Sunday, June 17, 2012

Marvellous Israel.

A travellers' diary: June 2012.

Jerusalem is lit up at night during the festival of lights. People are pouring in from everywhere to look at the Old City walls. Sitting on terraces at restaurants on Mamilla Street, watching the various religious members dressed in their distinctive garb happily intermingling putting a lie to all the spoilers and doom sayers in the media about coexistence.
Our hotel on the 'seam' between East and West Jerusalem is full of guests from all parts of the world. At breakfast we notice the Greek Orthodox Patrirach whose hand is kissed by some of his followers and at the next table the ultra Orthodox Rabbi is siitting with his entourage all being waited on by the Arab waiters.

The Dead Sea hotels are full; the weather is hot,- the water is thick, oily and smooth and soothing on the skin. Our package included 2 nights at the Meridian Hotel, shuttle bus to and from the opera site at the foot of Masada, supposed half-board which actually was full-board with complimentary buffet lunches and suppers, complete with musical entertainment.
Arriving at the venue we were amazed at the forecourt set-up with bars, food stalls, beautiful garden furniture for seating among trees in huge planters so that the 7000 patrons each night could wait for the doors to open to the stands. the lighting and sound system is first class and the staging is unbelievable,- dancers, horses, carriages all upon a set-up stage,

We were fortunate to be invited by Professor Reuven Feuerstein to the Board of Governors Assembly and the awarding of Honorary Doctorates and 2 special prizes,- one to him for his life's work in the field of education world-wide and the other to a women's leader from the Bedouin Community. The latter was absolutely wonderful to behold and to hear her story. She started a women's movement all on her own with the support of her parents and 14siblings,- many of whom were there to witness the ceremony.
Following the brief speeches from all the honourees, we were bussed to the amphitheatre where the actual presentations were made, including to the new Ph.D. graduates of the university.


There is far too much to see and experience in this ancient capital. The new Israel Museum, recently refurbished has some incredible art and artifacts in a most beautiful setting. After feeding the mind we fed the body at the ancient market,- Mahane Yehuda; then more at the Museum of Tolerance right near our hotel, followed by lunch in the elegant old-world American Colony Hotel courtyard.
At night we met our Melbourne friends in the German Colony area and dined at one of the many fine restaurants in that suburb.


We were driven by our KKL organised guide past Shderot right up to the Kibbutz Nahal Oz, just a stone.s-throw away, let alone a missile away from the Gaza border. The modern kibbutz is no longer the total communal socialist structure of the past. it is more a community of individuals around the communal infrastructures. In areas where there are easy transport facilities, schools and hospitals, the kibbutzim are attracting young families who build or rent homes on the kibbutz land. It is like a 'country club' atmosphere nowadays! They also build factories and may subcontract even heir farming enterprises.
We saw how they pipe all the treated waste water from the city of Tel Aviv to irrigate the Negev desert where they can grow the produce which previously used to flourish on the seaboard around Tel Aviv. We visited the Golda Park at the Anzac Trail, - sponsored by Australian JNF with the playground by NCJWA. A large group of Bedouin families were enjoying a picnic and the bar-b-q smells assailed us as soon as we arrived.
Then we had lunch with the members of Zahal Bet Halochem in Beer Sheva a new and most modern facility for disabled soldiers,or victims of terrorist attacks and their families. The extensive physiotherapy division was sponsored by the Drimer family estate (of which I was a trustee.)

This historic settlement since 1884 is home to members of my husband's family. Spending a few days with them means living like the locals,- travelling by local 'sherut', mini-bus-cum-taxi or commuter bus or rail to Tel Aviv. One day, to the regional town of Rehovot and the big shopping center; on another day, eating lunch in the local Arab restaurant,- beautiful fish with great Arabic coffee or in the opposite Kosher restaurant Shwarma and a dozen salads with great pitta breads!
The history of Gedera goes back to the first settlers known as 'Biluim' who fled  the pogroms of Russia. Being on the road to Beer Sheva and with new cross-freeways from Jerusalem to Haifa in the North it has become a popular development town with many new family homes being built on land previously full of orange groves. It also features in the history of the Anzacs and the Light Horse brigade at the time of the WW1 Beer Sheva campaign against the Turks.
Our cousins whose children and grandchildren all live around them in beautiful established homes and gardens are very hospitable and we enjoy the summer weather being entertained and spoilt by all of them. When a police helicopter flew high up overhead, we all waved at it from the garden below because we knew it was our young cousin pilot saying hello to us and his family! That evening he told us that he had caught a group of drug-dealers in the desert with his high-tech Israeli invented cameras which can see everything from 10,000m above,- day or night!

Tomorrow we say good-bye for a week, then return for another 12 days to Tel Aviv to catch up with our other friends there and at ILAN and with my side of the family in Haifa.

Shalom from sunny Israel once again. June 25th.

On our return we spent a few days at a boutique hotel on the beachfront's main street, Hayarkon. We were busy with friends and family. One official function however was included. Our longstanding NCJWA project, the ILAN kindergarten in Tel Aviv for severe physically handicapped young children was dedicating a special room in the memory of a stalwart supporter from Melbourne, the late Sonja Krawat (of blessed memory). Sonja's daughter Ruth with husband Ian Heuison and daughter Charlotte as well as several cousins from Tel Aviv were on hand for the moving dedication ceremony. The care and amenities these children receive and have is outstanding. The organization headed by longstanding president Hanna Laor deserves all the support it can get from NCJWA.

The last few days in Israel we spent with my first cousin Zaava again, but at her beautiful new apartment in the hills of Carmel in Haifa. Again, the newly opened tunnels through the hills with their amazing fly-over-road system approaches shows the fact that this nation never stands still!

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