Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Into the North

On our long drive to the north this morning, we headed back down to the Dead Sea, although unlike yesterday where we turned south for Masada and so on, this morning we turned north to drive along the Jordan river valley. We stopped first at Beit Shean, which has been inhabited for thousands of years and has gone through several incarnations. In the Bible, Beit Shean is mentioned in the book of Samuel at the end of King Saul and his sons lives. The Romans came to that Beit Shean, and found that the plateau of the older city was far too small. So at the base of that hill they built a huge city they called Scythopolis. At the founding of the modern state of Israel, Beit Shean became a development town like may around Israel—a place where immigrants were settled in the rush to find homes for them all. Beit Shean, like many of the development towns, became a largely poor and depressed place. Our guide told us that there was a time that Beit Shean was known as the theft capital of Israel. The joke was that one shouldn’t drive too slowly through Beit Shean lest your car get stolen from underneath you. The ancient site remained almost entirely unexcavated and the town a truly depressed place until the middle 1980’s, when archaologists discovered a masterpiece of a find. The process of clearing the site brought jobs to the town, and the incredible finds there brought thousands of tourists a day; now the town is fairly well off as development towns go, and the ancient site is truly something spectacular to behold.

From there, we went to Beit Alpha, home of a spectacular mosaic floor from ancient times that was uncovered accidentally by farmers in the late 1920’s.

After lunch in Beit Shean, we were invited for Tea eem nana v’ugot (mint tea and cookies) at the home of bus driver Nisan’s mom Batya. Batya and her husband came to Israel in 1951 from Iraqi Kurdistan, and they helped to establish Moshav Yardena on the Jordan river. Right next store to Moshav Ben Yosef, made of Turkish Kurds—they could live in adjacent moshavim, but not together! Our bus driver Nisan is one of nine children; when he was growing up on the kibbutz, that was the average number of kids families had!

From there, we made the drive up into what’s called “the finger of the Galilee” to Kibbutz Misgav Am right on the Lebanese border, where we heard from one of the kibbutzniks. We looked down on many places we’d heard of over the years, including Tyre and Shaba Farms; strange to be able to look at those places while standing in Israel… Our speaker expressed sharp and direct opinions about Israel’s need to stand on its own; from his perspective, Israel stands alone and always will. He speaks as a veteran of 3 of Israel’s wars, as well as living literally on the front lines. He represents an important hardline perspective shared by percentage of Israel’s citizens.

We spent the evening at Kibbutz Hagoshrim here in the north—a beautiful guest house in this mildest of climes in Israel. After a lovely buffet dinner, some of enjoyed an Israeli music sing-along in the lobby—a fun way to end another busy day!

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