From the rainbow bubble to the Lower Galilee

How it feels to make the switch from inner city to country side living.

LOWER GALILEE view from Tzipori. (photo credit: Courtesy)
LOWER GALILEE view from Tzipori.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘How could you leave Ra’anana?” people ask when they discover that we had left that paradise on earth, “and why Migdal Ha’emek?”
The end of moving day in mid-November was a surreal scene for us as the movers’ crane hoisted boxes and furniture into the air over our small balcony and through a window they had removed. Our recliner appeared in two pieces, other furniture had truncated legs, but somehow they managed to piece it all together as night fell. “Ticha, ticha – gently does it,” I said, aping their native Russian, hoping for a gentle landing in our rented apartment. Moriah, a neighbor from round the corner who had met us previously, kindly brought over some potato and cheese snacks.
We are here in Migdal Ha’emek for 20 months of community service after 34 years in the rainbow bubble of Ra’anana. As the boxes were gradually unpacked, the apartment began to feel like home. A few evenings later Shuki, the electrician, was balanced precariously on our ladder as if suspended in mid-air.
“You were in the special forces, weren’t you?” we asked him. “It’s written on your face.”
After he was called to reserve duty for a few days, Yoni, another neighbor, arrived to drill a few needed holes.
Our landscape has changed to chalky white slopes streaked in gray, coated with shrubs, coral-hued berries, gall oaks, venerable conifers and gnarled fig trees. Surrounding us are the southern slopes of the Nazareth hills, while north of us is the Ramat Gavriel industrial and hi-tech area; the Ma’aleh Michael industrial area sits at the southern end of Migdal Ha’emek, while a third one is planned south of that. On trips out of town we overlook the Jezreel Valley, the largest valley in Israel. This vast flat expanse soon turned a lush green. The clouds in the infinite sky above shimmered in gold and rose tones under a wintry sun.
Migdal Ha’emek is run quite efficiently. Garbage is collected and mail delivered (somewhat sporadically), while real-estate prices are lower than in Israel’s center. My husband complains that the closest, most convenient prayer service starts at 5:45 a.m., but as most people start work early or commute, that’s how it is.
The hilly roads we ascend regularly to the stores, the school and the shuk or marketplace accustom us to vigorous exercise. The large covered marketplace bursts with vitality. Here Jewish, Arab and Druse vendors sell fruits, vegetables, nuts, dried fruit, spices, new and secondhand clothes and household goods.
The small elementary school where we volunteer has a varied population. Sometimes a vocal mother appears, or a father is called in, dark and broad-shouldered. Most pupils are capable learners but often need to improve work habits – whether gifted, learning disabled or hyperactive. The melting pot also includes timid, respectful new immigrants from the Bnei Menashe community of northern India. Teachers are devoted and kind, while the secretary makes sure that the kids do not go hungry and keeps a watchful eye on financially stressed families. I sit with a tiny second grader, in the country just two years. I assist with her Hebrew reading and arithmetic, listening hard for her whispered responses. On this cold blustery day, her small feet and legs are bare, shod only in open white sandals. I tell the teacher, who shrugs and says she has already reported it.
During Hanukkah, we were treated to Moroccan donuts as cyclamens in their splendor started erupting through the rocks. Nature is close at hand. As we walked through the wooded slopes of nearby hills and olive-tree carpeted valleys, we realized that the Lower Galilee rises to some significant heights. Lofty hills in the vicinity of Mount Tabor include the Churchill Forest on Mount Devora. When grandkids arrived, they explored the low hill opposite us, which is an archaeological garden housing ancient stone winepresses. At a later date, we revisited Tzipori after a long absence and found it changed beyond recognition. After rains finally arrive, water gushes through formerly dry creeks.
We could not have managed our move here without the warmth and helpfulness of the local Garin Torani, an organized group of young families, parents to a large group of young children.
SOON IT is hospitality Shabbat in the Garin. Much planning went into this event sponsored by Nefesh b’Nefesh, which seeks to increase the population of the Galilee. The arrival of new families in the town will strengthen it and improve its educational system.
We and a few others met the visitors at midday Friday when their bus arrived. We led them into the park and gave out maps, water bottles and other essentials. They were a little surprised that we had only recently arrived in the town. Friday night, after services in a Sephardi synagogue, we descended to the hall for dinner. Following dessert was a lively panel discussion with Garin members so the newcomers could ask questions and get information. Unfortunately, I got hoarse during the meal and could not talk, even during lunch the next day when we entertained the charming Nefesh b’Nefesh delegate and her husband.
Luckily, by Sunday night my voice returned, enabling me to join a small Birthright gathering, to which I was invited as a native English speaker and veteran immigrant. We enjoyed a lavish first course of homemade salads in Vivi and Motti Maimon’s house. Their son Yaniv (23) was accompanying the group around Israel, and this rainy evening – New Year’s Eve actually – they were enjoying hospitality in different homes. Counselor Yaniv introduced his parents in fluent English and translated for them. Mother Vivi came from Tunis via France, he explained, whereas his father grew up in a ma’abara (transit camp for immigrants) in Migdal Ha’emek. Although Motti was one of 10 children raised in two small rooms, he realized the importance of education and obtained an engineering degree from the Technion.
The tour guide asked the Americans around the table to share their stories. Then it was my turn. I came to Israel from London at age 20 to attend the Hebrew University on Givat Ram with students from all over the world, I told them. I knew a scant thousand words of Hebrew, and my entire savings comprised $600. I related how my lifeline was finding work in the experimental physics department of the university, typing and editing scientific manuscripts. It was hard for these American youngsters to understand why I decided to leave for Israel, and surprisingly hard for me to explain, but deep feelings such as I have for this country are never easy to express.
After some months in Migdal Ha’emek I can say that, though it will always be a pleasure to visit Ra’anana and reconnect with our dear friends, we’re finding it an invaluable experience to see another side of Israel.