The Northern Galilee

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The morning was dedicated to learning about and experiencing the Galilee.

But first.....breakfast! Yes...time to eat again. And OMG.....a looooong table laden with one of the most beautiful, bountiful, and lavish spreads we've ever seen!  Amazing presentation. So many choices! If only we had any room to put more food. We felt like kibbutzim needing sustenance before going out to reap the harvest!

When we went to the lobby to wait for our car, a woman asked if we were going on the hike that she was leading on the trails around the property. We said no, that we had our own hike planned, but would she be doing one tomorrow, on Sunday. She replied, "No...only on the weekend."  Say what? Then we remembered Yuval telling us that, because of Shabbat, the weekend in Israel is Friday and Saturday! Most people work on Sunday.

The forecast said the high would be in the low 40s, so we pretty much had on every piece of clothing we brought as we headed for our first stop: hiking around Banias. Banias is an ancient site that developed around a spring once associated with the Greek god Pan. It is located at the foot of Mount Hermon, north of the Golan Heights. The spring is the source of the Banias River, one of the main tributaries of the Jordan River.  Archaeologists uncovered a shrine dedicated to Pan and related deities, and the remains of an ancient city founded sometime after the conquest by Alexander the Great and inhabited until 1967! At that time it was part of Syria, but Israel took over the territory in the Six Day War.

While we were admiring Pan's Grotto and the other shrines we saw some large animals scampering across the rocks. They looked like beavers or capybaras, but they were actually hyraxes. And it turns out they are not rodents at all, but a relative of elephants!!!!! (zoom in to see them.)

We had a beautiful (but muddy) hike along the river, rushing and roaring beside us due to all of the recent rains. And it actually got so warm that we removed our coats. Along the way, we could see the Hermon Mountains and, next to them, the Golan Heights. Eventually we came to Banias Falls. A pretty spectacular view as the mist swirled around us.

Then we drove up the mountain to an overlook in the town of Metula. From there we could see into Lebanon, only a couple of miles away. We could also see several IDF trucks patrolling on the roads.

Our morning excursion ended with a visit to the Neot Mordecai kibbutz. The kibbutz was established on November 2, 1946 by Jewish immigrants from Czechoslovakia, Germany and Austria, and was named in honor of Mordechai Rozovsky, a Zionist activist in Argentina. Some of you may be familiar with the name "Naot" (yes...spelled differently) as it is a brand of shoes, and indeed, this kibbutz is the home of the factory. One of us did try on some shoes, but alas... no success.  This is the longest we have gone on a trip without any major purchases.  Stay tuned for Sunday morning when we shop in Tzfat.

Walking around we saw one of the many bomb shelters...

...necessary as this area is also close to Lebanon. Especially poignant was this image....

....a large communal menorah on the roof of a building, and, standing only a few feet away, a pole with loudspeakers that sound the alarm when a rocket attack is detected.

As we were leaving a large flock of storks flew overhead, probably on their migration to Africa. Perhaps these were some of the same ones we saw in Poland!

After resting at the hotel for a few hours including a massage* for Wendy, we headed out to Safed (in Hebrew pronounced "tzfat") to do some end-of-Shabbat synagogue hopping. Safed is one of the four holy cities in Israel, together with Jerusalem, Hebron and Tiberias. The old part of town consists of narrow cobblestone alleys revealing artists' galleries, medieval synagogues, private homes and small guest houses. Its population is overwhelmingly Jewish Orthodox, with a lot of Kabbalah mysticism thrown in.  

Because it was Shabbat, out of respect, we did not take any pictures. We were a little early for Ma'ariv (ending prayer) services to start, so walked down the slippery cobblestone alleys and peeked into several synagogues. Of course, since these are Orthodox, the women's sitting areas were separate from the men's. As we went we saw many men dressed in black suits and various kinds of hats (that denote a particular sect or origin), we passed by houses where we could see families sharing dinner and hear them singing. So sweet were the sounds of children marking Havdallah in harmony. We then went into one to participate / observe (Yuval and Wayne downstairs, Wendy upstairs). Of course, the prayer books were entirely in Hebrew, but we could follow along and were familiar with many of the prayers. As the service concluded a man (dressed in regular Western clothes, who we learned later was from Cleveland; we reluctantly did not mention the recent World Series outcome) came up to Wayne and asked if he would like to join some families for Havdalah. This is a separate, very special ceremony that officially marks the end of Shabbat.. He led us to his house where there were 4 couples with their 12 or so children (varying in age from 1 to teens).  We (particularly Wendy) joined in the dancing and singing (a round in three parts).  It is hard to describe how wonderful it was to actually participate in a Havdalah service in Tzfat! 

We then headed a few miles away to a tiny town called Jish (as in "Jeesh"). This was a Lebanese Christian town that ended up in Israeli territory after the Six Day War and has kept its identity ever since. As we turned onto the street where the restaurant was, we had to stop as there was a large Christmas street festival (including a polar bear) going on!!  Talk about a contrast!  What an abrupt major cultural shift!!!! Yuval said this is what makes Israel great, although he also noted that the people in Safed and Jish will probably never interact with each other.

Yuval lead us down a maze of streets to a hole-in-the-wall place called Baladna (which means "Our Town"). Small and authentic -- the menus were in Hebrew and Arabic, although they did bring out a short hand-written menu in English when we asked. All four of us ate together. First they brought a platter of dips and bread...

...and complimentary potato salad and cauliflower salad.

Next came smoked eggplant and fattoush (click for a pic).

Wendy and Muhammad ordered shrimp, and Wayne and Yuval got the house specialty -- smoked pork.

The pork looked like thick cuts of bacon but tasted like smoked brisket. By no means was this a Kosher meal! Divine! A great way to end Shabbat!

All in all it was a day full of amazing sights and sounds and smells. It'll be hard to top, but on we go.

Love,  w&w...........

*As long time readers know, Wendy has experienced massages on six continents.  Each is as different as the culture it represents.  "My Israeli massage was performed by a no-nonsense sabra--uncovering deep tissue and muscles I never knew I had.  She manipulated several of my joints to angles that would have been impossible to achieve had it not been for my over-the top strength building, Pilates, and cardio dance exercise regimen. Great experience, not recommended for the weak of muscle or heart."

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