9 Kislev 5759

(Saturday morning, November 28, 1998) – Kfar Blum

I fully expected to be sitting in the Kfar Blum shul at this time. I ate breakfast – a little late, but it felt good to sleep in – and walked over to the synagogue. I’d known Kfar Blum was a fairly secular kibbutz, not unusual, and I had already seen how small the synagogue was. I had wondered what they do on High Holy Days. Is it that secular? Maybe it has stayed “truer” to the roots of the kibbutzim than most.

But I did not go in. The door is behind the bima, so you enter facing the congregation. Maybe if I could speak Hebrew, I would be a bit bolder. I stood outside for a while, and when I heard only male voices, I turned around. Even in this secular place, the religious are apparently Orthodox.

This kibbutz hotel is so nice, it makes me wonder if the people who live and work here full-time resent the city folk who descend on them. As of yesterday, the place is packed. I doubt there is a single available room.

There’s a stark contrast between the guest house (hotel) and the residences of the kibbutzniks. Their homes are clean, and beautiful, roses everywhere, but very, very simple. It’s a far cry from the relative luxury of the “Hampton” where I am staying.

On the road to Qiryat Shemona

Yesterday’s activities coincided perfectly with last night’s CNN news. I drove up to Qiryat Shemona, about 5 km (3 miles) north, site of the massacre about twenty years ago. Once again, I was amazed by the construction of lovely, new homes. Although I had to laugh out loud. About half a mile from the beautiful new homes stands an older apartment complex, maybe 15 – 20 years old, probably lower middle class. On the fence that lines this main street – Highway 90! – some Hausfrau had hung her laundry out to dry, primarily men’s underwear. I wanted to stop and take a picture, but there wasn’t a place to pull over.

My first stop: The Banias waterfall. The trail ended prematurely. They are constructing a huge wooden deck out over the pool beneath the falls, so I couldn’t walk all the way down to the base of the falls. It was still quite lovely. No Niagara, but surprising to find something like this in Israel, especially after those days on the Dead Sea.

A young Israeli couple asked me to take their picture. They crouched down on the bank of the river, holding onto a tree to get maximum waterfall behind them. I remember being that young and daring once upon a time!

I drove up to Banias proper instead of hiking the trail, because I knew it was a short day. The biggest shock at Banias was the lack of an immense cathedral! How did the whole of Christianity overlook this site? Especially “the” site that is used as the basis for Peter’s calling as the first pope? And the site of Jesus’s greatest miracle? No cathedral? How refreshing. And appropriate.

The time at Banias rejuvenated me. It was not intended as a day to reenergize, but it evolved into exactly that. I poked about, scared a badger as much as he scared me, tossed a shiny new shekel into the Hebron spring and made a wish.

My original itinerary had called for me to drive up the Golan Heights to the Druze village of Mas’ade (pronounced same as Masada), then down to Har Harmonit (Mount Hermon), and finally west to Kfar Blum. That was the plan. It looked like a good one at the time.

But for some reason, it had not occurred to me that driving up the Golan Heights would entail, well, driving up a mountain. At first it was exhilarating, all that valley below me. It’s very easy to see why it’s important from a military viewpoint. Ceding the high ground could be death, when faced with opponents who like to lob rockets into populated areas.

Looking down into Syria from the Golan Heights

The higher I went, the scarier it became. The road is hardly two full lanes wide, no shoulder, and no guard rail. I hate driving in the mountains, though I love the mountains. I got a slight touch of vertigo that made me tense up and grip the steering wheel with white-knuckled terror. All the big Mercedes-Benz sedans zipping past me going sixty mph on that narrow road didn’t help any.

When I reached Mas’ade (alt. M’asada) and understood that I was in a part of Israel that isn’t really part of Israel and doesn’t want to be part of Israel, I decided the danger I knew by driving back down that mountain was less scary than the danger of continuing on into a corner of the world where I had no idea what I would encounter. I didn’t have a cell phone (and there likely wasn’t reception there anyway). This was the only time in my 18-day trip that I was genuinely afraid. I made a giant U-turn and headed back down the mountain.

Tel Dan Nature Reserve

As is often the case, that turned out for the best. Tel Dan had not been on my itinerary, but I impulsively pulled into that nature reserve. I didn’t have enough time to walk even the short trail from beginning to end (it closed at sundown for Shabbat), but I wandered some, then simply sat on a rock in that lush greenery and enjoyed the peace. The absolute quiet is something I’ve found in few places.

The only uncomfortable part of the day: Shabbat evening dinner. The maitre d’ was a young woman who couldn’t speak English, and came across as very rude. I figured it was a rudeness of embarrassment at not knowing how to deal with an English-speaking American woman traveling alone, but she made no effort to solve the dilemma. It left me feeling out of place and uncomfortable. Really, the issue of some Israelis not knowing how to deal with a single woman traveling alone has been the biggest obstacle I’ve encountered here.

On the evening news, there were reports of more deaths of Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon. And commentary regarding Netanyahu’s statements about withdrawing from southern Lebanon. I’m right here. This conflict is taking place only a few miles from this lovely hotel room.

The places I visited on Friday suddenly seemed far less safe and the people in danger of leaving and losing their beautiful homes. And happy lives.

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