Israel Mifgash - Day 6
Israel is such a small place, but it is a land of contrasts. Yesterday, we went quickly from the intensity of Jerusalem and its holy sites to the quiet wilderness of Masada and the Dead Sea, and today we spent the day in the very green part of Israel in the middle of the state known as the Galilee. The Galilee reminds us of the many Biblical characters and events that were said to have happened there as well as the agricultural foundations of the Jewish people in this land. It is an area filled with both history and natural beauty.
Today we began our adventures a short drive from Haifa in Elro’i which is part of the Mount Carmel National Park. It is a hilly area between two important valleys – the Jezreel and the Zevulun. Due to its proximity to Haifa, its beautiful scenery, its multitude of outdoor activities, and its many agricultural products, this area was a perfect place to begin a morning walk in nature. It is hard to believe it is still winter here in Israel – today the temperature was warm; the sun was shining and the white blossoms are still blooming on the almond trees which can be seen throughout this area known as the Lower Galilee.
We hiked to a small spring and sat together as Gili made us authentic Turkish coffee to enjoy. After that, Anson and Jada he led us in music and singing with guitar and ukulele! Gili also pointed out various edible wildflowers and plants, like the yellow mustard, and we even tried some of them ourselves (to our student’s disappointment, the honey-mustard flower was out of season). At the spring, we also had a chance to meet Stefani – the newest member of the local Boston-Haifa Partnership team, who stopped by to meet the group and say hi!
And… it was already almost lunchtime! We continued our exploration of the Lower Galilee at what is known as “Beth Lehem of the Galilee” – not to be confused with the “other” Beth Lehem to the south, which is said to be the birthplace of Jesus. Beth Lehem of the Galilee is a beautiful village in the hills of the Lower Galilee, between the cities of Haifa and Nazareth, and is also one of TripAdvisor’s top recommendations of places to visit in Israel. The village draws people from all over Israel thanks to its quaint stone buildings which date back to the 19th century when Beth Lehem of the Galilee was built by German Christians who came to the Holy Land to hasten the second coming of the Messiah. These Germans were known as “Templars,” and Beth Lehem of the Galilee was one of several important “Templar Colonies” found throughout Israel.
Lunch was waiting for us at an outdoor restaurant which specializes in a Yemenite dish called “Jahnun.” Jahnun is prepared from dough which is rolled out thinly and brushed with butter or margarine and aged in a smoked vessel, traditionally using smoke from the wood of a specific tree. A little honey is sometimes added in addition, whereupon the dough is rolled up into tight rolls before cooking. It was described perfectly by one of the students as “buttered dough.” The Yemenite Jewish community brought this dish to Israel and popularized it. It is traditionally cooked overnight on a ‘Shabbat hotplate’ at a very low temperature. The cooking process usually starts on Friday (in the morning), and the dough is taken out and eaten on Shabbat (Saturday) morning. Because Jahnun can be cooked continuously on a low flame, it is the perfect food for Shabbat – because it can be kept warm for hours and eaten any time of the day. Everyone tried the Jahnun — some liked it better than others. It was certainly a new experience for most of us.
Following our Jahnun and hard-cooked egg lunch outdoors, we traveled a very short distance to the famous Beth Lehem of the Galilee Spice Farm. Wow! We were only supposed to be there for twenty minutes, but everyone had such a good time smelling and tasting the various spices and granolas, nuts and dried fruits…that we ended up staying there for over an hour. Spoiler alert… many gifts to take home to the US were bought today at the Spice Farm. Known throughout Israel, the Spice Farm has many natural and organic products and special blends of spices – some “secret” – from over fifty years of experience in growing, drying, blending, herbs and spices to improve quality of life and to honor local culinary traditions and tastes. Prepare yourselves for some authentic middle eastern culinary treats upon this group’s return home!
We concluded our day the way we started it – with another beautiful hike as the sun began to sink lower into the horizon. But this time, it was a hike down the side of a hill — known as Tel Jezreel – that ended in the beautiful Jezreel Valley where there was a small reservoir filled with water. Gili explained that the Jezreel Valley has been one of the most important strategic places in the Land of Israel all the way back to the Bible, as this valley connected the large super-powers of Mesopotamia and Egypt. As we walked down the Tel (or “hill”), Gili showed us how to spot ancient shards of pottery, probably dating back nearly two thousand years to the Roman times. We even found a piece of flint that Gili – who is an archaeologist – believed was from prehistoric times, at least 15,000 years ago. The Land of Israel is a place where we are always walking on civilizations – one on top of the other – where there is history everywhere, where imagination leads us to interesting conclusions about how people lived their lives, and where stories from every era are told and re-told.
And so, we add our own story to those of the Jewish people here in this land. And our story today concluded at school where our students were not quite finished with their day and plans were being made to spend the evening at Haifa’s mall. Israel is indeed a land and a people of contrasts and colors.