Israel Mifgash - Day 8
To say that we have been completely spoiled by the weather here in Israel is an understatement. We have not seen a single drop of rain (which is too bad for Israel as Israel is suffering from winters that are too dry) and the skies today were crystal clear for our final day in Haifa. Since Haifa has really been our “home base,” we decided to spend the day learning more about the City of Haifa – and its many and diverse religions, customs, histories, nationalities and ethnicities.
We started out from school this morning – as the strike ended last night. The American students went to class this morning for the first hour with their Israeli partners. What a surprise for our Boston-based students! They were truly amazed by the difference in the educational process here in Israel, where teachers and students are on a first-name basis, few students raise a hand to speak, and where there is a lot of animated debate (basically kids and teachers yelling at each other in the most loving ways!) in the classroom setting. Our kids could not believe that any learning could be accomplished in this atmosphere, and yet, we know that Hugim is one of the finest high schools in the State of Israel, and Israelis are pretty serious about achievement and academic success.
Following their authentic classroom experiences, we were met by Grade 9 students who met us outside to converse with the Israeli and American students in Grades 10 and 11. These Grade 9 students are the “candidates” from which next year’s HiBuR delegation will be chosen! So, the students all sat in small groups outside on the basketball court overlooking the Port of Haifa, and, with the help of some prepared questions, had some lively dialogue about impressions from those in this year’s delegation. There was a feeling of excitement among this younger group of students, and now they have faces and personalities to go with the program that they have heard about in theory in their English classes.
We then got on the bus to begin to explore Haifa. Haifa is a City that is built into the side of a mountain. People have been drawn to Haifa for many hundreds of years mostly because of its port location on the Mediterranean Sea. As such, it has been a place of trade and commerce and the coming together of many cultures and peoples as it passed from one sovereign power to another. We learned that Haifa really grew at its fastest rate under the British, as Jews escaping from oppression in Europe and then the Holocaust came by boats from Europe in order to seek refuge in the Land of Israel – prior to its becoming at State in 1948. While the bottom of the mountain next to the Port of Haifa was the earliest part of the City that was settled, eventually, as Haifa grew more crowded and as not all of the people coming to Haifa were involved in trade and commerce, life in Haifa began to “climb” up the mountain and people settled throughout the three-tiered City. With the bottom of the mountain containing some of the oldest neighborhoods of Haifa, the middle level, known as “Hadar” is comprised of some of the neighborhoods that were built later than the bottom, during the 18th and 19th centuries. The top of the mountain, where the Huggim School is located and where most of the students live is known as “Mercaz Ha-Carmel.”
We began our tour on the top of Haifa where we visited one of most famous lookouts in all of the Israel. We stood over the famous Ba’hai Temple where the international Ba’hai Headquarters is housed and look down at the magnificent gardens that continue from the top all the way down to the middle of the mountain where it ends in a special neighborhood that is called the “German Colony.” But this Germany Colony and its immigrants from the mid-19th century are not to be confused with the German Jews who were coming to Israel and the United States at about the same time. These Germans were Christians who were coming so that they would be in exactly the right place to greet the Messiah and the Second Coming of Jesus. Their homes can be seen throughout Haifa as they were built in European rather than Middle Eastern style. They have red clay roofs that are angled as they are in Europe rather than flat as most are here in the Middle East; they are also built with heavy stones up off the ground on fairly high “platforms.” Both the roofs and the platforms are reminiscent of their homes in Germany where there was snow and very cold and icy weather! The Germans got it wrong, of course – as the climate is far more temperate than Germany with a dusting of snow every couple of years.
From the German Colony, we took a short walk to one of the most colorful places in all of Israel, and also one of the most diverse areas in the world. Haifa is a very international and intercultural place; as the third largest city in Israel, it is also the city in which Jews, Christians and Muslims have lived side by side for centuries – working together, socializing, and sharing this beautiful city with one another. Our short walk to Wadi NisNas served as a perfect example of a city that has been inhabited by both Jews, Muslims and even Christians over the years, and has changed and changed again particularly since 1948 and the birth of the State.
In Wadi NisNas our fabulous guide Gili treated us to a culinary tour of the neighborhoods and the market which focused on some of the most delicious Arab cuisine in Israel. The marketplace in Wadi NisNas was bright and colorful and much more “chill” than that of the Arab Market in Jerusalem. There is much more of an interchange of ideas, food and conversation between those who visit this market than there is in Jerusalem, too. People were buying fruits and vegetables for the weekend and there was a fabulous aroma of cooking from many different Arab traditions and nationalities. We stopped at several places along our walk to sample some of the most fabulous food – typical Arab dishes with spices and herbs, made up of some of the unique fruits and vegetables grown only in Israel. We tasted some delicious home-cooked snacks – including stuffed cabbage and stuffed grape leaves, made fresh with the spices and herbs that were made right in the market. We saw very, very little packaged foods; all of the delicacies were homemade and many people were selling goodies made in their own kitchens at home and brought to the market and sold. It was a very “personal” market experience, where there was a lot of friendly dialogue and a relaxed and comfortable feeling of “home.”
After we snacked our way through the market and sampled some of the spices, special “honey” made from pomegranate and grapes, and learned about certain types of produce that are native to the Land of Israel – some dating back to Biblical times – we finished out our tour with two of the most favorite Arab desserts in Israel: K’nafe and Baklava. But wait… there was more… JUST IN CASE anyone was still hungry we made our final stop in Wadi NisNas at one of the many excellent Shawarma restaurants in Haifa before making our way back to the bus and then up the mountain once more to school.
We said goodbye to our guide, Gili, and thanked him for an amazing week of touring and learning all about Israel. Israeli tour guides are a special group of people – unlike guides anywhere else in the world. In addition to sharing their vast knowledge of Israel (they spend two years full-time in “tour-guide school”) they also share a piece of themselves with their travelers. We were so lucky to have had such a terrific guide who just ‘got’ our group. He seemed to know exactly how much to ‘guide’ and when to let go and just let our students explore a little on their own. Many of us have kept in touch with our Israeli tour guides over the years, and hopefully we will be fortunate to introduce future groups to Gili and to our bus driver Igor.
As Shabbat set in, it was time to bid farewell. Not from the Israeli students yet – who will be traveling with us to Tel Aviv tomorrow – but from their lovely families, who made us all feel at home these part 8 days. We gathered at a nearby school, and as if we didn’t yet eat today, we were received with a generous and spread of delicious home made food – the other bookend for the potluck dinner we had at Simchat Torah, only 4 short months ago. We had a lovely shabbat dinner, expressed our gratitudes, and the Israeli students shared an emotional presentation with photos from both mifgashim, as well as a highly entertaining (and competitive) trivia game featuring our shared experiences. It was had finding a dry eye in the room.
Tomorrow we will spend the day with all of the Israelis in Tel Aviv – doing a little touring, a little shopping, and making plans for the next time we will see one another.
Shabbat Shalom from Haifa to Boston!
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