Coincidence had it in mind that we would once again cross paths with our new L.A friend Brian. Before we left the U.S we found out that Brian would be in Israel at the same time as us, this meant one thing. ROAD TRIP!
We organised to met up with Brian in En Gedi where we spent our last day eating great food with the fams, talking profound nonsense with Gil and Efrat, swimming in the pool and having one last soak in the sulphur pool and Dead sea. In which we took the opportunity to once more cover ourselves in mud. Then, with the aid of Brian’s scrap of paper with places he wanted to see and the advise we were given to go north, the three of us said our goodbyes and caught a bus to Haifa.
Conveniently, Brian had a friend who lived in Haifa and thus we met the lovely Keren. She fed us a lovely dinner and took us out to watch the hideously embarrassing World Cup match of Australia versus Germany. We settled in to a lovely leather couch, munching on sushi and tried to forget the horrors which unfolded onscreen. Afterwards we frolicked on the beach under the stars and made merry on the playground/exercising equipment ubiquitous on the beaches of Israel. The next day, with knuckles white and clutching the edge of our seats we entered the highways to the north. Excessive use of horns and large amounts of latent aggression taken out on the roads led to a terrifying journey. Firstly we stopped at the necropolis of Bet Shearim, or as we liked to call them, the Death Caves. The site of a Jewish village from the 1st century BCE during the times of King Herod, there remains a series of tombs and various burial caves tunneled into the mountain.
After a quick splash in the Jordan river we winded our way into the hills to the beautiful city of Safed (tsfat) the Kabbala centre of the world. Dotahn had a taste of his Jewish heritage as he and Brian went in search of a Mikvah, or sacred bathhouse. Ushered upstairs by an orthodox man with a large beard, the room was simple and tiled with stairs leading into a large pool of cold water. The idea is to submerge oneself completely to wash away the sins. Something like a baptism, but as a regular and adult ritual. After being cleansed we headed downstairs and were urged to pray as a sign of respect to the local Rabbi. Everywhere in Israel one encounters people with a table set up to urge passers-by to take part in the prayer. It involves a seemingly complex set of instruments called the Tefillin, two small sealed boxes containing scriptures from the Torah and a bunch of leather straps. You have to bind the straps around one box, strapping it to your arm and around your fingers and the other box is strapped to your forehead. A series of words are recited, basically stating your allegiance to the Jewish god and so forth. Surrounded by a number of very amused orthodox Jews it was quite an experience. Emmily and Keren also wanted to experience the Mikvah but were denied. A common occurence, we were not allowed into any of the synagogues, but sometimes they had a small women’s section were we could watch the men behind screens.
Unfortunately it was getting dark and all the art galleries for which Safed is known were close, but the city itself was amazing. Highly religious and home to a number of different sect of orthodox Judaism it is a series of winding cobbled alleyways with synagogues and places for the study of religious documents. As the centre for the study of the Kabbalah the city is stained blue in parts, a beautiful contrast to the white stone. We went to an orthodox synagogue and watched the evening prayer. A large, domed room with clouds painted on the ceiling filled with men in black suits with large curled sideburns rocking endlessly and singing or muttering, some in complete rapture with the prayers.
Haifa is a city built on the mountains edging very close to the sea, one cannot help but see a complex and symmetrical series of gardens taking pride of place upon the mountain. These are the Bahai gardens only accessable to pilgrims or with a tour. At the top of our must see list of Haifa we weaved our way through the confusing streets and barely made the beginning of the tour. As our tour guide instructed us on the history of Bahai we made our way down the different tiers of the garden affording a spectacular view of the city. The garden is immaculately manicured, everything in its proper place, and made up of symmetrical shapes. The Bahai’s belive that every messenger of all the worlds religions are from the same source and their goal is for a world community.
That night Keren took us to Caesarea, another city built by King Herod in 30 BCE. It was home to Pontius Pilate, the man attributed to condemning Jesus to death. A sprawling citadel built on the sea, complete with a large wharf. Now home to a bunch of restaurants and tourist sites it was still awe-inspiring. The ruins were still fairly intact and it was evidently a huge city. Better yet, we could climb on it!! We spent some time crawling amongst the walls and stones and trying to climb the pillars in the bathhouse. Like an ancient playground it was a lot of fun.
Heading further north with our newly acquired wheels we found a cheap hotel in Tiberias ,a city near the Kinneret or Sea of Gallilee. We soon discovered why it was so cheap, a fairly boring city, confirmed later when talking to our Israeli friends. Uninspired we traipsed around the pier and slept early. The next morning after looking at more ruins in town ( throw a rock in Israel and where it lands is more ruins) we drove to the mount where Jesus supposedly delivered his most famous sermon called the Beatitudes. A small chapel only made interesting by the variety of outfits worn by the various priests, bishops, cardinals and other officials of the church which flocked to the site. As the sun beat us into submission we drove to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, strangely named considering that it is a huge lake. As we eagerly jumped from the car to race into the water we turned to find the keys entombed within our car. Not too much of a problem except for the fact that we were already outside the car in only our bathing suits. A funny hour ensued with a crowd of men quickly gathering to try to break into the car, each one having a ‘better’ way of doing it. All unsuccessful a locksmith was on the way.
Brian contacted another friend of his in Tel Aviv and we drove back to the city to stay with her. Anna and her housemate, another Keren, were both lovely and let us stay in their apartment for a couple of nights. Around a box of pizza we all drank Champaign from plastic cups and were introduced to Isreali music in the smoky haze of conversations spun late into the night about the state of Israel, music and travel. Keren made an observation which we found intriguing and hadn’t heard before, that Israeli’s need a perpetual state of war in order to feel comfortable. That in Australia, weren’t we bored by peace? By the lack of tension? We asked her what Israel would do if there was peace and she said that they would probably be bored.
We managed to find an interesting art exhibition to attend thanks to Anna’s recommendation and made our way into the city for the Masters show of a major art school in Tel Aviv. It was a very contemporary and interesting mix of multimedia, sculpture and conceptual work. Afterwards we mosied into the markets, like salmon swimming against the tide of people we pushed our way out the other side and found Jesus. Quiet and serene, he sat amongst the crowds as the Hasidic Jews behind him tried to get tourist to pray with the Tefillin box’s.
As the sun receded we made our way towards the steady pounding of drumming coming from a beach in Tel Aviv. Much dancing and merry-making ensured a late night with the introduction of more friends and a cool swim in the ocean. With the moon reflecting off the black waters I felt a strange form like rubber beneath my hand and a stinging sensation on my wrist. As I looked down I noticed a huge transparent jellyfish floating in front of me, barely visible in the dark water. As I looked closer I noticed that their was a herd of floating forms, lazily swimming in the darkness. Later we were notified that we had encountered what the locals call “Medusa” A visit to a roof top bar ended the night in a spinning haze of giggles.
With regret we said our goodbye’s to Brian, hoping that fate would bring us together again in more unlikely circumstances.