When last we spoke, we’d spent several days in Jerusalem, then headed down to the Dead Sea, to visit the lowest elevation point on earth, and to visit the fortress at Masada.
Traveling across the West Bank, along the Jordanian border as we went up to the Golan Heights for the latter part of the trip was extraordinary in some ways too. Traveling this land, with its contentious past and present, and talking with our driver as we went was interesting too.
We stayed in a cabin at the Kfar Haruv kibbutz, in the southern Golan. This setting too was beautiful, overlooking the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), across to the city of Tiberius. I got up early each morning to enjoy a run around the kibbutz, venturing out along the cliffs, and once down into an old pomogranite/olive tree orchard directly below. After a full day either biking or touring, we’d enjoy dinners together, sometimes creating a large picnic by the cabins. We felt very fortunate to be included in our friends’ family events.
We had many adventures during our week in the Golan.
Along the way, we were guided by people with expertise on the natural and cultural aspects of what we were experiencing. We hiked a bunch. including some very technical stretches across rocks, water, as well as up and down some good elevation.
My daughter surprised me by jumping off of a 25 foot cliff into some water. She got this bravery from her mom, not me. She also did some great cave crawling too. I toured Tzfat, the home of the Jewish mysticism movement known as Kabbalah. We visited some beautiful synagogues and enjoyed the vibrant artist colony there. One day we took a ski lift to the top of Mount Hermon, the highest point in Israel, located less than 20 km from Damascus Syria, right on the Lebanese border.
We heard stories of the fighting in the Golan during the wars in 1967 and 1973, passing tank traps put in to halt Syrian advances, and seeing deserted Syrian military bases. One of the more interesting moments for me was hearing Israeli tanks drill, as I discussed politics with my friend Doron and our guide as we sat in the headwaters of the Sea of Galilee.
The week was capped by a beautiful B’nai Mitzvah, celebrating the coming of age for my friend’s son and his niece. The ceremony was held in Katzrin Park, an ancient Talmudic village founded around the third century. The stone ruins provided a very meaningful and picturesque backdrop for this event. And the kids did an excellent job, their great preparation shining through.
The day after the B’nai Mitzvah, we headed back to Jerusalem, where we settled in for one last night. My mom and I ventured out for a walk along the market on Ben Yehuda Street, followed by a dinner just north of there. I got to begin my final day in Israel with a wonderful run around Jerusalem with my good friend and host Doron, who illustrated a great part of the history and layout of the city as we ran through the German Colony, and then up along the Goldman Promenade, where we had a panoramic view of the city, including the Old City, the Mount of Olives, the Cemetery, and the distant hills towards towards Jordan. It was easily the nicest miles I’ve run in a long time, getting to spend time with my friend of over forty years, and learning so much about a country he knows so much about and loves so dearly.
We enjoyed a celebratory dinner in the hills west of Jerusalem before heading out to the airport to catch our flight. The trip back included a missed flight, a couple of mad dashes across the Tel Aviv and Atlanta airports, and lots of time spent sitting on planes.
When I reflect on the experience, I am also filled with gratitude for the opportunity to take this trip. Much credit goes to my wife Kris, who agreed to let us go when she was needing to focus on the final stages of preparation for her Ironman Canada event. My father really helped by taking care of our youngest while I was away and while Kris did her last bits of training, and helped out a bunch at home. I’m very grateful to my mother for coming along – sharing this experience with her was really something. Sharing this with my daughter was amazing as well. While traveling overseas is not always easy, the experience is irreplaceable. Finally, I owe many thanks to Doron for helping make the experience so wonderful. In addition to all of the planning he did for the events on the Golan, he also provided us with an amazing guide for the Old City, as well as a great driver that drove us a number of places along the way. And again – the chance to experience all of this with the B’nai Mitzvah was amazing.
Much of what I drew from the trip, I will be thinking about for a long time. As I said – the experience of a lifetime.