abracapocus

i have a serious brain disease. please bring me a cat.

Category: judaism (page 1 of 2)

Atoning is hard work

I’m hungry. Is it sundown yet? If I happen to hit my head on something and see three stars does that count?

I heard an “oy”

I was listening to The Gothic Archies The Tragic Treasury: Songs From A Series of Unfortunate Events and I heard an “oy.” No really. Hmmm…could it be? My googling reveals that it is reported here and there that Stephin Merritt was raised Buddhist, but is Jewish by birth. Very interesting! Seriously, check this out.

The last day

I guess I’d better finish up this travel business before I forget what we did. We had the morning of the last day free in Tel Aviv. I got breakfast, messed with the internets and then headed out to buy some shoes. There were a couple of styles of shoes I saw women wearing that I wanted to try and find. I didn’t find the exact ones, but even better I found a TOGO outlet. The shoes were almost all synthetic, I found two pair I liked, and they were only $29.99 shekels each. To give you an idea, it’s about 4 shekels to the dollar. I guess I found the Israeli Payless or something.

So, I got back to the hotel mid-morning, put on my bathing suit and headed out for one last walk on the beach for about an hour. We were on our own for lunch, so I figured I’d just go to Ben Yahuda St. and get a falafel. Instead I stumbled across a vegan cafe! I posted a little review on 43places. So I had a tasty shwarma and ice cream. Then I had to quickly shower and pack up my stuff so it was ready for the plane.

Our last day we spent first at the Joseph Bau museum. He was an artist that was a Holocaust survivor. So was his wife. And, his daughters have only learned in the last few years, he was a document forger for Mossad.  His art just about always found the humor in its subjects.

Next we went to old Jaffa and walked around a bit. We had a nice view of Tel Aviv. After that, we had an hour in the souk for shopping. Most of us were through with shopping so eventually we all seemed to gather in this one cafe until it was time to head out for dinner.

Dinner was Moroccan food at Maganda Restaurant. Many bowls of salads arrived and they were the best we’d had yet. While the others had meat on a stick, I had a stuffed bell pepper, green beans in tomatoes, mushrooms and a dolmas. It was okay, but didn’t quite live up to the vibrant salads. Except the dolmas. That was the best one I’d ever had. I need to try making them myself when I’m feeling like working really hard for my food. Dessert was watermelon and baklava. Since meat was served, I knew there would be no dairy in the baklava. So I tried a piece, even though it had honey in it. It was good, but having now made vegan baklava, I can say that the honey isn’t a necessary ingredient.

So that was it. Off to the airport where you learn what security is really all about. I’m surprised they even let planes land in Israel that come from the U.S. Our security is such a joke. Anyway, after what seemed like about 10 minutes, I managed to convince them to allow me to continue through to the other 3 or 4 layers of security to get on the plane. And after a 13 hour flight, I was back in Atlanta.

Tzfat, Haifa and back to Tel Aviv

We check out of the kibbutz early and got on the road to Tzfat, Israel’s highest city at 3000 ft. and the center for kaballah. The mystics think the messiah is supposed to come through Tzfat on the way to Jerusalem. Some think this guy is the messiah. You’ll see many doors painted blue. Evil spirits are supposed to be confused and think the door is the sky and keep moving on.

After getting thrown out of the Ha’Ari Synagogue for saying kaddish in mixed company, we had a look at the Sephardic synagogue, Abouhav. We also stopped at a candle shop that makes all their candles by hand. They had some big crazy gruesome ones on display and plus, what everyone needs, a super Jew!

On the way back to Tel Aviv, we stopped in Haifa for some lunch and a look at the Baha’i Gardens, from the bottom and from the top. At the top, we found some kitties enjoying the park in the shade.

Once in Tel Aviv, we had some spare time before we headed to Independence Hall. So I hoofed it to a bookstore that carried English language books and got a cookbook that has recipes for some of the salads I’ve been enjoying this trip. After our visit to Independence Hall, where Israel was declared a state May 14, 1948, we got dinner and headed to the beach to watch a couple in our group get married. After a celebratory drink at Mike’s Place and then wine at the hotel, Patrick and I walked the streets of Tel Aviv taking it all in. Unlike Ben Yehuda street in Jerusalem, everything but food shops was closed.

The Golan Heights

After breakfast and a view of the Kibbutz from the hills behind it, we went to the Golan Heights Winery for a tasting. The winery gets grapes from a handful of kibbutzim and is really quite modern and industrial. Their high end wines, Yarden,  were nice and I’ll look for it as an alternative to the standard icky sweet kosher wines we’re used to.

Katzrin was the next stop, a 3rd century Jewish village including the ruins of a synagogue. Olive oil was this village’s main industry. While we were there, an IDF tank unit pulled up, so we all went and got a closer look at the tank. Keep in mind this place is 15-20 miles from Kiryat Shmona where the ketushas landed a few days ago, so the military presence is fairly obvious.

Next we had a look at Syria from Mount Bental. This is the place where the Yom Kippur War started. This is where less than 2 dozen Israeli soldiers were when Syria invaded in 1973 on Yom Kippur. This hilltop is the perfect vantage point and you can see when you’re up there why it is necessary to keep it. Along the path are a few pieces of art made of debris from the war.

On the way to lunch, we view the Hula Valley while driving along. One of the things we passed was a large crusader fortress. One thing that’s hard to understand until you see it that just about every piece of ground contains important archeological sites. As you drive along, you see ruins after ruins just sitting in the fields. Israel doesn’t have the funds to work on all of them, so they sit and wait.

In addition to many crops, in the North there are many fisheries. Lunch was at a restaurant connected with a fishery. Fresh fish is not so appealing to me, but they did take care of me well with a fried cauliflower dish with a sweet dipping sauce. And of course, many salads. The place itself was beautiful with outdoor seating and a little cement stream they had running through it.

After lunch, we went kayaking down the Jordan river. Okay, they called they kayaks, but they were really fancy, blow up boats. I can’t remember ever having been boating before, but I did much better than expected. Certainly Gwen and I did much better than the Orthodox boys who were busy confirming stereotypes. Although Gwen did fall out of the boat at one point. It was a trip though. There were some mild rapids and the river was only 15-30 feet wide. More like a creek really. Apparently I was the only one lucky enough to see some guy jerking off by a tree as we went down the river. He seemed to be having some difficulty with that. I’m guessing he was hoping to shock some poor innocent Orthodox girls and all he got was a bunch of jaded Americans and Orthodox men.

After boating, we stopped in Kiryat Shmona to pick up some groceries for a light dinner back at the hotel. Yes, Kiryat Shmona is where the ketushas fell. It was no problem. Everyone was going about their business. Oh, and you can get big bottles of Gold Star beer for about $1.50. We pool our snacks and enjoyed them on the patio of the kibbutz while Mitch played guitar and some people sang.

Oh, I forgot our visit to the Na’ot sandal factory outlet. Probably because  almost all of them were made of leather so no use to me. Too bad, they had some cute styles.

(I’m back now, but it’ll probably take me a day or so to catch up on posts from the trip. I’ll also be sliding back into some of the posts to add links to photos. Once everything is uploaded, the whole gallery will be here.)

Trying out the Roman theater at Bet She’an

Into the North

Today is another one of those days where I can’t believe how much we did. We checked out of the hotel and made one last stop in Jerusalem, the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations. The Christian significance of this place didn’t really concern me, but the 1400+ year old olive trees were impressive. They still produce olives!

Next we headed to the Mount Gilboa range, specifically to Mount Shaul. Saul and his sons died here in battle with the Philistines and the Philistines beheaded his body and displayed it. So David cursed the battlefield, the lower part of the mountain, to be without rain and you can see the upper parts have trees and the lower parts are just rocks.

Bet Alfa, a 6th century synagogue, was the next stop. In addition to the standard Jewish symbols, this synagogue had the Greek sun god, Helios and a zodiac. The human figures were also of strange proportions. Any depiction of people in a synagogue is also odd.

On to Bet She’an, a fairly well preserved Roman city from the 2nd century. Many of the columns were knocked over by an earthquake, but the theater is largely preserved and we tested its effectiveness by having our guide sing and Mitch play guitar. And yes, you could hear pretty well. This place also has the first known indoor bathroom. Roman ruins are always so photographic.

After a bit more time on the bus, we arrive at Kibbutz Ha’on on the Sea of Galilee. In the afternoons, the wind picks up and makes the sea pretty choppy, but we went in anyway. And then rested on the beach for a while before dinner. That evening, we headed into Tiberius to stroll along the boardwalk and shop a little.

June 18

After breakfast and a view of the Kibbutz from the hills behind it, we went to the Golan Heights Winery for a tasting. The winery gets grapes from a handful of kibbutzim and is really quite modern and industrial. Their high end wines, Yarden,  were nice and I’ll look for it as an alternative to the standard icky sweet kosher wines we’re used to.

Katzrin was the next stop, a 3rd century Jewish village including the ruins of a synagogue. Olive oil was this village’s main industry. While we were there, an IDF tank unit pulled up, so we all went and got a closer look at the tank. Keep in mind this place is 15-20 miles from Kiryat Shmona where the ketushas landed a few days ago, so the military presence is fairly obvious.

Next we had a look at Syria from Mount Bental. This is the place where the Yom Kippur War started. This is where less than 2 dozen Israeli soldiers were when Syria invaded in 1973 on Yom Kippur. This hilltop is the perfect vantage point and you can see when you’re up there why it is necessary to keep it. Along the path are a few pieces of art made of debris from the war.

On the way to lunch, we view the Hula Valley while driving along. One of the things we passed was a large crusader fortress. One thing that’s hard to understand until you see it that just about every piece of ground contains important archeological sites. As you drive along, you see ruins after ruins just sitting in the fields. Israel doesn’t have the funds to work on all of them, so they sit and wait.

In addition to many crops, in the North there are many fisheries. Lunch was at a restaurant connected with a fishery. Fresh fish is not so appealing to me, but they did take care of me well with a fried cauliflower dish with a sweet dipping sauce. And of course, many salads. The place itself was beautiful with outdoor seating and a little cement stream they had running through it.

After lunch, we went kayaking down the Jordan river. Okay, they called they kayaks, but they were really fancy, blow up boats. I can’t remember ever having been boating before, but I did much better than expected. Certainly Gwen and I did much better than the Orthodox boys who were busy confirming stereotypes. Although Gwen did fall out of the boat at one point. It was a trip though. There were some mild rapids and the river was only 15-30 feet wide. More like a creek really. Apparently I was the only one lucky enough to see some guy jerking off by a tree as we went down the river. He seemed to be having some difficulty with that. I’m guessing he was hoping to shock some poor innocent Orthodox girls and all he got was a bunch of jaded Americans and Orthodox men.

After boating, we stopped in Kiryat Shmona to pick up some groceries for a light dinner back at the hotel. Yes, Kiryat Shmona is where the ketushas fell. It was no problem. Everyone was going about their business. Oh, and you can get big bottles of Gold Star beer for about $1.50. We pool our snacks and enjoyed them on the patio of the kibbutz while Mitch played guitar and some people sang.

Not so much Shomar Shabbas

I skipped Shabbat morning service. I was feeling the need to catch up on sleep. So a group of us left the hotel around 10:30 and took a walking tour of the Orthodox neighborhood on the way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. As we were walking, Rafi also showed us some buildings all shot up from the 67 war. Then pointed out what used to be Jordan. It’s easy to see that now Israel has all of Jerusalem, they aren’t going to give up any of it. And of course, what do the Muslims want? Jerusalem.

I know the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is supposed to be a big deal and all, but other than the mosaics and the cemetery in the cave, it made no impact on me. But then, unless you’re Jewish, you probably don’t think the Western Wall is all that interesting.

After that, we were bad Jews and went shopping in the Christian quarter after eating falafels. I bought some of the green spice mixture the give you for the fresh bagels they sell in the streets, but other than that I wasn’t really in the shopping mood. Gwen and I sat down and had a coffee.

We met with a couple of rabbis at THE (yes, the only) conservative synagogue in Jerusalem. Most of the people with the group are converts, so the talk was mostly geared towards them and their specific issues and questions. But, I did find out that Israel does indeed now accept converts for aliyah, even if they didn’t convert Orthodox. That’s a fairly recent development. Who knows if it’ll stay in place. As a Jew, all I have to do is basically show up and say “I want to be an Israeli.” And I wouldn’t have to renounce my U.S. citizenship. Anyway, options are good.

After dinner at the hotel, we had our own little havdalah out by the pool. It was our turn to be stared at by the Orthodox. I looked up and there were all these little heads in the windows checking us out. After that, it was off to Ben Yehuda street because apparently there’s no such thing as too much shopping. I just went along for the ride and the sites. Mitch and I just sat and had a beer, then walked around for a few minutes. Everyone else got back by cab, but Patrick and I walked. Close to the hotel, the Orthodox were staring to burn things again and the police and army presence had thickened quite a bit. Sunday night 100,000 Orthodox are supposed to get together to protest gay pride. Our tour guide is happy we will be gone.

Shabbat

This morning we started a little later. I could have used about 4 more hours of sleep. I don’t think I was the only one. We don’t have quite as busy of a day today though.

First we went to Mt. Herzl. We saw the tomb of Theodor Herzl, basically the father of Zionism. The military cemetery is there as well and the tombs of Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin and more.

Next we went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum complex. The children’s museum is dark when you go in. It uses mirrors to reflect the light of 5 candles to make 1.5 million lights to represent each child lost in the Holocaust. As you walk through, the names of the children and where they were from are read off.

The museum itself is similar to others I’ve been in. But they have much more actual video footage from that time. And the video of survivors telling how it was are priceless. It’s hard to conceptualize what it must have been like sometimes until you hear it from someone’s mouth who was there. The focus of this exhibit seemed to be “why Israel must be.” I didn’t really need to be convinced.

After lunch, we went to the Machaneh Yehuda street market. Stall after stall of fruits, vegetables, nuts, meats, spices, breads, on and on. The sort of place I would shop every day if it was a option. Although I didn’t see any tofu. :-) I picked up a fresh pita with the green spice mixture on it for an afternoon snack.

Friday night, we walked to the Kotel (the Western Wall) for Shabbat. I didn’t take any photos for obvious reasons, but imagine the place wall-to-wall with people, probably 1/3-1/2 Orthodox. I looked briefly online, but I’d really love to see a good explanation of all the garb. The furry hockey puck hat is from where? What about the beige striped bathrobe? And so on.

Shabbat dinner at the hotel was packed. Apparently there are a lot of families that come in to Jerusalem just for Shabbat. So the dining room was packed with every sort of Jew. And the hotel had canvas partitions they set up around the Orthodox so they wouldn’t have to look upon anything “not kosher” at another table. There was singing all around the dining room. It was really wild.

Into the Desert

Holy crap it was a busy day! And incredible. We left Jerusalem early and headed into the West Bank for Qumaran. This is the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in a cave. Mikvah’s, cisterns and various rooms have been uncovered at the site where the Essenes studied. And the views of the desert were amazing. When we got back to the bus, there was a camel “parked” in the parking lot.

Next stop was the Ein Gedi oasis. A natural spring pours off the mountain and it is a spot of lush green bordered by desert and the Dead Sea. Well, it really looks like a trickle from a faucet, but fresh water is fresh water. A small herd of ibex were there to greet us. As long as we moved slowly, they kept their distance but didn’t run off. At the kibbutz there they have date palms and mango trees.

Time to play in the Dead Sea! We floated in the Dead Sea for a bit. Then I got out and spread myself with the packet of mud they gave us. You let it dry in the sun then get back in the sea. It really makes you feel soft and makes for some silly photo opportunities. The salt crystallizes into balls that sit on the bottom of the sea. I am bringing a few home with me. After being in the warm sea, they have a regular pool for refreshing yourself. Then we had lunch and were off.

The next stop was Masada where just over 900 Jews committed suicide rather than be taken by the Romans. The Romans had a difficult time getting to them because the Jews were on top of this mountain, Masada. Finally, the Romans used slaves (Jews, oddly enough) to build a ramp and they finally broke into the city, but they didn’t get any more slaves out of the deal.

Most of what we saw at Masada was built by King Herod. You can still see some original mosaics and plaster, mikvahs and baths, a synagogue and some crazy big cisterns. It was about 102 degrees F up there and I think it probably did me in a little bit. Even with drinking tons of water, wearing a hat, etc. It made me glad we took the cable car up and only walked down the Roman ramp rather than taking the snake path up.

But wait, there’s more! We headed about an hour South into the Negev to a Bedouin encampment. I knew we were going to get on camels, but I didn’t know we would caravan them and take about a half an hour ride. The camel Gwen and I got on wasn’t all that happy about it. He bitched about it loudly but seemed less cranky once he’d stood up. The camel behind me kept putting his face on my shirt. I wanted to squeeze his funny whiskery face, but I was pretty sure I’d either get spit on or lose a finger.

After that we went in a tent and learned some things about Bedouin culture. We were served tea and then coffee that they roast, grind and brew right there on a fire. A lot of people didn’t like the coffee but I enjoyed it. It was strong, slightly bitter and had a hint of cardamom. Then the feast came. Giant platters of rice covered with seasoned lamb balls and beef. I was given a separate plate of rice with some potato patties. Plus there were many bowls of different salads, hummus and dolmas. And pita bread.

Okay, so finally we got on the road and headed back to Jerusalem, about a 2 1/2 hour drive. Talk about wiped out. I still can’t believe all that stuff fit in one day. Just to cap it off with a bit of excitement, since it was cool out, I was going to open my window to sleep. I smelled smoke and looked to see a dumpster on fire. See, the Orthodox are angry because there is a gay pride march planned for June 21st. Last year they managed to make enough noise and get it basically cut down to nothing. This year, the police are trying to hold firm. So the Orthodox are lighting trash cans and dumpsters on fire. We saw tons of them on the street as we headed back into the hotel. I wonder if they will be making that much trouble on Shabbat?

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