A View of the World Through the Thoughts and Lens of Scott Kasper

Archive for July, 2010

Vacation within the vacation (Part 2)

This is the second installment of our adventure to Eilat.

Friday July 30: Breakfast at the hotel was a veritable smorgasbord of both western and middle-eastern cuisine. For the first time on our vacation the boys enjoyed pancakes for breakfast…and when I say enjoyed I mean it. Imagine a couple of diabetic kids who get to have pancakes in a land where it is common to drizzle hot, melted chocolate on the pancakes!!! Yes, they had maple syrup, but who cares about that when you can essentially have a breakfast sundae!!

Our day began at the Eilat Underwater Observatory Nature Park. This was not your every day, ordinary aquarium where there is a big tank in which the fish swim and are watched by the people. Much to the contrary, this was a big tank in which the people stood and were watched by the fish from the ocean!! The underwater observatory takes you beneath the Red Sea directly in the middle of the coral reef. The reef and its inhabitants are right there, live, in their natural environment. There was nothing man made about this, and both Ryan and Jake commented about how much more humane it was to have the people in the tank rather than the animals.

The spire in the distance, in the photo below, is the above water portion of the observatory.

Another feature unique to the Observatory was the Coral 2000. The Coral 2000 is like a combination of a glass bottom boat and a submarine. In actuality, the glass on the Coral 2000 is on the walls, which are submerged beneath the ocean. After boarding the boat, and climbing down the spiral staircase, one takes a seat along the wall of windows. As the boat navigates through the reef, the views are just spectacular.

Seeing the reef through all these windows was just not satisfying enough. So after the boat ride ended we drove down the beach about a kilometer until we found Coral Reef National Park and Nature Reserve.  After outfitting the boys with snorkel equipment, we hit the water. This was awesome!!!! There we were swimming with the Parrot Fish (the females are yellow and the males are brightly colored with yellow, blue, red, orange), Clown Fish (Jake was psyched to see Nemo!!!), Trigger Fish, Sting Rays (the babies had bright blue spots!!), Brain Coral, Fire Coral (that’s the stuff that stings if you brush up against it), and so much more!! The boys could not get enough of it. Rachel and I took turns snorkeling with them.

At first, the boys were nervous. It took a while for them to get used to swimming with their heads constantly in the water. Once they got used to it, they snorkeled like pros and we spent the entire afternoon with the fish! There were two piers that were about 300 yards apart and connected by long lines of buoys. The easiest way to go was to simply use the buoys as guides. We must have made three or four separate trips from one pier to the other.

By late afternoon we were totally wiped out!! I forget how much exercise ocean swimming is! We returned to the hotel, and it was just about Shabbat. The boys were intrigued by the Shabbat elevator. For those who are not aware, Shabbat is a day of rest, and even the work of pushing the elevator buttons is prohibited in the world of the strictly religious and observant. Therefore, there is an elevator that is pre-programmed to continue running constantly. It stops on every floor on the way up and every floor on the way down. This continues from sunset Friday until sunset Saturday.

Anyway, we showered, grabbed dinner and some ice cream, and then went to bed…Saturday morning would entail more snorkeling, but this time with the dolphins, so we needed our rest! Rest?? That’s a wild dream in our house….by 2 am both boys continuous glucose monitors were alarming and both were almost 500…that’s after having been corrected twice. That only means one thing….pump set changes…at 0200 hours. Jake’s was easy…he practically did not stir. Matt – a different story, but we got it done and got back to sleep….for 90 minutes or so until it was time to recheck…by the time I got back to sleep after that, it was nearly dawn….time to get up. Like I said a few days ago, that’s just how we roll!!

Tune in tomorrow for a summary of our marine mammal adventure.

Vacation within the vacation (Part 1)

Sorry for the gap in entries over the past few days….as I anticipated, I did not have internet access in the hotel in Eilat. So let’s catch up…before I do, however, I want to extend a Happy Birthday to my brothers!!! I hope you enjoyed however you celebrated!

Thursday July 29: We made our way from Yavne’el, by the Sea of Galilee in northeastern Israel, to resort city of Eilat, on the Red Sea in southernmost Israel.  Those of you from work may appreciate the first photo of the day… just after we left the house and stopped to grab a few things from the store, I had the opportunity to chat with a local paramedic…this is his vehicle:

After stocking up for the ride, we were off! With a few stops for food and bathrooms we made the 500 km journey in just less than 5 hours. It really wasn’t that bad and the kids were remarkably well behaved thanks for fresh charges on the game boys, portable play stations, and iPods!

The first half hour of the drive was totally uneventful. At about the 30-minute mark we arrived at the checkpoint blockade. Huh??? Checkpoint?? Blockade?? We decided to make our way to Eilat by traveling Highway 90. This is clearly not the Mass Pike or New York State Throughway. Road 90 is a 2 lane road that makes its way from the northern most town on the Lebanon boarder all the way to Eilat, the southern most city in Israel. To complete that route, however, it travels directly through the Palestinian controlled West Bank….also known here in Eretz Yisrael as Area C.

Funny thing about Area C. As soon as you pass through the blockade at the boarder, the GPS device stops navigating and alerts you that you are now traveling in Area C. It continues to indicated that the car is traveling Road 90, but does not display and turn by turn navigation and does not display any of the surrounding road ways. I took this as a sign that this good Jewish American family should stay right on Road 90 and not stop for anything until we pass through the southern checkpoint (pictured below) and back in the safety of Israel. Not only did we do just that, but Rachel called her mother just to let her know that we were no longer in the West Bank….what a mensch!!!

I must say that I was a tiny but nervous driving this area, but more so I was excited to have done it. I think that Rachel thought the same. It gave us an opportunity to talk to the kids about politics, religion, and the clashed that result from the conflicts between the two. We talked about history and current events, including the recent Israeli boarding of the “humanitarian aid” boats off the coast of Gaza. It’s one thing to read and watch news about this stuff when in the US. It’s quite another thing altogether to discuss this stuff here, in the heart of it, where it’s real every day. I think the kids have learned some interesting and less sheltered perspective about these issues, and that’s a good thing!

Back to the journey…Shortly before leaving the West Bank we hit water!! We had arrived at the Dead Sea (photo below). It was remarkable in color, but even more remarkable in how far it has receded! The plains that were clearly once the bottom of the Sea are now vast in size and completed desolate. I am guessing this is recent as none of the vegetation that grows along the older shores have invaded this new land yet.

The scenery in the Negev (Israeli Desert) was like a lunar landscape, but at the same time was beautiful!!! The geology changed along the way, but the one constant was a complete lack of plant life…nothing…only rocks, gravel, dirt, and sand…for hundreds of kilometers.

Then, all of a sudden, through the barren landscape appeared an oasis…in the distance was Eilat. We had arrived and it looked beautiful.  It was interesting to see more villages on the Jordan side of the boarder (first photo below) as we got closer to the sea. Arriving in Eilat was, in some respects, like arriving in Las Vegas…out of the desert pops a cluster of hotels with a singular purpose, which in the case of Eilat is a focus on aquatics of the Red Sea.

We checked into our hotel and simply spent the remainder of the day by the pool (photo above). It was hot, but there was a breeze. Unfortunately it was not a cool breeze and I can now imagine what it feels like to be inside of a convection oven. After swimming and a quick shower it was off to dinner then to bed.

Stay tuned for Part 2, which will come after dinner in a few hours….I hope….if I don’t collapse from exhaustion first.

Optimism Diminished (just a little bit)

July 28, 2010

Our adventure in the holy land continued today with a visit to Nazareth. The day started out slow….I think I mentioned yesterday that Ryan seemed to have caught some type of stomach bug. His fever was lower in the morning, but we wanted to make sure he was okay before heading out. We let the kids all sleep in and even after waking we let them just hang, playing the various electronic devices for which we needed an entire separate suite case. In the mean time, I went to the store to stock up on a few supplies. Herb and Adrianne decided that they would head out on their own today, and they also set out for Nazareth while I was at the store.

When I returned it was decided that we would all go. Ryan seemed good! So, we had a quick lunch, packed the day packs, applied sunscreen, filled water bottles, programmed the GPS and off we went.

It was an easy drive (part of the reason we chose to go there) to the City. Once we got there, however, finding a place to park posed a bit more of a challenge. We are resourceful travelers, however, and by paying just a bit more than market value for a six pack of water landed us an awesome, off-street space right next to the shop keepers pick up truck. We were very confident that one of two things would result: either our car would be there safe and sound upon our return or it will have made its way through an Israeli chop shop….I guess when in a holy city like Nazareth, one needs to have a little faith…it was right where we left it when we got back!

Faith? Is that what I said? And yesterday, did I express some optimism about peaceful coexistence (If you did not read yesterday’s blog, here’s a hyperlink to help you get there)? Our destination in Nazareth was the Basilica of the Annunciation.

This is a huge church that was built in 1969. The site on which it was erected contained a centuries old shrine (picture below) at the location of the grotto (cave) where Mary lived before she married to Joseph….I’ll get back to that. Well, as we approached this holy place, there in the courtyard, in the shadows of the dome of t he basilica was a sign!! Not a holy sign….no burning bush, or dove with an olive branch, or any of the typical “signs” one may associate with God, the bible, or a religious landmark. Nope, it was this sign:

Now, I have nothing against Islam, Muslims, or the Koran. But come on folks….right in the court yard of a holy Christian like this? This is not a good example of peaceful coexistence….though I would point out that a similar sign espousing the teachings of the New Testiment or the Talmud would clearly not be tolerated outside of a mosque in any of the Islamic controlled countries. Israel, however, is a democracy in which this expression is tolerated. Optimism abandoned….not at all, but I will admit it was diminished slightly. Oh, and by the way, I refuse to believe that I am among the losers!!!

We entered the church at the tail end of a mass that we being held for a group of Mexican pilgrims. The timing was perfect, ad that afforded us the opportunity to tag along and the Franciscan friar allowed the group through the chains that blocked the way to Mary’s grotto. It was quite an experience watching the group pay their respects to this holy place.

That last image is one looking straight up into the dome. I have to share that when Matt saw this he said that it was interesting the way the architecture all points up to the light….kinda like when someone dies and the head toward the light….hmmmm….I had not noticed it in that respect. I always marvel at how kids see things that we adults easily over look….I was marveling more at the architecture and geometry of it all.

Anyway, once we were done looking, it was time to head home so Ryan would not over do it. On our way back to the car we actually ran into Herb and Adrianne sitting at a side-walk cafe. We joined them for a quick bit to eat….more amazing middle eastern cuisine for me and Rachel, and some ice cream for the kids.

Not much more to report….as I said, we took it easy. Eilat will be our next destination. We will head out on the 5+ hour drive early so that we can hit the Red Sea shortly after lunch. Not sure about connectivity from there, so don’t worry if you don’t hear from me….I’ll be back in touch soon


Confused? I am!

אם אתה עוקב אחרי הבלוג הזה מן ההתחלה, אתה יודע, כי עד כה לא הזכרתי באמת הרבה על נסיעה עם שלושה ילדים, שניים מהם לוקים בסוכרת מסוג 1. היום חשבתי כתובת אתגר, בין הבעיות הגדולות ביותר היא שאני לא יכול לקרוא את תוויות המזון

Confused? Unless you speak Hebrew, I’ll bet you perplexed by the paragraph above!! Here’s my confession…I’m Jewish, I spent years in Hebrew school, I had my Bar Mitzvah in September 1981, I belong to a conservative synagogue, I am in Israel…..and I do not speak Hebrew!

Okay, not the biggest deal in the world. Perhaps for most that would be true. However, let me now translate for you (with the help of translate.google.com) what I wrote at the beginning and perhaps you will understand my dilemma.

Translation: If you have been following this blog from the beginning, you know that so far I have not really mentioned much about traveling with three kids, two of whom have type 1 diabetes. Today I thought I would address that challenge, and among the biggest problems is that I cannot read the food labels!

When we prepare to travel, packing the suitcases full of clothes is the easy part. Either Rachel or I (okay, 99% of the time it’s Rachel) print out a list of clothes for each of the kids, they retrieve the items and deliver them to our bedroom….it’s like a scavenger hunt. That part is easy! The challenging part is packing the suite case full of medical supplies, gathering the doctors notes, copying prescriptions, copying insulin pump failure protocols and instructions, obtaining an extra insulin pump for travel just in case, figuring out how we will travel almost 24 hours with supplies that require refrigeration, etc, etc, etc.

While we are getting much better at this (there was a time that we traveled quite a distance toward Vermont when we realized that we forgot to bring the insulin, and had to turn around), it remains a challenge and tremendous source of stress none-the-less.

All that said, we get it done and get out the door….no problem. That is until we reach our destination and realize that the day to day, or even hour to hour health of two of our kids depends on our ability to read food labels, which are in Hebrew. Even Rachel, who does understand a moderate amount of Hebrew, had trouble initially.

To be honest, this should not be the biggest deal in the world. But over the past six years we have become very comfortable with the foods we know and the labels that come along with them. We are very accustomed to measuring portions and figuring out the serving sizes. Here in Israel, that all seems to have gone out the window and we guess! We guess because many of the labels are different, we can’t seem to consistently figure out serving sizes to which the labels apply, we cannot always decipher ingredients, and when I am not with Rachel I’m lost. Part of the problem is that there are different “fonts” if you will that change the appearance of the Hebrew letters drastically. When we were in Italy, at least I could recognize word roots (thanks to several years of Latin in high school), and all the letters were recognizable. That’s just a bit different here.

Partly as a result of that, and partly because stuff just gets screwed up when we travel, blood sugars have been running consistently between 200 and 400 in both boys….mostly Matt. Even with temporary basal rates set, we battle high blood sugars all day. Matt and Jake have been doing remarkable well. I am sure they feel like crap after a long day in the hot sun and with blood sugar levels that would make most of us feel like garbage. They are real troopers!

I bring all this up not as a complaint, but more as a travel tip for anyone traveling abroad. In our busy daily lives we failed to plan for one of the important thing that has become so routine for us at home. To us, counting carbs has become part of our autonomic nervous system…..like breathing and blinking….it just happens and we don’t really have to think about it. In this case, we (or perhaps mostly I) should have thought about….should have known it would be a challenge, and should have prepared.

So what happens next? We will make our adjustments, we will be pushy in the grocery store and force people to answer our questions when they are just trying to buy their milk, we will get better at guessing and we will find the brands and foods that work for us the best. Over time everything will get much better, we will maintain a positive attitude and will have fun in spite of the challenges.

Beyond that, and most importantly, we will  adapt and overcome.  We will turn our challenges into experiences that make our family stronger. Rachel and I will learn lessons from our brave little boys, and will be proud of the fact that in the world related to their health, they are not so little…they are indeed mature beyond their years and have just as much to offer in our solutions as Rachel and I do (though I will admit that this is something that, especially in the heat of the moment, I tend to forget). We learned a long time ago to expect the unexpected and to adapt and overcome….that’s just how we roll!

Tomorrow we’re taking the 5 hour drive to Eilat, Israel’s southern most city….an ocean resort on the Red Sea. Not sure how the internet connection will be there, so if you don’t hear from me for a few days don’t worry….I’ll get you caught up when we get back to Yavne’el.

Do Laundry…Use Caution

I had already started to write this evening’s blog this morning, as it was not intended to have anything to do with today’s events. It has more to do with some overall themes of travel that I have experienced. My friend Eileen may know the issues to which I am referring, however the rest of you will have to wait another day because one of today’s events just can’t go unmentioned.

Today was all about the water. It was an adult focused water morning, followed by a kid focused water afternoon. This morning we drove to  Hamat Gader hot springs, which is right on the Israel/Jordan border just Southeast of Lake Tiberias. Before I describe our adventure, I have to tell you about laundry.

As I was packing up stuff for the day, I heard a shriek from the laundry room, followed by “Scott you need to do something about this!”. As I turned the corner I found Rachel gingerly holding the lint filter from the dryer, and this little fellow was clinging along with the lint.

Needless to say she was a bit disturbed by this, and I must admit that I was slightly concerned as to how it got into the laundry in the first place. Thankfully it was not found by one of the kids putting on his boxer shorts and getting stung in the frank and beans (that what we call “the private parts” in our house…LOL).

I knocked on the door next store. That’s where the care taker lives. I asked him a few details about the scorpions here, shook out the rest of our clothes and continued preparing for the day’s events.

After I pealed Rachel and the kids away from the internet where they were googling the hundreds of scorpion species to find out how many of them are deadly, and whether or not doing a load of laundry in Israel can kill you, we finally hit the road to the hot springs.

Getting there was quite interesting in itself. The ride took us along the boarder, where bunkers and look-out towers were obvious on both sides. Although there is a friendly treaty between Israel and Jordan, it was clearly not always that way, and you can still see the remnants of conflict from years gone by. It was rather striking to be at the pool at the oasis under the watch of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) from the tower above.

Although this pool above is for kids, just to the other side of it was a mammoth size pool of natural hot mineral springs for the adults. Rachel spent a few minutes soaking in the healing waters before we made good on our promise to go to a more kid friendly place, so we hit the road toward Tiberias and stopped at Gai Beach Water Park.

They had been begging to go there since the first time we passed it as we drove along the shores of Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee). It looked quite nice from the outside, which is clearly not the case for all the beaches along this stretch. Gai Beach, however, looked clean and had bathrooms and shade….a perfect combination!

The kids had a ball here!! We found a vacant umbrella to make our home base for the afternoon, and off we went. There were swimming pools, 5 water slides, and of course the Sea of Galilee from which to chose. The boys loved the slides and I loved the people watching…though a few trips down the slides with the kids was clearly a highlight of my day.

As the people watching goes, it was once again a reminder to me of the stark differences between the various cultures in this region. It was also another reminder of my previous comments related to peaceful coexistence…..Jews, Muslims, and Christians all sharing a swimming pool in the place where it all began….where each of the roots of those cultures emanates  from a common beginning. Makes one think just a bit!

This woman stood cooling herself beneath the water for almost half of an hour. Every so often she would look up, glance and smile, and then go back to her solitude beneath the cool water. We stayed at Gai Beach until it was time to head home to get ready for dinner.

Herb and Adrianne had gone to Tel Aviv for the day, so as soon as they got back it was off to Deck’s! Decks is a Kosher BBQ restaurant, and I must say that it rivals any of the places that I have been in Austin, Memphis, or Kansas City!! The BBQ Lamb Ribs grilled over a bed of hickory embers imported from the US were out of the world!!! I have to give thanks to Rabbi Levine back home in Mount Laurel for urging me to go there….it was well worth the trip!!

Ryan developed a low fever this afternoon, so I think tomorrow will be a low key day in order to give him the chance to recover. That will also give me the chance to complete the blog entry that I had started this morning….uh oh…Matt just came out of bed and his blood sugar is almost 400….gotta go figure out what’s going on…

Stay tuned for more of our adventures in Erezt Yisrael (The Land of Israel)!

Safed (Tsefat)

Okay….for those of you following this blog I will have to teach you how to pronounce this when I get home…There is no easy way for me to do so in writing, and even the Garmin said it differently each time…in any case, that’s where we went today.

Tsefat is a very old city in Northern Galilee that has grown to be a thriving center for two things….first, it is an artist colony. Second, it is a center for Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. Let’s talk about each of those separately.

As we made our way toward the old city, we wandered into a bakery…OMG!!!! The smells from the fresh baked breads and pastries was out of this world. I bought a big bag of sorted rugelach for the kids to share. If you don’t know what a rugelach is, click here to read more. If you do know, or once you find out, you’ll understand why I also bought a few extra for me…chocolate and cinnamon. The only thing better than the way the pastries smelled, was the way they tasted. Packaged ruggies from Wegman’s will just never be the same again!

From there we continued wandering until we found the Artist Colony. To get there we had to descend a few steps, but once at the bottom we were faced with a variety of genres and shops from which to choose…we chose the one with the biggest sign…”Glass Blowing: Live Demonstration”.

After stopping into a few shops along the way, we finally made it to the glass blowing shop of Sheva Chaya Shaiman. She was a very pleasant young woman, originally from Denver and a graduate of Princeton University, who immediately started to show us some of her favorite water color paintings, and then began to demonstrate how she works with glass. As she transformed a rod of glass into a set of glass eye glasses, she explained the connection that her art has to the forces of nature and Judaism. While we were all impressed with her art, some felt that her attempt at teaching was a bit odd….personally I liked it, and since this is my story that’s all that matters!!!

After the demo, we wandered through the streets where some galleries were large, almost museum like, and others were simply small one room cut-outs from the wall with a roll down door that doubled as the store front when closed. Behind the door, when opened, are the tiny shops that consist of a single glass counter in which hand made crafts, jewelry and art was displayed. As we wandered some of us saw pieces of art in which we were interested, but in trying not to buy the first thing we saw, we pushed onward through the maze of shops and galleries.

After lunch, which consisted of over-priced salads, pasta and quiche (I think it was Ryan who said “why did you come to Israel to get French food for lunch?”), we made pour way back through the shops.

One of the first ones we stopped at was that of a silversmith who made hand crafted jewelry. One of the pendants he had was crafted in the shape of two hand touching. The space between the hands resembles the Hebrew letter Aleph. In Hebrew, each letter also has a numerical value, and the letter Aleph is also the number one. Therefore, these two hands joined form the letter Aleph, which is one….two combine to make one. I liked not only the artwork itself, but also the symbolism behind it. As I mentioned in previous entries, my wedding anniversary was earlier this week, so this became a perfect gift for Rachel.

The symbolic meaning behind the two hands is a simple example of Jewish mysticism, or kabbalah. To know and understand kabbalah requires a great deal of study. In recent years it has been introduced to pop culture by celebrities such as Madonna and Demi Moore. I have always been interested in this stuff, but since I don’t understand much of the mainstream aspects of the Jewish religion, I have not ventured far into the teachings of kabbalah.

That said, I did also buy myself something today….a double silver pendant with a Magen David, or Jewish star in the front behind which there is a Hebrew engraving of a song written several hundred years ago by a famous Rabbi. The song itself is supposed to inspire peace. In addition, the first letter of each line of the song combines to spell the Hebrew name of God.

Anyway – once we were done in Tsefat, we headed toward home. Along the way we stopped to let the kids take a quick swim in the Sea of Galilee. Now, here is where I will know those of you who read through the end of this long entry….this is the humorous part. When we were done swimming I brought the kids to a public changing room to get back into dry clothes….we had forgotten to bring towels. The place was nasty! Before we left the room, Jake told me he had to go the bathroom. Knowing that the stalls were even nastier than the rest of the place, I specifically asked him whether he just needed to pee, or whether he also needed to……you can fill in the blank. A few minutes later I hear a little voice say “Dad, there’s no toilet paper in here, and I really need some toilet paper!”

Ugh!!! I looked in every nasty, filthy stall in the place and there was not a single shred of paper to be found. I told him to sit right there (like he was going anyplace else) and that I would be right back. Immediately I did what any father would do in such a situation….I ran to the car to get Rachel!!! Its not that I could not have handled the situation….I would have glad sacrificed my socks, or torn my shirt into several smaller pieces to help clean up the situation. However, why do that when your wife speaks Hebrew and can ask one of the Israelis in the area whether or not they have a few pieces of TP that they would be willing to share with woefully under-prepared Americans. My plan worked….not only did one guy have some, but he had wet wipes….even better!!!!

Thus ends another day in the adventures of the Kasper’s trek through Israel….tomorrow involves hot springs and a water park…I’m sure we’ll get ourselves into some interesting predicament to report on….until then….Lila Tov (remember, that means good night).

All “Shuk” up!!!!

July 25 was a cultural experience at its best!!

Before I get to that, however, an update on Jake’s backpack and camera. When he woke up he asked me if I would take him to the place we think he left it. We had our breakfast and I took him down to Tiberias to the beach at which we swam 2 days ago. Fortunately I recognized the life guard. Unfortunately he did not speak very good English, and that was better than my Hebrew. I was able to get Herb (my father-in-law for those who do not know) on the phone and between us we were able to help him understand what we were looking for. No Luck….nobody had turned it in.

When we got back to the house the gang decided that the adventure of the day would include a ride to Rosh Hanikra, where there are caves and grottos created by the sea. As soon as he heard about the grottos, Matt asked if they would be like the one at Hugh Hefner’s mansion….kidding….I asked that….

Getting to the grottos requires a cable car ride from the top.

Once at the bottom there is a path that walks you through the caves….it’s short, but it was well worth the trip.

What I really want to focus on is the cultural experience we had after that. We left Rosh Hanikra and traveled about 20 minutes south to the City of Akko (for some reason also spelled Acre). The Old City is a walled community that is almost completely Arabic. The sounds and smells were uniquely different from the other Israeli villages through which we have traveled. The writing, and the graffiti is all Arabic…no Hebrew to seen here.

Big disclaimer: I have no idea what that says, so if you read Arabic and if this is somehow offensive, I apologize.

Anyway, Akko’s old city dates back to the time of the Crusaders, around the 12th century. It is a maze of narrow and dark alleys and passages, with worn cobble stone walk ways. The buildings comprise a combination of residential homes and small store fronts whose shop keepers practically accost you as you walk past…you need to be almost as pushy as they are to make them understand that you don’t want a souvenir, a fan, jewelry, or a freshly squeezed glass on pomegranate nectar. The alleys open to vibrant courtyards and glimpses into centuries gone by.

As we wandered the streets looking for the tunnels used by the Templar Knights to move through the city unnoticed, we stumbled across the shuk. The shuk is the neighborhood market place….almost like a flea market back in the states. There is jewelry, clothing, food, spices, toys, and more…You name it, you can find it in the shuk.

Unlike the American flea market, this is a dark, smelly, and kinda scary place to be at first. It was clear that we were being stared at as we walked down the path. The street itself was wet and sticky…almost like a Saturday night frat house floor. There is a shallow channel that runs along the center of the narrow walk way and leads to sporadically placed drains…based on the smells, I know its not frat house beer than runs through those channels so we urged the boys to watch their step and avoid the flowing liquids.

Once you get past the initial discomfort with the place, it became quite interesting. To take a step back and simply listen and observe the activity almost serves to transport you back several centuries in time….I imagine that although the wares may have changed in that time, this place and its culture and tradition has not changed one bit. The colors are vibrant and the aroma from the occasional spice shop are enough to make any weary traveler taste something from a street vendor that would likely be shut down by the health department by U.S. standards….which does not, by the way, mean that the food is not delightfully tasty….it is!!

As much as the old city seems to be Arabic, the surroundings are clearly Israeli. This means that even in this environment there is a coexistence of the two cultures that is evident throughout the area. On some level, the fact that the Hasidim, an ultra religious Jewish sect, walk the streets surrounding the Shuk and the holy Islamic mosques of the old city is a stark example to me that there may be some hope for peace in this region some day.  It was the sight of an older Arabic woman who made me realize that male or female, young or old, Muslim or Jew, we all drive the same cars and we all have to put the same fluids under the hood. On the streets we are all just people….people who may not share language, ritual, or fashion…but we share the human spirit.

The cultural experience of walking through this place is one which makes this trip completely worth while. I know  that I can experience cultural differences right in my back yard. I can go, in a day trip, from the Amish country of rural Pennsylvania to the ghettos of Harlem to the blue collar neighborhoods of South Philly. But this is vastly different than that. This is a clash of time and culture that cannot be experienced in village that is not a thousand years old in a region that is not the epicenter of world religious history.

We have been here one week now, and I am sure that we will enjoy more similar experiences. This was the first exposure for us, however, and it was remarkable!

Photos from the whole trip are viewable in the slide show at scottkasperphotography.com

Anniversary in the Ruins

Wow!!! What an exhausting day we had!! The day started out with a mild temper tantrum because we discovered that Jake had left his backpack on the beach the day before….along with his hat and brand new digital camera. In many respects this was my fault….I usually ask everyone whether or not they have everything, but I neglected to do that. It is also his fault…he’s 7 now and needs to start taking some responsibility for his own stuff!! Anyway, he was so upset that I heard him crying later in the evening after I put him to bed….maybe he gets it now!!

Well, once we figured out that we weren’t going to find Jake’s stuff, we headed out for the day. We drove about an hour west of Yavne’el to a place called Tel Megiddo. “Tel” is an archaeological dig, and Megiddo is the name of the ancient city that dates back to around 2000 BC. Here is a shot I took of Tel Megiddo from above:

Besides being a remarkably interesting site of ruins, this site has some significance that I think we can all appreciate….Megiddo is the Hebrew name for what we have come to know as Armageddon….or the place at which the New Testiment states that the last great battle where good will triumph over evil will take place…not sure if that battle has happened yet or not…I guess time will tell!!

The ruins are remarkable, and it is still an active dig.

The round platform that you see in the photo above is the site where, for thousands of years, the residents of this site worshiped. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this site was the place known as the water works. The water source was a spring that was outside the protection of Megiddo’s walls….so they dug a deep hole and the a long tunnel (about 30 meters long) which ended at the under ground spring. The residents could leave the security of the city without being detected in order to get their water. Here we are descending into the passage way:

Oh…I forgot to mention that the aerial shot of Megiddo that I took….it was a shot of a poster in the gift shop….just in case you wondered how I got that!!

From Megiddo we continued West until we reached the Mediterranean Sea at Caesarea. This is an absolutely stunning and remarkable site of the ruins of King Herod’s City dating back several centuries BC. Words cannot describe the ingenuity of precision of the construction that has survived these thousands of years.  We had lunch at a very nice restaurant overlooking the ocean, and then went out to explore the site. I was most impressed by the fact that as Caesarea has been restored as a community, many of the new buildings have been erected directly atop of the ancient structures….truly amazing to see! I’ll have many images on my web site, but here are just a few to pique your interest.

By the way – July 24 was my 16th wedding anniversary….Happy Anniversary Rachel!! What an amazing place to spend that day with my wonderful wife (and my kids and in-laws)!!! I am truly a lucky man!!

On our way home, we ate dinner at Sahara…a most amazing Arabic restaurant that was recommended to us by an Israeli cousin of a friend of ours. No sooner did we sit down than the waiter filled our table with an enormous amount of food….the salads!!! Eggplant, hummus, baba, corn salad, tahini, pita, on and on and on…..too much to eat!! The Lamb Kabob was fantastic….but the best part of the meal was the dish of braised lamb tongue in Sahara sauce that the waiter brought me to try….on the house!! I thought it was fantastic….Andrew Zimmern, eat your heart out!!! Herb thought is was okay, and Matt thought it was nasty!!! Adrianne was grossed out that I even thought about eating it, and Rachel has just come to expect these things from me. Great meal to end a great day!!!

Not sure what today will bring…we were too tired to make plans before we all collapsed last night….you’ll just have to tune in later to find out! I’m off to load tons of the day’s photos to my slide show.


Quiet Day in Galilee.

Being that today is Friday, we were advised to make sure that we stock up the refrigerator this morning, as most of the stores will close early for Shabbat and will not reopen until late tomorrow or Sunday. So we let the boys sleep in late…wait…let’s be honest….we let Rachel sleep in late this morning and then took a trip to the grocery store.

After the cupboards were filled and we had lunch, I headed out with Matt, Ryan and Jake for a boys afternoon at the shore. Now back home that would mean a trip to Wildwood or perhaps Point Pleasant….ice cream, rides on the board walk, and urgent sprints across the hot sand because Jake waits until the VERY last minute to tell us he needs a bathroom NOW!! Well, that did not happen today.

Today was a drive to the shores of the Sea of Galilee…about 10 minutes from the house in which we are staying. Below is the Sea of Galilee, also known as Kinneret, also known as Lake Tiberias, with the City of Tiberias in the background.

It was our first venture to the shores of this historic and vitally important body of water. We spent the drive talking about how vital it is to the water supply of the entire Jordan River Valley, and that Israel gets about a third of its water supply from Galilee. We talked about the religious and historic significance and that although we are going to have fun in the Lake, it is a place that should be treated respectfully. I even talked to them about how some of the beach sections may be split between make and female because of the religious beliefs and customs of the ultra-orthodox Jews.

What I failed to describe to them is that some of those same customs are practiced by Muslims as well…and I failed to consider that since I don’t read Hebrew very well, if at all, that I may end up on a predominantly muslim section of beach…and I failed to consider that rather than screaming at me that he had to go to the bathroom, that Jake would scream at me to “look at that lady who was going swimming with her clothes on. Isn’t that silly Dad!?”

Well, I then IMMEDIATELY considered five (yes, 5) things:

  1. First I considered whether or not any of the folks about which he screamed anywhere within hearing distance, and if so
  2. I secondly considered whether or not they heard him, and if so
  3. I thirdly considered whether or not they spoke English, and if so
  4. I fourthly considered how I would make my quick escape back to the car, and finally
  5. I considered how I was going to get a photo of this to help tell the story.

Fortunately I had just attended a class in travel photography taught by two National Geographic Photographers. One of them spoke about the importance of learning how to “shoot from the hip”, or how to hold your camera in such a way that nobody around you will know that you are taking their picture….I guess I learned well!!

I’ll leave you with a parting shot, which is the view we have over the valley in the evening….this taken tonight just after sunset….Shabbat Shalom!

For  the photogs following my antics, this one is a 30 second exposure taken with a 70 mm lens, ISO 100, f/8.

Fortresses, Weapons, and Falafel

Another busy day….



To write much….


Nimrod’s Fortress (and no I am not referring to one of my brothers)

High Powered Assault Weapons (no innocent children were harmed in the taking of these photos)

Yup….That’s an Uzi being fired by Ryan, Matt and Herb. You think that wild, just wait for this….Rachel and I got to fire the newest Israeli assault rifle, the Tavor!!

Finished the day with the best falafel EVER!!!! Gotta tell Anthony Bordain about this place!!!

Exhausted now, so we’re all going to sleep!! You can check out lots more of today’s photos by clicking here!!

Good night!

No Passage! Drowning Hazard!

So take a look at the titles of this and the previous posts..have you started to notice a theme?? Is our guide trying to get us all killed?? First cliffs, then drowning hazards…

We drove about an hour top the northern most community in Israel….a stones throw from Lebanon and about 4o km from Beirut. It is quite an odd feeling knowing that we were right there….on the boarder…staring at “the enemy”…..the villages don’t look any different….there was no visible fence or wall where we were….but there are several millennium of bad blood, fighting and war. Honestly, it’s a shame. More about that later.

Anyway, I wasn’t nervous about this like I was the previous day….and the reality is that out hike through the Snir River was WAY fun!!! The boys thought it was a riot that they got to walk right down the middle of a river!! It was a bit cold, but all three even tool the opportunity to shower beneath a waterfall.

OK…now that you’ve seen the pic, you’re saying that’s not a river…we have streams bigger than that in the States!! Remember that the average annual rainfall in this area is measured in centimeters, not inches or even feet, and the whole area is drying up. It’s amazing that they even have this much water in the river….oh, and it runs into the Jordan River, which honestly is not much wider!!!

After our hike, it was off to the Golan Heights. For those who are not entirely familiar with Middle East history, the Golan Heights were part of Syria until Israel occupied the land after the 1967 war. Shortly after that, Israel passed a law annexing this land and “officially” making it part of Israel. It remains a source of contention today, as the Syrians want it back and the peace process seems to hinge on that. Now I have to say, before 1967 this land was barren. It has only been through Israeli investment, technology and ingenuity that it has become irrigated and an agricultural center for various fruits and vegetables….what used to be just a vast landscape on a high plateau, is now beautiful and productive for the Israelis….but the Syrians want it back….its complex issue and I don’t have any answers!!

We rented ATVs and took the boys out into the country. The highlight of the ride was when we rode through an old Syrian military base and Police/Military Office Academy. The base has been abandoned, and the Academy building was destroyed during the bombings in 1967. Some of the images are sobering reminders of what happened here and what will happen again in the future unless the peace process can be successful!

As one of the boys climbed out of the bunker on Mount Bental, I am reminded that this is a reality for the Israelis every day. We are lucky that our concerns in the US are largely for those men and women whom we have sent to the Middle East to fight the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Israel, it is real.

Please don’t get me wrong, we never felt unsafe and war does not seem to be a front of mind issue for the people with whom I spoke. But, it is part of their reality. They live among mine fields, bunkers and bomb shelters. As an outsider I was equally impressed with both the beauty of the landscape as well as the sobering reality of the on-going political and religious conflict….oh, did I mention that the guy who rented us the SUV’s had two 9mm hand guns stuffed the back of his pants?

After our adventure through the Golan Heights, we stopped at a local farm, where we bought some cheese, wine and olive oil and returned home for a wonderful dinner! Tomorrow….I’m not sure yet….you’ll have to wait until my next update and you’ll find out just a few hours after I do.

Don’t forget, you can check out my slide show for more images from the day’s events.

Danger! Cliff Edge!

Today started early in the Galilee….I was up at the crack of dawn. With the morning light I was able to get this nice shot of the house in which we are staying

As you can see, its call Smadar View Villa

Once everyone joined me among the waking world (which did not take place until close to 10:00 am), we met our guide, Yaniv, and headed out for a day of hiking at Mount Arbel in the Galilee. Now, those of you who knew me when I was much younger know that I used to do a great deal of backpacking and rock climbing…and it never made me nervous. Well, I guess the combination of fatherhood, a small child whose blood sugar dropped to 40, sheer cliffs that are nearly 300 feet high, and no ropes or other safety gear is the exact combination needed to make this old veteran climber climb right out of his skin….I was just a tad nervous!!!

Nice view, isn’t it!! That’s Yaniv on the left. He did an awesome job with the kids. They were particularly nervous about this hike, especially after having stood at this look-out spot and seeing the chasm down which they were about to descend.

Off we went…Jake was being extremely bold and did not seem to care about the fact that one slip and he would plummet to the floor below…it wasn’t until we were about half way down that we realized his blood sugar was about 40!! A juice box and a few glucose tablets later and we were off again. Here is one last shot just to give you some perspective about what we accomplished….check out the tiny buildings below….this was steep and high!!!

Once we got down we had a leisurely hike the rest of the way down to the Bedouin village below….well almost. Herb, my father-in-law, and Ryan got ahead of the rest of us just enough that we could not see which way they went at a fork in the trail. After a brief exploration of the options, Rachel and I did what we have been taught by watching Survivor Man and Man vs. Wild…we guessed!!! We headed down the trail to the right, past the Muslim cemetery and down to the spot where the cars were waiting for us. Thus ends the adventure of Mount Arbel.

Oh, one last photo of historic and biblical note…according to Yaniv, the view of Galilee below encompasses the land in which about 80% of the New Testiment took place.

Not much else to tell about the day….lunch, shopping, dinner, and off to bed. Tomorrow – hiking through the waterfalls and renting ATVs in the Golan Heights.

If you want to see more photos of the day’s adventure, check out the slide show on my web site.

Lilah Tov (that’s good night for those who don’t speak Hebrew)!!

Greetings From Israel

Shalom!! Greetings from Israel. Welcome to my new blog and what I hope will be an on-going chronicle of the business and antics of Scott Kasper Photography. For the moment, however, it will serve as the daily log of my family’s trip through Israel.

We just arrived yesterday and this morning I am sitting on the patio at sunrise of our first full day in Israel. From our patio I am able to see across the Sea of Galilee, the Golan Heights, and into the country of Jordan. Our trip over was easy and uneventful….aside from a 90 minute delay leaving Newark.

Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv is perhaps the nicest and most convenient airports through which I have traveled. We had our luggage in no time, grabbed an easy shuttle to the car rental place and hit the road to Yavne’el. Yavne’el is a small village in north east Israel by the shores of the Sea of Galilee….the area is known as the Kinneret.

On the way we stopped at some random strip mall….we simply needed a bathroom. Upon driving into the parking lot, we were immediately stopped by a security office with one hand gun on his belt and another in a shoulder holster….after demanding that I open the trunk and show my passport he graciously allowed us into the lot….that is where we had our first meal which was AMAZING!!! We could not come close to finishing the table full of salads….tabbouleh, roasted egg plant, hummus, tahini, hot peppers, etc…it was a veritable smorgasbord of  middle eastern cuisine at its best….then the falafel came out with fresh, hand made pita, still hot from the oven…..OMG!!!!!

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful…..relaxing, unpacking, grocery shopping, and off to bed. Today the adventure really begins. We have a guide who will be staying with us for the next few days. He will be here later this morning and we will be off to hike Mount Arbel and see a few sights here in the Kineret. He has lots in store for us over the next few days.

I will try to update this blog either in the evening or first thing in the morning with some of the highlights from the day…..I will also load slide show photos on my main web site….as far as yesterday photos, just a few…nothing special. Of some interest, is this panorama of the landscape of the hills next to out house….when we arrived we noticed that there was a sort of brown haze. It was once we got to the patio of the house that we were able to see that the haze was caused by the wild fires that were burning in the hills just to our south. The photo was taken when we drove into the village and shows the smoke coming from the hills…we were told not to worry…the prevailing winds blow the fire in the opposite direction!!

Anyway…..more to follow over the next few days….Shalom!

Hello world!

Welcome to Scott Kasper Photography’s Blog. Lot’s more photos and thoughts to follow!!!