Archives for the month of: September, 2010

Wed. we headed north along the coast to Akko. Akko is one of the oldest ports in the world and is historically important for its roles during the Crusades and in helping to defeat Napolean when it was ruled by el Jazzar (the butcher). Unlike many of the historic sites that we’ve seen, Akko is still a vibrant city today and has turned the old part of the city into a tourist industry. Every year during sukkot, Akko hosts a Fringe Theater Festival. We didn’t attend any of the performances, but the city was majorly bustling while we were there.

We explored the Templar tunnels, built in the 12th century as a direct underground route from the port to the inland fortress.

Underground in the Templar tunnels

We also visited the old Turkish bathhouse, which has been restored and turned into a museum. Its more beautiful than this picture conveys because the lighting was low, so I didn’t get many good shots, but you can appreciate the gorgeous tile.

Turkish bath, Akko

The shuk is also still busy and in use. So far, the most architecturally interesting one we’ve seen, with its narrow winding streets.

Hookah stall at the Akko market

Spice stall, Akko market

Wooden ma'amoul molds, Akko market

We continued walking around the old city, through the dry moat, and up onto the city walls, which were built by the Crusaders.

Akko door

Akko door

Akko window

Atop the old city walls - wide enough for a horse

That seemed like more than enough to ask of Noah, so even though there was more to see, we called it a day. We’ll be back – its less than an hour away from Haifa.


The original plan for Tues. was to take Noah out of school, since it was only a half-day anyway and spend the day with his cousins in Jerusalem. Deborah’s in-laws, Marion & Arthur, were also visiting, so it was the perfect time to have a family reunion. Plus, during Sukkot, Jerusalem holds parades and festivals, so it would be a special time to visit. Because of the ER visit, the trip was delayed a few hours but not cancelled. Noah was very happy to meet his cousins and it was much nicer than sitting at home feeling sad about his leg. We borrowed Chaya Rachel’s stroller and pushed Noah around rather than letting him walk.  Luckily, we have a PT in the family (Marion) who helped make sure Noah knows how to use the walker.

The original-revised plan was to take a guided bus tour of the city. That way we could be out & about and get some sightseeing in, but Noah could stay off his feet. We arranged to meet Deborah, Avraham Moshe, Benyamin Tzvi, Yitzchak, Chaya Rachel and Marion & Arthur at the Central Bus station, where we could leave the car. Deborah & I meticulously checked the Egged bus schedule and we held up our end of the planning by meeting at the bus stop. We were even early. After 45 mins. when the bus hadn’t arrived, we decided to go to the shuk, the big outdoor market. It was Roy & Noah’s 1st time in Yerushalayim & they had to see something!

Jerusalem architecture

Machane Yehuda market

The boys were happy enough with this new plan, snacking on nuts & dried fruit. They each had their own little bag & were very sweet about sharing with each other. Noah & Yitzchak, who are the same age, were especially cute, having funny little conversations. We walked through the market & headed toward Sacher park, which had music & performances scheduled for the sukkot festival. But, due to our late start, and wasting time at the bus stop, everything was pretty much over by the time we got there. No matter – they kids were just as happy to play on the playground together.

Cousins! Noah, Benyamin Tzvi, Yitzchak, Chaya Rachel

Family reunion on the merry-go-round!

After a while, we went back to Deborah’s apt. for dinner in the sukkah and to see Daniel & Yechiel who couldn’t come on the outing after we pushed it so late in the day. Avraham Moshe was really sweet with Noah, making sure that he was feeling OK, that he liked the awesome Lego welcome/get-well-soon present the cousins gave him.

Roy & his old Navy buddy, Arthur

Dinner in the sukkah with the Cronens & Worenkleins

We’ll plan another visit soon!

Tzubachutz 2010

Sukkot is a week celebrated by the religious community with lulavs and etrogs and meals in Sukkahs.  For the rest of Israel, it’s a week where the office is open only until lunchtime, with many fun events staged around the country.  Monday night we went to “Tzubachutz”, a street festival in celebration of Sukkot, with one of Sarah’s Fulbright friends and her family.  There was a magician for the kids whose act was broad enough to draw Noah in even without much understanding of Hebrew.  We got some burgers and even bought Noah a battery-powered bubble gun that all the children were running around with.

To get away from the loud music and the packed  crowds, we went to a playground a block away from the festival.  The park has a very high twisty slide, tubular and covered, and much longer than you’d ever see in the lawsuit-happy States.  Noah came over to us to tell us he had gone down it and I (Roy) said I’d like to go down with him.  We tried, but it was too narrow for an adult to go down with his legs straigh.  My feet caught on one of the curves and brought me to a stop.  Noah’s momentum kept him going and he flipped forward, but his leg was trapped under mine. He started crying much harder than is typical for him.  I carried him back to his mommy and we tried to figure out if he was really hurt.  He could bend his knee and ankle but couldn’t put weight on his left foot and there was no visible injury.  We took a cab home immediately, watching to see if he’d get better. When the mere act of pulling his pajamas up over his shin caused him to cry out in pain, we knew we’d be taking him to the hospital in the morning.

We took him to the emergency room Tuesday morning and were fairly amazed at how simple it all was compared to our trips to US emergency rooms.  We were charged a flat emergency-room-visit fee–no separate charges for x-ray and for each doctor to walk by or equipment they used.  They printed out a page full of stickers with Noah’s name and a bar code, which they could attach to every piece of paper as needed.  A nurse took Noah’s vitals right away and in a few minutes a doctor came by, talked to us, felt Noah’s leg and sent us up to x-ray, who saw us within 10 minutes.  A few minutes after that, the doctor was looking at our x-rays on a computer screen and consulting a radiologist on the phone who was also looking at it–possibly a small fracture, but it’s very hard to tell until it starts to heal.  The doctor gave Noah a plaster splint and sent me up to get a CD with the x-rays on it to bring to a followup appointment next week.  Anyone know a good pediatric orthopedist in Haifa?

We were out of there within two hours of walking in the door.  In the US, we’d still have been waiting to see a doctor. Next, they sent us to Yad Sarah, a charity that loans out crutches etc. to the injured.  They  took a small deposit from us and gave Noah a walker and noted how “chamud” (cute) he is .  What a big boy, and such a trooper!

Noah breaking in his walker at Yad Sarah

We had been planning to visit Sarah’s sister Deborah in Jerusalem on that day, and decided that four hours late was better than never, and certainly better than moping around. Noah is in pretty good spirits considering everything he had to go through, but is nervous about going back to school on Friday.

On Sunday, Noah returned to school, but since it is still Sukkot, he only had half days Sun-Tues. To take advantage of his time off, we planned several short day trips in the afternoons after we picked him up. The first one was to the town of Ein Hod, just about 20 mins. from Haifa. Ein Hod is an artists’ colony, where artists’ studios/homes and galleries are open to the public and where the streets are lined with public art.

Outdoor sculpture/Family portrait, Ein Hod

There are also a few small museums. We went to the one most likely to appeal to a young child – the Museum of Mechanical Music:

Noah manning the crank organ at the Nisco Museum of Mechanical Music, Ein Hod, Israel

Its just a large room filled with hundred-year-old (and older) mechanical instruments, like calliopes, nickelodeons, player pianos, etc. The owner/guide is a filmmaker, but he runs this museum as a hobby.

After another Israeli breakfast spread, we headed out with three items on our agenda.

First, we head off to find Ram Pool, a small lake that, according to our guidebook, is one of only two lakes inside collapsed volcanic craters in the world.  We drive to where we can see it from uphill a little way–the water level is extremely low–too low for tourists, so we move on. Perhaps after the winter rainy/snowy seasons there’s a little bit more of a lake there.  Driving around the area with apple orchards on either side of the road, we see many farmers pulling trailers full of apples behind tractors, pickup trucks, and underpowered Volkswagens. Almost every orchard has an apple stand at the entrance.

Apple carts on the road. Orchards on either side of the road.

Next, we drive to the Kfar Blum Kibbutz, which rents river rafts for a 90 minute meander beginning on the S’nir (from the previous day’s hike) which joins the Banias Stream and becomes the Jordan.  It’s a pretty leisurely ride, and the current does most of the work.  We just needed the paddles to push ourselves off the sides and keep the front of the raft at the front.  All along the river are picnickers, and rafts pulled over to extend the afternoon.  The highlight of the run was when two boys swam up and asked if they could “tramp” with us.  Sure, why not?  The run ended with a small rapid–a one meter drop–where they took our picture.  A little too much for Noah, but a nice bit of excitement for his parents.

Rafting on the Jordan River

Finally, we followed the advice we found on the internet and stopped at Ezba, an Arabic restaurant in the town of Rama for a late lunch.  We got a carafe of water and one of an almond-based drink, which was very sweet and terrific. As an appetizer, we thought we were ordering carob (charov-חרוב) with tahini, which sounded intriguing though perhaps not  quite imaginable, but it turned out to be cauliflower (charovit-כרובית), more logical and surprisingly tasty.  This was followed by beef with freekeh (porridge made from smoked wheat) and mallabi, a milk pudding with orange syrup, walnuts, and coconut, with Turkish coffee and spearmint tea to wash it down.  We were waited on by a teenage boy who was friendly and helpful and wearing a funny English-language t-shirt about evolution.

We made it home with plenty of time to put Noah to bed, our first road trip a terrific success, thanks to good planning by Sarah and a lot of good luck.

We started our day with a typical Israeli breakfast at the zimmer. Israeli breakfasts are made up of various salads, cheeses, fish, bread, and the ubiquitous cucumbers & tomatoes. Our hosts also served pancakes and eggs to order. This is close to Sarah’s idea of a perfect meal, but its not really Roy’s thing. He was a good sport, though, & tried everything. Martha & Sidney would have loved Roy at this age. We’re talking smoked fish here, people.

After breakfast our adventures in the Golan continued. Since we drove into the Golan at night, we didn’t get our first impression of the view until we set out Friday. One of the first sights we saw was the stunning Nimrod’s Fortress. That tour will have to happen on another trip.

Nimrod's Fortress

Soon after, on the side of the road we saw a farm stand and a Druze bubbie (or whatever the Druze term is) cooking over a special oven called a taboon. It looks like an upside-down wok and is used to bake Druze pita, which is more crepe-like than standard pita. There is a woman who makes it at a table in our local mall on Fri. afternoons, so we’d had it before, but Noah wasn’t with us, so this was his first taste. The pita is filled with labneh, olive oil & za’atar. We took 2 to go to eat later on our hike. At the farm stand, we bought local Golan honey, olive oil & cherry preserves. They also had carob syrup, which we were tempted to buy, but the farmer couldn’t tell us how to cook with it, only that it was medicine – take a spoonful every day to stay healthy. We should have bought some anyway & figured out how to use it. Next time.

Back on track, out next stop was the Hermon Stream Nature Reserve. In this park, we hiked along the Banias river, from the springs, which are the source of the river, to the Banias waterfalls. The water flows so forcefully and down so steeply that it has carved out a canyon and results in waterfalls, which one of the guides told us are a major “attraction” in Israel, given the scarcity of water. We saw several pilgrims filling their bottles with water from the Banias and learned that it is one of the sources of the Jordan, so is considered by some to be a kind of holy water.

Old Roman bridge along the Banias

Alongside the Banias River

Haffaf fish in the Banias

Hiking down to the Banias waterfalls

Saj lunch on the shores of the Banias River

He climbed the rocks near the waterfalls all by himself.

Our next stop of the day was the Senir Stream (Hatzbani in Arabic) Nature Reserve. This stream is the other source of the Jordan. This park featured another hike, but unlike our previous hikes, part of the hike went through the water.

Stream hiking in the Senir River

The park offered 3 trails: short, intermediate, and long. We started with the intermediate, which was a loop trail recommended for ages 6 and up and supposed to take 30 mins. We thought that if it was challenging for Noah, we’d have a nice hike. Instead, it was a piece of cake. Maybe it is intended for 6-yr-olds who are used to riding in cars all the time – not city boys who walk everywhere. So, we did the long trail too!

Stream hiking in the Senir River

Noah was amazing. He loved scampering over the rocks and “teaching” us where we should place our hands and feet. In one section of the trail, hand holds are embedded in the rock where the path is very narrow and steep. No problem with one of us ahead of him and another behind.

On Thursday morning we packed up the car and drove about 1.5 hrs southeast to the Galilee. Our first stop was Bet She’an, a National Park of archeological ruins. A couple of weeks ago, Noah asked why, if Israel is an old country, did everything look new. I told him that we were living in a modern city, but promised him that we would take him to see ruins — plenty of ruins. Here was his 1st chance to see the ruins that he had been anticipating.

The city dates back 7000 yrs. and changed rulers over the centuries: Egyptian, Kings David & Solomon, Greek, Roman (that did not go well for the Jews, natch). Finally the city was devastated by an earthquake in 749CE. The ruins were discovered in the 1920’s and major excavations have been going on since the 1980’s.

Bet She'an with Tel Bet She'an in background

It was a sweltering day and my pale skin needed a rest, so after touring the ancient baths, theater, colonnaded street, etc., I waited under the grove of date palms & pomegrante trees (see that patch of green in the back at the foot of the hill?), while swarthy Roy & Noah climbed to the top of the hill to see the old fortress.

Noah in the cheap seats at the theater.

This theater is about 2000 years old. It is once again used for performances. You can see part of a set on the stage down below.

Serious earthquake damage.

But, some of the old mosaic floors have been preserved:

After touring this ancient city, we were hungry and ready to cool off. We had been worried about not finding food, not knowing whether things would be open or closed on the first day of sukkot. We learned a couple of things: all of the Ganot Leumi (National Parks) build sukkot during the holiday so observant visitors can eat and they all have cafes or restaurants. We didn’t know that before we headed out, and the cafe at Bet She’an was closed anyway, so we were resigned to having ice cream from a mini-market freezer if we had to.

Our next stop was Gan HaShlosha, natural warm springs that have been landscaped into swimming pools. Our first of many great strokes of luck on this trip: not only was this park a kind of oasis, much cooler and more beautiful than we expected, they also had a nice (open) restaurant, where we ate lunch. The park has waterfalls, pools, and a lazy river–all lined with palm trees. Most families were picnicking and grilling on the banks of the pools.

Gan HaShlosha natural warm springs. A real (landscaped) oasis in the desert.

Shalom from Gan HaShlosha!

Cooling off under the falls

Relaxing & cozy after a busy day

After a long, wonderful day, we were ready to head to our zimmer (B&B) in the Golan, which should have been about a 90 minute drive. The zimmer is on Moshav Neve Ativ. We drove north through Tiberias & alongside the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). It was getting dark and somehow we managed to turn off of the main road running along the shore inland to Tiberias. [I made several similar mistakes over the weekend.  I now see why people rent GPS units–Roy]

Stopped for directions at a hotel & were back on the road. North of Tiberias into the Golan becomes less populated, the roads become windy mountain roads, and street lights disappear. We didn’t see much and, again, not sure what we would do about dinner, we had our 2nd stroke of good luck. We saw a lone restaurant on the side of the highway and pulled over. We recognized basarim (בשרים) and dagim (דגים) (meat & fish) on the sign outside. Good enough, we thought. But, whoa. Actually, we had one of the best meals we’ve eaten since being here. The restaurant turned out to be Druze and we had a table full of mysterious, delicious salads before the main meal. Well, we recognized the standard pickles & olives, baba ganoush, & the roasted eggplant with techina, but there was an amazing red salad with tiny pieces of lemon and pickle. We don’t know what it was, but we wished we had bought a jar of it to take with us. The proprietor came out and told us he’d prepare “a very special chicken” for us and fish. We said, make whatever is your specialty. Amazing. The only other table was a group of men with a lot of liquor and a waterpipe and while we ate, someone’s wedding DVD played continuously on a flat screen TV.  We took a paper placemat when we left.  The restaurant is called Hermonit Mis’ada Mizrachit (Mt. Hermon Oriental Restaurant, חרמונית מסעדה מזרחית) in Buak’ata, Golan Heights.

After dinner, we headed back out, through the Arab village of Majdal Shams, to our zimmer. We stopped in town at the conditory for a kind of corn cake with knafee on top. The town is one main street, where everyone seems to drive back & forth – like cruising main street in midwest farm towns, except some of the vehicles here are farm tractors. Or maybe they do that in the midwest too. When we arrived at the zimmer, the other guests and the owners are hanging out in the yard, on hammocks & swings and we are served cherry vishniak, brewed by Ilan, the proprietor of the zimmer. It’s strong and the cherries at the bottom are like little balls of pure alcohol. They have also put up a sukkah. They upgraded us to a 2-room suite, so Noah could play by himself quietly in the morning without waking us up were he wake early. More adventures to be continued . . .

Wed. night was the first night of Sukkot, which marked the beginning of vacation season. Noah is off of school or has only half days during the holiday, so we rented a car and have planned a week of travel. Noah had a short day on Wed., so when we picked him up, we went to Mt. Carmel National Park. This is a nature reserve, over 20,000 acres, at the top of Mt. Carmel, right here in Haifa. It is just a couple of minutes walk from U. Haifa & I can look out at the park from my building. We took a short hike and enjoyed the views of the mountains, the valley below, and the sea. We are in the middle of a city, but in just a few minutes drive by bus or car, we can be hiking.

We’ve been referring to a really useful book, Discovering Natural Israel, as a guide and trip planner. We learned that there are a number of protected areas in the park including wildlife refuges and breeding programs for animals that used to live in the park, but disappeared due to hunting, run-off from pesticides, and arson. The Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority has reintroduced wild goats, roe deer, fallow deer, and wild sheep. Other animals that live in the park include badgers, gazelle, wild boars, bats and more, but we didn’t see any on this trip. We will have to go back many more times to really experience all that the park has to offer — we barely made a dent in our 2 hrs. there.

View from Mt. Carmel Park, Haifa

Roy & Noah, scenic overlook, Mt. Carmel Park

Sarah & Noah, hiking Mt. Carmel Park

We celebrated the 1st night of Sukkot at our friends’ Anat (my host at U. Haifa) & Menachem’s home. Noah made them a decoration for the sukkah and he & Anat hung it together. It was a wonderful evening. Anat told us a lovely story about the word for almonds, “shkedim”, to illustrate the beauty of the root system of the Hebrew language. The root of the word conjugates to mean “dedicated” or “committed” and is often used to describe students. Almond blossoms bloom in February, but the almond itself is not ready to eat until summer. So, scholars are dedicated to their studies the way the tree is dedicated to supporting its fruit.

Another masterpiece by Noah.

Wishing you a happy & healthy Sukkot!

We’ll be away traveling for the next 3 days, but will have plenty of exciting adventures to write about when we return.

Noah quickly noticed three things that you see walking around Haifa that you don’t see in Brooklyn

  1. Stray cats (חתולים-chatulim)
  2. Soldiers (החיילים-chayalim)
  3. Lizards (לטאות-no vowels, so I’m not sure)

Soon, he decided to count how many of each he saw.  Waiting for the bus, he’d say “There’s a cat, that’s 11!”

Then it became part of the narrative he likes to share.

N: Daddy, there’s a khatul (cat).  That makes shmoneh-esrei (18).  If I get to 21 I win.

R: Um, okay.

Next time

N: Daddy, there’s another one, but it doesn’t matter because Bob Bradley already got 21

R: Who’s Bob Bradley?

N: You know that team the Eagles?

R: The football team from Philadelphia?

N: No, the soccer team that wears blue.

R: The US Men’s soccer team?

N: Yeah, he’s the coach [which is true, but I had forgotten], and he beat me at the cat finding game.  He’s really good, but Landon Donovan lost.  He only has 9.  He’s much better at soccer than cat-finding.

Despite losing the contest, the cat counting (and to a lesser extent, the soldier and lizard counting) continues.  He’s up to shloshim v’shesh (36).

Foreign countries are very exciting.