Back on the Bus Again — Part Two

The cranes are flying (not)

I still have fond memories of the time, ages ago, when we visited the nature reserve at Hula Valley with June and Jeff. It was then peak season – at least for the cranes. There were thousands of the birds hanging around with a collective knowledge that a strange beast would show up out of nowhere and scatter food for them all around. We were there in the late afternoon, and when dusk came, one part of the flock would ascend in unison, flying to where they would spend the night. When one group was finished, then and only then would another group take off, until every single crane was snug and comfy for the evening – all without an F.A.A.-approved tracking system. Makes you wonder.

This was another place that would fit into the Yeah, we’ve been here before, but it’s worth another visit category. But now, when our bus pulled up to the entrance to the nature reserve, it was well past peak season. Most of the migratory birds were already on their way to their summer quarters in Eastern Europe, meaning they would be flying through the Ukraine – not the safest place to be these days, but old habits die hard.

Therefore, our experience was not the same. We had the blind (a moving set of bleachers that would take us through part of the preserve) all to ourselves, with an English-speaking guide to provide commentary. There was little to break the silence around us, so any sound or avian movement was magnified in importance. It was the undisturbed, everyday quiet of the evening, at least as profound in its way as the touristy Hula Valley we had experienced before.


We did have one additional stop that day, and, to my mind, it was more about priorities than anything else. (Visit the Neot Art Studio & Gallery and Teva Naot factory store at Kibbutz Neot Mordechai.) We had about an hour to spend at the kibbutz, and we were each given a choice: either spend the entire time at the shoe store or half the time at the ‘art gallery’ and the rest at the store. For Barbara and me, option #2 was a no-brainer. I had purchased a new pair of sneakers months ago, so I was good-to-go as far as my feet were concerned. Barbara? Let’s just describe her as tabernaphobic, a fancy term I just made up, which means someone who hates shopping. (If it’s OK with you, we’ll just watch the shuffleboard tournament instead.) Let’s first check out the other place. Of course, it wasn’t an art gallery as is commonly understood. It was instead your typical crafts shop, full of hand-made items to use around the house, framed pictures, ‘antique’ clothing, and the like. I wound up buying two bars of soap at 24NIS apiece. (Gotta buy something…)

But we listened to the two women who ran the place describe their efforts to provide a venue for local artisans to display and sell their wares. Fair enough, and bully for them. The world can always use a few more tchakeles.

We had previously visited another Teva Naot outlet down in the Gush, so we knew what to expect: a store that combined full retail prices with a wholesale shopping experience: hundreds of shoes spread out on tables and racks for the avid shopper to search through, maybe finding something suitable, possibly in the right size. Many of our party chose to ogle the monochromatic display of footwear for the whole hour, but they were given a choice, and they chose. As I said, priorities.

Life on the border

And then there was the category, I have no idea what this one is about, but it might be interesting. The next morning, we were scheduled to ‘Hear about life in the shadow of Hezbollah from local resident, Eitan Oren, at Kibbutz Malkiya on the border with Lebanon.’ They weren’t just talking through their hat; the kibbutz is as close to the border as you’d ever want to be. And Eitan Oren definitely fits into the category of special people we would otherwise never get to meet. Here’s a guy who’s been around the kibbutz a few times, spending a lot of it with his eye focused on a mountain across the border where trouble, and nothing but trouble, (spelled H-E-Z-B-O-L-L-A-H) is afoot. For a long time, he was the head of the civilian patrol that works closely with the IDF, although these days he lets some of the younger guys with a little more speed and stamina take the lead. However, for P.R. and taking folks around, he’s the guy.

Like the communities near Gaza, the kibbutz is dotted with shelters. The whole bunch of us went down the stairs and huddled together in the underground shelter set aside for children right next to their school. The kibbutzniks have made a reasonable effort to fill the place with games and toys, but there’s only so much you can do to make an underground bunker seem cheerful.

In the short time before Eitan showed up to take our group around, most of us had drifted into the community store. Remember, it was right before Purim, and we were told that we would be meeting some soldiers, and maybe they would like some Purim nosh(?). That’s all the hint the group –most of whom were bubbies and zadies – needed. Like locusts – or maybe cranes – cleaning out the crops from a field, these super-Zionistic elders bought out every sugar-filled and salt-covered snack in the place, just in case the soldiers wouldn’t have enough to eat without our junk food. (I purchased a box of hamentaschen to add to the pile.)

If we were going to meet soldiers, it wouldn’t be in downtown Malkiya. We would have to go out to the nearby fields. One of the interesting factoids we learned on the trip was that a hefty percentage of the kiwis grown in The Land come from this kibbutz. That’s where we were headed next. Most of the fruit had been picked, but there was enough prudently left on the vines from pre-shmittah to hand out samples to visitors. Eitan reminded us several times to stick together as a group. This area is closely watched, not only by Hezbollah, but by our own troops – actually, a passel of young women staring at monitors around the clock, watching for any suspicious activity. Any one of us wandering off might produce a jeep or two full of soldiers coming to investigate.

A little too close to the border for comfort

A jeep did show up as we were standing with Eitan amidst the kiwi vines. The man who got out – past middle aged – was not a soldier, although he had been once, part of the South Lebanese Army that had fought alongside of the IDF in that bygone campaign. He is now living and working on our side of the border. Part of his family is here; one son is in The States, and it is only through that son that our man is able to communicate with daughters still in Lebanon. I have a fine photograph of him and Eitan, which I was going to include. Then I thought, is that a good idea, to show his face? To be on the safe side, I’ll show you one of Eitan peeling his kiwis.

Eitan peeling a kiwi

Awhile later, an IDF jeep showed up. Maybe they had sniffed out the goodies awaiting them, or maybe it was a routine patrol. We loaded enough junk food in the back of the jeep to keep them snacking for a long time. Eitan prudently withheld a small selection of treats just in case. We were supposed to meet with more IDF-ers, but it turned out they were on maneuvers or some such at the time. We left our remaining goodies with another jeep that passed by. I guess that’s part of their training: sniffing out parcels of food from well-meaning visitors. The food on the base isn’t always the best, or so I hear.

Now that we had come across a real live member of the South Lebanese Army, it was only fit and proper to head up to Metula and visit the Good Fence, and the new memorial – long overdue – to the Lebanese soldiers who were not as fortunate as the fellow we just met. While most of our group wandered around the memorial, a few of us more adventurous guys with actual cameras, began exploring the ghost city, the forlorn remains of what had once been the border compound. So much real-life drama had occurred here not that long ago, and now…. Well, see for yourself.

What is left of the border crossing

The Overlooked Slab

The final day of our tiyul took us back to Rosh Pina and the cobblestone streets of the artists colony. We were welcomed into the old synagogue, built by the Rothschilds – we’re talking about 140 years ago – that, in a way, typifies the community. When the original Zionist pioneers came to the area, it was winter, meaning rainy season. When they came back in the summer, bringing with them boats to traverse the lakes they assumed would be there, they realized their folly. They dismantled the boats and used the timber for the roof of the synagogue, painting clouds all over it. Like the rosh pinah of the psalms (the overlooked slab that became the cornerstone – I’m not sure of what), the synagogue suffered from its own neglect, as in no daveners, no minyans. Now there is a rabbi, the kind that makes you feel you belong there, which is not every guy with smichah. There is renovation and restoration throughout the building, and, most important, there are now regular minyans, which is only fit and proper for one of the original Zionist settlements in The Land.

Jacky Sivak and the rabbi

If you’ve ever walked on cobblestone pavement, you know that they are picturesque but hard to deal with when they’re wet.  It had rained on and off that morning, so we carefully and gingerly walked up the hill to Nimrod Observation Point. We were supposed to meet with the builder of the site, Hezi Segav, the father of Nimrod, who, along with several young men under his command, was killed in battle during the Second Lebanon War. The senior Segev, however, was elsewhere, so we missed his talk. We walked around and looked at the signs, but it wasn’t the same without the explanation. (Which is exactly my point!) However, the view from the top looking down at the valley was quite impressive.

I didn’t even notice the wind chimes that graced the observation point. The only reason I finally realized they were there was because we spent part of the afternoon with Ofer, in whose studio, Pa’amonei Yerushalayim, (he started out in Jerusalem) these chimes were made. Wind chimes are not a big feature in the Casden household, Barbara taking after her mother, who once disabled the clatter from the offending device in a neighbor’s yard. Still, his explanation about the science of making a set of properly tuned chimes was fascinating. He claims that there is a meditative quality to the chimes, but the jury is still out on that one.

Nestled behind a gas station was the Woodsong Studio of Peter Isacowitz, who makes an assortment of musical instruments: harps, xylophones, and weird contraptions that must have names, but I don’t know what they are. Barbara had an idea, actually a good idea. We needed to get a gift for Liel, our step-grand-daughter. We were considering the usual: a book, a puzzle, or some such. How about a kalimba instead? I figured that she and her parents would either love it or hate it, but it’s worth a try. It is different, after all. She apparently did appreciate it. I hope they’re not just being polite.

Peter Isacowitz

From there, our bus headed south and east, making the same stops and winding up back in Jerusalem. And that was our trip. (Needless to say, our purchases from the Adir winery were properly stored in our luggage and made it home safely.) There’s another one scheduled in May, and we’re going –whether I like it or not. Of course, I will like it; I have strict instructions to that effect. (Remember: always listen to your wife!)

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