Author Archives: JWH

Golan Heights

The Golan Heights consists of a high plateau with volcanically formed mountains peaking up.  There are ravines and deep valleys and the land is strewn with lots of rocks of basalt.

Gamla was a city where the Romans defeated the Jews in 66 AD as the Romans invaded  the Holy Land and drove the Jews out.  The city was completely abandoned until the 1970’s when excavations began. Located along the African/Arabian plates, the area has steep ridges and deep valleys.

At first the Jews in Gamla were loyal to the Romans, but then they began to revolt.  Their general was Josephus and he was taken prisoner when the Romans won the battle. Josephus prophesied that the Roman general, Vespasian, would be the next emperor of Roman.  And when that happened, Vespasian gave Josephus his freedom.  He became close friends and advisor to Vespasian’s son, Titus, who granted him Roman citizenship.  Josephus went on to record the history of the Jewish people in the 1st century BC up to 66 AD and is why so much is known about ancient Gamla today.



We viewed Gamla from a nearby hilltop that was once the site of a Byzantine monastery. The site is now a national park.




From a lookout in the northern corner of Israel, we were able to see the border between Israel and Syria.


The white buildings are the headquarters for the UN – they returned here just two months ago.


We also saw a number of UN vehicles on the roads in the area.

On the top of this hill is the Israeli security unit keeping an eye on things along the border.


And patrolling the border are Israeli soldiers. These fellows are Special Services.


The fellow on the right is from Brooklyn.  He came to Israel to join the military for two years.  He has two months to go.


We also learned about the Valley of Tears, the name given to an area in the Golan Heights after it became the site of a major battle in the 1973 Yom Kippur War which was fought between the 6th and 9th of October. Although massively outnumbered, the Israeli forces managed to hold their positions and on the fourth day of the battle the Syrians withdrew, just as the Israeli defenses were at the point of collapse.


Abandoned Syrian and Israeli tanks.


Throughout the Golan Heights we saw fenced in areas with yellow signs warning of Syrian mine fields.

We visited a town where many residents are of the Druze faith.  The town was along the border with Syria – you can see the fence between the countries in this photo.

The Druze are known for their delicious food which we tasted in the home of a Druze woman.  We then were introduced to the Druze religion by Katia, an 18 year old young woman who is off to Haifa University next year and who wants to travel the world.

She explained that 30% of Druze are “religious” and 70% are non-religious.  This means that the religious live by strict codes of behavior and dress and seriously study the esoteric and secret writings of their leaders. The non-religious lead secular lives except that they only marry other Druze.  The Druze are a closed group, meaning that one cannot convert.  Druze are Druze because they are born of Druze parents.

We also learned that the religion looks to all religions for its concepts – Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, etc. and that they value education.  Most Druze women have Masters Degrees.  Because they have been persecuted in many countries (and still are,) they try to avoid conflict by giving loyalty to the country they live in.  Many Druze living in Israel join the military even though they are not required to do so.  Also, many Druze men hold high leadership positions in corporations or in government.





This is a map of our travels in Israel so far.

Just north of Haifa and sharing the same bay for ports is the city of Akko (Acre.)  During the Crusades (1099 – 1291) it became the destination of Christian pilgrims coming by ship from Western Europe.  Various monastic orders based in Akko took on roles as protectors, bankers, and caretakers for the pilgrims, and consequently, it became an important city. One of the orders was the Knights of the Templars and another was the Knights of the Hospitallers.

In1291 the Mamelukes took control and destroyed the city by covering it with sand. This ended the Crusades. When the Ottomans took over in 1516, they built a city on top of the sand.  After WWI the British controlled Israel and used the remains of the Ottoman city for a prison.  When a couple of inmates tried to escape by digging a tunnel under the floor, they dug deep enough to fall into the Crusaders’ chambers.  Then later, a woman hired a plumber to fix her drains, and he too dug down and discovered another part of the earlier city.  Since then extensive work has been done to reveal the city under the city.  The sand protected much of the lower city and the vaulted chambers and passages are in excellent condition.

The restored parts of the city had very informative displays in an effort to capture the spirit of the medieval era.

At one point we walked through a very low tunnel that had functioned as their sewer.

Located along the coast where Israel shares a border with Lebanon are limestone cliffs that go down to the sea.  Years of erosion by water has created natural caves into the rocks.

During WW II, the British built a tunnel through the cliff for a train that would link Europe with Egypt. During the War of Independence, the Israelis blew up the tunnel to prevent the Arabs from using it.  This is part of the tunnel that remains.

It was just steps from the caves to the border with Lebanon.

Above the cliff is a wall built by the Israelis that extends underground to prevent tunnels.

Next we visit Golan.

Haifa and Safed

In Haifa we walked though an Arab neighborhood with lots of public art, mostly in the form of murals.  Here are a couple I liked.

Some had social/political messages like this one. The blue shape is the Mediterranean and the wire of the safety pins echoes the shape.  The artist says that she will close the pin when there is peace in the area and all are in the safety zone.

Our guide pointed out this sign that identifies the home of a Muslin fellow who dresses as Santa and leads a parade through the streets at Christmas.  He then distributes gifts to the children regardless of their religion.

Haifa, the 3rd largest city in Israel, is located on the slopes of Mount Carmel that descend to the Mediterranean.  It is an ideal port and has a very long history of being taken over by one group of people after another.  Today it is an active and major port unlike Tel Aviv where the port has filled with sand that has washed up from the Egyptian delta.

In the foreground is Haifa and in the background is the city of Akko (Acre.)

In the 13th century, the Carmelite Monastic Order was founded in Haifa and in 1909 became the international headquarters for the Baha’i Council. The Baha’i religion was established by Bahá’u’lláh in 1863 based on the concepts formulated by Siyyid `Alí-Muhammad of Shiraz who was tortured and died in 1850.  He had the title of “Bab.” The religion initially started in Iran and parts of the Middle East, but followers were highly persecuted.  Today there are 5 – 7 million adherents all over the world.

From Wikipedia: Bahá’í teachings are in some ways similar to other monotheistic faiths: God is considered single and all-powerful. However, Bahá’u’lláh taught that religion is orderly and progressively revealed by one God through Manifestations of God who are the founders of major world religions throughout history; Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad being the most recent in the period before the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. Bahá’ís regard the major religions as fundamentally unified in purpose, though varied in social practices and interpretations. There is a similar emphasis on the unity of all people, openly rejecting notions of racism and nationalism. At the heart of Bahá’í teachings is the goal of a unified world order that ensures the prosperity of all nations, races, creeds, and classes.

The Bab is buried in a shrine in Haifa surrounded by magnificent gardens.  It has become a pilgrim destination for believers of the faith who spend a year or two in Haifa tending the gardens.

We also visited the city of Safed.  At 3000 ft. above sea level, it is Israel’s highest city.  Safed is a center of Jewish mysticism where many Hasidic and Orthodox Jews study Kabbalah. Jewish Kabbalah is a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain the relationship between God, the unchanging, eternal, and mysterious and the mortal and finite universe. We visited a Kabbalah Center and learned about the teachings.  Here I am with the Director who explained how the spiritual and the everyday life are connected.

We also visited an important Synagogue in Safed where our guide explained various aspects of the Jewish faith to us.

We had time to explore the historic city with its narrow streets.

And then we explored art galleries that displayed a lot of art with Jewish symbols and meaning as well as non-religious art and fine crafts.  I enjoyed the contrast of viewing contemporary art in galleries in very old buildings.

Betsey and I chatted with David Friedman, an artist who uses Kabbalah numerology and symbolism in his work.  Come to find out that he had attended RISD.  To learn more him, check out his website.


Caesarea, Olives and Nazareth

Located halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa is the Caesarea National Park, the site of what remains of the ancient Roman city of Caesarea. The city and harbor were built under Herod the Great c. 22–10 BC and later became the provincial capital of the Roman government of Palestine. The city was populated throughout the 1st to 6th centuries AD and became an important early center of Christianity during the Byzantine period when it flourished and its size extended. The city was mostly abandoned following the Muslim conquest of 640. It was re-fortified by the Crusaders, and finally destroyed by the Mamluks in 1265.

The Park is on an area owned by the Rothschild Foundation, the only privately owned and managed property in Israel.

This is what it looked like then.

This is what it looks like now,

The city was important because it was a port where ships from all over the Mediterranean brought goods for trade.  I found the restored amphitheatre and the remains of the palace foundation to be the most interesting areas.  Notice in the photo above that there was a hippodrome located along the water’s edge.

You can see the remnants of a pool that was part of the palace in this photo.

This modern sculpture of horses was located in the hippodrome.  It actually did not look out of place!

Next we visited the Yonay Olive Farm where we participated in making pita bread that was part of a delicious lunch.  We then heard about the incredible family history that dates back three generations in Israel.

Yechezkel Taub

In 1925, a young Jewish religious leader, Yechezkel Taub, defied the head Rabbi of Warsaw by bringing a group of families to Israel to create a farming community.  They lived close together for mutual protection from the Bedouins who camped nearby.  They were aided by a Zionist group that sent construction workers to build a cow barn.  One the construction workers, Mordecai Yonay, who was from Russia, married Yechezkel’s niece. Yechezkel established a rule that the villagers would help each other, but however they wanted to live was their business.  Mordecai became the guard on Yechezkel’s farm and decided that the best way to deal with the Bedouins was to become friends with them, and he did.  So much so, that he got to know them so well that he began to represent them in their disputes with the Israel Jews. He became an authority on bedouins.

Mordecai’s son, Ehud, became a writer and moved to California where he wrote an article about fighter pilots and a book about the Israeli air force. The article led to the movie, Top Gun. Ehud returned to Israel to the farm his uncle established and devoted himself to making it a success.  He died in 2012.  His widow, Shoshi, was our host for lunch.

Ehud Yonay

Yechezkel went on to lead a very interesting life.  Read more about him here;

Ehud Yonay’s article about fight pilots that led to the movie, Top Gun.

This is the former cow shed that is now is where Shoshi sells olive products, hosts lunches, and tells the story of her husband’s family.

She had us make our own pita bread which she then baked in a very hot oven.

After lunch we visited the olive grows.

Our next stop was to Nazareth to visit the site where the Angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will be having a child who will be the son of God. Today Nazareth has a population of 56,000 of which 70% are Arab Muslims and 30% are Arab Christians. The site of the Annunciation is at the heart of the city surrounded by shops, offices, and lots of traffic.

This is a 20th century church that was built after a number of earlier churches.

This is the “cave” where the Angel appeared to Mary.  It is located on a lower level.

On the upper level is a church.  Both outside and inside are ceramic images of the Virgin by artists from countries all over the world. Each is uniquely different.

Japan and Canada

Mexico and the US

I do not like the US Madonna.  She looks mean and aggressive!



Tel Aviv, Israel

We are staying in the heart of Tel Aviv in the Cinema Hotel, a building that was built as a cinema in the 1930’s in the Bauhaus Style, as were many other buildings in the city.  The Bauhaus was a school for design and architecture in Germany from 1919 – 1933.  When it closed, the instructors and students relocated taking with them the philosophy of the Bauhaus – “form follows function.” Because buildings were constructed all over the world in this style, it became known as International Architecture.

From the Bauhaus Center website: Four Israeli architects studied in the Bauhaus school: Arieh Sharon, Shmuel Mestechkin, Munio Gitai-Weinraub and Shlomo Bernstein. However, the influence of the Bauhaus on the architecture built in Israel in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s was by far wider than being expressed by those architects only.

The legacy of the Bauhaus was absorbed by other architects, studying in Brussels, Ghent and Italy, such as: Dov Carmi, Genia Averbuch, Ben-Ami Shulman, Ze’ev Rechter and Joseph Neufeld. And of course—all of those prominent figures presented the new ideas to just everyone who was around.

In Tel Aviv only, more than 4,000 “Bauhaus Style” buildings were built. Thousands more were built in Haifa, Jerusalem, the Kibbutzim and elsewhere in Israel. The main question is, therefore—how, in an era when this new style was still unpopular, did it reach such magnitude in the built work in Israel? The main answer is that the social-cultural ideology behind the “Bauhaus Style” fit like a glove to the socialist-Zionist movement and to the striving of this movement to create a new world. White houses, in every sense—form, style, material, functionality, color—grew from the sands without a past, towards a future.

Here is a photo taken in the 1930’s when our hotel was a cinema.

Here it is today as a hotel.

The decor throughout the hotel incorporates the cinema theme with posters, photographs, and film equipment and projectors.

Tel Aviv is a modern, hip city with a very secular vibe.  This is a sunset photo of the beautiful beach located five blocks from the hotel.  The old city of Jaffa is located at the horizon at the far right.

This is a view from Jaffa looking back at Tel Aviv taken the next morning.

As we explored the 4,000 year-old city of Jaffa, our tour director, Revi, visually demonstrated the many layers of history with hat upon cap upon hat. Whereas Jaffa is very old, Tel Aviv is very new.  It was founded in 1909 by 60 Jewish families pictured in this photo.

We visited the Church of St. Peter, built in the 19th century by the Spanish.  The church commemorates St. Peter raising Tabitha from the dead and his vision where all sorts of creatures descended from above.  Although a Catholic church, it contains a menorah next to the altar and a Black Madonna from the Orthodox tradition.

Next we visited the museum of Ilana Goor, an Israeli artist and designer.  The building was part of a rundown neighborhood in Jaffa that was made available to artists to rehabilitate as homes and studios.  Over the years, Goor expanded by buying adjacent properties and filling the rooms with her own metal and mixed-media sculptures as well as the work of artists from all over the world.  The aesthetic is essentially expressionistic.  Along with the art are collections of other objects.  We visited numerous rooms on three floors, each filled with an array of stuff.  It was a lot to absorb!  To view more images of the museum, go to:

To see the some of the 500 objects in the collection, go to:

Of all of Goor’s work, I was most intrigued by these forms.

On the roof top was a fountain (not by Goor) of Neptune being terrorized by playful little girls.

She had a collection of tribal art because she appreciated the use of materials and forms.  I can relate to her love of these objects.

In her kitchen she displayed an impressive collection of copper, brass, and tin pots and Chinese ceramics.

The vaulted ceiling of the kitchen was made of bottles imbedded in plaster.  Previous owners, a family of perfume makers, created the vault as a way to insulate the kitchen from the summer heat (which in the summer can be brutal.)

This is a sculpture by Ran Morin located in old Jaffa that references the orange trees that the first Jewish settlers in the early 20th century planted to create a source of income.  Because the oranges were of high quality, they were in demand.

We concluded our tour of Jaffa with a visit to the popular flea market where we were encouraged to use our bargaining skills.









Awesome PETRA

These are the places we visited in Jordan,

Petra far exceeded my expectations! We set out at 7:30 am and spent the day exploring the extensive archaeological site of a city that thrived from the 1st century BC until the 4th century AD. It is now a World Heritage Site. The city was built by the Nabataeans and prospered because it was on a trade route between the Mesopotamians and the Egyptians and catered to the caravans carrying the popular incenses, frankincense and myrrh, and spices.

Romans incorporated the city into their Empire and the city continued to thrive until an earthquake in the 4th century destroyed a large part of it. As changes in trade occurred, the city was eventually abandoned by the 7th century. Known only during following centuries by the local Bedouins, the site was discovered by a Swiss explorer, Johannes Burchardt, in 1812. Since then it has attracted archaeologists and visitors from all over the world.

The entrance to the site took us down a trail between cliffs. Along the way we saw evidence of shrines carved in the stone as well as tomb chambers.

The trail took us to the main avenue of the site where we encountered the “Treasury.” Probably constructed in the 1st century BC by the Nabataeans , it is carved out of the red sandstone cliff. Large chambers inside were used for the burials of a family. This is just one of many similar structures nearby, but none have a façade that is as well preserved. The architectural features and images show an influence from many other cultures (Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman) combined in an inventive manner. Based on this structure, one can only imagine how absolutely splendid the rest of the city must have been. Notice the tiny people standing by the steps to give a sense of scale. The facade is 98 feet high.

There were lots of camels and donkeys to take visitors to the sites.  The main avenue is about 3 miles long from the entrance and then there are several paths leading off of the avenue.


Along the avenues and paths are “pooper scoopers” to keep the walking paths clean.

On the approach to the metropolitan area, we encountered many rock cut tomb sites.

As we walked along the main avenue, we saw a wall with four “Royal Tombs” as well as small carved out caves and burial chambers. There were also several temples and churches along the way.

To prevent flash floods when it rained, the city had a system of dams and drainage ditches. A reservoir for water collection provided water to the residents and a fountain located in the heart of the city.

This is a Roman theatre cut from rock rather than constructed. It seats 3000.

The red rock patterns were especially beautiful in this chamber (used today as a men’s restroom.)

We then visited the area of the Great Temple that has been an archaeological project carried out by Brown University. Within the temple district there were two levels and a small theatre area, perhaps used for town council meetings.

Unique capitals were adorned with the heads of elephants – their trunks have broken off.

We walked in but rode out!

Israel is next.

Mount Nebo

Betsey noticed all the cigarette butts on the sidewalks in Amman.

And I noticed teabags stuck to a wall!

Heading south from Amman, we traveled the King’s Highway, a trade route dating back 5000 years. Along the way we saw scenes like this.

Some buildings are made with local stone and others are made with concrete blocks coated with plaster.  Often the first floor is completed and occupied while the second floor is being finished.  Posts for a third level are left until the family expands and more room is needed.  Very practical practice. I later learned that in Israel, unfinished construction is not taxed.

Our first stop was at Mount Nebo where Moses gazed across the Dead Sea to the Holy Land.  He never made it there and it is believed he is buried some place close by Mount Nebo.  The Dead Sea is the blue patch on the left.

A Byzantine church dating from the 4th century on the site has wonderful mosaics.

We viewed another mosaic at St. George’s, a Greek Orthodox church in nearby Madaba. The 6th century mosaic depicts the earliest surviving map of the Holy Land.  Here it is on a sign. The dark oval in the center is the Dead Sea.

We also visited a place where they make modern mosaics.

On our way to Petra, we stopped for this scenic view.

Petra is in next post.