Monday, December 04, 2006

Top 10 Moments of My Israel Vacation

I vacationed to Israel recently with my wife and daughter. 'Twas quite an adventure. Herewith, a ranking of the experiences:

1) Tsfat/Teveria - These places were powerful. More powerful and memorable than any of my other experiences while in Israel. There's something amazing about masses of people visiting those long gone and beseeching them or celebrating their sojourns on earth. I was moved by the beautiful vista where R. Yosi Haglili lay for eternity, how women wept over the tomb of the R'MChL, how joyous the visitors were by Rabbi Akiva, how splendid the arrangements were around the R'MBM's resting place, how brimming with life was the grave of R. Shimon Bar Yochai. Our tour guide informed us at the tomb of R. Yehuda Bar Iloi that there was a minhag to beseech for something specific and to make a seudah at the gravesite if/when the request is fulfilled. I hope to visit the place soon and make my seudah.

2) Diving with Dolphins - First of all, I love animals. I have since I was a child when a friend of my mom's gave me an animal encyclopedia as a gift. I have since lost track of the book, but I remember it well and can picture it in my mind's eye, with the Kodiak bear on the cover. Now that you have an inkling for my passion, I'm sure you'll understand that diving with dolphins was a mind-blowing experience. The breathing took some getting used to, but once I was THIS CLOSE to the beautiful creatures, that all didn't matter. Bummer that I was instructed not to touch the dolphins, but no matter, it was amazing. I could see their eye color. I didn't want it to end, but I also wanted to breath normally again and spit out all the salt in my mouth. I can't wait to experience this again, but next time at a place that allows you to touch the animals.

3) The Wall - To paraphrase our forefather Jacob, how awesome this place is. We visited as immediately as we could following our arrival, and we revisited twice more before we left. It just kept calling us back. I was overwhelmed when I laid my eyes upon it for the first time. Such a little piece of real estate this is. It's just the back wall of our temple, yet it's really the only place that matters for my people. How earnest the prayers around me were (as well as my own), how celebratory the bar mitzvahs were, how devastated I was when I ripped kriah. May all my family members live to 120 before I have to do that again.

4) Dinner in Eilat - I enjoy chatting over dinner with my wife in general, but this was fantastic. We found a place called Denis Kingdom, it is the last restaurant before the Jordan border. It may have been the quietest place on earth. On the right were the Jordanian mountains. On the left were the mountains of the Negev. The only sounds were our conversation, an occasional rumbling truck, and the billowing fronds of the tree next to our table. Lustrous.

5) The Israel Museum - We tried visiting on a Sunday, but they were closed. We came back on Tuesday, but the hours were 4-9 (4-9? Anyone know of any other place on earth that's open 4-9???). We finally came back between 4-9 after some carousing through New Jerusalem. I deftly used the only Hebrew sentence I can speak fluently ("Shnay Mivoogarim, bevakasha") and was enamored by the Dead Sea scrolls and the scale model of the Old City in the time of the second temple. Our stay was short, but the experience of both was long. My daughter also had some fun at the shadows exhibit.

6) The Dead Sea - Exactly as advertised. It is quite a treat to act like a cork in the sea. It was also a treat to watch scatterbrained tourists dive headfirst into liquid sodium, magnesium and iodide and exit screaming, running toward the lifeguards who sprayed cold water into their faces. My wife was quite taken aback by the fact that she had visited 17 years before and remembered clearly stepping right out of the resort and into the sea. The Dead Sea has receded so much in the interim that there is now a trolley of sorts that escorts the visitors to the shore. It is a 20 minute walk now. Shocking.

7) The Negev Sky - While driving through the Negev desert toward Eilat, I needed to take a restroom reprieve. I stepped out of the vehicle and was frozen by the beauty above me. It was the clearest, starriest sky I had ever seen. The next available pollution must have been 50 miles away. What struck me as well was my inability to recognize any constellations I'm familiar with. This was either because so many shiny stars were distorting my view or because duh, I was in a totally different hemisphere. In either case, it was quite beautiful. I invited my wife to step out and enjoy the view as well. She did, and we continued afterward to Eilat.

8) My Airplane - In Rechovot live several members of my mother's extended family. Outside the building that Rachel and Shlomo live in is a park. In this park is an airplane. I have a picture of me and my sister on the airplane when we were children. The picture is 25 years old. It was amazing to see it again and take pictures of my daughter with it. The plane was jacked up - and therefore inaccessible - in the intervening years. It was amazing to see it because I have a clear memory of playing on and inside it when I was a child. This time, there was a plaque affixed to the plane. Chaim Holtzman was her pilot. He rescued several people in Rechovot during one of Israel's wars. He died in the plane while on a subsequent training run. May his memory endure.

9) The Biblical Zoo - I did mention I love animals, right? Then it isn't a leap to understand my joy when my daughter (who's 1 1/2 now) finally started pointing at animals and getting excited. "Gagu" is her euphemism for all animals. She will eventually differentiate between species but this will definitely do for now. She enjoyed the monkeys ("Gagu!") and the penguins ("Gagu!") and I enjoyed chasing after her all over the place (okay, my wife did most of that while I read plaques).

10) Ben Gurion - Fine, so they lost our car seat and stroller and they made us go on wild goose chases before confirming they couldn't find it. Fine, so our luggage couldn't fit on the pitzy cart and kept falling off. I was here. After a 25 year absence I was here. I had said "L'shona habo b'Yerushalayim" on Pesach last year and I merited that it would come true. Nothing like reaching a destination. Bittersweet was leaving. We left at night for England (the first and third stops on our trip) and out the window I could clearly make out the curve of the Holy Land, lit up by lights. I shall return to thee, O Israel.


At 12:16 PM, Blogger Jake said...

awesome. you know you can use picasa to post pictures directly to your blog as well. It's quite cool. I'd like to see a pic of the airplane in Rechovot

At 5:50 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

now i also took a picture by the airplane in rechovot.


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