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

Posts tagged “galilee

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


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).

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.

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!