Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Climbed Masada this morning. Watched the sunrise from the top. Magnificent.

The stones are gorgeous in the morning light.

Tiberias to Bet Shean

Bet Shean is magnificent! You must visit there. It is located just
north of the West bank on the main road through the Jordan Valley. We passed through on the way from Naharia to Jerusalem, via Tiberias. If you check your map you will see that the direct route is not that. The idea was to see some of the Galilee region, and maybe visit some historical sights along the way. We had hoped to see Jericho also, but time and temperature concerns did not allow that.

Tiberias is not much to see, although we did see some ruins that are still visible after the floods and earthquakes and invasions that have devastated the city over the years. Maimonides tomb is there as well, but we did not make a pilgrimage to it.

Just south of Tiberias is a hot spring that has a great mosaic as well. There was a synagogue there, and it was decorated with what is apparently the oldest surviving depiction of the Zodiac. The signs are labelled in Greek, which gives you an idea of what "Hellenised" means. The upper portion of the mosaic, nearest the Bimah, was less Pagan, having a candelabra, and a representation of the temple. Nearby are the remains of the old city walls, and the source of the hot spring, which we verified was in fact quite hot. We did not verify the powerful laxative properties of the water that were attested to by several Rebbe's whose quotations were on display in a
reconstrucion of the old spa.

Bet Shean! The Tell where once stood the city walls on which Saul's body was displayed after the defeat of the Israelites. The remains of a Byzantine city destroyed by earthquake, whose columns you can still view, having been stood back upright as part of the restoration work that seems to be ongoing. The house where the Egyptian ruled the place, when it was Egypt's to rule.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Tel Aviv Art Museum

Going a bit back in time now, this is a picture of a glass lamp from the collection of a Holocaust survivor who built a large business in Vienna after the war.

This was an exhibit at the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion, which was open late on the day we visited, and was even free!

Ark Cover

These lions guard the Torah in an old Ashkenazi synagogue in Safed. The original building was destroyed in the 1837 earthquake, but one of the scrolls is claimed to be original.

Me in Cesarea

Jeana took a picture of me sitting in the restored Roman auditorium in Cesarea. There was a lot of activity, as a concert was being prepared for. I have a shot of the giant speaker towers being hoisted into position, but the contrast between modern audio technology and the ancient rows of seats was not as dramatic as I had hoped.

Barbed wire near Haifa

This is a shot from the "immigrants camp" I blogged about earlier. Note the depressing resemblance to other places where Jews have been locked up in the 20th century.

The palm tree is a nice change though I suppose!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

We want to see Lebanon

Gus and I took the car up North this morning. Wanted to show him the border area, how you can see across the lines into Lebanon, where Hezbollah is. Or was, as we found out.

I won't divulge any military secrets if I inform you that in general if you go North far enough in Israel you will eventually reach the border with Lebanon. The particular turning from the main highway that we chose took us through some beautiful
forests to the front gate of a Kibbutz. The gate was closed, but eventually opened for us. The Kibbutz is surrounded by a wire fence, in places you can see the remnants of older barbed wire that was outside of it, and there are old rusty watchtowers, and slightly newer concrete bomb shelters as well.

After a bit we got out of the car and started to walk up the hill along the road. There was a gate in the fence that was welded shut, so we kept going. The next gate was open, and there was a group of Israeli soldiers on the other side.

We were refused entrance, even though I spoke (in pretty good Hebrew I think) telling them that we wanted to look at Lebanon. A couple of the soldiers came over to where we were and showed us a white road that runs just a few meters on the Israeli side of the line. Beyond that is Lebanon.

The rocky terrain is lovely in all directions, with some mixed forests of pine and some scrubby brush I don't recognize from American landscapes. Looks vaguely like a Greek hillside perhaps. We were told that it is indeed peaceful, except when it isn't.

It was a few kilometers from there that the Hizbullah kidnap operation that started last years war took place. Someday it will be a fine spot for hiking and tourism, but not yet.

Later the three of us went to Safed (or Tzefat) which is a beautiful village on a hilltop in the Galilee region. For many hundreds of years it has been a center of Jewish spirituality. We were surprised to learn that many Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 settled there, as did a group of 300 Eastern European Jews in the 1770s. The Ashkenazi synagogue established by that community is still there, reconstructed after the earthquakes, and open for visiting.

Possibly the high point of the day was when a very small Hasidic boy pointed at Gus and exclaimed that he was the Messiah. With his thin beard and curly hair Gus does rather look the part, though as his father I might be expected to have some different feelings in the matter. The baseball cap advertising Guiness that he wears might also militate against the conclusion, but perhaps he will turn water into beer.

Still no pictures, maybe tomorrow. We were planning on visiting the Banias in the Golan heights, but since the road there passes through Kiryat Shimona we will probably give it a pass. We had the radio on and heard the report of Katyushas landing there. Bummer.

Yesterday we were in Akko and Rosh Ha'Nikra, both worth the visit. I would tell you about the great food we have been having, but I am very tired. Suffice it to say that if you are thinking "I would like to go to Greece or Italy, have some excellent food, see some sights, relax at the sea" then you should immediately add Israel to the list of options, as it can hold its own with any place on the Med.

Friday, June 15, 2007


I would love to put up some of the pictures I have taken, but I am having some difficulties. Decided to bring a different laptop, probably a mistake. We arrived in Haifa, and it is a much bigger place than I remembered.

Probably that is the result of driving around in our own car, versus being driven by a guide. Not every street leads to where you want to go! Yesterday went to the Immigration Camp, which is not one of the major sites, but has a lot of history. It was established in 1939 by the British to hold illegal Jewish immigrants.

Obviously that was a case of disastrously bad timing, as it was then that the situation for European Jewry became critical. The echoes of the holocaust are particularly grim, because the overall layout of the camp is very similar to that of the extermination camps in Europe. There was even a de-lousing facility, which was the first place new inmates were taken.

Of course the British were actually delousing people there, not killing them.

After that we visited the Maritime museum, which has a lot of model ships, which for some reason were more interesting than they usually are. Perhaps because they put up the bios of the model makers? One was a retired officer from the Soviet Navy who made Aliyah in the 90s. Personalized what otherwise are mute objects.

There were models of missile boats, sailing ships, and the Titanic.

Also a case with sextants and marine chronometers which gave me the opportunity to expound to Gus about the solution to the Longitude problem. He was uncharacteristically patient with me.

The history in this area goes back well before 1939 of course. We were in Cesarea a couple days ago. There are ruins on top of ruins there. The archaeologists have to determine whether a piece of marble is from the pagan temple erected in Herod's time, or the Church that replaced it. Neither is evident now, except in outline.

We ate at the restaurant next to the gas station on the way out of town. Fodor's recommends it, and given its location I imagined it would be a relatively quick and cheap place to eat. It was neither, but that was okay because the St Dennis fish (I think it was that) was excellent, with plenty of pepper. There was even a Sushi bar in there. Jeana's eggplant sandwich was a bit salty, perhaps she should have kept the egg sandwich the waitress brought first, a result of confusion in the English words.

Last night we ate at Fettoush in the German colony. Fodor's again proved its value, as the meal was reasonable, excellent, and filling. Can't recall the name, but one dish was grilled chicken and onions on pita bread. I can't tell you what spices were used, but they were the right ones. The lemonade had enough mint in it to make it look like a green shake.

Yes, I am not much of a vegetarian anymore ...

Israelis definitely have a different attitude towards smoking. The internet cafe here (the one on Yaffe road by the Port Inn, marked with the internationally recognized @ sign over the door) is of course not non-smoking, so I was not surprised to detect smoke drifting my way.

I was a bit surprised to see that the source was two obviously very pregnant women.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Visiting Israel

Israel is a terrific place to visit. Just got back from Cafe Noach on Echad Ha'Am. There was terrific Jazz, a group of musicians jamming. At one point there were four horn players, all playing together. How do Jazz players do that?

They also had good food there, the tuna sandwich was good, and the goat cheese was terrific. Israel has great cheeses. Mostly we have been eating the soft cheeses.

Probably commented about this before, but it bears repeating. For some of us visiting Israel sometimes seems like a duty, like visiting an aged Aunt. Something you are expected to do. When we get here, and realize that we are having a fantastic time, it is an odd feeling, like discovering your aged Aunt has a terrific record collection or something like that.

We have a few more days in Tel Aviv, then will be heading up North.