Gilly's Israel Journal - July, 1993

Copyright 1993 Gilana M. Rosenthol

8 July Thursday Eilat - King's Wharf
9 July Friday Eilat - Coral World, Dolphin Reef
10 July Saturday Eilat - hotel
11 July Sunday Meggido, Beit She'arim, Akko
12 July Monday Sefad, Tel Dan, Syrian border
13 July Tuesday Kayaking on the Jordan, Beit She'an, Hashlosha, Beit Alpha, Jericho, Jerusalem
14 July Wednesday Jerusalem - old city, Gei Ben Hinnom, Kotel, Ben Yehuda Street
15 July Thursday Jerusalem - Shuk, Soreq Cave, Yad Vashem, Sataf, Ben Yehuda Street
16 July Friday Masada, Ein Gedi, Dead Sea
17 July Saturday Jerusalem - United Synagogue, Tower of David
18 July Sunday Shuk, Tel Aviv, Haifa

8 July Thursday

After a hellishly long flight, we arrived at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, breezed through customs - I didn't even notice when we went through! - and Mom, Dad, Gidon, and Grandma took off for Rehovot while the rest of us left for Eilat. We finally got in to Eilat at 10:00pm local time, after nearly 24 hours of traveling, and I am exhausted. We had dinner at the kosher Pizza Hut - I finally got to try Hawaiian pizza, with pineapple, mushrooms, and fake shrimp covered with sesame seeds. The shrimp were pretty horrible, but I liked the pineapple.

Walking along King's Wharf was surreal - seeing soldiers carrying guns and hearing Israeli music while walking past the Ben and Jerry's and the Pizza Hut. And you can see the Negev desert looking like a painted backdrop against the sky, while standing in the middle of a lush tourist oasis. What a country of contradictions this is!

9 July Friday

We turned on the TV this morning to check out Israeli TV, and the only thing on was Rechov Sumsum - Sesame Street! Instead of Big Bird, they have a porcupine called Kippi Kipod, but a lot of the little muppet sketches are the same. It was very odd to hear Ernie and Bert called Arick and Benz, and hear strange voices in a foreign language coming from their mouths. What's more, I could understand most of it!

We took a bus to Coral World. Tammy and I were sitting in the back, talking about how obvious we look, as if we had "tourist" tattooed to our foreheads. "American tourist," to be exact. Then we got to what we thought was our stop, got off, saw our uncle gesturing wildly from the door to get back on, and ran to get on before they closed the doors again. Make that "Stupid American tourist". Rather embarrassing. Coral World was cool - almost like the New England Aquarium, only inside out. In Boston, there is a huge glass column in the center of the aquarium with a coral reef in it. Here, the reef aquarium surrounds the building, but you can see many of the same creatures. Pipefish are very cute - we thought they were sticks until they moved. There were some fish with patterns we thought Mom would wear in clothing, so Tammy took pictures. Then we walked down a long pier to another building which goes down below the water level, basically a glass observatory. It was neat to see the fish in their own environment, not a glass aquarium but the ocean itself. I saw an adorable little seahorse hiding in the corner of one window - they look really funny uncurled!

After Coral World, we went to the beach at Dolphin Reef. We had heard about their swimming with dolphins program and went to make arrangements at the hotel, but there was only one opening. Everyone knew I had been dying to do this for years, so they let me have it, and came along to watch. When we got to the beach, we settled the lazy folks out under an umbrella and swam out into the ocean. I kept my Tivas on because of all the coral and sharp stuff, but it's very hard to swim with them on! We swam out to a net fence, and hung on there for a bit, trying to see what was on the other side. And then, after a few minutes, we saw the graceful arc of a dolphin leaping from the water! It was beautiful, and the closest I'd ever been to a dolphin before.

Then it was time for me to get even closer. I went to the desk and got the snorkeling gear. They asked if I wanted a wetsuit, but the water just wasn't that cold, and I thought it would just distract me. Everyone else in the group - about ten of us - wore one, but it turns out they were all from warmer climates than Boston, and the water felt colder to them. Guess they're not used to swimming in icy mountain streams! We got into the water, struggled into the flippers, rubbed spit in our masks, and swam out to meet the dolphins. At first, I couldn't stand the feel of the snorkel, but when we got out to the dolphin pen and I started looking around at the coral and fish and everything, I forgot all about it. It was almost like landing on a strange planet. The atmosphere was unlike our own, I had to wear life support equipment, and I was surrounded by alien flora and fauna I couldn't communicate with. The water was so clear the bottom looked as though you could touch it, but it must have been at least 20 feet down. There were coral reefs below us, schools of fish everywhere, an old sunken ship, a rusty anchor - all sorts of things to look at. One huge manta ray swam directly below me - it looked as big as I am!

But all the time we were looking around, we were waiting for the dolphins. The net is open to the ocean side, so the dolphins can come and go as they wish; they are wild animals, not penned up for our pleasure. After a while I began to notice some strange clicking, whistling, chirping noises. Sound is strange underwater; it's hard to tell where it's coming from. But then we saw a shadowy shape gliding closer, and one dolphin came close enough to get a look at us. Slowly, more and more of them approached us, took a look and swam away, getting closer and closer with each approach. One appeared under me and got just outside my arm's reach, leaped in that indescribably graceful dolphin arc above the water, and swam away. It took all my self-restraint not to swim after it, but we were warned that that would scare them away, and they are much faster than we are. Originally, I was disappointed; I had hope to have more contact with the dolphins, maybe even touch one. But then I realized, these are wild animals that choose of their own free will to interact with us. That made the experience seem even more special.

We saw a training session with the dolphins earlier where they came right up to the trainers; the fact that they could distinguish us from them, and were intelligent enough to show some caution of strangers, impressed me. Even after I got back to the hotel and was taking a nap, when I closed my eyes, I could still feel the motion of the waves around me and see the green ocean light around me. It was a very seductive world; I can easily see why divers forget to come up.

10 July Saturday

Schedule for the day: eat, nap, swim, sun. Repeat ad nauseum. We sat out by the pool and laughed at the people doing aerobics for a while. It seemed to be the all-Madonna aerobics hour - blech! To kill time before shabbos ended, we played a game of Scrabble without keeping points. Toward the end, we were running out of letters, so we shared them and anyone took whatever letters they needed. Much easier that way! We ended up using all the letters, so we figure we all won.

After shabbos, we had dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Josh had lemon chicken, which arrived in a tinfoil packet folded like a chicken and was then set afire. Dessert was flaming fried ice cream - very yummy! We drank tea, and were talking about fortune telling. Aunt Sally asked if I could read her tea leaves. I took a look, and said, "Sorry, I can't read this - it's in Hebrew!" We were saying how nice it would be if you could decide where you want your calories to go - to your breasts, hips, wherever. Aunt Sally said she wants hers to go to Tammy. Stomachs full, we rolled ourselves back to the hotel, and are set to go to sleep - tomorrow we have to get up early to catch the plane back to Tel Aviv.

11 July Sunday

God, I hope today isn't a sample of the rest of the trip. Up too early, and way too much touring in and driving around in a crowded van. We took the plane back to Tel Aviv and met the van and the rest of the family. The van was crowded with all twelve of us, but at least it was air conditioned.

The first stop was Meggido - also known as Armageddon. The most interesting thing we learned there was the Ionic columns with their rounded tops come from the palm tree decoration ancients used.

The crypts at Beit She'arim were a little more interesting. There was one at the entrance that said it had been the grave of so-and-so daughter of so-and-so, who died a 22-year-old virgin, so I could relate and feel sorry for her. It was also interesting seeing the designs people picked out to have on their coffins, as they chose them before they died, for the most part. One assimilated Jew chose designs with a Greek god; another couldn't make up his mind and had one of everything put on.

But my favorite stop of the day was Akko - Acre in English. Instead of dusty ruins there is a whole standing Crusader city, half of it still buried below the ground. All the same places I've read about in historical fiction - Hospitaller's halls and secret passageways - I got to see in person. Too bad we all felt sick and tired by then. We drove through a bit more of the city, then up a narrow, steep, winding mountain road to Kibbutz Ayalet Hashachar.

12 July Monday

I was still tired and out of it this morning, so I stayed back at the hotel while everyone else went to Sefad to see the shuls and artists. I wanted to go horseback riding, but they couldn't find the person in charge of the stables. But some extra sleep and a little time alone helped immensely. I forget sometimes how much it stresses me to be continually around people.

They picked me up around 11:30 and we went to Tel Dan for a nice nature walk along the Dan River. We saw the the source for the Jordan River, and hiked up a hill to see the oldest arch in the world, but it had apparently been covered over with dirt to protect it during new digs, so Len, Sally and I made an arch with our arms - the sign said it was a triple arch - and Tammy took a picture.

We drove up to the Syrian border - there's a UN station there, but the guard who was supposed to be on duty was missing. Uh-oh... On the way back, there was an army jeep blocking the road, and we hear booms and saw clouds of dust in the distance; we had to wait for the tank practice to end before we could pass. Quote of the day: "In Israel we have everyday new ancient sites." -Dudu

13 July Tuesday

Goodbye to the kibbutz and on toward Jerusalem. We went kayaking on the Jordan River. Well, they weren't really kayaks - more like inflatable canoes with kayak paddles. Tammy and I were in one together, and it took us a little while to get used to the paddling thing. I'm sure there were a few trees somewhere we didn't bump into! I asked Tammy if she felt like Sacajawea, paddling there; she said, "No, more like Sack-o-potatoes!"

Next stop, more ruins at Beit She'an. There was this huge stairway up to the top of the hill. We asked if we were going up there, and Dudu said "Only those who want to take pictures - it's just a good view." Len, Eddy, and I stayed back, but the rest of them actually hiked up there. When they got back, Dudu laughed and said he had only been kidding - he didn't think anyone would really climb up there in the heat of the day. Some sense of humor!

We had lunch and a swim at Hashlosha, where there is a nice waterfall and two pools deep enough to swim in. We dropped off the clothes and stuff at a picnic table, walked over to the falls, swam in the smaller top pool, moved down to the waterfall, and swam our way back to the clothes long the bottom pool. A bit of a long swim, but the cool water felt great.

We stopped for a quick look at a beautiful mosaic synagogue floor at Beit Alpha. The middle of the floor had a zodiac with the Greek god Helios in the center. Why is there a Greek god in a synagogue? Apparently, they didn't connect the image with paganism after a while - it was just a part of the zodiac. Just like we say mazal tov and never realize we are saying "may the stars be in a favorable position for you".

In Jericho, I was too hot and tired to walk up another hill to see more dusty ruins, so I stayed back. I went over to look at an Arab selling khafiyas. He showed me a nice one and wanted 70 shekalim for it - I said no. He pushed me to name a price - I though about it for a bit and finally named something almost half his price. He laughed and said, "Poor student, eh?". He tried to get me to raise the price, but I just kept saying, "I'm sure it's worth it, but I can't afford it" and went to walk away. He finally gave in and gave me the khaffiya and the wrap. As we were about to board the bus, he came up and handed me a plant to smell - basilicum, he called it. A very pleasant spicy scent, but a very odd incident. We got settled in the Moriah Hotel in Jerusalem and went out for dinner at Little Italy. Great white asparagus and artichoke in cream sauce, ok fetuccine alfredo, very yummy tiramisu for dessert.

14 July Wednesday

We started touring the old city of Jerusalem today. We started out with a view from a ledge high above the city. I was trying to spot the old city by looking for the gold dome, but it's gray now! It seems that the gold paint was leaking through to the roof underneath and weakening it, so they had to strip it. But Syria has donated some ridiculous amount of real gold to gild it with, so it will soon be gold again.

The rest of the day is mostly a blur - layer upon layer of ruins. We saw Gei Ben Hinnom, "Valley of the Sons of Hinnom", which is where Gehennom, the Jewish Hell, comes from. They used to worship a god there who required the blood sacrifice of children, and that's where the image of flames and blood and children burning comes from.

We went on the the Kotel, and I was overcome by an anger so strong I started to cry. Here is this wall, this inanimate pile of stones, which is not holy in itself, and yet I am not allowed to approach it unless I do so in a way that is deemed acceptable by the Orthodox. Long sleeves, long skirt, in a smaller section separate from the men's... I watched people backing away from the wall as though they were in the presence of a king, and I just cannot believe that that is how God wants us to behave. It was almost like idol worship. And I could see everyone around me being touched by their contact with this wall so steeped in history and meaning, and I couldn't get past the anger to experience that, which made me feel even more cheated. I finally just had to leave and wait for everyone else outside the area. We went to lunch on Ben Yehuda street, where I got lamb shwarma, food of the gods. Hot lamb, dripping with juices and just carved off the spit, with cold salad and fries in a pocket of soft fresh pita - yum! I found a Phish t-shirt in Mr. T's - I can't believe they've even spread to Israel!

15 July Thursday

At last, what we really came to see -- the shuk! We went at 9:00 am when it opens, because to be the first sale of the day is considered good luck, and to lose your first customer - well, you might as well close up and go home. So you get the best bargains early. We wandered down the main street from the Jaffa Gate, being careful not to stray down any of the side aisles -- the shuk is not the most comfortable place these days. There's a lot of tension between the Arabs and Jews in Israel these days. Tammy knew I was looking for cool clothing and dragged me into a stall she had bought some pants in, and introduced me to the proprietor, a Bedouin named Sammy. Most of the stores were little one-room stalls against the wall, but this one went up a stairway and into a few rooms in the back. The stairway was hung with a dazzling array of richly embroidered Arab clothes and carpeted with beautifully patterned rugs. Sammy invited us up into the back room for a glass of mint tea. I had visions of being drugged with the tea and sold for camels, but decided to be adventurous and accept. Besides, I'm told it's very rude to refuse food or drink from an Arab. The room at the top had yet more clothing hanging about, making me feel as though I had fallen through the rabbit hole into a kaleidoscope. Sammy disappeared behind a curtain to make the tea and I started to look through a rack of Bedouin pants. I found two pairs of black pants with elaborate hand embroidery around the ankles. Sammy re-appeared with a rug for us to sit on and two piping hot glasses of mint tea with a few leaves floating on top. They were tall glasses without handles, very hard to hold without burning your hand, and I was trying to remember to use only my right hand - the left hand is considered unclean and unfit to touch food among Arabs. But it does make it a little difficult for us lefties... After we drank the tea - delicious, and different than the mint tea I'm used to - we did some bargaining and I bought the pants. Sammy gave us both a pair of earrings as a gift, as well.

I finally made it to the end of the street, but not before buying a glass and silver perfume flask, cobalt goblet, hat, and a black dress (which I actually had no intention of buying, but when I said no, he kept dropping the price until he got down to $20 and 10 shekalim and I had no chance to refuse - he packaged it up and shoved it at me and I found myself counting out the money.

Before we could buy more, we moved on to the Soreq Cave. I've seen caverns before in the States, but this was unlike anything I had seen before. Unlike the winding caves with long passages I've seen, this was all one big open room with stalagmites and stalactites and helictites and formations everywhere. There was one formation they called "Romeo and Juliet," a stalagmite and stalactite almost touching - less than an inch apart - but the stalactite had dried out and wasn't growing anymore, and they would never meet.

Next, I guess we had had too much fun, because we went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. There are a bunch of separate exhibits there. First we went through the newest exhibit, still under construction. It's called the Valley of the Lost Communities. It's a huge maze built of gargantuan stones piled on top of each other, with names of cities and communities carved into the stone. There are flowers planted on top of the cliffs, and the water used for irrigation drips down the rock face life tears. We wandered through the valley, hunting for the familiar names of the cities my grandparents were from among the thousands incised in the rock. We finally found them; Kominyetz, the town in the Ukraine where Mom-Mom's family is from, Hoydubessermeyn for Grandma, and Uyfeherto, where Grandpa was born. It was good to find the names, but also sad to realize that that meant that those communities had been entirely wiped out in the Holocaust.

We went on to the children's memorial, a long dark winding corridor lit only by the aid of a few candles reflected a million times over in the mirrors that line the hall. And all the while, a voice was reciting names and ages of children who were killed. The point of the memorial was to light a yizkor candle for each child killed - a million and a half. You just held onto the banister and let yourself be led through the kaleidoscope by this mournful voice and the spirits of one and a half million murdered children flickering behind glass. After that, I had had about enough, so I zipped through the regular museum, stopping mostly at exhibits of objects. There was one with a white barbed-wire fence in front of a huge photo of emaciated camp inmates crowded onto bunks, and a suit of camp clothes was hanging to the side. I noticed the number badge on the breast had a small pink triangle - that's the only mention I noticed in the museum of the gay victims, which bothered me.

After Yad Vashem, we went to Sataf to see the tunnels and springs and how they did irrigation 2000 years ago. Luckily, I had my mini-mag flashlight with me. We climbed down into the mouth of a dark cave and peered in at a spring, used to keep things cold and fresh. Then we went into another cave. Someone had a flashlight in front of me and the other flashlight was behind me, so once the entrance was behind us it was pitch black. After a few paces, Tammy decided this wasn't for her and backed out, as did a few other members of our party, but I kept on. We had to go single file, and there was barely enough room for one person as it was. I kept one hand on the wall so as not to wander off an unseen cliff, one hand on the low ceiling to keep from bumping my head, and kept sloshing though the water that covered the floor. At one point, I was following Gidon's voice, when all of the sudden I hit a wall, and the voice said, "Come on up!" Up where? I had to hoist myself through a hole in the ceiling into a big open chamber and walk to the wall, but walking through the blackness without a wall to guide me was scary - I was sure I was going to fall into a hole and be lost forever. Then Dudu appeared with the light and showed us the source of the spring we had seen in the first cave, which is what he took us there to see. Then he had to climb back down out of the hole, through the passage - but at least there was light in front of us this time - and out into the sunlight. It was great! I want to go spelunking some time. We climbed back over a wall by way of a staircase made of stones sticking out of it.

Dinner at the Ten Li Chow (Ten Li means "give me" in Hebrew), and a quick tour of Ben Yehuda Street (which was still open and busy at 10pm), and early to bed - we leave for Masada at 3:00am tomorrow.

Oh yeah, somewhere back in there we also saw a museum where they're making the vessels and accouterments in anticipation of the rebuilding of the Temple. I'm torn between respect for their scholarship and a feeling that the time and money could go to better use - say, helping people here and now, not when the Messiah comes.

16 July Friday

We left at 3 am for Masada. I've been trying to decide all week whether or not I want to climb it. On the one hand, it's a hell of a climb, and I'm lazy and out of shape. On the other hand, it would be nice to be able to say that I did it, and after all, even Mom plans to, so how can I not? I finally thought about what my friends would have to say about it, and decided that they would tell me not to be a wimp, to try something new and stretch myself a little. Stretch myself I did - more muscles than I knew I possessed.

As I climbed I found it interesting to listen to my body. It was speaking much louder than usual - I could feel everything working together to keep moving, the strain on the muscles, my heart pumping so hard I was afraid it might burst, my lungs gasping for air from the altitude and the exertion. I had to listen to it and learn to pace myself; to rest when my body really demanded it, but to push on when I could, no matter how much my body complained. We made the climb in about 40 minutes - not bad. Tammy, Gidon, and I hit the cable car platform near the top in time to watch an amazing sunrise - Josh ran up before us and Mom was still puffing along with Dudu behind. The sky had been tinted with reds and pinks and oranges for a while, but the sun was still below the horizon. Then you could begin to see just a sliver of red fire over the mountains in the distance, inching slowly, slowly upward. And then, as though given a signal, the sun shot up over the horizon, rising so quickly you could see it move, so bright and beautiful you couldn't look right at it but couldn't tear your eyes away, either, shining in the sky and reflected in the Dead Sea below. I dragged myself through the tour on top and was grateful for the cable car down. We waited for the souvenir shop to open so we could get "I Climbed Masada" shirts, but they were sold out. We stopped at a cafeteria for breakfast and I was so tired I nearly took a nose dive in my cornflakes. It seemed like it would just be so much easier to slurp them up that way than to go through all the effort of lifting the spoon and bringing it to my mouth.

We went to the nature reserve at Ein Gedi. We saw a bunch a ibex sunning themselves on the side of a hill. Their brown fur blended in with the rocks, making them nearly invisible; all you could spot at first were the huge curving horns. We stumbled over the trail, nearly collapsing from exhaustion. Dudu stopped us by a strange whitish bush and gave us each a leaf to chew on. They were coated with salt! The bush makes its own salt to help collect water better. When we got to the waterfall Ein Gedi is famous for, I tore off my clothes and dove right in. The water was icy cold and amazingly reviving. The force of the waterfall was so strong I had to use both hands to keep my bathing suit up. The walk back to the car was much easier than the walk there. We saw some hyrax (rock badgers) sitting in a tree right in front of us. They look like tiny little furry bears, but Dud says they are believed to be the closest relatives to elephants!

Next stop, the Ein Gedi spa. First we gathered around huge yellow vats, scooped out handfuls of mud from the bottom, and covered ourselves from head to toe. It felt great, cool and smooth and squishy, but pretty weird as it started to dry. We washed it off under sulphur showers, being careful to keep our eyes and mouths closed, and then regular showers, and headed for the main attraction, the Dead Sea. One thing about the Dead Sea - it helps you find cuts you never knew you had. Wow, does that sting! I touched my wet finger to my tongue, and it was so salty it was painful. I could only stand it for a few minutes, although the floating is kind of neat. The sea feels like the same consistency as normal water, but it simply won't let you sink, even if you try. I skipped the sulphur pool - it smells too strongly of rotten eggs to appeal to me. But my skin feels wonderfully smooth and supple now!

QOTD: Josh: "My soup needs something."

Len: "What? Salt, pepper...a blonde?"

17 July Saturday

When I woke up in the morning, it seemed that everyone had either left for shul or was sick - we had some sort of bug going around the group - so I went to shul myself at the United Synagogue conservative shul down the street and got to wear my tallis. As it turns out, Tammy, Eddy, and Josh were in the bench next to me, but I didn't see them until kiddush. There was another woman there wearing a tallis, who had the same tallis bag, so I went over and we talked a bit. During the day, I mostly slept. for dinner we had some of the desserts we'd been eyeing in the glass case all week. The cheesecake was very weird, but the Napoleons were great. And it was fun to have desserts for dinner. After shabbos, we went to the Tower of David for the sound and light show. The show was not what I expected, but interesting nonetheless. They mostly used lights to highlight parts of the city and surrounding architecture while lecturing about the history of Jerusalem. I was impressed that it dealt with Christian and Muslim history as well as Jewish - we've had a very Jewish-oriented tour.

18 July Sunday

Our last day in Israel. We went back to the shuk in the morning. I went back to say hi to Sammy and ended up buying one of the gorgeous embroidered Bedouin dresses and two embroidered hats for 100 shekalim and $40 - I don't even want to think about how much that comes out to. Then we went to Arts and Crafts Lane for Eddy and Sally. We went to plant trees in the Hadassah Forest - they gave us little baby trees and we got to use a hoe to dig a hole and plant them. So now I have my own tree growing in Israel - it's sort of like having my own star.

We drove on to Tel Aviv, which I've been glad to avoid all trip - it's too modern and too much like New York for my taste. We mostly drove through and then went to Haifa. We got to see the spot at Haifa where Perseus supposedly saved Andromeda from the Kraken with Medusa's head. There's a stone ridge which they claim is the remains of the Kraken. We sat around a lot and then went to the airport to sit there for hours. I don't even want to think about the trip back - it was too long and too boring for words. My feet were so swollen by the end that I had to loosen my sandals to get them back on. When we finally got in to New York, I tried to get on an earlier flight in to Boston, but I couldn't, so I had to sit around that airport for another 5 hours or so. I was never so glad to be home in my life!

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