Yesterday was our first full day of Israeli site seeing, with Misha as our knowledgeable tour guide. We started the day in Tveria, which is a little town on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Our drive there consisted of roads surrounded on all sides by green mountains, widespread pastures, and blue skies. Each time we drive somewhere in Israel, I am taken aback by the seeming vastness of the landscape, entirely contradictory to the physical size of the State of Israel. The landscape is also not as flat as I remember it, with beautiful mountains and hills that, when you arrive at their peak, grant stunning views along each subsequent descent.
The beauty of the Sea of Galilee is haunted by the major drop in water level, which is currently on the order of about 8 meters. The piers stand like flamingos along the shore where we walked, marked with the darkened stains of the normal water level far above the current one.
We followed the banks of the Sea of Galilee to the River Jordan, and stopped at a holy baptismal site called Yardenit, which apparently is an important site for religions other than Judaism. Yardenit consists of a building along the dark green river of Jordan, where stairs descend into the water and religious leaders conduct baptisms while surrounded by whispered fish and other animals swimming in the river. While to me the idea seemed particularly peculiar, the swarms of tourists were quite enthralled with the magic of it all.
From Yardenit we left the water and headed inland to an amazing Arab restaurant that served us small portions of about 15 different dishes, along with hummus and fresh pita bread, all followed by grilled chicken skewers. The meal was delicious, filling, and nicely topped off with a tiny cup of espresso that contained some of the strongest coffee that I’ve tasted in a while. I guess they know that after a meal like that, nothing sounds better than a nap in the warm sun.
Wide awake and ready for more, Misha drove us to the ancient city of Maggido, atop a hill and at a major crossroad of several historical trading routes. The city is famous for it’s incredible underground water system, which involved a major feat of ancient engineering: a 36 meter deep shaft leading to a 70 meter long tunnel that lead to a spring which existed outside of the fortified walls of the old city. We arrived just as the park was closing, but were able to walk through the shaft and tunnel (even Dinochka went!).
We then returned to Yokneam, and spent the rest of the day with Dina’s family, first at the park with Nika, then joined there by Dalia on her way home from the army, and then by Yana after she got home from work. After dinner, Yana and I ended up finishing an interesting conversation that Misha and Sasha had actually started, as Misha described how easy it was here in Israel for people to become more religious (understandably). I asked Yana if she considered that a bad or good thing, which lead our conversation into the merits of Judaism (and religion in general), as well as our own personal understanding of how Judaism has shaped our lives in various (and not always obvious) ways. It was a really interesting discussion, and I went to sleep last night still thinking about it all and trying to process how truly different it must be to live here than in America. Reflection on all of the different experiences on this trip will be an invaluable exercise, and I can only hope that this journal will serve as a reminder for me to do so upon our return.