Monday, June 30, 2008

Response to Comments

On my previous post on hiking in the Golan, I received the following comment, abbreviated for brevity:

(Referring to my comment that the Hareidi boys going down the stairs looked like waddling penguins)

Your penguin comment is offensive.

Okay. Whatever. I don't see what's offensive about it, and since you didn't say, I can't respond.

BTW, "Haredi" is the preferred term, not "ultra" orthodox. It is a misconception to believe that they are one in the same.Please help to educate your fellow Jews, and not denigrate others.

I did use the term Hareidi. However, many Planet Israel readers are not in tune with the Israeli-religious Hebrew lingo that those of us here live in are swimming in, so I had to use the term "Ultra-Orthodox," which is the universally accepted language used in the mainstream media. The fact is, I could be offended about the word "Ultra," since it implies that Hareidim are more stringent in their mitzvah observance than other Orthodox Jews. I could also be offended by the term "Orthodox," since this is a label invented by later breakaway sects of Jews for what used to be known simply as "Judaism," in order to legitimize their own, divergent beliefs, as being just another shade or "stream" of Judaism. But when someone calls me an "Orthodox" Jew, I just smile and nod. Not every conversation has to be a battle.

You're not one of those American Jews who sees Haredim as "The Other," are you?

Well, in some sense I do. After all, the whole point of wearing the clothing of 18th century Eastern European Gentile nobility is to set one's self apart from society, to make one's self the "other." I would think they might be offended were I not to consider them to be "The Other," after all that effort. I saw those kids slogging through the underbrush, pushing their way through thorns and branches, while wearing three-piece suits, and thought, "Gosh, that's odd. It must be hot under there. It must take a lot of work to dress like that all the time." After all, there is something a bit, well, "otherly," seeing people in three-piece-suits and Borsalino hats out in the bush. I admire the effort and hardship they must go through, though I personally consider it a bit misplaced.

And I don't know what the connection between being an American Jew and seeing Haredim as "The Other" is. After all, most Israeli Jews are very hostile to Haredim. Most American Jews, at least the ones I know, are pretty accepting.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Stalactite Cave

We met back up at the Stalactite cave, with a panoramic vista of Beit Shemesh.
Unfortunately, the hike was much more difficult than expected, so the group was slowed down. Because the group was slowed down, we weren't able to miss the heat of the day as the sun rose higher and higher in the sky. At one point it reached 94 Fahrenheit, which really wiped everyone out. Some stopped in the shade and waited. Only about half actually made it to the cave.
Note to future coordinators: when you hear it's going to be a hot day, don't be afraid to ask to have the route shortened. There's no shame in changing plans.

Another note to future coordinators: When some people who have hiked the route or read about it say it's an easy hike, but the guide goes and hikes it and tells you it's difficult, take the guide's word for it over the others.

The stalactite cave was fantastic.

The cave was discovered in 1974, blasted open during a quarry. It's about an acre and a half of fantastical, bizarre rock formations formed over the ages.
Looks like brains.
These tendrils of stone actually grew up, defying gravity. Scientists think that this may be caused by magnetic fields, but nobody is sure.

A stalactite and stalagmite reaching towards each other, almost touching. There's only a once centimeter gap, which will only take a few centuries to fill. They call it, "Romeo and Juliet."

Overall, I'd say the cave was spectacular, and would definitely recommend it for anyone in the Beit Shemesh region.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hiking Nahal Sorek

It was my turn to organize a hike for MOSAIC, the Jerusalem Anglophonic hiking group, so I called the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and asked for a recommendation. Since it's summer now, and it was going to be hot, we decided to hike to the Stalactite Cave near Beit Shemesh.

Here's a map of the route to the trailhead I made for the group for anyone interested in trying it on their own. The trail starts at Bar Behar (the bar on the mountain,) where you can pick up an ice cream for a good sugar rush.

The group gets started.

We hiked along the Sorek River (stream really,) which empties from Jerusalem down to the coast.

The Sorek Valley.

Made a left turn towards Deir A-Sheikh.

It is, in fact, the ruins of an Arab village abandoned in 1948. Some of the most intense fighting during the Independence War was slugged out in the hills between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, in the "Battle of the Roads," a struggle to keep the roads and supply lines open. Most of the Arab villages in this region were abandoned during the fighting, and today stand as ruin, although a few are still inhabited.

Eventually we reached Dar A-Sheikh, the Sheikh's Tomb.

The ruins made a nice cool, shady spot for the hikers.
The train passes. The Sorek River, now mostly sewage, passes underneath.

Asher the guide points at something of great interest and profound meaning, though I forget what now.

Continuing on, we passed over the Jerusalem-Beit Shemesh rail line.

Some interesting bark.

Unfortunately, at this point, we had an injury, so I escorted our injured hiker to be picked up by the ranger while the rest of the group continued. We met up again at the cave, coming next!For some reason, this dog attached herself to the group at the beginning of the hike and started following us all the way through.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Golan Heights 6: The White Falls

Previous posts in this series:

When the Jews came to the land of Israel, at the end of 40 years' wandering in the desert, they set up camp on the East side of the Jordan River, and Mosheh (Moses) began delivering his final sermon, which would become the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy.) While there, the tribes of Gad and Reuvein (Reuben) decided that the grass actually wasn't any greener on the other side of the river, and they preferred to settle where they were, on the eastern side of the Jordan. Mosheh agreed, on condition that Gad and Reuvein would serve as the shock troops of the Israelite invasion, and would not settle on their land until the other tribes had conquered their sections as well.

They agreed, and one more provision was stipulated. Because the eastern side was materially richer, and spiritually poorer than the western side of the Jordan River, the temptation might exist, after the years passed on, to follow their material desires and begin worshipping idols. Therefore, the tribe of Menasheh (Menasses) was split into two, and the northern half was settled in the far northeast, to keep an eye on Gad and Reuvein. The eastern half of Menasheh was settled deep in the Samarian hills, providing a link between the east and west sides of the Jordan River. Today, this half of Menasheh east of the river is the Golan Heights.
Anyway, on with our hike...
The back of Baruch's head, pushing through the underbrush.

Elazar arrives at the "White Falls" (so-called because of the rock colors.)
Hiking down to the White Falls.

Unable to resist the temptation, I jumped in.
Later, we passed by a Hareidi (ultra-Orthodox boy's school) heading back towards the falls, in the direction we had come.

The Hareidi kids going down the steps looked like little waddling penguins from a distance.

A condor circles over our hiking group, looking for his own lunch.

And that's it from the Golan! Until next time, at least.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Golan Heights 5: Legitimacy

Previous posts in this series:

Golan Heights 1: On the Road Again
Golan Heights 2: Flowers in the Jordan Valley
Golan Heights 3: The Beit Shean Valley
Golan Heights 4: Up to the Heights

Settling into our tent-cabin on the Golan, we got ready for a day of hiking.
Home sweet home.

Hakey-Sack Warmups after a long bus ride.

We unloaded our stuff, then loaded right back onto the bus to go to the El Al river (no relation to Israel's national airline.)
Despite the fact that both land masses were captured in 1967, Israel's attachment to the Golan Heights is far stronger than it is to Judea and Samaria (the "West Bank".) This, in spite of the fact that Israel has a much stronger legal claim to Judea and Samaria. After all, the Golan Heights was on the opposite side of a mutually recognized international boundary between the sovereign state of Syria and the sovereign state of Israel.

Judea and Samaria, on the other hand, were mandated by the league of nations after the First World War to become a part of the future Jewish homeland. The later partition plan by the United Nations in 1947 would have placed Judea and Samaria (and a good chunk of pre-67 Israel) under Arab rule. However, when the Arabs opted for an attempted genocide of the Jews instead, sending an invading column of five Arab armies, this nullified the UN partition plan. This is verified by the fact that that Israel's pre-67 territory was recognized de-facto, even areas Israel captured beyond the 1947 partition plan, as well as the international community's rejection of the annexation of Judea and Samaria to Jordan.
Moreover, the Jews who moved to Judea and Samaria were, in many cases, returning to villages they had lived in prior to 1947, which were destroyed by the invading Jordanian army. As far as I know, Syria destroyed no settlements in the Golan Heights because there were none in place in 1947. To the extent that international law, which is really just international opinion based on the emotions and passions of the time, is relevant, the settlers on the Golan Heights are less legitimate than the settlers of Judea and Samaria.

So why the wholehearted embrace of the Golan, with it's diminished international legitimacy, by those who would simultaneously expell the Jewish inhabitants and withdraw from Judea and Samaria? Well, the answer is simple. There are no Arabs here. There are a few Druze in the northeast corner of the Golan in villages like Mass'ada and Madjl Shams (an Arab Cognate of Migdal Shemesh, Tower of the Sun.) These Druze, while remaining loyal to Syria in case the Syrians ever return, are not generally involved in terrorism or fomenting problems. In 1982 Israel annexed the Golan Heights and offered them citizenship, which they rejected. They occasionally break out into rioting, but that's not atypical of Israeli Arabs anywhere. It's usually limited to the villages themselves and the problem is manageable.
The Golan is already approaching a Jewish majority, and the vast open spaces and green fields are just too sweet to give away. But there's also another reason. Many Israelis believe (incorrectly) that there is no biblical history on the Golan Heights. It's just nice land, without complications. The pulsating spirituality of the biblical birthplace of Judaism in Judea and Samaria, on the other hand, sends shivers down the spines of dedicated secularist Israelis. After all, the whole point of Zionism was to replace Judaism with secular nationalism. The deepest real claim Israel has to Judea and Samaria is biblical. To make that claim, many Israelis would have to confront the reality that they have failed to sever the connection with their Jewish past, that when they look in the mirror they may see an Israeli, but everyone else looks at them and sees a Jew.

As for me, seeking legitimacy and favor from the same community of nations who showed their true colors in the 1940's is a total waste of energy and time. I'm much happier just hiking and enjoying the scenery.

Yours truly, in the fields of the Golan.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sheva Brachot of Adam and Chaya Dova Neril

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Sheva Brachot of my fellow Walnut Creek oleh, and frequent travel buddy, Adam. Two weeks ago, I went to his wedding, but unfortunately, forgot my digital film. Besides, his father drafted me into video recording the wedding by camcorder, so I had my hands full in any event. Anyway, if I manage to get a hold of wedding pictures, I'll post those too, but for now, here's the sheva brachot:
Adam and father Mort singing.
Sheva brachot (seven blessings) is a period after a Jewish wedding which lasts seven days, during which special blessings are added to the "Grace after the Meal" when in the presence of the newlyweds.

Dancing about.

Brother Jonothan (remember his wedding?)

Shelley, visiting from Walnut Creek, reciting one of the blessings

Jonathan recites one of the sheva brachot

The newlyweds

Father and Father-in-law dancing

Yours truly reciting the final blessings over the meal