Dani and Yaacov

Dateline: September 29

So our group tour is over now and several of us are headed home.  Others are continuing in Israel.  Betty is visiting family.  Gayle is off to Eliat and Petra.  Tobi, Lonnie and Albert are headed to Tel Aviv.  Becky and John are also headed to Tel Aviv.  Others are staying around, too.  Just want to add a quick thank you to Tobi Taub for her fantastic photos.  Several of the photos in this blog are from her.  She was our unofficial photographer, taking picts of everything from the sign above the door to the food to the crowd moving from event to event.  You have a great eye and thank you for making the visual recording of everything for us.

Thank you to Danielle of Da’at Tours for organizing a great visit and to Lital Yaacob of the JCAA/Federation in Austin for making sure we got off to a great start (and who has spent this time with the Ballet Austin dancers making sure their tour goes off with minimum issues).  They made things work behind the scenes and we wanted you to know that we noticed!  Thank you, too, to Cookie Ruiz, CEO of Ballet Austin and Jay Rubin, CEO of the JCAA for your leadership and your vision to put this trip together for us.

This last blog is dedicated to our amazing tour guide, Dani Margolis, and our terrific bus driver, Yaacov. Our trip was destined to be great just because of the subject matter and the opportunity to see Ballet Austin perform in Israel.  But it was even better because of Dani and Yaacov.

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Not only did Dani share the history and facts of every place we visited, but he has skill that goes far beyond just the fact.  He’s a great story teller, making the history come alive for us (literally, he did this on Masada with his costumes and sword).  He’s a great tour guide, taking us to the ‘greatest hits’ but giving us so much more than just the facts of the places.  He had a well-loved copy of the Bible with him, with page markers and passages marked up to make the connection about what we saw with what the Bible says.  He’s an empathetic leader, and he was sensitive to each of our conditions, issues, and needs.  Nothing dropped through the cracks, whether it was to get to a site or tour on time, or a late checkout of our hotel rooms, or making special arrangements for a side trip, or ensuring I found torah crowns.  He was on top of it all.  He has his own website, www.danimargolis.com, and is a professional tour guide.  You can also follow his adventures on his facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/EcoToursIsrael

Yaacov was the ‘silent but strong’ partner…always on the ball, always bringing our cool, comfortable bus to us, getting us close to the sites to minimize our walk, waiting patiently for us to be ready to go to the next destination.  He called Dani the ‘talking man’…and we loved both of them for all they did for us.

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Dani taught us a word/phrase every day.  I recorded some of them, but I hope others on the trip will add to this (just add a comment with our other words…).  Here’s an updated list (thank you Dani):

Sababa- fantastic (cool)
Para, para- one cow at a time (said pa-rah)
Chataf t’jananah- freak out
Yalla- lets go
Sof haderech- end of the road
Srita Amooka – a deep scratch…he’s loopy!!
Kefak hey!! – hip hip hooray!
Ptzsatsa- the bomb ( good looking lady)
Ezeh Kli- what a tool ( good looking man)
Chai be seret- living in a movie
Rega rega- wait a minute ( with hand signals!)
Lehitraot- see you
Ani gamoor- I’m finished!
Shanty- laid back
Ptzazot legabot-bombs to the eyebrows!
Doogery Doogery- straight in Bedouin!
Ani Ba’ananim- I’m in the clouds ( in heaven!)
Ta’aseh Jesta- do someone a favor

Thank you, Dani and Yaacov!  You guys made the trip sababa!

Our Farewell Dinner: The Ticho House

Dateline: Sunday, Sept. 29, pm

Since this is our last day, we have to head to the airport after dinner.  Several of us have flights later tonight (11pm or later) and some are staying in Israel for a few extra days.  Tomorrow night, Monday, is the final performance of the Light project and several of our delegation are staying to see it open in Jerusalem.   It’s at the Gerard Behar Center, now a gorgeous theater, but earlier in it’s life, it was the site of the trial of Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann.  Some of us were not able to stay for it.   We will add another blog  once we collect the experiences and stories from those who attend.

Therefore, our dinner tonight is our last official event of our tour, and our tour organizers didn’t disappoint.  We had dinner at the Little Jerusalem Restaurant in the Anna Ticho House.  Anna was a local artist and her paintings were on display.  The house is part of the Israel Museum.   The meal was great (as always) with not only a number of choices and some great wine, but a private room and a nice, formal setting.

IMG_2858But what made this dinner special was the closeness of all of our delegation.  We came to Israel initially as two groups…the Ballet Austin group and the Jewish Community group, but we leave as one cohesive, special group who has shared so many experiences together in Israel.   It was a beautiful ending to our experience.

Shalom!

Finding Torah Crowns

Dateline: September 29, Sunday afternoon

IMG_2846After the museum, off to shop.  We went to Ben Yehuda Street in search of treasures.

I’ve been commissioned by my friend’s daughter’s Confirmation class at Congregation Beth Israel (our Temple in Austin) to find Torah crowns, or remonim, which are used to decorate the top ends of the rollers of the Torah scrolls.  The class collected donations to purchase a gift for the Temple in honor of their Confirmation last spring, and I was asked to purchase the gift in Israel.

This is not an everyday purchase so we had to hunt for the remonim.  I’ve probably driven our tour guide crazy asking where I should shop for them.  But it’s now our last few hours in Israel and the time has been blocked out for doing some activities on our own.  Bobby, Gayle and I headed out in search of remonim.

Most remonim are sterling silver, and therefore very expensive (and more than the budget I’ve been given).  We head to Ben Yehuda street, a pedistrian street known for shopping.  As expected, it was full of gift shops, cafes and shoppers, both tourists and locals.  My plan: stop in the first Judaica store I see and ask for directions to a store with Torah crowns.

torah crown storeWe found some amazing remonim in a little shop of Judaica just after entering Ben Yehuda Street.  Run by a little, old Jewish man, the shop was not more than 150 sq. ft.  But he had two sets of remonim.  The first was sterling silver, and way to busy for my taste.  Good thing, too, because they were really expensive.  I was going to ask him for directions to another shop that might have some I could afford.  When I responded that, while beautiful, these were out of my price range, he said to wait just a minute and he went hunting around his shop.

IMG_2849On the top shelf, near the back, behind rows of other treasures, he brought out a pair of remonim that were just what I was looking for.  It was meant to be — bashert.  He said he would give us a ‘good price’ if we paid in cash.  Of course I had planned to put this on my credit card, so I didn’t have enough shekels or dollars (he would take both).   Fortunately, Bobby and Gayle helped out.  So borrowing from my friends, we had enough cash, and we got the crowns.  Here’s a photo of Gayle and me holding the crowns. They are silver, with a Star of David on the top, and with etched pictures of the old city of Jerusalem all around the crown.  Like many  remonim, they have bells hanging from them, too.   We hope CBI will love them as much as we do.

After our great find, we browsed a number of the shops looking for treasures to bring back home with us.  We then headed to the Kind David hotel, which we were told had an amazing view of the old city (it did) and a very interesting lobby (it did).  We stopped here to have a glass of wine on our way back to the hotel.

Back again later!

Israel Museum

Dateline: September 29, Sunday

After our discussion about the Israeli political system, and a nice, concluding discussion about our trip with just our delegation, we headed out for a few hours at the Israel Museum.

This museum is the national museum of Israel with dozens of exhibits, sculptures, and precious artifacts from Israel’s history.  We could not see the whole thing.  To do it justice one would need a few days minimum to see it all.  But we had some time for some highlights.  Our group went in several directions. Here’s what a few of us did:

IMG_2840We started out with our tour guide, Dani, at an outside exhibit of the Second Temple Period Model of Jerusalem.  It was a miniature representation of the Temple, and all the neighborhoods around it, based on geological and archeological data that has been discovered over the years.  Built in 1966 by Holyland Hotel owner Hans Kroch in memory of his son Jacob, who fell in Israel’s War of Independence.  It was moved from the hotel grounds to the Israel Museum in 2006.

shrine of the bookWe then went to the Shrine of the Book, the exhibit with the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The building holding the Dead Sea Scrolls was built as a monument to dark and light and gave a very modern, but spiritual feeling to the garden.  The building housing the Scrolls is a large, white circular dome with a water fountain around it.  Right across the plaza is a stark, black marble wall.  Is this dark/light? or good/bad? or yin/yang?   We got the feeling of how life is about living with opposites here.

shrineWe then descended into the building and saw the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The room with the scrolls is just incredible.  We were not allowed photos in this room, but here’s a picture from their website.  It may be hard to tell from this photo, but the display is massive. You can see the Shrine of the Book is a large scroll and around it are the sections of the Book of Isaiah that they found almost completely in tact in 1947, when the scrolls were found.   The backdrop here is the roof, which is the white dome from the above photo. Here’s a quote from the museum website about this scroll:

The Great Isaiah Scroll  is one of the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in Qumran in 1947. It is the largest (734 cm) and best preserved of all the biblical scrolls, and the only one that is almost complete. The 54 columns contain all 66 chapters of the Hebrew version of the biblical Book of Isaiah. Dating from ca. 125 BCE, it is also one of the oldest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, some one thousand years older than the oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible known to us before the scrolls’ discovery.

IMG_2842We then headed out to see some of the rest of the museum.   To our good fortune, there was a special exhibit of King Herod, so we headed that way.  After seeing Masada and the Western Wall, and learning about King Herod’s contribution to the Jewish community, we thought this might be a very insightful exhibit.  They had great displays.  Here’s the website’s overview of the exhibit (the exhibit is only there until Jan, 2014).

The first exhibition entirely dedicated to Herod the Great, Israel’s greatest builder and one of the most controversial figures in Jewish history. Large reconstructions and new finds from Herod’s palaces in Herodium, Jericho, and other sites are on display. Exhibited to the public for the veryfirst time, these artifacts shed new light on the political, architectural, and aesthetic influence of Herod’s rule (37–4 BCE). Herod’s tomb – discovered at Herodium after a 40-year search by the late Prof. Ehud Netzer of the Hebrew University – holds pride of place. The exhibition is held in memory of Prof. Netzer, who fell to his death in 2010 on the site of his discovery.

Ahava-(LOVE)-by-Robert-IndiWe had a few minutes left to explore, and this isn’t nearly enough time to see everything.  We wondered through the Jewish Arts and Life wing.  Others in our group found a Botticelli exhibit, also there only until January.  And others visited an exhibition of Fauve and Impressionists (leaving in November 2013).  Even the permanent collection had amazing artifacts.  One sculpture I was sorry to miss was the Ahava sculpture.  Ahava means love, and this sculpture, done by Robert Indiana, sits in the Art Garden.  We didn’t visit that part of the museum, but here’s a photo from the museum website.

Back again later!

Israeli Political Discussion

Dateline: Sunday, Sept. 29 am

This is our last day as a whole group, and it’s a full day.  Our morning began with a group breakfast in the hotel. Have I mentioned how amazing these breakfasts are in the hotels?  They are feasts with dozens of foods.

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In the Imbal, our current hotel, we have 8-9 ‘food bars’ of food.  One is hot foods (blintzes, oatmeal, quiches, omelet bar with someone making omelets for us to order, pancakes or waffles).  One is just breads with about 10-12 different types of roles, loaves, bagels, crackers and jams, butters, peanut butter, honey, etc.  One is yogurts and fresh fruit and toppings for yogurt like granola, nuts, dried fruit).  One is salads (yes, salads for breakfast…) with everything from a lettuce salad with choice of carrots, beets, sprouts, and several other items).  One is cheeses (I’d say there must be 15-20 different cheeses to choose from).  One is fish and cold cuts.  One is sweets (sweet rolls, muffins, and about a dozen other choices).  One is beverages (juices-orange, grapefruit, and usually something else), water, ice tea).  And one is cereals (usually with another kind of granola, flakes, cherrios, coco-puff, etc.)  There is also a platter of halavah loaves, which is a sweet, sesame-based food that I remember having as a kid.

Everything is nicely laid out on platters or bowls so it’s overwhelming to say the least.  Seems like everyone on the trip is sampling different things each day, but we all have our favorites.  Mine? oatmeal or other cereal, fresh cut grapefruit, veggie omelet and taste of something else each day…today?  Carrot salad and it was yummy.

IMG_0399But the event this morning is a lecture by Professor Reuven Hazan from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem about Israeli governmental structure and political environment.  We learned about the multiple party system in Israel, and how it functions.  Of particular interest to me was that anyone can form a party, and if your party gets enough votes,  your party will get seats in the Parliament.

The system is, of course, very different than the US.  We have  executive (President) and legislative (Congress with 2 houses-House and Senate) branches.  We elect individuals from our local districts to represent us in the legislative branch, and we elect a President, usually from one of two major parties.  In Israel, the whole country votes for their party, not for an individual.  There is one ‘house’- the Parliament, with 120 seats divided up according to the percent of votes a party gets.  Then the party with the most seats is in charge of setting up a government, which is a partnership between that party and as many other parties as necessary to form a majority- at least 61 seats.  This partnership is a legal entity, with contracts between the leading party and the partners specifying what the party will get by joining the majority.

Once there is an alliance between enough parties to get at least 61 seats, the government is ‘formed’ and they go to work passing legislation, etc to get things done.  The head of the party with the most votes is the Prime Minister.  The lead party of the majority has a lot of power.  Not only do they negotiate the contracts with the other parties to form the government, they can remove a party (but they would have to fill in with another party, to continue to have the majority of seats in the Parliament).

Suffice it to say that this system is significantly different than the US and I’m sure you can read about exactly how this works at many other places on the web.  For our purposes, the discussion centered around how the US press reports on the election results, but usually doesn’t stick around to see how the government is formed, and its this latter step that really determines the priorities of the new government.  And, although we use similar words like ‘parties’ and ‘houses’, they are really very different in Israel versus the US.

Jamie and Liz Baskin share their impressions of the morning here:

Back again later!!

The Tunnels Under the Old City

Dateline September 28, Saturday PM

Tonight is our last full night together as a group, and we are all beginning to feel it.  We’ve really become a close group and have found we really enjoy getting together for our tours and activities.  So when we headed back to the Old City for a tour of the tunnels, we stopped off first for some dinner at an Armenian Restaurant near the Jaffa Gates (the gates into the Old City, near the Christian and Armenian Quarters).

IMG_2800Dinner was good, and, as we’ve done just about every meal, we all ordered too much.  The salad was huge, the calamari and chicken wings were way more than anyone person could eat.  Personally, I just ordered a salad with chicken, but the salad was beautiful and very large.  It included lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumber.  But it also had walnuts, sesame sticks and pomegranate seeds.  It was yummy.  But the group once again was a little silly, and on the menu was “water pipe”.  Someone ordered two of them for our group (here they are used just after the end of the meal).  So just before we paid the bill, the server brought us two water pipes, and loaded inside is lemon and tea leaves.  We all tried it, but here is a photo of Gayle.

IMG_2811We headed over to the Western Wall tunnels after dinner.  These are excavation/ archeological sites and we were treated to one of the most incredible events of our trip.    We entered near the Western Wall, down a small street nearby.  The site is an active archeological digging site, but it’s also a tourist attraction and there are a few synagogues in the area also.  We also noted that women, who are unable to pray on the men’s side of the Western Wall, had a few areas off the tunnels to pray, which actually put them closer to the original Temple runs and hence closer to G-d .   The tunnels were really interesting, but the photos don’t really convey how much we learned this time.  To get to the tunnels, we desended a flight of stairs, and the adventure began.  This photo shows the entrance.

IMG_2813Once under ground, Dani gave us an overview of what we were about to see.  That’s what is shown in this photo.  There was a high-tech display room that tour guilds can use to tell the story of what happened to the Temple.  Dani shared artist renderings of the plaza and the area around the Temple at the time it was flourishing, then burned, then reconstructed.  This was useful to give us a visual idea of what we should look for.   Then as we moved along the path, deeper into the tunnels, we had a foundation to build upon.

IMG_2819IMG_2822One of the first things we saw was the Western Wall, but the part is under ground now.  We learned that there are some very massive rocks that were somehow moved to build the wall.   In fact Dani shows us one area where the rock was longer than the bus we’ve been driving around in all week.

We also saw an area where the women come to pray.  This area means that women can get closer to the holy site than just the women’s area outside, next to the men’s side.  This is still a live archeological digging site so there were a number of off-limit areas.

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IMG_2828We continued to walk along this small corridor which is right next to the Western Wall.  We found the old streets that used to run along the wall (and the rock panel that was about to have been placed in the street, but was left along the side).  We saw some of the other layers of the wall that had been added after the original one.  We saw a cistern full of wanter that was used for storing water for the city.  All in all, fascinating place.

Back again later!

The Old City-Jerusalem

Dateline: September 28, Saturday

This is our last weekend and today is our only day to explore the old city of Jerusalem.  It’s a walled city with so many incredible sites that we will only just ‘skim the surface’ of this holy place.  This blog will have a lot of photos, but like some of the other sites we’ve seen, they don’t begin to show how incredible this city is.

IMG_2746We walked from our hotel to the Old City.  Along the way we saw the famous King David Hotel (where heads of state stay when they are here).  This hotel is one of the oldest in town, and has incredible views of the old city from the balcony.   Several told us that it was worth visiting, just to see the ornate lobby.  Unfortunately, it was very full this weekend, and no one other than guests were allowed in. So we had to pass on seeing the inside.  Directly across the street is the YMCA.  This Y has an Arab-Jewish school, a chapel, a theater, a restaurant, a hotel, and a gym.   Now our group is getting a little carried away in this photo, but we couldn’t resist acting out the letters and having a bit of fun.

We entered the Old City through the Jaffa gates.  This put us right on a main street between the Christian and the Armenian quarters.  The city is divided into 5 sections (The Christian, Armenian, Muslim and Jewish quarters and the Temple Mount).    Since it’s shabbat until sundown, there is not much happening in the Jewish Quarter, but the other 3 areas are very busy.  Here is a 10 min video of Dani telling us a bit about the history of old city.  He has been such a great story teller all throughout this trip, that I thought it would be great to record some of his work for this blog.

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The Christian Quarter

Our morning was spent in the Christian Quarter.  The highlight was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  It’s the church on the site where Jesus was crucified and entombed.  There are a number of very holy rooms and artifacts here.  The church today is still the destination of Christian pilgrims and was very crowded.  It was built by Constantine after his mother, Helene, visited the area, found a piece of wood that she believed was part of the cross carried by Jesus.  She wanted a church built on this spot, and her son did that about 326 A.D.  One stone on the floor is believed to be the stone that Jesus was rested upon after taken down from the cross, and it is believe to have holy powers.  Pilgrims bring items and lay them down for a minute or two on this slab of rock, and believe that the items will be blessed.

IMG_2773We then had a nice lunch and did a little shopping in the Christian Quarter.  Our group went separate ways but ended up at the same cafe for lunch.  This was just a little falafel place along the shuk, the marketplace.  We all had a falafel or shawarma in a pita.  Ironically at this cafe, one of the men sitting there was an Israeli who lives in Dallas who is back here visiting family.  He joined us for a bit of Texas discussion and some fun.  The Hookem Horns sign is universal!  Here’s a photo of our group with our guest.

The Jewish Quarter

IMG_2780We then headed over to the Kotel,  the Western Wall.  This time we visited in daylight, and we walked through the Jewish Quarter (still celebrating Shabbat) in daylight.  We saw a number of interesting streets, artifacts, archeological sites, and daily living of the Jews who live here.  Dani explained to us what life was like in this area, and he showed us the old streets, the areas where shops were set up, the new Synagogue, and more on our way to the Western Wall.

IMG_2794Once we got to the Western Wall, we separated into gender groups, since the men do not go on the women’s side and vice versa.  This is one of the holiest sites of the Jews.  This wall is the exterior wall of the area surrounding the Temple Mount.  All my life, I thought this was the western wall of the Temple built by Solomon, but that is wrong.  It’s the western wall surrounding the area that included the Temple.   The Temple is considered the holy place for Jews because it is believed to be the house of G-d.  The wall itself is a wonder, but more on that in the next blog about the tunnels that have been excavated next to the wall.  What we saw were many Jews praying at the Wall.  Some of us wrote prayers and wishes on small pieces of paper, folded them up to really small pieces of paper, and put them into the cracks in the wall.  The belief is that prayers will be answered if put on paper and left on the wall.

From here we went back to the hotel for some R&R (and to rest our feet).  We intend to return tonight for a tour of the tunnels under the Old City.

Back again later!