Pardes tiyul to the Golan and Upper Galilee

Several weeks ago (yes, I’m way behind on this post!), Noah and I went with Pardes on a 3-day tiyul to northern Israel. We were in the Golan and Upper Galilee region, and the surroundings were a huge difference from the last Pardes tiyul we went on to the southern Negev!

The trip started with a visit to the Jordan River where Yehoshua entered the land of Israel with the Israelite people (shortly after Moses’ death, at which time Yehoshua became the new Jewish leader). The glory of the Jordan River has definitely faded since those years…

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You see the other side of the river? That’s Jordan! Yep, we were real close. ūüôā

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Despite the river itself having become relatively small, it’s still a very interesting historical and spiritual location. It’s also somewhat of a pilgrimage site for Christians because it is the site of Jesus’ bastism. We saw a lot of Christian tourists going for a dip of their own:

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After the river visit, we went on a long hike at Nahal El-Al.

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Along the hike, there were two waterfall locations where some people went for a swim!

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The hike took about 4 hours, and we had a great time!

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After the hike, the group made a final stop at Mitzpeh Gadot, the location of an abandoned Syrian bunker that was captured by the Israeli army during the Six Day War.

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The site had a lot of interesting trenches to look at, and it was also a good place to better understand the shifting of boundaries and power in this region . Also at the site is a memorial monument to the fallen soldiers of the Israeli Golani Brigade:

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After Mitzpeh Gadot, the group went back to our lodging (Kfar Szold Guest House) for dinner and some rest before another full day.

In the morning, we set out for our second big day hike – a hike on Mt. Meron.

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This hike Рlike the first Рwas green, gorgeous, and was an opportunity to see some of the flowers in bloom during the spring:

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During this hike, we passed by some ruins, including what’s left of one of the oldest known synagogues (the ruins date back to the first century when the second Temple was still in Jerusalem!):

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After the hike, we visited Amuka, a small town near Tzfat where Rabbi Yonatan ben Uzziel is buried. R. Yonatan ben Uzziel was a student of Rabbi Hillel’s and is mentioned in the Talmud, so his significance stands on its own. Yet, an interesting custom has developed that singles visit the site of his grave to receive a shidduch (match). The legend goes that praying for a match at the site will lead to a partner within a year! There weren’t that many people around when we visited the site…I guess not too many people¬†thought to find their matches with him that day. ūüôā

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When the group left the grave, we drove east towards the Syrian border. In the photo below (out of the bus window), you can see there are still lots of areas closed off with minefield warnings:

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We were heading to Tel Saki Р a small hill that served as an Israeli fortification on the border with Syria during the Yom Kippur War. At Tel Saki, we walking through some of the military trenches and looked across the expanse into Syria:

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From our vantage point, we couldn’t see too much action into Syria…

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But there were still some pretty cool tanks to play on!

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Overall, this was a great tiyul! I loved hiking with Noah and my Pardes teachers and¬†classmates through northern Israel and learning more about that region’s history, successes, and challenges. The tiyulim with Pardes have definitely been a highlight of my year here (see my post on the Negev¬†tiyul and the day trip to Tel Aviv) and have made a huge difference in terms of helping me to see more of the country and to learn more about Israel outside of Jerusalem.

Tzfat and Mt. Bental

Tzfat is a town in the Galilee region, known for its spiritual vibe, artsy aesthetics, and ‘airy’ feel. My family stopped by Tzfat for a few hours on our way north, walking around to get a sense of the town and grabbing a bite to eat. The town itself is full of narrow, windy cobblestone streets that lead past old synagogues, art shops, and eateries:

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The ubiquity of art is definitely the most unique quality of Tzfat. In addition to an abundance of art shops and vendors, the streets themselves are covered with art. Tzfat is also one of the few places in Israel outside of Jerusalem where religiosity is visibly expressed at every corner. Literally.

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This is a picture seen painted on a wall along the street depicting ‘The Torah Kid’ as a superhero:

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Besides walking around, we visited Abuhav Synagogue – a Sephardic synagogue in which a Torah written by Abuhav, a 14th-century Spanish scribe, resides. The synagogue is fairly simple from the outside, but the interior is colorful and beautifully decorated:

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One of the highlights of visiting Tzfat was a trip to a store called Tzfat Candles. True to the spirit of Tzfat, this is much more than your average candle shop. It is candle art.

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You can buy candles in the shape of pretty much anything you can think of (besides all the fancy stuff, they also sell beautifully colored ‘regular’ candles). In addition to¬†the variety of candles for sale, there was some pretty magnificent Biblical candle art on display. Highlights included David and Goliath:

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Noah’s ark:

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And Samson:

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I don’t know about you, but I would sure feel bad lighting any of these on fire! Noah and I bought a havdallah candle at the store and used it for the first time last week! It was awesome. ūüôā

And, just for giggles, a misspelled sign advertising the popular Tzfat cheese (a semi-hard, somewhat elastic, cheese popular in Israel):

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After Tzfat, we continued north to Mt. Bental. Mt. Bental is a volcanic cone in the northern part of Israel, near the Golan heights, and very close to the Syrian border. Due to its positioning near Syria, the location used to be a military outpost. Looking out from Mt. Bental, one can see, to one side, into the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria and across into Syria itself. To the other side lies the Israeli Kibbutz Merom Golan. When we arrived at the site, we saw a UN vehicle parked in the lot (these vehicles are also commonly sighted in Jerusalem):

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Noah investigating a view as we walk to the main lookout:

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This sign highlighted Mt. Bental’s unique location and proximity to several significant cities:

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At the lookout, we could walk through the former military trenches and tunnels:

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View looking out towards Syria:

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Check back soon for a final post recounting my family’s visit and our stop in Tiberias!

Masada and FOOD

In addition to hiking in Ein Gedi, my family also did a hike up Masada during our Israel travel.

Masada is a flattop mountain in the Ein Gedi area that has earned fame for its role as the site of Jewish rebels’ last stand against the Roman Empire. A magnificent palace was first built atop the mountain by Herod the Great in the 1st century. Years later, after Herod had died, the Jews rebelled against the Roman Empire in 66 CE. The Romans destroyed the second temple in 70 CE and essentially ended the revolt then. A group of slightly less than 1,000 Jews, however, fled to Masada where they – historians believe – lived for over a year. One might think, why would the Roman army even bother with them anymore? I don’t know…maybe it was a matter of pride or finishing the job ‘right,’ but the Romans pursued the Jews to Masada and built eight camps around the mountain as they spent months preparing an assault ramp that would enable them to ambush the mountain.

All that is known about Masada’s tragic end comes from one survivor.¬†The story states that, knowing the Roman forces couldn’t be held off for much longer, the Jews atop Masada decided that they would rather take their own lives in freedom than serve the Romans as slaves. Lots were drawn to determine 10 men who would kill the rest of the community, and, then, a final lot was drawn to determine who would kill the other nine and then commit suicide. One of the most interesting archeological finds from¬†the site were¬†pottery shards bearing names – generally thought to be evidence of the lots.

Today, Masada has become a site emblematic of both bravery and tragedy within the Jewish community during the time of Roman rule (and, more broadly, throughout history). The mountain is a popular site for Birthright groups, children having their Bar or Bat Mitzvah in Israel, and essentially any Zionist trip touring Israel. The iconic Masada experience is to hike the mountain just before dawn, reaching the top for sunrise.

Despite the pre-sunrise hour, my family acquiesced to hiking the mountain bright and early. The hike up the mountain took about 40 minutes at a pretty quick pace, and we reached the top a few minutes before official sunrise:

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Unfortunately, it ended up being a cloudy day and the magic of the sun was fairly obstructed by the clouds. Nonetheless, it was still a great hike with awesome views from the top…and, even if we didn’t get the full splendor of a clear sunrise, it was neat to see everything come into full color! ūüôā

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Me with my “baby” bro:

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This is a picture of the tiered palace that served as¬†Herod’s living quarters when he resided on the mountaintop:

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With all the hiking, biking, and swimming, there was – of course – also lots of eating during this vacation. A few quick highlights include…

Fresh honey at the cafeteria at the Ein Gedi Kibbutz:

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Yemenite street food in Tzfat. We ate a Lachuch Original where we had sandwiches made with malawa bread and filled with vegetables and cheese:

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Finally, we ate at a meat restaurant called Habikta in a town called Ramot by the sea of Galilee. The restaurant offered a broad menu of smoked meat dishes, burgers, homemade bagels and a salad bar:

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In closing, I must share the incredible coincidence of finding this poster hanging in a small lodge in the northern Galilee:

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This poster recalls the capture of the Jesse James Gang in Northfield, MN – the site of my alma mater. The historic capture continues to be remembered even after all these years¬†through the annual ‘Jesse James Days,’¬†and I have very fond memories of attending the festival each year as a college student. ūüôā

Hiking and Biking – Ein Gedi and Hula Lake

My parents’ visit to the Holy Land involved many outdoor adventures. I addition to swimming floating at the Dead Sea, we also went on a hike during our time in Ein Gedi.

The hike we chose was at the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. This Nature Reserve has an easy hiking trail as well as a longer trail that juts off from the main area and heads up one of the area’s hills.

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Along the trail, we had some great views…

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…and passed some of the¬†small pools and waterfalls that are a highlight of the trail:

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In addition to beautiful views of waterfalls and geological features, we saw a lot of Hyraxes while we were at the Nature Reserve.

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Hyraxes are small and rodent-like. But, they are actually closely related to the elephant. Amazing, I know.

We didn’t go very far up the ‘advanced’ trail, but we did hike a short distance to the first lookout point for a beautiful¬†view of the Dead Sea:

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Couples’ retreatin’

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After a couple days in the Ein Gedi area, we headed to the northern part of the country to the Galilee. One of our¬†primary activities in the Galilee was to visit¬†the Hula Lake¬†Nature Reserve (I just noticed the Nature Reserve theme of this post…).

500 MILLION birds migrate through Israel twice a year during their flight between Europe and Africa. Nearly all of these birds find their way Рat one point or another Рto the Hula Lake. This lake, in the middle of the reserve, has become an ideal spot for bird-watchers.

In addition to bird-enthusiasts, the reserve is also a great stop for families or anyone who is casually interested in seeing (and hearing!) LOTS of birds. The lake is surrounded by a 5-mile trail, and there are options to rent bikes or a golf carts if walking that distance doesn’t fit your fancy (or time schedule!). We decided to rent bikes to make our way around the lake:

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The flatness of the valley provided great views of the surrounding mountains:

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Nearly as soon as we started our ride, we could hear the clamor of what sounded like a BAZILLION cranes! In real numbers, an estimated 20,000-30,000 cranes make the Hula Lake their home during the winter. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get too close to the area where all the cranes were gathered, but we still got some views from the pathway:

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In addition to seeing a lot of cranes, we passed several of these little guys in the grass and water along the trail:

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This animal is a Coypu Рa water rodent that lives in the banks of wetlands. Fun fact: Coypus were imported to Israel from Argentina in the mid-twentieth century. Originally, they were imported for fur trade, but that never really took off, so they are now just one of the most common mammals in Israel.

All in all, we spent about two hours at the Hula Lake. My only regret is that I didn’t¬†bring binoculars!