We left Eretz Yisroel this morning and are on the way to New York now. Here is a continuation of my observations from our visit to Eretz Yisroel.
On Tuesday, 2/28/12, the fifth day of the trip, we went to the Stalagtite caves, near Beit Shemesh, in the morning. There were amazing formations there and it was very nice for everyone.
The afternoon was one of the real highlights of the trip. We went to an archaeological site in Beit Guvrin, about 40 minutes south of Ramat Beit Shemesh, for a program called "Dig for a Day." We participated in the excavation of a man-made cave carved out of chalk-like stone from the time of the Chashmonaim, about 2,200 years ago. The residents there used the rock from the caves to build their houses and then they used the caves as work spaces for raising pigeons, for mills, etc. There were four families with us and our family was given the particular project of digging out the 11th step in a staircase leading into the particular cave we were excavating, nicknamed "Lumpy." B"H, my wife and all the kids found a number of pieces of pottery, most notably the bases of two bowls and the handles of two pots/jugs, one of which was still intact! Also notably, we uncovered the 11th step of the cave! It was amazing to touch pottery and a step which hadn't been touched for 2,200 years before we touched them!
We then lugged the dirt out of the cave and sifted it for smaller objects that we couldn't find initially. As we left, they allowed us to take as many pottery shards as we wanted from a pile which had been discovered several months ago in the same cave but which could not be reassembled. Mrs. Yid plans to build them into a menorah for Chanukah so we can have a menorah made from pottery made at the time of the Chashmonaim. This is definitely a great family hands-on activity for any trip. Very worthwhile.
Afterward, continuing with the pottery theme, we visited my wife's aunt and uncle in Hod Hasharon. Her uncle is quite an artist with pottery and has his own wheel and large kiln. He patiently sat with each of the kids at the potter's wheel and each one made a mug of their own. After he fires and paints them, my mother in law (his sister) will bring them back to the states with her. It was a great and exhausting day!
The next morning, Wednesday 2/29, the 6th day of the trip, we went to Yerushalayim to catch a bus to Kever Rochel in Beis Lechem, the Jewish neighborhoods of Chevron, and Me'oras Hamachpela with R. Simcha Hochbaum of the Hebron Fund.
In one section of Chevron, Rabbi Hochbaum told a story of how they provided coffee and warm food for the chayalim who guarded the caravans in that particular Jewish neighborhood. In about 2001, an Arab shot at the caravans in Chevron and some of the shots were blocked by the coffee urn for the chayalim outside one of caravans. They said that this gave new meaning to the coffee brand "nes cafe" ("miracle coffee)!
In the restaurant at Meoras Hamachpela, they sold vouchers to give to chayalim for a pizza pie and bottle of soda. We bought one and my oldest daughter gave it to one of the chayalim there. It was a beautiful thing for us to be able to do.
When we got back to Yerushalayim after Chevron I drove my family to the Ir Ganim section of Yerushalayim to visit with my wife's grandmother's sister, Doda Mari, my wife's great aunt. While they got together, I met with a friend from high school who lives in Ramat Eshkol, which was really nice.
Doda Mari and grandmother were born in Merakesh and grew up in Casablanca, Morocco. The whole family had a great time on the visit.
Funny related story I just learned during the trip: When my mother in law and her family first moved to Israel in about 1968/69, right after the 6 Day War, Doda Mari took my mother in law (who was about 12 years old at the time) to the Arab area just outside of the old city of Yerushalayim to buy some spices. She heard Doda Mari talking (in Arabic) to an Arab man and then yelling at him and telling him "yemach shmo" and to go to "Azazel"! She asked Doda Mari what was going on and she told her that the man was trying to convince her to sell my then-12-year-old mother in law to him for thirteen camels! ... Different world!
On Thursday, 3/1, the 7th day of the trip, we visited my wife's grandmother in Petach Tikva and went to the old market in Tel Aviv, the Shuk Hakarmel, which was very interesting. My oldest daughter also bought herself an embossed nusach Sfard siddur so she can daven my Nusach now and always remember her trip to Eretz Yisroel when she davens (the school teaches the davening only in nusach Ashkenaz).
Thursday afternoon we had a special thirteenth birthday dinner at a milchig restaurant in Petach Tikva called Tova'leh for our oldest girl. She was really happy so it was a great night.
On Friday, 3/2, the 8th day of the trip, we traveled up to Tzfas for Shabbos. We arranged to stay in a three bedroom, nine-bed beautifully renovated several hundred year old house outside the old city of Tzfas. Before Shabbos, I went to the mikva at Tzantz and dropped off a gift by our Shabbos day seuda hosts, who live across the street. Friday night I davened mincha in the Chernobyler beis medrash, and Mrs. Yid and Yid Jr., and I davened kabbalas Shabbos and maariv in a shul almost next door called "Hamekarev," which was quite an experience. Very leibadig. We had the Shabbos seuda afterward in the house we rented for Shabbos and then I went for a walk with my oldest daughter in the old city, which was cold but quite nice!
Shabbos morning I again went to the mikva and also davened Shacharis in Tzantz. Afterward, the whole family ate by a Breslov family who made aliya in around 1981, which was very nice.
After Shabbos, we went to stay at my wife's uncle's parents' (A"H) apartment in Chatzor Haglilit, about 15 minutes from Tzfas.
On Sunday, 3/4/12, the 10th day of the trip, we had a tour guide take us around Tzfas, Meron, and the area. We were able to see and daven by Rabi Shimon bar Yochai, Reb Elazar b'Reb Shimon, the Arizal, Rav Yosef Karo, the Ostrovitcher (the Bas Ayin), Rav Alkavetz (the author of Lecha Dodi), and Rav Moshe Kordovero (the Ramak), among others. Afterward, we slept again in Chatzor Haglilit.
Monday morning, 3/5/12, the 11th day of our journey, we headed back down to central Israel and stopped by Gan Garoo, a zoo of Australian animals, about an hour south of Tzfas, near kibbutz Nir David. The kids loved feeding and petting the kangaroos. They also had an amazing "tziporia," aviary, where we brought in apple slices on a stick and these amazingly colorful parrots landed on us and ate from our hands/the sticks. It was a hit!
Afterward, we returned to Petach Tikva for a visit with my wife's grandmother before heading back to Ramat Beit Shemesh.
A quick word about the mikva'os in Israel, versus America. While certain things are more advanced in America than in Israel, the mikva'os are not one of them. The majority of the mikva'os I went to in Israel were guarded by a revolving metal door controlled by a flat screen computer that gives people several ways to pay the mikva entrance fee. In America, I am used to a simple box on the wall for payment, but in Israel, you can pay with a key chain scan, cash or coins, or with a biometric thumb-print scan! Crazy!
On Tuesday, 3/6, the 12th day of the trip, we headed down south of Jerusalem to Eretz Bereishit, which was also a big hit. A yid (whose real name is Ro'i) dressed up as Eliezer eved Avraham and told the story of Avraham's travels. We all dressed in biblical style robes and rode on camels to a tent area. There, we heard more from "Eliezer," made dough with flour, water, and oil, and baked pitas over a metal oven. We then had tea or Turkish coffee and rode on the camels back to the main building.
After that, we continued south to Ein Gedi where the kids had a blast swimming/playing in the water at the bottom of the lower waterfall (fully clothed of course). We then enjoyed the view of the Dead Sea on the way down to Masada, which we saw a decent amount of.
On Wednesday, 3/7/12, the 13th day of the trip, Taanis Esther, we had a slow day in Netanya, visiting my wife's aunt and uncle and playing in the sand at the beach there.
Purim night I went to hear the Megillah at yeshiva Lev Hatorah, a Daati Leumi style American yeshiva with a lot of YU educated rebbeim. I was hoping to see my old group leader from my NCSY trip to Israel after my junior year of high school in '93, who's a shana bet rebbe there. I also wanted to see a guy I knew from YU and a co-counselor from HASC summer '94 who are both rebbeim there. B"H, I saw all of them at least briefly.
We also all dressed up as pirates in costumes my wife put together expertly and I took them to the "Aish Kodesh" shul (lead by R. Shapira, the great-nephew of the Piaczezna rebbe) for the later megillah reading, which was nice.
Purim day I heard the Megillah reading at Aish Kodesh and went back to shul for the later reading with my pirate family, except for my nine-year-old daughter, who had her own idea for a costume. She wore a black skirt and white button-down shirt, and she put up all of her hair except her "peyos" under her white knit, pom-pomed "Na Nach" kipa. As a girl dressed up as a "Na Nacher," she was a big hit!
We had the Purim seuda by my wife's friend in Ramat Beit Shemesh, which was very nice. They also had another couple over where the wife was also an old friend of my wife's, so a good time was had by all. The host also expressed a strict hashgacha klalis viewpoint so we had a nice wine-enhanced debate!
On Friday, 3/9/12, the 15th day of the trip, we went to Yerushalayim, where we stayed at the Eldan hotel. We davened at the kotel Friday night and walked to a shul in Nachla'ot called Mayanot for the seuda, which is a place with a very eclectic crowd. It was nice there though because we ran into R. Simcha Hochbaum who was spending time in Yerushalayim instead of Chevron for Shabbos to see his son who's about to start the army. We also ran into a tzadik of a guy from Far Rockaway there that we know through our daughter's school, BBY.
Shabbos morning we davened at the kosel again. Some of the people I saw in Yerushalayim/by the kosel included Chaim Dovid, Rabbi Machlis, Avraham Fried, Jeff Seidel, Yehoshua Kotler (who I knew from Far Rockaway), and Eli Deutsch.
The thing that made Shabbos in the old city hard was all the tumah everywhere. There were so many tzelems and Aravim servicing the tourists on the way between the shaar Yafo and the kosel, even on Shabbos, and seeing the entire Har Habayis with a Mosque on it was just such bizyonos to that holy place. Those things and the whole tourist balagan made it difficult to concentrate there. It was similarly difficult at Kever Rochel, where you go there surrounded by 20 foot high concrete walls on all sides now. The last time I was there (probably in '93 or '95) I went in through the normal main street and saw the old traditional building and entrance there. It was very hard to see the whole place surrounded like a fortress to protect our right to pray in our own holy site in our own country like that, which made it feel like we are strangers in our own land. It was also like that in Meoras Hamachpela, where we do not even have the right to pray by the tziyunim of several of our Avos and Imahos most of the year, which are in the hands of strangers, nebach.
We returned from Yerushalayim after Shabbos, knowing that our visit was almost over.
On Sunday, 3/11/12, day 17 of the trip, we visited my wife's grandmother in Petach Tikva in the morning and early afternoon. My wife did some shopping there with my mother in law.
In the afternoon, we visited my wife's cousin and her family with whom we spent our first Shabbos in Israel in Bnei Brak. As I said before, the kids loved their kids and my wife loves her cousin. We had a long goodbye and about 4 million pictures were taken on about 4 cameras, mostly by the kids. We will really miss them.
We also said goodbye to Malka's family in Petach Tikva and headed back late to RBS to work out the utilities with our two-week landlady and finish packing.
We sadly headed out early this morning (3/12/13 - day 18) to the airport for our flight and by the time this posts, we'll probably close to landing at around 5:45 this afternoon NY time.
On the shuttle to the airport after returning the rental car, I met this somewhat elderly couple. They are modern orthodox and the husband wore a yarmulke but the wife didn't cover her hair and wore pants. They were so inspiring though. The wife said that they spend 2 months every winter traveling around Israel. She said, "I do it because I want my money to go to the Land. If I could, I would give my body itself to the land." Wow!
The kids, especially the girls, and my wife had an amazing time, and we will all really miss Eretz Yisroel. The girls are ready to move here, though our touristy visit doesn't give them a real taste of what life is like. Our oldest especially picked up quite a lot of Hebrew and really leaned to communicate well with her Hebrew-speaking cousins.
Honestly I have never seen our oldest as happy as she has been during this trip. It has really been amazing. Tomorrow morning things will go back to "normal," but IY"H we will remember our connection to Eretz Yisroel and will strengthen that connection with time and will not wait another 15 years or so to return!