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Israel-Day 1

Indy-Newark-Tel Aviv-Jerusalem

We have been friends with Gregg and Howard our entire married lives. Ron and Gregg met their first day of college in 1976. Our friendship is a solid one. About a year ago, Gregg and Howard approached us with the idea of accompanying them on a trip to Israel. This would be a group trip with their close friends and family members. A few details later, and here we are- in Israel with these dear "old" friends and about 15 new ones. What a thrill to finally touch down in this land that we have heard about our entire lives and have known we would one day visit.90_IMG_1990.jpeg Upon arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, we met our tour guide Aya, her husband Isaac, and the rest of our travel mates. CESF9628.jpegWe enjoyed a quick coffee at Aroma, then were ushered outside to our bus to meet our driver, Avi- who we would enjoy spending the week with. We wasted no time getting started on our "tour". Off we go- to Jerusalem, for a "food tour" in the Mechane Yehuda Market. Oh the yummy things we tasted! Georgian cheese pies, hummus, Bourekas, halva, kanafe, and fresh juices. So awesome to experience the vivid colors, smells, and sounds of a busy market, or "Shuk". This was a fun way to start our Israel experience.
Cool mural on an apartment building near the market.
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We started out with some of the restaurants on the street. Can't remember the names of all of the wonderful things we tasted, but every bite was delicious.
IMG_2019.jpeg Spices, olives, fruits-oh my! Of course no Israeli food tour would be complete without having some hummus.
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Our group snagged a first class spot in a cute little place tucked into one of the alleyways. Time to enjoy these yummy sandwiches.

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And a few more of the beautiful offerings of the market~
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Oh, this Israeli tea. Beautiful, tiny nuggets of dried fruit blends. How I wish I had bought some.
It is so good, you can eat it right out of your hand like candy- which I did. But have never brewed it and now I wish I could try that.
Mental note: must return to Israel and buy tea.
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Time to leave the market and check out more of this charming neighborhood. We enjoyed strolling down Jaffa street, with its modern lightrail train. Next stop- The Friends Of Zion Museum, snuggled in a little hidden alcove on this artsy street filled with beautiful umbrellas!
large_IMG_2047.jpegIMG_2048.jpeg The museum was very high tech and interesting. Amazing that we were able to stay awake for it all given that most of us had travelled for nearly 24 hrs and had still not seen a hotel. That would come next. And oh what a hotel!
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The Orient is a luxury hotel in a trendy residential neighborhood. It was great to finally get to our room and clean up a bit before our group dinner at Adom, where we enjoyed a wonderful first night feast. Lamb shank, seafood risotto, chicken, beef carpaccio, cheesecake, and chocolate tartufo. With full tummies and droopy eyes, we gladly headed back to the hotel for a much needed sleep. Israel- you impress us greatly so far!

Posted by bloomcrew 12:09 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Day 2 Thurs Oct 24

Oh how wonderful a good night's sleep was in that comfy bed. We are all renewed and ready to set out again. But first-a gourmet breakfast at the Orient Hotel's buffet restaurant. So many choices! And excellent espressos. Better fill up-who knows when our next meal will be?IMG_2102.jpegIMG_2103.jpeg
Time to head to the Mount of Olives. We wind our way through these ancient streets. This city is so surprising-incredibly hilly, curvy, old, new, fascinating. Something interesting to see in every direction at every minute. We arrive at an octagonal structure bearing the slab with Jesus' footprint from his ascension to heaven. Our Israeli guide, Tomer shows us a flip chart of the history of this area.IMG_2107.jpegIMG_2106.jpeg
A short walk up the hill and we are at a great viewing spot of the old city. So much to take in.
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In the distance, you can see the old walled city of Jerusalem. In the center sits the beautiful Dome Of The Rock- an Islamic shrine on the Temple Mount. In the foreground of the wall, you can see a large cemetery. Closer to where we are standing- more cemetery. Not only did burial have to take place outside the walls of the city, but the Mount of Olives was and is an especially important burial location- as it is prophecied that the resurrection of the dead would begin here in the time of the Messiah.
Notice the long line of traffic? Everywhere. This is a popular place.IMG_2120.jpeg
Getting to our next site took a bit of patience, as the streets were crammed with vehicles.
We stopped a bit shy of our destination and walked the rest of the way. The City Of David-just down the hill from the walled city.IMG_2122.jpegIMG_2123.jpeg This area is fed by a natural spring which was taken advantage of in the time of Hezekiah, who had a clever system of tunnels created under the city to serve as their aquaduct. Today, you can tour the 1750ft narrow, wet tunnels if you are brave. It is a steep walk down numerous staircases to reach the level of the tunnels. IMG_2125.jpegIMG_2127.jpegIMG_2126.jpeg Water shoes and short-shorts are a must, as the water is deep in spots and the "floor" is uneven, ancient stonework. It is pitch-black inside, necessitating the use of flashlights. Owing to the fact that I arrived in Israel with a brand new iPhone 11Pro, I elected to keep my phone/camera safe in my bag for the water portion of this journey. You will have to use your imagination to visualize the trek through the tunnel. Just think-"cold", "wet", "narrow", and "dark". That pretty much sums it up. It was fun!
Our next stop would be the Old City, for a walk through the market and lunch in the Christian Quarter. The old, walled city within Jerusalem contains four uneven quarters: Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian. These quarters blend into one another and it can be tricky to know which one you are in at any given time unless you are at one of the major sites within a quarter. Here is the Cardo-an ancient Roman street preserved in the city.
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And a few more scenes from our walk to lunch on these old streets~
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Buffet lunch at Golden City didn't look especially appealing, but the food was actually quite tasty.
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Time for a quick group picture (this would become a theme) before we had a bit of free time on our own in the market. So fortunate to get to travel with such a great group of human beings. We are quickly making friends...
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Fresh Bread! Fresh Bread! Get your loaves here.
Fishes to follow...
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And it's probably a good time to mention Israel's stray cat "problem". They are everywhere! Outside, indoors, on sacred monuments-everywhere. I didn't find them to be a problem though. They were pretty cute, and photogenic.
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Now, on to more serious business. We are approaching the Church Of The Holy Sepulchre-one of Christianity's holiest sites. A sepulchre is a burial place or tomb.
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This church contains the remains of the tomb where Jesus' body was placed and also the location of his resurrection. This site is so important to Christian denominations the world over, that it is managed by a whole realm of church bodies; Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, as well as Coptic, Syrian, and Ethiopian Orthodox, to name a few. These entities are responsible for the upkeep of specific rooms within the large church.
Ancient doors leading into the building~
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We enter and immediately see people bent over a stone slab. This is the "Stone Of Anointing". The table where Jesus' body was prepared for burial. large_IMG_2155.jpeg
We get a quick glimpse from the main level, then are led to the right to climb some steep steps to the upper level-which contains both Catholic and Greek Orthodox chapels. This is the most ornate portion of the church.
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Here is a mural depicting the binding of Isaac. A story central to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
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The Greek Orthodox chapel contains an altar placed over the site of Calvary/the crucifixion. There was a long line of people waiting to bend down and touch the exposed rock.
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Back downstairs again, we pass some prayer candles and get a closer look at the table where Jesus' body was prepared for burial.
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Just past this area, we see the chapel containing the sepulchre. There is a huge line of people wrapped all around the sides of this small building within a building. To my disappointment, we would not be entering the holy sepulchre to get a look at the tomb. This was not part of our visit. This time around, I will have to use MY imagination. Mental note: return to Israel and actually SEE the tomb.
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Time to switch gears and move from Christianity to Judaism for awhile. A short walk away from the church, and we are back in the Jewish quarter where the air is charged with a particular sense of excitement. There are IDF soldiers everywhere. Is this normal, or is something going on? They seem so relaxed-many on the arms of their girlfriend or boyfriend, or having a bite to eat with their families. Here is a glimpse, and more to come later on why there are SO many of them.
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The ultra Orthodox Jews are very visible with their black coats, big hats, and various degrees of sideburns, or "payot". These photos were taken from a distance, discreetly, and then cropped. No Hasidim were harmed in the taking of these photos.
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Seeing these religious Jews heightened our experience of approaching The Western Wall for the first time. But before we would reach the wall, first a cat.
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Then a wedding.
IMG_2186.jpeg Yes, a wedding. In a tiny square overlooking the wall.
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I was shocked when our leader walked us right through the middle of the wedding to the overlook, for our first glimpse of THE wall. This is Israel. This was a public square. They chose to hold their wedding there and they got some extra guests. Enthusiastic ones, at that! Yes, we clapped along with the guests as they celebrated joyfully to the tunes the keyboard player provided, while the bride sat off to the side dutifully reading her scripture.
And one little cutie was just happy to be hanging out with his papa.
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Jerusalem- Old meets new, and back to old once again.
And about that glimpse of the wall for the first time? So exciting to see it in real life after having heard about it our entire lives!
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A brief trip through the security checkpoint to get our bags checked, and we were inside the wall complex. Whew- people EVERYWHERE! Was it always this crowded? What was going on??? A few minutes later we would have our answer. You know all those IDF soldiers we saw in the Jewish quarter earlier? They were a class of paratroopers who had just finished their training and would be taking their oath to the state of Israel/IDF in a ceremony at the wall tonight. So much excitement in the air!
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Remember the old meets the new? Well here is an observant man observing the scene through his modern SLR camera.IMG_2194.jpeg
The Western Wall is the portion of the wall surrounding the west side of the Temple Mount. Only 200 feet of the wall is visible from the plaza. The rest - 1600 ft total, is underground and can be accessed via a system of tunnels. We set out for a tour of these tunnels. A model of the complex helped put "the wall" into perspective. In the second photo, you can see the area of the current wall, to the right of the bridge.
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A short walk down some dim walkways and we could look into the men's section. Then the women's section. IMG_2195.jpegIMG_2204.jpeg
We were able to touch a portion of the wall here.IMG_2202.jpeg
There is a beautiful new synagogue inside the tunnel compound.large_IMG_2196.jpeg
Back outside, we passed through the excited crowd of families cheering on their paratroopers. large_IMG_2207.jpeg
Phew- what a day! We were all fairly exhausted by this point. Back on the bus to make our way to the hotel. Dinner was on our own tonight. Ron and I decided to be antisocial (meaning less talk, more sleep in our future) and just walk down the street to First Station- a reinvented train station with restaurants, shops, and nightly entertainment. We chose to eat at Abu Shukri and were not disappointed. Had a cute little outdoor table under a heat lamp.
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We had Cauliflower in tahina, felafel balls, shwarma with veal/chicken and French fries, and Tuborg beer.
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What meal would be complete without a few cats at your feet, waiting for some dropped bits?
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One more thing to mention before we go to bed- notice the mezuzah on our hotel room door?
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This is a fun place to be Jewish...

Posted by bloomcrew 15:46 Comments (0)

Israel-Day 3 Oct 25

Up and at 'em. More touring to do. Today would get off to a bit more somber start. We were on our way to Yad Vashem- Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Center. It is also my Dad's 92nd birthday, and he is no longer here on earth to celebrate with. We will remember him fondly today. He loved Israel. It's kind of cool to be here on his birthday. I think he would like that!
On our bus ride to the museum, one of our group members said he had something he wanted to share. In cleaning out his father's home, he discovered an envelope full of photos. His father had liberated one of the concentration camps. These are very disturbing photos, but they clearly show the horrors of the murders of these innocent human beings. Our friend thought these well preserved, clear photos belonged in the hands of Yad Vashem, where they would be preserved for future generations. Here is your advance warning- the photos are below. They are graphic. I am sorry. But this happened.
"For the dead and the living- we must bear witness". Elie Wiesel
Again- I'm sorry they are so brutal. But you will soon see why it is so important that museums like Yad Vashem do their work to tell these peoples' stories.
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After these photos were passed around the bus, the group became noticeably quieter. I think we all had a small sense of dread in approaching Yad Vashem. How would we each cope with the things we were about to see? Would this experience "ruin" our day? Boy, that sounds small and selfish. We had been having so much fun. Now it was time for a downer. Or would it actually be a downer?large_IMG_2243.jpeg
The museum building was so thoughtfully created to physically immerse you in the experience of viewing the exhibits. Our tour was led by a phenomenal guide- Alice. Her grandmother was a survivor of the Holocaust. If I remember correctly, she was the only surviving member of her family. Alice is passionate about retelling these stories to honor her grandmother and those who perished.
We begin in a long hallway with walls that cave in toward us-an oppressive physical sensation to match the mood of the rooms we are about to enter.
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Yet still, you can see light ahead.
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We learned about the Nazi rise to power, and some of they ways they persuaded ordinary citizens to hate and fear the Jews. They wanted to create a pure Aryan race. No Jews, gays, gypsies, the handicapped, or other such muck to muddy their perfect genetic display.
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I thought this wall was particularly interesting. It shows the numbers of Jews in the various European countries prior to the Nazi's rise to power. As you can see, they had a lot of work ahead of them if they wanted to succeed in their plan to kill every Jew.
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Shira opened my eyes to some new facts about the Nazi regime. I didn't realize that they first tried to exterminate the Jews through indirect killing. Force huge amounts of people into walled ghettos made to hold 1/100 the amount of humans= disease will spread, and this will kill lots of Jews. Except this wasn't very efficient, and the Nazis really valued efficiency. There had to be a quicker way of getting rid of the Jews. Stuff them in trains and send them to far and away places to be shot and dumped in mass graves. Worked pretty well, but still very inefficient. Until we get to the gas chambers..... Now they had a way to kill 6000 Jews in a day. Here is a model of one of the gas chambers at Auschwitz. The "prisoners" were led in masses to the underground "showers", where they would be cleaned upon arrival.large_IMG_2253.jpeg
In this photo, you can see how large the holding room was, full of naked, innocent victims-both young and old.
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Once everyone was packed in, the room was sealed and the Zyklon B gas was released. There were hatches on the roof of the building to release the gas after the officers were sure that all inside were dead. Then the bodies would be moved to the next room- the crematorium.
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It is all so hard to comprehend. It is one thing to look at a scale model. It is another thing to turn around, look down and see actual shoes recovered from these victims...
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After winding through many more rooms, filled with equally interesting and horrifying exhibits- we emerge into the Hall Of Names, where we saw photos of actual human beings killed by the Nazi atrocities. There are files containing all of the names, and hauntingly empty shelves representing those whose names are unknown. IMG_2256.jpeg
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We emerge into the light. The beautiful hills of Jerusalem greet us in the background. Alice (multicolored top and black hat) leaves us with encouraging thoughts and is rewarded with a very hearty round of applause. One that took quite some time to die down, and which made the very humble recipient blush. She was amazing. None of us will forget our time at Yad Vashem. My words do zero justice to this experience.
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I can't speak for anyone else in the group, but I was strangely buoyed by this experience. Maybe it is because I "survived" it. It is not easy to look at such things. Or maybe I feel more empowered to stand up to injustice. I'm not sure. This "downer" of an experience has not left me feeling down. I am glad we went. I am also glad we have much to look forward to on this beautiful day.
Another short ride through Jerusalem's scenic hills and we soon arrive in the Arab neighborhood Abu Ghosh, for lunch at Naura.
Did I say lunch? I meant feast.
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A table for 18 awaited us.
IMG_2332.jpegThe food was quite tasty. Lots of salads, felafel, hummus, bread, kebabs, and some good lemonade with which to wash it down.
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We ended the meal with a baklava type pastry- full of flavor! And a tiny cup of the Turkish coffee we are all growing to love. Even that layer of sludge in the bottom of each cupful...
IMG_2265.jpegAnd of course, no meal in Israel would be complete without a tiny kitten at your feet-meowing its head off in hopes for a dropped crumb or two. or three...
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Oh, wouldn't this be the perfect time for a group photo??? We look a bit testosterone heavy, wouldn't you say?
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Onward we go. Thank you Avi for your expert driving skills on these hilly, curvy streets of Jerusalem. We visit Jerusalem Hills Children's home and learn about their innovative therapeutic treatment program for rehabilitating severely abused children. The children reside there for 4 years+, receive one to one staff support, family support, therapy, and psychological services. This "Therapy In Lifespace" model has over a 75% success rate for re-integrating these children into society. Professionals from around the world visit this center to try and learn its methods. Unfortunately it is not likely to succeed in the US due to the enormous cost of running such a program. This program is funded by the Israeli government. IMG_2273.jpeg
I think I forgot to mention earlier- it is Friday, and you know what that means. Shabbat is approaching! Better get back to the hotel for a bit to put some respectable clothing on and prepare our "notes", as we were headed back to the old city and The Wall to celebrate Shabbat in a most authentic and fun way.

We approached the old city on the southern side, through Mt Zion. Here, we had the opportunity to visit both the Tomb Of David (of Jewish significance) and The Upper Room (site of The Last Supper). One of these experiences went according to plan. The other, not so much. Such is life...
The Upper Room is not what I expected. It is a pretty sparse room. Where's the long table where everyone sat on one side??? Again, time to use the imagination.
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Our guide knew of an exit from the room that led to a rooftop balcony. We were fortunate to spend a bit of time up there enjoying the approaching sunset over the city. Some views from the rooftop~
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And now, back down to the main level to see King David's Tomb. Except we didn't get to see King David's Tomb. Shabbat had officially arrived and it was closing. Our group was not allowed in. Mental note: next trip, get to King David's tomb before sundown.
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No biggie- it's Shabbat and we will be spending this one at the wall. How fun is that? A brief walk through the old quarter and we are at another entrance to the wall plaza.
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We glide through the security checkpoint along with the religious of the city. They come here to pray and celebrate on shabbat. The air is charged. We are excited.
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Before we head to the segregated men's and women's sections, wouldn't this be a great time for a group photo? Dang, we clean up nice...large_SWZQ1568.jpeg
The ladies and I headed for our section of the wall. It was so mobbed. We had to weave our way through those seated in prayer on white plastic chairs. Everyone was dressed up. Whole families with children and buggies. Our tour guide told us it is not uncommon for the very religious families to have up to 18 children! We finally made our way up to the wall. Notes stuck everywhere in the cracks between the stones. Time to get out the notes we had written and try and find a place to wedge them in the wall. Not an easy task!IMG_2296.jpeg
I'm sure it was not within custom, but since it was Dad's birthday, I decided to say Kaddish for him while standing there. Probably messed up the verses a bit, doing it from memory- and probably not really kosher to say it alone for a deceased person's birthday, but what the heck. It came out of my mouth, so that is that. The ladies and I then danced with others in the women's section. That was pretty fun! Now over to take a sneak peek into the men's section. Not sure this is allowed, and I'm pretty sure the "no photography" rule was in force, but I felt compelled- so here's a little glimpse for ya~
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I liked being at the wall for Shabbat. I think I'll do that again sometime!
Another full day. We are energized and pooped, all at the same time. Meanwhile, back at the hotel: across the hall from our room was a fellow group member's room. He was returning to his room at the same time we got back to ours. I am not sure what possessed me, but before I was able to stop myself, I played a joke on him. Seeing this door with the lightening bolt on it, just to the right of his room- I asked him if he knew about the dangerous lightening situation in Jerusalem??? He did not.
large_IMG_2323.jpegI let him know that his lightening shelter was right there, next to his room. He quickly tried to determine how to open it, before realizing that I was just kidding. We all got a good laugh out of this. As a matter of fact, I had a serious laugh attack that went on for a good 5 minutes. Gee, some things are especially funny when you are operating on a suboptimal amount of sleep!
You see-the day started out on a somber note, but ended with a good laugh. Kind of a metaphor for life-there is sorrow and there is joy.

Posted by bloomcrew 18:50 Comments (0)

Israel-Day 4. Oct 26

Well Orient Hotel, it's been great- we've loved your comfy beds and spacious rooms. We've enjoyed the little touches like the essential oil relaxing room spray and the nightly chocolate treat. Your breakfast buffets and dinner were wonderful and sustaining. But now it is time for us to head on. We have more of Israel to see! Today, we travel south to the Negev desert, stopping in the Bedouin settlement town of Rahat on our way to our destination-Mitzpe Ramon. Here- this will help you see where we are headed:
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Leaving Jerusalem the terrain begins to look different. We are entering the countryside and agricultural areas. Each changing landscape is stunning in its own way. I can't take my eyes off the passing scenery. Part of me wants to take a nap, but most of me does not want to miss a thing out the window.
Before long, we reach the small city of Rahat. This city was "created" for the local Bedouin community. The government needed some of their native lands and made them an offer of money if they would move into town. Bedouins from a large number of tribes accepted the offer and began building their homes here. Our group had a private meeting with one family. Sabha Ghanem is the founder of the Rahat Women's Association. She had some important things to share with us. We met with her in their large, outdoor tent meeting area. large_IMG_2409.jpeg
We were greeted with wonderful hospitality and some nice beverages. IMG_2352.jpeg
Sabha does not speak English, so Aya and Isaac translated her Hebrew for us. She is an inspiring woman with an interesting story. Her passion is relayed through her frequent gesturing and facial expressions.
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The tent we were sitting in normally was filled with women, meeting and learning together. Sabha explained that in the Bedouin Arab culture, men could marry 4 wives. If a man decided he no longer wanted to be married to one of his wives, he simply had to say out loud "I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you". The wife was left with nothing-except sometimes her in-laws to continue taking care of. Sabha's mission is to help these women understand their rights under Israeli law and to help them find the resources to live and work on their own. It is a sad story that women are still being treated like 3rd class citizens in many cultures.
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Sabha does not paint a positive picture of life in Rahat. The families residing in Rahat are all from different tribes. Aside from being Bedouin, they did not share much in common. It is taking a real effort for them to form some sense of community. She said Bedouins really do best moving on the land. It is what their ancestors have done since the beginning of time. They have not been as successful in figuring out how to live in these cities that have been set up for them. The evidence can be seen as we head out of town, passing through streets littered with trash and half finished buildings. large_IMG_2360.jpeglarge_IMG_2357.jpeg
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The cute children brighten my mood a bit.
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As we continue southward toward Mitzpe Ramon, we pass lots and lots of Bedouin farms along the road.
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There is a reason there are so many Bedouins living along the sides of the highways. It all comes down to one thing- water. Bedouins need water for their animals. Israel has a well developed system of water pipes, delivering water to all parts of the state- a very dry region. They found that their water pipes were being gashed into, leaving water gushing out at great cost and waste. Turns out, the Bedouins were cutting the pipes in order to access water. So the state made a deal with them- we will put valves on these pipes. Turn the valve on and take your water. Just stop cutting our pipes! These water Lines run along the side of the highways. So, naturally Bedouins have settled next to the highways to take advantage of the free and easy water source. We could feel an undercurrent of tension arise among some Israelis when Bedouins were brought up. Although everyone wants to respect each local culture- we got the sense that some feel the Bedouins outside cities benefit from some of Israel's resources without paying taxes like most other citizens.

Not much in this area to choose from in the way of lunch restaurants. We would be eating at Kibbutz Mashabei-Sade, a quiet residential farming community that welcomes guests to their dining hall.
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All fed and happy- you know, this would be the perfect time for a group photo!
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A short ride and we arrived at Har Mihya Park, where we were greeted by Lior Schwimer, an old friend of Aya's. Lior is the head of the Ramon Educational Centre. We took a walk through the rocky landscape, stopping to learn about the petroglyphs found there.
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See how the sign is in three languages? Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Nearly every sign we have seen on this trip has included all three.
Whoops- I should have read this sign instead of just taking a picture of it. I broke a rule, dang it. I took a rock....

It's getting windy. The locals are getting excited. It is supposed to rain. Rain only happens a couple of times a year here in the desert. The anticipation is building. It is starting to sprinkle. Before we make a run for the bus, gotta be playful. Here is a double half-moon pose in the desert terrain.
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We are a short drive to the next hotel of the trip, the luxurious Bereshit Hotel. Set on the edge of the Ramon crater, this stunning complex takes advantage of the incredible views and landscape.
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As we were arriving at the hotel, so was the rain. This would change our plans a bit. We were supposed to have set off for a jeep tour of the crater. This would not be possible or safe with the intense rain that was expected. So we switched gears. Thanks to Aya's quick maneuvering, we were able to flip-flop our afternoon and morning activities. We would do "sunrise yoga" now, and save the jeep tour for tomorrow at sunrise. Eight of us elected to head to the nearby yoga studio. We had a wonderful class. Here is the room where we practiced. Ron and I will always remember this room, because this was Ron's FIRST yoga class! He liked it and hopefully it will be the first of many.
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Back at the hotel, our rooms were now ready. The buildings are shaped kind of like townhomes. There are two rooms on the ground level, and two above those. This is our room. We were up top and enjoyed the view out into the desert-like courtyard, where wild Ibex roamed!
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Time to get ready for dinner. They told us it would rain, and rain it did. Lots and lots of rain. At this resort, they pick you up in a golf cart to transport you between the main building and your room. We called for our pick up. Our golf cart arrived shortly. An open air cart. With a thick, soaking wet blanket stretched across the seat. We politely declined, returned to our room for our raincoats and umbrellas, and made a dash through the pouring rain to go to dinner with our group in the main building. It was pretty funny. Here we are at a luxury resort, where they really know how to pamper you. They just don't know what to do with a little rain! Desert problems...
We enjoyed a wonderful meal together, then unfortunately had to miss a part of the trip I had eagerly anticipated- stargazing in the desert. This area is known for it's incredible night skies due to its low light and low pollution atmosphere. But there were no stars to be seen this night. Only clouds and raindrops. It was a disappointment, but I wouldn't be surprised if we find ourselves in this paradise one day in the future to experience the night sky.

Posted by bloomcrew 16:52 Comments (0)

Israel Day 5- Oct 27

Last night the time changed in Israel. We gained an hour of sleep, and we will gain another hour when the time changes in Indy. Whoohoo- who knew you could double dip on gaining time back? Glad for that extra hour of sleep, as we are to meet up front at 6am sharp! Time to become acquainted with the Ramon Crater* in a very up close and personal way. We piled into a group of 4X4 vehicles, complete with guides, for our sunrise jeep tour. With the heavy rains last night, all roads in this area are closed. But our tour operator got special permission to take our group into the crater.large_IMG_2421.jpeg
They moved a car so we could proceed through.
We are descending quickly into the crater. Some gum helps with the ear popping. large_IMG_2425.jpeg
At a random moment, our driver exits the pavement and we begin off-roading. Whew- this is fun. Bumpity-bump we go, over the rutted, rocky terrain. We arrive at the river bed and have to stop. 363 days out of the year, this spot is nothing but rock and dust. Today, we are lucky to see a river in the desert. It is actually pretty exciting, as we understand how important this water is to the people living here. large_IMG_2434.jpeg
Our driver served as the guide for this expedition. He pointed out a desert plant and gave us a fascinating demonstration of its useful properties. He learned much of his information from Bedouins, who have strong traditions/knowledge of medicinal plants. I don't know the plant's complete name, but it is a type of saltwort.
Here he uses a mortar and pestle to grind the plant. You can see the bush next to his knee.
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He explains that the stems have a "straw" like hole in them with a filament that drinks up water. It has no trouble surviving in the harsh desert conditions.
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Once the plant is well ground, he demonstrates how it becomes soapy when rubbed between his palms.
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He lets us know that this is one of the best diamond cleaners out there, and would anyone like to have their diamond cleaned? One brave group member handed him her gorgeous ring. Here we can see him rinsing the ring after having rubbed it well with the soapy plant matter. Gotta say- it really did shine. Very effective science demonstration. And I was kind of tickled with the way this photo turned out. By no skill of my own, the water was captured cascading onto the ring. SCORE iPhone 11 Pro!
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Back in our jeeps, as there is a lot more to explore! Aya and I couldn't resist this opportunity to take a pic of each other!
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Ordinarily, we would be driving along the riverbed. Not today. I don't remember exactly how we got to the other side, but I do remember letting out a walloping "woohoo" at one point, while hoping the back seat passengers weren't getting beat up too badly.
This area up ahead looks SO steep. Are we seriously headed up there? Why, of course- yes! Actually, looking at the photo- it does not do it justice.
It was much steeper in real life. Seriously. Not a fish story..
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We went first, then had the fun vantage point of watching the other vehicles make their ascent.
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The views were excellent up top. large_abfeb080-03e9-11ea-bae2-d53a7d3c24a9.jpeg
Our guide gave us a lot of detail about this "crater"*
It is actually not a crater at all, but rather a giant sinkhole. And in the shape of a heart, at that! This area has so many layers of rock. Sandstone, limestone, and Flintstone. Yes, Flinstone. Now you go try and listen to a guy talk about Flinstone and not start singing "Flinstones, meet the Flintstones-they're a modern stone-age family". Talk about a song getting stuck in the head. This one fairly deeply implanted itself. I don't think I will ever hear the word "Flintstone" again without laughing. I am laughing right now...

Anyway- back to the crater/not a crater. This area used to be covered by ocean. Fast forward a couple hundred million years, and the waters receded, leaving a large hump in this area. Because the deeper levels of soil/earth were softer than those up top, a depression occurred. The softer levels gave way and sank, while the stronger, upper layers formed the rim of this depression in the earth. Well, at least that's my understanding. You will have to go yourself if you want a more detailed explanation. Anyway, I am happy about what occurred here. I like being here. It is kind of other worldly, remote, and special. And to top it all off, we are standing on a layer of loose granite. You can pick it up! (and take a piece home).
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Granite- get your granite countertops. Two for one- today's special!
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This place looks like a great spot for a group photo! Nevermind our 6am/no shower hairdos.
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And our guide gave us an especially fun gift- this 360 photo
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That was so much fun. I would do it all over again! But our stomachs are growling. It is 8am. Time to head back to the hotel to enjoy a nice buffet breakfast. Just about anything you could want was on this buffet. My plate is not necessarily representative of the bounty of offerings. I tried to cut back a bit with this meal. We had been eating like kings. And not my usual level of exercise. Feeling somewhat weighted down these days.
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I just needed a bit more activity. So, I became the official mimosa maker. Here are a few in the group enjoying my special deliveries.
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We were supposed to leave the resort at 9am, but because of the roads being flooded and closed, we would be delayed an hour. That's fine- gives us a little more time to shower and pack.
10am-Aya is sitting off to the side on a couch looking concerned. Phone to ear. She regrets to inform us, but the road is still closed. We would be "stuck" here awhile longer.
No problem. This place is awesome. We fan out like flies around the resort grounds. Most end up at the pool for some relaxation and conversation. As for me- I take this opportunity for a solo photography outing. Taking in all of the sites and capturing those that call to me. I was in my element, enjoying the freedom and my new iPhone camera.
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And a few more...
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Found my yoga buddy and we played around with a few fun poses. He is an instructor. Lucky for me, as he helped me achieve crow pose without
doing a faceplant. I have yet to replicate this at home...
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The wild Ibex here are plentiful. This guy decided to visit one of the rooms-perhaps find something good to eat...large_IMG_2562.jpeg
Seeing there was nothing there for him, he left via the wall and joined his family for a stroll.
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Meanwhile, back at the pool...
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A few last shots before we head out~
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I don't think anyone in our group minded being "stuck" at the Bereshit hotel for 3 hours. I'd call that a bonus!
I know that behind the scenes though, it was wreaking a bit of havoc. We were expected at Masada in time to hike the trail with our tour guide. And speaking of our tour guide, we were to have picked her up hours ago. Time to switch it up again. Here is Aya, on the phone once more- working out all of the new details as we begin the normally 2hr drive northeast towards Masada. Except with the roads being closed, we are taking a longer, alternate route which others have told Aya is open and passable. Who knew that a flood would be our biggest obstacle while in Israel?
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Along the way, we stop for a break at a shopping plaza, where our lunch would be brought to us in sacks, to eat while traveling- since we no longer had time to stop for lunch. A brief restroom break, then back on the bus, where a sweet lady handed us our lunch bags. Then the bus started rolling. Wait- the sandwich lady didn't get off! That's because our lunch lady was our new tour guide- Sigal! I just now looked up the meaning of the name Sigal. It means violet; treasure. How perfect. She is our treasure. Pretty sure we all soon realized what a treasure we had in Sigal. Sweet, with a contagious positivity about her. Yeah- I will hang with this type of lady for a few days.
We enjoy our sack lunches of various pita sandwiches and fries, then settle in for the ride to Masada. One of our group members REALLY wants to see a camel. Every time someone sees one off the side of the road, they yell "camel". But for some reason, he misses it every time, though poised with camera in hand-ready to capture the special moment when he finally sees one. So- we had to have a better system. From now on- if you see a camel, say where it is. "Camel on right!" "Camel left- on hill! That did the trick. He finally saw his camel. But not quickly enough to get a picture. But I got one, although quite grainy due to the bus movement and the great distance between us and the herd. This is greatly cropped to bring them close up~
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For a long time, we drive through desert landscape, but now things are beginning to look different. We are still in the desert, but this area is becoming much more mountainous. The road becomes winding and we climb, twist, and turn along this jagged pathway. To our great excitement, the Dead Sea is now visible in the distance!
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In short time, we arrive at Masada. IMG_2598.jpegIMG_2599.jpeg
To some of the group's disappointment, we would not be able to climb Masada. The paths closed at 2pm. All visitors after 2pm would need to use the cable car to reach the top. I know many in our group breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that the hike was cancelled. I was a little bummed, however~ but the disappointment quickly faded, as soon we were gliding up, up, up in the large gondola.
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Such a smooth ride, and with great views. In no time, we were at the top and we began our tour, with Sigal as our guide.
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Because we arrived at Masada late, our tour went pretty quickly. But Sigal packed a ton of information into our visit. Long story short, Masada is a large plateau atop an even larger mountain. Around 35 BCE, King Herod built himself a nice little vacation home up here. He was a fancy guy and liked fancy palaces. Complete with bath houses, pools, and multi-level porticos from which to take in the incredible views. It is good to be the king!

This fairy tale-like part is easy for me to remember. What is less clear is how nearly 1000 Jewish "Zealots" made their way up here and why the Roman armies surrounded Masada, resulting in the suicide deaths of all residing up top. Well, not exactly suicide, as that was not permitted by Jewish law. The zealots drew "lots" to determine who would die/in what order, then proceeded to systematically kill each other, so as not to die at the hands of the Romans. The last man standing did have to take his own life. But two women and their five children survived by hiding in a cistern while the compound burned by fire, which the zealots had intentionally set. These woman shared their story with Josephus, who chronicled it for history.
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Here is Inca Ron (thus named on our Peru trip, having faced his fear of heights and scaled some very high and narrow paths!), taking a daring step toward the rail to take in the view.
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The bath house, which at one time was surely quite luxurious.
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And the cistern, where the survivors were reportedly able to escape their deaths.
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And one last view of the glorious sunset we were all able to witness.
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That was awesome. Way better than the lame stories we learned in Sunday school. I would visit Masada again. Mental note- arrive early in order to be allowed to hike up either the Snake Path or the Roman Ramp.

It's starting to get dark and we need to get to our hotel at the Dead Sea in time for a quick dip, before it is too late to see what we are doing. We check in to Herod's Hotel, reportedly the best hotel at the Dead Sea. Would this be a palace? Well, maybe back in the day. It is very nice, but has a bit of a 1960's cruise ship kind of feel to it.
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What we did appreciate was the hotel's easy access to their clean stretch of beach, where we could enter the Dead Sea. But first, the mud. Our hotel kindly provided us with a packet of mud, and we got busy spreading it on our skin. The Dead Sea water is over 34% salt, making it some of the saltiest water in the world. Allowing us to float. But not without a bit of burn! Thus, the mud. It closes your pores and protects your skin from the extreme saltiness.
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The mud dissolves while you are in the water, but its protection remains. Areas of skin that I did not apply mud to, soon began to sting a bit. Here we are floating, trying not to drift apart, so as to stay in the photograph!
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Did you know the Dead Sea is the lowest elevation on earth?
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We enjoyed a nice group dinner and took a walk outside.
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Those Dead Sea waters are super relaxing. They sure know how to knock a guy out...
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Another fun day in the books.
Can't wait to see what tomorrow has in store.

Posted by bloomcrew 13:05 Comments (0)

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