And now, Israel. ~~ December 18, 2017

Five days into our Israeli trip already. I am snug in bed in the Golan Heights, trying to assemble the last few days in my mind.

I’ll just throw out the highlights, to bring us to now.

We left Beirut on the 14th. Easy travel through Amman, no grilling by immigration on our entrance to Tel Aviv. Met our guide, old friend Amir Gadnaor, at the Avis counter, picked up our huge van and away we went.

Checked in at the Market Hotel in the heart of Jaffa. Lovely hotel. Boisterous, youthful, energetic neighborhood. When Jerry, Amir and I went out to get a bite to eat at 11 pm, we walked blocks of noisy outdoor restaurants until we found one with room for three.

We shared calamari, grilled cauliflower in lemony tahini sauce, and a ground beef simmered in tahini. A goblet of salty caramel cream and popcorn was a blissful finish, before a tired walk back to the hotel.

Up the next morning to see that the twinkling lights off our terrace the night before concealed a stunning view of the Mediterranean. Wished we had time to sit and be still.

Breakfast buffet was stupendous. Salads, cheeses, grilled vegetables, breads and pastries. Pretty fabulous.

Amir Gadnaor, guide extraordinaire and the best story teller I have ever met.

We set out for a day of walking through old Jaffa, to the shore and into the first neighborhoods of Tel Aviv. The party city of the night before had finally gone to sleep and commerce city had awakened in the meantime. Lots of tempting shops whose upscale prices testified to the fact that these neighborhoods had been reclaimed and revived.

What I love about Israel is ironically, what gives it its deepest grief and uncertain future. The mixed neighborhoods of Jews and Arabs and occasional Christians belies the truth that religious division is a potential time-bomb waiting to blow the country apart.

People left to themselves, without the agitations of ambitious leaders stirring them up for their own ends, can be neighbors. Much of the time, anyway.

I am so moved by the faith, and history, and ancient stories of this part of the world, I find myself often on the brink of tears or beyond.

We are visiting within two weeks of Trump’s announcement that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. There were demonstrations in Lebanon (in neighborhoods that house Hezbollah) and in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Somehow there was less energy for rioting than I thought there would be. I read an article that said the Palestinians are waking up to the realization that Iran is the real threat to their existence and that alliance with Israel is the way to secure it.

I don’t know. I know in both Beirut and Israel people have (mostly)accepted that they live under existential threat, and yet most of them live in the day, seeking joy from their families and solace from their God.

I think about potential parallels with the direction the US is taking and I close my mind and enjoy my own today.

We left Tel Aviv for Nazareth, a largely Arab town that has some Christian churches that are beyond stunning. Nazareth, of course, is the town where the Angel Gabriel came to break some astonishing personal news to Mary, and where Mary and Joseph left for Jerusalem to be counted for the governor’s census, stopping unexpectedly at a manger in Bethlehem where Mary gave birth.

Hearing “Away in a Manger” sung in Arabic over a loud speaker (“Jingle Bells” too, in fact the whole catalogue of Christmas carols) while school children wait excitedly by a huge Christmas tree to see a strikingly skinny Santa, all of this in front of a church built at the place where Gabriel supposedly first approached Mary, is beyond surreal and oddly touching.

The Church of the Annunciation is spectacularly beautiful, with mosaic representations of Mary and child from countries around the world. The rich, pure colors of the stained glass windows in the church make me weep at their glory and light.

We walk the markets full of kitchen gadgets (I got a zucchini corer that will transform koosa-making) and cheap clothes, gorgeous vegetables and fresh pomegranate juice stands.

We stop for tea and sweet cheese and nut pastries at a shop full of antique pots and pans and bits of other old things.

Our next stop is Akko, where we check in to our rooms in a hotel built literally in the thickness of the old wall that surrounds the city, and go out for dinner at what Amir promises is a “very special restaurant.”

He is right. Uri Buri is one of the top seafood restaurants in Israel, which is saying something. The typical way to order is just to ask for the tasting menu and then sit back and eat. We did. We had a delightful server and the meal was superb.

I tried to keep track:

Crostini:

Persimmon, shrimp, creme fraiche, caviar

Spanish mackerel, smoked eggplant, wheat bread. Black cumin seeds

Raw oysters

Vegetable salad

Salmon sashimi with wasabi sorbet

Red mullet fried with sauces

Jackfish ceviche with red onion

Seafood soup, coconut milk, calamari, shrimp (inexplicably, no picture.) It was delicious!

Shrimp and artichokes in a buttery sauce

Israeli couscous with seasonal seafood, soy sauce

Tuna in yogurt. Great combination.

Kneffa (with ice cream, not pictured) and me eating it. Amazing dessert!

And then we went back to our rooms to sleep it off.

Next day we traipsed around Akko which is a delightful seaside village. Lots of climbing and beautiful views. They have a terrific restored ruin (like so much of the Middle East the old villages are collapsed on top of each other under the current one) and it’s a lovely place.

And then we drove to a spot in the forest where I napped in the car (trying to ward off an encroaching cold) and everyone else foraged for our dinner with a woman who teaches sustainability at a local college and is helping to plant a “food forest” — a sustainable, self contained ecosystem where people can feed themselves from the land.

They find wild garlic and sorrel and thistle and other plants and cook a feast while I sleep.

Stir fry, sorrel rice, salad and bread cooked over an open fire. I wake up to a feast — a delightful meal for which I had to do no work.

A couple of hours drive brings us to an ancient B&B in another charming and layered town called Tzvat. Generous and lovely breakfast in the courtyard.

Tzvat is a lovely village with an artist quarter that is full of creative and unusual hand crafted Judaica (and a million wild cats.)

We snacked on a Yemeni pancake full of cheese, herbs, tomato and spice and a jelly donut, before climbing into the van for a nap (me) and a trip to the Golan Heights.

Right now I am sinking into sleep in another comfortable B&B, just over a hill from Syria and within shouting distance of Lebanon. We had dinner with a lovely Druze woman whom Jerry and I had met before, but I’ll save it for the next post.

Trying to reread this with eyes that won’t stay open, literally. I see that I seem to have a verb tense usage problem, dancing between the present and the past. I am too tired to fix it and besides, that’s how we spent the last five days — past and present combined.

Final note. I have to say, Amir is a superb guide who has found us treasure after treasure. But more about him later too.

Good night! 💖

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