Golan Trip, Purim

Hey everybody Happy Easter and Happy Purim and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
I’m totally stoked. First of all, tomorrow night is the start of Purim and I’m reading chapter 7 in Megillat Esther at the official Pardes’ reading. Second, I downloaded the latest Lizz Wright album and it’s sooo fine. I recommend it, especially the song “I Idolize You.” Third, I got back from a tiyyul to the Golan (whoa, yet another controversial topic, right?) and it was stupendously beautiful. Finally I got to see some ridiculously hilarious videos of my nephew totally hamming it up. Thanks Dave and Vanessa for making my day.

Here’s one thing I’m definitely not stoked about: the sucky U.S. economy and the value of the dollar. Thanks to the plummeting value of the dollar, I’m paying more for goods here than I was several months ago.  The economy is cyclical, so things will improve–eventually. But that’s still no comfort to most of us these days.

On to brighter topics…

Want to know something funny about Purim? It lasts THREE days in Jerusalem. Normally it lasts two days in this special city because Jerusalem also celebrates Shushan Purim, which is primarily observed by walled cities. But because Shushan Purim falls on Shabbat, when there is no megillah reading, Purim is observed over three days. Which means people are spiced, hammered, buzzed, inebriated for three days. (If you didn’t know, people are supposed to get so drunk on Purim that they don’t know the difference between Haman and Mordechai.

Here are a few laws relating to the holiday:

Friday, Adar 14
1) The Megillah is read (Thursday night and Friday morning)
2) Gifts to the poor are given (1 gift each to at least two people).
Note: We will be collecting money before and after the Megilla reading
(Thursday night) for Matanot L’evyonim (gifts to the poor). This money
will be distributed on Purim day to needy families in fulfillment of
the mitzvah. One who is generous in giving to the poor is considered
praiseworthy!
Shabbat, Adar 15: Al Hanissim is said during tefilot and Birkat
Hamazon.
Sunday, Adar 16:
1) The Purim feast takes place
2) Mishloakh manot are given (2 portions of prepared food or drink to
at least one person).

Another blog entry will be devoted more thoroughly to this strange and fascinating holiday and to more of the Pardes goings on. Yeah, Purim really has a dark side, and it’s hard to notice it when everybody is drunk as a skunk, but it’s worth ponering.

Back to the Golan. Yes it was beautiful and another reminder of how small the country is. We were always very close to either the Syrian or Lebanon border and sometimes both! Israel has such friendly neighbors :). It’s also a prime example of a place that can be both beautiful and controversial at the same time. It’s so controversial that the entry in Wikipedia has been questioned in its neutrality. As far as I know, the Golan was taken by Israel from Syria in the ’67 War. Before  that, kibbutzim in the Upper Galilee were getting treated to regular shelling from the Syrians. Now Syria wants the Golan back, and it’s an item that keeps coming up whenever there are hints of talks between Israel and Syria. Here is a brief article on the Jewish Virtual Library. This article highlights an alternative view of the history.

Per usual for Pardes tiyyulim, we got up early and headed to Pardes to pack our lunches and get on the bus. Then we drove a few hours north, through a drastically changing landscape. We drove on route 1, down past Jericho, which is near the Dead Sea and followed the road north passing Arab villages and Israeli kibbutzim. Many of the desert mountains were coated with a green fuzz–a product of the recent rains that would last a month. Once we headed out of the West Bank, the landscape changed to an even greener one and we passed the Gilboa mountain range and headed toward the Galilee.

Before I knew it, our bus driver, Zion, was taking us along a road that wound its way up to the Golan. The higher we went, the more spectacular the views and the scarier the curves on the road. Everybody was ooing and aaing audibly over the scenery, which made our bus driver grin. I had been to the Golan with Eric during our honeymoon in October, and it was a totally different place. Whereas in the fall, everything was brown and dried out, when we came back this year, the hills were lush and dotted with purple, yellow, red, pink and white flowers. I’ll prove it to you by showing you the difference between photos from the two separate trips.

The hikes were all very enjoyable and usually had us walking on the plains of the Golan as well as walking down into these gorges that often contained streams and waterfalls. The first day we went to Nahal El-Al. Here’s a blurb from the Jewish Agency web site: The Southern Golan enjoys panoramic views of the Sea of Galilee. Nahal El Al is one of many rivers found in the area. Nahal El Al is the southernmost of the perennial rivers on the Golan. Between the moshavim Avnei Eitan and Eli Ad, are two famous waterfalls: the Black Waterfall, whose water falls on black basalt rock, and the White Waterfall, whose water falls on white limestone rock.

In the afternoon we checked out the observation point at Har Ben-Tal, a mountain which used to serve as a military post, but now houses a cafe called Coffee Anan (a pun on Kofi Anan ha ha), a sculpture garden as well as views of the Golan, Galil and our neighbor Syria (howdy neighbor!). Tourists could walk through parts of the concrete barrack used by the military–and which reminded me of the film Beaufort. Our guide told us that the site could actually be reactivated quite quickly in the instance that a war erupted. Nature, politics and military entwined.

Which reminds me. On most of the hikes we were asked to stay on the path because the landmines planted by the Israelis weren’t de-activated/removed from the hills and plains. One more note, Ben-Tal is actually a dead volcano. The Golan is dotted with several of these volcanic cones, and volcanic rock is one major aspect of the geology here, which makes it very rich soil for agricultural purposes.

The next day we were hiking in Jilaboon, which featured more waterfalls and splendid scenery. The latter part of the hike was particularly extraordinary. We walked up from the gorges and along one of the plains, surrounded by a sea of flowers, down to an old Syrian military base. We also had room for a water hike at Ein Tena, which consisted of us wading through a large stream, trying to maintain our balance as we stepped over the rocks and climbing over rocks to a waterfall of sorts. A bunch of us took the plunge and submerged under the flowing water. A few folks stayed under for a significant time and looked like they were enjoying the meditative quality of the flowing water.

The last day we visited Banias, a nature reserve, site of a spring that is one of the origins of the Jordan river, a former city and archaelogical site. Banias is an Arab pronunciation of the word Panias, which means Pan. The site was once a Roman city called Caesarea Phillippi with a temple devoted to the Greek god Pan–although it was previously occupied by the Syrian Greeks. This link has more info about the site.

The hike itself began as a stroll along a wooded path and ran along a body of water that I think was the Hermon river and culminated in waterfall. There were parts where we hiked out of the gorges and had some good views of the mountains near Lebanon (hello other neighbor!). More flowers and landmines as well.

Our final hike which we squeezed in was Har Meron, which is actually in the Galilee. You can’t actually hike to the top because the military uses it for its military purposes. The scenery changed noticeably from grassy plains and flowers of the Golan to more densely forested, Mediterranean vegetation including oak trees. Our guide told us that the Golan is actually a combo of a many different geographic zones including elements of the Asian steppes.  Our last stop was to the Galilee Winery, just a hop skip and jump from the Lebanon border. It’s funny that one of the sites that sits close to the border is a vineyard. Well, the climate and soil are good for grapes what can I say! This ain’t Italy.
Our visit included a tour, a cheesy movie (that you could tell was created by Israelis and included people doing interpretive dances to simulate the winemaking process) as well as wine tasting which certainly increased the levels of merriment in the group. Then we went home!

Geez this entry is long. Will anyone actually read all of this? Will anyone actually get past my brief foray into U.S. economics? Helloooo? Well for those of you who did, check out the flickr Web site to see some cool pics.

Purim Sameach!

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2 responses to “Golan Trip, Purim

  1. New York Reader

    I’m reading it and it sounds gorgeous!

  2. thanks!

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