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).