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Sunday, January 16, 2011


Margaret Morse Tours includes a stop that every one of us eagerly anticipates: two days at Israel’s Hagoshrim Kibbutz. It is not at all what I expect!!! My idea of a kibbutz is an idealized farming community where people rough it out in a daily, harmonious, sharing of labor and rewards. Simplistic, to say the least—maybe even simple-minded. I quickly learn that about 70% of Israel’s kibbutzim have turned to capitalism; one has to make money to survive, to send one’s children to college, and to live in today’s world. The work is still hard, but things have changed in the world of the kibbutz.

Hagorshim Kibbutz

The Hagoshrim Kibbutz operates a hotel and resort, and it is lovely. Here is an unpretentious hotel with amenities and simple comforts lacking in the beautiful, much more formal Dan Carmel in Tel Aviv (I’m not complaining; that was a magnificent hotel, but this was so different). Set in the center of the Hula Valley, it faces the Golan Heights. Our rooms are simply decorated, comfortable with free wifi, something Rob and I absolutely refuse, in principle, to pay for but which always seems to come with a hefty charge in more “upscale” hotels. The lobby and bar are inviting, and there is live music in the evenings. The restaurant is big yet cozy and the meals varied and selections plentiful. A big, comfortable, country inn in America would be analogous.

The 210 members of this agricultural/hotel kibbutz live differently from the guests, but since 2000 they have become business people. On our first evening, we are addressed by a woman who has spent most of her adult life here. Children now live with their parents where once they were raised communally spending only short periods of time with their parents—from 4 to 7 PM daily. Houses, therefore, are more spacious than they once were to accommodate an entire family. The communal dining room has disappeared, replaced by home-cooking. The children leave the kibbutz at 18 to do their stint in the Army and then to go to college. Some return to the kibbutz; some do not. People are now paid salaries according to their jobs where once everything was divided equally. Many work outside the kibbutz. There are other changes, of course, but one very important way of life remains. They help each other. They are taken care of by the kibbutz from birth to death, and there is no fear that illness or age will leave one destitute. The members still constitute a loving family caring for one another. One cannot underestimate this important factor. Even as the kibbutz has evolves, the community remains.

Hagorshim Kibbutz
a block of kibbutz members' homes

In the morning we take a tour of the kibbutz, past the members’ homes and the other features of the resort—fountains, gardens, a swimming pool, athletic fields and trails—the same amenities you would find at any nice resort.

Hagorshim Kibbutz

Hagorshim Kibbutz

Interestingly, it is on this kibbutz that the Epilady was invented, and for a while it brought substantial income. However, as bigger companies throughout the world began to manufacture similar appliances at lower cost to the consumer, Epilady went bankrupt. This, of course, is another side of capitalism.

On our walk we passed the bomb shelters that are installed throughout the grounds.

Hagorshim Kibbutz
Kibbutz bomb shelter

The Hula Valley sits in the shadow of the Golan Heights, and this area is a ready target for those who control the Heights. The Hula Valley was once a swamp that the Israelis drained with ditches and redirected the water to make the area blossom into an agricultural garden and a bird sanctuary. However, the farmers were fired upon so often from Syrians on the Golan Heights and so many were killed that there was a near uprising against working in the fields. Today the fields can be irrigated through remote electronic controls of the irrigators although today the Israelis control the vital Golan Heights.

Golan Heights
From Mt. Bentel (a dormant volcano) atop the Golan Heights.  Notice the short distances between the locations on the sign. Damascus, Syria and Amman, Jordan are closer than the Israeli Prime Minister's office!

We take our tour bus up into the Golan Heights, and as our bus climbs to the top of Mt. Bentel, we see how narrow the valley is with the hills on the other side clearly in view, how beautifully lush with growing produce, and how splendidly Israel has turned a swamp into the garden. We also see how a sniper with a high powered rifle can make quick work of murder.

Golan Heights  Hula Valley

Golan Heights  Hula Valley

Golan Heights  Hula Valley

As we leave the bus to see the views from the top of the Golan Heights, the path is lined with sculptures made from war’s debris. Eerie.

Golan Heights  sculpture

Golan Heights  sculpture

The top of the mountain overlooks the Israeli-Syrian border. The green fields of agriculture contrast with the brown across the border, but the road marking the border is clearly visible.

Golan Heights

New settlements are being built along the border on the Syrian side. It is a well-known tactic to hide offensive men and materiel among civilians to intimidate the Israelis from defending themselves for fear of inciting the world’s ire for harming civilians.

Golan Heights  Syria

It was in this valley that the biggest tank battle of the war took place with massive losses on both sides.

Golan Heights

Golan Heights

Golan Heights

In previous peace negotiations, our Secretary of State Henry Kissinger could not fathom why Prime Minister Golda Meir would not give up more of the Golan Heights. She eventually talked him into accompanying her here via helicopter where he could see the vulnerability of Israel from those Heights. He backed away from his position, and the Golan Heights remained in Israeli control. If you ever question Israel’s adamancy, take a trip and see how vital a position these hills are to the country’s safety.

Today one can visit the village of Katzrin re-established in 1977.  It is built on the site of the ancient Jewish Village of Katzrin in existence long before the Muslim conquest.  Although we do not visit, we can identify the village by its red rooves. 

Golan Heights Syria

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Friday, January 07, 2011


When my friend gave me Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking, I was awfully skeptical. I shy away from celebrity memoirs because I DON’T REALLY WANT THE DIRT on people I see on screen. Additionally, in this case I’ve liked her mother, Debbie Reynolds, since Tammy. When the show Wishful Drinking was on Broadway, I just avoided it. But I was 100% wrong. This is a sad but delightful memoir full of humor—often self-deprecating—and it is very, very funny. It’s laugh-out-loud funny. I’m sorry I didn’t see the show.

At 52, Carrie Fisher is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic, a Hollywood icon because she was Star Wars’ Princess Leia and daughter of two very famous, though not necessarily for the same reasons, Hollywood stars, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. She is also the former wife of Paul Simon. And she has had electroconvulsive therapy—something many unfamiliar with it refer to as electroshock. She is also a very talented and entertaining writer with a sharp wit and an in-your-face delivery. When you read about her childhood, you’ll see why they call Los Angeles La-La Land.

Amazingly absent from this book is bitterness. She lives next door to her mother, and while she pokes fun at Debbie Reynolds’s idiosyncrasies, Carrie even shares her mother’s clothing closet with us. “My mother’s closet was the magical place that she entered as my mom and emerged as Debbie Reynolds. Her closet was huge, like an enormous room, with an entrance and an exit, lined on each side by clothes of every sort…My mother was magnificent when she was decked out in all her glory.”

She talks about her father, Eddie Fisher, referring to the time after Elizabeth Taylor’s husband (and Eddie’s best friend) Mike Todd dies in a plane crash. “Well, naturally my father flew to Elizabeth’s side, gradually making his way slowly to her front…Now this made marriage to my mother awkward, so he was gone within a week.”

The book was written while Eddie Fisher was still alive, and despite everything, he is described in this manner: “My father is beyond likeable. I mean you would just love him. My father also smokes four joints a day. Not for medical reasons. So I call him Puff Daddy.”

The point is, of course, that Carrie Fisher’s talent has not been swallowed up by the demons that plagued her life, and she is a fighter. The book, the play, and her relationships are all part of her struggling recovery. For all its humor, it has an undercurrent of sadness. But maybe that’s because it seems very true.

I’m sorry I passed up seeing Wishful Drinking on Broadway because if there would be one thing to bring out this book to its fullest, it would have been hearing the stage version in her own voice. Somehow, when I finished the book, I felt sorry for her life as it must be tough when you begin life anew at 52. But I admire her strength because she has made it through, is raising a daughter, Billie, of whom she is very proud, and she seems to have made peace with her past. So this is a book read with a smile on your face, and that makes it an excellent traveling companion.

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Thursday, January 06, 2011


In Israel on the road to Safed and an ancient Sephardic synagogue, our Margaret Morse tour bus stops in Carmiel for us to view a sculpture that seemed to sum up Jewish history. The artist depicted feelings of despair coupled with hope. The sculptures were filled with family and love. To explain, let me share the artist, Nicky Imber’s own words:

Dear Friends,
Many years ago, when I escaped form Dachau, I promised myself that if I should survive, I would dedicate my artistic life to perpetuating the memory of the Holocaust. I have created many different works of art in my lifetime, but most poignantly important are the ones standing in Carmiel today, and hopefully forever. From deep within my heart, I created them in honor of those who perished, those who have survived and those who follow and need to remember.
The park at Carmiel is entitled "The History of the Jewish People" and including three groupings: "Holocaust", "Aliyah", and "Hope". It depicts people who know that their end will be, but never give up hope and their faith in G-d. These are actual pictures I have in my mind from my horrible existence in Dachau.

I also invite you to visit Nicky Imber’s website, particularly to read the biography of this extraordinary man.

As you look at the photographs, you will see the anguish of the people. In "Holocaust," the pain on their faces reflects the pain of all the people suffering.

Nicky Imber's History of the Jewish People

In "Aliyah," one man carries the Torah back to Israel.

Nicky Imber's History of the Jewish People

In "Hope," the mother and child give us positive thoughts of the future and of future generations.

Nicky Imber's Hope

Imber contributed sculpted animals to the parks in Carmiel for children to climb on and enjoy, and there is also a memorial to the Allies who fought the Nazis.

Memorial to Allied Soldiers

The entire atmosphere is beautiful and moving, but it is also triumphant over evil. I’m glad we visited on this sunny, blue-skyed day.

As we drive through the Carmiel Valley, we pass Arab communities with unfinished homes and learn the custom for a son to bring his new wife into his parents’ home while he builds a new home for his new family. The building may take years as the son earns his money and adds to his home floor by floor.

Traveling to Safed, we pass vineyards, a relatively new addition to Israel, and we also drive up the highest mountain in Israel, Mt. Meron at 3,962 feet.


Safed is one of four holy cities in Israel.

Safed  Safad

At times in its history it has been the center of Jewish learning and  home to some of the most famous Jewish scholars and mystics. Today, too, it is a home to students and people who wish to connect to their heritage. It is a center for Kabbalah. In Safed we visit the Yosef Caro Sephardic Synagogue  named after Yosef Caro, who came to Safed in 1777, prayed in this synagogue, and authored the Shulchan Aruch, The Code of Jewish Law.

This ancient synagogue is quite different from the ones most of the people on the tour are accustomed. The bima is in the middle of the room, and the seating is around the room’s periphery.

seating and books

There are ancient books in cases lining the walls, and the ark is beautiful. Unlike Torahs in our synagogues, here the Torah is encased in a beautiful wooden case in which it can be rolled for reading. I’d never seen something like this before.


Many of the shops in Safed are art galleries, and in the Artists’ Colony in the Judith Gallery I bought a beautiful Hamsa, something I had hoped to bring home from Israel with me.

For a good background of Safed, visit the website at You will find this city, continually occupied by at least a Jewish minority throughout the exile from Israel, has a very interesting history and was the site of an important battle during Israel’s War of Independence.

We leave Safed with its beautiful views and head to Hagoshrim Kibbutz in Tiberias to stay for several nights. More on this incredible place (and not at all what I expected) in my next post.

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Sunday, January 02, 2011


Baha'i Gardens  HaifaMany religions find a home in Israel, and it’s joyous to learn about other beliefs in a land where many have their roots. The Baha'i faith has its international headquarters in Haifa, and their famous gardens is the next stop on our Margaret Morse Tour. This religion was founded in the mid nineteenth century by a Persian nobleman who saw himself as the most recent messenger of God similar to Abraham, Krishna, Buddha, Zoraster, Jesus, and Mohammed. The Baha'is believe that all religions are seeking oneness—unification—as there is one God, and one people, and one earth. Given that truth, all people should come together in peace and equality. All should focus on the idea of oneness. Baha'i is an umbrella faith that encompasses all religions. One can practice his own religious customs and still remain a Baha'i. Of course other religions reject that invitation, and the Muslims persecuted the original believers. Baha'u'llah, the founder, was exiled from Persia. He came to Haifa for freedom and to establish the international headquarters. The Baha’i faith owns a significant portion of Haifa, and their shrine and gardens are located on the slope of Mt. Carmel. The Shrine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Baha'i Gardens  Haifa

Amazingly there is no significant Baha'i community in Israel. Those of the Bahai' faith come to Haifa, spend a year or two studying and working in the world-famous Baha'i Gardens. Nature is part of the oneness, and these gardens provide a route to a Bahai's goal.

Baha'i Gardens  Haifa

When Israel became a state, she welcomed all religions, and the Baha’i followers have created an unbelievable place of beauty. On this day, we only visit the top of the gardens. Sadly we have to go through security to enter. The gardens extend down the hill, and they are places of wonder. They are a geometric cascade of hanging and terraced gardens. My photos do not begin to express the pensive mood one would have working or relaxing amidst such beauty.

Baha'i Gardens  Haifa

I can only juxtapose the extraordinary beauty of the Baha'i Gardens with the incredible ugliness of our next stop, the Prison at Akko, built atop the Crusader Walls and the Ottoman Citadel.

akka prison

One site promotes oneness and beauty while the other continued separation and hatred. During the British Mandate period, the prison was used for Jewish Resistance fighters and other political prisoners.

akka prison

It is interesting that the political prisoners came from different segments of the political spectrum with different philosophies and leadership. They were forced to interact with each other in order to make plans.

sculpture at akka prison

The gallows were used for hanging these political prisoners.

gallows at akka prison

Eight Irgun fighters were hanged here, and an eternal flame burns within in memorial to these heroes. Their names are on a plaque that hangs above the flame. Also imprisoned here at one time was Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i Faith.

Memorial Wall

There was a famous prison break from the prison in May, 1947 that made world news. For more information on this break and its repercussions, visit this link to the Jewish Virtual Library.

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