When I first moved to Israel I avoided going to the Syrian border of the Golan Heights in Northern Israel. I was afraid that somehow I’d be ambushed in the war or hit by a missile from the East. Today, it has become a favorite destination and I visit the area regularly.
The North of Israel is pristine in its beauty. Because of the upper elevation, it is cooler and more verdant, an area rich with orchards, vineyards, volcanic mountains, and sweeping savannahs where cattle graze and horses run free. There are waterfalls, great hiking trails, ancient ruins (Nimrod’s Fortress, Agrippa’s palace, Roman cities, old synagogues and monasteries).
A popular destination for both international tourism and Israelis escaping the cities and heat of the South, the Golan has abundant tsimmerim (resort cabins). There are day spas and wineries; fabulous meat restaurants; whiskey distilleries, boutique wineries and artisanal beer brewers and cheese makers.
Recently, I’ve been going to the Golan to pick fresh organic fruit for my business, Tamar Gourmet. Last month, we went to Kibbutz El Rom because they had fresh cherries to be picked. And were we in for a delightful surprise!!!
Kibbutz El Rom is quite tiny. It was founded in 1971 by a group of soldiers who had finished their army service and by families who moved from the center of Israel who wanted to enjoy more space and natural beauty. The 70 families who now live there are mostly farmers and ranchers, but their main subsistence is – wait for it – the movie industry! All the latest films from Hollywood are sent to El Rom to be dubbed or subtitled from English to Hebrew. They have a small theater there that shows films to the residents of the Golan in the evenings.
This hidden gem is also home to a museum commemorating the Battle of Emek HaBekaa, the Valley of Tears, which took place during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The Syrian army launched a surprise attack with fighter jets and 1270 tanks against less than 75 Israeli tanks. The bulk of the fighting was done in the fields adjacent to the kibbutz, with a valiant Israeli fighting force and a mere 6 tanks which held off the entire Syrian force quite miraculously. There is a film that is shown there during the day. Interviews with the surviving commanders, live footage, and computer generated maps of the battlefield bring the story to life.
After visiting the kibbutz, we trekked to the valley, and the precipice of Mount Hermonit overlooking Syria about a mile away. Besides the static tank displays, we were in disbelief to actually watch the Syrian army bombing the town of Quneitra below. We could see the smoke from the fires on the outskirts of the town and hear the gunfire and explosions. It was quite sobering, yet from our vantage point, we knew we were safe.
The guys were undaunted, having fun climbing on the old Israeli and Syrian tanks and watching the battle below us. It was all quite surreal. Later, we would hear that the rebel forces had been overrun and the area adjacent the Golan in Syria was under Assad’s control.
After picking our cherries nearby, we made our way to a couple local wine cellars. Driving through the Heights was a bit daunting when we first visited years back. On either side of the roads are signs to keep out of the fields which had been mined by the Syrians pre-1967. Mine fields sit relatively undisturbed next to fruit orchards and farmers plowing their fields. Occasionally a stray cattle will wander in and become tomorrow’s hamburger (true, but typical humor for us).
There are numerous army bases in the area, so we also have signs for tank crossing, something you’ll see in few other places.
It’s kind of exciting in a way… but on to the wines – Odem Mountain and Ortal are two good ones. And of course, a hearty steak at HaBokrim, a cowboy ranch and resort hotel right on the border at Merom ha Golan. It’s idyllic setting belies the reality only a couple miles to the East.
Last week, my girlfriend and I went back up to the Upper Golan for a special field trip. Another pleasant surprise, we decided to visit Kibbutz Ein Zivan, a mile from the Syrian border at the foot of Mount Avital. It was a peaceful day and perfect in every way. The kibbutz was started in 1968 by youths from other kibbutzim in the area, and Garinei Nahal, soldiers who lived on the kibbutz, lending a helping hand to build homes and who were there for protection. Today, the small kibbutz has about 45 families, but beautiful new single family homes are being built there.
Ein Zivan is set amid spreading oak and sycamore trees. There are orchards adjacent brimming with pears, apples and stone fruit; blackberry, gooseberry and raspberry brambles; sprawling vineyards; a riding stable; beautiful American-style guest cottages…. and the artisans!!!
Hadassah and I headed to de Karina Chocolate Factory, a boutique atelier started in 2006. Karina and Gyora Chepelinski immigrated to Ein Zivan from Argentina. Karina comes from a long line of world famous chocolatiers who moved from Vienna to Argentina before World War II. So, making confections runs in her blood.
We took a tour of the factory which included a film, a hands on workshop, a sample box and discounts to the store. Karina was there overseeing all the operations and speaking to the many guests. I was amazed at the crowds!
After our chocolate and brownies lunch, we went next door to Bahat Winery. In typical Israeli fashion, we were greeted by the vintner himself, Oder Bahat, who cheerfully took us on a tour of his processing room, barrel-lined wine cellar and distillery.
Such A treat… we got to taste ample pourings of each of his red wines and then sample his delicious liquors. The chocolate cherry liquor was amazing and I’ll be sure to use it on ice cream and in a reduction for sautéed livers.
Next on the agenda was the Mizze workshop and store selling hand crafted jewelry. All of the necklaces, bracelets and earrings are blessings and good luck charms. The artists also use ancient coins found in the area. Their work is unique and lovely, but pricey.
My favorite find of the day was the studio of the beautiful Yael Arnon. Yael immigrated with her family from France when she was a little girl. Her parents were French Algerians, and her mom was a seamstress. Yael never sewed until after her own daughters were grown and had moved on. She found her late mother’s sewing box, and a new journey began for her.
Today, Yael has her own studio filled to the brim with her marvelous and creative inventions. She and her husband spent several years in India where she fell in love with and collected fabrics. Yael sells pillows, handbags, wall hangings, toys and other fanciful whimsies using materials from all over the world.
I honestly don’t know what is more wonderful: visiting all of these interesting places or meeting the people ( Israelis can be the warmest, most hospitable folk) and making new friends.
The afternoon was spent blackberry picking and we took in a quick visit to the border. The afternoon was eerily quiet. All peaceful on the Eastern front. Which is a very, very good thing.
Israel is a land of great diversity: with people of different racial, ethnic, religious, cultural and political backgrounds trying to coexist within a small area. Some groups, albeit tiny, are able to lay unmistakable claim to the land from ancient times. Coexisting with the Jewish people since the time of the patriarchs are the Arameans, descendants of Aram, from the Biblical line of Shem in Genesis. In fact, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rebecca, and Laban were all directly descended from Aram.
The Arameans grew to become a large group, living throughout Israel and Syro-Phonecia (what is now Syria and Lebanon). They were among the first to develop the proto-Hebrew language and script, which is incredibly similar in style and form to the modern Hebrew block script – completely different from Arabic and its precursors. As the tribes of Israel were led into captivity in Babylonia in the late 500s BCE, Aramaic became the lingua franca of Assyria and Persia. After the Jewish exile, and well into the first century CE, Aramaic was the common language in Israel. Aramaic is found in all three parts of the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible consisting of the Torah, the Writings and the Prophets), including large sections of the books of Daniel and Ezra. A few of the traditional Jewish prayers are recited in Aramaic to this day, most notably, the Kaddish, which extols the glory and greatness of G-d. The Talmud and several translations of the Hebrew Bible were written in this ancient language, as Hebrew was reserved, even then, as the Holy Language, not the common, everyday tongue spoken in the home and marketplace.
From the latter centuries BCE to the present day, the Jews and the Arameans have lived side by side peacefully for the most part. During the time of the Roman occupation, at the time of Jesus of the Galilee region, many of the followers of this young, Jewish rabbi were Arameans as well as Jews. In the Gospels, Jesus is seen traveling up to Tyre and Sidon (in Lebanon) to visit the Jewish communities there. It is on one of these journeys that he encounters the Syro-Phoenician woman and cures her daughter. Ultimately, a Jewish and Aramean Messianic movement in the early first century CE, Christianity was born amid great turbulence and persecution from the Jewish non-believers in Jesus as Messiah and from the Romans.
Today, the Aramean peoples survive as a missing link, direct descendants of these first Christians, complete with their own Tanach, Gospels, and liturgy still chanted in the ancient Aramaic tongue. They stem directly from the original church in Antioch in Syria, founded by the Jewish apostle, Peter. Following their spiritual leader, Saint Maroun (350-410 CE), contemporary and friend of St. John Chrysostom, Maroun was a deeply spiritual hermit who founded the first monastic system in the Middle East. His followers became known as the Maronites. The Maronites fall under the Eastern Catholic Rite of the Antiochene tradition. Faithful to the Holy See of Peter in Rome, they are incorporated into the Roman Catholic Church. Still, to this day, their Mass, their sacred liturgy, has its roots deep in the Jewish liturgy of the Holy Temple periods. Unlike the Byzantine, Greek, Coptic, Armenian or Roman Catholic rites, their heritage has preserved songs to Zion; the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem; and a strong connection to the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and to David and Solomon, all whom they see as sharing a common lineage.
In the 8th century, as the Arab Muslims rose to power and began to dominate the Middle East, the Jews and the Aramean Christians fell under tremendous persecution with forced taxation, slavery and genocide for those who refused to convert to Islam. The Maronites, who had strongholds throughout what is today Syria and Lebanon, fought against the Muslims, even hiding and protecting their Jewish brethren. They were strongly entrenched in the mountains of Southern Lebanon and Northern Israel in the region of the Galilee. They erected Maronite monasteries and churches throughout the area. Today, even though the monasteries have been destroyed and replaced by mosques, these predominately Arab towns in the Galilee region still hold Syriac/Aramaen names: Deir al Assad (the Monastery of the Lion); Deir Hanna (the Monastery of St. John); Toran; Deir al Naim (the Pleasant Monastery); and Mount Meron.
The Maronites went on to form alliances with the Crusaders against the Islamic forces bent on a takeover of the Holy Land. Being Catholics, they eventually came under the protectorate of France in the 1630s. Educated under the Jesuit system, they became cultured in the ways of the West and rose to high positions in Lebanon both economically in business and politically. In the early 1900s the Middle East was carved up after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Countries which had never before existed were created and new border lines were set by the French, British and Russians under the 1916 Skyes-Picot Agreement. The French gained control of Lebanon; Britain got British Palestine, now Israel. The Maronite Patriarch remained strongly committed to the Jewish people and to the Zionist cause. In 1937, on the threshhold of World War II, the Patriarch extended the invitation for Jews to settle in Northern Lebanon to escape Nazi persecution. The Jews and French-Lebanese Maronites started a Resistance Movement against the Nazis who were also united with the Muslims. Several Maronite communities still existed in Northern Israel at the time. They always believed in defending each other as allies in a free land. It is important to note that these Syriac/Aramaic Maronite Christians living in Israel for centuries, do not consider themselves as Arabs but as Arameans. They are Aramaic Christians, descendants of one of the first churches outside the Holy Land. They are not Muslim, a group originating from the Saudi peninsula.
As if the modern situation in Israel is not complicated enough, events get even more mixed up during the War of 1948 between the newly recognized State of Israel and the surrounding Arab nations. The Galilee region was a hotbed: it was a mix of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and Circassians. By this time, Arabic was the spoken language of the local non-Jewish populations. For the Christians, Aramaic was reserved as the liturgical language only. Spread throughout Northern Israel at the time, were members of the Arab Liberation Army, Muslims from Syria and Lebanon who desired the overthrow of the Jews and to expel them from their ancestral homeland in the North. They waged a full fledged military operation, going against the UN Resolution of 1947. In turn, the IDF retaliated full force to put down the Arab Muslim insurgents. The peaceful little border town of Kfar Biram/ Bar Am was caught in the middle. Bar Am was inhabited only by Maronite Christians. In late October, 1948, the Israeli army took four rifles (the only weapons they had) from the Maronites of Kfar Biram (Bar Am), issuing them written receipts. There was no battle. On November 7, the Israeli Minister of the Interior issued the Maronite Christians Teudat Zehut (national identity cards) giving them full Israeli citizenship. They were then (mistakenly?) ordered to temporarily leave Biram, and to take refuge in the southern Lebanese mountains until the war was over. They returned in early 1949 to the neighboring town of Gush Halav (Jish) as Bar Am had been cordoned off as a military zone. Those who tried to enter the town would be arrested. In 1951, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled to give the Maronites back their home town. Then for some unknown reason, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion gave direct orders for Bar Am to be completely razed. It stands as rubble to this day except for the small, stone Maronite
Catholic Church which dates back to the 1600s. The Maronites moved from Bar Am to the neighboring village of Gush Halav (Jish). That is what makes this a particularly unique case. These displaced persons forced off their land were full Israeli citizens with support from many different government leaders. Even so, they harbor no bitterness; only look to the future in which they hope to rebuild an exclusively Aramaic Christian Maronite community on their old property.
Ruins of BarAm
Over the last two decades, the Middle East has been ground zero for the ethnic cleansing of minority populations by the Islamist extremists, most of whom are backed by Iran. Christian groups living in the Mid East have fallen from 40% to 4%. Those refusing to submit to Muslim law have faced population displacement, and cultural genocide – absorption, acculturation and destruction of significant landmarks, documents and artifacts. Lebanese law now forbids its citizens from entering Israel or having any contact with Israeli authorities. Ironically, this does not apply to the Druze, but only targets Christians, as Lebanon has become increasingly Islamicised. In the past few months, Lebanon has arrested several Maronite Christians they label “activists” for trying to revive the ancient Syriac/Aramaic language (which had been widely used in the region of Southern Lebanon/Northern Israel until the early 1900s) just as the Jews resurrected ancient Hebrew into a modern conversational tongue.
Enter Shadi Khalloul. Khalloul, a resident of Gush Halav (Jish), is a full citizen of Israel. He is also a modern-day Aramean, a missing link, a bridge. In 1993, he became the first Christian officer in the Israeli Defense Forces, serving as a lieutenant in the paratrooper division. After his military service, he studied International Business and Finance in the United States. While at university, he took a course in Bible as Literature, where he proved that the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch was still in existence by displaying the several centuries old Aramaic copy of the Gospel According to St. Mark that he had brought with him. With a renewed vision, Khalloul then decided to return to Israel to be an advocate for the Israeli Aramaic Christians. Still a Captain in the Reserve Units, he has gained much respect from his fellow Israeli Jews. His goals are to foster awareness and understanding for his people and to revive the Aramaic language, culture, and identity of the Aramaic peoples while encouraging them to integrate fully into Israeli society.
Centuries old Aramaic Gospel of St Mark
Aramaic Mass Lectionary
Captain Shadi Khalloul
Captain Khalloul hopes to achieve this in several ways. First, is lobbying to have their national classification changed from Arab to Israeli Aramaic Christian. He has seen firsthand, the dangers of anti-Zionist, anti-Semetic “Arabization” of many Israeli Christians, who usually live in mixed Muslim and Christian communities. In 2012, he started an Israeli Christian Officers’ Forum, to help meet the needs of his fellow Christians both as their advocate and in their integration into the predominately Jewish Israeli Defense Forces. In 2014, Khalloul along with Major Ihav Shlayn, founded the first fully integrated gap-year pre-military program (Mechina) for both Jews and Christians entering the army. This way the two groups would understand each other; the importance of the Zionist movement and Jerusalem as central to both faiths; their shared histories and commonalities emphasized. These will be the future leaders and communicators in years to come.
In the Israeli Arab schools, with the majority of the students from Muslim backgrounds, classes are taught in Arabic. The Koran is taught exclusively. Muslim prayer times and holy periods are observed. The Arab version of history is taught, which is often a distorted version of actual events. Captain Khalloul would like to see the inclusion of the Aramaic Christian youth into the Israeli public school system – fully Israeli and fully integrated with the Jewish youth, as full partners. Not as “other.” At present, he is trying to raise money for shuttle services which would transport the fifty Maronite children from Jish to a school in a neighboring Jewish community 20 km (12 miles) away. As most of these Maronite children have grown up bi-lingual in Hebrew and Arabic, Khalloul is an advocate of after school programs in their home communities which also teach Aramaic as a spoken language. Recently, the Israeli government gave him permission to have Syriac/Aramaic taught in the Gush Halav/Jish elementary school through Khalloul’s lobbying efforts. It is a first step.
There are over 130,000 Eastern Rite Christians living in Israel – 10,000 are Maronite Catholics. All too frequently, they have had to escape their mixed Muslim/Christian communities – which are becoming dominated in demographics by Muslims leading to the persecution of Christians – to live in pluralistic Israeli cities that are predominately Jewish, like Haifa and Karmi’el. They want to be seen as fully Israeli, but this is often difficult, as the Jewish population sees them only as Arabic. Shadi Khalloul hopes to change this misconception. He is building bridges both within the non-Maronite Christian community and other Christians groups in Israel as well as across the Jewish population. Sealed by martyrdom for the sake of freedom, democracy and faith, a monument to the tewnty-two fallen Christian soldiers of the IDF is in the works to be erected in Northern Israel. Besides being a memorial to these Christian soldiers, Khalloul hopes it will promote awareness of the shared sacrifices of his brethren to the State of Israel.
Captain Shadi Khalloul is a busy man. Still an active commander in the Reserve Units of the IDF, he is also involved in many other projects. He is the chairman and founder of the Israeli Christian Aramaic Association. From July 31-August 7, he is organizing and raising funds to offset the costs of a summer camp for over 120 Israeli Catholic youth who will come from all parts of the country. The theme for this camp is what it means to be an Aramean-Israeli Christian- fully aware of and preserving their ancient roots, language and liturgy in the modern world; fully educated; and fully serving their country as model citizens. As if this was not enough, Khalloul is a fellow in the international Philos Project, promoting awareness of the plight of the Christians in the Middle East and fostering positive relationships between Christians and Jews throughout the world. He has worked with the Nazarean Project, a non-profit organization under Mercury 1, which has helped rescue and resettle Christian families facing persecution, trafficking or death in the most war-torn Islamic nations. He was the first Christian Aramean to run as a candidate for Knesset, the parliament of Israel, under the Jewish Zionist party.
In a time where the future seems uncertain at best for many of the Middle Eastern Christians, Shadi Khalloul is arduously trying to change that. Tirelessly working to build friendships and cooperation between Christians and Jews, both in Israel and abroad, he lectures throughout Israel and the world. Shadi is a proud Israeli citizen deserving of much honor.
There is a biblical passage from Deuteronomy 26, recited by the Jewish people every year at the Passover Seder: My father was a wandering Aramean. Hauntingly ancient and yet timely; rich in depth and meaning, it is a reflection for us today. It should serve as a humble reminder of our inter-connectedness. Being surrounded on all sides by enemies who want to see the Jews and Christians of Israel annihilated once and for all. It is time that we learn to work together in unity as part of the
free and democratic society of modern Israel. Captain Shadi Khalloul is one of those special persons dedicated to that cause. To support his work, or for more information he can be followed on Twitter @shadikhalloul; on Facebook under Shadi Khalloul Risho; and also through aramaic-center.com.
For millennia wives and mothers have followed armies to insure that the soldiers were fed. I remember studying the American Revolution with my children and learning how each state’s regiments were sent bushels and baskets of food from home…. especially during the long winter at Valley Forge. Some regiments feasted regularly. Most had only the most meager of supplies.
In the IDF, when they are not in the field, the soldiers are fed institutionally in dining rooms. My husband and I volunteer on a base once a week and are served breakfast and lunch with the soldiers. All is strictly Kosher with separate dairy kitchens for breakfast food preparation and clean-up. And a separate meat kitchen for lunches and some dinners. Blue plates and cups are dairy; red is used for meat consumption.
In the morning a typical breakfast consists of hard boiled eggs, bread and jam; a cup of yogurt, sour cream (skee or labeneh). There is ALWAYS a plate of chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions, an Israeli staple. On good days, there is shakshuka, a delicious spiced tomato sauce dish with eggs on top. Plus there are vanilla and chocolate pudding cups.
The lunches always feature a hot soup in the fall/winter. Plates of pickled vegetables, olives,cold beets, and cucumber and tomato salad are always on the table. We are served a meat (baked chicken, schnitzel, beef stew, kabob…. a ground beef patty with spices,) and a starch – pasta, rice or roasted potatoes. A piece of fresh fruit for dessert balances the meal.
Two years ago, Pesach, I was called by Bonnie Rosenbaum from the Lone Soldier Center in honor of Michael Levin. Would I be able to prepare seven extra Passover meals for soldiers at a Northern outpost? The challenge was on and I made bento box style dinners for a Seder complete with the elements for the Seder as well as gefilte fish, charoset, brisket, potato roses and cartons of matzah crack and matzah granola for treats. Each bento box had a Haggadah, candles and a bottle of grape juice. It was such an honor and so much fun!
Last year for Thanksgiving, we hosted 17 Lone Soldiers from the States serving a complete basari meal of turkey (special ordered a month in advance), stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and all the trimmings.
Each Chanukah I make treat bags filled with Chanukah cookies, sweets and local cafe gift cards to distribute to the troops in gratitude for their service. It makes for a fun outing, and the kids are always so appreciative.
So, this year for our son’s birthday, we decided to do something really special. We had heard about parents bringing dinners to the kids on base. Max has quite a few Lone Soldiers in his unit. Kids who come here alone to serve in the IDF. From the US, UK, Mexico, France, South Africa, all over. Being summer, I thought what could be better than an all-American style barbecue??? We grilled chicken and tri-tip(asado here), made baked beans, roasted corn on the cob, potato salad, peanut cole slaw, watermelon, and chocolate cake.
Little did we know, but as a birthday present, Max’s commander gave him the day off. Only in Israel! I love it!!! So he came home, showered and changed into his civvies, and we took a truckload of food up to the picnic area just outside his base. It was great meeting all his friends again. A couple of his army friends on leave also showed up in their street clothes. Those who could leave for an hour, joined us from their jobs on base. We took our dachshund pup, which the kids loved as well. All of the soldiers we’ve met from his unit have been the sweetest kids.
Since then, I’ve talked with several parents of chayalim who shared great personal experiences taking food to the troops. One group of moms alternate taking a beautifully prepared Shabbat dinner to their sons’ brigade every three weeks. There are groups of parents who make big barbecues for Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. I found out one mom put together a whole cupcake party for her daughter’s all-female unit. They loved it!
Some other stories are more exciting. During Operation Protective Edge, the war with Gaza, four years ago, not only parents, but civilians came out in droves to bring hamburgers, falafel, pizzas and treats to the troops nearest the action. People were risking their own personal safety as rockets were being fired continuously into Southern Israel, to keep the soldiers well-fed. Grandmas and Grandpas were out with huge trays of food on the side of the road as close as they could get to soldiers returning from the front.
A company was started by. Mordechai Beasley called Pizza 2 Give. Their mission statement is:
“I.D.F soldiers work night and day protecting Israel’s border. Meanwhile restaurants in border areas suffer. Through “Pizza 2 Give” you can put a smile on soldier’s face, and help a small business owner at the same time.
You can make a difference!”
I just love this concept! They can be reached at pizza2give.com. That way you can be anywhere in the world and be able to send fresh, hot pizzas to the troops- all Kosher too!
And I understand there are bakers here in Israel that make special birthday cakes which can be delivered to the base.
But my favorite story of all has to be this one, the story of two brothers serving during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza 2008-2009. The oldest brother was boots-on-the-ground fighting with his unit to prevent terrorist infiltration into the nearby Israeli communities. It was his birthday. The younger brother was working in logistics. His job was to receive the requirements of each individual fighting unit; compile a single brigade ‘shopping list;’ draw the materials from the warehouses and have them sent to the front lines. On the appropriate day, the younger brother convinced the army cooks to make a special cake for his older brother. It was packed in together with the helmets, ammunition and other supplies ordered – a grand birthday surprise indeed!
So, we will continue to help out in any small way we can. I brought cereal and marshmallows from the States to make Rice Crispy treats, a treat you just can’t get here. We’ll do more cook-outs at the picnic area adjacent to my son’s base. And we’ll bring games: Set, Catan, SpyFight & Uno. And the dog. And music. It’s a great way to thank these kids, give them a break and support, and in some instances, a small taste of home. Besides, Thursday nights dinners on base are notoriously awful!!!!
Last week my friend and I decided it was a great day to “make a tiyuul,” as we say here in Israel. In America it would translate to “go on a field trip.” I had been wanting to go to the Marzipan factory/store/museum in Kfar Tavor for three years, so…. we planned an entire trip with activities in that area.
Kfar Tavor is a small, but growing (what isn’t here??) village about an hour southeast of us at the foot of Har Tavor (hahr tahVOOR) or as it’s pronounced in English, Mount Tabor. The area is steeped in history. For the Jewish people, Har Tavor in the book of Judges (Mishpatim), is the mountaintop where Deborah and Barak planned the victory over the Canaanite general, Sisera. It was in the times before the Davidic kingdom was established, and this mother in Israel bravely led and advised General Barak. She was a prophet and a judge. Great role model too!
For Christians, in the Gospel accounts, Mount Tabor was the site of the transfiguration of Jesus in front of his disciples into a glorious form. It was during the feast of Sukkot (tabernacles), so his followers wanted to build Sukkot for him, Moses, and Elijah who also appeared with Jesus in a glorious cloud. Today there is a Roman Catholic (Franciscan) Church and a Greek Orthodox Church atop the mountain. It is a pilgrimage site for all faiths with sweeping vistas for miles in all directions- a beautiful and tranquil spot.
But today, we were staying at the foot of Tavor. As one more interesting historical note, the Rothschild family were great philanthropists, funding much of the modern Palestine pioneer movement. Dorothy Rothschild sent money and aid to Kfar Tavor in the early 1900s for agricultural advancement…..her Hebrew name was ….. wait for it….. Devorah! And!!! In Hebrew devorah means “bee.”
Which in a circuitous way, brings us to our first stop of the day. A most unexpectedly wonderful surprise!!!
Dvorat HaTavor Honey Farm/Bee Farm
My friend, Hadassah, and I arrived unannounced, but were greeted by our most gracious Israeli host, Yigal ben Ze’ev. What an amazing, hospitable and entertaining man!!! Yigal first gave us a tour of the farm/farm animals and petting zoo. They have not only typical farm animals but poultry from around the world.
We next went to one of the indoor educational areas, where Ze’ev explained the life cycle of the honeybee; how honey is processed; and the different products obtained from bees and their practical applications – from food to pollen to beeswax. It is a great place for all ages. Little kids are given bee costumes to wear and keep; honey and carob are mixed to create a delicious fudge; and each person gets a wick and fresh sheet of beeswax to make a candle. For me, a former homeschooler, it was paradise! I learned that propolis is used for its antibiotic properties and royal jelly in hormone therapy as well as cosmetics. Bees are widely used in natural pollination here with Biobee, a leader in organic insect technology around the globe, located just a few kilometers to the South.
After our lesson, we were escorted to the next station, where Mr. ben Ze’ev demonstrated how smoke in a canister was used to put the bees into a more dormant phase in order to extract the honey from the hives. He suited up in his beekeeper suit and led us into a caged in area from where we could watch him collect the honey in the apiary. Supposedly, in the time of Abraham, donkey dung was mixed with acacia wood chips to put the bees to sleep. Who knew???
We also learned the history of beekeeping from ancient to modern times, seeing different hives from logs to ceramic bee jars to skeps and modern plastic stackable hives.
The next stop on our journey was the silkworm farm. Actually, worms is a misnomer. They are actually a caterpillar, and their use in silk production has a rich history. Israel was a major stop on the silk route, as mulberry trees grow here. The caterpillars feed exclusively on the mulberry leaves. (By the way, the delicious mulberries were ripe for picking in the courtyard. Here in Israel they are called toot etz, or tree strawberries).
In another large indoor educational center, Hadassah and I learned about the lifecycle of the silk caterpillar and the history of the silk industry. There was a short film, great displays on cocoons, silk extraction ( the cocoon left behind by the newly emerged moth is collected, boiled, and silk threads extracted), weaving, fashion, and more hands-on arts and crafts activities. At each station we received lovely handouts in both Hebrew and English.
At Dvorat HaTavor, there is ample shaded area with lots of picnic tables. Great for families, classrooms, birthday and Bar Mitzvah parties. Bring your own food. Clean, well-appointed restrooms were a plus. Tractor rides around the farm are available with advance reservations for minimum ten people.
In the gift shop, we met The delightful Malka Ben Ze’ev, Yigal’s wife. She is the Queen Bee here ( in Hebrew Malka translates into queen). The store was small but well stocked. I bought a bottle of mead (honey wine) for my son…made on the premises), honey lip balm and two jars of bee pollen, which I might add is really helping me combat my allergies!!! There were all kinds of cosmetics, candles, honey, books, toys, and cookbooks.
Hadassah and I spent about 2 1/2 hours there, but could have easily stayed longer! The place has been in operation for over 25 years. It is a family run industry. Their son, Boaz does Skyped lessons in English for classrooms around the world… book well in advance!
This was by far one of the best activities to date I’ve done here. Our hosts were super gracious and had great stories. The farm, located on Moshav Shadmot Dvora, on the outskirts of town, is open from 9-3 year round. Tours in Hebrew, English & Arabic. Reservations required.
After spending three months back in California welcoming two beautiful new grandbabies into the family, it was still wonderful to get home to the tranquility of the beautiful North of Israel.
Summer has come to Israel in all its glory. Schools are almost finished, and many cities have already started hosting their summer festivals. Lailot levanot- white nights are back. This means the cities are up all night turn by turn with food, wine, dance, art, cultural and historical street parties. Each city showing off its diverse cultural and regional specialty. Total fun!!!
So, last week we took the train with a group of friends down to Tel Aviv for the Eat Tel Aviv fair. Held in lovely Charles Clore Park bordering the Mediterranean at sunset, the setting couldn’t have been more perfect. There were scores of pop-up food stands serving up tasty dishes for reasonable prices. Tables were set up for the crowd to enjoy their food in a relaxed, casual atmosphere.
There were just so many options! Because Tel Aviv is our food capital, and because of the diversity of the population, there was everything from gourmet chef restaurants to street food. Lots of international food too. Kosher as well as non-Kosher were represented.
Our friend stopped off at Mexicana first so we could all sample her fresh fish tacos. They did not disappoint, ranking right up there with the tastiness of Southern California, served with chips & Pico de gallo. Ron decided to try Vong, a Vietnamese Restaurant on the chic Rothschild Boulevard, moderately priced and always packed.
He had an amazingly tasty cold salad topped with coconut, grilled fish and dill. It helped to know Hebrew, because almost all of the restaurant menus were written exclusively in Hebrew. But- it added to the adventure…
One of the chef restaurants featured was Magdalena (chef Zuzu) from Migdal in the Galilee. Not Kosher, but it looked interesting. Dough balls stuffed with spiced meat and covered in warm goat yogurt and a chicken kebab with a tomato based burgil.
I had heard about the seafood chef restaurant, Manta, for quite some time now. Right on the Tel Aviv beach, this pricey gem gets consistently rave reviews – so I was more than disappointed to see overly greasy fish and chips offered.
Hopping from booth to booth, I just wanted to see everything ( impossible in our time frame) and get pictures and comments from the people. Wildly popular Asian, Namu Namu was serving up fresh and tasty noodle bowls with fresh grilled veggies and papaya & mango chunks. Yum.
Eat Tel Aviv opened its gates (with very high security!!!! Assuring!!!) at 6pm. By 8 pm things were beginning to get hopping. Several local bands were playing on various stages, and a DJ was setting up for dancing later that evening. On to more food. More barbecue joints than I could even imagine in Israel! Chef Market looked interesting.
There was the Georgian (as in former Soviet Union) Tasch and Tasha serving up atcharuli (eggs baked with cheese and spinach in a pizza pocket; dumplings; and rice stuffed eggplant rolls. Really curious about the “hanging things” from a string, the man told me it was a very sweet delicacy. A dessert with grapes in the center. So…. I tried one. It was like eating a mouthful of the wax found on the outside of cheese with a chewy booger inside. No thanks!
Ah!!! HaTarnegol HaKahol!!! The Blue Rooster, a very pricey upscale Tel Aviv hotspot, ranking among the best in the world!!!! And who was there but Master Chef, Shaul Ben Aderet!!! Surely he would be cooking up something amazing!!! Wrong!!!! Instead of urban five star meats and veggies prepared in creative ways, it was street food. Pastrami sandwiches and brisket on baguettes with chimichurri. My husband tried it, and neither of us were thrilled. As far as I’m concerned it was a missed opportunity to show off iron chef brilliance-
Nitan Thai was there as well as Iceberg – my favorite artisanal ice cream shop in Israel. Instead of the inventive passionfuit, mango, banana or lavender rose or even sweet violet or espresso crunch, they were dishing out vanilla, kinder cookie, chocolate and other non-interesting scoops. So sad. Chef restaurants, Messa & Quatro (Italian) only offered gnocchi and fettuccini alfredo type selections.
But then I saw it!!
Texas BBQ! Butchery de Bariloche. Hmmmm- sounds intriguing. Smells heavenly. Generous portions of smoked barbecue brisket chunks, fries, pickles – and a Guinness! All for 45 shekels! That’s about 12 bucks American. Could it even come close to LA’s Wood Ranch or Chueys??? You bet!!! Succulent! Tender bits of perfectly smoked awesomeness!! So worth the 30 minute line. By this time, the park was packed, the lines incredibly long, but with ocean breezes, great tunes, great friends and food, it made for a perfect welcome home for us.
Two years ago (April 23, 2016) I wrote a blog post on Yom ha Zikaron, the Israeli Memorial Day. Please read. America has a lot to learn from how Israel remembers its history and its fallen.
Tonight begins Memorial Day and Yom haAtzma’ut, Independence Day – this year Israel celebrates its 70th year as a nation recognized by the United Nations. Memorial Day begins the preceding evening with a two minute national siren calling the nation to attention for a day of mourning the fallen.
Throughout the day the music on the radio is soft and pensive. With many songs of prayers and sad songs of remembrances of national tragedy. The television stations broadcast ceremonies from the graveyards and stories of the lives of the victims and heroes. All day. Nothing else.
Israel also has another way of remembering its fallen sons and daughters, both of soldiers and victims of terror. Throughout the land, monuments are erected, both corporate and private. They can be found in city parks; along the ocean drive; in the middle of forests; standing solitary in the desert sands; and in larger cities.
A particularly beautiful memorial is the pair of angel wings at the foot of a soldier’s grave in Netanya.
In our city, I came across a large monument rather obscurely placed in a local park. It is pretty hidden from the road, in a place the soldier liked to frequent… in a lovely secluded park near a small hiking trail-
Others are incredibly thoughtful and meaningful. These are usually more private memorials set up by immediate family members and friends. Early this spring as I was walking home from a friend’s house, I discovered this tribute to a young man who had given his life for his country. It was in one of his favorite places, close to his home, with a beautiful view of the valley below. He has left this earth and has walked up the stairs and through the door to heaven- his dog can be seen at the door. It’s poignant, beautiful, thoughtful, and my favorite.
There are other ways Israel remembers her war dead and victims of terror on this day. People wear small bouquets of the red flowers, Blood of the Maccabees. The tiny blooms signifying drops of blood.
From the setting of the sun until an hour after sunset, IDF soldiers are selected to stand guard at the graves of fallen soldiers in the national cemeteries. This year, my son was one of those chosen for this high honor. Throughout the day, free transportation is offered to those wishing to visit the graves of their loved ones. It is one of the most solemn days of the year. Ceremonies are held, sirens blare through the country at 10 am. All cars stop on the roads. People get out and take a minute to say a prayer and remember. It is all quite surreal, something you never forget. The siren blares into your innermost soul…. and the world stands still.
It is the most incredibly moving experience!! The entire nation comes to a complete standstill for two minutes!
Israel will never forget the tremendous cost of its freedom- of being surrounded by enemies, of the victims of acts of terror, of what it means to be the only Democracy in the Middle East. And the evening it ends, she celebrates that independence – knowing full well it’s price.
The whole story started in earnest 7 years ago, when John, Max and I made our first trip to Israel the week following Max’s Bar Mitzvah. As a youth, I had dreamed of moving to Israel, but after I got married and started having children, the raging fire inside me had died out completely-or so I thought.
Visiting this amazing country, we felt a connection to the land and the people. The spark inside leapt into a flame and I had a burning desire to return.
Three years later, after a lot of soul searching, research and planning we sold our beautiful Southern California home, packed up our belongings and the adventure truly began!
We arrived the week before Passover, a quasi reenactment of the Exodus experience. After touching down in our new rented home in Karmi’el in the North, we headed for a week in Jerusalem. How apropos and glorious. The spring festivals were upon us, and it was a time of visiting old friends, making new ones, and intense bonding between my husband and 16 year old son. We were invited to a Pesach Seder by the most welcoming family, the Eisenberg’s- the best Passover experience for us to date. We toured the Old City, experiencing the sights, smells, history and traditions of our new home.
Returning to our new home in Karmi’el the true adventure -and hard work- began. Our city was lovely, well-planned, with a tight Anglo community that was open and ready to make us newcomers feel at home and integrated into the new land. Our neighbors, all native Israelis were friendly, hospitable, and more than ready to help us make the adjustments to an entirely new culture and language. For the first six months, we never once were without an invitation to a Friday night Shabbat dinner!!!
The last three years has been a time of intense growth. We’ve had wonderful times exploring our new land from the mountain trails and archeological sites of the Galilee region. We,be strolled along romantic Mediterranean beaches. Discovered new cities. Rode camels in the desert and snorkeled among the tropical fish in the Red Sea. Floated in the Dead Sea and stood under the waterfalls at Ein Gedi where David hid from King Saul.
It’s been fun eating different new foods from a wide variety of cultures. We’ve celebrated holidays and joyous celebrations- weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, IDF swearing-in services at the Kotel, national festivals; and days of remembrance, mourning and funerals.The sweet and the sad, both.
For the most part we’ve had wonderful experiences. I wondered if my teen son would acclimate. He’s made life long friends in his gap-year Mechinah program. He drafted into army service and surprised us his first Shabbat in the army in full uniform. An unforgettable memory.
None of us could have imagined the friends we’ve made from all cultures. True, caring, wonderful people we’d trust with our lives. Israel is a very, very connected place, we’ve found out. Hard to explain, but something I’ve never ever experienced before. Although rough on the outside at times, seemingly gruff at first, the Israeli will go out of his/her way to help his fellow Israeli. It is a true connectedness. A how can I help attitude? We’ve met the most remarkable people and made great friends.
In return, we’ve learned the art of hospitality. We’ve opened our home to visiting family, old friends and new ones. Sharing the beauty and history of our new home with pilgrims of different faiths, world adventurers, scholars, Lone Soldiers, or those needing a meal and a place to stay is new to us- but has been the most incredibly rewarding experience. I just wish people in America knew the true benefits and joys of hosting the way these people do. We’ve learned so much, have had so much unexpected fun, and have had our hearts enlarged.
It has not always been easy. In fact, this move has been the most difficult thing we’ve ever done. Leaving behind four daughters, friends, lifestyle and home was huge. Thank goodness for skype and other social media immediate connection with our loved ones is possible. We’ve made a lot of adjustments. Learning a new language at my age has been painful, but there were lots of resources from our five month Ulpan classes, ongoing survival Hebrew class, and all the people willing to help out. I learned that if you truly try with all your heart to integrate, people give you much more respect and kindness. And even though modern-day conversational Hebrew is very different than the Biblical/Liturgical Hebrew I grew up with- it’s added to my understanding of the latter.
Difficulties have included seemingly simple things now difficult like banking, understanding the utility bills and daily life…all in Hebrew(without the vowels!!) We’ve had to deal with the trauma of health issues, for me, hospitalization, surgery, treatments- everything in Hebrew! Conversion from the English to the metric system; the dollar to the shekel. But we’ve tried to have a sense of humor through the difficulties; a sense of adventure; and the attitude of “it’s an opportunity to learn and grow.”
An added benefit has been the ability to travel Europe…. airfares are much cheaper than flights from Los Angeles. And travel is something we always dreamed of!! Prague, Budapest, Amsterdam, Italy, France, Switzerland ,Scotland-
We’ve planted gardens, fed Israeli soldiers, volunteered with the army, and I started my own business. John has become a coach of several Little League baseball teams. All in all, it’s been a full life so far. We’re living the dream, as difficult and glorious as it’s been. And look forward to more to come! What a three years!!!