Israel 3/20 – 5/10, 2018
The Big Surprise..
Our arrival in Israel had been a surprise for the family, none of them knew we had spent the last six weeks traveling Europe. To their knowledge we had found jobs in Montana and had been moving and settling into our new life. There were only a couple people who had any idea we were coming and knew when we would arrive. We had been very careful to keep it hush hush, Daniel isn’t so great with surprises so it was extra hard for him not tell let it slip. Arriving was so exciting we knew we would bring tears of joy to his mother and utter astonishment to everyone else.
Once Francesa and I made it through the overly crowded slow moving foreign passport line and reunited with Daniel and all our belongings we headed out of the airport to catch our ride. However our ride wasn’t there, there had been some miscommunication and we were going to have to find alternate transportation. We looked in to a cab ride but the price was outrageous so we opted for the train to Afula where we could be picked up by our lovely friend Ravid. We bought our tickets, hopped on the train with our massive amount of stuff (don’t forget we added two guitars to our belongs), made one transfer and disembarked in Afula. Ravid had just arrived to get us, we gave her big hugs and thanked her for coming to get us. Then we had her make arrangements to meet up with Daniel’s mother, Mihaela.
When we arrived to the apartment building Ravid called Mihaela. She was at Alex’s house, Daniel’s brother, which is the next building so she said she would be right over. We hid in the breezeway while Ravid waited on the sidewalk for her to arrive. Once Mihaela was close and Ravid had greeted her Daniel popped out with Francesca in his arms. I had the video going capturing the moment, she started to cry and said she had felt it in her heart that Daniel was home. She was so happy to see us all and completely surprised that we were standing in front of her. We then went upstairs to surprised papa, Jean. Momma called Alex and Anna to tell them we were here. In shock they ask how long we would stay, half expecting us to say a week or two, they were stunned when we told them a couple months. We had no ticket to leave and were just seeing how things worked out. Mihaela almost fainted. She could not believe she was going to have all her children and grandchildren around her for so long. She was going to get to see and play with Francesca daily and was going to cherish every minute of it.
Witnessing a Bris
The first day we were in town we attended a bris which is a Jewish religious male circumcision ceremony performed by a mohel (“circumciser”) on the eighth day of the infant’s life. We had been luckily enough to time our arrive perfectly to partake in this event. The family had rented an event room in Bet She’An and invited all the friends and family to celebrate their little boy. We arrived a bit early to avoid the traffic and as we waited outside the guest started to arrive, they were astonished to see us standing there. Everyone commented on the fact they had no idea we were coming to Israel and were so happy we were there. As the guests arrived they were invited in to sit and order dinner, an array of delicious starters were brought to the table and refilled as needed, sometimes the server didn’t even wait for the dish to be finished before removing it and replenishing it. The children ran around playing with each other and the adults indulged in conversation.
Once the majority of people arrived the ceremony began. The males preceded to the front some dressed in ceremonial garbs, all with a yamaka on their head’s. They began to chant as the baby was prepared and cleaned for the procedure. The father is given a pillow for the baby to lay on, he kisses his son and offers a prayer. The mohel then takes the child a presents him to family and places him on the lap of his godfather who has the honor of holding the child upon a throne while the ceremony continues. Prayers are said by the mohel and chanted by the men. Wine is poured for the ceremony, which will be given in finger dips to the newborn male to help calm and numb him, while the glass is shared between the men. Blessings are given and verses are read as the circumcision is performed, the father walks away and paces about until the mohel has finish the ritual then returns to take part in the final blessing and consumption of the wine. It is a joyous occasion that is captured in photos and videos, celebrated with song and dance. We were honored to be apart of the ritual and happy to have been present for the monumental occasion.
Time with the Cousins
Francesca spent the days waiting for her cousins to return home from school. Bunica, grandmother is Romanian, would play with her and take her on walks to the park, they would walk to the school and wait for Lynn, Dean and Itay to come running out. Sometimes they would be rewarded with popsicles from the local store. They would return home to grandpa making them schnitzels and fries, sit around the table chowing down on the delicious fried cutlets. Afterwards, Dean and Itay would usually make there way to playing video games while Francesca and Lynn held hands, loved on each other and played. We would take them to several of the playgrounds around the neighborhood, sometimes Dean would join or the other little girls that lived across from Lynn. It was precious to see the kids holding hands and walking down the street.
Where’s the party tonight?
The weekend we arrived there was a party at Marius and Doina’s, not because we were there but because getting together with the friends is a regular occurrence and the family always finds a reason to get together, barbecue, drink, and dance. All the usual suspects attend, there is a core group of four or five couples that don’t typically miss the chance to party with one another. Sometimes their children join in the festivities bring along the significant other. Other times difference sets of friends trickle in and out. There is always a ton of food that comes in waves so if your not seasoned in the flow of how the night transcends you could blow your load in the beginning and miss out on some tasty dishes that make they’re way out later in the night. There are always a variety of libations to choose from beer, wine, whiskey and vodka are the favorites. Shots are often offered and if your glass is empty it will be filled again. After the food has been devoured the coffee and cakes are brought out, by this time everyone needs a little pick me up from the drink and full belly. The stove top cooked coffee is jet fuel and so delicious, the homemade pastries are divine. The party continues throughout the night into the wee hours of the morning until everyone has exhausted themselves and decided stumble home.
Zippori National Park
I have been to Israel four time since Daniel and I have been together and each time we find something new for me to see. This time one of the place we visited was Zippori National Park located only a few miles from the house. The park is centered around archeological ruins of a town and is filled with hundreds of years ancient history. Beautiful mosaics have been uncovered that tell stories of life centuries ago and the optimism the Jewish people held during generations of persecution by the Christians. Only one of the old synagogues has been revealed even though it is believed there are many more that lay under the sand. An ancient amphitheater sit a top a hill and old markets and homes sit in the village area. Not only was this area a place to gather in the past it is a gathering ground for families today. The park was filled with groups of families enjoying their day of rest together, the children ran and played, music and laughter filled the air. Community is strong in Israel no matter what your religious beliefs, family gatherings are a corner stone of life and beautiful to see. However, I find it sad that those values often do not cross sects and there is a noticeable division and turmoil amongst the Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis, as well as the Jewish, Christians and Muslims.
Catching up and catching colds
As the week passed we visited friends and family all over town. Spending the afternoon chatting and catching up on old times while the children ran around an played. We have now reached that age where most of our friends we had hung out with in years past, staying up late drinking and carrying on, now have children. This was a great opportunity for Francesca to interact with kids around her own age. Over the last few months there was very few interactions with other children and it was nice to give her time to develop and learn from other ones her size. We were also quite lucky in the fact that most of the children were girls, not that she wouldn’t have played with the boys but she is so intrigued by other little girls.
With all the mingling we of course caught a cold from someone. First Francesca felt ill for a couple days but that did not stop her from wanting to play with the cousins, she had a bit of a fever and a cough. Unfortunately, the cough would stick around for quite a while but other than that she was peppy and ready to go. I picked up a bug from Anna, Daniel’s sister-in-law, of course it was in full effect on Passover. Francesca and i were down and out when the dinner began, Mihaela and Jean were hosting so the house was filled with people. Groggy and out of sorts after our nap Francesca and I made our way out to the living room. We had a bite to eat. Francesca joined the kids for play time and I was given some whiskey to help knock the cold out. I socialized for a bit but didn’t last long before returning to bed with my runny nose and stuffy head.
The following Sunday there was an Easter gathering at Marius’s. Another night of partying with the friends. Amazing dishes of meat that took days to prepare. Daniel spent several days with Marius learning the secret behind the mouth watering dishes. They took days to perfect as the meats were prepared and marinated. Lots of love, time and energy went into they’re perfection. This was a routine process for everyone of the gatherings at the house. Each friend had their special dish that they would make to ensure each get together was a success. The amount of love and joy that is shared amongst them is beautiful, reminds me of our gatherings in Colorado with our extended family and new found friends that find their way into our home.
After the holiday weekend Daniel was unluckily enough to fall victim to the cold that had been passed around through the circle of family and friends. He was bed ridden for a couple days until it past. Once we all were feeling better we took advantage of the warm sunny days in Israel and made our way to the beach. Although it was still technically winter the day felt like summer, especial since we had spent the last few months freezing in Europe. Nahsholim bay was filled with people taking advantage of the beautiful weather. We found a spot close to the water by some children so Francesca could interact with others. She played with the kids for a while then made her way to the water where she found some young women lying in the shallows. They took a liking to her and played in the sand and entertained her for a while. We spent a couple hours frolicking in the sand and sun before heading home.
The first weekend in April the party was at Ady and Silvana’s their youngest daughter, Danielle, was turning 15. Their house was filled with people of all ages celebrating. Cocktails were flowing and delicious food was made for everyone to enjoy. Joyous dancing and endless conversation. The first month of us being in Israel there were several birthdays to celebrate including Alex, Anna, Danielle, mine and Jean. Which meant there was a birthday cake every week for the first five weeks we were home. Luckily the cakes were not the basic yellow or chocolate sheet cake with overly sweet frosting but more like fancy pastries with thin layers of cake and mousse filling with hard chocolate shells, they come in a variety of flavors my favorite being pistachio. Each one was delightful in is own right.
Holiday’s in Israel
Holiday’s in Israel hold a different time pattern then that of the US. In America the holiday falls on the actual day it is assigned, for example if the US is celebrating Memorial Day or Independence Day we typically are celebrating from sun up on that day. In Israel the holiday beings at sun down the day before the holiday. So my birthday, April 11th, fell on the eve of the Holocaust Remembrance Day which meant that at sun down on the 11th everything was solemn. So there was no chance of a birthday party for me that evening but they did take me out for a delicious lunch at a local restaurant. The only things on TV were movies about the Holocaust, the same ones were played every year. Another amazing thing to witness is the nation wide call to honor those that lost their life during this religious persecution. At 10:00 am sirens ring out across the country for two minutes and no matter where you are all things come to a halt, people stand still in their home and shops, cars stop in the middle on the highways the people get out and bow their head in remembrance. To see a whole country stop in it’s tracks to honor their ancestors and all that lost their lives to the horrid act during WWII is the most unbelievable act of community I have ever witnessed. No wonder why the Jewish people have demonstrated such perseverance through centuries of persecution.
Time with friends
After a few weeks in Israel we were able to coordinate a dinner date with our dear friends, Roie and Hadas, in Tel Aviv. We planned an early evening meeting after they were finished with work. Their apartment is located across from the Yarkon river and park, so when we arrived Francesca was ecstatic to see the play ground and bee-lined it straight to the park. Daniel had to call Roie and let him know we had arrived but were being held captive on the play ground. Roie and Hadas gladly came to greet us in the park and brought along their furry little one, Liika, for her nightly walk. After a while of climbing up and down the jungle jim and showing off for her new friends we went for a stroll in the park. Along the way we ran into a group of people LARPing (live action role playing, for us 40 somethings we think of Dungeons and Dragons). They were dressed the part in their homemade costumes. We saw some knights with cardboard painted breast plates and make shift shields and swords as well as Wizards in robes. I loved that these teenagers were using their creative sides to make costumes to play in the park instead being at home glued to the boob tube. That evening we had dinner at a small pub with an old friend of Daniel and Roie from the military that they had not seen in a very long time.
We stayed at Roie and Hadas’ that evening and planned to wake early to do for a hike in the Ella Valley, where it is believed the battle between David and Goliath happened. We didn’t get an early of a start but we did have a yummy pancake breakfast together, compliments of Chef Daddy Daniel. It took us about an hour or so to reach the valley, the sun was sweltering hot. We lathered the little lady with sunscreen, grabbed our hats and up the hill we climbed. Seeking out shade at every chance we got. Small groups of people gathered under the few trees to rest out of the burning sun, enjoying the view of the valley and calmness that surrounded. Once we had made the trek up and over and round the hill, we headed back to the car. On the way we passed a family that had stopped for a cup of coffee under a beautiful tree, the gentlemen had brought his coffee pot and propane with him. He was cooking the grounds and serving the thick dark brew to his companions and offered us a cup. We kindly refused, but I think Daniel was a bit jealous of the man set up for he has spoke of buying the same rig the gentleman had.
Hidden gem in Jerusalem Heights
Roie and Hadas had a special treat planned for us after the hike. We drove another hour to Jerusalem Heights, up through a national park and down a remote dirt road to a private goat farm that is owned by a world renowned Chef Shai Seltzer. The farm has several small tables with checkered table clothes set up around the property. It was a first come first serve kind of place, we luckily found a table underneath a beautiful shade tree near the goat pins. While Daniel went with Roie and Hadas to the service counter located in a lime stone cave Francesca walked down to see the goats and I guarded the table. The farm is known for its delightfully rich handmade goat cheese and olives. They returned with two cutting boards filled with a variety of delectable home made cheeses two splits of wine a cabernet and merlot that was made in Israel. Some cheeses were soft and easy spread, some were sharp and crumbly, one was made with charcoal giving it a smokey flavor and one with grappa, each kind was a masterpiece it is own right. And the olives, oh my! they were brined in oil and rose buds which gave them a sweet after taste, one was definitely not enough the flavor was something I had never had before. The flavors were enticing the cheese, the olives, the druze pita (a crepe like bread that was the vehicle to transport the cheese to your belly) and the wine made for a perfect afternoon feast with friends.
Mid week we made our way to Cesarea, an archeological and historical site from the days of King Herod. The site had become a major tourist attraction that with a portion of it rebuilt, there were restaurant and shop that lied along the waters edge, not what I had expected to see when we entered at the ruin gates. A large amphitheater had been reconstructed for the ruins to host modern day performance. While we were there the stage was being prepared for a concert that would celebrate Israel’s Independence. There was a large hippodrome that had been used for chariot race in centuries past and for the reenactment of today. We witnessed archeologist excavating precious stones that were once buildings of grandeur it this beautiful sea side civilization. So much history and stories to still be discovered in the sand and rumble that stretch from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, this country is rich in culture and well worth exploring for all those that desire to see where “it all began.”
Back to Back Holiday’s
In the two months we spent in Israel there were literally three weeks of Holidays, it was amazing. You wonder how anything gets done, perhaps its due to the fact that the religions rotate their celebrations, sometimes they coincide which means the country pretty much comes to a halt. There are some holidays that most people will honor, unless you fall in that category of not recognizing Israel as a State then you protest on those days. However for the majority of Israelis the next two holidays are possibly the most important and are definitely the most patriotic. The days will vary year to year due to the use of the Jewish calendar however they will always fall back to back those days are Memorial Day and Independence Day. Memorial Day in Israel is not celebrated with barbecues and picnics at the beach, it is a solemn day of remembrance for all the fallen soldiers that have given their life to fight for their ancestral land. Similar to Holocaust Remembrance day everything stops, not once but twice the sirens will sound and the country halts. In 2018 Memorial Day was April 18th, so remember what I said about the holidays commencing on the sunset the day before, on April 17th shortly after sun down, 8:00pm to be precise, the sirens ring out across the country. For one minute you stop everything and stand in silence with your head bowed, its like your in one of those movies where some powerful boss is proving his point and everyone in the room stops on his command and a minute later continues on with what they were doing; it is rather stunning to see.
The next siren takes place in the morning of the Memorial day, April 18th, at 11:00am this time it sounds for two minutes. We were in the car for the siren on Holocaust Remembrance and the two minute siren on Memorial Day. Everyone was watching there clocks or perhaps had alarms set to warn them. As 11:00am approached people started pulling off the road, getting out of their cars, removing the hats, standing at parade rest as they were all trained to do in anticipation of the moments to come. Can you imagine the entirety of New York City stop everything for two minutes to honor the victims in 9/11? The power that is felt when an entire population holds something so close to their hearts they stop everything to honor and remember them, its absolutely mind-blowing. The somberness of Memorial last until sundown at which time the holiday has transferred over to Independence Day and the parties can begin. The celebration commence there is music, fireworks, barbecue, laughter, drinking and carrying on. We had the pleasure of attending a lovely soirée at Ravid’s home just a couple blocks down the street from Daniel’s family. There was enough food to feed an army and more then enough vodka shots being passed around. From the backyard we could watch the spectacular fireworks show that was happening at the soccer stadium down the street. It was a lovely evening spent with friends honoring the great State of Israel.
During Independence Day, April 19th, the country celebrates. Families are out barbecuing at the parks. Fighter Jets fly in formation across the sky in intervals for hours. The cities host events, in Nazareth Illit where Daniel’s family lives they shut down a portion the road and set up a carnival for the kids. There were an array of inflatable obstacle courses and bounce house that were free for the kids to play on, drum circles, hula-hoops, face painting and games to play, all free of charge. They had performance by a local kids icon with singing an dancing. The firemen were out and demonstrated putting out a car fire in a parking lot. Vendors sold light up toy and bubble guns, sweet drinks and candy. Mihaela and I escorted Francesca, Lynn, and Dean down to the festivities and watched them play for hours. While there I was approached by one of Daniel’s friends, Yair, he was there with his wife, Sharon with their two little girls. We had traveled with the couple in Thailand for a week together eight years ago. Shai-lee, their oldest, was about Francesca’s age and Libby was just a couple weeks old. We chatted for a bit while the girls played, I told Yair to call Daniel so we could schedule a play date before we left Israel. We gathered up the kids and headed home once the sunset was upon us.
Jean’s Birthday, April 22nd, we had a gathering at the house and the whole family came over for pizza and cake. The neighbors stop by to wish him blessings. We had order eight pizza pies to feed everyone, it was the first time I had ever witnessed tuna on a pizza, why you would want tuna on a pizza I have no idea but they liked it. The following day we went with Jean and Mihaela to Capharnaum located on the sea of Galilee and the Mount of Beatitudes to see the peacocks. We swung by the winery an grabbed a case of wine and then headed to the valley out look on the Syrian border. On the way home we stopped at an Arab restaurant off the highway next to a gas station, at first glance you may dismiss it but you would be missing out. Jean ordered appetizers and because it was in Hebrew I have no idea what was agreed upon however plate after plate arrived to the table. There must of been 20 small dishes of various style of roasted eggplant, hummus, falafel, peppers, pitas, six or more kinds of salads it was a smorgasbord of tasty goodness. Then they asked if I was ready to order my meal, no thank you! I am good with this table full of food. Everyone else ordered what ever they desired. Afterwards we had a bite of dessert and coffee before going home. It was a wonderful day sightseeing and spending time with the parents.
Days in between we often went to the country club to take the kids swimming and enjoy the saunas after a good work out.
One afternoon we hiked around Appolonia National Park in Herzliyya situated on the Mediterranean Sea. It was such a beautiful day the sea was filled with sailboats all along the horizon. There were people paragliding across the sky, one gentleman had opera music playing that you could hear every time he circled above. We were lucky enough to see a red fox hunting around the ruins. An able to enjoy the tranquility of the turquoise sea from a bench on the cliffside.
Quality time with the family
We did manage to get a few more beach days in before leaving. One day we spent the day at the beach in Nahariyya, one of Israel’s most northern cities on the Mediterranean. The sea was ruff so we spent most of the time building sand castles and chasing each other around. Few days later we went to Achziv beach, one of Israel’s most northern beaches. It was absolutely beautiful and relatively deserted, we were three of maybe ten people on the entire beach. We placed our belongings under one of the permeant cabanas with palm frond thatched roofs along the beach and took Francesca out to play in the water in her floaty. It was a perfect beach day!
One of the last weekends in Israel we went to Tel-Aviv to walk the around the city for a bit of history, or at least that’s what mom said. Really we were going to have coffee at her favorite spot and go shopping. Mihaela loves to shop it is by far her favorite past time, she can spend days looking around the stores finding gifts for all her children. We probably went to a mall twice a week while we were there, several are in walking distance from the house. She hoped each time we would find something we like so she could get it for us. She is so sweet and giving, wants to make sure we have everything we need and then some. So after our walk around the Rothschild promenade we headed to Sarona Market for lunch and gelato. While there the shoe I was wearing broke, this made Mihaela so happy because now we get to go shoe shopping! After some play time for Francesca on the huge outdoor playground and another spectacular potty training moment that left Daniel’s dress shirt covered in shat, good thing he was wearing an undershirt, we drove over to Mihaela’s favorite place to have coffee which coincidentally it is attached to the Ramat-Aviv Mall. We peruse the multilevel complex looking for clothes, mom wanted to replace the soiled dress shirt and buy us something nice to take on our trip. Jean took Francesca to the toy store to pick out something fun. We left the mall with a few new items for the men and some things for the kitchen, of course Francesca score some rubber ducks and a furry creature that had wiggly eyes. All around a good day for the Bernhardt’s.
The Saturday before we left Daniel surprised me with an evening out. He booked a place off Air B&B in the Old City of Jaffa, which is one of the prettiest areas around Tel-Aviv, in my opinion. We left Nazareth early in the day to tour around Tel-Aviv and the Carmel Market. There was a street fair taking place, craft vendors were set-up along Nahalat Binyamin, a street I would call the fabric district. There were all kinds of items for sale, jewelry, books, clothes, blankets, art of all kinds. One of the coolest things we saw was steam punk cheshire cat leather bag. Once it was time to check in to our Air B&B we made our way to Jaffa to locate our accommodations for the night. Due to our last minute booking our options were limited but the studio Daniel had picked was adequate for our needs. We climbed the four flights of stairs and deposited our belongs before taking a walk through the streets. We had dinner plans with Roie and Hadas so we didn’t want to have a big lunch, instead we stopped by an amazing bakery to grab some tasty Zatar breads and a snack to hold us over. When the time came to head to dinner we took a romantic walk along the boardwalk and through the old city to find the restaurant where we had reservations. We enjoyed a lovely dinner with good conversation and we were glad to have the opportunity to spend one last evening with our friends.
As our days in Israel were coming to an end quickly we tried to see everyone we could one last time before leaving. We went to see Ravid for coffee and while there she gave us some parting gifts for our around the world trip; Chaco sandals for the both of us, Keen sandals for Francesca and an Osprey women’s hiking backpack for me. We couldn’t thank her enough for her generosity, she is truly and amazing friend. Daniel was able to successfully coordinate a last minute dinner with Yair and Sharon. We wish would could have spent some more time with them but life seems to get in the way, especially with a newborn baby. We wanted to see our dear friends David and Heli and their little girls one last time but unfortunately they were ill in the weeks leading up to our departure. Lucky for us Yosi and Cecilia, our neighbors, had a birthday party for Yosi and most of the family friends came by which was a great opportunity for us to say goodbye. At the party Romulus, who is a jeweler, presented us a pendent he had been working on at my request. A year ago our dear friend Mark Stephens passed away and had bequeathed me a beautiful multifaceted stone he had personally cut and I wanted to be able to wear it to honor his memory. Romulus had custom designed a wrap to accentuate the stones perfection and gave it me. The pendent will be a family heirloom that can be passed on to Francesca when the time has come and will be a representation of family, both chosen and born to, and will contain a story of undying friendship and love.
The day had come for us to head on to our next adventure. Our bags were packed, we were leaving many things behind to lighten our load. Anna and the kids came to say goodbye. As we were loading up the car and getting ready to strapping Francesca in, our hearts were breaking. She was crying and calling out for her Lynn-Lynn. She was going to miss her cousin so much and didn’t want to leave. We all cried as the car pulled away. As we turned the corner Alex drove by, just in time, we stopped to give hugs and kisses and say our goodbyes.
Leaving Israel is always a process and very time consuming. We had arrived almost four hours before our flight in hopes to be checked in and spend a bit of time enjoying coffee with mom and dad, however the departing process took much longer then expected. Both our packs were scanned and searched, we were questioned about the content and wether all the items in our bags were purchased or given to us. They were especially concerned with the items bought in Israel. Since I had experienced this process every time I left Israel it was no surprise to me. It probably took us two hours to get our boarding passes and bag checked, then we had to wait for a guard to return to make sure our bags made it on the elevator to be loaded on the plane. The whole ordeal left us no time to spend enjoying coffee with mom and dad because we still had to go through another security check point. Mihaela and Jean walked with us as far as they could, we embraced and said our goodbyes. Thanking them for all the support they give us and reassuring them we will return soon. They watched as we walked into the sea of people and stayed until they could no longer see us.
Leaving Israel was bitter sweet, spending time with the family and allowing Francesca to build bonds with her cousins was amazing. We wished that we could have brought Lynn along with us, she had been like a big sister watching out for her and teaching her new things. It was perhaps the saddest departure from the country to date, but we knew we would return soon. And the adventures ahead would be some of the most memorable in our lives. We were globe trotting parents taking their child to experience the world and spark an excitement and learning experience few children have.