December 21/22: Everything on time - just amazing. Checked bags all the way through the transfer and then to Tel Aviv. Security a breeze. Flight was fine but even after the 2 and one-half Ambien tablets - NO SLEEP. A bit of confusion over the kid's seats but everything worked out.
Lost no bags, got to the hotel and Uri picked us up (old friend of the family living in Rehovot) and we had a lovely meal with him and Dalia. They have a terrific apartment next to the Weitzman Institute. We caught up and then did a walking tour of the Institute which is beautiful - lots of great grounds, lots of buildings. Uri showed us "his" building - the one he thought of, got funding for, and got built. Uri drove us back (I had fallen asleep in a chair) and we went into Tel Aviv for sushi and then to the hotel and complete collapse.
December 23: Ah, drugs. Sleep was wonderful. The rest of the group arrived a bit late so we just walked the boardwalk outside of the hotel to the Irgun museum (which the kids visited later). It is a picture pretty blue Mediterranean beach. We met the group at the Palmach museum. This was a very moving experience - the story of the Haganah (which was formed from the Jewish Youth movement, the Jewish volunteers of WWI, but mostly from the Jewish brigades that served the British in WWII) turning into the Israeli Defense Force and the battle for statehood. Quite well done albeit a bit biased towards the Haganah vs. the Irgun. Went to dinner at Magonda - a Yemenite restaurant - and had a terrific meal. Hummus and salads and kabob of chicken and lamb followed by baklava and just a few Rolaids. A wonderful day full of blue sky and temperature in the mid-60s.
December 24: What an amazing change in topography. From Tel Aviv to Be'er Sheva is like going from Missouri to Arizona (only in this case it is probably less than 75 miles). The desert here is barren, dry browns, and desolate. 40 years wandering around in this was no mean feat. Beautiful (if you like deserts and I do), but in places brutally devoid of life - no water, and almost no plant life.
On to Moshav Nevatim (a Moshav is a capitalist Kibbutz -- a voluntary cooperative with private property rights) the home of the Cochin Jews of India. What a great story! They claim a 3,000 year history as Jews and can prove well over 1,000 years. Interesting to see a synagogue decorated in Indian designs and colors. Special dresses for the High Holy Days look like the clothes my Indian sister-in-law gave my kids (made in her home town). Had lunch at "Miriam's Kitchen", run by a couple that made Aliyah in the early 1950's from Cochin (as did most of the India Jewish community). This was a real treat and my youngest daughter even ate the chickpeas!
From Nevatim to the Dead Sea - the surrounding desert is really dead looking land. The water is some 30% salt -- try as I might, I could not keep my feet and dip my shoulders under the water. Other than the Dead Sea itself (which is shrinking) and the surrounding desert geography, it could have been Marco Island, Florida -- tourist haven, hotels, buffet dinners, and pools. The Dead Sea has now separated into two distinct bodies of water and the Israelis are pumping water from one to the other. Issue is really flow from the Jordan River and Sea of Galilee - the source of ALL of Israel's drinking water.
December 25: Masada (a Romanization of the Hebrew Metzada meaning "fortress") -- the desert is an overwhelming presence - stark, desolate, rugged. Out of nowhere rises this mesa or butte upon which King Herod built a pleasure palace some 1300 feet above the Dead Sea. Apparently Herod used the place to entertain guests rather than for much personal use. This is where from 67 to 73 CE the last 1,500 resistors in the war between Rome and the Jews took refuge. Taking the position from the Roman garrison and converting the bath houses into mikvehs, building a synagogue revealed by the geniza (the storage place for old sacred texts) that was discovered, the Jews of Masada lived here for 6 years until the Romans laid siege. The defensive position was close to perfect, but not quite perfect enough. Standing on the top, you can clearly see the Roman encampments and the siege wall and the ramp that the Roman general, Lucius Flavius Silva, ordered built up to the walls of the fortress. Taking months and lots of casualties, the ramp was finally completed. Upon breaching the walls however, the Romans found (here is the myth) that every man, woman, and child had committed suicide or been killed rather than become slaves of Rome . Thus ended Jewish independence in Judea.
On the way to Mitzpeh Ramon (a kibbutz), we stopped and visited David Ben-Gurion's tomb. A striking setting that might best be describe to Americans as looking just like the badlands of North Dakota. Situated on the edge of a deep canyon, in the middle of the desert that he so loved and believed would one day bloom, Ben-Gurion and his wife Paula stand testimony to the inventiveness and stubborn will to survive in this harsh climate.
Notes on 12/25: It is Christmas, but I have seen not one iota of any indication of the holiday since being in-country. Nothing in Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea , or any of our stops in the desert -- nothing. Also passed a number of Bedouin encampments on the trip - ramshackle huts with camels tethered in a pen just next door.
Later that evening at the Hotel (the Ramon Inn), there was an "entertainer" in the lobby where we were having a drink -- you know, a guitar and recorded background music. It was pretty funny sitting in a kibbutz hotel (originally a development community for immigrants) literally in the middle of nowhere listening to some Israeli guy singing "Hotel California". When he did an Elvis tune he became known as Jelvis (Jewish Elvis). Then the teen counselors and our security guard got up and started to sing along (I nick-named the trio as the "Jewpremes"). The guitar guy started doing Israeli and Jewish songs and all the kids under 19 started singing and dancing along -- and each of them had the biggest smile you have ever seen. This went on for at least an hour and no way were the parents going to break this up. Finally, around 11:30 pm our entertainer called it a night and the old folks got to collapse into bed...but what a memory.
December 26: The Maktesh Ramon is a big hole in the ground. It is 250 million years old and one of only a few of this type of geological formations on earth. It looks like a much bigger version of every other desert canyon you have ever seen and that is about it. It is cool to be able to look at a wall and know that every striation means going back in time a few million years. And it is a very big hole. We did stop at a volcanic "tel" (hill) and walked silently up and down. Very quiet and very peaceful and still a complete wonder how a people could create a society and civilization and culture in such a barren place. Apparently this location was a secret path between north and south used by the proto-Arabs engaged in the spice trades.
The desert seems to create a lot of religious and spiritual awareness -- maybe desolation and loneliness have something to do with it. Or maybe it is the vastness of the space and the challenge and the smallness of our own capabilities that force humans to seek explanations beyond themselves. But the theme is pretty clear in many religions - the cities are bad, and the desert is clarifying and cleansing.
On to Tel Beit Guvrin and the town of Tel Marisha -- a 2,300 year old location where they have excavated about 5,000 homes via their "basements". These are man-made underground caverns where the inhabitants excavated the chalk to build their homes and then put their industry (olive oil production, textile making) in the space below their homes. We participated in the dig and almost everyone found pottery shards --- one couple found almost a third of a pitcher - complete with handle.
Then on to Jerusalem -- just before sunset arriving at Mt. Scopus. A panoramic view of the entire city with a bird's eye view of the Old City and the Kottel and the Dome of the Rock. No matter your background, seeing this live for the first time was stirring and just a bit overwhelming. It was quite neat to have a cup of wine and say the Shehechiyanu in this place.
December 27: The Kottel is striking in what it represents and in its physical appearance. Even more impact is achieved when there is an IDF induction ceremony taking place on the Kottel plaza in front of the wall. Fathers and Mothers congratulating their sons and daughters - kissing them, clapping them on the back with a hug, shaking their hands. It was an amazing moment for any parent, but particularly amazing for the parents of teenagers (as we are). None of this prevented anyone from praying at the wall, and many did so, completely oblivious of the ceremony.
I put my friends' prayers in the wall and said the Shehechiyanu and touched the wall and stood back and watched the devout davening (praying, typically nodding forward and back with and for emphasis). I did not get the spiritual spark that some say they experience at the Wall. I looked at all this activity and wondered how close to idolatry it all really was. I begrudge no one their faith or practice, but it did strike me that it did not move me. To the left of the men's sections start the Kottel "tunnels" -- just directly next to the outdoor wall section there were 4 rooms covered by Byzantine arches (on top of which, the city of Jerusalem continues to operate, I presume). These were full of men, mostly orthodox and many ultra-orthodox davening and dancing and yes, it is praying to God but I found the induction ceremony more moving, fuller of emotional content.
Perhaps my experience was colored by the incident at the Kottel overlook (before we went down to the plaza and the wall). As the IDF was practicing for the ceremony, they played the Hatikvah (Israel's national anthem). One of the Hebrew speakers in our group asked a black-hatted and suited ultra-Orthodox man to stop talking during the playing of the national anthem and his response was "it isn't like this is the Amidah (a very important prayer), so I can talk". This is just one indication of what little value he placed on the State of Israel, without which, of course, he would not be able to get anywhere near this place. The modern Orthodox community is the backbone of the state and of the IDF, but many ultra-Orthodox are removed from this - Torah study exempts them from military service, and they are subsidized by the state and have very little to do with the secular world....but command great power and authority. There are no reform or conservative marriages in Israel - only the Orthodox. Only the Orthodox can declare a conversion valid. But this small sliver commands great political power in Israel 's multi-party parliamentary democracy. And the ultra-Orthodox birth rate dwarfs any other segment. Israel is going to struggle mightily with this in the future -- how to attach all groups to the support of the State, retaining Israel's role as a Jewish State, and accommodating an increasingly pluralistic (Ultra-Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Conservative/Reform, and secular) society. I suspect it will not be easy.
There is a connection between Yad Vashem and the Kottel (at least in my mind). The loss of the Temple in 70 CE (same war that resulted in the Masada incident) and then the failed Bar Kokhba revolt in the mid-130s (also against the Romans) resulted not only in military defeat and the destruction of the Temple, but in the destruction of the nation. The Romans cleared Judea of its Jewish population. We lost the center of the religion, the land upon which we lived, and the ability to defend ourselves as we became (mostly) the Diaspora. How different Jewish history might have been had we lost the Temple, but not the nation. Temples can (and were) rebuilt. It took 1,900 years to recover the nation.
The Kottel tunnels run almost the entire length of the western wall of the Temple Mount (the Temple Mount was the "box" Herod had built on top of the rugged mountain to provide a flat building surface for the Temple). The tunnels show both architecture and archeology and date from 2,300 years ago, layer upon layer. Starting with bedrock, then a fortress built by the Hasmoneans, then Herod's Temple Mount, then the Romans, the Byzantines, the Crusaders, the Moslems (who built the Dome of the Rock). In places the excavations can be seen to run 30-50 feet down and as much up - all stonework. The "tunnel" is underground, but the "floor" is really the shopping street in Herod's time (and for the Romans following) and this is underneath the current Old City Moslem Quarter. The impact is physical and utterly captivating and we saw only a tiny piece of the excavations. Of course, the Israeli's can not excavate underneath the Temple Mount without causing a war with the Moslems.
Also toured the old City of David, site of King David's palace. This is not attached to the Temple Mount but is in a different section of town. Actually, there was not that much to look at as the excavations are ongoing. There are some very impressive walls (figuring this is coming up on 2,800 years ago) and you can see rooms (with toilet, no less). But mostly, the evidence is being uncovered as the first physical proof of Davidic times -- real evidence of David's City - the one of legend. The fact that the entrance is currently a pop and chip shop does detract a bit from the solemnity of the place -- an admission I hate to make but must in the spirit that the absurd usually meets reality somewhere.
December 28: Yad Vashem made me cry. While not a Ph. D. candidate, I have seen the pictures, read the books, and seen the movies and documentaries about the Shoah, so it was not the content. Our guides recounting the story about a boy who did not want to be separated from his mother when they got off the train at the camp. He shouted at her as she pushed him away into a different line "I hate you and hope you die" only to end up as a survivor of the camps (while his mother was obviously not). This boy's (now a man) recounting of the pain of remembering his last words to his mother was beyond painful, beyond the large lump in the throat caused by seeing pictures. But it was the Children's Memorial that made me lose it....walking through the endless lit candles as the names of 1.5 million children are being read and remembering the parents who could not protect them and THEN seeing the memorial to Korczak (Korczak and the Children of the Ghetto) -- it was too much and the tears came freely. I think every time I am faced with this issue - a parent's inability to protect their children - I think of my father's reaction to the death of my sister and I begin, just a tiny bit, to understand what desperate hopelessness must feel like.
The world, or at least the majority of the world most of the time, does not seem to care much for Jews who defend themselves and whether we live here in Israel or not we are always lumped together. It is not Israelis that the Arabs talk about destroying, it is the Jews. If we ignore the signals -- from Iran, or Syria, or Hamas, or Hezbollah, or from those who want Israel to become a secular state or those who think Pat Buchanan has something to say, or the French who have proved unable and/or unwilling to protect their Jewish citizens against violence from Moslem Arab gangs, or British journalists and academics who boycott Israel (before they ever boycotted the IRA), or the fact that the International Red Cross recognizes the Red Crescent but refuses to recognize Magen David Adom (Red Star of David), or the fact that debates on whether the Shoah actually occurred regularly appear on US college campuses (imagine if the debate topic was whether slavery occurred), or the anti-Israel reporting and misrepresentation that is a routine part of NPR and CNN and the BBC and many US and European newspapers, or the state-sponsored distribution of Nazi and Russian generated anti-Semitic literature that runs daily in Arab media...and on and on. If we ignore these signals then we are bound to repeat history. The only two reasons I believe will stand in the way of such tragedy are the State of Israel (and the IDF) and my strong belief that the United States has a moral compass (occasionally terribly off target but generally on target give enough time and a big enough crisis) that would compel it to act when no others would or will. It is the reality here in Israel and the fact of this Jewish State (as the declaration of independence puts it) that truly serves notice about never again and I, for one, am glad that the world will have to get used to the idea that Jews are no longer stateless, powerless, nor helpless.
So the past two days converge at the Kottel, celebrating the 2,000 year old dream come true and Yad Vashem, celebrating the survival of a stubborn people who refuse to give up or surrender.
A further celebration of life was our post-Yad Vashem trip to the shuk (market) – the big open air market
in Jerusalem where fruits, vegetables, and baked goods (among other food stuffs) are sold. On a Friday afternoon prior to Shabbat the place is positively teeming with people of every imaginable stripe who are haggling, bumping, and jostling with each other to get the Sabbath treats they need. It is the North Market on Barry Bonds steroids and populated by the Jewish United Nations.
A late lunch at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant just off the main streets of the shuk was fabulous. Sat down and got served 6 different “salads” – olives, pickles, pickled cabbage, curried cabbage, eggplant, and something akin to salsa PLUS a stack of steaming hot pita bread. Then we ordered. We ordered the “Jerusalem mix” and the waiter asked if we knew what it was. When we said not really, he informed us that it was “all the insides of the chicken” and suggested we try the regular chicken which was “very juicy”. We beat a dignified retreat and agreed with our waiter. It was all delicious and for the nine of us it came out to about 280 shekels -- about $8 apiece.
That night we attended one of the oldest (and one of the few) Progressive (Reform) synagogues in Jerusalem (or the whole country for that matter). I could follow most of the service. It was more contemplative than our services – but with no emotional highs or excitement. However, it did illustrate the ease of holding services in your native language.
December 29: A day off (Shabbat gets observed in Jerusalem for the most part). Went back to the Old City via the Jaffa Gate and wandered around until we found the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which was build by Constantine’s mother, Queen Helena sometime after 327 CE. This is the place where Jesus was crucified (Golgotha) and we did see the crest of the hill – the rock – upon which this deed took place. It is also a location that Helena decided was where Jesus lay following his crucifixion (turns out that it probably is not in reality) but it is still held to be a very holy site and there were many pilgrims paying homage. Given that it was Shabbat, most of the people were definitely Christians (many praying) or American or European tourist Jews who are not shomer shabbos (Sabbath observant).
We walked from the Church back to the Kottel and tried to get up on the Temple Mount to see the Dome of the Rock, but it was closed (maybe because of Shabbat). So we went out to the south and exited the Old City by the Dung Gate and then walked around the Old City to the west until reentered at the Zion Gate. We then walked the entire length of the Old City from Zion Gate to Damascus Gate, through the Old City shuk.
The shuk is organized according to the old principle of where to locate the second ice cream stand on a long stretch of beach (answer: right next to the first ice cream store). Thus, you tend to pass by sections of purveyors of the same thing – 10 rug stores in a row, 20 souvenir shops, 15 t-shirt stores, etc. On Shabbat in the Jewish Quarter, most everything was closed. The Armenian section was open for business selling tchoctkes, souvenirs, and religious items (though I was very wisely advised not to buy any Judaica from anyone open on Shabbat). We came to the beginning of the Moslem/Arab Quarter and there was still a lot of religious items and stuff appealing to tourists (like rugs, t-shirts, jewelry). . As we continued however, the shops began to change to day-to-day living fare – spices, meats, groceries then apparel, small housewares and the truly mundane stuff like shoe repair and pharmacy. The more daily shopping the shuk represented, the narrower the street, the louder it got, the more crowded it seemed, and the fewer westerners and Jews we saw. By the time we exited at the Damascus Gate it was (or so it seemed) almost totally Arab/Moslem – with many women in traditional head covering. It was quite a different feel than what we experienced at the opposite side. We exited and quickly found a taxi to take us back to the hotel. I ended up with three varieties of zatar (accent on the first syllable, a spice that is great in olive oil for dipping your bread into) and a whole new understanding of the dynamics of Jerusalem .
Dinner at Eucalyptus was out of this world. 11 courses of which most were notable – sun dried tomato pesto (and pita), lentil soup (terrific), tomato soup with mint (unbelievably good – to die for) and the upside-down chicken with rice. Topping it all off was a dessert that looked (and tasted) like liquid halvah with honey. Truly scrumptious.
December 30: A political day – sorties through the neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Arab then Jewish then Arab then Jewish and on and on. Separating Jerusalem is anything but as simple as it sounds and may be a fool’s errand. There are streets so narrow that you can spread your arms and nearly touch both walls – with what was Jordanian from 1948 through 1967 on your left and what was Israel on your right – and the bullet holes are still there. Bethlehem is like 1 kilometer from the last Jerusalem suburb. Not far away, not really that separate at all. The Jewish “settlement” now big in the US news as representative of building on the “west bank” is a long-standing development of 20,000 or so that is simply adding 300 units attached to what already exists – Har Hom was declared Israeli in 1967 and they have been building ever since and it is in every way a suburb of Jerusalem. The west bank that we saw (we drove around it on the borders) is something like 80% open and empty land. Where there are settlements (Jewish) and villages (Arab) they are literally next door to each other – looking a lot like Central and South Bexley (if you are from Columbus, Ohio) or Deerfield and Northbrook (if you are from the Chicago North Suburbs).
When we looked at the territory won back in the 1967 war – the highpoints of land that were Arab controlled look directly down into Jewish neighborhoods and the bullet marks on the walls of the apartment buildings are grim reminders of the pre-1967 reality. Palestinian demands for pre-67 borders are unlikely to provide even the most basic of security requirements for the Jews. There will have to be more clear-headed thinking and negotiation on this, for the simple demands will be rejected for the most obvious of reasons – it would be suicidal. The security “wall” is truly ugly. It is only a wall in the urban areas. In the more rural areas it is a fence. It is also, however, incredibly effective. Deaths from suicide/murder bombers are down from the hundreds to less than 10 in 2007. I do not know the ultimate solution, but drawing the line by who lives where today is not going to work – it is too convoluted and complex to work.
The last trip of the day was to Har Herzl – the National Cemetery. Har Herzl is impressive and sobering and somber in exactly the same fashion as Arlington. Here lies Yitzak Rabin, Golda Meir, and 21,000 Israeli soldiers killed defending their right to exist as a nation. I guess there is not much else to say.
An Observation: At every monument, historical place, biblical place, or museum we visited we saw groups of IDF soldiers visiting the same places and receiving lectures from their officers. At Mt. Scopus, the Palmach museum, the Haas Promenade overlooking Jerusalem, Herzl’s tomb, and the Kottel. In each and every place Israeli soldiers were learning about their history, the reason for the IDF and its role and what they were being asked to defend. Most instructive. I found it a practice worth instituting in our country. I think it would help.
December 31: Jesse’s (on of the kids on the trip) Bar Mitzvah was just great. It was held at the Hebrew Union College Synagogue and the only attendees were the folks on our tour. It was warm and familial and Jesse did a wonderful job (and he is a great kid).
We visited the Arab-Israeli (Israeli citizens of Arab descent) town of Sakhlin. The community leader who spoke to us was clearly a moderate and asked for equal treatment in funding and real estate rights. He acknowledged Israel as a Jewish State, but wanted the State to help realize equal treatment. We had lunch in a tent of meeting and then took a tour of the town in which there were many mosques, one unused Christian church and one Jewish grave (a famous Rabbi) which remained undisturbed in the middle of the residential neighborhood (in stark contrast to the Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem that was desecrated by the Jordanians when they controlled it from 1948-1967).
This community leader expressed a clear wish to remain a citizen of Israel even when a Palestinian state is created. Israel provides a better economy, better opportunities, better treatment, and a more democratic government. The only note of question was his stated desire for “total democracy” – this could be interpreted as a genuine desire for equal treatment or a not-so-subtle reference to the Arab “one state solution” – combining the west bank and Israel with a democratic vote - a solution that would virtually guarantee that Israel would cease to exist as a Jewish state. The Israeli Declaration of Independence establishes “a Jewish State in Israel ” – it will be hard to imagine backing away from that.
January 1: The ancient city of Dan was fascinating – a city built at least 1,800 years ago conquered by the Tribe of Dan – with high walls and plaza, houses with what they think is a mikveh (ritual bath). These ancients are old, but as Danny (our guide) keeps telling us, not primitive. I certainly would have nary a clue how to build what they managed to create.
From there we went to the top of a nearby mountain (hill, really) and all of a sudden we were looking directly into to Syria. For the first time on the trip, it was freezing (high wind, cold air). This is the Golan Heights and all of a sudden it became clear. Whoever holds this ground commands the territory – which happens to be the kibbutzim of Israel on one side – the entire valley is open as a field of fire and that is exactly what happened to the Israelis from 1948 to 1967. Looking into the Syrian side, you can see a village that the Syrians abandoned and rebuilt further away – and then accused the Israelis of pillage and plunder.
From the Golan, we went west to the Lebanese border and an IDF outpost for one of the most emotional events of the trip. We picked up Eton , who lives on the kibbutz closest to the outpost. Eton has a terrific relationship with the soldiers both because he served similarly some 20 years or so ago and because this outpost is the frontline of protection against Hezbollah predation on the kibbutz. We met the soldiers – kids, mostly – stationed yards from the border within sight of a town that the United Nations bisected by drawing the cease-fire line right through the middle. The town is now, de facto, a Hezbollah stronghold even though the Arabs living in town are and want to be Israeli citizens.
This is the 603rd combat engineering brigade and a tank unit – about 60 soldiers in all. A 23 year-old captain leads the engineering brigade of 18 soldiers and one of the tank commanders is 19 years old. Of the 18, 7 are not Israeli – 2 from the US, 2 from France, one each from South Africa, Morocco, and Australia and of the 11 remaining Israeli’s, 9 were Jews and 2 were Druze and all of them except the Captain are under the age of 22. It is cold, barren, lonely, grim, and deadly serious. This is the outpost that Hezbollah hit first and hardest in the last “war”. You can see the Lebanese farmers working their fields and the half underground houses that Hezbollah used and uses for launching Katyusha rockets at Israel and for observing the border.
These are 19, 20, and 21 year-old kids. The non-Israelis have no place to go on leave (they have no family in Israel). The live in feet-thick concrete sheds (to protect them from artillery and rocket fire) with room for 2 sets of bunks and 6 square feet (perhaps) of floor space – 4 to each tiny room with a 3 inch steel door. Most of the sheds had plug in space heaters hooked up to a generator. Almost to a man (no women that we saw on this outpost), they were unassuming, shy, and incredibly modest and they are the frontline against any aggression or infiltration by Hezbollah and they are cold, dirty, hungry, and often bored.
We gathered with those soldiers that were not on duty or patrol and Rabbi Z recited the IDF prayer for their safe keeping and for victory. Kid soldiers with big guns strapped over their shoulders wearing grimy green uniforms wearing kipot (or not) all inclined their heads as we prayed. We could not help but be moved.
The teenage girls swooned over the dark, handsome, green-eyed, and incredibly shy 19 year-old tank commander. The collective gaggle of teenage girls all agreed that there does not appear to be a bad looking IDF guy.
We left our gifts – socks, underwear, long johns, candy, dried fruit, and games -- and Eton was effusive in his appreciation. We asked what else we could do for these kids and Eton suggested that we could send hot pizza (believe it or not, there is a pizza place that will deliver to the outpost – as long as they call ahead and tell the soldiers the route and the vehicle being driven). It about 3 minutes we collected the 1,000 shekels ($250) needed to bring hot pizza to 60 hungry young men. What a world! Eton was so delighted he volunteered to do the delivery. We later found out that we can do this from the US – although you cannot specify were it goes. Go to https://pizzaidf.org
We ended the day at Har Halutz (Mt. Pioneer), an 85 family Reform community in the Galilee
. We had dinner with a delightful couple and their 3 children at home (2 others are older and already in the IDF). We had a terrific dinner in their lovely home (she is an artist, he an architect who also does work for the community). Their daughter had just finished her initial course as a combat medic (this after basic training). The two boys were in high school and great kids (my daughters assessment was that they were “hot”). Our discussion was wide ranging – their stories of how they got where they were and ours as well. On politics, not surprisingly, they favored American candidates with unequivocal support for Israel. What a good time and a much needed dose of familiar normalcy (for us Americans) after our time in the border regions with the soldiers.
January 2: It is the last day and we/I are bone tired. I did not wake up wanting to do another hike on another hill or see another ruin. The ancient Galilean capital of Tzipori is where the focus of Jewish life moved to following the destruction of the Temple and the failed Bar Kochba rebellion in the 130s which the Romans not only brutally crushed, but killed or exiled all the Jews in Judea. Well, once again, it was worth the effort. This was an amazing city of 10,000 plus with houses with dining rooms with beautiful mosaic floors and bathrooms with running water. Remember: ancient does not mean primitive. Tzipori was a town of Jews and non-Jews – but the Jews maintained some distinctive building characteristics which is how we could determine that this was a mixed community. Most amazing was the synagogue. The mosaic on the floor shows the binding of Isaac and a zodiac with the Sun God, inscriptions in both Hebrew and Greek. Inside the mosaic was a list of donors whose contributions made the building of the synagogue possible. Some things just do not change after 1,800 years.
Dinner that night in Tel Aviv and a walk back to the hotel along the boardwalk on the Mediterranean. Up very early and off to Ben-Gurion Airport. And that is the trip.
January 3/4: Getting from Tel Aviv to Newark went off like clockwork. The 3 hour delay in Newark, however was a killer. Finally got home and into bed around 2:30 am (9:30 am Israel time) we had been up 27+ hours).
Looking back, it was a fabulously well planned and executed trip. Our tour guide was terrific – poised, relaxed, amazingly knowledgeable and well prepared and made all the difference in the world. The group had no complainers and got along quite well and that was both wonderful and unusual. The kids (12 of them) were inclusive and caring and that was terrific. The Israeli accomplishments are wondrous. The challenges that Israel faces are legion, but these are the good guys and it was good to have such practical, solid, and vivid reminders of that simple fact.
Coming back to the US -- it was interesting to see and hear President Bush’s commentary on his first trip to the Middle East. While acknowledging Israel’s need for secure borders, the first thing mentioned is Israel’s need to abandon the “occupation” of the West Bank. OK, and what issue, topic, or position will the Palestinians ever offer a compromise? Because if they do, it will be for the first time. Until the Palestinians show a willingness to negotiate rather than demand, no progress will or can be made. It was an interesting time to be in Israel, all right.