[Tour of Israel 2017] Roundup of posts

Although it should be easy enough to find the posts themselves, I will post a round-up post for those interested in a certain day or a catch-all. Click on the “Day Number” to link to that post.

DAY 0: Flights to Israel, meetup with the group.

DAY 1: 9/11 Memorial, Pardes Institute, Tachanah Rishnonah, Western Wall, Eucalyptus Restaurant

DAY 2: City of David, Old City of Jerusalem (Jewish Quarter)

DAY 3Yad Vashem, Shuk Machane Yehuda, Israel Museum, Ben Yehuda Street

DAY 4Masada, Dead Sea, “Shabbat of a Lifetime”

DAY 5: Shabbat in Jerusalem

DAY 6Neot KedumimEin ShemerNof Ginosar

DAY 7Tzfat, Golan Heights jeep tour, Ein ZivanEin Gev

DAY 8Zichron Ya’akovHadera, Rabin Center, Tel Aviv

DAY 9: Downtown Tel Aviv, Old Jaffa, conclusion

Enjoy reading!


[Tour of Israel Day 9] Tel Aviv and Old Jaffa

Wednesday, June 14 / יום רביעי, 20 סיון

The day started for me at 07:00. I got dressed in the same clothes as yesterday (for now). Taking the elevator down to Level H, the dining hall was just ahead after taking a right turn from the elevator. A set of tables for “Tiferet Israel” were right up front, and the Corens were there too. I had watermelon, salmon pastrami, croissant, and a few other items too. The spread was much bigger than any of the other breakfasts that I had seen in Israel thus far! When I first saw the pastrami on Charlie’s plate, I had to do a double take, because it sure looked a lot like something which would NOT have been allowed here.


Don’t these pastramis sort of look like a certain type of non-kosher breakfast meat? Photo credit: Seth Harris

The Corens, Hamicksburgs, and Ken then walked with me to the beach. The traffic of people was light, but there were a lot of cars moving around. We found the sandy beach near the Manta Ray restaurant. The kids and Ken got into the water, but I was content to just watch and journal. However, they violated the borders of the buoys, which made Nancy nervous. They also found a dead jellyfish washed up on the shore, and handled it, much to the chagrin of the parents.


Even if I wasn’t wearing a swimsuit, might as well have a beach photo!

Returning to the Dan Panorama, I showered before putting on my Nebraska Football “Hawaii-style” shirt, and also comfy shorts. Then, I stuffed my bags and got ready to leave as Seth showered. At 10:00, we became lobbyists, and checked out of the hotel before boarding the bus.

Next stop: downtown Tel Aviv! We were released from the bus at מגדל שלום מאיר (Tower of Meir’s Peace), which was the tallest building in the Middle East some 50 years ago. A different building in Tel Aviv, with a height of 613 feet (intentionally designed as such for the number of commandments), now dwarfs this tower, but is of course dwarfed by buildings like the Burj Khalifa. We entered the tower, and saw pictures of the development of the city of תל אביב from the early 1900s. The settlement started in 1909, and this tower used to be where the first Hebrew school (Gimnasia Herzlia) was. Seeing the old city maps was fascinating!


The map of Tel Aviv from 1935—all in Hebrew.

On the second floor, we saw old posters and items, and a (probably-to-scale) model of the city. The model included the Dan Panorama, but said model wasn’t structurally sound: one of the corners was peeling off! (I will have a picture of this on Facebook soon.) A mosaic awaited us once we took the escalator down to the first storey. Then, we exited the tower and continued walking. During the walk, we passed a friend of Gili who was leading a תגלית group. We passed the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange too, including stock tickers which were in Hebrew. Eventually, we got to Independence Hall, and there was a large crowd waiting to get in.

Once inside, we went straight to the subterranean art gallery, which is where the State of Israel was declared. The seating up front, along with the flags and Herzl picture, remained. All the groups got to hear a lecture about the timeline, and I will reproduce some of the lecture now. Before the declaration of independence, Meir Dizengoff was mayor of Tel Aviv (insert your favorite pun here). Independence Hall used to be the mayor’s house until 1936, when he donated it to the city as an art museum. The building doubled as a bomb shelter, since the windows were high, the back room cavernous, and the back room not easily visible from the front. After World War II, Jews had nowhere to go unlike other POWs or refugees. As the British Mandate started to expire and a partition plan was found, the Jews accepted it despite the flaws. On 29 November 1947, the UN vote resulted in 33 Yeas, 13 Nays, and 10 abstentions. This led to joy in Tel Aviv, but fear from David Ben Gurion, and indeed, the next day Jerusalem was besieged and war broke out.

The vote by the People’s Council was held on 12 May 1948 in Tel Aviv — not in Jerusalem due to the siege. The vote for independence passed 6-4. Only 150 people were invited to the declaration ceremony, but the secret was leaked. The whole process on 14 May took just 32 minutes, starting at 15:30. This would give enough time to allow preparation for שבת since 14 May 1948 was a Friday. The declaration ended with the band playing התקוה (HaTikvah / The Hope), which then became the national anthem. David Ben Gurion then said, “The state of Israel is born. This meeting is over.” We heard the recording of the end of the meeting, including התקוה for which we stood and sang (without dry eyes).


The lecture about the declaration of Israeli independence.

We exited and re-entered the building to see a video that had a different perspective on the house and the events. I will skip the details, since I saw this video on תגלית (or so I think). As we left, there was a horse-on-rider sculpture, but not just any old rider. It was Mayor Meir on a Mare! (And blame Gili for this description — I’m merely the messenger here, for which he may also be a messenger!) We boarded the bus, which navigated some tight streets, before reaching the Jaffa clock tower near the flea market.

I headed to the clock tower to wait for אייל (Eyal, a friend from my Birthright trip), who said that he was on his way. The city offered free Wi-Fi, which I took advantage of, and the wait continued. At 13:10, he said that he just gotten on the train, and I should have realized right there that my attempted rendezvous would be a Mission Failed (or perhaps a Fission Mailed). But no, my unrealistically optimistic side continued to wait for him. A few tour groups came by the clock tower as well, but I didn’t engage in any conversation. And I didn’t journal either — said item was on the bus! At 13:35, I went to the Haj Kalil Express across the roundabout north of the clock tower to get שווארמה. Unfortunately, אייל did not arrive in time, so the rendezvous was indeed a failure. I feel horribly guilty for him because he wasted a lot of commuting time on account of me!


The Tower of Noah’s Disappointment.

The rest of our group had appeared at the clock tower, and our Old Jaffa tour guide, Sulaiman, had arrived as well. While he explained the clock tower, I was not paying attention, as I had one last hope of meeting up with אייל and inviting him to join our tour. We started walking and the hope was gone. We walked eastward and arrived at the mosque from which I had heard the call to prayer during my wild-goose-wait.

Outside the mosque, he began by saying that thinking of Islam by the reports of Daesh is “bullshit.” (Not my words, but I’m reporting significant things that I heard!) The major tenets of Islam are similar to Judaism, actually! He described the five pillars: monotheism, five-times-a-day prayer, Ramadan, charity (2.5% of income), and hajj. The lattermost word actually means “circling around in a clockwise direction,” referring to the method of people making hajj to Mecca. Sulaiman thinks that the primary problem of the fanaticists is their interpretation of their religion’s holy scriptures. He also explained that Ramadan is intended to give your own body a rest and to empathise with the poor. That idea sounds a lot like the הפטרה (haftarah) from יום כפור (Yom Kippur)!

Moreover, he talked to us about jihad. It does NOT mean religious war, but it means the struggle or effort for a JUSTIFIED cause. Violence is a bug that is built into everyone’s brain, unfortunately. He also made jokes about lamb being the favorite food of The Eternal, by mentioning the binding of Isaac, Passover, and a few other stories from holy scriptures.

We got to see the courtyard of the mosque, but weren’t allowed to enter because some of the group was wearing immodest-for-a-mosque clothes. The domes are used to promote air circulation. The minarets face the south, toward Mecca, just like how Arks face Jerusalem (or the Temple Mount). Their prayers are sex-separated in order to avoid distraction while praying.


The mosque’s courtyard and a dome.

We then went to a gazebo-fountain. In 1179, Napoleon conquered Jaffa. At the fountain, we learned about Abu-Nabbut, and after climbing a hill, saw his old place which is now a hideout for bats. Climbing further, to 45 meters above sea level, we got a bathroom break before going to the Old City Square, which had a Zodiac fountain to the east. We were under umbrellas as we listened to the next part of the story.


The fountain in the gazebo.

In Islam, fighting is only acceptable as self-defense — being the initial aggressor is not tolerable. As Sulaiman described it, the Shi’ite Muslims are those who are from the bloodline of the Prophet, but Sunnis are not. There are no imams in Shi’ite Islam. He believes that Sunnis are the radical branch, and claimed that Daesh is a break-off of Sunni extremists.

Moreover, Israel is a human cocktail! When speaking of the Israeli-Palestinianconflict, there are three big questions. First: What should be done about the borders? Second: What should be done about the refugees? And third: what should be done about Jerusalem? Whatever happens, the key word is RESPECT. Before we left the square, we headed over to the zodiac fountain, which had stone carvings of all 12 zodiac signs.


The zodiac fountain.

Ascending some steps, we saw a pistachio tree before crossing the Wishing Bridge, and I took a selfie with Cancer (the zodiac sign, of course). From the vista across the bridge, we could see the hills of Jerusalem to the east, and the city of Tel Aviv to the north and east. The red roofs that were close by were part of the first modern Jewish settlement. On this vista, an arch depicted the עקידה,  the ladder in Jacob’s dream, and the siege of Jericho, which were the three times in the תורה that the Land of Israel was promised to the Hebrews.


The three-story arch.

Going down a hill, we saw grey and black crows, as well as a hoopoe — the latter is Israel’s national bird. Down an alleyway littered with steps, we took a left into another alleyway, emerging at a suspended shamouti tree. This tree produces Jaffa oranges. The suspension of the tree actually brings our trip full circle: the idea of Above and Below can re-surface right here, right now! With this, we wished Sulaiman a Ramadan Kareem and went back into the alleyway for a new direction.


The suspended shamouti tree.

Following the Old City streets, we briefly stopped at Adina Plastelina, which makes medallions like a sushi chef would — the video showed how they make one with the face of Marilyn Monroe. A cavern behind the store had some interesting artifacts too, but I took no notes on them. We then walked on a street in the port in order to find restrooms. A map of locations’ distances to Jaffa was at our feet, to scale, but it only went to 4000 kilometers from Jaffa: not enough to reach the States!


Places close to Jaffa.

Boarding the bus and leaving Jaffa, we headed to our last stop of the tour. Along Kauffman Street, some motorcycles drove perilously. We heard a song from the group קפה שחור חזק (literally: Black Strong Coffee), and also passed Rabin Square. Gili offered a moral of the story after briefly talking about the events there: We must bring light and love into the world. The park had a book fair going on, and there are often other events happening there!

Not long afterward, we arrived at ליליות for dinner. Many of their employees are at-risk youth, and they get to learn valuable life skills. I sat at the “cool people’s” table, which had all of the Under-30s. Dinner started with bread and a ground-beef-and-spices on pita. Various conversations abounded, and we sang עוד יבוא שלום עלינו. We had both chicken and steak for the main course, and it was good.

(Alas, I have no pictures from dinner.)

Just like during the שבת dinner, we went ’round the horn, giving memories of the trip and bestowing blessings. Singing also continued throughout the dinner, but we were shushed and had to reduce our volume. Once everyone shared their memories and blessings, Gili blessed us all with a song about Jerusalem that he wrote in the airport one time when leaving Israel, and it was a tear-jerker for me. We then bentsched aloud but quietly, and boarded the bus for the last time. Gili further wants to make sure that we take a piece of Israel with us (in the metaphorical sense).

En route to the airport, a few facts came out, but my emotions blocked the information. As we got onto the highway, the triplets sang the songs “Leaving on a Jetplane” and “ירושלים של זהב”, both of which caused my eyes to well up. More hugs followed at the bus drop-off point, and then some of us (Seth, Hamicksburgs, Feldmans, and me) entered the airport.

The Feldmans got into line for check-in and boarding at 21:10 (their flight is at midnight). I joined the others near the bathrooms on the north (?) side of the ticket counters floor. We sat on benches near the elevators. I wasn’t allowed to check my bags and receive my boarding pass until three hours pre-departure (which would happen at 25:50 (i.e. 01:50 on Thursday). I journaled, and also took one Speed Sleep nap. Gilad had found an outlet, and let me charge my phone.

Writing continued until 25:50, but it wasn’t very efficient. I was amused by the “DING-DONG” that preceded calls to passengers—this should not surprise anyone!. I walked toward the desks, realizing that I should probably grab my bag for checking while I’m there anyway. The wait for check-in was short, but I was grilled by the primary security officer, more than what I was expecting. Granted, maybe my tiredness and absentmindedness made me seem somewhat suspicious. I don’t know! Once I checked my bag and received my boarding pass, I went through the remainder of security and the exit visa gate with no trouble. I went down the ramp toward the mall, and the time was about 26:18 at the time — quite interesting if you consider my clock photo from Day Zero!


Panning out on the clock just like on Saturday Night Live…

I inefficiently journaled for another hour or so, before walking around the duty-free mall and the food court. I saw the Rosses, and then saw them off (or they saw me off). Boarding of my plane started at 28:00, and once I was in my middle seat, I immediately fell asleep.

צאתכם לשלום!



(Dirty?) Thirty: 4 days

Nebraska Regional: 38 days

Semester Kickoff: 69 days

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This is the last post in this sequence.

[Tour of Israel Part 8] Along the Coast

Tuesday, June 13 (יום שלישי, 19 סיון)

When I woke up at 06:45, I headed to the dining room after donning today’s clothes. I had a potato boureka and an omelet, as well as cranberries. An unexpected face showed up: Gary Hochman! Yet another “Can’t take Nebraska out of Nebraskans” situation! He is on assignment for NETV, and needed to be here for some reason. I love bumping into familiar faces unexpectedly like this! Oh, and the scallion-spinach omelet turned out well. I should try their technique (beat an egg and add the ingredients to a rice bowl or similar bowl, and pour it all at once onto the griddle).

Loading up the bus, we checked out of נוף גינוסר. The road took us the same way that we came on Sunday, but though there was some traffic, there was no wreck or fire slowing us down. We got out the road toward Highway 6, via Highway 77. By the way, the Hebrew word for highway is כביש (kveesh). This road took us toward the town of זכרון יעקב (Zichron Ya’akov), which was a mountainous community.


Somewhere between Ginosar and Zichron Ya’akov.

The name of the town is a memorial to יעקב רוטסצ’ילד (Jacob Rothschild) (after all, the town’s name literally means “Memorial of Jacob.” A water tower or just a silo-like tower honors Rothschild. We walked through to the NILI museum. There was no entrance where we were, so we descended stairs on the west side of the museum to reach the auditorium entrance. Of course, people used the restrooms that were outside first. The seats in the auditorium were really low to the ground!


The tower honoring Rothschild.

NILI (or ניל”י) was an acronym for “נצח ישראל לא ישקר” (netzach yisrael lo y’shakeir / the eternity of Israel will not deceive). NILI started as a spy ring in 1914, and sought to drive the Ottoman empire out of “Israel” (since the state Israel wasn’t founded for another 34 years!). A movie explained the story of Aaron and Sarah Aharonson, Avshalom (didn’t catch the last name), and the fact that Aaron’s experience with agronomy allowed him to pull the double-duty. Under the auspices of science, Aaron was able to run NILI.

Naturally, the story, with war and spies, had a lot of death. One of these was Sarah, who committed suicide to avoid further torture by the Ottomans. She hid a gun in her house and used it to kill herself when the torturer allowed her to shower (there was strong opposition in the international community to torturing women) and change clothes.

The story was repeated through the relics in the museum, and since I was allowed to take photos here, I will tell the story through a few photos instead of words (wow, that’s unusual for me!)


Some of the faces of NILI


Information about Sarah Aharonson.


Intelligence in science leads to intelligence in the security sense.



Not heroes in the eyes of everyone…

Well, the next part of our tour had photos forbidden — the houses on the site of the museum. Everything inside the houses is original (well, maybe a few things are updated). In the east house, it was one long corridor, from kitchen to bedroom to dining room to study and back (front?) door to the living room. I noticed that there was no bathroom, but maybe it was in a blocked-off area or there was an outhouse. The house looked like a rustic place, but would have been comfortable to live in, methinks.

The west house opened into the study, and went into the living room, which had the slot on the door jamb that hid Sarah’s gun. A bedroom was beyond the living room, and there was also an entryway with kitchen, bathroom access, and cellar access. Sarah had shot herself in the bathroom, and the cellar was a stone grotto! This whole story was fascinating, but I know that my account is not doing it justice.

We exited the museum, and headed down the street and were on a shopping and lunch break at 11:30. Some restaurants weren’t yet open for lunch, and we had to return to the bus at 12:45. I went rogue, but ultimately got company. .אכלתי שניצל בפיתה במסעדת שווארמה גוטה והיזמנתי רק בעברית (I ate schnitzel in a pita at the restaurant “Shawarma Guta” and ordered solely in Hebrew.) The Hamicksburg offspring, Rosses, Cohen, and Watches also ate there.


Before we caught the bus, we saw an old tree that had its roots coming down rather than going up (see the photo below). It was interesting, but I should have wiped my wet hands on it — לא היו מגבות בשירותים (there were no towels in the bathroom)! There was also the Rothschild Synagogue at our rendezvous point, but no further stories were given since it wasn’t part of our tour.


The roots start at the top and go downward!

On our way down the mountain and on to Highway 20, Gili talked about the song אלף משיקות (Elef Mishikot / 1000 Kisses), which I have heard on the radio several times before. Evidently it is related to NILI due to the song being sung by the widow(?). Yep, I am fuzzy on the details because I might have started to reach Tour Overload. Others were also mentally fatigued, and some may have been physically fatigued. When we saw smokestacks near חדרה (Hadera), Gili gave a “Long Answer” with the joke of them being Roman columns. Be on your toes for that information! Oh, and the power plant was actually in Caesarea.

Our stop in חדרה was a school for Ethiopian Jews (specifically, it was בית-ספר הרב תחומי). We entered ביניין-תמר (the Date Palm building), and the principal and several students were there. Grace, the principal, was at Brandeis when she heard of Operation Solomon, which were the sequence of airlifts of Ethiopian Jews to Israel on 24/5/1991. An earlier mission on foot was Operation Moses, but only 8 thousand of the 12 thousand refugees in that operation survived. The Ethiopian Jews went underground after 0 CE, but re-emerged later, so that they have a lot of history to contribute to the overall Jewish story. The ENP (Ethiopian National Project) tries to aid these Ethiopian Jews with assimilation into Israeli life.

The project that our group visited was an after-school program where teens get to do activities. We played a version of “Chutes and Ladders,” where each square had either a question to answer or “DARE!” If you landed on a “DARE!” square, the dare was a physical activity or a question drawn from a deck of “DARE!” cards. The rules, cards, and board were English-Hebrew bilingual. This was fun! My group got to meet עופר (Ofer) and עידן (Idan), the latter who had a better grasp of English. The game seemed secondary to the socialization and sharing stories!


Ofer and Idan.

Our generation may be the last to hear first-hand stories of the שועה (Holocaust), as well as the Operation Moses: the walking to Sudan to catch the airlift. So we heard the story of טובה (Tova), in Hebrew and with Grace providing the translation. She lived well in Ethiopia until the age of 8, and loved school. One day, her grandfather kept her from school in order to prepare her to leave Ethiopia en route for Jerusalem. In 1984, the 3-4 week walk was survived by everyone in her group, but once their food ran out, the Sudanese food did not agree with their systems. In the refugee camp, she lost her mom and siblings to diseases.

I could tell that she was pained telling this part of the story. She mentioned that whenever something bad happens, something good is bound to happen soon. For example, her Dad remarried after meeting a fellow refugee on the airlift. She loves her current job with this program. Maybe a far cry from her background in graphic design, but college majors are not necessarily career paths!

The holiday of Sigd is celebrated in Israel, and it originated as a yearning for the return to Jerusalem. Moreover, the 4000 people who died during Operation Moses are commemorated on יום ירושלים (Jerusalem Day, observed 43 days after the first day of Passover). I should consider getting her book, סיפור חיים כעף שתול. Though it may be hard for me to read since it will be fully in Hebrew, I would welcome the challenge!

Back on the bus, we drove on the highway toward Tel Aviv. The road system has even numbers for north-south roads (and Highway 90 is the longest road in Israel), and odd numbers for east-west roads. We were on the Ayalon Highway: Highway 20. Gili explained how the Tel-Aviv/Yafo area is a megalopolis. My attention was split because I was trying to set up a lunch rendezvous with Taglit friend(s) for tomorrow. We quickly reached the Rabin Center.


Entrance to the Rabin Center.

Before our tour began, I listened to Aunt Lori speak of over-saturation on the trip — she can’t take more information. I could somewhat see that in myself as well, but push on I must! We entered the museum’s main part by ascending stairs and going into a circular room where footage from the peace rally on 4 November 1995 and the news reports immediately following were given.

The museum had a downward helical slope (wonder if there’s symbolism here akin to Yad Vashem?), with off-shooting rooms. On the helix was a chronology of יצחק רבין (Yizhak Rabin), and on the offshoots were exhibits about the State of Israel, both before and after its formation. I will just share what I found interesting. Another name for תל אביב (Tel Aviv) is עיר לבנה (White City). The pride of Zionism was pioneerism, farming, and labor. Rabin was in the IDF as a commander and later as a chief. The עולים (immigrants) helped to build up Israel’s economy, as the country was impoverished at its formation. These עולים lived in transit camps to start. Israel’s war victories were amazing to consider when thinking about how badly outnumbered they were.

Rabin became an ambassador to the US in 1967. Though Israel won the מלחמת יום כפור, it may have been a Pyrrhic victory. However, Rabin later became prime minister of Israel. When Israel later ceded Sinai to Egypt in exchange for peace, the Jewish settlements there were dismantled too. His vision for peace caused factions in Israel including some that compared him to Hitler. Rabin’s study room was preserved for this museum, and the television program that he watched prior to the peace rally was an Israeli football match.

Before we left, we went to the porch for a group picture with Tel Aviv in the background. We then drove seaside on the bus toward the Dan Panorama, in a lot of traffic. Part of the drive went under a hotel, which is now the Leonardo Art. Six years ago, it was מלון מרינה (Marina Hotel), where my Birthright group stayed for one night.

In fact, during this stretch, Gili was in the back of the bus, and I commandeered the microphone to get some laughs: pointing out that hotel, as well as the bike-share bikes that were visible, and also the flashing חינם (FREE) on a sign for a parking area. Maybe I have some sort of tour guide impetus in my brain! After a while, we arrived, but before going upstairs, said farewell to Liz and the Slevins, who were leaving tonight. I had received no responses from Israeli friends, so I went to dinner with the Corens as well as Esti!


Yep, this hotel underpass passed underneath the room I stayed at six years ago! Noah being the proxy tour guide!

Walking down the crowded Kauffman Street, we looked for beachfront restaurants. Our first option was Manta Ray, but it was non-kosher, expensive, and crowded. Moving on, we left the beach and found the תחנה (Tachanah) district, which was a decommissioned train station like what we found in Jerusalem. The kosher restaurant רג’ינה (Regina) was full-up, but our next stop, איטלקית בתחנה (Italian At The Station), was available (albeit non-kosher-certified). We ate there anyway, everyone ordering something vegetarian.

I got a margherita pizza, as did Jemma and Nancy. Ken got… oh, I forgot, and Esti shared pizza with the Corens. We talked a lot about language, as I read the Hebrew menu for kicks. The talk about עלייה was mentioned, and how Israel supports its עולים in getting started on their new life in the country. The אולפן (ulpan/Hebrew school) model must work out well! Some movies were discussed at dinner, and it was outside of my area of expertise and interest. Oh, and we ate outside and saw them retract the awnings. That was pretty cool!


The dinner bunch. Counterclockwise from left-bottom: Jemma, Charlie, Ken, Noah, Nancy, Esti. Photo credit: Ken Greenfield. 

We all returned to the hotel together, before splitting up. I went to the pool deck: the door was open, but the pool had closed at 18:00. So I ascended to Room 529 and looked out the window at the sea and the pool at the next hotel over. For the evening, I listened to Israeli radio on the RLive app, and journaled. When Seth returned from his dinner with a friend that he hadn’t seen in 25 years, it was about 23:00. That’s a good time to fall asleep!



(Dirty?) Thirty: 5 days

Nebraska Regional: 39 days

Semester Kickoff: 70 days

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[Tour of Israel Part 7] Whirlwind in the Heights!

Monday, June 12 / יום שני, 18 סיון

I got up at 07:00, and was refreshed. The residual stomach irritation had subsided. I equipped clothes for today, and headed to the dining room while Seth was still preparing. I got a croissant, dried fruit, חלבה (halvah), and watermelon: the lattermost was very tasty. I ate with the Corens and with Seth. At 08:15, we took off, and I saw Uncle Howard look like his usual self. Good!

On our drive to צפת (Safed), the geography of the area was mentioned. The climb from minus-200 metres to plus-800 metres was done via tortuous roads that didn’t agree with Janie (and maybe others too). There was no pulling over, though. Another interesting thing that Gili mentioned on this stretch was the Gerald Schroeder relativity: comparing the 6000 years of the Bible to the 16 billion years. I have heard this theory (hypothesis?) before, and it could have merit. Of course, my conviction is that the Bible was written in terms of human language and concepts, even if the deeper can’t be understood directly.

We entered צפת via David Elazar Street. He had significant influence for the IDF victory in the Six Day War, though like usual, the specific details have funneled into the Void of the Noachide Mind. In continuing the Six-Day War story, which has been ongoing from Gili, today marked the day of the cease-fire, fifty years ago. The theme of the trip has been subtle, but well executed in my opinion. As we drove up the tortuous and hilly city, the roads narrowed, and זכריה expertly navigated a very tight corner! We landed in the same parking lot that Shorashim Bus 247 landed, six years ago!


Tight… tight… GOT IT!

We had a few minutes at the Olive Tree Gallery, and as we left, we encountered the Bronkin Family from Omaha! You can’t take Nebraska out of Nebraskans! Then, Gili pulled out a map to explain our position: we are in the Biblical land of נפתלי (Naphtali). In more modern times, the city became a refuge for Spanish Jews after 1492.

Fast forwarding about 455 years, the British Mandate was about to end in 1947. The partition plan was accepted (despite not being liked) by the Jews, but Arabs said no to the partition and further attacked the Jews. In this city, as well as many other places, you can see bullet holes on buildings from that war. The Jews regained this city through a very unorthodox method. Despite being out-armed, out-strategized, and outnumbered, the Jews used loud booms of a certain cannon to frighten the Arabs into thinking that there was an impending mushroom cloud attack, as they fled.


The buildings have bullet holes from 1947.

We continued to a special place: the Gallery of Mystical Art. YES! I managed to reintroduce myself to אברהם (Avraham)! He told his story of Jewish meditation and קבלה (Kabbalah / mysticism) as his manner of loving Judaism. Like last time, he went through descriptions of some of the pictures in his gallery, starting with the “yin/yang” picture with two ה letters. The top might ask “What can I get?” whereas the bottom might ask “What can I give?” This question brought some of the discussions from the weekend full-circle!

The picture with the downward pointing arrows in different colors is the one describing the 100 calls of the שופר (shofar) on ראש השנה (Rosh Hashanah), which was one of my favorites from 6 years ago. It reads from the bottom-up, and that is consistent with the idea of always creating self-improvement. It can represent a spiritual map to follow! A new piece of art based on the שופר was a drawing of the sound waves of the four different שופר calls, which obviously fascinated my physicist’s side.  To continue the 6 Day War story, the שופר was blown along with the Special Announcement on Israeli radio. The other art was a colorful writing of אין עוד בלבדי (there is none besides me), which could refer to either השם (G-d) or to a person’s own name!

It becomes awesome to inject love into this world. You are going above and beyond if you can love another’s child as you would love your own. The epitome of life is to make goodness. Additionally, balances appear in many situations. Thankfulness can lead to truth, whereas complaints can bury you deeper in illusions. There is a lot of spiritual energy which can be used, and we can make it into love! Inspired by these words and holding enough money (in the sense of a debit card), I bought the artwork with the colorful triangles denoting the calls of the שופר. I also got a picture with אברהם: this was awwwwwwesome!


Noah and Avraham, the former posing with his new piece of art. Photo credit: Lori Feldman

After I left, I noticed most of the group sitting under fresh tree waiting for Number Zero. When he arrived, he mentioned all of the blue in צפת. This relates to the color פתיל תכילת. As we headed back toward the area where the bus was, we stopped at a Jewish Zodiac circle with the 12 months of the calendar, and the symbols thereof. I pointed at the סיון sector. Rising uphill to the “Pomegranet [sic] Juice” stand, we continued into the corridor with the pushy salespeople and emerged at the Rabbi Yose Caro Synagogue, which is an old Sephardic synagogue (I don’t think it’s in use anymore as an actual house of worship).

In Sephardi synagogues, the seating is all around the central בימה (bimah) instead of the Ashkenazi form of having the בימה at the front and all other seating behind. Additionally, the תורה (Torah) is read upright in its own case. There was no need for a מחיצה (mechitzah) in these synagogues, because there was a separate women’s room for prayer and study.


The Torah read upright. (Strangely, it’s on the Book of Jonah.)

This shul’s claim to fame was the birthplace of the שולחן ארוך (Shulchan Aruch) which was the first code of Jewish law within the borders of present-day Israel. Furthermore, Gili explained that the “four elements” each have an Israeli city. Air or Wind belongs to צפת. Fire belongs to ירושלים (Jerusalem). Water belongs to תיבריה (Tiberias), and Earth belongs to חברון (Hebron). Another thing: the city of צפת is prone to earthquakes. However, the southern walls of synagogues did not seem to be affected — the south walls are the closest walls to Jerusalem, and where the ארון הקודש (Holy Ark) would be. Divine protection or just coincidence, I don’t know. Nevertheless, it’s fascinating!

Before I left, I noticed that the scroll shown out for demonstration was opened to the book of Jonah. I didn’t expect that since the book of Jonah is not one of the Five Books of Moses. Leaving the shul, we continued northbound and stopped at the Fig Tree Courtyard. We saw the fig tree and the cistern (the latter was obscured by glass so that nobody could fall in), and then split to have a lunch/shopping break.

My first plan of action was to follow someone, and I went with Liz and Jay. We ascended stairs, and went through the Ari synagogue courtyard, and were shortly at Safed Candles. The Noah’s Ark is still there, and I noticed a chess set that I don’t think I saw six years ago. As we exited, a bunch of our group entered, and encouraged us to look again. Noah’s Ark had cartoons like Tom and Jerry, Timon and Pumbaa, and Pinky and the Brain. The chess set contained well-known Jewish people or buildings, and one of them was שלמה כרלבך (Shlomo Carlebach)!



Noah and Gili posing in front of the Noah’s Ark candle (not for sale), and the chess set is behind Noah.

Returning the way I came, a parade entered the Ari synagogue: lots of young people wearing basketball-patterned כיפות. There was someone about to become a בר מצווה! I returned to the Olive Tree Courtyard, and found a nice view atop the courtyard, but no restaurants like what was suggested before the split-up. In the alley, I decided against the שניצל (schnitzel) stand that was there (not sure why), and later pushed past a pushy vendor of art. Eventually, I just got mint-chip ice cream at Taste of Tzfat, listened to the music, and Joshua Follick appeared. During our conversation, we talked about Jewish identity, particularly living in a place without much Judaism (i.e. Nebraska).


Close-up selfie with the mountains around צפת.

At 12:45, we were all on the bus and left צפת. On our way out, Gili pointed out הר מרון (Mt. Meron) and described the celebrations of ל”ג בעומר (Lag Ba’Omer) that occurs there. Over a million people celebrate up there with bonfires each year, and those fires are visible from space! As we continued to drive, we descended the hills of the גליל (Galilee) and got to the Jordan River! This river separates the Galilee from the Golan.

The rest of this drive was uneventful, though we did pass the entrance to the Gilabon trail. I didn’t get a snapshot, because it sneaked up on me. There was a bit of road construction, but nothing terrible. The drive took us past IDF bases, and we approached הר בנטל (Mt. Bental) just like six years ago. However we turned off to the 9-o’clock position of the rotary, instead of the 12-o’clock position, in order to go to מרום גולן (Merom Golan). These twin mountains are volcanic, but have not erupted in a long time.


We refreshed, filled water bottles, and then went to the “Jeeps” (they’re a different brand) for a tour of the upper Golan Heights. We went over rough terrain (duh), past corn and banana fields, on surfaces that included roads AND dirt paths. Our driver used to give intelligence in the IDF. Ever since the end of מלחמת יום כפור (the Yom Kippur War), the Syrian border has been relatively calm on the Israel side. The armies dug ditches intended to make tanks stall.

Before climbing a hill, I saw a blue and yellow structure and joked that Sweden commissioned an IKEA store here. But at least we (i.e. the Corens, Feldmans, Weiss, and Harris) didn’t fall to pieces after an intentional STEEP drop (see the photo of the next jeep to do it)! The tour continued to the top of a hill, near an old Syrian bunker. We could see Syria from THIS back yard!


A fever pitch?

The drivers pointed out the United Nations vehicle driving on a road with rock shields. They named the UN as the “United Nothing”. Just like when my Birthright group was on הר בנטל six years ago, we could see the new and old cities of Quneitra, and also a plume of smoke from a battle or attack to the northeast of us. Ever since 1970, and possibly before, Syria’s population has been impoverished due to a 20% rate of unemployment. Fatwa was declared after Assad rose to power, and the civil war is very complicated. Right now, Israel does not accept Syrian refugees.


Just jotting down a few notes overlooking Syria… Photo credit Lori Feldman

Before leaving this lookout, we looked at the bunker, above and a bit inside. The former had a steep hill and the latter was pitch-black inside. We drove down the shield road, past banana “trees,” past cows, and past a UN station on the border. We also saw a camp of female IDF soldiers, obviously triggering the troublemakers of the jeep. The jeeps then took us in short order to עין זיוון (Ein Zivan).

At עין זיוון, the first stop was the De Karina chocolatier. We started by watching a video about the history of chocolate, which is a 3000-year-old idea. Chocolate didn’t come into solid form, however, until about 200-300 years ago — prior to that it was always in a liquid form. Fascinating! Karina was originally from Argentina, but made עלייה at some point. She is a third-generation chocolatier, and still does quality control at this place. After the movie ended, we entered the factory, but I decline the description of it in order to not get in trouble. Cameras were forbidden in this area, and I also didn’t take notes (intentionally). I will say that we did not see Karina — oh well!

In the next phase, we tasted a 62 percent dark chocolate, a savory-orange chocolate, a milk chocolate, and a dark chocolate with espresso. I liked them all, but especially the orange one. We then got to make our own items, including truffles, pralines, and a chocolate bar. We could roll in chocolate shavings, coconut, sprinkles, and a few other items. It was fun, and I made my bar in the shape of the word שוקולד (though the last two letters did not fit on the bar). It was fun!


Jamie in the foreground, others in our bus (myself included) in the background, making chocolates (photo credit: Lori Feldman)

We then walked next door to Bahat Winery, and started by sampling three liqueurs: cherry, chocolate, and caramel (actually dulce de leche). I actually liked all of them, which is probably deeply surprising! The story of their winery started out as a hobby, but became a business ten years ago. All of the process is done by hand, so it is very much a microwinery. Their process is to crush and separate the grapes, then add yeast and ferment, and finally press into a wine bucket before going to age it in a cool dry place. At the end of the back room, Sydney and Ari got to label and cork empty souvenir bottles to take home.


Is this even legal–Noah taking a shot of liqueur?! Photo credit: Lori Feldman.

Samples of cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, and port wines were available. I disliked the first, didn’t try the second, and wasn’t impressed by the third. I didn’t try the second due to the fact that I wanted to buy some chocolates to take home, despite the risk of them possibly melting in transit. We picked up our hand-made chocolates as well, boarded the bus, and then headed to עין גב (Ein Gev).

As we drove, we passed by קצרין (Katzrin), which obviously reminds me of the first time that I really enjoyed פלאפל when I had it in their mall’s food court. We also learnt about the eucalyptus trees. A Syrian evidently suggested planting these trees near the military bases to provide shade for the Syrian military. The person who suggested it was actually Eli Cohen, who was the famous Israeli spy executed for his work. Nevertheless, he was a Jewish and Israeli hero, and this story gave a different take on what I learnt down by the eucalyptus tree on the Gilabon trail.

The brown-squiggly signs, after I asked Gili, were revealed to label rivers, or נחלים (nahalim). A better English word to use is “wadi,” as a comparative definition. (Come to think of it, “wadi” is used as a translation to נחל when reading in the Pentateuch.) We also talked about the word תל (tel), which brought up James Michener, and perhaps some bad memories of Diff Block from my sophomore year of high school. Come to think of it, I should give The Source another chance, because I might take a new appreciation of it now, given my fascination with Israel and my stronger Jewish identity. Another thing of vocabulary that came out: בקר (bakar) is a cow, and בוקר (boker) is a cowboy (not just a morning). Gili also pointed out the ארבל cliff again as we could see it from across the lake.

At עין גב, we used the שירותים (restrooms) first, and had to wait for our boat. We sang some songs while waiting — some a-cappella, and some accompanied by Gili’s guitar. The boat eventually arrived, and it was playing Hebrew music and carrying an all-girls school or subset thereof. Once we boarded the ship, I started atop the bow, with the Follicks, Liz, and Jay.

Shortly after we got asea (alake?) Gilad popped in some music. It started with Eye of the Tiger, and Heat of the Moment, and then Highway to Hell. The triplets started off the dancing, but others weren’t really joining in. But then Hebrew music started, and the whole boat eventually joined in on dancing. We got some classics, some הדג נחש (Hadag Nahash), and more. I should ask Gilad for the playlist since I really enjoyed it. We also got some dusky photos, which are always nice to see. The song which particularly lodged in my head was תן לי מנגינה (Ten Li Mangina).


Dancers on the boat just before I joined in.

Alighting the boat, we had dinner at the Ein Gev Fish Restaurant. Naturally, we started with bread, salad, and חומוס (hummus). It was good, especially the fill-your-own-pita step. The fish came later, and my fried fish was basically pescado frito! Yes, with skin and bones! It still tasted good, but was a little challenging to eat. A few pescado eaters became surgeons as well, for effect! I don’t recall the conversations, but אלה חיים. The bentching was fun, and we could see the sunset too!

The driver tonight was אבשלום (Absalom) substituting for זכריה,  since the latter was at a wedding tonight for a family member: מזל טוב (mazel tov)! We continued riding clockwise around the כנרת, seeing beaches, a college, קיבוץ האון (Kibbutz HaOn), and the dam bridge at דגניה (Degania). This led to Tiberias, and we got the story of Rabbi Meir, who shamed sinners, and his wife, who thought that repentance works for anyone. Near the Hotel Leonardo, there was an ancient synagogue discovered which forced the hotel to build its parking garage elsewhere!

The rest of the drive back to גינוסר was blah. Both Seth and I freshened up back at the hotel, when we had arrived around 21:44. I journaled a bit, and we both called for lights out since it was such a jam-packed day. Whew!



(Dirty?) Thirty: 6 days

Nebraska Regional: 40 days

Semester Kickoff: 71 days

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[Tour of Israel Part 6] Up to the North

Sunday, June 11 / יום ראשון, 17 סיון

My day started at 06:45. Packing took almost no time, and I donned my North Shore Century T-shirt and some shorts. When both Seth and I were ready, we went downstairs, but did not take our bags with us — planning on returning to the room after eating. Breakfast was the same as in previous days, but I also had an omelet which was pretty tasty! I sat with Liz and Jay, and it somewhat became a coda on a previous conversation that I had with them.

Returning upstairs, I took a picture of the clock whose minute hand is broken, and also the Nebraska-State-Capitol-esque building. We then checked out of the room, and loaded up the bus. Unlike on Birthright, there was no Rotating Participant Loading or Unloading Crew. We had planned to leave by 08:45, and this was MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, having left at 08:40. As we got to Begin Boulevard, Gili put on a recording of the song ירושלים של זהב (Jerusalem of Gold), which naturally started my tear ducts.

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