Wednesday, July 6, 2011

we're home

after 24 hours of traveling, ( 17 of which were spent on a plane) , we are home and battling back against jet lag.  the last couple of days were filled with fun and I'll do one final blog post when I'm a bit more rested-

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Days 12-14, on our own in Tel Aviv

The last 3 days have been relaxing as we have been enjoying our "vacation from vacation" by sleeping in and generally taking it easy. Friday we went shopping in the Tel Aviv artists market and shuk, ate more pizza, and then hit the beach for body surfing and jellyfish dodging. Abe surprised me by announcing he was up for it and when he got stung it was a badge of courage more than anything else. Saturday his brother Ben did the same thing. I got stung a couple of times and it wasn't too painful at all. The beach is so gorgeous and the water is so warm, it would've been difficult for the boys to stay out of the water all weekend and they had a great time in the waves.

We've continued to eat well, tonight we ate at a nice Italian Restaurant in the old train station area, in my opinion the best food of the trip. The worst dinner was Friday night at the Speedo restaurant (yes the same speedo company that makes the swimsuits)...they skimp on bathing suit material but they didn't skimp on the garlic in the kitchen because I wasn't feeling well for the next 24 hours. I'm looking forward to one more falafel and one more schwarma before we leave on Tuesday night.

Yesterday Sam and the boys met up with Abe's Israeli nanny from 8 years ago, Shelly. Sounds like they had a nice time catching up but I stayed back to let my stomach recover from the Speedo meal. Today we took a cab to Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv, where we visited the Maccabai Games museum, took a swim in a public pool, and walked through a big park where they were holding some sort of sn Olympics for members of the Israeli army.

That's about it, we're now listening to the Giants game on my iPhone and can't believe that we'll leave for the airport in about 48 hours!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Days 10 & 11- wrapping up the tour

Days 10 & 11: wrapping up the tour

Check out the pics on my Facebook page!

Yesterday morning we packed up the kibbutz cabins and loaded the buses. I could tell that everyone was starting to get a bit tired as many adults and kids pulled out the headphones and personal stereos for the 2 hour morning drive (including myself!). We stopped at the Bet She-an archaeological site featuring a full roman theater, cardo and even a latrine with stone toilet structures that of course the kids loved. The site also happened to be very close to a kosher McDonalds where many of us had lunch. Fyi- My burger was larger and fresher than any McDonalds hamburger I've had in the states.

Back on the bus for another 2.5 hr ride to our hotel, the Tal in Tel Aviv. While many of the families in our group headed for the beautiful beach and warm water, our boys declared the need for "down time" and we relaxed in the room for a couple of hours before heading to the beach for a walk prior to dinner. The only problem with this plan was that when we got to the beach almost everyone we knew had been stung by jellyfish who are apparently in high concentration for the next week. You can imagine how well this went over considering  our boys are scared of mosquito bites and houseflies. Hopefully the jellyfish will move on before we leave Tel Aviv Tuesday night because the water is warm. 

After dinner at the hotel we joined some friends for dessert and drinks on the waterfront near our hotel in the old warehouse district..a warm evening on the Mediterranean with the sun setting into the distant clouds made it a beautiful way to end the day and begin saying goodbye to the group tour. 

This morning we started at Independence Hall, where we heard a very interesting and compelling program about the establishment of the State of Israel. The guide at Independence Hall was great and it ended with a replay of David Ben Gurion's speech and a touching rendition of "Hatikvah" by the entire room. Then it was on to an interesting program at the Na Lagaat complex on the Jaffa waterfront where we felt what it was like to be blind and we were lead through an art project in a completely dark room by a blind employee of the center.  After spending a couple of hours in the old city of Jaffa for lunch, shopping and a brief tour we all met as a group for a final debrief, thank yous, slide show and finally  a closing dinner. 

Many of us were a bit emotional as we reflected back on this fantastic 9 days together as a group and a community. Big thanks go out to Rabbi Bloom and Karen for spearheading this massive undertaking from start to finish as well as the amazing Keshet tour company staff, led by the incomparable Yishay Avital- an incredible leader who we highly recommend for anyone considering a trip to Israel- Yishay is your guy with an amazing mix of historical/geographic/religious knowledge, humor, and great people skills.  I reflected on the fact that we joined the TBA community almost exactly 10 years ago, and now we've been able to experience Israel with good friends who we'll be reliving it with for many years to come. As I've mentioned before, the boys got so much more out of the trip due to the group dynamic with their friends as well as the children's programming by Keshet..and I'm confident that we'll all be back in Israel again, sooner rather than later.

The tour may be over but we're here in Tel Aviv another 5 days so the blog will continue!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Days 8&9: Art,wine,soldiers,chocolate,beer,swimming: what a country!

Days 8&9: Art,wine,soldiers,chocolate,beer,swimming: what a country

After breakfast yesterday on the kibbutz, we boarded the buses for Zefat,  a mountain community 30 minutes away that was the site of famous battles in the war of 1948  and is now home to an artist colony specializing in kabbalistic Judaic art. We met with a local artist who had an interesting perspective on life and art. We then toured the old town of Zefat, visiting a couple of ancient synagogues and shopping the artists colony...we all had a few purchases here, Samantha found a very nice necklace, I chose an Omri Casspi Israeli basketball jersey, Abe picked a Chicago Bulls in Hebrew tee shirt and Ben went with the Israel wristbands.

Then it was off to Dalton winery for a tour and tasting of some of Israel's finest vinos, I have been impressed by the Israeli wine throughout the trip but then again I enjoy the taste of wine too much to be too picky about any of it.  This was followed by a trip to a kibbutz literally on the Lebanon border. The kids stayed at the kibbutz for games and an opportunity to meet a couple of Israeli soldiers. The rest of us boarded the bus and went with our guides to meet with 2 squadrons of on-duty  soldiers guarding the border just below a Lebanese hilltop base and with UN peacekeepers in the middle. We had a 20 minute Q&A with the soldiers, most of whom are 18-21 years old, followed by a prayer from our rabbi, pictures and gifts of thanks from our group. It was moving to see up close and personal the dangers these young people confront on behalf of keeping Israel secure.

Last night we had dinner on the kibbutz again followed by a men's club card game (I was the second one out and therefore had plenty of time to write this blog entry while watching everyone else play). This morning after first stopping at the Teva factory and outlet store, we ascended the Golan Heights to Mt. Bental, overlooking Syria. From our vantage point we were able to gain geographic perspective on the past battles with Syria as well as understand the importance of the Golan Heights to Israel's safety. Next we took a fascinating and tasty tour of the De Karina boutique chocolate factory on another kibbutz. This was fun for all as we each had an opportunity to design our own chocolate bars, truffles and pralines in addition to hearing the story of their founder's personal trek from europe to south america then Israel. I'm bringing home a bottle of their handmade caramel chocolate liqueur, will be great on vanilla ice cream or coffee.

After one more stop to drop off gifts for soldiers in a tank battalion, lunch, and a brief walkthrough an archaeological museum, we saw a well-done video and relief map regarding the Golan Heights and sampled the local brewery. Then back to the kibbutz for a great swim in the kibbutz pool, highlighted by kids swimming from one end to the other and dads doing cannonballs into the deep end. This evening we were taken on a tour of the kibbutz by a longtime resident who also explained the financial and geographic details of kibbutz living. We ended in one of the kibbutz bomb shelters where it was said that in the past, whole generations of children grew up in fear of another attack. Tomorrow we're headed to Tel Aviv for the final 2 days of the organized tour and then our family will be staying there and additional 5 days to see the sights.

Monday, June 27, 2011


Day 7- farewell king Solomon, hello Masada and Dead Sea

Our earliest start yet, this morning we boarded the buses at 7:15 and said farewell to Jerusalem and more specifically our home away from home for the last 7 nights, the King Solomon Hotel. I recommend the KS if you're looking for a clean, family-friendly, well located and moderately priced hotel. The pool is basic but with a great view and one of the only complaints I heard is they charge 60 shekels ($20) daily for wifi (free across the street at cup o Joe). They're also very tolerant of 30 kids aged 3-16 racing around the lobby and playing "elevator tag" every night.

After a 90 minute bus ride through east Jerusalem then out to the Judean desert we arrived at Masada, the site of King Herod's mountaintop palace  more than 2,000 years ago. While Samantha and many of the adults on our trip fondly (?) remember hiking the steep and extremely hot trail on high school or college trips to Israel, today there's a squaw valley style cable car that transports 40 people at a time to the top or down in less than 3 minutes. Kids nowadays don't know how easy they have it!

Many structures built from rock still stand on the mountaintop, including a synagogue and bathhouse. In addition to hearing the history of the Roman siege of Masada we took in the absolutely  incredible views to the Dead Sea and the Desert. A highlight was at the close of the tour when our entire group gathered on the south end of the Masada, overlooking majestic rock cliffs, and our shouts in unison of "never again" bounced back to us in crystal clear echoes...the kids couldn't get enough of it and  a shout of "Go Giants!" was even heard echoing through the canyon.

A 10 minute bus ride then took us to the Dead Sea entry point, home of the famous "floating" due to the fact it's the lowest elevation on earth and the water has a very high salt and mineral content.  I've always heard and read about how cool it is to float there but somehow I missed the warnings of what the super-salty water can do to your body (which is why you can't "swim", splash, or get it in your eyes). I had  a pleasant 3 minute float before assorted parts of my body were stinging and I was sprinting up the dusty hill for the cold water shower (ahhhhhh). Samantha had more success than I did, probably because she is so sweet and it balanced out the salt (awww).  The boys witnessed a few of their friends not having much fun so they didn't make it in this time -  but now they have something to look forward to next time.

One more 10 minute bus ride took us to the Ein Gedi nature reserve and the Nahal David waterfalls. While we didn't see much nature due to the 100 degree temp, the hot and dusty hike was a perfect warmup for the cool and invigorating waterfalls ahead. This was a lot of fun for the group as most kids and adults took turns standing under the falls, taking pictures and cooling off. After one more change of clothes and snacks we were back on the bus for the 3 hour ride to the north, where we're staying on a kibbutz for the next three nights. 

The Kibbutz Gonen is great.  Each family has a nice little cabin with a full kitchen, bathroom, spa tub,etc. Dinner tonight was in the kibbutz dining room and the pack of kids took off early to start a soccer game with a few of the Israeli  kids who live here...they played until well after dark, following a Breathtaking sunset along the mountain range to the west. The terrain here feels similar to Napa, so it's not surprising that tomorrow we're going wine tasting!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Days 5 & 6, wow and whew.

Yesterday morning the boys and the other younger kids went to the Jerusalem Zoo while the rest of us spent the morning at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem. I can't even begin to describe the emotions that I or anyone else feels when presented with the overwhelming stories of the holocaust. A few years ago Samantha and I visited the holocaust museum in washnigton dc and while it's very well done, Yad Hashem is without parallel. Not only were the exhibits comprehensive and compelling, the architecture is magnificent, ending with a beautiful walk onto an open porch for reflection with the rolling hills of Jerusalem in the foreground. A very powerful experience that was culminated by tHe kids rejoining us for a memorial service led by Rabbi Bloom in the Valley of the Communities (stone area in memory of the more than 100 Jewish communities that were eliminated in the holocaust). In the service Rabbi read aloud holocaust survivor stories from senior members of our own Temple Beth Abraham synagogue in Oakland, a touching tribute that brought it all home for us.

After this emotional morning it was nice that our bus next took us to the Yehuda Market, a chaotic and boisterous market in the middle of Jerusalem where you can buy anything from fruits and nuts to fish, baked goods, toys, clothes, you name it. It was extra boisterous because it was Friday afternoon and the local residents were shopping for their Shabbat meals. While most of the other places we had visited up to this point included menus or prices in both Hebrew and english, the market was Hebrew-only and extra challenging. I had another
fantastic falafel, the boys had some pizza focaccias, and we bought wine, challah, fruit, and a few other things.

After swimming and relaxing back at the hotel, our group walked to the park across the street for a Shabbat service while taking in the view of the old city. Despite our exhaustion, we were able to sing and dance with great spirit. Following dinner back at the hotel, Rabbi Bloom led a group of 25 to see a unique orthodox service up the street from our hotel at Mayanot synagogue. Another once in a lifetime experience, I was struck by the passion and loud singing (carlebach melodies) that you could feel from the congregants but also by how different it felt for men and women to be separated for the each their own but I sure like
having our family together for services.

This morning we slept in a bit then joined the rest of our group up the street for a service at the Fuchsberg center. While this was very similar to our home synagogue, I couldn't help but be struck by the small-world connections between Jerusalem and the bay area. For instance, today's Rabbi's sister in law (Debbie Weinstein) is a member of our community in Oakland, as is the brother (Leon Bloomfield) of a prominent member of another synagogue here in Jerusalem. This afternoon we took the kids to play ball in a local park, where I happened to meet the college roommate of my business partner Michael Terris' nephew, and a very close friend of a professional colleague of mine in SF (Jay Rosenthal)...small world eh?

Tonight we hung out on the deck of the Rabbi's suite on the 11th floor of our hotel, with incredible views of Jerusalem in almost every direction. As the evening came to a close and we did Havdallah as a community, it was extremely easy to reflect on the absolutely incredible week we've spent in this city. Tomorrow we leave early for the Dead Sea and then on to stay at a kibbutz in the upper galilee...I must get to bed.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Day 4: another brick in the wall

Everyone slept very well last night so we started the day well rested. We boarded the bus at 8:15 and started with an educational video in the Burnt House, an interesting archaologicsl dig dating back to the time of the second temple and the great revolt. It still amazes me to see pottery and other artifacts dating back 2000+ years. We then took place in a family scavenger hunt and an additional tour in the cardo (center of the city), featuring a fascinating mosaic map dating to the Byzantine era. Lunch in the Jewish quarter was highlighted by at least 6 bar mitzvah processions loudly making their way through the narrow streets with festive drums and singing (because it was Thursday, a big day for bar mitzvahs). After lunch Samantha and the boys went back to the hotel for some relaxation and I joined Rabbi Bloom and 7 others for an adventure to see the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock. Because most of the men were wearing shorts we had to buy some really cool looking sarongs to cover our legs. While we couldn't go into the Dome the experience was interesting and I was particularly struck by the massive space of land up there.

Later in the afternoon we all toured the Kotel tunnels, more amazing archaeology that explained the history Of the western wall and the History of the temple mount. Absolutely amazing to consider that each large slab in the wall weighed 570 tons and was moved into place by a system of oxen, pulleys, rollers, and tens of thousands of men at a time. We also visited the western wall, it was moving to be there with such a large group of friends along with our family and Rabbi. I peeked over Bens shoulder as he wrote his note for the wall- "thank you for letting us win the war"..some of the Israeli history is sinking in.

Back to the hotel wheee the boys shared a pizza with a babysitter and Samantha and I were lucky enough to go out to a very nice dinner at Joy, in the German colony. Great food, wine and fun with the Rotmans, Mendelsohns, and Ilfelds...we've all belonged to the same havura (small group of families) for 9 years, since our first chiLdren were infants..wonderful to share this evening together.