The adventure began when we tried to leave our driveway on Thursday afternoon. Some delivery guy had decided to park his van right up against ours, leaving us no room whatsoever to maneuver out of our parking spot. We didn’t even know where he was and couldn’t find a way to contact him. What do to? We ended up enlisting the help of the guy that ran the bike shop across the street as well as an English speaking rabbi who used to be head of Hebrew University. At first they went into the driver’s van to see if there was a way to contact him. Then they started shouting out his name to see if he was in the neighborhood. Finally they figured out how to release the parking brake so that the van moved further away from our car. The guy that ran the shop also happened to be a driving instructor, and he managed to back our car out of our tight parking spot and onto the street! Complete strangers had come to our rescue. That’s what happens here.
The next few hours we drove–out of Jerusalem, past Tel-Aviv, Netanya and Herzliya until we were finally close to Haifa. Our zimmer (bed and breakfast) was located in the Carmel Mountain range in the Druze town of Usafiya. Although we were pretty tired from the traffic-laden drive, our drive from the coastal plain up the Carmel was a beautiful sight. The late afternoon light shone warmly on the surrounding forests and the air became cooler and less humid. As we approached Usafiya, I practiced my basic Hebrew by getting directions from the owner of the zimmer, and we managed to find the place.
El-Manzul, the name of the zimmer in Usafiya, is a lovely little gem. It contains about 6 guest rooms and a cheerful dining area where guests eat breakfast and can lounge on some low-lying pillows. From the balcony there is a great view of the surrounding town, the Carmel mountains and the stars. Our host told us that he lived in Washington DC for several years as Brigadier-General handling Israeli policy issues. I have read that quite a few Druze people have served in the Israeli army and they were known as warriors during the Ottoman period. (The Ottomans sent the Druze to settle in places like Usafiya in order to protect their lands.) A Druze battalion in the second Lebanon War killed 20 Hezbollah fighters and did not suffer any casualties.
I wrote a composition for my Hebrew class about the Druze and learned quite a few interesting facts, and here are a few: The Druze keep their religion very secret so not much is known about it. We do know that they revere several figures including Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses, Jesus, Mohammed and Jethro. Jethro plays an especially important role in their religion, and they make pilgrimmages to his grave. People think they are Muslim, but they are actually an offshoot of the Ismaili sect of Islam and have incorporated Neo-Platonic, Gnostic and other religious thought into their religion. (They also esteem Greek philosophers and thinkers such as Plato and Pythagorus). Interestingly, they also have very few rituals and do not proscribe times for prayer. Here are two links to some more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Druze http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Society_&_Culture/druze.html
The owner of the zimmer sent us to a local eatery, where a Druze woman made all of the food on the spot. And the food did hit the spot! Druze pita, lamb kabobs, salads and homemade lemonade. The Druze woman wore a white shawl, called a al-mandīl, and a black shirt and long black skirt. Supposedly this dress style connotes that she belonged to al-ˤUqqāl (عقال), or “the Knowledgeable Initiates,” which is a subgroup within the Druze. Women are considered suitable for becoming members of this exclusive group, which has access to the Druze secret holy literature, because they are viewed as spiritually superior to men (woo-hoo!).
We continued to eat well throughout our trip. The next morning we ate an enormous breakfast at the zimmer that included labaneh–which is strained yogurt–, cucumber and tomato salad sprinkled with mint, a homemade fruit shake, eggs, salty cheese, bread… Writing this is making me hungry!
To burn off this sizeable meal, we went hiking on one of the nature paths in the Carmel Mountains. Unfortunately the Israel parks authority doesn’t make it that easy to find this place and, they do not provide an on-site map of the trails so we took a little time locating the head of the trail. Our patience went rewarded with incredible views of the limestone mountains and surrounding landscape. Unfortunately we took the wrong path back (it was my bad) and we ended up walking an additional 30 minutes (or maybe it was an hour?) to get back to the parking lot. Oy.
The rest of the afternoon we decided to chill out at the beach at Dor Bonim along with the rest of the middle class Israelis. The best parts of this beach are the archaeological ruins and the reefs. I could have sat there for hours watching the waves crash upon the reefs. The ruins date back to Roman times, but I’ll have to ask Eric to fill you in about the details.
In the evening we met up with cousin Etamar, who drove to Usafiya and had a meal with us at a local Druze teenager hangout (or so it appeared to me). Then he drove us into Haifa to a sushi bar and we didn’t get back until past our bedtimes.
The next day we went to two archaeological sites: Beit She’arim and Tel Meggido. Beit She’arim was a prospering town during the Roman period and later became a Jewish necropolis. In the second century the Sanhedrin, headed by Rabbi Judah HaNasi (who compiled the Jewish oral law into the Mishna), moved to Beit She’arim. After HaNasi was buried there, many Jews from both Israel and the diaspora wanted to buried near the revered rabbi. The catacombs are carved into the hills southwest of the town, and often have inscriptions and elaborate carvings on them. There are some Hebrew, but also Greek and Aramaic. We got to see the catacomb where HaNasi was supposedly buried as well as another complex with sarcophagi that were decorated with mythological creatures such as lions, eagles and bull’s heads.
By the time we got to Tel Megiddo, I was pretty beat, so I spent most of the time enjoying the great panorama from the site (the word Tel means hill). We saw several groups of Christian tourists, which is not surprising because Christians believe that is where the end of days is gonna happen (Armageddon comes from Tel Megiddo).
Megiddo is like an archaelogical layer cake. Each represents a different part of history. Each new group built upon the remains of the older city, which is how the site became such a big mound. The Tel is really nothing but layers of settlements built on top of on another–much like other archaelogical mounds and of course much like Jerusalem. They could never build a subway in Jerusalem because they would keep unearthing archaeological finds!
After meditating on top of Tel Megiddo, we headed back to Jerusalem. Whenever we come back to this city, we are always struck by how different this city is from the rest of the country. Jerusalem is a beautiful city, but if you’re going to come to Israel, you need to look around if you’re going to get the big picture!
I hope to write a little bit more later this week. The evening is cool, so we’re going to go for a walk. And then to the Hebrew homework. Studying yet another verb form called Hufa’al which is the passive form for Hife’el. I think I am up to 6 verb forms. Are there this many verbs in English? Until next time…
p.s. Please check out all the photos from our trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rebeccazim/