The Golan Heights of Israel

Another perfect day in Israel. This one had it all – history, music, ruins, art, shopping, plenty of calories (some alcohol-related) and a bar mitzvah.

We started with a Jeep trip and a hike in the Golan Heights. Seeing the Golan first-hand is always incredible, no matter how many times you’ve see it. Our hike takes us through winding trails and soon we come across ancient ruins, abandoned bunkers, bomb shelters and waterfalls.

The group stops at a massive look-out point and a local guide addresses us. He lives in Metulla, the most northern point in Israel, which means that he literally lives on the Lebanese border. He tells us that his family has lived on the land for 21 generations – since the Spanish Inquisition of 1492! He has seen war, missile attacks and terrorism for as long as he can remember. He tells us about the intense fighting that has occurred precisely where we were standing, including hand-to-hand combat with knives.

Israel’s enemies, he says, are guided by archaic, fanatical values that pose a threat to not just Israel, but to the entire modern world.

“We are on the front lines of that threat,” he says.

We ask him whether he thinks more violence will break out.

“Yes!,” he insists,”They are coming after all of us who share our values.”

From Galilee we drive to Tzfat, a Jewish art colony and home of Kabbalah study and mysticism. It’s the highest point in the Upper Galilee so the city overlooks a spectacular panorama view of the green and mountainous landscape. Ultra Orthodox stroll through the narrow, winding stone streets filled with synagogues and art and judaica stores. Behind each turn, it seems, are steep, narrow stone stairs beneath ancient archways. Each step we take, it seems, presents the perfect photograph.

And just as people are looking around and checking out the idyllic scene, a seemingly spontaneous celebration erupts. It’s an orthodox bar mitzvah, right in the street, with musicians and balloons and a raucous, joyous crowd. The bar mitzvah boy is sounding the shofar while his buddies hold what looks like a chupah over his head as they all slowly march down the street. Soon we are all singing and clapping along to Hevenu Shalom Alechem and feeling an intense, communal wave of Jewish happiness. It was all completely foreign and completely familiar. Another crazy, surreal Israel moment. As Rabbi Yedwab remarked, “We were shopping and a bar mitzvah broke out.”

The long day ended with dinner that was – of course – another amazing experience (I’ll need a thesaurus for the word ‘amazing’ before this trip is over). We connected with the ‘Nahalal Moshav’, a community village founded 96 years ago by a German Jew that moved to Israel. The moshav has had a 10 year partnership with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

We hear from and then dine with some of the teenagers that the Federation has sent to Camp Tamarack. The kids are all about 16 or so, sweet and beautiful. We naturally fall instantly in love with them. They talk about their lives, particularly about their army service which is just a few years away. They are all extremely mature, poised and patriotic. When we press them about their impending military service, they show no fear, but instead a fierce duty to serve their country. Once again, we are all profoundly touched.

They’re just kids, eerily similar to our own children. Yet soon they will be among the Guardians of Israel.

We will keep them in our prayers.

Mark Jacobs

Read yesterday’s blog from Israel, Blogs From Israel – Mark Jacobs’ Day 3.

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