Israel: The Land of Milk and Honey: Part Two

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In the midst of unprecedented political crises, the 75th anniversary of the State of Israel will be celebrated on April 25th, 2023.  This day marks the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, following the end of the British mandate in Palestine.  The day will be celebrated in Israel with great national pride and is an opportunity for Israelis to reflect on the country’s achievements over the past 75 years.  It is also a time to remember the challenges, the struggles, the wars and the conflicts that Israel has faced over the years, and to honor the sense of community, patriotism and resilience that is so much a part of the Israeli ethos.

During my 10-day visit to Israel, whether it was a conversation with a shop owner, an artist, a tour guide, a religious figure, or a member of the IDF (Israeli Defense Force), this ethos, and the community spirit of Israel spoke to me in a way that defies many of the stereotypes associated with the Israeli people.  In fact, many native-born Israelis proudly label themselves “sabres”, an Israeli fruit that is tough on the outside but sweet in the middle.  Indeed, it is my opinion that this country is blessed with some of the most altruistic people you will ever meet and is a nation to explore, ponder and embrace.

Thus, although my husband and I, and our guide, traveled from Jerusalem to Galilee, Haifa, Jaffa, the Golan Heights and finally to Tel Aviv, rather than to share my journey on a region to region basis, I’d like to recount my Israeli experience in terms of the people, the land, the food, the culture and its historical and spiritual significance, beginning with the people.

The People

Israel’s population (nearly 10 million in 2021) is made up of about 75% Jewish, 21% Arabs and 5 % other (including Druze).  In 1948, at Israel’s independence, just 35% of the Jewish population were native born; today, that number sits at 75%.  And Israel has one of the highest birth rates in the developed world with an average of 3 children per woman.

The Arab population is primarily Sunni Muslim; a smaller proportion is Christian.  Hebrew is the official language. Arabic is spoken by the Arab minority and English is widely used.

While a tiny country, Israel is highly developed and advanced, ranking 5th among the most innovative countries in the world.  Israel counts over 100 scientists and technicians per 10,000 employees, one of the highest ratios in the world.



The Kibbutz Movement

During our trip, we were invited to visit a Kibbutz, the dwelling place  of our tour guide. We were greeted by our guide’s wife for a “sweet treat” and enjoyed a walk-through of the community, where doors are left unlocked, neighbors greet one another as “family”, and dogs and children frolic in a carefree manner…a stark comparison from the “vertical” living of Manhattan, where one can live in a high rise for years and not know their neighbor, while hardly feeling “carefree” behind double locked doors.

Israel is currently home to almost 300 kibbutzim with factories and farms accounting for 9% of Israel’s industrial output and 40% of its agricultural.  More notably, the establishment of the kibbutz movement was originally a way of designing a network of utopian communities, blending socialism and Zionism.  The strength and vision of the kibbutz founders built many elements of the country, both socially and fundamentally.

Despite their many successes, the kibbutzim faced significant challenges in the 1970’s and 1980’s due to changing market conditions, lack of investment, and social and cultural changes as younger members began to question the rigid communal structure and sought to seek greater individual autonomy.  Today’s kibbutzim have adjusted and adopted more flexible structures and greater individual initiatives and responsibility.

While there, we ended our visit with the opportunity to plant a tree in honor of a dear friend, an Israeli tradition and a sign of hope, love and life for any who has experienced loss.

Sharing a Meal in a Druze Home

Surely, sharing a meal confirms the sense of belonging and community, and offering food, no matter how plain, to a stranger is part of basic hospitality in most cultures.   As adventurous eaters, our evening in the home of a Druze woman was the perfect way to experience the stories, the flavors, and the qualities of another culture as well.

We participated in the meal preparation with our host, a Druze woman in her 60’s, who after becoming widowed, converted her culinary skills into an entrepreneurial enterprise, opening her home and her kitchen to travelers from around the world.

The evening began in the living area where we were welcomed by black coffee, herbal teas and some conversation.   We then went to a comfortable kitchen  where we chopped seasonal offerings from her garden and learned how to wrap and stuff grape leaves while we observed and took in the savory smells of a big pot of rice, vegetables and lamb simmering on the stove.

A lovely meal followed in her dining area with its views of the hillside and a twilight sunset …saving some appetite for a traditional dessert of stuffed pastries.

The evening came to an end with a fond farewell and an invitation to place a “hometown” pin on the world map which adorned her wall, serving as a reminder of all the visitors she has entertained from around the world.

The Druze are a unique religious and ethnic group, whose traditions incorporate elements of Islam, Hinduism and even Greek philosophy.  In Israel, the Druze are a close-knit community, active in public life, with an emphasis on philosophy and spiritual purity. They make up roughly 2% of the country’s population, living  in the northern regions of the Galilee, Carmel, and the Golan Heights.

The Beauty of the Land

The beauty of the land of Israel cannot be overestimated and must be experienced, ranging from the desert in the South to the lush green hills of the North, the sea, and the natural reserves.  My favorites included Ein Gedi, the Dead Sea, Hula Valley, and the Sea of Galilee.

Ein Gedi Nature Reserve

With over 6000 acres, hiking trails, natural waterfalls, and wildlife, visitors can explore the area by foot or jeep.  One of the most popular areas is a trail which passes through a series of pools and waterfalls, fed by freshwater springs and offering a respite from the desert heat.  This area is mentioned several times in the Bible and the ancient Hebrews believed that the waters from the springs of Ein Gedi had healing powers.  The Botanical Gardens offers 900 species of plants from around the world and whether you are a nature lover, history buff, or spiritual seeker, Ein Gedi has something to offer for all.

Floating in the Dead Sea

Floating in the Dead Sea is one of the visuals that most can only dream of.  The high salt content of the water makes it impossible to sink and it is a surreal experience to simply lie back and float effortlessly in the sea.  The lowest place on earth, it’s saline blue waters combined with the bright sunlight of the surrounding Negev Desert create magnificent sunrises and sunsets, a photographer’s delight!  After enjoying the mineral rich waters and a mud bath, beautifully appointed hotel spas offer all the amenities for total relaxation.

Hula Valley: World Famous Bird Migration

The Hula Valley, in northern Israel, is considered to be one of the best bird watching sites in the world, including an annual migration of thousands of birds.  Until recently, it was a malarial swamp that was drained and rehabilitated.  Today people from all around the world visit just to watch the birds.   We took a guided tour in a camouflaged vehicle and I spotted my fair share of wildlife.

The Sea of Galilee

An important area of Biblical history, much of the ministry of Jesus occurred on the shores of Lake Galilee.  Many of Jesus’ most famous teachings , including many miracles were also recorded to have happened here, including Jesus walking on water.

Also, to be seen in this area is the bustling fishing village of Capernaum, where its inhabitants were able to hear Christ’s messages first-hand; the church of Tabgha, the traditional site of the miracle of the multiplication of the fish and the loaves, and the Centre at Kibbutz Ginosar, where one can see the ancient “Jesus Boat”, discovered in 1986 in the Sea of Galilee.   In the very early morning, on a rainy day, we were able to sail in a private boat on the Sea of Galilee, taking in the serenity and peace of the area.

Neot Keumim Park – The World’s Only Biblical Landscape Reserve

 

Neot Kedumim is 625 acres of ecologically restored land that was originally the “land flowing with milk and honey” and then lay barren for thousands of years.  Now, located halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, this unique recreation of the physical setting of the Bible in all its depth and detail allows visitors to see life as it was lived by our ancestors 3000 years ago.  While there, we picked and ground spices and had the experience of ancient sheep herders, trying this experience first-hand.  This was perhaps one of my most “fun” moments of our trip!  Something a city girl would never experience otherwise.

Here is Part One. And please check in for Part Three of this Travel Journey for a look at some of the most popular tourist destinations of Israel including Masada, Caesarea, the Western Wall, the Holocaust Memorial, Israel’s museums, markets, food and art!   Israel indeed is a State “like no other”.

 

Author

  • Anne Akers

    Anne brings a wealth of knowledge to her role as The Three Tomatoes’ Beauty, Health and Wellness Editor. As a champion of health and well-being for all, she is the Founder/Publisher of GLOW Beauty, Health and Wellness magazine; previous Founder of Castle Connolly Graduate Medical Publishing, publishing educational review manuals for doctors to pass their board exams in 15 different medical specialties and co-Founder of MDPublish.com, publishing and marketing books for health professionals. A winner of the SMART CEO award for "entrepreneurial spirit with a sense of give back to the community," Anne sits on many Boards for women's health, with a particular passion for Veterans and her current role as Special Advisor to Operation Warrior Shield, "healing their hidden wounds". www.operationwarriorshield.com. Visit Anne at: www.glowbeautymag.com or: www.mdpublish.com.

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