Archives for the month of: January, 2011

On Sunday, the Worenklein contingent headed back to Jerusalem and the other 10 of us went to the Hula Valley Nature Reserve, about 30 mins. north of the kibbutz. The Hula Valley is internationally known among bird-watchers as a crucial stop for migratory birds and as a permanent home for tens of thousands of birds, including (according to the park website) cranes, storks, pelicans, cormorants and egrets. Depending on the source, I’ve read that there are anywhere from 200 to 500 different species of birds that live and/or pass through Hula. Hula, which means “paper reed”, is named after the papyrus that grows in abundance in the marsh.

Sophie, Noah & Aunt Roz on the papyrus-lined path

Water buffalos graze in their folds helping to maintain the meadows.

Water buffalo family, Hula Valley Nature Reserve

Other wildlife that we saw include 3-ft long catfish, which migrated to the Hula from Africa long ago when the Great Rift was flooded, turtles, and birds of prey.

My family gazing at the ginormous catfish & the nutria

You too can gaze at the ginormous catfish, Hula Valley

The nutria is like a cross between a beaver and a rat and was brought to Israel under the same circumstances it was introduced to Louisiana – originally it was to be bred for its fur, but some of the animals escaped and now they have settled all over the Hula, just like they can be found in the swamps of the southern US. The ones we saw were either used to human visitors or they were deaf and/or blind because we were able to get quite close to them as they nibbled on the grass before they scampered away.

Sophie making friends with a nutria

Roy & Noah on the floating bridge over the swamp

the floating covered bird blind

Sarah, the bird-watcher. I knew those binoculars would come in handy one day.

What I saw through those binoculars

The perfect habitat for migratory birds (so they tell me)

The Hula Lake & its marshlands originally covered 15,000 acres in the Hula valley. When Zionists settled in the area in the early 1900’s, they famously contracted malaria, which spurred the movement to drain all of the swamps and is part of the reason why the “plant a tree in Israel” campaign was so successful. By the mid-1950’s the swamp began to be drained, but environmentalists argued that too many plants, animals & ecosystems would be lost if it were completely drained, so about 10% of the swamp was allowed to stay intact. This turned out not to be enough, and many animals disappeared from the Hula Valley forever; some exist in other parts of the world, some are now extinct. In an effort to repair the damage, the Israel Nature and National Parks Protections Authority and the Jewish National Fund began re-flooding a part of what used to be the the Hula Swamp about 15 years ago. Now there is a “new Hula”, which we will have to return to explore another day.


Or, we learned this the hard way, so you don’t have to.

1. If you and your spouse/partner have different last names, you must bring a copy of your marriage certificate.

2. If the mother and child have different last names, you must bring a copy of the child’s birth certificate.

3. If you are Jewish, bring with you a copy of a letter “from your home community” (from the rabbi of your synagogue will suffice) asserting that you are Jewish and belong to a Jewish community in the US. With proof of Jewishness, your visa extension will be free, rather than approx. 200NIS per person or more for multiple-entry visas.  But, they will ask for more information and take 2-3 weeks to investigate your background.  You’ll have to return.

4. When you make your appointment at the interior ministry, you must specify the number of people (including children) who need visa renewals. One appointment for the whole family is not sufficient.  (Actually, it’s probably fine,  but getting this right will give the people in the office one less reason to be rude to you. They are resourceful and will find another.)

5. Do not attempt to make an appointment with the interior ministry cold. Your university/institute should make the appointment on your behalf. Make sure you specify to them how many appointments they need to make (see #4 above).

6. If your spouse is affiliated with a different university/institute, then s/he should not take care of visa business separately. Take care of it as a family via one institute and do not involve the other institute.

The next day (last weekend), all of the Americans, along with Deborah’s family in Jerusalem, met at Kibbutz Lavi in the north of Israel for a family reunion. Kibbutz Lavi is a dairy farm, furniture factory, and hotel in the Galil and was a good base for exploring the area and spending Shabbat. It was the first time that we had all been together since Esther’s wedding in 2001 and at that time only 2 of the 8 grandchildren had been born. Trying to coordinate 17 people is like herding cats, but we did a pretty good job!

We went to the city of Tsfat (Safed) on Fri. morning. Tsfat is located at the peak of one of the hills of the Galilee, near the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and Mt. Hernon (we could sea snow on its peak during the drive). It is famous for 3 aspects of Jewish learning: kabbalah, the compilation of the shulchan aruch, and the scholarship of the Spanish Jews who settled in Tsfat when they fled the Inquisition. It has the oldest printing press in all of Asia from the mid-1500’s to support all of that profound thinking. Currently, Tsfat is known for its hippie-ish, religious community, artists’ quarter, and candle factory (which doesn’t really do justice to the art that is their candle making). The old city seems frozen in time with narrow, winding, cobblestone streets.

Noah & Aunt Roz & Tsfat door

Sophie & Chaya Rachel, Tsfat

HaAri synagogue, Tsfat

Bubbie & Zeidey with almost all of the grandchildren (minus one who was camera-shy)

and Nat makes 8!

On Shabbat, we went on a guided tour of the kibbutz, got up-close & personal with the cows, and learned about the kibbutz’s history. Most noteworthy is that it is a religious kibbutz and that its hotel carries on an ancient tradition of strategically locating a kosher inn at this spot for travelers between Tiberias & Tsfat . Our wing of the hotel was designed very smartly with our rooms all in a row with patios leading out to a grassy area. It was virtually private, which the kids (and Roy & me) took advantage of for a rousing game of soccer (Noah’s excellent Channukah present from Esther was a ball and portable soccer net. He was thrilled).

Its been a busy couple of weeks with no time for posting because my (Sarah’s) family came from the US for a big family reunion. Mom & Dad (aka Bubbie & Zaidey) came from Dallas, Aunt Roz came from Madison, and Esther & Ari & Sophie & Nat came from Baltimore.

My guided tour of Haifa included taking my parents & aunt to the scenic overlook at Stella Maris, down the mountain in a cable car to Elijah's cave, a walk on the Bat Galim promenade on the sea, and a quick visit to the Baha'i gardens. I wore them out good.

sisters aboard the cable car

at the Baha'i gardens

We kicked off our whirlwind with a grandparents (and great-aunt)-only Tu B’Shvat seder at Noah’s school. Tu B’Shvat is known as the “birthday of the trees” or Rosh Hashana La’Ilanot (New Year of the trees) because this is the time of year when the earliest flowering trees begin to bloom. The seder is a special meal usually associated with Passover, but which also has become a modern addition to celebrating the holiday. The children sang songs, said blessings over the wine and fruit, and Bubbie was invited to do a reading – very brave of her to read Hebrew in front of a classroom of native speakers & all of their grandparents!

Just like at Channukah, the kids learned and performed so many more Tu B’Shvat songs than we ever learned in America. Can you spot Bubbie at 1:44?

Tu B’Shvat is not one of the major Jewish holidays, but it is one of the most fun because of the traditions to plant trees and eat dried fruits and nuts native to Israel (dates, carob, figs, raisins, almonds, etc.). The holiday is a good opportunity to speak about nature and taking care of the environment, so it has some very nice lessons to go along with the good food. Each child in Noah’s class brought home a potted plant that they had planted themselves in a container that they had decorated.

One nice thing about traveling in Israel is that there is random art placed on the side of the highways. Usually we’re driving by too fast to take a photo, but these are 3 that turned out. Whether you like the art per se is kind of besides the point. I like that someone made the effort.

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What the recent heavy rainfall has wrought in our backyard.

Sunset Wed. evening. This photo is not doctored.

The lemons in our backyard are ripe.

The hike a couple of weeks ago was so successful that we did another one last week. Noah loves scrambling over the rocks – he says its better than any playground. This trail is just 15 mins. or so south of the city part of the Mt. Carmel. nature reserve. It reminded Roy & me of when we hiked the West Highland Way in Scotland in that parts of the hike were through private property with public access.

To get to the trail, we had to pass by a banana farm. We passed a family on the way out who had scooped up the bunches that had fallen on the ground.

The head of the trial goes by an old British mine.

We spotted Rock Hyraxes (hyraces?) at the top of the cliffs (the camera is on about 40x zoom in this photo).

Our leader kept his eyes open for the trail blazes.

Hard to see because we didn't have a flashlight, but this cave was home to bats, which we could hear very well.

From the sands of the Med. Sea to the woods of Mt. Carmel in one sweeping view.

To follow up on a post from Jan. about interesting packaging, I want to show you

that ice cream pints come in buckets, including the handle

and the influence of the wave of immigrants from Russia in the '80's. This is a chocolate bar that we bought for the picture on the package. Russia is not known for its chocolate for good reason.

Other things I wish I had taken pictures of:

  • for some reason, travel packs of tissue in almost every hotel we stayed in–in Israel–were from Turkey
  • and labeled in Turkish and dish soap comes in containers shaped like swans.

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Driving around in our Chevy Optra More, I always have the radio tuned to Galgalatz, which I’ve mentioned in a previous post.  I cannot describe how ubiquitous the station is.  You hear it coming out of multiple stores at the mall. You have it on in the car, and stop at security outside the Technion, and can hear it coming from their speakers as well as your own.

The foreign (mostly US/UK) music they play is pretty bad, as is some of the Israeli music, but some of the songs are really good. It’s frustrating hearing the same songs over and over and not even being able to figure out the name of the singers or the songs. There were two songs in heavy rotation that I really wanted to know about, one of which all three of us know and which Noah even translated spontaneously: “Kama ze koev, that’s ‘How much it hurts!'” which we generally refer to as the “ba bada da bop ba” song, for obvious reasons. It features a raspy male voice. Galgalatz has a rule that this song must be played at least once per car trip over 20 minutes.  I have no particular desire to hear this song, but it’s very frustrating to not understand the language well enough to pick up the name of the singer and song.

There was another song, however, that I really wanted to hear again. Just as I realized how much I enjoyed it, it disappeared from the airwaves. It features a woman singing with slowly growing jazz backing music, a voice that I just find beautiful and sad and sultry.  It reminded me in some vague way of Astrud Gilberto.

When we were on our culinary tour of the Galillee, we went to a dairy that, of course, had Galgalatz on in the background.  The “ba bada da bop ba” song came on while we were tasting sheep and goat cheese.  I immediately asked our tour guide Orly if she could name the singer for me.  She consulted with the dairy maid (okay, the woman working at the dairy) and they agreed it was Yirmi Kaplan.  I searched for him on youtube, and eventually found this compilation of Israel’s current top domestic pop hits (youtube user ronnn111 makes such a mix every six months!).  It identifies the song as מעבר לגדר (Me’ever Lagader –Over the Fence).  Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be available on iTunes.

I also asked Orly if she could identify my mystery woman, and she suggested the singer might be Efrat Gosh.  Youtube revealed that wasn’t her, but I recognized her name on the radio a few days later and loved the song that came on.  I found the album, “Ah Ah Ah Ahava!” (Ah! Ah! Ah! Love!) on iTunes.

Fortunately, YouTube always displays related videos down the right edge of the screen, and clicking on a few with pictures of women revealed the singer I longed for to be Avigail Roz, singing a song called עוד מחכה לאחד (Od Mechaka La’echad–Still Waiting for the One).  It’s from a new album that’s not on iTunes, but her first album is there, and she covers Desafinado, so it was Joao Gilberto I was reminded of!

In putting together this post, and listening to the semiannual “Best of Israel” youtube videos, we found two other songs we recognize from the radio that we want to buy and iTunes makes it all so easy…