On the eve of a new year, I began my newest adventure in the land of Israel. Sleepless night turned into tired morning as the sun wiggled its way under my door. Being jet lagged is never fun, but when you open your door and feel the Israeli sun on your face for the first time, many things are forgotten. I opened the door to a clear crisp sun on a slightly hazy day that seemed to have been sung in by birdsong.
Breakfast was in the same room where we had eaten dinner the night before and the contrast was shocking. The things that we had heard were outside those windows, but couldn’t see for ourselves was now splayed before us in all its splendor. Palm trees and eucalyptus trees swayed in the wind outside of our window, framing the Sea of Galilee and the umbrella spotted beach where the waves crashed down in a slow rhythmic fashion. Hills surrounded us with cities terracing the mountainsides.
The hotel was just the beginning though, it would be our home for the next couple of days, but during the day we would adventure outward and explore Northern Israel. So we hopped on our bus to begin our first day in Israel.
Through the tinted glass of the windows inside the bus I got my first views of the Israeli countryside. In the north, rolling hills and mountains frame the land with their snow-capped tips, which looking down on rows of agricultural countryside in the valleys below. After a ride through the farmlands we arrived at the base of a huge mountain which is now a nature reserve but many, many years ago this was the biblical city of Tel Dan. At Tel Dan, there is a river, the main spring, that comes from the mountain that rushes along tree framed pathways.
It was a beautiful time to be at Tel Dan, fall was still in the air even though winter had made itself a guest here for some time, and the leaves were still yellow. We walked along the paths of Tel Dan that ranged from walkways littered with fall leaves, to pathways made up of individual rocks between which spring water ran, snaking its way between the cracks.
Along the pathways we found beautiful leaves, some in the shape of hearts and others that were large and fan like that came from fig trees all around us.
Finally at the end of the beautiful walk through the wilderness we came to the ruins of Tel Dan. Not much left besides the old crumbling foundations of this biblical city that thousands of years ago was a thriving center of religious activity; second only to Jerusalem in its time.
We took our very first group photo of all of us together at the foot of the Main Spring. It was a truly beautiful place and the yellow accent of fall leaves made it a magical first stop in Israel.
Afterwards we drove deeper into the Golan Heights of Israel where we took an off-road jeep ride through the old occupied land that was and still is a place of tension.
Our jeep driver was a really nice guy with an odd sense of humour who really seemed to enjoy entertaining American kids with off colored jokes and sarcastic quips.
We traversed the eucalyptus spotted hillsides along muddy gutted back roads in an open aired jeep where there was no separation between us and the Israeli countryside.
Oh and the beautiful countryside we were driving through was also an old land mine area. We were let out of the jeep once and they told us not to venture far for fear of land mines. It was quite an interesting experience being in what some might consider an active war zone.
If being near where old land mines were once was a startling experience, then I was not prepared for our next stop, Mt. Bental. Mt. Bental is a huge mountain, once a volcano, that has an amazing view from high above the world. Standing atop it we could see Damascus, Syria, and Lebanon. As the sign below indicates, from here, on a clear day almost anything can be seen.
The view of the countryside below is Syria. While standing atop Mt. Bental we could hear loud bangs in the distance. We quickly learned that not far away we were hearing the sound of bombs going off in Syria because of their current civil war. It was shocking to be that close to a very active war zone, to hear the ear drum rattling sound of a bombs impact. It makes me shudder, wondering what happened when we heard those sounds from so far away. What about the people who were not as lucky as us to be far away? The people who live there, the people who die there? But here we were sitting atop a mountain, listening to what could very well have been the last sound that some person ever heard in their lives.
In the biting wind we stood at the top of Mt. Bental listening to the sounds of war ring out, it was something you don’t forget.
After Mt. Bental we returned to our hotel at the shores of the Sea of Galilee for an early preparation for the New Years Eve Party. We were all exhausted, I was getting sick, but we all went out for a talk by the shore. A great blue heron stood on a pole of the pier and the sun was setting in shades of soft pinks and purples as we listened to the gently lapping waves of the Sea of Galilee.
It was an extremely peaceful moment of reflection, waiting for the new year to roll in on our heels. The history of this place is unbelievable, astounding, and awe-inspiring. The shore was littered with tiny shells and glinted like secret treasures as I sifted this foreign sand through my fingers. This was my new years, spent in a land utterly foreign to me, yet vaguely felt like home. I never imagined I would be spending my last days of 2012 in Israel, let alone the first week of 2013 there. It was a strange bridging of the gap that was utterly unexpected yet invigorating. This new place, opened new horizons, and I welcomed the new year with open arms with no idea of what lies before me.