Days 2, 3, and 4

Boker tov, everyone! I apologize that I haven’t posted anything in a few days. There has been absolutely no internet, so its been impossible to update you all.Thankfully, I finally found some! Thus, the following post covers several days worth, so I apologize for the long length!

6/18/13

Tuesday was our first full day with the program, and what a day!! The morning started with an early breakfast at seven am, and a bus ride immediately right after at eight am. The day was planned full with outdoor adventures, and we would not be getting back until late.

The first stop was at a lookout point overlooking the Jordan river that used to be a Syrian bunker before the Six Day War in 1967. During that war, Israel successfully gained more land, including a large portion that used to be part of Syria. This was a huge feat for the tiny nation of Israel, considering that they were one small nation against four or five or six huge Arab nations. At this outpost, we were able to see huge expanses of Israeli land, and were able to imagine the fear and chaos that the Israelis must have gone under in the valley before the war because of all of the constant Syrian attacks.

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Our next stop was at a hiking trail that started in the remains of a Syrian village. The buildings didn’t look that old, but time had worn them away, leaving them a broken shell of what they once were. The walls were made of black volcanic rocks, molded in place with mud and plaster from the surrounding area. Passing the remnants of these villages, we hiked for a good 2.5-3 miles down into a valley in the rocks. The trail was not that difficult, but there were many places where all that separated you from a long fall down the cliff side was a half a foot of measly trail. After maybe half an hour of climbing, we had to climb down a metal ladder that had been installed in the side of the rock wall. We then made our way slowly to a small landing where there was a beautiful small pool, surrounded by trees and beautiful flowers. As we stood in the shade of the rock wall, we could see the small fish that swam in the pond, and heard the splash of the small waterfall that emptied into the pond. The view was amazing, and was unbelievably serene and magical.

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Eventually we made our way back up the trail, and back to the bus. After a quick stop for lunch, we made it to the second itinerary point of the day : the old border with Syria. Now, when I say border with Syria, I don’t mean that we actually were at the border, straddling the line between Israel and its neighbor. Rather, we were at a former military outlook, high on the mountain, from which we could see right into Syria. The difference between the Israeli and Syrian sides was astounding. The Israeli side, being used entirely for agriculture and development, was green and patched with various types of vegetables. As soon as you looked past the road that demarcated the border, the land turned dark and black with disuse. In context, this can be explained by the larger land mass of Syria not necessitating that every square inch be put to use. Israel, on the other hand, has over 7 million people and needs  to use very square inch it can. This outlook in the Golan heights is a very contentious place, as Syria still wants control over the area. It was rather humbling and awe inspiring to have been so close to the border, especially considering the historical and contemporary conflict between the two countries.

After this outlook, we went to the Jordan river to go river rafting!! This was incredibly fun as six of us crowded into a raft and began to navigate down the river. The river is fresh water, and oftentimes not very deep or wide. We would often get stuck on roots of trees or the bottom of the river in shallow parts, and had to jump out and push ourselves off. We spent nearly two hours going down the Jordan, passing by locals who were picnicking on the shoreline. I’m sorry there are no pictures for this, as taking my camera with me would have been a bad idea.

We eventually made it back to the hotel, showered, ate dinner, and had a really cool post-dinner presentation. A local Israeli woman who had gone to England for her masters in music and Israeli music history gave an awesome presentation on the history of the development of Israeli music. Since Israel is mostly made of immigrants from other countries, and since the country itself has only been around for around 65 years, there hasn’t been too much development of a “purely Israeli ” music. Most of the music in the early 1900s came from Russian immigrants who came to work the land, and thus the lyrics reflected a theme of comradery and agriculture. Then, the influence of the Beatles created a rebellion in Israeli music in the 1970s, where lyrics became less important, and the music itself became more prominent. Finally, Israel joined in the global world and started incorporating pop, boy bands, and even dubstep into their music. If you want to look up a good song, look up “New Soul” by Yael Naim. So wonderful! The night ended after that with some group bonding time, and then the heaviest six hours of sleep I’ve had in a long time. What a fantastic day!

6/19/13 – hiking Mt. Meron, wine tasting at Rimon Winery, and Zefat

Today was an equally busy day. We started the day off with yet another hike, this time up Mt. Meron. This one was not as steep as the day before, and had some amazing views of the mountains and the Sea of Galilee in the north of Israel. The hike went through a natural forest, full of trees and shrubs. We learned that Israel doesn’t naturally have many forests, which surprised many of us who had seen numerous trees and brush lining every road and street. Apparently, there are lots of trees in Israel because the laws during the Ottoman empire (way back when) dictated that if you bought land, you had to use it or you would lose it. Thus, the common practice was to plant trees to maintain your claim on the land. This practice has lasted through today, where Israeli law says that in order to cut down any tree, you must plant another in an alternative location. Israel, accordingly, is one of the few countries in the world that has a net surplus of trees,and is thereby fighting the global ecological crisis of the preservation of nature! And all of this in spite of desperately needed and for housing and development. Very impressive.

After our morning hike, we went to the Rimon Winery for a tasting! For those of you who know me well, you know that I am a huge fan of wine. This winery, however, was unlike any I had ever been to because it made wines exclusively out of pomegranates! Apparently, there are over 1000 types of pomegranate all over the world, over half of which are grown in Israel. Since the pomegranates used in these wines are very high in sugar content, they tend to make extremely sweet (and thicker) wines. We tried a semi-sweet red, a dessert wine, a port, and a champagne. All of these were extremely sweet, and very different tasting. If I weren’t so attached to regular old grape wine, I may have bought a bottle to bring back. Yet, given my limited suitcase room, I decided not to. Still, visiting the only pomegranate wine manufacturing winery in the entire world was very fun.

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After the winery, we went to the small and very religious city of Zefat. The name is pronounced like “shot”, but if there was an f that replaced the h. The city, situated up on a large hill, has only a population of 15,000. The streets are small, lined with shops selling handmade jewelry and art. At Zefat, we went inside a beautiful, very old synagogue. To get to the synagogue, we had to go through a winding, complex medley of streets, down staircases and up staircases, and through many ancient looking archways. As we entered, girls were given shawls to cover their shoulders and boys were given yarmulkes to wear. The synagogue was beautiful, with Turkish style ceilings painted in blues and tall pillars painted in a medley of earth colors. The stones of the building were very old, made of stone, and gave you the impression of having lasted throughout the centuries. I was mesmerized by the history and the gravitas of it all – these buildings had been built centuries ago, had seen the coming and going of empires and kingdoms, and now still stood as a testament to the anthropological and religious history of Judaism. It was very awe inspiring and humbling. In Zefat, we also went to some of the local artisan shops. My favorite was a candle making shop where they sold beautiful handmade candles.  Lrt me just assure you that the creations they made were amazing. Animals, biblical scenes, cartoon characters, houses, etc., all made out of beeswax and paraffin! Call me cheesy, but I love novelty things like that.

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After that, we made it back to the hotel for our last night in the Golan heights.

6/20/13.  Mt.Arbel and the first view of Jerusalem

Thursday was a jam packed day, and marked our transition from the far north down to Jerusalem. Starting at seven am as usual, we did not finish until midnight. Still, it was an incredibly fun and frenzied day.

Our day started with breakfast, and then a climb in the bus up to the top of Mt.Arbel. This mountain, which overlooks the Sea of Galilee, has a sheer cliff wall on one side that starts 1200 feet up, and then ends down at the sea, which is 200 feet below sea level. At the top of the mountain, the view was breathtaking. Below, you could see the small communal farms that are characteristic of israel, known as moshav’s and kibbutz’s. In both of these types of settlements, everyone who lives there works to provide services necessary for the welfare of the settlement. The difference, however, is that in a kibbutz everyone makes the same salary regardless of their occupation while in a moshav salary is based upon what you do. Additionally, we learned that the way to tell between a Jewish and an Arab moshav or kibbutz was generally by the color and structure of the buildings. Jewish communities tended to have peaked, red tiled roofs, while arab communities tended tp have white buildings with flat roofs that allowed for possible future construction of floors to their houses. What struck me as most interesting was that from the mountain, you could see a Jewish kibbutz and an Arab kibbutz situated no less a few hundred feet from each other! I certainly never expected to see that close of an interaction between two politically opposed groups, especially not outside of Jerusalem.

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At nine thirty in the morning, we began to climb down the side of the mountain. Taking very careful steps, we would follow each other single file down a narrow and twisting path. At times, there would be metal handles drilled and secured into the rocks to allow us extra leverage to get down the mountain. Without these handles, it would have been impossible for us to make it down. There was even a point where we crossed a rickety metal bridge that had been installed into the side of the mountain! This climb was certainly adventurous, but I loved every second of it. I have really come to realize recently that although I am not very athletic, I love to hike. The mix between the beauty of the scenery and the exhilaration of the exercise make it very fun for me. Sadly, however, the infamous heat of Israel struck that day, and thus our progress was sincerely hindered by it. I swear, I haven’t had this much water to drink EVER!!! After about an hour of hiking, we came to a small break in the path, high up on the mountain, where a herd of cows were hiding inside of a small cave to escape the heat of the sun. I was maybe two feet away from a large brown cow! Many of us questioned why and how the cows were up so high (we are talking maybe six hundred feet up), and subsequently learned that the cows belonged to the moshav’s below, and would regularly climb up to graze or escape the heat. It was a pleasant surprise (although it was accompanied by a very unpleasant smell). Eventually, we made it down the mountain, and climbed into the bus to begin the several hour bus ride to Jerusalem.

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Midway through the desert ride to Jerusalem, we stopped at a small desert market. As our counselors got out to make small purchases, we looked out the window and gazed upon several beautifully adorned camels sitting perhaps five feet from the bus. With the backdrop of the desert, sands, and yellow stone buildings, this certainly made the very stereotypical and picturesque view of the “Middle East” I had expected to see. So far, the terrain had been rather similar to the terrain of central/northern California with its trees, sparse bushes , and generally dirt strewn paths. Seeing a desert with only sand and camels was oddly funny compared to the mediterranean climate we had experienced so far in the northern areas. After a few minutes, our counselors came back on the bus and we resumed our traveling. The reason we had stopped was so that they could purchase some of Israel’s most famous delicacies and treats for us: dried fruit! We shared dried apricots, dried pineapple, and my personal favorite, figs! It was absolutely delicious.

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Halfway through sharing these treats, we were told without explanation to quickly pull down the curtains over our windows. When we asked for a reason, the counselors would not explain. I was rather alarmed by this, fearing that we were in danger if we were seen, and began to worry. After maybe half an hour like this, we were told to lift up the curtains, and to gaze out the windows. By asking that we cover the windows, the counselors were merely trying to build up anticipation and excitement for one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen: the holy city of Jerusalem. As we climbed over a small hill, we were awed by the beautiful vision of the dome of the rock, hundreds of feet away, surrounded by houses upon houses squished into the hillside. Everything in Jerusalem was beautiful and old and historic and full of deep meaning. It was as if the city were a wise old grandfather that was looking upon its grandchildren, visiting for the weekend for stories and love. The view was even more beautiful considering that we were coming in at around sunset, and the light was hitting the buildings at just the right angle to make a perfectly beautiful shadow. It was a magnificent view, and I could watched it for hours. Knowing that we would all need a rest stop and a chance to take pictures, we stopped at a lookout point overlooking the whole of Jerusalem. There, we took photos and said a prayer, the shehekhiyanu, which is a prayer that days how grateful you are to be able to experience something new or beautiful or important. Coming to this wonderful and holy city, and being able to experience it, was one such amazing thing.

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Soon after, we made it to our hotel, ate a quick dinner, and then journeyed to the center of the city for some fun bar-hopping and adventures as a group.what a marvelous day!

Also, here is me eating amazing, delicious, cold pecan gelato in Tiberias when it was a million degrees outside. Also, inside the cafe where I bought the gelato was a poster with this inscription about coffee, which is perfect (despite the Engbrew). Coffee shout out to Allie! I’ll post more soon!

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