Ceasarea, Israel Roman ruins ampitheater. Galilee
April 9, 2018

Our group suddenly has a new visitor: a virus. Unfortunately, a number of people got sick last night and had to miss the day’s activities. Rabbi Yedwab informed us by taking the microphone on the bus and humming the tune to MASH. Ron, our guide, followed that with his own announcement: “The plague is here.”

Hopefully, the sick group will bounce back after a day of rest. Everyone has already bonded pretty strongly here, and we all feel horrible for our new friends.

In the morning we headed north to Ceasarea and the Galilee area. We were told we will literally be ON the actual border to Lebanon. Ron, in his inimitable way, screams “Lebanon! Shalom, Hezbollah!”

Ceasarea is an ancient Roman city of ruins constructed by King Herod about 2,000 years ago. It’s MASSIVE! There’s a fairly-intact amphitheater that sits right on the Mediterranean. Besides it is the enormous elongated arena where the Roman chariot races were held (think Ben Hur). The ruins seems to go on for as far as the eye can see. It’s another reminder that ancient people, for all their ignorant, primitive ways, were actually quite brilliant in some things, especially construction.

Later on, we drive to Rosh Hanikra, the northern tip of Israel’s Mediterranean coastline. We take a cable car up to a spectacular panoramic view of the white cliffs and coastline. It looks like Italy’s Amalfi coast, but strewn with Israeli flags. It’s breathtaking. All of us kept shaking our heads in astonishment and saying that we had no idea Israel was this gorgeous.

As we look out at the postcard perfect scene, we see an Israeli gunboat in the distance, a sober reminder that danger is always lurking in this paradise. Just no escaping that here.

We then walk through a maze of grottoes with deep blue waves crashing in. Every step was a perfect photographic moment.

We then strolled down a street and approached a large gate in the center of the street. I walk up to it not knowing exactly what it was, but soon realize that it’s the actual border of Lebanon. There are heavily armed Lebanese troops and the Lebanese flag just over the fence, only a few feet away, and for the first time in this trip we experience the bizarre proximity of a foreign country hostile to Israel.

South Lebanon, as we all know, is controlled by Hezbollah, an undeniable terrorist organization and a sworn enemy of Israel. Hezbollah is said to have around 150,000 missiles pointed at Israel, and they openly state that one day they will fire them all and crush Israel for good.

We hung out at the border for a while, snapping pictures and taking in the strangeness of the scene. An Arab family was there as well, and we invite them to join us in our photographs. They’re happy to join in, and in no time we’re high-fiving their kids. It was, for just a spec of a moment, a happy and real human-to-human connection with zero hint of politics or controversy.

It’s nice to dream.

We then drive to dinner a winery in a kibbutz in the Upper Galilee. Its workers are all special needs adults, about 160 people, who live in the kibbutz. The kibbutz makes wines, raises goats, chickens, horses and operates an organic farm. It all originated when a man who had a special-needs mom was called to the army and needed someone to look after her. We hear from the man who tells us his inspirational story and has us watch a film of the emotional story of the kibbutz. One worker states that the job “gives her a reason to get up in the morning.” We were all deeply moved, and more than a few of us needed Kleenex.

We hear from one of the workers, a South African man who makes the wine and also cleans the winery. He said he made Aliyah about 5 years ago, following his sister who did the same. He stole our hearts, as did all the kind and extraordinary people of this incredible place. Some people in our group said the experience was the highlight of the trip, which I totally get. It was a genuine ‘wow’ moment.

As the sun sets and the stars explode, we all felt the warmth of the wine, the love for the people and the powerful connection to this sacred land.

Another memorable day in this magical place.

Mark Jacobs

Read yesterday’s blog from Israel, Blogs From Israel – Mark Jacobs’ Day 2.

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