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Sunday, December 19, 2010


All the excitement of Israel's Tel Megiddo happens before lunch, and our Margaret Morse tour has an amazing afternoon planned for us. To introduce us to a people and culture we might never meet, we visit a Druze town and the home of a member of that community. I admit that I had never even heard of this religion, and I love the introduction to new ideas and people. Once again, I am not disappointed.

Druze Village
The Druze religion has its roots in Egypt during the 10th century, and approximately 100,000 of the one million Druze reside in Israel. They reside in their own ancient towns although in some there are small numbers of Christians and Muslims among them. They have their own courts that deal with personal matters, and they have attained high status politically and economically. The religion is different from Islam, and they maintain their own communities and customs. They consider their religion a new interpretation of monotheism, and they have eliminated the rituals that they feel turn people from the pure faith. They do not allow conversion to their religion. A main aspect of their belief involves secrecy. Those who learn the secrets, “the Known,” are recognizable, if male, by their dress and big mustaches. The Known women, too, dress in a distinct manner and use particular colors. The rest of the Druze are the “Unknowns.” Once Israel became a state in 1948, the Druze chose to become part of the new country and first served as volunteers in the Army and then as part of the draft. For an interesting discussion of the Druze, please visit this site on the Jewish Virtual Library.

Our incredible journey includes a visit to a local resident. We are welcomed into the home of Foad Halabi, a local businessman. Druze home

Foad Halabi's home

We sit in the big living room—a common component of a Druze household and an indication of their hospitable society. There we are offered the strong Arab coffee and some delicious cookies by the Halabi daughters.
coffee and cookies
The coffee cups are only half-filled to indicate that more is ready should we desire. We are welcomed guests.

Druze Hospitality

Then Mr. Halabi discusses the Druze relationship with Israel and shows us his own Israeli Army photos.
Foad Halabi

As the Druze marry within their religion, culture, and community, last names are often the same, and it is hard to tell if the restaurant we go to for lunch, owned by the Halabi Bros., is owned by Mr. Halabi's real brothers, but we have a wonderful menu sampling quite a few of the Middle Eastern foods.
Halabi Bros. restaurant

Here we tourists aptly demonstrate our cluelessness. Our long table is laden with many dishes, hummus, pita bread, olives, pickles, eggplant,and dips, sauces, and other vegetables
. Arab luncheon

We're still relative strangers to each other, but we share a curiosity, and we eat everything offered. Completely satiated, we are ready to leave. We assume we have had our lunch. NOT!!!! We've merely finished the first course in a three course meal! You can bet all eight of us at the table have a good laugh. And full bellies!

Druze village

But we definitely enter our Mr. Halabi's store filled with lovely items. And yes, I buy a beautiful hand-woven Druze scarf. Just beautiful.

Foad Halabi's store
Foad Halabi's store

Despite differences, the Druze and the Jews live peacefully with each other, and both people prosper in this land because they respect each other. It all seems so simple to me. That's what is so sad.

Here's a sad fact that is also a part of this land. There is a Druze community in the Golan Heights, but they remain neutral. They have been threatened by the Arabs if they become loyal to Israel. Additionally they have real reason to fear should they ally themselves with Israel and then the Golan Heights are returned, by treaty or by force, to Israel. There will be revenge for their loyalty and their beliefs.

This experience in the Druze village is something I would never have had on my own. It was another side of Israel, exotic and wonderful. It's a wonderful introduction to a culture of which I was unaware, and I have done some further reading about them. There's so much to learn about the world....

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


What an incredible day! We took an optional trip to Tel Megiddo, an Israeli National Park and UNESCO inscribed World Heritage Site. A tel is an archeological dig, and this one goes back to Biblical times when Megiddo was one of the most important cities in the region. Controlling Megiddo meant controlling the Via Maris (the Way of the Sea) a trade route that linked the ancient world's centers of culture and power—Egypt and Mesoptamia--as well as the Jezreel Valley. Mention of Megiddo's battles can be found in the Bible in Song of Deborah, Judges 5:13. The Christian tradition identifies Megiddo as Armageddon where the great battle of The End of Days will occur. (Revelation 16:16)

Tel Megiddo model

Usually a dig is funded for about five years, but Megiddo has constantly been funded because the site has given us great insights and relics of the past. It is also the setting of James Michener's wonderful epic novel, The Source. Megiddo means “source.” Michener re-named it Makor for his novel, but his description is pretty accurate. I re-read The Source just before coming on this trip. You know how I feel about books. This was an extra layer of excitement for me. While writing the book, Michener lived in the Dan Carmel Hotel in Haifa--our hotel. Cool.

Fantastic as it may seem, shards discovered in Megiddo attest to human habitation as early as the Neolithic period. That's the seventh and sixth millennium BCE!

One theory of its history suggests that King Solomon built a large city at Megiddo with two palaces, and we visited the Solomonic Gates. As a protective measure for the city, these gates improved on the Canaanite civilization's which had cells along the entryway where defenders hid and ambushed attackers. Obviously that didn't work too well because the Canaanite civilization was destroyed. The Solomonic Gates added a series of right angle turns to those cells. That way the attackers could not rush into the city, and in slowing them down, the defenders might be successful.
Solomonic gates at Megiddo

It is a thrill to see these structures. The imagination takes me back in time to see the finished walls and to picture the people living here so long ago. I did understand what I was seeing because of Michener's treatment in his novel. While we did not use them in our climb to the plateau, the stone steps used by the gatekeeper to check the identity of visitors are still there.

gatekeeper's stairs at Megiddo

We saw the way these structures were constructed by slave labor. What we have in Meggido are foundations made of stone—big and heavy blocks of stone. To build with these stones would have taken too much time, so on top of the stone foundations, mud bricks were used. Mud bricks are made of mud and straw. Then the walls were plastered on both sides.

Tel Megiddo

Over the centuries, nay millennium, the plaster wore away and the mud bricks decomposed leaving the marvelous stone foundations, steps, and other stone structures for us to study and to look at with awe. Of the many fascinating structures, I was amazed by the condition of an ancient granary--the storage facility that allowed the inhabitants to withstand sieges.

Grain holder
Notice the pathway leading down into this huge storage facility.

We observed a “slice” into a “cult area” and its altar where Canaanites made sacrifices to their god, Malach. Archeologists made big, deep squares, and they are labeled by their longitude and latitude. As they dig down in the square, every relic found is labeled with a letter and a number so even if it is removed, there is no doubt of its origin.

Notice the view here. You can see why this was a strategic location.

Amazingly, as we look at antiquity at our feet, the sky reveals gliders and ultra-lights. We are truly in a marvelous space.

But most wonderful is our descent into the water system dated by some scholars to the reign of King Solomon in the 10th century BCE, but others date it in the 9th. WHATEVER.... This system, an engineering marvel of its day, enabled the people of Megiddo to divert their water source, originally outside the city's protective walls to inside the walls. They dug (remember that only primitive tools were available) a 36-meter-deep shaft from which a 70-meter-long horizontal tunnel extended to the spring which emerged in a cave at the foot of the mound outside the walls. The tunnel was cut on an incline so water would flow to the bottom of the shaft and the inhabitants could draw water while standing at the top. The outer entrance was sealed with a massive stone wall and concealed with earth so that an enemy could not discover the location.

We descended 187 steps to the tunnel and ascended 80 steps back to the surface after we walked through the 3,000 year old tunnel just as the women of Megiddo did thousands of years ago--only they carried empty and then full water urns with them. While we used new, metal stairs, the original stone steps are still visible.

Stairs to Meggido's Well

Down to Meggido's well

Megiddo water tunnel

This was unquestionably the highlight of the visit. Read Michener's The Source as the novel deals with the building of the system by Jabaal the Hoopoe.

There is a Kibbutz at Megiddo today, but it, as other Kibbutzim has entered the capitalistic world in order to survive. They are building private homes for people. The new owners are not Kibbutz members, but they offer a way for the Kibbutz to make money and survive.

Kibbutz Megiddo

The thing about Israel is that each day I think that this is as good as it gets. I am soooo wrong.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Our next stop is an unfortunate part of Israel's history. Under British rule and despite the homelessness caused by the Holocaust, Jewish immigration to Israel was severely limited. We visit a British detention camp which at times housed 2,000 detainees, some who stayed here for over two years. It looks horrible and is even more despicable when one considers the plight of those detainees, their experiences in Europe, and their struggles trying to reach this land.

Imagine coming out of a Nazi concentration camp and having no home or, perhaps, family. You finally make your way to a ship to take you to Palestine. But your boat is sent back or you are taken to a detention camp. From the ship, you are loaded into railroad cattle cars similar to the ones the Nazis used to take away your relatives--or perhaps you--and brought to a camp of long “dormitories” within a barbed wire perimeter.

You are told to undress and you go through a de-lousing procedure in a shower-type environment. There are manned guard towers to make sure you don't escape. And you don't know your fate. How terrifying for the detainees; how cruel and inhumane on the part of the British.

gun tower

As tourists inside the dormitories, we see names carved into the wooden walls. Not graffiti. These detainees with no home to return to after freedom from concentration camps also were unaware if their families were still alive. The names represent desperate messages to others passing through who might pass on their names to people looking for them.


These detainees were Jews being punished for being Jewish and trying to get into their homeland—a land primarily owned by the Rothschilds. Baron Rothschild and his friends bought the land from the Ottomans. They owned nearly 70% of the land that became Israel. In fact, there are still areas owned by this family. The British Mandate from the League of Nations was to create that Jewish homeland. Tell me how the British could issue a White Paper in 1939 limiting and then denying Jewish entry. Explain why the Jews were forbidden the ability to defend themselves when the English knew what is going to happen when they left? Oh, oil....

This camp is horrifying on so many levels, but our day is not going to end on a depressing note.

Two wonderful events happen this evening. I could not foretell how I would react, but I want to share my feelings with you.

It is Friday. At 4:15 PM, I go into the main lobby of our beautiful hotel, the Dan Carmel in the hills high above Haifa. There I join other Jewish women to light Shabbat candles. To do this in Israel is quite a remarkable and wonderful event. I cry.


Then, in the evening, we attend Shabbat services in the hotel. These services are arranged by Margaret Morse Tours, and one of the guides, Allan, leads us. So many people attend that they run out of prayer books, and we share with our neighbors. Here we are, people from all around the U.S.A and from several other countries being led in prayer by an Israeli via England, and we are able to sing the same prayers in the same order to the same tunes. It is wonderful. No matter where I go in the world, the common language of Hebrew binds me together with other Jewish people in prayer. We are brethren.

Then the Margaret Morse family—we tourists—have a traditional Shabbat dinner in the dining room, saying the prayers over the wine and then over the challah which we share. There is a familial warmth that is impossible to describe, and on the second day of the tour there is a closeness among strangers.

Israel is a truly remarkable place. I am not alone in discovering the marvel. People of other religions—and we see busses and meet others in the hotel announcing their religions often by the tour tags they wear—will experience for themselves the wonder of this land because it is so important to all of us.

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Friday, December 03, 2010


our tour bus
The day in Israel begins with a very thought-provoking stop at the Yitzhak Rabin Memorial at the Municipal Building in the heart of Tel Aviv. Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli fanatic unhappy with Rabin’s attempts to make peace with Yassar Arafat.

The memorial is very modern and depicts upturned stones, the result of an earthquake—Rabin’s assassination. The bedrock, the foundation, loses its solidity. The Memorial speaks for itself, and we get the point.
Rabin Memorial

Our next stop of the day is stunning--the 101 year old building housing the Eretz Israel Museum and once the home of Tel Aviv’s mayor. It was here, in Independence Hall, in front of 350 people on a Friday afternoon shortly before Shabbat that David Ben Gurion proclaimed the birth of the State of Israel.

May 15, 1948 New York Times
Our guide in Independence Hall gives us a background of the city, but she also educates us about Israel’s birth pangs. She shows us the 1947 partition map Israel accepted but the Arabs rebuffed. The orange is the Jewish area; the yellow is the Arab area. The plan was to establish both an Israel and an Arab state, but we know that 62 years later, Israel is still not on all maps in the world.
1947 Partition map

In 1948, by the way, Israel was a functioning country with hospitals, schools, etc. Hebrew was spoken by the children even if their parents came as refugees speaking Yiddish. There was no need to start from scratch in this new nation. The British left on May 15 leaving their remaining weapons to the Arabs. Three hours after they left, Egypt bombed Tel Aviv.

The Israelis invited the Arab population to stay. 350,000 chose to leave anyway. The Arab countries expelled about 650,000 Jews. Israel also absorbed about 350,000 Holocaust survivors. Think about it.

Our guide also said that tourists visiting Israel often think that Israelis are used to the idea of war and go about unconcerned. There is nothing further from the truth, she says. She is a mother. Two of her children have already served in the army, and the third will be serving soon. It is never easy for a mother to send her children to the army. It is never possible to be used to the threat of war.

As we head back to our tour bus past buildings old and new, we walk on Baron Rothschild Boulevard. This is a wide avenue with a middle section as a tree-lined pedestrian mall. Tel Aviv is on the Mediterranean, and it is HOT. The trees provide shade and a bit of shelter and coolness from the heat. It is similar in purpose to the squares of Savannah, Georgia. Lovely.
Baron Rothschild Boulevard

We leave Tel Aviv on the road to Caesarea, King Herod’s magnificent work of architecture and art dedicated to Augustus Caesar. Caesarea was once the largest port in the Roman Empire.

We pass orange groves, melon fields, and fields of prickly pear cactus. As we past Netanya we are traveling along the road once known as the Via Maris, the ancient trade route that made this land so important. Much of the time the sea in on our right, and it is beautiful.

Caesarea is a National Park. Even before we enter the theater we see Roman statues of marble and granite. These we learn had to be imported either finished or in pieces because those stones are not found in Israel.

Roman statues

The statues were found missing heads, noses, or other vital organs, probably because civilizations following the Romans—Christians and Muslims—did not allow graven images.

Roman statue

The theater was one of the first areas excavated because it was visible from the air. Israel uses Herod’s theater TODAY! Imagine—Herod built Caesarea between 22 and 10 BCE.

Roman theater

We look out past Herod’s swimming pool—a freshwater pool with water from 20 miles away traveling through the still-standing aqueducts—that edged the Mediterranean.

Herod's pool

Roman aqueducts

Roman aqueducts

Roman aqueducts

There was the port there, a brilliant feat by Herod, a mad, homicidal genius. He partially filled boxes with pumice, floated them out on the water where they filled, sank, and the pumice turned to cement. He piled box upon box, and it was in that manner that he built his port!

Caesarea is famous for other events too: in 66 CE the great Jewish revolt, the Bar Kochba Rebellion, against the Romans began here. Rabbi Akiva was martyred here. Peter and Paul left from here to spread Christianity. The city’s end came as a result of attacks from the Marmelukes, earthquakes, and the Crusades. Perhaps most important is that a stone engraved with Pontius Pilate’s name was found here, proving historically that he and Jesus lived at the same time.

Pontius Pilate

On to the Roman Hippodrome. This huge area had everything but Charleton Heston and Yul Brenner.

The seats on the sea side have washed down, but the far side of the stadium and its seats are there.
The course is long, but the ends are quite narrow, and there are the choice seats for the chariot accidents tended to happen on the dangerous turns. The Hippodrome is so intact that it is not
difficult to let imaginations run to those days, 2,000 years ago when this was an active recreation venue.

We also look at Roman baths and learn how they worked. Enough of the serious stuff. Our next stop was a Roman toilet. The two stones became the toilet seat, and underneath was a trough through which water ran to wash away waste products. No toilet paper however. By the feet was a shallow trough. A stick with a sponge sat in the water there, and the person used that to clean himself/herself.

Enough? OK.

Caesarea was extraordinary—awesome in the true sense of the word. Once again, our guide, David, was brilliant in his explanations and knowledge.

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