Destinations, Middle East

On the Road Again

March 5, 2009 • By

In our Hertz rental car, Jill and I headed along the Mediterranean Sea to Akko(Acre), a mix of Arabs and Jews and some Greek Orthodox. Akko is another stoned ancient city complete with a mosque, old city walls, a citadel and a fish market. Even though we ate an entire buffet at 9 am, it was nearly 11 am and time to eat hummus. Israelis insist SAID is the best and the fuul/hummus pickle mixture did not disappoint.

With our bellies very full, we ventured to Rosh Hanikra the last stop in Israel on the Lebanese border(not an open border). It’s an incredibly gorgeous place where the sea crashes against the mountains carving out these amazing water caves. The process has been going on for thousands of years. We took a cable car to the bottom of the mountain and walked through some of the tunnels. Inside the caves, we moved quickly not sure if the intensity of the waves would drench us or blow us to the ground.

We followed the scenic route along the Lebanese border to Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee. The rains from the last few days turned the landscape bright green and lush. We drove a curvy path up and down the mountain tops passing cute little villages along the way. It was completely safe but there were several cities we drove through that showed signs of war, damage and the loss of life. Finally, we reached our destination in Tiberias steps away from the Sea of Galilee. To my disappointment, I learned the Kinneret(the sea) is actually a freshwater lake fed by the River Jordan and natural springs from surrounding hilltops. Tiberias contains some of the deepest roots to Christianity in Israel. People from all over the world flock to Tiberias, the place where Jesus lived most of his life. It is believed that Jesus walked on water and assembled the 12 apostles on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. A few miles away on a mountain overlooking the water, Jesus delivered his famous Sermon on the Mount giving Christians the Beatitudes (Blessed are the poor in spirit; Blessed are the Meek, etc).

Jill and I hired a local guide to learn more of the area’s history. To say we received a religious tour is one thing; to say we learned the freaky side of mysticism is quite another. Don’t get me wrong, I learned some interesting facts but I am still trying to figure out what exactly our guide Mordechai showed us. I definitely learned some crazy shit about rabbis and even more about seeing beyond the words. Jill described Mordechai best. He is a California hippie type who likely grew up secular but became orthodox or “religious” later in life. People refer to that conversion as baaltschuva. It seems to happen to many Americans and Europeans who visit Israel. When Mordechai was 5-years-old, his parents moved from California to Israel. (He has dual citizenship). At 30, he is studying to become a rabbi and if I must add looking for a religious wife to settle down with and live the simple life.

Back in the rain, we walked through the narrow alleyways of Zefat. It’s a city set high in the mountains in Northern Israel. During the British occupation, Arabs and Jews fought over the city forcing the British to draw a line separating the two groups. Today, Zefat serves as an artists colony but it’s also widely known as a place to study the mysticism of religion. Mordechai showed us some amazing underground caves where rabbis wrote and studied. Legend has it St. Peter studied in one of the caves for seven years. The tour consisted of more ancient religious haunts then actual historical sites. We heard story after story of people having dreams and later the dreams becoming reality like a Rabbi saving his congregation from an earthquake or a man putting a wedding ring on a dead person’s finger not buried deep enough underground “six feet under” and later the woman coming back from the dead to marry the prankster. When I didn’t think it could get worse, a man from a kaballah center cornered us at lunch and explained to us how to slaughter animals properly. He went on to show us a kaballah book that illustrates how emotion and science can change water. I was too busy inhaling my chicken pancake thing to care what he was saying but afterward Jill stated the obvious,”that whole slaughter thing was a little weird.”

Our tour ended at Mt. Meron, where thousands of people celebrated the death of a famous rabbi by the name of Moises Rabanow(no idea how to spell). It was a crazy scene with people dancing and rejoicing in the pouring rain. Jill tried to explain the praying that I witnessed by saying the people were covering their eyes to be closer to God. I thought the incessant bowing and hip flexion reminded me of a spirit exhuming a body in some horror flick. The women (since we were separated) literally had their heads smashed into their prayer books. On the other side, the men’s area for prayer, there were three-year-old boys receiving their first haircut. Picture many bald babes walking around pulling on their parents. This rite of passage is a joyous occasion for religious Jews. As this was a orthodox group, the men were donning their black hats and women dressed in long skirts and covered their hair.

Jill wouldn’t let me laugh and I fully appreciated the experience but it was nothing less than a bit of a freak show to the outside observer.