Thursday, June 27, 2013

Tel Aviv, the First Hebrew City

We woke up on this, the final day of our trip and had breakfast at the hotel, in a beautiful restaurant overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean Sea.  After stuffing ourselves with our final breakfast in Israel, and, by the way, the BEST meal of the day that is always filled with yummy food, we hopped on our bus and our driver Benny took us to Independence Hall, the site of David Ben Gurion's monumental proclamation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948.  As we drove we learned a little about Tel Aviv, which is a lot more secular than the other parts of Israel we visited on our pilgrimage.  We learned that the name Tel Aviv basically means old and new, and this modern metropolis was certainly the antithesis of the old we saw in Jerusalem.  Some feel that in her desire to be "new"  Tel Aviv has lost all connection with history and Judaism.  I am not quite sure I can agree, although I do agree that Tel Aviv is much more modern and reminds me a lot of American cities.  Does western influences mean a loss of history?

The first thing I noticed about Independence Hall was the fact that it is not a beautiful building, but rather normal and low key.  Notice the small windows...

At Independence Hall we saw a movie and learned about the origins of Tel Aviv.  I thought it was cool that Independence Hall is built on the spot where the founders of Tel Aviv, Zina and Meir Dizengoff built their first home.  After Zina passed away, Meir Dizengoff (who was also the Mayor at the time, and we made many jokes about Mayor Meir) donated his home to the city to have them build an art museum.  Recently as they were doing some renovations, they found part of the original home behind one of the walls, which happened to be right where we were!

It turns out that they did not have a lot of notice before the declaration.  Invitations were sent out only 36 hours before the announcement was to be made.  Many people ask why did they not do the announcement in Jerusalem, center of the Jewish world?  At the time, Jerusalem was under siege and they knew the British soldiers were leaving on May 15 (which happened to be Shabbat) so they could not wait because there would be an absence of authority and if they waited who knows what would have happened.  They made the announcement on Friday, May 14 at 4 pm in a ceremony that lasted only 32 minutes and would allow them all to get home for Shabbat.  The art museum was used because the rooms was under ground with small windows and thick cement walls.  In other words, they were safe should our neighbors have decided to attack.  They did attack Tel Aviv the vert next day.

Here is the very spot where Ben Gurion's made the famous speech.

I couldn't believe I was sitting in the very same room where this historical moment took place.  Tali, the guide at the hall taught us about the pronouncement.  She explained how emotional it was and had us listen to some of the actual speech.  We heard Ben Gurion and after a rabbi who read the shehechianu prayer.  Can you imagine how saying the shehechianu at that moment must have felt?  We could feel the emotion in their voices and it felt like we were actually there.  Then we all stood as the orchestra on the recording played Hatikvah.  After a few seconds, I heard some voices joining in and we all began to sing together.  It was incredibly emotional, especially because some of the people singing were Israeli high school graduates who would be starting their military service to Israel in a few short months.  You could feel the pride in their voices and the respect in their body language.  Again, I am blown away by their sense of people hood, their "we" being more important than "I".  How can we teach this concept to our children?  Tali shared that all Israelis want to live in peace.  Not quiet, which is what they have experienced in recent years, but true and lasting peace.  And they are willing to give their lives for it so their children can truly feel freedom.  It is inspirational and awesome to be among those who have sacrificed so much.  It makes me that much more grateful for our soldiers and their families in America who willingly make the same sacrifice.  I will not take my freedom for granted again.  I can tell you this for sure, Hatikvah holds an entirely new meaning for me now.

After this emotional ceremony, our educator, Zvi had the idea of buying a copy of the Israeli Declaration of Independence and having each of us sign it, on the very same table where the original declaration was read.  

What an important statement us signing this document makes.  This pilgrimage has solidified our bond with Israel, as the signatures on the original document did for those who had the honor of being a part of that historic day in 1948.  Our copy with our signatures will be displayed at TAE as a reminder of our connection to Israel and our responsibility to support her and be her advocate back home.

After this incredible experience we walked Rothschild Blvd., the street where all of this took place.  Then it was off to our next adventure, atop of Kibbutzim Hill to The Ayalon Institute, near Rechovot, for an eye opening tour of a secret munitions factory used during the British Mandate and War for Independence.  To be honest, I was not too excited to see this place.  After all we have experienced, this seemed like a time filler.  I cold not be more wrong.  We learned about this factory during a film, where we discovered that during the British Mandate and War for Independence, Israel had guns but no ammunition.  First they tried to go abroad to purchase ammunition, to no avail.  The only option was to make it themselves.  Even though this location was right in front of the British soldiers, it was atop a mountain and they cold build under existing buildings.  They hollowed out the hill and built a factory under a laundry facility and bakery.  They used the sound of the laundry to mask the sounds of the factory underneath.  Here is the laundry machine...

And here is how the workers, about 40 of them would climb down into the secret factory each day.

This secret factory was used for years and produced more than 2.25 million bullets used in the fight for independence.  Here is the factory itself, with some of the original machines used.  There was a lighting system that was used to communicate between the security guard at the kibbutz and the workers below.

Here is the testing range they used to make sure the bullets were the right size and weight.

The workers would go down in the morning and come up in the evening, under the cover of living and working on the kibbutz and were never caught.  In fact, British soldiers would even use the laundry shop where the entrance was...  Pretty amazing.  

As the workers spent more and more time underground they began to feel ill and tired and looked pale.  The kibbutz doctor had an electro violet light installed and changed their diet to give them the nutrients they were lacking working underground.  Here is the room the workers would spend time in each day to get their "sunlight."

The workers did not share what they were doing with anyone, not even their spouses.  There is a story of a man who worked in the factory who did not tell his wife of his work until the museum opened years after the war was over.  Did people on the kibbutz not involved with the factory really not know what was going on?  Or did they just know they shouldn't ask?  Sometimes, not knowing is better for the community.  Again, this notion of "we" before "I" comes in to play, a common theme we have found on our trip.

Our next stop was the old city of Jaffa for lunch and a little shopping.  Here is the view of Tel Aviv from atop Jaffa.

After lunch and shopping at Jaffa, it was time to head back to our hotel and pack for our trip home.  We went to Goshen, a wonderful restaurant for our final meal in Israel, and headed to the airport.  As I finish this blog entry, my last of this incredible pilgrimage, I am flooded with so many feelings.  I know what you are thinking...  How is it possible that I can feel so connected to Israel after such a short trip?  I can only explain it like I explain my relationship with Leasa.  After a short time, only a few weeks I knew with certainty that I wanted to share my life with her.  I can't explain it, I just knew.  With Israel, although it is difficult to explain, it is just home.  I am overwhelmed by the history, inspired by the sense of people hood and the notion of "we" being more important than "I," in awe of the pride Israelis take in serving their country and more connected to my Jewish identity than I have ever felt in my life.  I have touched history in a way I could not have possibly been prepared for.  Although I miss my family terribly and am so excited to hold them again, I will miss Israel greatly.  And I know I will return.  For now, I offer my thanks to those who traveled with me and adopted me as a part of their family for these 10 days.  We have created a bond with each other that will stay with us always.  I am so grateful to Zvi, who has really and truly shown all of us the difference between a tour guide and an educator.  As I said to him during our farewell dinner, he made Israel come to life for us and enabled us to embrace her.  His expertise helped each of us, young and old, to create a lifelong bond with Israel.  I will forever be grateful to my new friend for giving me this gift.  And I want you to have this gift too.  I want to take you to Israel so you can feel what we all felt, so you can experience Judaism the way we have.  I want you to feel how safe it is there, and how much pride Israelis take in their safety.  I want you to learn a few Hebrew words and walk in the footsteps of our ancestors who have created a home for us.  You will be hearing me speak of another trip in the near future, and I invite you to join me in TAE's next pilgrimage to our homeland.  Over the next few weeks I will post thoughts from other travelers from this trip in the hopes that you will feel inspired to sign up and see Israel for yourself.   I leave you with the final picture of our tour, our group together overlooking Tel Aviv and the beautiful Mediterranean Sea.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Along the Coast

Today, we left the beauty of Kibbutz Kfar Blum in the Galilee to head towards our last stop on our pilgrimage, Tel Aviv.  We were all a little sad to leave our little oasis we found at Kfar Blum.  I think we were mostly sad because it really signifies the beginning of the ending of our trip, something I think we are all not quite ready to face.  Along the way we said our good-byes to the Kinneret and headed back in time almost 1800 years to the time of the creation of the Mishna.  We visited the Kfar Kedem village on Mishpeh Hoshaya in the Lower Galilee for a hands on experience exploring Jewish life that included costumes, pita baking and donkey rides.  Yes, I said donkey rides.  And of course, I have pictures to document the whole thing, even me on the donkey.

Three of our B'nai Mitzvah kids grinding the wheat for our pita.  See, they become young adults and we put them to work!

Hannah was the donkey demonstrator along with Amir, our guide for the day.

I think I am too big for my poor donkey...

I am proud to tell you that each and every one in our group earned their Donkey Driver's License which states "David Shukiar has, upon rigorous practical examination, been found knowledgable and capable in all aspects of donkey driving and therefore will be permitted to do the same, wherever and whenever he should so choose."  I hope my parents are proud!

 After Kfar Kedem, we piled back onto our bus and headed to the Mediterranean Coast to Caesarea, a palace and city built by King Herod more than 2000 years ago which became one of the land of Israel's most important cities during the Roman Period.  Can you guess who King Herod named the city after?

Here is our first look at the Mediterranean Sea.  

We visited the Herodian Theatre, an ancient theatre that still houses concerts today!

We also visited the new excavations along the Mediterranean shore which concluded with a visit to the 900 year old Crusader city built on top of Caesarea.

Here is our group climbing onto the ruins of the Hippodrome, where King Herod watched races a long time ago.

After finishing the tour of Caesarea, we all went and had the perfect Mediterranean lunch, gelato from a local store.  Yesterday we had chocolate and wine on the Syrian border and today we had gelato on the Mediterranean Coast in an ancient Town...  Only in Israel!

After finishing our lunch, we headed towards Tel Aviv, known as the city that never sleeps.  We got to our hotel at around 3 pm, which left plenty of time for us to play on the sores of the Mediterranean before walking on the boardwalk to grab dinner.  

Here is my feet first touching the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea!

After taking these pictures a bunch of us spent a couple of hours swimming in the Mediterranean Sea (no water proof cameras were present to record this for the blog).  After all of the touring we have done, it was so nice to relax and float in these warm waters.  Tel Aviv is such a different world than Jerusalem.  It is a young, vibrant, energetic and beautiful city that reminds a lot of America.  Tomorrow we will dive into the history of this place and learn how it helps to define Israel, but in a different way than the other cities, towns and kibbutzim do.  I will leave you with the view from our hotel in the hopes that it may entice you to come on TAE's next Israel pilgrimage...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Nature and Security

Our fist activity today took us to kibbutz Misgav Am, almost at the very tip of Israel, directly on the border of Lebanon.  There we met Joseph, a local man who explained some of the challenges of living on a kibbutz as well as living so close to Lebanon.  We learned how the kibbutz system is changing and how it could impact the future of kibbutzim.  

He shared with us the story of when 5 Hezbollah terrorists entered their kibbutz through a fence and held children hostage.  Our bus was parked right at the spot the terrorists cut through the fence.  He showed us the Chirstian town right below the kibbutz in Lebanon that has had Hezbollah terrorists there.  

He said that before Hezbollah got there they were really friendly neighbors.  We were able to see the border between Israel and Lebanon, almost being able to reach out and touch it.  

In the foreground is the fence of the kibbutz and you can see a small security road and the fence that is the border of Lebanon.

It was amazing to be looking into Lebanon and feeling the history of the place we we standing.  But what was truly amazing was the pride Joseph took in his kibbutz.  Again, and I know I am a broken record, there is a pride Israelis have living here that we as Americans just do not understand.  Perhaps it is because we do not live in fear that out neighbors are trying to push us into the sea.  Perhaps it is because Joseph has had to work with his own hands to build and maintain the kibbutz.  One thing is for sure, Joseph feels safe living there, and we certainly felt safe visiting there.  

After our look into Lebanon we went back down into the valley and crossed over to the next range of hills known as the Golan Heights.  We took three jeeps up into the Golan Heights, past many Syrian army posts that had been occupied by Syrian officers before and during the Yom Kippur War.  When we saw that we had a jeep tour on the itinerary, I kind of pictured it like a hay ride at a pumpkin patch...  Well, this was off-roading to put it mildly.  I was lucky enough to travel with the Kuperberg family.  

We oy'ed our way over every bump along our path.  Roy, our driver was patient and laughing at his american group...  We began by going through some mud that was instantly showered on all of us in back of the jeep and proceeded up roads that were totally impossible to pass through, yet, somehow, our jeeps made it through as we climbed up to near the top of the hills.  

Here we stopped and heard from our drivers who explained the Yom Kippur War and how Israel conquered the Golan Heights in order to assure the children and families living in the valley below could live without fear of being bombed by the Syrian army, as was the case prior to the war.  We were able to see first hand how important having control of the Golan Heights is to Israel's security.  What amazed me most was how the Israelis, outnumbered and without the high ground we able to conquer these heights to ensure Israeli security for the future.  If was amazing to be among the ruins of the Syrian army posts in the hills of the Golan Heights.  As we overlooked the valley below from the Golan Heights, Zvi shared some music with us and read the translation to give us some perspective of how this war impacted those living in the valley below.

The last shell exploded and now all is quiet.
The silence enveloped the valley.
A girl from Gadot came out of the shelter,
And saw no more homes on the kibbutz.

Mommy, we had a green house
With Daddy and dolls and a fruit tree.
The house is no more and Daddy's away.
Mommy, are you laughing or crying?

Look up my daughter, to the hills;
The heights which were like a monster.
There are still cannons on the hills,
But now they threaten Damascus.

Look up, my daughter, to the Golan.
There are still soldiers there, but in the future
Their flag will be blue and white.
Up there Daddy's laughing and crying.

We'll again have a green house, my daughter
With Daddy and dolls and a fruit tree.
And no more terror, my daughter, my dear.
Darling, are you laughing or crying?

We all took a moment as we heard this song looking over the valley where the kibbutz we are staying is located.

We ate some sweet watermelon before heading back down the mountain in our jeeps.

The road was equally as bumpy and equally as fun to ride upon.  What an experience!  Like every other item on our itinerary, this surpassed my expectations.  Thanks to the Kuperberg family for adopting me as a part of their family for today.

Next, we piled in our bus (on a well paved road, phew!) and headed to our next stop, exploring Israel's security situation in the Golan Heights from atop Mount Bental, overlooking Syria.  First, we had lunch at Coffee Anon, (GREAT NAME FOR A RESTAURANT) which overlooks Syria.  We visited a former Israeli bunker and gained further insights into the challenges Israel faced during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.  Our educator Zvi shared many stories that made the whole experience personal (a common theme found all over our trip).  

We were able to see into Syria and saw the results of the civil war now being fought there.  We could see the signs of a battle down below, smoke coming up after the firing of a shell.  It was incredible to see this first hand.

But although we were close enough to see it, we were totally safe.  Israel feels safe and secure.  We at no point, even being on the border of Lebanon and Syria felt in danger at all.  It was an amazing experience and a reminder that we need to seek out other sources for news that give the true picture in Israel.  For me the picture I will take with my always was standing on this bunker, looking in the distance and on one side being able to see Lebanon and on the other Syria.  And Israel, right in the middle, this beacon of light standby proudly and safely.  Here our some of our kids standing on the lookout with Lebanon on the left and Syria on the right.

Our final stop for the day was the Chocolate Workshop at the De Karina Chocolate Factory on Kibbutz Ein Zivan.  

All but three of our party chose to do this activity where they got to make their own chocolate. Ira, Melissa and I chose to go to the Bahat winery on the same kibbutz for some wine tasting.

How strange it was for us to be drinking wine on the Syrian border, with grapes grown feet from Syria.  How amazing that the rest of our group was making chocolate on the Syrian border while the civil war is happening...  We all gained some important perspective as to how safe Israel really is in terms of what we hear in the news.  As we raised our glasses in toasting to our trip and their son Ryan's bar mitzvah, we did so with a deeper connection to Israel and her place in the world.  Israel is here to stay.  And we are proud to be here.