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

Posts tagged “Israel

“Please be Safe!”

Technology is a wonderful thing…here I am in Jerusalem, several thousand miles and a few times zones east of home, and yet I can “chat” with my Mom through a virtual connection. We chatted for a while this morning and at the end of our conversation she typed “please be safe”.

I get it! Every mother wants her children to be safe. So many others have also typed those words in emails, Facebook posts and more. I absolutely appreciate everyone’s concern…but here’s the interesting thing…I feel safer here in Jerusalem than I do walking the streets of Center City Philadelphia!

I know, I’m in the Middle East and the news from this region is tumultuous at best. I get it. However, having watched and read Israeli news for the past several days, I can tell you that there has been more violence reported in New York City than there has been here in Jerusalem. Yesterday we returned from our excursion through the city and turned on the news to headlines of a mass shooting at the Empire State Building. My local South Jersey news is filled with similar stories every day…Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, is a war zone! Yet, when I say to someone that I’m heading into Philly for dinner, nobody ever says “be safe”.

On Thursday we ate lunch lunch at a nice open air cafe called Roladin. As we sat, an Israeli IDF soldier came walking in to eat with his family. This would have been essentially nondescript except for the fact that he was armed with a 9mm hand gun on his belt and a Tavor automatic assault rifle slung over his shoulder. This is not unusual, and frankly makes me feel more safe than any local police force in the US!

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The fact is that there are more important issues at stake here, and the street violence that takes place at home just doesn’t seem to exist. Yes, there is the constant background story of unrest in the middle east. Will the Israelis strike out against the threats coming from Iran? Perhaps, but if they do, it creates a global problem that could just as easily impact the east coast of the USA as it could impact central Israel. More importantly, no sense of increased situational awareness on my part can do anything to keep me from harms way should something like that occur.

Please understand, I’m not trying to minimize anyone’s concern for me and my family…those thoughts are greatly appreciated. But it is interesting perspective when you consider the every day relative risk that we don’t think twice about when we head into Manhattan or Philadelphia for an evening out with friends…I’ll take the Western Wall over the Empire State Building any day.

Today we explored the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. Even from a Jewish perspective it’s completely fascinating. As it relates to what I’ve said above, this City is the religious epicenter of the planet. Perhaps it’s this religious base that helps maintain some of the sanity even though it is also the root cause of the conflict. To me, it is a never ending and amazing juxtaposition of ethics and morals. It’s been going on for thousands of years, and will likely continue for equally as long.

As we walked along the Via Dellarosa, which is the path Jesus took as he carried the cross to to spot of his crucifiction, we came across a tiny passage that led to some steps. The boys were hesitant to head off the beaten path, but I’ve watched enough shows on the Travel Channel to know that it’s off that path where one finds the best stuff. That proved to be true today. We came out into a small courtyard filled with tiny green doors. Who knows where they lead, but as you will see below, they made for some interesting photographs!

It’s rest time now. We’re heading out to a very cool show tonight at King David’s Citadel!

To anyone exploring a major US city today – please be safe! Enjoy some of my photos from today’s exploration.

The View from our apartment

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    Cool T-shirt! The red Hebrew letters spell Sponge Bob!
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SPECIAL EDITION: An important thing happened here!

I was thinking about the fact that a dreidel, in America, has the 4 Hebrew letters nun (נ), shin (ש), gimmel (ג), and hay (ה). They stand for the phrase “nas gadol hayah sham”, or “a great miracle happened there”. Here in Israel, the shin would be replaced with the letter po (פ) and it would mean “a great miracle happened here”. Simplified, the miracle refers to the Chanukah story in which the oil in the great temple burned for 8 nights when only expected to last one. That temple has since been destroyed. It stood atop the Temple Mount here in Jerusalem, currently home to the Islamic Dome of the Rock. The land surrounding that site was supported by huge walls, the western of which is now known as the Western Wall, the Wailing Wall, or the Kotel. That will be the location of Ryan’s bar mitzvah on Monday.

While not all of them are miracles, important things still happen there (or here, depending on your geographic location). Each day at the Kotel, thousands of people stuff the walls cracks and crevasses with tiny folded notes of prayer. It is thought that this place is the closest place that one can get to God, and so leaving one’s personal prayers and pleas in this wall will more likely result in their being answered. Whatever your belief, this is an awe inspiring place to be. It’s a holy place, and to be able to stand at its base and know all that it represents in our tumultuous history is in some respects miraculous in itself.

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Today, an important thing happened here! There are now three tiny notes within the cracks of the wall asking for help for two important people and one important group of people. While I won’t necessarily reveal what is written on those notes, I want to tell their stories so that you can also keep them in your thoughts and prayers…in deference to a certain sister-in-law (I have 5 of them, so you’ll just have to figure it out) who called me verbose in an email this morning, I’ll be as brief as I can!

First, the group. I want everyone who is a part of my enormous family of those impacted by Type 1 Diabetes that I have asked for help! All the miles that I ride my bike, all the walks and galas, all the money raised may still not be enough without a little Divine intervention!

Second, Barbara Beitch, or Doctor Beitch as she’s known to those of us who are fortunate enough to have been taught by her, is my high school biology teacher. Dr. Beitch was extremely influential on me as I grew up, and will always be an incredibly important people in my life as a result. Tragically, over the pasts few years she has experienced more loss than most of us would want to imagine. Dr. Beitch’s first loss came more than a decade ago, when her daughter Debbie passed away. Her husband Irwin, also known as Dr. Beitch, passed away just a few years ago. Then, on August 5 Ricky, her son and a long-ago friend of mine, died suddenly at the age of 47.

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Last, but certainly not least is Uncle Barry….this one’s really hard! Barry Lang is Rachel’s uncle and ranks among the two funniest people that I have ever met in my life (Robin Williams is the other). More importantly, though, he is a most genuinely loving people and would do anything for any of us at any time! What Barry lacks in height, he more than makes up for in heart! He is truly a mensch! Over the past twenty years I have shared many experiences with Uncle Barry that I will never forget. Sadly, his battle with cancer may come to an end very soon, and I am compelled, while in this holy land, to leave a request on his behalf within the spaces of the wall as well. This note I’m choosing to share. Not the content…that’s between me and the Wall…but the placement, because I would like him and his family to see that we left it here for him! We all love you Uncle Barry!

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Three important things happened here today! That was our purpose and agenda. In completing that mission, we wandered the main streets and back ally ways of Jerusalem…he are a few more images that I captured along the way.

Look! I’m in a photograph! It’s proof that I did actually travel with my family…and I have to say that it’s a good looking family!

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Herb is looking quite chic with his murse!

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In the United States we have garbage can, recycle bins and dumpsters. In a land constantly under threat of attack, they have bomb receptacles instead! At least the historical society ensured that it was painted to blend with the surrounding landmarks of importance. This was seen just outside the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulcre.

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Why the heck would anyone intentionally get boogers on their flute? I can honestly say two things about this…first, I have never seen this done before. Second, he was quite good!

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Greetings from Eretz Yisrael (The Land of Israel)

Well, we made it! It’s been a long day but we got to Israel, got settled into our apartment, and actually had an action packed first day! The fact that we are all still standing amazes me! Personally, I woke up at 03:30 AM on the morning of Wednesday August 22 and have been up ever since…as I write this it is 7:45 PM on Thursday August 23!

For some odd reason, this trip has started off remarkably smoothly. We were all packed and ready to go 24 hours in advance. We did not forget anything (of consequence, that is). Please understand that this is so far out of the norm for us. I’ll admit that I’m not a great traveler. I get easily stressed and it usually starts a week or so before we leave. That didn’t seem to happen this time, so we were off with a great start!

The flight was long! 9 hours 35 minutes and my movies in the seat back in front of me froze about half way through the flight. That said, we made it unscathed and arrived at Ben Gurion Airport at about 06:30 local time.

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Our apartment for the next week is awesome! As I write this I am sitting on the balcony listening to a concert playing off in the distance…somewhere toward the walls of the Old City. After we got settled,me went and found a place for lunch…nobody slept on the airplane, some were all extremely tired…Jake perhaps more than anyone!

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After lunch it was crash time…for some of us anyway…Rachel and her parents fell hard asleep, some took the boys to the pool here in the apartment building. After swimming for a few hours and realizing that we need to stay awake a few hours more, it was off to the Old City where we wandered the streets for a few hours, got some dinner and ice cream and then headed home.

There are a few noteworthy photos from our stroll. First, we all fell in love with the SPOVEL! It is the perfect utensil with which one should eat ice cream. It’s the size of a spoon, but shaped like a shovel! I’m not sure why these haven’t made their way across the pond to the USA.

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Second, please recall that I live in South Jersey, where our local farmers (that’s why it’s called the Garden State folks) grow the best sweet corn I’ve ever tasted. With that in mind, I have to say that tonight is the first time I have encountered a Corn on the cob vendor outside of the Burlington County Farm Fair! I will guess that his corn doesn’t match up to well with my hometown favorite. What I found most striking, however, is the tremendous contrast in color between the vivid yellow corn and the rest of the drab, beige surroundings of the Old City wall!

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Finally, I love walking the ally ways of the Old City markets. The colors, the smells (good and nasty!), the pushy vendors, and the amazing people watching! Check out the wonderful smiles on the women in the foreground as they try on various brightly colored scarves.

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As we walked back to the apartment, the streets were less full and we took our time, enjoying the cool, pleasant evening air. We’re all getting ready to hit the sack…I’m not sure what we have in store for ourselves tomorrow, but I know I’ll enjoy filling you afterwards! Here are a few more parting shots for the evening!

Shalom!

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10 extra credit points to anyone who can identify this famous landmark!

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We’re Heading Back: Israel 2012

It is with deeply mixed emotions that I write the first entry in the 2012 edition of my Journey to Israel blog. For any of you who may want to see the photos and read the thoughts that I shared two years ago, you can find it here: Israel Journey 2010

Why mixed emotions? Rachel, Matt, Ryan, Jake, my parents-in-law, and I are returning to Israel tomorrow to celebrate the bar mitzvah of my son Ryan. This is, in many respects, a Jewish parent’s dream! A little more than a year ago, as we started to plan the festivities related to this right of passage, Ryan declared that he wanted to become bar mitzvah in Jerusalem. We discussed this with him to make sure that he understood that we could not do both! He could not have this wonderful (and costly!) trip to Israel and also have a big blow out bar mitzvah like he is accustomed here in NJ. We asked him to think about it, and he did.

About 30 seconds later, Ryan declared that his preference was to return to Israel and read Torah at the Kotel, or Western Wall as you might know it.

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He read there once before. At the age of 10 he read Torah as a part of the ceremony we held in honor of the b’nai mitzvot of his brother, Matt, and cousin, Noah. He did a remarkably beautiful job reciting the small passage that he had taught himself…and apparently it made quite an impact on him and his sense of Judaism.

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So off we go. But wait…what about my parents, and my brothers, and Rachel’s siblings? What about Ryan’s 15 first cousins? What about the numerous close friends and other family members with whom we would have found great joy in celebration?

Here’s what I have come to realize. At the heart of it all, this is not about how I feel. It’s not about any of those important people in our lives who will feel disappointment in missing this occasion. It’s not about the money or the party after the service. At the core of it all, it’s about the fact that this young man feels so passionate about becoming bar mitzvah in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, that he is willing to sacrifice those celebrations for the opportunity to bond with the deepest roots of his heritage. How could we say no?

I had a feeling this would happen! In 2010, we were in Israel for three weeks. We stayed in a small village in Northern Israel near Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee or Kinneret), called Yav Ne’el. We lived in a very nice rental home and used it as home base for daily excursions around the country.

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One day I realized that Ryan had been wearing a Yarmulke (kippa) each of the previous several days, and as I noticed him placing it upon his head as we prepared to leave the house for the day I told him he didn’t need to feel obligated to wear it. “I know, Dad” he told me. “But it just feels right if I do!”

So, as much as I know that those who could not join us will miss this, and as much as I will clearly miss them, how could we deny this opportunity to Ryan? It will admittedly feel odd to be at my son’s bar mitzvah service without my parents, my brothers, Rachel’s siblings and their families, and others who are truly meaningful in my life. However, I am confident that we are giving my son a gift that will remain inside of him for eternity, and do so hoping that he will pass that gift along to my grandchildren some day as well! I hope, if that happens, that I will once again return to Israel to join them.

Stay tuned over the next 9 days, and join me and my family and we continue this journey. We are all extremely excited and have been looking forward to this trip for quite some time! I’m know that there will be many thoughts and photographs to share along the way…they will range from personal, to political, to religious, and more. Upon our return, those thoughts and images will be turned into a book that I will give to Ryan so that he will have a permanent record of his Dad’s perspective on this important journey!


A Great Miracle Happened There

Well, tonight was the last night of Chanukah…and I would be remiss if I didn’t add just a few photos and a few comments about this wonderful festival of lights. As the popular kids song goes, “one for each night, they shed a sweet light to remind us a days long ago….”

This next image is fun! It may not be a photographic masterpiece, but I must say that it’s wonderful for a few reasons.

If you haven’t figured it out, it’s a dreidel surrounded by Skittles and Reece’s pieces. So why is that so special. Well, most dreidels in the US have four Hebrew letters (Nun, Gimel, He, Shin) that begin each of the words of the sentence Nes Gadol Haya Sham, or “a great miracle happened there”. “There” refers to the Land of Israel and the site of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, where the great miracle of Chanukah took place. When we traveled to Israel this summer we bought a few dreidels and brought them home with us. Since the miracle of lights happened in Israel, it would make sense, therefore, that the letters on a dreidel purchased in Israel would symbolize that the great miracle happened “here”. The letter Peh that appears on the dreidel in the picture above is the first letter in the word “Po” which completes the sentence Nes Gadol Haya Po, or “A great miracle happened here”.

Why the Skittles and Reece’s Pieces? Well, in our house we need to be creative when it comes to certain food related traditions. Dreidel is a game that we typically play to win chocolate coins, or gelt. It’s a bit like poker…everyone antes up by placing candy coins in the middle of the table before each spin. The letter on the dreidel that lands facing up dictates the spin’s outcome:

  • Nun – get nothing
  • Gimel – wins the whole pot
  • He – wins half the pot
  • Shin (or Pe) – put one in

Imagine the piles of chocolate that the lucky dreidel spinner can walk away with!! However, when one’s kids are forced to be carbohydrate conscious it becomes easier and more fun when the loot they win in the annual dreidel competition are less than 1 carb each…fun holiday tradition that can be diabetes friendly…it doesn’t get much cooler than that!

Happy Chanukah everyone!!!


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 (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 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.