This was supposed to be one article, but it’s much too long (over 6,000 words). No one will have the patience to read the whole thing at one shot. I’d better divide it into sections, this one being part one.
Won’t we be going to the same places on both trips? Won’t we be visiting many of the same sites on the Golan– some of which we’ve already been to? The fortress at Gamla, the reconstructed synagogue at Ein Keshatot, the top of Mount Bental, the DeKarina chocolate factory, the Golan Heights Winery? Isn’t that overkill?
I had signed us up in December for Ezra Rosenfeld’s three-day excursion in March, which we went on, and I wrote about in The Best Tiyul Ever. However, all the way back in Sep. 2018, Barbara had put us on a ‘we’re interested’ list for the A.A.C.I. Study Trip #168, scheduled for June 10-14, 2019; But to justify going on both tiyulim (as if I needed to do that), we figured that a) some of the sites were places we had been to years ago, so there might be something new to see; b) there were some places we had never been to; c) even when you go to the same places on different trips, if it’s with different guides, you might get a different perspective on what you’re seeing. Anyway, we were signed up for both, so let’s just go and have a good time.
The week before the AACI trip, Barbara was privy to some interesting scuttlebutt. As with a lot of their trips, this one was over-subscribed; there would be two busloads, and one of them would be led by a super-duper guide whom everyone wanted. Maybe dumb luck, or maybe we’re considered ‘special’ for some unknown reason, but bus #1 had both the coordinator, Jeff Rothenberg and his wife, Ann, as well as Jackie, The Guide. She must have a last name, but neither she nor anyone else ever alluded to it. But she is one helluva guide.
What makes one a good guide; no, what makes one a great guide? Having been on more tiyulim here in The Land than I can remember, I feel qualified to pontificate on this matter. Obviously, you have to know your stuff, which is always subject to modification and revision as more is learned about the past and as facts change on the ground. You should also know where you’re going, where you’re eating, where you’re staying, and, especially, where the next rest stop is. You have to know what precious information to impart and when to shut up. You need a special certificate in herding cats, so you can get your charges moving when you need them to without coming on as a drill sergeant. You need to be attuned to each individual’s idiosyncrasies and be able to deal with emergencies – like someone having spent the night throwing up and needing to be taken to a hospital. And the super-star guides, like Ezra or Jackie, have something special of their own to bring to the table, some je ne sais quoi, that distinguishes them from other, quite competent guides – the same way certain singers or actors make the song or the role their own.
We started out on Mon., June 10 in front of the Inbal Hotel at 8:30, picked up a few people at the new Jerusalem train station, made one rest room stop, picked up a few more passengers, as well as Jackie, at the Binyamina train station, stopped for lunch at Karmiel, and made our first real stop at Gamla, where Barbara and I had been years ago. I think they’ve upgraded the site since we were there last, but still……. The difference between ‘The Masada of the North’ and the real one can be explained in one word: topography. A traveler will get out of his car or tour bus at the base of Masada and take the cable car up to the top of the mountain, stand amidst the reconstructed remains of the fortress, and look out at the panoramic view. You’re there up close and personal.
For most of us, the closest we would ever get to the fortress at Gamla would be peering at it from the observation post across the valley. In theory, one can take the trail down the ravine and hike up to the site, but…….. Better to stand and look out. On a good day, some of the neighborhood raptors (the ones the nature preserve is trying to keep from extinction) will put on an aerial show.
However, before we even got started our walk around Gamla, we had to do the Whispers ritual. No, I don’t mean quietly trading secrets and other juicy gossip. The A.A.C.I. has invested in gadgets called whispers, which supposedly make it easier for the tour guide, and they’re given out on every A.A.C.I tiyul. Part A is a battery pack and a microphone – for the guide; part B is the wireless, battery-operated listening device. This way, the guide doesn’t have to shout to be heard – at least in theory, because these gismos are, shall we say, less than 100% reliable. They were given out to those assembled, and then there was the requisite try-out period with everyone fumbling with their device. What channel are we on? How do I make it louder? Is mine working? My solution is simple: I never take one of these torture devices. For one thing, I’ve never gotten one that functioned properly. Nor do I need one. I can usually hear the tour guide quite well without one, and, if I can’t, I’ll move a little closer. Plus, I’m usually holding my camera, and trying to keep track of both simultaneously is more than I can manage.
From Gamla, our group headed off to Ein Keshatot to inspect the synagogue that had been demolished by an earthquake almost 1500 years ago and lovingly restored (most of it) in the last few years. I think this place has a special meaning for Jackie. She has been guiding in Israel for some thirty-five years and has watched the reconstruction from a pile of rubble to what’s there now. (See my earlier article for a photo taken three months ago.) The group didn’t have the chance to see the rest of the site. They close to the public at 5PM, and it seems that there was some kind of private event scheduled for the evening. Anyway, we had to check in at Kibbutz Afik, where we would be staying until Thurs. morning.
I have to give credit where credit is due. If you go to the kibbutz website, you’d get the impression that this is a fancy-shmancy place. Well, not quite. The grounds are well-maintained, the swimming pool is impressive, the rooms (at least the cabin we were assigned to) are spacious and comfortable. But, as we all know, an army travels on its stomach. By 7PM when we were scheduled for dinner, most of us had worked up a decent appetite. To be fair, the kibbutz doesn’t routinely offer dinner to its guests – except when there are large groups staying there. Still……. I stood on the line for the buffet where there was a small array of salatim and another section with more substantial fare. What’s this, canned peas and carrots? CANNED PEAS AND CARROTS!!!!! Was I back in The Bronx of my childhood, picking up the family’s victuals at the little grocery store near Jerome Ave? Krasdale (brand) peas and carrots, the nadir of normative cuisine? Steady boy, you’re not required to eat even one pea or one diced carrot. Breakfasts were slightly more palatable, but serving packaged bread that had probably been left in the kitchen for days on end does not bring joy to my heart. The good news was that we would not gain any weight on this trip. The bad news was that we would not gain any weight on this trip.
(I know I would have enjoyed our stay at Afik if there would have been time to enjoy the amenities, but there wasn’t, and I can’t blame the kibbutz for that. The A.A.C.I. tends to over-schedule. Our alarm was set for 6:30, in time for me to get to the minyan and join Barbara for breakfast, giving us enough time to get ourselves ready to get on the bus by 8:30, arriving back at the kibbutz at about 5:30 and leaving us enough time to take a nap and get ready for dinner at 7PM and the evenings’ activities at 8 or 8:30, which ended in time for us to get ready for bed and get enough sleep to get up at 6:30. We had a jacuzzi in our cabin but never had time to fill it with water and use it. We had a table and chairs out on a patio, but we never had time to sit at it. Barbara did get to use the pool one evening before dinner, but that was it. Nobody even thought to use the spa that is part of what the kibbutz has to offer. Such a shame.)