Friday, August 1, 2008

Down from the North

As we make our way up to Jerusalem one last time, for our final Shabbat in the city of peace, we reflect on our journey to the south yesterday.

We began our day with an unscheduled trip to Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, home to the Na’ot sandal factory. Many kibbutzim that were once models of agrarian socialist societies have diversified their industries and even allowed their members to work off the kibbutz in a wide range of fields. Kibbutz Hagoshrim where we slept the last two evenings invested heavily in building beautiful guest house accommodations both for foreign tourists and Israelis looking for a Galilee getaway. Na’ot Mordechai went into the sandal business, and they make some of the finest and most comfy sandals you’ll find anywhere. Many of us chose to “make our contributions to the Israeli economy” at the sandal outlet on the kibbutz, and we’re already enjoying our purchases!!

From Na’ot Mordechai, we made our way south from the Galilee and west to the Mediterranean Sea, where our first stop was the ancient city of Akko. Akko is another city where each successive conqueror built on top of what had come before. The Crusaders built extensively here; Napoleon’s fleet was turned back at Akko; the Ottoman Turks built a fortress and a prison that the British subsequently used to imprison members of the Jewish State in waiting—members of the Haganah, the Irgun, and the Stern Gang who fought to defend the early Zionist settlements and make life for the British increasingly uncomfortable during their Mandate over Palestine.

Moving southward along the coast, we ate lunch on Mt Carmel in Haifa, and paused at an amazing lookout point overlooking the Bahai Gardens and Israel’s third largest city. The Bahai faith is a break off from Sunni Islam, and the basis of their religion is actually in Haifa. They constructed their International Center, Temple, and stunning gardens on the entire hillside of Mt Carmel. Haifa is a wonderful city. It is likely Israel’s best example of Jewish-Arab coexistence; so, too, it is said that (for whatever reason) the most beautiful girls in Israel come from Haifa!

Our penultimate stop today was at the Herodian city of Caesarea by the Sea, where we viewed a consummate Roman site, complete with an amphitheatre overlooking the Mediterranean, a stadium meant for battles between humans and animals, and a once-state-of-the-art port. This was one of Herod’s “weekend getaway spots,” as it were. Apparently being a pseudo-Jewish Roman puppet king over a trouble-making, complaining outpost of Jews was a somewhat stress-inducing job! (Imagine that!)

Our last stop for the day was Tel Aviv, where we checked in for a one night stay. Some of us visited with family and friends from the area; others checked out the boardwalk along the Mediterranean Sea and the nightlife; others turned in early after a great but particularly hot day.

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