Three years ago, Allen and I retired and took the opportunity to spend three consecutive months in Jerusalem. Two years ago, we stayed for four months, and this year we are in the third of a five month Jerusalem rental apartment. Cumulatively, then, we have spent ten months here. Much of that time has been spent on tiyulim miMetullah ad haNegev, as the song goes – from the tip of Northern Israel to its southernmost point. I was, frankly, a little anxious that we had seen and done it all.
Not to worry. We keep finding more breathtaking and inspiring spots that leave us astonished. Just this past Hanukka, we took the grandkids to Jungle Kef near the Kinneret. They delighted in the albino peacock and the benign slithery snake. They were less delighted by the spider monkeys, but they were intrigued nonetheless. After the kids went home, Allen and I proceeded to the hot springs of Hamat Gader. We had packed bathing suits just in case we ran into some irresistible water, which is precisely what happened. I was able to descend into the pool without yelping, so the water must have been about 26 degrees C (82F?). Around the perimeter of the pool are jets that create individual Jacuzzis, and we luxuriated in the bubbles for a good two hours. Once we emerged and changed back into street clothes, we walked around the Hamat Gader property. We followed the signs to the Antiquities where we found the ancient Roman hot springs site. Regrettably, it is surrounded by a fence that we were able to peek through, and doesn’t seem at all developed. We were able to make out pools, niches, sectioned off rooms, columns, and stone staircases and floors. It didn’t take a great leap of imagination to picture wealthy Romans basking in the sun. The Romans are long gone, but here we are enjoying the thermal springs they discovered!
The next day, we visited the Holocaust Museum at Nir Galim, adjacent to Ashdod. The Nir Galim museum was founded in 1991 by Hungarian Holocaust survivors who had belonged to the Bnei Akiva youth movement. When I was twelve or thirteen, I OD’d on Holocaust literature. I started with Elie Wiesel’s Night, and went on from there to read every memoir I could track down. After my most recent visit to Yad VaShem, I thought I was thoroughly immersed, if not on overload. But the Beit HaEdut (Testimony House) at Nir Galim is different. I didn’t leave weeping, but I was deeply impressed by the commitment of the Museum to educate the next generation – and at its professionalism. There are some very evocative sculptures leading up to the entrance, and a collection of miniature reproductions of European synagogues that suffered different degrees of destruction under the Nazis – all made out of matchsticks. Our visit ended with a rather sophisticated interactive film about The Glass House, a safehouse in Budapest where three thousand Jews escaped annihilation.
In truth, I had intended to write a breezy posting about this and that, but it feels as though every time I set out to write a light piece, something tragic occurs. This time, it is an 11 year old girl who was firebombed. I am trying not to think about how difficult the next several years will be for her, should she survive. Life here in Israel is filled with dichotomy – like the Passover seder. On the one hand, we recline like (Roman) nobles; on the other hand we are eating the bread of affliction. There is that constant simultaneity of joy and sadness.
The joy is just as inescapable but less dramatic. When I walk out my apartment door, I am immediately surrounded by the chirping of birds (including green parrots and turquoise hummingbirds) and the fragrance of lavender. My senses are just ablaze. No, really. I’m not exaggerating.
Okay, I said I would try to write a balanced blog so here are some things I don’t like about Israel: I don’t like the canned tuna. I hate the paper towels. I can’t stand the aluminum foil. See? I am totally even-handed.