Category Archives: Israel

People of Israel and Jordan

All of the people we met where welcoming and congenial (except for the Russian hotel staff at the Dead Sea.) English is spoken wildly and taught in the schools, so communicating was fairly easy.  We also enjoyed people-watching because of the cultural diversity of dress.  Here are some people that were not mentioned in earlier posts.

I chatted with this young women in Amman while we were sitting on steps eating street food.


I observed these women from Saudi Arabia in a restaurant.  They were all on their cell phones.


This fellow was selling incense in the Old Town market in Jerusalem.


Here is his frankincense and myrrh.


This fellow was a chatty juice vendor.  He prepared fresh pomegranate juice for the group.


This fellow was mending a carpet in one of the markets.


This is Abraham, our Bedouin guide, on the Jeep tour of the desert.


This is Betsey who chatted with a charming donkey driver at Petra.  We agreed that he looked like Johnny Depp.


This is the mule driver that we hired for our retreat from Petra.


This is David Miro, a coppersmith and an Iraqi Jew. David was one of many who fled to Israel from Baghdad after the 1941 pogrom called the Farhud. Almost 800 Jews were killed. The Grand Mufti and Hitler were linked to the Farhud. After the Farhud, life became unbearable for the Baghdad Jews. By 1950 they were allowed to leave. Many of them went to Israel and continued their business of copper work. (Photo by Rick Dallin)


David works in copper and silver plated copper.


This was our guide in Bethlehem.   Hasraf told us that his father was Orthodox and his mother was a Roman Catholic.  To avoid conflict, he said was an Arab Christian.


This fellow, a Hasidic Jew, entertained us in a plaza in Jerusalem.


This is Sandra.  She shared with us the story of her family during the Holocaust.  She was a child in Poland and separated from her family – her father was taken to a camp and her mother disappeared when Sandra was three.  She was hidden by a non-Jewish Polish nanny, then taken to a refugee camp, then to a school in France in preparation for being sent to Israel.  After the war, she was reunited with her father, but became estranged from him.  She immigrated to the States where she had three daughters.  The whole family now lives in Israel.


This is Luna. She was our guide at the kibbutz and showed us around the complex. She  described her experience living there and how, over the years, the rules and guidelines have evolved and have become more liberal.


This is Doris who hosted us for lunch in Jaffa. She shared with us her life in Israel as a Christian Arab Israeli who was born in Jaffa and whose family originally immigrated to Israel from Lebanon.  She is a vivacious, former Israeli beauty pageant winner who demonstrated to us that she is her own person!


This couple, Connie and Joseph, told us about their life style as Ultra-Orthodox Jews. Joseph explained his beliefs to us and answered questions about his study of Jewish texts and how they are raising their children.  They were a delightful couple.


This Muslim family entertained us in their home in Amman, Jordan.  Omar is in 11th grade and planning to study engineering when he graduates from high school.  His sister, Sarah, (standing next to him) is attending law school and wants to specialize in civil rights.  Jasmine, the little girl, was very sweet and somewhat shy.  Teg, the mother, is married to a tour guide.  The woman to the left helped serve the meal.  They all spoke English very well, including Jasmine, and were a really fun family!


This is Firas, a Palestinian Muslim, who talked to us about the Israel – Palestinian situation and how each area, the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, have different histories and unique politics and how complicated the issues are. There are no easy solutions, but he is optimistic that little steps forward can eventual resolve the conflicts.

This is Revital, our outstanding guide in Israel.  She made the trip fun, interesting, and educational!  She had the challenge of trying to teach us the complicated history of Israel going back 3,000 years up to the current present.  And she was up to it!

And here is the group of 16 well-traveled members of our tour group who came from all over the US.  We were traveling during the mid-term elections, and not one peep was uttered about US politics.  We put congeniality before political opinions – well done!  We had lots of laughs along the way and made great memories together.

To sum up, it was a fabulous trip, rich in cultural experiences.  Unique to this trip for me was learning how the complicated history of the Mid-East impacts current times. It was a tour packed with activities and lots of walking and climbing steps, and although I gained weight, my legs are stronger than they have been in a long time!

Here is a map of my incredible three-week journeys in Jordan and Israel.

Now I’m thinking about where I want to go next.




Markets of Israel and Jordan

Driving through the towns and cities, I noticed the storefront signage.  I found the characters and fonts visually interesting as patterns.  I have no idea what these signs say, some are in Arabic and others in Hebrew.


We visited markets in both countries.  Some markets were modern with food, cosmetics, hardware, clothing, and places to eat – just like our malls.  And they had modern malls as well. Other markets were traditional markets that carried mostly food items.  In some markets we discovered tourist souvenirs.

We visited this modern market in Jerusalem where our guide took us on a tasting tour.


Here we are being giving samples of various spice/herb mixtures by an enthusiastic salesman.


This is a traditional shop in Jordan with narrow aisles.


This is where I discovered at lot of tiny eggplants.


We tried jack fruit. Smelly, but a mild, sweet flavor.



We saw lots of candy shops with bins of brightly colored gummy treats.  They all looked like they would taste the same.



And lots of spice and herb shops with huge bags filled to the brim.  I don’t know how they can sell that much product!  Betsey and I admired the pyramid of herbs in this fellow’s shop. If I lived there I would probably buy from him just because of his display skills.


More for sale.




Many flavors of halva.


Other merchandize included yarmulkes in many styles.  You can get one with the insignia of your favorite sports team, Disney character, or political saying.  Notice in upper right, there is a “Trump, Make America Great” yarmulke!


There were candles and ceramics galore as well as jewelry.



And scarves, including lots of keffiyeh in a variety of colors.


Next, some of the people we met along the way.




My clothes fit tighter! It was really tough trying to resist tasting everything. A typical meal began with multiple dishes of salads served family style accompanied with pita or other bread.  Then the main course of fish, lamb, or chicken, beef less frequently, served with either potatoes or rice.  And large servings! Then a dessert.  On a number of occasions, we ate at buffets with generous varieties of salads, main dishes, and desserts.  All of our breakfasts were buffets.  And all delicious!  And hummus at every meal including breakfast! The food was a combination of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean.

Here is an array of first course dishes. Enough food to make a meal just of the first course.

Some main courses.

Roasted chicken and pilaf.

We had hummus in many variations.  Because pomegranates were in season, they were used liberally in many preparations.

Our first meal in Jordan was at a famous falafel restaurant, famous because it was a favorite of the King of Jordan.  The pita was freshly baked and we built our own sandwiches.

This is part of a breakfast buffet. Salads of herbed veggies, slaws, rice, marinated veggies, hummus, and baba ganoush, etc. plus breads, eggs, fish, cereal, fruit, juices, and yogurt. In Israel, the meals were usually Kosher, so there was no meat at breakfast.

This is the meat roasting for shawerma, an Israeli version of a gyro.

Desserts included a variety of Middle Eastern sweets, dripping in honey.

This was a semolina pudding with whipped cream, honey, and pistachios.

Besides pita, we had a thin, crisp flatbread, western style breads, croissants, and huge bagels.

Betsey learned how to manipulate a banana so she can entertain her grand kids!

In this photo, she is still wearing her $4.50 watch.  It gave out on day 5.

Next, some of the markets we visited.




Dead Sea

On our way to the Dead Sea we drove through the Judaean Desert. It is a very barren place. The limestone mountains have eroded producing deep ravines (wadis) that make the landscape appear very rugged.

Then we drove along the coast of the Dead Sea and saw sink holes that have formed in the last 20 years because, due to global warming, the desert is drying out, the water level of the Dead Sea is decreasing, and the sandy rock has become less stable.  This area used to have recreational areas along the coast. Now because of the danger of sink holes, there are fences and warning signs everywhere.

While we were driving along, we had a rain storm that came and went very quickly.  We later learned that not long after we had passed by, a flash flood caused a section of the road to collapse. We also learned that when there is a storm in Jerusalem, the water runs to the Dead Sea which makes sense since the elevation is 1412 ft. below sea level – the lowest place on earth.  This was the same storm that caused flash flooding in Petra.

Here is a video of the hole in the road:

Right next to the Dead Sea are mountains and on the top of one of them is Masada, a fort and palace built by Herod in 30 BC.  He built it because he had a lot of enemies and wanted a place where he could get a way and be safe.

The top of the mountain is a plateau measuring 1,800 ft by 890 ft. Herod built a wall around the top of the mountain with many towers, and the fortress included storehouses, barracks, an armory, two palaces, and cisterns that were refilled by rainwater, as well as baths.  The large palace he built for himself sits at the north end where the cliffs are very steep.  The palace was built on three levels.

We got to the top by cable car.  One member of our group hiked up.  It took him about an hour and 15 minutes to walk a very steep path.

Left: For scale, the arrow is pointing to a group of hikers who are wearing red shirts.

Right: The arrow is pointing to a rectangle at the base of the mountain.  It is what remains of a Roman military camp.

Some of the ruins of Herod’s palace.

Herod died in 4 BC. and the palace was abandoned. In 70 AD the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans and the Jews were run out of Jerusalem.  The Romans were intent on getting all Jews out of the whole area and many fled to other parts of the world.  There were still some Jewish resistance, and a group of dedicated resisters settled into Masada.  There they discovered food stored away in Herod’s storerooms,  enough food to last for 7 years. And they had Herod’s system of trenches and cisterns for collecting water.

Herod’s fortified structure, surrounded by steep cliffs, protected the resisters and their families, numbering 960, from the 15,000 Romans who built 8 military camps at the base of the mountain.  But there was one cliff that was not as high, so the Romans, used Jewish slaves who had been captured in previous battles, to construct a ramp to the top.  It took 2 years to construct the ramp and tons of rock.  In the meantime, the Romans could not understand why the resisters didn’t die of starvation since the could not leave the fort to obtain food or water.

Then in 73 AD, the Romans brought in a huge battering ram, dragged it up the ramp and breached the walls. Legend has it that all they found were dead bodies, except for two women and five children hiding in a cistern.  The story goes that the resisters decided that they did not want to be taken captive. Since Jewish Law forbids suicide and the penalty is no afterlife, they killed each other, including their families members, and picked by lot, the person who would be the last, and he would sacrifice an afterlife and kill himself.  The story goes that the women told the Romans what happened and it was recorded.  Since there is no archaeological evidence to document the event, it is disputed by scholars.  At any rate, Masada was the last stronghold of Jewish resisters which began the Jewish diaspora.

In the chamber that is identified as the resister’s synagog, we observed a bar mitzvah taking place.  The young man and his family were from New York. (photo by Revital)

In the museum at Masada I saw tiny oil lamps that dated back 2000 years.  I bought a reproduction of one in the market in Jerusalem as a souvenir.  I was very proud of my bargaining skills when I haggled the price down from 50 shekels to 15 ($4.30) until I left the store and saw them at another shop marked 10 shekels!

At the Dead Sea we stayed at resort/spa hotel where most of the guests were Russian.  Most of the staff was Russian as well.  They are very serious people.  Our guide, whose mother is Russian, admits that they can be very pushy. The popularity of the area for spa treatments is because there are a number of factories in the area that produce beauty and skin products with minerals form the Dead Sea.

The water of the Dead Sea is a beautiful turquoise color, not a deadly color at all!  Of course we bathed in it and the buoyancy of the water made it bouncy!  I felt like a coke bobbing around! Once I got the hang of it, floating was very relaxing.

It was hazy while we were there.  Across the water are the mountains of Jordan.

Before we left the Dead Sea we took a Jeep Tour of the desert.  17 of us piled into 4 Jeeps. The sky was hazy which made the landscape look dreamy.

We stopped to examine the large deposits of salt in the rock.  I was fascinated with the rock patterns created by erosion.

The ride through the desert was bumpy as the trail curved and had lots of ruts. Our guide discussed the current controversy of the future of the Dead Sea.  On this map, the larger sea area is naturally formed.  Below that is an artificially made sea where water from the Dead Sea is piped into evaporation flats where industries harvest chemicals including potash, magnesium,  and bromine. The industries date back to the 1930s, before Israel was formed, and they are privately owned.  A large amount of the chemicals go to Asia for fertilizer.  The companies are taxed, but they still make a lot of money for the owners.  They also employ a lot of workers and most of the resort/spa hotels are located along the shores.  The problem is that the level of the Dead Sea is decreasing with global warming and the piping of water out of it for the industries isn’t helping.  The industries also cause pollution, and the foundations of the hotels along the artificial sea are corroding, and it is extremely expensive to repair and stabilize them.

There have been talks of constructing a pipe line to bring in water either from the Mediterranean or the Red Sea, however, there might be problems with these waters chemically mixing with the Dead Sea water.  Also, it would be enormously expensive to pipe in water for the industries.  Not an easy solution – save the industries, hotels, and jobs for private companies at public expense or save the Dead Sea and the environment by closing them down.

Evaporation flats.

Chemical factories.

Stay tuned for food and people of Jordan and Israel.










The map shows our travels from Haifa to Jerusalem in blue.

While in Jerusalem we visited a number of Christian sites that are also important to the Muslim faith. Some of the sites have some archaeological evidence, whereas the only evidence for other churches is that they were built on the ruins of earlier churches marking a Holy Site.

First we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the place where it is believed Christ was buried and resurrected. The tomb is surrounded by an enclosed chapel.

Another church we visited was the Catholic Church of Gethsemane, also called the Church of All Nations because it was built with funds from Catholic Churches from all over the world.  It is the disputed site where Christ prayed and his disciples slept the night before he was crucified.  It is located at the base of the Mount of Olives and is the church in the foreground.

Next to the church is a garden of very old olive trees, one of which dates back to the time of Christ.

We visited Mount Zion and the location of the Last Supper and passed several locations of the Stations of the Cross. Since it is the height of tourist season, the Old City was packed with people from all over the world as well as the local people going about their everyday business. We also saw many large groups of religious pilgrims.

We visited the archaeological site of the City of David, the oldest part of the city near the Mount of Olives which is now a Jewish cemetery.  Look for the figure on the path at the bottom of the photo as well as the large tour buses to get a sense of scale.

As for museums, we visited the Historical Museum of Israel and the Holocaust Museum.  I could not take pictures at the Holocaust Museum so these photos are from the internet.  The museum is designed with triangles and is filled with displays of personal materials belonging to those lost as well as testimonies of survivors.  I was amazed by the amount of photographs documenting events, both historical and personal, that were on display along with movie footage.

The goal of the museum is to collect as much material as they can and to document every person lost.  The search for identifying people and collecting materials is on-going. They are also making an effort to identify non-Jewish individuals who protected and aided Jews at that time to recognize them as the “Righteous Among Nations.”

We drove by the US Embassy, now located in Jerusalem.

Betsey and I spent a day visiting some of the various quarters in the Old City: the Muslim, Jewish, Armenian, and Christian (Orthodox and Catholic) areas. The streets were narrow and a great many were markets filled with locals, tourists, and pilgrims. We strolled through very crowded market areas as well as narrow lanes with only a few people.

We noticed that some walls had dots and symbols painted on them and learned that these were the homes where Muslims who had made Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca, lived.

We met a shop keeper on one of the narrow streets who invited us to climb some stairs that led to roof tops with some great views of the city.

We did not visit the Dome of the Rock because to go to the top of the platform meant standing in a line for more than an hour. Also, non-Muslims cannot enter the mosque, so we viewed it from a distance.

Bethlehem was a side trip from Jerusalem. There we learned that Jesus was not born in a barn, but a cave.  The stable that we picture as a wooden structure does not exist in Israel because they do not have any wood.  Instead, everything is built of stone.  In Bethlehem, people lived in caves, naturally formed and then expanded on by hand.  Our guide explained that people back then slept in upper levels and used the ground level for cooking, eating, and housing animals.  So when Joseph and Mary were told there was no room in the inn, it meant the upper level was full.  They then settled for the ground level which was made up of multiple chambers.  He took us to see what one of these caves looked like.

And the manger, a feeding trough for animals, was not wood, but stone as well.

We then visited the Church of the Nativity, built over the place where Jesus is believed to be have been born.  This is the unimpressive facade of the church.  It originally had three large doors, but the door on the left is covered with a wall buttress that was built to add support and the left door is hidden by part of a monastery that was built later.  The center door was once quite large, but was made smaller to keep camels and horses out.  But the arched door was still used by horses, so they made it even smaller.  It is called the Door of Humility since everyone had to bow to enter.

The interior has been undergoing a lot of restoration. At one time, the floor was 2 feet lower than it is today, where 4th century Byzantine mosaics were found.

There was a section that was tented over while restoration continues.  We were able to find a peephole and saw an archaeologist at work.

The church is Greek Orthodox so the altar area was quite elaborate.

There was a huge line of people waiting to go down to see the birth place, so we decided not to wait.  Instead, we viewed the church and entered the church next door, only to be have our guide lead us down to the cave from another entrance.  He took us to an adjoining part of the cave where the stone was still original.

From here we could look through a tiny hole in a door and see the chamber where the birth took place.  It has been decorated to the hilt and does not resemble a cave at all.  I took this photo off the internet.

The church next door, St, Catherine’s, is where Christmas Eve services are televised.

Before we left Jerusalem, we visited the Dead Sea Scrolls Museum.  Again, photography was not permitted so here are more images from the internet.  The scrolls were found in jars with covers and the roof of the museum was shaped like one of these covers.

The interior is round with display cases around the walls as well as on an elevated platform.  This photo was taken when President Obama visited the museum.

After we left Jerusalem, we visited Qumran, the site where the scrolls were found.  They were written and copied by a group of highly religious men who objected to the way Judaism was being practiced.  They withdrew and isolated themselves in the desert east of Jerusalem.  There they created a community that is now an archaeological area. It is believed that when they felt threatened, they hid their archives in caves in the mountains.  Some were discovered in 1946.  Researchers have assembled a collection of some 981 different manuscripts – discovered in 1946/47 and in 1956 – from 11 caves

Notice the dark spots in the mountains.  Those are the caves where they were found in ceramic jars.

Next, the Dead Sea.



Jerusalem, Western Wall

We visited the Old City of Jerusalem where we visited a series of tunnels and cisterns under the Muslim neighborhood next to the West Wall of the Temple Mount.  To understand the layers of history of the area, our guide used a model of the Mount.

This shows the Mount as it was initially. The Jews believe that civilization was created here and that God is present here.

King Solomon built the First Temple on the Mount in 957 BC.  The Babylonians destroyed it.

Herod the Great, raised as a Jew, was a vassal of the Roman Empire and was granted the title of King of Judea.  He built a huge platform on the Mount surrounded by walls in 20 – 18 BC.

He then built a Second Temple.

Here is another model looking at the Mount form the East.

The Roman Emperor, Titus, destroyed Herod’s temple in 70 AD, drove the Jews out, and sacked Jerusalem of its wealth. He returned to Rome and built the Colosseum with the spoils.

A Roman temple was built on the Mount, but then the Muslims invaded and built the Dome of the Rock in 691 AD on the platform that Herod had originally built.

Then the Muslims wanted a higher access to the Mount so they built a series of tunnels with arches as an elevated foundation and built their city on top. And that is the way it is today. The total height of the retaining wall was 105 feet when Herod built it but only 62 feet are exposed today.

The closest that Jews can get today to the site of the First and Second Temples is the Western Wall.  Only  a portion is accessible at street level (a width of 230 ft.), but 1591 more feet of the wall is accessible underneath the Muslim city by the tunnels that run along its length.  Excavations began after the Six Day War (1967) and continued for 20 years.

Here is a diagram.

We walked through the tunnels and were able to see lower parts of the wall that Herod built.

Some of the chambers are very large and in some areas of the tunnels there are two elevations.

This rock is 45 ft. wide, 9.8 ft. high and 11 ft. thick.  It weighs 570 tons! It is the largest rock moved by humans without modern equipment!

Right: One section of the underground Western Wall is used by Jewish women to pray.

Left: Tunnels running along the Western Wall have been connected with a tunnel used for water that was constructed by the Maccabees. There were some very tight passages.

After walking through the tunnels, we visited the above-ground Western Wall.

Women and men each have their own part of the wall.

Betsey referred to me as Mother Theresa in this photo, but I doubt that MT would have worn such a colorful scarf….

The arrow points to where I inserted my tiny note.  I had to work to poke it into the crack.

Jerusalem is a great place to people watch because people come here from all over the world and some religious people wear interesting outfits.  Here are some Hasidic Jews.


Galilee and a Kibbutz

In Galilee we stayed at a Kibbutz.  We each had cabins overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

We arrived in time to see the sunset.

The red roofs are the cabins.

We had dinner in the kibbutz dining room and because it was Friday evening, two women in our group and our tour director’s husband performed the Shabbat rituals.

The kibbutz is 50 years old, is about 3 miles by 3 miles in size, and has 412 members. It is located in Golan. Besides farming, they have other businesses including a valve company that has branches in the US, Mexico, Russia, Brazil, and China.  They make water and wastewater values – like check values.  The company produces the largest percentage of income for the kibbutz. They also have a dairy herd of 500 milk producing cows and a day care for pre-school children.  Members of the kibbutz work, but they also hire outside of the kibbutz.  They have housing, a medical clinic, children’s areas, community centers, a dining room, a pub, a fleet of cars for the members to use, and bomb shelters.  The bomb shelters are required of all kibbutzes since many of them are located along disputed borders. Because of their location, the Israeli government gives them a tax break.

This is the dining room.

This is one of the bomb shelters.  Some of the shelters are used for activities – like yoga and meetings.

We visited the cow barns.

One of the members invented a way to recycle cow manure by separating the solids from the liquid.  The liquid is treated and used for crop irrigation.  Betsey suggested the solids were used for perfume since when the wind was blowing east,  some of the aroma was carried to our cabins. 🙂

This is the valve factory. Here is the US website.

Since we stayed in the kibbutz cabins, we were invited to participate in the kibbutz experience by doing some work.  We peeled potatoes.

While in Galilee we visited a church built to commemorate Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. (The actual site of the sermon was not here, but was close by.) The church was built in the 1930’s and was funded in part by Benito Mussolini.

We also visited Capernaum where Jesus stayed with Peter’s mother-in-law after leaving Nazareth. A very early church was built over her house, and then another church built over that, and even more.  Today a church that looks like a space ship sits over the archaeological site.

Next to the site is a Jewish temple that was built on top of an earlier one.  The dark stone is the temple that dates from the time of Jesus.

While in the area, we took a short cruise on the Sea of Galilee.

We visited a museum that houses a wooden fishing boat that is 2000 years old.  It was discovered in 1986 and the museum displays explain the elaborate process of removing the boat from where it was buried in wet sand and preserving it for display.  The wood was so fragile that it was about to fall apart so it had to be held together with sprayed on plastic foam (like insulating material) while it was removed and then chemically treated to stabilize the wood. The process was fascinating.

Jerusalem is next.


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.