A Travellerspoint blog

The End of a Fabulous Trip

This morning those of us who were leaving at a civilized time, in my case 1:10 PM, went down for a wonderful Israeli breakfast buffet: varied phyllo pastries, veggie salads, yogurt with various herbs, olives, fruit salad, smoked salmon, pickled herring, and on and on. The hotel had grouped us for effective cab sharing, so all we had to do was wait for the cab and pay the driver.

The flight from Tel Aviv to Toronto was long, 12 hours, but uneventful. We cleared customs in Toronto, so when we landed in DC, we were able to get home expeditiously. It was wonderful to see Marty, of course.

I will be processing all this for a long time. This trip was one of the high points of my entire life.

Posted by mlld3536 17:00 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Sea, Stones, and Sunset

Our last day, and what a beautiful one.

We bid farewell to the beautiful Mount of Beatitudes Guesthouse. I for one wished we could have stayed there just one more day, perhaps doing nothing but walking in the garden, looking at the Sea of Galilee, and enjoying the peace and relaxation. Such a glorious--and challenging!--trip this has been!

Our bus took us south past Nazareth, which we had skipped, somewhat to my regret. Unlike Bethlehem, Nazareth is a place where Jesus definitely lived. But it had been determined that a stop there would basically just involve another huge church atop a dubious specific site, Mary's house. With our time running out at this point, a decision was made in favor of Cesarea, the spectacular port of Herod the Great. Though I was sorry to miss Nazareth, I had wanted to see Cesarea ever since I saw it written up in the Washington Post a couple of years ago.

What a spectacular site this is! We started by walking through the arches of the ancient aqueduct and dipping our feet in the Mediterranean. Wow. Perfect water temperature, rolling surf, a pristine, uncrowded beach with a background of ancient stone.

Back in the first century, there was no port here. Herod gathered his slaves and had one dug. He built a huge amphitheater, a hippodrome, a temple to Augustus, and many other structures whose ruins can be seen today--beautiful golden stone, the color of the sand at their feet.

After viewing the ruins, we had lunch by the sea. I had hummus topped by ground beef and pine nuts, with frozen mint lemonade to drink. Wonderful. Then it was back to the bus for the drive down to Tel Aviv, where we checked into our hotel.

We were just in time for the last of our meetings with human rights activists, this time with Eitan Bronstein, director of an organization whose mission is to promote among Israelis an understanding of the Naqba or "Catastrophe," as Palestinians understand the founding of the state of Israel which led to widespread dispossession in their community. Their goal is "To commemorate, witness, acknowledge, and repair." They believe that only if Israelis do these things will they ever be able to establish peace with the Palestinians. His organization points out that Jews, of all people, should understand the importance of not forgetting events that destroy understanding between peoples.

After Mr. Bronstein left to enjoy Shabat, most of us got back on the bus for one more trip, this time to Jaffa. Jaffa essentially functions as an Old Town for Tel Aviv. When we arrived in Jaffa, Faraj walked us around to orient us to the old area with its blend of Ottoman-era buildings and its gorgeous seaside promenade. He set us a meeting time and place and then left us to it. Some of us headed toward the sea. On the way we saw a restaurant with a garden, so we went in and had excellent fish and a lot of laughter.

After watching the sunset, we wandered back to the meeting point and headed back to Tel Aviv for the last night of a wonderful trip.

Cesarea by the Sea

Cesarea by the Sea


Tel Aviv from Jaffa

Tel Aviv from Jaffa


Sunset at Jaffa

Sunset at Jaffa

Posted by mlld3536 17:00 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Beautiful Settings, Holy Places

This morning, we got up and while sipping the delicious Arabic coffee, watch the children in the family get ready for school. Our hostess called us a cab to take us back to Canaan Fair Trade, where we waited for everyone to gather and enjoyed trading the highly varied stories about their family stays. Common themes: enormous families, all living nearby; warm greetings; extensive discussion among hosts as to what to do about dinner as if it had not been expected or planned; ample, delicious dinners that had clearly been in preparation for a while.

Finally, our bus arrived, and we drove north to the checkpoint. The land that had been so harsh and dry for so long was now green with vegetable farms of various kinds, growing mangoes, avocados, bananas, and such, some in open fields, some in large greenhouses.

We were stopped at the checkpoint, and our driver and guide, being Palestinians, had to get off the bus to be questioned and patted down. (Yuval, as an Israeli, is not allowed to travel to the West Bank, so he was not with us.) Two Israeli soldiers with guns got on the bus and went through checking everyone's passport. Then the guide and driver came back, and we continued on our way. Faraj said that this was pretty typical, neither relaxed nor particularly tense. Some people said later that they had perceive a somewhat increased tension at the checkpoints today.

We stopped at a number of places today where "this is where___happened." Of course, that's not possible to determine. But major sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Church of the Nativity that target "the place" are highly subject to debate. But it clearly is the case that Jesus did wander through the Galilee. And thus the regional focus, much more than the site-specific shrines, was to me quite meaningful.

Our first stop was at Tabgha, the ostensible site of the miracle of loaves and fishes. This is marked by a pretty, twentieth century church built on the foundation and plan of the 5th century Byzantine church originally on the site.

We got really excited at the first sight of the Sea of Galilee, and we drove along it for much of the day. We stopped for lunch at "St. Peter's Restaurant" where we ate St. Peter's fish for lunch.

After lunch, we went on to Capernaum, a beautiful, shady spot along the sea, where we saw the dark basalt foundations of houses and synagogues of Jesus's day along with later ruins of a later synagogue built on the first one. There was an attractive modern octagonal church built above the ruins of the early church of the same shape, with a window in the floor for viewing the early church and glass walls all around for viewing the beautiful setting, including the Sea of Galilee.

From there we drove down to where supposedly the "thou are Peter" conver sation took place. Like many of the Gallilean sites, it is green and shady and beautiful by the Sea of Galillee with the Golan Heights across the sea in the distance. Some of us walked painfully over the gravel to wade in the sea.

After this we drove to the Mount of Beatitudes Guesthouse. What a beautiful, serene place! We were welcomed by one of the Franciscan sisters and went to comfortable, modern rooms. As I had not slept well the night before, I took a nap. We had a tasty dinner in the main building. It consisted of soup, bulgher pilaf, sesame chicken. After dinner, we met at their beautiful little church for a compline service. And so to bed.

St Peter's Restaurant

St Peter's Restaurant


Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee


Church at Guesthouse

Church at Guesthouse

Posted by mlld3536 17:00 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Farewell to Jerusalem.

I was eager to see more of the country, but it was sad to bid good-bye to our lovely guesthouse. And we realized that there was much to see and do in Jerusalem that we would have to hope to address another time.

Today we had a lot of ground to cover, mostly on the bus, of course. Our first stop was Ramallah. After a brief look at the tomb of Yasser Arafat, we went to a cafe where we met Sahar Francis, who is a lawyer with a Palestinian human rights organization that tries to support political prisoners. Neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority is particularly devoted to the rights of the accused or the fair treatment of prisoners, and Ms. Francis explained the work of her group in providing legal aid and objecting to torture.

From there we moved on to Nablus, where we had lunch served by the staff of Tomorrow's Youth, an organization devoted to healthy socialization of children and empowerment of women. The organization is largely staffed by young American women. The staff includes Suhad Masri, who is a native of Nablus, though she was educated in the US. She is the only certified family therapist in the entire Palestinian Territories. After an excellent lunch, we went inside their fine facility to see crowds of children led in song and dance by young male and female volunteers from a local university. Their program is quite unusual in being co-ed, both in staff and participants.

After that, we went to the site that historically has been identified with Jacob's Well. Like many sites associated with biblical women, it is pretty and peaceful with a modern church constructed along the lines of the Crusader era building, one of quite a few that preceded it. The well itself is down in the crypt. It is 135 feet deep, and is famed for its pure water. What the heck, I took a sip. But they don't allow pictures.

It was getting late, so we drove to the Canaan Fair Trade center, where we were to meet our hosts for the evening. While we waited, we were taken on a tour of their facility where they process oil from olives and almonds. Finally the time came to go to our hosts for the evening. Two of my friends, both named Karen, and me were staying with one family. We climbed into the back seat of Emad's pickup truck; other folks piled into the truck bed, and we were off. He dropped off two groups at different houses, and then took me and the Karens to his house. It was quite a cultural adventure.

There we were with a group of about half a dozen women, two men, and a varying population of children, none of whom spoke English. One of our number had about a dozen words of Arabic. The Ancient Granny--who was probably my age--took my hand and spoke long and earnestly in Arabic. One of her granddaughters tried to explain to her that I did not understand. Upon which, Grandma took my hand and declaimed yet more earnestly, which completely cracked up the granddaughter. Somehow, we managed to communicate our marital statuses and how many children we had of both genders. They managed to tell us that our host was one of twelve offspring of Ancient Granny--six men and six women. We figured out that at least one of the women with us was his sister and another was his wife. But it was pretty confusing because most of the family lived within two blocks (at most) and different individuals wandered into the circle, accompanied by various children off and on all evening. It was a gathering heavily skewed to women, most of whom were shouting at each other and laughing heartily. It was a raucous and jolly group. The men were very quiet.

Eventually, Dana, our host's niece dropped by. She is studying English at the local university, and she was eager to practice. That helped a bit, and her efforts emboldened her nine year old sister who spoke the best English of the group.

When we arrived, we had been served the largest, most delicious dates I have ever eaten along with tea. But we saw no sign of dinner. Then at some point, we realized that the women were discussing how they were going to feed us. This did not make us feel secure! We later learned that this kind of discussion is "part of the dance." As you can see from the picture, we ate well!

One of the . . . relatives? . . . neighbors? . . . friends? was Christian. When they learned that we were Christian (How many times a day do you have to pray?), they urged us to go see the local church, the Church of the Ten Lepers, which wikipedia confirms is the third oldest church in the world. Faraj had wanted to take the group there in the afternoon, but there was no time. So we would go there. But first we had to go to the soap factory! The young Christian woman and her husband have a small factory where they make olive oil soap. So okay, to the soap factory we went. Emad, silent as ever, loaded us all into the truck and drove us, It was quite interesting to see the vats of soap and the molds into which they poured it. They gave each of us a bar of soap. We were most grateful, and then we thought that since they had hosted us, it would be good to buy some soap. This became complicated. The couple insisted that we should take the other bars too as a gift. We felt bad, because we were then depleting their inventory, and after all, they had only wanted to give us one apiece. After much negotiation--"Take it as a treat for your children."--we managed to leave a few shekels and move on to the church, which a neighborhood boy opened up for us. It was really lovely. The nave is actually 18th century. It is the "leper cave" that is so very old.

After we returned from the church, Dana begged us to come with her to her house (only two minutes!). So we went and met her father--her mother and sisters had been in the group at the table. He turned out to be a boys high school principal who spoke quite good English. We chatted away, with him quoting Wordsworth to us, for some time. But we were pretty wiped out and so bid our good-byes and headed back to Emad's house. The children had been put to bed in their parents' room, so we got the kids' room with beds covered with images of Spider Man and some Arab knock-off of Barbie. I can't say I slept well, but that's me. My roommates did fine despite a fine cast of goats and roosters.

To be continued.

Children at Tomorrow's Youth

Children at Tomorrow's Youth


Family Night in Palestine

Family Night in Palestine


Dinner!

Dinner!


"Leper Cave" at the Church of Ten Lepers

"Leper Cave" at the Church of Ten Lepers

Posted by mlld3536 17:00 Archived in State of Palestine Comments (0)

A Day of Rest

Our pilgrimage has been wonderful but truly exhausting. Today has included meetings with significant people, but we had much needed free time as well.

In the morning we met with the imam of the Al Aqsa Mosque. This was a very big deal. The Al Aqsa Mosque is one of the most important mosques in the world.

In the afternoon we met with representatives of the Parents' Circle, an organization of Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members to the conflict and who have banded together to promote reconciliation and peace. I had seen the Israeli man, Rami Elhanan in the film Encounter Point, where I learned about the work of the organization. It was certainly interesting to meet with him and his Palestinian counterpart, Mazen Faraj. I had been expecting this discussion to be intense and difficult, given the extremely painful experiences the men shared. But as with Yad Vashem, I had so much familiarity with the stories of these people that it was actually a bit anti-climactic. And that is really scary when one thinks about it.

In between, I went shopping with friends. Then we stopped at the Olive Garden restaurant. No... this was a real garden with olive trees, and it was lovely. Then back to the guest house to pack.

In the evening, we had a farewell-to-Jerusalem dinner at the American Colony Hotel. Now, this was a Very Big Deal, as you can imagine if you check out the hotel's link. We had a cocktail hour on the terrace overlooking the beautiful gardens twinkling with lights. Then we went in and had a dinner of pea soup, salmon, and vegetables with apple tart for dessert. The food was good, but frankly, I preferred the less fancy local fare. However, the setting was really fabulous, and I appreciated the inclusion of this event in the tour.

The spice shop

The spice shop


Friends at Olive Garden

Friends at Olive Garden

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