Monday, May 21, 2012

Northern Adventures

It’s been great having the kids in school in a routine. But the short days on Tuesdays and Fridays alone don’t give us the time we want to really explore. So we pulled them out of classes last week for a trip up north to the Galil (Galilee).

We drove through the Jordan Valley north to Beit Shean. The heat and the tight quarters in the rental car made for some cranky travelers.  But, the sight of the city’s ancient, impressive amphitheater finally pulled them out of their funk. (God knows it wasn’t the picnic lunch which ended with Alexander and Esther finishing off a bunch of half eaten sandwiches!) Pouring water down our backs made the midday heat a bit more bearable as we explored the ancient ruins.  The city, which dates to the 1st century CE, has remains in relatively good condition due to an earthquake in the 7th century that buried most of the city.  This left it untouched by human or nature until excavations began in recent times.  

Micah overlooking Beit She'an

Our afternoon dip in the nearby Ein Kibbutzim pools felt wonderful before we continued on our way. We drove the scenic route through Har Gilboa and made our way to the “metropolis” of Afula. We drove around until we spotted the busiest restaurant in town and there feasted on shwarma and a wide selection of side salads.

Koby, Amichai and Yonah cooling off at Ein Kibbutzim
Our tzimmer (what they call B&B’s in Israel – only they hardly ever include breakfast) in Yavne’al did not disappoint- the boys all piled into the hot tub and blasted the Jacuzzi. We don’t understand how a country which takes great pains to conserve water has allowed huge hot tubs to become standard fare at B&B’s throughout the country.  

We arrived after dark, so it wasn’t until morning that we saw the ­­beautiful view from the room- wheat fields, hills and distant towns of the Lower Galilee. We quickly ate and made our way to the Lavi forest – currently the only active tree planting center in Israel for visitors. We planted to the tune of Alexander’s “Etz Hayim He” and the kids had fun placing their tiny saplings in pre-dug holes and filling them in with dirt. 
Planting trees at the Lavi Forest, Galil
The fact that the boys went to bed late and woke up before 7am came back to bite us on our short drive to Mt. Arbel. Two fell asleep. Waking them up and trying to get them to the amazing view point and ancient synagogue- well, let’s just say, we almost had another massacre the likes of which have not been seen since Herod attacked the Zealots in 37 CE on this spot. 

The promise of rafting on the Jordan River quickened the recovery from the Arbel-melt-down and we made our way through Tiberias and then up to Gadot. We anticipated a quiet day in the middle of the week, before tourist season at the rafting place.  Little did we know that groups of all types were there – particularly a large and loud group of Russian speaking men that made for great people watching.  Koby steered us down the quiet Jordan River and the “rapids” at the end gave everyone a thrill. All claim to be ready for some serious white water rafting now.  

With much planning, we had found a time to finally Skype with the kids’ classes at HMJDS.  Then we decided to go away for a few days.  Rather than rejuggle schedules, we figured we could Skype from the road.  So, on the balcony of a restaurant with the Jordan River in the background (and pigeon poop all over), the three HMJDS boys were able to chat with their classes.  They had been eagerly awaiting the chance to “see” and talk with their friends at home.  

From the rafting, we made our way down the east side of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee).  A cherry vendor on the side of the road turned out to be a very good salesman and Esther and Alexander were swept up in the excitement of fresh local cherries.  Only when we realized just how much we had overpaid, we could’ve kicked ourselves.  But boy were the cherries good!  We ate dinner at a lovely fish restaurant on the banks of the Kinneret.  St. Peter’s fish and trout while watching the sun set over the Kinneret at Ein Gev was great way to end the day.  

With the promise of a tiyul (hike) involving water, we packed our bags and headed out the next morning. Lest you think all our adventures are seamless, the excitement was quickly tempered by:
a)      fighting in the back seat because "he always sits by the window"
b)      "he read the Kindle all day yesterday"
c)       taking a wrong turn which nullified Alexander's promise that "we are almost there."

Through the windy roads of the Lower Galilee, we finally made our way to Nahal Amud.  And it was as everyone had told us – a great tiyul. We hiked for three hours through forests, past old flour mills and irrigation channels, orchards and along the stream. The anticipation of dipping in the stream kept the boys moving accompanied by semi regular complaints, "oy, are we there yet?" and "I hate this stupid hike," by one particular child left to be unnamed.  We eventually did have a dip.  It was what they call "refreshing" – another way to say cold!  Those gold plated cherries made great pit stops (pun intended) on the long hike back up.  Ami gets the prize for being the best hiker – three hours of hiking and not one complaint. 

Waiting to swim at Nahal Amud

From Nahal Amud, we drove to Tzfat.  With everyone tired, sweaty and hungry, we never-the-less set out to try to see some of the city before sites began to close.  And it was as you might expect – pretty much a disaster.  We got couldn’t find any of the sites despite walking in circles. (Doesn’t Tzfat believe in street signs?)  When we did find them, they were indeed closed.  You can picture the scene.  We eventually gave up and spent another 20 minutes walking up and down looking for a Yemenite restaurant listed in a guide book only to discover that we had passed it many times but it had changed names. Refreshed from malawach, jachnun and unlimited lemonade, we walked a bit more and were happy to discover the Sephardi Abouha and Ashkenazi Caro synagogues were open again for minha.  We also went into a candle shop and found a 10’ tall havdalah candle, as well as Disney characters shaped out of wax. An ice cream break gave us the necessary energy to walk and walk and walk as we searched for our car.  After a long day, we drove an hour on windy roads (more "he sat by the window last time" whining), made it to Kibbutz Hannaton and crashed.

Friday was another full day.  There was so much we wanted to see we ran the poor kids ragged!  We visited Beit Shearim.  Neither Esther nor Alexander had been there and really enjoyed the site. This is where Yehuda Hanasi (compiler of the Mishnah) and other Sages are buried.  We had a wonderful (if a bit long) tour.  As long as the two younger kids got to use headlamps in the large burial chambers, they were engaged. Koby on the other hand has become our expert in Greek mythology which was helpful in deciphering the sarcophagi (yes, Greek images on graves of rabbis should raise an eyebrow).

After another picnic lunch ("more sandwiches, really? I hate sandwiches!”), we rushed to Manof, a tiny moshav farther north to tour a small, chocolate truffle factory.  No complaints here. As Esther said, not a bad life – live in a quaint town with an amazing view, work by and for yourself making chocolate all day. The New Zealand born owner was great with the kids and needless to say, we left with three bags of truffles.  Yummmm…wouldn’t that justify anything else we did that day??

From the modern kitchen, back to ancient ruins at Tzippori, where we spent two hours in the sun walking through the site. This town – known for housing the Sages who fled Jerusalem when it was destroyed by the Romans – has wonderful mosaics in incredible condition. The ruins date back to the Roman era (1st-2nd century CE).  Tzippori is unique in that it’s a city where a clear Jewish presence lived side by side with the pagan Romans. The site continues to be excavated, and there is likely so much more that will be uncovered.  Micah got sick toward the end of our tour so he wasn’t such a happy camper. And another child (the same one who shall go unnamed) was just plain miserable throughout ("who cares about stupid mosaics anyways!").  It was definitely time for a pre-Shabbos nap!

We spent a short time looking for the (supposed) grave of Yonah Hanavi in a nearby Arab town but gave up when we literally ran out of road. 

Shabbat at Kibbutz Hannaton was a wonderful end to our Galil trip. Esther and Alexander had been to this Masorti (Conservative) kibbutz years ago in the early 90’s. Since then, it basically fell apart but a new core group of young families is rebuilding the community. The first families arrived three years ago to an existing, although run-down kibbutz infrastructure.  Over the past two years they have absorbed more families so the kibbutz is steadily growing in size and stability.  There are big goals, ideas and dreams for all the things this kibbutz can be.  Amazingly, next year there will be a mekhina program (one year post high school, pre-army) on Hannaton with the goal of cultivating new leaders for the Conservative movement in Israel.  A lot of exciting potential… Alexander and Esther enjoyed the spirited davening and visiting with couples who recently relocated to the kibbutz. The kids easily adapted to kibbutz life – that is, they felt free to play outside with the other kids unsupervised.

We wanted to be back in Jerusalem for Yom Yerushalayim and Israel's new and only toll road made the motzei Shabbat (Saturday night) drive a breeze.  Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) celebrates the reunification of Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War.  We enjoyed watching throngs of young people marching with flags, dance and sing down King George Street and of course fireworks at night.  We also went on a tour of the Jerusalem Municipality buildings, which was a fascinating lesson in the history of the buildings, as well as the various characters that ruled and owned land from the mid-1800s until today.  

While Jerusalem is under Israeli control, we continue to pray for the time when it will live up to its name -  “yiru shalem, they shall see peace.”

Yom Yerushalayim street scene

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