Tomorrow we leave Northern Israel and head to the Dead Sea and the Negev Desert. That means the kids are currently involved in a rather elaborate packing scheme that involves saying goodbye to their main luggage until Tuesday afternoon. Though the instructions were repeated at least a dozen times in large group and via individual consult, there still seems to be some confusion about exactly how many outfits are needed to make it through the next couple of days. The main message: if you’re heading into the desert, you need to prepare yourself logistically and spiritually. The desert is a far less generous, but in many ways far more enlightening landscape than the Galilee. Israeli news sources are predicting that tomorrow will be the hottest day ever recorded in the month of May in the region. So we’ll be getting the full desert experience. But don’t worry, the kids are taking good care of themselves.
Today was an interesting and enjoyable day. At our first stop, the ancient city of Akko, we visited a massive fortress from the Crusader period (roughly 800 years old). Our visit started in the dungeon and ended in the banquet hall. As you might imagine, the banquet hall was somewhat more glamorous than the dungeon, but the dungeon was far more intriguing. Among the many archaeological remains were holes in the walls where the iron shackles once hung as well as massive catapult balls that surely could’ve and did do unimaginable damage. As it turns out, Napoleon tried to take the city of Akko a couple of hundred years ago. Simply stated, his experience there didn’t really help him work through his complex.
Some kids will surely remember the Crusader Fortress as the place that looked a lot like Hogwarts. Others will remember it as the place where they needed to have a voucher (which we provided) in order to use the restroom. What struck me today is the tremendous amount of resources that the Israeli archaeological authorities have put into excavating and preserving the site. Unfortunately, archaeology and politics go hand in hand these days. Consider the sad fact that much of ISIS’s funding comes from looted archeological black market trading. Meanwhile, in Israel, the archeological authorities are doing everything they can to preserve the complex multicultural history of the region. Not exactly CNN headlines, but another of the endless examples of the real Israel.
From the Crusader Fortress we visited the most unique synagogue I’ve ever seen: The Tunisian Synagogue in Akko. We were only there for about 15 minutes, but I’ve never felt like a bigger Jewish nerd in my life. Every square inch of the 4 -story building is covered with mosaics detailing every aspect of Jewish history and memory. Dan Brown could spend the rest of his life weaving tales from the walls of this synagogue and not even scratch the surface. I tried to convey to the kids that these mosaics showed the endless possibilities within Judaism. It’s important to me that they know that, despite our best efforts, we’ve only given them a taste of their Jewish heritage. It’s a foundational taste for sure, but I pray that their most meaningful encounters with Judaism are yet to come. That’s why I was so happy to run into yet another Davis Alum while we were in Tzfat later in the day. There on March of the Living with BBYO, she was carefully selecting a piece of art for her freshman dorm room.
Lunch in the mall at Akko was fun. And it was air-conditioned.
After lunch we headed to Rosh HaNikra to enjoy the beautiful grottos there. We toured the grottos and then went to the Rosh HaNikra border crossing. Standing 50 feet away from Lebanon we had a chance to take pictures with a kind and friendly IDF officer named Itai. We all told him, todah rabah. When his homeland, his state, his religion, his heritage, and his family called upon him to serve and protect, he embraced the opportunity. He stands there, monitoring the border, for all of us. At Rosh HaNikra there is a train tunnel that used to run a continuous train line from Haifa to Beirut. Maybe Itai and the rest of us will live to see the day when that train line is restored. In the meantime, todah rabah is the least we can and must say.
Tzfat is one of the four holy cities of Israel. It’s a place that evokes the artist, the mystic, and the messianic dreamer in each person who lets herself be evoked. By the time we got to Tzfat our kids’ wallets were weighing on them heavily. They were happy to unload a few hundred (or thousand) shekels among them and came away with things they’ll treasure for years to come. They might’ve even picked up something for some of you.
The shopping didn’t end in Tzfat. It ended in Tiberius. Also one of the four holy cities of Israel, we had dinner in Tiberius. The street we dined on also happened to be home to a makeshift open- air market. Those kids that wished were able to fulfill the time honored Davis Academy tradition of buying hideous looking, but apparently quite comfortable, “Shuk Pants.” All I can say is—wash alone on “cold” at least once before integrating into the regular laundry cycle.
We leave the North happy and content, bonded and connected, fully adjusted to life in Israel and ready for new adventures. We are exactly where we’re supposed to be: in the midst of a trip that, while similar, is unlike any other that Davis has ever or will ever take. I know many of you are following along with our itinerary. But the truth is, your kids are the itinerary. The stickers they’re putting on their Israel maps correspond to markers they’re placing on their souls. They are going places they’ve never been, discovering things that are opening their eyes, hearts, and minds, and seeing the diverse beauty that resides within, among, and around them.