Monday, July 9, 2007

Sunday, July 8

We finally stopped this morning and checked out this really cool playground that I have been eyeing. It is in south Netanya and it has a huge wood climbing structures. It also has exercise equipment that is colorful and suitable for kids. Our kids gave themselves quite a workout. That turned out to be a fun little trip. Then we met Sami and her kids at the Wingate Institute. Happy Birthday to Mati. Our quirky pink guidebook told us that there is Jewish Sports Hall of fame there, and to call ahead for admission. So Donna called and was told to tell them at the gate that we were guests of Effie and to come into the administration building. We had passed by Wingate Institute many times as it is right off the highway, just South of Netanya, but we had no idea what it was. So it turns out that Effie is the head of PR, and he gave us a private tour of Wingate, which is the primary athletic training facility in Israel. Wingate runs all of the sports education training programs for teachers, runs youth sports programs, and is the home base of the Israeli athletes training for the Olympics. All of the Olympic athlete’s medical care is run through Wingate, and many athletes train on site. Effie brought us to the gym where the women’s volleyball team was practicing. Their goal is to be in the Olympics in 2012 and to win the gold in 2016. So in ten years we can say that we saw them way back when... The gymnasts train in Tel Aviv, so we did not get to check them out (though Maayan did see Israel’s top male gymnast last week when she was working out in Tel Aviv). The Wingate facility is colored by the tragic loss of eleven Israeli athletes at the Olympics in Munich. Many of the athletes had trained at Wingate, and the murdered coaches were all on staff there. In the middle of the campus is a memorial to those athletes, one of the buildings is named the Hall of Eleven, and reminders of the tragedy are throughout. So after an extensive and very interesting tour of the campus, Effie took is the to the un-air-conditioned Hall of Fame, where we cheeked out bios of Jewish athletes from the 1700’s until 2005, and saw some memorabilia including a Sandy Koufax jersey, and lots more tributes to the Munich 11.

After our tour, we all drove over to a nearby mall and shopping area (how strange it will be to go the mall without having the car and purses searched first). We had a yummy lunch and ran a few errands, culminating in a trip to the only Ikea store in Israel. It is huge. And I mean huge. And it is set up so that you have to walk through the entire store if you walk in at all. Near the entrance there is a play area a movie theater so that you can dump the kids. If you choose to take them with you there are play areas interspersed throughout, as well as puppet shows, clowns, and a kosher restaurant at the end for a reward after you make it through. For me, it was a living hell – a big store with no exit in sight. And a crying kid. But the other six kids enjoyed trying out all of the furniture.

We came back to the apartment to pack, and the kids and Donna went down the street to a place called Mini-Golf to play mini-golf. But it turned out that Mini-Golf is just a restaurant, no golf to be found. So they played soccer and did gymnastics instead. We all went to the kikar for dinner (again, ice cream followed by falafel/shwarma and corn) and said our goodbyes to the kikar. It is sad, we will miss this place.

Tomorrow we will say good-bye to Donna (sniff, sniff), and then load up and go to Renana and hang out with the Hartsteins. They are going to take us to the airport. Being with them will make a hard day much easier. This trip has been an education for us all – from map reading and driving, to Zionism, to ancient history and the history of medinat Yisrael, to archeology, to a language course, to a hiking and fitness experience, to opening ourselves to different cultures, to baseball in a foreign land. Such richness. We have to work at insuring that these experiences do not fade, but become a part of us and our life in America. We have been blessed. Wish us a niseyah tovah.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Shabbat, July 7

We had a very nice Shabbat of davening at home, reading, games, and a nice long evening walk in the park. Having Donna with us was a real pleasure – it made the day go so much faster. We are starting to think about the things that we are going to miss when we leave.
Noah: IBL, shwarma, the kotel, seeing signs in Hebrew
Naomi: Donna, the apartment, all the cute dogs, the kotel
Eitan: IBL, the kotel, all the cool Jewish history, Caesarea
Ilana: our favorite restaurant with the big huge couscous, the apartment, the pizza, and the meatballs
Sima: traffic circles, the freedom that the kids have, the hustle and bustle late into the night, all the beautiful places we have been, learning Hebrew, kosher food everywhere, and especially Pizza Hut delivery

Things we will not miss: traffic, cats, dirt, lack of air conditioning, people yelling at us, small washing machines, clothespins, the ElDan rental

By the way, the dogs here are the ugliest I have ever seen. They are little and mutts and they are the strangest combinations of features. Truly unattractive. But Naomi loves them; she has a very big heart. There are also stray cats everywhere. They are like squirrels.

Friday, July 6

This morning Donna went to Tel Aviv to meet a friend, and the Oberlander’s cleaned the apartment for Shabbat before heading to Maayan’s Bat Mitzvah party. The party was just outside of Jerusalem at a moshav called Yad Hashmona. It was a lovely venue. The directions to get here were something like this. Get off at the Chemed interchange, go and do a U-turn and get back on the highway going the other way. Get off at the gas station, go behind the gas station and turn left and then follow the road till you get there – and we made it without one wrong turn! The guests were mostly Jacqueline’s family, the food was delicious, and Sami gave a very nice speech, though it was in Hebrew and we didn’t really understand. Then we drove back to Netanya and the drive was a pleasure. Fridays there is no traffic, and we blasted Sarit Hada the whole way. Donna was already back at the apartment and got ourselves ready for Shabbat. the kids are so excited to have the Israeli version of pigs in blanket – here it is called Moshe b’teva. Shabbat shalom.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Thursday, July 5

I won’t bore you with all the driving stories from today: turns we couldn’t make, streets we missed, times we couldn’t turn around, etc. Suffice it to say we spent alot of time in transit but did not hit anything, and Donna was sick of driving and she wasn’t driving. We left the house at 7:45am, and just returned at 10:30 pm. So where were we?

Our first stop was the Palmach museum in Tel Aviv. It is an experiential museum that takes you through the story of one fictional Palmach brigade from 1941 to 1948. The story is presented mostly through film, and with lots of special effects. As you walk from one room to the next you are singing by a campfire, on a long training hike, blowing up bridges, on a boat etc. The museum got rave reviews, but I think that something was lost in translation (all of the dialog is in Hebrew and they give you these little telephone things that translate some of the narrative, but most of the dialog is not translated). The kids liked it because it was cool – I thought that it wasn’t very substantive. Donna and Ilana skipped this part – Donna has already been twice, and Ilana would have been bored silly.

Next we headed to Rehovot and the Ayalon Institute. This was the code name for an operation that ran from 1943-1945 in which a group of people who were working to start a kibbutz were recruited to produce bullets in a secret, underground factory. Above the factory was a working kibbutz. The factory was accessed through a laundry on one end and a bakery on the other. The secret of the factory was kept so well that only the kibbutznicks who worked in it knew it existed. They had all kinds of elaborate ruses to trick the other kibbutznicks who were on the kibbutz; they thought that this group worked in agriculture in a far away field. The secret was kept for many years, long after the Israel was a state and the factory had been moved above ground, and the workers had gone on to start their own kibbutz, Maagan Micha’el. We toured the laundry, saw the secret passage to the factory, and then entered the restored factory through the bakery. It is an unbelievable story. They even did laundry for the British soldiers in the very washing machine that covered the entrance to the factory.

Next stop, a water park in Holon where we met the cousins. Maayan went to a gym to work out, and the rest of the kids slid and swam for several hours. We headed out at dinner time and stopped at Yarkon Field to watch the Ranana Express v. the Petach Tivkvah Pioneers and eat Burgers Bar. I told the kids that they could collect 2 foul balls for the family – that they should not be greedy, as there were more kids at the game this time and I thought it fair that everyone get a ball (after all, we already have 4 from last game). At the end of the game as the kids were getting balls signed, a player asked if any kid did not have a ball. Noah and Ilana were holding ours so Eitan raised his hand and the player gave him one. Naomi also said that she didn't have one, so a player gave her his wristband, but some other kid snatched it. The guy then took pity on her and gave her a bat (it was cracked). She was the envy of every kid there! It turned out that the guy who gave her the bat had just acquired it during the game, he had swapped bats with a teammate named Scott, whose mom had been sitting near us. Both guys signed the bat for Naomi, and they all took a photo together (Scott’s mom is going to e-mail it to me).

Kids fell asleep in the car. We are home and tired. Lila tov.

Wednesday, July 4

I clipped a bus today. Just a tiny bit. There is a little scratch on the side view mirror, hardly noticeable. The bus driver yelled at me. The check out lady at Supersol Deals (the equivalent of Sam’s Club) yelled at me too. A woman yelled at Noah in the Supersol justifiably, he was pushing the cart around a corner too fast, and a six pack of 1.5 liter bottles flew off the bottom of the cart and hit her in the leg.

Other highlights of the day had a naval theme. We drove to Haifa (the train turned out to be too much of a hassle) and went to the National Maritime Museum and the Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum. The former was pretty dry and filled with screaming campers (Naomi was mistaken as one of them by a madrich and herded to the group). They had many model ships on display, strangely enough they also had bios of the people who built the models. On display were some very cool very old maps, and some ancient relics from the sea. They also had an exhibit on pirates. We made it there for about 45 minutes and then headed next door to the much more interesting clandestine naval museum. This museum is the equivalent of Latrune for ships, and with shade. In the back lots of old boats, boat missiles, torpedoes, and boat guns, and even a mock up a sub control room complete with working periscope are on display; you can climb on almost everything. The also have on display a boat that carried ma’apilim, and a movie about the ma’apilim that we could not stay to watch. Inside they have various artifacts from the navy and stories of many battles at sea. We were very impressed by the resourcefulness of the navy – they reused parts of ships that they had captured to build new ships, recycled missiles, etc.

Then we tried unsuccessfully to get lunch in Haifa (that’s when I clipped the bus). We wound up driving down to Caesarea to visit Eitan’s favorite ruins at eat at the beautiful restaurant in Old Caesarea where we ate the first day of our trip. On the way to Caesarea we had a brief detour near Atlit – we saw a castle like ruin from the road, protruding out into the sea, and tried to drive to it but wound up at a military base. So we left that ruin unexplored.

We then had our next great adventure at the Supersol Deals, which is an equivalent to Sam’s Club. We bought lots of hard salami and dried meat to bring home – it is so much cheaper here – as well as teddy bear and dino shaped chicken nuggets and our favorite yogurts. And we made it out alive.

We decided to have ice cream for dinner at this delicious looking ice cream place in the kikar, Tony’s Ice. Noah and Eitan had shwarma for dessert, and then all the kids had corn on the cob for an after dinner treat. We bought the corn from the corn man on the street and I was shocked to find that the corn was 7 shekels each. So I paid 7 bucks for corn that would have cost one dollar at home. But with the savings on the salami, I think we still broke even.

I am appreciating our home base in Netanya more and more each day. Not only is it well situated geographically, it is also so kid friendly. The rides and activities and food in the kikar are all just a short walk away and in a relatively contained area that gives the kids lots of room to run and explore and be independent. Noah and Eitan feel totally comfortable going to buy shwarma by themselves, the kids go into the makolet to get their own drinks, they can walk around on their own. despite the traffic and grime, this was definitely a good choice.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Tuesday, July 3

Today we took to the North, heading first to Nahal Me’arot, a national park in the Carmel mountains south of Haifa. The park is a large reserve with many caves, some of which were found to have evidence of early man (from about 20,000 years ago). The mountain was formed from a coral reef -- the entire area used to be under the sea. When the Carmel mountains were pushed up from the earth, the rock from the reef and the caves were exposed. The park ranger directed us up some stairs, toward the biggest cave, and told us to push the button for English when we get to the cave; there is a movie. By the way, there was no one else in the park and we had to get the ranger from her office to let us in, which should have been a sign. We got far enough in the cave to see some coral fossils in the cave wall and find the button for English. A big booming voice started speaking, and lights flashed on part of the cave wall. We could hear animals that sounded like bats squeaking from inside the vacuous cave, and it was very dark inside except for the lights that illuminated different sections as the booming voice described various parts of the cave. Absolutely no one else was around. The kids went running out of the cave in terror, and Donna and I weren’t so keen on going in either so we made a quick change of plans and did a hike instead. It was supposed to be a short easy hike, but it was probably the hardest one we have done. It went up, around, and down a very rocky mountain and involved some real climbing. We had to carefully follow the trail markers – it was easy to get off course. Ilana was again a little mountain goat and we all took turns helping her, and the weather was relatively cool, so it was a good hike.

After the hike we drove to the Atlit detention camp, where Jews who tried to enter Palestine illegally (ma’apilim) were held by the British. The camp was in use by the British from about 1933 until 1948. Donna (thank goodness for Donna!) had called ahead and found out that there was an English speaking tour group coming, and we joined them for the tour. The tour guide gave us a brief history and of the camp, and then took us into the disinfection barracks where incoming ma’apilim were stripped and sprayed with DDT. Their clothes were steamed, and they were taken to the living barracks. Men and women were separated, but could leave their barracks area and meet once a day on the center road through the camp, which they called the “Boardwalk.” The kids thought it was very sad that families were separated couldn’t imagine having to live apart from their dad (kids under 13 stayed with the women). Three barracks buildings have been restored, and one is furnished as the barracks were them and contains some original carvings made by the ma’apilim into the wood of the barrack wall. They also showed us a movie about the Palmach liberation of ma’apilim who were in the camp (I think in 1946), and who were about to be deported. The Palmach snuck in several of their members as Hebrew teachers; their job was to prep the inmates. Under cover of darkness two Palmach units cut the fence, and the members inside woke the ma’apilim. In about 15 minutes they got all 210 ma’apilim out, and began a walk over Mount Carmel to kibbutz Beit Oren. They walked through the night, but were discovered by a British jeep. The British came to collect the ma’apilim at kibbutz Beit Oren. But when the British arrived, they found that hundreds of residents of Haifa had come down to the kibbutz and surrounded it, so that the British could not get to the ma’apilim -- they in effect formed a human protective barrier. An incredible story, and of course I cried. The guide also showed us a sample of the database that is being compiled of the stories and history of the ma’apilim. It was a very moving experience – we all were touched by the trials and the strength of the ma’apilim who made it to Eretz Israel.

Next on the agenda was a walk through a Roman aqueduct outside of Binyamina. The aqueduct was constructed about 2000 years ago to bring water from the natural springs in the Alon area to the important port of Caesarea. The aqueduct was originally 23 kilometers long and ran both below and above ground. The part below ground, where we were, was originally constructed using access holes dug about every 50 meters to the required depth of the aqueduct. Then a narrow, arched tunnel was dug through the rock from hole to hole. The tour takes you on a walk down about 150 meters of the aqueduct tunnel. The depth of water ranged from just a few centimeters to waist high on an adult. Apparently during the winter, the water level can be several feet higher, basically filling the channel. As we walked, we could see original chisel marks and little alcoves where the diggers put candles to provide light for them to work. There is even a spot where the Romans started to curve the aqueduct (the cut out is there) but the rock was too hard, so they continued digging in the original direction, and made the curve about 5 meters later. At the end we were wet and happy, and ready for glida. Line of the day: as the water first rose to waist high, Naomi yells out “this is the time to go to the bathroom!”

Now we are back at the apartment for a brief rest, and tonight we are gong back to our favorite restaurant, Merrakesh, and then to the kikar to enjoy the bouncing things, bungee ropes, and arts and crafts.

The kids have been fantastic – they are living history lessons and really appreciating their experiences. They loved Atlit and were more attentive and involved than many of the adulates on the tour. And they are applying and remembering their experiences. In the aqueduct the guide pointed out a place where water was seeping through, and they asked if the rock was limestone as they have learned that limestone is porous. They have learned how to follow trail markers on a hike, and they know which direction they are headed by the order of the colored stripes (thanks, Donna). They are thinking and putting pieces together, it is really rewarding. Though today especially, they missed their dad and his encyclopedic knowledge of history. They know that they could have soaked up even more if he had been with us!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Monday, July 2 – Yokenam!!

We were out the door by 7:30 am to meet Orit from Etgarim by the side of the road just outside Zichron Yaakov. We followed her to Yokneam, which is in a beautiful green, hilly area. We drove through what I believe are the outskirts of Yokeam, passing through some neighborhoods of mid sized homes with land (yards are hard to find in many cities here) interspersed with animal sheds and crumbling buildings. Eventually we reached a JNF park area. On the dirt road into the park, we hit a construction delay (always construction!) but made it to the park well before the gan was scheduled to arrive. We met the madrichim from Etgarim, Gilad and Pasha, and their supervisor Sharon. Noah and Eitan tried out the zip line, which went up about 25 feet and all seemed to be in working order. The gan arrived, ten kids with three teachers, and we all did the program together. These kids had been working with Etgarim every two weeks for the school year. This was their end of the year activity; most of the time the ropes are set up on trees near their gan. The kids were ages 3-7. Pasha had been the madrich of the kids all year and the were so excited to see him and so affectionate, and he was just as happy to see them. They clearly have a special bond. The other regular madrich had started a summer course and could not be there but Gilad and Sharon were immediately enthusiastic and involved, as were the gan’s teachers. Together, kids and adults, they were a team.

So the program was like this. We did an intro activity all together, and then we divided into two groups – one for the zip line and one for the ropes course. Ilana, Eitan, and Naomi did all the activities with the kids. Even Ilana did the zip line! Noah helped to spot the kids on the ropes course. Then we all made pita together (much like at Eretz Bereshit), and we went on a te’ul down a wooded path, past a few caves and a spring. The kids all took turns playing and splashing in the water, and running around and listening to their echos in the under the large rock overhangs. It was work to keep the kids all on course, but their joy was infectious. Donna was especially engaged with the kids in the gan, she has a natural talent with children (proof—she can manage mine). Gilad showed the Oberlander kids some other fun things along the way, such as a tunnel that ran parallel to the path but was covered by arches of what looked like hay, a log on which to walk across the spring, various small caves and cutouts in the rock, and after the gan kids had left a spring pool that was under a rock overhang and had a cave in the back. Naomi, Eitan, and Ilana all explored that area thoroughly with Pasha and were soaked and happy. The Oberlander kids had fun, and are still talking about how cute the kids were.

During the first part of the program, more and more people started showing up: Arkady the partnership 2000 Yokneam coordinator, the regional director of Etgarim, a representative from Yokneam’s education department, the Israeli JFed of St. Louis oversight person, and a couple of women I think from the Jewish Agency. To me (and to Noah) it seemed to be getting a bit ridiculous. Orit was insistent that this was a big deal for Etgarim; if I understood correctly they had not been matched before through Partnership 2000 tzedakah projects. They do most of their fundraising in Israel. Also, they were very touched by what the boys had done – starting an organization was to them something very special. We had some time to chat with all of these folks. We learned that Yokenam has 48 total gans, 4 of them serve kids with specials needs, and the gan that we were with today serves the most severely affected children. Lily, one of the teachers, also told us because of the challenges that these particular kid face, they do not get to experience outdoor activities such as these very often. She spoke passionately about how important these activities are to the kids’ development. From the Yokneam rep, we learned that the population of Yokneam has quadrupled in the recent years, and 80% of its population is 40 years old or younger. I had always pictured it as a development town down on its luck, but that it clearly not the case anymore. From Arkady we learned that we were not the only St. Louisans to visit Yokneam in the last week: the Green Family was there, the Serota family was there just a couple of days ago working on another tzedakah project, and five teens just arrived as shlichim for the summer camps. Apparently a couple of those kids knew us (maybe from Ladue) and wanted to come today but could not miss camp. We also had some good conversations with the other JFed and Jewish Agency folks. The reps did their jobs – we left feeling very connected to Yokneam and its residents, and feeling very good about the Yokneam community. Etgarim presented Noah, David, and Atian a packet and certificate, Yokneam education department gave them each a Bar Mitvah present of a tallis/tefillin case, and somebody (I’ve lost track of who) gave our family a couple of books about Yokneam and about Israel and some T-shirts for Naomi, Eitan, and Ilana. We will be packing an extra bag to bring all of it home. And it was very nice to have Donna with us for all of it; it was more of a community event.

After leaving Yokenam, we stopped in Zichron Yaakov for lunch. We were hoping to get to the First Aliyah museum, but by the time we finished lunch it was too late. So we walked around a bit and then headed out. On our way our of town we drove into Kibbutz Maayan Tzvi which shares the same hill with Zichron, and where Sima stayed for five months in 1988. It is still has the same breathtakingly beautiful view that it had then, but a few other things have changed. The dorm and all of the other buildings in the area where Sima lived have been knocked down, and they are in the midst of all kids of construction. It looks like they are building single family homes –an area of private housing on the kibbutz land. The views are incredible, the location fantastic, and the houses look very nice. Mike, are you interested?

Naomi’s highlight of the day – she found a license plate by the side of the road in the park in Yokneam. She loves it and has washed it off and is taking it home with her. Wait until Daniel Fredman sees this one!

Only in Israel story of the day: While we were in Yokneam, El Dan the rental car company called and told me that though they know I have rented the car until the 9th, I have to bring in the car today and exchange it for another. OK. I don’t ask any questions and I tell them that I can do it in Netanya between 3 and 4 pm. Then they call back and say that I have to go to Petach Tikvah to make the exchange. I tell them no. They say OK. When they call a third time I am beginning to get curious about what is actually wrong with this car that I am driving and why they need it so badly. They assure me that it is safe, and the best I can figure out from them is that the registration expires tomorrow. So I take the car to the office in Netanya, and they tell me that because the gas tank is only half full I am going to get charged extra. I told them that I was doing them a favor and I was not going to pay any extra to fill up the car. So they called the boss, and he agreed that they would fill it up at gas station price, and made a note of it on my contract. Then I went home and parallel parked the car with only inches to spare on both sides. I took a picture. I felt very Israeli. And by the way, El Al has still not found our car seat.

Back in Netanya, we met Elisa and the kids. We strolled along the promenade, played in the parks, and had dinner in the kikar. The girls did various dancing and gymnastics moves everywhere we went – they were so fun to watch. The time flew by, we said goodnight. Now everyone is clean and well-fed, and hopefully going to bed. Goodnight!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Sunday, July 1

Today was a day of caves. First we drove to a stalagtite cave on a big hill overlooking Beit Shemesh. We were driving on our own, without Donna, as we were meeting Sami and the kids and Donna there. We made it no problem through Tel Aviv and Beit Shemesh (Noah was excited to drive through Beist Shemesh, now he has been to the home city of every IBL team) and made it to the sign that directed us from the last highway to the cave, which according to the directions was supposed to be a turn “into the driveway.” After twisting our way up a mountain for several miles, I pulled over to call Sami and make sure we were on the right track. No cell signal. I looked at the map, and saw that the road we were taking was leading us to within a couple of km of the territories. So I decided to turn around and head down the mountain and get a cell signal. Once down, I got in touch with Sami and Donna and realized I had been about 500m from the entrance to the park where the cave is. So back up the mountain we went. And then back down the mountain we went, down about 200 steps to get to the cave entrance. Before entering the cave, we were shown a movie that unintentionally made us laugh by using lots of scientific terms and explaining the rules of the cave, including the rule that photography is forbidden every day except Fridays. The cave was amazing – we learned about all kinds of cave formations and how they are formed, and on our tour of the cave they showed us formations that looked like Moses on Mt. Sinai, smurfs and their mushroom smurf house, a wizard, a crocodile, little mermaid, snow white and the seven dwarves, a giant’s feet and finger, broccoli, a princess in a castle and much more. Then we headed back up the hundreds of steps to the car, Ilana whining for ice cream the entire way.

We then visited a small memorial to the space shuttle Challenger that was right by the park entrance,, and stopped by a section of the Old Burma Road. When Latrune and the Jerusalem/Tel Aviv highway were under Jordanian control from 1948-1967, Jews could not get supplies to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. So they built a secret road, out of the range of Jordanian guns, that they used to get food and water to Jerusalemites. This was the Burma Road, really more of a dirt track. We ate lunch in an area that was supposedly next to a section of it, there really wasn’t a marker or anything. Thank goodness for our quirky guidebook, which points out spots such as this as well as locations and times for Israeli dancing in every city across the country.

From there we went to Sataf. Sataf is a not so long hike down the side of a mountain and to a reconstruction of ancient farming techniques among some ruins. The JNF oversees the area, and they have planted terraces with irrigations trenches and are growing squash, what looked like corn, and a variety of other crops. The entire agricultural area is shaded by trees, many of them fig trees, and there are two old cisterns that contain water from natural springs. Of course, people were swimming in them despite a large swimming prohibited sign. One of the springs can be followed back to its source in a cave that is accessible by a very narrow tunnel with a small trickle of water flowing through it. It was a very dark but short trek into that cave; Mati’s big flashlight guided us well. The trip in was fun and involved lots of good family teamwork balancing lights and footholds, but the cave itself smelled like BO from the 20 yeshiva boys that been crammed in there before us and we did not stay long. Then a hike back up and finally GLIDA! My favorite image – we are sitting eating glida on these comfy chairs and cushions at the snack shop overlook and I look up and see a very messy Eitan chasing a ream of napkins being blown by the wind (he had gotten them to clean up, but dropped them all).

The Oberlanders plus Donna then headed back to Netanya. Donna and I got brave and tried an alternate route to minimize traffic, but we discovered that in Israel at 5:00 there is always traffic. It took two hours to get back to Netanya. The kids and I went to the kikar for dinner and had French pastry for dessert (lots of French here). Donna stayed home as she is not feeling great (don’t worry Dorit, we are taking care of her and she is already feeling much better). It is a beautiful cool night, the weather did finally break, so we were able to walk around and comfortably enjoy the evening. The kikar is like a street fair at night, with little kiosks set up, some selling things, some for paining and other crafts for kids, and they even have a few big inflatable jumpy things and a few other rides. The highlight of the evening – as we were leaving the kikar, having eaten and bounced our fill, we saw the Na Na Nachman van! It has been one of my personal goals for the trip to see the Nachman guys jump out and dance, and we got very excited until we realized that they were not going to dance, they were just blasting music from the van and selling things. Maybe next time....

We are now back at the apartment -- there is more music blasting this time from an outdoor wedding at the hotel across the street with an overly loud DJ. Hope that the kids and Donna can get some rest; Noah and I plan on walking back to the kikar to use the free wireless and post this. We are waking up early tomorrow to go to Yokneam! Lila tov.

Alert from the kikar!! The Nachman guys are dancing now! The crowd is joining in!

Shabbat, June 30

We had kabbalat Shabbat in the apartment, led very nicely by the children, and then ate our take out dinner. After dinner Eitan threw up violently. We called it a night. Shabbat morning the kids did not want to go to the shul in the hotel across the street, so I went by myself at 9:45 thinking I’d catch the last 45 minutes or so of shul. Walking into shul, I decreased the average age of attendees significantly, but shul was basically over. They really know how to daven fast here. I came home to find the kids davening, very loudly and enthusiastically. Their loud enthusiastic behavior continued long after davening was over and I eventually had to send them outside to our little patch of grass to play “World’s Strongest Man” with a six-pack of 1.5 liter water bottles. Thankfully, Sami and the kids showed up in the late afternoon and we all headed down to the beach. The water was unbelievably rough, but the beach was packed with Shabbat beachgoers. While sitting in the sand, we were buzzed by two motorcycles, a jeep, and a horse. The horse and rider (bareback, in a bathing suit) then galloped over to the stairs and gracefully climbed the cliff (next to the stairs, not on them). You never know what you’ll see if you sit on the beach long enough.... We all came back up and ate dinner, and after havdalah, Sami and the kids headed back to Jerusalem. It was a bit strange, to celebrate Shabbat in Israel by ourselves, without a community, but all in all it was a good day.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday, June 29

Today’s major accomplishment – a successful trip to the grocery store in the mall - without Donna! Donna and Mati took a bus to Jerusalem earlier this morning. Oh, where to start with this one. The clueless trip through the parking garage, fighting for a parking spot? The kids thought it was a good thing their Abba wasn’t here for that, he would not have enjoyed the “adventure” at all. Walking into the mall and seeing all the food you could want? Not in stores, not even in kiosks, but just out in the mall there were stands ranging from a take-out, full meal buffet, to another with 20 varieties of olives, and on and on. Having no clue if any of these were kosher, and also having already gotten take out food for Shabbat early this morning with Donna at a place recommended by the real estate agent, we did not partake. We successfully got Naomi earrings and Eitan and Ilana books, and Sima finally got an iced Aroma (and it was delicious) and then headed to the SuperSol. We have a new appreciation for Schnucks. We could not find a cart, the store was mobbed, and we had to look at everything carefully to make sure it was actually what we thought. The tradeoff is that everything is kosher, and oh what finds we made – teddy bear shaped schnitzel, the Israeli equivalent of beef jerky (we have already finished two packages), ton of pre-packed cold cuts, lots of bisli, cheetos, animal shaped pasta, Clicks, ect. We left with hands full and happy. We also figured out that the reason the parking garage had initially been such a challenge is because we started off in the area where the Supersol connects to the garage. So Noah and Naomi waited by the door with the food, and Eitan and Ilana and Sima quickly navigated back to the car (up two floors in the mall, down to -4 in the parking garage, and then driving back to floor -2 to get to the Supersol door, I love that floors are negative numbers), blocked traffic, threw the kids and the groceries in the car, and headed out with our parking validated. What could be better than that? We got home and helped a nice couple from Houston jump their car. Now we are headed out to the kikar to wander a bit and to look for a wireless connection to post this. And to stop at the makolet to pick up the things we forgot at Supersol. Wishing you all a Shabbat shalom, Sima and the kiddos.

Thursday, June 28

Highlight of the day for Sima – ordering pizza from Pizza Hut for dinner and having them delivered to the door in 20 minutes. No cooking involved. You just can’t get that in St. Louis. Highlight of the day for the kids – getting their official IBL baseballs signed by the Netanya Tigers and the Petach Tikvah Pioneers players. Yes, we went back for another dose of Israeli baseball tonight. The game was at Yarkon field in front of a crowd of about 75 (including us, but not including the players). The Oberlander kids and Mati (who came back from the water park with us and is sleeping over, more on this later) screamed and cheered and chatted with the players and got lots of foul balls.

For the first few innings, Noah and Mati were rooting for Netanya, and Eitan, Naomi, and Ilana were rooting for Petach Tikvah. Netanya was up by 5 after the first two innings, and Naomi asked Donna to take her to the bathroom to wash off the “Go P.T. Pioneers” she had written on her hand – she was changing allegiances. Donna told Naomi that you just can’t change allegiances without a reason, and Naomi looked Donna squarely in the face and said “I have a reason, Petach Tikvah sucks.” Spoken like a true fan. Naomi had soon chosen a favorite player from the Tigers and really wanted him to sign the foul ball she had chased down. The kids ate Burgers Bar from the concession stand, even after the Pizza Hut dinner. After the game the fans and players mingled. We found out that the players all live in the same dorm, that on Saturdays when they do not play they go on teulim across the country, and on Thursday nights they do not have laundry service. Naomi’s favorite player did sign her ball – he even wrote her a little note. Each of the kids got a ball, and they got lots of autographs. On the way home 3 out of 5 fell asleep in the car. All in all a lovely evening.

The sleeping in the car was also most likely related to our day’s activities – six hours in a water park. Sami and Jaqueline Agam found a water park on kibbutz Shafayim which is just south of Netanya and was actually open, and even better yet, we could get discounted tickets for it. The place was amazing – a big pool, a wave pool, a kiddie pool with sprayers and jungle gyms, and every size and shape of water slide imaginable. Plus lots of shade for sitting and relaxing. All of the kids (and often the adults) swam and slid all day long. Even Ilana, under the careful supervision of her siblings and cousins, went down a really big water slide, repeatedly. Her only obstacle was the Israeli teen age girls next to them in line who thought Ilana was adorable and kept trying to pick her up and kiss her. Ilana did nt like that so much. It was a perfect way to beat the heat, and the day flew by. The heat wave is supposed to break tomorrow. We shall see what actually happens as nothing in Israel seems to go the way it is supposed to...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Hot, hot, hot. Too hot to hike or do anything outside in the sun. So we begin to look at the long list of places to go that we have compiled, Donna, Sima and Sami (by phone) start what seems at first an easy task - find a kid-friendly, relatively cool for the day. First call is to Shvil Tapuzim near Hadera, highly recommended by several different people. It has "activities for the family including mini-golf, go-karting, adventure playground, pool, art workshop, trampoline" - it sounds perfect. But when we call ahead (the equivalent of a pilot trip), what do we find? It is only open on Shabbat. Next try is Emek Kefer Playtime. Again, attractions for the entire family - again, only open on Shabbat. So then Sami suggests we try out Beit Khamotai near Givat Brenner - they used to go there when they lived in Meskeret Batya and it is open all the time. We get there (an hours drive from Netanya due to taking the not-so-scenic route through Tel Aviv) and it is only open to groups and on Shabbat. Noting a theme, we give up for the moment and go into Mekeret Batya. The country there is beautiful and like nowhere we have been yet in Israel. The green rolling hills and farmlands look almost like the US, nothing like the desert hills of Modi'in which are not so far away. After driving by the Agam's old house, we stop at the old town well for a picnic. All of the gears and wheels are still attached to the well and it is functional. A tour group is also there and as a few men push a horizontal wooden beam in a circle it turns a vertical pole which terms various gears, and voila! The buckets are pulled up out of the well and into the roof above and then back down again. It really was cool. And the entire area was covered with bushes blooming beautiful pinks and reds. It was a lively spot for our noodles and plums, and it was really nice to see the town that we had heard so much about over the years.

After the brief respite, we hunt again for an activity. Sami has called ahead to Kibbutz Tsova, which has a family-themed park that is ...... actually open! To us! It has big inflatable jumping things, bumper cars, a train, all kinds of climbing structures, and more. The kids are off and running. As we walk in the door a madrich calls Tamar and there is Tamar Gerson! It is a small country. So the kids jumped and ran around and rode bumper cars until Noah has 4 blisters on his fingers from steering and Eitan's feet and legs are completely black (from what, I don't know). And then we said our said goodbyes and headed back to Netanya.

Once back we met up with Elianna and Shani, the 2 new St. Louis Sherut Leumi girls. We had dinnner and good conversation with them. Sami made some phone calls and found a water park that is closed the 25th and 27th but open the 28th and is not far from Netanya. So, hopefully, we have a plan for tomorrow.

Monday June 25, 2007 - Sima's Addition

While Mike was traipsing through malls "looking" at shoes, what was happening with the rest of us? Sima started her day with an early morning pilot trip for Israeli bond cashing in Netanya. Wonder of wonders, at the very first bank she entered, she was directed upstairs (only an up escalator, no down, just like in Jerusalem) and then to the back room and straigth to Shirley. Shirley looks over the bonds and says it will be no problem to cash them, and makes an important for 9 a.m. the next day with Sima and Mike. A very successful pilot trip.

Meanwhile back at the apartment, the kids are hanging out with Donna, and Naomi's stomach is not feeling so well. Sima returns. Naomi throws up. Donna and Eitan head out to the makolet to pick up some provisions. Naomi sits on the couch, miserable. Sima is a laundry whirlwind, continuing to work on the seven loads laundry she has done in the last 24 hours. The apartment's washing machine is VERY SMALL. And there is no dryer. Apparently, they actually hang clothes on a line to dry here. But, there is no line outside. Only having read about this in books, Sima is a little weary of this idea but has quickly become an expert at how to hang 6 days worth of 6 people's laundry on 4 clothes lines with 20 clothes pins.

When Donna and Eitan return, Noah and Eitan head down to the sport shop next door to buy a ball (it is impossible to go to the beach without a ball). They successfully buy what they think is a small soccer ball, but is actually a handball (whatever that it is), and are very happy to have Mom and Donna reprimanding them not to play ball in the house. Naomi seems to be feeling a bit better, so we head down to the beach. There is a beach access just down the street from the apartment, but the waves there are quite rough. About a 15 minute walk down the shoreline is a protected beach, which is basically a huge U-shaped swimming pool. We walk down there and set up shop. Ilana is very happy in her innertube. Eitan digs in the sand. Naomi swims and then comes to lay down on her towel and rest. Noah is bored, he forgot his book. Noah walks up the steps to the kikar (town center) and explores, and comes back and is still bored. Naomi throws up again (we bury it in the sand, so watch where you dig in the sand in Netanya). So Sima takes bored Noah, sick Naomi and now grumpy Ilana back up to the apartment. The trip home is interrupted a few times by Naomi lying down on the sidewalk to rest and refusing to get up. When we got home, Naomi cleaned up and went straight to bed. Donna and Eitan returned a bit later, and a bit red. A typical day - errands, boredom, barfing and endless laundry.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tuesday June 26, 2007 (and Monday June 27)

This is Mike only - sitting at Ben Gurion, staring at Duty Free and Chabad (the McDonalds was before security). Traveling alone is a lot easier than with 4 kids in tow.

Today first - it is Sami's birthday! And, to celebrate, she came to Netanya with her kids with the sole reason being to take me and Noah to visit Hela and Mundek, very (very) close friends of the family. Hela and my grandfather were friends from Poland and Mundek carried my father across one of the borders in Europe after the war. Mundek looks good; Hela is looking old and frail and her memory is failing. We had a nice visit with them. Of course, they served us fruit and pastries and cold water and soda. We told them what we were doing and we heard a bit about them. It was nice having that connection.

Before Sami came, Sima and I went to the Bank. Guess what? We were only kept waiting 35 or 40 minutes for our 9 a.m. appointment. Then, it took forever, but we actually got our money. Sami met us there. We had a little cake for her back at the apartment. While we were visiting, her kids, Sima, Donna and our 3 youngers went to the beach. Sami and kids left, and we went to the beach. We all got burned. Can't wait for this flight with a burnt stomach. We walked to a section of the beach with wave breaks, so it was extemely calm. We had to walk awhile and we saw several jelly fish (no big deal) and one dead real fish (big deal for Eitan!). We only say one woman topless (big deal for Noah and Naomi, but for very different reasons) but since she saw us coming her little dog made for a very creative bikini top. The kids played in the sand, floated, jumped, swam a bit and had a great time. But, I think they are done with the beach for a day or 2 as Eitan had to sleep with wet towels on his back last night (he wore his shirt in the sea today). Oh yeah, he lost another tooth!

Then we showered, changed and I packed and went out for Moroccan food at the old Pizza Hut. They did an amazing job in the interior and it was good food. We also so a bride and groom taking picture by the waterfall, etc. Then I got in the taxi and left. I will miss the little buggers and even Sima and Donna.

Yesterday .... so long ago, let's see if I can remember. Oh yeah, I spent 7 hours driving around looking at shoe stores: Givataiim, Ramat Gan, Petach Tikva, Givat Shmuel, Petach Tikvah. Lots of shoes. There is a brand of shoes in Israel called Caligula! Who woulda guessed. While I was having fun, Sima and the kids went grocery shopping and to the beach. When I returned to the apartment the kids were kinda pooped, so just Sima and I went to Zichron Ya'akov; one of the first cities settled by settlers from Aliyah Aleph in the 1880's. The main street has lots of quaint shops, artists, restaurants, etc. We bought the kids some books, Donna a watch to take into the sea and had dinner at a restaurant owned by the Tishbi winery. Getting gas on the way out was a story in and of itself that is best left untold.

I forgot to mention that we saw Mo and Larry Hartstein at the first IBL game - Mo emailed me a pic of Larry and Ken Holtzman.

Going to board soon. Hopefully Sima will continue the blog on her own.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sunday - June 24, 2007

Shabbat was wonderful with the Gersons. Dov played his piano piece from the recital earlier in the day. Naomi had an immediate attraction to baby Yakir and held him, looked after him, and carried him around the house. Tamar and Ilana hit it off, and of course Elisha played baseball with Noah and Eitan. The boys all went to shul, and the girls walked to shul but didn’t quite make it as they stopped at the playground. Dinner was just us and Gersons. We kept telling Elisha that Lori’s chicken was the best in the world, but he didn’t quite believe us. Our kids slept with the Gerson kids and they were all adorable.

Shabbat morning we went to shul – even Sima was able to make it. The shul just received new seats – made on Kibbutz Lavi. Beautiful to look at, and even quite comfortable, but difficult for traffic. If you blinked your eyes, you could be in Teaneck, or Silver Spring, or Chicago. In Hashmonaim, we heard much more English than Hebrew. The people were friendly, and clearly the groups of children that we saw all over enjoyed living there. The yishuv was begun about 20 years ago but there is a lot of new construction. On Shabbat, the kids can walk anywhere they want as there is no traffic (except the one security truck). On Saturday afternoon, Ilana and Tamar went to play at a little girl’s house. They decided to have a pj party, so the little girls walked home by themselves, got on their pj’s and walked back. We had lunch with the Gersons and another family – the Silton’s from Albany/New York. There were so many connections – Akiva Silton knows Mike Sherman, a good friend of ours from Albany; went to Yeshiva with Avi Orlow, a good friend of ours; knows the Zimands from St. Louis; his sister is friends with Panina in Silver Spring; and his mother, Faye Goldsmith, is from South Bend. A number of Dov’s friends came over in the afternoon and Noah knows two of them from Camp Moshava last year.

Sat. night we went out with Lori (Seth went to bed) – now we know where we were supposed to be in Modi’in on Friday.

This morning we woke up and said goodbye to the Gersons (but not for long …….) and went back to Latrun so Mike could take pictures of the boys on tanks. Sima and the girls went to a cafĂ© instead. Then we went to Park Kofim (Monkey Park), where we saw lots of monkeys and the kids could climb on ropes like monkeys. Ilana made it through the whole course with just a bit of help (we have pictures too, but Sima can’t log in to get the photos on the web, so we will try to get a flash drive tomorrow to put the pictures on Mike’s computer). After that we drove to Netanya. Easy drive (yeah!) and then we felt a breeze. It was close to 100 degrees this a.m. and we were a bit hot and crabby around the tanks and monkeys. Donna met us in Netanya (yeah!!).

The apartment is great – right near the center of town and across the street from stairs to the beach. We went for “lunch” at 3:15 to get pizza from ….. Pizza Hut. Much better than McDonalds. Mike, Donna and the boys then traveled back south to Petach Tikva to watch the inaugural game of the Israel Baseball League at Yarkon Park in Baptists’ Village (there was no beer, or mixed dancing). Again, all we heard was English. We spoke to Ken Holtzman, the manager of the Petach Tikvah Pioneers, who used to pitch for the Cubs (and A’s and Yanks) and who grew up in St. Louis and used to work at the JCC. He told us that he only had 45 minutes with his team before the first game, doesn’t know their names, and has 2 pitchers older than 50. (His team looked horrible and lost 9-1.) We met up with Seth and his boys and they sat right behind us. Lori called Seth and told him to tell Elisha to stop ……….. biting his nails. We were on TV every time there was a righty batter. The park was small, the crowd was excited, we sang Hatikvah before the game. The game only goes 7 innings, so Mike created his own 7th inning stretch at the beginning of the 5th. He even started a hearty rendition of Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and half the crowd joined in. (Of course, the PA then led it in the middle of the 5th, but by that time half the crowd wasn’t interested in singing it again. Oops.)

During this time, Sima did laundry, took the girls shopping for groceries and took them to the beach for a quick stroll and dip. The girls were in their pjs after having cereal for dinner. The boys would have none of that so we took them to a place ½ a block away for quiche and salad (and milkshakes).

Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday - June 22, 2007

Today was not our favorite day. But, it got a lot better once we arrived at Hashmonaim and saw Seth, Lori and the kids. They are growing up so nicely (not Seth and Lori) and Yakir is absolutely adorable. Naomi has taken a liking to him and is helping carry him around the house. Even though it has only been a few hours, we miss Donna already.

Back to the beginning: we woke up pretty early to get a decent start on the day. We just had one thing we wanted to do in the city before we left – cash in our old Israel Bonds. So, off we trudge to Bank Discount to get there near opening time at 8:30 a.m. – nice Englishman/Israeli told us that the person who normally does it at the bank is not in that day and tries to find someone to help us. Then he tries to find us another branch that will help us. 25 minutes wasted. So, we noticed that the list that we got from the Israel Bond Office in Chicago lists a bank right across from our hotel – so we walk down. No luck there either. But Kobi, formerly of Connecticut, is nice to us and calls Bank Hapoalim up on King George and they say that they can cash the bonds. Back up the hill (it is now 9:30 or so). We go to Bank Hapoalim and the first person we go to (above her it said “General Bank Services”) tells us that Bank Hapoalim doesn’t cash bonds. We turn around and go to another woman who tells us the same – and tells us to go to Bank Leumi down the street. We tried to explain that we called and were told that Bank Hapoalim will cash the bonds – to no avail. So, off we go to Bank Leumi. Just to find that we can’t find the door. Why? Simple, because the bank is closed. Mike is swearing (not even under his breath) as we cross the same urine-soaked corner for the 3rd time to go back to Bank Hapoalim. This time we don’t even go to the Gen’l Banking Service “apartchiks” (bureaucrats), we go straight to the upstairs to find someone in (middle) management. We are told by a nice woman that indeed Bank Hapoalim does cash bonds, and we should go back down and talk to Monique or Esther and points to where we were before. So off we go back downstairs – but, we can’t find a down escalator (only ups). Things are really starting to get frustrating and we are finding no humor in this, but we find stairs down. We go down to this waiting area and interrupt one woman training another and ask for Monique or Esther. We are met with somewhat blank looks and told that there is no Esther and that Monique will be back in 5 minutes and they point to the desk of the first woman we approached! The one who told us that Bank H doesn’t cash bonds. Mike is really pissed; Sima is silent. We take a number and wait to talk to someone else. Now we know how Kafka could have given life to K in The Trial. We end up talking to a nice woman who explains that indeed Bank H does cash bonds, but not on Friday. She tries to explain, but Mike doesn’t want to listen (he figured it out). The office in Tel Aviv is closed on Friday and they need to get clearance for any transaction. Sunday won’t work as the currency exchange is closed and they can’t get a current f/x quote to pay shekalim for the dollar-denominated bonds. So, we figure we’ll take cash out of the cash machine (we need to pay for the apartment on Sunday). We put in one card in the Bank H ATM – we tried getting 2,500 shekalim. No go. We tried 1,500. No. 1,000. No. 600. No. We try another card – same drill. So, guess what? We go back to Bank Leumi and pop in one card and out come 2,500 NIS. Then another card and out comes another 2,500 NIS. (We are close to how much we need for the apartment.) You’d think we’d be happy? Relieved? No, hot and tired and bothered and it is 10:00 a.m. or so. We take a cab back to the hotel and the cabbie has the nerve to be upset that we don’t have change to pay the 13 NIS. Tough, take the 50 and give us change and you get no tip! We are getting to understand why Israelis are……….Israelis. (Lori helped us understand – everything in Israel should be thought of as a “pilot trip”; then, once you figure it out, you can do it for real next time. Sima will try a “pilot trip” to cash the bonds in Netanya on Monday while Mike is at work – touring shoe stores in Israel – and then we will go on the real trip the last day Mike is here, Tuesday.)

We grabbed some breakfast and head up to finish packing. We say goodbye to Donna as she heads to her grandfather’s for Shabbat. We actually were able to cram our luggage into our very-mini van and head out. We almost make it out of town uneventfully until Mike “almost” runs a red light and has to slam on the breaks to avoid getting into a really messy accident. (Blood pressure cuffs should be mandatory in all rental vehicles in Israel.) We get on Hwy 1 towards Tel Aviv to go to Latrun – the old British then Jordanian Police fortress that overlooks the valley from Jerusalem and commands the passes into Jerusalem. The Israelis tried 5 times in 1948 to capture the place, but to no avail. Not until 1967 did Israel capture it. Now it is a memorial to the armored corps. There are a lot of old (and new) tanks there and memorials. But, to get there, we actually have to get off at the Latrun interchange. Problem is that the signs say “Latrun Interchange” for kilometers and then when you get to the interchange there is not a sign for Latrun, only signs for Ashqelon, Be’er Sheva, etc. Stupid us go right past the exit and have to go 15 km more to the next exit where we can turn around. It was a quiet car ride. We finally got there and it is hot, and the girls don’t want to get out, so we stop for maybe 10 minutes and since the place closed at 12:30 anyway, we figured we might come back on Sunday. If only to take a picture of Eitan on a tank.

So, we head to mini-Israel, which is only 5 minutes from Latrun, very cool and very expensive (especially when Donna has the coupon in her magical, Mary Poppins bag). We “toured” Caesaria again (Eitan was psyched), Haifa, the Golan, Galilee, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, etc. They built exact miniatures – really exact. Down to the mosaic on the side of the wall by the building in Rosh Hanikra to get down to the grottoes (Noah noticed that). They had all of the main attractions, but Eitan and Naomi noticed that they didn’t have a mini mini-Israel.

We left there at 2:00 p.m. (closing time as Shabbat starts at 7:30 p.m.) and try to get the kids pizza in Modiin on the way to Seth and Lori’s. We get horribly lost in Modiin and finally find a little strip center with a makolet. We get the kids ice cream. Mike is so visible miffed that a nice teenager tries to help us. He tells us that we are nowhere near where we want to be and a nice girl tells us how to get to the road to Hashmonaim. Eitan has his first projectile vomiting experience in Israel, but is able to make it all 4 times straight into a garbage can. He smiled afterwards. Noah was fascinated by the DVD machine so Mike goes over to take a look and asks Noah to see if he can read the titles. On the far right is Miki (that’s Mickey Mouse) and Mary Poppins, the middle section has action, adventure, drama type stuff and then Mike looks to the left…..and, quickly turns Noah around and sends him back to the other kids and calls Sima over. There, out in the open, are several rows of porn with some interesting titles (not for reproducing). Mike was fascinated that one of them was advertised as “All Israeli.”

We found the road to Hashmoniam, or so we thought. We found our way all the way to Hwy 6 and figured out that we missed a turn off somewhere. We call Lori. She helps us and we find our way. We are here. We are clean. We are doing laundry. We are happy.

Shabbat shalom.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Thursday - June 21, 2007

Hands down the highlight of today was seeing our cousins! (Actually, our nieces and nephew, and of course our sister who arrived in Israel yesterday.) We began our day going to Eretz Bereishit (Land of Genesis) – a place out in the Judean hills in between Allon and Kfar Adumim that is set up to be like Abraham and Sarah’s time. When we arrived, Sami and her kids and mother-in-law had just pulled up and Naomi shrieked, “Let me out of this van this instant! I want to see my cousins right now!”

We walked into a tent and we were met by Eliezer; Abraham’s most trusted servant. It was the 7 of us, Sami and her family and one other family from Detroit (with an incredibly loud and obnoxious kid). Eliezer explained his relationship to Abraham, their trip from Ur Kasdim to the land of Canaan, etc. He then offered us “clothes” to wear when we went back in time. We then went outside and many of us mounted camels for the trip to Abraham’s tent. Mike walked with Ilana, but everyone else rode (that’s right, everyone – including Sami’s mother-in-law). When we got to Abraham’s tent we were brought water with these strange clear little rocks that made the water cold and some dates, apricots and raisins. We were told that Abraham was off negotiating a treaty with Lot’s shepherds and some other interesting stories. We then went outside where there was a fire going and the kids used balls of dough to make raw pita; Eliezer then put those on the round metal on the fire and made pita for everyone. We (except Mike and Ilana – there was nothing going to get Mike on one of those animals, or Ilana either) then rode camels back. We learned a lot on the trip back, like that camels can drink 200 liters of water in 3 minutes and store fat in their humps. Once the camels where back down on the ground, Ilana jumped on for a quick picture. There was still nothing to get Mike on the camel.

After Eretz Bereishit, we came back to the hotel and met Sami. We wanted to be back so early because we wanted to make sure that we were able to park the car. Many of the streets in Jerusalem were being blocked off during the day in preparation for the Gay Pride Parade (more on that later). We then walked to the center of town to buy more souvenirs (a shofar for Eitan was the big prize for the day – he can make some sounds), shawarma and falafel. Donna, Mike, Noah and Eitan then went visit a Sofer (ritual scribe) to discuss buying Noah his tefillin. The Sofer is out of the country, his son who is getting married in a couple of weeks was not interested in helping us, and the other employee there decided that maybe he could talk to us for a few minutes. Turns out he knows our friends Michael and Selina Rovinsky and is related to the Nitsuns. We will call the Sofer from the US and buy Noah’s tefillin via phone/Internet.

We all then got back together and Donna took the kids back to the hotel to swim and we and Sami walked around looking for souvenirs for Sima (we bought a few). We saw a beautiful havdala set; it was only 45,000 NIS (that’s about $11,000). We decided to wait for a nicer one and moved on. (Actually, it was 1 of 50 made by an artist and 2 of them are on display in Museums in Germany and Chicago.)

We came back to the hotel walking down the middle of Keren Hayesod (usually an extremely busy street) as it was closed to traffic for the parade. We hung out with the cousins and waited for the parade. Turns out that the parade was supposed to cross in front of the hotel but the route was changed to a block away. We went over to see it, and there really wasn’t all that much to see. 8,000 police (including border patrol) to control a crowd of several thousand folks. The scary thing is that some guy who claims to be “religious” was caught trying to plant an “improvised explosive device” along the parade route. Whatever one may feel about the parade, the folks in the parade or what they do in private or public, we just can’t understand how someone who claims to be religious could do something that could kill people (perhaps us!).

We then tried to go to dinner, got blocked a few times, but ended up getting to Norman’s – this place we have heard a lot about (some good, some bad). Norman’s is “famous” for its “sumoburger”; an entire kilo of hambuger (2.2 pounds!). If you eat the whole thing (130 sheks; approx. $30), you get a t-shirt and free refills on your drinks and you get your name in a book. Mati (our nephew) got some burger that had a name that was “only” 500g (it was huge). He ate almost the whole thing, and took the little left with him to eat on the way to the car. Sami and her kids left as it was getting really late. Our take on Norman’s? Good food, a bit pricey, too many Americans (including the waitstaff) and the service was so bad that it alone could keep us from going back.

We then made our way back to the hotel and the kids crashed. We go to the Gersons’ tomorrow and we hope we can blog before Shabbat.

(We forgot to say that we went to Little Italy last night – a restaurant recommended by the Harsteins – thank you for the recommendation!)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Wednesday - June 20, 2007

Today we dragged the kids out of bed and got an early start to the desert. Getting out of Jerusalem was thankfully uneventful. As we headed east we passed by Maale Adumim, where Sami, Moshe, Mati and Maayan used to live. It looks quite different from how it did 14 years ago, when Sami and Sima hung the border for infant Mati's room in the not quite yet finished apartment, and the area was just being built and was way out in the boonies with no good road. Now the main highway goes right into the community and it is incredibly built up. We continued on past a couple of checkpoints, but despite our best efforts to get questioned (eagerly looking out the open windows) no one wanted to talk to us. I guess it's not very suspicious to travel in a minivan full of kids with Eldan car rental stickers all over it.

We made it to Masada by 8:30 and we all took the cable car up from the beautiful new-to-us visitors center. Up top, we went to the synagogue to do our morning davening. It was a powerful and very hot experience. After davening, we walked down to the North palace and through the bathhouse and storerooms, all the while suffering from the heat. Then Mike, Donna, Noah and Eitan took the snake path down, while Sima, Naomi, and Ilana took the cable car. Only one person fell on the snake path, but we won't say who. After a few refreshing drinks, we headed to Ein Gedi.

Ein Gedi is an oasis where two streams come together in the middle of the Judean desert. We hiked a trail called Nahal Arugot, which follows one of the streams up the mountain to a waterfall. We saw a few ibexes (or goats, or something like that) on the way up to the hike. The hike started off dry and hot as we walked over to the wadi, but then we got to the stream. The first part of the stream was warm and filled with long strings of algae -- Naomi kept picking them up and calling them mermaid hair. We then came to an area were water was literally gushing out of two rocks and into the stream at about chest level. Totally cool. The kids loved putting their heads into the spurting water, and watching the snails that lived on the rocks just below the water. We walked up the water and reached a shallow pool that was fed by a very small waterfall, where Naomi, Eitan and Ilana "swam" for a while. Then we continued along the side of the water, up and down the gorge and over some rough terrain. Ilana was a little mountain goat, but it got to be a bit much so we turned back before we hit the waterfall. This time when we reached the pool we were so hot (the temps were about 100F) we all jumped in the pool fully dressed to cool off, and we were bascially dry by the time we reached the car.

Next we headed across the road to a public beach on the Dead Sea. Mike told Eitan to stick a finger in and taste it - Eitan spit, gagged, spit some more and was not happy. He gladly accepted the open bottle of fresh water that Mike offered him. The kids each stuck a foot in the water and had enough. The water stung their various scabs and blisters and they screamed until we were able to get them washed off with fresh water (though they didn't seem to disturb the peaceful bathers in the sea). We think we have the loudest kids in Israel.

Our trip back to Jerusalem took about 45 minutes, and once we were in Jerusalem it took about 45 minutes to get back to the hotel. Too many one way streets and streets that you can't turn onto and streets that curve in the opposite direction of the way you want to go. During the long trip, Naomi and Eitan were going at it in the back and he punched her in the mouth and her other front tooth fell out! She was so happy -- all's well that ends well. The only other adventure of the day was that while Naomi and Ilana were showering Naomi tried to wash out Ilana's hair with a glass and dropped it, cutting her own ankle in the process. Fortunately the hotel has a medic (who is also the parking garage attendant) who came to look at it and took off the nice butterfly bandages that Donna and Sima had put on the cut and replaced it with a huge piece of cotton held by a big white bandage wrapped around her leg. End result -- the cut was not serious. After a nice Italian dinner at a restaurant near the hotel and filled with Americans we are all ready to hit the sack.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tuesday - June 19, 2007 - 3 Tammuz

The highlights always seem to revolve around seeing people. Today, Mike spent some time visiting with Rabbi Bienenfeld at Cup O' Joe. (We did find out today that Avi Borow works there in the mornings, but we have not seen him.) Rabbi Bienenfeld looks good, is keeping busy, is setting up meetings to try to become busier and is a wonderful advocate for making aliyah. In case anyone is wondering - he was wearing a tie; but he had good reason as he was coming from a meeting with a member of the Knesset.

This morning we went up to Mt. Herzl. Part of the excitement was how we got there - we took the 18 bus. The kids liked to stand and sway, and we liked it when they sat. First, we went to see Herzl's grave. Then, there is a new museum that is interactive, non-traditional and very engaging. You start off walking down a street in Vienna in the 1890's, go to a room where there are several movie screens - on one is a dramatization of the Dreyfus affair and on another is a modern director interviewing an actor to play Herzl in a play. We learned all about Herzl and the earliest days of modern Zionism through the actor learning about Herzl. In the museum are Herzl's desk and other furniture and some personal belongings.

Afterwards, we went to visit the graves of other Zionist and Israeli leaders, including Ze'ev Jabotinsky, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meier and Yitchak Rabin. We also visited some of the memorials and graves in the military portion of the cemetery. It is awe inspiring the number of young men (and women) who have given their lives for this land and our people. Among the highlights (can we write that?): seeing the rows of boys who died in Lebanon since 1982; Hana Senesh - interred with 2 of her female companions who parachuted into Europe; the memorials for the unknown, last of kin (meaning, they were the last of their family), terror victims, ma'apilim (illegal immigrants) aboard the Salvador and other "common graves" for those who died in battle but were only able to be buried years later; and the memorial for the Dakar. The Dakar was an Israeli submarine that disappeared in January 1968. All 69 sailors were lost at sea. For 31 years, the Dakar remained lost; but, in 1999 the sub was found at the bottom of the Mediterranean. The memorial is reminiscent of a submarine, and very moving.

From Har Herzl we went the science museum. We took cabs for the first time this trip. Mike's trip cost 32 sheks/Sima's and Donna's only cost 22 sheks - hmmmm.... The science museum was engaging for the kids - even Ilana. There was a whole exhibit on optical and other sensory illusions. They had a lot of interactive activities (in Hebrew, English and Arabic). Then we went for lunch on the campus of Hebrew University in Givat Ram (across the street). After walking up, and up, and up, and up (Jerusalem is built on hills), we got to the main gate to the campus and the bus stop for the 9 bus back to "town." The kids and Sima went swimming (on the roof of the hotel); Mike saw Rabbi Bienenfeld; and Donna went to see a friend.

We went to dinner at Burgers Bar - the boys were in heaven. Since Naomi wasn't going to eat a burger, she complained and complained. We offered to get her pizza; nope. We asked her what she wanted and she said that all she wanted was a carrot. On the way to dinner on Emeq Refaim we came to a juice bar. So, we asked for one gezer gadol bli mitz (big carrot, without juice). The guy looked at us as if we were absolutely nuts (aren't we?). We explained. He washed a carrot and gave it to us. When we asked him how much, he smiled and said One Shekel (about 25 cents). That was Naomi's dinner.

Back to the hotel, but instead of walking down noisy, dirty streets, we decided to walk through noisy, dirty Liberty Park. The kids played on an alligator thing with a group of Arab girls. We are glad our kids were polite; we may have done a teensy, weensy bit of bridge building.

We put the kids to sleep (after watching the World's Strongest Man Competition on ESPN) as we are heading south tomorrow - to Masada, Ein Gedi and wherever else the wind takes us.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Monday - June 18, 2007 - 2 Tammuz

Yet again we will start with the highlight - we ran into our friends Joe and Orit Strauss at the Kotel. They looked great, were in a protracted conversation with someone asking for tzedakah, got Mike to give him $20 for them and then another $10 from us. They walked a bit with us out of the Old City and told us about their son, Irad (sp?), and his induction into the Golani brigade last week. Irad is now up at Tel Faher (do you remember from an earlier blog? The Golani overlook, where there is a memorial for the Golani Brigade, where there was a battle at the beginning of the war in 1967) setting up for some big ceremony this week. We called him on his cellphone and had a nice, but short, chat.

We woke up a bit later than we wanted, had another giant breakfast - this time, we each were able to get pancakes and omelettes, on top of bourekas, cheese, fruit, etc. At this hotel, the kids were able to squeeze their own juice - mitz tapuzim (orange) or mitz eshkoliot (grapefruit). That was an activity in and of itself. We then started walking "to town" - we took the kids to the Great Synagogue - they have a huge and amazing collection of mezuzot. We were right next to Boaz Genut's office and were going to pop in to say hello when Mike checked his email and Boaz had emailed 20 minutes earlier. Unfortunately, he was on his way to a meeting, but hopefully we will see him.

We then walked to Machane Yehuda, a huge and amazing outdoor/indoor market. We bought candy, some grapes, some nuts (American peanuts, of course), more candy, dried fruit, more candy. Eitan kept burying his face into Sima's stomach every time we came near a fish vendor. He just can't bear to see a dead fish. Of course, we didn't quite like seeing all of the flies on the dead fish either. Donna ran into a friend who goes to Wash U - Jerusalem is such a great place! We bought the boys some cheap kippot, and then had to buy them 2 expensive ones (not all that expensive) - Noah got a Chicago Bulls kippah and Eitan got one with ....... guess ......... come on, try a guess...... you got it ....... fish! We bought Ilana a cute dress and Naomi a beautiful skirt (same price as the pricey kippot). Lucky for us Donna knew where to go to get nuts and fruit from a vendor who uses gloves.

We then walked down Ben Yehuda. This street is named after the father of modern Hebrew and used to be The Place for people to congregate. It was not all that crowded, but then again it wasn't Saturday night either. From there we went back to the Old City and went to Migdal David (the Tower of David). They have a really intersting museum of the history of Jerusalem through all the periods of history. It is amazing to think about all of the times this city has been conquered and rebuilt. (At the next stop, a guide told the story of a professor from Hebrew U, who went to the Israel Museum on every Tisha B'Av to yell at the statue of Hadrian (the Roman emperor) - he would yell, "We are still here, where are you?") We spent a lot of time at Migdal David - lots of climbing, lots of vistas, lots to see. One change from the last time we where here - we used to see lots of antennas on the roofs of the houses in the Old City, now all we see are satellite dishes.

We then made our way through the Armenian Quarter back to the Rovah and got the girls pizza and got our first shwarma for the trip. The boys were in heaven. Noah almost inhaled his, and had to slow down. Eitan's ended up on his cheeks, nose and chin. (And, fortunately, it didn't make Mike sick.) We then headed to a play ground in the Old City, near the outer wall. The kids played (and played), we walked a bit along the ramparts, and relaxed. Then, we went back to the Kotel for the tour of the underground tunnel by the Kotel. Noah, Eitan and Mike went to visit Rabbi Shmuli again, and davened mincha right next to the Kotel. Then the tour - the kids were great in the narrow spaces. Enthralled by the huge stones. Rather amazing to be that far underground to what is modern Jerusalem and at street level of what was ancient Jerusalem. Also amazing to be at the place closest to the holiest place in our tradition - the rock that we believe was the foundation rock for the world, where Avraham bound Yitzchak and where the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) stood.

This city is incredibly dusty and dirty. Garbage is everywhere and we carried most of the dirt with us on Eitan's feet. We tried to wash Eitan's feet, but only got down a few lawyers, so we walked back to the hotel. After showers/baths, we gave Donna the pleasure of putting the kids to sleep and we are sitting at Cup 'o Joe on the corner of Keren Ha'yesod and Jabotinsky, enjoying the breeze, the smoke, the screeching breaks, blaring horns and near misses, and of course free Wi-Fi.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sunday - June 17, 2007 (Rosh Chodesh Tammuz)

We'll start with the highlight of our day again - we are not quite sure if it was the Kotel or seeing Donna. We'll call it a tie.

Shabbat was wonderful - we hung out with the Hartsteins, went on several walks, went to several playgrounds, played battleship, talked, laughed and relaxed. Motzei Shabbat (that's after Shabbat) Mike took Eitan and Noah to Burgers Bar - a hamburger place where you watch them grill the burgers, choose the sauce, toppings, etc. Believe it or not, only the boys got burgers as we were going out with Mo and Elisa. We went to a creperie and had a great time.

This morning we (meaning Sima) finished laundry while Mike took the boys and Ilana for haircuts (Ilana just got her bangs trimmed). We stopped at a bakery for donuts, bourekas, pretzels/bagels. We then went to a makolet (corner market) for plums and Bamba (think cheese puffs, but peanut butter instead of cheese - yuck!).

We then made the compulsory pilgrimage to that culinary hot spot - McDonalds. In typical Israeli fashion, it was supposed to open at 11:30 and we got there at 11:35 and had to wait 10 minutes for it to open. 3 Happy Meals and 3 Big Macs (no cheese) later, and we were all unimpressed. But, the little ones got to play in the McPlayground. We did have a McKebab (we have a picture prove it) - not recommended unless you are really hungry and you have already eaten your shoes and belt.

Then, the trip to Jerusalem. The drive was beautiful, but traffic is really bad. Once we hit the city limits, Mike's blood pressure hit the roof. Too many one-way streets, narrow streets, streets changing names without notice, motor bikes zooming in and out, and a general feeling of despair. Mike hit rock bottom in the parking lot of the hotel. It was a good thing we made it, as everyone else was worried that Mike would have a heart attack. Luckily, he/I didn't. We met Donna in the lobby (yeah!) and made it to our rooms. After settling in, we made our way to the Old City via the Jaffa Gate. It is still a bit weird that we avoided the Muslim Quarter completely (even so far as that when we are at the Cardo - the ancient Roman main street that has been excavated and now has art stores) - as soon as we hit the Muslim Quarter, we turned around. How did we know? You know - you can tell by the stones, the people, the smells, the lights, everything.

Donna put together a "scavenger hunt" for the kids. She wrote out clues about sites in the Old City and the kids took turns reading them and then we went to see them. It is amazing to see the Hurva Shul being rebuilt. As we approached the Kotel (Western Wall), the kids each wrote out notes to put in the cracks. Eitan was going to put in a prayer about his fish, but then decided to write "Moshiach Now". (To explain - Sima's Israeli cell phone must have been used by a Yeshiva girl before her, as she keeps getting text messages like "Meet at the chader ohel with your blue sweatshirt. Moshiach Now"; or, "Pizzas have been delivered. Moshiach Now" or "If you are not here in 10 secs, you cannot come in the middle - Moshiach Now" or "Don't forget your signing notebooks tonight - bring your key to Malky tonight and get 5 shek! Moshiach Now!"

One of Noah's teachers, Rabbi Rubenfeld, gave us a note to give to "the Kotel rabbi" named Shmuli. We were wondering how we were going to find him. Mike took the boys to the men's side, and Sima, Donna, Naomi and Ilana went to the women's side. Mike and the boys davened mincha in the inner room next to the Kotel Plaza. Afterwards, they walked over the Chabadniks trying to get guys to put on tefillin and Mike approached one and asked if he knew Shmuli. And, guess what, of course he did. He called Shmuli on his cellphone and 30 seconds later Shmuli showed up. Turns out that Shmuli and Rabbi Rubenfeld are best buddies and we had a nice chat.

We then made our way back up the Old City and by Donna's dorm and to a makolet to get drink and snacks. We exited (you never quite leave) the Old City via the Zion Gate and made our down the snake path. We walked towards the German Colony for dinner. On the way, Donna told us that she missed her brothers. Six witnesses! She said it and we heard it.

Emeq Refaim is hopping. We ventured towards the end of the street to Pizza Meter to find out that it is closed. We went back to Pizza Sababa. Everyone thought it gross that Mike ordered a piece of corn pizza; Eitan then wanted a bite and took such a big bite that he got Mike's finger too! After pizza, we just had to go to Aldo for ice cream (not sure what all of the fuss is about).

We then walked back to the hotel and bumped into Tom Green and his family. We learned that there was a katyusha attack in Kiryat Shemonah. We were just there 2 days ago. Tom knows several of Donna’ s relatives, but Donna didn’t!

That’s it for tonight.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday - June 15, 2007

We'll start with the highlight for the day - we are at the Hartsteins in Ra'anana! Mo and Elisa look great and are cooking up a storm for us. The kids are amazing and are growing up so wonderfully. You got to love Israeli landlords - they give you 4 walls and nothing else. No oven, stove, light fixtures or even toilet paper rolls. But, the Hartsteins have made their house into a real home. Sitting here and looking at the same artwork that was in St. Louis brings back so many memories.

Today was not our favorite day. The drive from HaGoshrim to Rosh Hanikra was beautiful, but the kids didn't really enjoy it. Noah wanted to watch a movie, but instead did his math homework (he took a test after we printed it at the Hartstein's). Naomi and Eitan played their handheld games and Ilana slept. Sima and I spoke to Sami and watched the changing landscapes. We even saw an eagle swoop overhead.

Rosh Hanikra is the furthest point on the Med.coast and has some beautiful grottos that were created by the pounding of the sea on the soft stone. To get to the grottos we had to wait in a long line with all Israelis for a cable car for the 45 second ride down. We didn't know where to buy tickets, everyone was cutting in line and it was hot. But, once we got down to the grottos, it was beautiful. The sound and smell of the sea. The breeze. The long line to get back up.

At the top, we walked to the border crossing (another photo op). This time we saw some Israeli soldiers. We also saw a lot of UN "troops" waiting to cross. They were wearing patches from Italy, Estonia, Russia, Australia and Noah says he saw one from Italy. One of the vans had a case of French wine in it. It took all of Mike's might to prevent him from going up to the Aussie and asking him to actually do something about preventing Hizbullah from rearming as opposed to getting drunk. We then got glida (and diet coke) of course. The kids now have favorites; the boys like Extreme im aguyot (some cone with ice cream and vanilla cookie crumbles) and the girls like Nibs (bite size vanilla ice cream coated in chocolate).

We then drove south and took a turn off towards Ma'alot because Mike saw something in a guide book about the ruins of a Crusader castle called Montfort. The Knights Templar build the fort in the 1180 somethings and Salah al-Adin destroyed it and it was rebuilt and redestroyed. To make a long story short, we never quite got there. But, we did have a hike (note the absence of adjectives) (and the presence of expletives says Sima) and were able to see the ruins from afar. The hike was hot and a bit arduous (especially for Mike who was carrying Ilana on his back all the way down - and then up - the rock path).

After that, we got back in the car, drove to the coast and then headed south. We passed Akko and drove through Haifa. Only Eitan was awake at that point so he got a few great views of the Ba'hai Temple and and Israeli destroyer in port. We saw the Intel and Microsoft buildings in Haifa and then continued south passed Caesaria, Hadera and towards Tel Aviv until we took the exit for Ra'anana. As we passed through town, we saw Mo on the side of the street. Sima stuck her hand out and almost gave Mo a hi-five.

We are here, now clean and very happy. Shabbat shalom all.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Thursday - June 14, 2007

We had an extremely busy day and we really thought we would have tired the kids out by now - but, no luck. It is 9:30 p.m. and the 3 younger ones are still awake - at least Noah had the good sense to go to sleep.

We actually set a wake-up call for 7:30 a.m., and still didn't manage to leave HaGoshrim until 9:30 a.m. Breakfast was at the kibbutz, and we skipped the shakshooka for a change. Sima still made cheese sandwiches for lunch, though. We first headed to Lake Agmon (Hula Lake) in the middle of the Hula Valley. The guide books tell you not to visit unless it is between November and March, when all of the migrating birds make the Lake their winter home. But, we had a great time riding bikes along the 10 Km path around the Lake. We all rode bikes - Ilana rode a "bike" that was pulled by Sima, and Ilana actually pedaled for 2 or 3 minutes. We didn't see any herons or raptors, but we saw and heard a lot of different birds. Most importantly, Naomi had the chance to ride a bike, and she just loves to ride bikes.

After the bike ride the kids (and Sima) had ice cream and Mike had his ubiquitous Diet Coke. (Sorry Dugie, it wasn't Cabernet.) We then headed to Naot Mordechai, a kibbutz in the valley. Why Naot Mordechai? But, of course to go to the Naot/Teva shoe outlet store. Not only did we set a record for spending the most money at the store, but Mike actually ran out of steam looking at shoes before Sima did. 15 pairs of shoes later (you can ask Sima how many pairs were for her) and we were able to leave. We then headed to Nahal Senir.

Nahal Senir was one of the coolest places we have ever been. Nahal Senir is also called Hasbani and is one of the 3 streams that forms the Jordan River. So, since we already hiked along the Banyas (Nahal Hermon) and the Dan, we now have hiked along all 3 streams that form the Yarden. The hike starts off normally enough, until we approached a large "wading pool", where we encountered 100 or so yeshiva boys on a tiyul. We left to get ahead of them, and as we began the hike we found ourselves waking in and beside the stream. Stupid us (?) stopped to take some family pictures in the stream (you be the judge after the pictures are posted) and the boys caught up to us. Really stupid us let the boys walk past. Watching these kids and their teachers navigate their way in water, on rocks and through mud worries us for the future of Israel. We are soft, fat, spoiled Americans - and, we had a much easier time with the hike than they did. (And, what do these rabbis think they are going to do with 1950's era single shot rifles that probably can't even fire anymore?) Even though we waited a good long time (their noise made the hike unenjoyable), we quickly caught up with them. We traversed a 6-9 inch wide ledge by the stream and "fought" our way through them to get in front of them. Mike, carrying Ilana, still was able to help some of the boys. Walking in the stream was amazing, and climbing over and around rocks and roots and branches was thrilling. We all loved the hike. The end, however, was not great. We had to walk down a path to the car. With the sun beating down on us, the views of the Galil and the valley were the only saving graces.

As if that were not enough, we came back to HaGoshrim and Mike took Noah, Naomi and Eitan on a "kayak" float trip. It was actually a big inflatable/boat raft with Noah in the front with an oar, Naomi and Eitan in the middle, and Mike in the back. We floated down the Hasbani (Nahal Senir) for about an hour and a half. It was peaceful, beautiful, fragant and warm. And then, we came across the older brothers of the kids we ran into at Senir. We don't know if they were actually their older brothers, but they too showed no skill at outdoors activities. It cracks us up that we are more accomplished at these types of activities than anyone in the world. We kept getting slammed, splashed, sprayed, yelled at in Hebrew - all for actually going down the center of the stream (when possible). We saw lots of families and groups of kids hanging out on the banks - picnicing, playing, swimming. At one point, a young girl (14 or 15) and boy (12 or 13) were in the middle of the stream yelling to us (in Hebrew). It sounded like they were in trouble so we "stopped" as best we could and they jumped in. They weren't in trouble - they were just "joy riding" by climbing in strangers' rafts and floating to their friends. After we said l'hitraot to those new friends, we came across a group of 20-something males drinking (or something else). One of the guys saw the boys UNC hats (Michael Jordan) and started singing the UNC fight song - neither of my boys knew what he was doing. So, Mike sang Hail to the Victors in return and had a brief, yelling conversation with some guy from North Carolina. After the float trip, the 4 joined Sima and Ilana at the kibbutz pool - a huge, beautiful pool. Naomi was so happy to swim.

After changing, the family humored Mike and let him drive up north (yes, there is still north to go) to Metulla - the farthest north "city" in Israel. 450 families living along the border with Lebanon. Sima and Mike both remembered visiting the Good Fence along the border with Lebanon - a gate that let Lebanese and Israeli Druze families travel to visit each other and for other reasons (like letting Lebanese into Israel for medical care). Well, the good fence is no longer good. As we approached we saw a large sign that said Atzor! (border approaching). No soldiers though. We know that if we went 25 or 50 more yards (meters) around the bend we would have seen a lot of soldiers. We took a quick picture of the boys by the sign and turned back to go to the Dado Elazar overlook, named after David (Dado) Elazar who was chief of staff of the IDF during the Yom Kippur war. Even though it was hazy, the overlook gave us tremendous views of Metulla, Har Hermon, the Golan, K'far Giladi, the Hula Valley, etc. It was strange looking into Lebanon and thinking about what was going on just 1 year ago this month.

After that, we went to dinner at a place called Aysh Baysh - all meat, all grilled. Noah ordered something called Cherev Entrecote (cherev is Hebrew for sword). We were not quite sure if that was a cut of beef, but when the waiter brought out a sword skewered with steak we got it. We skipped the chicken hearts.

Thinking back on the day, we are struck with how few non-Israelis we encountered all day. At dinner, the menu was all in Hebrew and we figured most of it out (with the help of a nice waiter who spoke some English). We are finding our way. Tomorrow will be busy, with going to Montfort (a crusader castle) and Rosh Hanikra (caves in the North-easternmost city in Israel), and then down to Ra'anana to the Hartsteins. Hopefully, we will post before Shabbat.

It will be very sad to say goodbye to the Golan and northern Galil. The breeze, the sky, the streams, the mountains, and even the rocks. Eitan proclaimed today, "I love Israel, except for all of the rocks!"

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wednesday, June 13

Hi, this is Sima. We forgot some important news from yesterday -- Naomi lost her front tooth! It happened at Tel Dan while we were eating lunch, right after the hike! How many American kids can say that they lost a front tooth in the holy land???

Ok, for today -- we meant to get an early start this morning, but the jet lag snuck up us and I was the first one up at 10. So after a quick breakfast at the tables outside our room overlooking beautiful HaGoshrim, we headed off to Katzrin by way of the Golan and the viewpoint at Quneitra. On the way, lots of gorgeous views and lots of Israelis driving really fast on very curvy roads in big trucks. We let everyone pass us and held our breath at each turn. We did the quick version of the Katzrin tour -- went to old Katzrin and explored a shul and two homes that were from the Talmudic times. One of the homes had been fully restored and was very cool -- the kids were imagining what it would be like to sleep in the loft and to cook in the stone ovens. Then a quick stop at the Golan winery for a picnic lunch on the lawn and Mike to do a very fast stop in the winery gift shop, were he made a few purchases.... Next we headed to The Jordan River park, an expansive park on the north shore of the Kineret. We did a mini-hike along the Jordan, the kids enjoyed the splashing. By then it was very hot, and a mini-hike was all that we were up for. Naomi and Ilana were begging for the beach, so we stopped next a kibbuts Ginosar, along the went shore of the Kineret. Some kibbutzniks there found an ancient sunken ship in 1986 (when there was a horrible drought and the Kineret was really low), which with a lot of help from experts in antiquities they were able to dig and and remove from the mud, and bring to the kibbutz. They have a museum there that explains the process and the possible origins of the boat -- really cool. AND, the museum is right next door to the beach! So after a perusal of the exhibit and some glida (ice cream), we spent some time lounging in the shallow, hot water of the Kineret. Naomi and Ilana were very happy... We continued down the shores of the Kineret to Tiberias for dinner at a gorgeous Chinese restaurant right on the shores of the Kineret. We ate outside, overlooking the water.

Some observations -- most of the tourists we have encountered up here are Israelis; we have heard very little English. That may be why every Israeli we meet seems to ask us when we are going to make aliyah. They've given us lots of good arguments why we should and Naomi is all for it (she did not need much convincing, I think this trip may determine her future...). Our Hebrew is steadily improving, Naomi keeps reminding us to use it and I find that I am much more willing to speak and make a fool of myself now than I was 20 years ago when I was here last. Eitan is intrigued by all of the archeological sites we have visited. Their stories fascinate him and we find ourselves reading and re-reading to keep up wth his questions. Noah says his favorite thing so far has been the hike at Tel Dan, but he very eagerly awaiting our visit to the Naot/Teva outlet tomorrow. A true consumer he is. And Ilana is enoying everything -- she burst out today with "I love Israel!!!!" This trip is truly a gift, and we are all so grateful for it.

To see photos from the last couple of days, try going to

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Some other info and correction

Mike here - sorry about the typo - machsanit is the word for magazine in Hebrew. It was weird seeing it just lying on the ground. I made the kids stay away. Stupid, I know. The bullets aren't going to fire themselves.

Forgot to mention in the last post - Naomi has decided to only speak Hebrew while she is here. We need Sami and the kids to get here fast!! There are only so many times we can respond to Ani rotzeh (correction to rotzah for Naomi) lishtot mayim. (For those, like me, who don't speak Hebrew, that means I want (male form) to drink water.) Naomi did teach Ilana to say Ani TZRICHA fluffy. That is I NEED fluffy (her blanket). Noah just wants to know what we are doing tomorrow, next week, next hour, where we will be eating, what we will be eating, when we will be eating. (Mom and Dad - now I know how you felt all those trips with me and Mitch.) Oh, and he wants to play catch - glad we brought our gloves. Eitan is just happy being Eitan.