If you are going to be stranded anywhere, it is better to be stranded in an apartment on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, than stuck in the Moscow airport. Last night as we were preparing for our Red-eye flight to Moscow and then onto to New York City, JFK International Airport, we were barraged with email and calls from friends and family advising us to “stay put”. The miracle of technology enabled us to get the information, plan an alternate flight (by calling the New York office of Transaero Airlines), and then continue to do business. We have declared our “vacation” over and resumed full time work; implementing our “business interruption” strategy.
One bit of disclosure … the beautiful pictures are NOT mine, they are “borrowed”. They are meant to be illustrative. We did take digital photos, and I will try to make them available to those interested after editing the list.
Now, the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Kinneret or the Sea of Chinnereth) was the focal point of our trip to the Northern Region. Our trip was based at Inbar Country Lodge, a small kibbutz (10 members) in the hills on the west side of the Sea of Galilee. A few words of background: (1) the “Sea” is not a “Sea” but rather a giant freshwater lake. (2) The Chinnereth is “absolutely still” except when an occasional wind whips up waves. (3) The Kinneret was one of the primary locations of the ministry of Jesus Christ, and thus is filled with “historic sites” that are known in the Gospels as the locations of many of Jesus’s miracles, as well as his baptism.
Imagine a lunar landscape with the temperature of Mars and you have now imagined Timna Park. In the far southern Negev Desert, 50 kilometers from the Red Sea, in the heart of the Great Rift Valley, Timna Park is a “dot” on the map of Israel. It’s on the great North-South road that connects Be’er Sheva (the last outpost of civilization) and Eilat (the cosmopolitan beach and scuba capital) on the Gulf of Aqaba. In between the two outposts is desert, boundless and bare. Along the long highway (over 243 kilometers) is “nothing” by way of settlement. There is an occasional monument or ruin, and an occasional growth of date palm trees, amidst a sea of wadis, dry barren stream beds that see water only for a few days of the year, if that. This is desert, much of it several hundred feet below sea level.
Remember Masada! Most trips to Masada begin in the dark. And for good reason. The temperature in the Judaen Deserts goes from tolerable in August to intolerable (over 100 degrees). We left Tel Aviv by the main road to Jerusalem, following the route suggested to us by Israelis. But our GPS navigator get steering me to the South. I ignored it for while, but then remembered the caution of our hosts to steer clear of the “West Bank”. After several repeated corrections I realized my GPS was recognizing the “political boundary” and steering me around the West Bank, through Ber Sheva, across the Judaen desert and then back up the west shore of the Dead Sea to Masada. The route was a bit longer since I ended up backtracking once I viewed the route on the map.
We were rewarded with a tour of the heartland of Israel and the northern Negev desert. The former was lush farmland. The later, while barren was spotted with oases of green vegetation. We saw the contrast between the Yishuv kibbutz and moshav (Jewish settlements). For years the Jewish immigrants to Palestine transformed the heartland through hard labor. They cleared the rocks, broke up the soil. In places they “washed” the soil to remove the salts that had accumulated and made the soil infertile. They brought in irrigation. Here you have steady sun, cooling winds, and flat ground. With good clean soil and water, you have a veritable garden of eden. With arid soil and no irrigation you have a desert wasteland. Before the Jews sent thousands of emigres to work, you had the barren land that no-one wanted.
We passed into the Northern Negev. This was a land of hills and wadis (valleys cut by the fear desert storms that would come a few times a year tearing deep ruts in the landscape. We came Bedouin settlements (tents and temporary aluminum structures).
MORE COMING SOON
We concluded Tisha b’Av at the International Synagogue in Tel Aviv. They were having a special showing of a film on Hannah Sennesh, one of the heros of the Zionist movement. She had left Hungary to join a kibbutz before the outbreak of World War II. On the eve the Nazi occupation of Hungary, Hannah volunteered with other Israelis on a daring mission to Hungary, parachuting behind enemy lines. Her goal, to provide Allies intelligence of German troop movements and then get her mother and the Jewish community in Budapest to emigrate to Israel while there was still time. Hannah was captured and tortured. During her time on the Kibbutz she kept a journal, including haunting poetry. She was captured by the S.S. and imprisoned and tortured. From jail she continued to write poetry and to smuggle out useful information. She was hung as a spy on the eve of “liberation” of Hungary by the Russians. Her journals and writings published posthumously by her mother, as well as her bravery, made her a national hero. The movie, Blessed in the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh (click here) in English, captures the spirit of the times. After the movie, we celebrated Mincha in the International Synagogue and the family broke its fast at a kosher cafe across the street with other temple members. And being Tel Aviv, we took a late night stroll on the beach.
The next morning we left for Haifa. Our primary goal was the B’hai Gardens. We cruised up the highway seeing the modern new cities on the Sea and the hill towns. And then Mt Carmel arose in the distance, a city on a hill sweeping from the Mediterranean Sea deep into the east, bisecting the land of Israel. Over history, this was the major invasion route into Palestine. Here many battles were fought. Here was where the pilgrims landed en route to the holy land. Here, actually a few miles up the road in Acre was where the British had their notorious underground prison where they held members of the Irgun and Palmach.
We searched for the cave of Elisha the Prophet. Despite signs, the garden was locked. We later learned that access was only through the Carmelite Convent. We visited the Nautical Museum with an amazing collection of Canaanite figurines. And then we drove up to the top of the B’hai Gardens. Even though they were closed we were able to enter a few levels and could appreciate its beauty. We wandered a bit, but nothing excited our interest. I suggested Acre, variously called Akko, Akre etc). Unfortunately it was rush hour, so the 15 minute drive took 1/2 an hour and the museums of Acre were closed or closing when we arrived.
Nevertheless, we walked the walls of the Crusader City, along ramparts rebuilt by the Ottomans. Compared to the condition of the Old City in Jerusalem, this area was deserted and run down. Acre is an old city, and an Arab city. It’s architecture predates the arrive of the Zionists and the British. There are no broad boulevards. The main streets turn and narrow with dark covered alley ways. At first we followed the walls, and then entered the crusader citadel. We passed the British prison and turned at the water. On one side, a long concrete promenade and crude modern concrete dwellings. On the other side, the moat and ramparts of the city. We walked along the waterfront and harbor. And then we took the Templar’s Tunnel. It led under the city from the waterfront back to citadel. And then we turned a corner looking for the Turkish bathhouse. While usually very good with directions, we quickly got lost in a warren of dark streets. We followed the sunlight looking for the waterfront. Every street seemed to turn back. We saw bareboned shops lined will sullen faces eying us suspiciously.
We found a plaza with dark-skinned kids playing. The were playing with guns. The guns looked real; but they were cap guns, the loudest cap guns I ever heard. My son said he saw one kid put a gun in his mouth and fire. We moved faster, but with no success getting out of the warren. One understanding resident pointed the way out. The light grew brighter, but we could still not see the harbor. This was a walled city with walls on every side. And finally we saw a car and followed it out. We emerged on a square with a beautiful mosque. We found out the mosque was the Jezzar Pasha mosque, the second largest mosque in Israel. Two men gestured to us to enter. The place was empty, but better a friendly face than several sullen faces or kids with guns. We entered. A young man volunteered to be our tour guide and we were able to enter the actual mosque and learn about its history and current use. And so our trip to the mosque of Jezzar Pasha (“the Butcher”) ended us on an upnote. We left the Arab quarter and returned to modern Israel. En route back to Tel Aviv we stopped at a shopping mall and ate at Burgos Burger Bar (BBB) on a patio in the cool Mediteranean sea breezes.
Yesterday we trekked to Jerusalem; our destination Yad Vashem & the Kotel on erev Tisha B’Av. The first commemorates the failed attempt to destroy the Jewish people (“never forget”) and the second laments the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem. The first event happening 70 years ago, the latter nearly 2000 years ago. It quite something to spend a day “underground” in the caves of Yad Vashem where is documented the rise of Nazi’s to power, and the near success of the Nazi’s and their allies to purge Europe of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, Marxists, liberal democrats, and other undesirables. Yad Vashem documents the systematic, organized and “legalistic” approach taken by the Germans with the assistance of allies in the occupied nations.
The story of the Shoah (as the holocaust is called here) is presented through testimony, live testimony of survivors, writings and sketches of the victims and martyrs. The evidence is overwhelming; the story is heart wrenching. The story begins with a portrayal of the Jewish communities of Europe; painting a vision of a life rich in culture, an everyday life much like the life we live. But you and I know how the story ends. The “testimony” records individuals; individual acts of suffering and of heroism. For it is only on the individual scale that the story can be comprehended by the mind.
There is the Testimony of the killing pits of the Jews of Vilna and the surroundings in the forest of Ponar in Lithuania (see film) told by a survivor of the massacre, who found himself and another teenage boy miraculously alive under a mountain of bodies of his fellow Jews. In perspective, this was but a single testimony and yet the vision of a young teenage boy pulling himself alive out of a pit of corpses (family, friends and compatriots, the entire community) and escaping ultimately to Israel, moved me.
Years ago on my last visit I was moved by the Yad Vashem children’s memorial. Six candles and a room of mirrors. Six candles representing the six days of creation. Six candles representing the spark of life; the seed from which the heavens are created. Six candles reflected endlessly in a room of mirrors representing the one and half million children who died in the Shoah and the tens of millions and billions of stars in the heaven that would have been their progeny. Louis XIV build his great hall of mirrors at Versailles. Yad Vashem’s children’s memorial with its hall of mirrors captures the infinity and the potential of life.
I seem to have forgotten about Tisha b’Av. After Yad Vashem we met the daughter of a good friend from New York who had made aliyah to Jerusalem. The restaurants were closing early for the “fast” of Tisha b’Av where Jews remember the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem. For some, this is the “rock concert” at the Kotel, the time when religious Jews pour forth from Mea Sharim and other parts and converge on the last remains of the great temple built by Solomon, the “Western Wall”, Kotel in Hebrew. Here was a blending of Jewish peoples from all over the world, each with their own customs, singing, chanting, lamenting and praying on the site of the great templates. Many chanted from the Book of Psalms in remembrance. Psalm 137 (click here) and Psalm 48 (click here) give you a sense of the prayers offered.
We had walked nearly 30 minutes up hill from our parking spot in the German colony. We entered the Jaffa Gate and proceeded through the Armenian quarter into the Jewish quarter. We were surrounded by the press of humanity; at times you could barely breath from the press. And yes, we did read from the Psalms at the Kotel. But between Yad Vashem and the Kotel, I was more moved by the former. The first celebrates the survival of a vibrant people. The later laments that passing of a “temple”, a building built by a king where a priestly class ruled. I can appreciate the holiness of the site and the lamentations around us. But I was more uplift by the loss of the “people” and the potential for the future represented at Yad Vashem.
As the bright Mediterranean sun streams in from our window, we crunch down on fresh bread from the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem. The crust is thin and crackly, the inside soft and moist. We were at the market late last night, near closing time. It capped a day spent walking the paving stones of the Old City.
We were in the “new city” where the new buildings predates the voyages of Columbus, Magellan, and Vasco da Gama. Armed with our electronic “parking pass” we applied New York City skills to find an open curb to park our car: wait for someone to leave, and stop all traffic if you must to secure your rightful place.
Armed with my iPhone we cut across the alleys to get to the Mahane Yehuda market, perhaps the most colorful and visited market in Jerusalem. In our search for local food, local produce and local flavor, we had found our destination. Sabras (desert cactus fruit), mini-pineapples, fresh oranges (for juice), mangos at the peak of ripeness, sun-cured black olives, fresh feta cheese, and, of course, vine-ripe tomatoes. I once learned that they grow tomatoes in the desert and feed them salt water (from the dead sea) to increase their sweetness. When eating tomatoes in Israel, you can appreciate that tomato is a fruit, and not a vegetable for the juice is so sweet.
Don’t ever go to a market hungry. If you do you will emerge burdened with copious amounts of food. Luckily we were both tired and hungry. We secured a modest amount of food. Though we did score an enormous chicken and a carton of 30 farm fresh eggs. The route out of the market led past Meir Sharim. We were for a while back in Eastern Europe. It could have been Warsaw before the Nazis, or Lodsk or Minsk. We emerged onto a broad avenue leading to Highway 1. Before we knew it, we saw the skyscrapers of Tel Aviv. And it was another night on Rotshchild Boulevard. Hundreds of youths were dancing in the street to the tunes of Bob Marley, sung in Hebrew by a live band.
This morning we struck out for the City of Ariel, also known as Jerusalem. We left modern cosmopolitan Tel Aviv for a city that defies easy categorization. In trying to characterize a city that is so historical, so controversial, so political, so much this to one person and so much that to another, one is at a loss. Our tour guide, a young Israeli took us through all 4 quarters of the Old City, except the temple mount. We saw parts of the city that I could never venture into on my last trip, nearly 30 years ago.
We saw a city more akin to Brooklyn, with distinct neighborhoods, a distinct flavor, and yet a city that worked together. It is as if the city of the media was created by those who did not live in the City of Ariel, and who certainly didn’t want you or anyone else to live there. It is an enchanting place and a haunting place. The interplay of religion, history, the arts and commerce was fascinating. The shops sold a range of religious inspired bric-brac: crucifixes next to mezuzot; palestinian scarfs next to candelabra-inspired silk shawls; Persian prayer rugs next to havdalah spice sets. There was something for everyone; and it all could be bought with dollars, euros and skekls.
And the people came from all over the world. The crusaders were cruising through in packs, led by their corporals with microphones, each presenting his or her vision of the city in a Babel of different languages. We treked from the Kotel out the “Dung gate” (it smelled of camel…), up along the wall and back in on the Zion gate, through the Jewish quarter, through the Armenian quarter, into the Muslim quarter (on the eve of Ramadan) and through a gate into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. There we landed on a processional of Russian Orthodox monks, in black robes, bearing candles, waiving frankincense and chanting followed by the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox church. Only in Jerusalem.
iPhone Maps – Google. It was intriguing navigating the Old City of Jerusalem with my iPhone. While I had roaming enabled (thank you Verizon), I had turned off data transfer. The data rates are exorbitant. However, I had enabled WiFi. As I walked the Old City, I latched on to unsecured WiFi access points. I hitched a ride long enough for my GPS enabled iPhone maps application to identify my location and present me a map of the locale. I could watch myself walking on the map, instantly reorienting the map. If you have ever meandered the mazes of the old city, you would appreciate the utility of this App. As they used to say in the old American Express commercials, I say of the iPhone: “Don’t leave home without it.”
On Friday, we trekked to Jaffo/Yafo/Jappo on foot (spellings in English are phonetic). We trekked down the Rothschild Blvd, temporary home of thousands of youths living in tents (an estimated 200,000 turned out on Saturday night). We walked down the broad avenue and then turned into a set of narrow streets filled with boutiques and art galleries. Our destination … Jaffa, the ancient port from which Jonah sailed on his mission to avoid the mission G-d set out for him. It did not turn out well for Jonah. He got swallowed by a whale. Jaffa dates back to ancient Palestine, whereas the rest of Tel Aviv dates back to 1910 (or more recent).
The concrete and macadam of Tel Aviv is replaced by stones in Jaffa — stone walls, stone curbs, stone streets. It is a “mountain … or rather a hilltop town rising several hundred feet above the level of the sea, and jutting out from the coast thereby giving expansive views of the shoreline and city of Tel Aviv. Jaffa is topped with a large lush garden. Apparently Jaffa has been destroyed countless times, including the 20th century. Since the last destruction, the highest points of Jaffa, the city were cleared to create a large open stone-paved plaza and grassy gardens. In the hot mid-afternoon sun, you can appreciate the shade trees in the park.
As we wandered around Jaffa, up and down stairs, around the port, through the plaza, in the hot sun, I noticed the strange lack of people. This was August in Israel. I expected massive bus tours and piles of people. As we wandered into the market, we began to see people. The congregated in shady areas, under canopies, and in shaded alleyways. Someone was telling us something. Tel Avivians avoid the heat; even tourists soon learn the lesson. As we emerged from the market and proceeded down the hill, we discovered where Tel Avivians go on a Friday afternoon to avoid the heat. They go to the beach. It appears the best time to visit Jaffa is at night when the temperatures drop and the cooling breeze comes off the sea.
TEL AVIV: Life is a beach … or so it seems. After checking the email (dewey.exchange defender.com/owa) and checking the voicemail (8×8.com) we headed out … out of Tel Aviv. Our goal was to travel North. We found our car (free courtesy of hosts from HomeExchange.com) and headed out. We turned on our portable GPS (que.com) and decided to wander, knowing that we would be “neverlost”.
We headed down Rothschild Boulevard, past the tent city, quiet in the early morning sun. After wandering through the “colonial” area, past homes of dubious construction and age, we turned to the beach, the heart of the “modern” city. The beaches are wide, clean and sandy. They are lined by luxury high rises and resorts. Visions of pioneer Israel with the dust and dilapidated buildings that predated my visit were nowhere to be seen. The sights were quite distinct from those of “Exodus” … the book, not the torah scroll.
Up and out. We headed North of the city. Passing Dizengoff Street, the cafe district, and by the “Tal Hotel”, the scene of my last debauchery in Israel when I traveled as a recent U.Penn Law School graduate, on a tour courtesy of the WZO. We passed lush parks by the river. The haphazard construction of Tel Aviv was replaced by the modern totally planned cities north of Tel Aviv.
Highway 2 which heads along the Mediterranean passed one planned modern city after another. There is the Microsoft research center, and Citrix, and Nokia, and Technion, and Google. Sleek glass towers look out on the Mediterranean sea, monuments to the ingenuity of the Israeli and the aliyot. Past these modern wonders; cities in the sand, we raced in our air conditioned chariot; racing back in time 2000 years to the time of King Herod “the Great”. We were off to Ceasaria (multiple spellings abound).
Off the highway, we passed lush gardens and emerged at the park entrance. Here King Herod, to impress his Roman patrons built a lavish deep water port. He was not stopped by the fact that there was no deep water harbour to dock ships. Instead, he had a vision of a land, in the sand dunes that was centrally located commercially on the trade routes between Egypt, Sidon, Athens and Rome. He was not limited by his surroundings; he was the “master of his surroundings.”
To get fresh water for his planned city and monument to Caesar Augustus, he built an aqueduct (seen above) along the sea several miles to a source of fresh water. And for his harbor, he performed an engineering feat which is astounding even in modern times, taking wooden pylons, and filling them with volcanic ash, and sinking them to create an enormous harbour far out into the ocean. Volcanic ash, sand and sea water creates waterproof, sea salt impervious concrete. The remains of his palace, the aqueduct and the harbor are impressive to this day.
In the harsh afternoon sun, nearly 100 degrees in August, we baked. I thought, why would Herod build his city here; no shade, baking sun. And yet, a few hours later (after swimming in the shadows of the Roman aqueduct, we returned as the sun was setting. The temperature had dropped 20 degrees and there was a steady cool breeze coming from the sea. The place, empty and stark, was now filled with elegantly dressed Israelis out for their entertainment. The outdoor restaurants were overflowing; music was in the air, and the wine flowed freely. Modern Israel met ancient Palestine, and they were one.