Friday, June 18, 2004

Shabbat Shalom

That means "Sabbath peace" for all you goyim out there.

Well I have the good fortune to be able to post two days in a row. The internet today is much faster, and I'm realizing I wasted $10 and an hour yesterday when I didn't have to.

Today we continued to tour the Galilee region. Tomorrow we will leave our Kibbutz Nof Ginnossaur and head to the Dead Sea region for two days.

Time out! They are having a little disco party out in the bar area here in the hotel and the song "Bomba" by the Bolivian group Azul Azul just came on. Wow! Tan pequeno que es el mundo che???

Okay I'm back.

It's a waste of time and just plain boring to just list the sites we went to each day. You can read my itinerary for that.

What I am really used to writing about is my interaction with the locals, what I find humorous, beautiful or ironic about their culture, what new cool people I met, etc. I'm sorry to say that I haven't been able to have any of those experiences, a fact which makes me considerably sad.

It is just the nature of tours...and they have their advantages and disadvantages. Our guide Steve continues to impress me with his depth of knowledge and his nearly impeccable performance each day. I would definitely not have the same experience were it not for someone like him.

But hopefully at some point in the future I will be able to write to you some interesting anecdotes about my new Israeli friends.

The fact is I am just too burnt out on facts to recount what has been going on with the tour. I don't know why but since this morning I just couldn't absorb anything more, and I definitely couldn't write about it in my journal or here. My dad says it is normal to feel overloaded after a while. Steve was right when he said he would be beating us with the stick of information. Ay ay ay! I hope I will recover by tomorrow, because I will regret it if I don't record my experiences properly.

One thing of that I am willing to write about is that Josie finally arrived to the country. Her flight had been postponed for a couple of days. She got to Tel Aviv this morning and a friend of the family brought her to meet us in the Valley of Jezreel. Actually, at Armageddon, but that's another story. We were all of course thrilled that Josie was finally with us - she will be able to tour with us until Tuesday, then she has to head for her kibbutz. The awesome part is that we were able to drive through her kibbutz and take a look at it from the bus. It is one of the larger ones in the region. Other famous individuals that came from kibbutzim in this region include Moshe Dayan, Ehud Barak, and Elon Ramon. Anyone who can tell me who those three people are gets a gold star and a lollipop.

Okay, sorry but all you got today was some grumblings
and mumblings.
But that's all I gots to give.

Lehitraot (see you later.)

From the Galilee

NOTE: This entry is actually from June 17th. I was unable to post it that day due to horrible internet, so it is being posted a day late.

Greetings from the Kenneret, better known to you as the Sea of Galilee!

I won't be able to write much since the internet here on the kibbutz is incredibly slow AND expensive, but I wanted to check in and make an entry for posterity's sake.

I wish I had the time to describe even in slight detail the sites we have been seeing. They are all awe-inspiring and amazing in the truest sense of the word.

Just to give you a general idea of where we've been: we left the coastal plain and headed to the region known as the Galilee, which is an incredibly lush and gorgeous area. The 1st century historian Josephus described some parts as the most fertile in all of the Mediterranean world.

Each day we leave our cozy and peaceful little hotel on the kibbutz (which is another interesting topic) and travel around to see the sights. I encourage you to see my itinerary and read a bit about the sights we are seeing each day.

My favorites include the Golan Heights and the city of Safed, both of which we visited today. The Golan Heights are a strategic site forming the border with Syria and were re-captured from the Syrians in the 1967 war. Now it is an old army bunker turned into a tourist location, but you can still see the strategic importance. Think of the game "King of the Hill." You can actually stand on the top and peer into Syria. We were also at one site today where you could see into southern Lebanon..

Safed is a beautiful city high in the mountains that is known for being the world center of the Jewish mystic religion known as Kabbalah. It's also a vibrant community of artisans and picturesque stone stairways and alleys. I really would have liked to spend at least a few hours here (a couple of days even better.) I did get the chance to speak with a few locals in my broken Hebrew, and bought some fresh carrot juice from a nice girl whose name I can’t recall...

Everyone, including myself, is in good health and spirits, although most of us are lacking sleep and try to catch afternoon catnaps on the bus. It has become a game to try to snap a photo of people sleeping, we are getting quite a montage.

I have been trying to get as much quiet time as possible, as traveling in large groups can wear on me (and anyone). Even more so in a place like Israel where one hopes to have something of a spiritual and reflective experience. I have stolen away from time to time - I have caught a few solitary moments looking over the Sea of Galilee and listening to the birds.

I'm also thirsting for some interaction with the locals, as there are so many rich experiences to be gained and this is usually my focus when I travel abroad. This has been difficult for two reasons. First, there is just no time. Secondly, my Hebrew is basic at best, although I am getting better. It's funny, I am learning how to ask things of people, but when they reply, I have no idea what they're saying! But they are generally very friendly and open people.

I will try to write again from the Dead Sea, where we will be arriving Saturday evening. If no 'net is available it will have to wait until Jerusalem.

The experience is getting more and more intense with each day, which is not an accident. I am learning an incredible amount each day and realize that my life will not be the same after this visit. Exactly how it will be different, only time will tell.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Shalom from the Land

We made it safe and sound to Israel! We arrived in Tel Aviv Monday afternoon around 4 p.m. local time.

Before I write anymore, let me say thanks to those of you who emailed me with good wishes and to say you will be reading the blog. Many of you also told me this by phone before I left, so thank you to you all too.

This is my first entry from the Land - there was no internet in the hotel, so I ventured into Tel Aviv in search of an Internet cafe, and found a nice, modern one with high speed internet. Israel is a very hi-tech country. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The flight from Miami to Tel Aviv was pretty non-descript. I did sit next to an abnormally broad man on the 9 hour flight to Frankfurt, which was disappointing and dislodging. My sister Micha was kind enough to switch seats with me since she is smaller. Now I owe her a back massage.

We were 4 hours in Frankfurt, which was also non-descript except that I played a spin-the-wheel style game at a shop in the airport and won a free travel/tote bag. Bonus.

We were all obviously very excited when we got to Tel Aviv, although somewhat, um, groggy. I hardly was able to sleep at all on the 13 hours of flight time, despite some sleep aids and a couple of glasses of wine. I felt fine the rest of the day, although delirium did begin to set in after a while.

The first impression I really have stepping off the plane and into the shuttle bus was really the incredible weather! I'm guessing it is pretty standard Mediterranean weather, so any of you who have traveled to the area can probably get an idea. The sky was crystal clear, light breeze and about 80 degrees F. with little humidity.

I made my first rookie mistake and left something on the airplane - a hebrew language phrasebook that I had bought at Barnes and Noble and was growing quite fond of. I really love learning new languages and I'm fairly good at it, but I need the proper tools. Since I lost my book I have resorted to asking Micha how to say this and that. She knows quite a bit of hebrew but I think she's getting sick of me asking :) The tour guide told me I should forget about getting the book back due to Israeli bureaucracy, which is legend. So unfortunately, I started off on a rather bitter note. But, on to more important things...

We were met by our tour group and took our bus to the hotel, which is called Dan Panorama and is across the street from the Med. Sea. It's a really nice, western-style hotel. Micha and I are sharing a room on the 13th floor, so we have a great view of the sea and the north part of Tel Aviv. The meals are all buffet and the food is really great - lots of salads, fruits, hummus, pastries, meats and cheeses - that goes for breakfast and dinner. Israeli breakfasts consist of a lot of salads and fish...not sure I'll get used to that, so I'm sticking to the fruit, cinnamon rolls and coffee. Oh, and fresh-squeezed orange juice. I'm assured that the food won't be as good at the other hotels, so I'm stocking up here :)

Our tour guide is a man of 33 years named Steve. He is an American from Philadelphia, but he immigrated to Israel 9 years ago and lives in Jerusalem. He actually took the same kind of route immigrating that my sister Josie is going to be taking starting this week. Steve is a very, very knowledgeable, articulate and friendly guy and knows a lot about Israeli society, culture and politics as well as the historical and biblical info, so we are fortunate to have him. We also have an excellent, robust and friendly bus driver named David, who is a Russian immigrant. (The Russian Jewish population is large here and made up the majority of immigrants who came in the 1990's - nearly a million people, I believe.)

We basically just rested on Monday afternoon, and in the evening the we kind of split off into groups and went exploring. Us young people went for a stroll up the beach and into Tel Aviv a bit. Tel Aviv seems to be a pleasant, relaxed city - not too large or crazy, sort of a beach culture, and everyone seems to mind his or her own business. Unfortunately we haven't had much time to get out and explore and meet people.

Across the street from our hotel is a former night club called the Dolphinarium or some such that was the site of a suicide bombing three years ago. Our tour guide Steve mentioned it to us and said it was one of the three most devastating terror attacks since the recent intifada began 4 years ago (the other two were the Passover bombing in Jerusalem and the cafe bombing in Haifa only a few months ago). Devastating not only b/c of people killed (around 30) but also because they were all high school students, Russian immigrants. Last night, we walked by the club, which is now defunct (b/c of business reasons, not the attack) - there is a memorial out in front in Hebrew and Russian. As a side note, the terror attacks have been down considerably in the last few months, which Israelis are thanking G-d for and attribute to the new security fence, the targeted assassinations of terrorist leaders, and the aggressive policy of the IDF in rooting out and arresting known terrorists. As we were walking around, I think it is safe to say that the possibility of a terror attack, however unlikey, is always in the back of one's mind. It occurred to me that the Israelis have to live with this thought every single day. Day in and day out. I guess we as Americans are starting to get a taste of what that's like as well.

Moving on...

today (Tuesday) was the first full day. We went to a site called Neot Kedumim outside of Tel Aviv. The name loosely translates to "Ancient Oases," but it is really billed as the Biblical Landscape Reserve in Israel. You can read more about it here. We had a great guide whose name is Helen, an American from NY who has been living in Israel for 40 years. She was a wealth of information. The site was incredible and really shows you the different species of plants mentioned in the bible, and their significance to bible believers and also to the Nation of Israel. We learned a lot about olives and olive oil, and also about the plant which is the national emblem of Israel - the plant is impossible to root out and can withstand very harsh conditions. See the parallel? It also looks like a menorah when it flowers.

Anyway, we had a nice time there but very short - the reserve is 625 acres, so it would take weeks to see and learn about it all. Helen tried to cram us with as much information as she could, and we tried to soak up as much as our jet-lagged minds would allow. We also had a very nice lunch there - hummus and pita, surprise suprise. I wondered aloud if we would be sick of hummus by the end of the trip. Other people said no.

Later in the afternoon we visited two people that are friends of my dad's in Tel Aviv and are leaders of messianic jewish congregations, like my dad. It was really good to meet these people of faith, to network with them and to hear of their experiences in Israel.

We intended to visit the ancient port city of Jaffa today, but that got pushed to tomorrow, so Tuesday turned out to be a really light day in terms of touring sites. Our tour guides have assured us that tomorrow the real intense touring begins, as they will be moving us rapidly from site to site and "beating us with the stick of information." 6 a.m. wake-up call from here on out.

Well, to sum up, my experience so far has been as rich and intense and wonderful as I had hoped for. I wish I could impart some general impressions thus far, but we really have been here too short a time to state anything useful, other than what you've read above. If anyone has specific questions about any aspect, post a comment to this site or send me an email.

Also, some of you have requested that I post pictures - unfortunately I most likely won't be able to until I get back to the states, but rest assured we are taking lots of photos, digital and disposable, as well as video cameras, tape recorders, journals, and just about every other recording device imaginable.

We are leaving Tel Aviv tomorrow :( and heading to the Galilee region where we will be staying in a less urbanized region, so it may be several days before I can write again. Rest assured that I will thinking of all of you and so you will be accompanying me in my journey in some way.

Until next time, shalom to all. Thanks for reading.

NOTE: All of the times of entries are Eastern Standard Time - Israel time is 7 hours ahead.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

We're Audi!!

We leave for the airport in 40 minutes. People are still getting packed here, unbelievable! I'm going to go ahead and predict I'll be the most lightly packed traveler in this group. I've got one medium-sized suitcase and a small day pack, (otherwise known as a Man-Purse.) Aww yeah!

So my next entry will be from the Holy Land. Or rather an internet cafe in the Holy Land.

See you on the other side!

Peace.

Shalom (Josie's addition.)