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!