We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
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Thursday, April 25. 2013
It was a tiring, three-plane, 24-hour flight, getting in late the night before, April 7. We stayed at a delightfully friendly inn near the Prime Minister's residence, about a 15-minute stroll to the Old City. We slept and had a hearty breakfast from the inn's large, delicious buffet. After 2-minutes of sirens all over Israel during which all stop to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jason's Bar Mitzvah took place at 10:02AM on April 8 at the Haas Promenade overlooking all of Jerusalem, the Old City at the center of view. Here we're carrying the Torah to the Promenade, then part of the view over Jerusalem (hazy due to a sand storm in Saudi Arabia blowing sand far into Jerusalem's skies).
Instead of a long post with deeper observations, maybe to come later, instead this post will simply present some of the joy on Jason and younger brother (8) Gavin's faces at their experiences. (Jason was totally jazzed, and performed his prayers and Torah portion with enthusiasm and ease. Gavin was a bit jet-lagged in the morning of the 8th but recovered his boisterous energy and spirits by noon.) A few photos with me may sneak in. But. for me, these of Jason and Gavin are the most important. Look back at your albums. The photos of sites are nice momentos but the photos of your children at the sites are the heart that beats and stirs.
Both boys rose to be champion travelers, terrifically behaved and engaged, and their reflections on what they saw and experienced have been all that a father could hope for from this exposure to the land, history, and traditions of our Jewish religion and peoples. Jason acts and takes seriously that he is now a young man, with such responsibilities following this core rite of passage. Gavin says he will be nicer after experiencing and discussing the centrality in our faith of replacing bad with good in ourselves and the world, bolstered by meeting so many pleasant Israelis and visitors from all over the globe.
(Many more photos below the fold; There is a 10-hour difference between California and Israel, so the dates on the photos reflect San Diego time, not Israel's)
After the Bar Mitzvah, we went into the Old City and directly to the Western Wall of the Holy Temple, atop which now sit Mosques. This is the first time that Jason is wearing the Tefillin, as directed several times in the Bible. ("And it shall be for a sign for you upon your hand, and for a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand did the LORD bring you out of Egypt."—Exodus 13:9)
And here are the boys praying at the Wall, when we returned a second time.
Here, the boys are exploring a hand-chiseled water tunnel from thousands of years ago, to supply the walled city of Jerusalem. It is part of the extensive archeology digs on the south side of the Temple Mount.
The Roman Cardo (Main Street) through the Old City is depicted behind the boys standing at what little remains now. There are many upscale shops there now, at one of which Jason selected a silver Star of David necklace to proudly wear.
The Old City is not all antiquities and old stones. Here, on the outskirts, the boys attack a realistic replica of the traditional gold foil covered Chanukah coin. Modern art and fun art is to be found all over Israel.
At Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum and grounds, the new exhibit halls are a well-designed and accessible time line of the incredible that must be known as only too credible. As elsewhere in Israel, the military young are always to be seen in groups learning at first hand their history and the urgency of defending their future. They gifted us chicken schnitzel sandwiches, on delicious rolls and filled with salad. The boys and I voted the sandwiches as 9's. (Certainly better than the mystery meat on white bread we, sometimes if anything, got in the Marine Corps!) Next door to Yad Vashem is Mt. Hertzl, the national military and national leaders cemetary. The following week is the Memorial Day. We helped one family tend to the grave of their son, and we watched the rehearsal for the ceremonies for Memorial Day at Theodore Hertzl's gravesite square.
At the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on earth, the boys enjoyed the effortless floating on the salty waters.
Then it was on to hiking in Ein Gedi, the oasis in which David hid from Saul, and in which the Romans camped during the long siege of Masada. (The walking stick that Gavin is holding he called his Moses Stick, which he carried throughout the trip, trying to make miracles. He learned that it is not man who makes miracles but man or woman as the vessel, or a stick, through which G-d makes miracles happen or gives us the strength and inspiration to create them. That really struck him with a new understanding of our relationship with our Maker.)
There's not a lot remaining atop Masada of the fortress-palace built by Herod at which the last Jews held out who resisted Roman rule. But, the stark conditions under which they endured for several years comes through as one tours the ruins.
Driving north through the Jordan Valley, one sees the agricultural miracles for which Israel is famed, turning wasteland into cornucopias. At Bet Shean, archeologists continue to rebuild one of the best preserved Roman cities.
Nearby is Belvoir, the last Crusader fortress to withstand the Moslems. Its importance then and now are some of the most commanding views in Israel over the best eastern-side N-S route.
Inside one of the famous small synagogues in Safat, an important site of Jewish studies especially during the Middle Ages. There, a few hundred desperate and underarmed Jews successfully resisted the Syrian army during the 1948 War Of Independence. Today it is a teeming arts and tourist center, where one can feel the crowded conditions of the former Jewish Quarter. There as elsewhere we encountered some of the groups of the 10,000 Jewish teens from North America traveling through Israel after their March Of The Living through Auschwitz.
At the Tiberias promenade, its restaurants famous for their St Peter's fish, for diversity of menu we dined at a Lebanese restaurant. The assortments were fantabulous. As we strolled after, we spent some time chatting with some Palestinian teens visiting from east Jerusalem. They offered to share with me their hookah, filled with dried apples soaked in nicotine. I allowed myself one small puff. Very sweet. So was a beautiful female member of their group who kissed Gavin goodbye. (Gavin ordered me not to show the photo or else his 2nd grade schoolmates might josh him for letting a girl kiss him.)
At Akko, the main Crusader port, we walked the walls of the fortress and explored the Knights halls. Here Gavin gets shot from one of the old cannons.
In Haifa, we toured the Ba'hai Gardens. At the base of the gorgeous gardens and shrine which climb the mountain is the German Colony neighborhood lined with restaurants and cafes on Ben Gurion Street, where we stayed at a modest hotel (usually catering to Ba'hai pilgrims) owned by a Christian Israeli-Arab. He and I discussed for over an hour the history and politics of the region. He is well-educated (with a son about to enter Haifa's Technion, one of the world's top technical universities), certainly anti-Zionist but not an apologist for the past and ongoing failures of the Palestinians and Arabs to build constructive societies. I wish the anti-Israel college student radicals on US campuses could have observed what is civil discussion.
Next, on to Caesarea and its marvel of Roman engineering, the aquaducts that carried water for tens, even hundreds, of miles. The large Roman amphitheatre is used now for concerts by modern musicians and singers.
The Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv shows the lands, cultures, and conditions in which Jews lived all over the globe during the two millenia of dispersal from Israel. Fascinating. While there, as we were at the family-tree computers, we stood with others for the minute of sirens commemorating Memorial Day for Israel's fallen soldiers. When we end our Passover Seder with the words, "Next year in Jerusalem," that pledge held us together for almost two-thousand years while scattered, while physically apart but united in spirit and aspiration.
After, we spent the afternoon biking along the Tel Aviv seaside promenade, then on the beach and in the warm Med waters. Bikes were available at the hotel, and we went the length of the Tel Aviv promenade, which extends all the way to Jaffa, and on the trails in Yarakon Park. -- That night we watched the fireworks for Israel Independence Day.
The next morning we went to Jaffa, the continuously operating port for thousands of years. The modern fountain in the main square is of caricatures from the Zodiac. After, we watched the Israeli Air Force Independence Day airshow over the beach.
The seaside restaurants were excellent, even serving on to the beach. The breakfast buffets in the hotels are a sight to see, with a dozen Middle Eastern salads, eggs of various types (I highly recommend the Israeli version of huevos rancheros), fish and herring, numerous cereals, breads and breakfast cakes, a variety of cheeses and yogurts, and more, and more. The boys took full advantage of the plenty, and stuffed some in to the small refrigerators in our hotel rooms. -- The other daily meals were equally astounding and varied, the fresh diverse flavors and subtle seasonings subtly exploding in your mouth. Probably the most surprising was a kosher Chinese meal, Gavin suggested, that was one of the top ten Chinese meals I've ever had anywhere in the world!
The Palmach Museum is not to be missed. It takes the museum visitor through a series of rooms recreating scenes as it follows with films a group of teens joining the Palmach, ranging in age from 15-20 in 1941 through to 1948 in fighting to defend Jews and for Israel against the seemingly, and almost, overwhelming invading Arab armies in 1948. It certainly grasped Gavin's full attention. (In this photo, Jason is off talking with one of the young IDF soldiers on our tour.)
The newest member of our family is The Navigator Rooster. On our dashboard, with instructions telepathed to Jason as our 5-Star map and roadsign navigator, we thankfully never got lost. We will bring him along on our future trips.
In a break from family photos, the scene of the modest room in which David Ben Gurion declared the independence of Israel is iconic. In a sense, it is a family photo, because in the Jewish State of Israel, all our extended and dispersed Jewish family from around the world are welcomed, safe from persecution, able to defend themselves, and integrated in to constructive, free lives. My longtime friend, Barry Rubin, Middle East expert and columnist, took us on a walking tour of old Tel Aviv.
Here, we're outside the old Tel Aviv City Hall. We went in to see Mayor Ditzengoff's office, but also saw a large exhibit filling the place with startling gay art and photos. NSFW, or for children, so I rushed them out.
Before leaving for our flight back to the US, we had dinner with Barry Rubin and his delightfully inquisitive and bright son, about Jason's age. (The night before we had dinner with another old friend of mine whose lovely daughter is also about Jason's age.) -- For those who know rambunctious Gavin, not only was he well-behaved at the dinner tables but throughout the trip. Another Israeli miracle!
We went to many other sites during our visit, but the above covers most and is meant to express the richness of the experience for my sons, and through them for me. In short, everyone I've ever met who has traveled to Israel, from any nation or religion, comes away just blown away by the pluralism of peoples and faiths, all honored and accessibly highlighted. Beyond that, visitors are astounded that all that plus every climate and geography are contained in such a tiny country, which the bloody hard work and brilliance of Israelis has transformed from a desert wasteland to a garden of delicious and inventive innovation.
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First, thank you for your service.
And thank you for this wonderful photo-essay.
How wonderful to take the boys on such a
journey. I lived in Israel for five years, in the
seventies, and didn't half of what you saw!
The March of the Living, yeah we sure hear a lot
about that. So thankful that history is being
kept alive (as in the IDF teachings, too) during our
current dark ages by imperial design.
God Bless you and yours.
Mazal Tov. Wonderful experience that your son will never forget, being bar-mitzvahed in Eretz Yisroel.
For all the problems Israel has and continues to have...I found it to be a place of joy and life and beauty and would echo what you wrote.
Bruce, love your contributions about Judaism...love this blog altogether, but just wanted to give a yashar koach for those posts, and again, a Mazal tov to you and your family.
Sorry I was unable to meet up with you - but it looks like you had a great time, and I'm glad you got to hit a few of the spots I recommended.
Our tour backwards. I would like to go back and spend more time hiking a visiting the land.
Great photos and even better memories for your family. We went with a neighbor, an Arab Christian from Bethlehem who we sponsored to become a U.S. citizen. He wanted to celebrate the event with his elderly parents who couldn't take the long travel to the States and he kindly invited us to go with him.
The food was extraordinary thanks to the lush gardens and orchards plus plentiful fish. You certainly hit the high spots of such a journey.
Thank you for sharing this. The joy is evident in each picture. Congratulations!
Wow - what a trip and what an experience for the boys.
I'm sure they will treasure it forever.
What a great essay, thank you for sharing your wonderful trip and your sons with us. Great photos too. I was raised in Cyprus so I know the Mediterranean Sea well, but how things have changed!