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

Israel 2010

Got Bullets?

That’s what the Haganah, or Israeli Freedom Fighters, were asking back in the 1930’s and 40’s as they were fighting to defend themselves against the Arabs and secure independence for Israel. The problem – the British Mandate gave control over the land to the British and any activities aimed at securing independence of the Jewish Land of Israel would be illegal and possibly punishable by death. By 1947, this issue reached critical mass, as the Israeli War of Independence was underway. The solution – use the facade of a kibbutz to masquerade a factory for the production of 9 mm ammunition to supply the Haganah fighters.

That’s precisely what was done at the Kibbutizm Hill, now the Ayalon Institute outside Tel Aviv.  All they did was take a routine laundry facility….

…Hide a secret trap door beneath the large clothes washer….

Hide another secret stairway  beneath a gigantic oven in a bakery about 40 feet across a courtyard…

Smuggle machinery into Israel through the port of Beirut and construct an underground factory…

and start producing what amounted to be about 2.75 million 9mm bullets over a 3 year period . Easy, right??

Not exactly, but that’s essentially what 40 members of the kibbutz did in secret, risking the lives of everyone in the kibbutz in order to arm the freedom fighters. Officially, they were assigned to work in “field B” which was known to be remote, and therefore the workers would not be seen during the day by the other Kibbutz members who did not know about this factory. They has Israel’s first tanning booth within the factory so that they could each be exposed to UV light and remain tan, as they would be had they been working the fields outside. Many of them had spouses from who they successfully maintained this secret for 3 years. I could go on and on with the fascinating stories about these people and their efforts!!

On our last full day is Israel we visited this bullet factory and took a tour. It was fascinating to learn how these freedom fighters contributed to the success of their cause. At any moment they could have exploded from the gun powder. They could have been discovered by the British and killed on the spot. But they took the risk for what they believed in and they succeeded. One personal note of interest…at the visitor’s Center there is a plaque acknowledging a few key individuals who helped in the effort. On that plaque is the name of my great uncle Abe Feinberg, who, as my mother explained to me, was very active in supporting the Haganah in their fight for the creation of the independent State of Israel. Below are images I made of the brass sheet after the bullet blanks were stamped out and of a pile of tiny brass cups that get stretched out to become 9mm casings after the process is complete.

From there we continued to Tel Aviv. We followed the GPS exactly as it directed and about 20 minutes later we were “arriving at the destination on the left.” The problem was that we were some back road and the only thing on the left was an alley and and a dumpster. I’m thinking Garmin got it wrong!!! Turns out the pre-programmed hotel location was not the proper address, so when we re-programmed our destination location it guided us right in. We grabbed some lunch, rested for a while and then headed down to the beach for a walk. It was a bit hot and humid, but walking the Mediterranean Sea at sun set was the perfect ending to an awesome vacation!!

I would be remiss if I allowed the sun to set on our vacation without extending my sincerest appreciation to my parents-in-law Herb and Adrianne Schlesinger. To them I say, on behalf of all of us, thank you for your generosity, and for your company. You make traveling a true adventure and it has been our pleasure to enjoy Israel with you.

I have enjoyed writing this and hope that you have enjoyed traveling through Israel with me and my family. Though my trip through Israel has come to an end, I have every intent of using this blog to continue sharing my experiences and my photography. I hope you’ll continue to join me!!


Jerusalem, the final day (part 5)

August 5 would be our final day in Jerusalem. This has been an amazing experience in so many ways…religious, historical, etc. It has been action packed and educational. I think that in their own way the kids have been just as moved as I have by this experience and I think that Rachel and her parents have greatly enjoyed exposing us to this. On our last day we only have two things planned…somewhat out of desire, but also out of necessity. Most of us went to Yad Vashem, which is the Israeli National Memorial to the Holocaust, its victims and its survivors. I’m not going to spend to much time writing about this because frankly my words would not do justice to this place or what it commemorates.

That said, I will chose to take this opportunity to point out that there are countries that still deny that this happened. I’m not even talking about countries whose cultures may be anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.  I’m talking about countries like Great Brittain, where they no longer teach their children about this aspect of WW2 because they don’t want to upset or offend the significantly large Muslim population in England. To the Brittish and to anyone else who can deny that this happened to 6.5 million Jews and countless others, I say shame on you!! One thing that history shows us is that it has a pattern of repeating itself. Ignorance and denial are the best paths to take should we want this to happen again and I find it disgraceful that people would chose to take that path.

Anyway, one of the remarkable things about Yad Vashem is that they are dedicated to ensuring that every individual who died in the Holocaust is given a name, a face, and a story. At then end of the museum exhibits is the Hall of Names. In this room they have compiled profiles of more than 3.6 million people who were murdered by the Nazi’s in WW2. Those individuals have profile sheets that are contained in binders….4o0 profiles per binder…3.6 million profiles….3 million more to go…and they’re working hard every day to fill the remaining binders!

While we Herb, Matt and I were walking through Yad Vashem, Rachel and Adrianne took Ryan and Jake to plant a tree. Planting a tree in Israel has become a tradition to help improve the environment here as well as raise money for Jewish National Fund. Rachel took Herb’s camera and took a few shots. She said that the boys took this very seriously and are very proud of the contribution that they made to Erezt Yisrael, the Land of Israel.

After Yad Vashem, we had lunch at a great restaurant called Tikko House and then hit the road back to Yavne’el. We will be there one more night before we head to Tel Aviv for a night and then fly home. That means only one more blog post to come…stay tuned.


The Med, the Red, and now the Dead (Jerusalem Part 4)

Well, we have completed the circuit and have now swam in the Red Sea (while in Eilat), the Mediterranean Sea (while in Ceasarea), and now the Dead Sea!! I’ll float that story by you in a few moments….let’s go in chronological order. We left Jerusalem today  to drive to an Oasis called En Gedy, Mount Masada, and the Dead Sea. Each amazing in their own respects.

En Gedy is truly an oasis in the Judean desert. About an hour and a half from Jerusalem, there is a sign for the oasis and a long, narrow road to the entrance of the National Park. From there, there is a short but steep and HOT hike into the desert mountains. After about 1o minutes walking, the vegetation along the path is clearly indicative of water. It changes from small scrub brush and desert trees, to lush greenery with the sound of flowing water in the background. Then, all of a sudden, the pools and waterfalls of En Gedy come to view.

It was so hot that as soon as we arrived at the pools it too no time before we were all in the water…well, I waited just a few more moments so that I could get some photos.

After about 30 minutes of swimming in the cold refreshing water, it was time to head back down so that we could make it to our next destination before the sun got to it high point. Along the way we ran into a brilliantly colored little bird called the Bee Eater. Being that my father-in-law is a huge bird enthusiast, I’ll post the shot I got of the little guy and hope that it lives up to the quality of his birding guide photo.

From En Gedy, it was off to Masada. If you want details about this amazing mountain you can click this link, as I am only going to write about a few things. First, Masada is a huge, tall plateau that stands in the middle of the desert overlooking the dead sea. We took a cable car from the bottom to the top, and I would draw your attention to the bus parking lot to the left side of the cables in order to give you some scale.

Masada was built in the first centery BC by King Herod the Great. Initially, it was built as a Desert resort for the King and his entourage to visit in the winter. It doubled as a fortress overlooking the dead sea and into Jordanian Desert to the East. Fast forward to about 70 CE, and it was the location of the final siege by the Roman Army against a population of Jews who had revolted against the Emperor.

These were Jews who remained faithful to their beliefs and would not subscribe to the Roman worship of the Emperor and the Idol gods. The Jewish rebels live on Mount Masada for three years until their story came to a tragic ending. Realizing that the Romans were about the take the fortress, and not wanting to surrender, the rebels decided to commit mass murder/suicide. The head of each family would be responsible for taking the lives of their wife and children. They then identified 1o men who would be responsible for killing the remaining men. They did this by drawing lots…the names of all the men were placed into a vessel and 10 of those names were drawn. Finally, the name of one man was drawn. He would be responsible for killing the last 10 and would then commit suicide. You may wonder how historians know this, if when the Romans finally entered, everyone was dead. Me too!!

We were told that according to a Roman historian, there was one woman and her children who hid in the cisterns atop Masada and relayed this information to her captors. In addition, one of the most interesting finds on the mountain were the small chards of pottery with the names of men on them that were found in one location. This helps to corroborate the story that was told. This is a photo of a photo that is on display outside the room in which these were found.

Anyway, once we started walking around the plateau, it was remarkable. The boys and Rachel walked with Yaniv, while Herb and I climbed down the steep (and kinda scary) stairs to the lower levels of the Herodean Palace. The views were spectacular and the ruins that have been preserved are simply astounding.

I will point out that on Masada all of the ruins have a black line painted at the level that restoration took place. Everything below the line is original and everything above the line has been restored. Where there is no line, or it is too high to have made the photo, it is all original. Obviously having been cleaned, etc, but all you see in this image is as it was in the first century CE. Amazing!!

As we walked back up from this lower palace, Herb described to me the several weeks that he and Adrianne spent here in 1963. They were among the volunteers who came to to assist with the excavation. He told me that Adrianne was working as they uncovered the rows of stadium style seats in the synagogue, believed to be among the oldest in Israel. He also told me that we was working along the outer walls on the east side of the mountain. Here is is overlooking the work that he did more than 40 years ago.

After completing our walk around Masada, we drove further south to En Bokek on the Dead Sea where we had lunch at one of the resorts and took advantage of their swimming pool and beach facilities. Okay, we swam and floated in the Dead Sea. It was hot…not the air temperature, the water. Hotter than I usually like for a bath never mind a natural body of water…HOT! It also left an odd feeling on your skin…almost slimy. We all did our requisite plunge up to the waist and then sitting into the water. It really was truly amazing how you just float. The salinity in the water continues to climb…through water from flash floods, etc the water level in the Dead Sea rises 6 feet per year. However, due to evaporation, etc the water level falls by 9 feet per year. Net loss of 3 feet per year…that’s huge. Anyway, it gets saltier and therefore people are more buoyant.

About swimming in the Dead Sea…here’s what I’ll leave you with. When asked about his days as a school boy, Mar Twain once said something that I think applies here:

“I’m glad I did it. Partly because it was worth it, but mostly because I’ll never have to do it again.”


Jerusalem (Part 3)

Tuesday Aug 3: First and foremost, we’re all safe!!! I say this because I am not sure if you got yesterday’s (Aug 2) news from Israel….it was a little startling to wake up to this morning. Apparently there was a rocket attack that originated from Egypt (Sinai Peninsula) and was intended for Eilat Israel yesterday.  As you know, we just left there on Saturday. From what I understand it was an Islamic fundamentalist group from World Jihad that was responsible, and they intentionally launched from Egypt in order to disrupt the current peace between Israel and Egypt. The missiles ultimately overshot Eilat and stuck a resort on the Red Sea in Jordan. Its kind of strange to read this stuff in a newspaper but also see that absolutely nobody here is upset or concerned….just a day in the life. When we met with our guide, Yaniv, this morning he told us that this is just what they have come to expect, as evidenced by the headline in the Jerusalem news paper this morning, “Heat worse than missile attack.”

Anyway, once we met up with Yaniv, it was off to see the sites. We started by heading to the Temple Mount. Today the Temple Mount is home to the Dome of the Rock, which outside Mecca is the holiest place in the Islamic religion. It is the site on which the Prophet Mohamed is said to have ascended to heaven, heard the word of Allah, and returned to his earthly existence to spread the word of true Islam.

According to history, this is also the location of both the first Jewish Temple built by Solomon and the Second Temple of Herod the Great, and is also the holiest place in the Jewish religion (I’ll address this a bit more when I talk about the Kotel later). Over the centuries and millennia the Temple of Solomon was destroyed and replaced by the mosque that has become the Dome of the Rock. Because of this, the Temple Mount is currently under Muslim control. Jews are not permitted inside any of the Islamic buildings. Neither Jewish nor Christian religious paraphernalia are permitted on the Temple Mount. Audible discussion about the location of the Jewish Temple is not permitted. In fact, there are Muslim men who will wander around the temple mount and sit listening to your conversation and will have you removed if they don’t approve of your conversation. Even though the Temple Mount is under Muslim control, it remains part of Jerusalem and is legally under the authority of the Israeli police. While we were there, several orthodox Jewish guys were escorted off the Temple Mount by a combination of the Muslim guards and Israeli Police.

There is a fragile balance there, and any disruption of that balance will result in an outbreak of violence. That is why the Israeli police comply with the wished of the Islamic leadership as it relates to the Temple Mount.

I wanted to explore more. Frankly, I wanted to go inside…for two reasons…first because I am truly interested in what lies inside. I am truly interested in the culture of those who worship within the building, and I am truly interested in the fact that at some point, centuries ago, it was the location of the Jewish Temple. Second, I wanted to go inside simply because they say I can’t.

That said, we could not stay all day, and being an equal opportunity vacation we left the Temple Mount and headed to one of, if not perhaps the most holy places in Christianity, The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In order to get there we walked through the Muslim shuk, or marketplace. This one was much cleaner and a lot less scary than the one in Akko.

Admittedly, I know very little about Christianity. What I do know, however, is that Jesus was crucified by the Romans here in Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was erected on the exact site on which Jesus was believed to have been crucified. It is also the location where his body was taken down from the cross and lay to rest for the days following his death. Within the Church one can touch the very limestone slab on which his body was believed to have been placed. This is considered one of the 15 Stations of the Cross, the last 5 of which are all located here in this Church.

Clearly this is a place of importance for many people. It was crowded with pilgrims for all over the world. It was moving to see how being in this place impacted them. Even the collection plate had money placed in the orientation of a cross…intentional or coincidence…one will never know.

We grabbed some lunch and headed to the King David Museum…the views of the Old City and its surroundings from the top of one of the guard towers was simply amazing. Yaniv gave a quick tour of the most important aspects of the museum, and we were off to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. I should have mentioned that the Old City is divided into 4 Quarters: Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian. From the Tower of King David’s Citadel there is an amazing panoramic view of the Old City. In this view almost all of the most sacred sites of each religion can be seen….brownie points to anyone who can identify them!!

While in the Jewish Quarter we explored many locations and walked to an enormous synagogue that has recently been rebuilt after having been destroyed during the 1948 war. Then we shopped!!

Ryan, who is now 11 and will have his Bar Mitzvah in August of 2012, found a Tallit that he fell in love with. Though he will not wear it for another 2 years, we bought it for him. I think the fact that it was found here in Jerusalem will give it a special meaning for Ryan’s entire life.

Before leaving the Jewish Quarter we stopped at the Kotel, or Wailing Wall. Jews from around the globe come to pray here, and consider this to be the holiest place in Judaism because of its proximity to the location where the great Temple once stood.

In fact, the most religious Jews will not go atop the Temple Mount because they believe that if they step on a location that the Temple once stood before its destruction, it would be defiling the Temple and considered to be sacrilegious. So we pray at the Western Wall.

Even Yankee fans come here to pray…this guy was leaning against the wall for at least 15 minutes. Either he was praying for some important personal reasons, or Red Sox fans have a great deal to be concerned about!!!

For generations people have come here to pray and have left hand written prayers in the cracks of the wall. Each of us wrote our prayer before we left the hotel, and we each found a spot to stick ours…here’s to hoping that our prayers are answered. The funny thing is that Jake wrote his and folded the paper very small. He would not say what he wrote and made me promise not to look. Though I carried it in my pocket the entire day, I honored his request and did not look. I gave him the folded paper when we arrived at the wall, I watched him stuff it in a cranny toward the bottom of the wall, and we walked away. Perhaps I will never know what he wrote…though I think I have a good guess…

After we left the Wall, Adam, Judy, Ari, Noah and Rachel left to head to Tel Aviv. Herb and I took the boys into the water tunnel…this is a remarkable feat of engineering. Men carved a tunnel through the bedrock under the City of David. This tunnel was used to carry water from the spring source outside the City’s walls into the City for its inhabitants. Today water still runs through the tunnel….it’s freaking cold and about knee high. It’s also pitch black, so we brought our headlamps and took the 20-minute water hike. It was a very cool experience…no photos, though, as there was water all the way and I was afraid that if I slipped my camera would be done for!!

So comes to an end of day three in Jerusalem. Day four will include a road trip to Mount Masada, the En Gedy Oasis and a swim in the Dead Sea…stay tuned!


Jerusalem (Part 2, The Bar Mitzvah)

Monday Aug 2: Today was an amazing day. Two of my sons have now accomplished something that I never have…they each read Torah in Jerusalem next to the Western Wall. I am awestruck. I am awestruck by this place and its significance. I am not a particularly religious person in my day-to-day existence. However being in this place and standing in front of what remains of King Solomon’s Temple, I can’t help but feel more connected to Judaism, its past and its future. Wars have been fought over the ground on which we stood this morning, and regardless of which side you are on, that ground over which those wars have been fought is the holiest of holy ground. How can one not feel a deeper connection? The stones in the walls and the walkways are thousands of years old. King David, King Solomon, Herod the Great and so many more people in our history (not just Jews) have stepped on these very stones and leaned against these very walls. The place is inspiring, but more than the physical place, its meaning and its significance to so many people leaves me awestruck!

Even beyond that, I am awestruck by my sons’ inextricable connection to both that past and that future. Having now davenned in the holiest place that Judaism has to offer, they will always have a connection to their heritage that will hopefully maintain a special and significant place in their heads and in their hearts. To say that Rachel and I were proud of their accomplishment today would be a gross understatement….wait…what exactly did they accomplish?

The morning started out waiting for the Rabbi by the Dung Gate. Common folklore states that this is the gate named so because the City’s garbage was removed through this gate. I am told this morning that this in untrue and it has to do with other ancient translations of that word. Anyway, we waited by the Dung Gate until the Rabbi arrived.

Many people were passing by, but the gates to the Western Wall do not open at 0700, which is the time at which we arrived…that is unless you hire a Rabbi who has a connection with the gatekeeper who let us in well in advance of the general public. We essentially had the place to ourselves.

DISCLAIMER: I took 246 photos during this ceremony. There are only a few of them posted here. It will take me a great deal of time to process all of them, so these are just to give you the flavor of what we experienced.

The Bar Mitzvah itself was a typical Monday morning Torah service.

As the Grandfather of the two boys Herb did the honor of the first aliyah. The first torah reading, or parsha, was shared between my nephew Ari and Ryan….that’s right, Ryan read from the torah for the very first time right here in Jerusalem!!! He did amazing!!!

For the honor of his Bar Mitzvah, Rachel (Judy’s daughter, not my wife) shared the parsha with my nephew Noah. His Bar Mitzvah in the US is coming up in October. If he does nearly as well then as he did here, we will nail it as well!

Last, but certainly not least, Matt chanted the final parsha.

Having just completed his Bar Mitzvah at home, this was fresh for him, so I think that made it a bit easier than it would have otherwise been. That said, he did this essentially on his own. Adam had made a recording for him, but I think he only used it to check himself. Rachel helped him with the Hebrew just a bit, because he really just did not need it.  Words cannot describe how proud I was of both of the boys, and the rest of the family as well…like I said…awe inspiring!

At the conclusion of the bar mitzvah, we returned to the hotel for breakfast. We met our guide Yaniv once again, and he took us to the Israel Museum and the Shrine of the book. This is the location of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Photographs were not allowed there, so I don’t have much to share as far as that goes.

Lunch was in a small vegetarian restaurant that overlooked the walls of the Old City. I wasn’t crazy about it, and frankly I would have rather grabbed a falafel along the way and continued seeing the sights. One could spend a month here and still not see all there is to see.

After lunch some of the group was tired and wanted to head back to rest. Others headed out on foot through the Old City. Then there was Jake and me. Initially, Jake wanted to walk, so off we went with the group. We got through the Jaffa Gate, one of the eight gates of the city, and about one block and he had his late afternoon melt down. It was nearly 5, we had been up since 0600 and he is, after all, only 7.  So onto my shoulders he went and we started the long trek back to the hotel.

Wow….what a long, wonderful day!!! So ends the second entry of the journey to Jerusalem. Today, when the rest of  the clan wakes up, we will be exploring the old city, the western wall and its tunnels, and the Temple Mount. You may not hear from me for a few more days, as I do not have access to the internet easily and may not be able to post again until we get back to Yavne’el on Thursday night.

In the mean time, I hope you are all well!! Shalom!


Jerusalem (Part 1)

Quick update from Jerusalem…we have very limited internet access again, so I had to search out a public wi-fi zone to post this update!!

Sunday Aug. 1: As you know we have been based in Yavne’el, and have been touring using a Toyota Corolla that we rented when we first arrived. Before we got here we were advised that having a car in Jerusalem was a huge mistake….too much traffic and not enough parking….sounds kinda like Boston or Philly. Because of that, my father-in-law hired a minibus with a driver for the few days that we will be touring here. It beats having to hail several cabs any time we need to go some place, and it certainly beats having the cars.

Anyway, David and the mini-bus arrived at the house at 0930…right on time. To be honest, we thought he was going to be there at 10, and for the first time EVER we were all packed a ready to go early!!! So we packed up the bus and hit the road for Jerusalem.

There was one place that we had not seen yet in the Galilee, and it happened to be along the way so we took a slight detour and stopped at a Crusader castle called Belvoir Castle (that’s French….it’s Kohav HaYarden in Hebrew) that was built in 1168 by the Crusaders to protect the lower Galilee against the Muslims. In 1189, after a siege that lasted for more than a year, the fortress was surrendered to Muslim control. The ruins of this castle are in remarkably good shape. It was stunning to see some of the rooms that were left in tact, the protective moat, etc.

After walking the ruins in the blazing sun for about 30 minutes, we hit the road again. Just like our trip to Eilat, we took highway 90 through the West Bank again. One noteworthy event that took place is that we came upon a horrible crash along the way. Based on what I was able to size up as we drove past is that it was a head-on collision with at least 4 victims. The driver of the car that sustained the most damage was still in what was left of the driver’s seat and appeared to have his head still in the windshield. Other victims had been removed from the car and were lying on the roadside being attended to by the dozens of passers by who stopped to help.

This brings up some interesting logistical and moral issues. First, why did we not stop to help? There are several reasons. First, this was in the West Bank, and travel advisories indicate that, for safety reasons, stopping is a bad idea. Second, but the time I was able to see what had happened and then tell our driver that I could perhaps lend some assistance we were past the incident. Finally, there were literally dozens of people already crowding into the small vehicle and surrounding the others. For me to stop and say, “hey, I’m a paramedic. Can I help” in English would not have likely been entirely successful. As it turns out the ambulance were not far behind.

This brings up some other issues. This took place on highway 90 in the West Bank. The roadway is controlled by the Israelis (and in fact there were Israeli police at the scene), but all of the communities are Palestinian controlled, and the ambulances that responded were Palestinian, not Israeli. The nearest Israeli hospital was more than an hour away. So how would this all play out? Would the Palestinians take good care of Israelis? Would they take them to Israeli hospitals? What would happen? These are all questions to which I must obtain answers. But again, there is cautious optimism that an Arab will render good medical care to an Israeli Jew in need of help. What could be the larger, big world impact of situations like this?

Sorry for the long diversion. We made our way through the West Bank and to Jerusalem. Along the way we passed many Bedouin villages that look like sprawling shantytowns built in the hillsides along the highway. The goats and camels (see bottom left of photo below) were free roaming. I have no idea what these folks do for trade, to earn a living, for food or water…I am told that they travel to the near-by cities and roam the streets begging and picking pockets. I’m not judging…just reporting what I am told by others.

Once in Jerusalem, we met Rachel’s brother, Adam, and his family for lunch. They had just arrived from Newark. My nephew Noah will be joining Matt for a Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall on Monday. We had lunch, the boys swam and practiced their Torah readings. Swimming was remarkable for two reasons. First, the pool is on the 8th floor and a fairly cool view of the old city. Second, and I will say in advance that I will not dwell on this because it will just get my blood boiling, is that Matt jumped in the pool along with his brand new continuous glucose monitor…NOT waterproof…not warranteed for water damage…UGH!!!!! After swimming it was off to Adom for dinner. Adom was a kosher meat restaurant that had been recommended. Adam was thrilled; as it is not often that he gets to enjoy meat when dining out…so he picked the kosher beef bones clean!!

It was a late dinner, the kids were all tired and we had to wake at 0600 to start our journey to the Western Wall for the Monday morning Bnai Mitzvot…so it was off to bed in anticipation of the simcha to come in the morning.


Vacation within a vacation (Part 3)

Yesterday, July 31, was our final day in Eilat and a special day it was!! This is a view of the City of Eilat from my hotel:

We woke up early, had breakfast, and headed down to the Dolphin Cove for a snorkeling experience that Matt and Ryan will never forget. Unfortunately Jake was too young, but the two older boys and I donned our wet suits, diving masks, snorkels and fins and joined our Israeli guide in a 30 minute swim with eight bottle nose dolphins, a giant green sea turtle, numerous sting rays, and lots of other sea life. It was obviously the dolphins that were the highlight of this experience, and thanks to my trusty photography assistant Rachel, I have proof that I was here and did this.

For me, it brought back memories of my experiences working with two dolphins at the Waikiki Beach Aquarium for part of a summer along with my brother Paul, and working all night along the beaches of St. Croix protecting nesting leather back turtles with my brother Doug. Like those experiences, this was real….wild life in their homes, on their terms.

The eight dolphins used to be completely free roaming. They had a water fence in the cove, but  they were free to roam in and out. Back in 2006, the water gate was closed because they found that people were abusing the dolphins (beer in the blow holes, feeding crazy foods, hitting them with oars and paddles, etc). It was then decided that for their own protection, the sea gate would remain closed and access to the dolphins would remain limited to those who came through the refuge. I think the boys were awestruck by the experience and will never forget it! Jake and Rachel spent the time taking photos and meeting the dolphins who approached the floating walk way.

All too soon, it was over and we were back on the road to Yavne’el….another 5+ hours in the car. Rather than take the same route home that we took down, we decided to take Road 40 most of the way. This took us right through the heart of the Negev and through the Ramon Crater (Mitzpeh Ramon).

Just like the ride to Eilat, we were impressed with the landscape. Barren, but in a very ugly way it was beautiful! The kids even picked their heads up from the game boys when we entered a stretch of road that was bounded on both sides by live firing ranges used by IDF tank squadrons. Remember, this is not on an army base….this is right along one of the main roads in Israel.

After several hundred kilometers of this barren landscape, after seeing one Bedouin village after another, after dozens of “Use Caution – Camels” signs, we were back in northern Israel and the familiar territory of the Kinneret.  Once again the boys did remarkably well with the time in the car. Once we hit home I quickly jumped on the internet to load the first two of the vacation within a vacation updates, and then helped to make dinner.

Several loads of laundry (and no scorpions) later, we were once again packing for the next excursion. Our guide will rejoin us and we will head to Jerusalem this morning, where we will be for the next four nights. Later this afternoon we will meet Adam and Judy, along with Ari, Noah and Rachel. Tomorrow, Monday Aug 2, Matt and his cousin Noah will have their Bnai Mitzvot at the Western Wall. I have been looking forward to this for months and can’t wait!!! This will be the coolest Bar Mitzvah I will likely ever have the chance to photograph (from a Dad’s perspective, of course!).

Our five days and four nights in Jerusalem will be action packed….the Old City, the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall and it’s ancient tunnels, Masada, the Dead Sea, and so much more. Once again, I am not sure what my internet access will be, but I will try to maintain this daily update as best I can.

Until then, I hope you are well and waiting for my next update with eager anticipation! Shalom!


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

Shalom!


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.

Shalom!


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….

Too….

Tired….

To write much….

Highlights….

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!!!