Traveling South

Friday December 23, 2016

This was our last morning in Jerusalem. After another massive Israeli breakfast (one of us had roasted eggplant, Israeli salad, tabouli, egg white omelette, smoked salmon, tuna, fruit, and a small piece of semolina cake), we had time for one more quick walk to Rolodin and more (yes, more!) sufganiyot.. Truth be told, we were stocking up for the long car ride and for a treat for Yuval and Muhammed.  Wayne isn't fan and Wendy can only eat one (at a time). Sugar overload anyone!?!?!?!

Hmmm...which to choose?????

ALL OF THESE!!!!!!!!!!!!!
By the way, Wendy ate the one on the bottom
row to the left--filled with chocolate ganache. 
Very tasty.

Plus a nice display of baked goods for Chanukah which begins Saturday at sundown.

Today was a drive and walk extravaganza into the heart of Israel.  Just outside of Jerusalem (indeed, we were at the top of the next valley over on the east side from Hadassah Hospital) is the Sataf nature walk. It has many trails that go through an area most recently farmed by Palestinians, but a place that has been inhabited and supported crops for at least 1,300 years. The paths wind down past a number of terraces. Near the top are olive groves -- the trees are fed by rain. At the bottom are traditional plots of cabbage and other vegetables -- nourished by water from the spring.  We learned that at one time or another all seven agricultural foods mentioned in the Bible have been grown here. These are grapes, olives, pomegranates, wheat, barley, figs, and dates.
An olive tree -- several hundred years old
and still bearing fruit.

The spring of pure, clean water still flows

Next, we drove the scenic route through the JNF forest. For those Jews of a certain age, you will remember that we used to put a dime or a quarter into the little "Plant a tree in Israel" box each week in Sunday school. And at the birth of our children, some of the gifts were "10 trees have been planted in Israel in your honor" certificates. So it was very gratifying to see the results of all those coins.

Overlooking the JNF forest, with Yuval and Muhammad (our driver)

Then into Beit Shemesh and the highly Orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh. Lots of activity preparing for Shabbat.
The smell of fresh warm challah in this bakery was to die for.

Demonstrating a gadget to cut veggies in thin slices.
Quite a crowd was gathered around!

Farther down the road was Bet Guvrin National Park. Here, primarily in a series of man-made caves, are the remains of a first century BC town, Maresha, which is mentioned in the Bible.

This cave was used as a family burial vault over several generations. It was beautifully decorated...

...and here are some of the "crypts":

Finally we saw the Bell Cave, which was created as the limestone was quarried out:

This is a nice picture of us in the cave.......

...and this is us a little farther back to show how large the cave is!
That light at the top is the sunlight shining in.
Except for the sounds of the bats up ahead, this was a most perfect cave.

Our final stop of the day was Be'er Sheeva.  The capital of the Negev and Israel's fourth largest city, this is the place in the Bible where Abraham welcomed the 3 strangers. As we said, we are heading south, but this is actually the geographic center of the country. But like in our own area, where anything south of Hyde Park is "downstate",  this area is "down country" to most Israelis. This is because most major cities (e.g., Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa) are in the north, and so much of this area is the sparsely settled Negev Desert.

First: lunch. This time Yuval told us we should get the quintessential Israeli fast food dish: schnitzel in a pita!  Yes.....the East European Jews brought the recipe for schnitzel with them (here made with chicken) and it really caught on. We found a stand that was open (as it was 2:30, many had already closed for Shabbat). Per the sign it was first opened for business in 1952 by Egyptian immigrants (note the hieroglyphics) and is now run by the fourth generation of the same family. They won't give away the recipe for their secret sauce!

The pitas came with a "salad" of pickles, pickled cabbage, red peppers, carrots, and olives, a plate of falafel, and also a plate of (French) fried potato puffs. We wish we had such delicious fast food in the States.

The schnitzel-pita!

Fully sated, we drove a few blocks to see an ANZAC cemetery from WWI. These are the fallen (from Australia and New Zealand) from the British side in the Battle of Beersheba , one of the turning points in the defeat of the Ottomans.

This cemetery, and a number of others throughout the region (including one in Gaza) are still actively maintained by the British government.

At this point we had to say goodbye to Yuval. He will not be with us for the remainder of the trip (as we are soon heading into Jordan), and he wanted to catch the last bus to be home in Tel Aviv in time for Shabbat dinner with his family. It goes without saying (but if we didn't what would be the point of the blog post?) that without Yuval's comprehensive knowledge of all things Israel, our trip would have been 1/10th as informative,  meaningful, or fun. Because we had a small group (the two of us!), he was able to share Israeli gems around the country--local restaurants, out of the way archaeological finds, stores, streets, trees--that he doesn't ordinarily share with his tour groups.  This was so memorable for us and (we believe) for him. He showed us a multi-dimensional and extraordinary Israel that Wendy had not experienced during her first visit.  His passion and love for his country came through in every word he spoke, poem he uttered, song he sang, or step he took.  Toda raba (thanks), Yuval! We will miss him during the rest of our trip but know that we will stay in touch. 

To prove Yuval's huge impact on our trip, as he was leaving the car he gave Muhammad directions to one more monument in town, the Monument to the Negev Brigade. We drove over and saw this huge concrete arrangement at the top of a hill overlooking the city and valley.

Of course, once there, we quickly realized how much we missed Yuval, as there were no signs and,  all of the inscriptions on the monument were in Hebrew. So we were not able to understand or appreciate it as much as we would have with his commentary.

We are spending one quick night in Arad (known primarily as the home of Israeli author Amos Oz -- whose memoir was made into a film directed by Natalie Portman to open in  the US soon), because it is on the way to the Makhtesh Ramon (Crater), and there was not enough time to do all we did plus that in one day. Apparently, Arad also made the news in Israel on Thursday when tens of thousands of ultra-orthodox Jewish men protested a court ruling requiring that misleading religious signs around town ("Arad eats Kosher" or "children in Arad wear yarmulkes") be removed. We were glad to miss that!
The Negev, from our hotel room

Dinner was at Muza's, apparently the place to be in this  town of largely secular Jews (despite the efforts of the Haredi/ultra orthodox leaders described above). It was a noisy, hopping ultimate sports bar with many young families, screaming and running around toddlers, basketball games on TV (basketball is big in this country), walls covered with pennants and flags from hundreds of soccer teams (and a few American basketball and baseball teams as well. We plan to send them a Cubs Word Series pennant when we get home).  We were not really hungry (but was time to eat) so we split a small pizza (yum!! Do they deliver to Deerfield?). And we actually got to sample some locally brewed Negev beer!

That wraps it up for Friday.  Early Saturday morning, we proceed south to the Ramon Crater and then to Eilat where we will spend the first night of Chanukah/Christmas Eve. Then, on to Petra! In the meantime, Shabbat Shalom!


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