What a whirlwind the last 10 days have been. How incredible to have 10 days in Israel that we didn't have to make huge flight plans, hotel reservations etc. b/c we live here now. You can just get up and go. And go we did.
First off just taking a left out of town instead of our usual right, introduced us to tons of little day trip type places that are just minutes from our home. To include a new Barkan vineyard/winery. I know where friends and family are going to make their first stop when they come to see us---little Napa Israel.
This was our first Sukkot in Israel and it was interesting sitting in our Sukkah having dinner when our neighbors were doing the same. You can hear the chatter and their dishes clinking. I almost asked for a taste of the soup.
First day of chol hamoed Sukkot (secular days of the holiday) we planned to go hiking and BBQ with friends in one of Israel's national parks, Har Hatayasim. This mountain does have amazing panoramic views and we hiked up to a spring where the kids had fun exploring. I however have never been a huge fan of cars on small windy mountain roads so my adrenaline levels were pretty high just from the drive. I think our crew did a good job in keeping with the true spirit of Sukkot in that we looked more liklike a segment of wandering Jews than real hikers. And if memory serves, much like the Jews leaving Egypt my children might have had a complaint or two when we learned at the end of our hike that BBQing is not allowed in national parks. Not to worry though this is Israel...we found good Kosher food fast.
Day two we joined a group of Olim (immigrants) and headed North to Alona park for the day. We started off at a vineyard picking grapes (actually you cut them at their stems with scissors) and then brought the grapes to a different area to make grape juice. I'll admit that as I was watching all those hands mashing the grapes and looking at the bins my mind was wandering more to staph and pseudomonas than yummy beverage. But I reflected on the whole organic--local--back to basics food movement that is going on right now in the US and decided that people would probably pay good money to have this hands in the earth experience so I rolled up my sleeves and got in. And even sipped a bit of the juice. Pretty tasty actually--though it was not purple as my children thought it would be.
Next we went on a tour of a Roman built underground water tunnel system. Wow talk about glad not to have been a Roman underground tunnel builder. The water was up to my thighs and it is pitch black. We didn't have a flashlight but others did and you really couldn't make it through without them. Disney doesn't hold a candle to those tunnels. The kids had a blast and as soon as they were out headed right back to go in a second time.
We ended the day at the Mall in Modi'in eating Kosher McDonalds on a rooftop Sukkah where Michael and some of the other diners got into the finer halachic (Jewish law) details about wh ether or not this was in fact a Kosher Sukkah (properly constructed) and one of the diners came back with string so that he could fix it to his liking. This I am certain could only happen in Israel.
Day three we spent the morning in Park Ayalon with a dear (and very patient friend). This is another of Israel's national parks and is quite lovely. Rows of fig and olive trees with little walking paths and fish ponds etc. After feeding some fish and rock climbing we had a picnic and then a huge caravan of people showed up. We had brought our pop-up Sukkah with us and it was quite the conversation starter. People kept coming over to ask what it was and where in the world had we bought it. In spite of the total fun party atmosphere our kids had enough so we hopped over to Yad La-Shiryon which I believe is officially Israel's memorial site for fallen members of the armored corps but is an absolutely spectacular tanks museum. Three whining kids perked up fast and we stayed until they closed. There are dozens of tanks to explore and an observation deck with amazing views and tons of history. We just barely scratched the surface in our three hours there.
At the entrance to the tank museum there was a soldier and as we were entering Nehemiah said to him that his only hope was that Moshiach didn't come before he was able to serve in the army (rough translation--I hope world peace isn't achieved before I have my army service). There is so much to unwrap in that statement but I am starting with the fact that my son who was previously telling people that he is on the first plane back when he turns 18 is now staying at least long enough to do the army. Also, when we climbed the stairs to the observation deck we saw a small group of hippie type religious people sitting around with a guitar. I got excited thinking we would get a little Sukkot kumzits (a spiritual type sing along) so I got a bit closer and they started singing "Hotel California". Not really what I was expecting but even stranger is that recently the Eagles Hotel California album has been the soundtrack for our lives (this I will have to explain in another post).
Day four we headed towards Jerusalem to yet another national park (great thing about living in a small country is you get to see a lot in a short time) Castel park. Those Romans were at it again this time with a fortress that was redone by the crusaders. It is a child's dream visit. There is a huge fortress on a hilltop with all sort of trenches and passageways. There is so much history at that one spot but mostly we just had fun playing with our kids and letting their imaginations run wild. The views are unbelievable and if I had any clue as to Israeli geography I might have even known what I was looking at but I don't think I could have enjoyed it more for knowing. We stopped for lunch just outside of the park and met a family that had emigrated to Rehovot (town we live outside of) 17 years ago. This was fantastic because their son who was in 5th grade 17 years ago, told Nehemiah that he remembered in detail how absolutely awful it was that first year when he didn't understand anything or speak the language but how now he loved Israel and couldn't think of anywhere else as home. The mom (who turned out to be an English teacher) told us that she used to keep her kids home from school every couple of weeks for mental health days b/c it is so frustrating for them to be in a foreign language school environment all day. That is advice we will probably be taking.
Yesterday we went back to the beach. Friends called last minute to invite us for the holiday lunch which freed us up from cooking, we got a bit of take out for the holiday dinner and headed out. I can not overstate how incredible it is to be so close to the water. While playing in the sand I suggested we write our names in the sand and let the tide wash them away. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Lital write her name in the sand in Hebrew. We got back home in time for a lovely holiday in Mazkeret and we have one more day until we go back to real life.