Saturday, December 8, 2007

Final Night in Israel

Deborah from Australia & Tom from New York, new friends from the IsraDrama 2007, and of course "moi".

Though Hanukah is not a major religious holiday in Judaism, it is an especially festive time in Israel. Right now, as I type this, I am hearing from my window a band on Dizengoff Square performing Hanukah songs.
Last night I enjoyed Hanukah at the home of a cousin of mine. It is a time especially for the children, and the little ones dominated everyone's attention. Gift giving to children is customary, but it is not at all like Christmas (or how Hanukah now tends to be celebrated in the West) with many gifts and substantial gifts to all.

This morning, playwright Hasfari picked me up early and took me to breakfast in the town of Ramla, an ancient town located near Ben Gurion Airport (not to be confused with Ramallah on the West Bank). There we went to a restaurant called Halil, where we ate masabcha, a breakfast hummus that is warm, slightly liquidy and filled with whole chicpeas, with sides of pickles, olives, pita bread and a side order of falafel balls (also good to dip into hummus). This is a locals place that's not easy to find, so it's the kind of thing that an Israeli friend you know or meet while here might be willing to take you to--it's about 20 minutes from Tel Aviv.

Then we drove into the Judean hills, where the coastal plain begins its rise toward Jerusalem's mountain tops. In the Beit Shemesh area, Samson lived and fought the Philistines, who were actually from Santorini but migrated to this area after the great volcano eruption & earthquake there, according to Hasfari.

In this area, too, there are the caves of Lu-Zit, natural caverns that are 50 to 100 feet high, and have been enlarged by ancient residents of the area. Hasfari theorized that they might date back as far as to when the Midianites were pillaging the Israelites, shortly before Samuel was approached by the elders to give them a king (Saul), but little archaeological work has been done here yet, and the place is also off the beaten track to the extent that there are few signs.

Then we visited Bet Gemal, which is today a Catholic monastery located on a site that dates back at least to the Byzantines and probably Biblical times. From there, you can also view the city of Beit Shemesh, which has had an influx of religious Jews settling there in recent years.

Back to Hasfari's place where we had cholent and other great things for lunch, and then it was time to say good bye.

Tonight is my last night here, and I plan to visit the bar Silon on King George that has been my watering hole now for 2 weeks, where I have gotten to know the owners Shugon & Orren, bartenders Michal, Shay and Yael, the waitresses Yael, Talia and Naama, and patrons Yoav, Dan and Eitan. Great music there, very "heimisch" as they say in Yiddish, patrons are mostly age 25-35, but at 54, I felt welcome, comfortable, and made friends.

A final day tomorrow to stroll the streets before heading to the airport.

L'hitraot, Tel Aviv!


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