So we decided that although we had extensively toured Israel a few years ago, it was time to stop sitting around and go see a thing or two. For our first daytrip, we headed North with Mom and Gidon to Rosh Hanikra on the Lebanese border. Now we had finally traversed Israel from very top to very bottom. First we got excited about sticking our feet under the Israel border fence, into Lebanon. (Okay, really we could only get them into the “no man’s land” section between the two countries.) Then it was time to explore.
Rosh Hanikra has a network of caves and grottoes on the water’s edge where “the mountain meets the sea,” and the waves from the Mediterranean swing in and out. The entrance to the caves is accessed by descending from above on the world’s steepest cable car. Once at the bottom you can follow a path through the caves, and listen to and watch the waves splashing in and out. The water levels change with the tides and currents, and it’s very pretty to walk through. Also, nothing says “romantic sea view” like the sight of an Israeli warship monitoring the border for illicit boats from Lebanon.
From there, we went to the historic town of Akko, which is a three *thousand* year-old city. There is proof of this city in Egyptian hieroglyphic writings which contain its name. Akko is called “Acre” in English because the crusaders mistook it for the city of Ekron. Audio guide in hand, we toured the ancient Crusaders’ Citadel, but I quickly became lost in historical overload. When you have a couple hundred years of history to listen to, you can follow what’s going on fairly quickly. When you have almost five thousand years to keep straight, it can be a bit much to remember. And while I don’t want to minimize all the significance of this ancient town with its history and its conquerors and its winding alleyways, I have to point out that we had some amazing falafel for lunch. (Cheap, too!)
The next day we relaxed for the day before going with my mom to a klezmer concert that evening. Klezmer is traditional Jewish music that originated in eastern Europe, and typically features a clarinet along with other instruments. It’s typically not my cup of tea, but I found this performance to be quite enjoyable. So did Stephanie, despite the fact that she had been exposed to and understood a lot less than I did about the music. We both really liked the accordion, and it reminded me of my dad who used to play. (Check out a sample here.)
Due to the fun fun fun of trying to acquire an Indian visa on a U.S. passport while in Israel, we found ourselves in country a bit longer than anticipated. We decided to head back to Jerusalem for a few days, and Mom joined us on the first day for an exploration of the Israel Museum. We wanted to go there to check out the Dead Sea Scrolls, one of two remaining sites we still really wanted to see in Israel.
The scrolls were found in the 1940s in a cave on the edge of the Dead Sea, and contain the oldest known copies of the Torah (Hebrew Bible) as well as hundreds of other biblical and historical writings. Some of the scrolls date back over two hundred years BCE. Aside from proving that the bible in its current form existed well before the start of Christianity, the non-biblical scrolls also provide fascinating insight into the lives and beliefs of the sect that wrote them. They are housed in a large building that happily reminded Stephanie of a giant Hershey’s Kiss.
Also at the Israel Museum, we saw an outdoor 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem as it looked during the time of the Second Temple (530 BCE – 70 CE). We had fun identifying different locations in the Old City and comparing how they looked then to how they look today. We also saw a fascinating exhibit on King Herod (who ruled Judea during Roman times), took a quick whip through the archaeology section, and wandered through a sculpture garden.
After our day at the museum, Mom returned to Zichron Yaakov, and we headed over to my sister Rochelle’s place – a nice one-hour stroll from the museum. Buses? We don’ need no stinkin’ buses! Once we were there, Rochelle surprised us by taking us to the Night Spectacular at the Tower of David. This is an outdoor presentation where the 2000 year history of Jerusalem is projected on the ancient walls of the tower complex. No language skills required!
On Friday, Stephanie and I headed to Yad Vashem (pronounced yahd va-SHEM) – the Israel Holocaust Museum, and the other major site we had wanted to see. Needless to say, Yad Vashem was a very powerful and moving experience. I did notice however, that they do not go into as much gritty detail on the horrors of the camps as the holocaust museum in Washington DC. I was kind of grateful for that; it was emotional enough as it is. After about two-and-a-half hours, I realized we would need to pick up our pace, or we would never see it all before it closed at 2:00. We wished we lived close enough to come for several successive days and read everything, watch every video and study every artifact. Most impressive was the Hall of Names where the name of every known Holocaust victim is recorded. I wanted to search Yad Vashem’s database for information on the families of my grandparents, but I wasn’t sure exactly which names to look for. Next time.
As we took the light rail back to the Old City and my sister, we noted that even though it was only about 2:30 in the afternoon, many people were dressed up and clearly headed somewhere for Shabbat – just like us. This was both the first time we’ve been in the Old City on Shabbat, and the first time I have joined my sister’s family for Shabbat, and I was kind of excited. She informed us that she was having a smaller-than-average group as there were only eleven of us. The spread for dinner was just incredible, and I ate well beyond the point I should have. The conversation among the adults did turn very religiously heavy, for which I should have been prepared, but it was really wonderful to share in a regular part of their lives. The next day we were back for Shabbat lunch which featured even more guests, an equal if not greater spread of food and an equally heavy conversation. Fortunately, we were able to temper the religiosity a bit by taking the three older kids out for a walk and to play a bit.
That evening, my brother-in-law, Danny’s yeshiva put on a humorous presentation for the Jewish holiday of Purim, and we happily attended. While nothing like Halloween, Purim does share a few vague characteristics with our favorite secular holiday. (Yes, I know Halloween was originally a Pagan-turned-Christian thing. Don’t start with me.) Both holidays involve treats and costumes. Joining us at Danny’s presentation were my neice Elana dressed as a Geisha girl, and nephew Yisrael-David dressed as a Torah scroll. Now *there’s* a costume you don’t see on Halloween. The skits ran late into the night, and the kids nobly soldiered through it even when most of it was over their heads. We had spent most nights keeping Rochelle and Danny up past midnight chatting about everything; this time, Danny retired around midnight, I folded at about 2:00am, and Rochelle and Stephanie kept the banter going until after 4:00 am!
Needless to say, we slept in a bit on Sunday. When we got to Rochelle’s, she was getting ready to assemble treat bags (called mishloach manot in Hebrew) to be delivered to her friends and acquaintances for Purim. Our offer to help quickly turned into an assembly line. With the kids’ assistance, we got over 80 goodie bags assembled in less than half an hour. We rounded out the day helping Aaron-Shaul with his Hebrew homework, and marveling at the rooftop view of the Temple Mount from our hosts’ home before boarding a bus back to the North.
On our last full day in Israel we took a lovely walk through the local botanical gardens where my mom walks every morning. It’s not every botanical garden that has pens full of goats for your viewing pleasure. The afternoon was largely taken up with more visa shenanigans, and then, all of a sudden, our time in Israel had come to an end.
BONUS VIDEO LINK: My adorable nephew Yaakov spinning and bonking.