Sima and I are sitting in the lobby of the guest house at HaGoshrim. Actually, Sima just left to check on the 4 kids we left watching TV. Let's start by saying this - Israel has certainly changed since the last time we were here (1993). A lot for the better, and .....
When I (Mike) was a kid here, we were lucky to get one Israeli tv station and maybe something in English from Jordan. Now, the kids can choose from Nick, to History channel, to French, German and I think even Turkish language stations.
The airplane rides - thanks to Dad Medow for driving us to the airport. Checking in at Lambert at 6 a.m. was not nearly as easy as one would think. One very slow (old) man to check bags for every person flying AA that morning - and there were a lot of folks flying. He "ran out of bags" for the car seat (meaning, he was being lazy) and, guess what ...... our car seat never made it to us in Israel. (No worries, for 3 bucks a day Eldan will lease us a car seat and probably anything else we would need.) Fortunately, the regional jet to Newark was not taking us to Ben Gurion - not much room, but the kids managed to play the DS3 (gameboy type thing) the whole couple of hours. At Lambert, we ran into some friends who were also coming to Israel - Joe and Orit Straus. They are coming for several reasons, including their son's swearing in ceremony (he just finished basic training) at Golani Junction on Wednesday. We may go if we can.
Newark was a breeze. Security was great, but we encountered another sign of change. On top of saying that no one gave us anything, that we packed ourselves, etc., the security officer asked if we ordered an Israeli cell phone. Sima handed ours over and the security officer began pushing buttons - and my wife was worried that we are going to get charged for a call! And she said so! After davening mincha with a bunch of charedim (and Joe and a couple of other folks), we boarded the plane. We shoulda ponied up for Business Class! The 3 girls sat in one row, and the 3 boys were a row behind. The movies on the plane were horrible, the seats uncomfortable, the food was bleh and there was a kid wailing for almost the whole ride. (Sima just came back, with a 4 year old in pj's on her hip and it is 10:45 p.m.) The wailing kid was not ours, but we do know the kid's grandparents from St. Louis. And, a nice steward told us that we received a telex on the plane - one of our bags didn't make it. You now know which bag didn't make it, but on the plane we did not. We all took it in stride and knew that things would work out.
At BG airport, we picked up our real luggage and Sima filled out paperwork for the lost carseat. (Still have not heard from El Al.) We rented our van from Eldan, and that was a trip. The van is tiny - no room for luggage. Have no idea how we will fit Donna and her luggage too.
Sima drove first - we went north to Caesaria. What a change there too. We remember it as an ice cream stand, some tourist shop and an ampitheater. Now, there is a whole area with restaurants, bars, shops and a multimedia presentation on the city and its history. We also toured the excavated ruins - including the ampitheater being set up for a concert, the hippodrome (it was cool walking down the length and imaging the racing horses). The gladiator fights we tried not to imagine. We looked at the sea, had a decent Italian lunch and watched a cool movie/presentation on how Herod built the harbor. They are still excavating underwater.
We then got back in the car, only got lost a bit, and headed to HaGoshrim. Drove through Afula, skirted Nazareth then up to Kiryat Shemoneh. The kids slept the whole way up. Had dinner at the kibbutz after Sima took the kids swimming while Mike was on a conference call. The kibbutz guest house is actually many buildings. We are staying in Spanish House and have adjoining rooms. The kibbutz is beautiful, lush green gardens, has a nice lodge with big buffet meals, and really interesting sculptures throughout the grounds.
The kids slept until 9:30 a.m. today. Had a so-typical Israeli breakfast. The boys liked the shakshooka and bourekas for breakfast. Ilana didn't eat. Sima made cheese sandwiches for lunch. Then, off to the Banias Falls. We all hiked to the Falls - but, another change (not for the better) - the authorities no longer let folks swim/wade in the spring/falls. We crossed the river and walked a bit to an overlook. Noah and Mike took off down a hike that (if we had a map at a time) took us 2/3 of the way to the old Syrian officers' pool. But, of course, that is closed too - so we were not too upset that we turned around. We bought some nectarines, plums and cherries from a guy with a stand by the entrance - the best meal in Israel so far.
Then, off to Tel Dan - we didn't do the longest hike that would have taken us by newly unearthed remains of the ancient city of Dan, but we did hike around the Nahal Dan and went to a wading pool, where we encountered 50-75 boys (shrieking, frum boys as someone might characterize them) playing, horsing around with sticks and throwing rocks. We gingerly played and when those kids left we thought we might be alone, but then 2 minutes later another group of kids came by (they seemed better behaved, but we still left). The kids loved the hike. They loved walking on rocks in the spring, they loved seeing the lush greenness, didn't like the few bugs, but loved the breeze. We had lunch there (cheese sandwiches and fruit - were you paying attention). Then, on to Nimrod's fortress.
We are still not sure if we were there before. We both believe we were, but don't remember. It was really cool for the kids. Seeing the thick walls, ramparts, towers, arrow slits, cisterns, etc. We even "discovered" the secret tunnel that leads from the northwest tower out of the fortress. How anyone ever conquered that place is beyond us. We ran into several tour groups of people taking classes on how to be a tour guide.
After that, we decided to go to some off the beaten path places. We read somewhere that there is a memoral to Sayeret Egoz near Nimrod's fortress - so off we went. It was a nice sign. Not beautiful, and only in Hebrew. It was near some Muslim "makom kadosh", but we have no idea what. The only interesting thing is that we found a full machnasit on the ground. Machnasit we learned is a magazine of bullets - we found that out from soldier we met at our next stop.
Tel Faher - not a Hebrew name (we believe). It was a Syrian post that was captured on June 9, 1967 as one of the first battles for the Golan. 32 boys died taking that piece of rock. Yitzhak Rabin said something to the effect that after seeing the Syrian fortifications up close, it was a wonder that the Israeli forces carried the day. At the post there are memorials to the "Barak"company that took Tel Faher as well as to the entire Golani Brigade. It was eery walking in the Syrian trenches and looking out of the gun holes of the Syrian bunkers. The IDF left a half track at the entrance and the kids climbed up (Ilana with some help) - kids means all 4 plus Mike - and Sima took a picture. (When we figure out how to post pictures, we will.) We were the only people at Tel Faher - we could hear the flags flapping. As we were finishing our visit, several bus loads of Israeli soldiers (not in uniform) showed up for a tour.
After that, we decided to try to find some dinner. After driving around Kiryat Shemoneh for awhile, Sima called 1 of the 2 kosher restaurants we believe are in town. She had some "communication difficulties" so we abandoned that idea (for tonight, at least). We found the other place (a dairy place, so Noah and Eitan are not too happy) in a mall at the Northeast corner of the town. A mall! With a Supersol, Burger King, Steinmatzky (book store, where Sima bought a dictionary because we both forgot the Hebrew word for mushrooms), a shoe store with some truly hideous shoes and a candy store. Then back to HaGoshrim - kids to watch tv and Mike to work.
That's it for tonight/today - laila tov!