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A Bus Trip to Kiryat Shmona

Naharyia, Israel: For quite some time, I had been hearing about the cable cars in Kiryat Shmona, reputed to be the longest cable car ride in Israel, and yesterday, I went to see for myself.

In Rosh HaNikra, only seven miles from Naharyia, there is a short cable car ride that takes a dramaticly steep downward journey to the caves carved out by the crashing waves of the Mediterranean, but today I was determined to ride the cable cars at Kiryat Shmona and enjoy the scenery on the way.

I hopped a bus to Akko, from Naharyia, and at the bus station where I had a planned meet-up with friends. We boarded the express bus #500. The express part of the trip was only to Carmiel, and from Carmiel to Kiryat Shmona, it was supposed to be a local bus.

This description turned out to be oxymoronic. While it was true that the bus did not make any stops from Akko to Karmiel, the entire ride to Karmeil, was one of stop and go and, when finally going, it was at the recklessly high speed of five to ten mph.

Eventually we finished traveling that bottle-necked part of the road and began the non-express part making many very quick stops and moving over the highway at a good speed. The entire trip was supposed to have been one hour and forty-five minutes, but it took us two and one-half hours to get there.

By the time we arrived, we were starving. With our broken Hebrew, we asked a woman in the street about where we could find a kosher restaurant. She directed us to a fancy restaurant, but while we were waiting for that restaurant to open we strolled around the area, and found another restaurant, Mama Chalsa, and the would-be diners waiting for the restaurant to open, declared Mama Chalsa’s food to be the best. The restaurant has a kosher certification of “mehaderin.”



The menu had a priced-fixed businessmen’s luncheon. It came with fourteen different “saladim” dishes, all delicious, hot freshly made rolls, drinks, plus the main dish. We selected the salmon steaks, talipia filets and beefsteak.


From there it was a short walk to the cable. Rivka and Ariel are aboard the cable car, above, as we await take off.


The cable cars travel in threes. At the top of the summit are hiking paths, a restaurant, a climbing wall and play cabins for children, a hotel, and a restaurant.

Also on the premises are a roller coaster ride up and down the summit, rock climbing, and two very large trampolines.

We thought we might see some migrating birds there, as Kiryat Shmona is in the Hula Valley, but we did not. We did, however, see lots of cranes in the olive groves both on the way to Kiryat Shmona and on the way back.

img_4707img_4705  Our trip back turned out to be another adventure. We took the #500 express bus again, and again the bus zipped through the larger leg of the journey, making brief stops, but when it came to Carmiel it was lurch and throttle all the way. It took almost three hours just to reach Akko. When we reached Akko, but were still at least a mile away from the central bus station, the bus drier was stopped by a policeman.

Immediately most of the IDF passengers got off and began walking towards the center of town. We waited while the policeman castigated the driver until finally, another bus #500 showed up, and the bus driver waved us over to get on that bus. We were worried about the first drivers future with the Egged Bus Company. We had thought he was not only a very good driver, but that he behaved in a very professional manner.

We arrived back in Naharyia tired and satisfied. Satisfied only until it is time for another adventure.








Tzfat’s Karo Synagogue is Calm and Cool

Tzfat has more knooks and crannies than any city I’ve seen. Narrow alleys give way to mountain vistas and open doorways allow you to peer into other alleys with mryiads of doors and gates.

Though in Tzfat at least half a dozen times, I never entered the Joseph Karo Synagogue. Karo, a tzadik legend, and the author of the “Shulcan Aruch” where many of us turn to with our questions on Jewish law, was born in 1488. He was a victim of the Jew haters of that time that were forced to flee Spain. His family moved to many inhospitable places until as an adult, Karo finally settled into his last residence, including at the end his grave, in the Tzfat cemetery.

A synagogue was built in his honor on the spot where he headed the Rabbinical Court of Justice but it was destroyed in the earthquake of 1837. It was rebuilt several years later but is probably not as grand as the original.

Joseph Karo was one of the great kabalists of his time and Tzfat embodies the spirit of artists and mysticism. Sitting quietly in this blue oasis, it is easy to feel spiritual and creative at the same time. Below are photos of the interior of the synagogue and two watercolors I did, including one of a gate in Tzfat (Sefad).











Short Walk Yields Surprises and Treasures

I was rescued from biking today by a friend who wanted to walk. We walked a brisk hour and ten minutes to and in Shevei Zion, a moshav next door to Naharyia. It’s population is somewhere between 500 and 1000 people. It offers more than places much larger. Today, I will share photos of just one of the homes there that has beautiful cement sculpture and bicycle flower pots.

These works of art are whimsical, colorful and lifesized. They are incredibly original. The best part is it is just another home there and if you find it, it will be a happy accident.


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If you like colorful art, and have children in your life, check out http://www.TurnipTimes.com for info on the book “Forty Days and Forty Nights, Rain, Rain, Rain”

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Rosh HaNikra Grottos

As stated on Wikipedia“Rosh HaNikra (…‎Hebrew: ראש הנקרה‎, “head of the grottos”) is a geological formation  in Israel, located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, in the Western Gailee. It is a white chalk cliff face which opens up into spectacular grottos.

The Rosh HaNikra grottos are cavernous tunnels formed by sea action on the soft chalk rock. The total length is some 200 metres. They branch off in various directions with some interconnecting segments. In the past, the only access to them was from the sea and experienced divers were the only ones capable of visiting. Today a cable car takes visitors down to see the grottos…”

Although I have been to see the grottos several times, visitors to our home are encouraged by us to see these beautiful works of nature. Of course, we accompany them. Luckily I never get tired of taking in the majesty and splendor of these rare formations.

The 12 minute film gives the history, fables and facts about the animal and sea life of this area and each time it appears that I am learning something new even though I watch the film each time I visit.




at the left of the above photo you can see one of the cable cars that has just arrived at the bottom of the incline


Tourists all like to have their photos taken at this border — a reminder of how close, no matter where you are in this tiny country of Israel, that you are on the border of another country.


Here, near the crevice in the cliff, are perched a dove and a pigeon.






ImageBecause the pathway through the caverns winds around, sometimes lower and sometimes higher, we could see another tourist at a different point on the pathway towards the top of this photo.


Flowers on the way to the film room in a cave.

There are picnic facilities at the grottos and it is possible to rent bicycles and motorized rickshaws to tour the coastline.

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If You Don’t Want to Cry, Don’t Come to Atlit

I am back in the States, but will be writing about my experiences on this last trip to Israel for a while. One of my last excursions was to Atlit, a beautiful town on the Mediterranean, south of Haifa.

My friend Ruchel and I met at the train station as we came from opposite directions. We had no idea how to get to the Atlit Detention Camp but after questioning a few residents, Ruchel talked one of them into driving us there. Surprisingly, after the tour, which took over two hours, an employee there offered to drive us back into town and dropped us off minutes from the train station at Ben Ezra restaurant where we had a very appetizing salmon lunch accompanied by about 10 salads.

Now for the serious side of this trip: Jews who had foresight in 1935 were anxious to flee Europe. Jews in 1946, who survived the Holocaust, did not want to go back to their homes where the smell of the burning flesh of their families was still fresh in their nostrils. And the Jews during the Holocaust who were able to cross borders, escape the Nazis, and get on a ship, were determined to leave whether or not Britain gave them permission. The British, who had promised the Jews Palestine for fighting in World War I, suddenly back tracked and decided to allow only about 7,000 Jews a year into Palestine. Everyone else was declared an illegal.

This created an explosive situation. Especially for the Jews whose very life depended on getting out of Europe. Once on the seas they risked German ships blowing them out of the water, or English ships making them turn around even though they knew they would be returning to a place where they would certainly be murdered; unfortunately just as the S.S. St. Louis was refused entry by everyone, including the U.S., and 1000 Jews were returned to Europe to be fed to the gas chambers.

Those Jews who did make it to Palestine were interred at the Atlit Detention Camp.

I shuddered when I saw the showers that new detainees were told to strip and get into. Many of them had traveled in overcrowded ships and had not bathed for weeks and were infested by lice. However, they did not understand what the British were asking of them and too many of them were familiar with the “showers” that held no water but only poisonous gas. They were told to place their clothing in a revolving metal closet. From there their clothes were put into a dryer that held chemicals. The detainees’ pockets held the few mementos they clung to: photos, documents, and important papers. All were destroyed.
The British tried explaining to them and after the showers rewarded them with oranges and chocolate. Some, when they realized it was really only a hot shower, got back on the end of the line for the shower, the orange and the chocolate. However, right after the shower they were sprayed with DDT which shortened many of their lives.
The camp is surrounded by barbed wire. The women and children were housed behind the wire on the left side of the promenade and the men and older boys on the right side. The British knew that the Jews would not escape and leave part of their family behind. The symbols of imprisonment surrounded them, including the watch towers. If, in the middle of the night someone needed to relieve themselves in the holes in the ground outside, they were not allowed out at night and had to use the basins provided. With 40 cots cramped into small spaces, the stench of urine had to have been very powerful, especially in the summer.

These internment buildings had no heat or air conditioning and the tin roofs made it unbearably hot in the summer and intensified the cold in the winter.

Our tour guide, Gal, from Ashdod, was very thorough and knowledgeable. Aside from lectures, there were various presentations and films that made the place come alive.

One of the films depicted a Palmach rescue, under the command of Yitzhak Rabin, of a group of Iraqis who were caught crossing the border on foot. The British plan was to return them to Iraq even though they knew they would be killed. This daring rescue took place in October of 1945.

The end of the movie is incredibly moving and I will not spoil it for you. But the bravery of the Jewish families, men, women and children, in protecting these runaways is uplifting and stirring.

Now for the photos:



This photo depicts a son who was reunited with his father in the Detention Camp.


Our guide, Gal, in front of the machine that treated the prisoners’ clothing with chemicals.


The above ship was not a ship that took Jews to Palestine but was from the same time period. Ships that were supposed to carry 1000 people might carry 3800 people. This small ship is used for multi-media presentations about the conditions and fear that the passengers faced.

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Part 3: Golan Heights

…and there was MORE FOOD – a huge picture-perfect baked salmon surrounded by fruits and vegetables, pancakes stacked high, maple and chocolate syrup dispensers, French toast, spaghetti and other goodies that you normally don’t find in Israel.

Almost too full to move, we attended havdalah services and then were entertained by a singer/guitar player. Soon everyone was packing and saying their goodbyes.

For us it was sort of a hello. Avi and Leah, whom we know from Cincinnati, had found someone who would drive us to Katzrin and then we would go with them to their home in Yonatan. We were quickly introduced to Joseph and when we got into the car with him and his teenage son, he turned and asked, “Should we take the Turnpike or I-75?” This question so discombobulated us that it took a few minutes for us to answer him, but we understood immediately that we were in for an interesting trip.

Joseph, we learned, had been a journalist for a liberal newspaper in South Africa, then a book publisher. He regaled us with great stories including the period of time when left-wing Jews were thrown in prison for working with the ANC. Those prisoners were given a choice of prison or immigration to Israel. Wonder what they chose.

From South Africa Joseph went to Florida where he resided for 18 years and established another book publishing company. He recently moved to Katzrin and conducts his business from there. Mick and I hope to met up with him again and hear more of his stories.

We tried to get out of Peki’in. It turned out not to be so easy. After making a series of wrong turns on narrow streets, we dead ended and there we found Avi and Leah who had left 20 minutes before us. Joseph backed down the steep twisting hill. Avi wasn’t having any of that. Leah was out of the car trying to coax him into backing up so he could turn around at the tiny cul de sac. Avi did not believe that the room existed that Leah wanted him to back into.

Joseph waited at the bottom of the road for a very long five minutes. Every passing car that squeezed by honked irritably at us even though Joseph hugged the rock wall as tightly as possible.

Between Joseph’s GPS and his son’s phone GPS plus a little intuition, we were on the highway. I was torn between watching the road (as though my vigilance would keep us from careening off at each pitch black, rollercoaster-like turn) and keeping my mouth from gapping at the beauty of the lights spread below us, everywhere the eye could see, like shiny yellow flowers.

Avi followed us until we got right outside Katzrin and then he pulled ahead of us and to the side of the road and told us to do the same. There we became outlaws. It is strictly against the law to have more than five in a car.

Leah gave Mick her front seat and moved into the back seat, embracing Dovid on her lap, and I maneuvered in next to her with Benjie on my lap. Bunchie remained in her car seat.

Avi was the amiable host pointing out where the chickens and cows were but we saw nothing in the dark.

We were surprised at how big and nice their rented house is. There was even a bathtub!!! Everywhere we go there are beautifully tiled showers but never any bathtubs. Leah walked in, picked up a remote, and tried to get the heat on. Nothing happened. “This is a tragedy”, she declared. I laughed. This was the third tragedy in our trip so far. (wink, wink)

Avi, a pediatrician, works at four clinics spread out around Lake Keneret. His schedule is different every week and gets changed on minutes notice but he discovered he was free to spend Sunday morning with us. We dropped Bunchie off at nursery and toured the center of the moshav. (The boys were picked up by a school bus). I was delighted at the art work, which is ubiquitous in Israel. On the outside of the kindergarten are beautiful tiles, each tile representing a family on the moshav. In this tiny square was the synagogue, a large playground, administrative offices, the post office and the kindergarten.


Hand painted tiles representing Moshav Yonatan families


Avi, a pediatrician, works at four clinics spread out around LakeKeneret. His schedule is different every week and gets changed on a minutes notice but he discovered he was free to spend Sunday morning with us. We dropped Bunchie off at nursery and toured the center of the moshav. (The boys were picked up by a school bus). I was delighted at the art work, which is ubiquitous in Israel. On the outside of the kindergarten are beautiful tiles, each tile representing a family on the moshav. In this tiny square was the synagogue, a large playground, administrative offices, the post office and the kindergarten.

Avi next dropped Leah off at ulpan. We had declined their offer of breakfast so we could treat Avi to his favorite restaurant in the Katzrin Mall.

We then went to see the 2000 plus-years remains of the synagogue and houses there. The historians do not know what  area was named or what happened to its residents.

Mick and I sat alone in the ruins listening to a piped in Rosh HaShannah service with music. While Avenu Malkanu (Our father, our king), was chanted, Mick declared that he was certain he had been there in another life.

OlivePress Leah and Avi Politzer and me in front of a grape press at Katzrin archaeological park. (I’m the old one.)                    

After Avi had dropped us off, he had picked up Leah who was on her ulpan break. They rejoined us as we looked at old olive presses and went into a tiny store of a resident wood carver.

Avi took Leah back to ulpan, picked us up and then it was off to the Katzin museum.

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Part 2: The Golan Heights

Our tour of the Village began after prayer services followed by another huge meal. We trekked up the narrow winding streets that we driven on the previous day, until we came to the main square: the center of activity. The square is lined by tiny shops and cafes, steps go down to the pool in the center, fed by a mountain stream. This was the main source of water for drinking, washing clothes and bathing, and the power for their flour mill until the 1950s, when the Village got running water and electricity. Two statutes loom over the pool representing two Druze heroes, leader Sultan Pasha al-Atrash and Kamal Jumblatt.”


These photos were taken on a previous trip to Peki’in

Our guide, Naem, explained that only religious Druze are allowed to know the secrets of their religion. And, the Druze religion does not allow converts. However, all Druze are commanded not to imbibe in alcohol (a good thing considering the roads in the Village), belief in reincarnation (when a baby is spanked into life that is the moment a dead soul has entered the baby) and that the Druze, as are Jews, instructed to respect and obey the laws of their resident country. Since Druze believe in reincarnation they do not have great respect for the bodies of the deceased and families are buried together in one grave. The Druze claim to be descended from Yithro, the father-in-law of Moses.

We next hiked up a steep hill and stone steps to see the cave where Shimon bar Yochai and his son Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon hid out for 13 years, fearing for their life because they had dared to make a derogatory remark about the Roman ruler after the Romans put down the Bar Kochba rebellion.

The cave is extremely shallow. Three people could barely get in at the same time and anyone of normal height had to hunch over. There is a debate as to whether or not this cave had been larger at one time but had been closed off by a rock slide. The carob tree that fed Shimon Bar Yochai and is son still stands outside the cave.  When it was finally safe for them to come out of hiding, God ordered them back into the cave for another year as punishment because the anger flashing out of Shimon Bar Yochai’s eyes killed a man.

I was amazed to see three year old Baela (the youngest of a family that had moved from Cincinnati to Yonatan in the Golan) keeping pace with all of us as we trudged up and down the hills and steps of Peki’in.

There were other children there and each time we stopped, they zealously climbed up rocks or hung off of trees. One fell over the embankment near the cave and this time there really almost was a tragedy as the boy clutched a rock until someone grabbed his hand and brought him back to safety.

Nest stop: Peki’in synagogue. Margalite, an elderly woman, is the keeper of the keys, family history, and starling tales relating to the synagogue there and her family’s history. When she was a young woman, Arabs invaded this peaceful village and grabbed her father. Their intent was to kill him. While they argued about whether or not it was worthwhile to waste a bullet on a Jew, Margali’s mother gathered up some other Muslim men who offered the invaders a sheep and suggested that instead they kill the sheep and make a feast. They did. Margalit Zinati enjoys her friendship with the other women in the village and gives lectures about the Synagogue (which contains two carved stones from the SecondTemple) and was built in 1873 on the site of an ancient synagogue. Next door is a museum and Margalit usually shows a film about the history of the Synagogue. However, since it was Shabbat the film was not shown. Before we departed from the synagogue, Margalit pointed out places where the roof was allowing recent rains to invade the building. Before we departed from the synagogue to her home/museum showered us all with blessings.


Our last stop was at a monument from the Israeli government recognizing those Druze young men who gave their life serving their country. There are about 100,000 Druze in Israel, one million in Syria, and another 900,000 spread out mostly in the Middle East. Naem then voiced the opinion that Druze do not have equal opportunities at jobs, and housing in Israel. This statement seemed to contradict the claim in the film we saw that Druze women are smart and highly educated in Israeli universities and that many have jobs as doctors and accountants here. Also, at the beginning of our tour, Naem pointed out a colony of new houses that he said were awarded to the Druze that had served in the IDF. I know many Israelis who have served in the IDF but I never heard of any who had been given a gift of housing at the end of their service. Also, Wikipedia quotes an article from the Jerusalem Post that in 2011 the Israeli “government approved an aid program of NIS 680 million ($184M) for housing, education and tourism upgrades in Peki’in and other Druze communities in northern Israel.”  As everywhere, people have their own views and agendas, and it is up to us to learn more before arriving at a conclusion. The Druze are famous for being friendly and hospitable. In our experience, this is true. Their hospitality, combined with the charm and Jewish historical significance of the Village of Peki’in, make this a great place to visit.


Venturing into the Galilee and the Golan

Part 1

My husband and I left Naharyia Friday morning and were back on Sunday at four watching the sun begin its daily, dazzling dip into the blue and green striped waters of the Mediterranean. That short span of time encompassed 2000 years of history.

We were attending a Nefesh B Nefesh Go North Shabbaton in Peki’in where we met new Israeli citizens from places as far away as Toronto, Australia and the Republic of South Africa. They had recently settled in Tzfat, Katzrin, Yonatan and Carmiel. During these few days we enjoyed Carlebach-style Shabbat services, endless vistas of mountains peppered with olive trees, and dined on meals that looked ready for glossy-magazine photography sessions.

The Peki’in Hostel was comfortable. The room had six beds (four of them folded into the wall).

But let’s backtrack here so I can share the experience of getting there. The road began flat and straight, but soon hair-pined up mountains wending its way through an endless panorama of rocky landscapes. Finding the Village of Peki’in was fairly easy. Locating the hostel seemed an unfathomable mystery.

Ellie was driving with help from his GPS and his wife, Martine. Totally lost, Ellie called Benny to ask how he got there. “Can’t tell you” was his cheery reply. He told us of numerous turns, many wrong, until miraculously he was there. Ellie fearlessly drove over steep, one-lane roads that were not one-way. You could almost touch the sides of the houses on either side of the road from the car windows. Several times a driver coming from the opposite direction had to back down to allow Ellie the polite right-of-way. The bottom of each narrow road turned so sharply, that Ellie would have to back up and angle the car to make the next turn. With lots of shouting for help from rolled down windows, and confusing return answers, we did finally get there.

Upon our arrival, we were invited to watch a film about Druze culture. We did. The film was excellently produced. It drew you into a few hours of the life of a personable, good-looking young man who had served in the IDF. At the ripe old age of 25, (clutch your hearts, we have a TRAGEDY unfolding) he has still not found his bride. It was amusing, interesting, colorful and informative, but the main message was deceptive. It declared that this village of 5,200 people, Druze, Muslims, Jews and Christians all get along very well. The village is approximately 70% Druze, 28% Christian, 2% Muslim with one Jewish family plus Margalite, the remaining descendant of a Jewish family who had lived in Peki’in for centuries.  The film failed to mention that when some young Jewish families moved into Peki’in in 2007, they were frightened away by having their homes burned. More recently one Jewish couple, new immigrants of Dutch birth from England proudly who display a Mogen Dovid on their gate and entrance way, have moved there. They live steps away from the cave where Shimon Bar Yochai (the author of the Zohar) and his son hid for 13 years.

Zipping ahead, dinner was served family style. The tables were covered with salads. One of the approximately ten salads served consisted of sweet potato noodles that were crisp and spicy. While I helped myself to a third serving and wondered how I could recreate that salad at home, a woman seated across the table announced that she felt faint. As she was falling over, helping hands eased her to the floor and a cry for “Doctor, doctor,” reverberated in our immediate area. One of the guests at our table turned out to be a doctor and he was already kneeling by her side and another offering his help by the time the woman finished her descent to the floor.

During the hullabaloo the waiters went about their business, bringing out platters of schnitzel, stuffed chicken and sweet potted meat which appeared as if by magic on the table. I couldn’t do anything for the woman on the floor and my gastric juices were percolating from the smell of the food.

We nibbled slowly, not wanting to look callous but the food was in front of us 🙂 and the woman was being attended to. Finally, the doctor declared his verdict. She was declared “okay”. Her blood sugar had temporarily plummeted. We attacked the food with gusto.

After a lecture, we retired early to ready for the next day.

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Walking in the Old City–Jerusalem

Mick and I decided to go touring in the Old City on Sunday. Our final destination: the Wailing or Western Wall. Our departure point was Hashmonaim where we were visiting a friend who had moved there six years ago. After taking the bus to the Central Bus Station we were directed to look for the Number 1 or 2 bus. Despite asking directions and receiving replies in mixed English and Hebrew, we never did find that bus stop, so decided to take the light rail.


Many of the passengers had a card (probably for unlimited monthly trips) but we had to struggle with the machine. They gave us a choice of at least four languages, English was one of them, but still it had to be negotiated and we never did figure out how to express the fact that we are old and therefore eligible for a discount.

Once on the train, we put our ticket through a machine and a ticket checker came through after most stops to determine if we had a ticket and had it verified.

We exited the light rail at the Damascus Gate which took us through the Muslim quarter of the Old City. There it is easy to get lost as alleyways meander in all directions. It is a colorful shouk with shopkeepers hawking everything from food to belly dancing costumes to clothing.

The first two photos are a group from Africa visiting two of the churches located in that quarter.







This quarter also contains yeshivas (places of religious study for Jewish men) and a synagogue.

Once at the Western Wall (or kotel), we were jostled by people from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. Even though it was a slow day there, everyone wanted to squeeze close to the wall to shove into every crevice of rock their written pleas to God to grant their wishes.



Here young soldiers are brought to the Western Wall to be inducted into the Israeli Defense Forces.


Very young children walk alone through the Jewish Quarter to go home for lunch.




We departed through the Zion gate partially going through the Armenian Quarter.


Weary tourists perch on stone pillars to relax their feet.


An Arab woman rests under a palm tree that casts a life like shadow on the wall.


As we waited to take the light rail back to the Central Bus Station, I was amused to pick up wi-fi at the bus stop, minutes away from the BC 19 Wailing wall.

(Joan Gross is the co-author and illustrator of “Forty Days and Forty Nights, Rain, Rain, Rain”.)