Thursday, March 5, 2009

Shmuel Visits the Kibbutz

Despite the fact that Dad went to sleep hours earlier than I, by 9:30am Wednesday morning, he was still sound asleep and snoring softly when I finally decided to get up. Thankfully, Moshe had turned on the "dood" for me earlier in the morning so there would be hot water for showers for both of us. The "dood" is a little red switch in every Israeli home that controls the hot water heater, and takes anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and a half to heat up the water inside, depending on its size I suppose. Most Israelis have them on timers, or they just flip them on a bit before they plan on jumping in the shower. I mention it here, because I often wonder how much energy in America is wasted by our hot water heaters that are constantly maintaining our hot water at a certain temperature 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If I could, I'd have turned mine off when I left for Israel--just like I turned the heat in my apartment down to 55. Note to Obama administration...

Before long, Dad and I were on our way to Kibbutz Beit Hashita, to visit with my adopted family here--Efrat Shalem and her son Neri Mizrahi. I had gotten back in touch with Efrat about 5 years ago, catch up with her and Neri via email every so often and have made a stop at Beit Hashita to visit for a day or two on each trip to Israel since. Efrat had become acquainted with my parents over several Skype and phone conversations over the years, so she was very excited to finally meet Dad and play hostess to the two of us.

When we arrived a bit after noon, we reaffirmed our desire to have a relaxing day on the Kibbutz and to stay close by. The previous day's activities in Jerusalem and all the traveling we had done in Haifa had really taken a toll on Dad's legs and knees, and the fresh air and pastoral atmosphere we were enjoying over cups of coffee outside on Efrat's backyard lawn was facilitating a much-desired relaxed, mellow mood.

Efrat's niece, Carmit, joined us shortly thereafter for a delicious lunch of Schnitzel (in Israel, that means breaded chicken cutlets), salad, homemade tahini (it's pronounced "T'china" for those of you who still say it wrong as "Taheenee"), and potatoes.

Unfortunately, Efrat had come down with what we understand to be a once-a-year migraine earlier in the day. She had taken some medication and gotten some massage treatment before we arrived, but was still feeling reasonably under the weather. We left Efrat to lay down and rest for a bit, while we took our car up the hill into the new neighborhoods being built up at the top of the Kibbutz, and to two beautiful vista points that have been built in that area--Mitzpeh Charuvim and Mitzpeh Yos. Mitzpeh Yos was around in Jessica's and my days on the Kibbutz as students, but it has since been built up as a genuine rest stop now along a new dirt road that runs along the tops of the hills connecting the various Kibbutzim in Emeq Charod almost all of the way Eastward toward Beit She'an.

After a short car tour of the Kibbutz with Carmit, we returned to Efrat's house, where we got caught up a bit with internet duties and Skyped for a bit on the new webcam we had brought as a gift and set up on Efrat's computer, while we waited for Neri to return home from school. Of the many ways the Kibbutz has changed over the years, one is that everyone now travels by privately owned cars from place to place, whereas before the vehicle of choice was the "Toos-toos," which is a gas-powered motor scooter much like the Honda Alex used to drive to Chizuk Amuno. Bikes were always popular methods of transit on most Kibbutzim, but because Beit Hashita was built up the side of a hill, there was a necessity for a bit more oomph, I suppose.

Shortly after Neri returned from school, we set out together in our car for a short ride up to the top of Mt. Gilboa, and across its peaks. The views and natural beauty up there are stunning. One thing we saw at the very entrance to the scenic route at the top of the mountain was that they are building a full-on ski lodge, for what they call "Dry Skiing." Lest I remind you, we're talking about an area where the temperature rarely goes below 50 degrees fahrenheit. Though we all saw the picture at the construction site, along with the shells of what look to be some pretty authentic looking ski lodge buildings, we all had various theories of what "Dry Skiing" actually is. For now, I'm going with Dad's theory that it somehow involves teflon.

As we continued along the road, we were treated to a variety of views including dense forests, vistas of the valley below, and grassy/rocky fields. The forests and fields were all thickly carpeted with wildflowers of white, yellow, purple, pink and deep red. We stopped to take pictures at a few places, rolled down the windows, and breathed the fresh mountain air deeply.

We came down the mountain along with the setting of the sun, and stopped at an adorable little Middle Eastern restaurant at a gas station near Beit Alfa. Jessica later reminded me that so many of the most worthwhile restaurants in Israel are located in small-town gas stations. Dad and I got a second chance to redeem ourselves from the Avazi photo scandal from earlier in the week, and were sure to capture all of the various salads and dishes laid before us on the table. Neri got a big kick out of the fact that we were taking pictures of what was, to him, fairly pedestrian food. We all enjoyed skewers of roasted lamb and some pretty lively conversation. One thing I have always loved about my family is that we have picked up many good friends over the years that have become like extended family to us. I was particularly thrilled to finally get some of my real family together with Efrat and Neri to further cement the relationship, and overjoyed that we were all having such a great time together.

We returned to the Kibbutz, and after another internet/Skype session, sat and had a relaxing evening of tea and channel surfing, as we gossiped about the latest Israeli celebrity scandals, politics, reality TV shows and hidden camera exposes.

Dad and I went up to the small apartment that Efrat had arranged for us, made the beds, and turned in around midnight.

We awoke around 8:15, showered, lounged around for a bit, and joined Efrat and Carmit for breakfast around 9:45. We discussed our plans for the day while we took turns trying to wake up Neri, who was basking in his day of not having to go to school. Efrat had allowed him to take the day off so that we could travel up in the North. We decided to be spontaneous, with a few ideas in mind in case things didn't pop up along the way.

As we were leaving the Kibbutz, Efrat suggested that we stop by the Metal Factory to visit her brother Yehuda, who I hadn't seen since my last visit. The metal factory used to be on the Kibbutz itself, but became very successful with contracts for John Deere and Case spindles, as well as work with Chinese companies, and moved to an expanded location closer to Sdeh Nachum a few kilometers down the main highway about 10 years ago. The new facility is simply massive, and very beautiful. We wandered around what seemed like several square kilometers of factory floor for a bit, until we located Yehuda. After a warm welcome and some bonding with Dad over his knowledge of various random engine parts, Yehuda gave us a little tour of the factory's operations and explained to us how they put together the various parts involved in the new cotton combines. Unfortunately, the factory has gotten various work stop orders from its American clients in recent weeks, so there have been layoffs and there was a perceivable lack of activity in certain areas.

We continued on from the factory toward Beit She'an, where we turned north toward T'veria (Tiberias).

Our first stop was at Gesher, which was short-lived for two main reasons. None of us were so interested that we wanted to pay 30 shekels per person to get in, and we seemed to be behind two busloads of screaming schoolchildren. The ticket office offering to give us a tour along with the school sealed the deal that got us out of there as quickly as possible.

We then continued on to Naharayyim, which is a border crossing with Jordan where the Jordan river meets the Yarmouk river. This is also the site where several young girls were shot and killed during a school trip in 1997 by a Jordanian military border guard in a nearby watchtower who had gone crazy. There is a beautiful memorial to them, which, for some reason, consisted of a great deal of astroturf instead of grass. My hope is that this is some kind of temporary solution. Each of their names is spelled out in beautiful red flowers.

We took some pictures of the border crossing, which had a wonderful sound of rushing water from all of the rain that had come earlier in the week. Dad got a little too close to the border, and was whistled back by an Israeli soldier in one of the watchtowers.



baenigma said...

actually Ari, you could have turned off your hot water heater, or at least turned the temperature way down, before you left. you should actually check to see what temp it's set on... you might be able to get away with cranking it down a bit, especially if you aren't one of those people who needs a boiling shower in the morning...

Ari said...

Ideally, I'd like to just have it on a timer so that it doesn't run at all for the 20 or so hours per day I don't need it. Is that something I can set up on my circuit box or something?