The Scamp in Israel Day 5

Israel is not just deserts and old cities. It has a large agricultural region in the north that has an abundance of fresh water and serves as a major stopover for birds during migration. The Hula Valley has a marshland and reserve where the birds are protected and have a safe place to stop during their long journey between Africa, Europe and Asia.

When we toured the valley it was really hot, and honestly, I wasn’t that interested. We weren’t there during migration, so there weren’t a lot of birds and the bus life and listening to the cultural ignorance of some of the other members were really working on my nerves.

From the Hula Valley, we drove to Mount Bental. Mount Bental is located in Golan Heights and there is an old bunker left over from the old Syrian border. The old army bunkers are now open to the public, having been left over from the Yom Kippur War 1973. According to Wikipedia (because I cannot remember everything that Rafi told us during the visit):

The Yom Kippur War, also known as the Ramadan War, the October War,[72] the 1973 Arab–Israeli War, or the Fourth Arab–Israeli War, was an armed conflict fought from October 6 to 25, 1973 between Israel and a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria. The majority of combat between the two sides took place in the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights—both of which were occupied by Israel in 1967—with some fighting in African Egypt and northern Israel.[73][74] Egypt’s initial objective in the war was to seize a foothold on the eastern bank of the Suez Canal and subsequently leverage these gains to negotiate the return of the rest of the Israeli-occupied Sinai Peninsula.[75][76][77][78],led%20by%20Egypt%20and%20Syria.

This was one of the largest tank wars, and by some miracle, Israel won with only 160 tanks. Rafi was a tank man and had a lot of personal stories, and since my dad is a tank man, so he especially enjoyed this part of the trip. At the top of the mountain, you can see all the way to Syria and Lebanon, which really puts in perspective how close the borders are and how precarious this part of the world is.

On the walk from the car park to the bunker, the path was lined with some amazing artwork made out of recycled parts. There was a massive pirate ship that I would have loved to take home with me. PRC certainly would have enjoyed it.

The last stop of the day was at the Tel Shifon Winery. The winery is in a kibbutz and we were able to sample a selection of wine. The tour group sat at massive tables, but because my dad wandered off, there were no seats for us. We sat on some couches near the group, but Rafi sat with us, and because he knew the manager, we got full glasses of wine and chat with Rafi about Israel, his time in the army and his family. It was much better than having to make small talk with the people driving me crazy. Even Raif was amazed at some of the people and their questions. By the time we got to the winery, I think he was happy for the break. The winery had its own tank among the vines which was not something I have seen before.

We ended the day back in Tiberias where we enjoyed dinner at a Lebanese restaurant called Hermitage Tiberias. They had a really cool room that was a stone cutout and we tried a little bit of the local cuisine. Once again we watched the difficult woman in our tour group complain about the way the fish was cooked and the service and generally everything about the restaurant. We weren’t sitting with her, but it was pretty embarrassing how rude she was. The restaurant seemed to be family owned, the staff who served us were okay, and the food was delicious. I was proud of my parents for trying the food there as they are not always the most adventurous of eaters (or at least my mom isn’t).

I feel a bit bad that I didn’t write things down as they happened because we learned so much at each of the places. I was in such need of a vacation that I didn’t journal as I usually do, and now months later, I find myself struggling to remember some of what I learned. I think I know now why my mom saves all the maps and brochures from places. I probably need to start doing that.

The Scamp in Israel Day 4

On the bus bright and early for a trip to Caesarea, a coastal area between Tel Aviv and Haifa. It is a national park on the coast that features ancient ruins including the old palace, an amphitheatre still used for concerts today, and an old chariot racing area. It was all built by King Herod . Just outside the park is Adquaduct Beach, where you can enjoy not only an amazing beach but the marvel of the aqueduct. It was warm and there was a total lack of shade, but I love a good wander through history. Rafi has a way of telling you things like they are a story rather than just listing off facts, but the number of annoying questions asked by one of the men in the group caused me to disengage a bit and just soak up the sunshine on my own.

From there we travelled north to the city of Haifa, often called the ‘Capital of the North’. We stopped at the Bahai Gardens, which are considered one of the holiest places for the Bahai faith.

Before we arrived at the gardens, I’d never heard of the Bahai religion. It has been a while since the tour, and I did not write everything down as it happened, so I went to good old Wikipedia to help me out. According to them, Bahai:

The Baháʼí Faith is a religion founded in the 19th century that teaches the essential worth of all religions and the unity of all people. Established by Baháʼu’lláh, it initially developed in Iran and parts of the Middle East, where it has faced ongoing persecution since its inception. The religion is estimated to have 5–8 million adherents, known as Baháʼís, spread throughout most of the world’s countries and territories.

The Baháʼí Faith has three central figures: the Báb (1819–1850), considered a herald who taught his followers that God would soon send a prophet who would be similar to Jesus or Muhammad and was executed by the Iranian authorities in 1850; Baháʼu’lláh (1817–1892), who claimed to be that prophet in 1863 and faced exile and imprisonment for most of his life; and his son, ʻAbdu’l-Bahá (1844–1921), who was released from confinement in 1908 and made teaching trips to Europe and the United States. After ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s death in 1921, the leadership of the religion fell to his grandson Shoghi Effendi (1897–1957). Baháʼís annually elect local, regional, and national Spiritual Assemblies that govern the religion’s affairs, and every five years an election is held for the Universal House of Justice, the nine-member supreme governing institution of the worldwide Baháʼí community that is located in Haifa, Israel, near the Shrine of the Báb.

According to Baháʼí teachings, religion is revealed in an orderly and progressive way by a single God through Manifestations of God, who are the founders of major world religions throughout human history; Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad are noted as the most recent of these before the Báb and Baháʼu’lláh. Baháʼís regard the world’s major religions as fundamentally unified in purpose, but diverging in terms of social practices and interpretations. The Baháʼí Faith stresses the unity of all people as its core teaching and explicitly rejects notions of racism, sexism, and nationalism. At the heart of Baháʼí teachings is the goal of a unified world order that ensures the prosperity of all nations, races, creeds, and classes.

After some time to see the garden, we headed southeast to Nazareth. Now those of you who are familiar with the Bible will be really familiar with Nazareth. It is the centre of Christian pilgrimages and the birthplace of Mary. It is the home of the Church of Annunciation.

The Church of Annunciation is a really interesting church. It is said to be built on the spot where the Angel Gabriel came to Mary to tell her that she would give birth to Yeshua. The church was built over the site that is said to be the house of Mary (the photo of the altar) and what is said to be Joseph’s workshop. I made friends with the local cats and tried my best to get a kitten into my bag, but he was not quite ready to give up his life hustling tourists for snacks.

The last stop of the day was in the city of Tiberias on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. I had a room with a view….but broke the balcony door when I tried to open it, and had two slightly disgruntled men spend 30 minutes in my room trying to fix it. Luckily my room was connected to my parent’s room, so I just opened the connecting door and hung out in their room while I waited. I swear it was not my fault.

Since we were there for Shabbos, we had a traditional Shabbat dinner, complete with prayers. Now, I’m not super religious by any means, but I do respect the tradition, and I was on a cultural holiday, so more than willing to embrace everything.

….and this is where the problems started. My mom and I were the only Jewish people on the tour, so we had to endure a lot of cultural ignorance. Because it was Saturday, the lifts were in shabbos mode, which means they stop on every floor so that people do not have to push the buttons and ‘do work’ which is prohibited on Saturdays. There were Hasidic and Conservative Jews staying at the hotel, and they take their customs seriously. I ended up sitting next to a woman from Kentucky who was travelling alone. She started the dinner by complaining about the lift being in Shabbos mode and dragging the tradition. She then complained about the rooms, having asked to change rooms three times. She complained about the bar not having bartenders who spoke English (everyone I encountered on the entire trip spoke enough English to help with whatever we needed) and then complained that she couldn’t get a gin and tonic. I tried to explain that Jewish people aren’t really spirit drinkers and that for Shabbos we drink wine, but since it wasn’t expensive white wine, she wasn’t having it. I tried my best to educate her on Judaism and remind her that just because she found aspects of the religion inconvenient, didn’t mean that they weren’t worth respecting. I left the dinner early because I spent all day being respectful of Christian sites of worship, and this woman couldn’t spend half an hour learning about my religion. Sometimes it is exhausting being Jewish and constantly having to deal with ignorance, antisemitism (not that what she was doing was antisemitism), and stereotypes that get hurled at you. Living in Scotland, I constantly hear that I am the first Jewish person that someone has met, and I am nothing like they thought a Jewish person would look or act like.

The best part of the hotel was that the places in the area fed the local feral cats, so there were plenty of little gatitos to pet. I found yet another that I wanted to bring home with me….at least until he bit me when I tried to pet him instead of feed him.

The Scamp in Isreal Day 2 and 3

My second day in Tel Aviv was spent doing one of my favourite things: hunting for Miro’s paintings. While I love being able to spend time with my parents, I also value my solo wandering time, so while they wandered the beach, I took myself to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. First built in 1932, it became the site for the signing of the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948.

The museum did not disappoint. It had a good collection of some of my favourite artists, including Joan Miro.

After my culture shot, I spent some more time by the pool with my mom and then we met the tour group. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the whole thing when we first met Rafi our guide. I was the youngest, but unlike previous trips, not the only one travelling solo. Usually, the Insight Tours are full of couples and families, so it was a nice change of pace to have some other solo travellers…..or so I thought (but more on that later, because it gets really interesting).

The first official day of the tour started with a drive around Tel Aviv and a trip back to Carmel Market, although it was more of a quick walk-through. We then ventured down the seaside to the old city of Jaffa to see the famous clock tower and the harbour. Jaffa is most known for its biblical stories of St Peter, Jonah and Solomon, and is also known for its oranges (for those of you in the UK, think Jafa cakes, which are made with Jafa oranges).

As we wandered the old city we got to see the suspended orange tree, an art installation constructed in 1993 by artist Ran Morin. According to Atlas Obscura:

The roots are enclosed in a large earthenware container and the trunk emanates from a large crack near the top. It’s as if the tree is breaking free of its confines into the warm courtyard air outside. Morin intended for the tree to draw parallels with society’s relationship with nature.

What I quickly learned on day 1 of the tour was that Rafi, our tour guide was an amazing man who really knew his history. He had degrees in Sociology, Theology, biology and had been a tour guide for many years. He is a nationalist and grew up as a conservative Jew. He served in the military and especially loves meeting Jewish people who are in Israel for the first time. When he learned that my mom and I were Jewish, he made sure to point things out to us and sit with us at lunch. He also had the patience of a saint to deal with some of the questions that people asked. I have a hard time dealing with the ignorance of others, but some of these people took it to a whole new level. Thank goodness my parents are not always interested in making friends with the people on the bus and we were able to have dinner on our own in an Irish pub….because where else would we take a crusty old Irishman?

The Scamp Visits the Homeland

Happy Passover! I am lucky enough to have been able to sneak away from Edinburgh and come to Prague for a few days. While here, I promised myself that I would catch up on all the fun things I wanted to write about but lost the motivation for. That starts with the trip that I took to Israel in September of 2022.

I’ve wanted to visit Israel for years. I tried to do birthright when I was younger, but just never made it work, so when my parents were ready to come to visit me after a long pandemic, my dad suggested that we take my mom to Israel to celebrate her 65th birthday. I was totally on board with the idea, and my mom went to her trusty Insight Vacations and found an Israel/Palestine trip that was jam-packed with history and culture. We decided to meet in London and travel from there to Israel together, and it was the first time I got to be in the same room with my parents in more than a year.

Needless to say, I was a very happy Kim. We landed in Israel after midnight but had a a couple of days before the tour started to do as we pleased in Tel Aviv. We wandered along the beach to an outdoor market and enjoyed the sunshine and warm weather. The Shuk Hacarmel or Carmel Market is the largest outdoor market in Tel Aviv. According to Tourist Israel:

The Carmel Market first opened in 1920, some eleven years after the establishment of the city. It is an integral part of the history of Tel Aviv. Although much of the trade has now shifted to modern malls and the internet, the market is still immensely popular. Its narrow street is busy whenever you visit, particularly before Shabbat on Thursdays and Fridays, as residents buy supplies for their family meals. Recent years have seen a growing number of boutique stalls and food places opening alongside the traditional traders. They range from boutique beers to arrays of halva, and small eateries who take advantage of the market’s produce.

The Carmel Market is relatively simple in layout and location. The ‘Shuk’ occupies one street which runs south from the junction of King George Street, Allenby, and Sheinkin Street to the Carmelit Bus depot in the south. The side streets off of the market also host some small traders. The activity is not as spread out as in Jerusalem’s main market, Machane Yehuda.

One of the best things about the first hotel was the rooftop pool. Summers in Scotland aren’t really known for their sunshine, so I am usually in desperate need of a tan (even now, I am appallingly white after a long harsh winter). We ended the first day in my favourite way…..getting tattooed. I can usually talk my mom into a tattoo, but this time I was able to talk my dad into not one, but two tattoos! I’ve been getting tattooed for 18 years and he has never been okay with it, but I was finally able to talk him into it, and now he has a cross and Star of David to represent his family. We went to Kipod Tattoo shop, and both got tattooed by Lera Torgovitsky. She was amazing! She’d done her time in the military, and when we saw her, she was getting ready to take her mom to a music festival in Sweden. I absolutely loved her, and so did my dad.

It has been months, and I still cannot believe that my dad actually got tattooed.