where one does the blessings before and after the Torah readings. The rest of what you see is not technically necessary.
All went pretty smoothly, and I think I only stumbled over a couple of words of the blessings, so I felt pretty good about that. It was all over pretty quickly, and when the service was over everyone congratulated the three of us.
It is spectacular to have finally had a Bar Mitzvah at all, never mind in such an awe inspiring and historically significant place. I would never have predicted this in a million years, but you never know what tomorrow will bring. My grandfather, who died angry at me for not having a Bar Mitzvah when I was thirteen, will be pleased.
After the service we were led on a short tour of Herod's palace in the centre of Masada (he had another fancier one one the Southern end of the mountain as well). Apparently he build both of these as a place of refuge in case he got into trouble. The zealots who inhabited Masada to escape the Romans during the Jewish revolution of the 1st century took over the place for their own survival. When the Romans arrived they soon realized that they could not attack on the East side of the mountain so they set about building an assault ramp on the other side. At the beginning they were thwarted by the zealots who threw rocks down on them. Not being stupid the Romans decided not to use their own soldiers for the ramp building exercise any longer and began using Jewish captives. This stopped the zealots from throwing rocks as they did not want to kill Jews.
After about a year of work the ramp was nearing completion and it became clear that the Romans would succeed in storming the mountain and capturing the Zealots within hours. That night the zealots met and agreed to commit suicide rather than fall into the hands of the Romans, and all of the horror which would follow.
They drew lots, killed their families, and then themselves. There were seven survivors, one woman and six children the fate of whom is not know.
In this way they managed to steal victory from the Romans.
The ramp which the Romans built is still in place, and we descended to the base of Masada by walking down a path constructed beside, and on the ramp to get to our bus waiting at the bottom.
As before, I found Masada an awe inspiring place, especially given my new status as a Bar Mitzvah boy.
We now headed off further into what looked like a limitless desert of sand, stone, and rolling hills as far as the eye could see in all directions. All there was to see was the black asphalt road winding off ahead and behind us, and the occasional Bedouin camp on the hills around us. After about a half hour we arrived at a Bedouin village, Kfar Hanokdim whose main business is tourism.
We had come to take camel and donkey rides out into the desert, which most did. I opted out, took some pictures and explored the little camp where the tourists who wanted more than a camel ride could enjoy a Bedouin meal and spend the night in tents as the Bedouin used to do.
Soon the group returned swaying and jolting their way along to the disembarking point. There were some sore tushes in the group but they all seemed to have enjoyed the experience.
Once we had all gotten settled back on the bus, we headed off back through the seemingly endless desert to Natania, where we to spend the night at the Seasons Hotel on the beach. The ride was quite lengthy, and we stopped along to way for a bathroom and refreshment break.
We got to Natanya in the late afternoon, and the hotel was as advertised, right on the edge of the Mediterranean. The organization of keys and luggage was again very smooth and we headed up to our room, which turned out to be a suite of a living room and separate bedroom overlooking the beach. It was a very nice room.
Throughout our trip we keep running into strange (at least to North Americans) characteristics of the way things are done in Israel. Of course, we find these differences in every country we visit, but they always surprise us. At this hotel, which is twelve stories tall, there are only two tiny elevators. It seems such a strange thing to do, however, it is what it is, so we had to get used to long waits for elevators. This sort of thing was evident at every hotel we stayed at so far.
We rested in our room for a while, and then went down to get on the bus at 5:00 to head with about one half of the group to the opening ceremonies of the 2005 Maccabee games, at a large soccer stadium in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv. As we expected, as we got closer and closer to the stadium two things happened:
1. The presence of police, military and other security people grew exponentially as we proceeded
2. The throngs of people, cars and especially busses grew, and grew and grew. We already knew that we would not have the convenience of being dropped off the at the stadium entrance as no vehicles of any kind were being allowed any where near it. We slowly snaked our way to the huge parking lot being filled by bus after bus pulling in and disgorging its content of people. We joined the relatively short walk, about a half mile, to the stadium, and then trooped around the whole outside of the stadium to the entrance for our gate.
We had to pass through three separate security check points before we were free to find our seats. After another long walk (our entry gate was the farthest from the security) we found that we had seats on the front row at ground level, only one section over from what we would call the fifty yard line. Not only that, we could see that as the teams entered the stadium during the parade of participants, they would be marching straight toward us, and then along in front of us. These were extremely good seats, and we were a little perplexed at this because they were also the cheapest seats available.
After a short wait, the pre-show show started with some rhythmic gymnastic demonstrations by a couple of hundred youngsters. Behind us was a whole row of Brazilians here to support their team. They were very boisterous and vocal, and things hadn't even started yet!
About an hour after we arrived the ceremonies started with the entrance of 1300 young girls dressed in identical costumes, and each carrying what looked like a large leaf (see pictures) who performed a dance routine. This was followed by some singing and hoopla, including the arrival of Ariel Sharon and the President of Israel. They were in the next section behind glass with their hangers-on and many body guards. We could see them clearly from our seats.
Soon the parade of athletes started with great fanfare and enthusiasm. The first contingent was the Australians. This had special significance because at the games held in 1997, five Australian athletes where killed at the opening ceremony when a recently completed bridge collapsed under them. The builders of the bridge are in jail for a long time. The lead of the Australian delegation, the largest, at 590ish of this year's groups, were family members of those killed in 1997.
All of the fifty-two countries entered the stadium with great fanfare and applause. Some of the countries such as Japan had as few as one athlete, up to the largest, Australia with almost 600.
It was quite startling to see very small delegations from countries such as Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, Poland, etc, which once had very large Jewish populations sending only a few delegates to participate. Several of our group mentioned this poignant fact.
Near the end the Canadian delegation, which was among the largest, arrived with great screaming, yelling and flag waving from our row, and others throughout the stadium.
The last group was the Israelis and they were, as one could imagine, greeted with the loudest reception of all. Sadly, leading the group were a number in wheelchairs who had been athletes and then injured by war or terrorism. Even more sad was the group which followed carrying the Israeli flag. These were children seriously injured by terrorists. The leader was an 11 year old boy with one leg....... sometimes I wonder how anyone can keep sane in this country having to live with this all the time.
There were a couple of short speeches, the flame was lit, and then the entertainment part of the evening started. We decided to leave at that point as we had an hour ride back to Natanya and an early morning to face. When we got to the gates, they were closed. After about ten minutes, and much yelling by the gathering crowd, we were allowed to leave. Apparently they were waiting for the cars carrying the Prime Minister and the President to leave.
We made our way unerringly back to the bus, and waited for the stragglers to arrive, and off we went. We seemed to have time things right as getting away from there was very easy and we got back to the hotel in fairly short order.
We arose early as usual, and got our breakfast (and packed our lunches from the breakfast table) and then climbed onto the bus to start the day. We were only going on a short ride to start with to Tel Aviv. After winding our way through the morning rush we arrived at the Carmel Market where we disembarked for an hour and a half of touristing, rubber necking, shopping, and experiencing.
The Carmel Market is right off the end of Sheinken Street which we had visited when we first arrived. At that time it was Shabbat and we were much less than impressed street. As was the case with Dizzengoff street, it was much better when it was alive.. people, stores open, cars... these gave it life so that it had the feel of an exciting street... like Commercial Drive only better is how our daughter Kim described it.... I don't know about better, but similar.
The Carmel Market is one of those places where the people who live there actually shop.... it was alive with the sound of shopping. Merchants shouting out there wares, arguing with shoppers. To us it was crowded and very lively but apparently Friday afternoon is when it really gets going. We wandered up and down the length of the market with the Klimans, stopping here and there to buy some fruit, nuts, etc. and taking in the surroundings. In all of the old established markets we have seen, the pervasive odour is one of rotten fruit and vegetables, and it never fails to make my stomach do a flip. The one notable exception is when we are near or next to a stall selling seasonings... that in one of life's best smell experiences.
Strangely, there was one shop which was festooned with signs advertising the fact that it sells fresh pork... This in a Jewish/Arab city. But there are also a lot of Christians and foreign consulates here so I guess they are the target market.
At the appointed time we gathered again at the bus for the next part of the day. We drove to the University to visit the Museum of the Diaspora, which was very interesting and very well put together. Many of the displays were interactive (but with old technology) and everything was explained in context. It was not a museum which had just stuff on glass cages.
We then climbed back into the bus and headed North once again, this time to have a fairly brief stop at Caesarea (unfortunately, as I found Caesarea to be one of my favourite places last time we visited Israel.) We first stopped at the coliseum, which is on the shore of the Mediterranean, facing out to sea. It was built, as was the port, by King Herod as his port city for trade. The place is very often used for performances of music, dance and theatre, and so is set up for the summer with a stage, lighting and extra seating. Notwithstanding the modern equipment, it is still an imposing place, and it is wonderful that something built 2,000 years ago is still in use for its original purpose (without the life or death battles with crocodiles).
We then went the short distance to see the Roman and Byzantine aqueducts farther along the edge of the sea. These are very imposing structures, partially obstructed by the shifting sand, but still impressive.
Again, after what Nicole considered an appropriate time we boarded the bus to head North and East to the Galilee and Kibbutz Ha Goshrim where we are to spend three nights. On the way we stopped at the Naot shoe factory at Kibbutz Naot Mordechai for some well deserved shopping. After a brief introduction by a very funny guy, we were let loose on the shelves of sandals.
Everyone, including me, got into the scheme of things and soon the cash register was totaling vast sums of shekels being spent by our group. The Naot sandals are sold all over the world, including Ingledew's in Vancouver. The prices here are about one half of those at home, which means of course that everyone bought twice as many pairs as they needed. Just about the time we were finishing up three busloads of Birthright Tour kids arrived so we got out of there.
On the way to the kibbutz we stopped to look out over Lake Kinnerith (The Sea of Galilee), and again at a place to get lunch, drinks, and use the washrooms. This group is mostly of the age where frequent washroom breaks are an imperative. My friend Mark always says that one should never pass up an opportunity to pee and I totally agree.
In due course we arrived at the Kibbutz Hotel for our stay. It is a very beautiful place with a pastoral, lush surrounding. The hotel is one of the money making aspects of this Kibbutz, along with what we are told is an outstanding restaurant, and of course, some agriculture. Our visit here would not qualify as a "kibbutz experience".
We learned just after arriving that there had been a suicide bombing in Natanya a few minutes earlier. Needless to say we were in shock, having just been in Natanya a few hours earlier. A flurry of phone calls home to reassure family that we were all ok, and we then settled down a bit. It turned out that it was not in the part of Natanya where we had been, and that in suicide bomb terms, the damage was quite small. Of course, if you were one of the five killed, or thirty injured it doesn't get any bigger.
Again, the check in/luggage process was pretty painless and we were soon ensconced in our room. Another rest, another meal, and some shmoozing in the comfy lobby of the hotel, and then to bed.
As the tour has progressed, certain common elements began to emerge. It is now required that Nicole tell us a "morning joke" each day as we begin our tour. It is also required that the joke have some relationship with what we are to do today. She has managed to pull it off so far.
Often Phillip will tell a joke, and sometimes someone else from the tour.... they vary in quality.
Following the morning joke, Nicole always spends some time on the microphone talking about the day's activities, and between stops she tells us in some detail the history behind what we are to see. Often this will be added to when we stop, as would be the case tomorrow when we visit the Golan Heights.
As soon as Nicole is finished, Rabbi Bregman will tell us his view of what we are to see, or have seen, and almost always is able to entwine that view into the current political and social structure in Israel, the UN, Canada, BC and Vancouver. As any of us who know the Rabbi for more than five minutes will recognize, one of his most endearing characteristics is his willingness to share his viewpoint, forcefully if needed.
Our itinerary is beginning to get quite scrambled as we duck and weave along the way. We are not going to visit Sefad because it apparently has ceased to be an artist colony, which is interesting to see, and has become a haven for Haridem, which is not... too bad because it is a very pretty and historically interesting place. As well, we are not going to visit Tiberius on the shores of Lake Kinnerit because it is too hot. In the hills of the Gallilee someone measured the temperature at one of our stops as 107 F. In Tiberius it is likely to be 10 to 20 degrees hotter... no thanks.
So... today we are doing what we were to do tomorrow, essentially tour the Golan Heights.
First, however were two recreational activities, Target Shooting and Horseback Riding.... there was a fair amount of scheduling angst created by these activities as they were taking place simultaneously at two different Kibbutzim. So... there were those who were shooting, those who were horseback riding, those who were doing both, and those who were doing neither. Can you imagine 44 Jewish people trying to organize that mix??? Somehow Nicole, Kathy and Phillip managed to get a grip on what was to happen and off we went. Marsha and I who were going to target shoot, but not ride, got off at the first stop with a bunch of others and went into the target range. There the instructors showed us the weapons (.22's for the younger kids, a choice of an M16 or UZI, or both, for the rest.)
The kids went first and got into their twenty-five round shooting experience, followed by the adults two by two. The instructors explained the routine: how to be safe, how to shoot, what to shoot at. The paper targets were about 25 yards out, the beginner distance. So we were given ear plugs and away we went. To put it politely, there was a varied skill range between the shooters. Some missed the paper targets altogether, some got a few on, some shot in clusters (either too high or too low) and some got near the centre, but I suspect they just closed their eyes and hoped for the best..... We all got our paper targets as keepsakes, and after about an hour we were done. It was a lot of fun, if not deafening experience.
Rabbi Bregman said that he was considering using his newly learned shooting skill to help collect overdue dues at the Temple. I think he was kidding.
Shortly the bus arrived to take the shooters to the Kibbutz where the first group of riders was already underway. It was a short drive and we arrived a few minutes before our first group got back from their horseback ride. The place is very cowboy like, with corrals and stables and the distinct odor of horses (I swear this is what the Philadelphia Restaurant smelled like).
A fairly large group of us gathered in the shaded patio for fruit, drink and shmoozing while the second group of riders had their turn. After about one and one half hours, they returned hot, but pleased.
After this group revived from the heat a bit we remounted our bus and headed off for the Golan Heights.
Nicole told us the history of the Golan, the role it has in Israeli history, and the way in which it had been used by the Syrians to kill Israeli's and destroy the Kibbutzim between 1948 and 1967. There is a complicated series of events which occurred on the Golan Heights over time which saw the border between Israel and Syria shift back and forth several times. Israel captured the whole of the Golan during the 1967 war, gave some back, and then got even more during the 1973 war. Eventually an agreement was reached which created the current boundary with the no-persons zone.
We stopped at a lookout over a valley and the town of Quinetra which is an Israeli town in the middle of the no persons zone. Beyond Quinetra is a base for the peace keepers and beyond that is Syria..... very spooky. On the top of all the high points are large military installations looking toward Syria. The land on the side of the Golan hills and all along the top the Israelis have irrigated and turned this once totally barren landscape into lush farmland growing apples, grapes etc which are shipped all over the world. A new, but thriving winery industry has been created here as well.
It must be difficult for the farmers on these hills to know that their land is considered a bargaining chip in the negotiations for any future peace treaty with Syria.
After a fairly long stop here, with a lot of questions from the group and explanations from Nicole, we rode off to see Banias, the location of one of the three natural springs which form the headwaters of the Jordan River. On the way we passed four Druze towns. These towns are all the bases for vast agricultural enterprises which the Druze carry on on the terraced hillsides surrounding them. The Druze are all citizens of Israel and have all the same advantages as any other citizen.
Eventually we came to Benias (pronounced like the Mexican word for bathroom - "baneeuss"). The spring just sprouts out from the rocks with no great fanfare. It now spills into man made pools before it proceeds on its way to join the waters of the other two springs to form the Jordan river.
Above this spring is a ruin of temple (actually two or three of them) which gives the place its name. Its the Temple of Pan. The Arab language does not have a "P" sound so they substituted "B". So Panias (the Temple of Pan) became Banias. Pan was a character whose main claim to fame was his fondness for young girls. This characteristic caused much fear among the young girls to which he was exposed that they "panicked" thereby creating the word "panic".
We spent some time visiting this beautiful place, and then as always climbed aboard our wonderfully cool bus for the short ride back to our kibbutz hotel.
Several of the folks went for a walk with Nicole and the rest of us collapsed in heaps of exhaustion in various places.
We had dinner at 8:00 tonight as a number of us were donating blood for Israel's blood bank. Thank goodness I am exempt because of my age. There are some advantages to being over 65.
After dinner many of us gathered in the lobby lounge area and it quickly evolved that Rabbi Bregman was giving poker lessons to a group, mostly children. I don't know about you, but somehow the idea that Phillip would be a poker teacher doesn't quite fit the job description. Of course I already knew that he is a regular poker player, but this seemed different. Oh well.... he is a good teacher (as we already know... so I guess the fact that he could teach poker should not be a big surprise) and soon he had a large gathering playing poker. By the way, at the end of the day, it was to two kids, Madddy Bell and Nathan Hawkins, both about eleven years old, who won all of the "money". It was a lot of fun, but by about 10:00pm Marsha and I left the group and repaired to our room for sleep.
Today turned out to be a variation on the plan. After a later than usual start to the day the consensus of how to arrange the day was discussed at breakfast. There are only two activities planned for today, a winery visit and a river rafting expedition. It was decided that those who were not interested in the winery visit would stay at the Kibbutz and be picked up later to go to the river.
Most went (what Jew would pass up a free glass of Israeli wine?), but myself and some others stayed behind. I used the opportunity to play catch up with this journal. I spent a couple of hours at a table out on the lawn, with my laptop and a glass of lemonade and enjoyed it thoroughly.
About 2 o'clock the wine tasters returned and we loaded up the bus quickly and dashed off to the river rafting site.. where we had to wait for quite a while because the boats weren't ready... the only explanation is that this is Israel after all.
After about a ten minute ride up the river on the bus, we disembarked and scrambled into "kayaks" and boats for the ride back down to the main site. These are really just variations of recreational rubber boats. Marsha and I took a kayak, plunked ourselves down and away we went. After a few minutes of orientation we managed to keep some control of our vessel, and floated and paddled our way down the river.
This is the Jordan river by the way (about fifty feet wide at this point), so it had its unique attraction for that reason as well. About ten minutes into the ride is a four meter "waterfall" which is really a ramp, but waterfall sounds more scary. We made it down the waterfall without too much fuss, stayed upright and continued down the river for another twenty minutes or so. We passed a few of our group struggling to control their vessels, particularly one boat full on young girls who were having a great time screaming and laughing all the way.
After about a half hour we arrived at the end, and scrambled out of our kayak, somewhat wetter for the experience. After everyone made it back in one piece, and a break for cold drinks we climbed back onto the bus for the twenty minute ride back to the Kibbutz. It was a light hearted break from the serious business of Mid East Politics and terrorists, etc.
We got back to the kibbutz and most headed for the pool for swimming and sunshine. Dinner and shmoozing, and to bed.
So we started off the day with the now familiar change locations routine and headed off for what will be a very busy day. Our first stop was at Qyrat Shemona so that some of us could get cash out of the ATM.... another amazing technology..... cash from our bank accounts at a little town in the far North of Israel. After we topped up our wallets we headed off along a road which skirts the Northern edge of Israel and the border with Lebanon. As usual Nicole was full of very detailed information about the relationship between Israel, Lebanon, and Syria, and all of the real history of these countries (as opposed to the crap we get from the media). This area comes to a narrow point in places from which one can see Syria, Israel and Lebanon all at the same time. As it was at the top of the Golan it was spooky to look over a wire fence and look at Lebanon, and the hiding place of the Hezbolah morons who are still determined to eliminate Israel.
The winding road eventually took us to our first tourist spot of the day Rosh Hanikrah which is the Northern most point on the coast which borders on Lebanon. At this place is a cable car which takes you down a short distance where there are two features of interest.
One is the natural grottos formed out of the limestone cliffs by the sea over tens of thousands of years. In these grottos the waves roll in a long distance and continue their relentless erosion of the limestone.
The other interesting feature of this place is the two tunnels which bore through the cliffs. These tunnels were originally built by the British prior to the Second World War as part of a railway system which stretched from Lebanon to Egypt. At the beginning of the War of Independence Haganah fighters blew up part of this system at Rosh Hanikrah to prevent the railway tunnels from being used by the Arab enemy.
After about an hour there we again trooped aboard the bus for the next destination which is the town of Acco (also Akko, or St. Peter of Acre). This town is still a thriving place with street activity, markets and tourist traps... er.. points of interest. We first stopped at a shop which is run by an Iraqi Jew who makes beautiful copper and silver plates, etc,. There was a considerable contribution to the Israeli economy made here by our group.
We then trooped, sort of together, to the walls of Acco where we then were led around the top of the wall by Nicole so that we could admire the incredible view of the Mediterranean, the beautiful old buildings (and some not so beautiful) and back to the bus. On the way to the rampart we trooped through the Arab market, which is not for tourists, but for residents, and filled with all of the usual redolent booths of goods, plus some new ones. Same odour, different place.
Again we loaded ourselves onto the bus and settled in for the ride to a Druze village near Haifa where we were to have a traditional Druze meal. Just as we arrived at the Druze village the bus stopped at a gas station.
We were a little mystified by this but soon a lady boarded the bus whom we did not know.... Wait a minute!!!! Yes we did... it was Ruthie Lin, our Israeli friend from Haifa!!! We were totally surprised by this of course, and it turned out that she had pre-arranged to meet the bus here to see another of our group, Sharon Kahn whom she knew from her work at UBC. Of course neither we nor Sharon knew that we had the Lins as mutual friends. There was a joyous reunion in the aisle of the bus, but we then settled down.
Another lady came on the bus, and it turned out that she was our host, and would guide us to her establishment. We drove a little further and then dismounted to walk through narrow, winding alleys and streets, up what seemed an endless hill to her walled place.
After we all washed our hands we went into a large room where our host explained that we would be placed in groups of five, and then a large tray would be placed in front of us containing a variety of pita like breads and a variety of condiments. We were to use our right hands to take pieces of the bread (the left hand is to be used for other less savory activity) and scoop up the condiments. The group immediately attacked the food when it arrived accompanied by drinks and tea.
After we finished stuffing our gullets she spent a few minutes explaining the basics of the Druze culture. She couldn't tell us about the Druze religion because:
1. She is not religious and therefore not privy to the rituals and beliefs of the religious Druze, and
2. Even if she was religious, she could not tell us because part of the drill is that the religious details are an absolute secret.
She explained a little bit of the origin of Druze religion and culture, but we were running late and she had to cut it short. (It's one o'clock so this must be Haifa)
We drove quickly up to the top of Mount Carmel in Haifa and spent a few minutes oohing and ahing over the view of the harbour far below, and the BaHai temple and its gardens right below us. How many of you folks reading this know that Israel is the home and centre of the BaHai religion? Their garden is very extensive and very beautiful.
After a very brief time we got back on the bus and were headed this time for our hotel in Tel Aviv. It was about a ninety minute drive and we got back without incident, but totally exhausted from our busy day.
Once again the check in procedure went smoothly and we were shortly ensconced in our room in the Dan Panorama, on the fifteenth floor, overlooking the beach. It sure is tough doing this touring business, but somebody has to do it.......
After a rest, we repaired to the bar and joined some of our group for some schmoozing. The Rabbi was going to conduct a Friday night service on the beach across the street so we joined up with that group at 8:30 and away we went. To my total surprise I saw that when we got across to the park adjoining the water there were hundreds of families all up and down the park having picnics, complete with tents, barbecues, campfires and the delicious smell of many meals being cooked.
It was a fascinating sight and even more interesting as it was clearly a mix of Arab and Jewish Israelis all enjoying their park to together. Really quite remarkable.
We found a lamp standard under which the Rabbi gathered his small flock and he conducted a service. It was very moving and instead of a Drosh he asked us each to say a few words about what the visit to Israel has meant to us. All during the service several children from an Arab family picnicking nearby came over to watch and listen. They seemed very curious about what we were doing, as were their parents.
After we completed the service we trooped back to the hotel where we rejoined the group in the lobby bar and ordered salads for dinner. We schmoozed some more and then went off to bed.
Yesterday was the last day of touring on this trip.,... As today is Shabbat, and this is Israel almost nothing will be open for business. It was, as it has been every day, a beautiful, hot day. After a latish breakfast we joined up with the Klimans and wandered off together along the promenade to Old Jaffa. We entered the city at the harbour level, which Marsha and I had not done before, and really enjoyed watching all of the port activity. This small but historic port, which has been active for over 4,000 years was bustling with activity... tour boats, sailboats going out to enjoy the brisk breeze, fisherman coming and going in their boats of various sizes, and some selling their smelly catches from tubs on the road. It was very interesting and we absorbed the atmosphere (and the smelly fish) for a while.
Here is a quote from a book Marsha is reading called "Ten Thousand Lovers" by Edeet Ravel. This is a novel, but it contains a lot of information about Israel. In describing Jaffa (also called Yafo) she said, "The City of Yafo was originally Phoenician. Then it was taken over by the Egyptians, then by the Assyrians, then by the Hebrews, then by Alexander the Great, then by the Syrians, then by the Hebrews, then by the Syrians, then by the Hebrews, then by Vespasian, then by the Arabs, then by the Crusaders, then by Saladin, then by Richard I, then by the Arabs, then by Napoleon, then by the British, then by Israel." Phew, was that a ride or What!!!!
We trudged up the road to the rebuilt "Old Jaffa" which has been almost totally reconstructed since the war and is, however extremely pretty and totally built in the style of the original. Above the stores and restaurants at street level are private apartments, most facing out to the sea. What a great place to live! Virtually all of the stores and restaurants were closed but we managed to find a little gallery we were looking for which had very old Judaica for sale, and it was open, so I got what I was looking for and while we were at it Marsha found a thing or two she really needed. The Klimans also managed to make a further contribution to the economy at that store as well.
We walked up more stairs and found a little restaurant which was open, so we went inside and sat at a window, which was wide open and overlooked the harbour. The small breeze I mentioned earlier found its way to our window and covered us with a very welcome cool breeze while we sipped on our fresh made lemonade. Michael had an iced Turkish coffee. That guy consumes more caffeine than anyone I can remember.
After we scraped Michael off the ceiling we continued our walk back toward hotel strip. We tried to find the Arab Flea Market in Jaffa, but whatever we saw was locked up tight, so we gave up and made our way back to the hotel. Once again we went to the lobby lounge, ordered delightful club sandwiches, schmoozed with some of the group who gathered there and enjoyed a quiet hour or so.
Marsha decided that she was headed for the pool, and I went to our room to do some work on the journal, check email, and do some of our repacking in preparation for our departure tomorrow morning. Our flight to London leaves at 8:00 am which means that we have to be all packed and ready to go, and out of bed at 4:00 am, YUCK!!
At 8:00 pm the whole group met in the hotel lobby so that we could take a group picture which went well, and then we trooped off en mass to a Yemenite restaurant near the Carmel Market for our farewell dinner.
The place was packed to the gills with our group and a few tables of unfortunates who had to listen to us whooping it up, celebrating the Bregman's anniversary, and some speeches from various of us thanking Nicole, the Rabbi and Kathy for our wonderful experience..
We had Nicole at our table, and she told of her experience quite a few years ago of being one of the first group of Israelis to go to Jordan after the peace treaty was signed. She clearly had been very moved by this experience and the warm and welcoming attitude of the Jordanians she met while she was there.
So, at the end of this great dinner (very much like the two meals we had had at the Philadelphia earlier), we all trooped back to the hotel, where Marsha and I said our goodbyes. We will be the first to leave tomorrow morning, and the rest of the group who are leaving tomorrow will be a couple of hours behind us, and going a different way, Several of the group are staying in Israel for an extended visit.
It was very sad to say goodbye to all of our new, and not so new friends. This had been a great group and we all enjoyed each other's company. The children on the trip, about ten of them ages eleven and up, were wonderful. They were a joy to have with us, added a great deal of youthful energy and spirit, and all got along with each other.
I cannot imagine this being a better tour than it was, and the Rabbi, Kathy and the travel agent Neal Charke did a marvelous job of putting this together. During the trip the Bregmans exhibited amazing patience and skill in keeping us together and mostly on time, with the wonderful assistance of our guide Nicole Shrek (yes that's her last name, and yes that's how she spells it). Nicole's knowledge of the Middle East, the geography and the politics is encyclopedic. Not only that her ability to duck and weave with the changes in the itinerary, dealing with lost items, and personal problems of some of the group was marvelous. She became a part of our touring family for sure.
Marsha and I intend to hire Nicole as a guide when we return to Israel once more.
The tour - both of us feel that it has exceeded our expectations. It was a winner from several points of view: the fellowship, finding new friends, getting to know members of the Temple more closely, the places we saw, the things we learned, and most important of all, the even greater respect for the indomitable people of Israel, both before Independence and after. It cannot be overstated how much these tough people have done to create this wonderful country, and to make it strong.
From turning desert into vast agriculture, from creating irrigation where there was none, from building a modern country from a pre-medieval one, from reclaiming desert in the South and swamp in the North, from establishing a culture and a spirit equal to any in the world, these men and women have set an example from which her enemies should take a lesson. When and if they ever do, they will be much the better off for it. I hope that they figure that out soon.
We are looking forward to our next visit to Israel already, and to our next tour with the Bregmans. We have been trying to convince them to lead a tour of the Jewish aspects of Provence and Tuscany. I think that the Rabbi is convinced, but Kathy still needs to be worked on.
Not so Good Stuff:
Notwithstanding our admiration for this wonderful country, we think that there are a couple of lessons still needing to be learned:
1. It is not appropriate to push your way in front of everyone to get to the front of the line
2. It is not ok for hotel staff to mess up the vast majority of arrangements you make with them, and then look surly when you talk to them about it. An example - at the hotel in Jerusalem, on the first morning a number of the group did not get the requested wake up call. When Rabbi Bregman asked about it at the desk the reply was that they weren't called because they weren't part of our group. So clearly it was our fault for including people who weren't really with us.
From the point of view of North Americans, staff at Israeli hotels are universally inept. We had incidents of one kind or another at every hotel we stayed at during and before the tour. Very strange. Our concept of customer service seems to be lost on them.
3. Virtually none of the serving staff in hotels in particular, and occasionally in restaurants know how to smile. Almost universally they did their jobs deadpan, and with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. Many times we had to chase the staff to request one thing or another. There were exceptions, but they were exceptions, not the rule.
4. Israel is the most littered country I have ever seen. The streets, roads, parks, waterways are full of all kinds of litter all the time. There are places we saw where the litter is layered so high it must have been years since it was last cleaned. There was even empty plastic water bottles floating in the grottos of Rosh Hanikra where no one lives!
Obviously the country has other priorities, but this is pretty pathetic. For a country which values tourism so much, this is a major lapse.
5. A very high percentage of the buildings and facilities we saw are very worn out, poorly maintained and kind of dumpy looking. On the other hand, there are a very large number of cranes in evidence in all parts of the country signifying a construction boom, and many older buildings are under renovation.
6. Israeli drivers should learn that there is virtually no point in honking your horn at the car in front of the line at a light the absolute second that the light changes to green. Actually, most of them start honking when the yellow light comes on telling the drivers that it is about to turn green. Given the totally crazy way Israelis drive, I think it is a big mistake to tell them in advance that the light is about to turn green. Driving in Israel is a bit nuts, and you have to keep you wits about you at all times. The streets, street names, no-name streets, double parked cars, etc are bad enough, but when combined with the meshugganas behind the wheel, it is a major test of co-ordination and nerves.
Last point - If you haven't been to Israel.. GO, SOON.... If you have been GO AGAIN, SOON.... you need to experience it, and the country needs you do do so.... Re-invigorate your pride in being Jewish, and your love of our mutual homeland. We live in the Diaspora, but Israel is where we all came from, via long and varied routes. We all need to renew our connection, and the ONLY way to do that is to spend time in Israel. I am told that only thirty percent of North American Jews have visited Israel... any bets on what percent have visited Hawaii or Mexico? Try it, you'll like it!
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