Jerusalem, City of Peace

Enjoyed my first full day in Jerusalem today. Started the day by visiting Mt Zion, where the Last Supper was held, and visited the tomb of King David. Viewed the ruins of his palace, as well as other excavations along the way. There are still more archaeological digs happening around the Old City Wall, as more historical sites are discovered.

Zion Gate riddled with bullet holes from past conflicts

King David’s Tomb

Part of the Wall of the Old City of David

We continued on, exploring part of the City of David, including seeing remnants of his palace, and walking through the Canaanite Tunnel, which was dug in biblical times to bring water to Jerusalem, and through which David entered the city of Jebusites when he conquered the city. The tunnel was barely one person wide, and was hand chisled–quite an amazing feat.

One of the pools that held water

Walking through the tunnel

We then went to experience the Machne Yehuda Market, with lots of shops, restaurants, and of course food, as we saw people preparing for Shabbat. We had a food tour, and had samples of various foods in the market, literally eating our way through! One of my all time favorite lunches! We sampled foods from Georgia (the country), Tunisia (where we had a sample of 40 proof alcohol–a tiny bit can clear your sinuses!), some of the best humus I’ve ever had, coffees from all over the world, and various fruit drinks, to name a few foods I tried. Even saw some challah, and since I make it myself, was eager to see what Israeli challah was like. Will be sharing it with my fellow travelers on our tour bus tomorrow, and will let you know how it measures up. I have high standards!

Produce at the market

My challah purchase. Will see how it measures up to mine!

Came back to the hotel, to rest up for the evening’s activities. Started hearing a VERY loud band playing outside. It was almost like they were right next to my room, even though I couldn’t see them from my window, and I am on the 10th floor! I think my daughter may have enjoyed them–was definitely some snyth pop going on! Would have been fun to join them, but was preparing for the evening. I was informed they would have to stop by 6pm.

In the evening, we went to the Western Wall. The Wall was built in 3 parts. The lower part was built with stone from Herod’s time, the middle section during Roman occupation, and the top part when the Ottoman Empire ruled. Unfortunately, since the Orthodox really rules the roost, men and women cannot pray together—there is a partition in the middle dividing the sections. I learned that after you pray at the Wall, you’re not supposed to turn around, but instead back away gradually before you turn around, like you would do if we’re leaving royalty. After writing a prayer on a piece of paper, I waited for a space to pray, and once one opened up, approached the wall, and looked for a place to put my prayer (which was more easily said than done). The wall is literally stuffed with petitions and prayers in every nook and cranny. I stayed for a few minutes, praying, composing my thoughts, and then slowly backed away so another could take her turn. Heard many men singing quite loudly from the other side, and several of us climbed on a step next to the mechitzah to watch. Too bad we couldn’t join them. Once we moved away from the wall, we saw so many others coming to pray there–Orthodox, families, many young people from Birthright trips, and others. It had a bustling, joyous feeling to it, as everyone was there to celebrate the beginning of Shabbat.

Western Wall

Women’s section of the wall. You can see the partition on the left hand side

We then came back, and had a lovely Shabbat dinner together in the hotel restaurant, including kiddish and motzi (their challah was ok, but not up to my standards–I’m a tough sell!). Had some of the best gefilte fish I’ve ever had. It was quite sweet, and not fishy tasting at all. Yes, it’s all about the food!! We did blessings after the meal, and sang a few other songs as well.

Tomorrow will be experiencing more of Shabbat in Jerusalem–a special time indeed


Masada, The Dead Sea, The West Bank, and Jerusalem

I’m a day behind typing this, as yesterday was so packed, I barely had time to sleep, let alone type!!

We started the day as early as possible to try and best the heat (ha!). It was already 100 degrees Fahrenheit when we left to visit Masada at 8 am! I have to say, this was one of my most anticipated parts of the trip. Masada has been on my bucket list since I was about eight years old! I remember my father trying to find every book possible he could get his hands on for me to read. He was able to find one for me to keep as well, and I still own it. Was wonderful to be up there, seeing all of what I had read about so long ago. In short, it was a fortress built high up in the desert by King Herod. Long after he was gone, Jewish rebels encamped there to avoid the Romans. Eventually, the Romans attacked, but there were no Jewish people left once they stormed Masada. The men killed their families, and then committed suicide, rather than be enslaved. A tragic but fascinating piece of history.


Me on top of Masada

We then went to the Dead Sea to have a float! I went into the sea up to my thighs, sat down, and started floating! Such fun! It was amazing to see how big the salt crystals were–some as large as a dime.

We left the Dead Sea area and headed west.

Dead Sea with Jordan on the other side

We drove through Jericho, which is part of The West Bank. Interestingly, there are no regulations as to who can drive through, unlike other parts of the country. The West Bank is comprised mainly of Muslims and Bedouins. We even saw quite a few camels and donkeys as we drove through.

My new camel friend!

We approached Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the entire city, and sang the Shechianu, while toasting with grape juice. It was a very moving experience. One thought that went through my head was that during the Passover Seder, we always say at the end, next year in Jerusalem, next year may all be free. I changed that mindset to–

This Year in Jerusalem! This Year May All Be Free!

Myself and my traveling companions from my synagogue.

We continued on to our hotel, which is located in the middle of the old city, with lots of narrow, winding streets. It’s a very fun place to explore-and I will be doing more of that in the coming days

Walkway to our hotel in the old city.

In the evening, after dinner, we walked to Jaffa Gate to watch their light show. It was absolutely amazing! It encompassed the history of Jerusalem, all superimposed onto the walls of the building, using dozens (at least) of projectors to animate it. It was so beautiful, and would highly recommend to anyone to see it. Beautiful and moving. The end of the show had one simple message–Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem.

On the way back, we walked through the old streets of Jerusalem, and it was like a big party everywhere! So many people out–young, old, families, you name it. We even went by a band that was playing, and we stopped for a few minutes to watch. Many people were dancing, and we got caught up in it as well– we were dancing the hora and spinning in the middle of a group of people–so much fun!! It was such a joyful experience I’ll never forget.

Last Day in Israel and Complete Bird Sighting List

Took me a couple of days to post this, since I travelled home yesterday (an 18 hour journey). Spent my last full day in Israel on August 1st. It was bittersweet, as I was sad to leave, but also happy to see my husband and daughter again (they didn’t accompany me on the trip).

Started the day on the Gonen kibbutz with an unexpected early morning wake up call!

My early morning wake up call! At least they are cute, even if they’re loud!

We drove up to Zfat a mountain on the Upper Galilee, and city of Jewish Mysticism. We explored the narrow streets and alleyways, lined with shops, and visited a Sephardic synagogue. I was honored to meet artist Leon Azoulay, who creates his masterpieces using micro calligraphy. I own one of his pieces which I purchased many years ago.

Sephardic synagogue

We then continued on through Haifa, which wasn’t on our itinerary, but it was on the way, and is the home of our tour guide, and he wanted to show off his city. We viewed part of the German quarter, and drove by the Baha’i garden, and viewed other sites from our bus, as we drove by on our way to our next stop, all along seeing beautiful views of the Mediterranean.

Baha’i garden

We drove to Caesarea, which is also along the Mediterranean. We viewed the Roman theatre, Hippodrome, bath house, and other sites. It was very impressive, and is still being restored in parts, as are many historical sites throughout Israel.

Roman theater

After dinner in Caesarea, we drove to Tel Aviv, to adjourn to our hotel before flying home the next day. Was treated to a beautiful farewell sunset by the Mediterranean.

Farewell sunset in Tel Aviv

Here is my complete bird list of the entire trip. I wasn’t sure of some of the birds I saw, and this list is now complete,and corrects some of the sightings.

1 Western White Stork

2 Western Cattle Egret

3 Western Great Egret

4 Little Egret

5 Common Gull

6 Common Tern

7 Rock Dove (aka Pigeon)

8 Eurasian Collared Dove

9 Laughing Dove

10 Rose-ringed Parakeet

11 European Roller

12 Syrian Woodpecker

13 Western Jackdaw

14 Hooded Crow

15 Pied Crow

16 Fan-tailed Raven (seen on Masada)

17 White-spectacled Bulbul

18 Common House Martin

19 Common Myna

20 Common Starling

21 Tristram’s Starling

22 Eurasian Blackbird

23 Palestine Sunbird

24 House Sparrow

There were many other birds I saw, but was not able to identify due to either seeing while going by on the bus, or flew too quickly to be able to see. If I had been able to identify them, my estimate is that my list would have grown by at least 10-20 new birds, including raptors (possibly eagles), cormorants, geese, herons, and many other smaller birds.

Golan Heights

Spent my 10th day in Israel exploring the Golan Heights.

As we were driving, I spotted some gazelles feeding by the side of the road. No one else saw them but me, and I spotted more during they day. I have now gotten the reputation in the group of have a good eye fro spotting wildlife! This really isn’t a surprise to me, as I’ve had that knack all my life, but now many of my friends are now noticing it.

Gazelles (stock photo)

Started by going down to the Sea of Galilee, which isn’t really an ocean, but instead is a large freshwater lake, and is about 700 feet below sea level. We visited Capernaum, an ancient city where Christians and Jews lived alongside each other. Among the sites I viewed were an ancient Jewish Temple from the 4th century, a beautiful mosaic on the walkway, and the Sea of Galilee. Had a couple of surprises while viewing the sites–saw a lizard sunning itself, and some adorable rock hyraxes climbing near the temple!

Jewish Temple from 4th Century

Agama Stelio Lizard that I saw (stock photo)

Rock Hyrax (stock photo)

We then climbed to the tip of the Golan Heights to view the point where Israel, Lebanon, and Syria meet ( Mt Bentel). The land there is all volcanic, and is very fertile. Saw lots of orchards and other farms in the area. Some of the mountains in Lebanon were still snow capped, even at the end of July, in 100 degree heat! Viewed from afar the Ghost town of Quneitra, which Syria destroyed. Also saw a UN listening station, which is very active, due to the precarious position of where it is–literally on the doorstep between all 3 countries. There were many sculptures located at the top of the mountain, all made from shrapnel from the wars.

Lebanese Mountains viewed from atop Mt Bentel in Israel. Syria is just to the right of this photo.

We descended the mountain, and enjoyed a tour of a local Golan Heights winery, Harmon. We learned all about the process, viewed the large vats they use to start the wine making (several stories high!), saw the oak barrels some of the wine is put into to ferment further, and then had the yummy chance to do a wine tasting! Most of their wines are sold in the US, so I’ll be looking to buy some once I get back home, rather than transport it on the plane.

Wine in barrels aging

Saw some more birds to add to my life list today. Still trying to confirm some parrots!

Here’s the newest additions to my list:

–Cattle Egrets

-Western Great Egret

-Little Egret

-Common Gull

-Terns–possibly Common

-Alpine Swift

-European Roller

A Country of Different Cultures

Today we left Jerusalem, and was a bit sad about it, as I really enjoyed my visit there. But I was also excited to see other parts of the country. We headed north towards the Golan Heights, and stopped at Givat Havivah, a kibbutz that is working to aid peace and understanding between the Jewish people and Arabs, in a frequently volatile area. They took us into the town of Barta’a, which was divided into a Jewish section, and an Arab section. The division is basically a valley. We learned about how Givat has started an international school for high school students to aid with brokering peace and understanding between the cultures–not an easy feat. A very interesting visit indeed, and would highly recommend it, as it helps you gain an understanding of what’s really going on in that area.

Mosque in Barta’a

We then drove to the village of Sofia, located at the very top of Mt Carmel, where we were treated to hospitality by a Druze family. We learned about the life of the Druze, and the differences between being religious and secular (it’s not as simple as you might think!), as well as learning more about the life of being part of the Druze. Was a very interesting visit, and the food was super yummy. I joked that I need to take lessons in Druze cooking (it was that good)! I was informed that it’s similar to Lebanese cooking. Now I need to find a Lebanese cookbook!

View from the top of Mt Carmel from the Druze house we visited.

We continued on towards Tzippori, an ancient city, and saw the Sea of Galilee along the way.

Sea of Galilee

Once we reached Tzippori, we viewed a floor mosaic, called the Mona Lisa of the Galilee. There was also an ancient synagogue we had hope to see there, but we arrived to late to see it. There was a lot of road construction on the way there, hence the traffic was slowed down. We saw the IDF reserves having exercises just outside of the park as we drove by.

Part of the floor mosaic

We drove to our hotel, which is on a kibbutz. Most of the rooms are cabins. I was quite surprised to see the size of my room!

Part of my room-not shown is the living room, kitchenette, and bathroom.

Tomorrow we are going to a nature reserve first thing in the morning, which I’m looking forward to. It’s going to be a very hot day–forecasted to be 104, plus humidity.

Also, realized I haven’t updated my list of bird sightings, so here are my sightings so far this trip–these are all new on my life list:

-Western White Stork (just saw it today!)

-Western Cattle Egret

-An Eagle of some kind–haven’t been able to identify it, since the bus has always been moving when I’ve seen one! I’m hoping I have a better chance to watch one and identify it!

-Laughing Dove

-A Green Parakeet of some kind. Saw it flying around, but didn’t get close enough to identify it.

-Syrian Woodpecker (which I just saw today)

-Pied Crow

-White Spectacled Bulbul (saw more of them today)

-Tristram’s Starling (saw them on top of Masada)

-Eurasian Blackbird

Last Day in Jerusalem

Today was our last day in Jerusalem. Our tour took us to Yad Vashem, but I didn’t go in. I’ve always had trouble going to Holocaust memorials or museums, or even reading about the topic, as they give me nightmares for weeks. Both my parents are Holocaust survivors. This was the one spot on our tour I wasn’t thrilled with. Since I didn’t go in, I walked over to the Mt. Herzl park. Which was close by. I visited the graves of Theodore Herzl, the person who pushed for a Jewish state, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak and Sarah Rabin, and Golda Meir, who I always considered a pioneer in many ways. After paying my respects, I found a nice shady spot, and read and did some bird watching until it was time to go back and meet the rest of my tour compatriots. I saw a few cars going by me, back and forth, and at one point one stopped, a security person got out, and asked me what I was doing. I explained, and when he inquired where I was from, I told him I was from Boston. I wished him a good day as he left. Soon after, I heard lots of sirens, and saw the cars that had come by me earlier escorting a dignitary in a limo (I couldn’t tell who it was), followed by a dozen police on motorcycles. As I was walking back to rejoin my tour, I saw the same motorcade go into a special gate by Yad Vashem. Certainly sparked my curiosity on who could have been in the limo, but it’s unknown to me.

Golda Meir’s grace

We then continued to the Haddasah hospital to see the Chagall windows, which are located in a synagogue in the hospital. Also came to find that the hospital had funds donated by my cousin, Albert Einstein, to help finance the building. There are even a few of his teeth in the building that have been preserved! Each of the windows represent one of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Chagall windows

Our next destination was the Old City of Jerusalem, this time to explore the Jewish quarter. We viewed a beautiful newly renovated synagogue, and even found a road sign with the same name as my synagogue (Temple Tiferet Shalom–my congregations’s original name, before we consolidated was Temple Tifereth Israel)!

We proceeded to the Western Wall, and had a fascinating tour of the tunnels underneath it. It included views behind the wall itself, including one brick that weighed 20 tons! One could at times see down into the ground and view arches and other parts of the wall that was built over the centuries. Some of the tunnels were very tall, while some were short, and everywhere in between. We also viewed pillars and street paving stones from the 2nd temple, a synagogue, and cisterns, which helped store water for the people that used the area for centuries. I highly urge anyone who goes to see the Western Wall to tour the tunnels. There’s so much more to see and learn historically by viewing them.

Tunnel under the Western Wall

Free Time!

Today we had an open day, and could do as we wished.

View outside my hotel

I started the day by visiting the Hebrew Music Museum, which contained many instruments from all over the world. It was a nice museum, and I learned about many I didn’t know. They have an interactive guide you take with you, in the form of a tablet. My only complaint was when I went into the instruments of Europe, and the recorder they had on display was plastic! Such an insult, as that is what I play professionally. On my way out, I mentioned to them that they could do much better with the selection of that particular instrument, and gave them my contact info to help them with guidance for a more appropriate recorder to put into a museum. Not sure if they’ll take me up on it, but did what I could.

Flutes of various kinds

Then walked around, did some shopping, went back to the Machne market for lunch (had some REALLY good pizza), and received a text from some of my friends that they had found someone selling Roman glass in the Old City (I asked if they saw any to let me know). Only caveat was that the person selling it wouldn’t sell it to just anyone. I had to go in person. So after procuring the address, and being informed that it was safe to explore alone, I walked to the Old City, by Jaffa Gate, on my own (about a 12 minute walk from my hotel). I found the store, and the store next door, owned by the same people, not only had the Roman glass, but LOTS of beads! The store which was small, was packed top to bottom. Needless to say, I spent about an hour in there chatting with the owners, picking out special beads and Roman glass to take home. When they found out I was a jewelry designer, they wanted to see what I made, so I showed them some pictures of my work. They were so impressed, they said they would be sending some customers my way, as I made different things than they do, and they have customers looking for some types of my creations. I made 2 new friends, and am so thrilled with what I found. They gave me their card, and didn’t look at it until got back to my room. Discovered that the owners are Bedouins! Wished I had known earlier. I would have been wanting to chat with them about their culture, to learn more about it. No pictures to show you right now, but will post when the light is better, of my finds.

In the evening, I got together with a friend of mine, Eva, who I met back when I was selling Usborne books. She originally lived in Springfield, Massachusetts. I hadn’t seen her in 6-7 years at least, although we’ve kept in touch. She and her husband, John, who I met for the first time, made Aliyah about 4 years ago. They treated me to a true Israeli dinner. So much food! The pitas were gigantic, and the falafel was the best I’ve ever had! It was so wonderful to see them, and capped off another day of adventure, even if this one was done on my own terms. Tomorrow, the tour continues.

So much food!

Jerusalem, City of Many Religions and Cultures

Started yesterday off by going to Shabbat services at the HUC (Hebrew Union College), where my Rabbi was a student many years ago. It was a lovely service, and even learned some new tunes to some of the liturgy. Have already requested that my synagogue’s choir learn one of the pieces I was especially taken with–a Hallelujah. Luckily was able to ask our music director quickly, as she’s on the trip!

Even discovered the name of my synagogue as a street!

We then drove to the Israel Museum, where we viewed the Dead Sea scrolls, located in the Shrine of the Book. I had seen some of them when a traveling exhibit was at Boston’s science museum a few years ago, but was nice to see the whole collection that was on exhibit. Had some time to view other parts of the museum, and went to the archaeology section, to look for ancient jewelry. I found quite a few pieces, as well as a glass exhibit of different types of ancient glass. Wasn’t nearly enough time to see everything!

Shrine of the Book

We continued on to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. So many different churches have their own section there, from Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Coptic, Assyrian, and everywhere in between.

Tel Aviv, Rehobot, and Driving to the Bottom of the World

Today’s adventures were jam packed!

Started the day by visiting the Tel Aviv Art Museum. They had some fantastic exhibits. I could have spent all day there, but only had an hour and a half. I viewed their collection of impressionists, which included some of my favorites–Chagall, Monet, Renoir, and Degas, to name a few. Also saw a special exhibit on climate change. It included information on technologies used all over the world, and included a project from MIT. Seems I’m never far from home! One of the ideas I was most intrigued by was the installation of electric batteries under the road, and using electric vehicles (with their batteries removed, and a special plate installed under the vehicle to read the electric batteries installed underground) to transport all sizes of cars and buses around the city. It’s already being tried out in Sweden and Tel Aviv. It was a very interesting exhibit.

Algerian Woman by Renoir

We then drove to Rehobot, just outside of Tel Aviv, to visit a former munitions depot. It was part of a secret mission by the Haganah to prepare for Israel’s Independence. They built a kibbutz, and included a room under the laundry room to produce bullets, all without the British, who were controlling Israel at the time, knowing what was going on. Over 2 million bullets were made by hand from 1945-1948 using WWI equipment smuggled in. It was a fascinating piece of history I didn’t know, and was so glad we were able to tour the site.

Bullet making machines under the kibbutz laundry room.

We then drove into the desert, with views of the Golan Heights, many mosques with turrets, and lots of camels (many Bedouins live there). Unfortunately didn’t get close enough to take camel pictures! We continued on towards the Dead Sea, which is the lowest point on earth. It’s 1600 feet below sea level. The road to get there is spectacular! Lots of stony hills, with many hairpin curves on the road. It was a fun ride, with beautiful views. Arrived to late to go into the sea, but that’s planned, among other adventures, for tomorrow.

The Dead Sea

Tel Aviv

Spent most of the day exploring parts of Tel Aviv, Israel’s first city. We started with Independence Hall,where Israel’s Independence was declared and signed in 1947. The original building is under renovation, so all the information regarding it was located around the corner. Was a fascinating and moving explanation of the history leading up to the Independence and subsequent war with the surrounding Arab countries.

Independence Hall under renovation, with a statue of Meier, Tel Aviv’s first mayor in front.

We then proceeded down the Independence Trail, similar to Boston’s Freedom Trail. We walked to a local arts and crafts market. Basically like s gigantic craft show, but happening daily, and surrounded by many shops and cafes. I also noticed lots of fabric stores. We perused the arts at leisure, and had lunch. The presentation of mine was so pretty I had to take a picture! Smoked salmon with cream cheese on bread, with greens, tomatoes, onions, and olives. It also included a wonderful Israeli salad. I’m beginning to love them–they have little greens and are mostly vegetables. I even had a twist on lemonade–it had mint in it! All in all, it was a super yummy lunch, and we got out of the heat and humidity for a bit.

My lunch!

We then went to Joseph Bau’s house. If you are familiar with Schindler ‘s list, Joseph Bau’s story is a big part of the movie. He was Israel’s first graphic designer, and made the designs for commercials, movies, and secretly even the Mosad! The house, which is now a museum, is very small, and is struggling to survive. They get their funding from groups of people who want to see it, and learn more about him, as well as from sales of books, etc. There’s more info at http://www.josephbau.com.

We then went to the Rabin memorial, where Yitzhak Rabin, the then Premier of Israel, was assassinated in 1995. It was explained to us that since that time, it has splintered and changed Israel completely, and that the country has still not healed from it.

Once back, I had some down time, and went for a bit of a walk on the promenade, and added some bird watching! I first went down to the beach to stick my toes into the Mediterranean, and had to wear my water shoes, as the sand was so hot. The water was VERY warm! I then continued to the rocky walk, and enjoyed watching sailboats racing, as well as seeing waves splashing on the rocks.

Even had 2 new life list birds that I saw ( I finally remembered to pocket my binoculars)! I saw a Common Myna (very colorful and was quite curious) and a Pied Crow, who flew into a palm tree.

Part of skyline next to the Mediterranean.

All in all, it was a fun day! Tomorrow we will visit more of Tel Aviv, and then head to the Dead Sea.