Archives for category: Haifa

In addition to Noah’s graduation, we spent our last week in Haifa on a farewell tour saying good-bye to our favorite people, places, and food.

We started out the week going on a short hike on Mt. Carmel between picking Noah up from school and meeting Yaffa’s family for dinner in Usfiya – one of the Druze villages just past the university at the top of the mountain.

the trail follows a narrow wadi (gorge) through dense woods

it involved a lot of scrambling over rock, which Noah enjoys "more than a playground".

Sarah & Yaffa & a table laden with Druze salads

Our friend Mikael threw us a farwell bbq at his place with a group of other Technion-ites and our friend Osnat made us a farewell Shabbat dinner, including a dish that she recreated from notes taken at a special dinner in Athens to commemorate our trip together in May.

When we hiked earlier in the week, Noah was pretty tired after a full day at school, so we didn’t get far. We decided to go again while he was in school Fri. morning and we made it through the wadi and up to an area of Mt. Carmel called “Little Switzerland” with stunning views of the wadi below and the sea to the east, and more salamanders and lizards than we’d ever seen in one 4-hour period. This part of the hike also took us into the heart of where the forest fire burned in December. It was encouraging and amazing to see all of the new growth and still awesome to see the scope of the damage. Sorry no pictures this time, but we ran out of the house quickly so that we’d have enough time while Noah was in gan.

The night before we left, we had had some final closure to our year by having a picnic dinner on the beach with several friends, including the same family we had dinner with on the same beach our first week in Haifa.

Sarah, Julia & Ron

Noah & Ella


So, what is Lag BaOmer? The Omer period, the 50 days between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot is a sacred time of year for religious Jews, in which many activities such as weddings are forbidden. It commemorates the 50 days the Israelites wandered in the desert before receiving the commandments.  Lag BaOmer, the 33rd day, is an exception, and it’s considered an especially auspicious date to get married, and to give your son his first haircut.

Lag BaOmer  commemorates the death of Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashi), one of the great rabbis of old.  Many religious people celebrate by visiting Mount Meron, to Bar Yochai’s tomb in the North of Israel. Other sources say it commemorates the failed Bar Kochba revolt against Rome.  This is the war of the Masada story, and the one that led the Romans to ban Jews from Jerusalem.

Noah told us a nice story he learned in school about Bar Kochba and a green donkey.  He decided, as an adult that he should learn Torah, but was afraid that people would laugh at a grown man in a school full of children.  His wife, who was very wise, told him to plaster grass all over a donkey.  They took the donkey to the market, and everyone laughed at it.  The next day they did it again, and only half the people laughed.  On the third day, they took the donkey to the market, and nobody laughed, so that’s how bar Kochba learned to get over his fear of mockery and go learn.  Noah told the story very well.

One thing that everyone agrees on is that Lag BaOmer is a day for bonfires.  Noah’s class organized a bonfire for 5pm on Saturday. Everyone had to sign up to bring something.  I didn’t notice the signup sheet until late, so all that was left was cucumbers, but it’s okay, because I know a place that sells them.

The other tradition, somewhat strangely, is archery.  This is either because (a) the Rashi was so holy that no rainbows appeared in his lifetime, rainbows, of course being a sign that the world’s people are being sinful and need punishing or (b) because the Jewish rebels used bows and arrows.

At the appointed hour, we brought our cucumbers to Noah’s bonfire on a scrubby vacant lot within walking distance of our apartment. It’s hard to get used to how much trust and independence five and six-year-olds are given here. People are much more laid back about letting children near a fire than in the US.  It took some self restraint to keep myself from taking on the role myself. The parents cooked potatoes in the fire, covered in foil and threaded onto a long piece of clothes-hanger wire.  Perhaps the wire was clean–the potatoes were tasty. There was corn and hotdogs, marshmallows for roasting, cake, and most of Noah’s class and their friendly parents.

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Last week was a week of national holidays full of celebrations & remembrances: Yom HaZikaron (memorial day), Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day), and Yom Huledet shel Roy (Roy’s birthday).

As with other holidays, the city starts getting ready weeks in advance.

Decorations at the zoo...

along the highways,

and lit up on buildings.

These were taken around our neighborhood.

Memorial Day has a completely different feel here than in the US. Since almost everyone has served in the military here, its an important part of their life stories and most people know someone who served in a war, or who was killed, either in war or terrorist attacks. In the US its easier to ignore the meaning of Memorial Day because its only a small proportion of the population who currently serve and whose friends & families are directly affected. Here most of the population has shared in the responsibility of defending the country, whereas at home, the demands placed on non-military citizens are minimal; certainly real sacrifices are made only by a few.

Noah’s school held a tekes (ceremony) on Sunday which we attended.

All of the children wore blue & white...

the building was decorated...

each class presented an art project, there was singing...

and Israeli dancing!

There was only a half day of school on Monday and no school/work at all on Tuesday so that people could participate in and attend the various ceremonies and special events held all over the country. We went to a small memorial service Monday afternoon a couple of neighborhoods over that the mayor of Haifa was participating in. There were some prayers and a reading of the people from that neighborhood who had died. We didn’t stay for the whole thing because we didn’t understand everything that was going on and Noah was getting antsy, but we wanted him to understand why he had an early day and show him what was going on throughout the country. Noah’s teacher told him that he could see soldiers on TV, so we let him watch a bit. Most channels had no programming at all out of respect and throughout the day the state channel broadcast profiles of soldiers who had died. In the evening there is a ceremony broadcast nationally from Har Herzl in Jerusalem that is a transition from the solemn Yom HaZikron to the festive Yom HaAtzmaut. We were told that everyone watches it & then goes outside to celebrate. In Haifa, there were music festivals in several neighborhoods & fireworks, so as soon as the show was over we ran outside & saw a fireworks show right above our heads. One of the music stages was at the bottom of the hill where our neighborhood is, so all we had to do was go to the edge and look down & we could watch the whole thing.

And it was Roy's birthday! Maybe those fireworks were actually for him.

Noah decided that we needed to bake Roy a chocolate cake with strawberries, so "we" did.

The next day we had the whole day off and there were so many things going on.

First, we went to the Haifa port, where the navy had ships on display.

Then we went down to Tel Aviv and caught part of the flotilla that sailed down the coast.

We went to the Namal (the old port), which is now a boardwalk lined with shops & restaurants.

There was a pottery activity - Noah made a candlestick on the wheel.

And a juggling/acrobatic act which Noah thought was fantastic.

Another pleasantly re-imagined former working waterfront!

Hello friends & family! How was your weekend? We had a lovely weekend in & around Haifa. We went back for a 3rd time to our new favorite beach at the invitation of our friends Osnat & Gilad. This time we went in the early evening and had a picnic dinner. So beautiful & relaxing.

Noah & Gali happily played in the sand for hours. You can see campers in the background.

Osnat V'Sarah

Gali v'Osnat

Osnat v'Gilad

We built a campfire on the beach as the sun set. There are half-drums strewn about for your fire-building convenience & the snack shop sells firewood.

The next day we went to the Haifa zoo. Noah has been so good about going along with our plans and what we want to do the past year, that we let him choose the activity for the day. Noah took scores of photos, but I’ve never been into taking pictures of animals in cages. They did have free-roaming peacocks and roosters roosting in trees, which I had never seen before (roosters in trees, I mean. I’ve seen peacocks). It was a small, but nice zoo with a small prehistory museum with displays of prehistorical archaeological discoveries along the Carmel coast near Haifa. They even had some big animals like Syrian bears, Bengal tigers, & lions.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers!

Pesach is vacation time for the whole country, so we all had off of school/work for the entire week. We spent the 1st 3 days of Hol Hamoed (the middle days of Pesach) at one beach or another.

The first day we went just south of Haifa to the Carmel coast which has some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. We went through Kibbutz Nachsholim to Nachsholim beach, which is part of a nature reserve. We built sand castles, hiked, and visited Tel Dor, archeological ruins that are currently being excavated. Dor is known for the production of the purple dye mentioned in the Bible as the color required for tallit. The dye comes from the gland of sea snails.

On day 2, we stayed closer to home and went to one of the Haifa beaches because we were expecting guests – the newlyweds Julie (Roy’s sister) & Sina. They arrived that evening and we served a matzoh pie for dinner – more delicious than you might expect.

On day 3, back to the beach! We went to the same nature reserve from 2 days prior, but a different part – this time to Dor HaBonim, just north of Dor & Nachsholim. After relaxing on the beach & a bit of hiking, we went to Zichron Yaakov, a town on the Carmel, just south of Haifa. Zichron is special because it was built by the Rothschilds and is the home of several Israeli wineries. There happened to be a Pesach festival going on that day, which we didn’t know about, but which we were happy to find. Music in the streets, flea market, etc. Most of the restaurants had special Passover menus, which was another nice surprise, so we were able to have a nice dinner out & get a break from matzoh pie.

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From Nimrod’s Fortress, we went to the Tel Dan Nature Reserve, which is a collection of hiking trails along the Dan River. The Dan is the largest of the 3 tributaries feeding the Jordan (we visited the other two, the Senir & Banias at Sukkot). The Dan is fed by the largest karstic spring in the Middle East & there are springs & streams all throughout the reserve. Even though it was in the upper 80’s F. that day, the trees thrive so well along the water source, that the trails were shaded & cool.

After this hike, we headed home and just 10 minutes from home Noah threw up in the car. What perfect timing to wait to get sick until after our trip. He had insisted all day that he wasn’t hungry and we thought that he just wanted to play instead of eat, but when we were walking through the reserve, Roy said, “Noah is so good – he really doesn’t refuse to eat unless he’s sick.” Sure enough, a few hrs. later . . . But what a trooper to hike all day without complaining.

The next day was finally Pesach! Noah had wanted to do the search for chametz, which should have been done the night before, but since he was sick, we agreed to let him do it in the morning.

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Later that evening, we went to the seder at my friend Julia’s in-laws here in Haifa. Julia’s husband is from Haifa, so they have a big family in town. It was very festive with lots of kids & lots of singing. In Israel, only one seder is held, instead of two as in the diaspora. Much of our descriptions of the holidays in Israel have focused on the differences between here & the US,  but the seder was surprisingly familiar. It was still going around the table, taking turns reading, people offering stories & commentaries & alternative song tunes when they had a chance. One important difference: the salads were better than usual.

Shoshana, my friend Yaffa’s mom, is a Rennaissance woman. She teaches my weekly Feldenkreis class, is a painter, and is an amazing cook, particularly of Tunisian food, where she is from. Shoshana has adopted us this year (she said that Noah needed a savta – he only had a grandma and a bubbie so far) and has fed us many meals. I had been asking for months for her to show me how to make several of the dishes. Since each dish takes hours & hours to prepare, we had to find a time when we both had that much time to spare. Last week the stars were aligned and we were finally able to arrange a lesson at her house for me and Reit, another friend of Yaffa’s. After baking matzoh with Noah’s class, I went over to Shoshana’s to continue my day of cooking.

Our first lesson was for mafrum, Tunisian ktzitzot, or meatballs. Shoshana cut about 2 hours from the prep time by doing several steps in advance – like they do on cooking shows, so everything is ready to go. There was no recipe, or even definite measurements, so I took photos of everything so I’d remember how much of each ingredient.

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This video makes it look easy, but Reit & I could barely coat the mafrum in matzoh meal without it falling apart. I will need another 40 or so years of practice to look as suave. After our class, Reit & I each got a pot with the mafrum & sauce to take home & we still had to cook it for another hour. As they say in Eretz Yisrael, oo ah, ta’im meod!

One lovely tradition in Israel, regardless of level of religious observance, is spending Friday night (Shabbat) dinner with family. We have been graciously welcomed into the Yeshurun-Ben Menachem family and have spent several Shabbatot with them since we arrived, but there is nothing like being with your own family. Last week, Noah skipped school on Friday and we drove to Jerusalem. Noah got to spend 2 full days with his cousins and Aunt Deborah (Sarah’s sister) & Uncle Dani – what a treat. Deborah graciously kept an eye on Noah for us Fri. morning/afternoon and we went to Yad VaShem (the Holocast museum) located on Har Hazikaron (Mt. Remembrance) in Jerusalem. We can’t describe it as a pleasant or fun experience, but it is something that everyone has to do. Roy had never been and Sarah was last there 17 years ago., before a big, recent renovation. It is a powerful and moving place with every last detail thoughtfully functional and/or symbolic. Children under the age of 10, including infants, are not admitted to maintain a respectful mood.

After a quick trip to Machane Yehuda to get our favorite cheese in Israel, we checked into our hotel near Deborah’s place and headed over. Noah was so happy to be with his cousins and I was so happy to get to cuddle with Chaya Rachel! Turns out that we were visiting on a special weekend because Dani & Benyamin Tzvi finished a chapter they had been studying in the Mishnah and we got to have a siyum (a special celebration for finishing). Kol Hakavod!

Also interesting about our timing that weekend: The day that we arrived was the Jerusalem marathon and earlier that week was a terrorist bombing at a bus stop near the central bus station (across the street from our hotel, as it so happens). This was the 1st such attack in several years and in several discussions I’ve had in the aftermath, we noted the sense of complacency that Israelis (and visitors) have been feeling lately, and the irony that the only person killed was a Christian.

We are all a bit under the weather this week to varying degrees, so we’ll briefly hit the other highlights of the week:

  • Tuesday evening there was another Fulbright event held at the home of the Counselor for Public Affairs at the US Embassy in Kfar Shmariyahu, just outside of Tel Aviv. After an elegant dinner, we heard a talk by Ofra Bengio, a senior lecturer at the Moshe Dayan Center for middle east studies at Tel Aviv U., on the latest events unfolding in the Middle East. We had a very interesting discussion afterwards, particularly about the implications for Israel of all of the recent turbulence/revolution/uprising in N. Africa. We are in a very unique position to be able to observe the events, history in the making, from a relatively close and relatively stable place.
  • Roy was one of the class parents who accompanied Noah’s class on a field trip to the Ecological Garden on the Technion campus

Yaffa passes out freshly-picked chamtzutz--cape sorrel. You suck the sour juice from the stems and pucker.

Algae from a stagnant fountain is lots of fun.

Happy at the end of a nice trip

  • Today may have been the 1st day of summer (80 degs!).
  • Noah decided to pick wildflowers in our yard.

    He's such a big boy - you can tell he dressed himself too!

“Jerusalem stone” is ubiquitous in Israel as a construction material (see archway in masthead above). In Haifa, though, there are several buildings in blue. I don’t know if they were built intentionally as an homage to the sea and sky, but they fit Haifa where there are views of the sea at every turn and which rises to the sky as it climbs Mt. Carmel.

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Can you feel it? That is Purim in the air!

We continued our celebration by attending the pre-megillah reading Maccabi Haifa soccer game against Hapoel Ashkelon. We arrived at the stadium early, so we killed some time at the playground a few yards away. There was a chutes-and-ladders game painted on the ground and a little numbered wheel to spin to indicate how many squares to move. We started out with Sarah & Noah competing & Roy as the number caller, but within minutes a swarm of kids had joined asking if they could play (?אני יכול לשחק):

How could we refuse? We were the Pied Pipers of Chutes & Ladders.

Once inside the stadium . . .

2 fan clubs kept the stadium rockin' with their cheers, drums, & flag-waving! We were across from the Green Apes and next to the Inferno Verde.

No popcorn or pretzels at these games. Stadium snack food is sunflower seeds. There is no other snack that requires this much attention.

Goooooooooaaaaaaaaallllllllllll!!!!!!!! Maccabi Haifa 3 - Hapoel Ashkelon 0

The cutest Maccabi Haifa fan I've ever seen.

Then we headed over to Kehilat Moriyah synagogue to meet our friends for the megillah reading.

Yay Sarah & Julia!!!! Boo Haman!!!!

Following the megillah reading (Jews 1 – Haman 0) was an excellent Purim carnival with Israeli dancing, a magic show, obstacle course, game booths, etc. Noah won a prize and got another mishloach manot.

Sunday morning we celebrated with another local tradition – an Adloyada or Purim parade. We headed to Holon, which is about 20 mins. SE of Tel Aviv, which we’d heard had the “greatest Adloyada in the country”. We completely lucked out. We didn’t really have any idea of where to park or where to stand, but we ended up with a 3 min. walk from our car to the parade route, right in front of the stage at the end where the performances were. This is what we got to watch while waiting for the floats to come by:

Many of the floats were handmade, often out of recyclables. Also marching were groups of schoolchildren playing instruments and troupes of Israeli dancers. It was very festive.