After spending almost two months in Southeast Asia, we flew from Bangkok to Tel Aviv, Israel. (We should be posting about our short trip to Vietnam soon, but I wanted to move along to Israel while it is still fresh).
Israel is a fascinating country, but in some ways it was surprisingly difficult to “function” there. The road signs are all in English, Hebrew and Arabic, but all of the other signs are often in only Hebrew or Arabic. Some people speak English, but knowing some Hebrew helps a lot (thanks Sarah)! Finally, the prominence of religion (primarily, but not exclusively, Judaism, Christianity and Islam) in ordinary life is something you have to keep in mind when coming from a more secular society like the U.S. (In Jerusalem everything completely shuts down from Friday night through Saturday).
After arriving in Israel we initially travelled to the Northern part of the country to see the sights. We visited the city of Tzfat twice (just because it was really cool). Tzfat is one of the four Jewish holy cities in Israel and is particularly important to those who study Kabbalah. Here are some pictures of the old city and surroundings.
Tzfat also has an interesting story from the 1948 War for Independence. The Israeli Jews in Tzfat were fighting the Arab population for control of the city. They did not have any artillery or heavy weapons, except for a “homebrew” mortar, six of which were built by the fledgling State of Israel, called the Davidka (or “little David”, honoring King David’s victory over the giant Goliath). Apparenlty, the Davidka was so inaccurate that it was pretty useless as an actual battlefield weapon, but it was loud, really loud. The projectile had a tendency to flip through the air and whistle loudly while it was coming down and would explode with an almighty bang when it hit.
The story goes that the Arabs heard a rumor through back channels (either spies who were fed misinformation, or talk between Jewish and Arab women still on good terms with each other) that the Jews had the atom bomb and the Davidka explosions where in fact atomic blasts. The Arabs gave the rumor credence on the basis that many of the scientists who created the atom bomb were Jewish (Einstein, Oppenheimer, etc.). Out of fear of what might happen to them, the entire Arab population evacuated the city overnight, allowing the Israelis to capture it intact. Here is a picture of the Davidka and more of the history.
We also went to the Northern coastal area and visited Haifa and the Rosh HaNikra sea grottoes right by the border with Lebanon. Here are some pictures of the grottoes and the Israeli side of the border (since Israel and Lebanon are technically still at war, the border is closed permanently).
Haifa is a major port for Israel, but also is a religious center for the Baha’i faith. Baha’i is a world religion with more than five million followers. It values all other religious traditions and maintains the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa as a center of the religion and a pilgrimage site for all Baha’i. Here are some pictures of Haifa and the Baha’i Gardens.
We also made a quick stop at the Sea of Galilee (the area where Jesus conducted most of his ministry) before heading South to spend a week in Jerusalem. Here are a couple pictures showing the sea.