Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Days 10 & 11 (10/17 and 10/18/15)

 Day 10 -- Saturday, October 17

We were up early to go to services at Morehet Yisrael (the main Conservative synagogue), their services start at 8:30 am. Because we did arrive a few minutes early, we were given the honor of opening the Ark for the Torah service. Eventually other members of our group arrived. It was very crowded as the 37th Zionist Congress was going to be starting and many of the US delegates from the Mercaz party (the Conservative Jewish group) attended the service. The regular Rabbi was not there but his substitute was a very nice Italian Rabbi. After the service was a nice kiddush (cookies and fruit). We then went next door to the Fuchsberg Center for a learning session (we discussed several lines from the Torah portion, Noah). This was followed by lunch in their cafeteria where we were joined by several Lone Soldiers (young men from the US who volunteered to join the Israeli army but had no family in Israel).

We chose to spend a quiet afternoon at the hotel although Mike went for a short walking tour. Eventually we were able to find a taxi and went to the home of friends -- Ittai and Yael Gavrieli -- who live just outside of Jerusalem, about 1/2 hour from the hotel. We were very pleasantly surprised to find that Yael's father, Elad Peled, and his brother and sister-in-law, and their daughter Hila would also be there. Elad Peled is an Israeli hero -- he was a member of the Palmach, a commander during the Six Day War, and involved in the Yom Kippur War. He received his doctorate from Teachers College (as did his wife Zimra) and was a very close friend to Mike's parents. Elad was the director general of Israel’s Ministry of Education and the Assistant Mayor of Jerusalem under Teddy Kollek. Here's a link to a lovely article about him. Ittai and Elad drove us back to the hotel.

Day 10 photos

Day 11 -- Sunday, October 18

We had to be at the bus by 7 am but we had late check-out, so we could leave everything in our room. The group had an early appointment for a tour of the Kotel Tunnels where we walked along the Western Wall's massive foundation. This was a different set of tunnels than the ones Kate and I went through in January. We took time to visit the Kotel -- the Western Wall -- and left notes from CBI members as well as tzedakah (charity). We also explored the Southern Wall excavations at the Davidson Center (Kate and I saw this in January, but it was still impressive to see the steps that lead to the Temple).

Lunch was in the Jewish Quarter (we went to the BBQ Grill -- I had shwarma in a pita, Mike had grilled chicken in a pita and an old-fashioned Coke). We also did a little shopping.

Then it was off to the Israel Museum where I finally got to see some of the things I missed in January. We started with a quick look at the model of the Second Temple. This was followed by the Shrine of the Book -- the Dead Sea Scrolls. And then we were on our own. I wandered around the sculpture garden and saw the Ahava (Love) sculpture and others (Henry Moore, Alexander Calder stabile, Picasso sculpture and more). Went into the main museum and saw a few things as well.

And then it was back to the hotel to finish packing and catch our shuttle to the airport. Originally our flight was leaving an hour earlier than the group's, which is why we were heading out early. As it turned out, their flight was delayed by at least five hours (until 5 am on Monday!)

Getting through security and customs was relatively easy. Because Mike has United Club membership, we were able to hang out in the Dan Club. The return flight was much quieter plus I had an eye shade, so I did sleep fairly well. Didn't realize we were getting both dinner and breakfast. We landed early in Newark (about 3:45 am) but Customs doesn't open until 4:15 am, so we had to sit on the plane. Made it through easily and didn't have to wait too long for our luggage. The chilly weather (frost on the car!) was a shock after the hot weather in Israel. We made it home by about 5:30 am.

Day 11 photos

The trip to Israel was really good. Yes, there were some unpleasant incidents going on but we felt safe. As I discovered back in January, Israel is a real place with real people who manage from day to day. It was interesting to see other parts of the country though probably the best was just relaxing in Tel Aviv and spending time with family and friends. Mike and I have a whole list of things we need to do the next time, so we know we're going back. After all, as it says in my last photo "Life is sababa".  (Sababa means cool or copacetic.)

Days 8 & 9 (Oct. 15 & 16)

Still playing catch-up!!

Day 8, Thursday, October 15

We left Kibbutz Nof Ginosar today to start heading south along Israel's border with Jordan to the Dead Sea Region. The landscape is even wilder than before -- almost looks like a moonscape. Masada is interesting. It was Herod's mountaintop palace and fortress, which "still displays ingenious water systems, elaborate frescoes, mosaic floors, and bathhouses." It was also the site of the last stand of the Jewish rebels against Rome in 73. And it was very, very hot. We took the cable car to the top -- there are paths to hike up. By the time we took the cable car down, it had gotten so hot they closed the hiking trail. For those who either read (or saw the mini-series) The Dove Keepers, there is a photo of the dovecote.

After lunch (falafel, of course), we headed to  Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, an oasis with waterfalls. We took a short hike to the lower falls and waded in the pool of water. Mike & I only made it up to the middle falls where we met up with a group of boys from a boarding high school on a class trip. On the way back, I actually saw two ibex (wild goats, called Yael in Hebrew), a male and a baby. See the photos.

Then it was off to the Dead Sea. I chose to just watch and take photos of Mike (and other CBI'ers) floating in the sea. The mud is interesting. I'll enjoy the salts in my Ahava products -- they smell nicer and aren't as messy.

From there we drove to Jerusalem. Along the highway we saw some Bedouin villages (someone did see a man riding a camel). We stopped on Mt. Scopus to look out over Jerusalem and say a shehehayanu blessing for reaching the city. After checking into the hotel, Mike and I found a nice restaurant across the street for a quiet dinner.

Day 8 Photos

Day 9, Friday October 16

The Dan Panorama had an even more extensive breakfast buffet -- although it reminded me of the Japanese breakfast buffets with lots of typical Israeli breakfast items (salad, hummus, labneh, cheese blintz) and then things that they seemed to think would appeal to non-Israelis (broccoli, lasagna). First stop of the day was Yad Vashem, Israel's national Holocaust memorial and museum. As I was just there this past January, I passed on going through the main exhibit, the Holocaust History Museum. Mike joined the group to tour that part while I got to see many of the other exhibits along with two of the other group members who'd both been to Yad Vashem relatively recently on Birthright trips. One of the most moving exhibits is the Children's Memorials (no photos allowed inside). There is also a very nice gift shop here -- and I feel I'm supporting a very good cause by shopping here.

Next stop was Machaneh Yehuda -- the large market (aka Shuk). Kate and I toured the market along with SIL Ruthi back in January. I was able to find the Georgian restaurant where we had snacked and took Mike there. He had the plain cheese pizza-like lunch; mine had a thicker crust and after it came out of the oven, an egg was broken over it and an additional chunk of cheese was added. The idea was to tear off pieces of the crust and dip it in the melted cheese and runny egg -- quite good. I also managed to find the Etrog man again and enjoyed a mint etrog lemonade.

Then we had some quiet time at the hotel until it was time to head to our cousins' apartment. It was fun walking along the same streets Kate and I had traversed numerous times in January -- and even better there was no snow. We had a lovely evening with Ahuva and Jon, catching up on what everyone is up to.

Day 9 Photos

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Days 6 & 7 (Oct. 13 & 14)

WiFi on both the tour bus and our hotel was spotty, which is why I'm behind on blogging.

Day 6, Tuesday, October13

We packed up and left Tel Aviv today, heading north. First stop was Atlit, the detention camp where the British held Holocaust refugees caught trying to enter Israel "illegally". Refugees, helped by Palmach and Haganah members, were taken across the Mediterranean on rickety boats. Sometimes the boats didn't make it and sank. Those that did make it to "Palestine" were boarded by the British who put everyone in the camp. As you will see in the photos, there were buildings with beds, usually very cramped, barbed wire around the camp, and general feeling not to different from the camps in Europe. At least the prisoners were fed and taken care of. Initially many of the prisoners were sent to detention camps in Cyprus, later some were sent to other parts of Europe. In addition to walking through some of the reconstructed buildings, we went through a ship similar to those used by the refugees. (Much of what occurred in Cyprus, on the ships, and at Atlit was recounted in Exodus by Leon Uris).

Our next stop was for lunch at the Tishbi Winery. We were served salad, pizza (quite good), yummy mushroom ravioli, and gnocchi. There were also samples of a red and a white wine (we will try to buy some of the white wine at duty free in the airport). In the wine tasting room, there was artistic looking equipment; outside you could see the real equipment for making the wine -- looked like a small food-grade chemical plant. The big stainless steel screw was used for removing sediment and other solids from the crushed grapes.

Next stop was Tzippori with both Roman and Jewish ruins. We were joined by Professor Lee Levine (family friend of Rabbi Orenstein) and world-renown expert on the ruins at Tzippori. There were fascinating mosaics, including the Mona Lisa of the Galilee (see photos) and, in an ancient synagogue, illustrations from various Jewish texts plus the wheel of the zodiac. Interestingly, the way the archaeologists knew this was a Jewish settlement was by the mikvahs they found.

Then it was off to Kibbutz Nof Ginosar Hotel -- where we would stay for two nights. The Kibbutz is located on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, so there were many non-Jewish visitors as well. Matt Silver, son of CBI members Sheryl and Dave, went to Israel as a Lone Soldier several years ago. He was "adopted" by a family living at Nof Ginosar, the Boylands, who had a son in the army named Guy. Matt and Guy became very close friends. Unfortunately last year, during the Gaza unrest, Guy was killed while helping to clear the tunnels. We had dinner with Guy's parents, Adva and Glen, and then met with them after dinner to learn more about the Kibbutz. The only quiet place we could find with enough chairs was the bomb shelter (it had air conditioning). Adva grew up at Ginosar, but eventually left, traveling to New Zealand where she met Glen, Eventually they moved back to Ginosar to raise their children. Adva is the manager of the hotel gift shop -- which meant many of went the next morning to buy lots of things.

Photos Day 6

Day 7, Wednesday, October 14

 This morning we set out for the city of Tzefat. Along the way there interesting sights, including the Kibbutz's banana orchard. Tzefat is considered a "mystical" city as this is where Kabbalah started. There are many old synagogues -- we visited two, one Sephardic and one Azkhenazi. In addition, there are many crafts people in Tzefat. The candle store was fascinating -- check the photos for some amazing wax figurines (and, yes, a penguin came home with me). We then visited a glass blower's studio -- not only was her glass fascinating, but her story of how she became a painter and then a glass blower, and how it all related back to Judaism and life, was even more fascinating. Lunch was at a little place with falafel or shwarma (Mike and I had falafel, that's Marie's shwarma in the photo). Then is was time to shop. I was very happy that I found the silversmith where Kate bought me hamsa earrings when she was in Tzefat several years ago -- I know have a bracelet to match. And I bought both a painting of pomegranates and a glass of pomegranate juice while Mike sampled some ice cream.

And then it was back on the bus to head to the Golan Heights. We learned why it was very important to Israel to gain control of this area and saw old Syrian bunkers. Israel had a Mossad agent posing as a Syrian business man; after a number of adventures, he was invited by high-ups in the Syrian army to visit the bunkers. He expressed dismay at how hot and sunny these locations were and donated eucalyptus trees to shade the bunkers. These are not trees native to that area. When the Israelis attacked, they looked for the trees to know where to bomb the bunkers. We then proceeded up Mt. Bental which overlooks Syria. You can see where Israel ends -- the land is no longer green. There were two UN observers (Dutch) with fancy binoculars up there keeping an eye on Syria.

Then we went to an IDF (army) base where we saw a tank demonstration. This was followed by a visit to their memorial hall with photos back to 1948 of unit members who had died (the most recent was from last summer in Gaza). And then we sat down to a BBQ dinner with the soldiers. We had 4 soldiers at our table -- all 20 or 21. They are young but mature. The tank leader was sitting next to me -- he wants everyone to know it's safe here because they are making it safe. And they use the smoke screen (see photos) for when a tank is fired on and they want to get away. Plus, he said, it looks great in a demo.

Photos Day 7

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Israel Day Five (Oct. 12)

Our first full day of the tour was interesting. The breakfast buffet at the Carlton was incredible -- it puts the cocktail hour at a b'nai mitzvah to shame. All sorts of cold things -- different smoked fish, fruit, yogurt, salad, cereal, breads; any kind of eggs (including waffles); any kind of hot drink; halavah and dates. (There are photos.)

First stop was at an Ethiopian community center where we heard the story from an amazing woman who came to Israel from Ethiopia, through Sudan, in 1984. It was a fascinating story and afterwords they served us spiced coffee and their version of cornbread. Hospitality is very important to them. We also had the opportunity to buy some of their handicrafts.

Next stop was with Lecket -- an Israeli organization that provides food for those in need. Lecket means "gleaning" and refers to the mitzvah of leaving unharvested crops in the corners of the fields for the poor to gather (Book of Ruth, among other places). The group both collects leftover food from catered events and restaurants and from farmers' fields. Our job was to harvest pomegranates. We spent about 1/2 hour and filled two large bins.

We then went to the other extreme -- an upscale mall in Ramat Aviv, an upscale neighborhood of Tel Aviv. We visited the food court for lunch -- falafel for me. You'll see photos from the mall -- lots of familiar stores. On the one hand, how annoying that it's the same places I could shop at back home. On the other hand, how nice to know that these brands are not boycotting Israel.

Our next stop was close by, on the edge of Tel Aviv University. We went to the Palmach Museum. This group was the original Israeli underground, working during WWII to try to help Jews escape Europe and also working first with the English against the Arabs in Palestine and then against both the English and the Arabs. It was thanks to them that Israel won the war of independence. It is an amazing museum -- entirely multi-media with some exhibits and films (we had English translations to listen to). It was very moving and inspiring.

The bus made a stop at the hotel before heading to the next stop, which was a walking tour along Rothschild Blvd. As Mike and I spent three days walking along there and seeing the same sights, we got off. And finally success -- Mike was able to rent a kayak and paddle in the Mediterranean.

We had dinner at an outdoor restaurant just south of our hotel, next to the Tel Aviv marina. It was very pleasant. Later in the evening, a friend of the family who lived in Englewood for a few years, came by. Over cups of tea, we chatted and caught up on the doings of his family and ours. Jeff originally came to Israel to work as a lawyer. He decided that he wanted to be a rabbi and came to the US to go to JTS. He now still works as a lawyer but has founded a small conservative congregation that has grown to about 70 families in three years.

We finished packing in preparation for moving on tomorrow.

Day five photos

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Israel Day 4 (1011/15)

Another great breakfast this morning. We packed up and checked out -- we're sorry to leave this friendly hotel. Mike was quickly able to hail a taxi on Allenby St., who took us to the Dan Panorama Hotel. Ralph at the hotel was puzzled -- neither our names nor our tour group was anywhere in their system. I gave him the page with the tour phone numbers and he made a call. For unknown reasons, the tour company changed the hotel to the Carlton, which is further north and right on the beach. A short taxi ride later, we were checking in (with our free welcome drink -- sweet mint iced tea). The hotel has a small private beach. We kept walking to the public beach further down where there was an outdoor snack bar. This time Mike got the green drink, a mint lemonade slushy while Nancy had the passion fruit slushy. Mike had a grilled chicken sandwich while Nancy had the very Israeli chicken liver pita (including pickles and tahini). We were very excited to find out there was a place to rent kayaks but when Mike checked, they told him it was too windy for rentals.

Nancy took a taxi out to the airport to meet the group (allowing Mike some more quiet time at the hotel). After a while, the group showed up -- yay! Big beautiful bus was waiting for us (and it has WiFi!) We drove through Jaffa to Old Town Jaffa. Very quickly went past some shops up to the top of the Jaffa Tel (that's a hill) for a view of the Mediterranean and Tel Aviv. We said a special blessing (the Shekhiyanu) of thank you for having come together in Israel. Then the group got to check in to the hotel. Interesting dinner, served family style, with salads, appetizers, various main courses (chicken, lamb, fish, and vegetarian), and a variety of desserts.

Tomorrow we need to be up early as we go off to see and do a variety of things.

Day four photos

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Israel Day Three (October 10)

We woke up on time today, around 7:30 am (unlike yesterday's 9:30 am). Breakfast buffet was just as yummy. Forgot to describe one of yesterday's photos. When you enter the hotel room, your key card goes in a slot by the door -- that turns on the electricity for the room. Obviously when you leave, you remove the key card (so you can get back in).

We strolled to the other end of Rothschild Blvd. this morning, through Habima Square (several cultural institutions, including a theater and auditorium, and gardens), and through Dan Park (a haven for children with lots of playground equipment -- at least three birthday parties were going on when we went through). Eventually we got to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. We only went through two floors but I was thrilled to see Marc Chagall paintings (photos below). There were lots of other impressionists and post-impressionists. You'll be amazed to see my photo of a Picasso that is actually recognizable as real people.

We then continued to stroll, stopping for lunch at Lilush (described in the Fodor guide as a cozy neighborhood bistro, we didn't know it was in the guide, just picked it because it was open on Shabbat and the menu looked okay). Mike & I both had mint lemonade.

And then . . . the beach. For 30 shekels (about $7) we rented two lounge chairs and an umbrella and spent the afternoon with a myriad of beach goers (the two ladies next to me were Russian, there were two young men from Germany across from us, and a wide mix of others). I only waded but Mike went for several swims. Very relaxing.

We strolled back to the hotel, mainly along Allenby St. After some computer time we headed out to dinner, going back to Rustico, the Italian restaurant on Rothschild we'd been to Thursday night. We shared a Roman salad (what we'd call a Caesar salad but with a few mushrooms) and each got the mushroom risotto. I had the signature cocktail which is campari with pomegranate juice, orange juice and wedges, and a few other juices. And we shared the chocolate tower (four species of chocolate said our waiter -- I expected dark, milk, white, and something else; instead it was four different preparations) plus cappuccino for Mike and mint tea for Nancy.

This is our last night on our own. Tomorrow morning we'll head over to the Dan Panorama Hotel and then go out to the airport to meet our group.

Day 3 photos

Friday, October 9, 2015

Israel Day Two (October 9)

The breakfast buffet at our hotel is amazing -- choice of hot dishes (pasta and things), lots of salad things, lox, cereal, mini chocolate croissants, bread, jelly, your choice of eggs (any style), choice of tea and coffee (cappuccino, etc.) You'll see my choices in the photos. Forget to explain one of the photos from last night. Our room is on the 2nd floor. I showed the elevator panel -- the ground floor (what we could call the first floor) is 0 and the floor below it, on the elevator panel, is -1.

We walked through Neve Tzedek again, and a little in the next neighborhood, Florentine, down to the water. That took us to Old Town Jaffa. I managed to find two of my favorite shops from January (the fabric art shop where I picked out a beautiful fabric art painting last time and the Adina Plastelina shop that makes all sorts of neat things from art clay). As we're at the beginning of our trip, unlike last time, I resisted any new fabric art paintings, but I did get some small things at Adina's. (As I told the saleswoman there, if I get everything I want now, that would imply that I'm never coming back.) We than walked along to the Yaffa Port where I got a glass of fresh squeezed pomegranate juice and Mike got carrot/orange juice.

On the stroll back, Mike walked along the beach. I did dip my toes in the Mediterranean (the water is warm, 28C). Mike actually went for a short swim. Then we strolled to the old train station that's been converted to shops and cafes. He found a nice bench to sit and read while I strolled. I did stop to buy ice cream -- the smallest cup they had, which, to my amazement had two scoops squeezed in, chocolate sorbet and hazelnut (sorry, you only get a photo of the empty cup, it was melting so we had to eat it fast). Then back to the hotel, cutting through the theater and art complex at the edge of Neve Tzedek. The pretty trees that we saw back in January now have large oranges or grapefruits ripening on them.

After some quiet time (reading, Internet catch-up, etc.) we went off to find dinner. I had looked in the guidebood and discovered that a place we didn't go to last night because it looked like it wasn't very good, had a good review. So we went to Moses bar & grill, described as part retro lounge, part bistro. I had 3 mini burgers -- American (their classic burger with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo), European (mix of beef, lamb, and veal with a spicy ketchup), and one of the burgers of the week, Japanese (shredded red cabbage, mayo, and wasabi ketchup). Mike had an Israeli beer. I had a mint lemonade (I love it, you ask for lemonade and they ask if you want mint in it) and then mint tea.

As my cousin put it, Tel Aviv is more secular than Jerusalem. So, many of the restaurants are open (and busy) even though Shabbat starts on Friday night. Tomorrow there will be lots of things open. It is different feel here in Tel Aviv -- more cosmopolitan.

Here are day two photos.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Israel Day One (Again, 10/8/15)

It's deja vu all over again -- I'm back in Israel, this time with my husband Mike. As we hoped, we're here a few days before our synagogue's group tour arrives. Unfortunately, our cousins here in Tel Aviv are away for the weekend, so we're on our own. The flight was okay -- an unhappy baby across the aisle cried off and on most of the night, but we were in the bulkhead row and had lots of leg room.

We took a taxi to our hotel, The Lily & Bloon. Very nice room and the staff is so friendly and helpful. After a little unpacking we wandered off to find lunch. Ate at a nice dairy restaurant where I had another one of my "green" drinks (Kate captioned one of the photos in January -- mom had a lot of odd green things to drink) -- lemon mint slushy -- while Mike had fresh orange juice.

We then walked through the original part of Tel Aviv -- Neve Tzedek and then down to the beach on the Mediterranean. As it was in the 80s (28C to be precise) there were not only people surfing but also swimming. And we saw down a few blocks the Dan Panorama -- where we'll stay with the group. Back to the hotel for some quiet time (reading) but no sleep. Wandered out to Rothschild Blvd. to find dinner at Rustico, a nice little Italian restaurant, where we ate outside. I had a yummy mushroom risotto and Mike had some homemade gnocchi. Will probably be an early evening as we're still not really in this time zone.

Photos for day one