Our First Israel Shabbat Adventures: Guest Blog by Lori Stern (with input by Howard)

Boker Tov and Chag Sameach! 

Can’t believe it’s our third full day in Israel (4th full day away) and the jet lag is finally beginning to disappear. 

Howard and I are getting a great overview of the country on this journey and becoming very enlightened to many of the political, religious conflicts and ways of living here. It does not feel as dangerous being in Israel as we originally imagined. In fact we feel very safe and comfortable here.

It is interesting to be in a place where we are not in the minority of a religion. It is sad to see that the Reform Movement is not more widely recognized here and that there is so much tension between the Ultra Orthodox, Modern Orthodox and Reform Jewish movements. The government fully supports the Orthodox schools and synagogues and the Reform Movement is struggling to find its place. 

We have also noticed so much construction and growth and there are cranes everywhere. Technology and tourism are big here. 

The tomatoes and fruits are incredibly delicious! People are happy with the socialized medicine. We learned it is hard to earn the salaries here you earn back in the US and that gas and housing prices are also much higher.
We continued to celebrate our first Shabbat today in Israel after breakfast with a beautiful service by Rabbi Sharon Sobel on the beach near our hotel.

We sang our familiar prayers as we glanced out to the welcoming Mediterranean Sea and listened to the roar of the waves. Joggers ran past us, dogs frolicked in the distance and an older man stopped near our group during the service to take off his shoes and dip his feet in the water. 

As we ate breakfast and brought our luggage down to the bus, we were reminded again it was Shabbat because the coffee machines were covered and one of the hotel elevators stopped at each floor automatically so the Orthodox Jews wouldn’t need to push the buttons.

We then left our now familiar Metropolitan hotel in Tel Aviv and headed out at around 9:15 AM to the countryside to begin our next adventures in the Northern part of Israel. 

Today we passed many trees being planted by the JNF since the forests are being torn down for construction lumber and for the trains. Our tour guide pointed out the names of the colorful cities we passed along the way and we began to see the gold domes and the mosques indicating some of the Arab villages and a few of the mixed Arab and Israeli communities here. 

Our first stop was in a Druze village called Dalyat El Carmel where we got a feel for the friendly people and the delicious falafel, strange bathrooms and strong coffee! Carole-Ann even almost bought a pretty red artsy table but not quite sure how she would have gotten it back to the states! 

Our next stop was at the beautiful Baha’i temple -a world heritage site (and the world headquarters of the Baha’i religion) and the Persian gardens where we saw an amazing view of the large port of the city of Haifa and took some great pictures from Mt Carmel.

It was upsetting to learn that the petro factories are polluting the area and driving people way from this pretty city. 

We stopped at another Arab Israeli town called Akko. After eating a typical Israeli lunch of salads, shawarma and schnitzel on pita and hummus, we finally encountered our first Israel rain storm. So far the weather had been perfect. We next visited the crusader era fortifications. This huge castle-like structure showed us the different periods of time that different groups of people such as the Romans, christians, Greeks Jews and Muslims have tried to win control of this critical port city. The architecture in the fortress was amazing. 

Next stop was another highlight of our trip. At the Lebanese Israeli border we went to Rosh Hanikra where our group took a cable car down to the beautiful blue grotto cliffs and caves. While we were there the sun was setting and again we enjoyed amazing views! Also very proud of Lissie who despite being afraid of heights overcame her fear and was able to survive the ride! It was cool to learn that this was also the sight of the famous bridge explosion that we had learned about in the Palmach museum on Friday. The prestate military forces of Israel blew up this bridge which was a key attack in their war for independence. This visit to the caves helped make the Israel story make much more sense! We also got to see the border patrol gates and were again reminded of how close we were to the neighboring countries of Lebanon and Syria.

A final memorable stop was at a Reform Congregation in a town called Carmiel -another mixed Arab Israeli town where we had havdalah services and lit the menorah for the first night of Chanukah. This was a small congregation of 50 reform Jewish families who were so proud to have finally dedicated their new building and wanted to share their first Chanukah there with us. it was very moving to sing Hanukkah songs with our fellow Jews in Israel, eat donuts and have a short limud study on the meaning of Hanukkah. Visiting this congregation reminded us how hard the Jews and Arabs are working in that town to coexist peacefully. 

As we wandered into our beautiful hotel in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee we were so tired but happy to have seen so many sights in one day. Again it was welcoming to walk into the lobby to the hannukiah. And Howard was quite happy to finally eat some meat at his dinner! Looking forward to our upcoming jeep ride and wine and chocolate tour! 

(Photos will be posted when I have a better internet connection). 

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