Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thursday, June 30, 2011

It is late, and we are tired as we had to pack up tonight. It turns out that our landlord (or his son) has changed his mind and instead of letting us keep the apartment until Sunday now wants to charge us to stay past Friday. Who needs to pay him to store our luggage? So we will shlep all of our stuff to Rechovot for Shabbat and then to Jerusalem. So - in typical Israeli fashion - we took a "pilot trip" today. We brought down our empty suitcases to see if they will fit in the car. We think they will (or might), if we squeeze all 4 kids in the middle seat and fold the rear seats down. Wish us luck. The Arab spring has spread to the Oberlander summer - the kids' revolt has continued. But, no (or very little) violence. So, instead of our planned hike near Yokneam the kids stayed in the apartment all morning staring at various screens of different sizes. We walked down the tayelet along the beach and then to the ATM that has English and we know takes our card. We gathered up the kids and then went to Yokneam to meet up with Judy Yuda, who works for the Jewish Agency and is the Regional Manager for the partnership between St. Louis and Yokneam. Again, in typical Israeli manner, we met her on the side of a street. We followed her to a wonderful restaurant, but Sima is really getting tired of eating so much meat. So, she had fish. And, Naomi had stir fry, but no chicken. Everything was arranged ahead of time - we sat down and appetizers and drinks were brought to us. No paying, no signing, no nothing. Thank you St. Louis (and Atlanta) for a wonderful lunch. During lunch the kids got a lesson on the work of the Jewish Agency, and the partnership between St. Louis/Atlanta and Yokneam/Megiddo. The kids asked really good questions and we hope will retain some of what they learned. We then went with Judy to Beit Cham (Warm House) to see one of the programs in action. At Beit Cham, 30 students (1st to 6th grade) from disadvantaged families come after school to work on homework, get a bit of tutoring, spend time with friends, eat a hot meal, etc. Today was their last day of school, so we did an art project with them. None of them spoke English, and so we tried our best to communicate as we cut out felt flowers and sewed beads onto them. Mike is really glad that he doesn't have to sew on many buttons. After a very rewarding couple of hours at Beit Cham, we decided to make a short stop in Zichron Yaakov (which was on the way) so we could have on more chance to look for property (no, not really, spend a few minutes in the shops, and enjoy the atmosphere and the amazing views. We then drove (and got a bit confused) to - again in typical Israeli fashion - a junction to meet up with Chaim and Shifra Weiss, Yaara's wonderful parents. They guided us to a Moshav called Kfar Haroeh and we went to Yaara's favorite restaurant, and now one of ours. Not sure it has a real name - just the cafe in Haroeh, we believe. We will check with Yaara. We ordered all of Yaara's favorites, salads, ravioli, quiche. And, of course milk shakes for the kids. We really do think the dairy restaurants are better than the meat restaurants. We then packed up most of our stuff and told the girls that if they cooperated that we would walk with them to the kikar to look for earrings. They did (sort of) so we did. Ilana got a cute pair of dangly butterflies and Naomi realized that she has expensive taste. After only like the silver and gold jewelry, she finally settled on a cute anklet. Mike couldn't get his falafel as the stand was closed, but we did give tzedakah to the Na Nach Nachman Meuman guys (3 times) and got 2 bracelets and a sticker. The best souvenirs so far!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

We had a wonderful day on the Golan Heights with the Teperbergs. We were said to say goodbye to them, but most of us will see them in Jerusalem. We must admit, however, that were not too unhappy to say goodbye to Hispin and the youth hostel. Hispin is wonderful because of the Teperbergs, but it is not a "beautiful" place. Dusty, dirty. No real view. Not much to do right there; there are much prettier places in the Golan.

We let the kids sleep a bit later. Breakfast was not as good. We really must have been the only family there and they forgot we were there. It seems that families get a better breakfast (fried eggs, cheese, etc.) as well as place mats instead of plastic table cloths. So, the staff quickly made us room at a bigger table and promised us fried eggs. By the time we got them, however, we were mostly done. Guess what some of us had for lunch? Fried egg sandwiches. We went to the Teperbergs, and after waiting the typical amount of time for Camp Teperberg, we headed off on a drive up the eastern most road of the Golan. We learned about some of the preparations the Israeli army is taking in case of another tank war. Our first stop was Tel Saki, an Israeli army position that was overrun at the beginning of the Yom Kippur war. We saw an old jeep, an old tank and some artillery. We explored the trenches and saw the bunker and could even take up position with the fixed machine guns (no firing pins, but Uria says they are operational). Uria told us the story of how the few soldiers there took the first fire of the war, received reinforcements, were overrun and how one injured solider convinced the Syrians that all of the others were killed, saving the 27 others who were hiding in the bunker. At the end of the war, that soldier returned to Israel as part of a prisoner exchange. We even had our own casualty at Tel Saki. Eitan was bravely exploring the trenches when he fell backward (about 6 feet). Visions of broken bones or worse were quickly replaced with some bad scrapes on his side and leg. He was a real trooper and kept going.

Our next stop was about 4/5 up Mt. Peres, which has a military base at the top (like many mountains in the Golan). This point presented us with a view all the way to Haifa. We also saw a cool spider that many of us believed to be poisonous. The drive to had us path through a lot of rock strewn fields, but also some beautiful vineyards and orchards. And, many "unofficial" memorials, including one to a unit that included the name Yoel Shalit, Gilad Shalit's uncle. Then on to Mt. Hozek - almost in the middle of the eastern border of the Golan, with a great view of Syria. We were about 1 mile from a Syrian town and could see Syrian traffic. We also saw Israeli troops keeping on an eye on Syria and clearing some brush from no-man's land. Next stop will not be on any maps. Even the Teperbergs had to pull to the side of the road and call a friend to make sure that we were in the right place. We parked the cars and walked about 100 meters down a dirt road that had barbed wire fences on both sides warning of mine fields. At the end of the "road" we found 3 soldiers putting up a shade covering and some tables and flags for a ceremony later in the day. We took advantage of the shade. Also at the end of the road was a Syrian made "pool" - it was circular, about 5-7 meters in diameter (none of us figured out how deep), and the source of the water was the matter of some debate. Vardit thinks it is spring fed and Uria things it is like a cistern and catches rain water. Regardless, Noah was the first to jump in. It was quite cold, but we all jumped and swam, except for Sima and Vardit and Noa. We even coaxed Ori and Shlomo into the water. The soldiers looked on jealously. Vardit was in charge of the pita/bread sandwiches with hummus, hatzilim and agvanyot (tomato). The kids had a great time, even the ones who freaked out about trying to find some privacy in which to change clothes. Then, off to De Karena chocolate factory in Ein Zivan. The tour was a bit of a disappointment in that it was all in Hebrew, the tour guide spoke really fast and she wouldn't even pause to let the Teperbergs translate. But, we did get to taste some chocolate on the way out. After our sad parting, we headed to Rosh Pina because Uria told us it was beautfiul. Not sure what we were supposed to see, but we parked near the "historical sight" sign, left the kids in the car (better than fighting with them) and we went exploring and found cobblestone streets that looked like the streets from the early days of the settlement. We were following a group of 20 to 30 middle-aged to older Israeli men on an outing. They came across a bride and groom taking pictures and broke into song and encircled the newleds and danced for them - only in Israel would you see that. Back to the car and off to Tiberias for dinner at Deck's. We have heard so much about this place that even the great meal could not live up to the hype. But, the view was tremendous (and the steak not bad). Home in Netanya and the kids all collapsed.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

We think we've found our kids limit. The Teperbergs were busy with an all-day school trip today, so we said a quick hi to Vardit (and picked up forgotten items from last night) and headed out on our own. But, before that, we enjoyed our first "official Israeli breakfast" at the hotel/youth hostel in Hispin. Why "youth hostel"? Because it seems that we are the only family staying here this week - the rest of the guests are Israeli youth groups and Taglit/Birthright trips (and French and British teen groups). There was a lot of noise last night, but it seemed to quiet down around 12:30 p.m. Breakfast consisted of salads, peppers, bourekas, cereal, fried eggs, cheese. But, no cottage cheese as the hotel is showing solidarity with the cottage cheese rebellion. And, Sima snuck some bread and cheese for lunch sandwiches and Mike saw some "take away" bags by baguettes, so we don't think we actually needed to sneak them away.

We headed to our first hike - Nahal El Al. No, it is not just an airline. The El Al is the southernmost river in the Golan and runs from the northeast to the southwest and into the Kinneret. The hike started at second yishuv down the road - called Avnei Eitan (so, Eitan was happy). This hike was pretty official, with a parking lot (gravel) and bathrooms and even a snack bar (that was closed). The hike took us down a pretty steep incline to the river bed and then through dense and beautiful vegetation (lots of flowers of all colors, so some thorns - it was almost like being in a jungle) and then around to a beautiful waterfall. We only saw one group on the way down - a group of guys in their late teens/early 20's. They decided to head off the marked path and we asked where they were going. They said they were going to find another waterfall, but suggested we stay on the marked path. Good suggestion. We got to the pool/waterfall by climbing down a steep incline and only made it with the assistance of metal handholds knocked into the rock wall. The water was sure cold, and Mike was the first to dunk himself, but all the kids soon followed. Only one of us needed to make a deposit way off the beaten bath, and Sima had to help, and it seems that others needed to do the same thing at some other time. Glad we brought handy wipes with us. As we were getting ready to leave (and Noah finding a secluded spot to change his clothes) a man in black pants and white shirt walked on us and asked us in Hebrew when we were leaving. We told him 5 or 10 minutes, but he kept pestering us. Sima knew that he was the scout for a larger group and very soon we were inundated with 40 or 50 screaming kids who all began stripping even before we were out - we just didn't need to see 10 year olds swimming in their tighty whiteys. The climb back up was much easier than the climb down. We came across the same group of 20-somethings they asked us the way to the waterfall. We asked them what they found on their detour, they said "it was a secret" - code for they were lost, glad we didn't follow them. The kids were already tired and kvetching and it wasn't even lunch time. We went back to the rooms to change out of our wet swimming clothes and into normal hiking/walking clothes. The kids revolted and demanded that we not go to another hike. So, we headed to Aniam - up the road - that has an artists colony. We each had an ice coffee and bought them all fruit shakes (prishake) to go with our purloined sandwiches. We browsed in the shops and then headed to Katzrin. Katrzin is the only city on the Golan and we went to a strip mall to watch a movie at Kesem Golan. The movie was in 4D (fans blew on us and we were shpritzed with water a few times) and showed great views of the Golan. It was essentially a great commercial for the Golan. Only problem - we were already here! Then we went upstairs to a really interesting 3D topographical map and there was a multi-media presentation that talked about the geological and political (and military) history of the Golan. One of us was sure freaked out to find out that there was a war right where we were standing only 38 years ago. The only assurances that worked were that this is where the Possicks are moving (we think), would they come anywhere that is unsafe? Of course, Katzrin didn't exist during the war anyway, it was founded in 1977. After the official show was over, we spent a long time looking at the map and finding all the spots we had visited on this trip (including finding what the boys are adamant was the Teperberg house) and last trip. The relief sure puts everything into perspective - why the Golan is strategically important, not only because of the high ground but also because of the control of the water feeding the Kinneret and the Jordan River. After the movie, and a short stop at a memorial that included 5 old tanks, we headed to Gamla. The park was closing in 90 minutes, so we were not allowed to hike to the city of Gamla that was destroyed by the Romans in the first century. Instead, we hiked the other way to get to an overlook for a wonderful view of the Gamla Falls - the tallest falls in all of Israel. Noah ran ahead to get in shape for lacrosse and Mike and Eitan walked fast. The girls fell behind and didn't quite make it the whole way. The boys decided to catch up with girls and were jogging, which was fine until Noah turned back to make sure that Mike had not had a heart attack and tripped and fell over a rock. Glad we had more handy wipes. We then walked a paved path to see the vultures and an overlook of ancient Gamla. The views were great, but watching the soaring vultures was truly amazing. We took some pictures and even some video - hope they come out. Then, the kids were hungry and crabby (did we say that they were in full revolt yet?). So, back to Katzrin to the food court - pizza for the girls and Burger Ranch (yuck) for the boys. (Folding the case to hold the Burger Ranch meal for 2 took the clerks 5 minutes.) We brought the kids back to the room and they ate, watched a movie and we (the adults) went back to Aniam for a nice dinner at Suzanna's. The highlight was that Sima got a Poykepot! Yup - cholent on a Tuesday night. We bought the boys and Ilana steak burgers to go as a peace offering (and Naomi a salad). Didn't work, so we are outside in the wind, with Sima drinking a beer and Mike drinking a 375 ml bottle of Gamla wine. And, watching (and listening to) more teenagers. How many times do we need to say that we don't have an aish (a light) for these idiots who shouldn't be smoking.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Teperbergs! We could stop right there and that would be the highlight of the day.

We woke the kids up and packed up for the trip up north. We have no idea how we will get the luggage in the Mazda 5 for the trip to Jerusalem next Sunday as we had to put part of the back seat down just to fit in a few backpacks. We are glad we brought the bungee cords and just hope that we don't lose our luggage on the road up to Jerusalem. We have been listening to the seventh Harry Potter book on CD in the car and the kids were so engrossed that they didn't want to stop the car. Our first stop (after stopping for gas for the umpteenth time) was Har Tavor, or Mt. Tabor. Christians believe that the mountain is the sight of Jesus' transfiguration. According to the summary on wikipedia, that is the story where Jesus transfigured into rays of light and spoke to Moses and Elijah. Har Tavor is mentioned in Tanach in Yehoshua as the point where 3 of the tribes' areas met as well as in Shoftim as to the place where Devorah and Barak fought battles. It was also the sight of battles in Roman times (where in this country is that not the case?) and there are the remnants of a wall that Josephus Flavius built. In order to get to the top of the mountain, we drove through a very interesting Druze town and up a very steep and windy street. At the top are a Franciscan monastery and a Greek Orthodox church. Only Eitan and Mike went to visit the Franciscan church, saw a monk dressed in monk's garb and watched as pilgrims took communion as part of a Mass. (When we used the bathroom on the way out, there was a box that asked for 1 shekel for using the WC - we paid.) The hike essentially circled the top of the mountain. The absolute hardest part of the hike was finding where the path started (or ended). We started and stopped several times and even drove the car to look for the trail markings. We found 3 girls who were hiking from Tel Dan (way up north in the Golan) all the way to Jerusalem. The pointed out the path they took up and down the mountain, but we found the black trail that circled the mountain and off we went. The hike was not terribly strenuous, pretty short (an hour in total) and afforded beautiful views in all directions.

After the hike, we went to Kfar Tavor at the base of the mountain to visit a fascinating museum - the Museum of Marzipan. That's right, a whole museum dedicated to almond paste and sugar. We saw amazing sculptures made out of marzipan, watched a short video on the history of marzipan and how to make it, and then Naomi, Eitan and Ilana went to the marzipan workshop to make their own works of art (pizza, flowers, a hot dog and corn on the cob). We each had a taste, and none of us like marzipan. That didn't stop the girls from buying marzipan in the shape of a dog and a chick. It was 2:30 and we still had not had lunch, so off to SuperSol to buy bourekas - pizza, onion, mushroom, cheese and potato - we all snarfed it down in the car and then headed out. The drive took us to the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and then along the border with Jordan and up to the Golan Heights. Just as windy and steep a drive, but a lot longer and more trucks coming down. Once on top of the Heights, it was a quick drive to Hispin (or Chispin or Haspin), where the Teperbergs live. After a wonderful greeting by Uria and some of the kids, we settled in like it had not been 3 years since they left St. Louis. All of the kids felt so comfortable with each other (even Noa, who was not yet born when they left) - we did miss Tehilla as she is on a school trip). Noah joined us as Uria took us on a tour of his school. He is the head of school of a high school called Bnai Golan in Ramat Magshimim, the town just next to Hispin. Uria seems to be doing an amazing job helping 70 at risk teenagers become productive members of society. For many of these kids, if not for Uria's school they would be in prison. The school is actually a small village, with dorms, a shul, different buildings for classrooms, administrative offices, a music room in the old air raid bunker, etc. Several of the buildings were built by the Syrians when they controlled the Heights, including Uria's office and part of the shul. If only the Syrian army knew what is going in on in the buildings formerly used by their officers. After the tour of the school, we got a quick tour of Hispin (that is all it takes is a quick tour). Let's put it this way, there are no street names - you just count the number of streets over (there are only 3 or 4). We saw the plot of land where the Teperbergs will be building their house soon. Uria the barbecued for us (on the grill they brought from the US) - the meat was straight from the butcher on the Golan, and was probably the freshsest meat we have ever had.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday, June 26, 2011

We spent the better part of the day in Ramat Hanadiv, a nature preserve/gardens at the southern end of the Carmel, between Zichron Yaakov and Binyamina. (It is a 2 minute drive from the Tishbi winery.) We thought it would be just a short visit and we would then venture onto Zichron Yaakov for lunch and a visit to the Nili museum (a museum to the resistance against the British). But, we were pleasantly surprised with how much there was to do at Ramat Hanadiv (we tried to go there the last time we went to Zichron and Tishbi, but arrived when it was closing). The highlight (for most visitors) are the beautiful gardens surrounding the burial place of Baran Edmond de Rothschild and his wife, the Baroness Adelaide. True, the terraced gardens, the rose gardens and the other botanical beauties were amazing. But, we were there to hike in the nature preserve. There are three marked trails - the helpful woman at the information center suggested we take the blue-marked Spring trail, which is recommended for families and the map (that cost us 2 shekels) says should take an hour to cover the 2.5 Km. We decided to take the red-marked Manor trail instead. It is 4 Km long an is supposed to take 2 hours. Well, being us we would have finished the trail in an hour or so, but we took a bit of a detour and our path was more like 6+ Kms. Why? Well, we would like to think that we planned it that way all along but the answer is much simpler, and one word. Cows. Lots and lots of cows. But, more on that later. So we started out on a dirt path, realized we were on a service road and not the trail and double backed. On the hike(s) (more on that later too), we only saw 2 other hikers, and extremely little litter. We were very happy to only have to dodge the cowpies that marked the trail (that should have given us a clue, but we are a bit clueless sometimes). We came to the first signpost (marked with a #1) and dutifully looked at our map for an explanation. But, the map we bought didn't tell us anything (we found out later that the Hebrew map includes explanations - sheesh, talk about discrimination). That was when we came across the first hiker - a woman who was documenting the number and types of butterflies she saw. She told us that we were standing by a ancient quarry and we headed on down the path. The boys were trailblazing ahead, Sima and Naomi were in the middle and Mike was trailing back with Ilana who seemed to be in her own little (happy) world most of the morning. That was when Noah and Eitan sprinted back to Sima yelling "turn around, turn around!!" Naomi asked in a panic "Why, wild pigs?" as were told at the information center that pigs do live in the park but hide during the day and come out at night. The boys screamed, "No worse, cows and horses!" Recall, ever since the unfortunate horse bite incident Eitan is terrified of horses. So, Mike took the lead, Sima took charge of the girls and Noah was charged with throwing himself between any wild, vicious horses and his brother. As we moved forward in our defensive positions we came across the first of the wild horses - with engorged utters and looking an awful lot like a cow. (Noah said later that he was the boy that cried "Horse".) Then another cow, and another, and a few more. They were just chomping away at the grass and showed little interest in us, but the path was blocked, and not only by cows but by a yellow rope that seemed to be directing us off the path. So, we dutifully followed the rope naively thinking it would take us back to the red path. But, alas, we found ourselves off the path and on some unmarked dirt roads. We aimed ourselves for the cliff overlooking the coastal plain (the red path eventually turned at the cliff and has several amazing overlooks) so we figured the worst thing we would do would cut to the north or south of the path and rejoin it. Well, we ended up going further south than we thought and found ourselves in a Tumuli field. What is a tumulus - good question. A tumulus is a Caananite grave site, marked by a pile of rocks,and quite cool. We were several Kms south of were we should have been but we found ourselves on the Israel National Trail and took that north until it met up with the red trail, at a very cool excavation of a Byzantine farm house. The house was 2 stories tall, and the foundation is well preserved. That farm was built on the same spot where there was a Second Temple Era agricultural site. We saw wine presses from both eras, a mikveh and an olive press. The red path took us down into a wadi (valley created by a stream) and then back up to the trailhead. A very cool hike that we (meaning Sima and Mike) would definitely do again. But not cool in the sense that we were drenched with sweat and thirsty as much of the water in our camelbacks was still frozen.

But at the visitors center, like an oasis beckoning to us, was a lovely little cafe (called Kerem Zayit - vineyard of olives?). We must say, that it is now our favorite restaurant. The views are amazing, the food was delicious, and we adore the little tiny cheese graters for the parmesean. Even the boys, who are huge meat lovers, agree that our three favorite restaurants are all dairy restaurants - Aresto in Caesaria, the Tishbi Winery restaurant and now the restaurant at Ramat Hanadiv. The boys split penne and a pizza, the adults each had salads (Nicoise and a salad with fried goat cheese), Naomi had lasagna and Ilana had here favorite, ravioli (this time spinach with tomato sauce). The highlights were the focaccia served with the salads (that all enjoyed), the ice mint that Sima and Noah had (think ice cafe with lemonade and mint - crushed ice infused with mint and lemon), and the individual serving of parmesean cheese with a mini grater for the pasta - Mike used up every bit of Ilana's on her ravioli.

After the wonderful lunch, we did the Spring trail, which was supposed to take an hour. The kids all made guesses, and everyone overshot - it took us less than 30 minutes. But the short trail took us be a Roman tunnel and aquaduct (a little one) that feeds a pool/bathouse. A sign said that this was the best preserved aquaduct in Israel and the only one that continuously fed water from its source to its destination since ancient time. We then saw other ruins, but don't know what they were (darn helpless map). Since there was no complaining on that short hike, the girls got ice cream and the boys chose sodas. After the hike, back at the information center, we found out the cows are in the park to graze the greenery and get rid of the vegetation that could feed a fire. Though we only saw their poops, the park also has a herd of goats that serve the same function. As we turned away from the attendant at the visitor center and looked back over at our kids, who were waiting outside, we saw them surrounded by a group of 20 or so Nigerian men taking turns posing with them and taking photos. We went to investigate and found that this group is visiting Israel for 3 months and learning about agricultural techniques. Apparently one of the guys had approached the kids and asked them where they were from, they said St. Louis, in America, and that was the hook. Each of them wanted a photo with the kids, which they obliged until it just got too tedious and we had to move on.
We then watched a short movie (thank you air conditioning) about Ramat Hanadiv ant the Baron de Rothschild. Unsurprisingly, the movie did not share any of the negative perspectives on Rothschild or his overseers that we heard at the First Aliyah Museum. But, we learned that his father was from Frankurt and was renowned for his honest business dealings. The father asked his 5 sons to spread out across Europe and deal with each other honestly - they did, to London, Paris, Vienna, Florence and .... 1 other city. The youngest, Edmond, went to Paris. It was there that he joined the French, Jewish aristocracy and became interested in the fledgling Jewish communities in Palestine. He was a patron of towns from Rosh Pina to Gedera, including Zichron Yaakov. He died in 1934 and his will asked that he be buried in Israel, but did not indicate where. His wife died the next year, and in 1954 their bodies were brought from France aboard an Israeli naval frigate and they were reinterred at Ramat Hanadiv. (Rothschild was known as Hanadiv Hayadua - the Known Benefecator - because of the humble way that he gave of his fortune.) We then walked the gardens and visited the Rothschild crypt.
Afterwards, we returned to Netanya, the girls and Eitan swam a little and we all got cleaned up to go to Modiin, to have dinner with Nava and her family. Although we were afraid of getting horribly lost in Modiin, we only made one wrong turn and found the Brief's house easily enough. We had a wonderful home cooked BBQ with Nava, her parents and siblings, a cousin (and her friend) who just finished a Birthright trip and, of course, Yehoshua. The conversation was lively and interesting, and the Brief children were wonderful hosts to our kids; we even had the opportunity to watch all of the kids gang up on Nava and try to wrestle away her bat mitzvah album. Any of the Brief kids (or Yehoshua) who post pictures from Nava's bat mitzvah up on Facebook will get special prize from St. Louis. We then sadly said our goodbyes as Nava is leaving for camp up north and we will not be seeing her again this trip, and made our way back to Netanya. The kids are, again, exhausted. They already complained about getting up early tomorrow, but tomorrow is a big day - we head up north to the Golan and to the Teperbergs!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Friday/Saturday - June 24 and 25, 2011

Friday was another "vacation" day for us. We stayed in Netanya and went to the beach/kikar/pool. The beach was beautiful, and as it was Friday it was a bit more crowded. At one point we had a very Israeli beach experience. To the left of us was what looked to be a Russian couple on lounge chairs. He was wearing a speedo type suit and she was tatooed and wearing a thong and usually not her bikini top (but lying on her stomach). To the right, we saw an elderly couple walking down the beach towards us - probably in their 70's. He was wearing a black suit with his pants rolled up to his knees, still wearing his black hat, and she was completely covered. The juxtaposition was just amazing. The kids came up to the apartment for lunch, and the adults went to get more cash out of the ATM. We just had to stop for a smoothie (for Sima) and a shwarma (for Mike). We then picked up some more food for the apartment and Mike took the girls and Eitan swimming. This time, we were asked for the cartis (the card that shows that our landlord paid the dues for the pool). Well, it turns out that he hasn't yet. So, Noah will just have to call him to talk about that too. (And, that someone else keeps parking in the spot that we were told is for our use.) Still can't beat the location and views from the apartment.

We then showered and got ready for Shabbat and started our trek into the Shomron (Samaria - part of the "West Bank") to spend Shabbat with the Kampler family. Sara lived with us 2009-10. We have a very "liberal" GPS; no matter how hard we tried, it just would not give us directions to Karnei Shomron. We tried "bypassing Area C Override" and it still would not work. So, we called the Kamplers and they gave us easy directions. The GPS wanted us to take a route that would take 4 hours and it took us less than an hour. We encountered the first checkpoint of the trip, and they waived us right through. Driving through the Shomron, we saw Arab towns and Jewish towns. And, for the first time in almost 2 weeks, we saw a bit of a military presence. On either side of the road was a fence and a military road and the road was not so busy -- it was very different from the driving we have been doing through the central corridor. We passed through the gate in Karnei Shomron, found our way to Ginot Shomron, and found Sara there waiting outside her house for us. It was so great to see Sara and to meet her family. All of her siblings were home for the weekend, except for Shlomzi, her sister who just graduated from high school, who was at a shabbaton for her class. Sara's parents, Fruma and Mark, and her siblings Noam, Beneyahu, Shivi, and Adi made us feel so welcome. While Sara's dad worked on the Shabbat cooking, Sara and her mom took us on a short driving tour of the area. They took us through the Ginot Shomron hill and the Karnei Shormron hill. They also took us up to a caravan settlement on a nearby hill called Ramot Gilad. The views were amazing; you can see Hadera, Netanya, and Tel Aviv. And we got to meet Shlomzi as we passed her and classmates driving decorated cars in a "graduation Parade" around the yishuv. After the tour we met Sara's next door neighbor, Sara, who housed Mike, Sima, and the girls. We went to shul, and enjoyed a delicious meal with lively conversation. After dinner Noah went out to walk the streets and find the teen social scene with Beneyahu, and Merav's mom Rutie stopped by to say hello and we chatted for a while. She is so amazing, we will miss her visits to St. Louis when the Possicks return home.

On Shabbat morning we all went to shul/synagogue/beit knesset, which is much faster and more efficient than at home. The girls and Sara and Sima sat with Ruthie and made it in time for mussaf. We were back at the Kamplers by 10:30 to visit a bit before lunch. Mike and he boys went to a minyan that started at 9 a.m. and was over by 10:30. Sara's grandfather Jay Shapira stopped by to say hello; we had met him when he visited St. Louis a year and a half ago. Again, lunch was delicious. The kids all really hit it off and hung out together all afternoon. The adults napped, and then Sara took us for a walk around the yishuv, she showed us the wadi next to their hill, which is the nachal that separated the land of the tribe of Menashe from the tribe of Ephraim. The kids went to b'nai akiva, and the adults had a much less chaotic seudah shlishit, and before we knew it Shabbat was over. After saying our goodbyes, we got back in the car with our uncooperative GPS. The trip was easy, except for our delay at the checkpoint traveling back across the green line. We did not know which line to get into so of course we got into the slowest one, and the border patrol soldiers checked our passports and the back of our car, and then let us pass through and on to Netanya. So, now we are watching Israeli tv and blogging.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Today we headed north and east, in the direction of the eastern Galil. We passed lots of picturesque Arab villages, beautiful scenery, and a ski slope on the way (not kidding, there was a complex with two short snow covered "slopes" - read, "bunny hills" - and kids skiing and snowboarding down them near Maale Gilboa). Our first stop was near the border with Jordan in the old city of Beit She’an. This city has been the site of many civilizations, including Caananite, Egyptian, Philistine, Jewish, Hellinistic, Hasmonean, Roman, Byzantine, and Arab. In 749CE a huge earthquake destroyed the city and it was never rebuilt. This is the city where the Philistines displayed the bodies of Shaul and his sons on the city walls after their defeat. The tel at Beit She’an has been found to contain over 20 layers of civilizations!
The ruins of ancient Beit She’an include an amphitheater, 2 complexes of bath houses, a road lined with columns (it used to have a roof and be shaded, we were really missing that roof today as it is darn hot there), a Roman temple, and hippodrome that was converted into another amphitheater. The Romans had much leisure time -- plays were put on over 140 days a year, the bathhouses were a public meeting place with multiple pools, massage and other luxuries available, and even space for lectures – as their slaves did all the work. The city is quite a large expanse, very impressive even as ruins, and did I say it was very hot? Mike thoroughly enjoyed exploring the ruins, the kids tolerated it for about half and hour, and then Mike and Sima climbed the tell for a spectacular view of the Jordan River Valley and checked out the rest of the city while the kids went to wait in the air conditioned gift shop.
Soaked with sweat, we were ready to spend the rest of the day in water. We drove about 10 minutes to Nahal Kibbutzim, a river that runs about 3 km near Kibbutz Reshafim. The river is set just off the road; we parked and then walked a bit to where the nachal (river) ends in a few small pools. There are picnic tables in that area, but if you keep walking the river narrows and is surrounded on both banks by high reeds that make you feel like you are wading through wild terrain even though you are really in the middle of a farm. At a couple of locations, the river flows through large metal drainage pipes that double as a series of waterslides. This nachal was pretty busy, lots of families and a couple of school groups were enjoying the water as well. We ate lunch on the shores near the pools, and then climbed in and swam and waded and frolicked up stream, stopping to slide through the tunnels, for about half an hour and then we waded and swam and frolicked back downstream, again sliding through the tunnels. The girls, who had complained bitterly all morning, said in unison “Sorry we didn’t trust you Mom, thank you for bringing us to this wonderland of water!” The only casualty was Noah’s North Carolina hat, which came loose from the backpack and is now permanently living in the nachal.
We had to drag the kids out of the river (did I say that it was hot outside) in order to take them to another wonderland of water another 10 minutes down the road. This was Gan HaShlosha, also known by its Arabic name of Sachne. This park is beautiful. It is on Nachal Amal, which used to flow through Beit She’an and provided water for their bathhouses. The Nachal was dammed, initially for a mill but later for recreation, and a series of beautiful pools and small waterfalls was built into the natural surroundings. The park is huge -- there are 3 or four large pools, each almost the size of a small lake – and it is so green and beautifully landscaped. It was an interesting mix of people here, we heard a lot of English and some other European languages, saw many Israeli Arabs, and of course lots of Israeli Jews. Apparently there are some historical and informational elements in the park but all we did was swim and climb around the rocks along with the rest of the crowd there until the park closed and they kicked us out. We will just have to go back – this could easily be an all day experience, and it is only about an hour from Netanya.
Back in Netanya we met Shany and Elianna (who came up from Tel Aviv to see us) for dinner at Marrakesh. Marrakesh is our favorite Netanya restaurant; they serve Moroccan food and atmosphere. The food was delicious, the company was good, and then we all walked back to the apartment to hang out and drink some of the Carmay Avdat wine. Alas, Shany and Elianna had to leave and as Shany is leaving on motzei Shabbat for Switzerland, we will not see her again this trip. It is very hard to say goodbye all over again… Tired and glowing from the sun, we are all ready for sleep.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wednesday, June 22

Our day started idyllically, waking in our beautiful cabin at Carmey Avdat to find a huge and delicious breakfast waiting for us in a cooler outside the door (along with our camera returned by Benny). We didn't get moving until about 9:30 or so, and we loved the farm so much we decided to stay until check out at noon. The girls swam in the pool again, and Eitan and Shany and Sima went exploring on the farm. We got a brief tour of the winery shed, and climbed up the hill to see Nabataean writings carved into a stone. The farm is built on an archeological area, but they have worked with the authorities to protect the relics. The Izraeli family also set up the farm to be ecologically sound; they use efficient irrigation techniques (water in pool we enjoyed is later used for irrigation). Naomi and Shany went to see the farm's horses including a baby horse; Eitan stayed far away. We really did not want to leave the farm, but alas we had to. We were planing on doing an hour hike in to a place you can swim at Ein Ekev, which is nearby. But Halelei, on of the two adorable young women who works at the farm (Ora was the other, they both took very good care of us) told use it was a five hour hike in total, which we were not up to. Shany was very interested in Avdat, so we decided to drive the 10 minutes there an check it out.
Avdat is an ancient Nabataeans city built up high on a hill. It was later used and added on to by the Romans. The Nabataeans were an ancient Arab people. In ancient times Nabataean traders carried spice and incense between Petra and Gaza, and Avdat lies directly on this "spice route". Avdat had been excavated and some of the structures had been restored, but a couple of years ago vandals attacked the site and destroyed must of the restoration. The city is currently being re-restored. We were the only ones in the park, and drove to the top of the hill to walk around the ruins. After walking around the remaining arches, columns and cisterns for a short while, the heat began to get to us (it is quite hot on the top of a hill in the Negev at 1pm at the end of June) and despite the fact that it is a large site and required more time to see it all, we had to go.
This was a theme today, we had great plans for the afternoon but the heat made it difficult to follow through. No hike to Ein Ekev. Short visit to Avdat. Aborted visit to Ein Ekev, a canyon with a waterfall, because we were too hot. A short visit to David and Paul Ben Gurion's grave, which is in a gorgeous park near Sde Boker that has some shade and lots of grazing ibex, because it was too hot to be out for long. And again we were the only people there. Naomi keeps wondering why we are so crazy to be out in the heat when all the "normal people" are inside. We skipped Ben Guiron's desert home at Sde Boker because we wanted to get to the Israeli Air Force Museum with time to visit there. So we drove to Beersheva and to the museum. The museum has small area inside with various displays about planes and pilots clothing and equipment, and the soldier in this area gave us a very nice talk. She told us how the Israeli Air Force started with homemade bombs dropped out the window of regular plane -- Israel initially had no war planes as no other country would sell them to the new state. She also told us about the types of flight suits that soldiers wear, how to tell an F15 from and F16, and other assorted air force facts. But the majority of the museum is plane after plane after plane outside in a big area with no shade. Again very hot. We did spend an hour or so looking at the planes outside - we found a couple made by McDonnell Douglas. The kids could climb into a couple of the planes. We looked at lots of antiaircraft guns. Sima's favorites are two planes on display that were brought to Israel by defecting pilots, one from Iraq in 1966, and one from Syria in 1989. Those planes were then used by the IAF to gather intelligence and prepare for battle.
We grabbed some sandwiches at the museum concesssion, and then piled back in for the drive to Netanya. Again on 6, the drive was not so bad, and we got into Netanya in time to watch the sunset from the beach. Sadly, Shany had to leave us. it was SO WONDERFUL to be with her, and we so appreciate that she made the time for us with papers due and getting ready to head of to Switzerland for the summer on motzei shabbat. Now we are back in the apartment, relaxing with the air conditioning on (it is starting to get hot here, the breezes of the sea had kept us cool until now), and awaiting Mike's return in a few hours.

Tuesday, June 21

To the South!  This morning we got up and after an extended delay for Noah and Shany to get coffee, we were on our way.  We decided to take 6, the toll road, as we heard it was a very good road.  It is a very good road.  Less traffic, no stoplights, just highway.  And in Israel you do not stop to pay on the toll road, they take photos of your license plate and mail you the bill.  You don't even have to slow down.  We very smoothly traveled past Tel Aviv, through Beersheva, and to Mitzpe Ramon.  Our first stop was the visitor's center on the edge of the makhtesh.  The makhtesh is a crater/canyon like formation.  It is 5 miles wide and 27 miles long.  It is not a crater or canyon, however, it is called a makhtesh because of the unique way in which it was formed. A makhtesh is formed when a mountain with limestone as its upper layer and a very soft layer of sand underneath the limestone rose up from the earth.  First the formation is an island, and then the water recedes.  Upheaval in the earth tilts the mountain slightly, and then the top erodes.  After penetrating the limestone, the erosion removes the sand underneath, effectively hollowing out the mountain.  This is a makhtesh, and it is called a makhtesh in every language.  There are only 7 in the world - 5 are in this area of Israel, and 2 are in the Sinai.
We had read that the visitors center has great exhibits about the nature in area, but what the guidebooks did not mention is that it is closed for large scale renovations. The renovations should be done soon, but as both Shany and our guide (more on this in a bit) told us, things tend to get forgotten outside of the central area of the country so who knows when it will really be done.  For example, in 2000, the Israeli government decided to build an airport in Mitzpe Ramon; it is still not built yet.  So we left the visitor's center and nosed down the hill (road under construction) to Bio Ramon, a small zoo of animals from the area (though the bunny they had there must have been someone's pet once, the desert does not seem like bunny terrain). We ate lunch in the shade, took a quick look at the animals, watched a movie about the formation of the makhtesh, and then drove across the traffic circle to the gas station to meet our guide for our jeep trip into the makhtesh.  Our guide, Benny, piled us into the jeep and took us to the edge of the makhtesh, where we saw ibex up on a ledge.  He then took us into the makhtesh for a three hour bumpy, twisting ride through unbelievable terrain.  It felt like a roller coaster at times, and the kids loved it (though Eitan somehow keep banging his head against the side of the jeep). Things we learned from Benny -- the makhtesh has much animal life including lizards, birds, foxes ibex, wild asses, horses, hyenas, and wolves.  Most of the creatures are only out at night, though we did see holes that some of them burrow into during the day.  The wild asses were reintroduced to the area about 30 years ago with a group of 6, now they number 300.  There are two man made watering holes; it was a very dry winter in the south and the animals are struggling as a result.  We saw 2 mines, one for colors for pottery clay and the other for I don't remember.  The sand in the makhtesh is a variety of colors, brown, red, green, some blue, black and is due to different iron compounds present.  The black color is formed when the hot sun burns the earth!  Throughout the makhtesh you can see the strata in the rocks, often the layers within an area will be several different colors.  Benny showed us two plants with interesting adaptations to the salty desert conditions - the salt bush excretes salt from its leaves.  We ate some and they are like potato chips, a good salty snack! He also showed us the soap plant which removes the salt from the water it takes in specific cells that contain oil.  The oil separates the salt from the water, so the salt is removed and pure water is left for the plant.  If you take the leaves and smash them between your hand and add a little water, it produces a soapy substance (for the chemists our there, soap is a mixture of water soluble and water insoluble substances, like water and oil). When we were driving here, Shany pointed out that there are lots of military bases in the Negev, and a major air force base is nearby.  We saw several groups of F15's flying over the edge of the makhtesh.  Benny told us that  Ilana Ramon trained near here.  He originally had a different last name, but Israel asks its pilots to take on a more Israeli name and Ilan chose Ramon after this area.  The new visitors center will have an exhibit about the Columbia and will be dedicated to Ilan Ramon and his son Asaf, who died in a military plane crash.  Also six formations in the makhtesh have been named after the other six astronauts on the Columbia. 
After Benny returned us safely to the gas station, we had some ice cream to cool down, then drove to the next stop on the traffic circle to where the restaurants and the grocery store are.  We picked up a couple of pizzas for dinner and then drove the 20 minutes North to Carmey Avdat, our home for the evening.  On the car ride, Benny called to tell us that we left the camera in the jeep but no worries, he will bring it to us as he lives close by.  Benny had told us that he used to live in Herzelyia and was a consultant, traveling constantly, but 7 months ago he and his wife left it all and moved down here with their two young boys.  It is a refuge here, far from the traffic and frantic pace of the central cities.
It is hard to put into words how amazing Carmey Avdat is.  You are driving through the desert, and you turn onto this little road off the highway, then turn again through a gate onto another dirt road, and you are in the middle of a lush, green vineyard nestled into a valley.  The farm has a shed and some other structures around a small parking surrounded by beautiful landscaping, small pools, and a path learning up the hill to the 4 cabins.  We will put photos on Facebook as it is indescribable.  One of the sheds houses a workshop and the winery, another houses a small gallery, and the last structure is the home of the Izraeli's, the family that owns the farm. Our cabin is at the end of a footpath up the hill, it has a front porch with picnic tables and a hammock, shaded by a straw roof.  Inside the floors are not really floors but a layer of rocks covered with a few small rugs with a small kitchen area, several beds, and a separate bedroom and bathroom.  On the table in the room was a small bottle of the kosher wine made at the vineyard (only one of their wines is kosher, they send it to another farm to be processed with kosher certification). It is almost perfect here, it would be completely perfect if Mike was here with us, we will have to come back next trip with him! Naomi was extremely happy as we were greeted by several dogs.  Two of them look like Camden but smaller and better behaved, and one of those dogs, Tuts, followed us around much of the time and slept outside our door.  The kids and Shany could not resist the small pool by our cabin and they went for a dip after we ate dinner on our front porch.    After changing clothes, we walked down to the parking lot to wait for Ira Machefsky, who came out to take us into the darkness for a star tour.  We followed Ira and his son in law Donni several miles up a dirt road that leads from the farm to a very dark area, where we sat down on folding chairs and Ira told us all about the stars and constellations.  We learned that all the stars in the night sky rotate around the North star, Polaris, in the northern hemisphere.  We learned to locate polaris, the the star that was the north star when the Jews left mitzraim (the earth wobbles as it spins so the axis on which the earth rotates changes direction slightly). We also learned to find the stars Arcturis and Spica, and looked at several other constellation including Virgo, Scorpio, the little dipper, and the jewel box which is a grouping of many stars.  Ira also showed us the huge expanse of the milky way.  After about an hour and half, we took a break for tea and Ira set up the telescope.  He then showed us Saturn ( you could also see it's rinds and it's moon Titan (very cool!), two stars close to each other that are different colors , one gold and one turquoise, we had also seen these through the wash u telescope, the jewel box which contains many stars, some of them reddish, and finally the moon rose at about 11:40 and we look at that and saw incredible detail, many craters and formations, those of us who were still awake and not sleeping in the car (that would be Ilana and Shany who were sleeping) were amazed.  We drove back to the farm and trudged up the hill to bed. An amazing, day but we couldn't help but be a little sad as Mike would have loved it, and we would have loved to share it with him.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Monday, June 20

Believe it or not, today we had a lazy day. We are all pretty wiped out after our huge week, so we just let everyone sleep in and most of us stuck around Netanya all day. Mike had to leave for Amsterdam this afternoon, but the most difficult leg of his journey was getting him to Ben Gurion. Our original plan was for Sima to drive him but the traffic between Netayna and Ben Gurion is so bad Sima did not want to spend 2 hours in the car getting him there and getting back, so we investigated other modes of transportation. Actually, we just called Moshe and asked him what to do. Moshe suggested that Mike take the train, he said it was very easy, but as nothing is truly easy in Israel Mike and Sima decided to do a pilot trip to the train station. So this morning the kids stayed behind glued to screens, and Mike and Sima easily made it to the train station and bought Mike's ticket for later that afternoon. We could see the sign for "Supersol Big" close to the train station, so we also decided to hit the grocery store. Even with the GPS directing us, the store seemed much closer than it was and after arriving there, finding the entrance to the parking lot was more challenging than it should have been. We figured out the change needed to rent a cart, saw 2 cars smash into each other in the parking lot, and then embarked on our shopping adventure. 45 minutes later, our cart filled with hummus, cold cuts, berrekas, pastry and lots and lots of yogurts we rushed back to the apartment so Mike could pack and eat lunch, and go back to the train station.
After Mike left, the girls went swimming and the boys walked down to the kikar looking to buy a paddle ball set for the beach. Then the kids vegged some more til Sima forced then to walk around town. We walked for several hours, ostensibly looking for colored pencils and those paddles. Eventually we found both, met up with Elianna Smith (from 3 years ago!) and had a dinner of shwarma or pizza sitting outside on another beautiful night. It was wonderful to see Elianna, she is working at an insurance company, about to move into her own apartment, and seems very happy. And it was like no time had passed -- the kids (and Sima) were so happy to catch up with her!
We all walked back to the apartment together, and then Sima walked Elianna back to the kikar so she could catch the bus, and exchanged girls picking up Shany! We are always so happy to see Shany! Shany is spending the night here tonight and traveling with us to mitzpe ramon tomorrow morning. Mike has safely arrived in Amsterdam and we will surely miss him -- such a shame he had to leave but he does have to work for living... It was nice to have a quiet day with friends, and now we should be rested for our big adventures tomorrow!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sunday, June 19, 2011

We have wireless! No more sitting on a park bench by the Mini-Golf restaurant, unless we choose to get a drink there.

The started off and everyone was tired (exhausted, almost), but that didn't deter us from our plans. We headed north to Tirat Carmel, which is just south of Haifa. Sima found a hike for us on the Internet. This one is not off the beaten path, but way off the beaten path. The instructions were to find the Pais Center and park in the parking lot and look for a green pole in the ground and take an unmarked path up the hill. Well, we found the Pais community center, but we really needed the Pais sport center. Not a big deal. We parked and the boys started scouting several paths up a hill in Park Mondheim. Mike didn't think they were looking in the right place and walked in the parking lot and found a sign indicating that the trailhead for Wadi Oranit and Oranit Caves started there. So, off we trudged up the hill up at a pretty steep incline. We felt like we conquered the hill after we meet up with the red path and made it to the crest, just to see another hill we needed to climb to get to the caves. Mike and Eitan decided that the garbage others left on the path was just too much so they started picking up other people's pach (Hebrew for garbage) - Marlboro packs, coke bottles, espresso cups (we kid you not). But, the garbage bag we brought for our own garbage was not big enough to hold all the litter. We made it to the Oranit caves - pretty dark and dusty but the views from there of Tirat Carmel, Ein Kedem, Haifa University and Mediterranean were spectacular. The directions then said to double back a bit and head down the steep face of the hill - on an unmarked path, to the valley below. We have no idea if we were on the right unmarked path, but we were on an umarked path. Actually, we found that our path was marked - by horses, and the kids really didn't like the idea of stepping in that or even smelling it. We made it down and picked up the junction of 2 other paths and made our way up another hill to where a natural spring comes out of the hill and joins a stream. The directions said that there was a pool in which to "bathe". We found it, through a hole in a concrete wall. We lifted the kids through and the 4 of them had a little walk alone down a path - about 10 feet. (We supported St. Louis-based Energizer by spending 80 shekels on 2 flashlights and 60 shekels on batteries, just for this hike.) We all ventured into a side tunnel and we found the source bubbling out of the wall. We took some great pictures. So, we then double backed (again) and aimed for Pais center to back to our car. Somehow we ventured onto a farm instead of crossing the stream bed and literally came face to face with a herd of cows, some goats and few horses. That wouldn't have been a problem except that Eitan was recently bit by a horse and really didn't like being that close to horses. So we quickly ventured across the stream bed and then we found ourselves at a barbed wire fence (with 3 other horses just down the path from us). Mike spotted a gate about 25 yards up so off through the thorn bushes to "safety". Oh, did we mention that many of the flowering plants in the Carmel region have lots of thorns. Our ankles, legs and hands (especially Naomi's) can attest to the many different types of thorns. The website said our hike should last 2.5 hours and that is exactly how long it took us.

Lunch of cheese and veggie sandwiches (again) and then onward to Akko (Acre). We drove through Haifa traffic and made it to the old city. Akko is an interesting spot for history and archaelogy - from a Phoenician city, to a crusader city, to a Muslim city (home of the 3rd most important mosque in Israel) and a place important to Bahai, to a British prison where Jabotinsky was imprisoned and 11 members of Lehi and Etzel were executed. We visited the British jail, which has been/is being restored to what it looked like at the time it was a jail. It was a little freaky in that they had full size metal statues of guards and as you we turned corners we all jumped a bit. Also, a little creepy in that the gallows are still there and the cells where the condemned prisoners are still there with a carving of the Etzel symbol made by one of the condemned. Below the courtyard, the authorities have excavated the crusader city - home to the Hospitaliers, including large halls, a church, a crypt, etc. It never ceases to amaze us how history is built upon history in this geographically small country. So many rich layers. The kids really reached exhaustion, so we headed back to Netanya. We decided to avoid Haifa rush hour traffic and got a bit lost but found Yokneam (St. Louis' sister city) and made it back to Netanya with 20 minutes to go until Dalia's party - 6 showers and 20 minutes later, we were back on the road (only 5 minutes this time) to just north of Netanya for the party.

The party was on the beach, at an amazingly gorgeous spot, and was a great time for all. Lots of dancing, great d'var torah by Dalia (another one!), a wonderful video with greetings from Jack and Merle, and even skyping back to them so they could feel part of the festivities. Great food - from pizza and quesadilla appetizers, to salads, pasta, quiche, etc. for dinner. Naomi and Ilana really danced up a storm with Dalia, her friends, the Perlmans, etc. Naomi learned all the dances on the spot, and blended right in with all the Israeli girls. The rest of the family joined the dancing too, and Sima especially enjoyed hoofing it to both the Israeli music and the American pop tunes. We are so fortunate that we could be with the Hartstein/Minsk family for Dalia's simcha -- there was something incredibly special about watching Naomi and Dalia and Ilana dancing together in the middle of the crowd, in Israel, so comfortable together, it brought tears to our eyes (ok, just to one of us and you can probably guess who).

Shabbat, June 18

Dalia's bat mitzvah shabbat was wonderful. We arrived in Ra'anana at the home of Mo and Elisa's friends, the Lefcourt-Ruby's just before Shabbat. They were warm and welcoming hosts, our kids hit it off, and we really enjoyed our conversations with them over the weekend. But we know you all want to hear about the bat mitzvah! Friday night we brought Shabbat in a bit early. Mike and Noah went to the 6 o'clock minyan at the big American shul in the neighborhood. When the crowds spill out of that shul after davening it sounds just like America... The rest of the family went over to Morris and Elisa's beautiful home to hang out until dinner time. The last time we were here Mo and Elisa had just bought the property, and it took a good two and half years to get the house built. But it seems it was well worth the wait. The house is spacious and well designed, and we wish the Hartsteins many happy years there! Mo and Elisa had tables set up in the kitchen and the living room for dinner and lunch, and everything was truly lovely -- the table linens, centerpieces, placecard, bentchers, every last detail was accounted for the coordinated. But of course, what is really important is who was inside the house! If felt amazing to be so warmly welcomed not only by Mo and Elisa, but also by their kids and their relatives. All of their sibling and nieces and nephews were in town, and Elisa's parents, and some of her cousins and aunt and uncles -- it is a real testament to their family. It was so wonderful to visit and catch up and enjoy the good company. We did think of Jack and Merle often, their absence was definitely felt. Throughout Shabbat, Dalia was calm and gracious and so warm to our kids; all of our kids felt comfortable and had a great Shabbat hanging out with the Hartsteins and their friends.
On Shabbat morning we went to Mo and Elisa's shul for davening, and then back to their house for lunch. Dalia's bat mitzvah service was at mincha, in their shul which was filled with women (and some men watching from the balcony above). Dalia read Torah and spoke beautifully (we were provided with an English translation so we knew what she was saying!). And then there was a delicious seudah shlishit outside the shul, which is on the campus of the Open University in Ra'anana. It was just like home, we hadly saw our kids they were all so busy with their new friends. Naomi felt especially comfortable; she really hit it off with Dalia's friends and has decided that she is going to live in Ra'anana. We are welcome to come with her if we would like. As Shabbat came to a close, we were sad to leave but knew that we would see everyone the next evening at Dalia's party and that made it a little easier.

But, the night was not over! After we drove back to Netanya, Moshe Stengel came by to pick us up with his friend Yifat, very nice and interesting, a lawyer by profession. They took us to the Hertzlyia marina area where we walked around and chatted and had some light fare at a cafe. It was great to see Moshe, we have really missed him, and it was also nice to get to know Yifat. Mike and Moshe decided to be partners in a multi-million dollar yacht that they saw for sale. Now, if only either of them knew a thing about sailing. By the time we got home it was 2am. Wow, a long day, but it was so nice to spend it with our friends.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday, June 17

So just after we posted the blog last night and headed up from our neighborhood wireless network on the park bench outside MiniGolf, the restaurant across the street that has nothing to do with mini-golf, we started hearing sirens go past our building on Nitza street. First three or four, then more and more. Once it got to about 15 or 20 we started to worry. As we did not want to return to MiniGolf at 1am, Mike turned on his very expensive 3G network and found out that there was an explosion in the main square downtown - seems to be due a gas leak. Fortunately not a terrorist attack. Unfortunately lives were lost and many were injured. We ate dinner at a place in that building on Tuesday night, when they guy sent us to his brother's and gave us 10% off. Pizza Hut is also in that building, so we will likely not be having pizza delivered to our door this trip.

Mike and Naomi and Sima were up quite late with the sirens and activity, but we still managed to get on the road this morning to Caesaria, Eitan's favorite spot in Israel. Even though we have been there before, the place is still amazing and beautiful. We climbed and explored the Roman ruins -- the hippodrome, a bathhouse, the palace, the ampitheater, and even drove over to the aquaducts. We had lunch at an amazing dairy place in the park, gorgeous view, delicious pasta, salads, and foccacia, only thing that could have made it better is if the bees has stayed away from Naomi who really doesn't like them. At lunch we reflected that Shabbat is coming and we have been here almost a week. Ilana's favorite activity so far was the dig at Beit Guvrin, followed closely by the science park. But, most favorite of all was Tova's wedding. Eitan's favorite activity was also the dig, followed by Castel and the Castel winery. Naomi's favorite was seeing the Perlmans. Noah's was Leket Israel (picking beets) and the dig.

Then back to Netanya where Ilana and Noami finally got to swim in the building's pool. Part of the reason we chose this apartment is thatit has a pool. Of course, we didn't know until we got here that the pool did not open until June 15th, and then only from 1-5pm.

Mark the landlord is still working on wireless, now he says we'll have it Sunday - morning he really is trying...
Soon we head for Ra'anana for Shabbat, and get to celebrate Dalia's bat mitzvah with the Hartsteins. Mazel tov, and Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thursday, June 16

We had another relatively early start today, this time heading to Rechovot to participate in Leket Israel.  Leket is a program that provides food for the needy in 2 ways:  they collect leftover food from weddings, bar mitzvahs, offices, etc. and distribute it to soup kitchens across the country, and they pick produce left in the fields by farmers to give to the needy.  We visited them at their volunteer site, a farm owned and operated by an American philanthropist who made Aliyah and donates all of the crops from his farm to Leket.  Volunteers work at this location because getting volunteers out to the farms that they serve is logistically complicated -- the project often has only one or two days notice to go pick, and the farms are scattered across the country.  This farm allows Leket to utilize a steady stream of volunteers.  So this morning we met the Perlmans (yipee!  Great to see them, and great for the kids to have entertainment other than their own siblings!) at Leket.  Guided by Natalie and Amir, both Anglo new olim and Leket employees, we went to pick beets.  The weather was hot but relatively pleasant, and beets are not so hard to pick (Noah figured out that you can kick them out of the ground with a well placed foot) and we enjoyed picking and chatting together.  We also saw some of the other crops that this farm produces such as clementines, apples, potatoes, and onions.  We found it very meaningful to pick from the land, especially as we had learned the mishnaiot on peyot in Mishnat Pinchas this year.  At the end of our picking, they presented Naomi with a certificate in honor of her bat mitzvah and the work we did today, and gave us all cool t-shirts.  This was definitely a worthwhile experience and one we would recommend to anyone visiting Israel.
We had worked up an appetite picking, so we headed to the mall for lunch.  Oh, the joys of a food court, and the candy stand!  Then we went to the Perlman's apartment for a little down time, regrouped, and headed out the the beautiful campus of the Weitzman Institute, where Harris is working this summer.  We visited the Science Garden, an outdoor area filled with interactive science exhibits/activities.  We played with pulleys, waves, rainbows, bubbles, levers, echoes, etc.  The weather has been so lovely, it is cool in the shade, and you know we love science so what more could we want?

After the science garden we followed our GPS through the little streets in a neighborhood on the edge of Rechovot to the Fass's apartment.  Hester and Efraim prepared us an amazing BBQ dinner, the kids bonded like they had never been apart, and we had a relaxing and enjoyable visit.  It was so nice to have a home cooked meal!  We look forward to seeing the Fass family again in a couple of weeks for Shabbat.  We capped off the night with a very low traffic trip back to Netanya, and we were home by 9:45 -- an early night for us!  Of course, Mike then started work, Sima caught up on email, Nava skyped us from home, and we blogged. 

Pictures from today and from the wedding last night are on Sima's Facebook page. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wednesday, June 15 2011

We got a relatively early start this morning so that we could make it Beit Guvrin, about 90 minutes away from here, south and west of Jerusalem.  After about 30 minutes on the road, we were still in Netanya, stuck on Highway 2.  Though we remember traffic being bad when we were here 4 years ago, we just do not remember it bring quite this bad...  But eventually we made it to the gas station across from Beit Guvrin where we met the folks from the Archeological Seminars “Dig for a Day” program.  With them, and several other families and tour groups, we went into the park.  The area around Beit Guvrin has been inhabited by many peoples.  Where we would be digging is a city called Maresha, which was strategically important as it sits between the costal lands and the cities of the Judaean mountains that needed protection (Hevron, Yerushalayim, Ramallah, Shechem).  Maresha and a string of other cities/towns protected the path from invaders from the west.  The park contains about 5000 man made caves.  Many of them were formed when rocks were quarried to build houses.  The earth here is chalky and very soft, so as houses aged bricks fell apart and needed to be replaced.  Then more bricks were dug out from the quarry beneath the house, and the “basement” of the house got bigger.    The rooms that we excavated dated to the time of the Maccabean revolt.  Though this is a real archeological dig, they can let amateur (read klutzes) like us excavate because there are no strata in these garbage dump basements.  We dug for maybe 30 minutes, and found pieces of pottery, bones, and even part of an oil lamp.  Our guide then took us for a slither through an unexcavated cave.  At the end we were extremely dusty, but the caves were cool and so we were still comfortable and not wiped out....yet.  We explored a couple of burial caves on our own -- they were kind of creepy.  Lots of hollowed out niches were bodies used to be; the ancient peoples even pulled out the bones and then put fresh bodies on top of decayed ones.  Ilana refused to go in and waited for us at the door.

So after a picnic lunch in the shade at Beit Guvrin, we headed up toward Jerusalem to two Castel destinations -- the Castel National Park, and the Castel winery.  Neither was easy to find.  The GPS is great, but we are finding that lots of places here don’t have an address, or can be spelled lots of different ways, and it makes it super hard to find them.  So, we drove on the 395 past Beit Shemesh toward Jerusalem, looking for both the winery and the park which appeared to be on that road according to our map, and both of which the GPS could not locate.  After passing by the same winding, twisty, highly trafficked same 5 miles several times, we pulled in kibbutz Tsuba to ask for directions.  Using a great pantomine and very simple Hebrew words (including yashar, yashar, yashar), the security guard got us the Castel National Park.  Castel was a strategic point that over looks the road to Jerusalem.  During the War of Independence, the Arabs controlled the area and used it to fire on the road.  The Jews attacked the hill and took it.  The arabs then counterattacked and took back the hill.  During that counter attack the Arab commander was killed.  The Jews planned another attack to take back the area at any cost, to their surprise, upon their attack the position was deserted -- the Arabs had all gone to their commanders funeral.  So the Jews gained the high ground.  We were able to climb the various potisions overlooking the road -- it is amazing how vulnerable it is.  We also climbed through the trenches.

No one seemed to know where the winery was, and Sima had gone to much trouble to force the winery rep to meet with us (the rep didn;t want the kids, didn;t think we haad enough time, but Sima kept at it until she agreed to just talk to us about the winery).  So we called the winery to get directions and the directions went something like this:  take the 395 to Ramat Raizel, turn but don’t enter the moshav and call her.  So, that is what we did.  It took 5 minutes of directions over the phone while driving to find the winery, which is completely off the beaten path, with no sign on the road, and no sign on the building or anywhere to identify it.  We met with Rutie, the private sales rep, who took us to see the cave in which the wine is stored in barrels.  The winery only makes 100,000 bottles per year, and half of that is exported.  Rutie then guided us through a wine tasting, paired with cheese and crackers and mini-plums. She brought the kids raspberry juice and cookies also.  Even Sima liked the wine, so we just had to order a couple of cases. 

Then onto Jerusalem for Tova’s wedding.  The drive in was surprisingly unstressful, and Mike did a great job finding a parking spot just a block from the Great Synagogue.  As we were approaching the synagogue, a car stopped across the street and who got out, but the gorgeous bride Tova, with her sister and mother.  Cars stopped on Hamelekh George (6 or 8 lines, if you have not been there) to let the bride cross and beeped her “mazel tov”.  The chupah was on the plaza outside the synagogue and the reception was in the basement.  Quick impressions:  Israelis and buffets are a disgusting combination; Israelis are not big on ceremony (the kabbalat panim was 2 minutes in total, at the chupah guests were walking around chatting and talking on the phone); when you have a wedding on a major thoroughfare, lots of uninvited guests stop by to watch, take pictures and even stay for the meal; it may not be a good idea to eat the food if you can’t read the menu or understand the waiter (the kids, other than Naomi, downed chicken livers in phyllo dough thinking it was beef and were a bit disgusted upon learning the true nature of their meal).  But, seeing Tova and meeting her family was wonderful, and they were so warm and welcoming.  We are so fortunate to be able to share this simcha with Tova.  Who, by the way, was incredibly happy and calm (and did we say gorgeous?) and designed her own dress.  Anyone wanting to hear about wedding planning and dueling mothers-in-law, we can discuss off-line.  Sima will be posting pictures on Facebook.

A long and construction filled drive back to Netanya and the kids are asleep.  It is 1:45 a.m. and we still have no wifi, so this will be posted tomorrow (again).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hard to believe that we have only been here one full day.  We keep thinking that it must already be Wednesday and by the time this is blogged it will be because we still don't have wifi.   This morning started with kids who had to be dragged out of bed, and waiting two hours for our landlord to show up and work on the wireless "problem".  But Mike and the kids did squeeze in a walk on the beach, and enjoyed squealing at the washed up jellyfish(es).  After the slow start, we picked up the rental car and headed to Zichron Yaakov to the First Aliya Museum.  Have to say that driving here is much less stressful with the help of GPS.... The museum is a very interesting place. It follows, through video and models and information, the story of one family who left Europe for Israel in 1882.  We all learned how truly difficult it was for the early settlers, who faced a difficult land to farm, hunger, sickness and exploitation by Baron de Rothschild's overseers, and no wifi either.  From there, we went to a winery created by the family of one of those first immigrants - the Tishbi winery.  The family got its name from Hayim Bialik who visited the vineyards.  We learned a bit about wine making, had a fantastic late lunch in their restaurant (sweet potato ravioli in pesto sauce), tasted some wine, ate very expensive chocolate and bought some wine to enjoy here and at home.  Sima loved the chemistry talk about wine making and was enthralled with the still for brandy making.  It was over 100 years old and brought over from France - absolutely gorgeous.  Only Mike tasted the brandy, but at 1500 NIS, even he couldn't quite pull the trigger to buy a bottle. 

Then, we GPS'ed it to Nahal Taninim, which was officially closed (don't know why the parks close at 4 p.m.) but we somehow talked our way in even though the only employee there could not speak a word of English (or, he pretended not to).  We only had 30 minutes but we saw plant life, birds, a Roman dam and aqueduct and are already planning a return visit. But no alligators or crocodiles. Interestingly, our Hebrew dictionary here lists both as the translations for tanin.  Ben Yehuda could have done better.

Back to Netanya where the kids could go to the beach. Noah had his headphones the whole time, the girls swam a bit - shrieking "salt in my eyes" every time they dipped their faces in the water and running to us to rub their eyes with a towel - and Eitan and the girls dug very deep holes.  From there, we walked up to the kikar for dinner.  In a scene very reminiscent of when Mike, as a boy, visited Netanya with his family, a restaurant owner coaxed us in (not really in, but rather to his outdoor tables).  This guy offered us 10% off, free coffee and ice cream.  Hmmmm... hamburgers and ice cream.  We told him that we can't eat there and he told us that if we keep kosher we can eat at his "brother's" restaurant next door.  We were suckered, but the food was plentiful and decent enough.  Trips to 2 makolets on the way home for essentials - peppers, soap, cookies, cheese and kleenex.  The kids are asleep (or should be) and the adults are watching an episode of Srugim.

Laila tov

Monday, June 13, 2011

Monday, June 13, 2011

We arrived. We had a most amazing welcome, being greeted by Sarah, Shani, Chaim Weiss, Libi and Yona Brief - we felt like celebrities. The plane ride was uneventful - each of us got to watch our own movies. We will leave it to you to guess who watched Harry Potter, Just Do It, and Gulliver's Travels.
Chaim kindly negotiated our rendezvous with Mark, the Russian/Israeli landlord, who generously picked us up, crammed us and our luggage into his van and took us to our apartment at 24 Nitza Street in Netanya (in case you want to Google map it). The apartment is great, with beautiful views. 2 small problems - the kitchen may be superficially kosher (there is a par eve sticker on the salt), with one set of silverware and pots and pans. We are eating out! And, no wireless which will make blogging very difficult and may make it impossible for Eitan to deliver his campaign speech via Skype tonight We are sitting on the kikar - enjoying the breeze. 3 of us had pizza and 2 had shwarma. Sima is just not hungry.

Our feelings today have mostly revolved around stress - travel, travel, travel and no kitchen or wireless. And, the ATM stopped working right after giving out the receipt for the money we were supposed to get. Can't read the receipt so we hope we are not debited for the money we never got.

We are trying something new and we are posting pictures on Instagram - you need to follow soberlander to see them.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sunday, June 12, 2011 - travel day

Things started off as planned - one of the kids' suitcases was overweight at 7:50 am so Sima quickly repacked suitcases. We had a bittersweet goodbye at the airport. While we are all so excited to go to Israel, it was very hard to say goodbye to Yaara and Nava. It is hard to think that this may be the last time all 8 of us would be together for a long time. We know we will see Nava in just over a week and Yaara is going to have a great time at Camp Stone and then we get to see her again for Camp Derech Eretz. Thanks Mom for driving us to the airport - Yaara and Nava just had to shlep luggage.

The flight to Philly was delayed but otherwise uneventful. In Philly, we could not fit into one cab so we found Fahad, who had a Lincoln Town Car for hire. Mike practiced for the shuk and negotiated an only slightly extravagant price for driving the 6 of us to the Liberty Bell and agree to pick us up from dinner and take us back to the airport. We did not have much time, but we saw the Liberty Bell (through a window - no time to stand in lines) and had a quick tour of Independence Hall. Mike got to show off his penchant for knowing stupid trivia about random facts. We saw an excavation of the first President's house - look kids, 200 hundred year old ruins. In Jerusalem, that is downright modern.

We then met Jonathan and Aleck Zimbalist at Mama's Vegetarian Restaurant. We all needed falafel and hummus just to get us in the right frame of mind. Fahad was just on time and we are just waiting to get through the second security clearance. Of course, nothing will be like the 20 minute security check while people pawed through our backpacks at Independence Hall. Kids are anxious to go through security, so signing off from now. Next post will be from Israel!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Getting ready

Well, we are busy getting ready. Clothes, ipads, iphone, travel phones, garmin. We are bringing more computing power and technology than the US had at its disposal in planning D-Day.