Friday, December 9, 2011

Winter storm winds are picking up

The winds picked up on yesterday.  Apparently my olive tree and basil thought they were a sail.  

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Solar bus stops in Tel Aviv

These solar powered bus stop information boards are starting to pop up around Tel Aviv.  I don't know much about them, but by making them electronic, I imagine they will have more timely information for riders.  It's a great idea for a city in the middle east!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Red Sea Corals

At the tail end of our trip to Petra, Jordan in October we spent one night along the Jordanian section of the Red Sea shore.  Mom and I took a boat tour with a see through seating level below the water line.  It was a fun way to see the coral reefs, including a sunken ship and an old American tank that was placed there specifically to try to encourage new coral development.

On our drive back to town, we talked to the staff of the company and it turns out they are involved in the preservation of the corals, as well as running their tourism business. 

Below is a summary I wrote following the speaker at the first class meeting on November 3rd. 

During our first seminar, Eugene Rosenberg, Dept. of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology at TAU provided us an overview of his lab’s research into coral bleaching.  He shared with us the three anthropogenic factors contributing to coral reef deterioration – 1) water pollution, 2) over fishing, and 3) seawater temperature increases.  He elaborated on the impact of temperature increases which correlated with a loss of endosymbiotic algae every summer from 1995-2002.  

However, since then, his team has not been able to isolate V. shiloi, the bacteria studied and understood to act as an infectious disease for the O. patagonica coral found in the eastern Mediterranean.  This discovery led to development of his coral probiotic hypothesis.  The importance of this finding is that it shows that coral, like all other plants and animals, live in a symbiotic relationship with a set of bacteria.  This combination of host and microorganisms is called a holobiont.  The bacteria are more rapidly adaptable to changes in the holobiont’s environment than the host is.  Over time, the type and quantity of bacteria that joins the host impacts the overall function of the holobiont.  In this case, the coral acquired beneficial bacteria that killed V. Shiloi. 

It is only in recent decades that the ability to study bacteria that are “viable but not culturable,” (VBNC) has become possible.  New techniques like this have increased our knowledge, and yet we are only at the beginning.  For example, Professor Rosenberg shared the history of knowledge on bacteria in the human gut, believed to have about 100 types in the 1970s, and now known to have at least 40,000.  In addition, he stated that these bacteria hold 200 times greater genetic material than we, as the human host, do.  It is also important to note that the holobiont is not just the sum of the genetic material of the host plus the microorganisms.  The symbiotic relationship enhances the adaptability and survival of the collective group.

His findings are significant because he has extrapolated the coral probiotic hypothesis to the hologenome theory of evolution.  This theory has far-reaching, cross-disciplinary implications, from human health, to social structures, and just about every topic under the umbrella of environmental studies.  It has the potential to change the way we view relationships between species, from the Darwinian focus on competition, to that of cooperation.

Back to School

I haven't been posting much lately, as I have become a bit busier this past month. After 10 years, I am going back to school. I signed up for the International Environmental Studies masters degree program at the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University. This is the first year of the new English language program, but it is based on the Hebrew program that is internationally recognized, and many courses are taught by the same Professors.  I have 15 classmates and they range in experience, from an Economics masters, a school teacher, a variety of social science majors, and several environmental studies undegrads.  Some are just out of undergrad, but I discovered that my German classmate shares my birthday - yes, my exact birthday!

The last week of October was orientation week. We began on Monday and Tuesday with meetings on campus at Tel Aviv University.   I had to temper my expectations for organization as the University runs like the rest of Israel - they don't seem to get too concerned about the details. ID cards weren't ready, course offerings were not finalized (and therefore neither were syllabi), online access was not yet available, and yet we were being asked to meet deadlines utilizing these tools. To our program coordinator's credit, it appeared that our class was considerably more organized than other programs. But she was running into the same institutional barriers that we were, and working feverishly to address them.   As an American who immigrated to Israel about 10 years ago, she has been wonderful in helping us navigate this new experience.

Wednesday and Thursday of orientation consisted of a "Tiyul," or field trip. We were taken north to Israel's national water carrier, Mekorot, for a tour and lectures about the country's water sources. Israel has only one fresh water lake as I have mentioned before - the Sea of Galilee, known locally as the Kinneret. It also has two natural aquefers in the north. Already over 30% of their water comes from desalination, and this is expected to become 50-70% in the next 5-10 years. They re-use grey water (waste from homes) at a rate of 78%, far beyond any other country in the world. They treat it, then send it out for agricultural use.

We stayed overnight at a simple kibbutz hotel, common in the north, then visited one of the few significant year-round water sources (I would call it a stream, but they call it a river). It is in the Banias Valley (We visited this site with my dad last May, when it was rushing full of muddy water from spring rain. This time it was clear.)

Our last stop was the Hulu Valley, where feeding practices have made it a major stop on the bird migration from Europe to Africa and back. We saw pelicans and cranes by the thousands. They gave us a brief demonstration of the bird research they do here, and I released one of the tiny tagged birds.

In case you are interested in learning with me, our pre-program reading included:

1. Tal, Alon, Pollution in a Promised Land: An Environmental History of Israel, 2002. Chapters 1, 2, 12.

2. Meadows, Donnella H. "Envisioning a Sustainable World," 1996.

3.  Hardin, Garret "The Tragedy of the Commons",
Science, December 1968, Volume 162, pp. 1243-1248.

4. Lovins, Amory; Lovins, L. Hunter; Hawken, Paul "A Road Map for Natural Capitalism," 1999.

Summer Reading

Two books that I read over the summer, and highly recommend:

Last Child in the Woods:  Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv

Changing Planet, Changing Health:  How the Climate Crisis Threatens Our Health and What We Can Do about It, by Paul Epstein and Dan Ferber

I have run out of free reading time outside course assignments at this point, but I will try to share interesting course readings this year as well.  There have been some great ones already in the first four weeks - in Environmental Economics, Ethics, and Corporate Environmental Strategy. 

Lots to think about, and maybe even to build a career around....

Finished my beginner jewelry class

My 11 sessions of metal jewelry making classes are over.  In addition to the two rings, I made a pendant (right) which required sawing out a design, saudering the thin sheet of silver to a thicker one, saudering a raised, open edge (this was a technique they wanted us to learn), and then using acid to change the color of the silver.
My final project was a pair of earrings in which square stones needed  be set.  I found some little moon stones, and designed these silver flowers to go with them, with the flower stem acting as the piece through the ear.
I also snuck in a little extra project between waiting for assistance from the teachers, which you can see on the right side of this photo - small rounded and hammered silver stud earrings. 
I hope to continue learning, but need to see how demanding my masters program is first.  Even fun activities lose their appeal when they become another thing you have to squeeze into a week.   

Friday, October 21, 2011

Visiting Dubai

I am glad that I joined Dan to "see" Dubai for a few days back in March, but I wouldn't want to live there.  And I don't have any particular need to go back.  It impressed me as a screaming example of what is wrong with the world.

Shortly after my visit, I saw this article - UAE minister reveals that Dubai is amongst the top producers of waste in the world .  I noticed a lot of wasted water to create green grass around highways, A/C cranking with doors open, and what appeared to be a culture based entirely on consumerism.

Dubai is steel and pavement plopped down in the middle of a totally dry, arid desert.  The road noise makes the outdoors unpleasant (as does the heat). 

All the beaches are private (this made me appreciate the fact that the entire shoreline of Tel Aviv is designated public, so the hotels and rich can not prohibit the rest of us). 
There were a few remnants of the traditional culture that we saw, including building design with an open steeple that draws airflow into the building and acts like natural air conditioning.  We could learn from that.

We went up to the observation level of the Burj Khalifa (the building I am standing in front of).  From there I took the photo of the city from the sky.  The air quality was never clear while we were there.

The malls are bigger than the entire town that I spent my childhood in, LaConner.  We walked through to see the indoor ski area (see photo with Dan).  Otherwise it was too much, at least for me, as I do not enjoy shopping in general, and this was definitely shopping on crack.

Dubai is probably the most liberal Muslim place in the middle east.  But even here, practicing Muslim women are usually covered head to toe, sometimes including face masks, and accompanied by a man to go out of the home.  The reason for this, as I understand it, is that men can't control themselves, so women need to hide.  This sounds incredibly disrespectful to both genders.  It doesn't give any credit to either's ability to act as mature adults.  I want to have an open mind, but any culture where the rights of women are less than those of men feels too unjust for me to accept. 

As I said, it was interesting to see once.  I wouldn't have made a separate trip for it though.  There are MANY more interesting and meaningful places in the world.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ford Motor Co. Day of Caring

Each year thousands of companies have an employee volunteering day.  Ford Motor Company is no exception.  They call it the Ford Global Week of Caring.   

Two weeks ago we went out to a small reserve (although typical in size around here) to help mark the trails.  We worked with a guy from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.  He has a PhD in marine biology, and is responsible for a large area of coastline just north of Tel Aviv. 

There is a line in the dirt in the picture to the right that is hard to see, but he told us it was a turtle track across the trail.  There are also fox prints, so this may have been the turtle's last trek.  

I'm always amazed by how much life can exist in dry climates with limited vegetation. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

And the Movement Spreads

When I said Americans should take a page out of the Israeli book with civil disobedience protests, I didn't know it was coming so soon.  It is clearly in it's infancy, but over the coming weeks we will see if Americans can accomplish what the citizens in other countries around the world have had varying degrees of success with - fundamental change in their government and it's priorities.

Today is the first I have heard of these protests, although they have been going on for over two weeks already.  This article talks a little about the lack of media focus on this growing movement.

It will be interesting to see where Occupy Wall Street goes....

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Northern Israel

We've made it up north a few times in the past year.  It's only 1-2 hours driving, but there's a mental divide.  It has usually required visitors from abroad to make the trek. 

We had just such an excuse in early September.  We drove north and saw the Roman aqueduct ruins by Casarea, had a snack at a favorite winery visitor's center, and spent the night in Nahariya, the northern most city in Israel.  We enjoyed a delicious seafood tasting menu dinner at the port of Akko, an arabic town inside a 2500 year old fortified port.  The top right photo is of the port as we walked around before dinner.  The middle photo is a mosque inside the fortress walls.

The next morning we visited Rosh HaNikra, caves in the cliffs at the border of Israel and Lebanon.  I was here with Dan in 2006, but we didn't do the cable car and cave tour then.  In the afternoon we drove inland and took our friends ATV'ing in the Golan mountains.  Then we drove home to refresh, before dinner and our friends' flight back to Detroit.  It was a whirlwind 5 day visit!

Although the climate is obviously quite different, and I am not sure I could ever love living in a semi-arid climate the way I love the temperate rainforest at home in the Pacific Northwest, it is a wonderful place to visit and see.  We have only made it out camping once so far.

It was back in June.  We joined local friends at the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) for our first overnight camping experience in Israel.  The lake is the lowest fresh water lake in the world, and that means the air temperature is HOT!  It was almost unbearable, even in the shade.  We slept outdoors under a canopy which turned out to be better than those with tents because the slight breeze kept it comfortable for the night.  Unfortunately the campground was packed with families, in close proximity, so it felt more like an outside city park sleepover than camping.  But we had a great time and felt a bit more like locals ourselves. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What comes after Arab Spring?

There have been wide-spread civil protests this summer in Israel.  The one that has affected me the most has been the doctor's strike.  The one that has made the biggest splash has been the tenting students on Rothchild Street.

On September 4th, Israeli's organized the biggest demonstration ever in Israel.  We were on the beach that afternoon, and a group with banners and a bull horn walked through notifying everyone of the evening rally.  We went for an evening walk in the general direction of the rally, and joined a sea of wall-to-wall people on a major street, Ibn Gvirol, for about 5 blocks, at which point the march turned a corner to head to the square and we turned left to work our way slowly back home.

What felt unusual for such a large demonstration was my sense of safety.   There were families everywhere, with strollers and other baby carriers.  There were children marching along with parents, sometimes helping hold signs.  There were Israeli-Arabs taking part. There were Europeans, Russians, Ethiopians, Nigerians, French, British, Americans - most sharing the commonality of being Israeli.  There was no sense of danger that can sometimes come with crowds of such a large size.  This was a truly peaceful demonstration.

That was 20 days ago.  Focus has again shifted. It is not yet clear what, if anything, will come of the tent city movement.

Last night, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian territories made his bid for Statehood to the United Nations General Assembly.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke afterwards.  I encourage anyone interested in understanding a little about the country I live in currently to listen to this speech (click on the link).  It is not only informative, but he is an excellent orator.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Happy Anniversary

Today Ford launches the new Focus in Israel.  Unlike in the U.S. where new models are released every year, they haven't had a new Focus here in something like five years.  So they make a slightly bigger deal about it.  The press is currently on a cross country test drive.  They were flown to the north this morning, and will return tonight from Eilat. 

I woke this morning to this picture in my email from Dan.  It is hard to read, but this plane says Air Seychelles on it.  We flew this little arline the day we got engaged, in the islands of the Seychelles, just over four years ago.  Today is our three year wedding anniversary.  And Dan went up in the air on the same plane (it obviously was sold from their fleet, but has not been repainted since arriving in the little local airport north of Tel Aviv).  It was chartered for the Focus launch event.

Happy anniversary!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Somewhere warm for vacation

In August we flew to the Greek Islands of Mykonos and Santorini for a week.  We spent four nights with six friends from Toronto and Ottawa on Mykonos first, where we shared an apartment, worked on our tans, drove ATVs around the Island, and enjoyed the nightlife. 

Then we took a 2 hour ferry over to Santorini and met up with 30 others for the wedding of a friend from Canada/NYC.   

Their ceremony was held at the Captain's House at the northwest side of the Island, overlooking the white-washed cliff houses of Oia. 

On our last day, we took a catamaran cruise to the volcano, sulfer hot springs, and beaches around the Island. 

When we landed in the Tel Aviv airport at 4am, we were greeted by fans of the local soccer team, who were drumming, waving flags and chanting in the arrivals hall so loud that we could hear them throught the walls in the baggage claim area. 

Everyone else went home to northern climates, and we returned to the heat and sun of the middle east.  Strange feeling....

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Gettin' out of Dodge...

I received this update from the Tel Aviv US Embassy this evening.  It seems like a good time to get on a plane to go to Greece for a week.  We leave at the crack of dawn for Mykonos and a wedding in Santorini.  I hear it won't be much of an escape from Israeli's, but it will be great to see friends from the States!

Emergency Message to U.S. Citizens Regarding Attacks in Eilat, August 18, 2011

An armed attack on a public bus occurred shortly after noon local time in southern Israel, north of Eilat near the Ein Netafim junction. Separate attacks on another bus and on a private vehicle, as well as a roadside explosion, have also been reported in the area in the same time period. Additional incidents have been reported in the press, but remain unconfirmed.

According to reports, Routes 10 and 12 leading to Eilat have been closed and the Ovda Airfield has been closed to all flights.  Police have reportedly established several checkpoints along Route 90, which remains open but is experiencing heavy traffic.

Emergency services and security forces are currently in the Eilat area to respond to the attacks and the Government of Israel has placed the country on its highest state of alert.  An Israel Defense Force public announcement has also recommended the public avoid the area to allow security and rescue services to respond to the incidents.

Until further notice, Mission employees and family members are required to receive approval before traveling south of the Be’er Sheva area. The U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens to avoid travel in this area until further notice.

U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and Country Specific Information can be found.  U.S. citizens are also encouraged to review "A Safe Trip Abroad", which includes valuable security information for those both living and traveling abroad.  In addition to information on the internet, travelers may obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747  toll-free in the United States and Canada, or outside the United States and Canada on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.

U.S. citizens are advised to maintain valid travel documents. U.S. citizens living or traveling in Israel are encouraged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).  U.S. citizens without internet access may enroll directly at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate General.  By enrolling, U.S. citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate General to contact them in case of emergency
For further information, U.S. citizens may telephone the Consulate General in Jerusalem at (972) (2) 630-4000 or the Embassy in Tel Aviv at (972) (3) 519-7575 during working hours. After hours (for emergencies), U.S. citizens may telephone either the Consulate General at: (972) (2) 622-7250, or the Embassy in Tel Aviv at: (972) (3) 519-7551.

Current information on travel and security in Israel, Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip may be obtained from the Department of State by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within the United States and Canada, or, from overseas,  a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.  These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).  Up-to-date information on security conditions can also be accessed at  or  You can also download our free Smart Traveler App for travel information at your fingertips. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well.

This email is UNCLASSIFIED.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Several Times in the Past Decade - and it happened today

I woke this morning and looked out at the patio before heading out the door to Tel Aviv Medical Center for my allergy shots.  It was overcast, which is in itself unusual.  But wow!  It was wet!  Uncle Igor would have been very unhappy if he had put his old TV in storage on his patio this summer instead of last!

In the year that I have been here, Israeli's say I have seen the hottest summer on record (last year), the strongest winter storm in 25 years (last December), the most pleasant spring in a very long time, and now rain in August!  Interested in why?  Check out the book I am currently reading, "Changing Planet, Changing Health," by Paul Epstein and Dan Ferber. 


Rain falls in central Israel in surprise summer shower

Light drizzle falls in Tel Aviv, Rishon Letzion, near Ben-Gurion Airport, in a few other central cities.

Published 10:03 14.08.11Latest update 10:03 14.08.11
By Haaretz

Rain fell in central Israel Saturday night and Sunday morning, an anomaly for the usually arid month of August.  A light drizzle was reported in Tel Aviv, Rishon Letzion, near Ben-Gurion Airport and in a few other central cities. The precipitation may spread to north Israel on Sunday afternoon.         
It rarely rains in Israel in August, but this is not as unheard of as one would think. Although it does not happen every summer, rain has fallen in August several times in the past decade.   

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Project #2

This ring took me three classes to make.  It involved calculating the size, sawing the metal, saudering, using sanding, polishing and texturing tools, and finally stone setting. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

It's the 1960's in Tel Aviv

The tents have not disappeared. They have multiplied. And the movement has too. Last night hundreds of thousands of Israeli's peacefully gathered to speak out for a more balanced dispersal of country resources. It seems Israeli's have caught the Arab spring fever. 
We have been out to see the tents, but have not attended a rally. We have heard from our cousin that the rallys have been inspiring and motivational gatherings. And they have captured the nation's attention.
Much of what the Israeli's are looking for from their government can be broadly translated to the needs of the American people right now. Some of the particular issues are different (the USA would benefit from a national healthcare plan, while Israel could benefit from a reset in housing pricing). But the general concept of a government that serves the people, not just the rich and the corporations, resonates. What would it take to get Americans out in protest like this?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Israeli concerns about the U.S. debt crisis

I follow a discussion board here in Israel called Digital Eve, which exists to support professional women.  It's a networking resource.  The U.S. economy made the list of topics this week.  I found this post and reply particularly interesting, as it is a discussion on what Israeli's should do with their retirement savings. 

INITIAL POST:  "A question for the independents on the list: Have you or are you going to move your money to a safer fund(s) in the next couple of days? A fund or funds not linked to the US economy
For the people who are employees: I'm 90% certain that according to the law, you're allowed to request that your individual money be moved wherever you wish.
I was listening to the CNN financial commentators and of course, they couldn't determine which way the stock market will go when the debt crisis is finally voted on."

RESPONSE POST:  "I follow the global economy and stock markets very closely. Even though the US will probably pass the debt ceiling, it won't help with the economy, just avoid a big crash in the markets and be followed by a temporary spike. Its difficult to know what will happen in the markets because the US and other governments are directly intervening in order to keep the markets up. And subsequently its difficult to know where to invest your money.   After the stock markets (and my funds) had recovered,  I moved my Kranot Hishtalmut [retirement funds] to very stable funds.  Again, they haven't performed nearly as well as stock market based funds in the past year. But that's because the American government has been pumping hundreds of billions of dollars through Quantitative Easing to keep the stock market up. If they can keep it up is anybody's guess."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Why we need A/C here...

Because when it is off, it's hot enough to melt candles in our apartment.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Fruits of my labor

Peak flowering season has come and gone - months ago.  My nasturtiums and sweet peas were already going to seed by the first of May.  (Back in Michigan I couldn't even plant them outside until then, as there was still a risk of frost).
Our fruit trees are showing mixed success.  The lime doesn't seem to be developing any limes.  I think that is because it flowered back in winter while the storms were still ripping through town.  Interestingly, the large citrus trees downstairs at the front of our building don't appear to be producing much this year either.  My pomellos finally made a comeback, so I guess they needed the hotter weather to finally revive.  I tossed the dy chezic, a casualty of the winter storms, and replaced it with a plum.  The jury is out on whether that was a good idea or not.  There is new growth, but also brown leaves.  Of the trees, the olive tree is the most impressive, now doubled in size, but with only 5 olives on it this year.  Pictured here is my fig tree which has produced over a dozen figs this summer.  The taste is almost as sweet as dried figs.  What a treat! 

I have so many cherry tomatoes that I have been slicing them open and drying them on the patio table.  It's working!  I cooked my first batch up in a white wine, sun-dried tomato, mushroom, artichoke, chicken pasta last week. 

Now I need to start using my lemongrass, which has tripled in size in 2 months - want to join us for dinner?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tent City, Tel Aviv

This month the college students of Tel Aviv decided to stage a sit-in on the ritziest street in the city - Rothchild.  They have taken over the boulevard median (some of the larger streets here have a tree-lined median with walking/biking paths, benches and sometimes small playgrounds.)  They pitched rows of tents, labeled them with symbolic addresses, and claim to be protesting the high rent prices here.  The idea is generating plenty of media and awareness, and even comment from the Knesset about legislation, but only time will tell exactly what might result, if anything.  The students have not made any demands that would lead to their dispersal, but rather seem to be enjoying their summer break via this camp-out.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I made this

A couple days ago I went to my first jewelry making class.  But it's not like the beading we used to do in school.  This is metal work.  I started with a square flat sheet of brass.  Using a tiny saw, fine sandpaper, and a hammer, I turned it into this, in two hours.  In future classes I'll learn to sauder and include stones.  It is better than yoga.  I had no idea what I would make when I went in.  This is just what came out.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

First world, third world, and toilet paper

I used to think I lived in a first world country, in the U.S.  I was told I was moving to a first world country, surrounded by third world countries, when I moved to Israel.

I'm not sure either is accurate.  The third world is certainly more obvious in Israel, when things like this occur - a donkey drawn cart heading north, a block up from our street.

But a lot of what goes on in the U.S. doesn't seem very first world to me either (like millions of Americans without access to proper healthcare).  The terms are really just a differentiator for GDP, not quality of life.  As Einstein said, "Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted."

On a slightly lighter note, I miss U.S. toilet paper.  For a first world country (and Israel is in the same category as most of Europe in this case), they suck at producing decent toilet paper.  The stuff here reminds me of visiting my dad in Bolivia.  As I begin to run out of the little things that remind me of home, I realize I am not yet adjusted to this new place.  My apartment feels like home, but the country does not.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Community giving in Israel

Just before Passover, I was walking past Rabin Square, where all major Tel Aviv city events have their epicenter.  This was the display - hundreds of empty shopping carts lined up on the square, under a billboard which encouraged Israeli's to donate food so that no family would go without meals during the eight day holiday. 

I have learned a little about local attitudes toward giving and fundraising engagement.  It exists.  But it doesn't sound like the runs/walks/drives are common here.  I'm not certain, but it doesn't sound like corporate fundraising teams exist here.  While a little can be fun and build a sense of community and shared purpose, it can also become so pervasive that people get sick of the "cause of the week" in the U.S. 

The non-profits I've met here struggle to find funding like everywhere else though, and the trend toward unchecked capitalism is invading non-profits just as it is in the U.S., so it will be interesting to see how the culture of giving progresses - will non-profits copy the U.S. model, or find their own path?

Friday, May 27, 2011

A visitor

May brought with it our first house guest from the U.S., which gave us our first significant motivation to get out and see the country of Israel.

After a day of adjusting to his 10 hour time difference, we took dad on a day trip up north.  We started with the Banias waterfall in the Galilee.  Although I managed to pack sandwiches, drinks, and bring the travel guides, I didn't think to look up the weather.  It was the first of May, so we're in the dry season, right?  As we got into the upper Galilee, it rained.  A lot.  And I didn't bring a raincoat.  We were in shorts.  And sneakers.  At the entrance to the waterfall trail, we saw the other tourists washing their shoes off.  We were in for a muddy trek!  Who would have expected thick, sticky mud on the trail in the middle east? 

Our second stop was the Nimrod Fortress. These relatively young ruins, from the Crusades during the 1200's, sat on a hilltop that was almost too cold to walk through!  We ventured on though, and were rewarded with very little company. This afforded us a particularly special opportunity to see some unusual wildlife.

At the far side of the castle, we first noticed these rodent-looking creatures similar to a racoon. But they had no contrasting colors, and no tails. There were dozens of them, and plenty of babies.

We finished the day with a late lunch / early dinner in a Druize village.  Humus with meat, falafel, tehina, grilled meats, pickles, pitas and lemonade with mint to wash it down.  We drove back south past the Sea of Galilee. 
Our second day trip was to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.  I am very proud of this day, as I drove to, and into, Jerusalem.  Driving in New York City is a cake walk compared to this.  I managed to get us to a view point of the old city.  Dad and I walked around the sites that I have visited when I was out there with tour guides.  The coolest part wasn't showing him the holy sites, but taking him to a little hole in the wall for lunch.  It was a place a guide had showed me, where she went for lunch (instead of the overpriced, under quality touristy spots).  We finished the day with a trip to Kalia Beach at the Dead Sea.  This was dad's favorite part of the day, and honestly, I can appreciate that.  Jerusalem, for all it's hype, feels like most other historical places that have been overrun by capitalism.  Everyone is hawking something, and it's all junk.  And there are just too many people, even on a slow day like this one.  While I can appreciate the religious importance that others attribute to the place, I'd much rather go underground and the ruins of where and how people lived.  Unfortunately there is very little of the city accessible in this way, and none of it for free. 

Our third day trip was south toward the Negev desert.  We intended to make it all the way to the crater, about a 2.5 hour drive each way, but were so absorbed in the caves at the Bet Guvrin National Park that we ran out time to get there.  We really went back in time here, to about 300 B.C.  These caves were the homes of the Hellenistic people.  They dug levels down into the ground.  They had large water cisterns, huge pigeon breading rooms, and living space.  The room in the picture to the right was an olive oil processing room.  They have been producing the same food products in this region for literally thousands of years.  In fact, they still are.  We purchased several bottles from the kibutz that still works the olive trees in this area.

We also walked through the Roman ampitheater ruins in this area (built much later than the caves), and drove further south to the Zin Valley where I was last fall for the Deserts Conference.  I was able to show Dan and my dad the amazing valley and canyon here, although we were rushed out by a Park guard who clearly wanted to get off work early.  Even though we only had about a half hour in the park, we got to see an interested interaction between two young bedoin goat herders and the Park Ranger.  He was clearly giving them a hard time for crossing through park territory. 

Our fourth trip was to Caesarea, which I visited back in 2006.  This was a half day trip, the day after the crazy Independence Day party.  Dad and I walked through the park, which I remembered as being slightly more impressive than it seemed to me this time.  I don't know if it is the fact that I have seen ancient Roman ruins in many more countries now, or if tourism has diminished a bit of the mystery and sense of exploration in this place.

We finished the day with a stop at the ancient Roman aqueduct on the sea, having a snack while sitting on top of it, then walking along the beach next to it for 20 minutes or so.  Again, a pontentially moving place, but too many people to fully appreciate it.  These were locals however, not tourists like in the National Park.  It gave new meaning to "under the boardwalk," as in this case it was "under the ancient Roman aqueduct."  You can't experience that in America.
My final trip with dad was to Masada.  Dad was the one who noticed this one in the guidebooks.  I am really glad he did.  It was a hike - a little over a two hour drive each way, but worth it.  It is a 2,000+ year old fortress built on the top of a mountain in the desert, overlooking the Dead Sea.  We sprung for the cable car ride both ways, and were very glad we did.  We got our walking in on the top.  And there isn't much shade, so this is not a good spot to tour in the summer.  Plenty of people start before sunrise and hike up from below, which takes about an hour, they say.  I promise, if you come to visit, we'll take the cable car again.  :)

Like other national parks with ancient ruins, they have worked to rebuild parts to give a better sense of the layout.  Here they did something really helpful though, they drew a line along the walls showing what was found in place, and what was archaeologically rebuilt.  I appreciate this, as it can often be hard to tell what has survived and what has been re-created.  Although the the climate was quite different, it reminded me of my visit to Machu Pichu with my dad in 2000.  Here we were on another continent, on top of another mountain, looking at the ruins of an ancient culture.  I can't help wondering what the ruins of modern culture will look like in 500 years, or 2,000?