Sunday, November 26, 2017

More on the Middle East

In the next few days we covered a lot of ground. Many, many ruins--there are an amazing number of national parks. Gamla, Tel Dan, Zippori, Beit Shearim--all either with amazing outlooks or significant ruins, including burial sites. Climbed the city on the hill, Safed (Tsfad), and managed there to see the Museum of Hungarian Jewry, since my maternal grandfather's family came from what was then Hungary (and now is Eastern Slovakia).

Tsfad is also an art center, with one street in particular lined with galleries filled with objects worth a look as well as plenty of opportunities to go turisto. It of course is best known as the centuries-old center of those who studied the Kabbalah. Seeing all the natural high spots and the excavated crusaders' castle at Akko (Acre), the Roman-era port at Caesarea, the steep incline of Haifa, and the view of the Sea of Galilee from the Golan Heights emphasized how much there is in addition to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The Palmach Museum in Tel Aviv provides one of the most moving and amazing experiences I can recall. They were the advance guard of the Haganah that became the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and the museum moves you through the training of one group of young people and shows the conflicts in the years immediately preceding the War of Independence in 1948.

I spent some time at the genealogy section of the Museum of the Diaspora in Tel Aviv, and found some entries that will be useful in my updating a family tree that was last fully worked up about twenty-two years ago. These included a great-aunt of my mother's, hitherto not known (at least to the previous preparers of the tree), for whom my mother may well have been named.

We also visited two of my second cousins, sisters who have lived in Israel for decades, one from before World War II and one some years after, coming from England. Some of their families were there, too, including a teacher of Hebrew and an El Al account manager, formerly a flight attendant. My cousin's late husband had been in the IDF and had had a career that was right out of Exodus, the novel.

Much about the trip was unexpected, including the cuisine. Israel salad--tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, chopped as in shopska in the Balkans and absolutely delightful--was often served for breakfast or at lunch at an outdoor cafe, accompanied by several small dishes, sometimes including falafel and schwarmer. There are now plenty of top-class restaurants, especially in Tel Aviv, but a fish restaurant there on the harbor was all that it should be.

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